Wednesday, December 29, 2010

General Sherman

I have always been fascinated by the leaders of the Civil War, not just the North, but also the South. In this instance, I am highlighting General Sherman, who has a reputation of steamrolling the south, basically leaving a path of destruction as he moved deeper south towards the end of the war.

In the end, he did rout out the enemy, and took Atlanta and later Savannah. I thought it was interesting that he held to his convictions about war, which he basically said is "Hell". He did not glorify war at all. He realized that destruction and cruelty were part of the war and that war itself could not be refined.

I think I would characterize General Sherman as a wise man, who used strategy, and stern measures to complete his objectives. 

From an article adapted from Sean Higgins.

After William Tecumseh Sherman's troops captured Atlanta in 1864, the general ordered most civilians to evacuate the city.
He figured they were a security risk to his men.
Civilian leaders protested, calling it a hardship for those families.
Sherman was unmoved. He believed the South had brought this on itself by starting the war and said so.
"War is cruelty, and you cannot refine it," Sherman wrote to the officials, adding: "The only way the people of Atlanta can hope once more to live in peace and quiet at home is to stop the war, which can only be done by admitting that it began in error and is perpetuated in pride."
If they ended the hostilities, he assured them, "you may call on me for anything" and he would defend their families and homes "against danger from every quarter."
It was vintage Sherman: blunt and uncompromising, yet also cool, rational and psychologically shrewd.
Sherman (1820-91) aimed to finish the Civil War. He devised a strategy based on battlefield success and cracking the enemy's will. Part of that involved reminding Atlanta's leaders that their city was occupied because they supported secession.
Sherman's Keys
  • A West Point graduate who rose to major general in the Union Army during the Civil War, he distinguished himself at the first Battle of Bull Run, Shiloh and Vicksburg, then captured Atlanta and Savannah in 1864.
  • "I want peace and believe it can only be reached through union and war, and I will ever conduct war with a view to perfect an early success."
Such psychology combined with his innovative troop maneuvers cause military scholars to tag him as the first modern general. He grasped that wars were won on multiple fronts: battlefields and minds.
Ruin And Union
Sherman remains controversial, his name synonymous with wanton destruction. Yet his efforts were key to the North's victory and saved lives too. His campaigns were less bloody than those of other generals because the battles had less fighting.
He was born in Lancaster, Ohio. His father gave him a middle name for Ohio's famous Indian chief because he was "a great warrior."
Sherman attended West Point and graduated in 1840, sixth in a class of 42. He would've ranked higher but amassed several demerits, reflecting his willingness to bend rules.
His career as an Army officer had a slow start, as postings in Florida and California caused him to mostly miss the Mexican-American War.
Sherman left the Army and tried his hand at banking before accepting the post of civilian superintendent at a Louisiana military academy. He resigned in 1861, viewing Southern secession as treason. He rejoined the Army and accepted a commission as a Union colonel.
Steven Woodworth, author of "Sherman," proffers that the Ohioan's years in business benefited him as an officer. He became an excellent manager and organizer, especially when it came to logistics.
Sherman's civilian years also broadened his perspective, helping him think of new solutions that would ensure battlefield success.
"Sherman was highly intelligent as well as having a very restless mind," Woodworth told IBD. "He was at his worst at periods of low activity. His mind would wander. High-pressure situations made him focus."
This helped make him an excellent front-line commander, braving enemy fire to rally the troops at 1861's First Battle of Bull Run. He was shot twice, but his wounds were minor and his cool under fire kept his units together while other generals' outfits fell apart. Soon he was promoted to general.
Sherman nearly quit when he suffered an apparent nervous breakdown in Kentucky.
He recovered and came through at Shiloh in 1862. He was again shot twice, losing two horses in the process, and survived.
Amid that bloody battle in Tennessee, he held his troops in line, preventing a Confederate victory.
Riding High
"I remember how glad we were to see General Sherman, with a (bandage) on his hand, ride along our lines," said a soldier quoted in Woodworth's book.
Shiloh cemented his friendship with Gen. Ulysses S. Grant. At a time when the top ranks were torn by rivalries, egotism and political maneuvering, Sherman and Grant came to trust each other completely.
"He stood by me when I was crazy, and I stood by him when he was drunk. And now, sir, we stand by each other always," Sherman was famously quoted as saying.
Union Tide At The Mississippi
During the Vicksburg campaign in 1863, Grant wanted Sherman to pretend to attack Confederate forces near the Mississippi city, then retreat. Grant hoped it would draw the rebels away in pursuit, letting the commander's forces attack.
He asked for instead of ordering the diversion, knowing the press might report it as a Sherman loss.
"His friend's reply was a virtual snort of contempt at all ink-stained busybodies," Woodworth wrote. "If Grant thought the feint helpful, Sherman would carry it out, newspapermen be hanged." It worked, and Vicksburg surrendered on July 4.
When President Lincoln made Grant his No. 1 general in 1864, Sherman became Grant's top officer.
Grant planned to engage Gen. Robert E. Lee's army of Northern Virginia while Sherman marched into Georgia to fight Gen. Joe Johnston's army of Tennessee.
Throughout the drive South, Sherman moved his troops with a series of flanking maneuvers. These were traditionally done to hit the enemy's weaker sides. Sherman expanded the concept to cover more distance.
He couldn't attack the enemy this way. Even so, Johnston couldn't strike him without handing all of the defensive advantages to Sherman. Johnston held off, and Sherman pushed to Atlanta.
Sherman stretched beyond his supply lines, so his men took food from local farms. They also destroyed anything — factories, mills, arsenals — that could aid the South. They wrecked railroads, even tying rails around trees. "Sherman's neckties," they were called.
"What Sherman did was to show that maneuvering against the enemy's weaknesses could be expanded beyond the immediate battlefield and could take place on the strategic level," Woodworth said. "Sherman was showing that you could also strike at the enemy through his industry and economy and infrastructure."
This hard war kept the South from supplying its troops.
"Whether we get inside of Atlanta or not, it will be a used-up community by the time we are done with it," Sherman said during the march.
In September 1864, he captured Atlanta. The triumph had huge repercussions. It proved that the North was winning the war and gave Lincoln enough of a boost to beat his former top general, George McClellan, in the presidential election.
Sherman then marched to Savannah using the same tactics, arriving just before Christmas and leaving a trail of destruction. The war would end the following April.
In Charge
Sherman was appointed commander of the whole Army in 1869 by Grant, who was now president. Under Sherman, the Army fought Indians as America expanded westward. After retiring in 1883, he wrote a highly regarded memoir and refused to enter politics. "I will not accept if nominated and will not serve if elected," he said in 1884, creating the Shermanesque standard for presidential disavowals.
As successful a soldier as he was, Sherman refused to romanticize warfare. The price of victory was exorbitant, and his use of hard war was done with the intention of ending conflicts as quickly as possible.
"There is many a boy here today who looks on war as all glory, but, boys, it is all hell," he told a Columbus, Ohio, audience in 1880.
Sherman died in St. Louis.

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