So How Should We Think About Sherman’s March?

Atlanta_first_union_station_in_ruins_1864 (1)

Ruins of Atlanta depot after burning by Gen. Sherman’s troops, 1864

From History New Network by J.D. Dickey author of Rising in Flames: Sherman’s March and the Fight for a New Nation:

Although now more than a century and a half in the past, the Civil War is a subject that always seems to be present in the news. Whether cities are debating whether to remove statues of Confederate generals or parents are disputing how school textbooks should cover the conflict, passions over the war remain strong in many parts of the country. Many figures from that time remain controversial, but few have inspired more praise and contempt, often at the same time, than William Sherman.

General Sherman is, of course, most noted for his March to the Sea, which took place during the Civil War, in November and December 1864, through central and southern Georgia. Sherman led a force of 60,000 men over 300 miles of farmland, pine barrens and swamps, and ordered his troops to steal provisions and livestock, to burn any infrastructure that might support the Confederate war economy—from cotton gins to railroad lines—and to damage not only the South’s material resources, but its people’s will to fight. While Sherman’s March was the general’s most notable military action, it was only part of a larger series of campaigns he waged in 1864 and 1865 that also devastated large sections of the Carolinas and led to the burning of numerous Georgia towns, Atlanta foremost among them. The strategy behind Sherman’s invasion, which he called “hard war,” proved to be highly successful and led later military figures toward the notion of “total war,” in which an enemy’s population would become a target as much as its troops.

Despite Sherman’s undeniable influence in military circles, in popular consciousness his legacy has never been fixed. Each era, including our own, has focused on different aspects of his war-fighting and the way he stands in support of or opposition to the social values of the time. He has shifted from hero to villain, and back again, depending on who’s writing the history and what kind of William Sherman they want to depict.

Read the rest of the article at History New Network

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