War document: General William Tecumseh Sherman to the Mayor and Councilmen of Atlanta

By lambert strether

For Memorial Day Weekend, I thought I’d curate a few documents on war. Here’s the first:

Atlanta, Georgia,
September 12, 1864

James M. Calhoun, Mayor,
E.E. Rawson and S.C. Wells, representing City Council of Atlanta.


I have your letter of the 11th, in the nature of a petition to revoke my orders removing all the inhabitants from Atlanta. I have read it carefully, and give full credit to your statements of distress that will be occasioned, and yet shall not revoke my orders, because they were not designed to meet the humanities of the cause, but to prepare for the future struggles in which millions of good people outside of Atlanta have a deep interest. We must have peace, not only at Atlanta, but in all America. To secure this, we must stop the war that now desolates our once happy and favored country. To stop war, we must defeat the rebel armies which are arrayed against the laws and Constitution that all must respect and obey. To defeat those armies, we must prepare the way to reach them in their recesses, provided with the arms and instruments which enable us to accomplish our purpose. Now, I know the vindictive nature of our enemy, that we may have many years of military operations from this quarter; and, therefore, deem it wise and prudent to prepare in time. The use of Atlanta for warlike purposes in inconsistent with its character as a home for families. There will be no manufacturers, commerce, or agriculture here, for the maintenance of families, and sooner or later want will compel the inhabitants to go. Why not go now, when all the arrangements are completed for the transfer, instead of waiting till the plunging shot of contending armies will renew the scenes of the past month? Of course, I do not apprehend any such things at this moment, but you do not suppose this army will be here until the war is over. I cannot discuss this subject with you fairly, because I cannot impart to you what we propose to do, but I assert that our military plans make it necessary for the inhabitants to go away, and I can only renew my offer of services to make their exodus in any direction as easy and comfortable as possible.

You cannot qualify war in harsher terms than I will. War is cruelty, and you cannot refine it; and those who brought war into our country deserve all the curses and maledictions a people can pour out. I know I had no hand in making this war, and I know I will make more sacrifices to-day than any of you to secure peace. But you cannot have peace and a division of our country. If the United States submits to a division now, it will not stop, but will go on until we reap the fate of Mexico, which is eternal war. The United States does and must assert its authority, wherever it once had power; for, if it relaxes one bit to pressure, it is gone, and I believe that such is the national feeling. This feeling assumes various shapes, but always comes back to that of Union. Once admit the Union, once more acknowledge the authority of the national Government, and, instead of devoting your houses and streets and roads to the dread uses of war, I and this army become at once your protectors and supporters, shielding you from danger, let it come from what quarter it may. I know that a few individuals cannot resist a torrent of error and passion, such as swept the South into rebellion, but you can point out, so that we may know those who desire a government, and those who insist on war and its desolation.

You might as well appeal against the thunder-storm as against these terrible hardships of war. They are inevitable, and 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.

We don’t want your Negroes, or your horses, or your lands, or any thing you have, but we do want and will have a just obedience to the laws of the United States. That we will have, and if it involved the destruction of your improvements, we cannot help it.

You have heretofore read public sentiment in your newspapers, that live by falsehood and excitement; and the quicker you seek for truth in other quarters, the better. I repeat then that, bu the original compact of government, the United States had certain rights in Georgia, which have never been relinquished and never will be; that the South began the war by seizing forts, arsenals, mints, custom-houses, etc., etc., long before Mr. Lincoln was installed, and before the South had one jot or title of provocation. I myself have seen in Missouri, Kentucky, Tennessee, and Mississippi, hundreds and thousands of women and children fleeing from your armies and desperadoes, hungry and with bleeding feet. In Memphis, Vicksburg, and Mississippi, we fed thousands and thousands of the families of rebel soldiers left on our hands, and whom we could not see starve. Now that war comes to you, you feel very different. You deprecate its horrors, but did not feel them when you sent car-loads of soldiers and ammunition, and moulded shells and shot, to carry war into Kentucky and Tennessee, to desolate the homes of hundreds and thousands of good people who only asked to live in peace at their old homes, and under the Government of their inheritance. But these comparisons are idle. 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.

But, my dear sirs, when peace does come, you may call on me for any thing. Then will I share with you the last cracker, and watch with you to shield your homes and families against danger from every quarter.

Now you must go, and take with you the old and feeble, feed and nurse them, and build for them, in more quiet places, proper habitations to shield them against the weather until the mad passions of men cool down, and allow the Union and peace once more to settle over your old homes in Atlanta. Yours in haste,

W.T. Sherman, Major-General commanding

Readers, thoughts?

NOTE I’m no Civil War scholar, and information on the web seems scanty and sometimes tendentious; but see here on the general destruction of Sherman’s march to the sea, and here for some background for the letter.

UPDATE Here’s a more complete set of the correspondence.

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About Lambert Strether

Readers, I have had a correspondent characterize my views as realistic cynical. Let me briefly explain them. I believe in universal programs that provide concrete material benefits, especially to the working class. Medicare for All is the prime example, but tuition-free college and a Post Office Bank also fall under this heading. So do a Jobs Guarantee and a Debt Jubilee. Clearly, neither liberal Democrats nor conservative Republicans can deliver on such programs, because the two are different flavors of neoliberalism (“Because markets”). I don’t much care about the “ism” that delivers the benefits, although whichever one does have to put common humanity first, as opposed to markets. Could be a second FDR saving capitalism, democratic socialism leashing and collaring it, or communism razing it. I don’t much care, as long as the benefits are delivered. To me, the key issue — and this is why Medicare for All is always first with me — is the tens of thousands of excess “deaths from despair,” as described by the Case-Deaton study, and other recent studies. That enormous body count makes Medicare for All, at the very least, a moral and strategic imperative. And that level of suffering and organic damage makes the concerns of identity politics — even the worthy fight to help the refugees Bush, Obama, and Clinton’s wars created — bright shiny objects by comparison. Hence my frustration with the news flow — currently in my view the swirling intersection of two, separate Shock Doctrine campaigns, one by the Administration, and the other by out-of-power liberals and their allies in the State and in the press — a news flow that constantly forces me to focus on matters that I regard as of secondary importance to the excess deaths. What kind of political economy is it that halts or even reverses the increases in life expectancy that civilized societies have achieved? I am also very hopeful that the continuing destruction of both party establishments will open the space for voices supporting programs similar to those I have listed; let’s call such voices “the left.” Volatility creates opportunity, especially if the Democrat establishment, which puts markets first and opposes all such programs, isn’t allowed to get back into the saddle. Eyes on the prize! I love the tactical level, and secretly love even the horse race, since I’ve been blogging about it daily for fourteen years, but everything I write has this perspective at the back of it.


  1. nonclassical

    our great grandfather rode with Sherman, and it was truly ugly…burn, pillage,
    kill everything-animal, human, in sight…so that ‘no comfort” may be held by the rebels…

    1. Lambert Strether Post author

      Hmm… Why I put in that “general destruction” link, though…

      Granting the statement, do you feel Sherman (and your grandfather) were right in their actions?

      1. Mark P.

        Sherman was frequently asked by civilians “when will this war be over?” according to Edmund Wilson in PATRIOTIC GORE.

        Sherman’s reply, according to Wilson, was almost always appallingly specific: when 300,000 Southern male soldiers had been killed, the war would end.


        Sherman’s logic was that a population existed in the South whose entire concept of honorable living was bound up with the plantation gentleman’s lifestyle, with its attendant stresses on dueling, hunting and its dependency on the Peculiar Institution. That population would literally rather die, Sherman believed, than surrender and sully themselves by doing slaves’ work.

        And so it turned out. In all, a quarter of military-age Southern males died before the Civil War was over.

        Now one might think or claim that the main factor in Sherman’s calling it correctly was that he could enforce that reality to some extent by helping to kill that many Confederacy soldiers. But the historical evidence indicates differently.

        Specifically, as one commentator notes: “The Southern cause was lost after … Grant took Vicksburg and … Meade repelled … Lee at Gettysburg in July 1863. With Union forces in control of the Mississippi River, the main artery of Southern commerce, and without … a breakout to the North, the … slaveholding states faced inevitable strangulation….

        Nevertheless, “the South fought on for another 18 months. Between Gettysburg and Vicksburg …fought within the same week, 100,000 men had died, bringing the total number of deaths in major battles to more than a quarter of a million. Another 200,000 soldiers would die before Lee surrendered to Grant at Appomattox in April 1865….’

        “For all the wasteful slaughter of the last 18 months of the war, Southern commander Lee barely could persuade his men to surrender in April 1865. The Confederate president, Jefferson Davis, called for guerilla war to continue, and Lee’s staff wanted to keep fighting. Lee barely avoided a drawn-out irregular war.”

        Indeed, Lee arguably didn’t forestall that drawn-out irregular war. Quantrill’s raiders, the James gang and many others whose names have come down to us were Confederacy “dead-enders,” in the Rumsfeldian phrase, who continued to shed blood after 1865.



        1. PaulArt

          Thanks to Mark. I confess that I find these words deeply comforting. “Sherman’s logic was that a population existed in the South whose entire concept of honorable living was bound up with the plantation gentleman’s lifestyle”

          It would be good to have a few Shemans on our side right now. In fact it would be even more expedient if we could unleash one of those to deal with that abomination in the White House.

