Remembering Sherman and Slavery

This new year 2011 will mark the 150th anniversary of the United States Civil War. The New York Times has been presenting excellent pieces that look back on this deadliest war in American history, a war so brutal that historians contend it was the most deadly confrontation in humankind until the trench warfare of World War I. Remembering and reflecting upon the Civil War may be considered part of a contemporary American Catholic’s responsibility to develop a moral sense toward the situation of warfare in the 21st century. Educators at all levels may want to consider the relevance of remembering the Civil War in different academic endeavors, as even many college students lack rudimentary understanding of what occurred.

When I spent some time in the South nearly two decades ago, I recall hearing the name “Sherman” in tones too hard to describe, a mixture of angst, horror, and disgust; uttered usually in combination with the phrase “March to the Sea.” His actions are not forgotten despite passage of much time. General William T. Sherman led 98,797 soldiers, through Atlanta, Southeast to Charleston and then up the coast into the Carolinas. Sherman’s own understanding of his motives were as follows, noted by John Keegan in The American Civil War:

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“We [Grant and Sherman, the two leading Union generals] both believed in our hearts that the success of the human cause was necessary not only to the then generation of Americans, but to all future generations. We both professed to be gentlemen and professional soldiers, educated in the science of war by our generous government for the very occasion that had arisen. Neither of us by nature was a combative man...”

Sherman’s March began in May 1964 in Nashville Tennessee and continued until the end of the War in April 1865, finishing in Raleigh, North Carolina. At this point the war was not about State’s Rights but about the Emancipation of the Slaves as Lincoln had placed the Emancipation Proclamation into effect January 1, 1863. Keegan points out that, unlike some of the previous Generals in the Union Army, both Sherman and Grant were dedicated to a brutal style of warfare that, in their minds, would end the war more quickly and in the end save lives on both sides. Sherman wrote that in his march from Atlanta to Savannah his Army had:

“Consumed the corn and fodder of country thirty miles either side of the line from Atlanta to Savannah, as also the sweet potatoes, cattle, hogs, sheep and poultry and had carried away more than 10,000 mules and horses, as well as a countless number of slaves. I estimate the damage done to the State of Georgia and its military resources at $100,000,000...This may seem a hard species of warfare, but it brings the sad realities of war home to those who have been directly and indirectly instrumental in involving us in its attendant calamities...If they want peace, they and their relatives must stop the war. You cannot qualify war in harsher terms than I will. War is cruelty and you cannot refine it; and those who have brought war into our country deserve all the curses and maledictions a people can pour out.”

There were 620,000 deaths during the United States Civil War. Two deadliest battles were Gettysburg and Chickamauga, where 51,112 and 32,624 perished, respectively; the largest one-day death toll was at Antietam where 26,134 died over a 24-hour period. In retrospect Christians will weight these figures against the result of the end of the war, the emancipation of the slaves. Was this a just war in the Augustinian sense?

In the Gettysburg address Lincoln did not differentiate between Union and Confederate soldiers who had died but instead considered their sacrifice a joint one: “It is for us the living to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us—that from these honoured dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion—that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain, that this nation under God shall have a new birth of freedom, and that the government of the people, by the people, and for the people shall not perish from the earth.” In this 150th year anniversary Lincoln’s words will be parsed, criticized and deconstructed, but in the end for many they will remain part of humankind’s repository of sadly-earned truth and a source of continuing reflection and meditation for Christians who seek social justice.

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6 years 9 months ago
Norman -

I think we've veered way off topic here; my particular comment was in response to a statement by David, qualified by the need to determine the veracity of his premise before drawing conclusions.

That said, I realize that there are exceptions to rules.  Are there aggressive women? Absolutely.  Can we therefore make a general statement that women are aggressive?  No.  You seem to be all over the board in arguing on the one hand that women and men are the same, and on the other hand that they're different - to suit whatever your concern here, is, and I'm guessing that concern has to do with whether men and women are equal or not.  

My two cents on male aggression: men, genetically, generally, have more muscle mass and are bigger than women; they are therefore stronger and can control, over women and weaker men, by strength.  I suppose that inherent physical power could evolve into mental aggression; i.e., through success via physical power, the desire to exercise that power has followed. Women, physically weaker, physically dominated, have evolved mentally to exert power in other ways.  Purely hypothetical, of course.
 
