Jean Toomer, “Cane” (1923)

This week I will be reading the second volume of the Library of America’s collection of Harlem Renaissance novels.  I considered the works from the 1930s earlier.  The five novels in this collection are from the 1920s and begins with Jean Toomer’s brilliant novel Cane.

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Cane is not a difficult novel to read, but it is impressionistic, like much of high modernist writing.  Structurally, Cane mixes short vignettes drawn from subjective experiences of different people across black America, intermixed with poems.  At the end of the novel is the only lengthy piece, a play about a school teacher.  Many of these works were published before, and as an overall theme is either hard to find or broad, Cane can be read as short stories (and it is anthologized that way often enough).  If any work contested W. E. B. Du Bois’ belief that during a time of political struggle, fiction should take on the role of propaganda, it is Cane, which sought to present life as it was lived, even down to the scents.  What propaganda cannot do well is provide subjective experiences.  In contrast, Toomer floods Cane with those very subjective experiences.  Every small section of this novel provides the perspective of another person.  Men, women, mixed race, Southern, Northern, urban, rural, middle class, poor are all represented in the short vignettes that Toomer strings together elegantly.  While a work of the Harlem Renaissance, Cane is of the South.  It is either set there, or haunted by the memory of the South.  It reminds us that the Harlem Renaissance emerged from the dynamism that migration provides.  And as with any migrants, the writers of Harlem kept one foot in their old homes.  Toomer understood that he was engaged in a dialog with the the black literary establishment.  In the final section of Cane, about a teacher returning to Georgia we find the teacher getting the following explanation about why he must resign from his position.  “Professor Kabnis, to come straight to the point: the progress of the Negro race is jeopardized whenever the personal habits and examples set by its guides and mentors fall below the acknowledged and hard-won standard of its average member.  This institution . . . was founded, and has been maintained at a cost of great labor and untold sacrifice.  It purpose is to teach our youth to live better, cleaner, more noble lives.  To prove to the world that the Negro race can be just like any other race.” (107)  This language is not so far from that of Du Bois and other who believed that art should function to defend the image of the “New Negro.”  Toomer, of course, will have none of that.

toomerJean Toomer himself was biracial and grew up in a white community in Washington D.C.  He studied in various places, including the University of Wisconsin and the Massachusetts College of Agriculture before settling down in New York.  His first marriage was to a white woman, Margery Latimer, although this was short-lived due to Latimer’s death in child-birth.  Many of the stories in Cane reflect elements of his life, especially mixed race sexuality and its challenge to the color line.  Toomer stated as much when defending his first marriage.  “There is a new race in America.  I am a member of this new race.  It is neither white nor black nor in-between.  It is the American race.” (846)  Of course, such an effort to redefine race in American was a threat to the power structure, which sustained so much of its power by manipulating the color line for its own interests.  (See the scholarship on the role of race in union busting throughout American industrial history.)

Thinking about Cane from a libertarian perspective, I was often thinking about how the form of a novel can either liberate or limit a writer’s expression.  Certainly, an entire novel could have been written about “Karintha,” a young woman who is constantly desired by the older men around her.  Toomer is able to condense her story into a few pages but as a reader we do not feel at all betrayed by the apparent negligence.  Indeed, it is so packed with meaning that this short vignette feels like a meal.  In this way, the line between the poems and the stories is not large.

