Monthly Archives: November 2013

Sherman and the Hard Hand of War: “…she deserves all that seems in store for her”

Cover of sheet music for “Sherman’s March to the Sea”, 1965: Byers & Rockwell

In The Hard Hand of War, Mark Grimsley addresses the evolution of Union military policy towards Southern civilians and specifies three separate phases of policy: conciliatory, pragmatic, and hard war. This policy changed with the Union’s changing war aim from the defense of the Union to the abolition of slavery and every stepping stone in between. The hard war policy came to a head after the failure to break the Confederacy by both respectful occupation and concentration on the battlefield. For hard war, the focus shifted to the destruction of the Confederate infrastructure and the confiscation of private citizens’ property, especially those who outright supported the Confederate cause.

The hard hand of war came down after the Emancipation Proclamation went into effect on January 1, 1863. With the legalization of black troops, the Union had motivation to bring the backbone of the Confederate infrastructure into the Union’s grasp and thus completely undermine the economic structure of the Confederacy. The loss of the slave power and support of the war effort not only hurt the Confederacy, but also helped the Union when those slaves joined Union military ranks. The Union further attempted to put an end to Confederate progress by enacting preventative measure by the way of raids ensuring the inability of Confederate troops to acquire necessary provisions, most famously done by Major General William Sherman. Most importantly, emancipation was seen as the best way to dismantle Confederate infrastructure and unless the Union destroyed the Confederacy, they would “become slaves themselves” (141). The goal now was to conquer the Confederates by any means necessary, including the confiscation of property from all civilians, regardless of their level of affiliation or support of the rebellion.

In 1863, the United States War Department published General Order No. 11, also known as Lieber’s Code. This publication provided the justification of hard war by means of military necessity – the harder the war, the shorter it will be. It did not permit “wanton destruction”, which inhibited the return to a state of peace and reconciliation (150). More importantly, the Code left the acceptable range of actions taken against civilians considered as rebellious enemies, and thus the distinction of pragmatic war versus hard war, up to the discretion of military commanders.

Lieber’s Code/General Order No. 100

For General Sherman, hard war was embodied in the strategy of raids employed by Grant in 1864. Chevauchées aimed provide for the pillaging troops, improve their will to fight, decimate the enemy’s land, and destroy the enemy both politically and psychologically.  Sherman’s aim for his March to the Sea was to show Jefferson Davis the Union power “which [he] cannot resist” by marching through his territory and “desolating the land” (191). Originally, Sherman was not completely comfortable with the idea of hard war and pillaging as a military necessity. He saw pillaging as a crime punishable by death, an opinion shared by Francis Lieber, the namesake of the Lieber Code. Lieber, however, saw a difference between pillaging done by uniformed troops and pillaging done by “self-constituted guerrillas” – only the latter is punishable by death. The former would be treated as “ordinary belligerents” (148). However, Sherman became accustomed to hard war tactics and supported them as retribution for the Confederacy forcing the Union into a war.

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No Place For The Sick: Environment, Institutions, and Self-Care

Four Humours Diagram

Antebellum health care was, in comparison to today’s modern scientific discoveries, rather unsophisticated. Most health care professionals still adhered to the Hippocratic Theory of the Four Humors, which claimed that disease or sickness happened to a person when their humors were out of balance and the best treatment usually involved purging the body by way of bleeding, sweating, or vomiting. Usually, those who fell ill were treated in their own home rather than at hospitals, thus giving them a predisposition towards self-care – the practice of “personal hygiene, supplementing one’s diet with fruits and vegetables, exercising regularly, protecting oneself from the elements, eradicating pests, and consistently communicating with loved ones.” (177).

Kathryn Meier addresses the issue of self-care and the effect of the environment on soldiers in their article “No Place for the Sick”. The Peninsula and Shenandoah Valley Campaigns exposed soldiers to an environment which many of them had never experienced before. In general, the South was regarded as sickly due to a harsh, rural environment filled with swamp, insects, and bacteria. Soldiers did recognize a relationship between their environment and their physical and mental health, and believed their “exposure….to inclement weather, roily water, dangerous ‘airs’…a new climate, harsh seasonal changes, and pests” were the reasons for their physical and mental ailments. Exposure to these threats was believed to be the cause for physical sickness, while inclement weather was usually linked to poor mental state (178). Physical and mental health were “very much interrelated in Civil War soldier experience”, for those who were often physically sick fell into a state of melancholy. Surgeon Alfred L. Castleman drew a correlation between positive mental attitudes and physical health by claiming that “nine causes out of ten whenever a sick soldier yielded to the idea that he would not recover, he would certainly die” (179).

Despite a slight improvement in medicine during the war, partly due to the efforts of the U.S. Sanitary Commission and the sanitation movement, the field healthcare infrastructure of both the Union and the Confederacy were weak and generally unreliable, further pushing soldiers to a policy of self-care. Men had to learn how to take care of each other, for their traditional female caretakers were not available to them on the battlefield. According to Meier, the decision to adhere to self-care “was far more important to overall health than where [an individual] was stationed” (178). The process of

“THE SURGEON AT WORK AT THE REAR DURING AN ENGAGEMENT” Winslow Homer (Harper’s Weekly: July 12, 1862, p. 439)

decisions made by soldiers in the field is known as “seasoning”. During this time, soldiers adapted to their surroundings, and often depended on and helped each other stay healthy.  This dependency on comrades came from the sense of dread a man felt when condemned to the field hospital. Hospitals gave preference to the wounded, and care for the sick was seen as impersonal and neglectful – a long shot from the home-care they were used to and the self-care they adhered to.

What I found particularly interesting was Meier’s section on the impact of battlefields on soldiers’ mental health. The sight of hundreds of dead bodies caused mental anguish, but the thought of death in battle “was preferable to death by disease”. Perishing from a disease “[robbed] the men of a chance to fulfill their sense of duty” (184). Thus, soldiers who were more aware of their environment and who practiced self-care were less likely to succumb to disease and were therefore “more valuable to the cause” (200).  In order to be useful in battle, a solider had to be in good health. Otherwise, he would not be able to fully dedicate himself to battle.

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