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Sherman and the Concept of Total War

Autor:   •  February 10, 2018  •  Research Paper  •  1,715 Words (7 Pages)  •  371 Views

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Sherman and the Concept of Total War

Jason J. Cooke

History 101

Purdue University


A Research Paper discussing the concept of total war and how General William T. Sherman employed many of the principles in his “Scorched Earth” campaign during the Summer, Fall, Winter of 1864, and until the end of the war on April 9th 1865.

During the history of American Warfare approximately 1,264,000 American soldiers have died (Civil War Trust, 2017). From the Spring of 1861 to the Spring of 1865 America was engaged in our Civil War. Over 620,000 soldiers lost their lives during this bloody conflict of brother against brother. (Civil War Trust, 2017) The number of soldiers lost in the Civil War is nearly half of all the losses suffered in every conflict the U.S. has fought since inception. Many scholars have debated whether the Civil War was a Total War since the use of the term was first employed in Western Europe during WWI. (Janda, 1995) William Tecumseh Sherman, a general for the Union, was merely a tool used by Abraham Lincoln and Ulysses S. Grant to bring about a swifter end to the already 3 year old war.

The term Total War has become a term synonymous with the military tactics employed by the United States Armed Forces since the Civil War, but the term was not actually used until the trench war of WWI. (Janda, 1995) For over 150 years many scholars have debated whether the Civil War was a Total War. The term Total War is defined as “A form of warfare, characteristic of modern industrial society, involving the maximum mobilization of social and economic resources of a country for armed conflict, usually entailing the exposure of the civilian population and economy to enemy attack. The idea has particularly been explored in the work of Arthur Marwick (War and Social Change in the Twentieth Century, 1977, and his edited collection Total War and Social Change, 1988). As a form of warfare it is distinct from regional or local war, and from nuclear conflict.” (Marshall, 2009) These strategies have been employed for centuries in warfare but had been largely forgotten during the Age of Enlightenment of the 18th and 19th century. (Janda, 1995) Many of these tactics were employed by the North during the war but in the beginning the goal of the Union Army was to pacify the Confederacy and convince them they made the wrong decision by seceding from the United States.

In the Summer of 1862, Abraham Lincoln’s strategy of pacification of the Confederacy was not working and he began to realize the South was not going to return to the Union on its own. He needed a new plan and a charismatic general to carry out the plan. He enlisted the help of General John Pope, a friend from his Senate days and an arrogant yet intelligent character from the Western Front, to command the newly formed Army of Virginia. (Sutherland, 1992) He was charged with command of this new army in June of 1862. In July of 1862, the Congress passed the Confiscation Act to “Appropriate the property of traitors, including their slaves”. Also at the same time Abraham Lincoln promoted Pope’s commander from the West Major General Henry Wager Halleck. (Sutherland, 1992) Halleck was to be the general-in-chief of all U.S. armies. Under the command of Halleck, Pope issued orders to his troops to confiscate property, punish conspirators with exile from their homes and property, and any Southerners who would swear allegiance to United States and provide no quarter for the conspirators would receive the full protection of the army for their loyalty. (Sutherland, 1992) This campaign proved ineffective because Halleck exerted little effective control over the battlefield operations, but was very good at administration, logistics, and military politics. Frustrated with Halleck’s efforts on the battlefield Lincoln “promoted” Halleck to Chief-of-staff, and brought General Ulysses S. Grant in as the new General-in-chief in March of 1864. (Sutherland, 1992)


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