          1. Lance

            I haven’t seen anyone else reply to “PaulArt’s” apprent drivel:

            “It would be good to have a few Shemans on our side right
            now. In fact it would be even more expedient if we could
            unleash one of those to deal with that abomination in
            the White House.”

            So you are calling for the murder of the POTUS? Welcome
            to prison, mouth-breather. I’m sure the secret service
            will have an interest in your comment, even if you are
            not a Columbian whore.

            You get to vote, not rebel. Got that? If not, we need
            to send a few Shermans YOUR way. You haven’t the
            slightest idea what it means to be an American. Hint:
            It doesn’t mean your way or the highway, jerk.

        2. Nathanael

          Sherman was both brilliant and wise. The more I learn about him the more I respect him.

          It’s a rare general who can do accurate sociopolitical analysis on a grand scale, and yet Sherman made it look easy. And on top of that he was a master of logistics.

          He combined the two: his Special Field Order #120 is very much worth reading, with its clear statement that neighborhoods which cooperated were to be treated well, and neighborhoods which resisted were to be destroyed; and that the rich plantation-onwers were most likely to be their enemies, but the commoners were likely to be friendly, and to treat them accordingly. You don’t see that in your average military orders.

          I’m going to have to read more Sherman. I came to roughly the conclusions he did about the Southern slaveocracy after reading a whole bunch of other sources about Civil War history… and now I’m finding that Sherman wrote it all down in blunt terms.

          It’s interesting to see that the Confederate lies about the causes of the war were going already at the time, and that Sherman had to debunk them yet again:

          “that the South began the war by seizing forts, arsenals, mints, custom-houses, etc., etc., long before Mr. Lincoln was installed, and before the South had one jot or title of provocation. I myself have seen in Missouri, Kentucky, Tennessee, and Mississippi, hundreds and thousands of women and children fleeing from your armies and desperadoes, hungry and with bleeding feet. In Memphis, Vicksburg, and Mississippi, we fed thousands and thousands of the families of rebel soldiers left on our hands, and whom we could not see starve. ”

          The Confederates managed to rewrite history books after the war to downplay these facts.

          Sherman was scrupulously honest, scrupulously fair, extremely generous, and beloved by those who followed him. He also practiced total war, war of logistics and the destruction of supply — and he was extremely good at it. He did not see war as a game.

          He won the Civil War.

          1. michael

            The glowing praise of Sherman in some of these blog entries suggests there is still a visceral hatred of the South in some quarters, and a willingness to buy into the Confederaphobic attitude that somehow the South brought four years of death and destruction on itself. If Hawaii were to secede today and seize an arsenal or fort, would that be an excuse to blockade the island, invade it with armies, and destroy civilian lives and property? Of course not. But that is what Lincoln and Sherman did. This nonsense that Sherman only targeted property for military expediency is easily refuted by his own words. In his letters to his wife in December 1860, long before the firing on Fort Sumter, he advocated burning Charleston to the ground. Never mind the 48,000 civilians who lived there. In those same letters, your hero Sherman frequently uses the word “nigger” in showing his seething hatred of blacks – so much for his kind disposition.
            Here in South Carolina, Sherman allowed the burning of several towns and cities that had no strategic purpose, such as Barnwell. And among the houses he ordered burned was the home of Declaration of Independence signer Arthur Middleton, where there were nothing but women and children.
            This was terrorism, and the same folks who praise Sherman railed against the excesses of George Bush and his generals in countries where the victims weren’t fellow Americans.
            No, the history of the war isn’t shrouded by Confederate lies – they made it very clear that they wanted to be independent of what they considered an overreaching authoritarian government, just as other slave owners like George Washington and Thomas Jefferson had done years before. British possessions and forts were seized here in South Carolina before any shots were fired, so is this a “patriot lie” about the origin of the Revolution?
            The enormous lie is that the Federals fought the war to “preserve the Union”. You don’t preserve something by destroying it, and the South was devastated by sea and land and held under martial law in certain places until 1877. Read the hateful passages of Stanton, Seward and the Radical Reconstructionists, who were not out to preserve anyting but a subjegated South, forced to pay excessive tariffs to protect Northern industry.
            I don’t expect any agreement by those who see the other side, and probably will be responded to by the usual vitriolic denunciations of Southerners….etc.

      2. Warren Celli

        Lambert Strethers says; Hmm… Why I put in that “general destruction” link, though…
        Granting the statement, do you feel Sherman (and your grandfather) were right in their actions?

        The question you pose is what degree of severity does one apply to overcome an immediate conflict. The answer is always dependent on the perception of the individual involved in that immediate conflict. War is a deception of both overt and covert components and not all individuals are plugged into the totality of the deception.

        Being ‘right’ in one’s actions is a matter of one’s perceptions. Sherman and his men were only, ‘following orders’, tools; much like our present day cops and troops. They were ‘right’ in their actions, in their own minds, to the degree that they were brainwashed (again, like our present day cops and troops), to belief in their cause. On their level they were ‘right’, but in reality they were unwilling dupes, again, just like our present day cops and troops who get suckered into crushing skulls and killing other human beings every day for disingenuous causes promoted by scum bag war profiteers.

        The greater question of rightness then falls upon the rightness of who was giving the orders? Were they right in giving these orders (Sherman’s ass covering fluffy letter aside) to burn, pillage and kill? This again depends on one’s perceptions. If you are a typically schooled American and believe the cover story that it was all about freeing the slaves then you believe it was a ‘right’ and just war. But if you are the least bit perceptive you will realize that the Civil war was in reality a war for control of resources yes, but more so, for the method of enslaving human beings.

        The northern and mid western elite wanted to impose their far more profitable and more societally harmonious form of covert psychological slavery on the American populace. The Southern plantation owners, with their direct and divisive, and far less efficient, racist slavery (the “Peculiar Institution” — sweet little euphemism no? (brings to mind Margaret Warner on PBS calling torture “enhanced interrogation”)) , were an obstacle that had to be removed. They wanted to impose and develop their system of making us all psychologically debt trapped debt slaves and corporate wage slaves, the system which enslaves us today. Slave chains are no longer made of iron and steel and limited to one color of skin; they are now mental chains, based in contracts made of paper and pixels on computer screens. The slave auctioneer now describes the potential qualities of the slaves to the corporate buyers in FICO scores. The harsh and demeaning term of “nigger” has simply been replaced with the more deceptive, all encompassing, and socially acceptable term of “FICO”. And the beauty of this current scam is that the FICO slaves now pay for their own upkeep, and at the same time they even use the demeaning scores unwittingly to boast of the potential they possess to be enslaved, and thus divide themselves into divisive little social groupings. These mental and emotional chains, that now enslave most all of us are backed up by a now scam ‘rule of law’ and the enforcement power of the state that has been co-opted by the parasitic fat ass banker pricks that have ever greater control each day. Debtors prisons, once thought a thing of the past, now blossom profusely. Financial institutions have been intentionally ramped up to a “Too Big To Fail” size making you dependent through an immoral scheme that amounts to forced complicity in their crimes.

        Soooooo…… it was not “RIGHT” it was totally immoral and WRONG then, as it is today.

        Shake off the psychological chains of aggregate generational propaganda that bind you.
        Shun the cops and troops. Proactively boycott the electoral process!

        Deception is the strongest political force on the planet.

        1. SR6719

          Warren Celli: “Shake off the psychological chains of aggregate generational propaganda that bind you.”

          Excellent comment.

          The American public is so manipulated, deprived of freedom and misled about everything, that today the majority of people can only spout absurdities based on lies.

          1. psychohistorian


            The global inherited rich are very effective at focusing attention and blame everywhere but on themselves, the powers that be and have been for centuries now.

        2. rps

          “These mental and emotional chains, that now enslave most all of us…”Hammer meet nail, BAM. Excellent commentary. The everlasting war exists as you state in the emotional/psychological manipulation of humanity. Notably defined as the “barbed-wired brain.” To maintain the institutionalization of discriminatory actions, the media effectively communicates stereotypes into our daily consciousness through the perpetuation of unnatural classifications: gender, race, culture, sexuality, age, and economic class. We are indoctrinated to think of this as a natural state of existence in everyday life. Governments through media and revisionists education enforce the maintenance of the unnatural status quo. Thus, the enslavement, perpetuation, and conditioned response of the populace through unnatural classifications of humanity serve the continuity in the hatred of others based upon innate physical characteristics deemed good or bad.

          The elitist parasites have ensured the continuity of the unnatural status quo through hierarchal institutions such as the treasured ivy league schools built for their generational spawn. To cover their intent, they select from the lower classes to matriculate at these bastions as puppets to serve and corral the masses. The puppets chant mantras such as Hope and Change you can believe in. As Ben Franklin said, “He that lives upon hope will die fasting. Democracy is two wolves and a lamb voting on what to have for lunch.”

          The masses are served ‘hope, dreams, and wishes’ as they reach for that brass (hehe…not gold) ring to achieve financial success. Yet, as you pointed out, that ring in reality is made of iron that clamps around our legs, chain-ganged to chits of colored printed paper. We’re taught to glorify and worship paper despite the audacious printed fact it is tender for “all debts.” The elites care less about the currency, it is the physical labor and natural resources they strive for. Power lies not in the paper but in the psychological brainwashing of humanity.

        3. Winston

          Warren Celli, excellent comment.

