During the American civil War, Union and Confederate leaders made the capture and destruction of enemy cities a central feature that their army campaigns. Lock did for this reason for 2 reasons. First, most mid-19th-century cities had factories, foundries, and warehouses within your borders, churning out and storing battle materiel; military officials thought that if lock interrupted or incapacitated the enemy’s capacity to arm or clothe themselves, the war would end. Second, that was thought that the widespread destruction of property—especially in significant or funding cities—would additionally damage civilians’ morale, undermining your political convictions and decreasing their assistance for the battle effort.

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Both Union and Confederate militaries bombarded and burned cities with these objectives in mind. Sometimes they dealt with battles on city roads but an ext often, Union troops initiated long-term sieges in order to capture Confederate cities and demoralize your inhabitants. Soldiers ~ above both political parties were motivated by vengeance once they set fire come city businesses and also homes; these acts to be controversial, as was protective burning—the deliberate destruction of one’s own urban facility in stimulate to save its battle materiel out of the hands of the enemy.

Urban destruction, an especially long-term sieges, take it a emotional toll on (mostly southern) city residents. Countless were wounded, shed property, or were compelled to end up being refugees. Due to the fact that of this, the destruction of cities throughout the American Civil battle provoked prevalent discussions around the nature that “civilized warfare” and the duty that civilians play in armed forces strategy. Both soldiers and also civilians tried come make sense of the devastation of urban in writing, and likewise in illustrations and also photographs; photos in certain shaped both northern and southern storage of the war and its costs.



Civil War and also ReconstructionCultural HistoryUrban HistoryEnvironmental HistorySouthern History

Cities as military Targets

The antebellum era was a time of quick urbanization in the joined States. Large, densely lived in cities and towns had proliferated ~ above both sides of the Mason-Dixon heat by 1861. Throughout the civil War, Union and Confederate commanders made the record or devastation of opponent cities a central feature of their campaigns. Why?

First, all acts of war involve both battles in between armies and also attempts to gain control over the enemy’s territory—its cities, towns, farming fields, and also infrastructure.1 By advancing into and also occupying adversary territory, armies destroyed the geographical integrity of their adversaries, a major step in damaging their will to fight.2 Second, most Americans assumed the the autumn of funding cities—Washington, D.C., and also Richmond, Virginia—would mean victory for one side and also defeat for the other. How could the body politic duty without that nerve center? Third, due to the fact that antebellum cities had manufacturing and also storage centers within your borders, bombarding and setup fire come cities additionally destroyed factories, foundries, supply depots, and warehouses. Interrupt or incapacitate the enemy’s capacity to arm, feed, and also clothe themselves and also the battle ends.3 Fourth, burning cities damaged civilian morale, “bringing the foe to the suggest where it have the right to go no additional physically, emotionally, or ideologically.”4


Both Union and also Confederate militaries bombarded and burned urban with all of these goals in mind. Sometimes Union troops dealt with battles top top city streets but much more often, castle initiated permanent sieges in bespeak to catch Confederate cities. Vengeance encouraged some soldiers to damage cities while self-defense journey others—throughout the war, Confederate soldiers deliberately set fire come their very own urban centers in an effort to keep valuable war materiel out of the enemy’s hands. Urban were an essential assets and targets because that both armies during the American polite War; whoever managed them figured out the outcome of the conflict.

Destroyed in Battle: Fredericksburg

From Jackson, Mississippi, to Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, battles and also skirmishes carried over right into the streets of tiny towns. Yet as necessary as city centers to be to campaign strategies, generals ~ above both political parties tried to avoid long-term battles in cities. The metropolitan landscape was not conducive to fights between large armies, and the visibility of civilians was problematic for the advancement of battle strategy. Fredericksburg, Virginia, was the only southern city to hold a significant battle in between the civil War’s largest armies. For number of days in early on December 1862, the Union’s military of the Potomac and also the Confederacy’s army of northern Virginia clashed in a battle that ruined many of the city’s central neighborhoods.