caneThere are two major transgressions documented by Toomer in Cane: interracial sex and mobility.  Both of these transgressions profoundly informed the Harlem Renaissance generation and both were significant challenges to the color line.   Interestingly, under slavery both of these ensured the power of the masters.  Interracial sex enforced the power of white masters over black women and mobility (the domestic slave trade) remained a threat, weapon, or means of making money for masters.  In the post-slavery world, mobility was a threat to land owners and employers who wanted an easily exploited and low paid labor supply in the South.  Interracial sex, once a tool of control, was now a threat to the color line, enforced by legal restrictions on interracial cooperation (and even interaction).  Toomer shows us through some of these stories that blacks as well as white worked to prevent these transgressions.  “Becky,” a white woman with two black sons is ostracized by both sides of the color line.  Yet, the world Toomer describes is still very open with many opportunities for those of will and the walls of power seem everywhere fragile.  While they are there, certainly.  Class is a strong theme, but we do not feel the heavy walls of the bosses bearing down the characters like in some of the more consciously class-based novels (or even compared to James Baldwin’s work, which was heavily invested in the struggle for racial equality).  Toomer’s characters are not revolutionaries. They are people, often at the margins, often seizing weak points in the system.  One of these weak points seems to be the dynamism of Harlem (or all those urban areas in the North).  “Seventh Street is a bastard of Prohibition and the War.  A crude-boned, soft-skinned wedge of nigger life breathing its loafer air, jazz songs and love, thrusting unconscious rhythms, black reddish blood into the white and whitewashed wood of Washington.” (47)  Mobility grinds away at the walls of race.  This helps explain why Toomer’s stories are filled with wandering preachers, teachers moving from north to South, or students entering college in whitewashed Madison.  I am not certain if the mobile worker is truly more powerful, wise, or aware than anyone else, but in the American novel he is.

William Tecumseh Sherman: “Memoirs” (Conclusion)

I have spent the last few days reading through Sherman’s Memoirs (here, here, and here).  My major observation was that Sherman was both an innovator of modern warfare (bureaucratic, total, and ruthless) and an interpreter of state power.  One element that makes him so modern is his belief that military power is the core of a state’s ability to express its will.  He gives lip service to democratic values, but sees them as irrelevant in the application of power, especially military power.  I want to conclude with a few additional issues to round out this discussion of Sherman’s writings.

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Bureaucratization of War
Before the war, Sherman ran a commissary and later a military academy in New Orleans.  It is thus not suprising that a major focus of his thought was on the logistics of war.  In many ways, he saw war as a numbers game.  On the campaign to seize Atlanta, Sherman wrote: “Giving two thousand as a fair proportion of prisoners captured by us for the month of June (twelve thousand nine hundred and eighty-three in all the campaign), makes an aggregate loss in the rebel army of fifty-nine hundred and forty-eight, to ours of seventy-five hundred and thirty — a less proportion than in the relative strength of our two armies, viz., as six to ten, thus maintaining our relative superiority, which the desperate game of war justified.” (534)  In fact, almost every chapter ended with tables of losses, killed, wounded, missing.  I am certain some of this was due to the institutional demands and the regular reporting.  Losses had to be reported up the chain of command.  But Sherman went farther than simple reporting and saw the war as essentially the maximization of power, supplies, weapons, etc.

Use of Black Soldiers
Chapter 22 of Sherman’s Memoirs considers the campaign in the Carolinas.   It is also the first time that Sherman (in his writings) considers the question of race or gave any thought to the future of black Americans after the war.  Due to the passage of the 13th Amendment and the wide use of black troops in the Union Army, Sherman was under pressure to incorporate black troops into his armies systematically leveling much of the South.  Halleck gave directions to Sherman on December 30, 1864, more or less ordering him to make use of black workers.  Halleck was incredibly concerned about the politics of this, given the changing winds in Washington on the status and role of former slaves.  Sherman, according to some influential people, “manifested an almost criminal dislike to the negro” leading to his violation of “wishes of the Government.”  (728)  Of course, Sherman responded that the military necessity trumps the concerns of civil government.  Sherman explains his skepticism (unwilling to accept any racial bigotry he may have embraced) as largely a numbers game again.  Recruiters will recruit someone and may use force or underhanded means to recruit blacks instead of whites.  This will not increase the size of the army. (729–730)  I am not sure if this is true or false.  All the textbooks I read seem to agree that black soldiers did complement the army significantly at a time when it was in need of manpower.  It is hard to avoid the conclusion that Sherman’s theories of maximizing state and military power reached a limit when it came to the recruitment of blacks.
It is in this period the Sherman issued his famous “Special Field Order, No. 15,” which is reprinted in his memoirs.  Sherman uses it as his answer to critics.  It was dealing with the problem of thousands of blacks fleeing to Sherman’s army during and after the “March to the Sea.”  In this sense, it might have been an attempt to bury a problem.  The provision it offered to former slaves (forty acres of land, seized from the planter class) was radical and was at the heart of the most revolutionary ideas of Reconstruction – that the end of slavery required an economic revolution in the planter South.  Whatever inspired his choice, the words he used remain a significant memorial to the racial vision of Reconstruction.  “By the laws of war, and orders of the President of the United States, the nergro is free, and must be dealt with as such.  He cannot be subjected to conscription, or forced military service, save by the written orders of the highest military authority of my department, under such regulations as the President or Congress may prescribe.  Domestic servants, blacksmiths, carpenters, and otehr mechanics , will be free to select their own work and residence, but the young and able-bodied negroes must be encouraged to enlist as soldiers in the service of the United States.” (731)  In any case, it is clear that Sherman thought that this order closed the question on his views on race.  He did not address it in a focused way again.

