- Correspondence with Sherman -- Citations on the rules of War.
About the time I exchanged with General Sherman the two thousand (2000) prisoners above mentioned, the following correspondence passed between us, in relation to his treatment of the non-combatants of Atlanta:
I preferred here to close the discussion, and, therefore, made no reply to his last communication inviting me to “see the books.” I will at present, however, consider this subject, and cite a few authorities upon the above disputed points, in order to show that General Sherman's conduct, in this instance, was in violation of the laws which should govern nations in time of war. Atlanta could not properly be designated a regularly fortified city. It was simply protected by temporary breastworks, of the same character as those used by Johnston and Sherman, during the preceding campaign. The fortifications consisted of a ditch, with a log to act as protection to the heads of the men whilst firing, and of brushwood, when it could be obtained, thrown out in front as an obstruction to a rapid advance of the enemy. A large portion of the line, which passed through open fields, was devoid of this latter safeguard. Moreover, only a few of the heavy guns and batteries were covered by embankments with embrasures. Fortifications, it is well known, are divided into two classes: temporary, and permanent. Those I have described, around Atlanta, come under the head of the first class. The latter are constructed of the best material, iron, and stone, with parapet, deep and wide ditch and glacis, similar to the fortifications on Governor's Island, and those of Fortress Monroe. In the construction of permanent works, every exertion is made to render them as strong and durable as possible.  It might be supposed, from General Sherman's Memoirs, that Atlanta was not only a thoroughly fortified town, but was provisioned to endure a siege of a year or more, after all communication was cut off; that it possessed arsenals and machine shops as extensive as those in Richmond and Macon — an illusion created, probably, by a dilapidated foundry, near the Augusta road, which had been in use prior to the war. General Sherman, therefore, cannot assert, in order to justify certain acts, that Atlanta was a regularly fortified town. And whereas I marched out at night, allowing him the following day to enter the city, unopposed, as he himself acknowledges, and whereas no provocation was given by the authorities, civil or military, he can in no manner claim that extreme war measures were a necessity. It has been argued that Wellington sanctioned extreme measures against the Basques, at the time he was opposed to Marshal Soult, at Bayonne, in 1814. Wellington perceived that, by pillage and cruel treatment, his Spanish allies, under Mina and Morilla, were arousing the Basques to arms, and at once ordered the Spanish troops to abstain from such odious conduct. He was, unfortunately, too late in his discovery; the appetite for plunder had become so inordinate that his proclamation was disregarded by his allies, and he was subsequently forced to threaten extreme measures, in order to check the partisan warfare which initiated the cruelties and horrors he deplored. This is the unquestionable interpretation of the subjoined passage: “A sullen obedience followed, but the plundering system was soon renewed, and this, with the mischief already done, was enough to arouse the inhabitants of Bedary, as well as those of the Val-de-Baigorre, into action. They commenced and continued a partisan warfare until Lord Wellington, incensed by their activity, issued a proclamation calling upon them to take arms openly, and join Soult, or stay peaceably at home, declaring that he would otherwise burn their villages and hang all the inhabitants.” 1  The inhabitants of Atlanta gave no such cause for action on the part of General Sherman, nor was the safety of the Federal Army in any manner involved. Nevertheless he ordered women and children, the infirm and the sick, in fact the entire population to go either North or South. The subjoined appeal of the Mayor and Councilmen of Atlanta was powerless to alter the determination of the Federal commander:
I shall now cite a few authorities upon the rights of war, to ascertain in how far the course pursued toward the inhabitants of Atlanta is in accordance with those laws which are now universally recognized. Halleck, Vattel, and Grotius establish the following rules:2
* * * It is a just remark made bysome theologians, that all Christian princes and rulers who wish to be found such in the sight of God, as well as that of men, will deem it a duty to interpose their authority to  prevent or suppress all unnecessary violence in the taking of terms, for acts of rigor can never be carried to an extreme without involving great numbers of the innocent in ruin; and practices of that kind, beside being no way conducive to the termination of war, are totally repugnant to every principle of Christianity and justice. Women, children, feeble old men, and sick persons, come under the description of enemies; and we have certain rights over them, inasmuch as they belong to the nation with whom we are at war, and as, between nation and nation, all rights and pretensions affect the body of society, together with all its members. But these are enemies who make no resistance; and consequently we have no right to maltreat their persons, or use any violence against them. * * * This is so plain a maxim of justice and humanity that at present every nation, in the least degree civilized, acquiesces in it.3 * * * Since