Browsing "Crimes of War"

Resistance Fighters Against the Industrial Machine

William B. Elliott was a resident of Pasquotank County in northeastern North Carolina who enlisted at the age of 20, on May 4th, 1861. Captured by enemy forces at Roanoke Island in early 1862, he was exchanged in August of that year. William joined the small local resistance force fighting against enemy troops from New York, New Hampshire, Pennsylvania, Massachusetts, and local black men seized for Northern service.

Bernhard Thuersam, www.Circa1865.com

 

Resistance Fighters Against the Industrial Machine

“After William was exchanged in August, 1862, he renewed former friendships. While doing so, he learned of another resistance unit being formed in adjacent, and occupied, Camden County. Residents of counties bordering on the northern shores of Albemarle Sound, had been living under the shadow of Union occupation since mid-summer of 1861. In Camden County, there was Captain Willis B. Sanderlin, who commanded on of these shadowy partisan units.

In the middle of May [1863], the occupation forces again felt the sting from the valiant guerilla defenders [when the] Union steamers, Emily and Arrow, were captured by partisans at Currituck Sound, on May 15, 1863.

Every army of occupation has attempted to suppress civilians by acts of depredation. Not only were crops, livestock, and personal property confiscated, but also Federal wrath was directed at civilians themselves. [A North Carolina House of Representatives committee investigated enemy outrages and noted the depredations] of Brig. General Edward A. Wild, commanding all Negro soldiers, who occupied Camden and Pasquotank counties.

A citizen, Daniel Bright, was hung, by the roadside just north of Elizabeth City. Bright was a former soldier of the Sixty-second Georgia Regiment, with authority of Governor Vance to raise a company in Pasquotank for local defense. [The partisans] captured two of General Wild’s Negro soldiers . . . [and one], was hung as reprisal for the hanging of Daniel Bright.

Federal retaliation was directed against Mrs. Elizabeth Weeks, wife of Private Pender Weeks, and Mrs. Phoebe Munden, wife of Lt. W.J. Munden, of Captain John T. Elliott’s company. Both were taken hostage, abused, humiliated, and physically mistreated in public, then taken to Norfolk for imprisonment.

Dwellings in both counties were burned [by the enemy] . . . An aged gentleman of 70 years, Gregory, was taken hostage, all his property burned, and while a prisoner he suffered a seizure . . . endured great pain, dying a few days later.

Meager Confederate defensive forces, coupled with insufficient arms and provisions, matched against the Union industrial machine, would, had the truth been known, portend the future.

As October and November [1863] passed, all Union activity increased [and] Federal units scoured the countryside in search of horses, carts, fuel, forage, and contrabands. The Federals were becoming increasingly outraged for their inability to exterminate the guerillas.

[An official report stated that] ”General Benjamin Butler intends to exterminate all guerillas east of . . . Chowan River . . . and will use every means . . . to do so.” The General well emphasized the Union resolve, with warning for residents to: “give information against them (the guerillas) to the military . . . by assisting them (the guerillas) on their way with food and . . . transportation, you can save yourselves . . . the necessity of visitations from the Negro troops.”

(A Tarheel Confederate and His Family, Robert Garrison Elliott, RGE Publications, 1989, excerpts, pp. 14-26; 32)

 

“{Words of Mass Destruction”

“Words of Mass Destruction”

“How many changes have been rung on this one phrase: Weapons of Mass Destruction. We are told we must eliminate the threat of, degrade his capacity to employ, send a clear signal that we w2ill not tolerate the existence of Saddam Hussein’s Weapons of Mass Destruction. Secretaries Cohen and Albright both inserted the key phrase into every possible sentence, sometimes more than once, and as journalists picked up the rhythmic chant, most of the American people goose-stepped their way to the same beat.

The technique of indoctrination is not new. There are two essential ingredients: first, the selection of a vacuous phrase, which — because it is meaningless – cannot be challenged; then the repetition of the mantra in every conceivable context until the words acquire a hypnotic force to quell both rational argument and moral scruples.

