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Rites of Retaliation: Civilization, Soldiers, and Campaigns in the American Civil War

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Автор: Limpopo5 от 2021-12-24, 07:00:55
Rites of Retaliation: Civilization, Soldiers, and Campaigns in the American Civil WarНазвание: Rites of Retaliation: Civilization, Soldiers, and Campaigns in the American Civil War
Автор: Lorien Foote
Издательство: The University of North Carolina Press
Год: 2021
Страниц: 312
Язык: английский
Формат: pdf, epub
Размер: 10.2 MB

During the Civil War, Union and Confederate politicians, military commanders, everyday soldiers, and civilians claimed their approach to the conflict was civilized, in keeping with centuries of military tradition meant to restrain violence and preserve national honor. One hallmark of civilized warfare was a highly ritualized approach to retaliation. This ritual provided a forum to accuse the enemy of excessive behavior, to negotiate redress according to the laws of war, and to appeal to the judgment of other civilized nations. As the war progressed, Northerners and Southerners feared they were losing their essential identity as civilized, and the attention to retaliation grew more intense. When Black soldiers joined the Union army in campaigns in South Carolina, Georgia, and Florida, raiding plantations and liberating enslaved people, Confederates argued the war had become a servile insurrection. And when Confederates massacred Black troops after battle, killed white Union foragers after capture, and used prisoners of war as human shields, Federals thought their enemy raised the black flag and embraced savagery.

The Union naval steamer Crescent approached Morris Island, South Carolina, located in the outer entrance of Charleston’s harbor, with 600 Confederate officers - prisoners of war - enclosed in its filthy and vomit-encrusted hull. It was 11:00 A.M. on September 7, 1864. Four companies of the 54th Massachusetts (Colored) Infantry and five companies of the 21st United States Colored Infantry waited on the beach. The ever-present red sand flies swarmed around the Black men in blue uniforms, tormenting the soldiers with bites worse than a mosquito’s. The vessel landed, the Confederate prisoners disembarked, and the Union soldiers formed an escort around them.

The calm and quiet demeanor of the Confederate officers as they moved north up the narrow beach masked a consuming inner rage at the humiliation of being under the control of armed Black men. They marched three miles, the entire length of the island, passing camps filled with Black soldiers. Underneath the dry quartz sand, and sometimes poking out of it, were the bones of Union soldiers who had died the year before in the failed assaults and successful siege operations that had captured Morris Island. Somewhere nearby were the remains of the first colonel of the 54th Massachusetts, Robert Gould Shaw, the white son of prominent abolitionists, whom Confederates had buried in a mass, unmarked grave to dishonor him. The Confederate president, Jefferson Davis, had declared Shaw to be a felon and an outlaw rather than a legitimate combatant.

The soldiers of the 54th escorted their prisoners to a one-acre stockade placed between two earthwork fortifications, Fort Strong (formerly Fort Wagner) and Fort Gregg. Inside were four streets, with a row of nineteen tents on both sides of each street. The tents held four men each. Outside, a platform ran the length of the palisade fence to support the guards of the 54th as they observed the Confederate officers. Artillery from these earthworks continually bombarded nearby Confederate positions and fired into the business and residential areas of Charleston. Confederate batteries returned fire and shelled Strong, Gregg, and the camps of Union soldiers on Morris Island. Mortar and shell from the Confederate batteries fell all around the Confederate officers inside the stockade. That night, the prisoners lay on the sand in front of their tents, watching and listening to an awe-inspiring fireworks display. Red balls of iron and bright streaks of fire filled the sky as whining shells passed over their heads in two directions. Most prisoners developed headaches from the concussion of the explosions. They had no protection from the fragments of shell that fell inside the stockade. That was the point. The U.S. War Department had sent them to Morris Island to expose them to artillery fire. It was an act of retaliation. Across the harbor, 600 Union officers - prisoners of war - watched shells from the Federal bombardment fall around the buildings that had confined them in the city of Charleston for the past forty-one days.

Retaliation was consistent with the code that governed the conduct of U.S. armies in the field during the Civil War, General Orders No. 100, issued on April 24, 1863. Article 27 proclaimed that “civilized nations acknowledge retaliation as the sternest feature of war. A reckless enemy often leaves to his opponent no other means of securing himself against the repetition of a barbarous outrage.” The next article cautioned that retaliation was not revenge but rather a means of “protective retribution.” Retaliation was legitimate only if it was done “cautiously and unavoidably” and only after “careful inquiry into the real occurrence.” The author of the code, Francis Lieber, an expert on the international laws of war, warned that “unjust or inconsiderate retaliation removes the belligerents farther and farther from the mitigating rules of regular war, and by rapid steps leads them nearer to the internecine wars of savages.”

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