Fredericksburg’s location—midway between the major urban centers that Richmond and also Washington, D.C.—made it a strategy target, and means station because that Union troops under general Ambrose Burnside marching southward in an attempt to take the Confederate capital. The city was likewise a production center, producing guns and also ammunition for Confederate forces. Burnside’s troops gathered throughout the Rappahannock native Fredericksburg in late November 1862 yet could not cross; the bridges were burned and also Burnside’s pontoon boats were so late arriving. The delay gave Confederate basic Robert E. Lee’s soldiers time to march come the city and also establish fight lines. By early on December both Union and also Confederate artillery and infantry were posted on high hills, through the city in-between.


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In the foggy, at an early stage morning hrs of December 11, the Union army (which had ultimately received the pontoon boats) began to assemble their bridge. Once the fog lifted, “suddenly, Crack! crack! crack! indigenous a hundreds muskets tells us the round is opened.”5 basic Lee had posted 3 Confederate regiments in ~ the city and also on the bank in prior of Fredericksburg to contest the crossing. This soldiers fired upon Union engineers assembling the pontoon boats and then ~ above federals streaming across the perfect bridge.6 this actions enraged Burnside to order the bombardment of the city. Union general Edwin Vose Sumner, who Burnside had actually tapped to command the bombardment, gave notification to the mayor on December 11, and the following day civilians started to stream out of Fredericksburg, do their way behind Confederate lines, Union batteries then turned top top the town, rendering it “untenable by any type of considerable body.”7

By mid-afternoon, many of the main business district follow me Princess anne Street was on fire. A “huge shaft of dense black acting tower favor a monument above the livid flames, the leap and hiss and also crackle, licking increase the snow upon the roofs with lambent tongues, and also stretching prefer a giant.”8 as Union troops began to pour through the city, the streets split their ranks and discipline broke down; castle wandered down thoroughfares and also clambered over rubble, losing their regiments in the growing dark and also drifting smoke. The bombardment had actually knocked many buildings to pieces, revealing their contents to soldiers who practically immediately set to occupational looting them.


The accepted laws of warfare condemned the sacking of recorded cities.9 but as was often the case during the American civil War, the “confusion and excitement” of warfare undermined traditional modes of behavior and also belief.10 for close to twenty-four hours, Union soldiers—tempted by the chaos and seeking revenge for the strike on their designers at the pontoon bridge—broke right into businesses and also homes alike, smashing furniture, mirrors, and crockery and dragging chairs, couches, desks, and also pianos out into the streets.11 after ~ this melee, Union pressures moved throughout the city and formed fight lines in ~ its west edge, at the bottom that Marye’s Heights. The next day, numerous successive charges versus this solid Confederate place failed, and the beat Federals retreated earlier through the city and throughout the Rappahannock.

Confederate soldiers retaking Fredericksburg top top December 15 to be astonished in ~ the level of destruction in the city. Four days of bombardment, battle, and looting had brought stunning transforms to Fredericksburg. “Oh! what a ruined town,” Confederate soldier Francis Coker lamented. “It is a pretty old place, almost as huge as Macon. The is currently battered to piece & parlors & furniture destroyed.”12 for southerners, the ruins were evidence of Confederate sacrifice and also Yankee barbarism. Because that northerners like new Hampshire soldier Napoleon Perkins, the city’s damages seemed a “terrible sight.” but military necessity dictated that is destruction; “such is war,” Perkins lamented.13 The rubble the Fredericksburg represented the significance of southerly cities in Civil war campaigns, and the violent destructiveness of city warfare that both armies sought to protect against for the remainder of the war.

Under Siege: Civilians in Cities

The shelling that Fredericksburg was brief and also occurred prior to the battle. However, many sieges throughout the civil War had long-term, continual bombardment and also blockading, and also they to be initiated after battles failed to pressure the capitulation the the soldiers who safeguarded urban centers. Start in 1863, the Union army increasingly provided siege tactics against southern cities. Soldiers developed positions roughly their targets and cut off their communication and also supply lines; climate they began throwing shells right into protective fortifications (and often, city streets) multiple time a day.

The sieges that Vicksburg, Mississippi (May–July 1863), and also Atlanta, Georgia (July–September 1864), to be the Union’s many successful assaults on Confederate cities. The previous secured regulate of the Mississippi river while the latter lugged a critical center of rail traffic and war production under Union occupation; Atlanta then ended up being the staging ground because that Union general William Tecumseh Sherman’s March to the Sea. The prolonged sieges that Charleston, southern Carolina (August 1863–February 1865), and also Petersburg, Virginia (August 1864–April 1865), put an excellent stress on soldiers and civilians alike, yet these cities, safeguarded by solid works and also intact supply lines, withstood until the last months the the war, as soon as Confederate soldiers abandoned them in the confront of oncoming Union soldiers.

