Tag Archives: limited war

From Limited to Total War: The American Civil War as a Watershed

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

As always I continue to revise my Gettysburg and Civil War texts. I am posting the second half of a majorly revised section dealing the the nature of the war, and how it changed from a limited war to a total war. This subject may be uncomfortable to many readers, and I admit that. Truthfully I abhor war but I am a realist when it comes to human nature, politics, economics, ideology, religion, and even racism and race hatred play in the world.

Truthfully, if the North had continued the war with limited force, and goals, the Confederacy would have either become independent, or it would have been re-admitted to the Union with slavery intact, and the Thirteenth, Fourteenth, and Fifteenth Ammendments would have never been passed, and any concept of civil rights destroyed. You can be sure that with Southern States re-admitted without change that other things would not have occurred; Women’s sufferage, Native American citizenship, citizenship and civil rights for Asian immigrants, and most recently, LGBTQ people are directly tied to the constitutional amendments that the Union victory made possible.  Sometimes, as distasteful and repugnant as that may sound, a hard war is necessary to prevent an unjust peace. 

From a point of realpolitik,  the fact is that leaders in the South and the North, like so many other leaders in history and even today, failed to understand what the war that they helped unleash would bring about. War is not to be entered into lightly without connecting the dots between the act of policy that guides the war, as well as having the policy’s ends supported by the ways and means necessary to fulfill it, and not all of those are military. Diplomacy, economic power, and  information all play a part. 

Abraham Lincoln and his advisors came to understand this, maybe better than any presidential administration in United States history. Sadly, Lincoln was assassinated before he could guide the country through reunion, and Andrew Johnson was not up to the task. By the time Ulysses Grant became President, the opportune moment for reunion had passed. Though the South succeeded in rolling back civil rights for another century, they never were able to repeal those three critical amendments. That is why the hard war pursued by the Lincoln administration still matters for everyone with a stake in civil rights. Today, under the Trump Administration, the GOP Senate, and the GOP State majorities those civil rights stand endangered. The fight is not over.

Think about that, and have a great weekend,

Peace

Padre Steve+

gburg dead1

While the nature of war remained unchanged, the American Civil war changed the character of war, as it had been known for centuries, since the Peace of Westphalia, and the end of the Thirty Years War changed dramatically. In the American Civil War the character of war changed from the emphasis of the limited wars of the 18th Century and the Napoleonic era where opposing armies dueled each other into a war that encompassed the entire population. It also challenged a generation of military officers who had grown up with Henri Jomini’s principles of war and his emphasis on limited war.

The leading catalyst that convinced Lincoln and other Northern leaders of the need to abandon the strategy of limited war was the fact that the Confederates had:

 “blurred the distinction between combatants and noncombatants in the parts of the Confederacy and border states occupied by Union forces. The crops and livestock of Southern civilians were feeding and clothing Confederate armies. Their slaves were the principle labor force in the Confederate War economy. Thousands of Southern civilians became guerillas who roamed behind Union lines destroying supplies and ambushing unarmed as well as armed Unionists.” [1]

The Union reaction to the Confederate actions would portend a change in the war. And soon, the war bordered on Clausewitz’s definition of absolute or total war, especially in Sherman’s march through the South, and in the actions of Confederate irregulars who used terror against Unionist civilians and free Blacks. The actions of irregular Confederate forces to attack his troops and supply lines caused William Tecumseh Sherman, who earlier in the war had taken a conciliatory attitude to Southern civilians, to change his views.

To Sherman, the Confederates had blurred the lines between combatants and non-combatants, he noted that the Union army must act

 “on the proper rule that all in the South are enemies of all in the North….. The whole country is full of guerilla bands…. The entire South, man woman, and child, is against us, armed and determined.” [2]

In response Henry Halleck, now backed with the legal authority of General Order 100, also known as The Lieber Code, which for the first time in American history defined the differences between partisans acting in the capacity as soldiers of the enemy army, and those who were not a part of a military unit, but rather men who blended back into the population after conducting armed attacks, [3] wrote to Sherman,

“I am fully of opinion that the nature of your position, the character of the war, the conduct of the enemy (and especially of non-combatants and women of the territory we have heretofore conquered and occupied), will justify you in gathering up all the forage and provisions which your army will require, both for a siege of Atlanta and for your supply in your march farther into the enemy’s country. Let the disloyal families of the country, thus stripped, go to their husbands, fathers, and natural protectors, in the rebel ranks; we have tried three years of conciliation and kindness without any reciprocation; on the contrary, those thus treated have acted as spies and guerillas in our rear and within our lines…. We have fed this class of people long enough. Let them go with their husbands and fathers in the rebel ranks; and if they won’t go, we must send them to their friends and protectors. I would destroy every mill and factory within reach which I did not want for my own use…..” [4]

The strategy of Sherman was to ensure that the Confederate heartland of the Deep South could no longer help to sustain Confederate armies in the field, it was military, economic, political, and diplomatic. He explained:

“I propose to act in such a manner against the material resources of the South as utterly to negate Davis’ boasted …promises of protection. If we can march a well-appointed army right through hiss territory, it is a demonstration to the world, foreign and domestic, that we have a power which Davis cannot resist.” [5]

in addition, Sherman was a pioneer of psychological warfare, he was convinced that the crushing will of White Confederate citizens was paramount to victory. He was

 “convinced that not only economic resources but also the will of Southern civilians sustained the Confederate War effort…. Sherman was well aware of the fear that his soldiers inspired among Southern whites. This terror “was a power,” he wrote, “and I intend to utilize it… to humble their pride, to follow them to their innermost recesses, and to make them dread and fear us…” [6]

When Confederate General John Bell Hood elected to fortify Atlanta, the largest and most important industrial city in the Confederacy against a Union attack, thereby making the population of the city a target, Sherman wrote to the Mayor of Atlanta to warn him of the consequences of allowing this:

“The use of Atlanta for warlike purposes is inconsistent with its character as a home for families. There will be no manufactures, commerce, or agriculture here, for the maintenance of families, and sooner or later want will compel the inhabitants to go…. You cannot qualify war in any harsher terms than I will. War is cruelty, and you cannot refine it; and those who brought war into our country deserve all the curses and maledictions a people can pour out…. You might as well appeal against the thunder-storm as against these terrible hardships of war. They are inevitable…” [7]

Sherman’s strategy worked, “it deprived Confederate armies of desperately needed supplies; it also crippled morale both at home front and in the army,” [8] His armies did more than destroy factories and farms in its path, wherever they went “they broke the power of the secessionist government, the slaveholder’s social order, and most of whatever fighting spirit remained among Confederate partisans.” [9]

Jefferson Davis understood the effect that Sherman’s army was having, he wrote, “Sherman’s campaign has produced a bad effect on our people, success against his future operations is needed to restore public confidence.” [10] Mary Boykin Chesnut saw the clouds of doom approaching and confided in her diary, “Since Atlanta I have felt as if all were dead in me, forever,” she wrote. “we are going to be wiped off the map.” [11]

The effects of Sherman’s march through Georgia and the Carolinas were felt in the Confederate armies at the front as just as he had predicted. Lee’s artillery chief, Brigadier General Porter Alexander wrote:

“The condition of the country at large was one of almost as great deprivation & suffering as that of the army itself; & in many localities even of much greater. North Carolina, South Carolina, & Georgia had been over-run by Sherman’s army carrying off many of the Negroes & most of the stock & destroying all accumulation of provisions which they could not use, & often burning barns & dwellings & all implements of agriculture…. Naturally, the wives & mothers left at home wrote longingly for the return of the husbands & sons who were in the ranks in Virginia. And, naturally, many of them could not resist these appeals, & deserted in order to return & care for their families.” [12]

A member of the 20th Maine noted the effect on Lee’s troops opposing them at Petersburg wrote, “Since Sherman’s victories… we see the affect it is having on Lee’s Army.” They were deserting in groups, “not only privates, but many officers with them.” [13] Lee was so frustrated and angry with the desertion problem that he resorted to summary executions of the men, occasionally without hearing their appeals.

The war was revolutionary in other ways, and brought about a host of social, philosophical, economic, and political changes which continue to impact the lives of people in the United States and around the world even today. Some of these, especially those regarding the abolition of slavery and emancipation, as well as the beginnings of the Women’s Rights movement have had a ripple effect in matters of political and social equality for other previously disenfranchised groups of citizens. One writer noted in regard to the social impacts that “The Civil War uprooted institutions, transformed our politics, influenced social relationships of half a continent, and wrought changes that echo down the generations.” 

 Mark Twain wrote in 1873 that the war “uprooted institutions that were centuries old, changed the politics of a people …and wrought so profoundly upon the national character that cannot be measured short of two or three generations.” [15]

In a sense, when Abraham Lincoln proclaimed  “a new birth of freedom” in his Gettysburg address it served as a watershed moment in American history because it brought to the forefront the understanding of Jefferson and the other signers of the Declaration of Independence that all men are created equal.

That statement, flowing from the Declaration was key to Lincoln’s understanding of human rights and dignity, and from it came the Emancipation Proclamation and the Thirteenth Amendment, which abolished slavery. Those would be followed by the Republican Congresses’ passage of the Fourteenth Amendment, which overturned the Dred Scott Decision, which denied all citizenship to blacks across the country, and by Ulysses S. Grant’s Fifteenth Amendment, which gave African American men to right to vote. These were all revolutionary ideas, and there was a counterrevolutionary backlash after the war “overthrew the fledgling experiment in racial equality” but “did not fully restore the old order. Slavery was not reinstated. The Fourteenth and Fifteenth Amendments were not repealed.” [16]  That is the human and political context by which we have to understand the American Civil War.

