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The Horror and Bitter Cost of War

At the battle of First Manassas, a young Major Bryan Grimes served on the field and staff of the Fourth North Carolina Regiment under the command of Colonel George B. Anderson. Though Grimes did not participate in the battle, his view of how to treat the enemy was clear: “If my wishes could be consulted and followed I should say, raise the black flag and give no quarter to invading foes.” Witnessing the death and destruction caused by the enemy invasion of a formerly peaceful landscape hardened him to the grim task ahead.

Bernhard Thuersam, www.Circa1865.org

 

The Horror and Bitter Cost of War

“The month near the front impressed the major and altered his views on several matters. “Fighting from my opinion, is the least of the soldier’s exposures,” he observed. “The danger of battle is nothing in comparison to the risks from exposure to which he is subjected in camp life.”

His proximity to the July 21st action allowed him to absorb firsthand the grim reality and harsh aftermath of the Manassas battle: “The stench now arising from the putrefaction of the dead is intolerable,” described the North Carolinian in a letter home.

“A [handkerchief] full of whiskey and an extra bottle to keep it full is the only means by which you can visit the severely contested spots on the battleground.”

Taking an interest in where his fellow Tarheels had fought during the engagement, Grimes sought out the spot where Col. Charles Fisher and the Sixth North Carolina was engaged. Fisher was killed during the action and the unit had suffered heavily.

Although the bodies had been removed, “at least fifty horses in an area the diameter of which is perhaps forty yards,” were rotting under the hot July sun. In addition to the flotsam of battle, burial sites littered the devastated landscape. “Near a church I saw eight freshly dug holes and one of the wounded (still at the church used as a hospital) informed me that he counted seventy dead bodies thrown into one of the pits.”

Clearly the aftermath of the fighting at Manassas had deeply affected the young officer. “If only you could visit our hospitals you would feel in all its horror the bitter cost of war. And if one drop of milk of human kindness toward them weren’t permitted to exhibit itself, you couldn’t be a true Southern man at heart.”

(Lee’s Last Major General: Bryan Grimes of North Carolina, T. Harrell Allen, 1999, Savas Publishing Company, excerpts pp. 31-34)

The Impassable Breach in 1850

The idea of States withdrawing from the Union was not new in 1860, the first being New England’s desire for independence once the Louisiana Purchase was contemplated, and afterward during the War of 1812, and as other territories were added. It is said that John C. Calhoun learned his concept of secession from the New Englanders. In 1850, as described below, the withdrawal of the South from the Union was well along and only a matter of time.

Bernhard Thuersam, www.Circa1865.org

 

The Impassable Breach in 1850

“[Silver Bluff], 17 March 1850

“The Session of Congress has been stormy and thus far nothing has been done but to debate Slavery and the Union. The South has threatened dissolution through many Representatives, in doing which [Robert] Toombs of [Georgia] and [Thomas] Clingman of [North Carolina], both Whigs, have taken the lead. [South Carolina] rather silent.

In the Senate [Jeremiah] Clemens of [Alabama], [Solomon] Downs of [Louisiana], [Henry] Foote and [Jefferson] Davis of [Mississippi have been the most violent. Many calculations have been paraded showing the advantage of disunion to the South. On the other hand threats of coercion have been made freely by minor men. There have been some terrible scenes in the House.

The North has given up the Wilmot proviso for the present, on the avowed ground that that Slavery is naturally excluded from the newly acquired Territories. The main question is on the admission of California as a State – the adventurers there having without any of the usual forms, made a Constitution, excluding Slavery, and asked for admission into the Union.

[Henry] Clay has brought in a long string of what he calls compromise resolutions, which surrender everything in issue to the North. He has denounced the South bitterly and prophesied, if not threatened, Civil war and coercion.

The South contends that the admission of California [as a free State] destroys her equality in the Senate – already merely nominal there, for Delaware belongs to the North. That deprived of equality there [in the number of slave vs. free States] and already in a vast minority in the House and Electoral College, she will be undone.

Mr. [John C.] Calhoun has made an admirable speech, showing that the equilibrium between the North and South is utterly annihilated, and must be restored or we must separate. As such a restoration is well known to be an impossibility – his proposition is plainly – Disunion.