During every one of these sieges, bombardment destroyed significant portions that the urban landscape. The inability of artillerists to hit specific targets from an ext than 2 miles away supposed that shells aimed at armed forces targets frequently struck houses and churches instead. In respectable 1864, after the army of the grape max had worked out into the siege of Petersburg, because that example, a correspondent for the Richmond Enquirer reported that the steady shelling of the city had not injured countless residents, yet it had actually done significant damage to their property. Shot and also shell hurry down v roofs and into parlors and also bedrooms. “Pantries have been invaded,” the wrote, “and unmerciful crashes sent breaking and ringing v piles that crockery and rows that jars, whose precious components still swim or rod in sweet ruin upon the indented floors and also caved in shelves that note the scene of the disaster.”14



Some family members decorated their caves through carpets, tables, and also beds. Despite these comforts and the new of “cave life,” the siege take it its toll. One anonymous woman who detailed her experiences in Vicksburg in she diary, because that example, to be chagrined to note that after much more than a month of artillery barrages, she had lost her nerve. Numerous shells had exploded approximately her house and also as she retract to her cave, “for the an initial time ns quailed. <… I> appeared to realize the something worse 보다 death can come; I can be crippled, and also not killed.” She resolved to “summon that higher kind that courage—moral bravery—to subdue my fear of possible mutilation.”15

Carrie Berry and her family experienced a similar sense the terror under siege. Berry, who was ten years old and also living in Atlanta as soon as Sherman’s troops arrived external the city in July 1864, wrote in she diary that, “We can hear the canons <sic> and muskets very plane <sic>, however the shells us dread. One has busted under the dining room which frightened us an extremely much.” practically every day, she and also her household heard the shells whistling into the city and also then ran in a panic to their cellar. Yet even right here they did not feel safe, as the shells “fell for this reason thick and fast.” The Berry family members moved numerous times throughout the siege that Atlanta, looking no for huge houses come live in but big cellars.16 The consistent threat the injury or death and also the dislocations that multiple move profoundly affected the Berrys and other Atlanta occupants living under siege in the loss of 1864.

This was among the objectives of siege warfare: come demoralize the enemy’s civilians and also thereby threaten their assistance for the battle effort. Consistent shelling was efficient in achieving this ends, as was cut the city turn off from supply routes. As basic Ulysses S. Approve shut under all accessibility to Vicksburg in the early summer that 1863, civilians raising feared they would certainly starve. The Vicksburg diarist noted that she “never understood before the full force of those questions—What shall us eat? What shall we drink? and also wherewithal shall us be clothed?” In the decades prior to the war, the industrial and also transportation transformations had carried an progressively diverse selection of foodstuffs and material goods to metropolitan markets. Wartime sieges, however, practically immediately produced a provisioning crisis. The Vicksburg diarist sent her enslaved woman Martha come “run the gauntlet to buy the meat and also milk as soon as a day,” a terrifying suffer for Martha that produced very little in the means of food or drink. “I send five dollars to sector each morning and it buys a small piece that mule-meat,” she wrote. She can not bring herself come eat it, for this reason she subsisted on cornbread and also a mixture of rice and milk for weeks.17

After months of living under siege, many civilians greeted the capitulation of your cities with relief. The citizens of Vicksburg were eating white bread and also reveling in quiet evenings by July 4, 1863. Carrie Berry’s household went earlier to work-related with “glad spirits” in early September 1864 after ~ Union troops moved in to accounting Atlanta.18 yet the end of a siege additionally meant the finish of slavery: the entrance of Union soldiers right into fallen urban functionally emancipated metropolitan slaves. White inhabitants were chagrined by these developments; emancipation to be another form of devastation that take it from lock their wide range in slaves. And also although sieges were harrowing experiences because that enslaved civilization and complimentary blacks also (they experienced alongside their white masters and mistresses, starving and also thirsty and also in consistent fear for their lives—imagine Martha, having actually to evade shells top top her daily run to the market in Vicksburg), the capitulation of southerly cities carried freedom, therefore they invited Union soldiers with open arms.19

