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.

15 comments… add one
  • Chris Paysinger Feb 17, 2008

    Hi Kevin,

    Thanks for the heads up on this article. I’ve had the “pleasure” of hearing Mr. Bradley speak. Ironically it was at a fundraiser for the Nathan Bedford Forrest childhood home. I had just spoken to the local SCV and they put on the fundraiser and gave me tickets.

    Mr. Bradley speaks as he writes apparently. Nothing he said was grounded in current historiography concerning the war. As you said, I can’t imagine how someone writes about war policy, esp. in the Middle Tn. and North Al. area and doesn’t reference Ash, Grimsley, etc. That is just poor scholarship and I can’t believe the editors allowed it.

    I am no doubt persona non grata with local SCV boys in that I don’t say the pledge to the CSA flag…which I think is just weird. And at the end of Bradley’s lecture, he did this kind of wild spoken word thing where he “is the Confederate flag.” And then, I kid you not, the curtains behind him were pulled and a CSA battleflag the size of my house was unfulred and everyone stood and sang Dixie and cried. Except for me and my former high school teacher who went with me (and is descended from Ohio Yankee stock). We both agreed we had experienced something that was too surreal to explain. I actually may buy the magazine to see what he says about North Ala, which I am writing about right now.

    Thanks, Chris

  • Kevin Levin Feb 17, 2008

    Chris, — I didn’t mention in the post that I looked up his name and found all kinds of references to “neo-Confederate” organizations. I am not surprised by your story. I still find it hard to believe that this nonsense was published; it doesn’t bode well for the future of the magazine.

  • chris graham Feb 17, 2008

    Um, wow. Just, wow.

  • As a John Brown scholar, I of course take issue with his characterization of Brown. Perhaps one might be able to argue (as Tom Goodrich does) that Brown was a terrorist bent on destroying all Southern whites, but I really don’t buy the idea that Brown supported whole-scale slaughter. If so, why did he take hostages at Harper’s Ferry? Why didn’t he just kill Lewis Washington and the others? Anyway, I digress.

    It sounds like an interesting article…I shall check it out.

  • Kevin Levin Feb 18, 2008

    Chris, — Wow indeed.

    HE, — The problem is that it is not in any way interesting. It is a poorly-constructed mess that fails to draw any line between scholarship and emotion.

  • Kevin Feb 18, 2008

    Isn’t he a retired professor from Middle Tennessee State U? Which, IMHO, makes it worse. Thanks for the heads up, I’ll skip the article. I also am discouraged with the direction that N&S is going.

  • Kevin Levin Feb 18, 2008

    He is indeed a retired professor who taught at MTSU. In addition to the Burd Street Press book Bradley is the author of _It Happened During the Civil War_ and _It Happened During the American Revolution_. I know nothing about these titles. Here are a few links where you can find him:
    http://www.tennessee-scv.org/camp155/
    http://spofga.org/flag/2007/jan/stephen_dill_lee.php

  • Ken Noe Feb 18, 2008

    Kevins:

    I believe that Professor Bradley taught at Motlow State Community College in Lynchburg, not MTSU. I think he also was recently commander of the Tennessee SCV.

    Ken

  • Larry Cebula Feb 18, 2008

    Are scholars losing the battle to interpret the Civil War to the public? The unchecked rise of this neo-Confederate nonsense is terribly depressing. Before I found this blog I tended to blow these guys off, thinking they were the last gasp of a bankrupt 19th-century world view. These days I am less certain, less confident.

  • Border Feb 18, 2008

    “…This attitude shows there existed a core group espousing such extreme hatred of Southern whites that wholesale deaths were thought a desirable end….”

    =====================================================

    Yeah…no doubt-

    “It is plain that nothing approaching the present policy will subdue the rebels. Whether we shall find anybody with a sufficient grasp of mind and sufficient moral courage to treat this as a radical revolution and remodel our institutions, I doubt. It would involve the desolation of the South as well as emancipation, and a repeopling of half the continent. This ought to be done, but it startles most men.”

