How Lincoln's Army 'Liberated' the Indians
How Lincoln's Army 'Liberated' the Indians
by Thomas J. DiLorenzo
In a recent issue of The American Enterprise magazine devoted to the
War between the States (see my LRC article, "AEI is Still Fighting the
Civil War") Victor Hanson, a visiting professor at the U.S. Naval
Academy, defends and makes excuses for Lincoln's intentional waging of
war on Southern civilians. This included the bombing, pillaging and
plundering of their cities and towns, the burning of their homes, total
destruction of farms and livestock, gang rape, and the killing of
thousands, including women and children of all races. (See Merchant of
Terror: General Sherman and Total War by John Bennett Walters or The
Hard Hand of War by Mark Grimsley).
It was all justified, says Hanson, because General Sherman and his men
were supposedly motivated by the belief that it was necessary "to
guarantee the American proposition that each man is as good as
another." Sherman's "bummers," as they were called, were "political
avenging angels" who were offended by racial inequalities in the South.
They were driven by "an ideological furor, to destroy the nature of
Southern aristocracy." The "tyrannical Southern ruling class" needed to
be taught a lesson. (Besides, he writes, "rapes during [Sherman's]
march were almost unknown)."
In reality, neither Sherman nor his soldiers believed any of these
things. (And rapes were not as "unknown" to the Southern people as they
are to Hanson). In the Northern states at the time, myriad Black Codes
existed that prohibited blacks from migrating into most Northern states
and kept them from entering into contracts, voting, marrying whites,
testifying in court against whites (which invited criminal abuse), or
sending their children to public schools. They were excluded altogether
from all forms of transportation or required to sit in special "Jim
Crow sections." They were prohibited from entering hotels, restaurants
or resorts except as servants, and were segregated in churches,
prisons, and even cemeteries. Free blacks in the North in the 1860s
were cruelly discriminated against in every aspect of their existence,
and were denied the most fundamental of citizenship rights
Sherman himself certainly did not believe that "each man is as good as
another." For example, in 1862 Sherman was bothered that "the country"
was "swarming with dishonest Jews" (see Michael Fellman, Citizen
Sherman, p. 153). He got his close friend, General Grant, to expel all
Jews from his army. As Fellman writes, "On December 17, 1862, Grant . .
. , like a medieval monarch . . . expelled `The Jews, as a class,' from
his department." Sherman biographer Fellman further writes that to
Sherman, the Jews were "like niggers" and "like greasers (Mexicans) or
Indians" in that they were "classes or races permanently inferior to
The notion that Sherman's army was motivated by a belief that all men
are created equal is belied by the further fact that just three months
after General Robert E. Lee surrendered at Appomattox the very same
army commenced a campaign of ethnic genocide against the Plains
Indians. In July of 1865 Sherman was put in charge of the Military
District of the Missouri (all land west of the Mississippi) and given
the assignment to eradicate the Plains Indians in order to make way for
the federally subsidized transcontinental railroad. Like Lincoln,
Sherman was a friend of Grenville Dodge, the chief engineer of the
project. He was also a railroad investor and he lobbied his brother,
Senator John Sherman, to allocate federal funds for the
transcontinental railroad. "We are not going to let a few thieving,
ragged Indians stop and check the progress of the railroad," he wrote
to General Grant in 1867 (Fellman, p. 264). As Fellman writes:
[T]he great triumvirate of the Union Civil War effort [Grant, Sherman
and Sheridan] formulated and enacted military Indian policy until
reaching, by The 1880s, what Sherman sometimes referred to as "the
final solution of the Indian problem," which he defined as killing
hostile Indians and segregating their pauperized survivors in remote
places . . . . These men applied their shared ruthlessness, born of
their Civil War experiences, against a people all three despised, in
the name of Civilization and Progress (emphasis added).
Another Sherman biographer, John F. Marszalek, points out in Sherman: A
Soldier's Passion for Order, that "Sherman viewed Indians as he viewed
recalcitrant Southerners during the war and newly freed people after
the war: resisters to the legitimate forces of an orderly society," by
which he meant the central government. Moreover, writes Marszalek,
Sherman's philosophy was that "since the inferior Indians refused to
step aside so superior American culture could create success and
progress, they had to be driven out of the way as the Confederates had
been driven back into the Union."
"Most of the other generals who took a direct role in the Indian wars,
writes Marszalek, "were, like Sherman, [Union] Civil War luminaries."
