Browsing "Crimes of War"

Lincoln’s General, Ben Butler

A prewar antiwar Democrat in the Massachusetts legislature who “regularly spoke out against the abolition of slavery”, Benjamin Butler of Massachusetts rose in rank from militia officer but only noted for his lack of military skill. Earning the title “Beast” at occupied New Orleans in 1862, his command there and elsewhere were marred “by financial and logistical dealings across enemy lines, some of which probably took place with his knowledge and to his financial benefit.”

Lincoln’s General, Ben Butler

“[Lincoln’s private secretary John] Hay had some characteristic references to another notoriety of that period – Benjamin F. Butler – whom he met at Point Lookout in January, 1864.

“In the dusk of the evening,” he writes, “Gen’l Butler came clattering into the room where Marston and I were sitting, followed by a couple of aides. We had some hasty talk about business: he told me how he was administering the oath at Norfolk; how popular that was growing; children cried for it; how he hated Jews; how heavily he laid his hand on them; ‘a nation that the Lord had been trying to make something of for three thousand years, and had so far utterly failed.’ ‘King John knew how to deal with them – fried them in swine’s fat.’

At Baltimore we took a special car and came home. I sat with the General all the way and talked with him about many matters . . . He says he can take an army within thirty miles of Richmond without any trouble; from that point the enemy can either be forced to fight in the open field south of the city, or submit to be starved into surrender . . . He gave me some very dramatic incidents of his recent action in Fortress Monroe, smoking out adventurers and confidence men, testing his detectives, and matters of that sort. He makes more business in that sleepy little Department [of the James] than anyone would have dreamed was in it.”

At that sort of work Butler undeniably excelled; at fighting, his achievements were restricted to the feats he boasted he could perform when the enemy was at an entirely safe distance.”

(The Life and Letters of John Hay, Volume I, William Roscoe Thayer, Houghton Mifflin Company, 1908, pp. 142-143)

No Quarter for Old Men and Beardless Boys

Marianna, Florida was a peaceful west Florida town of prewar Whigs who bitterly opposed their State’s secession. Aware of the theft and destruction Northern forces had visited upon other Florida towns, Marianna made ready to defend their homes. Though a disaster for the town, the old men and boys succeeded in causing sufficient casualties to thwart the enemy advance to Tallahassee, and force its retreat to Pensacola.

No Quarter for Old Men and Beardless Boys

“On the morning of the 25th of September, 1864, the usually quiet town of Marianna, in west Florida, of about 2,000 inhabitants, was in a state of great anxiety over the report that the “Yankees were coming.”

The church bells were rung, calling out all citizens to the court house, where a meeting was held and resolutions passed to repel the invaders. A few Confederate soldiers, then at home and on sick leave, formed the nucleus of an organization which was at once perfected. Grayheaded old men, boys under 16 years of age within the town and ten miles around, regardless of previous Union sentiment, arrived with shotguns and formed what they themselves called “The Cradle and Grave Militia company,” in all about 200, and partly mounted.  They elected Captain Norwood, a prominent Unionist, as their captain, and reported for duty . . . full of ardor and brave endeavor. [Their commander formed a defensive] line with its right at the boarding-house and the left resting at the Episcopal church.

[The enemy invader] consisted of a battalion of the Second Maine cavalry . . . and several companies of deserters, the so-called First regiment of Florida Troops, and two full companies of ferocious Louisiana Negroes, in all about 600 . . . [the enemy] detached a part of his command to flank the village, and advanced the main body directly toward the church.

An indiscriminate firing began from the Confederate front and rear, the old men and beardless boys fighting like enraged lions, disputing every inch of ground. The contest was fierce and deadly for half an hour, when [the enemy commander] ordered the church, boarding-house and a private residence opposite burned.

The militia kept their ground manfully between the two walls of flames. In the meantime the Federal flanking party gained the rear of the militia and commenced an indiscriminate slaughter, giving no quarter to anyone. The Negro companies in particular acted in a most fiendish manner. Old men and boys who offered to surrender were driven into the flames of the burning buildings; young lads who laid down their arms were cut to pieces; others picked up bodily by stalwart Negro soldiers and thrown into the seething, burning church.

