View single post by Johan Steele
 Posted: Thu Aug 14th, 2008 03:46 am
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Johan Steele
Life NRA,SUVCW # 48,Legion 352

Joined: Sat Dec 2nd, 2006
Location: South Of The North 40, Minnesota USA
Posts: 1065

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First let us discuss what is a Total War? If it is defined as the novel approach of taking the war to the civilians as a first time ever as is often charged against Sherman... Well Sherman was neither the first or most brutal by any stretch of the mind. Such a charge requires either a willful ignorance of military history or not bothering to look at the last 2000 years or so of history.

Total War was waged, quite effectively, by the Romans & Mongols to name just two of the more effective practitioners of the ancient world. Then of coarse there were the French in Spain, English in India, Russians etc in a more 19th Century light.

The Romans gave us the idea of "abject lesson" w/ places like Carthage, Juerselum and the temple mount to name just two. We get the term decimate and depopulate from the Romans. Sowing salt on fertile ground and leaving no stone upon another as well as leaving a city or region empty of inhabitants. That is total war. Later putting a city to the sword was outright common and giving a city to the army for a couple days was how some armies of the Dark & Middle ages were paid! Noble Knights of the Crusades? Posh.

The Mongols took mobility & psychological Warfare to a whole new level... one that has never been surpassed; truly epitomizing the idea that wars are fought in the will. They encouraged the belief in the supernatural and demonic and scared the wits out of opponents... destroying EVERYTHING that resisted them. Total War? Absolutely and the standard by which the premise should be judged.

The French in Spain did everything Shermans men are accused of doing... and actually did it.   By what definition were these Total Wars? Well Total War equals treating enemy civilains as combatants and treating them as such. No quarter asked and none given... more like what happened to the Native Americans in the US or upon the battlefields of the Pacific in WWII than to the citizens of Georgia, SC & NC at the hands of Shermans men.
Frankly, NOT fighting a total war is a relatively new concept.  We must remember that history does not happen in a vacuum. What Shermans men did pales when compared to quite a few Armies prior; whether it be the French in Spain during the Napoleanic Wars or even the British in Denmark in that same time frame.

Polite conduct towards the civilians of an enemy simply did not exist. The idea that Sherman and his men were the first to turn "Total War" loose upon the world flies in the face of reality and of history. This was not history to the men of West Point, they were current events with many a nasty event as recent as the 1840's and 50's conducted by "civilized" nations.

Shermans men were relative saints when compared to the French, Germans or even Brits. Politness towards civilians is a relatively recent phenomenom in warfare... the evidence is simply the lack of mass graves or piles of bones throughout Georgia & the Carolinas. I guarantee that few descendents of those civilians in the above mentioned area have blue coated ancestors...

When looked at in a purely military sense the destruction wrought upon Georgia and South Carolina was largely of legitimate nature.  Mills, RR's, barns, livestock, bridges etc...
Much of the charges of mass looting is pure rhetoric with little foundation in reality. Simply put where did the loot go, how was it carried and where did it end up? The men did not carry it, if there were large amounts it never left Savannah (the records of postal shipments are available) and the men certainly didn't carry it w/ them through to the Grand Review. In short tons of loot never left Georgia & the Carolinas.

Why did General Sherman feel his campaign through Georgia and the Carolina’s was needed?  I suppose the one thing that Sherman knew beyond a shadow of a doubt was that the CS did not think they were beaten when he began his March to the Sea. By the time he was done... it was over. At the end the whole world knew it was over and there was no doubt in the mind of any foreign power either. When Sherman began that campaign the CS was still viable; no matter the reality of economics or strategic situation. While we in the 21st may easily conclude that the CS was beaten; the CS in 1864/65 certainly didn't believe it... and there was some question in the mind of the average Union soldier as well.

What Sherman and his men did was prove to the world and to the CS that the War was over. The armies of the CS were no longer capable of defending anything and certainly no longer capable of stopping 60,000 men from rolling through the middle of their country.

Without that campaign through Georgia and the Carolinas the CS may well have held on. Grant was stymied by Lee outside Petersburg and that was where the press saw and reported the war. Much as today the press were the eyes of the nation; they saw the war through their eyes and in their eyes the war was still front page news with Grant and Lee at Petersburg. The war was ended through that march by Sherman and his men.
What was the cost?  There were less than a thousand CS casualties prior to North Carolina; among both the military and civilian population.  Sherman lost less than 200 men. There is, of course, no figure on the dead and wounded freed slaves at Ebeneezer Creek.  But because they were black men, women and children attacked by Wheeler they are overshadowed by Sherman. Although Jeff Davis (the Union General) was as much at fault for ordering the pontoons pulled.

Shermans actions at the very least shortened the War by a year if not ended it. It is a fascinating campaign, as to it being the first time such tactics were used. It was not the US actions during the Seminole War, French in Spain, English in India and China in other words there was ample precedence within the 60 years prior to 1864 of much more brutal actions by European Armies against a civilian populace. Sherman’s march was nothing new to the world and hardly as brutal as a myriad of European campaigns.

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