This included "John Pope, O.O. Howard, Nelson A. Miles, Alfred H.
Terry, E.O.C. Ord, C.C. Augeur, and R.S. Canby. General Winfield Scott
Hancock should be added to this list of "luminaries." Among the
colonels, "George Armstrong Custer and Benjamin Grierson were the most
Sherman and General Phillip Sheridan were associated with the statement
that "the only good Indian is a dead Indian." The problem with the
Indians, Sherman said, was that "they did not make allowance for the
rapid growth of the white race" (Marszalek, p. 390). And, "both races
cannot use this country in common" (Fellman, p. 263).
Sherman's theory of white racial superiority is what led him to the
policy of waging war against the Indians "till the Indians are all
killed or taken to a country where they can be watched." As Fellman (p.
Sherman planted a racist tautology: Some Indians are thieving, killing
rascals fit for death; all Indians look alike; therefore, to get some
we must eliminate all . . . deduced from this racist tautology . . .
the less destructive policy would be racial cleansing of the land . . .
Accordingly, Sherman wrote to Grant: "We must act with vindictive
earnestness against the Sioux, even to their extermination, men, women
and children." Writing two days later to his brother John, General
Sherman said: "I suppose the Sioux must be exterminated . . ."
(Fellman, p. 264).
This was Sherman's attitude toward Southerners during the War for
Southern Independence as well. In a July 31, 1862 letter to his wife
(from his Collected Works) he wrote that his purpose in the war was:
"Extermination, not of soldiers alone, that is the least part of the
trouble, but the [Southern] people." His charming and nurturing wife
Ellen wrote back that her fondest wish was for a war "of extermination
and that all [Southerners] would be driven like the Swine into the
With this attitude, Sherman issued the following order to his troops at
the beginning of the Indian Wars: "During an assault, the soldiers
cannot pause to distinguish between male and female, or even
discriminate as to age. As long as resistance is made, death must be
meted out . . ." (Marszalek, p. 379).
Most of the raids on Indian camps were conducted in the winter, when
families would be together and could therefore all be killed at once.
Sherman gave Sheridan "authorization to slaughter as many women and
children as well as men Sheridan or his subordinates felt was necessary
when they attacked Indian villages" (Fellman, p. 271). All livestock
was also killed so that any survivors would be more likely to starve to
Sherman was once brought before a congressional committee after federal
Indian agents, who were supposed to be supervising the Indians who were
on reservations, witnessed "the horror of women and children under
military attack." Nothing came of the hearings, however. Sherman
ordered his subordinates to kill the Indians without restraint to
achieve what he called "the final solution of the Indian problem," and
promised that if the newspapers found out about it he would "run
interference against any complaints about atrocities back East"
(Fellman, p. 271).
Eight years into his war of "extermination" Sherman was bursting with
pride over his accomplishments. "I am charmed at the handsome conduct
of our troops in the field," he wrote Sheridan in 1874. "They go in
with the relish that used to make our hearts glad in 1864-5" (Fellman,
Another part of Sherman's "final solution" strategy against this
"inferior race" was the massive slaughter of buffalo, a primary source
of food for the Indians. If there were no longer any buffalo near where
the railroad traveled, he reasoned, then the Indians would not go there
either. By 1882 the American buffalo was essentially extinct.
Ironically, some ex-slaves took part in the Indian wars. Known as the
"Buffalo Soldiers," they assisted in the federal army's campaign of
extermination against another colored race.
By 1890 Sherman's "final solution" had been achieved: The Plains
Indians were all either killed or placed on reservations "where they
can be watched." In a December 18, 1890 letter to the New York Times
Sherman expressed his deep disappointment over the fact that, were it
not for "civilian interference," his army would have "gotten rid of
them all" and killed every last Indian in the U.S. (Marszalek, p. 400).
To Victor Hanson and the American Enterprise Institute this is the kind
of man who "deserves a place on the roll call of great liberators in
human history." Native Americans would undoubtedly disagree.
February 12, 2003
Thomas J. DiLorenzo [send him mail] is the author of the LRC #1
bestseller, The Real Lincoln: A New Look at Abraham Lincoln, His
Agenda, and an Unnecessary War (Forum/Random House, 2002) and professor
of economics at Loyola College in Maryland.
Copyright © 2003 LewRockwell.com