The half-charred remains of several of the half-grown boys were afterward found in the ruins of the church. The Confederates scattered in every direction, every man for himself, pursued by the Maine cavalry who kept up a steady fire on them. The whole fight lasted about an hour . . . [the enemy] would return to Pensacola with their prisoners, contraband and plunder.

The day after the fight, Marianna presented a pitiable sight. The dead and wounded lay all about, and the wails and cries of mothers, wives and sisters could be heard in every direction. Women and children searched for father, son or brother in the ashes of the burnt buildings. Here and there a charred thigh or ghastly skull was disinterred from the debris.”

(Federal Incursion to Marianna, J.J. Dickison, Confederate Military History, Clement A. Evans, editor, Confederate Publishing Company, 1899, excerpts pp. 114-117)

Merchant of Terror

To his brother John Sherman on October 1, 1862, General W.T. Sherman wrote:

“I rather think you now agree with me that this is no common war — that it was not going to end in a few months or a few years. For after eighteen months the enemy is actually united, armed and determined, with powerful forces well-handled, disciplined and commanded on the Potomac, the Ohio, the Missouri. I knew, and know yet, that the Northern people have to unlearn all their experiences of the past thirty years and be born again before they will see the truth.”

Property destruction was not the complete answer. Sherman was convinced of this, since the “guerilla” attacks continued even after the example offered in the fate meted out to Randolph. There was something lacking – an element to complete the new concept of war – if the part played by the people of the South was to be eliminated.  With acceptance of the fact that destruction of property was not the final answer, Sherman’s mind leaped the gap and seized on the solution – terrorism. 

He would so thoroughly inject the shock of fear into the South that it would lead to its complete demoralization. Such demoralization would work like a slow poison, resulting in the paralysis of the Confederate armies through wholesale desertions of men returned home to assure the safety of their families. More important, dread would so sicken the people of the South that they would clamor for cessation, and to obtain relief they would exert every pressure on their government to end the war.

Here then, in Memphis, was the mold made. The months ahead would see it filled in: it would harden into the completed philosophy of total war, employing a program of devastation and waste, the turning loose on the countryside of a horde of pillagers and looters who would do their work systematically and well.”

(Merchant of Terror: General Sherman and Total War, John Bennett Walters, Bobbs-Merrill Company, 1973, excerpt pp. 65-66)

Unceasing Blows and Sheer Attrition

In early May 1864, Grant moved across the Rapidan River in Virginia to pass quickly through the Wilderness before giving battle. Instead, there he lost some 26,000 men in the dense thickets. On June 3rd Grant lost “more men in the eight minutes of hottest fighting than in any period of the war.”  Though this carnage intensified the peace movement in the North, Lincoln provided Grant with an endless supply of immigrants, substitutes and conscripted men to continue this fearful slaughter. Lincoln, despite ruling the North with near-dictatorial powers, was well-aware 1864 was an election year and victories at any cost were needed before November.

Unceasing Blows and Sheer Attrition

“With the spring of 1864, the war entered a new phase. Union victories in the West had cut deeply into the economic and military strength of the Confederacy.  They had done more, for they had associated the names of Grant and his lieutenants with a habit of mind which connoted aggressiveness, strategy on a large scale, and victory.

It was not that Grant was a supreme master of the “science of war,” nor even that he merited full credit for the victories under his command . . . It was rather that a situation had been reached where, with Northern recruiting, Confederate depletion, and Grant’s sledge-hammer blows, the essential conditions of Union triumph had been presented.

Almost immediately [after Grant’s elevation to lieutenant-general] the final grand strategy of the war began to unfold itself, a strategy by which Grant used his numerical superiority and plunged ruthlessly ahead in Virginia, losing an enormous number of men, but wearing out the Confederates by sheer attrition; while in the lower South Sherman attained unenviable laurels by destroying vast amounts of food and other supplies in his “march” through Georgia and the Carolinas.  

It was by these unceasing blows at the heart of the Confederacy that the war, which had dragged on indecisively for three years, was brought to an end in 1865.”

