Charles Sumner was a member of the Whig Party, which was one of the two main political parties along with the Democrats. He was part of the faction called the Conscience Whigs, who were opposed to slavery. Although he said he had no ambitions for a higher political office, he was politically active. The Conscience Whigs published a newspaper, and became popular in their disapproval of the Mexican War. Sumner became a disciple of John Quincy Adams, who had been president, and was serving in the House of Representatives. Adams noted Sumner after his Independence Day speech, and, although he did not agree with his position, he respected his courage. Sumner became Adam’s student, and Adams saw him as his successor. He told Sumner, “You will enter public life; in spite of yourself.”1 In 1848 Sumner helped lead a split off of the Conscience Whigs to join with other anti-slavery groups to form the Free Soil Party. The Free Soil Party wanted to prevent the spread of slavery into the territories, and instead leave free soil for free white labor.
Sumner held his positions firmly, and had virtually ceased his practice of law in order to work in politics and reform movements. Even when wrong, he held his positions staunchly, even to the point of losing many of his friends. Fulton, one of the “Five of Clubs” said about him, “It almost seems as if the love of man meant the hatred of men.”2
Sumner and Henry Longfellow
As part of the Free Soil Party, Sumner ran for public office several times. As a third party, they did not have nearly enough votes to elect him, so it was more to spread his message to a wider audience. But in Massachusetts in 1850, the Free Soilers formed a coalition with the Democrats, and gained a majority in the Massachusetts legislature. Sumner was put forward as the candidate for the United States Senate. There were difficulties in convincing the entire Democratic section to support him. They were a few votes short, and it took three months to finally get him appointed with the majority of one vote. Sumner accepted the position, but was more saddened than elated by it. He had remained aloof from the contest, and when elected, wrote, “For myself, I do not desire public life; I have neither taste nor ambition for it; but Providence has marked out my career, and I follow.”3
Sumner arrived in Washington and took the desk that had previously belonged to Jefferson Davis. The Senate at the time did not contain many notable men. The only one who has gone down in history was Stephen Douglas, who was advocating for his doctrine of popular sovereignty. Sumner looked the part of a dignified Senator. He was six feet four inches tall, and would never sit in a position at home in which he would not sit on the floor of the Senate. Sumner, being a Free Soiler, did not identify with either of the main political parties. He was one of only two Senators who did not get a committee appointment, because he was “outside of any healthy political organization.”
The Senate Chamber
Sumner was most famous for his long orations on the floor of the Senate. He rarely interacted in debates, but instead spent many hours preparing long speeches. He memorized these long speeches so he would be able to speak without notes. At the time, he was considered a very powerful orator, primarily for four reasons. He used many statistics to prove his points. He picked very succinct and memorable titles, which were widely adopted by abolitionists, such as The Barbarism of Slavery, orCrime Against Kansas. He used many quotations and analogies from history, the classics and the Bible, often from different languages. And last, he employed much rhetorical exaggeration. It got his point across, but personal attacks angered many. Sumner’s speeches were very long, some stretched to four hours. Audiences of the time listened carefully, and were not tired by his orations. He had no sense of humor, and used no jokes in his speeches or in personal conversations. He himself said, “you might as well look for a joke in the Book of Revelation.”4
In 1854 the Free Soil party joined with anti-slavery sections of Whigs and Democrats to form the Republican Party, and Sumner followed suit. When Douglas proposed the Kansas-Nebraska act, which said that the people of new territories could decide by vote whether to be free or slave, Sumner became the leader of the opposition. Many Southerns and Northerners who wished to compromise were angered by Sumner’s fierce attacks. He received death threats, but was not afraid. He said, “I am here to do my duty and shall continue to do it without regard to personal consequences.”5
One of the most important figures in the United States Senate before the Civil War was Charles Sumner. He was born in Boston on January 6th, 1811, the oldest of nine children. He was not good at sports, and instead spent his time reading and studying. He read Latin and Greek extensively, and studied history as well. His father was appointed sheriff and was able to send his son to Harvard. He did not do well there because of his poor skills in mathematics. However he continued to read, borrowing more books from the library than anyone else in his class. After graduating, he decided to go to Harvard Law School for lack of anything else to do, but he found he enjoyed it. He studied under Joseph Story at Harvard Law School, who was a Supreme Court Justice. Sumner became one of Story’s favorite pupils. After school, he was more distinguished in his writing and teaching on law than his actual handling of cases.