Thus it is important to study the Gettysburg campaign in the context of the Civil War because the campaign of 1863 in the east cannot be divorced from what was happening in the west at Vicksburg, nor the Union blockade, nor the diplomatic, economic and informational aspects of the war.  Likewise the Gettysburg campaign cannot be separated from its relationship to the broader understanding of the nature and character of war. To do this one must examine the connection between them and policies made by political leaders; to include the relationship of political to military leaders, diplomats, the leaders of business and industry and not to be forgotten, the press and the people. Likewise we must understand the various contexts of war, to include the social, political, ideological and even the religious components of war, how they impacted Civil War leaders and why civilian policy makers and military leaders must understand them today.

While the essential nature of war remains constant, wars and the manner in which they are fought have changed in their character throughout history, and this distinction matters not only for military professionals, but also policy makers.

The changing character of war was something that military leaders as well as policy makers struggled with during the American Civil War much as today’s military leaders and policy makers seek to understand the character of warfare today. British military theorist Colin Gray wrote:

 “Since the character of every war is unique in the details of its contexts (political, social-cultural, economic, technological, military strategic, geographical, and historical), the policymaker most probably will struggle of the warfare that is unleashed.” [17]

That was not just an issue for Abraham Lincoln and Jefferson Davis, both of whom struggled with the nature of the war which had been unleashed, but it is an issue for our present and future political leaders, who as civilian politicians are “likely to be challenged by a deficient grasp of both the nature of war as well as its contemporary context-specific character.” [18] 

This is actually very important in our present context as since “the end of the Cold War, the tendency among civilians – with President Bush as a prime example – has been to confuse strategy with ideology. The president’s freedom agenda, which supposedly provided a blueprint for how to prosecute the global war on terror, expressed grandiose aspirations without serious effort to assess the means required to achieve them.” [19] Likewise, it is something that President Obama did not fully understand, and President Trump, is flailing and failing at, not because he has a strategy or a coherent ideology, but because everything revolves around him.

Strategy is hard and mostly ignored until there is a crisis, “soldiers focus on their professional military duties, while politicians exercise their skill in policymaking. The strategy bridge between the two worlds, the two cultures, generally is left poorly guarded, if it is guarded at all.” [20] In the American Civil War, Abraham Lincoln and his administration as well as military advisers came to develop a realistic strategy to match his political goals, Lincoln understood the contexts of the war far better than his Confederate counterpart Jefferson Davis, whose administration and military leadership was never able to devise a coherent strategy because they did not fully grasp the contexts of the war, never seriously considered the ends, ways, and means to victory.

In addition to being the first modern war, or maybe I should say, the first war of the Industrial Age, the Civil War prefigured the idea of total war written about by Clausewitz that occurred in the World Wars of the Twentieth Century. The war combined a massive number of technological advances, which both preceded and occurred during it, in which the philosophical nature of the Industrial Revolution came to the fore.

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.”  [21]

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 to have

 “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 soldier from a Wisconsin regiment wrote to his fiancée after the assault on Resaca, Georgia that his unit had captured twenty-three Confederates and

 “our 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.” [22]

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.” [23]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.” [24] 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.” [25]

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.” [26] Though none 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.”  [27]

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.” [28]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.” [29] While some might find this troubling, the fact remains that it was Sherman’s Southern sweep of all that lay before him that broke the back of the Confederacy.

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.” [30]

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.” [31] 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.” [32]

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. In many ways it has yet to have ended.

Notes 

[1] Ibid. McPherson The War that Forged a Nation: Why the Civil War Still Matters p.35

[2] Ibid. McPherson Drawn With the Sword: Reflections on the American Civil War p.81

[3] Lieber noted in Article 82 of the code that “Men, or squads of men, who commit hostilities, whether by fighting, or inroads for destruction or plunder, or by raids of any kind, without commission, without being part and portion of the organized hostile army, and without sharing continuously in the war, but who do so with intermitting returns to their homes and avocations, or with the occasional assumption of the semblance of peaceful pursuits, divesting themselves of the character or appearance of soldiers – such men, or squads of men, are not public enemies, and, therefore, if captured, are not entitled to the privileges of prisoners of war, but shall be treated summarily as highway robbers or pirates.” And in Article 85 that, “War-rebels are persons within an occupied territory who rise in arms against the occupying or conquering army, or against the authorities established by the same. If captured, they may suffer death, whether they rise singly, in small or large bands, and whether called upon to do so by their own, but expelled, government or not. They are not prisoners of war; nor are they if discovered and secured before their conspiracy has matured to an actual rising or armed violence.” Lieber, Francis, General Orders No. 100 : The Lieber Code INSTRUCTIONS FOR THE GOVERNMENT OF ARMIES OF THE UNITED STATES IN THE FIELD 24 April 1863 Retrieved from The Yale Law School, Lillian Goldman Law Library, The Avalon Project Documents in Law, History and Diplomacy http://avalon.law.yale.edu/19th_century/lieber.asp#sec4 1 June 2016

[4] Ibid. Weigley The American Way of War: A History of United States Military History and Policy p.148

[5] Guelzo Allen C. Fateful Lightening: A New History of the Civil War Era and Reconstruction Oxford University Press, Oxford and New York 2012 p.445

[6] Ibid. McPherson Drawn With the Sword: Reflections on the American Civil War p.82

[7] Sherman, William Tecumseh, Letter to James M. Calhoun, Mayor of Atlanta September 12, 1864 in Perman, Michael and Murrell Taylor, Amy editors The Civil War and Reconstruction Documents and Essays Third Edition Wadsworth Cengage Learning Boston MA 2011 pp.147-148

[8] Ibid. McPherson Drawn With the Sword: Reflections on the American Civil War p.83

[9] Levine, Bruce The Fall of the House of Dixie: The Civil War and the Social Revolution that Transformed the South Random House, New York 2013 p.233

[10] Goldfield, David. America Aflame: How the Civil War Created a Nation Bloomsbury Press, New York 2011 p.348

[11] McPherson, James. The Battle Cry of Freedom: The Civil War Era Oxford University Press, Oxford and New York 1988 p.775

[12] Alexander, Edward Porter. Fighting for the Confederacy: The Personal Recollections of General Edward Porter Alexander edited by Gary Gallagher University of North Carolina Press, Chapel Hill 1989 pp.508-509

[13] Ibid. Guelzo Fateful Lightening p.469

[14] Lowry, Thomas P. The Stories the Soldiers Wouldn’t Tell: Sex in the Civil War Stackpole Books, Mechanicsburg PA 1994 p.176

[15] Ibid. McPherson The War that Forged a Nation: Why the Civil War Still Matters p.48

[16] McPherson, James. The Second American Revolution in Perman, Michael and Murrell Taylor, Amy editors The Civil War and Reconstruction Documents and Essays Third Edition Wadsworth Cengage Learning Boston MA 2011 p.14

[17] Gray, Colin S. Fighting Talk: Forty Maxims on War, Peace, and Strategy Potomac Book, Dulles VA 2009 p.36

[18] Ibid. Gray Fighting Talk p.36

[19] Bacevich, Andrew J. The Limits of Power: The End of American Exceptionalism (The American Empire Project) Metropolitan Books, Henry Holt and Company, New York 2008 Amazon Kindle Edition, Location 2375 of 3875

[20] Ibid. Gray Fighting Talk p.49

[21] Ibid. Clausewitz On War p.76

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

[23] 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

[24] Fuller, J.F.C. A Military History of the Modern World, Volume Three: From the Seven Days Battle, 1862,  to the Battle of Leyte Gulf, 1944  Minerva Press 1956 p.88

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

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

[27] Ibid. Clausewitz p.90

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

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

[30]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

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

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

Advertisements

2 Comments

Filed under civil rights, civil war, Gettysburg, History, Military, national security, Political Commentary

“We Must Fight them More Vindictively” The American Civil War: From Limited War to a People’s War

Friends of Padre Steve’s World

Here is another reworked section of my Civil War and Gettysburg text. It deals with how the how the American Civil War changed from being a limited war to a people’s war, driven by a mutual hatred and hostility. It has been a while since I did any real work on the article which is a part of one of my Civil War book drafts.

The American Civil War was the first war which came close to approximating Clausewitz’s definition of total war, and though it was ignored by world military leaders as an aberration over for fifty years, it prefigured the Wold Wars, as well as the civil wars of the 20th Century. It demonstrates that once the genie of war is out of the bottle, and the passionate hatreds of people are unleashed, that policy will adjust itself. Most wars can and should be averted if leaders work to control the fear and passions of their people and not as so often the case stoke the fires of those fears and passions into an uncontrollable rage directed against the intended target. This is especially true in civil wars which are often waged with a ruthlessness unseat in most wars conducted by nation states against other nation states, unless those wars are driven by religion, ideology, or ethnic hatred.

The fact is as Ulysses Grant so well noted: There are no fixed laws of war which are not subject to the conditions of the country, the climate and the habits of the people. The laws of successful war in one generation would ensure the defeat in another.” 

We would be well to heed these lessons today, because they are not contained to civil wars but the same passionate hatreds fuel every people’s war or total war. Don’t make the mistake of so many who don’t believe such things can happen.

So I hope that you find this interesting and informative.

Peace,

Padre Steve+

The Beginning: Limited War

At the beginning of the war President Lincoln attempted a strategy of conciliation in order to attempt to coax seceding states back into the Union and by conciliation to keep those considering seceding from doing so. However, Lincoln’s attempts were met with outright rejection, before, during, and after the secession crisis.

