Was Sherman a war criminal?

civilken

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If I'm understanding you correctly ("if the Union had executed men such as R.E. Lee, Davis, Forrest, etc"), you make a very good point.
yes will that's what I mean.. I am not a vindictive person but sometimes I get a little annoyed at people calling certain individuals terrorists murder and such at the end of the Civil War more leaders of the rebellion were let go then any other Civil War and despite the rhetoric of certain individuals at the time the North did not put its bootheel on the South. I believe it's time that people when they're talking speak the truth not stories it's time to put false stories to bed.
 

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Greyfalcon

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I'm not sure why we think that modern standards would be more stringent than 19th century ones. In WWII, both sides killed hundreds of thousands of civilians with air bombing, while both sides routinely torpedoed civilian ships.

This is not taking into account deliberate targeting and murdering civilians by the Nazis, but normal war practice. If Sherman lived in the 20th century, he would have bombed Atlanta and Columbia, killed thousands of civilians and gotten a medal. By 20th century standards he would have destroyed the mills at Roswell, with an airstrike, with the operatives still inside. By our standards, Sherman barely hurt anyone. By our standards, he would have had a press conference and everyone would have oo'ed and ahh'd over videos of smart missiles blowing up bridges and structures with barely a thought that people are getting killed.

If we judge Sherman by our standards, he's not any kind of criminal, he's not mean enough.
I generally agree with you, but I wouldn’t be quite that harsh. Our fire-bombing of Tokyo, Dresden, use of nuclear weapons, were immoral, but not all our strategic bombing was. We differed with the Royal Air Force in WWII, on that issue. I would disagree though that people would feel the same today or did by the late 20th century, as you suggest. While we still have a horrific but necessary, nuclear deterrent force, our weapons and how we use them, have become more precise and more moral, over the last 70 years. We now try exceedingly hard to never target non-combatants, we have become much better at targeting with much more accurate weapons. That does not mean that civilians are not still killed, but to bring it back to topic, Sherman was criticised for what people know is naturally wrong, to target those who are not combatants.
 

matthew mckeon

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I generally agree with you, but I wouldn’t be quite that harsh. Our fire-bombing of Tokyo, Dresden, use of nuclear weapons, were immoral, but not all our strategic bombing was. We differed with the Royal Air Force in WWII, on that issue. I would disagree though that people would feel the same today or did by the late 20th century, as you suggest. While we still have a horrific but necessary, nuclear deterrent force, our weapons and how we use them, have become more precise and more moral, over the last 70 years. We now try exceedingly hard to never target non-combatants, we have become much better at targeting with much more accurate weapons. That does not mean that civilians are not still killed, but to bring it back to topic, Sherman was criticised for what people know is naturally wrong, to target those who are not combatants.
"To target those who are not combatants..." but he didn't target them for death, which was routinely done in WWII bombing, or torpedoing ships without warning, killing civilian merchant seamen. He targeted property, not people. My point is that nowadays, our armed forces all march in Sherman's army, in the sense of attacking and destroying civilian infrastructure, only a thousand times worse, since Sherman spared the civilians, and air bombing means modern forces inevitably don't.
So Sherman isn't guilty of war crimes by our standards, and wasn't by 19th century standards. He was certainly was doing the same things as Raphael Semmes, or Jubal Early, only on a larger scale.

Maybe he should have stuck to General Hood's preferred script and chased him all over Tennessee and gotten a few thousand more men killed in a glorious bayonet charge or two, and had a wonderful painting done, with fluttering flags and gallant officers waving their swords, and a couple of grunts taking a nap by a broken cannon wheel.
Then we could bicker on Civil War Talk about the monument on the battlefield, instead of how ungentlemanly Sherman was when he won the war.
 

