Browsing "Sherman’s Legacy"

Sherman’s Brand of Pillaging

The writer(s) of “Lincoln, as the South Should Know Him,” below, were comparing Sherman’s atrocities to the German invasion of Belgium in 1914. The latter may have been more British propaganda aimed at drawing the US into the war, but the point was made that Kaiser Wilhelm’s troops were kind soul’s when compared to Sherman’s bummers. And the point is well made that the commanders, Sherman and Lincoln, were ultimately responsible for the behavior and criminality of the army.

Bernhard Thuersam, www.Circa1865.com

 

Sherman’s Brand of Pillaging

“One of [General Joe] Wheeler’s scouts, observing Sherman’s advance, reported that during one night, and from one point, he counted over one hundred burning homes. And as to the looting, a letter written by a Federal officer, and found at Camden, S.C., and after the enemy had passed, and given in the Southern Woman’s Magazine, runs as follows:

“We have had a glorious time in this State. The chivalry have been stripped of their valuables. Gold watches, silver pitchers, cups, spoons, forks, etc., are as common in camp as blackberries. Of rings, earrings, and breastpins I have a quart. I am not joking – I have at least a quart of jewelry for you and the girls, and some A1 diamond pins and rings among them. Don’t show this letter out of the family.”

Sherman long desired burning Columbia, in the most solemn manner calling his God to witness as to his truthfulness. When, after the overwhelming evidence that he did burn it was adduced, he unblushingly admitted the fact, and that he had lied on Wade Hampton with the purpose of rendering him unpopular, and thereby weakening his cause. But a mere lie shines white against the black ground of Sherman’s character.

The necessities of war demanded that Sherman live off the country he traversed. Those elastic necessities may have been stretched to demand that he destroy even the pitiful stint of food that the South had left; that he wrest the last morsel from the mouth of the mother and babe, lest, perchance, some crumb thereof reach and nourish the men at the front.

But what necessity of war, except that brand that Sherman fathered and sponsored, demanded that the torch follow the pillager, that every home be burned, and famishing mother and babe be turned out in midwinter to die of cold and exposure?

It is a maxim of war, as it is of common sense, that the higher the rank the greater the fame or blame for any given act. Above the perpetrator stood the commander of the army. Sherman; above Sherman stood the commander-in-chief of all the Federal armies, Abraham Lincoln. If Lincoln ever discountenanced Sherman and his methods, he never gave word to it, and he was a man of many words.”

(Lincoln As the South Should Know Him, Manly’s Battery Chapter, Children of the Confederacy, Raleigh, North Carolina, 1915?, excerpts, pp. 2-8)

The Fatal, Unjust Advantage

England reaped a fortune with its dominance of blockade running for most of the war, and stood nearly ready for mediation and intervention on the side of the American South. The latter was frustrated not by any abhorrence of slavery — as the British had much to do with its introduction and perpetuation in North America – but by the appearance of Russian fleets in New York and San Francisco harbors in the fall of September, 1863. The Russians had not forgotten their fleets bottled up during the Crimean War, and Lincoln was glad to have an ally with which to threaten Europe if intervention was attempted.

Bernhard Thuersam, www.Circa1865.com

 

That Fatal, Unjust Advantage

“How different might the fortunes of war have proved had England been honestly neutral. Grant even that she had seized the Alabama and the Florida, what would this have signified if she had stopped Federal recruiting in Ireland and insisted that the example should be loyally followed on the continent?

Had she taken stringent measures to prevent emigration of recruits to the North, as she stopped the supply of a navy to the South, the Federal armies would have been weakened by more men than Grant and Sherman now command, and thus the North would have lost that fatal, that unjust advantage by which the South has been crushed.

Richmond has fallen before an army of foreign mercenaries. Lee has surrendered to an army of foreigners. With a horde of foreigners Sherman occupied Atlanta, took Savannah, ravaged Georgia, and traversed the Carolinas.

By the aid of foreign mercenaries the South has been destroyed, and that aid the conquerors owe to the connivance of England. It is not often that a duty neglected, an opportunity thrown away can ever be retrieved. It is not often that a great public wrong goes utterly unpunished.