What do journalists have in mind when they obediently repeat “Weapons of Mass Destruction (WOMD).” Our immediate thought is of nuclear weapons, even though Saddam’s nuclear capacity was eliminated first by the Israelis and then by the US Air Force. Well, if not nuclear, then biological and chemical weapons. But in all three categories of WOMD, the United States is the unchallenged leader, followed by Russia, Britain, France, India, Pakistan, Israel and South Africa.

“But,” honk the gaggle of goslings trailing after Madeleine Mother of All Battles, “Saddam is the only leader who has actually used his WOMD.” Oh? And we are to believe that the US did not use chemical weapons in Vietnam?

“But what if some madman like Saddam got his hands on nuclear weapons, and what if he were to use them?” It is not an Iraqi, though, but an American secretary of state who says that the high civilian death rate in Iraq – higher than at Hiroshima – is an acceptable price to pay for the United States undefined political and military objectives in Iraq.

Weaponsofmassdestructionweaponsofmassdestruction. Keep on saying it long enough, and you will hear between the spaces, similar phrases like “running dogs of Yankee imperialism,” “un-American activities,” and “Arbeit Macht Frei.” The revolution changes its name and picks up new gangsters to run the operation under rewritten mission statements, but the project never changes, and the method never changes.

But why take Humpty’s word for it, when you can read the words of the master: “Die breite Masse eines Voles einer grossen Luge leichter zum Opfer fallt al seiner kleinen.” Big weapons, big lies. If we cannot reclaim our language from the demagogues, we are not fit to be a free people. Humpty Dumpty”

(Words of Mass Destruction; Chronicles, March 1999, pg. 12)

 

Total War Comes to France

Otto von Bismarck saw Lincoln’s war as one of unification and centralization, as he had accomplished with the German states; Bismarck also promoted the purchase of US government bonds to support Lincoln’s war. In 1870, the Northern general who visited total war on the Shenandoah Valley and its people was an official observer of Bismarck’s war on France, and undoubtedly influenced the war against civilians. The “francs-tireurs” noted below were French partisans who were shot if caught.

Bernhard Thuersam, www.Circa1865.com

 

Total War Comes to France

“Moreover as the war dragged on into the winter and fancs-tireur activity grew, the Germans learned an ever-deeper hatred of the nation which was in their eyes prolonging the struggle so uselessly, and by such underhand means. “The War,” wrote a German officer campaigning on the Loire in November, “is gradually acquiring a hideous character. Murder and burning is now the order of the day on both sides, and one cannot beg Almighty God finally to make an end to it.”

“We are learning to hate them more every day, wrote another, a sane and civilized man who watched with horror the deterioration which bitterness and brutality were working among his troops. “I can assure you that it is also in the interests of the civilization of our own people that such a racial struggle should be brought to an end. Atrocious attacks are avenged by atrocities which remind one of the Thirty Years’ War.”

The discipline which during the summer had forced the German troops to respect civilian property was gradually relaxed.

“At first we were forbidden with the severest penalties, to burn vine-posts in bivouacs, and woe to him who used unthreshed corn for his palliasse. Child-like innocence! Now no one asks whether you are using garden fences . . . no Frenchman can any longer lay claim to property or means of livelihood.”

Thus throughout the autumn and winter of 1870 the terrorism of the francs-tireurs and the reprisals of the Germans spiraled down to new depths of savagery. If the French refused to admit military defeat, then other means must be found to break their will.

The same problem had confronted the United States in dealing with the Confederacy six years earlier, and Sherman had solved it by his relentless march through the South. [General Helmuth von] Moltke had believed war to consist in the movement of armies; but General Sheridan, who was observing the war from German headquarters, pointed out that this was only the first requirement of victory. [He stated:]

“The proper strategy [he declared after Sedan] consists in inflicting as telling blows as possible on the enemy’s army, then in causing the inhabitants so much suffering that they must long for peace, and force the government to demand it. The people must be left nothing but their eyes to weep with over the war.”

