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"Sherman’s March to the Sea" Topic


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Tango01 Supporting Member of TMP14 Jun 2018 9:06 p.m. PST

"One word still resonates more deeply in the American psyche than any other in the field of Civil War study: Sherman. The name immediately conjures visions of fire and smoke, destruction and desolation; Atlanta in flames, farms laid to waste and railroad tracks mangled beyond recognition. In our collective memory, blue-clad soldiers march with impunity, their scavenged booty draped about them, leaving a trail of white women and children to sob at their losses and slaves to rejoice at their emancipation. Sherman himself is remembered through a nearly ubiquitous photograph, with a glare so icy it can chill us even across time. To average Americans, whether they are Northerners or Southerners, Sherman was a hard, cruel soldier, an unfeeling destroyer, the man who rampaged rather than fought, a brute rather than a human being.

The full story, however, is not this simple. Certainly, Sherman practiced destructive war, but he did not do it out of personal cruelty. Instead, he sought to end the war as quickly as possible, with the least loss of life on both sides.

The March to the Sea was no off-the-cuff reaction by Sherman to finding himself in Atlanta in September 1864 and knowing he could not remain there. He had for a long time hated the idea of having to kill and maim Confederates, many of whom had been pre-war friends. He wanted his army to win the war and thus preserve the Union, but he also wanted to curtail the battlefield slaughter. He sought to utilize destructive war to convince Confederate citizens in their deepest psyche both that they could not win the war and that their government could not protect them from Federal forces. He wanted to convey that southerners controlled their own fate through a duality of approach: as long as they remained in rebellion, they would suffer at his hands, once they surrendered, he would display remarkable largess…."
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Amicalement
Armand

USAFpilot Supporting Member of TMP14 Jun 2018 10:33 p.m. PST

Men like Sherman and Grant understood the nature of war more than most of their contemporaries.

Trajanus15 Jun 2018 2:10 a.m. PST

For me Sherman, even more than Grant, epitomised the "You started it, I'm going to damn well finish it!" attitude that a lot of Union commanders lacked.

The contrast between him and the Eastern army commanders in 61-63 is pretty stark!

ZULUPAUL Supporting Member of TMP15 Jun 2018 3:37 a.m. PST

"Make Georgia howl!" Agree Sherman & Grant had a better grasp on what needed to be done to end the rebellion.

ScottWashburn Sponsoring Member of TMP15 Jun 2018 4:35 a.m. PST

But the images and the 'memory', true or false, is still with us. My wife, who has lived her entire life in Philadelphia, simply LOATHES Sherman. Prior to meeting me, her entire image of the South and the Civil War was formed by the movie Gone With The Wind. She had swallowed the romanticized version of the South hook, line, and sinker and blamed Sherman for its destruction. I've spent over 30 years trying to reeducate her, but only with limited success :)

pzivh43 Supporting Member of TMP15 Jun 2018 6:06 a.m. PST

I grew up in the south. So had a very different view of Sherman's Retreat to the Sea!! :)

Pan Marek15 Jun 2018 10:00 a.m. PST

"Sherman's dashing Yankee boys,
will never reach the coast.
So the saucy Rebels said,
and was a handsome boast.
If they had not forgot alas,
to reckon with the host.
While we were marching through Georgia…."

Retreat to the sea, indeed!

Bill N15 Jun 2018 10:17 a.m. PST

The contrast between him and the Eastern army commanders in 61-63 is pretty stark!

One difference was that during the 1861-1863 period the Confederacy was in a greater position to respond in kind.

Tango01 Supporting Member of TMP15 Jun 2018 11:36 a.m. PST

Pardon me but…

"Make Georgia howl!" Agree Sherman & Grant had a better grasp on what needed to be done to end the rebellion."


Was it a rebellion … or a secession …? Is not the same…


Amicalement
Armand

Trajanus15 Jun 2018 4:04 p.m. PST

Was it a rebellion … or a secession …? Is not the same…

Tango! Stop it and stop it now!

Trajanus15 Jun 2018 4:16 p.m. PST

Scott,

That reminds me of the John Wayne movie Rio Grande, where Maureen O'Hara's character upsets his Sargent Major by referring to him as an Arsonist!

goragrad15 Jun 2018 7:27 p.m. PST

Sherman's actions were a notch below those of the Mongols and other conquerors through history.

He was still warring on the civilian population.

It is, of course, an effective method of waging war (as the Mongols and others knew) – just not conducive to creating long term goodwill.

Had there been harsher terms at Appomattox or harder line taken by Lincoln, this would have fueled more than just resentment.

Calico Bill15 Jun 2018 11:44 p.m. PST

It was Secession, and his atrocities against civilians were deplorable. Those left behind to starve due to his actions would think him an asshole, as I'm sure anyone would in their position.

ScottWashburn Sponsoring Member of TMP16 Jun 2018 4:40 a.m. PST

How many actually starved? I've never seen any figures. Sherman's path was only 60 miles wide on average, so no one would have had to go more than 30 miles or so to reach untouched areas. Hard to see how widespread starvation could have resulted.