Lincoln spoke directly to the Southern states in his First Inaugural Address, saying “We are not enemies, but friends,” [1] only to be accused of deliberately lying to the South by pledging to maintain control of Federal installations and forts in the South, like Fort Sumter which was now surrounded by massed batteries of Confederate artillery and demands that it surrender. Jefferson Davis wrote, “The Lincoln Administration deliberately lied to us, baiting us with false promises and pacific pledges all the while it was planning for war. Never in history has a government behaved with such malicious deceit and bad faith.” [2]

When the troops of South Carolina opened fire on Fort Sumter the die was cast, and Lincoln chose the path of war in order to restore the Union, “not because he wanted to, but because the South forced his hand.” [3] His proclamation calling for troops to suppress the rebellion described the kind of war that he foresaw, “the utmost care will be observed… to avoid any devastation, any destruction of, or interference with, property, or any disturbance of peaceful citizens in any part of the country.” [4]

Though he pursued the option of war to restore the Union, Lincoln initially adopted a soft-war strategy in which Confederate armies were the target. This was in large part due to the efforts of Secretary of State Henry Seward and General-in-Chief Winfield Scott. Though he adopted a strategy that required the North to conquest the South, initially he did so with the expectation that after battlefield defeats the Confederates would eventually return to the Union. It was a limited war strategy, “based on an assumption that a majority of the southern people were loyal to the Union and that eleven states had been swept into secession by the passions of the moment.” [5] In fact it was hardly a military strategy at all, “but more of a police action to quell a rather large riot.” [6]

After the defeat at First Bull Run, Congress passed a resolution defining Union war aims. It is notable in terms of how soft and its deference to the feelings of Southerners. Introduced by Senator John J. Crittenden of Kentucky, a key border John popethat had not seceded but had declared its neutrality, the resolution stated:

“Resolved by the House of Representatives of the Congress of the United States, That the present deplorable civil war has been forced upon us by the disunionists of the Southern States now in revolt against the constitutional Government and in arms around the capital; that in this national emergency Congress, banishing all feelings of mere passion or resentment, will recollect only its duty to the whole country; that this war is not waged upon our part in any spirit of oppression, nor for any purpose of conquest or subjugation, nor purpose of overthrowing or interfering with the rights and institutions of those States, but to defend and maintain the supremacy of the Constitution and to preserve the Union, with all the dignity, equality, and rights of the several States unimpaired; and that as soon as these objects are accomplished that the war ought to cease.” [7]

It was an incredibly weak statement of war aims based on the notion that most Southerners were actually Unionists and would come back to the Union. The feeling was increased by some early victories, particularly those of McClellan to secure West Virginia, and Grant and Flag Officer Foote in by the west in their capture of Forts Henry and Donaldson. For a brief time these victories seemed to confirm the validity of such an approach.

Winfield Scott

But the issue was not just with the politicians. Many early Union commanders raised in the niceties of Jominian limited war, and sometimes restrained by their religious upbringings were averse to taking casualties. Winfield Scott believed that only a thin line separated war from murder, and before Bull Run the elderly general noted, “No Christian nation… can be justified in waging war in such a way as shall destroy five hundred and one lives, when the object of the war can be attained at the cost of five hundred. Every man killed beyond the number absolutely required is murdered.” [8]

George McClellan was also casualty averse, he told his soldiers that he would watch over them “as a parent over his children…. It shall be my care, as it ever has been, to gain success with the least possible loss…” [9] But McClellan’s “fixation with avoiding casualties, revealed a deep sensitivity of nature admirable in most of life’s pursuits but crippling in war. Battle evokes the cruelest probing of the general in command: young men will die and be maimed, win or lose; and the hard choice must be made when opportunity offers, which may (or may not) save many more lives in the long run than will be lost in a day.” [10]

Even George Gordon Meade who would command the Army of the Potomac during Gettysburg, which was the bloodiest battle of the war, and who under Grant would be involved in other costly battles “believed that to ensure minimal losses on both sides, the North should prosecute the war “like an afflicted parent who is compelled to chastise his erring child, and who performs the duty with a sad heart.” [11] The lack of resolve of many overly cautious generals, especially in the east to fight a hard war against the Confederates would lead to several bungled opportunities to destroy the Army of Northern Virginia, outside the gates of Richmond, at Antietam, and during the pursuit from Gettysburg.

But after series of defeats in the East in 1862 at the hands of a revitalized Confederate Army of Northern Virginia under the command of General Robert E. Lee served notice on Lincoln that the war would be more difficult than previously imagined, and that a hard war strategy was needed.

War, Statecraft and Strategy 

George McClellan

The strategies and operational methods employed by commanders such as Robert E. Lee, Stonewall Jackson, and George McClellan embraces the tenants of Henri Jomini, the French military theorist and exponent of limited war, McClellan in his fixation with geographic places, Lee and Jackson in their love of the offensive. Each “failed to grasp the vital relationship between war and statecraft…. They might win victories – Lee won a series of spectacular ones – but they lacked the vision to win a mighty struggle between two societies.” [12] McClellan, told Lincoln “Woe to the general…who trusts in modern inventions, and neglects the principles of strategy.” But modern inventions, the railroad and the rifle, had conspired with mass citizen armies, themselves reflecting the ideologies of democratic society, to undermine the principles he espoused.” [13] McClellan, who had so deeply imbibed of the theories of Jomini, could not see that war had changed and the principles of Jomini could not win the war against the Confederacy, but others in the North would begin to see this.

But public sentiment in the North was beginning to shift, while there were still a good number of politicians willing to either let the South go its own way or to allow it to return with little substantive change, others were beginning to realize that the people of the South were serious about secession and were irreconcilable in their view that the break between them and the North was final. The New York Times which represented the views of moderate Republicans including Lincoln editorialized, “The country is tired of trifling…. We have been afraid of wounding rebel feelings, afraid of injuring rebel property, afraid of using, or under any circumstance, of freeing rebel slaves. Some of our Generals have fought the rebels – if fighting be it called – with their kid gloves on…” [14]

Lincoln was the political leader who first understood the connection, but militarily it was not until the “emergence of Grant and Sherman did Civil War military leadership break free of Jominian shackles to anticipate modern warfare.” [15] British military historian and theorist J.F.C. Fuller likened the change in the war to be a “return to barbarism,” and noted that “the more stubborn and indecisive became the fighting, and the more the outcome of the war was prolonged, the intenser grew the hatred, until frustration awakened a spirit of vengeance in the hearts of the Federals against the entire population of the South.” [16] Of course the hatred of the Confederacy came late as compared to much of the early nearly pathological and religious hatred of the Union by the radical secessionist, fire-eaters in Southern states even before the war began Thus, compared to the South, the hatred came slow, but when it boiled over the people of the South felt the pain of war as much as their armies did in the field.

Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson 

From Limited War to a Modern War 

While those who planned for a limited war like Winfield Scott and his Anaconda plan failed to understand the changing character of war, it did provide “both an education for Lincoln, and a firm foundation for the Union’s strategic thinking.” [17] The hard experience of war would point others in the same direction, including both Ulysses S. Grant and William Tecumseh Sherman, and it would be these men who along with Lincoln provided developed a grand strategy that would defeat the Confederacy. It was a strategy which was in line with the political goals of the North, and which marshaled the might of the Union military, diplomatic, economic, industrial and informational strengths, against the Confederacy.

In the South one of the few proponents of this new type of warfare was a former Regular Army officer and professor at the Virginia Military Institute, General Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson. In May of 1861 he moved across the Potomac to occupy the heights that surrounded Harper’s Ferry. Chastised by Lee, then serving as Jefferson Davis’s military adviser, Jackson proposed a strategy of invading the North and “burning Baltimore and Philadelphia and making Northerners understand on a visceral level what the war was going to cost them.” Likewise, he explained to Virginia Governor John Letcher a “black flag” strategy in which meant all Union prisoners of war would be summarily executed. [18]

Later Jackson had the chance to expound on his strategy to another general and suggested that he be given an army to cross the Potomac to “cut of the communications with Washington, force the Federal government to abandon the capital… destroy industrial establishments wherever we found them, break up the lines of interior intercourse, close the coal mines, seize and if necessary, destroy the manufactories of Philadelphia and of other large cities within our reach…. Subsist mainly on the country we traverse, and making unrelenting war amidst their home, force the people of the North to understand what it will cost them to hold the South in the Union at the bayonet’s point.” [19]

The fact that his plan was unrealistic based on the South’s actual military situation and capabilities, as well as opposed by Jefferson Davis as well as Robert E. Lee, takes nothing away from its similarity to the strategy later developed by Grant and Sherman. The problem was as Jefferson Davis wrote in July 1862, “The time and place for invasion has been a question not of will but power,” and then proceeded to recount a conversation with an unnamed Brigadier General the previous fall that appears whose plans did not match the reality of the number of troops available for such an operation. [20] From this meeting Davis got “the not altogether inaccurate idea that Jackson was an offense crazed fanatic.” [21] However, it shows that the desire to take the war to the enemy citizenry was not confined to the North and had the South had the military means that it many have attempted a similar strategy to that later employed by Grant and Sherman.