He traveled through Europe from 1837 – 1840. Upon returning home he had difficulty settling down to practice law. He disliked the drudgery of a normal law practice. Long before, he and five of his close friends had formed the “Five of Clubs,” a literary group that met once a week which included Sumner; Sumner’s law partner George Hillard; Henry Cleveland, an author; Cornelius Felton, a Harvard professor; Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, the famous poet; and later Samuel Gridley Howe, future member of the Secret Six and a social reformer. Sumner fell into depression after several of his friends married, and he turned to social reform. He wrote in 1845, “My name is connected somewhat with two questions, which may be described succinctly as those of peace and slavery. To these may be added prison-discipline.”1
He really began his advocacy for universal peace by giving a speech entitled The True Grandeur of Nations at a large Fourth of July Celebration in 1845. In that speech Sumner, spoke against the Mexican-American war which was about to start, and passionately proposed peace between all nations. Although Sumner’s speech was fundamentally flawed because universal peace is impossible to obtain, he was bold in speaking for what he believed was right. He proclaimed that, “respectable citizens volunteer to look like soldiers, and to affect in dress, in arms and deportment, what is called ‘the pride, pomp and circumstance of glorious war,’” with the officers of the Massachusetts militia sitting nearby. Although he became very popular with the radicals, he lost much by giving this speech. He was alienated from most of Boston society, where he previously had a high standing. He was not appointed as a Professor in the Harvard Law School, which had been anticipated for years. It was explained:
Sumner has become an outrageous Philanthropist – neglecting his Law, to patch up the world – to reform prisoners and convicts – put down soldiers and wars – and keep the solar system in harmonious action…. The conservative Corporation of Harvard College…consider Sumner in the Law-school, as unsuitable as a Bull in a china-shop.2
Sumner was also active in the anti-slavery movement. He stood in the middle of two sections of abolitionists. On the one hand was most of Massachusetts, who were opposed to slavery, but were not willing to press the issue hard upon the South, and on the other the radical abolitionists, such as William Lloyd Garrison, who wished to dissolve the Union rather than be affiliated with the slave holding states. Sumner summarized his position in 1846:
I think Slavery a sin, individual and national; and think it the duty of each individual to cease committing it, and, of course of each State, to do likewise. Massachusetts is a party to slave-holding, and is responsible for it, so long as it continues under the sanction of the Constitution of the United States. I would leave it to the local laws of each State. If the South persists in holding slaves let it not expect Massachusetts to aid or abet in the wrong. I cannot be a slave-holder; nor can I help upholding slaveholding.3
Sumner did not believe the federal government should force the states to abolish slavery. However, he believed that the North should, in as many ways as possible, attempt to convince the South to abolish it with a “moral blockade.” He wanted the federal government to stifle it in its role by making no Fugitive Slave laws, by outlawing slavery in the District of Columbia, and by outlawing slavery in new territories.
Sumner in 1846
1. Charles Sumner and the Coming of the Civil Warby David Herbert Donald (Naperville, Illinois: Sourcebooks Inc, 2009), p. 109. 2. Ibid, p. 108. 3. Ibid, p. 112.