Theory of War
Sherman includes in the end of his memoirs a summation of his thoughts about war (Chapter 25).  It is worthy of a brief summary and serves to wrap up this series on Sherman.  His opening point is that the Civil War was about the future direction of the nation and at the heart of the war were “moneyed interests.”  For this reason, the war would need to be long and bloody.  Thus, the initial calls for 75,000 “ninety-day” men” was reckless and likely based on politicians raising hopes among the people of a short war.  The U.S. regular army was simply too small to maintain peace.  He follows with a call for a reorganization of the army, and the creation of a larger permanent military force.  The army, reconstituted, must be an autocracy.  “In the United States the people are the ‘sovereign,’ all power originally proceeds from them, and therefore the election of officers by the men is the common rule.  This is wrong, because any army is not a popular organization, but an animated machine, an instrument in the hands of the Executive for enforcing the law, and maintaining the honor and dignity of the nation.” (877)  He openly scorns any suggestion that power can from “from below” in a military.  Sherman’s next discussion is on the mode of recruitment.  Sherman believed in the need for a well-paid, professional, volunteer army.  Much of the rest of the his essay considers questions of logistics.  He predicts the growing importance of earthwork fortifications and the decline of classical sieges.  At the heart of all of his concerns is that even as the army was demobilized that militarization remains a part of the national culture.  “For the very reason that our army is comparatively so very small, I hold that is should be the best possible, organized and governed on true military principles, and that in time of peace we should preserve the ‘habits and usages of war,’ so that , when war does come, we may not again be compelled to suffer the disgrace, confusion, and disorder of 1861.” (896)

I enjoyed reading Sherman for his ruthless honesty about the militarization of the state in modern times.  It we extend his ideas to their logical conclusion it is hard to see how individualism and grassroots democracy can be sustained as long as a state holds possession of all military power.

William Tecumseh Sherman, “Memoirs”, The Atlanta Campaign “War is Cruelty”

Continuing with my reading of William T. Sherman’s Memoirs, today I will focus on Sherman’s application of total war.  I have come to realize that we can understand the U.S. government’s mad pursuit of terrorism with relentless drone strikes or the aggressive effort to bring Edward Snowden to hell for exposing the crimes of the Obama administration by revisiting William T. Sherman.  In many ways, the Atlanta campaign, the forced removal of the citizens of Atlanta after its fall, and his subsequent “march to the sea” defines Sherman’s career.  He is both respected and hated for these acts.  Unfortunately, much of the hatred for Sherman seems to come from Southern apologists.  I want to suggest that we can look at Sherman not so much as a tyrant or lunatic but instead as someone who fully accepted the logic of the state and violence.  He epitomized Weber’s suggestion that the state is simply that which monopolizes violence and power.  Unable to accept alternatives to itself, it had to come down brutally on competitors.