          While I believe that human society is gradually evolving over time into one with a less _overtly_ barbaric nature, I believe this to be ultimately true:

          “A truly democratic society has never existed and so far as we can see, never will exist. Society is of its nature oligarchical, and the power of the oligarchy always rests upon force and fraud. James Burnham does not deny that ‘good’ motives may operate in private life, but he maintains that politics consists of the struggle for power, and nothing else. All historical changes finally boil down to the replacement of one ruling class by another. All talk about democracy, liberty, equality, fraternity, all revolutionary movements, all visions of Utopia, or ‘the classless society’, or ‘the Kingdom of Heaven on earth’, are humbug (not necessarily conscious humbug) covering the ambitions of some new class which is elbowing its way into power. The English Puritans, the Jacobins, the Bolsheviks, were in each case simply power seekers using the hopes of the masses in order to win a privileged position for themselves. Power can sometimes be won or maintained without violence, but never without fraud, because it is necessary to make use of the masses, and the masses would not co-operate if they knew that they were simply serving the purposes of a minority. In each great revolutionary struggle the masses are led on by vague dreams of human brotherhood, and then, when the new ruling class is well established in power, they are thrust back into servitude. This is practically the whole of political history, as Burnham sees it.”

          As I heard a comedian once say, we are little more than “monkeys with car keys” which I always change to the more correct “apes with car keys.” That is why the above is true.

          1. Warren Celli

            Winston, thanks.

            I disagree with your “ultimate truth”.

            I believe humanity is evolving to a less overtly and less covertly barbaric nature — a levelocracy — and, that deception is humanity’s driving force to get needs met and at the same time to achieve that state of levelocracy I speak of. Your comment reveals the stumbling block… regarding this;

            “All talk about democracy, liberty, equality, fraternity, all revolutionary movements, all visions of Utopia, or ‘the classless society’, or ‘the Kingdom of Heaven on earth’, are humbug (not necessarily conscious humbug) covering the ambitions of some new class which is elbowing its way into power.”

            They are not humbug at all, but rather the fledgling means, the baby step means if you will, of humanity striving to achieve the ultimate alliance necessary to get to the aggregate levelocracy stage, at which point, humanity, in its one for all unity and harmony, will then cast its deceptions as one, humanely, externally on all other species and mattergy. That should be our goal and our dream. That striving for oneness is well woven into human evolution. A very broad lens is required to see it. You almost have to squint a bit.

            The great sadness as I see it is that humanity is in a position to be in that levelocracy state right now, but we are hampered by our aggregate generational corruption problem that manifests as a sickness of humanity. The aberrant wealthy self anointed elite few are in fact a disease like cancer that have over-accelerated the evolutionary growth of humanity, misused resources, and consistently betray the human alliances they enter into. They, the very few societally aberrant, immoral, and evil, must be excised in order to form that more perfect alliance that we now should strive for and could achieve.

            We are apes that have barely scratched the surface of our ability to create deceptions.

            Deception is the strongest political force on the planet.

        4. alex

          “Slave chains are no longer made of iron and steel and limited to one color of skin; they are now mental chains, based in contracts made of paper and pixels on computer screens.”

          As much as I abhor the abuses of our current system, to compare it to antebellum slavery is beyond absurd. Do you expect anyone with the slightest degree of historical perspective to take this as anything other than whiny, ignorant and hyperbolic?

          1. Winston

            “Do you expect anyone with the slightest degree of historical perspective to take this as anything other than whiny, ignorant and hyperbolic?”

            Overstatement, yes. Whiny and ignorant? Just the opposite.

            Just try threatening the multi-trillion dollar taxpayer gravy train in any signifcant way. You will then find otu that:

            “Those who do not move, do not notice their chains.” – Rosa Luxemburg

            “None are more hopelessly enslaved than those who falsely believe they are free.” – Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

          2. Winston

            To be clear, change “multi-trillion dollar taxpayer gravy train” to “multi-trillion dollar taxpayer exploitation gravy train.”

        5. LeonovaBalletRusse

          Don’t lose sight of the current Prison-for-Profit Plantation System built on the model of Angola Plantation-Penitentiary in the Gret Stet of colonized Louisiana, and developed today by such as Wackenhut into a national Prison-Plantation “Work” system for Profit built to the honor and glory of Late Stage Capitalism.

          The current system puts “Cool Hand Luke” to shame as a model for “Capitalism” on the cheap, Amurrcan Style. Still, the prison system cain’t compete with Apple’s Chinese Gulag slaves for profit to “stakeholders” plus “value” to tech addicts enthralled to Jobsian material “perfection” on the cheap.

          Late Stage Capitalism is very, very dirty business. Our hands are not clean.

        6. Jed

          Note that the same family that imported more slaves than any other to the New World, that ran slave ships to the Caribbean, rum to New England, money to Africa in a hideous circle, that got post war Southern land for nothing, that mobilized armies of carpetbaggers on their behalf— that family’s institution now controls the food for more Americans than any other. I am of course talking about the Monsanto Family of companies whitewashed by plenty of advertising.

          Expelled from Spain, the Sinai, or Mons Santo, or Holy Mountain Family purchased Papal indulgences, moved to Portugal, started slave trading in the new African Portugues colonies, did a rousing business trafficking in humans and now is the rightful enemy of every environmentalist and farmer out there.

          Wonder why African Americans don’t break the windows of whatever business they have in their town?

        1. Lambert Strether Post author

          Thanks, I added the date of the letter above the salutation.

          Also, I added a link to a more complete set of correspondence that includes the letters to Sherman.

          1. LeonovaBalletRusse

            “Know your enemy” is Job One. Sherman knew his enemy. Savannah did not burn.

      3. dcblogger

        There is a reason that collective punishment is considered a war crime. I conider that Sherman’s actions prolonged the war. Let a solider know that surrender means that his family will be stripped of all their possessions, let him know that his village will be reduced to utter desperation, and he will fight forever. The war would have ended a year sooner had the south known that Yankee occupation would not mean the ruin of their families.

        1. rotter

          Nonsense. The war was fought (on the part of the southerns)to maintain the economic institution of slavery, and there was pelnty of egging the south on from New York. Your comment is a nostalgic, romantic, and completely unsupportable statement, factually.

        2. LeonovaBalletRusse

          dcblogger: No. They would fight to the death to preserve and spread to other States their “Way of Life.” Southern Aristos could not maintain their “high life” without the guaranteed work of slaves as chattel, and only those of African descent could toil without let in the sun and heat of the Deep South.

          “Know your enemy” is the first rule of winning war. Sherman was the first President of what is now the Louisiana State University. He knew his enemy, captured succinctly for the rest of us in “THE MIND OF THE MASTER CLASS: History and Faith in the Southern Slaveholders Worldview” by Elizabeth Fox-Genovese and Eugene D. Genovese (Cambridge University Press, 2005).

          “History is not dead. It’s not even past,” Faulkner reminded us. This stark truth is revealed in Plinio Correa de Oliveira’s “NOBILITY and Analogous Traditional Elites in the Allocutions of Pius XII: A Theme Illuminating American Social History” (York, PA; Hamilton Press; Copyright 1993 by The American Society for the Defense of Tradition, Family, and Property (TFP): a registered name for the Foundation for a Christian Civilization, Inc.).

          The Good Ole Boys have squared the circle with the Prison Plantation System for Private Profit. Johnny Reb is having the last laugh with the “stakeholders,” for whom private profit is next to godliness (“We are doing God’s work).

    2. rotter

      Sherman and his Army were, by the historical standards established by “pillaging’ armies down through the ages, almost ridiculously easy on the people of Georgia. They took food from farms and they often burned the houses of those who met them in the spirit of defiance but there was so little murder and rapine that actual documented, or even likley cases of it are few and far between – and most of those known victims were black runaways and slaves. They destroyed cotton crops and stores. They destroyed railroads and whatever industry they encountered, but thqt wa the whole point. Since the civil war that has become the standard practive of the American Millitary. Weve killed far more innocents in the “war on terror” than Shermans army did.

      1. alex

        I agree. The whole idea of Sherman as a rampaging villain is a myth invented by the South.

        Interestingly, for a few years after the Civil War Sherman was held in fairly high esteem by the South. This stemmed in part from his generous surrender terms to Johnston, which followed Grant’s terms to Lee, which in turn followed Lincoln’s direction. Turning him into a villain started in later years, due to Sherman’s utter and vocal contempt for the Southern “cause”, and his stated belief that the South was not a victim in any way but brought ruination on itself.

        What many don’t know is that not only did Sherman’s army suffer much lighter casualties than most others, but so did the Confederate forces that opposed him. Sherman’s approach relied on maneuver and taking strategic ground than fighting pitched battles. As you point out, the civilian casualties he inflicted were also, despite the myth of his villainy, quite light.

        While for a variety of reasons I don’t admire Sherman as a human being, he was a brilliant strategic thinker. His campaigns helped end the Civil War with comparatively light casualties.

        Another historical curiosity: Sherman was the originator of the “40 acres and a mule” policy towards former slave families. Unfortunately that policy never became widespread, but Sherman himself did not have the authority to extend the policy. Arguably he overstepped his authority even in implementing it temporarily in the limited areas under his control.

      2. JD

        3 million non-combatant human beings have been killed, mostly by our bombs form the sky, in Iraq.

        This figure is an estimate based on 2 years of John Hopkins research and 1 year of European research. These figures brought us to 2 million, almost 5 years ago.