6 years 9 months ago
''There is no determination, yet, of the motivation and circumstances of the shooting, from law enforcement. ''
Yet Sarah Palin gets mentioned.  Here is summary of a few minutes ago on this
http://legalinsurrection.blogspot.com/2011/01/congresswoman-gabrielle-giffords.html
we vnornm
6 years 9 months ago
Norm, David, Michael, Tom, JR Cosgrove:

Thanks for keeping the discussion going. Let's just wait patiently and let all the facts come out on the tragic situation in Arizona. On this and other blogs, I'm always grateful for your ideas and participation. best, bill
Crystal Watson
6 years 9 months ago
Bill, thanks for the link to the book review.
we vnornm
6 years 9 months ago
Crystal,

Interesting lead to Howard Zinn. His experiences as a bombardier and teacher in 1960s Atlanta must have impacted on him deeply. The note on your blog about him leads one to want to know more about him. tx bill
we vnornm
6 years 9 months ago
Bill,

Thanks for the mention of the Faust book. I am just ready to start R.C. White's bio of Lincoln but it looks like Faust's book goes into material that perhaps the many other bios don't cover-and it would be of inerest to me.

In the review-there is suggestion that one of those "unintended consequences" of the civil war was to push the country in a different direction based on "retroactive" meaning that was read into the great toll of the war...not specifically a positive direction, either. A good point worth thinking about.

I will add this to the last of things I need to read.

Thanks, bill
we vnornm
6 years 9 months ago
Carolyn,

The facts you bring to our attention are important ones. Keegan notes that many in the South in the beginning of the 19th Century felt pushed around by the North, economically intimidated and bullied by Tariffs voted on by Northern congressional legislators-taxes that were on goods utilized by the South but whose profits fed the North. So the utter lack of respect shown to the dead Confederate soldiers would be another manifestation of the North's lack of respect and "union" with those in the Southern states.

Thanks for pointing this out. bill
Tom Maher
6 years 9 months ago
Great to remind people of these real life historic events like the Civil War.  Many Americans do not even know there was a Civil War let alone what impacts the Civil War had on American society. 

It is extremely meaningful that more tha 620,000 people died in the Civil War   This is still the largest number of casualties of any war by hundreds of thousands.

Civil War is a lesson for our times in that the Civil War was caused by hugh fundemental political, economic, social, cultural and regional differences that so divided America that it could not stay united and at peace.   A long, intense and bitter Civil War resulted. Militarily force formally ended the war and re-directed the nation.  But decades of major disruptive reprocussions and setbacks also continued for more than a hundred years after the war. 

Today over the last ten or twenty years political commentators have noted that America is a divided country.  This is demonstrated by the close  presidential elections and the drastic shift of party control of congress every few years. Increasingly political affairs are conducted with an absence of good will, tolerance and common purpose.  Political leaders are attacked as immoral and illigitimate, routinely without basis.  Legislative cooperation is rare unless paid for by elaborate and expensive earmarks and deals. 

Are fundementally politically foces at work that could tear the country apart again as happened in the Civil War?   Is our national unity in jeopardy over our fundemental political differences?  

we vnornm
6 years 9 months ago
Tom,

It is a frightening thing to think that the diviseness today may approach the level seen in 1860. Perhaps this is a good reason to reflect upon all this. tx bill
we vnornm
6 years 9 months ago
David,

Certainly an intriguing thought: let's stop wars. As far as I can tell, we haven't tried this. It is an idea with great potential. bill
6 years 9 months ago
David's comments, "it's a guy thing," and "men love war," if true, must be given strong consideration in a world that is still overwhelmingly dominated by men.  In the US, I think our idealism as reflected in Bill's subsequent commment - and dare I say the power of women in the US - has the potential to make the country vulnerable in what is still a violent, oppressive world.
HENRY RAY ENGELHART
6 years 9 months ago
WAR IS JUST TOTAL MORAL FAILURE: AS I HEARD IT, WHEN SOMEONE ACCOSTED GENERAL LEMAY ABOUT SOME IMMORAL ACTIONS IN WAR, HE RESPONDED BY SAYING SOMETHING LIKE: WAR ITSELF IS IMMORAL! YOU ARE ALREADY IN AN IMMORAL SITUATION.
HENRY RAY ENGELHART
6 years 9 months ago
WAR IS JUST TOTAL MORAL FAILURE: AS I HEARD IT, WHEN SOMEONE ACCOSTED GENERAL LEMAY ABOUT SOME IMMORAL ACTIONS IN WAR, HE RESPONDED BY SAYING SOMETHING LIKE: WAR ITSELF IS IMMORAL! YOU ARE ALREADY IN AN IMMORAL SITUATION.
Tom Maher
6 years 9 months ago
The Civil Wars a real scene from real life.  This is not a made-up story or fantasy.  The Civil War history demonstrated that this country even with its Constitution became so politically divided that a long and bloody Civil War resulted.  This is an objective reality with real-world implications.  An intense Civil War has happened in America even with a Constituional government, free press etc. designed to make th ecountry more stable than most countries.

