PRELIMINARY HISTORIOGRAPHICAL ESSAY:MAJOR GENERAL WILLIAM TECUMSEH SHERMAN’STOTAL WARKristian Que24 April 2013
This historiographical study is devoted to scholarship published between 1952 and 2003,which examined Major General William Tecumseh Sherman‟s “March to the Sea” campaignfrom Atlanta to Savannah, Georgia in 1864.Historians have been examining General Sherman‟s campaign through Georgia for over acentury. Throughout the latter half of the twentieth century and into the twenty-first, historianshave examined different aspects and points-of-view of General Sherman‟s campaign, providing amore comprehensive understanding of the impact of General Sherman‟s campaign to the peopleof Georgia and how this event influenced future warfare.1952-1956In 1952, a prolific historian of the Civil War, Earl Schneck Miers, published his accountof General Sherman‟s campaign in The Georgia Historical Quarterly, titled “The General whoMarched to Hell. William Tecumseh Sherman and his March to Fame and Infamy.” Miers‟ workincluded over 100 published books, most dedicated to the American Civil War. Miers was bornin New York and received honorary degrees from Lincoln College and Rutgers University.1Miers endeavored to capture the significance of the campaign to both sides as reflected inletters, newspapers, diaries, and eyewitness accounts. Though largely unbiased, Miers‟ Northernroots may have led him to justify more of General Sherman‟s actions than he condemned.Miersaccepted that the burning of Atlanta was a horrific event to Southerners who witnessed it. The1Earl S. Miers, “The General who Marched to Hell.William Tecumseh Sherman and his March to Fame andInfamy.”The Georgia Historical Quarterly(June 1952): 195-196.
march to Savannah was largely fear mongering spread by Southerners themselves and GeneralSherman only helped to perpetuate it.2Miers included accounts from Emma Florence LeComte,a daughter of a college professor in Columbia, and described her fears of General Sherman‟ssoldiers –and specifically, his “Marauders.”3Miers leads the reader to believe that although theevents at Atlanta were horrific for Southerners, that fear was employed by General Sherman toreduce further loss of life and eased his march to Savannah.Richard Barksdale Harwell was a librarian, bibliographer, and historian, who was alsointerested in the March. Harwell published and edited several books on the topic of theAmerican Civil War, especially in pertaining to the Confederacy. In 1955, Harwell editedGeneral Richard Taylor‟s Destruction and Reconstruction: Personal Experiences of the LateWar. Harwell, through General Taylor‟s memoirs, confirmed Miers‟ statement that Shermanbrought about absolute fear in Atlanta. Harwell, however, through General Taylor, viewed theremainder of the march differently than Miers. General Taylor quoted General Sherman‟scorrespondence with the mayor and councilmen of Atlanta, “…If the people raise a howl againstmy barbarity and cruelty, I will answer that war is war, and not popularity –seeking. If they wantpeace, they and their relations must stop the war.”4General Taylor acknowledged that GeneralSherman did, in fact, try to reduce the loss of life in Atlanta by ordering the evacuation ofAtlanta of all civilian population prior to his assault.5General Sherman received a reply fromthe mayor urging him to reconsider the efficacy of his evacuation order, because the sick, thepregnant, the very young, and the very old were unable to leave the city. General Taylor notedthat General Sherman refused to belay his orders, again quoting General Sherman:2Miers, 195-196.3Miers,196.4Taylor, 194.5Taylor, 192-194.
