Dave Powell Comments on The Hard Hand of War

Dave Powell posted an excellent and lengthy response to my recent review of Mark Grimsley’s The Hard Hand of War in the comments section following the entry.  Dave brings up a great point about the lack of studies examining Confederate soldiers’ destruction of their own civilian property.  In order to allow the most people to see it, I’ve posted it below. Take a look:

Dave Powell // Apr 9, 2008 at 6:04 am

Brett and Drew,

One of the problems I have with most examinations of Sherman’s March is the almost complete lack of discussion about Rebel destruction. While trying to figure out – house by house, as it were – who was responsible for every act is impossible, the responsibility that Wheeler’s cavalry must bear is usually mentioned only in passing, if at all.

In fact, Wheeler destroyed vast amounts of public property. He was ordered to. In addition, however, his command was among the most undisciplined of all ACW regular troops (excepting guerrilla bands) and they commited widespread personal destruction & looting as well. One of my favorite examples? A letter from an officer in Terry’s Texas Rangers sending home a set of silver candlesticks he ‘foraged.’ he wrote this letter in late 64, outside Savannah. Where do you suppose he found those candlesticks?

The conduct of Wheeler’s men at the time drew such outrage from the locals that it prompted CSA congressional investigations and similar efforts from Confederate military authorities. Col. Roman, Beuaregard’s chief of staff, wrote a damning report in Jan 65 on the lack of discipline in Wheeler’s ranks.

There are similar stories from earlier in the war: the sack of Cleveland Tenn by Rebel cav in Sept 1863, for example.

This is all not to say that we should not look at the realities of Federal “hard war;” far from it. But it is also time to despel a lot of the romantic notions surrounding Confederate troops defending their homes and hearths.

War is a brutalizing affair. Just as in the middle ages, when an army came by, whether on Chevauchee or not, it usually mattered little to the unfortunate civilians caught in the path which ’side’ visited.

Dave Powell


7 responses to “Dave Powell Comments on The Hard Hand of War

  1. Fred Ray Avatar
    Fred Ray

    Couple of comments:

    “Tu Quoque” (you’re just as bad) is not exactly a defense.

    A couple of undisciplined units don’t necessarily indict the whole army, especially given the circumstances. Wheeler wasn’t trying to “make Georgia howl.”

    Powell way overstates his case when saying that there was no difference between the two sides, or that the locals thought so, altho that’s the postmodern way of seeing things.

    I’d put the Valley cavalry right up with Wheeler’s men when it came to stealing, for many of the same reasons.

  2. Robert Moore Avatar

    Mr. Ray,

    Can you clarify what you mean when you say that you would “put the Valley cavalry right up with Wheeler’s men when it came to stealing, for many of the same reasons?” Are you making reference to Ashby’s Cavalry or as it existed later as the “Laurel Brigade?”

  3. Fred Ray Avatar
    Fred Ray

    Nope, not the Laurel brigade. Mostly the loosely organized cavalry that operated in the 1864 Valley campaign. Most of these were poorly disciplined militia units. As their commanders remarked the raw material was good but there was no time to make them into real soldiers. They were well known for robbing friend and foe alike. Robert Krick’s essay “The Cause of All My Disasters” is probably the best look at them.

  4. Robert Moore Avatar

    There was no militia in the Valley in 1864. All of the Valley militia had been disbanded by the spring of 1862. There were however, reserve units, but they were paper units or, what few men they could actually muster (mostly over the age of 40), they sent to the defenses of Richmond.

    As opposed to the Laurel Brigade, Imboden’s cavalry may have been guilty of some acts. I’d like to see this essay. In what work might I find it?

  5. Robert Moore Avatar

    Looking back at Brett’s earlier post (http://www.brettschulte.net/CWBlog/2005/10/10/struggle-for-the-shenandoah-essays-on-the-1864-valley-campaign-part-2/),
    I find Krick’s discussion of Valley cavalry interesting. However, I need to get the book to read the full piece.

    Though they weren’t in the Valley all of the time through 1864 (around Petersburg during the late summer, for example), the Laurel Brigade was mentioned (and were very much present in the Woodstock Races). Leadership was typically an issue with the command from Ashby (who didn’t understand the need to delegate) to Grumble Jones (who they hated) to Rosser (who drew mixed feelings). Incidentally, many of the “Laurel’s” had carbines as indicated in the Combined Service Records.

    I’d like to see specifics about Confederate cavalrymen “robbing friend and foe alike.” Imboden’s cavalry was an unusual group. I think Lee was critical of the command, as a matter of fact, for drawing away so many men from the ANV for service in the Valley. Some of these men, but not all, were hard people. Others in the command, as I have seen, were conscripts who didn’t want to be with the army in the first place.

    I also found it interesting the way that Bradely Johnson was mentioned. I don’t necessarily believe that he was lacking discipline. In fact, he was the one who submitted a report being critical of the conduct of Confederate cavalry at Chambersburg.

  6. Robert Moore Avatar

    Sorry, quick typing – I meant to say “Bradley Johnson”

  7. Brett Schulte Avatar


    After skimming through Krick’s essay, it seems he is referring to Lomax’s Cavalry Division mainly. This would include the Laurel Brigade. As far as actual depredations, you’ll probably have to go back and reread it. I do not have the time in the near-term future to go check it out and see which units (if any) Krick implicated in the destruction of Confederate property.

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