We are little disposed to import into politics the language of the pulpit, but we cannot forbear to remind our readers that nations as well as individuals are responsible for the use they make of the powers and opportunities intrusted to them, and history does not encourage us to hope that so grievous a dereliction of duty as that of which on our part the South has been the victim will go eventually unpunished.”

(English Sentiment for the South, from the Methodist Review, 1867, Confederate Veteran Magazine, January, 1921, page 48)

For the Love of the Dear Old Homeland

Sherman’s strength at Bentonville was initially 58,000 versus Johnston’s aggregate of about 20,000 men. On the way to reinforce Sherman were the 45,000 troops of Schofield, Terry and Cox, advancing from Goldsboro, New Bern and Wilmington — for a total of 103,000 versus 20,000. The author below erroneously suggests a much larger figure for Sherman’s total forces.

Bernhard Thuersam, www.Circa1865.com

 

For the Love of the Dear Old Homeland

“On March 7, 1865 General William T. Sherman and his army of mercenaries from Germany, Ireland, Scotland, Sweden, Switzerland and Prussia was well as the northern United States, many of whom could not speak English, crossed the North Carolina State line. Behind them lay the smoking ruins of sacked Georgia and South Carolina cities, homeless widows and orphans and death by starvation.

At Laurel Hill, NC, Sherman halted to refresh his troops, and from here he wired Gen. Schofield in Wilmington that he would be in Goldsboro, NC [on] March 20, 1865. On March 12th Sherman and his army of barbarians reached Fayetteville.

After plundering the residential section, it was then burned. Also destroyed were four cotton mills, the churches, banks, courthouse and warehouses. Sherman then moved on looting and burning. Any item that could not be carried, including furniture, carpets and farm equipment, was destroyed. Even the cabins of the slaves were robbed by the Yankees.

Following the fall of Wilmington, by the 7th of March General Robert Hoke and his small division of [mostly North Carolina] brigades were near Kinston, NC. On the 8th, Gen. Hoke and the division of [Daniel H.] Hill attacked the corps of Gen. Cox consisting of 13,056 Federal troops. The battle was a great victory for the Confederates with a loss to Cox of 1257 men.

General Joseph E. Johnston attacked Gen. Sherman at the hamlet of Bentonville on the 19th of March, inflicting a signal repulse. Brigade after brigade of Federals were crushed, and but for the gallant charge of the Federals under Fearing the center would have been entirely destroyed.

After this defeat Gen. Sherman was unwilling to suffer another, so he waited for Gen. Schofield to join him, and this combined force consisted of over 160,000 troops. The Confederate corps of Gen. D.H. Hill numbered 2,687 men.

When Gen. Robert E. Lee surrendered his army of half-starved veterans at Appomattox, Virginia, General Johnston was also forced to surrender, April 26, 1865, near Durham Station, NC, and the War for Southern Independence came to a close.

In regards to the Confederate soldiers of 1861-1865, Judge [Joseph de] Roulhac Hamilton wrote:

“How splendid and great they were in their modest, patient, earnest love of country! How strong they were in their young manhood, and pure they were in their faith, and constant they were in their principles. How they bore suffering and hardship, and how their lives were ready at the call of duty! Suffering they bore, duty they performed, and death they faced and met, all for the love of the dear old homeland; all this for the glory and honor of North Carolina.

And they were faithful unto thee, guard thou their names and fame, grand old mother of us all. If thy sons in the coming times shall learn the lesson of their heroism their lives inspired and their lives declared, then not one drop of blood was shed in vain.”

[General Robert F. Hoke’s said (excerpted) in a farewell address to his men:]

“The fortunes of war have turned the scale against us. The proud banners which you have waved so gloriously over many a field are to be furled at last; but they are not disgraced, my comrades. History will bear witness to your valor and succeeding generations will point with admiration to your grand struggle for constitutional freedom.

You have yielded to overwhelming numbers, not to superior valor. You are paroled prisoners, not slaves. The love of liberty, which led you into this contest, burns as brightly in your hearts as ever. Cherish it. Associate it with the history of your past. Transmit it to your children. Teach them the rights of freedom, and teach them to maintain them.

