The Realm of Hatred

atlanta destruction

Friends of Padre Steve’s World

This is an uncomfortable article because it deals with an aspect of life that most of us do not want to deal with, that is the fact that no matter how hard that we try that human beings are capable of some of the most heinous crimes imaginable. That being said, war, no matter how undesirable is not an autonomous military action that can be separated from passions of the people involved. Clausewitz wrote about the connection between the people, the army, and the government. This article is a portion of a further researched and re-written article that I posted here a few months back. However, that being said, it is based on the simple reality that war and conflict is based in the realm of hatred. We may find reasons to try to justify this, but the fact is that war and conflict falls in the realm of hatred. I guess that Clausewitz really never goes out of style. On Monday I will post another article from this text on a similar topic from my text. 

Have a great day,


Padre Steve+

Likewise, the enmity of the two sides for one another had been fostered by a half century of relentless and violent propaganda that ushered from the mouths of politicians, the press, and even from the pulpit brought the element of hatred to the fore of the conflict; as Clausewitz correctly observed, “Even the most civilized of peoples, in short, can be filled with passionate hatred for each other.” [1]

As the war went on the feelings of animosity and hatred often boiled over and were reflected in the words and sometimes the actions of the soldiers. A Confederate Captain wrote his wife to teach his children “a bitter and unrelenting hatred of the Yankee race” that had “invaded our country and devastated it… [and] murdered our best citizens…. If any luckless Yank should unfortunately come my way he need not petition for mercy. If he does I will give him lead.” A well off wife of a plantation owner in Georgia reflected, “I wonder if the Northern people still cling to the delusion that such a thing as our being united with them is possible. So far from it I am inclined to believe that each passing day widens the gulf between [us]. Each man we lose but serves to render more intense our hatred of the Yankee…” [2]

During Lee’s invasion of Pennsylvania in 1863, ordinary Southerners, encouraged by the victories at Fredericksburg and Chancellorsville allowed confidence, to mix with arrogance and hatred, even among the deeply religious. “Because extermination is the watchword of our enemies,” one Georgia Baptist editor rationalized, “Mercy ceases to be a virtue in a contest with devils.” Instead, the government should adopt “those extreme measures of retaliation which shall put fear into the hearts of the Yankee soldiery and demoralize the invading armies.” [3]

A soldier from a Wisconsin regiment wrote to his fiancée after the assault on Resaca, Georgia that his unit had captured twenty-three Confederates and “or boys asked if they remembered Fort Pillow and killed them all. Where there is no officer with us, we take no prisoners…. We want revenge for our brother soldiers and will have it…. Some of the [rebels] say they will fight as long as there is one of them left. We tell them that is what we want. We want to kill them all off and cleanse the country.” [4]

While this was hatred was not universal and many times the combatants behaved with great chivalry on the battlefield, and Northern and Southern veterans led efforts at reconciliation after the war; such hatred was something that had not been a part of the American military experience.  The deep rooted enmity, especially in the South, would remain a constant over the next one hundred years. “White southerners who retained Confederate loyalties against Federal soldiers and northerners in general…. Confederates defiantly refused to forgive enemies who had inflicted such pain on their society.” [5] Likewise, many Union veterans felt that in their sacrifices to defeat the Confederacy and end slavery would be forgotten as time slipped by and the memory of the war subsided.

This very real hatred meant that there were many times when the American Civil War came close to Clausewitz’s understanding of absolute war in its in character, and it prefigured the great ideological wars of the twentieth century. J.F.C. Fuller noted “for the first time in modern history the aim of war became not only the destruction of the enemy’s armed forces, but also of their foundations- his entire political, social and economic order.” [6] It was the first war where at least some of the commanders, especially Ulysses S. Grant and William Tecumseh Sherman were men of the Industrial Age, in their thought and in the way that they waged war, in strategy, tactics even more importantly, psychologically. Fuller wrote:

“Spiritually and morally they belonged to the age of the Industrial Revolution. Their guiding principle was that of the machine which was fashioning them, namely, efficiency. And as efficiency is governed by a single end- that every means is justified- no moral or spiritual conceptions of traditional behavior must stand in its way.” [7] After he left Atlanta, many towns were treated leniently, even Savannah where a significant number of influential people desired peace, and Sherman, in a politically astute move attempted to nurture division in the population of the Confederacy.