Bee

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He targeted property, not people
Which indeed was Sherman's plan:

The general had spent much time in the South as a U.S. Army officer and as superintendent of what later became Louisiana State University. He had many Southern friends and thus had an attachment to the South and its people. Sherman sought, therefore, a way to end the war with as little bloodshed as possible. His entire war experience, particularly as Ulysses S. Grant’s subordinate, provided him with battlefield savvy and tactics to do just that...http://www.historynet.com/general-william-tecumseh-sherman

 

Drew

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I'm not sure why we think that modern standards would be more stringent than 19th century ones. In WWII, both sides killed hundreds of thousands of civilians with air bombing, while both sides routinely torpedoed civilian ships.

This is not taking into account deliberate targeting and murdering civilians by the Nazis, but normal war practice. If Sherman lived in the 20th century, he would have bombed Atlanta and Columbia, killed thousands of civilians and gotten a medal. By 20th century standards he would have destroyed the mills at Roswell, with an airstrike, with the operatives still inside. By our standards, Sherman barely hurt anyone. By our standards, he would have had a press conference and everyone would have oo'ed and ahh'd over videos of smart missiles blowing up bridges and structures with barely a thought that people are getting killed.

If we judge Sherman by our standards, he's not any kind of criminal, he's not mean enough.
I hate to say it, but it seems we apply our standards at our convenience.

Sherman's behavior was not acceptable by the standards of his time, but other behavior not acceptable to our time is fair game for criticism. Most people were cool with slaves in 1860 (including Sherman), but not the indiscriminate burning of cities.

So, here we are.
 

matthew mckeon

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I hate to say it, but it seems we apply our standards at our convenience.

Sherman's behavior was not acceptable by the standards of his time, but other behavior not acceptable to our time is fair game for criticism. Most people were cool with slaves in 1860 (including Sherman), but not the indiscriminate burning of cities.

So, here we are.
The only unacceptable thing that Sherman did was win.
I can't see any difference between him and Raphael Semmes. Semmes was worse, really, although very much small time in comparison. And Semmes was something of a whiner. But Semmes' targeting of civilians: American merchant ships, has always been considered OK. Sherman of the Sea gets a pass, but Sherman is demonized.

Sherman was scary and so forth and destroyed a lot of property, but it meant he didn't have to destroy a lot of lives.
 

rpkennedy

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I hate to say it, but it seems we apply our standards at our convenience.

Sherman's behavior was not acceptable by the standards of his time, but other behavior not acceptable to our time is fair game for criticism. Most people were cool with slaves in 1860 (including Sherman), but not the indiscriminate burning of cities.

So, here we are.
I have to disagree. Sherman's actions were well within the norm for 19th century warfare and would argue that the Southern civilians got off relatively lightly in comparison to other warzones. What people didn't like was when that sort of warfare was applied against them.

Ryan
 

Drew

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The only unacceptable thing that Sherman did was win.
I can't see any difference between him and Raphael Semmes. Semmes was worse, really, although very much small time in comparison. And Semmes was something of a whiner. But Semmes' targeting of civilians: American merchant ships, has always been considered OK. Sherman of the Sea gets a pass, but Sherman is demonized.

Sherman was scary and so forth and destroyed a lot of property, but it meant he didn't have to destroy a lot of lives.
OK, so we can agree Semmes was a small fry, relative to Sherman. "Targeting" merchant ships in time of war is not exactly the same thing as targeting rural farmers, but this requires an entirely new thread.

This one is about Sherman.
 

cash

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OK, so we can agree Semmes was a small fry, relative to Sherman. "Targeting" merchant ships in time of war is not exactly the same thing as targeting rural farmers, but this requires an entirely new thread.

This one is about Sherman.
Sherman didn't target farmers. As has been said, he targeted property.
 

Drew

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Sherman didn't target farmers. As has been said, he targeted property.
OK, so he targeted farmers' food and farmers' shelter. He took or destroyed both. If that means he "didn't target farmers," I guess you are right, in an extremely strict interpretation.