I have read it carefully, and give full credit to your statements of the distress thatwill be occasioned, and yet shall not revoke my orders, because they were notintended to meet the humanities of the case. You might as well appeal against thethunderstorm as against these terrible hardships of war. They are inevitable; andthe only way the people of Atlanta can hope once more to live in peace and quietat home is to stop the war, which can only be done admitting that it began in errorand is perpetuated in pride.6General Taylor argued through General Sherman‟s own words that Sherman was not onlyinterested in a quick, decisive victory, but was determined to punish Georgia as well.Prior toGeneral Sherman‟s departure from Atlanta, Harwellfurther reiterated General Sherman‟sintentions through a telegram General Sherman sent to General Ulysses S. Grant describing theextent of destruction: “Until we can repopulate Georgia, it is useless for us to occupy it; but theutter destruction of its roads, houses, and people will cripple their military resources. I can makethis march, and make Georgia howl.”7Harwell emphasized General Sherman‟s malevolencethrough primary sources –specifically, through General Sherman‟s words.Both Miers and Harwell used primary sources to capture the events surrounding GeneralSherman‟s march through Georgia; despite efforts at objectivity, their studies were slightlyskewed to each historian‟s predisposition. Miers and Harwell (through his selection of materialwritten by General Taylor) balanced the ethical actions of General Sherman while alsoadvancing a subtle argument against, or in favor, of General Sherman‟s decisions.In 1956, Ellis Merton Coulter, a professor at the University of Georgia, chair of thehistory department, and the editor of the Georgia Historical Quarterly, published “FatherSherman‟s „March to the Sea‟” in The Georgia Review.8Despite being a Southerner, Coulterrelied on a first-hand account to argue that General Sherman‟s march through Georgia not as6Taylor, 195.7Taylor, 152.8E. Merton Coulter, “Father Sherman’s ‘March to the Sea’.” The Georgia Review (Winter 1956): 375-393.
horrific as it was portrayed by both Miers and Taylor. Coulter wrote that “He [S.A.Cunningham, the Editor of the Confederate Veteran]declared that a few years after the war hehad accompanied General Sherman privately on a trip over the route from Chattanooga toAtlanta and that they were received everywhere cordially and courteously –and it was announcedahead of time that they were coming.”9General Sherman‟s warm reception by the people ofGeorgia and the editor of the Confederate Veteranshowed no animosity whatsoever, suggestingthat perhaps the brutality of General Sherman‟s march may have been exaggerated.Coulter further defended Sherman‟s campaign by attributing the spread of fear to thepress‟s fear mongering. Coulter wrote that, “The newspapers were the ones who stirred up thisstorm and they were the ones who kept it going.”10Coulter also quoteda headline from theAtlanta Evening News (unspecified date):FATHER SHERMAN UNDER CAVALRY ESCORT WILL MARCH “FROMATLANTA TO THE SEA” SON OF MAN WHO BURNED CITY TO PAYGEORGIA A VISIT. HERE IN A FEW DAYS TO SEE BATTLE FIELDS.PROPOSED TRIP OF NOTED PRIEST WILL RECALL THE DAYS OF ‟64,WHEN HIS FATHER, THE OLD SOLDIER, SAID “WAR IS HELL.”11As Coulter pointed out, the newspaper not only demonized General Sherman, but extended thistreatment to General Sherman‟s son.1960-1970During this timeframe, no significant research was found.1971-19809Coulter, 380.10Coulter, 381.11Coulter, 381.Headline capitalization in original.
More than ten years after Coulter‟s article, in 1973, more than a dozen years afterCoulter‟s article, William Tecumseh Sherman, a biography by James M. Merrill, a professor ofHistory at the University of Delaware, published William Tecumseh Sherman.12Merrillspecialized in military history. Merrill considered General Sherman as a two sided man; eachside in stark contrast of the other. William Tecumseh Sherman portrayed General Sherman as akind and loving family man, who was also a fierce, ruthless, officer in the battlefield.Merrill, through previously unexamined personal correspondence by General Sherman tohis family, depicted the General as a caring family man. Although the book focused mainly onGeneral Sherman‟s family life, Merrill dedicated a chapter of the book to General Sherman‟sGeorgia campaign and his personal beliefs. On General Sherman‟s personal beliefs, Merrillwrote that General Sherman believed in a natural aristocracy and hierarchy among people.13Merrill quoted General Sherman‟s views of Negroes, stating that the Negro “has to be subject tothe white man or he must amalgamate or be destroyed.”14Furthermore, Merrill quoted Shermanto illustrate his racist opinion of American Indians: “I don‟t care about interesting myself too farin the fate of the poor devils of Indians, who are doomed from the causes inherent in their natureor from the natural and persistent hostility of the White Race.”15Although Merrill dedicatedonly one chapter of his book to the Georgia Campaign, and that was just a chronicle of events,Merrill‟s view on General Sherman‟s character is an interesting factor that may affect futurehistorians and research.12James M. Merrill, William Tecumseh Sherman. (1973).13Merrill, 141.14Merrill, 142.15Merrill, 317.