Paul Samuelson the economist stated that the instiution of slavery was not being replaced by technology and was economically extremely viable for years and was very profitable.  Manuy of the officials of the Confederacy such as Jefferson Davis  were extremely wealty plantation owners  Tecnology such as the cotton gin had greatly strenghtened the southern plantation system by making it even more productive and profitable .  The  southern plantation sytem wanted to expand its economic and political base and chose succession to be able to do so.  Yhe south tern itself into a potent military force to realize it own independent economic objectives by use of force.

This shows that powerful political and economic forces can arise outside the constistuion whcih can not be stopped without adequate military force. Without adequate military force the rebellion spread and established itself.  The United States had too small of an army to do anything for years. 

Wars and rebellions are a part of life like death, taxes, and the weather.  Wars and rebellions like diseaase can be unavoidable forces of nature and very hard to erradicate once established.   Banning war is meaningless unless nations have the military means to do so. ows

History shows that America will experience wars and rebellions in most gnerations as every other nation has on a reguylar basis over centuries.  Wars and rebillions are a basic fact of life that the nation needs to be prepared for. ????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????
6 years 9 months ago
I've started reading the excellent NYT's articles on "Disunion" and I now have.. several more books on my to-read list, thanks to Bill,VO, Bill C. and Crystal.  So many books and so much to learn!  I've heard, too, how many people in the South still harbor deep anger at Sherman and his "March to the Sea".  His (and Grant's) reason-necessary to the current generation of Americans and all future generations" sounds to me similar to the reasons given for dropping the atomic bomb on Hiroshima and Nagasaki....to save the lives of thousands of troops and to preserve our country's freedom and independence.  Buchanan, Lincoln, Truman faced the responsibility of having to make unbelievably difficult decisions.  As Truman said, "the buck stops here".  And I thought that the decisions I had to make at Child Protective Services were gut -wrenching, theirs were incredibly more difficult.  So, when we revisit history and discuss these very controversial decisions, it is well to remember they were made by fallible humans with limited information.  Forgiveness is a powerful healer and still needed in our country.As Tom said we face similiar polarizing factors as prior to the Civil War.  Will the Constitution now hold us together?


David and Michael:  be sure to read the NYT article by Adam Goodheart, "Female Partisans" and be as surprised as I was at the female resistance to abolistionist rule and the extent of women's agitation for secession.
we vnornm
6 years 9 months ago
Michael,

I have had confidence in both Condolezza Rice and Hillary Clinton to help keep the country safe from foreign states and to handle oppression... tx, bill

 
we vnornm
6 years 9 months ago
Ray. "War is total moral failure." Every century has suffered this truth. bill
we vnornm
6 years 9 months ago
Tom,

While not wanting to contradict #23, yes, preparedness is essential. We live in a real world, an imperfect world, and we have history to learn from. Cities need police forces, too. bill 
we vnornm
6 years 9 months ago
Janice,

I will look for that NYT article, too, the topic also surprises me. Interesting how "anniversaries" can be a good motivation for us to revisit past events. I keep being surprised at how many young people don't know about our own civil war, or Lincoln. Those CPS calls are wrenching: one can do damage where one makes a call where there is truly no need to. You and I know about the intrusiveness of agencies. Yet to miss a case of abuse does damage. I suspect military leaders find themselves in much more costly double-binds, dilemmas, and quandries, and it may be tempting for us to judge their actions while never having had to make the kind of decisions they make. amdg, bill
Mark Harden
6 years 9 months ago
"Two deadliest battles were Gettysburg and Chickamauga, where 51,112 and 32,624 perished, respectively; the largest one-day death toll was at Antietam where 26,134 died over a 24-hour period."

A nit: while those were indeed almost incomprehensibly bloody battles, all the figures cited above are TOTAL casualties, killed/wounded/missing. Not deaths.
we vnornm
6 years 9 months ago
Thank you, Mark H., casualties, incomprensible....bvo
6 years 9 months ago
I am not in any way an expert on the Civil War and most of my understanding of it came from the Ken Burns series.  But I remember him saying that Cold Harbor was one of the bloodiest battles and here is what Wikipedia says about it.