Teach them that the proudest day in all your proud career was that on which you enlisted as Southern soldiers, entering that holy brotherhood whose ties are now sealed by the blood of your compatriots who have fallen, and whose history is coeval with the brilliant record of the past four years.”

(Land of the Golden River, Volume 2, Lewis Philip Hall, Hall’s Enterprises, 1980, pp. 101-103)

 

Appalling the Horde of Genghis Khan

Wartime Governor Zeb Vance of North Carolina compared the “gentler invasion of Cornwallis in 1781” with Sherman’s hordes in 1865, noting Cornwallis’s order from Beattie’s Ford, January 28, 1781: “It is needless to point out to the officers the necessity of preserving the strictest discipline, and of preventing the oppressed people from suffering violence at the hands of whom they are taught to look to for protection . . . ”

Bernhard Thuersam, www.Circa1865.com

 

Appalling the Horde of Genghis Khan

“Vance considered it apparent to every intelligent observer as 1865 dawned that the Confederacy was doomed. Lee was holding Richmond with what he described as “a mere skirmish line.” In twenty miles of trenches, Grant faced him with 180,000 men. Savannah had fallen and while the south still held Wilmington and Charleston, their loss was inevitable.

Sherman with 75,000 troops was preparing for the “home-stretch toward Richmond,” driving the scattered Confederate detachments – not more than 22,000 – before him. Enemy cavalry overran the interior of the Confederacy. “Nowhere,” Vance continued, “was there a gleam of hope; nowhere had there come to us any inspiring success. Everything spoke of misfortune and failure.”

Vance was most critical of the conduct of Sherman’s army and the “stragglers and desperadoes following in its wake.” He was severe in his castigation of the Federal commander.

“When a general organizes a corps of thieves and plunderers as a part of his invading army, and licenses beforehand their outrages, he and all who countenance, aid or abet, invite the execration of mankind. This peculiar arm of the military service, it is charged and believed, was instituted by General Sherman in his invasion of the Southern States.

Certain it is that the operations of his “Bummer Corps” were as regular and un-rebuked, if not as much commended for their efficiency, as any other division of his army, and their atrocities were often justified or excused on the ground that “such is war.”

Vance in his denunciation of Sherman was not able to look ahead to wars in which supposedly enlightened nations would make civilians their main target, devastate entire cities to break down morale and the will to resist, and degenerate warfare to a barbarity that would have appalled the horde of Genghis Khan.”

[Vance continued:] “The whole policy and conduct of the British commander was such to indicate unmistakably that he did not consider the burning of private houses, the stealing of private property, and the outraging of helpless, private citizens as “War,” but as robbery and arson. I venture to say that up to the period when that great march [Sherman’s] taught us the contrary, no humane general or civilized people in Christendom believed that “such is war.”

(Zeb Vance, Champion of Personal Freedom, Glenn Tucker, Bobbs-Merrill, 1965, pp. 374-376)

The Old Hate

Sherman’s soldiers spared little from looting and destruction in North Carolina as they had done in Georgia and South Carolina. After the conflict, wartime Governor Zebulon Vance wrote: “When a general organizes a corps of thieves and plunderers as a part of his invading army, and licenses beforehand their outrages, he and all who countenance, aid or abet, invite the execration of mankind. This peculiar arm of the military service, it is charged and believed, was instituted by General Sherman in his invasion of the Southern States. Certain it is that the operations of his “Bummer Corps” were as regular and un-rebuked, if not as much commended for their efficiency, as any other division of his army, and their atrocities were often justified or excused on the ground that “such is war.”

Bernhard Thuersam, www.Circa1865.com

 

The Old Hate

“Long before you ever came into North Carolina, your name was a terror to us; news of your march through Georgia and South Carolina had preceded you. “Massa Harold” (my great-grandfather) had expected you to have horns and hoofs; he must have been surprised when you appeared on a neighboring plantation as an ordinary man of forty-five with a head of unruly red hair and a shaggy beard.

But your soldiers were hungry, and they scouted the country-side for food. That is why they came to our house. (No, it was not one of those story-book mansions with white columns; it was only a two-room log cabin. There had been better days for the family, but that is another story.)