shermanThe key dialog in this section of Sherman’s Memoirs are between Sherman, the Confederate General J. B. Hood commanding the remaining Confederate armies in the Atlanta area, and mayor of Atlanta James M. Calhoun.  As in other sections of his book, Sherman simply recreated the original documents, with very little commentary.  Sherman was unwilling to celebrate for too long his victory at Atlanta.  He immediately set his sights on how to exploit the victory to destroy the South’s ability to resist.  In a letter to Grant, he wrote “We ought to ask our country for the largest possible armies that can be raised, as so important a thing as the self-existence of a great nation should not be left to the fickle chances of war.” (587)  Later in the same paragraph when he insists that the ruthless plundering of the countryside of Georgia will ensure that his “army will not starve” he suggests the next step in the war should be the “utter destruction of Wilmington.” (588)  I am not sure the classic reading that Sherman was plunged into a sort of heart of darkness through his experiences in the war.  He was not saying much that was not the logical extension of ideas he already expressed in the early years of the war.

He first informed his superiors of his plans to vacate Atlanta and destroy much of its infrastructure (particularly government buildings) on September 20, 1864 when he reported on talks he had with General Hood.  He reports that “it is sufficient for my Government to know that the removal of the inhabitants has been made with liberality and fairness.”  But he also states the “real reasons” for the exodus.  These are (1) use of houses for military storage, (2) limit the need for a garrison, (3) “we have a right to it,” (4) to avoid feeding the poor, (5) pro-Confederate residents will cause trouble.  His target was clearly the white population.  (In a letter to Hood, he stated that slaves could stay or go their own way.)

The correspondence between the Confederate leaders and Sherman on this issue are wonderful for its brutal honesty.  The brutality of the removal, he reminded Hood, is nothing more than the necessary consequence of the war, which was pushed on the U.S. by the rebels.  For every wrong committed by Sherman, he could point out many other examples committed by both sides.  Indeed, he believed there was nothing unique about his policy toward the citizens of Atlanta.  Hood remains horrified, in part because he seems to truly see Sherman as an agent of a conquering government.  “You came into our country with your army, avowedly for the purpose of subjugating free white men, women, and children, and not only intend to rule over them, but to make negroes your allies, and desire to place over us an inferior race.” (598)  In contrast to these vile words, Sherman was cold and logically (and seemingly largely indifferent to the role of race and slavery as a cause of the war).

The logic of war (brutality) and the logic of the state were connected in Sherman’s mind.  In response to the arguments about the legitimacy of successive, Sherman posited that the state is eternal and had an inescapable need to assert itself.  “You cannot qualify terms in harsher terms than I will.  War is cruelty, and you cannot refine it; and those who brought war into our country deserve all the curses and maledictions a people can pour out. . . The United States does and must assert its authority, wherever it once had power; for, if it relaxes one bit to pressure, it is gone, and I believe that such is the national feeling. . . . Once admit the Union, once more acknowledge the authority of the national Government, and, instead of devoting your houses and streets and roads to the dread uses of war.” (601)

The March to the Sea is simply an extension of Sherman’s logic.  In his orders to his troops, he stated that the purpose was “to strike a blow at our enemy that will have a material effect in producing what we all so much desire, his complete overthrow.” (651)  During the execution of the March to the Sea, Sherman was proud of how disciplined (how state-like, if you will) the destruction was.  The pillaging, foraging, burning, and destruction was all completed with the maintenance of military order.  From time to time, soldiers had to be innovative in their approaches and while “irregular” they were never performed without discipline.  This is one of the frightful elements of total war.

marchSherman is completely correct, in the same way that Mao was, that political power is an extension of the ability to maximize military power and supplant all other competing centers of power.  Sherman does not waste time justifying his actions with a “cause.”  The war he helped win did lead to a second American Revolution, the rewriting of the Constitution, and the end of the most vile institution in American history.  Sherman speaks little on this, outside of generally calling the United States a “great” country.  Patriotism and a national story is for the people on the bottom.  For those who wield power, the weapon is its own justification.  Had Sherman learned this while a farmer or worker, he may have become an anarchist.  But he was a soldier.

