Thursday, November 19, 2015

"Leave them only their eyes with which to weep."

Yale Open Courses

"Now, out West. Where's Sherman? There he is. Can we see this? Now, the other major campaign of the war that of course will ultimately lead to Union victory — and I won't get us quite to the dead-end of the war today by any means — but it is, of course, William Sherman's Atlanta Campaign through northern Georgia, the fall of Atlanta by September of '64. The campaign lasted all that summer. At the same time this stalemate sets in in Virginia, around Petersburg, with these thousands of casualties. And you must try to, if you can imagine Northerners standing in post offices and telegraph offices all over the towns of the Midwest, New England, waiting for casualty reports, and the adjutants of regiments writing the lists. Standing in a small town post office and a telegraph comes through with a list of the dead; a dozen, two dozen, three dozen, men, from a town that only had 1000 people. It was beginning to destroy Northern morale.
It was then that Sherman, based on this strategy of conquest, destruction of resources and war upon people, made the decision, really quite quickly, to launch his march to the sea. It took him a couple of months to organize it but from November 15th to Christmas Eve — that's about five weeks — Sherman's army marched 285 miles from Atlanta to Savannah with 62,000 troops. They were almost unopposed. General John B. Hood's Confederate Army, that had surrendered — in effect given up — Atlanta, had retreated south to fight again. And Hood's idea, but actually without Jefferson Davis's approval — well if Sherman was going to invade toward the East, toward the sea and destroy Georgia, Hood took an army of about 30,000 men and invaded back up into Tennessee, hoping that Sherman would stop and come after him. Sherman said, "Let him go." It was a kind of a game now, of time, resources, destruction, and who would give up. "We are not fighting a hostile army anymore," Sherman said, I'm quoting him, "we are fighting a hostile people. His aim and objective now was the civilian population, and Americans had never made war on civilians quite like Sherman would in Georgia. "We cannot change the hearts of those people," Sherman wrote of the South, "but we can make war so terrible and make them so sick of war that generations will pass before they will ever again appeal to it." Now up in the Shenandoah Valley, Philip Sheridan's Union Army, under similar orders, to make war on society, gave a simple order to his officers; and most of that army was cavalry. His order was put in the starkest of total war terms. He said, quote, "Leave them only their eyes with which to weep." This was now savage war.

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