The spirit (or dispirit of the thing) still stands.
 

cash

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OK, so he targeted farmers' food and farmers' shelter. He took or destroyed both. If that means he "didn't target farmers," I guess you are right, in an extremely strict interpretation.

The spirit (or dispirit of the thing) still stands.
The confederates took 10% of every farmer's crop. Does that mean they targeted the farmers too?
 

diane

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The only farmers Sherman targeted were the planters, for obvious reasons, but small farmers in his path often were trampled. He did try to take it easy on these people - on one occasion he sat on the porch smoking with an old lady as his army went by...didn't steal anything from her while the general was sitting there! Most weren't anywhere near that lucky. But he didn't target them, which is a whole 'nother thing.

Curious - has anyone got any statistics on the refugees from Sherman's march? Numbers of people dislocated and for how long? Any starvation or exposure deaths? I have never seen anything like that - there were camps of people from time to time but these didn't seem to exist for longer than it took other relations and friends to take them in. This is something else to consider when determining whether Sherman committed war crimes or not. These kinds of statistics are hard to come by I know but it seems there would be accounts of these poor refugees and their condition if Sherman's march was a holocaust. Losing your only mule or your dogs would be darn hard on a subsistence farmer, but were there lots of these people or was their plight temporary? It seems the howling Georgia did was mainly from the planters, who had plenty to howl about!
 

OVI

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This thread is really something interesting! I live in Lancaster and have never been inside his house yet! It's a museum and I drive by it daily, shame on me. I am reading the book "Fierce Patriot" by Robert L. O'connell. Very good so far. What I am getting from it mostly is, Go by what he did, NOT what he said.
 

johan_steele

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I hate to say it, but it seems we apply our standards at our convenience.

Sherman's behavior was not acceptable by the standards of his time, but other behavior not acceptable to our time is fair game for criticism. Most people were cool with slaves in 1860 (including Sherman), but not the indiscriminate burning of cities.

So, here we are.
Look at the French in Spain, English in India & China et al again. Sherman was quite well UNDER the standards of the day in regards to putting down a rebellion. A Brit or French Army in Georgia or South Carolina... you really should read more about contemporary warfare. You've been asked to before but still haven't. The Civil War did not happen in a vacuum and history does not begin and end with the CS.
 

Forrest

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yes will that's what I mean.. I am not a vindictive person but sometimes I get a little annoyed at people calling certain individuals terrorists murder and such at the end of the Civil War more leaders of the rebellion were let go then any other Civil War and despite the rhetoric of certain individuals at the time the North did not put its bootheel on the South. I believe it's time that people when they're talking speak the truth not stories it's time to put false stories to bed.
It's not all-black or all-white. Sometimes you give in an area that's easy to control and gives good payback (evidently, for 150+ years) such as not executing leaders, and don't give as much in areas that are somewhat out of your control anyway, such as 'bootheeling' the civilian survivors of the opposing side. While the bootheel might not have been applied officially as much as it could have been, looking the other way was a way to give some of the post-war punishment that the North thought the South deserved. People also forget that while the American Civil War might have seemed like it was fought completely over ideals, there was a decently-defined geographic boundary as well, and the inhabitants of one side of that boundary couldn't simply be wiped off the face of the earth if 'preserving the Union' was still somewhat of the aim - thus the bootheel not being applied completely.

But I still lean heavily toward your logic regarding Sherman's status as a war criminal ('he was not one'). I share a last name with Sherman's arch-enemy, so we grew up thinking Sherman wasn't so great. As an aside, the 'war criminal' thing is currently always levied against any leader who was involved in an unpopular war, field officer or otherwise.
 