 

William Tecumseh Sherman, “Memoirs” (May1861-March 1864): The Problem of Occupation

shermanThe next section (continued from last post) of William T. Sherman’s Memoirs cover the first two and a half years of the Civil War, including Sherman’s involvement in the First Battle of Bull Run, his nervous breakdown and pessimism while working to expel Confederates from Kentucky, the Battle of Shiloh, the Vicksburg Campaign, and the Chattanooga Campaign.  The final of these were significant from Sherman’s theory of warfare because its epilogue, the Meridian campaign was led by Sherman and largely involved putting into practice total war.  Since the war’s front lines moved so quickly in the Tennessee and Mississippi campaigns, Sherman often found himself confronting the question of what to do with the cities and towns that he helped seized.  The dilemma seemed to be one between sustaining democratic values and democratic governments, property rights while at war.  Ultimately, as proven by the orders he gave during the Meridian campaign, warfare cannot be compatible with these values.  I suspect Sherman is correct on this point.  At least, modern history has seem to prove it.  I do not know much about the Durutti Column and other efforts to fight wars with democratic values.  But the Durutti Column was fighting a war of defense and was rooted in communities with a functioning anarchy.  Sherman was trying to suppress a rebellion.  In most cases, wars are fought against a people and Sherman’s logic is necessary.  A much better approach is to eliminate war, a goal a soldier like Sherman had little interest in thinking about.

As for the Battle of Bull Run, Sherman is skeptical about labeling it a Confederate victory at all, being really a rumble between two undisciplined armies.  “Both armies were fairly defeated, and whichever had stood fast, the other would have run.”  (199)  In the aftermath of the battle he gained some respect for Lincoln, who reviewed the troops, due to his ability to speak to the troops honestly but “full of feeling.” (207)  At the time, Sherman asked Lincoln to ensure that he never takes a top-level command, thinking instead that he would do better as part of the institution rather than its head.  Sherman certainly believed that he excelled under the leadership of Grant and faced his most traumatic times while in sole command.  That trauma came not long after Bull Run, when Sherman took command of a little more than a thousand troops in Kentucky.  In despair, he predicted that the suppression of the Confederacy in that area would take more than 60,000 troops (he later states 200,000 for the “center”).  He does not say much of anything about his frustrations of late 1861, but does document in detail how he his superiors underestimated the power that would be required to put down the rebellion.  This period certainly contributed to his reputation as a “lunatic.”  But as in many things, the lunatic is often proven right.

Often, Sherman does not write his narrative down from the perspective of the 1870s.  Especially in regards to the memory of battles (which is may be right to mistrust) he relies on his orders, letters, and formal reports to commanders.  He included them into his memoirs unedited and intact.  I was often surprised at how enjoyable and literary some of these official correspondences were.  Although written under incredible stress and sorrows, Sherman includes useful commentary (often praising his troops performance), recommendations, and personal touches.  I wonder how many other Civil War generals were able to produce such reports.  I cannot imagine some of those Southern aristocrats producing much that we would want to read 150 years later in the aftermath of a battle.  Anyway, the battle of Shiloh is given to us completely through these reports.  He only adds a defense of Grant’s performance at the end.

Between Shiloh and the Vicksburg campaign, Sherman had the chance to get a feeling for the occupation of enemy territory.  His opinion that the Southerners need to be dealt with harshly as enemies emerges very early.  In August 1862 he wrote: “This is no trifle; when one nation is at war with another, all the people of one are enemies of the other: then the rules are plain and easy of understanding.  Most unfortunately, the war in which we are now engaged has been complicated with the belief on the one hand that all on the other are not enemies.”  He adds that “not only are they unfriendly, but all who can procure arms now bear them as organized regiments, or as guerrillas.” (286)  He then recommends the wholesale looting of occupied territories of cotton, currency, and bullion.    On the same month, he gave detailed notes to the quartermaster in occupied Memphis to seize rents (but not properties) “because the United States assumes the place of trustee.” (295)  Of course he saw this as all logical and the proper implementation of the Confiscation Act, but he is nevertheless innovative in his brutal honesty about the nature of modern war.