Webster followed with a most eloquent speech, denouncing the free-soil and anti-fugitive [slave] movements, but denouncing slavery and yielding nothing. At this moment, however, my impression is that they will enter into another fatal truce and stave off the difficulty for the present.

I have had drawn up for a month . . . many resolutions which I had intended to proposed there, if I could get backing. They are short and to the effect that Conventions should be immediately called in the Slave States to send Delegates to a General Congress, empowered to dissolve the Union, form a new Constitution, and organize a new Government, and in the meantime appoint a Provisional Government until the Constitution could go into operation.”

(Secret and Sacred, the Diaries of James Henry Hammond, a Southern Slaveholder; Carol Bleser, editor, Oxford University Press, 1988, excerpts pp. 197-198)

Accommodating Secession Way Up North

Though James Buchanan did little to stem the drift toward confrontation in 1860, and helped light the fuse of war by refusing to order Major Anderson out of Fort Sumter, he did understand the constitutional limits of a president’s authority. He was an experienced diplomat who preferred negotiation, and was perhaps misled by his successor that a constitutional convention of the States would be soon called to peacefully resolve the crisis.

Bernhard Thuersam, www.Circa1865.org

 

Accommodating Secession Way Up North

“Quebec secession was the subject of an historic judgement handed down by the supreme court of Canada on August 20, 1998. This question reached the court by a “reference” or “renvoi” initiated by the governor general, in effect a request by the Prime Minister and his cabinet for an advisory opinion.

The judgement is not binding or enforceable by writs as in ordinary litigation, but is judicial advice given to the government of Canada.

The court held, while the government of Quebec has no constitutional right to work a unilateral secession of the province from Canada, the people of Quebec enjoy a constitutional right to have a referendum at public expense and without interference, and that, if the people of Quebec clearly vote for independence, the government of Canada has a constitutional duty to negotiate in good faith to accommodate their expressed desire.

The people of Quebec refused to be absorbed [into the dominant Anglo-Canada] and they intend to remain a distinct society – be constitutional accommodation with Anglo-Canada if possible, by independence if necessary. At the moment, separatism is an active force in Quebec, mainly because of a new constitution (the Canada Act of 1982) was imposed upon Quebec over the protest of her government.

In their recent judgment, the supreme court of Canada [was] right insofar as [the Constitution Acts of 1867-1982] include no express right of constitutional mechanism for secession. Yet by implication, the court wholly repudiated the course taken by Abraham Lincoln against the South in 1861-1865.

The justices understand the truth stated by President James Buchanan on the occasion of Lincoln’s election in 1860” “Our Union rests upon public opinion, and can never be cemented by the blood of its citizens shed in a civil war. If it cannot live in the affections of the people, it must one day perish. Congress possesses many means of preserving it by conciliation, but the sword was not placed in their hands to preserve it.”

(Cultural Revolutions, John Remington Graham, Chronicles, November 1998, excerpts pg. 7)

 

“Forecasts of Good Times a-Coming”

Since the war, Americans have believed, or led to believe, that national unity is the ultimate goal of all Americans – the South has been portrayed as evil given its distinction of unsuccessfully withdrawing from the Union. Southern historian Francis Butler Simkins notes that even Southern-friendly historians seem to get “inspiration from William T. Sherman who felt justified in imposing a cruel punishment upon the South because it tried to destroy the national unity.” In reality, the South’s withdrawal did not destroy the Union, it simply reduced the numerical constituency of the Union.

Bernhard Thuersam, www.Circa1865.com

 

“Forecasts of Good Times a-Coming”

“The reputation of the region of the United States below the Potomac today suffers from the same forces from which the Middle Ages suffered at the hands of historians during the Enlightenment. Chroniclers of Southern history often do not grasp the most elementary concept of sound historiography: the ability to appraise the past by standards other than those of the present.

They accept a fanatical nationalism which leaves little room for sectional variations, a faith in Darwinian progress which leaves no room for static contentment, and a faith in the American dream of human equality which leaves little room for one person to get ahead of another except in making money.

