War of Vengeance
Acts of Retaliation against Civil War POWs

Author: Lonnie R. Speer

Stackpole Books, 2002

Here we have an answer to youthful innocents who say that history sucks or who ask, why history? Those unaware of humanity's follies are more of a potential danger than people who are aware of those follies.

This small book (208 pages) describes out of control people during the Civil War. It is about people misusing power during war.  There were occasions in the Civil War when anger led a soldier coming face to face with someone who was down and surrendering to shoot and kill his perceived enemy – in this instance, an American killing an American.  

Each chapter of this book describes an over-reaction during the Civil War. The author, Lonnie Speer, finds fault with both sides in the Civil War. This includes the killing of men taken prisoner by Confederates in Missouri and the retaliation by the Union commander at St. Louis, General William Rosecrans, who, in retaliation, had innocent Confederate prisoners shot down by a firing squad. It includes another Union atrocity in Missouri, the Palmyra massacre. And it includes the Gainesville massacre in Texas.

The Gainesville massacre had origins in the opposition of people in eleven counties in northern Texas to secede from the Union. Such opposition by counties in Virginia led to the creation of a new state, West Virginia. Not so in Texas, where people opposed to slavery and secession were taken as prisoners – although they had not taken up arms against Texas. They were tried by judges and juries wedded to the Confederate cause, and they were convicted of treason and hanged.

The lesson in this is that even during war civilized people should keep their passions under control in order to avoid committing murder. There are those, of course, who will obscure this lesson by saying that war is murder, putting all killing on the same level – a mush-minded or equivalency fallacy.