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The Hard Hand Of War by Dr. Richard Lee Montgomery

"The Hard Hand Of War" was a phrase that General William T. Sherman used – with his march of destruction to the sea.

William Tecumseh Sherman was born on Tuesday the 8th of February 1820 to Charles Robert and Mary Hoyt Sherman at Lancaster, Ohio and that his father was a lawyer and then a judge on the Supreme Court for the State of Ohio. We are told that, “The father of General Sherman died when he was but nine years old, and the son had received a moderately good education up to the time of his death, when that event occurred he was somewhat thrown upon his own resources in order to continue his studies.” 1

On January 1, 1836 Sherman entered West Point Militaty Academy and graduated in 1840, sixth in his class, then appointed Second Lieutenant in the Third U.S. Artillery Regiment. His first field service was in Florida, against the Seminole Indians.

In 1850 he married Ellen Boyle Ewing. Shortly thereafter, he was promoted to Captain and from his memoirs Sherman says, “I was ordered to take post at St. Louis, and to relieve Captain A. J. Smith, First Dragoons, who had been acting in that capacity for some months. My commission bore date September 27, 1850. I proceeded forthwith to the city, relieved Captain Smith, and entered on the discharge of the duties of the office.” 2 Again in his memoirs after three year, Sherman explains, “I sent to the Adjutant-General of the army my letter of resignation, to take effect at the end of the
six months. leave, and the resignation was accepted, to take effect September 6, 1853. Being then a citizen, I engaged a passage out to California...” 3 in order to oversee the construction of a new bank building which opened July 11, 1854. In 1857, he withdrew from Californian affairs. In 1859, the state of Louisiana proposing to establish a military
college appointed Sherman as its superintendent. In 1860, it became the Louisiana State Seminary of Learning and Military Academy, a precursor to Louisiana State University at Baton Rouge. Sherman remained there until the Spring of 1861 when Louisiana join the states seceding from the Union. He then resigned, volunteering for duty in the United States Army in May 1861.

Sherman was first commissioned as Colonel of the Thirteenth U.S. Infantry Regiment, effective May 14, 1861. He was at the Battle of First Manassas on the 21st of July, 1861. After Grant captured Fort Donelson, Sherman got his wish to serve under Grant, when he was assigned on March 1, 1862 to the Army of West Tennessee, as commander of the Fifth Division. After the surrender of Vicksburg to the Union forces under Grant on July 4, 1863, Sherman was given the rank of Brigadier General in the regular army in addition to his rank as a Major General of Volunteers. When Lincoln called Grant to go East in the Spring of 1864, to take command of all the Union armies, Grant appointed Sherman to succeed him, as head of the Military Division of the Mississippi. In September 1864, William T. Sherman took Atlanta and burned it to the ground. With 60,000 men Sherman began his “March to the Sea,” ripping through Georgia with a 60-mile-wide path of total
destruction. Sherman truly believed that to win the war, his Army would have to break the South's will to fight. Everything was ordered to be destroyed in this military strategy. known as “total war.”

A. Sherman's March To The Sea.

In the Summer of 1864, with the beginning of Sherman's March to the Sea. In Special Field Orders, No. 39 Sherman states, “The whole army will move on Atlanta by the most direct roads tomorrow, July 20th, beginning at five (5) o'clock a.m.” 4 The need to neutralize Atlanta was foundational to begin his “March to the Sea.” His target in Atlanta was it’s railway system and the supply hub. After ordering the evacuation of the city, Sherman burned most of the buildings in Atlanta, military or not. “When the census of 1860 was taken, Atlanta was shown to have 9,554, or in round numbers, 10,000 inhabitants.” 5 When Sherman's Yankees invaded, “From the 9th to the 25th of August [1864] the city was subjected to a furious bombardment, and women and children had to seek shelter in cellars night and day. But the women and children had the spirit of heroes, to which General Hood bore testimony in these words, ‘I can not recall one word from their lips expressive of dissatisfaction or willingness to surrender.’” 6

But ultimately, General Hood was unable to hold on in the defense of Atlanta and was force to leave. In the aftermath of his leaving, “Sherman entered Atlanta on the 2d of September, 1864. When he started on his march to the sea, Sherman ordered everything burned except the mere dwelling houses and the churches. Only 450 houses, including some of the churches, escaped. All the stores, workshops, mills, depots and most of the dwelling's were reduced to ashes. The city just before its capture had 14,000 inhabitants.” 7

After completely destroying the city, Sherman then headed south, leaving Atlanta, making his next target Savannah which is commonly called “Sherman's March To The Sea.” It was a 300 mile trip and took them two months, November and December.
Because of “The continued advance of the Federal troops under Sherman brought the people of Savannah to a realization of the fact
that the city was in the greatest danger. So near was the enemy by the closing days of November, 1864, that the mayor issued the following address: Mayor's Office [Richard Dennis Arnold], Savannah, November 28, 1864. — ‘Fellow Citizens:—The time has come when every male who can shoulder a musket can make himself useful in defending our hearths and homes. Our city is well fortified, and the old ones can fight in the trenches as well as the young, and a determined and brave force can, behind entrenchment, successfully repel the assaults of treble their number.’” 8