But Union occupation go not median the end of civilian suffering. In many cities, including Vicksburg, Union officials “expelled citizens who refused to renounce their loyalty to the rebellion or come comply v Federal regulations.”20 much less than a main after the siege that Atlanta ended, Carrie Berry’s household heard about Sherman’s order requiring all of Atlanta’s civilians, both white and black, come evacuate the city. “Every one i see seems sad,” Berry wrote in her diary. “The citizens all think that it is the most cruel point to drive us from our home <…> Mama seems so troubled she can’t do any thing. Papa claims he don’t understand where on planet to go.”21 she father was at some point able to secure a project that permitted the family members to stay, however many the the young girl’s family and also friends, and also many formerly enslaved men and also women, left Atlanta for points northward in late September 1864.22

As civilians abandoned their residences in the wake of sieges they joined hundreds of thousands of various other refugees top top the road. These large populations the black and white refugees lived lives of continuous instability as they relocated to places unknown to them, seeking aid from strangers. Few of them ended up in other southern cities; plenty of refugees from Charleston, southern Carolina, who had actually left when the artillery barrages started in the summer the 1863, relocated to Columbia—which was then damaged in a huge conflagration after Sherman’s troops arrived there in February 1865. The refugee case put tension on individuals, and on rural and also urban communities. It “radically reshaped customary relations of power in the realm of spatial mobility,” creating new kinds that social conflict on the roadway that remade southern society after the war.23

Northerners generally welcomed the validity the the siege together a armed forces tactic, but southerners deplored the destruction, terror, starvation, and forced evacuations that sieges carried to city communities. The southerly press especially excoriated Sherman because that attacking Atlanta, a city that knew to be filled through women and also children. Confederate basic John Bell Hood to be outraged through Sherman’s evacuation order, i beg your pardon he believed transcended “in studied and ingenious cruelty, all acts ever prior to brought come my fist in the dark background of war.”24 despite the scorn heaped top top him for his actions in Atlanta, Sherman did no regret them. In his view, the siege was a military necessity; it was a device that armies had to use in order to win. “War is cruelty,” that famously wrote, “and you can not refine it.”25 yet white civilians throughout the southern neither forgave no one forgot the means that sieges destroyed their dignity and their wealth, and victimized women and children. They referred to as for revenge, for retaliation in kind. Part military leaders answered the call.

Soldiers and the damages of Revenge

Vengeance is a an effective emotion and impetus to action. For civil War–era military officials, the practice of retaliation moved past passion and became a legitimate military tactic. Retaliation was understood as one official, compensatory response to “barbarous outrages” top top the part of the enemy; it to be an act of “protective retribution” that would conceivably stop the enemy from executing “barbarous outrages” in the future.26 Both Union and Confederate soldiers used these justifications to define their damage of enemy homes and also outbuildings throughout the South and also in parts of the North and West. Yet the many spectacular moment of urban devastation as a punishment occurred during the summer the 1864 in southerly Pennsylvania, in ~ the hands of Confederate soldiers under order from basic Jubal Early.

With the army of north Virginia pinned in ~ Petersburg and also Union general David Hunter attempting to occupy the Shenandoah Valley, general Lee sent out Jubal Early’s corps come the valley. In July at an early stage learned the Hunter had been engaging in “his favorite mode of warfare” in the Shenandoah: burn the dwellings of significant Confederates. As he detailed in his Memoir, early on quickly “came come the conclusion that we had actually stood this setting of warfare long enough” and on July 26, 1864, that dispatched two brigades and a battery of artillery under john McCausland to Chambersburg, Pennsylvania. He instructed McCausland come “demand of the municipal authorities the sum of $100,000 in gold, or $500,000 in United says currency, together a compensation because that the devastation of the houses and also their contents.” at an early stage had previously wrested money and supplies from a number of towns in Maryland utilizing this strategy.