Bismarck took this advice more seriously than did Moltke. The more Frenchmen who suffered from the war, he pointed out, the greater would be the number who would long for peace at any price. “It will come to this, that we will have shoot down every male inhabitant.” Every village, he demanded, in which an act of treachery had been committed, should be burned to the ground and all male inhabitants hanged. To show mercy was “culpable laziness in killing.”

(The Franco-Prussian War: The German Invasion of France, 1870-71; Michael Howard, Routledge, 1989 (original 1961), excerpts, pp. 379-380)

Remember the Maine

President William McKinley had to be goaded into war against Spain by the yellow journalism and fake news of Hearst and Pulitzer, but his dispatch of the USS Maine to Cuba provided the incident, as Roosevelt’s dispatch of the US fleet to Pearl Harbor did 43 years later. Lincoln’s bludgeoning of Americans seeking independence in 1861-1865, cleverly disguised as a war to emancipate slaves, left future imperial-minded presidents with a reusable template for war.

Bernhard Thuersam, www.Circa1865.com

 

Remember the Maine

“Henry Luce coined the phrase “The American Century” as an expression of the militant economic globalism that has characterized American policy from the days of William McKinley. Luce, the publisher of Time and Fortune, was the child of missionaries in China – a product, in other words, of American religious and cultural globalism. It is no small irony that this preacher’s kid was the chief spokesman for a global movement which, in its mature phase, has emerged as the principal enemy of the Christian faith.

The approach to Christianity taken by the postmodern, post-civilized, and post-Christian American regime is a seamless garment: At home, the federal government bans prayer in school, enforces multiculturalism in the universities, and encourages the immigration of non-Christian religious minorities who begin agitating against Christian symbols the day they arrive; abroad, the regime refuses to defend Christians from the genocide inflicted by Muslims in the Sudan, while in the Balkans it has waged a ruthless and inhumane war against the Serbs of Croatia, Bosnia, Kosovo and Serbia.

The inhumanity of NATO’s air campaign against villages, heating plants and television stations reveals, even in the absence of other evidence, the anti-Christian hatred that animates the Washington regime.

Luce did not invent the American Empire, he only shilled for it. His American Century began in the Philippines 100 years ago, when the American regime refined the policies and techniques discovered in the Civil War.

The oldest and best form of American imperialism is the commercial expansion advocated by the Republicans – McKinley, Taft, Hoover and Eisenhower – who warned against the military-industrial complex. Although all of these free-traders were occasionally willing to back up the politics of self-interest with gunboats, they preferred to rely, whenever possible, on dollar diplomacy. McKinley had no hesitation about establishing American hegemony in Cuba and the Philippines, but he had to be dragged into war.

Free trade, these Babbits believed, could be the route to market penetration around the globe, and one of the early slogans of commercial imperialists was the “Open Door.” Sometimes, however, the door had to be kicked in by the Marines.

As one spokesman for American industry put it 100 years ago, “One way of opening up a market is to conquer it.” This is what Bill Clinton meant when he justified his attack on Yugoslavia on the grounds that we need a stable Europe as a market for American goods.

Even the most tough-minded Americans are suckers for a messianic appeal; it must have something to do with the Puritan legacy. Even bluff old Bill McKinley, in declaring war on the people of the Philippines, a war that would cost the lives of more than 200,000 civilians, proclaimed the aim of our military administration was “to win the confidence, respect and affection of the inhabitants . . . by assuring them . . . that full measure of individual rights and liberties which is the heritage of a free people, and by proving to them that the mission of the United States is one of benevolent assimilation.”

The new American globalism has a logic all its own, one based on universal free trade, which destroys local economies; open immigration for non-Europeans and non-Christians, who can be used to undermine a civilization that is both Christian and European; and universal human rights, which are the pretext for world government.”

(Remember the Maine, Thomas Fleming; Perspective, Chronicles, August 1999, excerpt, pp. 10-11)

 

A Conquered and Foreign People

Most, if not all, foreign observers recognized the fiction that the Union was saved by Lincoln. Americans in the South were put under military rule and the Republican Party moved quickly to enlist and manipulate the freedmen vote to attain political dominance and ensure the election of Grant in 1868 – lest their military victory be lost with the election of New York Democrat Horatio Seymour.  Grant won a narrow victory over Seymour, by a mere 300,000 votes of the 500,000 newly enfranchised freedmen.

