Next up in March to the Sea Monday, Wayne Hsieh, coauthor of A Savage War, continues to share correspondence between Ulysses S. Grant and William T. Sherman as it happened approximately 150 years ago. The first post can be found here and the second, here. Follow along for an insider’s view of Sherman’s March to the Sea:
Historians now mostly agree that Sherman’s March to the Sea did not match the brutal and indiscriminate devastation propagated by Lost Cause ideologues, but it was hardly decorous. The following selections from wartime orders showed that despite official orders regarding the protection of civilians and the tight control of foraging, their recurrent reissue showed the degree to which Union commanders struggled to regulate foraging and the destruction of civilian property.
The first letter lays down Sherman’s official guidelines for foraging and destruction of civilian property:
Special Field Orders, No. 120, Headquarters Military Division of the Mississippi, Kingston, GA, November 9, 1864
IV. The will forage liberally on the country during the march. TO this end, each brigade commander will organize a good and sufficient foraging party, under the command of one or more discreet officers, who will gather, near the route traveled, corn or forage of any kind, meat of any kind, vegetables, corn=meal, or whatever is needed by the command . . . Soldiers must not enter the dwellings of the inhabitants, or commit any trespass . . .
V. To army corps commanders alone is intrusted the power to destroy mills, houses, cotton-gins, &c., and for them this general principle is laid down: In districts and neighborhoods where the army is unmolested no destruction of such property should be permitted; but should guerrillas or bushwhackers molest our march, or should the inhabitants burn bridges, obstruct roads, or otherwise manifest local hostility, then army commanders should order and enforce a devastation more or less relentless according to the measures of such hostility.
VI. As for horses, mules, wagons, &c., belonging to the inhabitants, the cavalry and artillery may appropriate freely and without limit, discriminating, however, between the rich, who are usually hostile, and the poor or industrious, usually neutral or friendly. . . . In all foraging, of whatever kind, the parties engaged will refrain from abusive or threatening language, and may, where the officer in command thinks proper, given written certificates of the facts, but no receipts, and they will endeavor to leave with each family a reasonable portion for their maintenance.
OR, Ser. 1, Vol. 39, Pt. 3, 713-14.
The following orders reiterating Sherman’s larger instructions showed the degree to which Union command struggled to control foraging—if the original orders had been followed, after all, there would have been no need to reiterate the same instructions:
General Orders No.25, Fourth Division, 17th Army Corps, November 17, 1864
IV. It is hoped and believed that both officers and men of this command will keep constantly in mind that we are not warring upon women and children. Foraging parties will take such articles as are needed for the health or subsistence of the men, but no houses will be entered by them, and all officers, guards, or soldiers are ordered shoot on the spot any person caught firing a building, or any other property, without orders.
OR, Ser. 1, Vol. 44, 482.
The following orders from O. O. Howard, commander of the Army of the Tennessee, the parent organization of the 17th Corps above, showed his dis-satisfaction with a lack of compliance to the orders above:
Special Field Orders No. 172, Headquarters Department and Army of the Tennessee, Hillsborough, GA, November 19, 1864
II. Corps commanders will prohibit their soldiers from entering houses, and enforce the order by severe penalties. More care must be taken in the selection of foragers. Many have been drunk and disorderly. Foraging for the different headquarters must be regulated. Division and brigade commanders will be required to be with their commands during the march.
OR, Ser. 1, Vol. 44, 493
In the following excerpt, one now sees another Army Corps in Howard’s command, the 15th, reiterating demands for compliance with orders on disciplined foraging—a clear indication that such dictates were being regularly violated:
Special Field Orders No. 177, Headquarters Fifteenth Army Corps, Clinton, GA, November 20, 1864
In publishing paragraph II, Special Field Orders, No. 172, from department headquarters, the attention of all officers commanding foraging parties is once again called to the importance of enforcing the very strictest discipline while on such duties. These parties must absolutely be conducted in obedience and in conformity to existing orders; when found guilty of violating the restrictions laid down in that order must be punished by the commanding officer. The fine imposed should not be less than the deduction of one month’s pay. Officers in charge of foraging parties who permit their men to straggle or commit unwarrantable acts must be reported to these headquarters, and their names will be sent forward for summary dismissal from service for incompetence, or failing to enforce discipline, and for disobedience of orders.
OR, Ser. 1, Vol. 44, 498.
Wayne Wei-siang Hsieh is associate professor of history at the United States Naval Academy. He is the author ofWest Pointers and the Civil War and coauthor with Williamson Murray of A Savage War.