In theory at least, our historians refuse to tolerate a concept of “all sorts and conditions of men” of which The Book of Common Prayer speaks.

Growing out of the uncritical acceptance by historians of the South of this creed of contemporary Americans are certain concrete dogmas: the church and state should be separate, but not the school and state; school but not church attendance should be compulsory; universal education is better than folk culture; political democracy is better than aristocratic rule; freedom is better than slavery; nationalism is better than provincialism; urban standards are better than rural ones; small farms are better than plantations; the larger the number of voters the better for the commonwealth; and the two-party system is better than the harmony of one party.

The historians who are friendly to the region and who accept the ideal of human equality seem ashamed of the degree to which the South has not attained this ideal. Their faith in the benefits of two political parties has led them to predict, for the past ten decades, the breakup of the Solid South and the coming of a state of rectitude like that of New York or Illinois.

They are apologetic over the existence in the South of the sharpest social distinction in all America: that between the white man and the Negro. They hail breaks on the color line as forecasts of the good times a-coming.”

(The Everlasting South, Francis Butler Simkins, LSU Press, 1965, excerpts pp. 4-5)

 

Igniting the Flame at Fort Sumter

President James Buchanan’s vacillation and failure to seek conciliation during the Fort Sumter crisis burdened the inexperienced Lincoln with something he was ill-prepared to handle. Buchanan had underway a secret negotiation with the president-elect “to obtain his backing for a national constitutional convention, and he expected an answer from Lincoln at any hour.” Though Buchanan tried to engage conservative Republicans to endorse some conciliatory measures to defuse the crisis, none were forthcoming.  Jefferson Davis, in his efforts to save the Union, encouraged his fellow congressmen and the president to seek peaceful solutions to the crisis.

Bernhard Thuersam, www.Circa1865.com

 

Igniting the Flame at Fort Sumter

[South Carolina-born, American diplomat] William H. Trescott, acting as a go-between, scheduled a procedural meeting [with Buchanan] for December 27. On the morning of that fateful day news arrived [in Washington] which created wild excitement. Major [Robert] Anderson had just spiked the guns of Moultrie and had moved his entire command into Fort Sumter under cover of darkness . . .

The South Carolina commissioners cancelled their visit to [President] Buchanan and waited for more information. Trescott hurried to [Secretary of War John B.] Floyd’s office and obtained from him a promise that he would promptly order Anderson back to Moultrie as soon as he received official confirmation of the reports.

Floyd immediately telegraphed Anderson that he did not believe the news, “because there is no order for any such movement,” but Anderson replied, “The telegram is correct.”

While messages sped back and forth, the Southern leaders in Washington headed for the White House. Jefferson Davis arrived first and broke the news to Buchanan. “Now, Mr. President,” he said, “you are surrounded with blood and dishonor on all sides.”

“[Buchanan exclaimed]: I call God to witness, you gentlemen more than anybody know that this is not only without but against my orders. It is against my policy.”

Senators Hunter, Lane, Yulee, even Slidell called and bore down on Buchanan to order Anderson out of Sumter or face general secession and war. Buchanan paced nervously, telling his excited callers to keep calm and trust him. He gave evidence of sympathizing with their position for it seemed to him at the moment that if Anderson had ruptured the “gentlemen’s agreement” [to maintain the status quo in Charleston harbor]. It was certainly a move the president had not anticipated. But for all his soothing words, he gave the Southerners no promise.

The afternoon Cabinet meeting ran over into the night. Black, Holt and Stanton aggressively defended Anderson’s action. “Good,” said Black. “It is in precise accordance with his orders.” “It is not,” said Floyd.

Buchanan believed that Anderson’s orders justified his maneuver. The Cabinet had assigned the major “military discretion” and had authorized him to take defensive action in the face of “tangible evidence of a design to attack him.” His report of a few days before had offered such evidence, though no hint that he intended to transfer the troops.

Buchanan said he would not order Anderson to return to Moultrie, but he expressed deep concern over the settlement of the question of responsibility. Neither the President nor Secretary of War had commanded the transfer . . .

Buchanan agreed to see the South Carolinians “only as private gentlemen.” At their interview, the only one which was to be held, they informed the president excitedly and with asperity that they would not negotiate with him until he ordered all federal troops out of the Charleston area. Buchanan replied that he could issue no such order.

