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No rebels shall be allowed to remain so much as an hour. And let it be known that if a farmer wishes to burn his cotton, his house, his family, and himself, he may do so. But not his corn. We want that. William Tecumseh Sherman

After the bombardment of Fort Sumter, Sherman hesitated about committing to military service and ridiculed Lincoln’s call for 75,000 three-month volunteers to quell secession, reportedly saying: “Why, you might as well attempt to put out the flames of a burning house with a squirt-gun.” However, in May, he offered himself for service in the regular army, and his brother (Senator John Sherman) and other connections maneuvered to get him a commission in the regular army. On the 3rd of June he wrote that “I still think it is to be a long war – very long – much longer than any Politician thinks.

He received a telegram summoning him to Washington on the 7th of June, fought at Antietam and was given principal military responsibility for Kentucky, a border state in which Confederate troops held Columbus and Bowling Green and were present near the Cumberland Gap, he became exceedingly pessimistic about the outlook for his command and he complained frequently  about shortages while providing exaggerated estimates of the strength of the rebel forces.

In early November 1861, Sherman insisted that he be relieved and was replaced by Don Carlos Buell and transferred to St. Louis. In December, he was put on leave by Maj. Gen. Halleck, commander of the Department of the Missouri, who found him “unfit” for duty. Sherman went home to Ohio, to recuperate from a nervous breakdown. While he was at home, his wife Ellen wrote to his brother, Senator John Sherman, complaining of “that melancholy insanity to which your family is subject,” and Sherman later wrote that the concerns of command “broke me down,” and he admitted contemplating “suicide.”

His problems were compounded when the Cincinnati Commercial described him as “insane,” but with family connections and most of the competent officers siding with the South he became the ultimate rear echelon operative for Grant who, when he assumed command of the union army in 1864, turned his mad dog loose on the South.

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.

The march to the sea and beyond : Sherman’s troops in the Savannah and Carolinas campaigns    New York : New York University Press, 1985 Joseph T. Glatthaar Sherman’s March to the Sea, Sherman, William T. (William Tecumseh), 1820-1891 Hardcover. xvi, 318 p. : ill. ; 24 cm. Bibliography: p. [261]-310. Includes index. Clean, tight and strong binding with clean dust jacket and no underlining, highlighting or marginalia in text. VG/VG

Sherman’s march frightened and appalled Southerners. It hurt morale, for civilians had believed the Confederacy could protect the home front.

Sherman had terrorized the countryside; his men had destroyed all sources of food and forage and had left behind a hungry and demoralized people. He  destroyed buildings in places where there was any resistance. There were physical attacks on white civilians and although the number of rapes of slave women at the hands of the invaders is not documented it is known that male slaves posted guards outside the cabins of their women.

Confederate president Jefferson Davis had urged Georgians to undertake a scorched-earth policy of poisoning wells and burning fields, but civilians in the army’s path had not done so. Sherman, however, burned or captured all the food stores that Georgians had saved for the winter months. As a result of the hardships on women and children, desertions increased in Robert E. Lee‘s army in Virginia.

Sherman believed his campaign against civilians would shorten the war by breaking the Confederate will to fight, and he eventually received permission to carry this psychological warfare into South Carolina in early 1865. By marching through Georgia and South Carolina he became an arch-villain in the South and a hero in the North.


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