Early educated McCausland the if the was unsuccessful in securing the ransom he was “to put the city in ashes, in retaliation for the burning of those houses and others in Virginia, and also for the towns which had actually been burned in southerly States.”27 McCausland and also his men reached Chambersburg top top July 30, converging in ~ the town square. Together residents concerned meet them, McCausland review Early’s order aloud and also asked the City council to collection the money. Chambersburg’s leaders had sent their resources northward already, yet they pretended this was not the instance in order to stall for time, hoping because that Union forces in the area to involved their aid.

McCausland soon lost patience, however, and within a couple of hours that ordered his males to set fire come the city at various locations.28 The flames spread quickly despite the reasonably calm day. The Confederates to be impressed through the conflagration, which to be “one the surpassing grandeur and also terror.” The high columns of black color smoke “rose approximately the very skies; approximately it were wrapped lengthy streams of flames, writhing and also twisting themselves right into a thousand great shapes.” many observers listed how the fire appeared to produce its own kind the weather. “Whirlwinds” the fire lifted clothing, wood, bricks, and furniture into the air and also hurled them across the city.29

A civilian committee later figured out that more than 500 the Chambersburg’s 800 buildings were destroyed: 278 residences and places that business, 98 barns and stables, and also 173 outbuildings of various kinds.30 general Early and also other Confederates believed—or rather, hoped—that the burn of Chambersburg would “open the eye of the human being of other towns at the North, to the necessity of urging top top their government the adoption of a various policy.”31 as the editors of the Richmond Enquirer crowed ecstatically, “We have actually lit in Chambersburg a blaze that will arrest the view of the northern people, and also illustrate the destruction of villages, homesteads, and also towns in every southerly state.”32

Of course, countless northerners—and especially the residents of Chambersburg—protested versus the burning as a legitimate battle tactic. Technically, this stimulate was no justified militarily as retaliation, for it walk not directly punish David Hunter, who had actually fired Confederate houses.33 In addition, Early’s destruction of one entire northern city together retribution for the devastation of a handful of southern houses seemed prefer a punishment method out of proportion to the crime, an excessive and “monstrous” act of violence. However, as military theorist (and Union general) Henry Halleck said in 1864, “in times of war, it might not be possible to punishment the individual responsible for egregious acts,” and also in those situations a bigger body can be organized responsible. In wartime, Halleck reasoned, “a city, an army, or an entire community, is periodically punished because that the illegal plot of the rulers or individual members.”34 Chambersburg in details proved that wartime retaliation was naturally contradictory: it subverted its own proclaimed goal the preemptive violence and provoked additional acts that vengeance. For example, Union soldier Allen Campbell, who took component in the destruction of Atlanta’s business district numerous months later thought about that “Chambersburg is dearly paid for.”35

John T. Trowbridge, a northern journalist who toured Chambersburg in the loss of 1865, was initially shocked to see the “skeletons the houses melted by the Rebels,” the “empty eye-sockets” that their home windows staring in ~ him and yawning v “their fanged and also jagged jaws.” yet he quickly overcame his aversion come the ruins and also saw them together a authorize of future strength. “There is no loss without gain,” that wrote. “Chambersburg will certainly in the end by substantially benefited by the fire” and so “let that be v our country; fearful together our loss has been, us shall build much better anew.”36 v state funds and also philanthropic donations, the occupants of Chambersburg walk in truth rebuild your town. Architects and also carpenters set to work practically immediately and reconstructed many of the Diamond through 1870.37 City inhabitants put up numerous memorials to the burning—a memorial slab and a fountain—and today they every year reenact its destruction on July 30. Chambersburg’s ruins may no much longer exist in reality, however they carry out exist in collective memory, recall residents and visitors that the costs of vengeance spread in the surname of war.

Defensive Burning together a military Tactic

Retaliation was a controversial wartime tactic that armed forces theorists spent significant time debating. But one element of city warfare the was no much disputed in army codes or army regulations was the deliberate annihilation that one’s own cities. Confederate troops stationed in several huge urban centers—Charleston, Columbia, Atlanta, and also Richmond—burned arsenals, warehouses, and also factories prior to they i was withdrawn in the face of the Union army’s overwhelming numbers. Among the only southern cities entirely damaged using defensive burning to be Hampton, Virginia. It to be the first large-scale urban damage of the conflict, and it revealed the various and important duties that cities—and emancipation—played in the American polite War.

