Sherman Shelling Civilians

A reader recently asked about one of my posts about Gen. Sherman. He disagreed with my post which charged Gen. Sherman with a war crime. See that post here.

My post focused not on the war crime itself, but on the dialogue that ensued between Gen. Hood and Gen. Sherman. The reader brought up a valid point, that there were facilities in Atlanta, a large railroad depot, an iron works, etc. which the Federal artillery may have been targeting. The reader suggested the Federal artillery was not deliberately targeting civilian homes. In the Army, we call that collateral damage. And, in 1864, or in 2021, collateral damage can be very hard to avoid. In Iraq and Afghanistan, we did everything we could to avoid collateral damage. But, the Federals before Atlanta did not.

Fire at the Houses

And, now we know from Sherman’s own military records what he told his commanders. Gen. Sherman did not tell his gunners to fire at the railroad depot or at the iron works. The depot could be seen from the Yankee positions. It was a large building. But, no, Sherman did not tell his generals to target the large building. He told Gen. Thomas on Aug. 1 as the siege was commencing, “You may fire from 10 to 15 shots from every gun you have in position into Atlanta that will reach any of its houses.” On Aug. 7, he told Gen. Thomas to bring down his Parrot guns from Chattanooga and put them into position to “knock down the buildings of the town.”  Sherman told his generals to target the houses and the buildings.[1]

In another dispatch, he told his soldiers to “make sad havoc” on Atlanta and “reach the heart of Atlanta and reduce it to ruins.” There was no mention in these dispatches of the railroad depot or iron works. In another dispatch to Gen. Thomas, he told him to “get your guns well into position . . . let them open up slowly, and with great precision, making all parts of the city unsafe.” Here, Sherman makes it clear that all parts of the city are fair game. He warned Gen. Oliver to ignore the Confederate artillery fire – the Confederates want to draw your fire, said Sherman. But, that would distract them from their more important goal: destroy Atlanta and “make it a desolation.” And, of course, the Federals had a huge advantage. They had virtually unlimited artillery shells. The Confederate artillery batteries had to husband their shells very carefully.[2]

The Federal artillery could range the center of the city, so they could effectively fire anywhere they wished. Stephen Davis in his book,“What the Yankees Did to Us: Sherman’s Bombardment and Wrecking of Atlanta,” found that the Yankees dropped about 32,418 shells on the city during that 36 day siege. All those rounds fell within a 2 mile radius of the commercial center known as Five Points. See website here.

5,000 Civilians

The better defense of Sherman’s violations of the rules of war is that he believed the Atlanta civilians had evacuated. But, no, the general had sufficient intelligence from Confederate prisoners and even from the few Atlanta newspapers to know some 5,000 civilians remained. The ones who remained were those too poor or with too few resources to evacuate. It was generally the better off folks or those who had family in the rural areas who evacuated.[3]

Fire at Night

And, too he told his gunners to fire at night. It is incredibly difficult to target artillery at night. Artillery fire, even today, must be observed to make it accurate. A person, even today, cannot simply look down the barrel of an artillery piece and aim it. Someone must observe the point of impact and adjust fire toward the intended target. That would be exceedingly difficult to do at night. In theory, they could have registered targets and then fired them at night. But, if a target was registered, why were they missing the supposed target by miles.[4]

One could argue, perhaps, that Sherman told his gunners to target houses, but perhaps his men did not listen to him. No, unfortunately, that is not true. There are accounts of artillery men gloating over their success. “I have the honor to report that at least three houses, two frame and one brick, were destroyed by the fire in Atlanta,” said one signal officer one afternoon. “Our shells burst in the city right and left of brick stack,” (apparently meaning chimneys) Gen. Thomas reported in a dispatch. Some batteries reported they heated up some shells in furnaces with the hopes of starting fires when the shells landed within the city. Whether these “hot shots” worked is not known.[5]

Targeting Burning Houses

But, there were many fires during the siege. The Atlanta fire companies were kept very busy. Houses caught fire almost daily. The few firemen remaining in the city – many were serving in the Confederate army – found it dangerous to go to the fires. The Federal gunners would typically target the burning fires. The smoke was easy to see in the day. And, the fire was easy to see at night.[6]

And, of course, the gunners did not succeed in damaging the train station. It remained standing until the Federals evacuated and burned the city.

Notes

1. Russell S. Bonds, War Like a Thunderbolt (Pennsylvania: Westholme Publ. 2009), p. 212-214

2. Ibid.

3. Ibid.

4.“A Very Barbarous Mode of Carrying on War”: Sherman’s Artillery Bombardment of Atlanta, July 20 – August 24,1864,” Georgia Hist. Quarterly, Vol. 79, No. 1 (Spring, 1995), pp.57-90.