Bernhard Thuersam, www.Circa1865.com

 

A Conquered and Foreign People

“Not everything was settled on the day the Federal flag was raised once again over the capitol building in Richmond. The nation had to go forward resolutely to complete the revolution begun by the Civil War . . . It was needful not only to impose obedience on the conquered inhabitants but also to raise them up again after having subjugated them, to bring them back into the bosom of the Union; to rebuild the devastated countryside and enlist the people’s sincere acceptance of the great reform about to be inaugurated.

They must be made to feel the firm hand of a determined government that would not, however, be a threat to their liberties. Armed repression must give way to politics . . .

[In dealing with the Southern States, they] might be considered conquered territory and be told that when they left the Union they gave up all their rights under the Federal Constitution that they had ceased to be sovereign States.

In that case they must be treated as a conquered foreign people; their State and local governments must be destroyed or allowed to collapse and then reorganized as territories . . . Then someday, when the memory of the Civil War had been completely erased, they would be readmitted to the Union.

This procedure, the Radicals argued, would be merely the literal application of the United States Constitution, the sole method of ensuring respect for national authority. It would be the only way to restore the former Union on a solid foundation, having levelled the ground beforehand by stamping out all tendencies to rebellion . . .

It would be a good thing for the Southern States to be subjected for a time to the rigors of military rule and arbitrary power, or at least for them to be kept for a number of years under the guardianship of Congress, that is to say, under the domination of the North.

Their delegates might come, like those from the territories, and present their grievances or defend their interests; but they would only have a consultative voice in Congress and would have no share in the government. Great care must be taken not to give back to the South the preponderant influence it had exercised for so long.

The rebellion is not yet dead, the Radical orators declared; it has only been knocked down and it may get back on its feet if we are not vigilant. Never has the Union been in such danger as in this moment of victory when peace seems to prevail, but when the future depends on the decisions the people and the government now adopt.

If the [Democratic Party] is once again allowed to reorganize, if the Southerners renew their alliance with the Northern Democrats, it will be all up for national greatness and liberty. The same arrogant claims and the same quarrels will reappear . . . all this will someday or another lead to another civil war which will encompass the total destruction of America.”

(A Frenchman in Lincoln’s America, 1864-1865, Ernest Duvergier de Hauranne, Volume II, R.R. Donnelley & Sons Company, 1975 (original 1866), pp. 543-545

 

Sherman’s New Notion of Total War

There is little question that Sherman operated against American civilians in the South with the full approval of Lincoln and Grant, who must also share the responsibility for visiting total war upon defenseless men, women and children. This executive approval of war against civilians was not lost on the young Spanish attache to the Northern army, Valeriano Weyler, who became known in mid-1890s Cuba as General “Butcher” Weyler. To discourage Cuban freedom fighters, Weyler herded their women and children into concentration camps after burning their homes.

Bernhard Thuersam, www.Circa1865.com

 

Sherman’s New Notion of Total War

“Major-General [Henry W.] Halleck, Sherman’s overall commander-in-chief, was an accepted authority of his day on the rules governing the intercourse of nations and the laws of war. Sherman had attended West Point with Halleck, and certainly curiosity if not actual interest on the subject would have prompted him to look into Halleck’s “International Law.”

It was said of Sherman that he was in the habit of “starting new notions constantly in his own brain, and following them up, no matter how far or whither they led.” On October 4 [1862] he reported to General Grant that two more steamboats had been fired upon – the attacks being described by Sherman as wanton and cruel – and he informed Grant of the new notion that had occurred to him:

“I caused Randolph [Mississippi] to be destroyed, and have given notice that a repetition will justify measures of retaliation, such as loading boats with their captive guerillas as targets (I always have a lot on hand), and expelling families from the comforts of Memphis, whose husbands and brothers go to make up the guerillas. I will watch Randolph closely, and if anything occurs there again I will send a brigade by land back of Randolph and clean out the country.”

