Sherman demonstrated control over his troops when it suited him, and could also allow subordinates to wink at soldier outrages. At Sandersville, Georgia alone, residents were left with no food or water for days while Union soldiers shot all the hogs, cows and chickens they could not take with them, the ground strewn with food, and carpets drenched with syrup and then covered with meal. The roads along Sherman’s route were lined with the carcasses of horses, hogs and cattle, wantonly shot down to starve out the people and prevent them from making crops.
Fiends in Federal Uniform
“[During Sherman’s march through Georgia] a German-born private enthused to his family, “we live like God in France.” A good deal of looting also took place, especially by the foraging parties who operated with little supervision. “If money, watches or jewelry was found it was inevitably confiscated, recalled a New York veteran after the war, adding that the rampant thievery had “a very demoralizing effect on the men.” Even men of good reputation began to steal. There were men in prisons all over the country, the old veteran believed, “who took their first lessons in thieving while acting as one of Sherman’s foragers.”
Plenty of men regretted the hardship they and their comrades visited on civilians. During the destruction of railroads preceding the march, an Ohio soldier, drafted into the army only weeks before, scrawled in his diary: “There is great destruction of property about here. Much of it unnecessary. It is a pity to see homes of comfort destroyed thus. I think of my own house and wife and I can estimate the feelings of the enemy when I think how I would feel if served thus.”
Colonel Orlando M. Poe . . . complained to his own diary of the damage wrought by vandals, to the great scandal of our Army, and marked detriment to its discipline.” As the army neared to coast, a captain came upon four houses set afire “by some dirty rascal from our army . . .”
Eight days into the Savannah campaign, Major Thomas Taylor of the 47th Ohio . . . came upon a family who had been abused by a renegade party of [Union] foragers. After stripping them of everything edible, the “bummers” had smashed jars and dishes, vandalized furniture, scattered clothing, cut open mattresses, and threatened to burn the house down around their ears if they did not leave.”
“Such an act of barbarity,” Taylor wrote, “I have never witnessed in the service, yet these fiends wore the Federal uniform.”
(The Hard Hand of War: Union Military Policy Toward Southern Civilians 1861-1865, Mark Grimsley, Cambridge University Press, 1995, excerpt pg. 197)