Howdy folks, and welcome back to the good ol’ blog! Today’s tidbit about me is: I got an iphone for Christmas, and now I can barely remember what it was like having a phone that didn’t have an internet connection or dozens of handy, useful applications. Growing up, I mostly played outside and watched tv – now I have a communication device on my person that can do a ridiculously large number of things, including order pizza, check movie show times, browse the news, take pictures, play music, manage a calendar, search for restaurants, and calculate a good tip. It’s a bit jarring to think about, really.
150 years ago today, President Lincoln issued a decree that helped incorporate the issue of slavery into the Union’s war goals. He proclaimed that starting today every Confederate had 60 days to surrender to government forces, or else their slaves would be freed. In addition, all slaves who sought refuge with Union military forces would be deemed captives of war and given their freedom. This was the first official step towards freeing the slaves in the Civil War, and it would serve as a precursor to the emancipation proclamation.
The thing is, this was more than just a stand against slavery: it was an escalation of the war. Several days before this proclamation, General Pope had brazenly declared that any Confederates who did not swear an oath of loyalty to the Union would be evicted from their homes and forced over into Confederate territory. Anyone who tried to return would be shot as a spy. In addition, Pope claimed that the local civilian population would be held accountable for any damage to railroad or telegraph lines. The Confederates were horrified by these measures, especially since Pope also encouraged his soldiers to “live off the land” – or rather, take any supplies they wanted from the local population. Preceding Union commanders like General McClellan had fought the same way the Confederates had – by leaving local civilians alone. Pope’s actions shifted the bounds of acceptable behavior, and allowed the civilian population to be targeted by regular army troops.
Now, don’t get me wrong – there was some targeting of civilians on both sides, but said targeting was usually done my partisans or guerillas and mostly took place in the wilder, less settled western theatre along the frontier. Along the eastern seaboard the population was much more settled and thought of itself as being more “civilized,” so targeting civilians caused greater outrage and was seen as barbaric: especially since regular army troops were involved! Despite these outrages, the targeting of civilian populations had now been established as a possible war strategy in the Civil War and many generals, like General Jackson, were quick to accept and incorporate this strategy into their plans.
Pope’s heavy handed approach towards the civilian population would have far reaching consequences, particularly when it came to “living off the land.” When Confederate armies invaded the north later in the war, they frequently allowed their soldiers to forage for food, clothes and equipment in the same manner that Pope had allowed. When General Sherman began his march to the sea after taking Atlanta in 1864, his men not only lived off the land but destroyed every bit of logistical infrastructure they came across. While Sherman’s march is famously seen as controversial, his actions grew step by step out of the policies of General Pope in July of 1862.
Well that’s all for today, folks! Tune in next time for some more Civil War coverage, and don’t forget to REFRAIN from using your cell phones when interacting with other people in person!