5. Russell S. Bonds, War Like a Thunderbolt (Pennsylvania: Westholme Publ. 2009), p. 212-214

6. Ibid.

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.

Cassville

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.

Rome

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.”

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.

Source:

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

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

Gen. Sherman and the Rules of War

It was one of the most extraordinary exchanges in the war. Two experienced, trained, tough commanders got into a fuss fight over the rules of war and over the civil war itself. Gen. John Bell Hood and Gen. William T. Sherman fussed over proper procedure and even about the war itself.

The fuss started with the Battle of Atlanta. Sherman’s forces had a three to one advantage over Hood’s men. Yet, the battle lasted 36 days as the Southern Army of Tennessee poured their hearts and souls into defending the city. And, of course, Sherman being Sherman, he made the war more personal than necessary. Like other Union commanders, Gen. Sherman ordered his men to bombard the unarmed civilians in the city. For 36 days, the Atlanta citizens were subjected to indirect artillery fire. For no apparent military purpose, the gunners targeted homes and houses. Officers bragged that they had destroyed one, two or more houses that day.

Crazy Bill

Gen. Sherman was erratic, as generals go. Very skilled and unpretentious, he was nevertheless subject to depression. Early in the war as a brigadier general in Kentucky, he had over-reacted to a Confederate scare. He had vastly over-estimated Confederate strength. He betrayed his fears. He chain-smoked his cigars. He rarely slept or ate. He berated his subordinates. He threatened to hang a reporter as a spy. He said he needed 200,000 troops to invade Tennessee. In November, 1861, he was sent home to his wife, depressed and dishonored. He was said to have considered suicide. Sherman became known as Crazy Bill. The Northern newspapers vilified the general.

Weeks later, he returned to active duty under Gen. Grant. From there, his fortunes rose until in 1864 he was in command of three Union armies barreling toward Atlanta. The semi-siege of Atlanta started in the summer. Over 36 days, Sherman’s gunners shelled the Confederate defensive positions. In their spare time, the gunners would lob a few shells into the city. Other Union commanders had shelled civilians, as well. The Federals shelled the civilian homes in Fredericksburg and Charleston. In regard to Atlanta, the Confederate commander, John Bell Hood, did not protest this violation of the rules of war. Submitting a written protest would have been the typical approach between commanders. Hood chose not to do so.

By Sept. 3, 1864, Union forces entered Atlanta. Southern forces retreated some miles away from the city. Again for no apparent military purpose, Sherman decided the citizens must leave. By this point, there were only some 5,000 remaining in the city out of a pre-battle population of 20,000. He may have been concerned about having to feed those folks. Prior to retreating from the city of Atlanta, Hood was providing rations for some 1500 poor citizens. Gen. Sherman gave the citizens of Atlanta 5 days to pack up and leave. He assured them his troops would help them leave. Sherman planned that the citizens with Union or Northern sympathies could go north on the train. The Southern supporters would leave on wagons via the southern roads.

The Dark History of War

As Sherman proceeded with the logistics of evicting the civilians from the city, he sent a letter to Gen. Hood informing him of the move and proposing a two day truce to effect the move. Gen. Hood responded matter of factly, agreeing to the truce, as if he had much choice. But, at the end, Gen. Hood commented,

“And, now sir, permit me to say that the unprecedented measure you propose transcends, in studied and ingenious cruelty, all acts ever before brought to my attention in the dark history of war.

Gen. Sherman was part of a very influential family. His brother was a U.S. Senator. He rarely allowed slights to pass unnoticed. The General responded to Hood mentioning that Hood’s army had destroyed civilian houses. He accused Hood of situating his defense so close to the town as to invite inadvertent artillery rounds. Sherman claimed he was helping the white citizens of the city by removing them from a possible battlefield. Sherman had to know any risk of harm for the civilians was quite minimal, now that the actual battle was over.

Gen. Hood responded rightly that his defense during those 36 days was a mile or more from the city. The Union gunners were very skilled. It is very unlikely so many shells were the result of accident. Hood added:

“You came into our country with your Army avowedly for the purpose of subjugating free white men, women and children, and not only intend to rule over them, but you make negroes your allies, and desire to place over us an inferior race, which we have raised from barbarism to its present position, which is the highest ever attained by that race, in all time. I must, therefore, decline to accept your statements in reference to your kindness to the people of Atlanta ….”

