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With reasonable men, I will reason; with humane men I will plead; but to tyrants I will give no quarter, nor waste arguments where they will certainly be lost…William Lloyd Garrison

Confederate rage, Yankee wrath : no quarter in the Civil War Carbondale : Southern Illinois University Press, c 2007 George S. Burkhardt United States History Civil War, 1861-1865 Atrocities Hardcover. 1st. ed. and printing. xiii, 338 p., [32] p. of plates : ill., maps ; 24 cm. Includes bibliographical references (p. 287-329) and index. Clean, tight and strong binding with clean dust jacket. No highlighting, underlining or marginalia in  text. VG/VG

Burkhardt’s work covers the evolution of limited no-quarter combat during the war. For most of the book, Burkhardt conducts a thoroughly biased examination of the what he claims was a Confederate practice of executing African soldiers. According to Burkhardt, “discrepancies or questions about a particular event diminish in importance if the incident fits solidly into a pattern”  Although not expressly stated by the author, Burkhardt seems to be addressing the debate regarding whether Forrest ordered the executions at Fort Pillow. A pattern of executing African soldiers is clearly established in the subsequent chapters.

In his narrative, Burkhardt promotes the theory of the existence of a de facto policy of executing captured African soldiers. Burkhardt argues that the significance of these relatively widespread incidents of executing African soldiers greatly overshadows the issue of whether Forrest had personally ordered the massacre at Fort Pillow. Regardless of whether Forrest gave the order, his men understood that they would not be punished for their actions.

While Burkhardt, lacking any real evidence, circumvents the debate over Forrest’s involvement, he does address the conflict over the ferocity on the part of the Confederates at Fort Pillow by comparing contemporary newspaper accounts to letters and diaries written by Confederate soldiers involved in the event. Rather than finding that newspaper reports embellished the accounts of Fort Pillow, Burkhardt’s research reveals that the sources largely corroborate each other. In other words if the New York Times and the Boston Globe agree it must be true?

According to Burkhardt, the most significant debate over the practice of executing Africans was within the Confederate government itself. The author charges that the Confederate national government was unable and unwilling to stop the executions of African soldiers. In fact, the Confederate government could never fully decide what to do with captured African soldiers.

The case regarding those captured at Fort Wagner is particularly interesting. According to Burkhardt – with no real documentation – Jefferson Davis originally stated that the African  combatants were insurrectionists and should be killed. Then, again according to Burkhardt, Davis changed his opinion and ordered that captured African Americans be “returned” to slavery. In reality the Confederates sent the Fort Wagner prisoners to a prisoner-of-war camp.

Ultimately Burkhardt argues that neither the Confederate nor the United States government had the power to stop the execution of African soldiers. Not only did Davis lack the power to stop this, Burkhardt believes that Abraham Lincoln’s only option of reprisal executions might have spun out of control and made the Civil War look very similar to the combat seen in the Pacific Theater during World War II. It is this descent from may have been to might have been to could have been that reveals the work to be more polemic than history.

The practice of giving no quarter to Africans and their white officers extended to other whites in somewhat isolated incidents during the war. While the African uniformed soldiers were executed, actions against whites usually only included guerillas or “perceived” irregular troops acting outside of the rules of warfare. Among others, Burkhardt offers the example of the Shenandoah Valley during the middle stage of the war. In an effort to deny Confederates the Valley as a breadbasket and a staging area, patrols of Federals set out to destroy any foodstuffs and most of the structures in the Valley. Initially, John S. Mosby and other Confederates retaliated by killing those soldiers who engaged in arson. Later, partisan raiders extended no-quarter tactics to any Union soldiers found with stolen property in the area. Eventually, General Ulysses S. Grant ordered Union forces to capture family members of Mosby and his men as a means of ensuring acceptable behavior. Once the Union soldiers had completely decimated the Valley the reprisals in the area ceased as the conflicting forces moved out. Burkhardt argues that, while very isolated instances of no-quarter combat existed between whites, their shared heritage and common religious convictions prevented a national strategy of no-quarter warfare from gaining acceptance during the war.

The number of events that Burkhardt documents leaves room to dispute his argument that an unwritten policy existed, which allowed Confederates to execute captured African soldiers. Burkhardt has not contributed a significant piece of scholarship to the field of Civil War history and has merely fueled the fires of so-called multicultural studies – which are neither. Thoroughly lacking objectivity or a thorough examination of the subject this book still present quite a challenge to anyone seeking clear the fog of war and while accusing the South of every form of atrocity imaginable does nothing to address the union atrocities – all the way from starting the war to denying peace and reconciliation for years after its end.

 

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