First, it is important to understand the concept of a just war policy vs. a total war policy. A just war has 3 basic requirements: 1-A just cause, 2-A just conduct and 3-A just means in its prosecution. Therefore, a just war requires discrimination between combatants and noncombatants, that military means and and action be in proportion to the threat, that personal property and livelihoods of noncombatants be respected, etc. etc. etc. A total war policy requires only: 1-Any cause (or even no cause), 2-Any conduct and 3-Any means in its prosecution. Total war doesn’t discern between combatants and civilians, but wages a ruthless destruction against all - women, children and the elderly, destroying their livelihoods, means of support and source of income, leaving all to starve and suffer. general William T. Sherman summed up the Union’s policy very well, “There is a class of people, men, women and children, who must be killed or banished before you can hope for peace and order.” Confederate forces, with only a very few exceptions, followed a just war policy whilst the North launched a total war campaign against the South which left it agriculturally, economically, and socially devestated.
Total War Policy in Missouri
Missouri was occupied by Northern forces before secessionist sentiment could be marshaled into the state legislature but there was a very strong Southern sympathy in Missouri and a large number of sympathizers engaged in partisan warfare. These soldiers were treated as outlaws by Union forces and their families, as well as other civilians, were cruelly mistreated. These tactics led to vengeance raids on the Northerners which led to bloody retaliation massacres against civilians.
The Palmyra Massacre
On september 12th, 1862, Col. Joseph Porter, commander of a Missouri Confederate cavalry unit, raided Palmyra, MO, to rescue 45 Confederate prisoners. Col.Porter took Col.Andrew Allsman, a Union informant, prisoner but released him within a few days. However, Allsman disappeared on the road back. The Union commander in the area, John Moneil, posted a notice to Col.Porter that if Col. Allsman was not returned by October 18th then 10 southern sympathizers would be executed. Of the 10 selected only 1 was a soldier and one was suspected of murdering a unionist, but the other 8 had no criminal record—other than their Southern sympathies. 1 of the hostages was only 17 years old. Col. Allsan was not found and so on the 18th at 1:00 pm, 10 innocent, brave Southern patriots were shot by 30 riflemen of the 2nd Missouri Militia.
Development of the Union Total War Policy
Union General John Pope was notorious by 1862 as a ruthless opponent of all Confederate partisans in Missouri and Mississippi. He encouraged his troops to plunder and steal food, burn homes and property, pillage and attack, hang any civilians suspected of aiding Confederate partisans, and to shoot civilians in retaliation for Confederate guerrilla attacks. He was praised in the Northern press for his tactics and noted by other Union officers of similar tactics, in particular Col. John Turchin, a Russian immigrant and commander of the 19th Illinois.
The Rape of Athens, Alabama
In the missile of April, 1862, Col. Turchin invaded Athens, Alabama, a prosperous town of about 1200. However, he was driven out on May 1st by a Confederate cavalry force. The Confederates were received with great rejoicing by the populace but their joy was short lived, as the Confederates quickly withdrew from the town. The next day Turchin marched back into the town where the populace turned their backs to him. Enraged by this “lack of respect” Turchin gave his troops permission to do as they pleased for the rest of the day. Numerous houses, offices and stores were pillaged and ransacked. Money, jewelry, dishwater, silver, supplies and anything of value was stolen. furniture and artwork were purposely destroyed. A white woman, the pregnant wife of a Confederate cavalryman, was singled out and gang raped, dying shortly thereafter due to miscarriage. Several black girls were also raped and several more attempts made. Some Union officers of integrity, under Turchin, reported this to the commanding officer, O.M.Mitchell, who immediately informed General Buell. General Buell, a courageous man of integrity, was against total war and marched to relieve Turchin and insisted on his court martial for these lawless acts. Torching was found guilty of not maintaining discipline among his troops and discharged from the army. Nonetheless, a few days after his court martial, Lincoln reinstated Turchin and not only reinstated him, but promoted him to Brigadier General as well! He was given a hero’s welcome in his hometown of Chicago. On August 30th Gen. Buell was informed that the town of Athens had been burned down by Union troops passing through.
