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The Union Soldier & Their Yankee Atrocities By Dr. Richard Lee Montgomery

The Union Soldier & Their Yankee Atrocities
Dr. Richard Lee Montgomery

To begin with I want to start with by briefly looking at two terms. First is “Yankee.” In Noah Webster’s “An American Dictionary of the English Language,” it enlightens us with this statement:  “A
corrupt pronunciation of the word English by the native Indians of America.” 1 In 1919, “The Concise Oxford Dictionary Of Current English” defines the term “Yankee” as, “Inhabitant of New England; Federal soldier or inhabitant of northern States in American civil war.” 2 From another angle, Elwyn Brooks White, author of the popular children’s novel “Charlotte’s Webb,” is credited with this statement: 

“To foreigners, a Yankee is an American
To Americans, a Yankee is a Northerner
To Northerners, a Yankee is an Easterner
To Easterners, a Yankee is a New Englander
To New Englanders, a Yankee is a Vermonter
And in Vermont, a Yankee is somebody who eats pie for breakfast.”

The second term is “atrocity.” In the 1845 Webster’s Dictionary, we read, “Enormous wickedness; extreme heinousness or cruelty.” 3 The Concise Oxford Dictionary Of Current English of 1919 states “Heinous  wickedness; atrocious deed; bad blunder.” 4 In the 1898 New National Dictionary, Encyclopedia and Alas, Volume 2, we read this: “Excessive cruelty or other flagrant wickedness; atrociousness. It is often used in the plural for excessively cruel deeds.” 5 These terms are foundational as we continue with the topic, “The Union Soldier & Their Yankee Atrocities.”


Some may call it ethnic cleansing or genocide or even extermination but history does show that many of the Northern Union Generals and Politicians had a great desire to see the Confederate South wiped off the map and would then have the
desire, not so many years later, seek to do the same to the Native Americans in the West. As an example of this mind-set General William Tecumseh Sherman writes in a letter to his family from Memphis on July 31, 1862: “Our camp is a pleasant one, ground enough, but contracted, Secesh on both sides and all round. The idea of making them take the oath is absurd. Of course I know, and everybody knows, they prefer the South to the North, and that they hope and pray that the Southern army will in due time destroy us. I go on the theory that all the leading men are Secesh and the laborers and mechanics neutral or tired of war. ...We are in our enemy's country and I act accordingly. The North may fall into bankruptcy and anarchy first, but if they can hold on the war will soon assume a turn to extermination, not of soldiers alone, that is the least part of the trouble, but the people.” 6

In a letter to General Grant, General Philip Henry Sheridan said this, “The refugees from Early's army, cavalry and infantry, are organizing guerrilla parties and are becoming very formidable and are annoying me very much. I know of no way to exterminate them except to burn out the whole country and let the people go north or south. If I attempt to capture them by sending out parties, they escape to the mountains on fleet horses.” 7

It does need to be said that not everyone in the North had a disagreeable attitude toward the South. But there were those in the North, who had a great disdain and contempt and even hate for the South. They felt that if they could not subjugate the South, then extermination was their only option left. How does anyone arrive to that as a proper outcome? When that does become their conclusion, they have fundamentally given themselves the permission, or if you will, the license to exterminate a population of people. That is diabolical but that’s what Lincoln and many in the North did and they called the “law of war.” Even the “Richmond Examiner” publication was very faithful to keep the Southern people abreast on the news reports of such atrocious actions.

JULY 13, 1863 — “The attitude of the Southern Confederacy on one matter, is truly humiliating. The enemy has gone from one unmanly cruelty to another, encouraged by their impunity, till they are now, and have for sometime been, inflicting on the people of this country the worst horrors of barbarous, uncivilized war. They destroy the products of labor, devastate vast tracts of country, drive out the inhabitants where they do not destroy, and appropriate all their property, real and personal. They murder numbers of peaceful persons in cold blond, on the slightest pretenses. Meeting no check in these proceedings, they have begun to treat Confederate soldiers falling into their hands, in the same lawless fashion. Their imprisonment is more severe than that of felons, and every vain pretext is seized for hanging them. The enemy makes no secret whatever of doing so. Not a Northern paper falls into our hands which does not contain exultant paragraphs, telling how one, two, or three ‘rebels’ were hung here or there, for ‘bushwhacking,’ spying, bearing dispatches, & etc. Their illustrated weeklies are filled with carefully executed wood-cuts of gibbets, and ‘rebel officers’ dangling from them. Soon the rules that they now apply to individuals, will be applied to masses of men. This will be a war of extermination, to us, not to them, if they are not checked in the road they have steadily pursued with speed always increasing.” 8