Tango01 Supporting Member of TMP16 Jun 2018 12:44 p.m. PST

Stop what?… imho is a valid question…

Amicalement
Armand

USAFpilot Supporting Member of TMP16 Jun 2018 2:20 p.m. PST

Tango, I just read the definition of "rebellion" and "secession". It is not a question of either or, but both terms are appropriate in this case.

goragrad16 Jun 2018 4:28 p.m. PST

30 miles on foot?

Not far I suppose for healthy adults. Might be a bit much for elderly and children.

But then if starvation wasn't widespread…

Tango01 Supporting Member of TMP17 Jun 2018 12:20 p.m. PST

ok.

Amicalement
Armand

Personal logo John the Greater Supporting Member of TMP17 Jun 2018 6:33 p.m. PST

It is always interesting to me that the March to the Sea gets all the publicity. The march through South Carolina brought out more rage in Sherman's men and when they got to North Carolina they were "quiet as lambs" The soldiers knew who to blame for the War.

138SquadronRAF Supporting Member of TMP18 Jun 2018 8:36 a.m. PST

Was it a rebellion … or a secession …? Is not the same…

Stop what?… imho is a valid question…

My dear cousin, I consider it a legitimate question but then I am in essence A Stranger in a Strange Land.


Now in my experience having lived in the United States for 22 years is that it depends where you go.

In the Northern States the Civil War is part of history. Something removed from day to day life for the average citizen. They don't really think about it. They generally know they were on the "winning side" and that's about it. In rural part of Northern states you'll see some Confederate flags; mainly here it's the idea of "sticking it to the man" – a condemnation of governmental control that is perceived as remote and hostile to rural concerns and lifestyle. The closer you get to the border of the Southern States, particularly in states like Ohio and Indiana, the stronger this feeling gets.

In the Old South, (with the possible exception of Texas), the Civil War is much more of a living reality, part of folk memory. They tend to get rather upset at the idea was session was a "rebellion" – they considered that the Southern States were true to the principles of the United States and the North had left them. To Southerners the Civil War is much more of an unhealed wound. Calling the act of secession, a rebellion, undermines the Southern view of their identity. In addition, remember my comments about the popularity of Confederate iconography in rural, northern or western States, that feeling is far stronger in the South. You will have heard of the move to remove Civil War monuments? This is seen among Southerners as a further attempt to further attempt by Northern elites (elites – another dirty word to some in America) to undermine their identity.

The very act of asking, a question that is valid from a foreigners, point of view, merely serves to open these wounds.

I hope this helps,

Elliott

Trajanus18 Jun 2018 8:37 a.m. PST

Stop what?… imho is a valid question…

Firstly, in this instance Rebellion and Secession are two sides of the same coin and it depends whose view point you are looking from.

Secondly, its the type of question that tends to lead this Board into State Rights, What was the War Really About, Should we be taking down Confederate Statues/Flags and many other topics we flog to death.

I should have put a :o) after my request!

Trajanus18 Jun 2018 8:40 a.m. PST

Thanks Elliot, a far more erudite version of my response!

Quaama18 Jun 2018 1:03 p.m. PST

Certainly, Sherman practiced destructive war, but he did not do it out of personal cruelty.

I find it a little hard to swallow that line given the following quotes attributed to Sherman:
"War is cruelty. There is no use trying to reform it; the crueler it is, the sooner it will be over.";
"I regard the death and mangling of a couple thousand men as a small affair, a kind of morning dash — and it may be well that we become so hardened";
"I can make this march, and I will make Georgia howl!"; and
"You cannot qualify war in harsher terms than I will. War is cruelty, and you cannot refine it";
just to name a few.
Sherman always strikes me as a man who had a personal mission to punish anyone from the south with no discrimination as to whether they were opposing soldiers or civilians. Not unlike Colonel James Montgomery who justified his looting and burning of Darien (an undefended town that offered no opposition to his occupation of it) by saying "the Southerners must be made to feel that this was a real war, and that they were to be swept away by the hand of God, like the Jews of old".

thomalley20 Jun 2018 5:49 a.m. PST

I remember reading the Sherman had copies of the 1860 census with him. It was more that a count of people. It told him where the wealth was. And of course slave to be freed.
As far as rebellion/secession. Many Southerns in 1860 would have seen leaving the Union no different then Brexit.

donlowry01 May 2021 9:54 a.m. PST

That other "damn-Yankee," Phil Sheridan, explained it very well:

"I do not hold war to mean simply that lines of men shall engage each other in battle, and material interests be ignored. This is but a duel, in which one combatant seeks the other's life; war means much more, and is far worse than this. Those who rest at home in peace and plenty see but little of the horrors attending such a duel, and even grow indifferent to them as the struggle goes on, contenting themselves with encouraging all who are able-bodied to enlist in the cause, to fill up the shattered ranks as death thins them. It is another matter, however, when deprivation and suffering are brought to their own doors. Then the case appears much graver, for the loss of property weighs heavy with the most of mankind; heaver often, than the sacrifices made on the field of battle. Death is popularly considered the maximum of punishment in war, but it is not; reduction to poverty brings prayers for peace more surely and more quickly than does the destruction of human life, as the selfishness of man has demonstrated in more than one great conflict."

