October 1, 2012

IT'S NOT TERRORISM WHEN WE DO IT:

The Last House in Randolph (THOM BASSETT, 10/01/12, NY Times)

Col. C.C. Walcutt of the 46th Ohio Volunteers had his orders. In response to an attack by Southern guerrillas on the unarmed ship Eugene, bound for Memphis from St. Louis, Walcutt was to take a regiment and unit of artillery to Randolph, Tenn., about 30 miles north of Memphis along the river, near where the ship had been fired on. Once there, Walcutt and his men, in the words of his commander, William Tecumseh Sherman, were to "destroy the town, leaving one house to mark the place."

Sherman had instructed Walcutt to "let the people know and feel that we deeply deplore the necessity of such destruction." Despite this regret, and even though he was sure that those actually responsible for the attack were already beyond the reach of Union forces, Sherman declared in his orders that "the cowardly firing upon boats filled with women and children and merchandise must be severely punished."

Walcutt's troops did their work well. The next day, Sept. 25, 1862, Sherman could write in his official report that "the regiment has returned and Randolph is gone."

There's no doubt the destruction of Randolph was a harsh response. However, given Sherman's reputation as an unrelenting scourge of Southerners in the last year of the war, it's easy to overlook that such collective punishment of civilians for guerrilla activity was largely accepted by the leading legal authorities of his time. In fact, both Union and Confederate commanders punished civilians in similar ways throughout the Civil War.

Posted by at October 1, 2012 3:28 PM
  

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