Three months later on September 7, 1863,  “Lincoln propounds as
fact, which none of his race deny, or doubt, that he is invested with what he calls the ‘law of war.’ This law of war is explained by him to mean the right and power of inflicting unlimited injury on the Southern people. ‘A few things,’ it is true, are considered ‘barbarous,’ and he will refrain from doing them. What is it he will refrain from? ‘The massacre of non-combatants male and female.’ This is the point at which he will stop. He will not order the extermination of Southern women, or the slaughter of little children. All short of that the ruler of the North intends to do. Every particle of property, real and personal, is the prize of the victors, and, what they cannot take, he will ‘destroy.’ Such is the future of the war. Such is the man of destiny.” 9

Then on December 2, 1863: “... from time to time, we have seen signs of weariness in these jabbering theorists, and the more advanced disciples of the abolitionist school are bent on extending the area of extermination beyond ‘the oligarchs,’ until it embraces the whole white population of the South.” 10 I say that the South was fighting for their families, homes, states, constitutional rights and now we can add that they were fighting to prevent extermination by the Northern oligarchs, those  having control of their country.

Yankee Prisons

Today, history records that the Confederate prison system was the most ruthless of the war. We hear how the death rate for the “Blue
Belly” was astronomically high and cruelty was in abundance. Taken from the book entitled “The War Between The Union And The Confederacy,” author William Calvin Oates, who served in the Fifteenth Alabama Infantry says this, “According to the official report of United States Surgeon-General Barnes, the total number of Confederate prisoners of war was 220,000, and of these 26,246 died in prison. Total number of Union prisoners in Confederate prisons, 270,000, and of these 22,576 died—thus less than 9 per cent, of the latter and 12 per cent, of the former died, showing a decidedly less percentage of mortality among Union prisoners in Confederate prisons than of Confederate prisoners in Union prisons.” 11 

Confederates in Union prisons – 220,000 – 26,246 died – 12% died.

Yankees in Confederate prisons – 270,000 – 22,576 died – less than 9% died.

Let’s just rethink this. The Confederate prisons had a shortage of medicines and food for both the prisoners and Confederate guards, while the Union prisons had plenty of both, and was stingy on the
use of medicines and food for it’s Confederate prisoners. And yet the death rate in the Confederate prisons was lower than the Union prisons death rate. No doubt there were Confederate guards who demonstrated cruel acts to Union prisoners but the Yankee guard’s demonstrated the same. Confederate Chaplain John William Jones gives us this account: “The affidavit of Thomas E. Gilkerson
states that negro soldiers were promoted to corporals for shooting white prisoners at Point Lookout, where he was a prisoner. That he was transferred to Elmira, New York, where prisoners were starved into skeletons; were reduced to
the necessity of robbing the night-stool of the meats which, being spoiled, could not be eaten by the sick, was thrown into the bucket of excrements, taken out and washed to satisfy their distressing hunger. That for inquiring of Lieutenant Whitney, of Rochester, New York, for some clothes which the deponent believed were sent to him in a box, the deponent was confined three days in a dungeon land fed on bread and water. 

That two men in ward twenty-two were starved until they eat a dog, for which offence they were severely punished.

That negroes were placed on guard. That while on guard, a negro called a prisoner over the dead line, which the prisoner did not recognize as such,  and the negro shot him dead, and went unpunished.

That shooting prisoners without cause or provocation, was of frequent occurrence by the negro guards. This affidavit was taken before Daniel Jackson, Justice of the Peace.” 12

Up to this point, we only have a glimpse of the Union soldier and
their Yankee atrocities inside their prison camps. So, now we come to Camp Chase, Columbus, Ohio. “All that remains of the camp today is a Confederate cemetery containing 2,260 graves of Confederate prisoners of war. Camp Chase served many purposes during the Civil War. It was a ‘boot camp’ for Ohio recruits, a parole camp for many Northern soldiers awaiting exchange, a mustering-out post, and a prison for some 25,000 Rebel soldiers.” 13