In may 1861, after ~ Virginia’s residents had actually voted to secede, Union basic Winfield Scott moved two regiments the Massachusetts soldiers come Fortress Monroe (a huge military environment in the Virginia Peninsula), boosting the size of that garrison to 12,000 men. Confederate leaders determined the they might not organize the city of Hampton—which sat throughout Mill Creek indigenous the fort—against these Union “invaders.” They advised its white citizens to evacuate the town and to take every one of their moveable property—including slaves—with them.38

When preparations because that an evacuation began, however, countless of Hampton’s enslaved human being did no accept their very own removal; instead, they fled to Fortress Monroe. On may 24, 1861, three enslaved guys named Shepard Mallory, open minded Baker, and also James Townshend, all of whom belonged to Colonel Charles Mallory, arrived on the fort, appealing because that sanctuary. Once Confederate major John cary of the Virginia Artillery appeared the following day and also demanded the return of this three males under the Fugitive slave Act of 1850, Union major-general Benjamin butler denied the request, informing wear that due to the fact that Virginia had seceded, its slaveholders no longer had insurance claims under federal plans like the Fugitive servant Act. This brought about Butler’s renowned decree that slaves, since they might be work to dig fortifications and also engage in other acts that hostility against the Union, would certainly be taken into consideration “contraband of war” and also subject to confiscation in ~ will.

By so late July 1861 nearly 1,000 fugitive servants who had actually confiscated us gathered about Fortress Monroe, and Butler composed a collection of letters and reports to Secretary of battle Simon Cameron questioning for orders regarding their housing and also care.39 several of this letters and also reports were published in the north papers, one of which uncovered its means into the hand of general John B. Magruder, who was in command of Confederate pressures on the Peninsula. After reading one of Butler’s reports on august 6, Magruder concluded that the Union general thought about slaves to be free and “would colonize them in ~ Hampton, the house of most of their owners.” Therefore, Magruder later wrote, “I determined to burn it at once.”40

Just before midnight on respectable 7, 1861, 4 companies that men, countless of whom stayed in the vicinity, ran through the roads of Hampton through torches, setting fire to the service district and the residences that fanned out from the main point of the town.41 A correspondent for the connected Press posted at the ft reported the “the glare of the conflagration to be so excellent that i was enabled to create by it” and that a solid south wind fanned the flames. The fire raged all night, the noted, and also “a an ext sublime and awful spectacle has never however been witnessed.” Observers reported that approximately 500 structures had been diminished to piles of rubble, and that only seven or eight to be left standing. The next morning, nothing was left “to note the once beautiful Hampton but the charred, towering chimneys” if “smoke ascending from the ruins” wafted lazily in the air.42

Virginians regarded this plot of urban devastation as a civilian “sacrifice” fairly than a army strategy, a patriotic act of devotion to the Confederacy on the part of that is citizens. The fire would keep the town’s buildings out of north hands, castle reasoned, and the smoking heaps the rubble would certainly stand together a permanent monument to your defiance of Union authority. Northerners, ~ above the other hand, said that, “a more wanton and unnecessary act 보다 the burning, <…> could not have been committed.”43 for Union commanders and also many north civilians, Hampton’s ruins ended up being evidence the what they believed to be the typically rash and violent nature of Confederate soldiers, and also the victimization of southerly civilians through their very own protectors. Thus, quite early in the war, northerners and southerners were making use of urban ruins to dispute the nature the “civilized warfare,” and also the duty of emancipation in waging it.

By April 1862, the ruins of Hampton had started to disappear, their brick and rock fragments taken and used to build shelters because that Union soldiers and for the fugitive servants who flocked come the area in escalating numbers. This is the irony of Hampton’s destruction: Magruder had melted the city in respectable 1861 in part because he feared its use as a camp because that runaway slaves. By the time that john Trowbridge visited Hampton (after his visit come Chambersburg) in 1865, the “found the a thrifty village, lived in chiefly by freedmen.”44 Magruder’s fears had come to pass and also yet it was he (not Butler) who had actually made the so.

The burning of Hampton, prefer the damage of Fredericksburg, Vicksburg, Atlanta, and also Chambersburg, discover that urban that come under fire throughout the Civil battle provoked disputes around battles and also sieges, and also acts the retaliation and also defense as army tactics. The presence of civilians in cities facility these discussions, and helped to shape critiques that urban devastation as a army tactic.