The commissioners then withdrew and that night prepared a letter . . . It suggested that South Carolina had made a serious mistake “to trust your honor rather than its own power,” and warned that unless the troops were withdrawn, affairs would speedily come to a “bloody issue.”

(President James Buchanan, a Biography, Philip S. Klein, American Political Biography Press, 1962, excerpts pp. 378-379)

The Last Election Held Under the Union

Hamilton Fish (1808-1893) was a prewar governor and senator from New York and served as secretary of state under Grant, 1869-1877. A wealthy man before the war, Fish was pragmatic and foresaw the destructive nature of the new Republican Party forming in the mid-1850s. He saw it as the duty of every man, North and South, to discourage unnecessary discussion of the slavery question which would only lead to the end of the Union. Fish, like other prominent Whigs who feared sectional parties, refused to join the Republicans and agreed with the view of Charles Sumner as vulgar, arrogant and deserving of caning. In 1860, only four years after fielding its first presidential candidate, the Republican Party had driven the first Southern State out of the Union.

Bernhard Thuersam, www.Circa1865.com

 

The Last Election Held Under the Union

“[In] 1855, the Republican Party advanced with rapid strides to the destruction of [the Whig Party]. News of violence was beginning to come from Kansas; fresh incidents were proving the Fugitive Slave Act unenforceable; in New York [Thurlow] Weed and [William] Seward were gravitating to the new organization.

Disunion was coming, D.D. Barnard sadly wrote Fish in July. The Fugitive Slave Law did something, and the Nebraska Bill has done everything, to stir up the anti-slavery sentiment of the North to a fever-heat. Fanaticism, meanwhile, makes a jubilee of the occasion, and demagogues, great and little, rush in to swell the commotion and make the most of the dreadful mischief. It is Massachusetts now, not South Carolina, which enters on a career of nullification . . .

A Northern party is loudly called for, with no principle to stand on but the eternal hatred and eternal war against the South on account of slavery. A Presidential election conducted by sectional parties, with nothing but slave issues between them – if such a thing were practicable—would be the last election held under the Union.

But Fish watched with grave disquiet. To Edward Ketchum he wrote that the Whig organization had ever been a national body, and he deplored its obliteration by sectional party. He also disliked the fanaticism, the intolerance of everything Southern, which stamped the prominent men among the Republicans.

At a recent meeting one [Republican] speaker had declared, “You are here to dethrone American slavery” . . . did [the speaker] know that such talk inflamed the South and placed the Union in peril?

To James Hamilton he wrote still more emphatically. The Republican State platform “has not an element of nationality”; it is “covered all over with the wildest sectional agitation.” His love of peace and the Union would not permit him to accept it.

[Fish] concluded:

“For myself I cannot consent to be made an Abolitionist, or to become an “Agitator” of the slavery question. I cannot close my eyes to the fact that history shews, that every physical revolution (of governments) is preceded by a moral revolution; that the discussion of questions on which the sections are united among themselves but differ the one from the other, leads to estrangement first, and next to hostility and hatred which end inevitably in separation. The separation of this country from Great Britain was not the result of the War of the Revolution, or even the Declaration of Independence. The discussions and controversies which had preceded the latter event caused and effected the separation which was only formally proclaimed by the Declaration, and forcibly maintained by the war.”

(Hamilton Fish, the Inner History of the Grant Administration, Allan Nevins, Dodd, Mead & Company, 1937, excerpts pp. 54-56)

“Casus Belli”

As the majority of the South, and Northern men trained at West Point in the years prior to the war, were educated to believe withdrawing from the Union was a proper remedy to which a State might peaceably resort to if its people determined in was in their best interest to do so. The war’s result determined that secession was not improper as a redress, but that superior military power could conquer and subjugate any State or States who resort to such obvious constitutional measures for redress. Excerpts from a mid-August 1879 address regarding secession by General J.R. Chalmers follows.

Bernhard Thuersam, www.Circa1865.com

 

“Casus Belli”

“All we ask is an impartial statement in history of our cause, as we understood it; and it devolves on the survivors of the struggle to correct whatever we believe to be erroneous statements in regard to it, whenever and wherever they are made.

