How Lincoln’s Army ‘Liberated’ the Indians

by Thomas J. DiLorenzo

In a recent issue of The American Enterprise magazine devoted to the War between the States (see my LRC article, "AEI is Still Fighting the Civil War") Victor Hanson, a visiting professor at the U.S. Naval Academy, defends and makes excuses for Lincoln’s intentional waging of war on Southern civilians. This included the bombing, pillaging and plundering of their cities and towns, the burning of their homes, total destruction of farms and livestock, gang rape, and the killing of thousands, including women and children of all races. (See Merchant of Terror: General Sherman and Total War by John Bennett Walters or The Hard Hand of War by Mark Grimsley).

It was all justified, says Hanson, because General Sherman and his men were supposedly motivated by the belief that it was necessary "to guarantee the American proposition that each man is as good as another." Sherman’s "bummers," as they were called, were "political avenging angels" who were offended by racial inequalities in the South. They were driven by "an ideological furor, to destroy the nature of Southern aristocracy." The "tyrannical Southern ruling class" needed to be taught a lesson. (Besides, he writes, "rapes during

[Sherman’s] march were almost unknown)."

In reality, neither Sherman nor his soldiers believed any of these things. (And rapes were not as "unknown" to the Southern people as they are to Hanson). In the Northern states at the time, myriad Black Codes existed that prohibited blacks from migrating into most Northern states and kept them from entering into contracts, voting, marrying whites, testifying in court against whites (which invited criminal abuse), or sending their children to public schools. They were excluded altogether from all forms of transportation or required to sit in special "Jim Crow sections." They were prohibited from entering hotels, restaurants or resorts except as servants, and were segregated in churches, prisons, and even cemeteries. Free blacks in the North in the 1860s were cruelly discriminated against in every aspect of their existence, and were denied the most fundamental of citizenship rights

Sherman himself certainly did not believe that "each man is as good as another." For example, in 1862 Sherman was bothered that "the country" was "swarming with dishonest Jews" (see Michael Fellman, Citizen Sherman, p. 153). He got his close friend, General Grant, to expel all Jews from his army. As Fellman writes, "On December 17, 1862, Grant . . . , like a medieval monarch . . . expelled ‘The Jews, as a class,’ from his department." Sherman biographer Fellman further writes that to Sherman, the Jews were "like niggers" and "like greasers (Mexicans) or Indians" in that they were "classes or races permanently inferior to his own."

The notion that Sherman’s army was motivated by a belief that all men are created equal is belied by the further fact that just three months after General Robert E. Lee surrendered at Appomattox the very same army commenced a campaign of ethnic genocide against the Plains Indians. In July of 1865 Sherman was put in charge of the Military District of the Missouri (all land west of the Mississippi) and given the assignment to eradicate the Plains Indians in order to make way for the federally subsidized transcontinental railroad. Like Lincoln, Sherman was a friend of Grenville Dodge, the chief engineer of the project. He was also a railroad investor and he lobbied his brother, Senator John Sherman, to allocate federal funds for the transcontinental railroad. "We are not going to let a few thieving, ragged Indians stop and check the progress of the railroad," he wrote to General Grant in 1867 (Fellman, p. 264). As Fellman writes:

[T]he great triumvirate of the Union Civil War effort [Grant, Sherman and Sheridan] formulated and enacted military Indian policy until reaching, by The 1880s, what Sherman sometimes referred to as "the final solution of the Indian problem," which he defined as killing hostile Indians and segregating their pauperized survivors in remote places . . . . These men applied their shared ruthlessness, born of their Civil War experiences, against a people all three despised, in the name of Civilization and Progress (emphasis added).

Another Sherman biographer, John F. Marszalek, points out in Sherman: A Soldier’s Passion for Order, that "Sherman viewed Indians as he viewed recalcitrant Southerners during the war and newly freed people after the war: resisters to the legitimate forces of an orderly society," by which he meant the central government. Moreover, writes Marszalek, Sherman’s philosophy was that "since the inferior Indians refused to step aside so superior American culture could create success and progress, they had to be driven out of the way as the Confederates had been driven back into the Union."

