by Al Benson Jr.
Member, Board of Directors, Confederate Society of America
Clifford Dowdey, in his book The History of the Confederacy 1832-1865 had some commentary about the subject of this article, Philip H. Sheridan and it was not particularly complementary. Mr. Dowdey noted of Sheridan that he “…was an undersized man (five feet three) with an oversized head, in all ways…But Grant perceived in the man a quality he wanted in his all-out, no-holds-barred war of total conquest. The Sheridans, Milroys, and Hunters had a different kind of arrogance from the neo-princelings of the Cotton South. They had the arrogance of unrestrained might. Without regard for rights–of belligerants or fellow citizens or even of the so-called ‘human rights,’ let alone of the Union–these bully boys had a lust for physical violence and wanton destruction.”
In other words, Sheridan and Sherman and others of their ilk were going to wage total, unrestrained war on the South, both on civilians as well as soldiers, not because it was right, but because they could do it and get away with it. He noted all this on page 321 of the above mentioned book.
He also wrote another book, somewhat in the same vein, called Lee’s Last Campaign which was the story of Lee’s 1864 campaign against Grant. Both were excellent books and I recommend them if they are still available. In this book he also commented about Sheridan. On page 219 he said:: “Only recently promoted from command of an infantry division, Sheridan saw in his weaker opponent (Stuart) the opportunity both for advancement and for the expression of his pugnacious assertiveness. Of him it could never be said, ‘It’s how the game is played that counts.’ Winning was everything to him; he wanted to beat people, to dominate by will or authority or physical force. A bully-boy with the weapons and sanction of power behind him, he personally hated Southerners of a privileged background.” He probably hated most other Southerners too.
During the Indian Wars of the late 1860s and 1870s he commented that “the only good Indian is a dead Indian.” So he must have hated the Indians too, and he certainly could not claim they were privileged Southerners. So Sheridan was not only jealous, but he was a bully in the bargain. So let’s don’t “be nice” to him and try to pass over these attributes of his. He was what he was, unattractive as it was. The man got his kicks pushing people who could not always fight back around.
Awhile back I came across an article by James Bovard that was published on February 2, 2015 on http://www.militaryhistory.com called Sheridan’s Scorched Earth Campaign–The Union Army’s Forgotten War Crime. Mr. Bovard observed, of the War of Northern Aggression that “While popular historians have recently canonized the war as a veritable holy crusade to free the slaves, in reality civilians were intentionally targeted and brutalized, particularly in the final year of the conflict. The most dramatic forgotten atrocity of the Civil War occurred a little more than 150 years ago when Union General Philip Sheridan laid waste to a hundred mile swath of the Shenandoah Valley leaving vast numbers of women and children at risk of starvation. Surprisingly, this scorched earth campaign has been largely forgotten, foreshadowing how subsequent brutal military operations would also vanish into the Memory Hole…Grant ordered Sheridan to ‘do all the damage to railroads and crops you can…if the war is to last another year, we want the Shenandoah Valley to remain a barren waste.’ Sheridan set to the task with vehemence, declaring that ‘the people must be left nothing but their eyes to weep with over the war’ and promised that, when he was finished, the valley, ‘from Winchester to Staunton will have little in it for man or beast’.” To put it bluntly, he planned on starving out the civilian population, as the war effort left almost no one else there except for whatever armies came through.
And because those civilians lived in a state that had legitimately seceded from the glorious Union “Sheridan acted as if they had automatically forfeited their property, if not their very lives.” To be fair, not all the Union soldiers were totally on board with what went on. Bovard noted that “An Ohio major wrote in his diary that the burning ‘does not seem real soldierly work. We ought to enlist a force of scoundrels for such work.’…After one of Sheridan’s favourite aides was shot by Confederate soldiers, the general ordered his troops to burn all houses within a five mile radius. After many outlying dwellings had been torched, the small town at the center–Dayton– was spared only after one Federal officer outright disobeyed Sheridan’s order.”
So it seems that, after three years of a war that the Union had not been able to win the Lincoln administration finally decided to adopt the principle of total war to “scourge the South into submission.” And about the same time, Sherida’s fellow bully-boy, Sherman, was spouting about “repopulating Georgia, but only after a “certain class of people–men, women and children” were killed or banishet. No war crimes to see here, folks, just move along–and make sure you buy all those books by Northern “historians” that tell you the war was all about slavery.
Bovard noted that the “carnage inflicted by Sheridan, Sherman, and other Northern commanders made the South’s post-war recovery far slower and multiplied the misery of both white and black survivors.”
Bovard ended his article with a warning for us today. He said: “Since 1864, no prudent American should have expected this nation’s wars to have happy or uplifting endings. Unfortunately, as long as the spotlight is kept off atrocities, most citizens will continue to underestimate the odds that wars will spawn debacles and injustices that return to haunt us.”
And as for wars subsequent to the War of Northern Aggression, with their atrocities being pushed down the Memory Hole, I would recommend the Kennedy Brothers recent book Yankee Empire published only last year by Shotwell Publishing in Columbia, South Carolina.
You have to wonder, with Sheridan’s utter disregard for private property, if he had any of those Forty-Eighter generals under his command that influenced his decision to torch everything in sight in the Shenandoah Valley. The war crimes against Southern civilians have never been treated to any great amount of attention. A couple excellent books have been written about them but they have never received any amount of official attention. We hear all this blather about reparations for slavery when all the slaves have been dead for almost a hundred years. What about reparations for Southern folks who had their property destroyed by the likes of Sheridan and Sherman and whose ancestors, many of them, faced starvation and privation because the Union armies destroyed literally everything they had?
At the risk of sounding negative–don’t hold your breath waiting for any of this to ever be dealt with.