Grant, who had scored impressive victories at Forts Donaldson and Henry changed his view on how the war should be pursued after being roughly handled in the near disaster at Shiloh. After that battle, Grant gave up on the idea of limited war. He now believed that it was necessary to seize or destroy any property or resources that could be used to sustain the Confederate war effort. Before the Confederate counteroffensive at Shiloh Grant had said that he had been “carful to “protect the property of the citizens whose territory was invaded;” and afterwards his policy became to “consume everything that could be used to support or supply armies.” [22]

Harry Wager Halleck 

Henry Wager Halleck, who had long been a proponent of Jominian limited war in late 1862 under the influence of Francis Lieber. When Halleck heard complaints that General Horatio G. Wright was pursuing too soft of policy toward rebels in Kentucky, Halleck did not intervene, but offered strong advice to Wright. “Domestic traitors, who seek the overthrow of our Government, are not entitled to its protection and should be made to feel its power…. Make them suffer in their persons and property for their crimes and the suffering they have caused to others…. Let them feel that you have an iron hand; that you know how to apply it when necessary. Don’t be influenced by old political grannies.” [23]

Halleck also backed up Grant in August 1862 when Grant was beginning to pursue the hard war policy in the west by ordering Grant to “Take up all active [rebel] sympathizers… and hold them as prisoners or put them beyond our lines. Handle that class without gloves, and take their property for public use…. It is time that they should begin to feel the presence of the war.” [24]

As the war went on it became apparent to many people in the North, and in the armies on the front lines that harder measures were required, especially with the escalation of guerrilla attacks behind Union lines, as well as the involvement of Southern civilians in attacking Union troops in occupied areas of the South. “Senator John Sherman wrote his brother William of a growing sentiment “that we must treat these Rebels as bitter enemies to be subdued – conquered – by confiscation – by the employment of their slaves – by terror – energy – audacity – rather than by conciliation.” [25]

Ulysses S. Grant 

By early 1863 Grant was fully on board with the policy of the Union government, especially emancipation, and the need for the war to be carried through to a conclusion that would completely subjugate the Confederacy. He wrote to one of his generals, “Rebellion has assumed that shape now that it can only be terminated by the complete subjugation of the South or the overthrow of the Government. It is our duty, therefore, to use every means to weaken the enemy, by destroying their means of subsistence, withdrawing their means of cultivating their fields, and in every other way possible.” [26] Some Union military commanders other than Grant became early exponents of a hard and brutal war, among them was Major General John Pope, who as commander of the Army of Virginia issued a “series of orders authorizing his officers to seize Confederate property without compensation, to execute captive guerrillas who had fired on Union troops, and to expel from occupied territory any civilians who had sheltered guerrillas or who had refused to take an oath of allegiance to the United States.” [27] Jackson, who himself had once proposed the “black flag” strategy against the North and its soldiers “considered Pope’s orders “cruel and utterly barbarous.” [28]

Henry Halleck wrote to Grant in April 1863 that “the character of the war has changed very much…. There is now no possible hope of reconciliation with the rebels. The Union party in the South is virtually destroyed. There can be no peace but that which is forced upon it.” In May he wrote another general in Memphis, “We must live upon the enemy’s country as much as possible, and destroy his supplies. This is cruel warfare, but the enemy has brought it on himself by his own conduct.” [29]

As late as 1862 there were some in the North, especially in the Democratic Party fought against any move toward a harder war strategy. One of these was Major General George McClellan who in a brazen attempt to be named General-in-Chief after his failed Peninsular campaign attempted to school President Lincoln in the ways of politics and strategy.

“The time has come when the Government must determine upon a civil and military policy, covering the whole ground of our national trouble…. This rebellion has assumed the character of a war: as such it must be regarded; and should be conducted upon the highest principles known to Christian Civilization. It should not be a War looking to the subjugation of the people of any state, in any event. It should not be, at all, a War upon the population; but against armed forces and political organizations. Neither a confiscation of property, political executions of person, territorial organization of states or forcible abolition of slavery should be contemplated for a moment.” [30]

Strong Vincent 

McClellan’s Judge Advocate General, Colonel Strong Vincent, who would later play an important part in repulsing the Confederate assault on Little Round Top, was of the opposite opinion, Vincent wrote his wife after Chancellorsville:

“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.” [31]

Lincoln read McClellan’s letter in his presence and refused to comment upon it. One historian described Lincoln’s reaction to McClellan’s suggestion, “That policy had been pursued for over a year and Lincoln was convinced that it had failed. He was ready to move on.” [32] Instead of complying with McClellan’s demands Lincoln infuriated McClellan by naming Henry Halleck as General-in-Chief, calling for more troops, and deciding on a strategy in which emancipation would play a key role. Since the leaders of the Confederacy to its dying day refused to countenance emancipation, these decisions would change the character of the war from a limited war to bring about political reunion to a war that would drastically change American politics, economics, and society.

While the nature of war remained unchanged, the American Civil war dramatically changed the character of war, as it had been known for centuries, since the Peace of Westphalia, and the end of the Thirty Years War. In the American Civil War the character of war changed from the emphasis of the limited wars of the 18th Century and the Napoleonic era where opposing armies dueled each other into a war that encompassed the entire population. The changes challenged a generation of military officers who had grown up with Jomini’s principles of war and his emphasis on limited war including McClellan and Lee, but Grant, who had never read Jomini and denied the validity of general principles of war that were valid in all times wrote, “There are no fixed laws of war which are not subject to the conditions of the country, the climate and the habits of the people. The laws of successful war in one generation would ensure the defeat in another.” [33]

The leading catalyst that convinced Lincoln and other Northern leaders of the need to abandon the strategy of limited war was the fact that the Confederates had “blurred the distinction between combatants and non-combatants in the parts of the Confederacy and border states occupied by Union forces. The crops and livestock of Southern civilians were feeding and clothing Confederate armies. Their slaves were the principal labor force in the Confederate War economy. Thousands of Southern civilians became guerrillas who roamed behind Union lines destroying supplies and ambushing unarmed as well as armed Unionists.” [34]

William Tecumseh Sherman

The Union reaction to the Confederate actions would portent a change in the war. And soon, the war bordered on Clausewitz’s definition of absolute or total war, especially in Sherman’s march through Georgia and the Carolinas, and in the actions of Confederate irregulars who used terror against Unionist civilians. The actions of irregular Confederate forces to attack his troops and supply lines caused Sherman, who earlier in the war had taken a conciliatory attitude to Southern civilians, to change his views.

Sherman tried to warn his Southern friends that the war they so fervently sought would lead them to disaster:

“You people speak so lightly of war. You don’t know what you are talking about. . . . You mistake . . . the people of the North. They . . . are not going to let this country be destroyed without a mighty effort to save it. . . . The North can make a steam-engine, locomotive or railway car; hardly a yard of cloth or shoes can you [the South] make. You are rushing into war with one of the most powerful, ingeniously mechanical and determined people on earth—right at your doors. . . . Only in your spirit and determination are you prepared for war. In all else you are totally unprepared, with a bad cause to start with . . . in the end you will surely fail.” [35]

The Confederates themselves had blurred the lines between combatants and non-combatants. Sherman noted that the Union army must act “on the proper rule that all in the South are enemies of all in the North….. The whole country is full of guerrilla bands…. The entire South, man woman, and child, is against us, armed and determined.” [36]

Notes 

[1] Weigley, Russell F. The American Way of War: A History of United States Military History and Policy University of Indiana Press, Bloomington IN, 1973 p.133

[2] Davis, Jefferson in Oates, Stephen B. The Approaching Fury: Voices of the Storm 1820-1861 University of Nebraska Press. Lincoln and London, 1997 p.413

[3] Stoker, Donald The Grand Design: Strategy and the U.S. Civil War Oxford University Press, Oxford and New York 2010 p.18

[4] Ibid. Weigley The American Way of War: A History of United States Military History and Policy p.133

[5] Ibid. McPherson Abraham Lincoln and the Second American Revolution p.75

[6] Ibid. McPherson Abraham Lincoln and the Second American Revolution p.75

[7] U.S. Congress The Crittenden Resolution of July 22, 1861 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.117

[8] Faust, Drew Gilpin, This Republic of Suffering: Death and the American Civil War Vintage Books, a division of Random House, New York 2008 p.34

[9] Sears, Stephen W. To the Gates of Richmond: The Peninsula Campaign Houghton Mifflin Company, Boston and New York, 1992 p.21

[10] Sears, Stephen W. Landscape Turned Red: The Battle of Antietam Houghton-Mifflin Company, Boston and New York 1983 p.32

[11] Ibid. Faust This Republic of Suffering: Death and the American Civil War p.34

[12] Gallagher, Gary W. “Upon Their Success Hang Momentous Interests”: Generals in Why the Confederacy Lost edited by Gabor S. Boritt, Oxford University Press, New York and Oxford 1992 p.86

[13] Strachan, Hew European Armies and the Conduct of War George Allen and Unwin Publishers, Ltd. London 1983 p.73

[14] McPherson, James M. Tried by War: Abraham Lincoln as Commander in Chief Penguin Books, New York and London 2008 p.105

[15] Ibid. Gallagher “Upon Their Success Hang Momentous Interests” p.86

[16] Fuller, J.F.C. A Military History of the Modern World, Volume Three: From the Seven Days Battle, 1862, to the Battle of Leyte Gulf, 1944 Minerva Press 1956 p.107

[17] Ibid. Stoker The Grand Design: Strategy and the U.S. Civil War p.411

[18] Gwynne, Samuel C. Rebel Yell: The Violence, Passion, and Redemption of Stonewall Jackson Scribner, a Division of Simon and Schuster New York 2014 p.45

[19] Ibid. Gwynne Rebel Yell: The Violence, Passion, and Redemption of Stonewall Jackson p.173

[20] Davis, Jefferson, Letter to John Forsyth July 18th 1862 in Major Problems in American Military History edited by John Whiteclay Chambers II and G. Kurt Piehler, Houghton-Mifflin and Company, Boston and New York 1999 pp.159-160

[21] Ibid. Gwynne Rebel Yell: The Violence, Passion, and Redemption of Stonewall Jackson p.172

[22] McPherson, James M. Drawn With the Sword: Reflections on the American Civil War Oxford University Press, Oxford and New York 1996 p.76

[23] Marszalek, John F. Commander of All of Lincoln’s Armies: A Life of General Henry W. Halleck The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, Cambridge MA and London 2004 p.168

[24] Ibid. McPherson Drawn With the Sword: Reflections on the American Civil War p.79

[25] Ibid. McPherson Tried by War: Abraham Lincoln as Commander in Chief p.103

[26] Catton, Bruce. Grant Moves South Castle Books, New York, 2000, originally published by Little Brown and Company, New York 1960 p.402

[27] Ibid. McPherson Drawn With the Sword: Reflections on the American Civil War p.79

[28] Ibid. Gwynne Rebel Yell: The Violence, Passion, and Redemption of Stonewall Jackson p.396

