Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Sherman's March to the Sea

The fall of Atlanta marked the end of William Tecumseh Sherman's Atlanta Campaign. He had achieved his objective of capturing one of the South's most important cities, which likely had a significant impact on Abraham Lincoln's reelection as president. The defeated Confederate army did not long sit idle. The aggressive John Bell Hood was soon pressing north into Tennessee. He hoped that by threatening Sherman's supply line, he would force the northern invaders to retreat. Sherman, however, decided to ignore him. George Thomas was commanding in Tennessee, and he left him to deal with Hood.

Instead Sherman would press further south. Sherman believed that war was a terrible thing for both sides. He thought it was his duty to do whatever it took to end it as quickly as possible. No matter the short term suffering it would cause the southerners, it would be justified if it would shorten the war. As he had written to the citizens of Atlanta back in September, “War is cruelty, and you cannot refine it....” His plan was to march from Georgia to the Atlantic Ocean, destroying crops, livestock, and any buildings that would be of use to the Confederacy, and more importantly, breaking the civilians' desire to continue fighting. “I can make the march,” Sherman telegraphed Grant, “and make Georgia howl.”

Union Station in Atlanta, destroyed by Federal troops
The Union army set off from Atlanta on November 15th. Behind them the city burned. It was a fit beginning to the campaign. Sherman's orders were that structures of military use to the Confederates, like the railroad, be destroyed. None the less, the soldiers lit far more than that, and around half the town burned down. As Sherman told one of his staff officers, “Can't save it. … Set as many guards as you please, [the men] will slip it and set fire.” Although his men were officially violating orders, Sherman did not punish the violators. Instead he praised them in his report, writing, “We quietly and deliberately destroyed Atlanta....” 

Union soldiers destroying the railroad in Atlanta
In Sherman's Special Field Orders No. 120, he gave strict rules for the conduct of his men on the march. They were to “forage liberally on the country,” but not to enter homes of civilians. Horses, cattle and other animals could be taken from the population. Buildings were only to be destroyed under orders from the corps commanders, and then only if guerillas operated in the area. The reality was somewhat different. With foraging parties ranging widely, it would have been difficult for the officers to keep the men in check even if they had desired. Sherman's goal for the march was to break the Georgians' will to fight, and if his men sometimes burnt the people's houses, that worked perfectly for his purposes. 

By the end of the march the Union army captured 5,000 horses, 4,000 mules and 13,000 cattle, and captured or destroyed 9.5 million pounds of corn and large amounts of other provisions. Sherman estimated that he had done $100 million worth of damage to the Confederate war effort, almost $1.5 billion in today's money. Also destroyed were the railroads, and many mills, houses and barns. Although there was widespread destruction of the civilian's property, it was not complete destruction. Many houses in the wake of his army did escape the torch. As the Yankees marched across Georgia, a crowd of hundreds of escaped slaves followed behind, seeing the Union army as leading them to freedom.

No Civil War era civilian would ever want an army to come through his property. Even when a well behaved army was marching through their home territory, they would often trample crops, burn the split-rail fences for warmth, and maybe butcher some chickens for dinner. Intentional destruction of civilian property was also not unheard of. Jubal Early's Confederate army burnt much of Chambersburg, Pennsylvania on July 30, 1864, when they did not pay the ransom he demanded. But what was different about Sherman was how intentional he was about the destruction. As he told Henry Halleck after the march:
We are not only fighting armies, but a hostile people, and must make old and young, rich and poor, feel the hard hand of war, as well as their organized armies. I know that this recent movement of mine through Georgia has had a wonderful effect in this respect. Thousands who had been deceived by their lying papers into the belief that we were being whipped all the time, realized the truth, and have no appetite for a repetition of the same experience.
Sherman's goal was to make war on civilians, and bring the cost home to their doorsteps. In this he had some success. Many soldiers from Georgia worried about what would happen to their families while they were away, and doubtless the March to the Sea caused some increase in desertion rates from the southern armies. In this way Sherman's march set the stage for the total war of the 20th century. He was one of the American commanders during the war who most clearly recognized the importance of support from the home front for maintaining the war effort, and was willing to take whatever actions necessary to break that resolve. 

