Why They Raped, Pillaged, and Plundered: General Sherman’s Professed Hatred of Self Government
By Thomas DiLorenzo
December 4, 2014
November and December of this year mark the 150th anniversary of General William Tecumseh Sherman’s famous “march to the sea” at the end of the War to Prevent Southern Independence. The Lincoln cult – especially its hyper-warmongering neocon branch – has been holding conferences, celebrations, and commemorations while continuing to rewrite history to suit its statist biases. Business as usual, in other words. But they are not the only ones writing about the event. Historian Karen Stokes has published South Carolina Civilians in Sherman’s Path: Stories of Courage Amid Civil War Destruction that contains a great deal of very telling information about Sherman’s motivation in waging total war on the civilian population of South Carolina.
Stokes begins by quoting a letter that Sherman wrote to General Henry Halleck shortly before invading all-but-defenseless South Carolina: “[T]he whole army is burning with an insatiable desire to wreak vengeance upon South Carolina.” In another message a few weeks later, Sherman reiterated to Halleck that “The whole army is crazy to be turned loose in [South] Carolina.”
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A New York newspaperman who was “embedded” with Sherman’s army (to use a contemporary term) wrote that “There can be no denial of the assertion that the feeling among the troops was one of extreme bitterness towards the people of the State of South Carolina.” The Philadelphia Inquirer cheered on as Sherman’s army raped, pillaged, burned, and plundered through the state, calling South Carolina “that accursed hotbed of treason.”
In a January 31, 1864 letter to Major R.M. Sawyer, Sherman explained the reason why he hated the South in general, and South Carolina in particular, so much. The war, he said “was the result of a false political doctrine that any and every people have a right to self-government.” In the same letter Sherman referred to states’ rights, freedom of conscience, and freedom of the press as “trash” that had “deluded the Southern people into war.”
Sherman’s subordinates expressed similar opinions. In 1865 Major George W. Nichols published a book about his exploits during Sherman’s “march” in which he describing South Carolinians as “the scum, the lower dregs of civilization” who are “not Americans; they are merely South Carolinians.” General Carl Schurz is quoted by Stokes as remarking that “South Carolina – the state which was looked upon by the Northern soldier as the principal instigator” of the war was “deserving of special punishment.”
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All of this is so telling because it reveals that neither Sherman, nor his subordinate officers, nor the average “soldier” in his army, were motivated by anything having to do with slavery. South Carolina suffered more than any other state at the hands of Sherman’s raping, looting, plundering, murdering, and house-burning army because that is where the secession movement started. It was NOT because there were more slaves there than in other states, or because of anything else related to slavery. It was because South Carolinians, even more than other Southerners, did not believe in uncompromising obedience to the central state.