It was at Fort McAllister that the Confederates took their stand. In
the book entitled, History of Savannah and South Georgia, Volume 1, it describes this, “In view of the large force of the enemy—consisting of nine regiments, whose aggregate strength was estimated between 3,500 and 4,000 muskets, and possessing the ability to increase it at any time should it become necessary and recollecting the feebleness of the garrison of the fort, numbering 150 effective men, it was evident, cut off from all support, and with no possible hope of reinforcement from any quarter, that holding the fort was simply a question of time. There  was  but  one alternative—death or captivity.” 9 Now – here is the bottom line, “The fort was never surrendered. It was captured by overwhelming numbers.” 10 “The garrison lost seventeen killed and thirty-one wounded.” 11

As Sherman's Army approached Savannah they did not enter the city until the next day. Then he issued the following order, concerning the government of the City of Savannah. “December 26, 1864, Special Field Order, No. 143: The city of Savannah and surrounding country will he held as a military post and adapted to future military uses, but as it contains a population of some 20,000 people who must he provided for, and as other citizens may come, it is proper to lay down certain general principles, that all within its military jurisdiction may understand their relative duties and obligations.” 12

B. Sherman's War Philosophy.

William Tecumseh Sherman has been credited as making the
statement, “War is Hell.” First at Jackson, Mississippi in 1863 and second in a speech at the Military Academy in 1879. Now, whether he really said it or not, this phrase well expressed Sherman's feelings toward violent conflict.

William Henry Morgan, who was a Lieutenant in the Eleventh Virginia, Kemper's Brigade wrote this in
his book, Personal Reminiscences Of The War Of 1861-5, “It will not be many years before the last one of us shall have answered the final roll call. May we all meet again in a better world, where there is no war, is my fervent prayer. War is horrible. General Sherman said, ‘War is hell.' Few, if any, did more than William Tecumseh Sherman to make war hell, and if I had to guess, I should say that ere now Sherman knows all about the horrors of both—war and hell. There may be something in a name after all. ‘Tecumseh!’ The savage.” 13 

As a side note narrative, read how Sherman was named as a infant
according the book entitled Life And Military Career Of Major-General William Tecumseh Sherman, published in 1868. It says, “William Tecumseh was born February 8th, 1820. It was quite difficult to decide upon a name for the boy. ‘What shall we call him?’ was the topic of much domestic chat. Two or three favorite names were suggested and discussed, but still the child was nameless. One day the father, who had seen the Indian chieftain Tecumseh, and admired that really great man, came in and said, ‘I have the name of a better man than either we have mentioned.’ The eye and ear of those around the cradle were turned to know whom he could be. The bright boy only seemed to have no interest in the matter. ‘Tecumseh, we will name him,’ was the almost startling announcement. It was softened down to the tone of civilized life by the addition of William.” 14

Alright – I’ll digress – back to the issue – “War is Hell.”  Again, this phrase did express Sherman's feelings toward violent conflict. For me, it is hard to understand how Sherman could cast off ideas like – humane treatment to the lowly – or demonstrating mercy to the weak and defenceless. Perhaps the best term that describes Sherman outlook on war or the treatment of the enemy, with no humane base, is depravity. In fact, Sherman implemented a policy of destruction against the South. That policy can be summed up very simply – feed your Army off the land of the enemy – use a scorched earth policy whenever needed – and make the enemy experience the real cost of war. 

For Sherman it was about the bringing to the South, a total war of attrition, to bring shame to the South as a whole. In fact, Sherman stated, “To those who submit to the rightful law and authority, all gentleness and forbearance; but to the petulant and persistent secessionists, why, death is mercy, and the quicker he or she is disposed of the better. Satan and the rebellious saints of heaven were allowed a continuance of existence in hell merely to swell their just punishment. To such as would rebel against a government so mild and just as ours was in peace, a punishment equal would not be unjust.” 15

Sherman also justified his actions by saying, “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.” 16

Sherman also used another phrase that I thought you might like to hear  – the “hard hand of war.” Here is how he uses it, “I attach more importance to these deep incisions into the enemy’s country, because this war differs from European wars in this particular: we are not only fighting hostile armies, but a hostile people, and must make old and young, rich and poor, feel the hard hand of war, as well as their organized armies.” 17 

On October 9, 1864, Sherman telegraphed Grant and said this, “...I propose that we break up the railroad from Chattanooga forward, and that we strike out with our wagons for Milledgeville, Millen, and Savannah. Until we can repopulate Georgia, it is useless for us to occupy it; but the utter destruction of its roads, houses, and people, will cripple their military resources. By attempting to hold the roads, we will lose a thousand men each mouth, and will gain no result. I can make the march, and make Georgia howl!...” 18  Could this be described as a form genocide?

