General Sherman’s Christmas, Savannah, 1864

My brother sent me this book, and he knew I would be interested in the content. It describes the march across Georgia after Atlanta fell to Sherman’s army. I should mention there is family interest before I book. Elijah Tilton was married to one of a Brooke sister who was an aunt of our grandmother. Elijah was a member of the 92nd Illinois mounted infantry and part of Sherman’s army when it was advancing on Atlanta. Two of his sons, George William and Cornelius (or Commodore) and two other Tiltons, Orrin and Alfonso, were also part of the unit. The unit was assigned to the reckless and not very admirable General Kilpatrick on May 7, 1864 (according to Elijah Tilton’s diary for that year), and “Lil Kil” is a central figure of the book. I don’t recall any of the incidents mentioning Kilpatrick that were complimentary. Elijah never mentions weapons except for hearing cannons fire, but his unit was one of those issued the Spencer rifles, which are mentioned in the book.

Elijah died of dysentery on October 6, 1864 (more soldiers died of disease than from combat) but his sons and the other relatives were there for the fall of Atlanta. We lose the family connection with the book when the surviving Tiltons were assigned to the forces heading for Tennessee when General Sherman prepares to begin his march across Georgia. They were therefore part of the army commanded by George H Thomas that defeated John Bell Hood at Nashville December 15-18, 1864. It was undoubtedly chance that sent those ancestors into Tennnessee instead of into Georgia and eventually South Carolina. However, that might make the book easier to accept by our son and his family who live in Fort Mill, South Carolina and his in-laws who live in Columbia. Sherman quite unpopular in South Carolina.

I’ll begin my review after that lengthy introduction. The book by Stanley Weintraub provides details of Sherman’s army marching across Georgia to Savannah in late 1864. The destination was a secret when the march began, but it wasn’t a particularly well-kept secret. The plan was to make “Georgia howl,” by destroying anything that could support the Confederate war effort. Railroads were ripped up and the rails twisted around trees in “Sherman’s bowties.” Most of the livestock was taken along with the stores of food necessary to feed 60,000 marching soldiers. Baled cotton and mills were burned along with homes of those who dared to show open allegiance to the Confederacy or their revulsion toward the Union. One woman who unwisely spit at a soldier had her home burned. One woman told a captain “Our men will fight you as long as they live and then these boys (her sons) will fight you when they grow up.” A man was quoted as saying war wouldn’t end until all the men and women were killed, and “…it won’t be ended then, for we’ll come back as ghosts to haunt you.”

There were many accusations that Sherman’s “bummers” were harsh to the citizens they encountered. There is no doubt there was significant thievery, because the route of march became littered with all manner of abandoned loot. There were accusations of rape and murder, although the author believes there were more accusations than actual outrages. Sherman’s men came across emaciated men dressed in rags from the Andersonville prison, and that undoubtedly gave some of them reason to behave in anger. The army came across an abandoned prisoner of war site at Millen that had no shelters and no water. There were burrows where the prisoners had lived and a large burial ground. One officer wrote that what he saw gave him a “…renewed feeling of hardness toward the Confederacy.”

Sherman and his troops marched 300 miles in twenty-four days. Most of the casualties were in a single a battle at Fort McCallister, There were more than two hundred listed as missing and presumed dead. Most of those were “bummers” who did the foraging.

Sherman would write about the accusations issued against his men that they had been, “A little loose in foraging, they did some things they ought not to have done, yet on the whole they have supplied the wants of the army with as little violence as could be expected…”  An order was issued ordering that anyone pillaging or burning a home without being ordered to do so would be shot, but none of the soldiers were charged with those crimes.

One controversial event was that Sherman ordered prisoners of war to move in front of the column with shovels searching for “torpedos” (mines) after one exploded and tore the right foot off an officer.

With a few exceptions the army did not meet much organized resistance. They seldom came across a farm, plantation, or town that hadn’t been deserted by men. They were greeted as liberators by blacks, and thousands of the freed slaves joined in the march. Sherman was said to not think highly of blacks, and tried on several occasions to convince the followers to go back. The author observes that they required rations and slowed the movement of the army. One sad event was that the army pulled the pontoon bridge from a river they had crossed, which stranded the thousands of blacks. Some tried to swim the river despite the fact they couldn’t swim. Some union soldiers tried to push logs to them for rescue, and many were disturbed by what happened. Most of the blacks were left to be recaptured by Confederate soldiers and a very uncertain fate.

There were also acts of kindness. Two girls estimated to be three and five were found in an abandoned home dressed in burlap bags with holes cut for their heads and arms. They were fed, bathed, clothed, and taken along by the army. They eventually found their way to homes in the North after being transported there by soldiers who had been released from duty after their enlistments had ended. Women often welcomed officers into their homes, because they had undoubtedly heard the stories about what had happened to others earlier in the march.