Here is one illustration – coming from Camp Chase, “Then came the severe punishment of different kinds and I will mention only two of them. The first was to wear a ten pound ball and a long chain locked to each of his ankles for a week at a time. But the most severe one almost caused the man his life but he still remained firm. This punishment took place on a very cold and bitter day. John Bull with both ball and chains still on his ankles was placed on the two barrels mentioned and then with a strong cord his two thumbs were tied together and he was drawn up by
this cord until the toes of his shoes just touched the barrels and he was tied to the parapet overhead, he remained in this position for two hours in a cold and bitter wind and when he was cut down he could not walk. Two of our men picked up the balls and chains as they were frozen and put them on their shoulders and carried them while others carried the poor man to his barrack14

Edward Alfred Pollard, one of the editors at the Richmond
Examiner stated in his book, “The Lost Cause,” gives a powerful illustration of how disease was treated in Yankee camps. Pollard says, “But even a greater inhumanity than any we have mentioned was perpetrated upon our prisoners at Camp Douglas and Camp Chase. It is proved by the testimony of Thomas P. Holloway, John P. Fennell, H. H. Barlow, H. C. Barton, C. D. Bracken, and J. S. Barlow, that our prisoners in large numbers were put into ‘condemned camps,’ where small-pox was prevailing, and speedily contracted this loathsome disease, and that as many as forty new cases often appeared daily among them. Even the Federal officers who guarded them to the camp protested against this unnatural atrocity: yet it was done. The men who contracted the disease were removed to a hospital about a mile off, but the plague was already introduced, and continued to prevail. For a period of more than twelve months the disease was constantly in the camp, yet our prisoners during all this time were continually brought to it, and subjected to certain  infection. Neither do we find evidences of amendment on the part of our enemies, notwithstanding the boasts of the ‘sanitary commission.’ At Nashville, prisoners recently captured from General Hood's army, even when sick and wounded, have been cruelly deprived of all nourishment suited to their condition; and other prisoners from the same army have been carried into the infected Camps Douglas and Chase.” 15

To close this section, John William Jones, names other Union prisons, “...we are equally assured that in nearly all the prison stations of the North—at Point Lookout, Fort McHenry, Fort Delaware, Johnson's Island, Elmira, Camp Chase, Camp Douglas, Alton, Camp Morton, the Ohio Penitentiary, and the prisons of St. Louis, Missouri—our men have suffered from insufficient food, and have been subjected to ignominious, cruel and barbarous practices, of which there is no parallel in anything that has occurred in the South.” 16

Treatment of Southern Citizens

It’s one thing to be a Confederate soldier who is taken prisoner and then mistreated. That is shameful enough. But to be a soldier of the Union Army and do likewise to Confederate citizens. That is  that's another matter altogether. It is well documented that General Benjamin Franklin Butler was not looked on as a kind,  fair or compassionate humane being. And guess what? President Jefferson Davis tended to this matter by stating, “Now, therefore, I, Jefferson Davis,
President of the Confederate States of America, and in their  name, do pronounce and declare the said Benjamin F. Butler to be a felon, deserving of capital punishment. I do order that he shall no longer be considered or treated simply as a public enemy of the confederate States of America, but as an outlaw and common enemy of mankind, and that, in the event of his capture the officer in command of the capturing force do cause him to be immediately executed by hanging.” 17

So what in the world did Butler do? We all know the atrocities he committed. “Repeated pretexts have been sought or invented for plundering the inhabitants of the captured city, by fines levied and collected under threat of imprisoning recusants at hard labor with ball and chain. The entire population of New Orleans have been forced to elect between starvation by the confiscation of all their property and taking an  oath  against  conscience  to  bear  allegiance  to  the  invader  of  their country.” 18

Now, there is one group of men that truly needs to be mentioned – they were called “Bummers.” The term “bummers” refers to General Sherman's supposed foragers during his march through Georgia and the Carolinas. You can read some definitions that say this term comes from the German word,  “Bummler” which means “idler” or “loafer” before the war. But during the war a new definition is described in the book, “The Story Of The Great March,” published in 1865, which tells us, “The origin of this nickname is unknown. No English dictionary contains it; only the “bummer's” themselves know exactly what it means, except, perhaps, inferentially. Probably the word originated among themselves; they are certainly not ashamed of it. If it be asked what a bummer is, the reply is easy. He is a raider on his own account—a man who temporarily deserts his place in the ranks while the army is on the march, and starts out upon an independent foraging expedition. Sometimes he is absent for a few days only, occasionally he disappears for weeks together.” 19