Also in the Fall of 1973, Edmund L. Drago published “How Sherman‟s March ThroughGeorgia Affected The Slaves” which appeared in The Georgia Historical Quarterly.16Dragoreceived his Bachelor‟s degree at the University of Santa Clara in 1964 and his Master‟s in 1966from the University of California, Berkley. In 1969, Drago was commissioned as an officer inthe US Army and served until 1973 when he left as a Captain. This journal article was writtenshortly after Drago left the Army. In 1975, Drago received his Ph.D. at the University ofCalifornia, Berkley. From 1975, he taught and researched US History, the American Civil War,and Pre Modern and Modern World History with an emphasis on gender, race, children, andfamily. He currently teaches at the College of Charleston.Drago‟s “How Sherman‟s March Through Georgia Affected The Slaves” focused on theeffects of General Sherman‟s Georgia Campaign on the slaves, the black community thereafter,and to some extent, the white Southerners of that era.17Drago considered differing views the slaves had of Sherman‟s march. The most obviousand common view was that most slaves were enthusiastic and ready to join General Sherman‟stroops. Drago explained, “The submerged desire for freedom among the slaves quickly rose tothe surface. Mass desertions occurred. Some 19,000 blacks left the plantations to followSherman‟s army.”18For some, this enthusiasm placed General Sherman and his troops extendedinto a divine intervention to be praised. As Drago wrote, “As their liberators, Sherman and hisarmy became for Preacher Simms and countless other blacks the Almighty Instrument of God.16Edmund L. Drago, “How Sherman’s March Through Georgia Affected The Slaves” The Georgia HistoricalQuarterly (Fall 1973): 361-365.17Drago, 363.18Drago, 363.
These blacks considered themselves a chosen people whose day of deliverance was now athand.”19Many were indeed, grateful and enthusiastic to be, at last, freed from their bondage.Despite the many thousands of happily freed slaves, there are others who did not sharethis view and Drago explored these varying thoughts. Drago further examines the slaves thatsaw General Sherman and his men as just another set of white men and were indifferent to theirefforts to free them. Moreover, not only were some indifferent to the “white men passingthrough,” but, as Drago continues, “not deeply concerned with, perhaps even hostile to, theirwell-being.”20Furthermore, Drago explained that not all slaves wanted to be freed by GeneralSherman and his men. Drago wrote, “Not all fled the plantations. According to the Rev. E.R.Carter, a black biographer of successful Atlanta Negroes, some remained behind with theirmasters because of past kindness. Many were the older slaves and those with families. On aplantation in Clarke County it was they who grieved at the news of their freedom.”21Drago also considered how white Southerners reacted to General Sherman‟s campaign.Drago argued that many slave holders refused to have their slaves conscripted to fight with theconfederacy. Drago considered the hesitation of the Southerners to defend their land andremarked, “The opposition of the planters to the conscription of their slaves is understandable.”22In contrast to care that some slave holders have shown, other Southern whites became moreresentful of blacks as Drago quoted Louis Manigault, “This has taught us the perfectimpossibility of placing the least confidence in any Negro. In too numerous instances those weesteemed the most have been the first to desert us. House servants, from their constant contactwith the family become more conversant with passing events are often the first to have their19Drago, 364.20Drago, 364.21Drago, 364.22Drago, 362.
minds polluted with evil thoughts.”23Using newspapers, letters and diaries, Drago furtherexamines and notes that in 1863, there was a significant increase of backlash received by theNegroes in Georgia --eighteen blacks in Hancock County alone, were hung for attempting toincite insurrection.24Merrill and Drago both explored new dimensions in General Sherman‟s campaign.Merril, although dedicating only a chapter to the march itself, explores the depths of GeneralSherman‟s character and family relationships. Drago has a more comprehensive approach on yetanother dimension of General Sherman‟s campaign. Drago analyzes the effects of GeneralSherman‟s march on the Southerners –both his direct effects on the Negroes and whites, as wellas the indirect effects.In 1978, Richard Wheeler published Sherman’s March: An Eyewitness History of theCruel Campaign that Helped End a Crueler War. Wheeler is a former U.S. Marine, historianand author of over seventeen books of military book, of which, eleven are of the Civil War. In1976, 2 years before Sherman’s March: An Eyewitness History of the Cruel Campaign thatHelped End a Crueler War was published25, Wheeler published Voices of the Civil War, his bookwhich earned him the New York City Civil War Round Table‟s Fletcher Pratt Award.Wheeler‟s work is reminiscent of work from the previous era. Wheeler argued throughcorrespondences that General Sherman was sincere and is the first mention of giving GeneralSherman credit for the concept of “total war.” Wheeler explains that Sherman was sincere in hisoffer to the confederates if they were to lay down their arms and join the Union. Furthermore,Wheeler argues that General Sherman applied this new method of warfare without remorse –and23Drago, 362.24Drago. 362.25Richard Wheeler, Sherman’s March: An Eyewitness History of the Campaign that Helped End a CruelerWar.(1978).