Sherman’s army did begin to run low on provisions as they approached Savannah, and there was concern that the only path to the city was on narrow causeways through the swamps. However, the confederates decided not to defend the city and pulled out during the night over a makeshift bridge. The action is said to have kept Savannah “…relatively safe from the destruction wreaked upon other cities visited by Sherman’s marchers through Georgia.” Sherman telegraphed, “To His Excellency President Lincoln, Washington, D.C.: I beg to present you as a Christmas-gift the city of Savannah…”

To Die In Chicago, Confederate Prisoners at Camp Douglas 1862-1865

I recently reviewed “Andersonville Journey,” about the Union prisoners of war held at that “death camp,” and decided I should read about treatment of Confederate prisoners of war. The book by George Levy provides a wealth of information about Camp Douglas, named after a deceased Senator Stephen Douglas, but it is certainly not fun to read. The occasional quotes from prisoners are interesting. I was much less interested in the discussions of budgeting, construction, sanitation, security, and command and control. Chapter 15 is titled “Social Life Among the Prisoners,” and that sounded interesting. The chapter begins with discussions of scurvy, reinforcing the stockade, the commandant, organization of the fire department, favoritism among prisoners, the water supply to the bath houses and for flushing the sinks (latrines), deaths from freezing, the value of tobacco, sadistic guards and punishments, numbers of new arrivals, prisoner of war Confederate General Beall arranging the sale of cotton (the North needed cotton and the South needed money), and meal cooking arrangements. The social activities of the prisoners are discussed in a few short paragraphs (including arts, crafts, gambling, and entertainment) fifteen pages into the chapter.

The camp was constructed to house Union units being trained to fight in the Civil War, so there were decent barracks and other facilities. Supplies of food were often described as at least adequate, and sutlers sold fruits, vegetables, and other supplies to the prisoners. Occasionally the commandants would cut that off, and prisoners would develop scurvy. By comparison, Andersonville was a stockade with no shelter, didn’t have an adequate water supply, didn’t have a way to dispose of wastes, and food supplies were grossly inadequate for both prisoners and guards. The only advantage prisoners had at Andersonville was that they didn’t have to contend with the winter cold. Like Andersonville, Douglas was a serious mistake because of the unanticipated numbers of prisoners, parolees (Union prisoners exchanged for Confederates), guards, and soldiers in the many units that used the place. The early days of the camp were marked by a lack of discipline. There were 1037 men court martialed between January and August 1862 for drunkenness, insubordination, fighting, theft, destruction of property, desertion, shooting an officer, and “…playing cards with prisoners.”  Continue reading

Killing Lincoln, the Shocking Assassination that Changed America Forever

This book by Bill O’Reilly and Martin Dugard (tell people the second author if you don’t want to admit reading a book by O’Reilly) have written an excellent book. The Prologue begins with Lincoln’s oath of office for his second term. Andrew Johnson gave a drunken speech followed by Lincoln appealing for reunification. He said, “With malice toward none and charity for all…to bind up the nation’s wounds, to do all which may achieve and cherish a just and lasting peace…” John Wilkes Booth was standing only a few feet from Lincoln. He actually lunged at Lincoln, was restrained by Officer John Westfall, and explains he stumbled.

Lincoln was on the decks of the steamboat River Queen about four weeks later watching “the rolling thunder of heavy metal” as Union artillery pounded the Confederate defenses at Petersburg. The book elegantly describes the horrors of war as the Union Army works to drive Lee and the Confederates out of Petersburg after a long and brutal siege. Lee abandons the city and begins a retreat with Grant’s huge army in pursuit. There is a description of Lincoln riding through what had just recently been a battlefield “…littered with hundreds of dead soldiers, their unburied bodies swollen by death, and sometimes stripped bare by scavengers.” Continue reading

Andersonville Journey, The Civil War’s Greatest Tragedy

Any book on this subject is disturbing, and this one is no exception. Much of the book is about the commandant of the horrid prison where Union prisoners of war died by the thousands. Captain Henry Wirz was tried and executed after the war after a sham trial. The story of the prison is a disgrace as evidenced by the nearly 13,000 marble headstones nearly touching one another at the Andersonville National Historic Site. There were more than 33,000 prisoners of war crowded into the eighteen acre filthy log stockade with no shelter. The men made tents out of anything they could find. Some dug caves in the red clay. The only water for the first several months was an inadequate stream. The rations consisted mostly of corn ground with the cobs and shucks to give it bulk and rancid raw pork. The same food was issued to Confederate guards, since Confederate law required that prisoners and soldiers would be given the same rations.

Henry Wirz was born in Switzerland Heinrich Hartman Wirz. He “got in over his head” in some financial deals, was convicted of the crime of being in debt, and was exiled by the Swiss government. He immigrated to America, changed his name to Henry, and worked in a variety of jobs. He worked for a doctor for a time and learned enough about health care to move to Kentucky and opened a practice as a homeopathic physician. When the Civil War began he enlisted as a private in a Louisiana Confederate infantry unit. He was a sergeant by the time he fought at the Battle of Seven Pines and was wounded by minie balls in his right arm and shoulder. He was commissioned as a captain and was assigned to a variety of administrative duties. He was assigned to Andersonville in March 1864. Continue reading