History and Historiography

War Crimes Committed by the Union

One thing that the supposedly anti-imperialist left has never come to terms with is that the Civil War was the cornerstone of the building of the American empire.

By Stratton J. Davis

While being perhaps the most famous war in America History, the Civil War is one of the most misunderstood conflicts in all of history. Specifically, the view of the Union is that they were virtuous heroes who fought to free enslaved men. This could not be farther from the truth; the Civil War was fought to preserve the union. More importantly, the Union army gave birth to the barbaric military tactics that have been used by the Nazis, the Red Army and the American military. They attacked private property, economic strongholds, and left the fear of rape in women throughout the South forever. To start, Lincoln was already launching a war of aggression when he started the Civil War. The The10th Amendment of the US Constitution is concerned with States Rights, and one of which was the right to secede. However, the corruption of Lincoln and the war crimes birthed by the Union army is more layered than this.

When the war did not end as soon as predicted, Lincoln changed the military strategy to abandon all international law and the Union’s own military code to wage war on Southern citizens. By December of 1864, when Sherman’s infamous March to the Sea would occur, this military strategy would almost totally violate the first Geneva Convention’s(which took place in August of that same year) international policy which is defined as “the basis on which rest the rules of international law for the protection of the victims of armed conflicts.”Preceding all of this, US politicians and military officers had also adhered to The Law of nations, which was published in 1798 by Swiss jurist Emmerich de Vattel. These were based upon the classical morals and customs of nations all across the world, assuming that these were to be respected by all people. Vattel argued that only soldiers were to fight and be fought against in conflicts and that innocents were to be left out of the way of the mayhem of war. Along with this, cadets at West Point were taught by attorney Henry Halleck who wrote International Law. This text, which was very similar to Vattel’s work and his sentiments, was taught to West Point cadets who would later go on to be Union and Confederate generals. Halleck would not only argue that it was wrong for armies to target civilians,  he would also argue that it was wrong to target their property. Halleck would later go on to be appointed as general in chief of the Union armies in 1862.

Lincoln, who was very close to his generals and is noted as being a great micromanager of the war, would issue an order in 1863 that would go against the texts of both Law of Nations and International Law and would later violate the policies set forth by the first Geneva Convention. This order, known as the Lieber Code, gave the Union army permission to wage war on citizens in the south. Knowing that Lincoln was close to all his generals, and knowing what most of these union generals had been taught at West Point, it is almost certain that both Lincoln and the men who lead the Union army knew that they were committing war crimes. Before Sherman’s March, the Union had already committed systematic bombardments of several southern cities. These included cities such as; Vicksburg, Mississippi where the army would destroy farms in order to induce the destruction of the Southern economy; Jackson, Mississippi, where the city and surrounding plantations were sacked and citizens were held at gunpoint byUnion soldiers; and Randolph, Tennessee, where the city was burned because of Sherman’s anger at not being able to gather Confederate prisoners of war.

Sherman would later write to Halleck about what happened in Randolph saying he had decided to “hold the neighborhood fully responsible” for this inability to capture POWs and stated that “all the people are now guerrillas.”During Sherman’s March to the Sea, it would be more of the same. A Miss Andrews would write-in her diary about how after the march, the land had been sacked and stripped “from Sparta to Gordon.” Emma LeConte would write about how she noticed Union soldiers were equipped with tools such as matches, crowbars, and other items that would help them raid cities before they would burn them down saying, “They were fully equipped for the noble work they had in hand. Each soldier was furnished with combustibles compactly put up. They would enter houses and in the presence of helpless women and children, pour turpentine on the beds, and set them on fire.”She also noted that when the people of these cities had tried to put out these fires, the Union soldiers cut their fire hoses.

While there are not many historical records of Union soldiers raping Southern women, many eyewitness accounts from the time, both from Union soldiers and Southern civilians, claim that rape was popular amongst the Union soldiers, and that slave women were the victims most of the time. However, in this regard, this is not something either side is innocent of. Confederate records of war crimes specifically about rape were destroyed. The Union seemed to have tried their best to stop rape and punish it when they could but knowing how humans behave in groups or how humans are under the commands of another, it is likely that most cases went unreported. Many historians, most notably Eric Foner, have tried to downplay this part of the war as a way to keep Lincoln’s image as president as clean as possible.

What these personal records of Southern civilians, as well as men who were vital to the Union’s cause, show is that not only did these things happen but that Lincoln knowingly went against policies and codes that protected citizens in times of war. Not only does this reveal Lincoln as a war criminal, but it also casts a shadow over the legacies of Union generals and their soldiers, since they complied with orders that violated the sovereignty of these policies, as well as ruin the potential economic prosperity and morale of the societies of the Southern people. While the South was not totally innocent and their institution of slavery was abhorrent, most confederate soldiers and civilians did not own slaves.

Regardless of the issue of slavery, no civilians or their ways of life should be targeted by militaries of any sort, for any reason. While slavery was an issue that plagued America and robbed black Americans of their natural rights, these war crimes affected both innocent slaves and innocent southerners. The aftermath of the terrible actions that the Union participated in would hinder the South for a long time and was the main reason for the animosity and suffering in the South during the Reconstruction era. The animosity which helped birth villainous gangs such as the Klu Klux Klan, the implementation of Jim Crow laws, and induced horrible racial relations throughout all of America.

Lincoln is not the man who fought for the rights of Americans like we were taught he was in government schools. Rather, Lincoln is the father of the barbaric war tactics of which the most totalitarian states and their militaries have favored. Works CitedDiLorenzo, Thomas J. The Real Lincoln: A New Look at Abraham Lincoln, His Agenda, and an Unnecessary War. Roseville, Calif: Forum, 2002. Print.Fellman, Michael. The Memoirs of General W.T. Sherman. New York: Penguin Books, 2000.Print.Kennett, Lee. Marching Through Georgia: The Story of Soldiers and Civilians during Sherman’sCampaign. New York: Harper-Collins, 1995. Print.Schenk Miers, Earl. When the World Ended: The Diary of Emma LeConte. Lincoln, Nebraska: University of Nebraska Press, 1987. Print.Grimsley, Mark. The Hard Hand of War: Union Military Policy toward Southern Civilians,1861-1865. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1995. Print

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