McClellan and Buell opposed to Total War Policy
Lest it be thought that all Unionists and Northerners were as cruel as John Turchin we must state that General Don Carlos Buell and General George McClellan were both advocates for a just war and strongly opposed the North’s total war policy. This position caused them to be looked down upon and they were rudely relieved of their high command in favor of other generals who favored the total war policy and would advance the radical views of Lincoln and Secretary of War, Edwin Stanton. Many other, lower ranking Union officers were against total war, and yet they had no power to prevent it and so had to carry out their orders, whether they agreed or not.
Devastation of the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia
It is necessary to note here that misconduct occurred on both sides, but in significantly different manners. For the South depredations were rare and were not sanctioned by those in high rank and most often ended in severe punishment to those responsible. For the North, a total war policy was the common and was not only accepted by high ranking officials but encouraged! Time and time again soldiers and officers were promoted and praised for their total war tactics. Up until September of 1864 the Unions total war policy had been carried out on a relatively small scale but when General Grant sent 40,000 troops under General Sheridan to reinforce General Hunter’s 22,000 troops, they prepared to carry out their methods on a grand scale. The intent of the Northern army was to completely destroy the Shenandoah Valley, the bread basket of the Confederacy. Union troops devastated a 92 mile strip of the Shenandoah Valley from Winchester to Staunton, and in some places the destruction was 40 miles wide. The troops proceeded to burn all types of crops, homes, more than 2,000 barns (with all the equipment in them), 70 mills, and an estimated 11,000 cattle, 4,000 horses, and 12,000 sheep along with all other livestock. Anything the Union couldn’t use was destroyed, including pump handles so that families could not draw water from their wells. Sheridan had completely followed Grant’s order “to eat out Virginia clear and clean.” However, as appalling as the devastation in the Shenandoah was, it was nothing compared to Sherman’s infamous march “from Atlanta to the sea.”
Mississippi and Georgia Burning
William Tecumseh Sherman is a name that will forever be held in infamy by all patriotic Southerners. Notorious for his cruel tactics, Sherman left nothing but a trail of fire and she’s behind him as he marched from Mississippi to his new assignment, to capture Atlanta. Sherman destroyed livestock, food supplies, crops, and every means of agriculture and survival. His orders were “to make Georgia howl.” Sherman destroyed all factories that might aid the Confederate cause and, to ensure that these were rendered completely ineffectual, Sherman deported all the factory workers (mostly women and older children) in all about 2,000 souls, many of whom were never heard of again. Towns were looted, valuables were stolen (including wedding bands, forcefully removed from the hands of sobbing wives) buildings were torn down and burned. As he continued his march people were harassed and cruelly tortured to reveal the locations of their hidden valuables. However, by the time Sherman occupied Savannah, he was acclaimed as a hero in the North and highly praised for his “spectacular military achievement.”
South Carolina under the Tyrants Heel
Union troops were hell bent on revenge when they reached South Carolina. South Carolina was seen as the main starter of the war, the rebel that started it all and as such the Northern Army was determined to make South Carolina pay for her “rebellions.” As Sherman marched into South Carolina his troops looted and burned the towns of Buford’s Bridge, Barnwell, Blackville, Graham, Bomberg, Midway, Purysburg, Robertsville, Lowtenville, Mcphersonville, Hardeeville, Orangeburg, Lexington, Columbia, Allston, Pomaria, Winnsboro, Blackstock, Society Hill, Camden and Cheraw. The civilians were homeless refugees, left to starve in the burning streets of what was left of the beautiful Palmetto state. An estimated 50% of all private property was destroyed and the atrocities and murder of harmless civilians was beyond number.
Reports of Barbaric Hordes
Towards the end of the war, both Grant and Sherman became more magnanimuos in their policies. The terms for General Lee’s surrender were very gracious and honorable as as Sherman’s terms to General Joe Johnston. This brought severe criticism from Stanton, however they stood by the terms and even ruthless Sherman became slightly more popular in the South for his opposition to radical republican policies during the reconstruction. Nonetheless, the damage had been done and it would be many many years before the South could ever resemble its former glory.