[29] Ambrose, Stephen E. Halleck: Lincoln’s Chief of Staff Louisiana State University Press, Baton Rouge and London 1960 and 1992 p.119

[30] McClellan, George B. Letter to Abraham Lincoln July 7, 1862 in Perman, Michael and Murrell Taylor, Amy editors Major Problems in the Civil War and Reconstruction: Documents and Essays Third Edition Wadsworth Cengage Learning Boston MA 2011 p.140

[31] 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

[32] Gallagher, Gary W. The 1862 Richmond Campaign as a Watershed in Major Problems in the Civil War and Reconstruction: Documents and Essays Third Edition Wadsworth Cengage Learning Boston MA 2011 p.157

[33] Ibid. Strachan European Armies and the Conduct of War p.73

[34] Ibid. McPherson The War that Forged a Nation: Why the Civil War Still Matters p.35

[35] McDonough, James Lee. William Tecumseh Sherman: In the Service of My Country: A Life, W.W. Norton and Company, New York, 2016, p. 233

[36] Ibid. McPherson Drawn With the Sword: Reflections on the American Civil War p.81

Leave a comment

Filed under civil war, History, leadership, Military, us army

From Limited War to a People’s War

Gettysburg_General_Armistead_Picketts_Charge_small

Friends of Padre Steve’s World

Here is another reworked section of my Civil War and Gettysburg text. It deals with how the how the American Civil War changed from being a limited war to a people’s war, driven by a mutual hatred and hostility. It was the first war which came close to approximating Clausewitz’s definition of total war, and though it was ignored by world military leaders as an aberration over for fifty years, it prefigured the Wold Wars, as well as the civil wars of the 20th Century. It demonstrates that once the genie of war is out of the bottle, and the passionate hatreds of peoples are unleashed, that policy will will adjust itself. Most wars can and should be averted if leaders work to control the fear and passions of their people and not as so often the case stoke the fires of those fears and passions into an uncontrollable rage directed against the intended target. This is especially true in civil wars which are often waged with a ruthlessness unseat in most wars conducted by nation states against other nation states, unless those wars are driven by religion, ideology, or ethnic hatred.

So I hope that you find this interesting and informative.

Peace,

Padre Steve+

The Beginning: Limited War

At the beginning of the war President Lincoln attempted a strategy of conciliation in order to attempt to coax seceding states back into the Union and by conciliation to keep those considering seceding from doing so. However, Lincoln’s attempts were met with outright rejection, before, during, and after the secession crisis. He spoke directly to the Southern states in his First Inaugural Address, saying “We are not enemies, but friends,” [1] only to be accused of deliberately lying to the South by pledging to maintain control of Federal installations and forts in the South, like Fort Sumter which was now surrounded by massed batteries of Confederate artillery and demands that it surrender. Jefferson Davis wrote, “The Lincoln Administration deliberately lied to us, baiting us with false promises and pacific pledges all the while it was planning for war. Never in history has a government behaved with such malicious deceit and bad faith.” [2]

When the troops of South Carolina opened fire on Fort Sumter the die was cast, and Lincoln chose the path of war in order to restore the Union, “not because he wanted to, but because the South forced his hand.” [3] His proclamation calling for troops to suppress the rebellion described the kind of war that he foresaw, “the utmost care will be observed… to avoid any devastation, any destruction of, or interference with, property, or any disturbance of peaceful citizens in any part of the country.” [4]

Though he pursued the option of war to restore the Union, Lincoln initially adopted a soft-war strategy in which Confederate armies were the target. This was in large part due to the efforts of Secretary of State Henry Seward and General-in-Chief Winfield Scott. Though he adopted a strategy that required the North to conquest the South, initially he did so with the expectation that after battlefield defeats the Confederates would eventually return to the Union. It was a limited war strategy, “based on an assumption that a majority of the southern people were loyal to the Union and that eleven states had been swept into secession by the passions of the moment.” [5] In fact it was hardly a military strategy at all, “but more of a police action to quell a rather large riot.” [6]

After the defeat at First Bull Run, Congress passed a resolution defining Union war aims. It is notable in terms of how soft and its deference to the feelings of Southerners. Introduced by Senator John J. Crittenden of Kentucky, a key border that that had not seceded but had declared its neutrality, the resolution stated:

“Resolved by the House of Representatives of the Congress of the United States, That the present deplorable civil war has been forced upon us by the disunionists of the Southern States now in revolt against the constitutional Government and in arms around the capital; that in this national emergency Congress, banishing all feelings of mere passion or resentment, will recollect only its duty to the whole country; that this war is not waged upon our part in any spirit of oppression, nor for any purpose of conquest or subjugation, nor purpose of overthrowing or interfering with the rights and institutions of those States, but to defend and maintain the supremacy of the Constitution and to preserve the Union, with all the dignity, equality, and rights of the several States unimpaired; and that as soon as these objects are accomplished that the war ought to cease.” [7]

It was an incredibly weak statement of war aims based on the notion that most Southerners were actually Unionists and would come back to the Union. The feeling was increased by some early victories, particularly those of McClellan to secure West Virginia, and Grant and Flag Officer Foote in by the west in their capture of Forts Henry and Donaldson. For a brief time these victories seemed to confirm the validity of such an approach.

scott7d

Winfield Scott

But the issue was not just with the politicians. Many early Union commanders raised in the niceties of Jominian limited war, and sometimes restrained by their religious upbringings were averse to taking casualties. Winfield Scott believed that only a thin line separated war from murder, and before Bull Run the elderly general noted, “No Christian nation… can be justified in waging war in such a way as shall destroy five hundred and one lives, when the object of the war can be attained at the cost of five hundred. Every man killed beyond the number absolutely required is murdered.” [8] George McClellan was also casualty averse, he told his soldiers that he would watch over them “as a parent over his children…. It shall be my care, as it ever has been, to gain success with the least possible loss…” [9] But McClellan’s “fixation with avoiding casualties, revealed a deep sensitivity of nature admirable in most of life’s pursuits but crippling in war. Battle evokes the cruelest probing of the general in command: young men will die and be maimed, win or lose; and the hard choice must be made when opportunity offers, which may (or may not) save many more lives in the long run than will be lost in a day.” [10] Even George Gordon Meade who would command the Army of the Potomac during Gettysburg, which was the bloodiest battle of the war, and who under Grant would be involved in other costly battles “believed that to ensure minimal losses on both sides, the North should prosecute the war “like an afflicted parent who is compelled to chastise his erring child, and who performs the duty with a sad heart.” [11] The lack of resolve of many overly cautious generals, especially in the east to fight a hard war against the Confederates would lead to several bungled opportunities to destroy the Army of Northern Virginia, outside the gates of Richmond, at Antietam, and during the pursuit from Gettysburg.

But after series of defeats in the East in 1862 at the hands of a revitalized Confederate Army of Northern Virginia under the command of General Robert E. Lee served notice on Lincoln that the war would be more difficult than previously imagined, and that a hard war strategy was needed.

The Link Between War and Statecraft

qf-mcclellan

George McClellan

The strategies and operational methods employed by commanders such as Robert E. Lee, Stonewall Jackson, and George McClellan embraces the tenants of Henri Jomini, the French military theorist and exponent of limited war, McClellan in his fixation with geographic places, Lee and Jackson in their love of the offensive. Each “failed to grasp the vital relationship between war and statecraft…. They might win victories – Lee won a series of spectacular ones – but they lacked the vision to win a mighty struggle between two societies.” [12] McClellan, told Lincoln “Woe to the general…who trusts in modern inventions, and neglects the principles of strategy.” But modern inventions, the railroad and the rifle, had conspired with mass citizen armies, themselves reflecting the ideologies of democratic society, to undermine the principles he espoused.” [13] McClellan, who had so deeply imbibed of the theories of Jomini, could not see that war had changed and the principles of Jomini could not win the war against the Confederacy, but others in the North would begin to see this.

But public sentiment in the North was beginning to shift, while there were still a good number of politicians willing to either let the South go its own way or to allow it to return with little substantive change, others were beginning to realize that the people of the South were serious about secession and were irreconcilable in their view that the break between them and the North was final. The New York Times which represented the views of moderate Republicans including Lincoln editorialized, “The country is tired of trifling…. We have been afraid of wounding rebel feelings, afraid of injuring rebel property, afraid of using, or under any circumstance, of freeing rebel slaves. Some of our Generals have fought the rebels – if fighting be it called – with their kid gloves on…” [14]

Lincoln was the political leader who first understood the connection, but militarily it was not until the “emergence of Grant and Sherman did Civil War military leadership break free of Jominian shackles to anticipate modern warfare.” [15] British military historian and theorist J.F.C. Fuller likened the change in the war to be a “return to barbarism,” and noted that “the more stubborn and indecisive became the fighting, and the more the outcome of the war was prolonged, the intenser grew the hatred, until frustration awakened a spirit of vengeance in the hearts of the Federals against the entire population of the South.” [16] Of course the hatred of the Confederacy came late as compared to much of the early nearly pathological and religious hatred of the Union by the radical secessionist, fire-eaters in Southern states even before the war began Thus, compared to the South, the hatred came slow, but when it boiled over the people of the South felt the pain of war as much as their armies did in the field.

617290f829d510d794c5b03c613e5c26

Stonewall Jackson 

From Limited War to a People’s War

While those who planned for a limited war like Winfield Scott and his Anaconda plan failed to understand the changing character of war, it did provide “both an education for Lincoln, and a firm foundation for the Union’s strategic thinking.” [17] The hard experience of war would point others in the same direction, including both Ulysses S. Grant and William Tecumseh Sherman, and it would be these men who along with Lincoln provided developed a grand strategy that would defeat the Confederacy. It was a strategy which was in line with the political goals of the North, and which marshalled the might of the Union military, diplomatic, economic, industrial and informational strengths, against the Confederacy.