This month is the 150th anniversary of Sherman’s infamous March across Georgia to the Sea. After years of war, Union General William Tecumseh Sherman had the opportunity to strike through the heart of Confederacy. His goal was to undermine the Confederate war effort by breaking the civilians’ will to fight. As he wrote after the march to Henry Halleck, the Union’s Chief of Staff:
We are not only fighting armies, but a hostile people, and must make old and young, rich and poor, feel the hard hand of war, as well as their organized armies. I know that this recent movement of mine through Georgia has had a wonderful effect in this respect. Thousands who had been deceived by their lying papers into the belief that we were being whipped all the time, realized the truth, and have no appetite for a repetition of the same experience.1
Today many, especially in the south, remember Sherman as a cruel man who burnt the homes and crops of Georgians, forcing them into poverty and starvation. Debates continue to rage today whether he should be considered a war criminal, or simply as a general who knew now to end the war. In this article, we will consider the legend that has grown up around Sherman’s march, and how we can separate the myth from fact.
Sherman’s men twisting railroad ties
How Bad Was it?
First, what did the Union troops actually do? How bad was it? Before the march began, Sherman issued Special Orders No. 120. In it he gave strict instructions for how his men were to conduct themselves on the march. They were allowed to “forage liberally” from the countryside, and were given nearly free reign to take or destroy food, horses and livestock. However, they were not to enter homes or burn any buildings without express orders from the corps commanders.2 These orders were often violated with impunity, and the Federal generals did little, if anything, to stop it. The problems began even before the army even left Atlanta. Sherman had ordered that military targets, such as the railroad depot, be destroyed. But the men disregarded regarded these orders, and about half the town was burnt. “Can’t save it,” Sherman commented to a staff officer, “Set as many guards as you please, [the men] will slip it and set fire.”3
The Federal troops, Bummers as they were called, routinely violated orders along the march and burnt many houses along the way. However, they did not destroy everything in their path in a scorched earth policy as many believe today. In the 1930s a survey found that many, if not most, houses were left standing in the wake of the Yankee march.4
Foragers plundering a southern farm
This does not mean there was no suffering for the civilians involved. Sherman and his men were determined to make the southern people feel the cost of the war, to “make Georgia howl,” and they were successful. One woman’s experience was typical:
Happening to turn and look behind, as we stood there, I saw some blue-coats coming down the hill. … I hastened back to my frightened servants and told them that they had better hide, and then went back to the gate to claim protection and a guard. But like demons they rush in! My yards are full. …
To my smoke-house, my dairy, pantry, kitchen, and cellar, like famished wolves they come, breaking locks and whatever is in their way. The thousand pounds of meat in my smoke-house is gone in a twinkling, my flour, my meat, my lard, butter, eggs, pickles of various kinds – both in vinegar and brine – wine, jars, and jugs are all gone. My eighteen fat turkeys, my hens, chickens, and fowls, my young pigs, are shot down in my yard and hunted as if they were rebels themselves. Utterly powerless I ran out and appealed to the guard.
‘I cannot help you, Madam; it is orders.’ …
As night drew its sable curtains around us, the heavens from every point were lit up with flames from burning buildings. … My Heavenly Father alone saved me from the destructive fire.5
Sherman’s “Bummers”in South Carolina
Was it Unusual?
How unusual was the March through Georgia, versus any other Civil War era army marching past? No Civil War era civilian would have wanted an army to march through his property, even if he sympathized with their side. He could still expect to have animals go missing and his fences be turned down and used for firewood. Some commanders, such as Robert E. Lee, tried to stop this. When invading Pennsylvania he reminded his troops they made, “war only upon armed men,” and exhorted them to “abstain with most scrupulous care from unnecessary or wanton injury to private property.”6 Other armies used harsher tactics were also used. Chambersburg, Pennsylvania was burned by Confederates after the townspeople failed to pay a $500,000 ransom.
What distinguished Sherman from most other armies was the intentionality of his destruction. His actual orders were not far from the ordinary, but in his correspondence made his intentions clear. Although other armies wrought similar kinds of destruction, Sherman was different. He launched a campaign for the sole purpose of making war on civilians and turning them against the war. Where other generals tried to constrained the depredations of their men, Sherman encouraged them.
Was He a War Criminal?