"Most of the other generals who took a direct role in the Indian wars, writes Marszalek, "were, like Sherman, [Union] Civil War luminaries." This included "John Pope, O.O. Howard, Nelson A. Miles, Alfred H. Terry, E.O.C. Ord, C.C. Augeur, and R.S. Canby. General Winfield Scott Hancock should be added to this list of "luminaries." Among the colonels, "George Armstrong Custer and Benjamin Grierson were the most famous."

Sherman and General Phillip Sheridan were associated with the statement that "the only good Indian is a dead Indian." The problem with the Indians, Sherman said, was that "they did not make allowance for the rapid growth of the white race" (Marszalek, p. 390). And, "both races cannot use this country in common" (Fellman, p. 263).

Sherman’s theory of white racial superiority is what led him to the policy of waging war against the Indians "till the Indians are all killed or taken to a country where they can be watched." As Fellman (p. 264) writes:

Sherman planted a racist tautology: Some Indians are thieving, killing rascals fit for death; all Indians look alike; therefore, to get some we must eliminate all . . . deduced from this racist tautology . . . the less destructive policy would be racial cleansing of the land . . .

Accordingly, Sherman wrote to Grant: "We must act with vindictive earnestness against the Sioux, even to their extermination, men, women and children." Writing two days later to his brother John, General Sherman said: "I suppose the Sioux must be exterminated . . ." (Fellman, p. 264).

This was Sherman’s attitude toward Southerners during the War for Southern Independence as well. In a July 31, 1862 letter to his wife (from his Collected Works) he wrote that his purpose in the war was: "Extermination, not of soldiers alone, that is the least part of the trouble, but the [Southern] people." His charming and nurturing wife Ellen wrote back that her fondest wish was for a war "of extermination and that all [Southerners] would be driven like the Swine into the sea."

With this attitude, Sherman issued the following order to his troops at the beginning of the Indian Wars: "During an assault, the soldiers cannot pause to distinguish between male and female, or even discriminate as to age. As long as resistance is made, death must be meted out . . ." (Marszalek, p. 379).

Most of the raids on Indian camps were conducted in the winter, when families would be together and could therefore all be killed at once. Sherman gave Sheridan "authorization to slaughter as many women and children as well as men Sheridan or his subordinates felt was necessary when they attacked Indian villages" (Fellman, p. 271). All livestock was also killed so that any survivors would be more likely to starve to death.

Sherman was once brought before a congressional committee after federal Indian agents, who were supposed to be supervising the Indians who were on reservations, witnessed "the horror of women and children under military attack." Nothing came of the hearings, however. Sherman ordered his subordinates to kill the Indians without restraint to achieve what he called "the final solution of the Indian problem," and promised that if the newspapers found out about it he would "run interference against any complaints about atrocities back East" (Fellman, p. 271).

Eight years into his war of "extermination" Sherman was bursting with pride over his accomplishments. "I am charmed at the handsome conduct of our troops in the field," he wrote Sheridan in 1874. "They go in with the relish that used to make our hearts glad in 1864-5" (Fellman, p. 272).

Another part of Sherman’s "final solution" strategy against this "inferior race" was the massive slaughter of buffalo, a primary source of food for the Indians. If there were no longer any buffalo near where the railroad traveled, he reasoned, then the Indians would not go there either. By 1882 the American buffalo was essentially extinct.

Ironically, some ex-slaves took part in the Indian wars. Known as the "Buffalo Soldiers," they assisted in the federal army’s campaign of extermination against another colored race.

By 1890 Sherman’s "final solution" had been achieved: The Plains Indians were all either killed or placed on reservations "where they can be watched." In a December 18, 1890 letter to the New York Times Sherman expressed his deep disappointment over the fact that, were it not for "civilian interference," his army would have "gotten rid of them all" and killed every last Indian in the U.S. (Marszalek, p. 400).

To Victor Hanson and the American Enterprise Institute this is the kind of man who "deserves a place on the roll call of great liberators in human history." Native Americans would undoubtedly disagree.

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