In the South one of the few proponents of this new type of warfare was a former Regular Army officer and professor at the Virginia Military Institute, General Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson. In May of 1861 he moved across the Potomac to occupy the heights that surrounded Harper’s Ferry. Chastised by Lee, then serving as Jefferson Davis’s military adviser, Jackson proposed a strategy of invading the North and “burning Baltimore and Philadelphia and making Northerners understand on a visceral level what the war was going to cost them.” Likewise, he explained to Virginia Governor John Letcher a “black flag” strategy in which meant all Union prisoners of war would be summarily executed. [18]

Later Jackson had the chance to expound on his strategy to another general and suggested that he be given an army to cross the Potomac to “cut of the communications with Washington, force the Federal government to abandon the capital… destroy industrial establishments wherever we found them, break up the lines of interior intercourse, close the coal mines, seize and if necessary, destroy the manufactories of Philadelphia and of other large cities within our reach…. Subsist mainly on the country we traverse, and making unrelenting war amidst their home, force the people of the North to understand what it will cost them to hold the South in the Union at the bayonet’s point.” [19]

The fact that his plan was unrealistic based on the South’s actual military situation and capabilities, as well as opposed by Jefferson Davis as well as Robert E. Lee, takes nothing away from its similarity to the strategy later developed by Grant and Sherman. The problem was as Jefferson Davis wrote in July 1862, “The time and place for invasion has been a question not of will but power,” and then proceeded to recount a conversation with an unnamed Brigadier General the previous fall that appears whose plans did not match the reality of the number of troops available for such an operation. [20] From this meeting Davis got “the not altogether inaccurate idea that Jackson was an offense crazed fanatic.” [21] However, it shows that the desire to take the war to the enemy citizenry was not confined to the North and had the South had the military means that it many have attempted a similar strategy to that later employed by Grant and Sherman.

Grant, who had scored impressive victories at Forts Donaldson and Henry changed his view on how the war should be pursued after being roughly handled in the near disaster at Shiloh. After that battle, Grant gave up on the idea of limited war. He now believed that it was necessary to seize or destroy any property or resources that could be used to sustain the Confederate war effort. Before the Confederate counteroffensive at Shiloh Grant had said that he had been “carful to “protect the property of the citizens whose territory was invaded;” and afterwards his policy became to “consume everything that could be used to support or supply armies.” [22]

Henry_Halleck_by_Scholten,_c1865

Henry Wager Halleck

Henry Wager Halleck, who had long been a proponent of Jominian limited war in late 1862 under the influence of Francis Lieber. When Halleck heard complaints that General Horatio G. Wright was pursuing too soft of policy toward rebels in Kentucky, Halleck did not intervene, but offered strong advice to Wright. “Domestic traitors, who seek the overthrow of our Government, are not entitled to its protection and should be made to feel its power…. Make them suffer in their persons and property for their crimes and the suffering they have caused to others…. Let them feel that you have an iron hand; that you know how to apply it when necessary. Don’t be influenced by old political grannies.” [23]

Halleck also backed up Grant in August 1862 when Grant was beginning to pursue the hard war policy in the west by ordering Grant to “Take up all active [rebel] sympathizers… and hold them as prisoners or put them beyond our lines. Handle that class without gloves, and take their property for public use…. It is time that they should begin to feel the presence of the war.” [24]

As the war went on it became apparent to many people in the North, and in the armies on the front lines that harder measures were required, especially with the escalation of guerilla attacks behind Union lines, as well as the involvement of Southern civilians in attacking Union troops in occupied areas of the South. “Senator John Sherman wrote his brother William of a growing sentiment “that we must treat these Rebels as bitter enemies to be subdued – conquered – by confiscation – by the employment of their slaves – by terror – energy – audacity – rather than by conciliation.” [25]

grant 1

Ulysses S. Grant

By early 1863 Grant was fully on board with the policy of the Union government, especially emancipation, and the need for the war to be carried through to a conclusion that would completely subjugate the Confederacy. He wrote to one of his generals, “Rebellion has assumed that shape now that it can only be terminated by the complete subjugation of the South or the overthrow of the Government. It is our duty, therefore, to use every means to weaken the enemy, by destroying their means of subsistence, withdrawing their means of cultivating their fields, and in every other way possible.” [26]  Some Union military commanders other than Grant became early exponents of a hard and brutal war, among them was Major General John Pope, who as commander of the Army of Virginia issued a “series of orders authorizing his officers to seize Confederate property without compensation, to execute captive guerillas who had fired on Union troops, and to expel from occupied territory any civilians who had sheltered guerillas or who had refused to take an oath of allegiance to the United States.” [27] Jackson, who himself had once proposed the “black flag” strategy against the North and its soldiers “considered Pope’s orders “cruel and utterly barbarous.” [28]

Henry Halleck wrote to Grant in April 1863 that “the character of the war has changed very much…. There is now no possible hope of reconciliation with the rebels. The Union party in the South is virtually destroyed. There can be no peace but that which is forced upon it.” In May he wrote another general in Memphis, “We must live upon the enemy’s country as much as possible, and destroy his supplies. This is cruel warfare, but the enemy has brought it on himself by his own conduct.” [29]

As late as 1862 there were some in the North, especially in the Democratic Party fought against any move toward a harder war strategy. One of these was Major General George McClellan who in a brazen attempt to be named General-in-Chief after his failed Peninsular campaign attempted to school President Lincoln in the ways of politics and strategy.

“The time has come when the Government must determine upon a civil and military policy, covering the whole ground of our national trouble…. This rebellion has assumed the character of a war: as such it must be regarded; and should be conducted upon the highest principles known to Christian Civilization. It should not be a War looking to the subjugation of the people of any state, in any event. It should not be, at all, a War upon the population; but against armed forces and political organizations. Neither a confiscation of property, political executions of person, territorial organization of states or forcible abolition of slavery should be contemplated for a moment.” [30]

Lincoln read McClellan’s letter in his presence and refused to comment upon it. One historian described Lincoln’s reaction to McClellan’s suggestion, “That policy had been pursued for over a year and Lincoln was convinced that it had failed. He was ready to move on.” [31]  Instead of complying with McClellan’s demands Lincoln infuriated McClellan by naming Henry Halleck as General-in-Chief, calling for more troops, and deciding on a strategy in which emancipation would play a key role. Since the leaders of the Confederacy to its dying day refused to countenance emancipation, these decisions would change the character of the war from a limited war to bring about political reunion to a war that would drastically change American politics, economics, and society.

While the nature of war remained unchanged, the American Civil war dramatically changed the character of war, as it had been known for centuries, since the Peace of Westphalia, and the end of the Thirty Years War. In the American Civil War the character of war changed from the emphasis of the limited wars of the 18th Century and the Napoleonic era where opposing armies dueled each other into a war that encompassed the entire population. The changes challenged a generation of military officers who had grown up with Jomini’s principles of war and his emphasis on limited war including McClellan and Lee, but Grant, who had never read Jomini and denied the validity of general principles of war that were valid in all times wrote, “There are no fixed laws of war which are not subject to the conditions of the country, the climate and the habits of the people. The laws of successful war in one generation would ensure the defeat in another.” [32]

The leading catalyst that convinced Lincoln and other Northern leaders of the need to abandon the strategy of limited war was the fact that the Confederates had “blurred the distinction between combatants and noncombatants in the parts of the Confederacy and border states occupied by Union forces. The crops and livestock of Southern civilians were feeding and clothing Confederate armies. Their slaves were the principle labor force in the Confederate War economy. Thousands of Southern civilians became guerillas who roamed behind Union lines destroying supplies and ambushing unarmed as well as armed Unionists.” [33]

The Union reaction to the Confederate actions would portent a change in the war. And soon, the war bordered on Clausewitz’s definition of absolute or total war, especially in Sherman’s march through Georgia and the Carolinas, and in the actions of Confederate irregulars who used terror against Unionist civilians. The actions of irregular Confederate forces to attack his troops and supply lines caused Sherman, who earlier in the war had taken a conciliatory attitude to Southern civilians, to change his views. They had blurred the lines between combatants and non-combatants, he noted that the Union army must act “on the proper rule that all in the South are enemies of all in the North….. The whole country is full of guerilla bands…. The entire South, man woman, and child, is against us, armed and determined.” [34]

Notes

[1] Weigley, Russell F. The American Way of War: A History of United States Military History and Policy University of Indiana Press, Bloomington IN, 1973 p.133

[2] Davis, Jefferson in Oates, Stephen B. The Approaching Fury: Voices of the Storm 1820-1861 University of Nebraska Press. Lincoln and London, 1997 p.413

[3] Stoker, Donald The Grand Design: Strategy and the U.S. Civil War Oxford University Press, Oxford and New York 2010 p.18

[4] Ibid. Weigley The American Way of War: A History of United States Military History and Policy p.133

[5] Ibid. McPherson Abraham Lincoln and the Second American Revolution p.75

[6] Ibid. McPherson Abraham Lincoln and the Second American Revolution p.75

[7] U.S. Congress The Crittenden Resolution of July 22, 1861 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.117

[8] Faust, Drew Gilpin, This Republic of Suffering: Death and the American Civil War Vintage Books, a division of Random House, New York 2008 p.34

[9] Sears, Stephen W. To the Gates of Richmond: The Peninsula Campaign Houghton Mifflin Company, Boston and New York, 1992 p.21

[10] Sears, Stephen W. Landscape Turned Red: The Battle of Antietam Houghton-Mifflin Company, Boston and New York 1983 p.32

[11] Ibid. Faust This Republic of Suffering: Death and the American Civil War p.34

[12] Gallagher, Gary W. “Upon Their Success Hang Momentous Interests”: Generals in Why the Confederacy Lost edited by Gabor S. Boritt, Oxford University Press, New York and Oxford 1992 p.86

[13] Strachan, Hew European Armies and the Conduct of War George Allen and Unwin Publishers, Ltd. London 1983 p.73