        It is reasonable to suspect that 3 million is a reasonable figure and perhaps a low one was well. So much for our WAR OF TERROR.

  2. Overquoted

    I’m not particularly well-read on the matter, but war is a terrible thing, and I think Sherman demonstrates an apt understanding that our modern leaders lack. War cannot do anything *but* harm; that is its purpose. To pretend otherwise is to believe war can achieve things like democracy and peace, that it can be a means to ends other than destruction and annihilation. It makes war prettier than it is and, to my mind, leads people to glorify it as an honorable endeavor.

    It may be terrible, but I think both countries would’ve been better off in the long-run had the U.S. taken some notes from Sherman when they invaded Afghanistan and Iraq. (Preferable would be to have never invaded, but we’re a country pretty divorced from the realities of war.) Better to be brutal and quick, and upfront about it, than to pretend we aren’t doing significant harm over a long period of time. (I’d also like to say that I was never a supporter of either invasion, most especially the Iraq invasion.)

    Some of my ancestors fled from Georgia to Texas during the Civil War. Most of them eventually returned, except for my great-etc-grandfather. But we don’t have any particular family stories about it, so there’s no emotion attached. We just have stories about his arrival here.

    1. Mark P.

      ‘I think Sherman demonstrates an apt understanding that our modern leaders lack.’

      True. However ….

      ‘It may be terrible, but I think both countries would’ve been better off in the long-run had the U.S. taken some notes from Sherman when they invaded Afghanistan and Iraq.’

      If I take your meaning, you’ve vastly underestimating the contemporary U.S. military’s propensity to occasionally brutalize populations with demonstrations of its efficiency at fulfilling the part of its mission about “killing people and blowing things up.” We weren’t nice, for instance, on the Basra road during Gulf One —


      That said, Sherman understood what Ho Chi Minh understood, and what contemporary American pols and some of its military don’t understand — or prefer to forget with their concentration on technology-based RMAs (revolutions in military affairs).

      As Ho said: “You will kill 10 of our men, and we will kill 1 of yours, and in the end it will be you who tire of it.”
      The reality is that when people go to war they’ve generally made the existential decision that they’re prepared to die rather than change some aspect of how they think or live, and all the U.S. technological supremacy and battlefield victories won’t necessarily change their minds.

      1. LeonovaBalletRusse

        Amurcans cannot bear the brunt of their war guilt. As Jimmy Carter made plain in his quest for piety, Amurcans need to see themselves as “good” even as they commit acts of evil, of atrocity, even while killing, burning, looting, and pillaging those who have never declared war against us. Hence the “sanitization” of our (illegal) wars of aggression, even as we refuse to “declare war.” Hence the mad embrace of killer drones as “God’s gift” to the “good” people of Amurca, and to the “good” soldiers operating the killer drones lethally from afar.

        1. psychohistorian

          I agree that Jimmy Carter’s defeat by media puppet Ronnie was a significant coup by the global inherited rich. Their success in getting Ronnie “elected” and the cover up of the damage Ronnie did to our nation is unbelievable. Beside fucking SS with Greenspan and his addition to the national debt, Ronnie was a key ACTOR in the successful brainwashing of many Americans about the actions of their country.

          The Big Lie technique is alive and well and a proven winner for the global inherited rich and their puppets, media, pollsters and war mongers.

          1. Nathanael

            Reagan had an unusual psychological defect: due to his particular form of Alzheimer’s, he was able to say total, whole-cloth falsehoods without any of the facial tics which usually cue people that someone is lying.

            This is because he was mentally defective enough to be able to believe everything he said, yet still mentally together enough to be able to give a decent speech.

            This combination was very dangerous. Only the minority of people who did actual intellectual analysis of what he was saying realized that he was spouting 100% grade-A bullshit practically all the time.

            Most people just look at subconscious facial and vocal cues, and Reagan gave off the “honest” cues, even though he was talking lies and garbage.

            (Of course the fact that most people just look at subconscious facial and vocal cues is another frightening problem, but it seems to have been true since before Rome was founded, so it’s a hard problem…)

          2. Nathanael

            I am going to remind you, psychohistorian, that it’s not all the *inherited* rich — there is a crucial aspect of *kleptocracy* going on.

            _Theory of the Leisure Class_ explains this well: essentially, the rich elite valorize theft as if it were a virtue, so an effective thief can rise to the top very fast.

            (While an honest person… can’t rise to the top, because the elite don’t let honest people into their club that easily — they haven’t proved themselves by stealing anything!)

            If you haven’t read _Theory of the Leisure Class_, I think you’d find it enlightening as to the psychology of the elite.

      2. Nathanael

        Indeed. If the US had truly taken the lessons from Sherman,
        (1) the US would not have gotten *into* most of the wars it got into;
        (2) if the US had gotten into a war, the US would *actually* have won many hearts and minds (Sherman did!) rather than doing a half-assed job, disrespecting people for no reason, and firing translators.

        Sherman killed and destroyed when he was eliminating the Southern ability to wage war. He did not torture or deface. He was a *practical* man, and he understood very much that politeness costs you nothing and gets you a lot; this is clear in the letter posted today!

        My favorite line from Special Order 120:

        “As for horses, mules, wagons, &c., belonging to the inhabitants, the cavalry and artillery may appropriate freely and without limit, *discriminating, however, between the rich, who are usually hostile, and the poor or industrious, usually neutral or friendly*. ”

        Emphasis mine. The US certainly hasn’t been running its invasions like that — that’s the problem with imperialist, top-down invasions.

    2. Winston

      “It may be terrible, but I think both countries would’ve been better off in the long-run had the U.S. taken some notes from Sherman when they invaded Afghanistan and Iraq.”

      That policy didn’t end up being the wise one to use when the Germans invaded Soviet territory during WWII, not even considering the immorality of it. At first being greated in many places as liberators from Soviet rule, their brutality then led to significant resistance and a desire for retribution. And that “total war” policy led to the vast majority of military and civilian deaths in the entirety of WWII. In many ways, the German/Soviet front _was_ WWII to an amazing extent that many in the West do not realize.

      1. Nathanael

        Sherman was far, far more discriminating about his destruction than the Nazis were.

        Sherman operated a lot more like the (highly effective) conquests of the Red Army over the White in 1918, if you want a 20th-century analogue.

    3. Otter

      They claimed they were liberating the oppressed people of Afghanistan and Iraq from evil governments. To murder the people openly would have put the lie to their claims.

  3. C

    “You cannot qualify war in harsher terms than I will. War is cruelty, and you cannot refine it; and those who brought war into our country deserve all the curses and maledictions a people can pour out. ”

    As Nonclassical noted Sherman knew whereof he spoke. His tactical philosophy was the one articulated by Grant of taking the war to the enemy not just their uniformed soldiers meeting in fields but the actual civilians who armed and supported, or at least nominally endorsed them.

    As I understand it the strategic premise of this tactic was to make it difficult, if not impossible for southerners to continue supporting the War if they themselves suffered from it in the same way that the border states had. At the same time this would impair the economic support for the south’s armies and force the confederate armies to be on the defensive. It would also deny the southern leadership the opportunuty to propaganize their successes.

    Unfortunately, the lessons of Sherman were not Sherman’s and neither started nor stopped with him. He was right that war was cruelty and to an extent still is. Current wars are no less cruel no matter what promises of precision or surgery are made.

  4. bmeisen

    The Union must be preserved – that’s the only flaw in his argumentation. The true motivation for adopting the terrible logic of war was arguably not preservation of the Union. Nor was it to free the slaves, but rather something else, probably economic like cotton and control of the Mississippi. Maine could have seceded and Union armies probably would not have burned … what is the biggest city in Maine?

    1. Brian Sierk

      Looking at the writing of the political thinkers of the day, the preservation of the Union was, indeed, the primary motivation of the North. The threat of European colonial domination was very real. the War of 1812 was within eyewitness memory. A war in the Northwest had been narrowly avoided in the ’50s. (Google “Pig War”) It was obvious to American elites that any separate South would quickly fall under the economic hegemony of the British Empire, with political control to follow. At that time, the second French republic had fallen, and America was the only republic in the world. The Republican Party was named very specifically- namely to preserve that form of government, which ti saw as being threatened by the slavery expansionism movement. The Union was about the Union- preventing mercantilist Monarchy from getting any further inroads into the North American marketplace.

      1. Mark P.

        Good points. But there’s a revisionism that wishes to paint the North and Lincoln’s rejection of slavery as driven entirely by economic and expansionist motives.

        It’s easy to fail to grasp that, while Lincoln and almost all his other white contemporaries — except John Brown, that great American terrorist — were arguably racists by our contemporary standards, large numbers of them still hated slavery for the abomination it was. Consider the outpourings from around the American-European world when John Brown was executed in 1859.

        Victor Hugo: “Let America know and ponder on this: there is something more frightening than Cain killing Abel, and that is Washington killing Spartacus.”

        Emerson on Brown: “The Saint, whose fate yet hangs in suspense, but whose martyrdom, if it shall be perfected, will make the gallows as glorious as the cross.”

        And so on. The Northern reaction to John Brown’s raid was, after all, precisely what convinced many white Southerners that the majority of Northerners wished to free the slaves. Southern extremists, known as “fire-eaters,” told large crowds that John Brown’s attack on Harpers Ferry was “the first act in the grand tragedy of emancipation, and the subjugation of the South in bloody treason.” Thence, the South proceeded to secession.