On that morning in March of 1865 when your “bummers” rode up to our gate, “Ole Mammy” (my great-grandmother, then a woman of forty-seven) was standing in the yard. Beside her stood a young woman of eighteen (Aunt Fed), a boy of nine (Uncle Richard), and a little girl of six (Aunt Queen), and a Negro slave (“Aunt Bessie”) . . . and Frank (my grandfather, then aged thirteen) were down in the swamp with an old horse and a cow. (Three older sons had been taken prisoners at the fall of Fort Fisher just the month before.)

Your men found the cow; she would not be quiet and so ended in your pot. (She was dry anyhow.) Frank came up to the house and found your men digging in a ditch for a keg of gold which “Aunt Bessie” had told them was buried there. (People still come and dig for that treasure, but ‘ther aint nare been one.”) Thanks for cleaning out the ditch.

And we got the feathers picked up and the bed ticks sewed back together. Thus far, we were about even; you got the cow, and we kept the horse; you cleaned out the ditch and made us clean up the house. But the thing that made us mad was that pot of chicken stew.

Frank remembered it well. It was the last chicken they had. “Old Mammy” had saved it for an emergency. When she heard that you were over on the Faison Plantation, she knew that the emergency had come. She had hoped her family would have it eaten before you came, but it was still in the pot when she heard that dreaded cry, “Yankees, Yankees; the Yankees are coming.”

And everyone had to hurry to his place. At first your soldiers were nice enough, but after all that digging they were short on manners. They ransacked the house, and not finding the gold, they spied the small pot on the hearth. Now, if your men had drawn up a chair and had said grace like Christians ought to do and had eaten the stew, it might have passed without being recorded. But no, your men were mad and poured out stew on the floor and then stepped on the pieces of chicken. This was too much for that hungry thirteen year old boy; he darted up from his stool with fire in his eyes. “God damn you dirty rascals.”

(A Southerner’s Apology to General Sherman, A Reticule by Dr. James H. Blackmore, Flashes of Duplin’s History and Government, Faison and Pearl McGowen, Edwards & Broughton, 1971, pp. 243-244)

The Consequences of Military Experimentation

Colonel James A. Donovan estimated the cost of the Vietnam air war alone, to the end of 1968, at over $7 billion for bombs dropped and aircraft lost, with more than half of the sum being spent on bombing North Vietnam from early 1965 to late 1968. Like the current bombing of Middle Eastern countries by the US, the bombing in South Vietnam was “the principal cause of civilian casualties and the “generation” of refugees.” Author Telford Taylor was US Chief Counsel at the Nuremburg Trials after WWII, and compares the aggressive war of the US in Vietnam with German aggressive war against Poland in 1939.

Bernhard Thuersam, www.Circa1865.com

 

The Consequences of Military Experimentation

“In a recent television address on the war in Southeast Asia, President Nixon coined the phrase “pitiful, helpless, giant,” and hotly denied that the United States, under his leadership, would play such a part. Pitiful and helpless the nation is not, but the course of events under the last three Presidents raises painful doubts whether our conduct as a nation may not have been arrogant and blind – or at least one-eyed, seeing only in one direction, and unable to perceive the lessons of the past or the trends of the present.

If an effort be made to look beneath the orders and operations and speeches and press releases for some clues to understanding the Vietnam debacle, then one must contemplate Vietnam not in isolation but in the context of the times and many other failures and dangers that are unsettling the United States today.

Most of them, I believe, can be gathered under the expression of “under-maintenance,” caused by our unwillingness, despite enormous material means, to invest the time, thought and resources necessary to preserve the foundations and basic services of society.

Attention is given to ever taller skyscrapers, supersonic airliners and moon landings, while we pollute the air and water and allow education, transportation, housing and health to degenerate.

Despite the billions of dollars we have spent on the Vietnam War and the incredible weight of explosives dropped on that unhappy land, our failure there is largely due to “under-maintenance.” The point is implicit in the title of Jonathan Schell’s book – “The Military Half” – as explained in a concluding passage:

“Many optimistic Americans, including reporters as well as military men civilian officials, tended to set off the destruction caused by the military effort against the construction resulting from the civil-affairs effort, seeing the two results as separate but balanced “sides” of the war; and, looking at our commitment of men and materials, they were often favorably impressed with the size of the construction effort, almost as though it was being carried out in one country while the military effort was being carried out in another.