From this modest beginning – the experiments to discover the effectiveness of the practical application of his concepts of total war – the destruction of property, the holding of hostages and now the improper exposure of prisoners to the fire of their own forces, would not be enlarged on in the weeks ahead and their effects carefully noted.

Whether Sherman himself ever entertained any doubts or hesitations as to the course to which he had committed himself cannot be stated accurately, but it is noteworthy that during this period no mention is made in his correspondence of the rules of war, nor does he suggest that his actions were not in accord with them.

There are threads of justification woven into his letters and his orders for extreme severity and barbarism; and a definite impression is left that many of these were included with one eye on posterity and the hope of ultimate vindication.”

(Merchant of Terror: General Sherman and Total War; John Bennett Walters, Bobbs-Merrill Company, 1973, excerpt, pp. 68-69)

From William Sherman to William Calley

As of April 24, 1863, the Northern armies were officially guided by Francis Lieber’s General Orders 100, Instructions for the Government of Armies of the United States in the Field, which prohibited robbery, sacking, pillage rape, wounding maiming or killing of the South’s inhabitants. Observance of these instructions seemed to be the exception rather than the rule.

Bernhard Thuersam, www.Circa1865.com

 

From William Sherman to William Calley

“Paradoxically . . . Union General William Tecumseh Sherman [gradually] evolved his own personal philosophy of war along lines which were clearly at variance with the official pronouncements [of the North’s and in his practical application of that philosophy became one of the first of the modern generals to revert to the use of military force against the civilian population of the enemy.

While this represents only a part of the present concept of total war, its significance lies in Sherman’s demonstration of the effectiveness of a plan of action which would destroy the enemy’s economic system and terrify and demoralize the civilian population.

Sherman’s conduct, reflected in the actions of his men, demonstrated a strange hatred – one without parallel even in World War II. Even as brutal as the Japanese were to prisoners and to civilians who came under their bayonets, there was no demand in United States newspapers for the burning, sacking and pillaging of towns. Nor was there any public sentiment for the humiliation of civilians.

No efforts are made here to show that Sherman’s program pf terror was original with him. It is evident that he was willing to proceed in the face of official pronouncements to the contrary to apply the terrifying force of an uncontrolled soldiery against noncombatants.

It is likewise evident that he would not dared do so without the tacit approval of Abraham Lincoln and General Grant. Sherman pleaded that he could no control his troops in the face of their righteous indignation against those who would rebel against a benign government. The pages of recent history reveal that this plea was reiterated by both Japanese and German generals as the mounted the steps of scaffolds to which they were condemned by international tribunals.

There were extreme and unnecessary cruelties involving civilians in the Korean action. However, it was in the highly dramatic court martial of Lt. [William] Calley that the army undertook to point up the brutal attack upon civilians in the village of My Lai, South Vietnam.

The nation and the world was shocked at the pictures and detailed accounts of witnesses which placed upon the consciences of people everywhere the details of the massacre of the inhabitants, including women and children, of My Lai.

There can be little doubt that Sherman’s actions toward a proud and almost defenseless people left a heritage of hate which lasted far longer than it might otherwise have lasted.”

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

Grabbing Pennies Off the Southern Corpse

Sherman’s army occupied Savannah in late December, 1864 after Gen. William J. Hardee had evacuated his troops into South Carolina. Offshore and awaiting the occupation of the city by Sherman were US Treasury agents and others anxious to seize bales of cotton and other valuables for government or personal enrichment. In addition, presidential-aspirant Edwin M. Stanton presciently coveted the Negro vote in the South as Grant eventually did, and pretended concern for their future.

Bernhard Thuersam, www.Circa1865.com

 

Grabbing Pennies Off the Southern Corpse

“In making the rounds of the city [in late December, 1864, Sherman] was irritated to find that an agent of the [US] Treasury had arrived in the city ahead of him and seized a large stock of cotton there, estimated at 25,000 bales, later found to amount to 31,000 bales.