        1. Brian Sierk

          Absolutely- for the North, the war was about Union. For the South. the war was about Slavery and it’s preservation and expansion. For the Abolitionists, the third side in the war, it was an opportunity they siezed to advance the cause.

          1. gepay

            The fact is the Civil War was about many things. The fact is we will never know what was the main motivation. The South’s is easier to see. The North had wage slavery and the South had actual slavery. Many in the North thought slavery was an abomination. It was. Unlike today, many of the sons of the elites in the South died defending their way of life. Harder to understand is why the poor southern whites fought and died so well. I do not think the New England elites sent their sons off to die as readily.
            There were riots over conscription in NYC (the poor were the ones conscripted as the rich could buy a replacement.) Our present day volunteer army is composed of our poor in the enlisted ranks.
            Their certainly were opposing economic systems with differing economic needs in the cotton growing south and the manufacturing north. Due to the fertility stripping agricultural practices of the day, the South had continual need of new land to continue supplying cotton to the world.
            Lincoln had to start printing greenbacks to avoid the usurious rates northern and European bankers were charging to lend money to the US for the war.
            As to Sherman’s strategy, it was successful. Much more successful than Grant’s “I will slug it out…” The war ended sooner because of Sherman’s success. As a general he should have as much or more stature than Lee. Hard to say how well he would have done had he Lee’s lesser resources.
            With the exception of the profiteers war is a sad time for everyone involved.

          2. Nathanael

            “Harder to understand is why the poor southern whites fought and died so well.”
            (1) They were drafted. The Confederacy established a draft practically immediately, while the Union avoided it as long as possible.
            (2) They fought for the Union. The whole of West Virginia — epicenter of “poor southern whites” — seceded. There were Unionist movements throughout the rest of the South during the first year of the war; the Confederacy used most of its troops suppressing and killing local Unionists. (This is what accounts for the otherwise odd fact that the Confederacy made no territorial expansion during that first year, even though the Union hadn’t really gotten its armies organized yet.)
            (3) In any population, *some* people will stupidly fight for the side which is against their own interests.

    2. LeonovaBalletRusse

      At issue was indeed the preservation, growth, and viability of an expanding nation-state, decidedly NOT on the model of slave states. The Confederates were aggressively promoting their “peculiar institution” in the newer States and territories, for they were determined not to lose their “aristocratic way of life” as the nation expanded, and so aggressively promoted their way of life in the newer States and territories. The Confederate Cause was a fight unto death. There was not middle ground. This is what Sherman understood so well. The institution of slavery had to be extirpated root and branch, like a metastatic cancer.

      “Half measures avail us nothing” says the chronic alcoholic reading from the book, Alcoholics Anonymous. The Deep South was addicted to its “aristocratic” way of life fiercely defended as “virtuous” in the hearts and minds of those “good Christian” swells whose enormous wealth and privileges would end forever with the end of slavery. But of course slavery did continue after the Civil War, extended through Jim Crow, and revitalized through today’s Private For-Profit Prison Plantation systems on the model of the “perfected” Angola Plantation Penitentiary “Work” System in Louisiana, where “Arbeit macht frei” more than ever today, from “sea to shining sea.”

      “Sieg Heil” is the salute of the Capitalist profiteers to Private Equity purveyors of Prison Profits, who bring the bacon home to Boomers in Dixie, enjoying their freedom on the golf links of the Deep South with its live oaks, Confederate Jasmine, and honeysuckle disguising the stench of Bushat. After Snow Bird Boomers settled into ease and southern sin, their politics matched their Easy Livin’ affluent lifestyle, and they became ensconced in shallow glamour of Southern Living, enjoying every perversion this implies.

      This is the Olde Plantation System Redux from Sea to Shining Sea, below that old Mason-Dixon Line. Bank of America in Charlotte is proud of “going the Jews one better” in banking, the Wellcome Industrial Plantation (“Research Triangle Park”) is thriving, the M-I Complex is most profitable, and the Academic Complex basks in Southern Glory. It’s the “good” life for “good” people. “THE MIND OF THE MASTER CLASS” carries on.

  5. Brian Sierk

    I’d love to hear Andy Hall’s or Kevin Levin’s take on this, but my view of the March to the see is that is is viewed as horrific not as a function of what actually happened, but because it was so humiliatingly effective. Out side of Lee, the confederate government and elites weren’t serious about fighting and winning a War. Grant, and followed up by Sherman demonstrated that an army serious about it’s art and duty could have it’s way with the poorly led, and poorly supported southern army.

    When faced with the accusation of savagery of the Army of the West, it’s always good to keep in mind that Lee’s standing orders when he went north towards Gettysburg was that anyone the army met that was suspected of being black would be assumed to be an escaped slave, and put in chains and sold south. The Army of Northern Virginia was essentially on a slaving raid, selling US citizens, and legal residents of Pennsylvania to defray the cost of invasion. That was barbaric by the standards of the day. Asking a population to leave a town before you burn it, rather then burning it while they were still living there, was considered good manners.

  6. acmerecords

    a little bagavadgita, a little gwbush’s first state of the union .. i wonder what ‘great documents’ exist from the hands of those who carried out operation phantom fury that might give keen insight into the minds of those who poured white phosphorous on the children of Falujah

    funny that war always serves to save the souls of selfproclaimed warriors

    check : ‘paths of glory’ by kubrick, on this decoration day my friends

    1. mac

      War is not about individuals, or isolated circumstances. Sherman and many other Generals down thru history understood it, Patton, MacArthur Lemay and Harry Truman understood.

  7. Jessica

    An interesting related question is why the South learned so little from the Civil War (racist terrorism started shortly after the end of the war and continued until Jim Crow had been firmly established), but Germany changed so thoroughly after WW2.

    1. Amateur Socialist

      Germany was forcibly divided by the victors after WW2 for about 50 years.
      Germany got the Marshall Plan. The South got reconstruction, which Eric Foner called “America’s Unfinished Revolution” in his excellent history of the period.

    2. Lambert Strether Post author

      In the same way that we might look at the Civil War as a pre-cursor to World War II — much entrenchment, the importance of rail and telegraph, no single decisive battle, “total war” in the march to the sea, and victory to the side with the greatest industrial strength — we might also look to the white sheets of the KKK as precursors to the brown shirts of the Nazis. I’m not “picking sides” here, I’m pointing out that history can rhyme.

    3. Nathanael

      Lincoln stopped Sherman’s land redistribution plans.
      Then Lincoln was assassinated.

      Johnson sabotaged pretty much all attempts to reform the South, arranged to pardon a whole bunch of the worst criminals in the Confederate leadership, and re-established a bunch of the state governments which had caused all the trouble in the first place. Then after refusing to obey the law and the Constitution, he was impeached — but he managed to skate from that by one vote. (He should have been removed from office.) So Andrew Johnson caused an immense amount of trouble.

      By the time Grant got the Presidency, the first KKK was well established, and although he managed to shut them down, they’d gotten a taste of how they could maintain white control through terrorism and get away with it. The North got tired of dealing with Reconstruction and practically gave up by the time of the Tilden-Hayes election in 1876.

      In contrast, after WWII, Germany was broken in two and kept under military control for years, with a giant Marshall Plan feeding, rebuilding, and reeducating the citizens.

      But there *is* a parallel to Reconstruction — after World War I, Germany was treated with a relatively “hands off” approach, and left to nurse grudges and be poor, but with intermittent foreign occupations to keep them poor. This led to, you guessed it, World War II.

  8. Jim Haygood

    ‘To stop war, we must defeat the rebel armies.’

    And so the Afghan war enters its eleventh year — the damned rebels haven’t been defeated, and presumably never will be.

    Make war to stop war, right-o … (there’s a lobby for that).

  9. Roland

    The conduct of Sherman’s campaign was regarded as rather harsh even by the standards of the era. While it was milder, say, than the conduct of the French armies in Spain 1808-12, on the other hand it was definitely uglier than the conduct of the Russian, Austrian, and other allied armies during the invasion of France in 1814. Given how justified the Allies in 1814 would have felt in taking some revenge upon the French–vengeance from which they were mostly able to refrain–the comparison between those two bitter wars doesn’t reflect very well on Sherman.

    Are there still Americans who are unaware of the manner in which they warred upon Iraq? Many thousands of Iraqis perished during the long sanctions period that preceded the 2003 invasion, and then over a quarter of a million more Iraqis were slain during the war, along with many more thousands mutilated by amputations or serious burns. Several million Iraqi people were driven from their homes, and over a million of them still living as refugees abroad may never be able to return. During their conflicts against Iraq, the Americans did not lack much of what the Germans, during their occupation of Belgium during the Great War, used to refer to as “frightfulness.”

  10. PhilK

    Before the war started, Sherman wrote to friend who was an adrent secessionist:

    You people of the South don’t know what you are doing. This country will be drenched in blood, and God only knows how it will end. It is all folly, madness, a crime against civilization! You people speak so lightly of war; you don’t know what you’re talking about. War is a terrible thing! You mistake, too, the people of the North. They are a peaceable people but an earnest people, and they will fight, too. They are not going to let this country be destroyed without a mighty effort to save it… Besides, where are your men and appliances of war to contend against them? The North can make a steam engine, locomotive, or railway car; hardly a yard of cloth or pair of shoes can you make. You are rushing into war with one of the most powerful, ingeniously mechanical, and determined people on Earth—right at your doors. You are bound to fail. Only in your spirit and determination are you prepared for war. In all else you are totally unprepared, with a bad cause to start with. At first you will make headway, but as your limited resources begin to fail, shut out from the markets of Europe as you will be, your cause will begin to wane. If your people will but stop and think, they must see in the end that you will surely fail.