(The Civil War and Reconstruction, James G. Randall, D.C. Heath and Company, 1937, excerpts pp. 539-543)

Barbarous Pillaging

In early February, 1865, Captain J.J. Dickison’s 145 Florida cavalrymen struck 400 black and white federal raiders at Station Number Four – forcing them to retreat toward Cedar Keys after a sharp three-hour engagement.  The next month a thousand-man Northern invasion force arrived at St. Marks, forcing Floridians to hastily organize a defense force of student cadets from the State Seminary, old men and a few companies of regular troops.  The ensuing battle at Natural Bridge, a Southern victory, was practically the closing conflict of the war in Florida. Capt. Dickison was known as Florida’s “Swamp Fox,” earning his name for swift and unexpected strikes against the enemy, as did Francis Marion of earlier fame. 

Barbarous Pillaging

“Forts Barrancas and Pickens were the only points in Florida west of the St. Johns which were held permanently [by Northern forces] after 1862.  Six miles from Barrancas is Pensacola. The town then was under federal guns. A force varying from 1,800 to 3,000 men was in garrison at Barrancas [and] the commandant was Brigadier-General Alexander Asboth, a native Hungarian who had served under Kossuth in the Hungarian Revolution of 1848.

With him were several Slav and Magyar comrades in arms – younger men than he – who held commissions in the federal army. Three of them were popularly reputed to be the nephews of Louis Kossuth. A portion of Asboth’s force was black, recruited partly from Negroes in the vicinity.

When not engaged in the barbarous practice of pillaging, Asboth was an urbane, pleasant fellow with a great love for flowers and a keen interest in dogs and fine horses. He and his fellow Hungarians were hated, dreaded and condemned by the country people of that section [for being “furreners”, Yankees”.  Certainly Barrancas proved a thorn in the side of West Florida. From it, as from Jacksonville, raiders went forth to lay waste the exhausted country.

[From July 21-25 1864], General Asboth advances from Barrancas at the head of 1,100 men – blacks and whites. [His] ultimate goal is Baldwin County, Alabama, where spies report opportunity to profitably raid, burn and cut-off the small detachments of Confederate troops guarding the country. After a show of resistance . . . [Asboth] retires to Barrancas.

[From July 20-29], An expedition of 400 men from the 2nd US Colored Infantry and 2nd [US] Florida Cavalry [lands at St. Andrews bay], march forty-four miles into the interior, burn two bridges, one large grist mill, eighty bales of cotton, and a quantity of stores, and gathering up 115 Negroes and a few horses, they return to the coast.  They encounter no armed opposition.

[Sept. 23], they surprise the village of Eucheanna, plundering homes, gathering up horses and mules, and making prisoners of fifteen private citizens. From Euchaeana, the raiding column heads for Jackson County. Preparations are made at Marianna for resistance . . . Old men and boys are armed with what weapons they can secure – shot-guns and squirrel rifles. There about 300 old men and boys await the arrival of the federal column.

The raiders . . . sweep aside the barricade with artillery and follow this with a determined charge of the 2nd Maine Cavalry. The Confederate force breaks up . . . Some take refuge in the Episcopal church . . . and continue the fight from its windows. A torch is thrown against the church . . . It takes fire. As its occupants rush from the burning building they are shot down and fall amid the gravestones of the churchyard. Some of the boys are burned to death in the church.

Marianna is plundered. That night the federal column quits Marianna on its return march to Pensacola. The prisoners and moveable booty are carried along.

(The Civil War and Reconstruction in Florida, W.W. Davis, Columbia University, 1913, excerpts pp. 307-312)

Radicals Versus the South

Radical Republicans of Lincoln’s party barely concealed their contempt for him and certainly favored having him out of the way in order to fully control punishment for the American South’s bid for political independence.

It was these Radicals, who, along with Lincoln, spurned any and all compromise efforts in early 1861 to settle differences peaceably, and drove the country into a war which ended a million lives and laid waste to the South.

Radicals Versus the American South

“While the war from one point of view might be considered tragic, Radicals believed that it furnished an opportunity to make America’s political system just. “If we fail to embrace” the opportunity, warned one Congressman, “the golden moment will have escaped for years, if not forever.”

After winning victory on the battlefield, Radicals were determined not to lose the peace. These two elements – the Radical belief that Reconstruction politics were an extension of wartime issues and the Radical determination not to lose the fruits of military victory – are crucial in understanding Radical motivation.

