Most people know about the atrocities committed by General William Tecumseh Sherman’s army in his March to the Sea in Georgia. Vietnam veteran Walter Cicso, a retired captain in the South Carolina State Guard, shines a light on other atrocities committed against civilians by Federal soldiers in his book about Civil War-era war crimes.
Much of War Crimes Against Southern Civilians tells the stories of what General Sherman’s soldiers did, not only in Georgia, but in Tennessee, Mississippi, and South and North Carolina. Sherman and his superiors, General Ulysses S. Grant and President Abraham Lincoln, decided it was not enough to fight Confederate soldiers; they needed to punish civilians for supporting the Confederacy. These civilians, though, were not always secessionists; some were Unionists who were punished for the South’s rebellion, too. Many Federal soldiers did not care what side they were on, destroying and plundering all civilian properties. Some soldiers were in truth thieves and murderers, and this was the North’s new method of warfare. They wanted to terrorize the civilians into forcing their army to surrender, and for them to stop supporting the cause.
Cisco tells of General Benjamin Butler’s corrupt and abusive rule of New Orleans (he was eventually re-assigned); his brother was also involved in some of the corruption. Cisco also relates the story of the pillaging of Fredericksburg by the Federal Army - soldiers stole books, pianos, dresses, other musical instruments and other items, though many things were simply destroyed. African-Americans were not immune to abuse and murder. Many Federal soldiers did not fight the Civil War to free blacks from slavery; many actually opposed that idea. Some slaves would follow a Union Army trying to escape but were sometimes driven away and forced back into slavery or died trying to escape.
Some in the Confederate Army wanted to repay the North for the atrocities committed against their civilians, but General Robert E. Lee would not allow it. He wanted his soldiers to remain civilized and not lower themselves to barbaric atrocities. Still, some atrocities were committed, as in General Jubal Early’s raid on Pennsylvania. The North’s revised method of warfare attacking civilians did work and ended the Civil War sooner, but the atrocities remained in the minds and history of Southerners for long after. Reconstruction after the war did nothing to relieve many of these memories.
Cisco’s narrative is very interesting to read. It is not dry at all, and the chapters are fairly brief. Included are quite clear photographs from the period, drawings, endnotes and an index.
Walter Brian Cisco is the author of articles in journals like Confederate Veteran, Civil War, and Southern Partisan. He is also the author of Wade Hampton: Confederate Warrior, Conservative Statesman (2004), Henry Timrod: A Biography (2004), Taking a Stand: Portraits from the Southern Secession Movement (2000), and States Rights Gist: A South Carolina General of the Civil War (1991). War Crimes Against Southern Civilians is recommended to Civil War enthusiasts interested in what happened to civilians during the War.