It is my opinion that William T. Sherman was a “morally baseless
man” and the “bummers” were a heartless group of scoundrels. Cruelty was their middle name and yet, it falls short of rightly describing them. From the chapter entitled, “The Civil War,” in the book, Women Of America – published in 1864, it says, “we can understand the helpless wrath that filled the breast of the Southern woman as she saw her dearest household possessions taken from her or wantonly destroyed by mercenaries, as was the rule rather than the exception when Sherman and his ‘bummers’ went  ‘marching  through  Georgia’  and  forgot  the  rules  of  civilized warfare...” 20

David Power Conyngham stated in his book, Sherman's March Through The South – “In most instances they burned down houses to cover their depredations, and in some cases took the lives of their victims, as they would not reveal concealed treasures. These gangs spread like locusts over the country. In all cases where the foraging parties were under the command of a respectable officer, they acted with propriety, simply taking what provisions and necessaries they needed. They might as well have stripped the place, though, for soon came the bummers, and commenced a scene of ruin and pillage. Boxes were burst open; clothes dragged about; the finest silks, belonging to the planters ladies, carried off to adorn some negro wenches around camp; pictures, books, furniture, all tossed about and torn in pieces. Though these wretches were acting against military orders, there was no one to complain.” 21

Edward Cookworthy Robins, in his book, William T. Sherman explains, “The official foraging was a necessity on this march to the sea; the illicit foraging of the ‘bummers’ became a great scandal, because it inflicted untold hardship, even ruin, on thousands of poor Southern farmers. Sherman deplored the existence of the ‘bummers,’ but did not lie awake at night thinking over their thefts. He was not throwing away any of his sympathy upon the Georgians—‘war was war’—and he probably realized, too, that even he could not easily stamp out the ‘bumming.’ He could not, or would not, draw the reins too tight. As a result, he soon became the most sworn-at man south of Virginia; his name was made a synonym for cruelty, and a Georgia child who heard the awful words, ‘Sherman is coming!’ fairly shook with fear.” 22

William T. Sherman, after the war, made a startling statement – “I never heard of any case of murder or rape.” 23 Story after story tells us otherwise. In his book Henry Belcher of England explains it well, “Added to this official violence and pillage is the incommensurable rape and rapine perpetrated by the unofficial marauders, the bummers, the Nyms, the Pistols, on whose doings Sherman looked with a lenient eye. No punishments ensued. Of other outrages, the alleged rape of the girls in the high school of Atlanta, and such-like stories, there is now a general hush. The newspapers of Charleston, of Richmond, of Augusta, of Columbia, of Atlanta, have one story to tell, and Sherman's friends and admirers another. The latter seem to think it enough to say that Sherman ‘never heard of any case of murder or rape.’ Of course not! What general officer ever heard of such crimes done by men of his command, or who is likely to tell him?” 24

One heinous story that Sherman supposedly never heard about is that of Katherine (Kate) Latimer Nichols, wife of Confederate Captain James Hall Nichols of the Governor's Horse Guards in Georgia. The narrative says, “Kate Latimer Nichols, twenty-seven, was sick and bedridden when the Yankees arrived at her farm home near Milledgeville. Two soldiers forced their way past a servant who guarded the door to her room, and raped Kate. ‘Poor woman,’ wrote a neighbor in her dairy; ‘I fear that she has bee driven crazy.’” 25

Even from the book “The War Of Rebellion,” a decidedly Yankee interpretation tells us another narrative, “The women were held as the legitimate prey of lust, and they had been taught it was a crime to resist a white man – they had not learned to dare to defend their chastity.” 26

Yet another account says, “Although this foraging was attended with great danger and hard work, there seemed to be a charm about it that attracted the soldiers, and it was a privilege to be detailed on such a party. Daily they returned mounted on all sorts of beasts, which were at once taken from them and appropriated to the general use; but the next day they would start out again on foot, only to repeat the experience of the day before. No doubt, many acts of pillage, robbery, and violence, were committed by these parties of foragers, usually called ‘bummers;’ for I have since heard of jewelry taken from women, and the plunder of articles that never reached the commissary... 27