Lincoln’s assassination confirmed these ideas. “My God Gov.,” wrote a friend to ex-Governor Austin Blair . . . “Poor Lincoln a victim of his own goodness and leniency. Death to all Traitors.”

Another of Blair’s correspondents reacted similarly: “Poor old Abraham has yielded up his life at last . . . Let justice now be meted out to the remorseless villains who led the people into rebellion by a man of their own household [Andrew Johnson] – a man who knows and fully realizes the depth of their depravity & has no mawkish sympathy for them when conquered.”

[Michigan] Senator [Zachariah] Chandler reacted in a more calculating manner. “I believe that the Almighty continued Mr. Lincoln in office as long as he was useful,” Chandler wrote to his wife, “& then substituted a better man to finish the work.” Had Lincoln’s policy [of reconstruction] been carried out, he believed that Jefferson Davis and his followers would be back in the Senate; “but now,” gloated the senator, “their Chance to Stretch hemp are [sic] better than for the Senate . . .”

Needed in Washington, the grim Michigan Senator substituted someone else to accompany Lincoln’s remains to Springfield. “[Andrew] Johnson is right now,” he reported; “thinks just as we do & desires to carry out Radical measures & punish treason & traitors, but much depends on his Surroundings.”

A few days later Chandler described Johnson: “as Radical as I am & fully up to the mark. If he has good men around him there will be no danger in the future.”

(Radical Republican Motivation, George M. Blackburn, Journal of Negro History, Volume LIV, Number 2, April 1969, Carter G. Woodson, editor, excerpts pp. 112-113)

No Negotiation, No Compromise

Lincoln supported the Corwin Resolution of 1860 which stated that “No amendment shall be made to the Constitution which will authorize or give to Congress the power to abolish or interfere, within any State, with the domestic institutions thereof, including that of persons held to labor or service by the laws of said State.”

His Republican party was “antislavery” only in regard to restricting black persons to the borders of the Southern States where they reside, and maintaining the territories of the West to the immigrants who supported his party.

After the secession of Southern States and his war against them begun, he offered protection for African slavery if they would return to his Union before January 1, 1863. When those States continued to fight for their independence, his total war pressed onward and the South’s economic wealth and political liberty was destroyed.

No Negotiation, No Compromise

“In the tumultuous six months between his election in November 1860 and the outbreak of the Civil War in April 1861, Abraham Lincoln rejected all diplomatic efforts to resolve the deepening crisis peacefully.

In the political dispute with the newly-constituted, but militarily weak, Confederate States of America, there would be no meaningful negotiations. No compromise would be offered or accepted. Instead, tensions between the two governments would be heightened, and the passions of the American public inflamed, by Lincoln’s provocative and deceptive rhetoric.

Lincoln’s words were a reflection of his unflagging desire to wage total war upon the South. It was to be a war that would last until the enemy agreed to unconditional surrender and US public officials and private contractors had made a financial killing. In 1878, Henry S. Wolcott, special investigator for the US War and Navy Departments, estimated “at least twenty, if not twenty-five percent of the entire expenditures of the government during the Rebellion, were tainted with fraud.”

Lincoln’s ideological view of politics equated progress and patriotism with support for a high protective tariff, internal improvements, and a national bank. Capturing just 39 percent of the popular vote, Lincoln considered his election a democratic mandate to pursue his agenda. A rejection of his economic program by the political leadership of the South, therefore, would be a rejection of democracy.

Lincoln’s program depended on the tariff, and the tariff depended on the South remaining in the Union, as did the survival of the Republican party. For that reason, Lincoln initially pledged his support for the Corwin Resolution, which had been adopted in the waning days of the Buchanan administration. This was the original Thirteenth Amendment to the Constitution.

It had been passed by the House and the Senate, and signed by President Buchanan, but it was never ratified, because, by then, many Southern States had decided to secede. The fact that the South withdrew from the Union despite the passage of this amendment indicated other issues besides slavery motivated their secession. Foremost was the South’s embrace of free trade, the antithesis of Lincoln’s economic agenda.”