Forrest

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Look at the French in Spain, English in India & China et al again. Sherman was quite well UNDER the standards of the day in regards to putting down a rebellion. A Brit or French Army in Georgia or South Carolina... you really should read more about contemporary warfare. You've been asked to before but still haven't. The Civil War did not happen in a vacuum and history does not begin and end with the CS.
The key part of your statement that makes it quite a different situation from the ACW is "in Spain", "in India". To keep using your examples, which are like comparing apples and peanuts, the British or French "in another country" (USA or any other colony) would be quite a different situation. Your Yankees, as I'm sure you will agree, were smart enough to handle the clean-up of a problem on their own soil with a little more sense.
 

photoman475

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I would like to point out that burning one town (Chambersburg) in retaliation for what may have happened in other places (Osceola, Missouri; Athens, Alabama; Meridian Mississippi; or Randolph, Tennessee) does not make it right.

Furthermore, your point about Meridian misses the mark in some respects. Much of what you are saying, such as the destruction of (depots, store-houses, arsenal, cantonments) are valid military targets in any day and age. Can you supply us with more information on the other places you mention, such as (hospitals, offices, hotels) that were also destroyed? Were these structures near military targets? I can well imagine-and Richmond in April 1865 is a good example-that when an arsenal blows up, the resulting fireball and burning debris/embers get spread to other, unintended places. What was the wind that day? Other weather conditions that may have contributed to the spread of the flames? We are talking about an age when most structures were built out of wood.

I do not dispute that these things happened, but I think you've used a Sherman quote without giving us the full context. I'm glad you're quoted Sherman, but where can we find the full quote so we can all see the full context? Thanks.
 

johan_steele

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The key part of your statement that makes it quite a different situation from the ACW is "in Spain", "in India". To keep using your examples, which are like comparing apples and peanuts, the British or French "in another country" (USA or any other colony) would be quite a different situation. Your Yankees, as I'm sure you will agree, were smart enough to handle the clean-up of a problem on their own soil with a little more sense.
India was a colony of the UK until the middle of the 20th Century. They were putting down a Revolt/Rebellion.

A lot of people on this site insist the CS was another country and the US was attempting victory through conquest. Hence why the Brits in China or the French in Spain is an apt comparison.

Those I keep railing upon to read of contemporary military actions cannot or will not accept that Sherman and his men were not operating in a vacuum. They seem to believe Sherman and the US soldiers he commanded were the anti-christ. After years of explaining how lightly GA & SC were treated in comparison to others. If Sherman had been half as bad as some suggest... then we wouldn't be hearing about it because their complaints might be legitimate but there would be no descendants to make them..

ALL of which with many others show Shermans men were outright docile in comparison. There are no mass graves & nothing even remotely comparable to a Ft Pillow at the feet of Sherman and his men. The hysterical accusations of Sherman and his men raping and pillaging their way across the south are just so much Lost Cause propaganda.
 

Andersonh1

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I would like to point out that burning one town (Chambersburg) in retaliation for what may have happened in other places (Osceola, Missouri; Athens, Alabama; Meridian Mississippi; or Randolph, Tennessee) does not make it right.
I agree, but it always bothers me when someone gets so worked up about Chambersburg, one town, while glossing over or making light of the literally multiple dozens of towns that were burned and destroyed in the South as if they don't count, or the suffering of their inhabitants isn't worth considering.

I do not dispute that these things happened, but I think you've used a Sherman quote without giving us the full context. I'm glad you're quoted Sherman, but where can we find the full quote so we can all see the full context? Thanks.
It's part of a much longer report, and can be found in the OR, Series I Vol XXXII. Here is a longer extract, though still not the whole report.

https://archive.org/stream/warofrebellion013201rootrich/warofrebellion013201rootrich_djvu.txt

My plan of action was as follows : General William Sooy Smith to move from Memphis by or before the 1st of February with an effective force of 7,000 cavalry lightly equipped, to march straight on Pontotoc, Okolona, Columbus Junction (Artesia), and Meridian, to arrive there about February 10, distance 250 miles ; to disregard all minor objects, to destroy railroads, bridges, corn not wanted, and strike quick and well every enemy that should offer opposition, while
I with four good divisions of infantry and artillery would at the same time move from Vicksburg on the same objective points, 150 miles distant. When met at Meridian, being present in person, I could then order anew according to the then circumstances, condition of roads ; and time left at my disposal.

