Browsing "Targeting Civilians"

Lincoln’s General, Ben Butler

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

Lincoln’s General, Ben Butler

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

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

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

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

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

If Our Enemies Prevail

Prominent South Carolina theologian James H. Thornwell saw the sectional conflict as not being merely between abolitionists an slaveholders,” but waged on one side by “athiests, socialists, communists, red Republicans and Jacobins, and the other by the “friends of order and regulated freedom. In one word, the world is the battleground and Christianity and Atheism the combatants.” Thornwell saw the progress of humanity as being at stake in the war.  Among Lincoln’s staunchest supporters were Karl Marx, many influential German revolutionaries who had fled the failed socialist revolutions of 1840s Europe, and New England utopians.

If Our Enemies Prevail

“Some Southerners saw such deception [as Lincoln’s] coming, James H. Thornwell, a prominent Presbyterian preacher and seminary professor in South Carolina, predicted if the South were defeated, then the North would not only revolutionize “the whole character of the government” from ‘a federal republic, the common agent of the sovereign and independent States’ to a “central despotism, with the notion of States forever abolished,’ but also would brand the South with the stigma of slavery:

“And what have we to expect if our enemies prevail? Our homes, too, are to be pillaged, our cities and property confiscated, our true men hanged, and those who escape the gibbet, to be driven as vagabonds and wanderers in foreign climes. This beautiful country is to pass out of our hands. The boundaries which mark our States are, in some instances, to be effaced, and the State that remain are to be converted into subject provinces, governed by Northern rulers and by Northern laws.

Our property is to be ruthlessly seized and turned over to mercenary strangers, in order to pay the enormous debt which our subjugation has cost. Our wives and daughters are to become the prey of brutal lust. The slave, too, will slowly pass away, as the red man did before him, under the protection of Northern philanthropy; and the whole country, now like the Garden of Eden in beauty and fertility, will first be a blackened and smoking desert, and then the minister of Northern cupidity and avarice.

There is not a single redeeming feature in the picture of ruin which stares us in the face, if we permit ourselves to be conquered.  It is a night of thick darkness that will settle upon us. Even sympathy, the last solace of the afflicted, will be denied to us.  The civilized world will look coldly upon us, and even jeer us with the taunt that we have deservedly lost our own freedom in seeking to perpetuate the slavery of others.

We shall perish under a cloud of reproach and of unjust suspicions, sedulously propagated by our enemies, which will be harder to bear than the loss of home and of goods. Such a fate never overtook any people before.”

(From Founding Fathers to Fire Eaters: The Constitutional Doctrine of States’ Rights in the Old South, James Rutledge Roesch, Shotwell Publishing, 2018, excerpt pp. xiv-xv)  

Merchant of Terror

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

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

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

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

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

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

Unceasing Blows and Sheer Attrition

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

Unceasing Blows and Sheer Attrition

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

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

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

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

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

Economic and Political Opportunity in Florida

Almost immediately after war commenced the New England Emigrant Aid Company envisioned the national benefits of “transplanting friends of the Union” in conquered States and flooding them with “Energetic, loyal, liberty-loving colonists.” The promoters avowed that their goal was “to aid in the political, industrial and social regeneration of the South.” In the case of Florida, the emigrants would settle the rich soil, open resorts for invalids, and build permanent homes for “those whose delicate constitutions cannot endure the severe weather of the North.”

In early 1864, Salmon Chase’s presidential ambitions were assisted by increased military invasions of Florida to occupy more land area and establish a new State government dominated by his political appointees. They were then expected to declare Florida’s 3 electoral votes for him come November.

Economic and Political Opportunity in Florida

“Almost from the beginning of the fratricidal conflict of 1861-1865 far-seeing politicians and interested economic groups from the North began an economic invasion of the South. First, a Confiscation Act made all property used in support of the rebellion subject to seizure by the federal government. Later in 1861, despite Abraham Lincoln’s questioning of its constitutionality, Congress passed a second Confiscation Act which made the property of all Confederate officials subject to immediate confiscation by Union officials.

The authors of the Act, by a provision that gave people supporting the Confederacy sixty days to drop their support or have their property become liable to federal confiscation, struck below the upper stratum of the Southern official family and at the roots of Southern life.

Then, in the summer of 1862, Congress passed the Direct Tax Set which, once Union troops occupied rebel territory, made Southern homes, lands, farms and plantations subject to sale or seizure by the federal government if the owners failed to pay the assessed taxes.

The avowed objectives of the laws were to “relieve” rebels of their war-producing materiel and to finance the [cost of the] war; but under them Northerners could transfer Southern wealth to themselves at the same time they emasculated the South politically.

Among the most frank in expressing their desire to exploit the South and guide Southern political development were the directors of the New England Emigrant Aid Company. This company had already experimented with sending emigrants to Kansas in an effort to flood that blood-stained territory with abolitionist settlers. Now with the war hardly more than a year old, the directors saw the South as a land of opportunity for Northerners and Northern ideals.