that the South deserved the punishment for starting the war and quotes General Sherman‟sfamous “War is Hell.”Wheeler‟s works is in stark contrast of his contemporaries, Merrill and Drago. Wheeler‟sresearch is closely resembles Miers‟ works. This return to previous writing methodology isuncharacteristic of the era and is one of the earliest mentions of the term “total war.”1980-1990During this timeframe, no significant research was found.1990-2003After over decade of void in significant research into General Sherman‟s march to thesea, Lee Kennett published “Marching through Georgia: The Story of Soldiers and Civiliansduring Sherman‟s Campaign,” featured in the The American Historical Review in 1996.26LeeKennett was a Professor of History at the University of Georgia, specializing in military history.Kennett received numerous awards as an historian and writer including the University of GeorgiaResearch Award; a position of visiting lecturer at the Russian Academy of Sciences,Aeronautical Section in Moscow; and awarded by the French Government as Chevalier, Ordredes PalmesAcademiques.Kennett reviewed many secondary sources and critiques them in his article. He examinedclosely the relationships of blacks towards other blacks and explores the debate over General26Lee Kennett, “Marching through Georgia: The Story of Soldiers and Civilians during Sherman’s Campaign” TheAmerican Historical Review (1996): 1626-1627.
Sherman‟s method of warfare. Kennett argues that historians have given little thought tointerrelationships between blacks. Kennett acknowledges that there were, indeed, pro-Confederate blacks and were considered “minorities within a minority”27and that they causedtension amongst the black community. Furthermore, Kennett argues that insufficient researchhas been devoted to how the “rank-and-file blacks responded to pro-confederate blacks.”28Although Kennett himself does not examine these interrelationships, he nevertheless, bringsattention to these topics.Kennett did however, examine how General Sherman re-popularized after decades oflong debates (prior to 1930) and a slow decrease in General Sherman‟s campaign‟s popularitydue to his excessive “barbarism.”29Kennett explains that the idea of Total War being creditedto General Sherman has its roots in the 1930s. Kennett expanded on this explanation stating thathistorians were influenced by the horrors of the First World War. Kennett wrote that thesehistorians, “viewed his campaign as part of a new strategy, designed to terminate a horriblydestructive war, thereby reducing rather than continuing devastation and death.”30This link to theidea of Total War and why it was credited to General Sherman was a novel approach to twoexisting arguments of General Sherman‟s march.Seven years later, Anne Bailey published “War and Ruin: William T. Sherman and theSavannah Campaign” in the Journal of Military History.31Bailey addressed several issues thatsurrounded General Sherman‟s campaign. A previous argument about General Sherman‟sdoctrine of foraging was revisited. Bailey addressed the total disregard of the 4thAmendmentand “due process” when General Sherman issued orders to forage for food and supplies, stating27Kennett, 1626.28Kennett, 1626.29Kennett, 1626.30Kennett, 1626.31Anne Bailey, War and Ruin: William T. Sherman and the Savannah Campaign. (2003).
