The Mad Passions of Men

Fri Jul 18 10:59:44 2008

“Could a researcher interpret Sherman’s words to mean anything other than his intention to “bring home the war” to the citizens of Atlanta?”

The whole idea seems rather strange to me. I do not get any impression of Sherman’s intent to bring home the war to the citizens of Atlanta. William Tecumseh Sherman’s letter of September 12, 1864 (Sherman, Memoirs, p. 493-5) strikes me as an amazing example of humanitarian restraint in the midst of a bitter military conflict.

Sherman begins that letter saying that “the use of Atlanta for warlike purposes is inconsistent with its character as a home for families.” His argument is that Atlanta is important for the confederate war effort and those industries and persons must stop supporting the rebellion or be destroyed. As the city will need to be the scene of destructive military action he wishes to remove all those who do not wish to be involved in war. He attempts to remove them before the combat operations begin, “when all the arrangements are completed for transfer, instead of waiting till the plunging shot of contending armies will renew.” He understands that “these terrible hardships of war” are inevitable and acts to limit their effect on civilians. The hardship of a refugee, while unfortunate, is clearly preferable to the hardship of ‘collateral damage.’ He his objective is clearly military and that includes all industry that supplies the war effort. It does not include “your negroes, or your horses, or your houses, or your lands, or any thing you have” but may well include “the destruction of your improvements.” His concluding sentences remind me of moments in Shakespeare or The Iliad because of its eloquence, pathos and humanity. “When peace does come, you may call on me for any thing. Then I will share with you the last cracker, and watch with you to shield your homes and families against danger from any quarter. Now you must go, and take with you the old and feeble, feed and nurse them, and build for them, in more quiet places, proper habitations to shield them against the weather until the mad passions of men cool down…”

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~ by severalfourmany on July 18, 2008.

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