Shelling Civilians

Regarding the shelling of civilians, Hood added:

“I made no complaint of your firing into Atlanta in any way you thought proper. I make none now, but there are a hundred thousand witnesses that you fired into habitations of women and children for weeks, firing above and miles beyond my line of defense. I have too good an opinion, founded both upon observation and experience, of the skill of your artillerists, to credit the insinuations that they for several weeks fired too high for my modest field-works, and slaughtered women and children by accident and want of skill”

Gen. Sherman was always a profligate letter writer. He quickly penned one more response.

“First, we have no ‘negroe allies’ in this army, not a single negroe soldier left Chattanooga with this Army, or is with us now. There are a few guarding Chattanooga [the 14th U.S. Colored Troops] which General Stedman sent at one time to drive [Confederate General] Wheeler out of Dalton.”

Regarding the bombardment of civilians, Sherman replied, “I was not bound by the laws of war to give notice of the shelling of Atlanta, a ‘fortified town, with magazines, arsenals, foundries, public stores;’ you were bound to take notice. See the books.”

The rules of war had been pretty well defined since the early 1600’s. Both West Point graduates knew the rules. Sherman is taking considerable liberties in claiming the city was fortified and contained arsenals and magazines. There were guns and Army supplies in train cars. But, there were no magazines or arsenals as they would have understood those terms in 1864. Now, we know from diaries, letters and orders that Sherman did indeed tell his gunners to fire into the city. He did commit a war crime. Why?

War is Cruelty

Well, we see Sherman’s motivations when the citizens protested. Mayor James M. Calhoun, a sometime Union sympathizer, who had opposed secession, sent a letter of protest. He said forcing people out with nowhere to go was cruel. In his now infamous response, Gen. Sherman agreed this was cruel:

“You cannot qualify war in harsher terms than I will. War is cruelty, and you cannot refine it; and those who brought war into our country deserve all the curses and maledictions a people can pour out. I know I had no hand in making this war, and I know I will make more sacrifices today than any of you to secure peace. But you cannot have peace and division of our country.”

Gen. Sherman was essentially shrugging his shoulders and saying, “this is war. You started the war.” He would defend or gaslight his bombardment of the city for the rest of his life. Sherman was nothing, if not direct.

The Book of Exodus

Colonel William Le Duc, Quartermaster of the of the 20th Corps had known Sherman before the war. It would fall to the Quartermaster to make this citizen removal happen. Col. Le Duc passed a message to Sherman warning him that history would not look well upon this eviction. Sherman passed a message back to Bill Duc: “… I care not a damn how others read it. I am making history, and the citizens of this rebel town shan’t eat the rations I need for my army.” By Sept. 26, Sherman had evicted southward: 446 families, including 705 adults, most of whom were women. The evictees included 867 children and 79 servants. Col. Le Duc prepared an exhaustive list of the person who were removed. He titled it, “The Book of Exodus.” A similar number were removed northward.

Yes, indeed, the 14th U.S.C.T. actually performed superbly in their one engagement with Gen. Wheeler’s cavalry, much to the surprise of their Union commanders. If Hood can be rightly accused of patronizing the blacks, Sherman was guilty of the same offense. For all his faults, Gen. Sherman believed cruelty would shorten the war. But, that is why we have rules of war, to ameliorate those cruelties on the defenseless. Ask any private with an M16 in a war zone, during war, the Army has unfettered power. Gen. Sherman had the power. He used that power to wreak revenge.

Source:

Russell S. Bonds, War Like a Thunderbolt (Pennsylvania: Westholme Publ. 2009), p. 16-19, 307-318.

The Leadership of Jeff Davis

Afghanistan is not the first country that did not support its army. Other countries likewise did not or could not support its army. But, not all of those unsupported armies failed. The Confederate army also suffered from extreme lack of beans and bullets, clothing and more. Yet, up to the very end, the Confederate army performed superbly considering its limitations. Why? What made the Confederate army succeed where the Afghanistan army failed so miserably? One answer is sound leadership.

Robert E. Lee famously tried to lead his troops in a charge himself, not once, but three times. Each time, his own soldiers turned him back. Officers like John Bell Hood excelled at simply taking to his soldiers and listening to them.

Jefferson Davis, the much maligned President of the Confederate States, certainly had his faults. Davis did, however, practice effective leadership. He was a graduate of West Point. His regiment, the Mississippi Rifles performed brilliantly during the Mexican War. He knew how to display leadership.