(Lincoln, Diplomacy and War, Joseph E. Fallon, Chronicles, April 2008, excerpts pg. 43)

Targeting Key West Civilians

The State of Florida withdrew from the Union on January 10, 1861 – three days afterward a US Army captain moved his troops into the nearly-complete Fort Zachary Taylor at Key West, a fortress built specifically to protect the city and State from invasion.

Though then-President James Buchanan admitted no authority to wage war against a State — which was the very definition of treason in Article III, Section 3 – his actions with regard to reinforcing US forts were viewed as hostile and intended to precipitate a conflict.

The economic reality of an industrial North seeking protectionist tariffs and an agricultural South seeking the opposite would eventually lead to separation. A local newspaper had editorialized its concern over Northern sectionalism in 1832 during the heat of the discussion over the National Tariff Act of that year. It read:

“We have always thought that the value of the union consisted in affording equal rights and equal protection to every citizen; when, therefore, its objects are so perverted as to become a means of impoverishment to one section, whilst it aggrandizes another, when it becomes necessary to sacrifice one portion of the States for the good of the rest, the Union has lost its value to us; and we are bound, by a recurrence to first principles, to maintain our rights and defend our lives and property.”

Targeting Key West Civilians

“Construction of Fort [Zachary] Taylor [at Key West] was nearly complete when Florida seceded from the Union. On the night of January 13, 1861, Capt. [John] Brannan marched his [44] men from the barracks to Fort Taylor – taking possession of the fort while the city slept.

While the majority of the citizenry was for the Confederacy, there were some Union supporters on the island. Throughout the war, pro-Union supporters, white and black, tattled on the doings of their pro-Confederate neighbors, but island life in general remained calm.

One incident in February 1863, however, united all the residents against the Union army. The commander of the fort was ordered to round up “all persons who have husbands, brothers or sons in Rebel employment, and all other persons who have at any time declined to take the oath of allegiance, or who have uttered a single disloyal word, in order that they may all be placed within the Rebel lines.”

Six hundred citizens, including some staunch Union supporters whose sons had joined the Confederate army, fell into these categories. They were ordered to pack up and board ships that would take them to Hilton Head, S.C. According to one citizen:

“. . . The town has been in the utmost state of excitement. Men sacrificing their property, selling off their all, getting ready to be shipped off; women and children crying at the thought of being sent off among the Rebels. It was impossible for any good citizen to remain quiet and unconcerned at such a time.”

At the last moment, orders arrived superseding the operation. The protests of the “good citizens” had been heard.”

(Key West, Images of the Past, Joan & Wright Langley, Belland & Swift Publishers, 1982, excerpts pp. 20-21)

Northern Ideology Victorious

In the early postwar and before the Fourteenth and Fifteenth Amendments were enacted, “many political, financial and religious leaders in the North had accepted the theory of rugged individualism as applied to the Negro” – Lincoln’s doctrine of “root hog or die.”

The freed slave was now a Northern-styled hired worker who could be worked long hours for meager pay and no medical or retirement benefits — plus had to survive on his own overnight before returning to work.

The value of the black man to the North was this: he who wandered into Northern lines after his plantation and crops were burned was put to hard labor on fortifications or used in forlorn assaults on impregnable Southern positions to save the lives of Northern soldiers; in the postwar he was taught to hate his white Southern neighbor for the purpose electing Republican candidates, no matter how corrupt, to maintain party hegemony both State and national.

It is noted below that the South had “ratified” the Fourteenth Amendment – the Southern States were under duress and the amendment unconstitutionally enacted without the requisite number of States ratifying.

Northern Ideology Victorious

“The American Civil War, as in the case of most wars, had been a conflict of ideologies as well as a trial at arms. The ideological conflict had revolved chiefly around the function of government, the nature of the union, the innate capacities of mankind, the structure of society, and the economic laws which control it. The triumph of the federal government automatically established the de facto status of that cluster of ideologies which shall be referred to as representing the point of view of the North and the de facto destruction of those ideologies typical of the South.

The history of Reconstruction amply bears out the fact that neither the North nor the South was consolidated in a united front on any of the great questions which had been the subject of controversy. The passage of the Fourteenth Amendment, for example, made it necessary for a number of Northern States to hastily change their laws in order to permit an equality of civil rights to Negroes, and it wasn’t until the passage of the Fifteenth Amendment that Negroes won the ballot throughout the North.