In September 1863, Sherman extends this logic to that of the state itself, when he comments in a private letter to General Halleck, on occupation.  The heart of his argument is that no government should be established in Louisiana until the war is over.  Sherman claims knowledge of the local conditions from his time living and working and serving in New Orleans.  “They had a government so mild and paternal that they gradually forgot they had any at all, save what they themselves controlled; they asserted an absolute right to seize public moneys, forts, arms, and even to shut up the natural avenues of travel and commerce. They chose war.”  (361)  The elite cannot be easily replaced and must be forced to accept the new conditions (primarily the end of slavery).  “A civil government of the representative type would suit this class far less than a purely military rule.” (362)  The poor whites, which Sherman paints with a broad brush, are untrustworthy and easily manipulated by the elite.  The “Union men” are timid and prone to demagoguery.  They are not capable of forming a government.  The “young bloods” are basically dumb jocks who are only cut out to strive for fruitless valor on the battlefield.  In short, “a civil government . . . would be simply ridiculous.” (363)  Sherman knew that political power was backed by the gun and therefore he recommends the maintenance of a military government in Louisiana.  The justification for this requires no more than that “as a nation the United States has the right, and also the physical power, to penetrate to every part of our national domain, and that we will do it. . . that it makes no difference whether it be in one year, or two, or ten, or twenty.”  (365)  Sherman identified the horrifying truth of the state and inadvertently makes the case for its abolition.

The first volume of Sherman’s Memoirs ends with his narrative on the Meridian campaign in Mississippi, which was planned and executed from the beginning as an exercise in total war by destroying the infrastructure of southern Mississippi.  But given that the Atlantic campaign and the “march to the sea” is next, I will reserve the remainder of my thoughts on this till then.

William Tecumseh Sherman, “Memoirs” (1820-1861)

As with my reading of the letters and writings of George Washington, I am not expecting to find in William Tecumseh Sherman a libertarian writer or even many libertarian themes.  Like Washington, he was a soldier and ran an authoritarian institution.  But also like Washington he was a key player in a revolution that certainly did expand human liberty.  Unlike Washington, Sherman was from humble origins and rose up through the ranks through his ability.  Like many other mid-nineteenth century Americans, Sherman was restless, anxious, and always eager to experiments and take risks.  Of course when we talk about the antebellum period, we also need to place an asterisk next to the term ‘democracy.’  There is something in the period when we look at people like Sherman or John Brown, who seemed to be comfortable in a certain liquidity even if they were not always successful in their attempts.  To the degree capitalism can be democratic, it must be fully participatory for all people.  I am not sure that is possible but maybe the U.S. got closest before the Civil War in certain frontier areas. 

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The Memoirs of General William T. Sherman was published in 1875, two years after he began writing them.  They were reworked ten years later into the form that we have today.  According to the introduction, his motivation was largely for historical preservation.  At the time of his writing he had doubts about when the official records from the Civil War would be released.  He also seems eager to get his side of the story down.  I suppose he was already a controversial figure a decade after the war.  “In this free country every man is at perfect liberty to publish his own thoughts and impressions, and any witnesses who may differ from me should publish his own version of facts in the truthful narration of which he is interested.  I am publishing my own memoirs, not theirs, and we all know that no three honest witnesses of a simple brawl can agree on the details.” (5)  I rather like this attitude.  It is one often ignored by freshmen history students who gobble up whatever document they read or whatever article they find online.