I knew full well what would be the effect of this move, and in all my orders and instructions I dwelt particularly on the point of making no detachments, but to go straight to the one sole object, leaving the minor matters to the future.

I inclose herewith my instructions to General Smith with a copy of his report, and must say it is unsatisfactory. The delay in his start to the 11th of February, when his orders contemplated his being at Meridian on the 10th, and when he knew I was marching from Vicksburg, is unpardonable, and the mode and manner of his return to Memphis was not what I expected from an intended bold cavalry movement. I know that from February 1st to the 17th all of Lee s cavalry was to my front. We took daily prisoners from each brigade, so that General Smith had nothing to deal with except Forrest and the militia. I hope General Smith will make these points more clear to the general-in-chief , to whom he has returned at Nashville, as noted in his report.

My own movement was successful in an eminent degree. We left Vicksburg February 3 in two columns, General Hurlbut s by Messinger s and General McPherson s by the railroad bridge. We met no opposition till General Hurlbut s head of column reached Joe Davis plantation, and General McPherson s the Champion Hills.

The 5th was one continued skirmish for 18 miles, but we did not allow the enemy s cavalry to impede our march, but got into Jackson that night on his heels, whipping him handsomely and utterly disconcerting his plans. Loring and French were marching at the time to concentrate with the cavalry at Jackson, but were too late. We got into Jackson first, secured their pontoon bridge, repaired it, and commenced crossing Pearl River on the 6th, and on the 7th marched into Brandon.

Next day, the 8th, the head of column reached Line Creek, 5 miles from Morton, and on the 9th we entered Morton. General McPherson leading. I halted him there for the balance of the day to break railroads, and gave General Hurlbut .the lead, and he kept it all the way into Meridian. Our march was steady and easy by Hillsborough and Decatur. Though cavalry moved on our flanks they gave us little -oncern, save in scaring in our stragglers and foraging parties. At the Tallahatta, 20 miles from Meridian, we found the road obstructed with fallen timber, and, satisfied the enemy was trying to save time to cover the removal of railroad property from Meridian, I dropped our trains with good escorts and pushed on over all obstructions straight for the Oktibbeha, where we found the bridge burning. A large cotton gin, however, close by gave us good material, and a couple of hours sufficed for a new bridge, and we entered Meridian at 3.30 p. m. of the 14th with little opposition, and that was soon overcome by a battalion of Colonel Wiiislow s cavalry fighting on foot.

French s division had gone the night before and Loring s before day that morning, Lee s cavalry covering their retreat. General Polk had left for Demopolis at 10.30 that morning in the cars. One locomotive and a train were burning as we reached the depot, but all other rolling-stock had been removed to Mobile or toward Selma, 107 miles distant. I knew we could not overtake the enemy before he would cross the Tombigbee, and in fact I was willing to gain our point without battle, at so great a distance from the river, where the care of wounded men would have so taxed our ability to provide for them.

So I rested the army on the 10th, and on the IGth began a systematic and thorough destruction of the railroads centering at Meridian. The immense depots, warehouses, and length of side track demonstrated the importance to the enemy of that place. Through it he has heretofore traiisported his armies and vast supplies, and by means of the railroads large amounts of corn, bacon,, meal, and produce have been distributed to his armies. For five days 10,000 men worked hard and with a will in that work of destruction, with axes, crowbars, sledges, clawbars, and with fire, and I have no hesitation in pronouncing the work as well done. Meridian, with its depots, store-houses, arsenal, hospitals, offices, hotels, and cantonments no longer exists.