Battle of Atlanta

After the fall of Atlanta, he showed what he had learned. Within six days of the loss of the city, Pres. Davis was with the Army of Tennessee. It took him six days of train travel, because the Federal troops had captured so much that he had embark on a complicated route. He wrote to a friend just days before he left Richmond that the “first effect of disaster is always to spread a deeper gloom than is due to the occasion.” By Sept. 26, 1864, he there with the army to dispel their gloom. Along his route, he took the time to make speeches to the local citizens. He likely received some not-so-subtle criticisms on these forays, but the undertook them all the same.

He did not come just to buck up the men. He also had to deal with generals with angry egos. But, doubtless, the troops appreciated his visit, all the same. He gave speeches to the soldiers. They held a grand review. With the President came Tennessee Governor Isham G. Harris, Texas Governor Francis R. Lubbock, Howell Cobb, the Georgia general and former Secretary of the Treasury in the U.S. government, and Robert Toombs, former U.S. Congressman and frequent critic of Jeff Davis. They all gave speeches, which was one of the chief entertainments of the time.

The Big Bugs

The morale of the men likely did perk up. One Tennessee soldier wrote home, “It was all hands round, swing the corner, and balance your partner” [a verse from a popular dance tune]. The same soldier recorded that Pres. Davis shook his hand, saying howdy Captain. Toombs shook his hand, saying howdy Major. “ . . . and every big bug that I shook hands with put another star on my collar and chicken guts on my sleeve.”

The soldiers, as all soldiers in the field do, complained about the lack of food, clothing, shoes and pay. At the outset of the grand review, the soldiers were called on to give a Rebel yell for Davis and Hood. Perhaps hearkening back to better days, they instead chanted, “Johnston! Give us Johnston! Give us our old commander!” Their officers fussed at them. But, the call persisted down the formation.

Speaking from personal experience, troops in the field appreciate visits from the “big bugs” enormously. It is easy to think the folks back home have forgotten about you. But, when presidents and governors come, you know that is not true.  

Source:

Russell S. Bonds, War Like a Thunderbolt (Pennsylvania: Westholme Publ. 2009), p. 327-332

Confederate Leadership Principles and the Afghan Army

Armies have trained and studied for centuries on how to develop unit cohesion or esprit d’corps. With proper unit cohesion, an army can accomplish any objective. But, how do we attain unit cohesion? In Afghanistan, we see a complete disintegration of an army. On paper, the Afghan army numbered 300,000 soldiers. But, we know in reality it was much less, perhaps only 50,000. Even so, they have surrendered several times within the last week, sometimes without a shot fired. An entire Afghan Corps headquarters surrendered last week. How big is a Corps staff? In the U.S. army, a corps staff would include upwards of 500 soldiers. However large it was, they surrendered without firing a round. Why?

The New York Times tells us that the Afghan soldiers were not supported by their chain of command. They generally surrendered because they lacked food and ammunition. One Afghan security force was given a box of slimy potatoes as their daily ration. A police officer yelled out, “These french fries are not going to hold these front lines!” just days before surrendering. Not stated is that it is likely the Afghan higher commanders did not visit their troops. Sometimes, we visit the subordinate troops just to “show the flag.” As a commander, you always need first-hand information about the soldiers’ welfare. Historians tell us that one problem with how the U.S. conducted the Viet Nam war was the lack of visits by field grade officers to company level troops. Field grade officers include colonels and majors, the mid-grade levels.

Confederate Leadership

The Confederate soldiers endured this and worse. Many times, they would have been happy to have slimly potatoes as their daily ration. The Confederate army made their own shoes from rawhide. It was common for soldiers to wear trousers with only one leg. 300 members of the Texas Brigade returned from furlough in the Spring of 1864, knowing food and clothing would be scarce. See my prior post about the Texas Brigade here. In 1863, the Rebels were receiving only one-quarter pound of meat per day. During one two week period, one company received only one-quarter pound of flour, one-quarter pound bacon, three ounces of sugar.  Tents and blankets were rare for an army that always slept outdoors. See my prior post here.

In 1864, the adjutant to Confederate Lt-Gen. William Hardee reported at the close of the Battle of Atlanta that his uniform included the following: a hat with no crown, socks with no feet, trousers with one large white patch on the seat, boots with no soles. This was W.L. Trask’s sole clothing for the prior four months. If that was what an officer wore, we can imagine what the enlisted men were wearing.

Yet, the Confederates did not disintegrate like today’s Afghan army. The Texas Brigade suffered from a 6% desertion rate, much lower than other Confederate units. But, the Texas Brigade also did not suffer from the sort of home problems other Confederate army units endured. The Yankee soldiers did not pillage and burn Texas homes as they did in other Southern states.

