Today's selection -- from Citizen Sherman by Michael Fellman. Almost three million soldiers had enlisted in the American Civil War. By contrast, it only took 25,000 soldiers after that to prosecute America's tragic war to subdue the Indians (Native Americans) in the West, largely because much of this terrible work was done by disease, settlement, and the slaughter of the buffalo. This ignominious war, in many respects over by time of the death of Sitting Bull in 1890, was led by the triumvirate of the most successful generals of the Civil War, President Ulysses Grant, William Tecumseh Sherman, and Philip Sheridan:
"With the south at last subdued, American public energies could return to the long-term project of economic development and westward expansion. ... The key to the realization of this great national and international project, which was the American version of the shared expansionist dream of the Western world, was the transcontinental railroad. The chief impediment to this objective was the nomadic, buffalo-hunting, warlike Indians of the Great Plains, with whom white Americans were convinced they never could cohabit. They would have to be dealt with while the railroads were abuilding. And they would be combatted only by a small army, as Congress reduced it to fifty thousand, then to thirty-five thousand, and finally to twenty-five thousand in the first few postwar years. ...
"When pushed by this or that incident, [General William Tecumseh] Sherman's racial contempt would emerge through his more distancing natural law justifications. 'We are not going to let a few thieving, ragged Indians check and stop the progress of [the railroads], a work of national and world-wide importance,' he insisted to Grant in 1867... Sherman noted to Grant that 'increased [U.S.] population [migrating West] ... will divide the northern and southern Indians permanently, when [the army] can take them in detail.'
John Gast's American Progress, 1872.
"Disease, slaughter of the buffalo, their economic base, and intrusion of white settlement, together with the extermination of the most warlike younger men, all were serving to eliminate the Indians. The capstone, literally uniting the white surge, was, as Sherman had always believed it would be, the railroad. Railroads began to move settlers west, and goods, like wheat and buffalo hides, to market. They also made the small army far more mobile and capable of concentration in their attacks on the shrinking bands of 'hostile' Indians. The army was able to guard the railroads so effectively that raiding Indians failed to slow construction. ... With the Union Pacific through, and three more lines to follow in swift succession, with all their attendant social, economic, and racial ramifications, Sherman could shove the Indians out of his mind while he and Progress were in the process of finishing them off on the ground.
"The remaining Indians were nearing starvation. 'I think the Sioux are now so dependent on us that they will have to do whatever they are required to do,' Sherman told Sheridan triumphantly and only slightly prematurely, on November
After a bit more mopping up he could believe he had achieved the final solution to the Indian problem as he had defined it a decade earlier -- extermination for the hostile; reduction to dependency in out-of-the-way reservations for the rest. And it really had been cheap in white soldiers' lives: From
officers and men were killed and
wounded, far less than in an average Civil War battle. Financially as well, the war had proved no great drain on the treasury: 'It is all moonshine about the great cost of the war,' Sherman bragged to a friend in 1875."