''The battle caused a rise in anti-war sentiment in the Northern states. Grant became known as the ''fumbling butcher'' for his poor decisions. It also lowered the morale of his remaining troops. But the campaign had served Grant's purpose—as foolish as his attack on Cold Harbor was, Lee was trapped. He beat Grant to Petersburg, barely, but spent the remainder of the war (save its final week) defending Richmond behind a fortified trench line. Although Southerners realized their situation was desperate, they hoped that Lee's stubborn (and bloody) resistance would have political repercussions by causing Abraham Lincoln to lose the 1864 presidential election to a more peace-friendly candidate. But the taking of Atlanta in September dashed these hopes, and the end of the Confederacy was just a matter of time.''



This seems to indicate that without Sherman and his march to the sea, we might not have a country as we know it.  So is the path to social justice paved with the dead?  We really should have a discussion on just what constitutes social justice.
we vnornm
6 years 9 months ago
"Is the path to social justice paved with the dead."

Reading the book by John Keegan really got me wondering about this, too. It appears that many "compromises" were tried re: states rights and slavery prior to 1860, but none worked.

Would a course of pacifism done anything to abolish slavery? Obviously the world had to wait for the genius of Gandhu/Martin Luther King, Jr. Would either of these men have know how to mount an effective non-violent campaign against slavery?

Sherman was brutal, but Keegan points out that Sherman believed that this was the only way to end the war, for both North and South, and that there would be less casualties in the end.

I wonder what Catholic theologians and bishops were saying at the time?

I'm glad the NYT times is highlighting the Civil War. They seem to have something in their online paper each morning.

best, bill

Bill Collier
6 years 9 months ago
Although it's true that Lincoln does not specifically distinguish between Union and Confederate soldiers, he was in Gettysburg to dedicate the new Union cemetery. The cemetery was intended for Union dead only, and except perhaps as the result of mistaken identity, there were no Confederate dead buried there. It was difficult enough for the cemetery planners to come up with a design that would satisfy the various interests of the Union states (primarily centered on which state's dead would be interred most prominently), than to also resolve what would have been an incendiary issue as to whether Confederate soldiers should also be buried there. Note also Lincoln's reference to "the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced." Lincoln was a man of great insight and forgiveness (as his Second Inaugural Address attests), and perhaps he slipped in a reference to the Confederate cause as "nobly advanced," but I tend to doubt it.  
we vnornm
6 years 9 months ago
What incredible double-binds Lincoln must have found himself in, time and time again. One wonders what might have occurred if a person not-so-forgiving had been in that office. Thanks for your thoughts and further information on Gettysburgh. bill
Crystal Watson
6 years 9 months ago
There's an interesting talk by the late anti-war activist and Boston University politcal science professor Howard Zinn about what he calls the three "holy" wars, the wars about which no one is really allowed to say bad things, one of which is the Civil War  ..... http://povcrystal.blogspot.com/2010/01/three-holy-wars.html  ... he mentions a book that sounds interesting - "The Republic of Suffering: Death and the American Civil War" by Drew Gilpin Faust

When I think of the just war theory, I just wonder how that can square with the pacifistic words of Jesus.  The idea that doing something bad is necessary to keep worse things from happening seems wrong - isn't that the ends justifying the means?   I have to admit, though, being a pacifist doesn't always seem practical, and it's hard to stand by and allow injustice to continue.
Bill Collier
6 years 9 months ago
"One wonders what might have occurred if a person not-so-forgiving had been in that office."

I can bore people all day discussing Lincoln (and have done so :)), Bill, but if I'm not being presumptuous, I think that you, as a licensed clinical psychologist, would really enjoy an excellent book about Lincoln: "Lincoln's Virtues: An Ethical Biography" by William Lee Miller. Not so much a timeline-style biography as a dissection of Lincoln's moral and ethical beliefs, Miller, IMO, does a masterful job of what made Lincoln tick.
Bill Collier
6 years 9 months ago
One last comment, and then I'll back out of this thread...

That's an exceptional book, Crystal. It was a finalist for both the National Book Awards and the Pulitzer Prize. Faust is an excellent historian (and the current president of Harvard). Her book got overwhelming positive reviews- e.g., this one in the NYT:

http://www.nytimes.com/2008/01/27/books/review/Ward-t.html

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