To them, the war presented an opportune time for settling in the South Northern workmen in numbers large enough to “support presses, schools, and churches true to their own principles and to the interests of freedom.” Land for the emigrants would be no problem since the government was sure to acquire considerable quantities through confiscation and defaulted direct taxes.

The implications of these plans were great. Should they succeed, Southerners would lose both their wealth, and their voice in the national political arena.”

(Northern Plans for the Economic Invasion of Florida, 1862-1865, Robert L. Clarke, Florida Historical Quarterly, Volume XXVIII, No. 4, April 1950, excerpt pp. 262-263)

On The Bare Hills, Men Without a Country

It is said that Grant at Appomattox offered rations and transportation home to Lee’s surrendered Americans, or to exile in Halifax, Nova Scotia. Many might have gladly avoided living under Northern rule, “but in distant homes were old men, helpless women and children, whose cry for help it was not hard to hear.” With all the destruction around them and carpetbaggers flowing Southward, “no one dreamed of what has followed.”

On the Bare Hills, Men Without a Country

“[The enemy] were proud of their success, were more willing to give than our men, in the soreness of defeat, and not a man of that grand army of a hundred and fifty thousand men but could, and, I believe, would testify, that on purely personal grounds, the few worn out, half-starved men that gathered around General Lee and his falling flag held the prouder position of the two. Had politicians left things alone, such feelings would have resulted in a very different condition of things.

“We stacked eight thousand stands of arms, all told: artillery, cavalry, infantry, stragglers, wagon rats and all the rest, from twelve to fifteen thousand men.

The United States troops, by their own estimate, were one hundred fifty thousand men, with a railroad connecting their rear with Washington, New York, Germany, France, Belgium, Africa – all the world, and the rest of mankind,” as General [Richard] Taylor comprehensively remarked, for their recruiting stations were all over the world, and the crusade against the South, under pressure of the “almighty dollar,” was as absolute and varied in its nationality as was that of “Peter the Hermit,” under pressure of religious zeal upon Jerusalem.

Those of us who took serious consideration of the state of affairs, felt that with our defeat we had absolutely lost our country – the one we held under the Constitution – as though we had been conquered and made a colony of by France or Russia. So far, it was all according to the order of things, and we stood on the bare hills, men without a country.”

(Dickison and His Men, Mary Elizabeth Dickison, Courier-Journal Printing, 1890, excerpt pp. 241-243)

Prosperity Through Armaments

To underscore the following excerpts, author George Thayer states that “We live in an age of weapons. Never before in the history of mankind have weapons of war been so dominant a concern as they have been since 1945.” Thayer writes that after the second war to end all wars, the US “had given away $48.5 billion worth of arms and military supplies to 48 nations.” One of these was the Soviet Union of Josef Stalin, who Roosevelt had armed to the teeth and who immediately became the US’s postwar primary adversary.

Prosperity Through Armaments

“In the twenty-four years since 1945, there have been fifty-five wars of significant size, duration and intensity throughout the world. This means that mankind faces a new and violent conflict somewhere in the world slightly more often than once every five months, any one of which is capable of provoking a holocaust.

If one adds to this total all the coups, large-scale riots and clashes of unorganized, low-order violence, then the total of postwar cases of armed conflict that have had significant impact on the course of history would number in excess of fifteen score – more than one per month.

Today we are far along the way to losing our sense of proportion, for by any definition many of these wars have been quite large. For instance, bombing tonnage in the Korean War exceeded all the tonnage dropped by the Allies in the Pacific Theater of World War II. In the “small” six-day Sinai War of 1967, more tanks were committed to battle than by the Germans, Italians and Allies together at the crucial twelve-day battle of El Alamein in 1942. And from July 1965 to December 1967, more bomb tonnage was dropped on Vietnam than was dropped by the Allies on Europe during all of World War II.

Consider some of the political consequences that today’s arms trade have produced:

The fall of Germany’s Erhard government in 1966 can be blamed in large part on Bonn’s purchases of American military equipment which it could not afford and did not need.

The cancellation of the Skybolt missile by the United States in 1962 was one of the contributing factors that led to Prime Minister MacMillan’s resignation in 1963.

The Pakistan-India War of 1965, in which American equipment was used on both sides, produced two results adverse to United States interests: it forced Pakistan to take a more neutral position in world affairs, and it forced India to consider manufacturing nuclear weapons.

Had there been no large infusion of American weapons into the area (ostensibly as a defense against communism), the war would not have taken place.”

(The War Business: The International Trade in Armaments, George Thayer, Simon and Schuster, 1969, excerpts pp. 17-21)

Jul 5, 2020 - Carnage, Lincoln's Revolutionary Legacy, Sherman's Legacy, Targeting Civilians, Uncategorized    Comments Off on “Now I Am Become Death”

“Now I Am Become Death”

Only hours after the Pearl Harbor attack on 7 December 1941, US naval commanders in the Pacific were ordered to “execute unrestricted air and submarine warfare against the Japanese.” This, ironically, is the very policy which brought the US into the First World War, though it would not be until September 1943 that US submarines in wolf packs would decimate Japan’s shipping. Also, Claire Chennault of “Flying Tigers” fame was urging the firebombing of Japan’s cities well before Pearl Harbor. General Curtis LeMay, architect of the firebombing of Japanese cities, commented after Hiroshima that he thought the nuclear bomb unnecessary as nothing of military value remained to be bombed. It was purely of terror value.

