The Hard Hand of War: Union Military Policy toward Southern Civilians, 1861-1865

By Sutherland, Daniel E | The Virginia Magazine of History and Biography, Winter 1997 | Go to article overview

The Hard Hand of War: Union Military Policy toward Southern Civilians, 1861-1865


Sutherland, Daniel E, The Virginia Magazine of History and Biography


The Hard Hand of War. Union Military Policy toward Southern Civilians, 18611865. By MARK GRIMSLEY. Cambridge, New York, and Melbourne: Cambridge University Press, 1995. xii, 244 pp. $29.95.

Two challenges faced Federal military planners in the spring of 1861. They had to win the war, and they had to preserve the Union. This dual mission was trickier than it sounds, for if the United States waged a war that devastated the South, the two sections might never be rejoined, either politically or emotionally. Mark Grimsley maintains that this concern remained central to Federal military planning and kept the war from becoming the "total war" of annihilation portrayed in so many southern interpretations of the conflict.

This is an excellent book in several ways. Most notably, it provides a sophisticated and insightful analysis of the twists and turns of Union grand strategy. During the war, northern military and political leaders, submits Grimsley, attempted three distinct policies, which he labels conciliatory, pragmatic, and hard war. The first policy dominated northern planning until the summer of 1862. Its keynote was restraint, motivated by the belief that manyperhaps most-southerners did not support secession and that forbearance and the reality of war would eventually produce a groundswell of opposition to the Confederacy. Pragmatism, which allowed the army to retaliate against overt secessionists, characterized northern policy from the summer of 1862 until early 1864. Hard war eventually won out in 1864-65, when destruction of both the Confederacy's warmaking capabilities and civilian morale reigned supreme.

Of course, stresses Grimsley, the war was never this neat, and elements of all three policies can be seen at work in some regions of the South throughout the contest. Grimsley is very good at explaining exceptions to the rule, as he moves from the sanitary world of political and military planners to show how policy was translated into action. Thus, precursors of the pragmatic approach operated in Missouri during the first year of the war, and the doctrine of hard war was being implemented in parts of Virginia by 1862 and Mississippi in 1863. …

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