John Bell Hood Leadership

So, what did the Confederates do that the Afghan army did not? We find some clues in the experience of John Bell Hood. Then Col. Hood succeeded to command of the Texas Brigade after others had tried and failed. He succeeded because he talked to the enlisted men. He explained the “why” of an order. He respected them for their pre-war jobs, many of which were very respectable. When he imposed a rule, such as lights out by 10 p.m., he explained that keeping lanterns lighted would keep other men awake. He insisted that subordinate officers explain the necessity of particular rules.

We know that Gen. Lee practiced the same sort of leadership principles. Even though he was the most senior general in the army, Lee wore a modest uniform, without all the required marks of his rank. He did not erect the largest tent. In fact, Lee’s tent was no larger than any other officer’s tent. Lee rarely slept in a house. He almost always slept in a tent, just like his men. And, of course, we know that Gen. Lee three times tried to lead a charge himself and three times, his men turned him back. There is no better example than to assume the most dangerous position in an attack.

Jefferson Davis was roundly criticized throughout the war by Southerners and Southern newspapers. But, he often visited various communities and the troops. He heard their complaints. The president of Afghanistan, Ashraf Ghani, has rarely left the high blast walls of the presidential palace in Kabul. The Confederates simply practices excellent leadership. Of course, we call this “Confederate” leadership. But, they were actually practicing what they learned at West Point and in the U.S. Army.  It takes work to lead men. It requires a leader to listen to his men. The Confederates practiced those principles of good leadership. It appears the Afghans did not.

Sources:

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

Russell S. Bonds, War Like a Thunderbolt (Pennsylvania: Westholme Publ. 2009), p. 296, 351-352

New York Times, Aug. 14, 2021, p. 1, col. 6

Beaten, But not Defeated

It was a remarkable episode in the novel, Gone With the Wind. Scarlett. Melanie and a newborn baby are trying to escape burning Atlanta. Prissy, the vexatious maid, is with them. Rhett Butler, the cynical blockade runner, is driving them in a tiny, rickety wagon. As they pause at the railroad tracks, a silent, marching force emerges from the dark. Silently, meaning no chatter, no singing, they march forward at route step. Route step means they are walking, while maintaining their formation.

All the soldiers were ragged, so ragged, that Margaret Mitchell tells us, there were no distinguishing insignia between officers and enlisted. Other veterans relate that in the latter stages of the war, you could distinguish between an officer and enlisted soldiers by the patches. The officers had just one patch on their trousers. Enlisted soldiers would have two or more. Contrast that with today’s Army, where we never patch our uniforms. If you get a tear, you turn in those trousers and receive a new pair.

On that awful night in burning Atlanta, many of the boys were barefoot. Many had a dirty bandage wrapped around a head or an arm. They walked past Scarlett and Rhett with no word, no looks cast toward the unexpected civilians. The soldiers were too tired, too worn. By this time in the war, they had been fighting for a straight 90 days. Civilians do not appreciate the severe physical stamina required for fighting. Running, crawling for hours at a time. The physical exhaustion compares to running a marathon. Not to mention the emotional toll. Now, this night, the boys in gray and butternut were walking to their next battle position, too tired to glance about, as Atlanta burned.

Rhett pokes fun at the soldiers. He mocks the “Glorious Cause.”

Put Me Down

As the tail end of the column passes their small wagon, a small figure in the dark, hesitates and then stops, his rifle butt dragging on the ground. He is barely taller than his rifle. Scarlett guesses he is 16 years old at the most. The boy stares at the column walking away, unblinking. Scarlett says he looks like he is sleep walking.

The boy’s knees buckle. He falls in the dust. Two soldiers, without a word, walk back to him. The first soldier, with a beard down to his belt, hands his own rifle to a second soldier. He then hands the boy’s rifle to the second soldier. Then the bearded soldier picks up the boy, slings him over his shoulder. Still no word is spoken. The two soldiers start walking toward the column. The boy, now awake, screams, “Put me down, damn you! I can walk!” Silently, the two soldiers just plod on around the bend.

Margaret Mitchell was very talented. But, she could not have made up this story. It has the ring of truth. The soldiers communicate wordlessly, like family. Because, they are family. They know each other so well that they know the boy may tire. They know what he will say. But, they are too tired to talk. Communication requires too much effort. They just plod on. They will talk later.

In the book, soon afterward, the cynical Rhett Butler decides he will join the army. The same army he has been mocking for the prior three years. Seeing that selfless devotion aroused guilt even in the most selfish. Ms. Mitchell was describing the Army of Tennessee.

Margaret Mitchell, Gone with the Wind (New York: Scribner 2011), p. 369-370.