But, of course, the two programs were being carried out in the same provinces and the same villages, and the people who received the allotments of rice were the same people whose villages had been destroyed by bombs . . . But because along with the destruction of villages, American military operations brought death to many civilians, American civil-affairs workers, no matter how well-intentioned they might be, no matter how well-supplied they might someday become, could never, from the point of view of the villagers, “balance” the sufferings caused by the military, or undo what they had done, which was often absolute and irreversible.

Once [the Army] was in charge, the worst aspects of the military system surfaced, then dominated the conduct of operations. Combat command is the surest road to promotion, and the Army and Air Force were only too glad to find a new theater for military experimentation.

As Colonel Donovan describes the professional consequences:

“The highly-trained career officers of the army and the other services have found the Vietnam [War] a frustrating but fascinating challenge. The very size and scope of the American military force has also generated unceasing pressures to satisfy such military demands as trying out new weapons and using the war as a military testing ground and laboratory. Helicopter assault theories, air mobile operations concepts, new helicopter types, new weapons and organizations, and counterinsurgency tactics were all ready for trial by the Army in Vietnam.

It was not a life-or-death war in defense of the United States, but rather a remote and limited conflict where training and equipment could be teste and combat experience renewed or attained by professionals . . .”

(Nuremburg and Vietnam: an American Tragedy, Telford Taylor, Quadrangle Books, 1970, excerpts, pp. 197-201)

Leaving Poor Women Their Tears and Their Memory

Gen. Samuel G. French was New Jersey-born and living in Mississippi when the war commenced; he assumed command of North Carolina’s Cape Fear District in March, 1862 and fortified the city against attack from the sea. His adjutant from then through the end of the war was Captain Charles D. Myers, a native of New York City and successful prewar merchant in Wilmington. French possessed a dim view of Sherman’s abilities as a military officer.

Bernhard Thuersam, www.Circa1865.com

 

Leaving Poor Women Their Tears and Their Memory

“The much-vaunted “march to the sea” was a pleasure excursion, through a well-cultivated country . . . Sherman boastfully writes that he “destroyed two hundred sixty-five miles of railroad, carried off ten thousand mules, and countless slaves; that he did damage to the amount of $100,000,000. Of this, his army got $20,000,000, and the $80,000,000 was waste,” as they went “looting” through Georgia.

But not content with this, when “this cruel war was over,” he presented the delectable spectacle of “how we went thieving through Georgia” at the grand review of his army in Washington, by mounting his bummers on mules laden with chickens, ducks, geese, lambs, pigs and other farm productions, unblushingly displayed, to cover up the concealed money, jewelry and plate taken from the helpless women – to delight the President, to edify the loyal people, to gratify the hatred of the populace to the South, to popularize the thirst for plundering made by his troops, to be an object lesson to the present generation, to instill a broader view of moral right, to heighten modest sensibilities, to refine the delicate tastes of young ladies, to humiliate a conquered people; or wherefore was this unwise “Punch and Judy” show given?

During the revolutionary war, when the British fleet ascended the Potomac river, one ship sailed up to Mount Vernon – the residence of the arch rebel, Washington – and made a requisition for provisions which his agent filled. The English commander must have been a gentleman because he did not burn the dwelling, insult the family, nor commit robbery!!!

Gen. Bradley T. Johnston, in his life of General J.E. Johnston, quotes that, “Abubekr in the year 634 gave his chiefs of the army of Syria orders as follows: Remember that you are always in the presence of God, on the verge of death, and in the assurance of judgment and the hope of paradise. When you fight the battles of the Lord acquit yourselves like men, without turning your backs; but let not your victory be stained with the blood of women and children. Destroy no palm tree, nor burn any fields of corn . . . nor do any mischief to cattle, only such as you kill to eat . . .”

