“Strong Measures, Deemed Indispensable but Harsh at Best”

Burrus M. Carnahan

in Lincoln on Trial

Published by University Press of Kentucky

Published in print January 2010 | ISBN: 9780813125695
Published online September 2011 | e-ISBN: 9780813135380 | DOI:
“Strong Measures, Deemed Indispensable but Harsh at Best”

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This chapter examines President Lincoln's attitude toward counter-guerrilla tactics, which could include the execution of civilian hostages in retaliation for unlawful enemy actions. Most of the house burning that bothered the president had been carried out, by both sides, as acts of “retaliation.” Two highly effective acts of retaliation by the Confederacy—one threatened, the other executed—illustrate how the practice was supposed to work. Retaliation remained a major weapon of Union generals against guerrillas and the civilians who supported them. The forced movement of hostile civilian populations was another common response to guerrilla warfare. Abraham Lincoln himself signed one order for retaliation against Confederate prisoners of war. The distaste he felt for actually ordering the innocent to suffer for offenses they had not committed is explained.

Keywords: Abraham Lincoln; civilian hostages; retaliation; Confederacy; guerrilla warfare; guerrillas; Confederate prisoners

Chapter.  9311 words. 

Subjects: History of the Americas

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