Wednesday, January 10, 2018

After the War

One of my favorites from the "Band of Brothers" was  a wonderful episode called "Points" which covers the time after the Wehrmacht surrendered.

The American soldiers, were, of course, euphoric, but for many of the officers, there was the problem of "what next?"  For the enlisted men, the citizen soldiers who had no desire to make a career of the Army, the return to civilian life beckoned. 

But some of the officers had never had such good training, so much responsibility, such a fulfilling job, and they considered staying on.

One of the best combat officers, Capt. Speirs, says he is going to "stay with the men" because the Army is such a valuable resource, and it would be a shame to allow it to go to waste. In one sense, you can see it's his career he does not want to go to waste. What can these men do after the fighting which could possibly seem as meaningful as what they did during the fighting?

But of course, that's exactly what happened after WWII and after the Civil War. All those hundreds of thousands of troops just quit, vanished, melted away, "ain't gonna study war no mo'."

After the Confederate Army surrendered and officers like Phil Sheridan and William Tecumseh Sherman and Ulysses S. Grant faced the great void of "peace."  None of these men had ever achieved anything close to the success in civilian life they had as military officers. 
Sherman had been a failure as a banker. Sheridan and Grant were more or less aimless non entities.

But following the surrender of the armies, these generals discovered the South may have surrendered its armies but it had no intention of accepting the defeat of the racist, murderous values by which it had always lived. Freed slaves, Freedmen, and Whites who were against slavery or against secession were murdered in astonishing numbers, thousands a month, hundreds at a time.

Over 300,000 Freedman tried to go to schools set up by the Freedman's Bureau, staffed in large part by Northern abolitionists who came South much as the Freedom Riders did 100 years later. But the would be students, the Freedman and their teachers were murdered systematically and methodically by Whites who had no intention of seeing Blacks learn to read, write, learn math and live free. 
Kept Killing with the Klan

Nathan Bedford Forrest, a Confederate general who oversaw the massacre of unarmed and surrendering Black Union soldiers at Fort Pillow and elsewhere established the Ku Klux Klan and continued his murderous ways. 

In Georgia, local police were uniformed in gray, to remind Blacks and Whites alike the war may have been lost, but the police still enforced White Power.

Phil Sheridan was put in charge of the military district of Texas and Louisiana and when the trolley company in New Orleans insisted on Blacks riding in separate cars from Whites, he said he'd close the company down unless they integrated the ridership.  He became an integrationist  long before Rosa Parks. He was pugnacious enough to declare martial law in Texas and to fire the governor of Louisiana. 

Grant saw that the generous terms he gave Lee to induce Lee to surrender were exploited as Southerners decided to oppose the end to slavery, to White rule by other means. 
The Southern states refused to accept the 14th amendment which guaranteed everyone the right to vote regardless of race and which guaranteed equal justice under the law. In Southern courts justice was not intended to be equal for Blacks. White men accused of murdering Blacks feared no punishment, and were virtually never found guilty, if they were charged at all.

Blacks were rarely even brought to trial: They were simply lynched.

I'm now into the last third of "Grant" and this is actually proving to be even more fascinating than the war years. I've read about Grant's war career so often, but not much about his years following the war, his gradual radicalization as he saw the foul injustices befalling Blacks.  
It is curious to consider how much more effective the Americans were in "rehabilitating" the Germans after defeating Nazi Germany, where at least outward contrition over the Holocaust seemed pretty pervasive.  Of course, they had to pass a law forbidding the publication of photos of Hitler for a few decades, for fear they would be framed and hung in every home and bar, but at least superficially, Germany seemed to have rejected fascist hate. Nothing like that ever happened in the South. There were never any Nuremberg trials in Richmond. Of course, the Southerners could never claim they were unaware of slavery. In Germany, as the American soldiers noted in "Band of Brothers", they never could find a single Nazi as they rolled through German towns. Everyone was "nicht Nazi." 

So far, Sheridan is looking even better than he did during the war, and that is a tall order. No Union general was braver or more effective or more important, not even Sherman. 

I used to drive past Sheridan's statue in the middle of "Sheridan Circle" on Massachusetts Avenue once or twice a week, when I lived in Washington, and never really thought more about him. I knew he had won the Shenandoah Valley campaign, but I was only dimly aware of the critical role he played in trapping Lee, at the end.

Sheridan married a much younger woman, and when he died at age 57, his widow was still young, attractive and much pursued. She lived another 50 years after his death, dying in 1938. When asked why she had not remarried, she replied, "I'd rather be Phil Sheridan's widow than the wife of any living man." 

That is hardly the sentiment one hears in the 21st century, but looking at 21st century men, and comparing them to Phil Sheridan, and for that matter, to Ulysses S. Grant, one might say, little wonder.

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