To General Hurlbut I intrusted the destruction north and east of the town, and to General McPherson south and west. The former reports to me officially the destruction of 60 miles of road, with ties burned and iron bent, one locomotive destroyed, and 8 bridges burned. The latter reports officially 55 miles of road destroyed, with 53 bridges and culverts burned, and 6,075 feet of trestle-work below Enterprise across a swamp burned, 19 locomotives, 28 cars, and 3 steam saw mills destroyed and burned. The railroad is destroyed all the way from Jackson to Meridian, 100 miles ; from Meridian to and including the large bridge over the Chickasawha below Quitman; north to and including a bridge at Lauderdale Springs, and east about 20 miles. The enemy cannot use these roads to our prejudice in the coming campaign.

Having learned positively that the enemy s infantry had crossed the Tombigbee eastward on the 17th, and there being nothing between me and the Pearl River but cavalry, which I could not strike with infantry, I remained at Meridian until the 20th of February, leaving me ten days to reach Vicksburg and keep my appointment with General Banks, and hearing nothing whatever of General Smith, I ordered General McPherson to move back slowly on the main road,
taking four days to Hillsborough, while I, with General Hurlbut s command and Colonel Winslow s cavalry, moved to the north to feel for General Smith.


Some accounts of what the citizens of Meridian went through: http://bobcivilwarhistory.blogspot.com/2009/12/shermans-raid-on-meridian-key-milestone.html

The citizens of Meridian were rightfully terrified by Sherman’s arrival and some looting did occur. One woman, writing to her mother in Mobile after the raid, said that, at first, a “mob” of soldiers entered her home “breaking open doors, trunks, locks, etc., tearing up and destroying everything they could. Caught all the chickens in the place in half an hour.” After requesting help from General Hurlburt, Union guards were placed at her house, but a group of five soldiers was assigned to search her home and confiscate any arms, gold, or silver. Eventually, General Leggett and his staff chose her home as their headquarters and, as a result, it was saved from potential destruction. However, as her letter went on to detail, the rest of the city was not so lucky.

Our store was burned to the ground, and so was another of our new houses. My two milch cows were killed, and every one in the town; and for eight or ten miles around, all cattle and horses...The printing office and all public buildings were burned up, and Mr. Ragsdale’s Hotel, Cullen’s, Terrill’s, and the Burton House.


All the railroad is torn up, both up and down, for miles, and all the ties burned and iron bent and destroyed. Oh, such destruction! I do not believe you or any one else would know the place. There’s not a fence in Meridian. I have not one rail left.

The woman, who only signed her letter as “S.E.P.B,” went to report that one friend, a Mrs. McElroy, had all her possessions destroyed and her house burned to the ground because her daughter had insulted a Union officer and a private. Mrs. McElroy’s son-in-law brought her and her daughter to the woman’s home for protection, but General Leggett told her that her house would also be burned if she gave Mrs. McElroy shelter. Sorrowfully, she had to tell Mrs. McElroy that she could not take them in.

S.E.P.B. was very accurate in describing the destruction wrought by Sherman and his troops. In his official report, Sherman would write, “I have no hesitation in pronouncing the work as well done. Meridian, with its depots, store-houses, arsenal, hospitals, offices, hotels, and cantonments no longer exists.” In total, his men destroyed 115 miles of railroad, 61 bridges and culverts, 20 locomotives, 28 rail cars, and 3 steam sawmills. The general added, “The railroad is destroyed all the way from Jackson to Meridian, 100 miles; from Meridian to and including the large bridge over the Chickasawha below Quitman; north to and including a bridge at Lauderdale Springs, and east about 20 miles. The enemy cannot use these roads to our prejudice in the coming campaign.” According to some accounts, only six major buildings were left standing after Sherman’s departure.
 
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I would like to point out that burning one town (Chambersburg) in retaliation for what may have happened in other places (Osceola, Missouri; Athens, Alabama; Meridian Mississippi; or Randolph, Tennessee) does not make it right.
Actually, retaliation such as the burning of Chambersburg, was a completely legal and accepted contemporary practice, as was the burning of Southern towns that held military depots, troops, facilities that supplied the Confederacy, or shielded guerrillas that attacked Federal forces.
 


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