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D. H. Dilbeck’s A More Civil War: How the Union Waged a Just War, seeks to resolve the paradox of the Union fighting a war that featured both devastating destruction and remarkable restraint. Dilbeck accomplishes this by investigating what constituted a “just war” from the Union perspective. He finds that many Federals came to see a hard war that destroyed the Confederates’ will to resist as the only way to end the war and its attendant evils. From their perspective, then, the only humane war was a hard war. Yet at the same time, Dilbeck clearly shows that there were definite limits, lines that could not be crossed if the war was to remain just and avoid a descent into barbarism that would sully the Union’s good name.
Dilbeck buttresses this conclusion in all five of his chapters. Each chapter treats a different topic while also moving the story forward in [End Page 365] time. Chapter One deals with the thorny guerrilla conflict in Missouri during the early days of the war. This kind of war raised questions about the treatment of captured guerrillas and the civilians who supported them. Who was to be punished? How were they to be punished? What was the best way to end the internecine bushwhacking? Out of this situation arose one of the first instances of a hard and destructive war meant to quell the violence in Missouri. Dilbeck, however, emphasizes that the Union desire to pacify Missouri did not lead them to endorse unrestrained warfare. Instead, the Federals set rules and defined when it was just to retaliate as well as what the proper punishment was for those who fought against the Union without donning a gray uniform.
Dilbeck’s second chapter covers the early Union occupation of cities along the Mississippi River, namely William T. Sherman and Benjamin Butler’s occupations of Memphis and New Orleans, respectively. Here again are instances of Union forces embracing a hard war, this time on civilians, with the hope of bringing a speedy end to the war, while also showing restraint. A good example of this was Butler. On the one hand, he seized civilian property that would aid the Confederacy, censored New Orleans papers, and removed the local government. On the other, he relieved privation in New Orleans and cleaned up the city to avoid a yellow fever outbreak. Even in a hard war against Confederate civilians, Dilbeck demonstrates that humanity was not totally absent from Federal actions. There is also a section in this chapter on the just war issues surrounding emancipation, an issue faced by both Butler and Sherman as slaves escaped to Union lines. Their experiences during this early stage of the war persuaded them that attacking slavery was not only a just course, but also a powerful tool for undermining the Confederate war effort. During this stage of the war, though, questions remained about how slavery could be attacked justly.
Chapter Three analyzes General Orders No. 100, which outlined Francis Lieber’s vision of a just war. Lieber was a scholar of the laws of war and the father of three soldiers—two Federals and one Confederate—and [End Page 366] his code reflected his deep thinking on the subject. Here again is the idea of a vigorous war effort leading to a shorter war which would be more humane as long as it was kept within certain bounds. Lieber’s Code translated this principle into practical guidelines that a soldier could follow in the field, while giving latitude for commanders on the ground to make the decision that circumstances merited. Dilbeck admits that it is difficult to know how much effect this code of conduct actually had on the soldiers, as many of them ignored these rules, while others might have adhered to the spirit of Lieber’s Code without actually referring to it when making a decision in a given situation. Nevertheless, Lieber’s Code embodied the sentiment of...