[14] McPherson, James M. Tried by War: Abraham Lincoln as Commander in Chief Penguin Books, New York and London 2008 p.105

[15] Ibid. Gallagher “Upon Their Success Hang Momentous Interests” p.86

[16] Fuller, J.F.C. A Military History of the Modern World, Volume Three: From the Seven Days Battle, 1862,  to the Battle of Leyte Gulf, 1944  Minerva Press 1956 p.107

[17] Ibid. Stoker The Grand Design: Strategy and the U.S. Civil War p.411

[18] Gwynne, Samuel C. Rebel Yell: The Violence, Passion, and Redemption of Stonewall Jackson Scribner, a Division of Simon and Schuster New York 2014 p.45

[19] Ibid. Gwynne Rebel Yell: The Violence, Passion, and Redemption of Stonewall Jackson p.173

[20] Davis, Jefferson, Letter to John Forsyth July 18th 1862 in Major Problems in American Military History edited by John Whiteclay Chambers II and G. Kurt Piehler, Houghton-Mifflin and Company, Boston and New York 1999 pp.159-160

[21] Ibid. Gwynne Rebel Yell: The Violence, Passion, and Redemption of Stonewall Jackson p.172

[22] McPherson, James M. Drawn With the Sword: Reflections on the American Civil War Oxford University Press, Oxford and New York 1996 p.76

[23] Marszalek, John F. Commander of All of Lincoln’s Armies: A Life of General Henry W. Halleck The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, Cambridge MA and London 2004 p.168

[24] Ibid. McPherson  Drawn With the Sword: Reflections on the American Civil War p.79

[25] Ibid. McPherson Tried by War: Abraham Lincoln as Commander in Chief p.103

[26] Catton, Bruce. Grant Moves South Castle Books, New York, 2000, originally published by Little Brown and Company, New York 1960 p.402

[27] Ibid. McPherson Drawn With the Sword: Reflections on the American Civil War p.79

[28] Ibid. Gwynne Rebel Yell: The Violence, Passion, and Redemption of Stonewall Jackson p.396

[29] Ambrose, Stephen E. Halleck: Lincoln’s Chief of Staff Louisiana State University Press, Baton Rouge and London 1960 and 1992  p.119

[30] McClellan, George B. Letter to Abraham Lincoln July 7, 1862 in Perman, Michael and Murrell Taylor, Amy editors Major Problems in the Civil War and Reconstruction: Documents and Essays Third Edition Wadsworth Cengage Learning Boston MA 2011 p.140

[31] Gallagher, Gary W. The 1862 Richmond Campaign as a Watershed in Major Problems in the Civil War and Reconstruction: Documents and Essays Third Edition Wadsworth Cengage Learning Boston MA 2011 p.157

[32] Ibid. Strachan European Armies and the Conduct of War p.73

[33] Ibid. McPherson The War that Forged a Nation: Why the Civil War Still Matters p.35

[34] Ibid. McPherson Drawn With the Sword: Reflections on the American Civil War p.81

Leave a comment

Filed under civil war, History, Military

From Limited War to Total War: The American Civil War Pt.2

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

As always I continue to revise my Gettysburg and Civil War text and it looks like I will have to split the text into at least two volumes. I am posting the second half of a majorly revised section dealing the the nature of the war, and how it changed from a limited war to a total war. This subject may be uncomfortable to many readers, and I admit that. Truthfully I abhor war but I am a realist when it comes to human nature, politics, economics, ideology, religion, and even racism and race hatred play in the world. Truthfully, if the North had continued the war with limited force, and goals, the Confederacy would have either become independent, or it would have been re-admitted to the Union with slavery intact, no Thirteenth, Fourteenth, or Fifteenth Ammendments would have been passed and any concept of civil rights destroyed. You can be sure that with Southern States read mites without change that other things would not have occurred; Women’s sufferage, Native American citizenship, citizenship and civil rights for Asian immigrants, and most recently, LGBT people are directly tied to the constitutional amendments that the war made possible.  Sometimes, as distasteful and repugnant as that may sound, a hard war is necessary to prevent an unjust peace. 

From a point of realpolitik,  the fact is that leaders in the South and the North, like so many other leaders in history and even today, failed to understand what the war that they helped unleash would bring about. War is not to be entered into lightly without connecting the dots between the act of policy that guides the war, as well as having the policy’s ends supported by the ways and means necessary to fulfill it, and not all of those are military. Diplomacy, economic power, and  information all play a part. 

Abraham Lincoln and his advisors came to understand this, maybe better than any presidential administration in United States history. Sadly, Lincoln was assassinated before he could guide the country through reunion, and Andrew Johnson was not up to the task. By the time Ulysses Grant became President, the opportune moment for reunion had passed. Though the South succeeded in rolling back civil rights for another century, they never were able to repeal those three critical amendments. That is why the hard war pursued by the Lincoln administration still matters for everyone with a stake in civil rights. 

Think about that, and have a great weekend,

Peace

Padre Steve+

gburg dead1

While the nature of war remained unchanged, the American Civil war changed the character of war, as it had been known for centuries, since the Peace of Westphalia, and the end of the Thirty Years War changed dramatically. In the American Civil War the character of war changed from the emphasis of the limited wars of the 18th Century and the Napoleonic era where opposing armies dueled each other into a war that encompassed the entire population. It also challenged a generation of military officers who had grown up with Jomini’s principles of war and his emphasis on limited war.

The leading catalyst that convinced Lincoln and other Northern leaders of the need to abandon the strategy of limited war was the fact that the Confederates had “blurred the distinction between combatants and noncombatants in the parts of the Confederacy and border states occupied by Union forces. The crops and livestock of Southern civilians were feeding and clothing Confederate armies. Their slaves were the principle labor force in the Confederate War economy. Thousands of Southern civilians became guerillas who roamed behind Union lines destroying supplies and ambushing unarmed as well as armed Unionists.” [1]

The Union reaction to the Confederate actions would portent a change in the war. And soon, the war bordered on Clausewitz’s definition of absolute or total war, especially in Sherman’s march through the South, and in the actions of Confederate irregulars who used terror against Unionist civilians. The actions of irregular Confederate forces to attack his troops and supply lines caused Sherman, who earlier in the war had taken a conciliatory attitude to Southern civilians, to change his views. They had blurred the lines between combatants and non-combatants, he noted that the Union army must act “on the proper rule that all in the South are enemies of all in the North….. The whole country is full of guerilla bands…. The entire South, man woman, and child, is against us, armed and determined.” [2]

In response Henry Halleck, now backed with the legal authority of General Order 100, also known as The Lieber Code, which for the first time in American history defined the differences between partisans acting in the capacity as soldiers of the enemy army, and those who were not a part of a military unit, but rather men who blended back into the population after conducting armed attacks, [3] wrote to Sherman,

“I am fully of opinion that the nature of your position, the character of the war, the conduct of the enemy (and especially of non-combatants and women of the territory we have heretofore conquered and occupied), will justify you in gathering up all the forage and provisions which your army will require, both for a siege of Atlanta and for your supply in your march farther into the enemy’s country. Let the disloyal families of the country, thus stripped, go to their husbands, fathers, and natural protectors, in the rebel ranks; we have tried three years of conciliation and kindness without any reciprocation; on the contrary, those thus treated have acted as spies and guerillas in our rear and within our lines…. We have fed this class of people long enough. Let them go with their husbands and fathers in the rebel ranks; and if they won’t go, we must send them to their friends and protectors. I would destroy every mill and factory within reach which I did not want for my own use…..” [4]

The strategy of Sherman was to ensure that the Confederate heartland of the Deep South could no longer help to sustain Confederate armies in the field, it was military, economic, political, and diplomatic. He explained:

“I propose to act in such a manner against the material resources of the South as utterly to negative Davis’ boasted …promises of protection. If we can march a well-appointed army right through hiss territory, it is a demonstration to the world, foreign and domestic, that we have a power which Davis cannot resist.” [5]

Sherman was a pioneer of psychological warfare, he was “convinced that not only economic resources but also the will of Southern civilians sustained the Confederate War effort…. Sherman was well aware of the fear that his soldiers inspired among Southern whites. This terror “was a power,” he wrote, “and I intend to utilize it… to humble their pride, to follow them to their innermost recesses, and to make them dread and fear us…” [6]

When Confederate General John Bell Hood elected to fortify Atlanta, the largest and most important industrial city in the Confederacy against a Union attack, thereby making the population of the city a target, Sherman wrote to the Mayor of Atlanta to warn him of the consequences of allowing this:

“The use of Atlanta for warlike purposes is inconsistent with its character as a home for families. There will be no manufactures, commerce, or agriculture here, for the maintenance of families, and sooner or later want will compel the inhabitants to go…. You cannot qualify war in any harsher terms than I will. War is cruelty, and you cannot refine it; and those who brought war into our country deserve all the curses and maledictions a people can pour out…. You might as well appeal against the thunder-storm as against these terrible hardships of war. They are inevitable…” [7]

Sherman’s strategy worked, “it deprived Confederate armies of desperately needed supplies; it also crippled morale both at home front and in the army,” [8] His armies did more than destroy factories and farms in its path, wherever they went “they broke the power of the secessionist government, the slaveholder’s social order, and most of whatever fighting spirit remained among Confederate partisans.” [9] Jefferson Davis understood the effect that Sherman’s army was having, he wrote, “Sherman’s campaign has produced a bad effect on our people, success against his future operations is needed to restore public confidence.” [10] Mary Boykin Chesnut saw the clouds of doom approaching and confided in her diary, “Since Atlanta I have felt as if all were dead in me, forever,” she wrote. “we are going to be wiped off the map.” [11]

The effects of Sherman’s march through Georgia and the Carolinas were felt in the Confederate armies at the front as just as he had predicted. Lee’s artillery chief, Brigadier General Porter Alexander wrote, “The condition of the country at large was one of almost as great deprivation & suffering as that of the army itself; & in many localities even of much greater. North Carolina, South Carolina, & Georgia had been over-run by Sherman’s army carrying off many of the Negroes & most of the stock & destroying all accumulation of provisions which they could not use, & often burning barns & dwellings & all implements of agriculture…. Naturally, the wives & mothers left at home wrote longingly for the return of the husbands & sons who were in the ranks in Virginia. And, naturally, many of them could not resist these appeals, & deserted in order to return & care for their families.” [12]  A member of the 20th Maine noted the effect on Lee’s troops opposing them at Petersburg wrote, “Since Sherman’s victories… we see the affect it is having on Lee’s Army.” They were deserting in groups, “not only privates, but many officers with them.” [13] Lee was so frustrated and angry with the desertion problem that he resorted to summary executions of the men, occasionally without hearing their appeals.