“The right to judge of infractions of the Constitution and the mode and measure of redress,” were no new questions in our politics. They were discussed in the conventions which formed the Constitution, and subsequently whenever the General Government was supposed, by usurpation of power, to infringe on rights reserved to the people of the States united.

Massachusetts threatened secession in the War of 1812, when her commerce was crippled; South Carolina threatened nullification in 1832, when a high protective tariff discriminated heavily against her interest.

Every State of the North practiced nullification against the fugitive slave laws as fast as they came under the control of the Republican party.

Eleven States of the South attempted to practice secession when the General Government fell into the hands of the Republican party, whose leaders had denounced the Constitution as “a covenant with the devil,” and the Union as a “league with hell.”

No honorable man can read the last speech of Jefferson Davis, in the United States Senate, or the letters of Sidney Johnston and Robert E. Lee, when about to resign their commissions in the United States army, and say that the Confederate leaders left the Union “from choice or on light occasion.”

They loved the Union formed of States united by the Constitution; they feared a Union consolidated in the hands of men who denounced the Constitution.

Mr. Lincoln and two-thirds of his party in Congress then denied any purpose to destroy slavery, but every Republican leader now shamelessly boast that this was the great object of the war.

The very fact that there was a war growing out of a question of constitutional rights, should be a source of pride, as evidence that no large body of our people will ignobly submit to what they believe to be a violation of their rights.”

(Forrest and his Campaigns, Gen. J.R. Chalmers, Southern Historical Society Papers, Volume VII, Broadfoot Publishing, 1990, excerpts pp. 451-452)

Lincoln and Peace in 1864

As the year 1864 wore on, and despite increased Southern territory being overrun by Northern armies, the Northern people were war-weary and appalled at Lincoln and Grant’s mounting casualty numbers. Lincoln’s re-election platform called for the unconditional surrender of the South, and an unpopular constitutional amendment to abolish slavery – referred to as Lincoln’s “rescript” of war aims. Lincoln’s narrow election victory was attributed not only to mass army furloughs of men sent home to police the polls, but also that Assistant Secretary of War “Charles A. Dana testifies that the whole power of the War Department was used to secure Lincoln’s reelection in 1864.” Clement C. Clay, Jr., below, was one of three Confederate Commissioners sent to Canada in April 1864 to find a means to spark a Northern front, draw enemy troops from the South, and nurture the growing peace movement in the North.

Bernhard Thuersam, www.Circa1865.com

 

Lincoln and Peace in 1864

Saint Catherine’s, Canada West, September 12, 1864.

To: Hon. J.P. Benjamin, Secretary of State, Richmond Virginia, C.S.A.

“Sir – I addressed you on the 11th August last in explanation of the circumstance inducing, attending and following the correspondence of Mr. [James P.] Holcombe and myself with Hon. Horace Greeley. Subsequent events have confirmed my opinion that we lost nothing and gained much by that correspondence. It has, at least, formed an issue between Lincoln and the South, in which all her people should join with all their might and means.

All of the many intelligent men from the United States with whom I have conversed, agreed in declaring that it had given a stronger impetus to the peace party of the North than all other causes combined, and had greatly reduced the strength of the war party.

Indeed, Judge [Jeremiah] Black [of Pennsylvania], stated to us that [Secretary of War Edwin] Stanton admitted to him that it was a grave blunder, and would defeat Lincoln [in 1864] unless he could . . . [demonstrate his] willingness to accept other terms – in other words, to restore the Union as it was.

Judge Black wished to know if Mr. [Jacob] Thompson would go to Washington to discuss the terms of peace, and proceed thence to Richmond; saying that Stanton desired him to do so, and would send him safe conduct for that purpose. I doubt not that Judge Black came at the instance of Mr. Stanton.

You may have remarked that the New York Times maintains, as by authority, that the rescript declares one mode of making peace, but not the only one. The abler organs of the Administration seize this suggestion and hold it up in vindication of Lincoln from the charge that he is waging war to abolish slavery, and will not agree to peace until that end is achieved.

