.. aw as a burden. He did however, make it crystal clear through comments to his subordinates and directly to black ministers that he did not want them anywhere around his soldiers. The blacks did not heed the advice or the warnings. Sherman was deemed a brilliant, innovative and astute commander (Jones, 1987) by the end of the war. Even though he fell from grace early in the war, his beliefs and approach in time proved extremely accurate.
Sherman was in fact very outspoken. He said “in war,..everything is right which prevents anything. If bridges are burned, Ive got a right to burn all the houses near it, and Goddamn it, I mean to do it, too” (Oates, 1998, p. 598). Sherman firmly believed in fighting an extreme brand of war.
He wanted to make the experience so painful that no one involved would ever have the desire to do so in the future. This actually is a very commendable and noble goal. Even though Sherman was fiery, outspoken, and justifying his actions with his own beliefs, they were not necessarily wrong or unjust. The march to the sea produced some events which in a different place or time would most definitely be judged differently. Taken individually, even his remarks would get him removed from office had he lived in our era. Sherman said “I didnt agree with Grant or the Administration that niggers could make good soldiers..” (Oates, 1998, p.
572). Regarding the burning of Atlanta, “..the South made a big howl..but I would have been a Goddamned fool to take a town at such cost and leave it occupied by a hostile people. If Jeff Davis and Hood didnt like it, *censored* em” (Oates, 1998, p.573). Clearly Sherman liked the idea of tough ideas and tough action, but it is important to remember that neither he or his troops condoned crimes against a person such as murder or rape. The harshness with which he fought was motivated by a pure desire to end the war and leave such a distaste for it that no one would be in a hurry to have another. Did the end justify the means? Sherman had other options when he was in Atlanta.
The option that President Lincoln and general Grant wanted him to take was to pursue General Hood and destroy his army. Even though Hood was defeated at Atlanta as Robert E. Lee had privately predicted (Long, 1983), he still had a considerable and very mobile force with which to fight. Sherman knew how costly and futile a pursuit would be. He knew he would have to garrison, Atlanta, guard the railroads, and chase Hood.
“That Goddamned Hood was afraid to fight me on open ground and therefore moved around and north of Atlanta..” (Oates, 1998, p.577). Sherman knew that Hood was not burdened with many supplies or bags, and Hood already had a days march on him. He would be very hard indeed to catch. The cost in men and morale was also a factor. Trying to pursue Hood would mean marching into ambushes, fighting battles on ground of Hoods choosing, and generally lowering the number and morale of Shermans soldiers. Chasing Confederate soldiers had proven extremely difficult throughout the war and there was no reason to think that Hood would be any different.
With Hood moving north and west, Sherman would be pulled away from where he felt he could end the war sooner with fewer casualties, the South. When all is taken into account, the brutal battles, the staggering casualties, families divided against each other, the monumental devastation of resources, can anyone point a finger and say that what Sherman did by conducting a campaign against a hostile country was wrong or unjust. Only those who have been in that situation can really know what justice means. Did Sherman break civilian and military law? He probably did. It is too easy to look at each individual act in a wartime situation.
An example of this would be when Sherman was within nine miles of Savannah he came upon a group of men standing around an officer whose leg had been blown to pieces by a mine, or torpedo as it was called in that day. As they were waiting for a doctor, another officer stepped on a mine and wounded him and several others. “The *censored*ing cowards had planted eight inch shells in the road..this wasnt war, it was Goddamned murder” (Oates, 1998, p.604). Enraged, he made a group of Confederate prisoners use picks and shovels to uncover the rest of the mines in the road, even though they insisted that they had no idea that they were even there. Sherman said “I dont give a damn if youre blown up.
Ill not have my own men killed like this” (Oates, 1998, p. 604). This act is, in military justice, illegal. If that were to happen today, Sherman had a 50/50 chance of being charged. Morally, he was and would be hailed by his troops. Having been in a wartime situation myself, I understand that the issue of whether something is just differs between peacetime and wartime, region to region, and era to era. The core moral laws, however, dont change. To cold bloodedly murder a civilian, rape, and torture of a civilian would clearly be immoral in any arena.
Sherman did nor condoned any of this. Sherman had compassion for his enemy but was ruthless in dealing with them, much like general George S. Patton was in World War II. Both Patton and Sherman are considered to be among the greatest generals this country has ever produced. In my opinion Shermans plan, execution, and intent were just. The end most certainly justified the means. The march to the sea was a crushing blow to the resources of the South, isolated all regions of the Confederacy by destroying the rail hub in Atlanta, and permanently reducing the Souths morale and desire to fight.
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Jones, A. (1987). The art of war in the western world. New York: Oxford University Press. Long, A.L. (1983). Memoirs of Robert E.
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