The key phrase being: "reduction to poverty brings prayers for peace more surely and more quickly than does the destruction of human life…"

From Sheridan's memoirs

stephen116205 May 2021 5:53 a.m. PST

"Sherman's actions were a notch below those of the Mongols"

This is a bit of a stretch. The Mongols literally massacred millions.

"Those left behind to starve due to his actions would think him an asshole, as I'm sure anyone would in their position."

I doubt that many actually starved. I also have little sympathy for these people as they were the perpetrators of a massive crime against humanity. . . the very reason the war was being fought.

donlowry06 May 2021 9:08 a.m. PST

Strange that all the posts above mine are now shown as from 2018, but I found this thread near the top of the list when I added my 2 cents.

donlowry06 May 2021 9:11 a.m. PST

Many Southerns in 1860 would have seen leaving the Union no different then Brexit.

I don't think the British fired on any European forts on the way out, though! People keep forgetting that it wasn't secession that started the war, it was the firing on Fort Sumter (filled with Federal troops)! Up to then it was only a political crisis.

Bill N06 May 2021 2:49 p.m. PST

I noticed the same thing Don.

takeda33306 May 2021 10:51 p.m. PST

The March was one thing but the wake of bummers that followed was another which led to more harsh memories. The point???

LostPict Supporting Member of TMP13 May 2021 3:36 a.m. PST

Since they war was won not by burning the South but by defeating the field armies in battle; the destruction bit doesn't seem to have added any speed to the victory and indefinitely postponed the peace. I suspect a number of federal marauders and their victims had PTSD as a result. That would be an interesting area for research. During my time with the present US Army, Sherman's ways would have led to a war crimes tribunal. Of course those were different times.

EJNashIII13 May 2021 7:56 a.m. PST

However, many with Lee wanted to continue the war even after the formal armies were shattered. Sherman's march, and other total war moves made this clear to Lee that things needed to end. Lee was a gentleman and could not face a 100 years of brutal guerilla war destroying what little was left of Virginia.

Tortorella Supporting Member of TMP13 May 2021 12:24 p.m. PST

I agree with LostPict but I suspect very large numbers on both sides had PSTD in every theater. Another tragic outcome in the days before anyone realized.

As for the tribunal, I agree also that a war crimes tribunal on the March would have been convened today. Enslavement (as in slaves to build fortifications and provide military logistical support) is also a war crime, I believe. Prison conditions on both sides were likely war crimes – Elmira and Andersonville(for which there was a trial). It was a brutal time in our history. Unprecedented death and destruction. Its no wonder we still cant come to terms with it as a nation.

Bill N13 May 2021 12:53 p.m. PST

I think the effects of total war are overrated.

Sheridan's scorched earth policy in the Shenandoah did not prevent Early's army from operating through the region to attack Sheridan at Cedar Creek, or prevent Sheridan from operating through the same region to attack Early at Waynesboro the following spring. Likewise his scorched earth efforts in Loudoun did not prevent Mosby's continued operations. Sherman's destruction in Georgia ended up adversely affecting his army once it reached Savannah. The collapse of the Confederate transportation system was well under way by the time Sherman captured Atlanta. With Early's defeat at Cedar Creek and Hood's at Franklin and Nashville, the same could be said for the Confederate armies. By the time Wilson cut loose and Stoneman launched his last raid the Fat Lady was singing.

Simply holding Atlanta would probably have been more detrimental to the Confederacy's war effort than the destruction in Georgia. However Sherman wasn't strong enough to secure Tennessee, hold Atlanta and secure its communications and still be able to relocate significant forces to the Atlantic coast. Holding open communications between Atlanta the army while he moved to Savannah were out of the question. Sherman's march was as much a demonstration of the limits of the power of Union forces as it was a projection of them.

donlowry14 May 2021 9:28 a.m. PST

The important effects of what you call scorched earth policies was not what it had on the Confederate armies, but on the people supporting those armies -- people, as Sheridan implies, suddenly tired of the war now that it comes home to them.

As for war crimes, what Sherman did to Georgia or what Sheridan did to the Shenandoah was nothing compared to what the RAF and USAAF did to German cities in WW2 (or what the Luftwaffe did to British and Dutch cities before that), not to mention what the USAAF did to Japanese cites.

Tango01 Supporting Member of TMP15 May 2021 4:04 p.m. PST

Well… in Napoleon Era not only was there the looting and destruction of civilian villages … also a certain policy of "scorched earth" as in Spain or southern Italy … not to mention in the Middle Ages!

Armand

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