Conciliation & Conquest

I wanted to add to a great post on what sounds like a great book over at Drew’s Books and Authors site. THe book he discusses is From Conciliation to Conquest: The Sack of Athens and the Court-Martial of Colonel John B. Turchin, by George C. Bradley and Richard L. Dahlen. It sounds like a book I would be very interested in as it deals with those aspects of political and social thought during the war that interest me. For example,

The authors ask important questions. Was it even possible for volunteers, egged on from all sides by the harsh rhetoric of revenge espoused by newspapers, elected officials, and their own communities, to suppress these urges and carry out a viable policy of conciliation?

I recently just finished reading a collection of letters published from the University of Wisconsin in 1960 titled “Well Mary: Civil War Letters of a Wisconsin Volunteer.” The letters are written by private John F. Brobst of the 25th Wisconsin Regiment, and saw action along the Mississippi and Sherman’s Atlanta campaign.

John joined the army in 1863, a very volatile time with the draft, the emancipation proclamation, and the change in Federal military policy away from conciliation and towards a more “hard war” approach. His letters really reflect this theme as he writes of his interaction with Confederate prisoners and soldiers in battle. He writes of incidents where Confederate prisoners are murdered trying to surrender and numerous times makes it clear that the South deserves all the wrath the North can muster, he writes:

There was one of the Iowa regiments charged on a rifle pit, and twenty-three of the rebs surrendered but the boys asked them if they remembered Fort Pillow and killed all of them. When there was no officer with us, we take no prisoners. We want revenge and we are bound to have it one way or the other.

John goes on to tell about a prisoner he took, “I shot him through the leg before I took him,” he tells his sweetheart in his letter. As the war progresses from 1863 to 1864 while with Sherman near Atlanta he writes,

…they [South] must come to our terms or have no peace… We want to kill them all off and cleanse the country…

There is no doubt in my mind that a lot of Federal soldiers at this time were very jaded in their opinion of the South. We cannot let the chivalry of Sherman and Grant be assumed to have been the norm for all Northern soldiers. I would like to think that by wars end, all had a mutual respect and a mutual desire to end the conflict and that such feelings of hatred subsided quickly.

Anyway, “Well Mary” was a very interesting read and one that supports much of what it sounds like Bradley and Dahlen discuss in their book. I hope to get a copy of it from the publisher soon.

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