His chief annoyance . . . was from outside meddlers, agents from the North, the forerunners of the pestiferous army of carpetbaggers that swarmed into the South in the next few months and years. Some were sincere and fervent, but narrow-minded, zealots determined to impose salvation as decreed by the abolitionists upon the Negroes; many were greedy and unconscionable rascals bent upon seizing political power and grabbing the pennies off the Southern corpse.

[Sherman] . . . divined the developing purpose of the Radicals in Congress. It became apparent in the attitude suggested in hints let out here and there by the chief of the northern agents who descended upon Savannah while Sherman was there.

This was none other than Secretary of War Stanton, who hurried down by boat at the first opportunity to look the ground over. Stanton was fussy about many things, peeking here and there, prying, asking questions, seemingly deeply concerned about the Negro and his future, but in reality carefully measuring the political potentialities in this Southern tragedy, thus foretelling his action, a few months later, in joining the Radicals openly in their desperate and vicious Reconstruction program.

Sherman was most resentful when Stanton revealed his intention to quiz the Negroes about [Sherman’s] own policies . . . [and] witnesses upheld Sherman also in the firm policy he had adopted against recruiting Negroes for his army by State agents who rushed into Savannah and were trying to enlist Negroes right and left.

[Sherman] did not want to enlist any Negro soldiers, not only because of the bother of handling such unseasoned troops, but also because he had smarted under the taunts of Confederate General [John B.] Hood at Atlanta to the effect that the North had to use the South’s own Negro slaves to defeat the Confederacy.”

(The Savannah, More Than the Story of a River, Thomas L. Stokes, University of Georgia Press, 1951, excerpt, pp. 285-288)

 

Shaping Northern Opinion Against the South

As the Northern armies spread across the Confederacy, newspaper reporters following them sent observations and stories northward. The result was predictable as they wrote of an evil land and emphasized any unfavorable aspects of Southern civilization. In the last year of war, the United States government refused prisoner exchanges while Jefferson Davis and Robert E. Lee pleaded in vain for the starving men in blue held in Southern prisoner of war camps to be saved by their own leaders.

Bernhard Thuersam, www.Circa1865.com

 

Shaping Northern Opinion Against the South

“[The] years from 1865 to 1880 were dreary years in which there was no peace. The war had only ended on the battlefield. In the minds of men it still persisted. Memories of the past and issues living in the present combined to perpetuate and perhaps enlarge the antagonism that victory and defeat created. One observer made the comment that “it was useless to preach forgiveness and good will to men still burning with the memory of their wrongs.”

Deeply [engraved] on the Northern heart was the conviction that the Confederacy had deliberately mistreated the prisoners of war captured by its armies. The Southern prisons . . . were at best what one Confederate surgeon described as a “gigantic mass of human misery.”

A war-crazed [Northern] public could not dissociate this suffering from deliberate intent of the enemy. Rather it fitted the purposes of propaganda to attribute the barest motives to the Confederates [that] “there was a fixed determination on the part of the rebels to kill the Union soldiers who fell into their hands.” The great non-governmental agencies of relief and propaganda contributed to the spread of similar impressions.

Northern opinion was thus rigidly shaped in the belief that “tens of thousands of national soldiers . . . were deliberately shot to death, as at Fort Pillow, or frozen to death as at Belle Island, or starved to death as at Andersonville, or sickened to death by swamp malaria, as in South Carolina.”

Horror passed into fury and fury into a demand for revenge. And the arch-fiend of iniquity, for so the North regarded him, Major Henry Wirz, was hanged as a murderer [in November 1865] . . . he was the scapegoat upon whom centered the full force of Northern wrath.

Meanwhile the South had no effective way of meeting these charges of brutality [though] it is not difficult to find, however, material in these years that the South received the Northern charge with sullen hatred.

Typical is an article contributed to the Southern Review in January 1867:

“The impartial times to come will hardly understand how a nation, which not only permitted but encouraged its government to declare medicines and surgical instruments contraband of war, and to destroy by fire and sword the habitations and food of noncombatants, as well as the fruits of the earth and the implements of tillage, should afterwards have clamored for the blood of captive enemies, because they did not feed their prisoners out of their own starvation and heal them in their succorless hospitals.