women and children are subjects of the State, and members of the Nation, they are to be ranked in the class of enemies. But it does not thence follow that we are justifiable in treating them like men who bear arms, or are capable of bearing them. 4 At present war is carried on by regular troops; the people, the peasants, the citizens, take no part in it, and generally have nothing to fear from the sword of the enemy. Provided the inhabitants submit to him who is master of the country, pay the contributions imposed, and refrain from all hostilities, they live in as perfect safety as if they were friends; they continue in possession of what belongs to them; the country people come freely to the camp to sell their provisions, and are protected as far as possible from the calamities of war. 5 Since the object of a just war is to repress injustice and violence, and forcibly to compel him who is deaf to the voice of justice, we have a right to put in practice, against the enemy, every measure that is necessary in order to weaken him and disable him from resisting us and supporting his injustice; and we may choose such methods as are the most efficacious and best calculated to attain the end in view, provided they be not of an odious kind, nor unjustifiable in themselves, and prohibited by the laws of nature. 6 The lawfulness of the end does not give a real right to anything further than barely the means necessary to the attainment of that end.  Whatever we do beyond that is reprobated by the law of nature, is faulty and condemnable at the tribunal of conscience. Hence it is that the right to such, or such acts of hostility, varies according to circumstances. What is just and perfectly innocent in war in one particular situation, is not always so on other occasions. Right goes hand-in-hand with necessity and the exigencies of the case, but never exceeds them. 7 All these classes (old men, women and children, the clergy, magis trates, and other civil officers), which, by general usage or the municipal laws of the belligerent State, are exempt from military duty, are not subject to the general rights of a belligerent over the enemy's person. To these are added, by modern usage, all persons who are not organized or called into military service, though capable of its duties, but who are lett to pursue their usual pacific avocations. All these are regarded as non-combatants.8General Sherman admits, in his Memoirs, that he burned stores and dwellings; that “the heart of the city was in flames all night;” that he telegraphed to Grant he had “made a wreck of Atlanta,” 9 which he afterwards termed “the ruined city.” The following quotations will show whether or not he was justified in this destruction of property:
And with respect to things, the case is the same as with respect to persons — things belonging to the enemy, continue such wherever they are. But we are not hence to conclude, any more than in the case of persons, that we everywhere possess a right to treat these things as things belonging to the enemy. 10 The wanton destruction of public monuments, temples, tombs, statues, paintings, etc., is absolutely condemned, even by the voluntary law of nations, as never being conducive to the lawful object of war. The pillage and destruction of towns, the devastation of the open country, ravaging, setting fire to houses, are measures no less odious and detestable on every occasion where they are evidently put in practice without absolute necessity or, at least, very cogent reasons. But as the perpetrators of such outrageous deeds might attempt to palliate them, under pretext of deservedly punishing the enemy, be it here observed that the natural and voluntary law of nations does not allow us to inflict  such punishments, except for enormous offences against the law of nations.11When General Lee entered Pennsylvania with his Army, he gave strict orders to destroy no property, and to pay for all provisions obtained from the enemy. Marshal Soult was likewise magnanimous in his conduct, after he had been not only compelled to storm the defences of Oporto, but to fight from street to street, in order to finally force a surrender. Napier states that the French found some of their comrades who had been taken prisoners, “fastened upright and living, but with their eyes burst, their tongues torn out, and their other members mutilated and gashed.” This ghastly sight notwithstanding, many of the French soldiers and officers endeavored, at the risk of their lives, to check the vengeance of their comrades, Soult did not, even after this fearful resistance and these examples of barbarous cruelty, send off the women and children, the infirm and the sick, and then burn their homes; on the contrary,12 “Recovering and restoring a part of the plunder, he caused the inhabitants remaining in town to be treated with respect; he invited, by proclamation, all those who had fled to return, and he demanded no contribution; but restraining with a firm hand the violence of his men, he contrived, from the captured public property, to support the Army and even to succor the poorest and most distressed of the population.” Although it is customary, previous to a general assault of a fortified town of which the demand for surrender has been rejected, that the commanding officer give warning (on account of the extraordinary sacrifice of life, to which his troops must necessarily be subjected) that he will not be responsible for the lives of the captured, as did Lieutenant General Lee in my name at Resaca. No officer should allow his soldiers to bum and pillage after victory has been secured.