Letter to the Editor The Washington Post
In his recent article on General Sherman, George Will picked the wrong role model from which to derive lessons for waging the war on terrorism (“Gen. Sherman’s Advice,” Dec. 27). General Grant would have been a better choice, since he excelled in bringing the war to enemy combatants. Sherman’s specialty, on the other hand, was waging war on civilians, as I discuss in The Real Lincoln (Forum/Random House, Feb. 2002).
In a July 31, 1862 letter to his wife Sherman explained that his goal was “extermination, not of soldiers alone . . . but the people.” Beginning in 1862 Sherman ordered his army to burn the towns of Randolph, Tennessee, and Vicksburg, Jackson, and Meridian, Mississippi after the Confederate army had evacuated. “Meridian no longer exists,” Sherman wrote to Grant in the spring of 1863. This was all apparently a rehearsal for the burning of Atlanta after the Confederate army had left the city, an act that Sherman’s chief engineer, Captain O.M. Poe, said was of no military significance at all.
Just three months after Robert E. Lee surrendered at Appomattox Sherman was given the assignment of eradicating the Plains Indians from the western territories to make way for the transcontinental railroad. In his memoirs Sherman wrote of how he instructed his army that, during its assaults on Native American villages, “the soldiers can not pause to distinguish between male and female, or even discriminate as to age.” Most of Sherman’s raids on Native American villages were planned in the winter months, when families would be together, according to Sherman biographer John F. Marszalek. A year before his death in 1889 Sherman wrote a letter to his son in which he expressed his deep regret that his armies did not kill every last Native American.
Even Sherman biographer Lee Kennett, who lionizes the general, concludes that had the Confederates somehow won the war they would have been “justified in stringing up President Lincoln and the entire Union high command for . . . waging war against noncombatants.” George Will contradicts himself by offering Sherman as a role model on the one hand, while urging our military to act “consistent with the rules of war” on the other.
Thomas J. DiLorenzo Professor of Economics Loyola College, Baltimore Maryland
December 29, 2001
Thomas J. DiLorenzo [send him mail] is professor of economics at Loyola College in Maryland. His book, The Real Lincoln: A New Look at Abraham Lincoln, His Agenda, and an Unnecessary War, will be published in February.