The act of writing into the Constitution the Fourteenth and Fifteenth Amendments was in itself an ideological revolution.

The South, with a ballot purged of the old slaveholding regime, had ratified the [Amendments], but it was not until 1876 that the South made its peace with Congress . . . After eleven years of attempting to bring the South into conformity . . . the federal government had retired from active participation in the experiment of the social revolution, leaving behind a Negro political machine protected by a legal equality and rewarded with federal patronage.

In the North the reaction had set in soon after the passage of the Fourteenth Amendment. The strong equalitarian sentiment of the Negrophiles and the general feeling that the Southern [freedmen] had become the wards of the nation had given rise to a profound sympathy for the Negro in the abstract, but the actual status of the northern Negro was little changed for the better.

As the rumor of misgovernment and fraud under Negro domination circulated in the North, the doctrine of the immediate fitness of the Negro for all the rights of citizenship came more and more to be questioned, and the way was rapidly being prepared for laissez faire in the South.

It came to be said in the North that the equality of man could be achieved only through the slow process of time and that the Negro offered a flat denial to the American assumption that all who came to this country’s shores would first be assimilated and then absorbed.”

(The Ideology of White Supremacy, Guion Griffis Johnson; The South and the Sectional Image, Dewey W. Grantham, editor, Harper & Row, Publishers, 1967, excerpts pp. 56-58)

“When the Yankees Come”

The excerpts below were taken from “When the Yankees Come,” an edited narrative of slave experiences during Sherman’s invasion of South Carolina in early 1865 by Paul C. Graham. The sources employed were The Slave Narratives: A Folk History of Slavery in the United States – collected by the Federal Writers’ Project of the WPA in the 1930s.

When the Yankees Come

“Yankees! Oh, I hear folks speak about the Yankees plundering through the country plenty times. Hear about the Yankees going all about stealing white people silver. Say, everywhere they went and found white folks silver, they would just clean the place up.” Josephine Bacchus, Marion County, SC. Age 75-80.

“When the Yankees come they seem to have special vengeance for my white folks. They took everything they could carry off and burnt everything they couldn’t carry.” Charley Barber, Near Winnsboro, Fairfield County, SC. Age 81.

“The Yankees come and burn the gin-house and barns. Open the smokehouse, take the meat, give the slaves some, shoot the chickens, and as the mistress and girls beg so hard, left without burning the dwelling house.” Millie Barber, Winnsboro, Fairfield County, SC. Age 82.

“I was fifteen when the Yankees come thru. They took everything, horses, mules, cows, sheep, goats, turkeys, geese, and chickens. Hogs? Yes sir, they kill hogs and take what parts they want and leave other parts bleeding on the yard. When they left, old master have to go up into Union County for rations.” Anderson Bates, Winnsboro, Fairfield County, SC. Age 87.

“The Yankees kill all the hog. Kill all the cow. Kill all the fowl. Left you nothing to eat. If the colored folk had any chicken, they just had to take that and try to raise them something to eat.” Solbert Butler, Scotia, Hampton County, SC. Age 82.

“The Yankees come. First thing they look for was money. They put a pistol right in my forehead and say: “I got to have your money, where is it?” There was a gal, Caroline, who had some money; they took it away from her. They took the geese, the chickens and all that was worth taking off the place, stripped it. Took all the meat out of the smoke-house, corn out of the crib, cattle out the pasture, burnt the gin-house and cotton. When the left, they shot some cows and hogs and left them lying right there.” Lewis Evans, Near Winnsboro, Fairfield County, SC. Age 96.

“The Yankees marched through our place, stole cattle, and meat. We went behind them and picked up lots that they dropped when they left.” Rev. Thomas Harpe, Newberry, Newberry County, SC. Age 84.

“Sherman set fire everywhere he went – didn’t do much fighting, just wanted to destroy as he went.” Amos Gadsen, Charleston, Charleston County, SC. Age 88.

(When the Yankees Come, Former South Carolina Slaves Remember Sherman’s Invasion: Voices from the Dust, Volume I, Paul C. Graham, editor, Shotwell Publishing, 2016, excerpts pp. 2-3; 8; 18; 27)

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