Mr. [William] Seward, too, in his late speech at Auburn [New York], intimates that slavery is no longer an issue of the war, and that it will not be interfered with after peace is declared. These and other facts indicate that Lincoln is dissatisfied with the issue he has made with the South and fears its decision.

I am told that [Lincoln’s] purpose is to try to show that the Confederate Government will not entertain a proposition for peace that does not embrace a distinct recognition of the Confederate States, thereby expecting to change the issue from war for abolition to war for the Union.

It is well enough to let the North and European nations believe that reconstruction is not impossible. It will inflame the spirit of peace in the North and will encourage the disposition of England and France to recognize and treat with us.

At all events, [Lincoln’s opponent, Democrat George McClellan] is committed by the platform to cease hostilities and to try negotiations. An armistice will inevitably result in peace – the war cannot be renewed if once stopped, even for a short time. The North is satisfied that war cannot restore the Union, and will destroy their own liberties and independence if prosecuted much longer.

The Republican papers now urge Lincoln to employ all of his navy, if necessary, to seal up the port of Wilmington, which they say will cut us off from all foreign supplies and soon exhaust our means for carrying on the war . . . I do not doubt, whether we could support an army for six months after the port of Wilmington was sealed.

[The North] will not consent to peace without reunion while they believe they can subjugate us. Lincoln will exert his utmost power to sustain Sherman and Grant in their present positions, in order to insure his reelection. He knows that a great disaster to either of them would defeat him.

I have the honor to be, &c., &c.,

C. C. Clay, Jr.”

(Correspondence, Confederate State Department; Southern Historical Society Papers, Volume VII, Rev. J. W. Jones, Broadfoot Publishing Company, 1990, excerpts pp. 338-340; 342)

The Republicans Bloody Shirt

Thomas Wentworth Higginson was a Unitarian minister in Massachusetts who identified with disunion and militant abolitionism during the 1840s and 1850s. He was deeply involved with the funding and arming of John Brown, was jubilant when Lincoln invaded the South, and became colonel of a black regiment of slaves taken from Southern plantations overrun and burned by Northern troops. In the postwar, Higginson came to realize what his prewar revolutionary zeal had unleashed, and to the chagrin of the Radical Republicans whose power then depended primarily on the freedmen’s ballot.

Bernhard Thuersam, www.Circa1865.com

 

The Republicans Bloody Shirt

“During the [1884] Massachusetts campaign Republicans frequently denounced the [Southern] Bourbons. [Senator George F.] Hoar stressed that his party was the true friends of the South. Republicans had sponsored bills to educate the section’s illiterates, had passed tariffs to protect its infant industries, and had adopted the war amendments to free all Southerners from the shackles of slavery . . . In a like tone Henry Cabot Lodge argued that the highest Republican duty was to preserve “the freedom and purity of the ballot box.”

In an open letter on “The Suppressed Negro Vote,” Higginson explained that he and other abolitionists . . . had studied “the Southern question apart from the bias of politics” and had come to the conclusion that colored men neither needed nor desired Northern aid.

After having corresponded with and talked to many of the South Carolina, Georgia and Florida Negroes who had served in his Civil War regiment . . . most of them admitted that they did not vote simply because they were uninformed and not interested in politics.

Higginson even condoned the enactment of complicated Southern election laws designed to confuse illiterate Negroes, such as the Eight-Box act requiring separate ballots and receptacles for each office being voted upon. Since only educated men could comprehend involved methods, these measure amounted to a literacy test and achieved what many Northern States decreed directly.

“The Massachusetts way,” Higginson went on, “is more honorable, no doubt; but suppose an attempt were made to import our system into South Carolina, it would at once be denounced as an outrage almost worthy of Mississippi.”

To Republicans, this reasoning was detestable. Former Governor John D. Long of Massachusetts had little use for “Col. Higginson and the Boston Advertiser [who] say “education should be on top.”

Asked why it so vigorously opposed the use of the war issues [to denounce the South], the New York Evening Post answered it was because Northern politicians had “never discoursed upon the suppression of the suffrage at the South, except as an argument for keeping themselves in power, and as a reason why the country should not be disgusted by the gross abuses in administration which the Republican party practiced, permitted and connived at.”