Another, from Edward Robins book, “William T. Sherman” tells
us how Sherman’s Army is celebrated after the war. Chapter 11 is entitled “Ending The War.” Here we see that Sherman’s Army received raved reviews from the public’s eye in Washington D. C. It says, “After reaching Alexandria General Sherman paid a visit to Washington, where he had a reception of the most cordial sort. The reaction in his favor had indeed set in; he was no longer called a traitor, or an ‘imbecilic tool’ of Breckinridge and Joe Johnston; the North soon forgot his alleged indiscretion, and remembered only that he was one of the Titanic heroes of the war.” 28
But it goes on from there – there was a parade in Washington to help boost the nation’s morale on May 23 and 24, 1865 – and it was deemed as one of the greatest parades in the Nation’s history. The narrative says, “What a sight it must have been, this view of Sherman and his men! Already did they belong to history. ‘With heads erect and an air of indescribable sang froid, these men of the west stretched down Pennsylvania Avenue, with an easy, swinging gait, peculiar to themselves, acquired in long and rapid marches. They wore no holiday garb. The ragged and faded uniforms in which they had slept and marched, through the swamps of the Carolinas, still clung to their bodies, and they strode along as if proud to display them as badges of faithful service.’ How the spectators cheered them all, from Sherman down to the most valueless ‘bummer.’” 29


1  Noah Webster, An American Dictionary of the English Language (New York: Harper's & Brothers, 1845), 937.

2  H. W. Fowler, F. G. Fowler, The Concise Oxford Dictionary Of Current English (Oxford: At the Clarendon Press, 1919), 1036.

3  Noah Webster, An American Dictionary Of The English Language (New York: Harper & Brothers, 1845), 60.

4  H. W. Fowler, F. G. Fowler, The Concise Oxford Dictionary Of Current English (Oxford: At the Clarendon Press, 1919), 52.

5  Robert Hunter & Charles Morris, The New National Dictionary, Encyclopedia and Alas, Volume 2 (Chicago: Belford, Middlebrook & Company, 1898), 360.

6  M. A. DeWolfe Howe, Home Letters Of General Sherman (New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1909), 230.

7  John W. Headley, Confederate Operations in Canada and New York (New York: Neale Publishing Company, 1906), 319.

8  Frederick S. Daniel, The Richmond Examiner During The War: The Writings Of John M. Daniel (New York, 1869), 95.

9  Ibid., 117. 

10  Frederick S. Daniel, The Richmond Examiner During the War: Or, The Writings of John M. Daniel With A Memoir Of His Life (New York, 1868), 148.

11  William C. Oates, The War Between The Union And The Confederacy And Its lost Opportunities With A History Of The 15th Alabama Regiment And The forty-Eight Battles In Which It Was Engaged (New York: The Neale Publishing Company, 1905), 426.

12  J. William Jones, Confederate View Of The Treatment of Prisoners (Richmond: Southern Historical Society, 1876), 235.

13  Blue & Gray Magazine, Volumes 11-12 (Blue & Gray Enterprises, 1993), 139. 

14  W. H. Duff, Terrors And Horrors Of Prison Life Or, Six Months A Prisoner At Camp Chase, Ohio (Lake Charles, La.: Orphan Helper Print, 1907), 18.

15  Edward Alfred Pollard, The Lost Cause: A New Southern History Of The War Of The Confederates (New York: E. B. Treat & Company, Publishers, 1866), 638.

16  J. William Jones, Confederate View Of The Treatment of Prisoners (Richmond: Southern Historical Society, 1876), 144.

17  Frank Moore, The Rebellion Record: A Diary of American Events, With Documents, Narratives Illustrative Incidents, Poetry, Etc, Volume 6 (New York: G. P. Putnam, 1864), 292.

18  Ibid., 292.

19  George Ward Nichols, The Story Of The Great March (New York: Harper & Brothers, 1865), 240.

20  John Rouse Larus, Women Of America (Philadelphia: The Rittenhouse Press, 1907), 342-343.

21  David P. Conyngham, Sherman's March Through The South (New York: Sheldon & Company, 1865), 243.

22  Edward Robins, William T. Sherman (Philadelphia: George W. Jacobs & Company, 1906), 240.

23  James Ford Rhodes, History of the United States from the Compromise of 1850 to the Final Restoration of Home Rule at the South in 1877: 1864-1866 (MacMillan, 1912), 24.

24  Henry Belcher, The First American Civil War: First Period,1775-1778, Volume 2 (London: MacMillan, 1911), 215.

25  Burke Davis, Sherman's March (New York: Random House, 1980), 66.

26  Fred C. Ainsworth and Joseph W. Kirkly, The War Of Rebellion (Washington: Government Printing Company, 1900), 1029.

27  Albert Bushnell Hart, American History Told By Contemporaries, Volume 4 (New York: The MacMillian Company, 1901), 431.

28  Edward Robbins, William T. Sherman (Philadelphia: George W. Jacobs & Company, 1906), 309.

29 Ibid., 311-312.


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