Sheridan the War Criminal

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.

5 thoughts on “Sheridan the War Criminal

  1. Col. John Mosby who harassed Sheridan in the Vally but wanted to consign all evils of the war to oblivion whether real or imagined (real on the part of the South, imagined on the part of the North!) after the war, tried to bite his tongue about Sheridan, but eventually, he had to let the truth be known. In a lengthy article in the Richmond Times of February 10th, 1895, entitled “Sheridan’s Difficulties,” according to the paper, “Colonel John S. Mosby Tells of the Pure Wantonness of the Federal Commanders”:

    “After destroying all the wheat and corn in a country, to burn mills where there is nothing to grind is pure wantonness. All the barns were burned no matter whether there was forage in them or they were empty. The destruction of implements of husbandry to prevent the planting of crops simply because there is a possibility of their being useful to an enemy, can no more be justified than killing defenseless women and children. It is true that there is a chance that the crops that are allowed to be sown may be useful to the enemy; and it is equally true that if the war lasts long enough, as did the Thirty Years’ War, children may grow up, and women may become the mothers of soldiers. The injury inflicted is certain and permanent. There is only a possibility of its weakening the resources of the enemy; the benefit is too remote and contingent. The war did in fact, close before another crop could have been reaped in the Shenandoah Valley. I am judging by the principles that I wish myself to be judged.

    “In his Memoirs General Sheridan repudiates the humane maxims of Grotius and Vattel, and lays down an ethical code for the government of armies in war that abolishes all distinctions heretofore recognized between combatant and noncombatant enemies. If the United States should adopt it, then Napoleon’s saying, “Scratch a Russian (and) you will find a Tarter,” will not apply alone to the subjects of the Czar. In contrast with these pitiless doctrines that suggest the picture of the Infernal Court and “The iron tears that rain down Pluto’s cheek,” are the humane rules of international law as expounded by Professor Twiss, of Oxford, in his work on Rights and Duties in Time of War.

    “All damage, therefore, which is done to an enemy without any corresponding advantage accruing to the belligerent is an abuse of a natural right of the latter. Thus, indeed, a belligerent is entitled to capture all the property of an enemy which is calculated to enable him the better to carry on hostilities, and if he cannot carry it away conveniently, to destroy it. A belligerent, for example, may destroy all existing stores of provisions and forage, which he cannot conveniently carry away, and may even destroy the standing crops, in order to deprive his enemy of immediate subsistence, and so reduce him to surrender. But a belligerent will not be justified in cutting the olive trees and rooting up the vines; for that is to inflict desolation upon a country for many years to come, and the belligerent cannot derive any corresponding advantage therefrom. When the French armies desolated with fire and sword the Palatinate in 1674 and again in 1689, there was a general outcry throughout Europe against such a mode of carrying on war; and when the French Minister, Louvol, alleged that the object in view was to cover the French frontier against invasion from the enemy, the advantage which France derived from the act was universally held to be inadequate to the suffering inflicted, and the act itself to be, therefore, unjustifiable.

    “A belligerent prince who should, in the present day, without necessity, ravage an enemy’s country with fire and sword, and render it uninhabitable, in order to make it serve as a barrier against the advance of the enemy, would be justly regarded as a modern Attila.”

    John Singleton Mosby

    • AL,

      There is a facebook page Civil War on the MO-Ks border and yesterday the snarky local KU types were striking out at the Battleflag. I posted; “The biggest hate symbol is the Kansas JayhawK” and one person semi challenged me passive aggressively.

      I am slow but if we were to put the U.S. and their military at the point of 1860 forward they have a lot of very nasty habits of murder and plunder and more. The feds today and since have basically ruined the country. Not anything to like in all this. So they have to trash the people that stood up against them to stop it: US!.

      If the super patriotism US lovers had to lift the rug and look at their heritage verse ours it is very ugly. Like Sherman was a criminal.

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