In the 1870’s [Republican party] Stalwarts had employed the theme “to reconcile us to the whiskey thieves and the knavish Cabinet officers of the Grant administration, and to the general corruption of the party in power.”

Under [Rutherford B.] Hayes, they had invoked it “to reconcile us next . . . to the abandonment by that statesman of even the slightest attempt to reform the civil service with which he began his Administration.”

Though last not least, [John] Blaine had stressed sectionalism during his 1884 campaign. “In short,” the Post announced, “during a period of fully fifteen years, whenever the Republican party was called to account for any shortcoming,” its sole answer was the bloody shirt.”

(Farewell to the Bloody Shirt: Northern Republicans and the Southern Negro, 1877-1912, Stanley P. Hirschson, Indiana University Press, 1962, excerpts pp. 132-134)

The British Version of Sherman

With respect to the initiation of modern total war against a civilian population, the author below argues that after a century or two of civilized warfare between European combatants, “total war did in fact appear, beginning with the American Civil War, and has been the form of war in the twentieth century.” Lincoln’s general, Sherman, seems to have absorbed Allan Ramsey’s view of war against civilians, and was driven by his belief that Americans in the South could in no manner oppose the will of his government — to do so meant fire and sword used to bring them to subjection – after which his fury would cease. Sherman continued his total war against the Plains Indians; a young Spanish officer named Valeriano Weyler visited the North during the War, observed Sherman’s art of warfare, and used this to devastating effect against Cuban civilians in the mid-1890s.

Bernhard Thuersam, www.Circa1865.com

 

The British Version of Sherman

“Although [David] Hume presented the specter of total war against the civilian population as a reduction to absurdity of British policy on both moral and practical grounds, his good friend Allan Ramsey embraced it as the only way to win the war. But what is most important about Ramsey’s proposal in the moral justification he offered for it.

Allan Ramsey was a court [portrait] painter to George III . . . [and] also a political theorist of some merit and wrote a number of pamphlets on political topics . . . [arguing in 1778] that the war is being lost because the British have not followed a proper strategy. The war must be turned against the civilian population.

Ramsey proposes that a garrison be established in New York . . . to serve as a rendezvous point for all British operations. Ten thousand troops are then to embark on transports to any province that is vulnerable and important . . . [and] to carry away all “that may be useful to the public service” and then “burn and destroy the houses, magazines, and plantations . . . sparing the lives of all the persons who do not attempt by arms to prevent them.” The troops are then to embark for some other province “where the like may be repeated.”

Washington’s army could not match the mobility of the British navy, and one could expect the colonial army to melt away as men returned to their devastated provinces to assist their families. Should the people remain obstinate, their scorched and impoverished land could be occupied by loyal immigrants.

Ramsey recognized that “such a scheme . . .” would be rejected as barbarous by “the more human, and more respectable part of the community.” But to this he had an ingenious reply.

[As] the American people claim to be sovereign; thus the people themselves are in a state of war with the King’s forces. “[The] inhabitants of America . . . with the express purpose of making war upon England, have formed themselves into a Government . . . where every man may be said, in his own individual person, to have bid defiance to the King of Great Britain; so that he must thank his own folly and temerity, if, at any time, he should come off short from so unequal a contest.”

We have here the germ of the twentieth-century rationale for total war: war aimed at the people of a nation, scorched-earth strategy, the bombing of civilian populations, massive deportations of peoples, and the enslavement of the vanquished.

Total war is not unique to the twentieth century, nor is it due to “technology,” which has merely made its implementation more practicable and terrible. Modern total war is possible only among “civilized” nations. It is shaped and legitimated by an act of reflection, a way of thinking about the world whereby an entire people become the enemy.

Happily the rules [of civilized warfare] were still in force for Lord North and George III, who did not follow Ramsay’s advice to wage total war against the colonists. The complete domination of reflection over moral sentiment, which is the mark of the barbarism of refinement, had not yet occurred.”

(Philosophical Melancholy and Delirium, Hume’s Pathology of Philosophy, Donald W. Livingston, University of Chicago Press, 1998, excerpts pp. 296-301)

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