    1. Flying Kiwi

      Are you sure that was Sherman to a friend? I thought it was Merkel to the Greeks.

      1. MontanaMaven

        :)) I often wonder what the world would be like if the South had gone its own way. Slavery would have ended anyway as the Southerners figured out what the Northerners did. That it cheaper to pay workers crap wages and let them figure out how to clothe and feed themselves. We could have had more realistic countries. The North, The South, The Northwest, and the Southwest. Interesting that Sherman uses the word “earnest” to describe Northerners. And yes, that reminds one of the Germans seeing themselves as industrious and the Southern states of Europe as lazy. But is it really “better” or “wiser” to churn out stuff like luxury cars rather than grow peanuts or oregano? And it’s hot in the south. Stupid to work when it’s hot. Better to make music.

          1. Nathanael

            The South refused to go its own way; the hypothetical is impossible.

            If you look at the history of the pre-Civil-War period, the southern slaveowner elites were hell-bent on expanding slavery by any means necessary, from “Bleeding Kansas” to a proposed annexation of Cuba.

            As Sherman points out, the South started the way. If they had seceded peacefully, rather than firing on federal facilities, Lincoln would probably have negotiated with them. Instead, they fired on Fort Sumter.

            This is because slaveowners, being used to chaining and torturing humans, tend to have a *bad attitude*. Peaceful secession by those monsters? Not going to happen.

        1. Roger Bigod

          Slavery started with tobacco culture in Virginia. It was economically successful because tobacco is labor-intensive with work spread over the growing season. The trade went into a secular decline in the late 18th Century and there was talk of abolition. Then in 1793 the cotton gin was invented and the Industrial Revolution was underway in NW England. Cotton is labor-intensive with a spread out work schedule, so the Lower South replicated the VA experience.

          One of my distant relatives was a law professor (actually, the whole department) at William and Mary. Around 1790 he wrote a treatise on the law of slavery. He concluded that it was a sad joke. There were laws against mistreatment of slaves, but the practical and procedural difficulties made them worthless. He proposed a plan of abolition, but it involved phases spread over many years.

          Abolition might have occurred without a war, but it would have taken a long time. Desegregation has a clearly been a plus for the South economically, but it took some outside intervention to make it happen.

          1. Nathanael

            If you look through the history, by the 1850s the Southern elite was hell-bent on *expanding* slavery.

            That’s one of the reasons the Dred Scott decision was so heinous; the Chief Justice freelanced, going outside the bounds of the question before him to declare that NO BLACK PERSON COULD EVER BE A CITIZEN (Black people had been citizens since before 1776) and coming very close to opining that all states had to allow slavery. This was an expression of the typical Southern elite attitude by that point.

            This attitude is what made gradual abolition impossible. To make it worse, the South carefully gerrymandered the admission of states to make sure that there was always a majority of slave states controlling the Senate.

          2. Roger Bigod

            Yes, Dred Scott was totally rotten. And the Southerners had a bad attitude. They’d been spoiled, demanding children who’d gotten their way with a disproportionate share of Supreme Court seats, the advantages of the 3/5 rule, etc.

            But their ancestors around 1790 could discuss the possibility of abolition unemotionally. Gouverneur Morris denounced the institution at the Convention and they let him write the final working draft. Something changed in the ensuing 70 years, and the simplest explanation is economic determinism.

        2. Jed

          One of the main reasons the seceded was that Tobacco and cotton plantation agriculture stripped the soil of nutrients leaving a sterile gully eroded wasteland behind.

          Constant expansion west into new virgin soil was needed. The Kansas resolution to ban slavery was the death of their system if implemented. Soil erosion is a powerful force having destroyed Easter Island, the Roman Empire and Mesopatamia.

          1. Roger Bigod

            Tobacco produces severe soil depletion. Cotton isn’t so bad. Tobacco has lots of juicy nitrogen and phosphorous compounds, but cotton fiber is mostly cellulose (CHO).
            The tobacco plantations on the lower James were abandoned after less than a century of cultivation. Cotton production lasted well into the 20th Century, even with some fairly short-sighted practices.

            It’s obvious now that the conditions for large scale cotton culture don’t exist west of East Texas, but Southerners may have been kidding themselves. OTOH, they were deeply resentful of Yankee moral condescension, so maybe they wanted the symbolism of having slavery approved in new territories.

  11. Bob of Newton

    The southern rebels got was coming to them. Their’s was an ignoble cause that deserved to be crushed. I am so tired of people waving and/or wearing Confederate colors. They were traitors, pure and simple.

  12. run75441

    Sherman understood what was happening during and before the war which so many of the “deciders” did not or would not understand. My own experience has left me quiet or speechless on such yearly celebrations. I hate being thanked for my service as it flys in the face of those who are no longer here to allow me to be here. It is those who should be thanked for sacrificing there lives for something so stupid as pride. I would give anything to have another beer with those friends of mine, those 18, 19, and slightly older, who no longer can celebrate and the memories are haunting.

    Ho Chi Mingh had it correct that “we would tire” from it. If those who would propose such extravagant waste of life, limb, and property would in turn fight the war, in one day it would end. This was Sherman’s message to The South and Ho Chi Mingh’s message to us.

  13. Greg Marquez

    My son, who in two mornings will graduated from the Naval Academy and be commissioned as a Marine 2nd Lt., and I had this discussion a few weeks ago and he insists that in their ethics classes Sherman is given as an example of what it is illegal to do. I argued that it is the absence of total war which makes ethical considerations possible.

    1. Gentlemutt

      It is good your son and his classmates have been taught not to do — today — what Sherman did 150 years ago.

      That is not the same as judging Sherman in the context of his time and that war.

      Nor should what Sherman wrote in 1862 be considered decisive in assessing what he actually did after two more years of war. One may compare his letter to his wife in 1862 to his letter to the Mayor of Atlanta and infer something about how the man was changed by what he did and what he saw.

    2. Nathanael

      Your son and his classmates don’t fight wars of necessity; when on active duty, they just invade foreign countries and abuse the locals. (The *locals* are often fighting wars of necessity, and *they* understand Sherman’s ethics.)

      Sad, but true since the end of WWII. Indeed, avoiding total war is wise in those circumstances, but better not to do the invasions at all.

      If this country ever gets into another true war for its existence, then it will quickly become clear that Sherman’s ethics are the correct ethics in a war for your very existence.

      If you read more about Sherman, in fact, you will find that he was much more careful about making sure to help people who are NOT fighting you, who are NOT your enemies, than the US military is today!

      Sherman would never have tolerated these mis-targeted “drone strikes” we have today.

  14. F. Beard

    Why did slavery require a Civil War in the US when other countries ended it peacefully? What if the money used to destroy the South had been used to buy and free the slaves?

    Also, my understanding is that the Civil War was mostly fought over tariffs. The North wanted high tariffs to protect its industries and the South wanted low tariffs in order to buy cheaper English goods and stop subsidizing the North.

    And of course, the banks were hoping to make out like the bandits they are by lending at high interest rates to both sides. Thank God Lincoln showed them the door with Greenbacks!

    1. marian

      The South would not permit any discussion of slavery at all by the Federal government, claiming that it lacked the power to consider the matter at all (‘states’ rights’). Thus, they rejected the power of the government to purchase slaves and abolish the institution. The South had convinced itself that slavery was a positive good and divinely sanctioned.

      The legend about tariffs as a cause for the war was a post-war invention by Southern apologists. There had been fierce disputes about the tariff in the 1830’s, but the reason for secession was set out explicitly by Southerners themselves at the time. The Declaration of Immediate Causes which Induce and Justify the Secession of South Carolina from the Federal Union, the document which accompanied the Ordinance of Secession and was signed by the members of the convention, is unambiguous. The state was seceding because the Federal Government threatened the institution of slavery and wouldn’t return runaway slaves.

      In their own words: http://avalon.law.yale.edu/19th_century/csa_scarsec.asp

      1. F. Beard

        Thanks for that link.

        I found this interesting:

        they have denounced as sinful the institution of slavery;

        In the Bible, non-Hebrews could be held as permanent slaves but fellow Hebrews could only be held for 6 years and were to be set free in the 7th, generously provided for by their former master to enable them to live on their own.

        In Christian Europe, before slavery was completely abolished, this prohibition on permanent slavery was applied to Christians. It would therefore apply to Christian Negroes in the South. So the South WAS sinning by holding Christian slaves – at least past 6 years of service.

        BTW, the Jews in the time of Jeremiah were illegally holding on to fellow Jewish slaves past their 6 years of required service. They paid heavily for releasing them to placate the Lord and then re-enslaving(!) them when the danger had receded! See Jerimiah 34:6-22 for details, if interested.

        1. F. Beard

          It occurs to me that non-Hebrew slaves could convert? And thus earn their freedom in 6 years? But the conversion required circumcision for the males. I suppose that helped cut down on insincere “conversions”?

    1. Nathanael

      He was right, of course. After the Civil War, that “class of people” Sherman was referring to decided to wear masks and call themselves the “Ku Klux Klan”.