Sherman’s father was a lawyer, who became a state Supreme Court judge for Ohio, after his family moved there (Sherman was born in Ohio).  But since his father died when Sherman was nine years old, leaving his mother destitute with too many children, the Sherman’s were more or less placed under the protection of a family friend, Thomas Ewing.  The Ewing’s are the ones who move Sherman into a military career.  He entered the U.S. Military Academy in 1836, at 16 years old.  He did well at West Point, graduating in 1840.  He then served in Florida, where he participated in a small way with the removal of the Seminoles. He married Ellen Ewing, Thomas Ewing’s daughter.  At the time of the Mexican War, Sherman was engaged in recruitment efforts.  He spent most of the Mexican War in California where he performed his military duties but also engaged in various business enterprises, many connected to the gold rush.  Considered leaving the army to engage in various business deals but decided to stay in, taking up a commissary post in New Orleans.  (This may be where he learned some of his logistical skills that served him so greatly during the war.)  In 1853 he left the army to become a banker in San Francisco.  While there he remained in the California militia as an officer and had various adventures in that post.  In 1858, his bank failed and he returned to Louisiana  and took a teaching job.  When Louisiana seceded, he moved to St. Louis and later returned to the army at the rank of Colonel.  Although Sherman remained aloof from politics during the politically vibrant 1850s, he was from time to time prophetic, seeing slavery as the major division in the nation, predicting the rise of the free labor economy, and viewing Lincoln’s hopes of a short war as naive.  All of these events are described in the first eight chapters of the first volume of the memoirs.  Like Grant’s Memoirs, Sherman’s are by and large Civil War memoirs, as you might expect.

Sherman lived a quite liquid life in his first forty years.  At the age of 38, Sherman liquidated all of his debts, leaving himself with only $1,000.  Sherman does not really comment on the ethos that led him to this restlessness, but he does point out the type of energy that drove the gold rush because it complicated his life in the military there.  Many soldiers deserted because there was more money to be made in the gold rush economy (often paying wages 2 or 3 times what the military received).  Sherman describes some of his efforts to stop this type of desertion but he is not very judging, seeming to understand their motivations.  I was reminded of Melville’s Omoo (see here and here) when reading the first part of Sherman’s Memoirs because they exemplified the restless spirit that drove the protagonist of that novel to never be satisfied with the job he held.

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With the outbreak of the war, we start to get some of Sherman’s ideas about violence.  One thing he stresses from the beginning is the brutal equality of war.  (This is in Bierce’s work as well.)  He tells one woman that “young men of the best families  did not like to be killed better than ordinary people.”  Allow me to quote at length one of his first experiences of violence during the war.  “One of the regular sergeant file-closers ordered him back, but he attempted to pass through the ranks, when the sergeant barred his progress with his musket “a-port.” The drunken man seized his musket, when the sergeant threw him off with violence, and he rolled over and over down the bank. By the time this man had picked himself up and got his hat, which had fallen off, and had again mounted the embankment, the regulars had passed, and the head of Osterhaus’ regiment of Home Guards had come up. The man had in his hand a small pistol, which he fired off, and I heard that the ball had struck the leg of one of Osterhaus’s staff; the regiment stopped; there was a moment of confusion, when the soldiers of that regiment began to fire over our heads in the grove. I heard the balls cutting the leaves above our heads, and saw several men and women running in all directions, some of whom were wounded. Of course there was a general stampede.  Charles Ewing threw Willie on the ground and covered him with his body.  Hunter ran behind the hill, and I also threw myself on the ground. The fire ran back from the head of the regiment toward its rear, and as I saw the men reloading their pieces, I jerked Willie up, ran back with him into a gulley which covered us, lay there until I saw that the fire had ceased, and that the column was again moving on, when I took up Willie and started back for home round by way of Market Street. A woman and child were killed outright; two or three men were also killed, and several others were wounded. The great mass of the people on that occasion were simply curious spectators, though men were sprinkled through the crowd calling out, “Hurrah for Jeff Davis” and others were particularly abusive of the “damned Dutch.” (191–192)  It was events like this that may have convinced Sherman, very early on, that the war would be long, bitter, and indiscriminate in its violence and that the proper response to such insanity is acceptance.