The U.S. Flag

During Gen. Sherman’s infamous march to the sea, he cut a black swath 50 miles wide of destruction, stealing and burning. Sherman himself said he wanted to teach the Southerners a lesson. Gen. Sherman was nothing if not direct. Of course, his methods caused considerable resentment.

One of Sherman’s Corps Commanders, Maj.-Gen. Oliver O. Howard, a pious man, encountered his share of angry Southerners. In Savannah, one woman was seen to leave the sidewalk to walk in the muddy street, so as to avoid walking under the U.S. flag. The flag was hung above Howard’s headquarters. This act counted as defiance in occupied Savannah. A guard brought the woman before Gen. Howard.

The general told her he understood she had refused to walk under his flag. “I did,” the lady replied. “Am I not at liberty to walk in the sand if I prefer it to the sidewalk?”

“Yes, but you intentionally avoided my flag.” The general paused. “I’ll make you walk under it.”

“You cannot make me. You may have me carried under it, but then it will be your act, not mine.”

“I’ll send you to prison.”

“Send me if you will. I know you have the power.”

The general paused.

“I’ll have the flag hung in front of your door, so that you can’t go out without walking under it.”

“Then I’ll stay home and send the servants. They won’t mind.”

With that, Gen. Howard realized she had won.

Russell S. Bonds, War Like a Thunderbolt (Pennsylvania: Westholme Publ. 2009), p. 372

The Burning of Atlanta: Why Not?

In early November, 1864, Gen. William T. Sherman resolved to leave the confines of Atlanta and march to the sea. Before leaving, he would destroy what he believed were facilities that could be used by the Confederates to prosecute the war.


But, before burning Atlanta, he first burned small towns north of Atlanta. He started with Cassville, a small village. Cassville was accused of harboring Confederate raiders who had attacked the railroad and a Union wagon train. The First Ohio Volunteers arrived in the morning of Nov. 5 with orders to burn the town. The federals gave the residents 20 minutes to pack up and leave. The inhabitants, mostly women and children, huddled in the cemetery as the town was reduced to ashes. They never re-built.


Next up was Rome. As Brig.-Gen. Corse prepared to burn the town, a Union Colonel protested. Gen. Sherman replied, “You have known for ten days that Rome was to be evacuated and have no right to appeal to my humanity.”  The Federals proceeded to stack up dry goods boxes and trash in the stores and set fire. Soldiers with firebrands in their hands ran from designated places to undesignated place and simply burned them all, regardless of any pre-planning. The troops fired two flour mills, two tanneries, one salt mill, one foundry, machine shops, depots, and bales of cotton. They also fired several private homes. A livery stable caught fire and the horses within burned along with the rest. Sherman wired Gen. George H. Thomas, “Last night we burned Rome, and in two or more days we will burn Atlanta.”


The original plan in burning Atlanta was to burn certain designated places. A large steam mill was on the list. So were shops, houses, the courthouse, all around the central square, known as Five Points. A brand new major, Henry Hitchcock rode up to the general just as these buildings were burning, right under the general’s nose. Thinking this was not intended, Maj. Hitchcock saw a group of soldiers trying to save the courthouse.

“Twill burn down, sir,” Hitchcock said.

“Yes,” added Sherman. “Can’t be stopped.”

“Was it your intention?”

“Can’t save it. I’ve seen more of this than you,” said the general, sometimes known as Crazy Bill.

The general then added that soldiers just do these things. It can’t be stopped. “I say Jeff Davis burnt them.” Hitchcock then apologized, saying he was new. Gen. Sherman replied, “Well, I suppose I’ll have to bear it.”

In truth, the Federals had already damaged all the fire fighting equipment in the city and had already forced out all the fire fighters, along with the all the residents.

For the next few nights, Union soldiers went about firing private homes. One young resident, Carrie Berry, age nine, remained as one of the very families in the city. She recorded how frightened her family was each night when the soldiers would wander with firebrands in their hands. She said the soldiers said they would fire all the houses if they had to leave the place. The nights of Nov. 11 through 15, Carrie and her family suffered through some very long nights.

There’s No Help For It

After the war, Sherman insisted no private home in Atlanta was burned by his troops. He insisted only the burning of four buildings had been planned. But, certainly the destruction was monumental. Yes, mills, machine shops, depots, train car sheds were burned. But, also burned was every hotel, except the one in which Sherman had been staying. Most of the business area was burned, including shops, depots, mills, and warehouses. Four churches were burned to the ground, including the African Church. The theater and the concert hall were both burned. Every school and institute of higher learning was burned. Some 3,200 to 5,000 private homes were burned. Only 400 private homes were left standing. We know this because Pres. Davis sent a Georgia Militia colonel to complete an inventory of the destruction two weeks after the Federals left.

Sherman rationalized his tactics in the early days of his march to the sea. Against the pleas of a widow, he told Hitchcock, “I’ll have to harden my heart to these things. That poor woman today – how could I help her? There’s no help for it – the soldiers will take all she has. Jeff Davis is responsible for all this.”  See a picture of some of the destruction here.


Russell S. Bonds, War Like a Thunderbolt (Pennsylvania: Westholme Publ. 2009), p. 342-364

The Leadership of Robert E. Lee

There is no greater challenge than to lead men and now, women in combat. No situation, no office will call on a leader’s abilities more than combat. It is the supreme leadership test. A general can understand the squares and hash marks on a military map perfectly. Yet, if his men do not follow him, then he is not a combat leader. Leadership is the test. It is the crucible. One masterful leader was Robert E. Lee. How did he do it?