“Sherman turned a blind eye to pillaging and looting.”32This created resentment from the South.Southerners feared for their property, as Bailey wrote, “Local citizens had buried „a great manythings to keep them from the „vandals‟‟.”33Furthermore, the greatest fear was directed towardsGeneral Sherman‟s cavalrymen. Bailey wrote, “Without doubt, much of the damage in thisregion came from cavalrymen burning corncribs, cotton gins, barns, and houses. Unlike theinfantry, which was under more strict control, the horsemen laid the land to waste.”34Not onlyUnion troopers did all the pillaging, but Rebel horsemen as well. Bailey argued that Wheeler‟stroopers of about 1800 cavalrymen sent out details to search “for rations, annoying localcitizenry…”35This had an enormous impact on the mindset of the citizenry of Georgia as Baileywrote, “the psychological effects of such anxieties could be as draining as the actual event;Sherman did not have to devastate the landscape to evoke a terrified response.”36Bailey studied the root of the fear brought on by General Sherman and his men morecomprehensively than ever before, providing depth to this previously lightly researcheddimension.Also published in 2003 was Elissa R. Henken‟s, “Taming the Enemy: GeorgianNarratives about the Civil War” featured in the Journal of Folklore Research.37Although not ahistorian, Henken is an English professor at the University of Georgia, Athens. Henkenspecializes in the study of Folklore and study of persons with legendary status such as GeneralSherman.32Bailey, 78.33Bailey, 83.34Bailey, 85.35Bailey, 85.36Bailey, 54.37Elissa R. Henken, “Taming the Enemy: Georgian Narratives about the Civil War” Journal of Folklore Research(2003): 289-307.
Henken studied how General Sherman rose to legendary status and becomes infamous inthe South, in particular, Georgia. Henken wrote, “In Georgia and other parts of the South, hisname has become an epithet and analogy of opprobrium; no worse could be said of a person.”38Henken explained that perhaps, the hatred towards General Sherman, “felt by the vanquished,smarting from wartime hardship and post-war humiliation…”39was a product of GeneralSherman‟s ability to bring “…the war back to their homes.”40Henken further argued that General Sherman did not, in fact, intended to be hated by thewhite Southerners, that called him “Devil Sherman.” General Sherman was disturbed by this andrumors spread of his alleged cruelty, as Henken quoted General Sherman‟s letter to his wifestating, “They no longer call my army „cowardly Yanks but have tried to arouse the sympathy ofthe civilized world by stories of the cruel barbarities of my army.”41Myths and stories ofGeneral Sherman‟s cruelty grew to biblical proportions. Henken examined these myths ofGeneral Sherman. Henken wrote of a particular legend which tells of General Sherman“quartering at the home of Girl Scout founder Juliette Gordon Low when she was still a littlegirl. She went up to the man of whom she had heard so much evil and asked where was histail.”42These unintended consequences of General Sherman‟s Total War were extensivelystudied by Henken as none other before her. Henken, like Kennett and Bailey, expanded thedimensions on the study of General Sherman‟s campaign and the efficacy of his Total Wardoctrine. Although these dimensions has been known, obscure details and of these dimensions38Henken, 290.39Henken, 290.40Henken, 290.Emphasis in original.41Henken, 291.42Henken, 291.
have been more fully researched creating a more comprehensive understanding to GeneralSherman‟s campaign and the consequences of Total War, intended and unintended.War is Hell. The study of General Sherman‟s campaign and debates over the efficacy ofTotal War doctrine may benefit mankind. Reduction in the loss of life and speedy end to anywar may ensure a short visit, rather than a prolonged stay in Hell.
BibliographyBailey, Anne J. "War and Ruin: William T. Sherman and the Savannah Campaign." 2003.Coulter, E. Merton. "Father Shermans "March to the Sea"." The Georgia Review, Winter 1956: 375-393.Drago, Edmund L. "How Shermans March Through Georgia Affected The Slaves." Georgia HistoricalQuarterly, Fall 1973: 361-375.Henken, Elissa R. "Taming the Enemy: Georgian Narratives about the Civil War." Journal of FolkloreResearch, 2003: 289-307.Kennett, Lee. "Marching through Georgia: The Story of Soldiers and Civilians during ShermansCampaign." The American Historical Review, 1996: 1626-1627.Merrill, James M. "William Tecumseh Sherman." Journal of the Illinois State Historical Society, 1973.Miers, Earl S. "The General who Marched to Hell. William Tecumseh Sherman and his March to Fameand Infamy." The Georgia Historical Quarterly, June 1952: 195-196.Nichols, Roy F., Sherman, W.T. "William Tecumseh Sherman in 1850." The Pennsylvania Magazine ofHistory and Bibliography, 1951: 424-435.Taylor, Richard. Destruction and Reconstruction; Personal Experiences of the Late War. Edited by RichardB. Harwell. New York: Longmans, Green, 1955.Wheeler, Richard. Shermans March: An Eyewitness History of the Cruel Campaign that Helped End aCrueler War. New York: Thomas Y. Crowell Company, 1978.