    Thaddeus Stevens, September 5, 1862
    The Life of Thaddeus Stevens…, p.188
    http://books.google.com/books?id=z6cSAAAAYAAJ&printsec=frontcover&dq=%22life+of+thaddeus+stevens%22#PPA188,M1

  • Kevin Levin Feb 18, 2008

    Perhaps you could provide some analysis of what you believe the Stevens quote implies. Apparently you believe that Stevens is advocating the assumptions contained int he Bradley quote. Sorry, but I don’t see it, but perhaps you know something about Stevens that the rest of us don’t.

  • Ah, of course. I won’t bother to read it then, since you’ve given me a great synopsis of the key details.

  • Allen Apr 12, 2008

    Kevin (sorry, I presume that is your name, but the only references I find on the page are from sycophants or to the pronoun “I”),

    I find it interesting that you describe Bradley’s sources “weak”. They are much the same as Grimsley’s. And before you ask, yes I have read The Hard Hand of War and am casually acquainted (electronically) with Mark Grimsley. Grimsley relies almost wholly on the O.R. and other Federal accounts. Weak? You tell me. They are undoubtedly self-serving, and understated. As for any antebellum causation for Hurst’s actions, my response is “So what?”. They don’t mitigate his war-time deeds. Hurst’s and other Tories’ (such as Stokes’ 10th Cavalry up on the plateau) units were largely populated with what I’ll politely refer to as the scum of the local populations. The miscreants, the rowdies, the layabouts, who took advantage of the absence of those citizens who were away in Confederate service to create havoc, exact revenge for perceived slights, and otherwise slip off the leash for a while. All under color of “authority”. Must have been sweet while it lasted for them. For the sake of propriety, I’ll just refrain from commenting on Milroy. William Truesdail, too.

    The “modern historiography” to which you refer is often just as biased and self-serving as anything you may dismiss as “Lost Cause”. Some authors (notably the pseudo-Marxist Eric Foner) are all too eager to recast the period in terms which fit modern social and racial sensibilities. I’ll not drop The R Word (revisionist) on you like it is some sort of epithet. All history is revisionist to some extent, as new sources come to light. Bradley’s use of the recently uncovered Provost Marshall’s records are just such an example. But, since they are relatively unvarnished and definitely disturbing as to how they relate the treatment afforded civilians of Confederate sympathies, you seem to object. Weak? Again, you tell me. I’m sure you’d prefer to cast them aside as such.

    Don’t agree with Bradley’s conclusions? Fine. Suit yourself. The sources are there for you to check out. And just because he doesn’t parrot Grimsley or Ash does not mean he’s not right.

    To Mr. Chris Paysinger —

    For someone who claims to be an ear and eye witness to Bradley’s presentation of “I am Their Flag”, you sure don’t have much of a grasp on it. This poem does not place the
    author/presenter in any position to claim that he “is the Confederate flag”. Far from it. The story is told from the perspective of the flag, were it able to recite the many trials and experiences of the men who carried it. It is a direct rebuttal of those who see the flag as only a symbol of injustice or animosity. And also a refutation of those who are guilty of placing it in that context — the haters and retrograde social neanderthals.

    I’m sorry you and your Ohio-refugee school teacher companion found the Salute to the Flag “weird”. This is The South. We have a deep sense of place, and a connection to our past which others often are incapable of understanding. Further, the SCV is a partisan organization. The lineal heir of the UCV. In the right context, it all makes perfect sense. Apparently, you just don’t grasp the context. My only advice to you is “When in Rome, do as the Romans do”. Or just keep your head down. Whichever you find easier.

  • Kevin Levin Apr 12, 2008

    Allen, — I’m not sure I understand your criticism. My problem was not necessarily with the sources, but the interpretation of those sources. The author used those sources to fashion an overly simplistic argument that supposedly detailed attacks on civilians by Union soldiers. Of course, that did take place and I am very interested in the scope of such activity. Unfortunately, the author was more interested in arriving at conclusions already established in his own mind.

    I will not address your characterization of Grimsley, Ashe, and Foner as you provide nothing substantive to respond to. All the same, I appreciate you taking the time to respond to the post.

  • Ethan Rafuse Feb 7, 2009

    Hey, I just had a crazy thought. . . . Does it matter that history has proved that Thaddeus Stevens and those who wanted to completely revolutionize the South by using the power of the federal government to punish treason and do justice to the freedmen during the Civil War and Reconstruction were, uh . . . right?

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