The war was revolutionary in other ways, and brought about a host of social, philosophical, economic, and political changes which continue to impact the lives of people in the United States and around the world even today. Some of these, especially those regarding the abolition of slavery and emancipation, as well as the beginnings of the Women’s Rights movement have had a ripple effect in matters of political and social equality for other previously disenfranchised groups of citizens. One writer noted in regard to the social impacts that “The Civil War uprooted institutions, transformed our politics, influenced social relationships of half a continent, and wrought changes that echo down the generations.” [14] Mark Twain wrote in 1873 that the war “uprooted institutions that were centuries old, changed the politics of a people …and wrought so profoundly upon the national character that cannot be measured short of two or three generations.” [15]

In a sense, when Abraham Lincoln proclaimed  “a new birth of freedom” in his Gettysburg address it served as a watershed moment in American history because it brought to the forefront the understanding of Jefferson and the other signers of the Declaration of Independence that all men are created equal.  That statement, flowing from the Declaration was key to Lincoln’s understanding of human rights and dignity, and from it came the Emancipation Proclamation and the Thirteenth Amendment, which abolished slavery. Those would be followed by the Republican Congresses’ passage of the Fourteenth Amendment, which overturned the Dred Scott Decision, which denied all citizenship to blacks across the country, and by Ulysses S. Grant’s Fifteenth Amendment, which gave African American men to right to vote. These were all revolutionary ideas, and there was a counterrevolutionary backlash after the war “overthrew the fledgling experiment in racial equality” but “did not fully restore the old order. Slavery was not reinstated. The Fourteenth and Fifteenth Amendments were not repealed.” [16]  That is the human and political context by which we have to understand the American Civil War.

Thus it is important to study the Gettysburg campaign in the context of the Civil War because the campaign of 1863 in the east cannot be divorced from what was happening in the west at Vicksburg, nor the Union blockade, nor the diplomatic, economic and informational aspects of the war.  Likewise the Gettysburg campaign cannot be separated from its relationship to the broader understanding of the nature and character of war. To do this one must examine the connection between them and policies made by political leaders; to include the relationship of political to military leaders, diplomats, the leaders of business and industry and not to be forgotten, the press and the people. Likewise we must understand the various contexts of war, to include the social, political, ideological and even the religious components of war, how they impacted Civil War leaders and why civilian policy makers and military leaders must understand them today.

While the essential nature of war remains constant, wars and the manner in which they are fought have changed in their character throughout history, and this distinction matters not only for military professionals, but also policy makers. The changing character of war was something that military leaders as well as policy makers struggled with during the American Civil War much as today’s military leaders and policy makers seek to understand the character of warfare today. British military theorist Colin Gray writes “Since the character of every war is unique in the details of its contexts (political, social-cultural, economic, technological, military strategic, geographical, and historical), the policymaker most probably will struggle of the warfare that is unleashed.” [17]

That was not just an issue for Abraham Lincoln and Jefferson Davis, both of whom struggled with the nature of the war which had been unleashed, but it is an issue for our present and future political leaders, who as civilian politicians are “likely to be challenged by a deficient grasp of both the nature of war as well as its contemporary context-specific character.” [18] This is actually very important in our present context as since “the end of the Cold War, the tendency among civilians – with President Bush as a prime example – has been to confuse strategy with ideology. The president’s freedom agenda, which supposedly provided a blueprint for how to prosecute the global war on terror, expressed grandiose aspirations without serious effort to assess the means required to achieve them.” [19] Strategy is hard and mostly ignored until there is a crisis, “soldiers focus on their professional military duties, while politicians exercise their skill in policymaking. The strategy bridge between the two worlds, the two cultures, generally is left poorly guarded, if it is guarded at all.” [20] In the American Civil War, Abraham Lincoln and his administration as well as military advisers came to develop a realistic strategy to match his political goals, Lincoln understood the contexts of the war far better than his Confederate counterpart Jefferson Davis, whose administration and military leadership was never able to devise a coherent strategy because they did not fully grasp the contexts of the war, never seriously considered the ends, ways, and means to victory.

In addition to being the first modern war, or maybe I should say, the first war of the Industrial Age, the Civil War prefigured the idea of total war written about by Clausewitz that occurred in the World Wars of the Twentieth Century. The war combined a massive number of technological advances, which both preceded and occurred during it, in which the philosophical nature of the Industrial Revolution came to the fore.

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.”  [21]

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 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.” [22]

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.” [23] 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.” [24] 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.” [25]

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.” [26] 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.”  [27]

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.” [28] 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.” [29] While some might find this troubling, the fact remains that it was Sherman’s Southern sweep of all that lay before him that broke the back of the Confederacy.

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.” [30]

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.” [31] 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.” [32]

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.

Notes

[1] Ibid. McPherson The War that Forged a Nation: Why the Civil War Still Matters p.35

[2] Ibid. McPherson Drawn With the Sword: Reflections on the American Civil War p.81

[3] Lieber noted in Article 82 of the code that “Men, or squads of men, who commit hostilities, whether by fighting, or inroads for destruction or plunder, or by raids of any kind, without commission, without being part and portion of the organized hostile army, and without sharing continuously in the war, but who do so with intermitting returns to their homes and avocations, or with the occasional assumption of the semblance of peaceful pursuits, divesting themselves of the character or appearance of soldiers – such men, or squads of men, are not public enemies, and, therefore, if captured, are not entitled to the privileges of prisoners of war, but shall be treated summarily as highway robbers or pirates.” And in Article 85 that, “War-rebels are persons within an occupied territory who rise in arms against the occupying or conquering army, or against the authorities established by the same. If captured, they may suffer death, whether they rise singly, in small or large bands, and whether called upon to do so by their own, but expelled, government or not. They are not prisoners of war; nor are they if discovered and secured before their conspiracy has matured to an actual rising or armed violence.” Lieber, Francis, General Orders No. 100 : The Lieber Code INSTRUCTIONS FOR THE GOVERNMENT OF ARMIES OF THE UNITED STATES IN THE FIELD 24 April 1863 Retrieved from The Yale Law School, Lillian Goldman Law Library, The Avalon Project Documents in Law, History and Diplomacy http://avalon.law.yale.edu/19th_century/lieber.asp#sec4 1 June 2016

[4] Ibid. Weigley The American Way of War: A History of United States Military History and Policy p.148

[5] Guelzo Allen C. Fateful Lightening: A New History of the Civil War Era and Reconstruction Oxford University Press, Oxford and New York 2012 p.445

[6] Ibid. McPherson Drawn With the Sword: Reflections on the American Civil War p.82

[7] Sherman, William Tecumseh, Letter to James M. Calhoun, Mayor of Atlanta September 12, 1864 in Perman, Michael and Murrell Taylor, Amy editors The Civil War and Reconstruction Documents and Essays Third Edition Wadsworth Cengage Learning Boston MA 2011 pp.147-148

[8] Ibid. McPherson Drawn With the Sword: Reflections on the American Civil War p.83

[9] Levine, Bruce The Fall of the House of Dixie: The Civil War and the Social Revolution that Transformed the South Random House, New York 2013 p.233

[10] Goldfield, David. America Aflame: How the Civil War Created a Nation Bloomsbury Press, New York 2011 p.348

[11] McPherson, James. The Battle Cry of Freedom: The Civil War Era Oxford University Press, Oxford and New York 1988 p.775

[12] Alexander, Edward Porter. Fighting for the Confederacy: The Personal Recollections of General Edward Porter Alexander edited by Gary Gallagher University of North Carolina Press, Chapel Hill 1989 pp.508-509

[13] Ibid. Guelzo Fateful Lightening p.469

[14] Lowry, Thomas P. The Stories the Soldiers Wouldn’t Tell: Sex in the Civil War Stackpole Books, Mechanicsburg PA 1994 p.176

[15] Ibid. McPherson The War that Forged a Nation: Why the Civil War Still Matters p.48

[16] McPherson, James. The Second American Revolution in Perman, Michael and Murrell Taylor, Amy editors The Civil War and Reconstruction Documents and Essays Third Edition Wadsworth Cengage Learning Boston MA 2011 p.14

[17] Gray, Colin S. Fighting Talk: Forty Maxims on War, Peace, and Strategy Potomac Book, Dulles VA 2009 p.36

[18] Ibid. Gray Fighting Talk p.36

[19] Bacevich, Andrew J. The Limits of Power: The End of American Exceptionalism (The American Empire Project) Metropolitan Books, Henry Holt and Company, New York 2008 Amazon Kindle Edition, Location 2375 of 3875

[20] Ibid. Gray Fighting Talk p.49

[21] Ibid. Clausewitz On War p.76

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

[23] 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

[24] Fuller, J.F.C. A Military History of the Modern World, Volume Three: From the Seven Days Battle, 1862,  to the Battle of Leyte Gulf, 1944  Minerva Press 1956 p.88

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

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

[27] Ibid. Clausewitz p.90

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

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

[30]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

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

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

1 Comment

Filed under civil war, History, Military