President Lincoln, as well as Grant and Sherman realized in early 1864 that “the South was indeed a nation in arms and that the common European practice of having standing armies engaged each other in set-piece battles to determine the outcome of a war was not enough to win this struggle.” [8] Though neither man was a student of Clausewitz, their method of waging war was in agreement with the Prussian who wrote that “the fighting forces must be destroyed; that is, they must be put in such a position that they can no longer carry on the fight” but also that “the animosity and the reciprocal effects of hostile elements, cannot be considered to have ended so long as the enemy’s will has not been broken.”  [9]

Sherman told the mayor of Atlanta after ordering the civilian population expelled that “we are not only fighting hostile armies, but a hostile people, and must make the old and young, the rich and poor, feel the hard hand of war.” [10] Sherman was one of the first American military leaders to understand that a civil war could not be waged according to the limited war doctrines most American officers had been taught. He not only “carried on war against the enemy’s resources more extensively and systematically than anyone else had done, but he developed also a deliberate strategy of terror directed against the enemy’s minds.” [11] While some might find this troubling, especially those who attempt to rationalize “war because they find difficulty accepting the elemental forces at its centre.” [12] But the fact remains that it was Sherman’s Southern sweep of all that lay before him that broke the back of the Confederacy.

In August 1864 Ulysses Grant, tired of the Confederates using the Shenandoah Valley as a route to launch attacks into the North, and understanding it to be the breadbasket of Virginia dispatched Major General Philip Sheridan to defeat the Confederate forces there, and to render it incapable of further supplying the Confederate war effort. He instructed Sheridan,

“In pushing up the Shenandoah Valley… it is desirable that nothing should be left to invite the enemy to return. Take all provisions, forage, and stock wanted for the use of your command; as such as cannot be consumed, destroy. It is not desirable that the buildings should be destroyed; they should rather be protected; but the people should be informed that so long as an army can subsist among them recurrences of these raids must be expected, and we are determined to stop them at all hazards.” [13]


Grant ordered Sheridan “to give the enemy no rest…. Do all the damage to railroads and crops you can. Carry off stock of all descriptions, and negroes, so as to prevent further planting. If the war is to last another year, we want the Shenandoah Valley to remain a barren waste.” [14] Sheridan complied, and on October 2nd reported that “he had destroyed over 2000 barns filled with wheat , hay, and farming implements; over 70 mills filled with flour and wheat; have driven in front of the army over 4000 head of stock, and have killed or issued to the troops not less than 3000 sheep…. Tomorrow I will continue the destruction…” [15] Sheridan himself was unapologetic and noted something that has been true in almost every modern war. He wrote, “Death is popularly considered the maximum punishment in war, but it is not; reduction to poverty brings prayers for peace more surely and more quickly than does destruction in human life.” [16] A Union reporter wrote, “The completeness of the devastation is awful. Hundreds of nearly starving people are going north. Our trains are crowed with them. They line the wayside. Hundreds more are coming.” [17]

The effect of Sheridan’s rampage was soon felt across Virginia and the Carolinas, shortages of all kinds arose on the Confederate home front and soldiers began to question where the war could be won, and for the first time desertion became a major problem for Lee’s army as soldiers elected to go home to do what they could to help their families.

But Sherman and Grant were not alone in understanding the problem of fighting a limited war against the Confederacy. In the fall of 1862 a twenty-five year volunteer officer, Colonel Strong Vincent serving with McClellan’s army in Virginia understood what had to happen if the Union were to overcome the rebellion of the Confederacy. Vincent who would be instrumental in throwing back Hood’s assault on Little Round Top, and die leading the defense of that edifice, wrote to his wife about the need for harder measures.

“We must fight them more vindictively, or we shall be foiled at every step.  We must desolate the country as we pass through it, and not leave a trace of a doubtful friend or foe behind us; make them believe that we are in earnest, terribly in earnest; that to break this band in twain is monstrous and impossible; that the life of every man, yea, of every weak woman or child in the entire South, is of no value whatever compared with the integrity of the Union.” [18]

Abraham Lincoln came to embrace the eternal nature of war as well as the change in the character of the war over time. Lincoln had gone to war for the preservation of the Union, something that for him was almost spiritual in nature, as is evidenced by the language he used in both of his inaugural addresses and the Gettysburg Address. Instead of a war to re-unite the Union with the Emancipation Proclamation the war became a war for the liberation of enslaved African Americans, After January 1st 1863 when the Emancipation Proclamation went into effect, Lincoln “told an official of the Interior Department, “the character of the war will be changed. It will be one of subjugation…The [old] South is to be destroyed and replaced by new propositions and ideas.” [19] That too was a modern understanding of war.