It is not I who charge Sherman with destroying cornfields, cutting down fruit trees, or “driving off one cow and one pig;” he himself boasts as having done it. If he did take “one cow and one pig,” he kindly left the poor women their tears and their memory.”

(Two Wars, The Autobiography & Diary of Gen. Samuel G. French, CSA, Confederate Veteran, 1901, pp. 264-266)

Sherman’s Progressive Soldiers at Smithfield

It is said the path Sherman’s “bummers” cut through North Carolina left a trail devoid of roosters, which no longer crowed in the morning because they didn’t exist. One Northern general wrote that his foragers were in truth “highwaymen, with all of their cruelty and ferocity and none of their courage; their victims are usually old men, women and children, and Negroes whom they rob and maltreat without mercy, firing dwellings and outbuildings filled with grain . . . These men are a disgrace to the name of soldier and country.”

Bernhard Thuersam, www.Circa1865.com

 

Sherman’s Progressive Soldiers at Smithfield

[Northern Chaplain John J. Hight’s Diary] Wednesday, April 12 [1865]:

“This has been a morning of most wonderful excitement and enthusiasm. A dispatch has been read to each Regiment, from General Sherman, announcing the capture of [Gen. Robert E.] Lee’s entire army by General Grant. Such a serenade of bands Smithfield [North Carolina] has never had before, and will never have again. The troops move rapidly across the Neuse [River] . . . the design is to push on towards Raleigh and bring [Gen. Joseph E.] Johnston to an engagement, if possible.

We yesterday passed a house where there had been skirmishing. The woman declared that the shooting almost scared her to death. “Was it infantry or cavalry?” inquired someone.

I took a walk about the town. The Masonic and Odd Fellows’ Halls have been rifled. In the latter there is a skeleton, in a coffin. Saw an old dismounted gun lying near the riverbank. It must date back to as early as the Revolution.

At the court house I noticed the shelves, in the offices, are emptied of their contents on the floor. The archives of [Johnston] county lie in confusion amongst the dirt. Many of the documents date back to old colonial times, when legal proceedings were done in the King’s name.

The churches are [broken] open, and the books scattered about the pews. At the graveyard I noticed the graves of a number of rebels, bearing ominous dates – about the time of the Bentonville fight. In the same yard there is blood, seemingly where one of our soldiers was killed yesterday.

[Sherman’s] aide-de-camp, Major Henry Hitchcock provides more details: “At Smithfield, on the morning of the 12th [of April] . . . Even in Smithfield the public stocks “went up” – visibly; for some of “the boys” set fire to them.” I refer to the wooden stocks, near the jail, a comfortable institution for the improvement of criminals which the “conservative Old North State has retained from colonial times.

Another Sherman aide-de-camp, Major Nichols, adds . . . “The court house and jail stand in the public square, and that relic of the past, the public stocks, stood by the side of the jail until our progressive soldiers cut down the machine and burned it.”

(Smithfield, As Seen by Sherman’s Soldiers, Don Wharton, 1977, Smithfield Herald Publishing Company, excerpts, pp. 8-11)

Highwaymen in North Carolina

Though it is claimed that Sherman did not sack and burn North Carolina as he did South Carolina, there is scant evidence that the former did not suffer as did the latter. In the bummer’s path were helpless women, children and old men – whose scarce food supplies, valuables and farm animals were made off with by soldiers in blue.

Bernhard Thuersam, www.Circa1865.com

 

Highwaymen in North Carolina

“[T]he “corn-crib” and “fodder-stack” commandoes could look back upon a plentiful harvest between Fayetteville and Goldsboro. Meat and meal had been found in abundance. So skillfully had [Sherman’s] “bummers” covered this region that the rooster no longer crowed in the morning because he no longer existed. Had the rooster escaped with his life, there would have been no fence rail for him to stand on.