Lee was a modest man. Even at the height of his fame, he eschewed pomp and ceremony. One contemporary Southern newspaper noted at the time that Lee slept in an ambulance when he traveled. When he stayed in a tent in the field, it was never the “largest and best house in the neighborhood, as is the custom of some officers.” One contemporary Southern soldier noticed that when Gen. Lee rode about the battlefield, he made no notice of himself. He rode as quietly as a farmer would ride about his farm. He wore a generally modest uniform, lacking some of the indicia of his rank. He disdained the usual decorative gold braid on his sleeves.

This soldier was saying that Lee did not do what some senior officers would do, even today. Lee did not stop and correct a soldier’s uniform. He did not stop and fuss at men at work. He did not ride about with a retinue trailing behind him.

George S. Patton

Gen. George S. Patton’s leadership style was very different. Patton wore the three stars of a Lieutenant-General before he was entitled to the rank. As a newly appointed Corps Commander in North Africa, he installed a metal flag on his car with the three stars. Every other Corps Commander used the simple, government-issue cloth flag that would unfurl when the wind blew. But, government-issue was not good enough for Gorge Patton. He wanted a flag that would be visible even when the wind did not blow. So, he had a metal flag with the three stars fabricated for his scout car.  

Indeed, even in this author’s experience, I have known a few officers over the years who could not resist the urge to pin on early. Promotion orders are always issued a few months prior to the effective date. That means an officer will know a few months prior that he will be promoted. A few, perhaps very few, officers could not resist pinning on the new rank before that effective date.

In choosing a smaller tent, Lee knew what that meant for the Headquarters soldiers. No general would erect his own tent. Like today, most officers in the 1860’s did not erect their own tent. That chore fell to some harried enlisted men. That Lee eschewed the larger roomier tent reflects some consideration for the soldiers’ welfare. It is hot work erecting those darn tents. Soldiers notice those small things.


Gen. Lee understood a modern component of morale: appealing to the family. Whenever an officer brought his wife near enough for a visit, Lee insisted on being so informed. He would call on the wife of any officer who was in the area. This would usually occur in winter quarters or during a lull between campaigns. Lee made it known that he was to be informed when a wife was nearby for a visit.

Lee also gave pincushions to soldiers who were mentioned in battle dispatches. The highest honor the Confederate army could bestow was to be mentioned. The Confederate army did not award medals. The general would give a pincushion to the mentioned officer or soldier. In a time when all women sewed, Lee knew the pincushion was of little value to the husband. But, the wife would appreciate it. It was a small gesture, but doubtless one appreciated by many spouses.

Manual Labor

There is perhaps no more sensitive issue in any army than whether and to what extent officers perform manual labor. Generally, the more traditional the army, the less likely officers perform manual labor. Even today, many officers believe it beneath them to perform manual labor, even for a few minutes.

Soon after taking command of Confederate forces, Lee told his men they have to start digging entrenchments. Like the Duke of Wellington, he saw the value in hard labor. Lee said that to keep up with the Federal forces, who were working like beavers, the Confederate officers would also have to help dig. Lee, the student of Roman and French military history, knew that trenches were essential to protect Richmond. The army, which he would name the Army of Northern Virginia, had suffered from loose discipline. It was not uncommon for officers to make unannounced trips to Richmond for social reasons. Gen. Lee sought to impose discipline in part by focusing on digging. His men awarded him with the nicknames, “King of Spades” and “Granny Lee” for his efforts. But, his focus was on building an army. He knew the value of simple manual labor.


Emory E. Thomas, Robert E. Lee (New York: W.W. Norton & Co. 1995), p. 226, 275, 330

Stanley P. Hirshson, General Patton, a Soldier’s Life (New York: Harper Collins 2002), p. 317-319

Scott Bowden, Robert E. Lee at War (Grapevine, Texas: Legion of Honor Publ. 2017), p. 68-69, 71-72.

Yankee Thievery

Time and time again, the Federal soldiers took a pause from their martial duties to help themselves to some Southern souvenirs. Perhaps out of some feeling that the Southerners had not paid enough for, in the Federal view, having started the war, they grabbed what they could when they could. During the days long Battle of Atlanta, Gen. Sherman sent the cavalry of Maj.-Gen. George Stoneman on a raid ostensibly to tear up railroad tracks leading to Macon, Georgia. Stoneman asked if he could also move on afterward to free the prisoners at the notorious prison at Andersonville, Georgia. Sherman agreed.

But, Maj.-Gen. Stoneman had other ideas. He bypassed the railroad station where he was to link up with two other Federal columns and headed straight for the prisons at Macon and Andersonville. Stoneman was very ambitious. He hoped that in freeing the prisoners, he would find his name splashed across the front page of Northern newspapers.

Along the way, Stoneman’s troops stopped to loot roadside homesteads, and strip ladies of their rings and pins. The cavalrymen broke open drawers and trunks. They grabbed “silver and plate of every description.” In some houses, they demanded the lady of the house to produce wine from the cellar. Their saddlebags were stuffed full with loot.

As Stoneman’s men approached the Ocmulgee River, they found it impassable. They turned back north, but ran into a large Confederate force. Eventually, Maj.-Gen. Stoneman was captured with one of his three brigades. He found himself the highest ranking Union officer to be captured. No record indicates whether his saddle bags were full.

Russell S. Bonds, War Like a Thunderbolt (Pennsylvania: Westholme Publ. 2009), p. 202-205