Of course, the revolution in military affairs that characterized the Civil War took time, but it was the political and military leaders of the North who better adapted themselves and their nation to the kind of war that was being fought. “Lincoln’s remarkable abilities gave him a wide edge over Davis as a war leader, while in Grant and Sherman the North acquired commanders with a concept of total war and the determination to make it succeed.” [20]

At the beginning of the war the leaders and populace of both sides still held a romantic idea of war. The belief that the war would be over in a few months and that would be settled by a few decisive battles was held by most, including many military officers on both sides. There were some naysayers like the venerable and rather corpulent General Winfield Scott, but politicians and the press mocked Scott and those who even suggested that the war would be long, hard, and bloody. Of course those who predicted a short, easy, and relatively bloodless war who were proven wrong, and the war became the bloodiest war ever waged by Americans, and it was against other Americans.


[1] Ibid. Clausewitz On War p.76

[2] Thomas, Ella Gertrude. The Journal of Ella Gertrude Thomas in The Civil War and Reconstruction: A Documentary Collection edited by William E. Gienapp, W.W. Norton and Company, New York and London, 2001 p.211

[3] Rable, George C. God’s Almost Chosen Peoples: A Religious History of the American Civil War University of North Carolina Press, Chapel Hill 2010 p.264

[4] Ibid. McPherson The War that Forged a Nation pp.49-50

[5] Gallagher, Gary W. The Confederate War: How Popular Will, Nationalism and Military Strategy Could not Stave Off Defeat Harvard University Press, Cambridge MA and London 1999 p.34

[6] Ibid. Fuller A Military History of the Modern World, Volume Three: p.88

[7] Ibid. Fuller  A Military History of the Modern World, Volume Three p.88

[8] Flood, Charles Bracelen, Grant and Sherman: The Friendship that Won the War, Harper Perennial, New York 2005 p.238

[9] Ibid. Clausewitz On War  p.90

[10] Ibid. McPherson The Battle Cry of Freedom: The Civil War Era  p.809

[11] Ibid. Weigley  The American Way of War: A History of United States Military History and Policy  p.149

[12] Ibid. Strachan European Armies and the Conduct of War p.3

[13] A Great Civil War: A Military and Political History 1861-1865 p.371

[14] Ibid. Stoker The Grand Design: Strategy and the U.S. Civil War p.385

[15] Foote, Shelby, The Civil War, A Narrative. Volume Three Red River to Appomattox Random House, New York 1974 p.563

[16] Ibid. Goldfield America Aflame: How the Civil War Created a Nation pp.340-341

[17] Ibid. Foote The Civil War, A Narrative. Volume Three Red River to Appomattox p.564

[18]Nevins, James H. and Styple, William B. What death More Glorious: A Biography of General Strong Vincent Belle Grove Publishing Company, Kearney NJ 1997 p.57

[19] Ibid. McPherson The Battle Cry of Freedom p.558

[20] Ibid. McPherson The Battle Cry of Freedom p.857



Filed under civil war, History, Military

5 responses to “The Realm of Hatred

  1. David A. Budka

    So, is genocide the answer? We must totally destroy those who think differently than us? Do we wipe out the Christains, the Muslims, or the homosexuals? Or do we try to let freedom rule the day, where people live as their individual conscious directs? Do we try to work around each other’s biases and flaws or do we attempt to exterminate one another? I realize there is no heaven on earth, but I still want to try and live in peace, if possible.

    • padresteve


      Sadly you missed the point completely. The article neither endorse or talks about genocide. But agree with what you said regarding the kind of world that I want to live in, but the article deals with historical reality about a war in which one side declared it’s place as slave republic, and fought to maintain where it was and expand slavery wherever it could. The war that was carried on against them was first carried on in a very limited way until it became apparent that doing so would never work, and it became a war not just of reunification and putting down a rebellion, but a war of liberation.

      The article deals with the realities of war which according to Clausewitz are distinctly part of our human nature, both the good and the bad. This makes him a theorist that more people, and not just military people, but politicians, policy makers, educators, media figures, and ordinary citizens should study. By actually taking the time to read what he says we may be spared war and look to other solutions, because war, like it or not, is simply an extension of politics and policy. If we can shape policy towards peace, than the extension of it by war may never be needed.

      What that war did was to enable changes in the Constitution and laws of this country which have brought civil rights and liberties to more and more citizens beginning with African Americans and now extending out to women, other minority groups, and most recently LGBTQ people. Without a Union victory in that war it is unlikely that any of these things would have occurred. That is something to think about.

      Have a good day,


      Padre Steve+

      • David A. Budka

        Thank you for the insights.

      • padresteve

        I do want to live in the world that you describe and work to it every day, and I always thank you for your comments, because if one person has misinterpreted what I say,mothers may be many more. Your comments allow me to correct any misunderstanding and deepen the conversation. This they are incredibly important to me, and I thank you for offering the.

        Your friend


  2. I wish we could learn from that terrible war, from that terrible time. I don’t think we have truly learned the lessons though. I think every single day we continue to unravel. As always you give much to consider.

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