And when a final and accurate development shall have been made of the facts connected with the exchange of prisoners between the belligerents, and it shall have been demonstrated . . . that all the nameless horrors [of both sides] were the result of a deliberate and inexorable policy of non-exchange on the part of the United States, founded on an equally deliberate calculation of their ability to furnish a greater mass of humanity than the Confederacy could afford for starvation and the shambles, men will wonder how it was that a people, passing for civilized and Christian, should have consigned Jefferson Davis to a cell, while they tolerated Edwin M. Stanton as a cabinet minister.”

(The Road to Reunion, 1865-1900, Paul H. Buck, Little, Brown and Company, 1937, excerpts, pp. 45-48)

Our Inhuman Foe

Though Northern General David Birney was born in Alabama, his Kentucky abolitionist father moved the family to Philadelphia where he was educated and indoctrinated. A thoroughly political general who rose through the ranks by self-promotion and connections, his career was dotted with discipline issues and courts martial. He was described as a “pale, Puritanical figure, with a demeanor of unmovable coldness . . .” He ordered the indiscriminate bombardment of women, children and old men in mid-1864 Petersburg, which offered no military targets.

Bernhard Thuersam, www.Circa1865.com

 

Our Inhuman Foe

“The war against the civilian population of the Cockade City began in earnest on June 16. The 10th Massachusetts Battery took an advanced position near the Hare House Hill, from which, one artilleryman later recalled, the “spires of Petersburg were now in full view, though distant, perhaps, two miles.”

Two days of bitter fighting remained before the Union leaders would admit failure in their attempt to storm Petersburg, but the targeting of noncombatants did not wait that long. “By order of Gen. Birney we gave our pieces ample elevation and fired the first shots known to have been thrown into the city,” cannoneer John D. Billings noted.

“What a night was the last,” Fanny Waddell wrote the next morning. “Our inhuman foe without a single warning opened their guns upon us, shelling a city full of defenseless women, children and old men.” The bombardment that began on June 16 lasted well into the early hours of June 17.

“I lay quietly until nearly one o’clock listening the bursting of the shells when one exploded so near that the light flashed in my face,” Mrs. Waddell recollected. Ah! The bitterness of that night will never pass from our hearts and memories.”

The correspondent for the Savannah Republican reported on June 19 that a “number of shells have exploded in the streets [of Petersburg], but thus far only eleven persons have been hurt, including one old Negro woman killed.”

An officer visiting Petersburg shortly after this report was filed thought that everything seemed “exceedingly depressing. The streets were almost deserted, and the destructive work of the shells was visible on every hand. Here a chimney was knocked off, here a handsome residence was deserted, with great rents in its walls, and the windows shattered by explosion; here stood a church tower mutilated, the church yard filled with new-made graves.”

Large numbers of civilians fled the Petersburg battle zone within days of Grant’s approach. James Albright, a Virginia artilleryman, wrote in his diary on June 20, “The vandals are still throwing shells into the city, and it is very distressing to see the poor women and children leaving. It is hard on all; but to see the poor women with the children on one arm and their little budgets on the other seeking a safe place – is enough to move the hardest heart.”

The civilian exodus was accelerated by rumors that the Yankees planned to celebrate the Fourth of July with “a furious bombardment of the City.” Another Petersburg diarist noted that during one bombardment “pieces of shell [were] rattling like hail about our house.” There were so many burning structures that one Southern artilleryman angrily declared that the “Yankees appear[ed] to be throwing incendiary shells into the city – as some five buildings were on fire at the same time.”

At least one Union battery did use Petersburg to test its homemade incendiary shells. These were concocted by Major Jacob Roemer and thrown into the city in late July, doing “a great deal of damage there.” Another heavy Union bombardment on July 28 started a number of blazes, all noted by Union observers.

To add to the fire hazard, the Union artillery would concentrate its shelling on the burning structures, so that the air around the men battling the flames would be filled with a “perfect storm of shot and shell.”

(The Last Citadel, Petersburg, Virginia, June 1864-April 1865, Noah Andre Trudeau, Little, Brown and Company, 1991, excerpts pp. 91-92; 95-96)

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