How Did This Article Make It Into North and South Magazine?
It's bad enough that the latest issue of North and South magazine (Vol.10, No. 5) arrived completely mangled, but then I forced myself to wade through a god-awful article on the U.S. Army's targeting of Southern civilians by Michael R. Bradley ["In the Crosshairs: Southern Civilians Targeted by the US Army" pp. 48-61]. The article is essentially a handful of accounts that detail some pretty horrific encounters in northern Alabama, Middle and West Tennessee and central and western Kentucky. There is little distinction made between region and time and there is almost a complete lack of analysis. Here is Bradley's argument:
That story is one in which the United States army deliberately targeted Confederate civilians and prisoners of war in a war of vengeance; it is a story of unlawful killings on a much greater scale than Fort Pillow; it is a story which reveals a policy decision reached by the United States government to kill without mercy. Human life became exceedingly cheap during the Civil War, and the United States Army was the first to discount its value. (my emphasis, p. 48)
Now before some of you out there assume some vaguely defined anti-southern bias at work let me assure you that I am well-versed in the literature on Union military policy in the South. I recommend Mark Grimsley's Hard Hand of War as essential reading, which of course, Bradley fails to reference. This is a very important topic and it would be nice if more historians addressed it, but to do so involves careful analysis and the utilization of a wide range of sources. Bradley relies almost exclusively on the O.R. and Provost Marshall's Records along with a smattering of postwar records and a few wartime accounts. In other words, the sources utilized for this piece are weak. [Note: Drew Wagenhoffer offers a similar assessment of Bradley's book on the subject which was published by Burd Street Press.]
It's hard to make sense of most of Bradley's examples of Union atrocities against southern civilians. His accounts raise all kinds of questions that he has no interest in exploring. The language is overly emotional and prevents Bradley from making any sense of the complex dynamics that must have been at work depending on the time and place of the incident. Let me give you one example that should make my point sufficiently clear. After discussing Major General Robert Milroy – who is characterized as a "failure as a battlefield commander" and as a result "took out his frustrations on the civilian population under his control" – Bradley examines the policies and command of Fielding Hurst in West Tennessee. Bradley correctly notes that Hurst was "a prominent farmer and one of the largest slaveholders in the counties along the Tennessee River" but makes no effort to unpack its significance. In other words, he says absolutely nothing about how the violence which he unleashed on Confederate units reflects deep-seated tensions that no doubt can be traced back to the antebellum period. Unfortunately, Bradley just lumps this story in with all the others as an expression of a policy formulated at the highest levels of government which he never even thinks of corroborating. He completely ignores the fact that Hurst as well as others discussed in his article are white southerners.
Bradley completely goes off the deep end as he tries to stitch together some kind of conclusion. He anticipates Reconstruction with the following:
The end of the war did not bring an end to the violence. The seeds sown by the killing of civilians by U.S. forces produced the bitter fruit of the Reconstruction struggles and provided emotional fuel for the rejection of the goals the Radical Republicans adopted for the Freedmen. (p. 59)
For Bradley Reconstruction is to be understood as the white North v. the white South even though right under his nose is the evidence that would allow him to draw more sophisticated distinctions and observations about the postwar period. For someone who studies the war in the area of Tennessee, Kentucky and northern Alabama it is unfortunate that he is apparently not familiar with the work of Stephen V. Ash. But wait, it gets better:
Was the targeting of Confederate civilians and, on occasion, prisoners-of-war, a policy of the United States government? Did these actions have the approval of the Lincoln Administration? Before the war began some extreme voices in the North had approved the idea of a slave revolt which would involve the deaths of hundreds, even thousands, of people in the South. The paradigm invoked was the revolt which led to the creation of Haiti at the beginning of the nineteenth century, a race war in which no mercy was shown on either side. John Brown espoused the idea of mayhem, despite which Brown's supporters proclaimed him a martyr to a holy cause. This attitude shows there existed a core group espousing such extreme hatred of Southern whites that wholesale deaths were thought a desirable end. At the beginning of the war Lincoln tried to hold these extreme views at arm's length, but the seed had been planted and the war nourished them. The belief that Confederates could and should be exterminated was accepted by some United States soldiers early in the war, as events in north Alabama and at Murfreesboro show. (my emphasis, p. 59)
Bradley closes by noting that this topic has been neglected by Civil War historians. He should have said that he didn't bother to survey the historiographical terrain in this area. Studies by Mark Grimsley, Stephen Ash, Michael Fellman, and John Marszalek would be a great place to start.
What bothers me most is that somehow this article made it into the pages of North and South. The publication of Bradley's piece is perhaps a sign that editorial standards at the magazine need to be tightened.
As for me I may be switching subscriptions next time around.