Some today argue that Sherman was a war criminal. He was, of course, never prosecuted for his crimes – victors rarely are. In 1863 Lincoln had signed what is called the Lieber Code – the laws of war for the United States armies in the field. This order required that private property be respected, and if military necessity required it to be seized, that the owners be given receipts so they could be indemnified.7 Sherman may have technically been in a gray area. But he said he intended to bring “the sad realities of war home to those who have been … instrumental in involving us in its attendant calamities.”8 He clearly was in violation of the spirit of the Lieber Code, the intention of which was to preserve private property whenever possible, not destroy it. If Sherman did the same thing today he could be considered a war criminal. The 1977 Geneva Conventions, which the United States has not ratified, prohibits targeting civilian food, livestock or water.9
Francis Lieber, author of the Lieber Code
What about Other Wars?
It would be easy to condemn Sherman’s actions against the southern people, but it is important to remember how they fit into the future actions of the US Military. The March to the Sea is considered to be one of the first instances of modern warfare, where a scorched earth policy is used and the enemy civilians are a valid and legal military target. Sherman’s actions were child’s play compared to the United State’s policy during World War II, where the enemy countryside was freely bombed. The attacks on Germany and Japan were not, like Sherman’s, on only the supplies and infrastructure of the country. The attacks, culminating in the atomic bombings were intended to kill as many noncombatants as possible. It is ridiculous to even think of comparing Sherman’s march, where the civilians had a few years of hardship while recovering from the destruction, to the bombing of Dresden, Tokyo, Hiroshima or Nagasaki, where hundreds of thousands of men, women and children were killed. Rejecting what Sherman did requires the rethinking most of the United State’s wars in the 20th century.
Charred bodies of Japanese civilians killed in the firebombing of Tokyo during World War II
1. Official Records of the War of the Rebellion, series I, vol. XLIV, part 1, p. 798. 2. Memoirs of General William T. Sherman, by William T. Sherman (New York: D. Appleton & Company, 1875), p. 174-176. 3. Marching with Sherman by Henry Hitchcock (University of Nebraska Press, 1995) p. 53. 4. Rethinking Sherman’s March by W. Todd Groce, (New York Times) 5. A Woman’s Wartime Journal by Dolly Sumner Lunt (New York: The Century Co., 1918) p. 21-23, 30-31. 6. Official Records, vol. XXVII, part 3, p. 943. 7. Instruction for the Government of the Armies of the United States in the Field by Francis Lieber section, 2, paragraph 38. 8. Official Records, vol. XLIV, p. 13. 9. Geneva Conventions, Protocol I, Article 54.
The Horn Family will be doing two different tours in 2015. Our annual September tour will be in Massachusetts, and we are also doing a special two-week tour of Europe covering the Protestant Reformation, the 200th anniversary of the Battle of Waterloo, the 100th anniversary of World War I, and many other sites and topics.
War and Reformation Europe Tour
The Horn family invites you to join us on our tour of Europe this year, where we will study the Reformation and its effects on European history. On June 9 we will begin our journey in Munich, Germany and discover the horrors of the Holocaust at Dachau. We will spend two nights in Salzburg, Austria to visit Hitler’s Eagle’ Nest in the Alps, Mozart’s birthplace, and more. Then we travel to Zurich, Switzerland where Ulrich Zwingli preached, then we journey to Calvin’s Geneva, a central location of the Reformation. Next we’ll stop in Strasbourg, France to learn about Martin Bucer and in Worms, Germany where Martin Luther stood up to the Catholic church. While staying in the Ardennes region we will visit Medieval castles and some of the most important battlefields in European history: including Agincourt and Crecy, from the Hundred Years War, the Somme, one of the most horrific battles of World War I, and the surprise German World War II counterattack at the Battle of the Bulge. Finally, we will conclude the tour at the Battle of Waterloo bicentennial reenactment before leaving from historic Brussels.
A time capsule placed in the cornerstone of the Massachusetts State House as been uncovered. It was placed as part of a Masonic ceremony by Paul Revere, Samuel Adams, and others. Read about the discovery at the Boston Globe, and you can read a historical account here.