[General J.D. Morgan said] “I have some men in my command . . . who have mistaken the name and meaning of the term foragers, and have become under that name highwaymen, with all of their cruelty and ferocity and none of their courage; their victims are usually old men, women and children, and Negroes whom the rob and maltreat without mercy, firing dwelling and outhouses even when filled with grain . . . These men are a disgrace to the name of soldier and the country . . . ”

Elizabeth Collier, an eighteen year-old girl of Everittsville, [North Carolina] entered in her diary:

“On Monday morning, the 20th [March], the first foraging party made their appearance at Everittsville. They asked for flour and seeing we were disposed not to give it, made a rush in the house and took it himself—the cowardly creature even pointed his gun at us – helpless women. Looking out, we soon saw that poor little Everittsville was filled with Yankees and they were plundering the houses . . . everything outside was destroyed – all provisions taken – fences knocked down – horse, cows, carriages, and buggies stolen, and everything else the witches could lay their hands on – even to the servants clothes.”

(The Civil War in North Carolina, John G. Barrett, UNC Press, 1963, pp. 346-347)

Lt. Snelling Returns Home to Georgia

Webster’s Dictionary of 1828 defined a traitor as one who “betrays his allegiance to his country” and “who aids an enemy in conquering his country.” Lt. Snelling, described below, deserted his Georgia regiment and guided the enemy army through his home State.

Bernhard Thuersam, www.Circa1865.com

 

Lt. Snelling Returns Home to Georgia

“Sunday, November 20, 1864 was a day of unprecedented excitement in the capital of Georgia. Members of the legislature had already departed in haste for their homes. The governor and Statehouse officers were in flight, and many citizens of the town were following the example set by them. In the afternoon distant cannon fire was heard in the direction of Macon, some thirty miles away.

Just before sunset a small group of blue-coated cavalrymen were seen lingering on the outskirts of the town . . . They cut telegraph wires, seized a few horses, and then made a hurried exit. They were the first of more than thirty thousand enemy soldiers who were to enter Milledgeville within the next four days.

With flags unfurled, the band at the head of the column playing the “Battle Hymn of the Republic” and other martial airs . . . [the enemy army occupied the town and Sherman] learned that he was occupying a plantation belonging to General Howell Cobb and forthwith issued orders for its complete destruction.

On the same evening he ordered a special guard to protect the property of Andrew J. Banks whose farmhouse stood a short distance away. Banks, a North Carolinian by birth, was known to be of strong Unionist sentiment.

It is doubtful if Sherman’s intelligence channels had ever been more effective than on this particular occasion. His knowledge of the country which he had entered, and of the varying sentiments of the inhabitants, he owed largely to David R. Snelling, the twenty-six year-old cavalry lieutenant who commanded his escort. Snelling had been born a few miles from Cobb’s plantation and, until the war began, had always lived in the community to which he was now returning as a conquering enemy.

He had left the county early in 1862 as a member of Captain Richard Bonner’s company of the 57th Georgia Regiment. Never an enthusiastic rebel, he deserted at Bridgeport, Alabama, in July. Later he became a member of a Unionist regiment made up of defecting Southerners. He was now a first lieutenant in the 1st Alabama (Union) Cavalry and assigned to Sherman’s personal escort where his knowledge of the people and of the country through which they were marching made his services invaluable to the commanding general who kept him close by his side.

While [Sherman and Snelling] were seated around the [evening] fire, a Negro slave . . . recognized Snelling and greeted him as “Massa Dave.” According to [an observer], the slave fell on the floor, hugged the lieutenant around his knees, and expressed mixed feelings and astonishment and thankfulness at seeing his former master in the uniform of the invading army. The slave who greeted him had belonged [to David Lester, Snelling’s] uncle, in whose home the lieutenant had lived as an orphan since boyhood.

That evening Sherman granted . . . Snelling’s request to ride six miles ahead to visit his relatives at the Lester plantation. In his memoirs, the general noted that Snelling returned that night on a fresh horse from his uncle’s stable [and that the visit had been] social in nature. The David Lester plantation book, however, indicates that Snelling was accompanied on his visit by a squad of Federal cavalrymen and the group conducted a raid on the plantation, burned the ginhouse, and pillaged the premises.

Whether Snelling’s unusual conduct was an attempt to prove his loyalty to the Union army or the result of an old grudge he bore against his affluent uncle perhaps may never be determined.”

(Sherman at Milledgeville in 1864, James C. Bonner, Journal of Southern History, Volume XXII, Number 3, August, 1956, pp. 273, 275-277)

 

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