The Aesthetics of destroyed Cities and also the lost Cause

Photographs and illustrations also influenced this wartime discourse of destruction. Ruins photograph beautifully: their sharp edges and also empty spaces do them appropriate aesthetic subjects. North wartime photographers favor Alexander Gardner, Timothy O’Sullivan, and George N. Barnard, every one of whom operated for new York City photographic studio owner Mathew Brady, created spectacular pictures of urban ruins, mainly in 1865. Photographers might not yet capture motion, for this reason it was left come newspaper illustrators and lithograph manufacturing companies choose Currier and Ives come depict the leaping flames and roiling exhilaration of urban on fire.

During the 1860s, image production and reproduction technologies advanced rapidly and also therefore photos of burning and ruined cities—Harpers Ferry, Hampton, Fredericksburg, Vicksburg, Chambersburg, Atlanta, Columbia, Charleston, and Richmond—were increasingly available and affordable. As result of the dominance of northern printing and also photographic facilities before and during the war, the mass of the photos were produced by northerners and for northern audiences. Thus, images of destroyed cities typically narrated Union army conquests and also victories, suggesting that urban destruction was integral to the can be fried Union victory.

For Confederates, these pictures conveyed tragedy and also suffering. The South’s urban ruins—in photographs and also illustrations, and also in novels and also later, films—became bedrock symbols within the narrative of the lost Cause, a popular southern storage of the war that depicted Union soldiers as rapacious, evil intruders intent on annihilating all vestiges that the “Old South,” consisting of its architecture and its genteel white womenfolk. One famous novel published in the postwar period, wilhelm Henry Peck’s The M’Donalds; or, the Ashes of southerly Homes: A story of Sherman’s March (1867), because that example, supplied urban destruction as both a thematic and also a plot device. Throughout the novel, Union troops pursue Mrs. Call M’Donald and her daughter Myrtis from Atlanta come Columbia. As these cities burn down roughly them, the M’Donald women have actually their moments of fear and anxiety, but they endure these conflagrations and also remain staunch believers in the Confederacy and also its purpose. Thus, southerners dismissed one of the main justifications of urban devastation during the war: the demoralization of southerly civilians. In southerly popular culture after the war, white females in burning cities ended up being embodiments that the lost Cause and also of the increasingly well-known adage the “The south Shall increase Again.”45

The visual and narrative strength of urban damages meant that the extent of the damages done to southerly cities was often exaggerated. Photographers tightly concentrated their images, using a block or 2 of rubble to was standing in for the entire city; they likewise emphasized destroyed cities in their collections of “war views.” occasionally they deliberately misled viewers about the reason of urban destruction. George N. Barnard, for example, took numerous photographs that the ruins of Charleston, southern Carolina, in the year after it fell to Union troops. That did not distinguish in between his images of the part of the city damaged in the siege the 1863–1865, and the sections of the city leveled by a fire that swept through the business district in December 1861—before any Union troops had set foot in the city.46

Northern photographers to be invested in shaping a triumphant narrative using metropolitan ruins; the southerly press, top top the various other hand, experienced such photos as a means to critique northern military tactics together “uncivilized” and “barbaric.” The focus that both sides placed on damaged cities and the profusion of photos of castle in the pages of photographic albums and magazines developed the impression that many southern urban were entirely annihilated during the polite War. However in many cases, “ruined” cities proficient the lose of only around one-third of your buildings, concentrated in the company districts the were creating war materiel.

But these damages still existed. Their material reality speaks to the centrality of urban in civil War military strategy; come the numerous ways in i m sorry soldiers turned buildings into rubble; to the suffering of black and white civilians enduring this acts; and to the diverse meanings all Americans uncovered in the urban damages of war.