“Now I am Become Death”

“Americans had entered the war violently opposed to the bombing of civilians, and during the campaign in Europe had generally opposed British terror bombing in favor of the costly but less indiscriminate technique of daylight “precision” air raids.  [With the order of 7 December], this changed in principle almost immediately in the Pacific.

Even a month prior to Pearl Harbor, George Marshall had instructed aides to develop contingency plans for “general incendiary attacks to burn up the wood and paper structures of the densely populated Japanese cities.”  

Three years later, with the arrival of the very long-range B-29 heavy bomber, the M-47 and M-69 napalm bombs, and General Curtis LeMay to command the Twentieth Air Force, these plans came to fruition.

On the night of 9 March 1945, 334 B-29s armed only with incendiaries would attack Tokyo at low levels, and in the ensuing fires 267,000 buildings would burn and over eighty-three thousand people would die. Japanese air defense against such night attacks was almost nonexistent, nor would it improve. By June, over 40 percent of Japan’s six most industrial cities had been gutted and millions dehoused.  Yet the Americans had a better way.

It is clear that the primary motive for the program was fear that Nazi Germany would develop nuclear weapons first. However, Ronald Powaski points out that, as early as November 1944, American officials were aware that Germany had no viable nuclear program, and the surrender in May 1945 made this a certainty. Despite this, work on the Manhattan Project not only continued but accelerated.

No one considered the Japanese a threat to develop a bomb. Rather, the bomb was being built to be used. On 1 June President Truman accepted recommendations that it be dropped on Japan as soon as possible – “without specific warning,” he recalled in his memoirs. “When you deal with a beast,” Truman wrote several days after, “you have to treat him like a beast.”

Less than a month earlier, the bomb’s chief designer, J. Robert Oppenheimer, as he watched its first test, remembered some lines from the Bhagavad Gita: “Now I am become death, destroyer of worlds; waiting the hour that ripens to their doom.”

(Of Arms and Men: A History of War, Weapons and Aggression, Robert L. O’Connell, Oxford University Press, 1989, excerpt pp. 293-295)

Barbarous Pillaging

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

Barbarous Pillaging

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Stereotypes and White Trash in Little Rock

The Little Rock episode of government force used in the integration of Arkansas schools caused little damage to Governor Orval Faubus as he easily secured reelection in 1958, and served three more terms.

Hollywood used Little Rock to advance their stereotypes of the Southern citizenry, with “A Face in the Crowd” described below, “To Kill a Mockingbird,” and “The Man in the Grey Flannel Suit.”

The latter two paint a damning picture of poor Southern white people with the Ewell family depicted as untrustworthy “poor white trash”; Gregory Peck provided “a pale imitation of the primal Cajun doing his dance to drumbeats.” “Redneck” and “white trash” were often used interchangeably; “hillbilly” was waiting in the wings if the other two did not suffice.

Stereotypes and White Trash in Little Rock

“Little Rock was the most important domestic news story of 1957. It transformed the Central High neighborhood into a newsroom, attracting reporters from the major newspapers, magazines and television networks. By the end of September, the number of press people had grown from a handful to 225 highly visible journalists and cameramen. The standoff between the courts and the governor – the “crisis” environment swirling around the school grounds – grabbed the world’s attention.

The media easily slipped into Southern stereotypes, depicting “many in overalls,” “tobacco-chewing white men,” or as one New York Times article highlighted, a “scrawny redneck man” yelling insults at the soldiers. Local Arkansas journalists similarly dismissed the demonstrators as “a lot of rednecks.” Unruly women who stood by became “slattern housewives” and “harpies.” One Southern reporter said it outright: “Hell, look at them. They’re just poor white trash, mostly.”

In Nashville, mob violence erupted that same month after the integration of an elementary school. There, a Time [magazine] reporter had a field day trashing the women in the crowd: “vacant-faced women in curlers and loose-hanging blouses,” not to mention a rock-throwing waitress with a tattooed arm.

These were all predictable motifs, serving to distance rabble-rousers from the “normal” good people of Arkansas and Tennessee. By 1959, the Times Literary Supplement acknowledged that it was the “ugly faces” of “rednecks, crackers, tar-heels and other poor white trash” that would be forever remembered from Central High.

In the same year that Little Rock consumed the news media, Hollywood produced a feature-length film that capitalized on the redneck image. Starring Andy Griffith and directed by Elia Kazan, A Face in the Crowd was . . . “a dark drama that followed “Lonesome Rhodes,” a down-and-out man discovered playing guitar in an Arkansas jail, and traced his rapid rise into the national limelight as a powerful and ruthless TV star.

For reviewers, Griffith’s performance was a cross between Huey Long and Elvis Presley – a hollering, singing “redneck gone berserk with power.”

(White Trash: The 400-Year Untold History of Class in America, Nancy Isenberg, Viking Press, 2016, excerpts pp. 251-252)

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