  15. Nomdemom

    Thank you Lambert and all commentators for really occasioning thought on what war is and its consequences. I am taking a few moments to mourn the dead and those who live on with the memories.

  16. Paul Tioxon

    I am moved by your appropriate recognition of Memorial Day cast in a patriot’s concern about war and its effects on our nation and its people. This is as it should be, as there is no glory to be found in the matter. I’ll leave it to the other comments to expand on the issue of the Civil War and Sherman’s actions. I would like to share with you all some history that can found in music by the great Johnny Cash.


  17. F. Beard

    Readers, thoughts? Lambert

    What a great letter! I feel better disposed toward Sherman. Still the Civil War was an unnecessary tragedy.

    “We don’t want your Negroes, … “ W.T. Sherman

    So much for the Civil War being over slavery. It was over preserving the Union.

    Lambert, what was the date of that letter?

  18. Amateur Socialist

    If we are going to talk about remembering the veterans I think it’s important to note Charles PIerce’s observations at Esquire here: http://www.esquire.com/blogs/politics/support-the-troops-9146514

    He very articulately makes a point I have been saddened by – We let military people board planes early and pay them tribute and respect on Memorial Days but then slash health care and job rehab programs. Support is more than respect.

    1. F. Beard

      That’s the brilliance of an all-volunteer Army! We can blame the disabled veterans for their own injuries! Except of course they are not all all-volunteer. Many (most, nearly all?) were economically drafted.

      Let’s bring the troops home and let them serve out their enlistments building infrastructure.

      1. marian

        See my reply to your earlier comment above. The motive of the South for seceding was probably different from the motive of the North for preventing the Secession. There was not unanimity among Northerners, especially in the Union Army about the necessity to fight a war over slavery. There was considerable agreement over preserving the Union.

      2. Susan the other

        Yes let’s do just that. Can’t read about Sherman, or his own writing without realizing he was tortured by a very deep morality. His letter was as beautiful as his facial expression was tortured. But for Memorial Day I am going to pay special remembrance to a different spirit, that of my great grandfathers and uncles who were not part of the plantation class. They knew and wrote in their own letters that the war was a rich man’s war and a lost cause. They bravely, and on their own conviction, up and deserted the whole folly. They went back to Randolph County North Carolina and avoided arrest for the duration of the war.

        1. MontanaMaven

          A great book is “The People’s History of the Civil War” by David Williams which chronicles such stories of resistance as your relatives. Yes, war becomes about war profiteering and banksters. My favorite story is about an inferior wool called “shoddy” that was made into uniforms and sold to the US government. It fell apart after minimal wear. Soon the word “shoddy” was used to describe any kind of defective equipment. The New York Herald declared “This is the age of shoddy”. “Ruling the age were “shoddy brokers of Wall Street” who showed up to worship on Sundays as “shoddy Christians”. “In one of the greatest scandals of the war, a group of war profiteers that included J. Pierpont Morgan Sr. bought five thousand condemned Hall’s carbines from the government at $3.50 each, then sold them back to the army at $22.00 apiece. A congressional committee investigating the affair reported that the guns were so dangerous that they had a tendency to blow the thumbs off soldiers firing them.”

          There was a lot of resistance in the South and in the North to this war that was seen, as all wars are, a rich man’s war. Women were especially resistant to the war. Many stories in this book about women sneaking plain clothes to their husbands so that they could desert. Why not, the bankers were stealing their farms back home and the women were on to this stupidity.

          The great anti war play of Bertolt Brecht comes to mind; “Mother Courage and Her Children”. She sold wares to both sides of the conflict. Then there is Arthur Miller’s “All My Sons” about a WWII manufacturer, Keller, who reaps what he sows when his pilot son kills himself when he realizes his father was responsible for shipping defective airplane parts. The 21 dead pilots Keller realizes were “All My Sons”.

        2. NotTimothyGeithner

          I believe the Confederate General Lee replaced called Sherman “the only moral man in the war.” I can’t remember the nature of his elaboration, but I believe the general inferred Sherman was the only one who wasn’t playing an elaborate version of chess and dress-up and that Sherman’s efforts would reduce the overall suffering much more swiftly than had he not come to a premier position.

          1. Nathanael

            That is exactly the sense of what Lee was saying. You can get this idea directly from Sherman in much of his writing. He thought war was a horrible, terrible thing.

            He also saw that the Southern elite were, for reasons he thought were crazy, intent on waging war — and so he saw it as his job to break that elite physically and mentally, as fast as possible, until they surrendered utterly.

            I have to say Sherman was right. The mentality of the Southern elite at the time was bizarre to say the least, and you really have to read what they wrote to understand what Sherman was dealing with.

            Always remember that the South quite gratuitously attacked federal forts, before Lincoln had even taken office.

            In contrast, when Norway seceded from Sweden… it just left the forts and let Sweden continue to use them. Eventually Sweden turned around and left.

    2. Lambert Strether Post author

      The country’s treatment of veterans is shocking and disgusting. Remember the story about some of the ashes at Arlington ending up in a landfill?

      Regardless of one’s views about the empire as a policy matter, we should be keeping “the deal” we made with the soldiers, and that includes humane treatment given to them, by us, as a country, for all the damage they incur, whether incurred protecting us, or putatively protecting us (as many would argue).

      This is another complete #FAIL across the political spectrum which is, of course, completely off the table as a political issue.

      1. rps

        “War Is A Racket” by Major General Smedley Butler was speech delivered in 1933 about the purpose of war; profitability.

        WAR is a racket. It always has been

        It is possibly the oldest, easily the most profitable, surely the most vicious. It is the only one international in scope. It is the only one in which the profits are reckoned in dollars and the losses in lives.

        A racket is best described, I believe, as something that is not what it seems to the majority of the people. Only a small “inside” group knows what it is about. It is conducted for the benefit of the very few, at the expense of the very many. Out of war a few people make huge fortunes…..


    1. The Old Lie

      …and you couldn’t have a General pull a Ghengis Khan without a Bankster pumping him up every step of the way: Jay Cooke (August 10, 1821 – February 16, 1905) was an American financier. Cooke and his firm Jay Cooke & Company were most notable for their role in financing the Union’s war effort during the American Civil War. (He then moved into railroads, with all the legendary stories of rape and plunder even during peacetime of those endeavors)

      1. Winston

        And it was the rise of the railroads as mega-corporations during the Civil War and their successful efforts to misuse the post-Civil War 14th Amendment to establish “corporate personhood” that has led to our wholey owned special interest subsidiary some still foolishly call “our” government.

  19. Heretic

    A very interesting article. There is a lot to be studied and digested here. This is how history should be taught. Thank you for the selection Lambert.

  20. Chauncey Gardiner

    Thank you for a deeply insightful selection for your first piece and to those commenting here, who are educating me on aspects of this horrific war and its aftermath of continuing social divisiveness and other less than honorable aspects of human nature.

    My only previous consideration of this time has been largely through the PBS work of Ken Burns and Shelby Foote, and the fictional historical novel “Gone with the Wind”. I have found that most work on the Civil War, and about wars generally, center on war strategies and battle tactics, rather than the causes that underlaid the policy decisions of leaders and decision makers.

    I am very much looking forward to your subsequent selections, Lambert. Much food for thought here.

    1. F. Beard


      Let that be a lesson to Democrats. How on earth did you screw up so badly that the “Solid South” voted for their enemies?!

      Here’s a hint: Forget the social engineering and just send money via a Negative Income Tax.

      1. Nathanael

        The history’s a lot more complicated than that.

        Step One: The Republican Party Sells Out the Freed Slaves.

        This happened in 1876. This disenfranchised southern Blacks and gave northern Blacks, basically, no party they could trust for 100 years.

        Step Two: The Republican Party gets even less economically populist.

        It was already courting big biz in the 1860s — though at the time big biz was a lot more productive and hands-on than it became later — but with McKinley the Republican Party reached a new low in corruption. Teddy Roosevelt was much better, but he was basically kicked out of the Republican Party for it.

        Step Three: Democratic Party starts being more economically populist.

        This happened with Woodrow Wilson in 1910. In the 1876-1910 period, both parties were elitist, and minor parties (Greenbackers, Populists, Progressives, etc.) were becoming more and more popular, until Wilson “stole their thunder”.

        Step Four: The Democratic Party starts becoming less racist, and becomes a LOT more economically populist.

        This was FDR.

        Step Five: The Democratic Party decisively becomes anti-racist.

        This was JFK/RFK/LBJ period.

        Step Six: The Republican Party decides to become MORE racist.

        Nixon’s “Southern Strategy”

        Step Seven: The Republican Party decides to become even MORE economically elitist.

        Reagan & Dubya.

        That’s how we got from the Civil War, when the Democrats were the party of corrupt elites and slaveowners, and the Republicans were the party of principled anti-slavery people and “self-made men” — to today. where the Republicans are the part of corrupt elites and would-be slaveowners, and the Democrats are an unfocused mess.

        There is a step seven, but it hasn’t finished yet, so I can’t tell you what it is.

  21. Ken Simpson

    Thanks Lambert!