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Discussion of the Literature

Just as metropolitan centers to be attractive targets for Union and Confederate militaries in the 1860s, urban have come to be an increasingly popular topic in Civil war history. Due to the fact that the late 20th century researches of northern and southern urban in wartime have proliferated. Some, such together George Rable’s Fredericksburg! Fredericksburg! (2002), space military histories of cities under siege and also in battle that recognize the role they play in Civil war campaigns.47

However, as J. Matthew Gallman has listed in his short article “Urban background and the American civil War” (2006) plenty of recent Civil war “city biographies” said homefront stories of “recruiting and also conscription, emancipation and racial tensions, voluntarism and also fund raising, inflation and also labor strife, politics and dissent.”48 Civil battle cities need not be southerly to capture historians’ attention. Numerous recent histories focus on metropolitan centers north and west of the Mason-Dixon Line: Boston, Chicago, new York City. Adam Arenson’s The an excellent Heart the the Republic: St. Louis and the cultural Civil War (2011), because that example, reveals just how St. Louis—which to be northern, southern, and also western—endured every manner of attacks and also counterattacks throughout the war, continuing to be in contention until 1865.49

Those chroniclers interested in the southern cities have plenty of urban centers to choose from—and these cities represent a wide variety of wartime experiences. No every southern city was targeted because that destruction, or assaulted. Together William Warren Rogers’s Confederate home Front: Montgomery during the civil War (1999) suggests, numerous southern cities survived fairly unscathed, much away native the major theaters that the war. Scholars favor Chester Hearn, in When the devil Came down to Dixie: Ben butler in new Orleans (1997), and also those whose essays room gathered in LeeAnn Whites’s and also Alecia P. Long’s edited repertoire Occupied Women: Gender, military Occupation, and the American civil War (2009), focus on the experiences of white and also black civilians in Confederate cities occupied by Union forces. These urban were abundant ground for political, gendered, and racial conflicts that interest social chroniclers of the polite War.50

Cities surrendered without any type of shots fired to be rarely ruined afterward. However those that were positioned between armies or were located at an essential transportation junctions were frequently partially or wholly destroyed. These city centers have actually attracted a an excellent deal of attention from scholars. Some, such together Nelson Lankford (Richmond Burning: The critical Days of the Confederate Capital <2002>) and Marion Brunson Lucas (Sherman and the burning of Columbia <2000>), have actually written detailed local backgrounds of the numerous days before and after a city’s damage while rather such as A. Wilson Greene, in Civil war Petersburg: Confederate City in the Crucible the War (2006) and Wendy Hamand Venet, in A an altering Wind: Commerce and Conflict in Civil war Atlanta (2014), comment on destruction as part of longer chronologies the wartime metropolitan development.51

Cities have sometimes entered the narratives of scholars interested in the appearance of “hard war” strategies (deliberate acts of violence versus civilians), especially on the component of the Union Army. Charles Royster’s The terrible War: william Tecumseh Sherman, Stonewall Jackson, and the Americans (1991) opens with a vivid thing on the burning of Columbia, south Carolina, and Mark Grimsley’s The difficult Hand that War: Union army Policy toward southerly Civilians, 1861–1865 (1995) examines tough war plans as they applied to both urban and rural inhabitants of the Confederacy. Much more recently, Megan Kate Nelson studies the burnings that Hampton, Chambersburg, and Columbia to exemplify one of 4 kinds that wartime destruction in Ruin Nation: Destruction and also the American civil War (2012).52

Despite this current upsurge in urban researches of warfare, there is plainly more work to be done in this field. An ext comparative studies of southerly cities under fire are necessary in bespeak to assess the commonalities and explain the distinctions in their experiences. Most important is the require for an ext studies of ruined cities throughout Reconstruction. Historians have examined plenty of facets of racial and political repair in the postwar duration (necessarily and much come our benefit) however they perform not often deal with the issue of yes, really reconstruction—the rebuilding of urban partially destroyed in the war. Also the wartime city biographies and texts that resolve destruction much more broadly cite Reconstruction just in passing, or in final chapters or epilogues. William A. Link’s current Atlanta, Cradle the the new South: Race and Remembering in the polite War’s Aftermath (2013) has begun to answer essential questions that historians need to ask in various other locations: just how was urban rebuilding financed? how long did that take? Did these projects administer work for freedpeople? Did some cities take longer to rebuild than others? how did wartime damage shape the racial and also political histories of Reconstruction, and also the broader sweep of the background of American capitalism?53

Studies of Civil battle cities—destroyed or left intact—have and can proceed to illuminate local circumstances and speak to wider military, social, and social narratives that the conflict. They imply the diversity the wartime experiences across the nation, and also the vital roles that urban played in American life in the 19th century.