In response to an LRC review of a (Distortion of) History Channel "documentary" on Sherman’s march to the sea by Clyde Wilson, Valerie Protopapas of Huntington Station, New York, took it upon herself to go to the library and research Sherman herself. Sherman’s History Channel image of a heroic and benevolent egalitarian just sounded like, well, like a lie to her. So out of the blue she wrote Professor Wilson (who now describes himself as a recovering academic historian) that "the truth about Sherman and his genocidal beliefs (and tactics) is, like Lincoln’s views on race and slavery, well reported but ignored."
That is, one can find the facts of history if one looks for them. But when it comes to the War for Southern Independence, one will also discover pages and pages of spin, excuse-making, and rhetorical cover-ups. History may be "well reported" in academic treatises and government documents, but as Mrs. Protopapas says, it rarely makes it into the public school textbooks or television documentaries, and is therefore ignored by the general public.
In her letter to Clyde Wilson, shared with yours truly, Mrs. Protopapas said that "I find it quite unique that after almost 150 years, purveyors of the myths surrounding the [second] War of Secession retain not only their desire, but their ABILITY to hide the facts . . . of the era. The same lies and half-truths continue to be presented as hard fact with every passing generation and all attempts at bringing even a modicum of well-documented facts (such as the actual words of the men involved) are met with a hostility every bit as virulent as was the case shortly after the war ended. And they say that the South won’t let the past die!"
This statement suggests that Valerie is familiar with the Lincoln cult, the Straussians, and the James McPherson/Harold Holzer/Doris Kearns-Goodwin school of "Civil War scholarship," which she accuses of presenting a "murderous myth that makes saints of monsters and monsters of decent men." The following is a collection of some of the information about General William Tecumseh Sherman that Valerie Protopapas, an ordinary citizen who does not claim to be a "Civil War scholar" and who does not reside in the South, dug up about one of the more monstrous characters in American history. She labeled her collection of information "Shermaniana."
On Indian Genocide
Drawing on Michael Fellman’s book, Citizen Sherman, the general is quoted as saying the following about the Plains Indians shortly after the war: "It is one of those irreconcilable conflicts that will end only in one way, one or the other must be exterminated . . . . We must act with vindictive earnestness against the Sioux, even to the extermination, men, women and children" (p. 26). According to Fellman, Sherman "had given [General Phillip] Sheridan prior authorization to slaughter as many women and children as well as men Sheridan or his subordinates felt was necessary . . . . Sherman would cover the political and media front" and "maintained personal deniability." "The more Indians we can kill this year, the less will have to be killed next year," wrote Sherman. "They all have to be killed or be maintained as a species of paupers."
Valerie quotes Professor Harry Stout of Yale Divinity School as recently writing that Sherman’s "religion" was "America, and America’s God was a jealous God of law and order." All those who "resisted" were "reprobates who deserved death."
But Sherman’s "religion" was not "America," which at the time was comprised of some 30 million people. His God was the federal government or, more specifically, the Lincoln administration and Lincoln himself. This is what motivated Sherman, not the ending of slavery or anything else. After all, the citizens of the Southern states were Americans and included the descendants of Jefferson, Madison, Monroe, Jackson, and Patrick Henry, among other notable historical figures (Robert E. Lee’s wife, Mary Custis Lee, was descended from Martha Washington’s family).
It was Lincoln, not "America," who defined obeying his own dictatorial orders as "law and order." There was no national plebiscite that decided to pillage, plunder and burn Southern cities and towns and murder civilians by the tens of thousands, as Lincoln’s army did. And even if there was, it certainly would not have been approved by all of "America," as Sherman contended. Lincoln won only 39% of the popular vote in 1860 and still only 55% in 1864 despite having rigged the elections by shutting down hundreds of opposition newspapers, imprisoning tens of thousands of political dissenters without due process, and having soldiers intimidate Democratic Party voters throughout the North. The fact that he also had to recruit and pay hundreds of thousands of European mercenaries, and invoke conscription, speaks volumes about how popular his war was among Americans of the Northern states. Moreover, it is absurd to label the bombing, pillaging and plundering of the entire South, along with killing its people by the hundreds of thousands, as "law and order" or the protection of life, liberty and property, as called for by the U.S. Constitution.
On Genocide in the South
Quoting again from the Fellman biography, Sherman said this about Southerners: "To the petulant and persistent secessionists, why death is mercy, and the quicker he or she is disposed of the better . . . . Until we can repopulate Georgia, it is useless to occupy it, but the utter destruction of its roads, houses, and people will cripple their military resources" (emphasis added).
Here you have a clear statement that Sherman’s goal was to commit genocide against the people of Georgia. Remember that his famous "march" was not met by any serious military resistance other than a few cavalry skirmishes. It was almost entirely a campaign of death and destruction of civilians and their property. And he wanted to "repopulate" the state with fine New England stock such as himself, the son of a New England lawyer of Puritan descent.
Readers who are familiar with the U.S. Constitution may find it difficult to find the part of the document that permits the U.S. government to murder its own citizens or to completely suspend the Constitution during wartime, but Sherman apparently read between the lines better than most. "The Government of the United States has in North Alabama," he once declared, "any and all rights which they choose to enforce in war — to take their lives, their homes, their lands, their everything . . . . war is simply power unrestrained by constitution or compact." "We will . . . take every life, every acre of land, every particle of property, everything that to us seems proper," said the maniacal murderer in the blue uniform.
Writing to his wife in 1862, Sherman informed her that "the war will soon assume a turn to extermination not of soldiers alone, that is the least part of the trouble, but the people . . . . There is a class of people, men women, and children, who must be killed or banished . . ."
In a January 1865 letter to General Grant, Sherman once again explained his philosophy of mass murder: "We are not fighting against enemy armies but against an enemy people; both young and old, rich and poor must feel the iron hand of war . . ."
Europeans, meanwhile, were comparing Sherman to the Marquis de Sade and predicting that future wars outside of America would likely be waged against innocent civilians, once Sherman’s "success" was understood. They also considered Sherman’s war crimes to be the mark of an unsuccessful military man. He did not establish any particularly stellar record as a military commander under fire; his "forte" was the mass murder of civilians and acts of terrorism reigned upon Southern cities with weapons of mass destruction.
Lincoln always knew about all of this, as Walter Brian Cisco explains in his must-read book, War Crimes Against Southern Civilians. He gladly rewarded and praised generals such as Sherman and Sheridan for murdering and terrorizing citizens — American citizens — all in the name of defending "law and order in America."
Thomas J. DiLorenzo [send him mail] professor of economics at Loyola College in Maryland and the author of The Real Lincoln: A New Look at Abraham Lincoln, His Agenda, and an Unnecessary War, (Three Rivers Press/Random House). His latest book is Lincoln Unmasked: What You’re Not Supposed To Know about Dishonest Abe (Crown Forum/Random House).