    The Southern slave society attacked the industrialized North. Southern slave society is a pre-feudal organization of production. Its southern U.S. ruling class was organized as a democratic, barbaric nobility. The two modes of production, north and south, were incompatible. The southern ruling class did what most outmoded ruling classes have done throughout history. The committed collective suicide by attacking the north. They also had a romantic view of war. Sherman did not. An army travels on its stomach as does it horses, mules and oxen. The pre-feudal south had to be starved out of existence, in what was the first industrialized war. There was no other way. The American Civil War was the last progressive war. Like the Revolutions of 1848 in Europe, it resulted in the completion of the Bourgeois Revolution in the U.S. Two of the central tasks of this revolution is to create and secure the modern, national, bourgeois state and eliminate lesser modes of production like serfdom and slavery as well as the feudal organization of society. Up the revolution, bourgeois in this case, but still progressive. Those that died did die for a just cause. Was there personal gain and war profiteering? Of course it was the Bourgeois Revolution! Nonetheless, it was historic progress. Go Sherman go.

    1. Nathanael

      This is an important comment:

      “The southern ruling class did what most outmoded ruling classes have done throughout history. The committed collective suicide by attacking the north. ”

      I have struggled to understand this behavior by outmoded ruling classes. Surely it is better to retire quietly and be pensioned off? (And some actually do this! Consider the fate of the outmoded Kings of England…)

      Then I read _The Theory of the Leisure Class_. This provided the best description I have yet seen of the abnormal psychology which underlies this suicidal behavior by an outmoded ruling class. For most of them, their primary, pernicious psychological drives do not *allow* them to retire quietly and be content with lesser wealth and power. (The ones who are more pscyhologically healthy, with drives other than an unstoppable greed and lust for power, are more able to spot when it’s time to retire.)

  22. SR6719

    Lambert, thanks for this. And along with F. Beard above, I was also wondering if you have a date for Sherman’s letter?

    For Memorial Day I was thinking about Robert Lowell’s poem entitled “For the Union Dead”, based on the story of Colonel Shaw, the white officer who led the first all black brigade in American history during the American Civil war .

    This poem deals with still unresolved issues of the Civil War, memory and its loss in modern society, as well as the mindless consumerism that was already gripping the nation in 1964 (when this was written).

    Here’s an excerpt:

    Two months after marching through Boston,
    half of the regiment was dead;
    at the dedication,
    William James could almost hear the bronze Negroes breathe.

    Their monument sticks like a fishbone
    in the city’s throat.
    Its Colonel is as lean
    as a compass-needle.

    He is out of bounds now. He rejoices in man’s lovely,
    peculiar power to choose life and die-
    when he leads his black soldiers to death,
    he cannot bend his back.

    Shaw’s father wanted no monument
    except the ditch,
    where his son’s body was thrown
    and lost with his “niggers.”

    The ditch is nearer.
    There are no statutes for the last war here;
    on Boylston Street, a commercial photograph
    shows Hiroshima boiling

    Colonel Shaw
    is riding on his bubble,
    he waits
    for the blessed break.

    The Aquarium is gone. Everywhere,
    giant finned cars nose forward like fish;
    a savage servility
    slides by on grease.

    (And here’s a brief biography of Colonel Shaw):


    1. purple

      Yes Sherman forced those lovely white Southerners to have black representatives in Congress for a few years after the Civil War.

      When mean old Sherman left, and Reconstruction ended, whites regained their Proper and Rightful status.

      The problem with liberals is they associate defeat with goodness. The Old South was awful.

  23. rps

    We pretend that the Civil War was somehow unique as neighbors, friends, and family fought over ideologies, when the reality was the bullies ‘might makes right’ stealing of natural resources; land and labor. How soon Americans wipe out the truth and create revisionist history ignoring the rabid destruction, lies, and perpetual cataclysmic genocide of the indigenous people; Native Americans for their land and resources. The war in the genocide of native americans was in progress before, during, and after the Civil War, and continues today.

    Manifest Destiny is the actionable ideological doctrine that disguises the truth about the ‘birth of a nation’ in our actions of destruction and annihilation of humanity. The USA has no interest in bringing democracy around the world, rather we are invaders that feast on pillaging and eradication of others. Our Dorian Gray portrait lies hidden in the attic blanketed in the facade of democracy. The vikings were amateurs compared to American Empire building.

    1. Winston

      But it is a very different kind of empire, one that was more profitable before globalization. Previous empires conquered nations and peoples and took the spoils home with them to pay for their military ventures. Our empire uses military force and the threat of it to open up markets to our corporations (Book – Overthrow: America’s Century of Regime Change from Hawaii to Iraq). Back when those corporations were almost exclusively US owned and operated, that paid off. But we are now a less profitable empire because we now support what are predominently multinational corporations.

    1. Nathanael

      Notice the contrast between Ewing, who issued General Order #11, an indiscriminate order which hurt allies as well as enemies — and Sherman, who *always knew who his allies were* and did his best to treat them well.

  24. purple

    Sherman’s march is a Southern hoax along the lines of the Northern carpetbagger.

    But go ahead and defend the Old South.

  25. Roger Bigod

    I’ve always admired Sherman’s forthright honesty, in refreshing contrast to later Generals. And the policy he carried out in Atlanta was in context humane in that it shortened the war and prevented bloodshed. The means led to a good end, not always the case.

    OTOH, it’s on its face collective punishment, and more specifically a possible war crime. (This would depend on treaties in force and other sources for the controlling law.) Noble as the cause of abolition was, the North didn’t take it “earnestly”, because the material circumstances of the former slaves was for a long time little improved. After the looting of Reconstruction, the South was screwed over for decades by tariff policy and rigged shipping rates, which screwing was passed down in due course to the African-Americans.

  26. Hugh

    We tend to look at history and not see it. We are a nation born in revolution, and, though we are now told revolution is no part of our nature, we as a people have passed through revolutionary periods every 30 to 40 years throughout our country’s existence, from our original revolution to the Framing, to Jackson and the crisis of the banks in the 1830s, to the Civil War, to the rise of the labor movement at the end of the nineteenth century, to the Great Depression, to the civil rights movement, to the great meltdown. Revolution is as much a part of the American character as air and breathing are to any one of us. Revolutions are born of belief, a belief in something better than what we are served up, and a willingness to act upon that belief. Revolutions can, and often are, dressed up in the rhetoric of ideology but the real strength of the revolutionary spirit is our common sense of decency, that wrongs and injustices, even if they are not our own, or perhaps, precisely because they are not our own, must be stood up to, resisted, and overthrown.

    Let those who profit from things as they are pay mock homage to decency and place revolution outside the bounds of thought and action. They only seek to confuse and disarm us. Revolutions are about what we can accomplish when we stand together. So it is that those who benefit from the status quo will do everything to keep us divided, to keep us from any awareness of the simple decency which unites us for justice and against injustice. We are told by those who write unjust laws and who ignore just laws that revolution is foreign to us. They parade before our eyes the most extreme and violent examples and tell us all revolutions must be like them. But they will not look at American history because they are afraid that this will give us ideas. They will not even bring up the Civil War, the most violent conflict in our history, because it was a revolution that was entirely American in its scope.

    Also we should admit that revolutions are, like all human affairs, less than absolute. A revolution comes about to confront an injustice, not all injustice. That is beyond our scope and powers, but it is not an excuse not to act. Yet often it is said that a revolution fails because it did not solve all problems, or that it only partially resolved the problem which necessitated it.

    Revolution is what we the people make of it and its option can never be taken away from us so long as our sense of decency, the ability to be stung by injustice, is left to us. There is hope of change, not from self-serving politicians, but from each other.

    Let us remember all those who have struggled against injustice and let us all honor that struggle by becoming part of it.

    Happy Memorial Day.

  27. GDC707

    A fine post and I’m relieved that a squad of thinkers who understand the motivation of sides in the Civil War stepped into the gooey breach that was developing and restored a rational and well documented equilibrium.

    The truest and most succinct statement was by Sierk: ” for the North, the war was about Union. For the South. the war was about Slavery and it’s preservation and expansion. For the Abolitionists, the third side in the war, it was an opportunity they siezed to advance the cause.”

    Should anyone wish to further understand the South’s reasons for fighting, I suggest they go directly to the Cornerstone Speech by Alexander Stephens, Vice President of the Confederacy. This is straight from the heart and mouth of a leading Southern politician and sums the motivations up, perfectly. http://teachingamericanhistory.org/library/index.asp?document=76

    Oh and it’s true that the South was anything but united. Freehling’s “The South vs the South” researches this point well. Generally speaking, southerners from mountainous regions understood clearly that the war was a slaveholders rebellion and had nothing to do with the interests of those who worked outside of the slaveocracy. Indeed, there was civil war within a civil war within the South as the Homeguard rampaged across the countryside attempting to root out holdouts who refused to fight for the southern cause.

  28. vlade

    I am a bit saddened that no-one here mentioned the other part to Sherman. That is, he was true to his word, and once the war was over, he gave such generous terms to the South that he was branded a traitor by many in North (who didn’t want reconciliation, but punishment).
    So he ended, for a time, being hated by both sides – by South for march to the sea, by North for the terms of South’s surrended (which were revoked pretty much immediately, and replaced by much harsher terms).

  29. SabreKai

    I find it interesting to reflect on the decency of Sherman while engaged in a bloody conflict among brothers. Back then civilians were civilians and soldiers were soldiers. Then I look at WWII and “total war” where millions of civilians on all sides were massacred to further the war effort. Its sad to see how far we have slipped into the abyss.

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