Saturday, November 8, 2014

Election of 1864

Throughout Lincoln's term as president there was significant resistance to him in the north. On one side there were the Radical Republicans who did not think Lincoln was firm enough on the issue of slavery, and on the other were the Democrats, some of whom even wanted immediate peace with the south. As the election of 1864 approached, it was clear that there would be obstacles in Lincoln's path for reelection. By the time of the election, the war had stretched on for nearly four bloody years, and there were many who did not think Lincoln was the man to end it.

Frémont's campaign poster
Early in the year Lincoln foiled plans from Salmon P. Chase, his Secretary of the Treasury, to become president. The Radical Republicans did nominate a candidate. At a convention in May, the “Radical Democrats,” as they called themselves, chose John C. Frémont, a former Union general. Frémont accepted the nomination, but offered to resign if Lincoln did not run for reelection. Lincoln did run, but Frémont dropped out anyway, in exchange for the resignation of Postmaster General Montgomery Blair, a Democrat.
Lincoln and Johnson
Lincoln did not run again as a Republican. Instead his supporters held the National Union Convention, an alliance of the Republicans with some War Democrats. The idea was that they were putting aside politics, and instead focusing on winning the war. To strengthen the coalition, vice president Hannibal Hamlin, a Republican, was replaced with Andrew Johnson, the military governor of Tennessee and a Democrat.

The Democrats also ran a candidate, but their party was badly divided. Some wanted to continue fighting the war until the Union was reestablished, others wanted an immediate negotiated peace. This strife was evident in the results of the convention, held in Chicago. They nominated George B. McClellan, the general, for president, and George Pendleton, Representative from Ohio, for vice-president. The party platform was anti war, calling for immediate cessation of hostilities. But they had nominated McClellan, who was continuing the war.
Cartoon of McClellan
The division among the Democrats caused confusion in the advertising and propaganda during the campaign. The Republicans argued that McClellan's election would mean armistice, peace and despotism. Their motto was “Don't change horses in the middle of a stream,” trying to win the support of War Democrats so Lincoln could win the war. Early in the year, Lincoln did not believe that he could win reelection, and hoped to win the war before he would turn over the presidency. By November, the tide had turned. With the fall of Atlanta in September it seemed that the Union was winning battles, and that ultimate victory was in site.

Republican campaign poster
Although as the election approached things were looking up for Republicans, it was still far from a sure thing. Republicans worked to get Nevada's statehood approved at the eleventh hour, as they believed those votes would go to Lincoln. Congress had voted to allow Nevada to join back in March, along with Colorado and Nebraska, but before statehood could be finalized they needed to receive state constitutions adopted by popular conventions. Nebraska voted against becoming a state and Colorado did not adopt a Constitution. Nevada, however, passed a constitution, but the copies they sent to Washington did not arrive. Finally the governor decided to telegraph the constitution to Washington. It took two days to send the more than 16,000 words. This was the longest telegraph sent up to that point. The bill for the telegraph was $4,303.27 - more than $63,000 today. With the constitution sent in, Nevada was admitted to the Union on October 31. Just a week later, Lincoln carried the state in the election.

The election was held on November 8th, 150 years ago today. In an era before electronic vote counting or instant communication, election results could take weeks or months to arrive. But by the night of November 8th, enough counts had come in to be pretty certain that Lincoln would be reelected. The result turned out to be a Lincoln landslide. He won 212 electoral votes to McClellan's 21, loosing only New Jersey and Kentucky. The popular vote was significantly closer, with Lincoln winning 55% to McClellan's 45%. The Republicans also increased their majority in both the House and Senate. The voters had approved Lincoln's conduct of the war.

Late at night Lincoln gave a speech from the White House to a group of Pennsylvanians who were serenading him with a band. He said:
[A]ll who nave labored to-day in behalf of the Union organization have wrought for the best interests of their country and the world, not only for the present, but for all future ages. I am thankful to God for this approval of the people. … I do not impugn the motives of any one opposed to me. It is no pleasure to me to triumph over any one; but I give thanks to the Almighty for this evidence of the people's resolution to stand or free government and the rights of humanity.
Lincoln in 1864