A total war of attrition, to bring shame to the South. Now read this, “I would banish all minor questions, assert the broad doctrine that as a nation the United States has the right, and also the physical power, to penetrate to every part of our national domain, and that we will do it—that we will do it in our own time and in our own way; that it makes no difference whether it be in one year, or two or ten, or twenty; that we will remove and destroy every obstacle, if need be, take every life, every acre of land, every particle of property, every thing that to us seems proper; that we will not cease till the end is attained; that all who do not aid us are enemies, and that we will not account to them for our acts. If the people of the South oppose, they do so at their peril; and if they stand by, mere lookers-on in this domestic tragedy, they have no right to immunity, protection, or share in the final results.” 19 

A total war of attrition  – to bring shame to the South. Sherman was bent on seeing that this goal would be fulfilled by stating it this way, “I would make this war as severe as possible, and show no symptoms of tiring till the South begs for mercy; indeed, I know, and you know, that the end would be reached quicker by such a course than by any seeming yielding on our part. I don't want our Government to be bothered by patching up local governments, or by trying to reconcile any class of men. The South has done her worst, and now is the time for us to pile on our blows thick and fast.” 20 

C. Sherman's Cruelty.

Up to this point, I have tried to build a foundation that would clearly show how Sherman justified his actions through what he called “Military Orders,” during his Campaign from Atlanta to Savannah – or his “March To The Sea.”
Well, here is a start, with Sherman writing a letter to General James Blair Steedman, who was command of the District of Etowah and Chattanooga, “GENERAL: In the Field, Big Shanty, June 23,1864. – As the question may arise, and you have a right to the support of my authority, I now decide that the use of the torpedo is justifiable in war in advance of an army, so as to make his advance up a river or over a road more dangerous and difficult. But after the adversary has gained the country by fair warlike means, then the case entirely changes. The use of torpedoes in blowing up our cars and the road after they are in our possession, is simply malicious. It cannot alter the great problem, but simply makes trouble. Now, if torpedoes are found in the possession of an enemy to our rear, you may cause them to be put on the ground and tested by wagon-loads of prisoners, or, if need be, citizens implicated in their use. In like manner, if a torpedo is suspected on any part of the road, order the point to be tested by a car-load of prisoners, or citizens implicated, drawn by a long rope. Of course an enemy cannot complain of his own traps  –  W. T. Sherman,  Major-General,  Commanding.” 21

General Sherman also wrote to Brigadier General Louis Douglass
Watkins – at Calhoun, Georgia – on October 29, 1864, “Can you not send over to Fairmount and Adairsville, burn 10 or 12 houses of known secessionists, kill a few at random and let them know it will be repeated every time a train is fired upon from Resaca to Kingston.” 22 

Brigadier General Edward Moody McCook of the First Cavalry Division of Cavalry at Calhoun, Georgia, on October 30, 1864, reported to Sherman, “My men killed some of those fellows two or three days since, and I had their houses burned. Watkins is not here, but I will carry out your instructions thoroughly and leave the country east of the road uninhabitable, if necessary.” 23

And finally, General Sherman writing to General George Henry
Thomas, on November 1, 1864, “Make a report to me as soon as possible of what troops you now have in Tennessee’ what are expected, and how disposed. I propose with the Armies of the Tennessee, the Ohio, and two corps of yours, to sally forth and make a hole in Georgia that will be hard to mend.” 24

I realize, that it doesn’t take much, to convince many in the South,  how debased William T. Sherman was. I mean – in the way he dealt with the helpless, throughout the “Lost Cause.” How his cruelty changed the tactics of warfare forever. Or his bigotry, believing that the black man, was inferior to the white man. Some may say, Sherman was a role model – well – that’s a bid twisted – but each to there own.

So to close on a positive note, I thank to the Lord Jesus Christ, for men like General Robert Edward Lee, who led the Army of Northern Virginia, with valor, dignity, civility, honestly and Godliness. He was a positive role model during the war and after the war and in fact, he was given affectionate nicknames by his men...

He was called “Marble Model” or “Marble Man,” 25 given to him by his West Point classmates because he looked and behaved perfectly in every situation. Just a side note, Lee was the first student to ever graduate West Point  without a single demerit.   He  was  also  called  “Old  Tycoon” 26 by his Staff because of the authority with which he managed.  Another name, the “King of Spades” because his men heard him say time and time again, “dig in.” 27 He was often called the “Old Man” 28 by his men and was a term of respect. Also the nickname “Bobby Lee” 29 was used affectionately by his men. And the last name I will share is the name “Marse” giving you this narrative. “Immediately behind the line rides Lee to direct the charge in person. ‘Charge, boys,’ is Lee's deep, thrilling call as he advances into the thickest of the fight. Suddenly the men divine his desperate purpose and they begin to shout, ‘Go back, General Lee—Marse Robert go back.’ Then the artillerymen whom Lee has passed respond with the answering call, ‘Come back, come back, General Lee.’ Lee rides onward, waving his old grey hat, but the very heavens are rent with the cry, ‘Lee to the rear! Lee to the rear!’ A tall, lank, ragged Texas sergeant moves from the ranks, seizes the bridle-rein and turns Traveller’s head to the rear. A look of disappointment crosses the face of General Lee, but he yields.” 30

Again, these names were terms of endearment. So, to close out, I’ll
give you these words from this gentle giant – Robert Edward Lee...

“All that the South has ever desired was that the Union, as established by our forefathers, should be preserved and that the government as originally organized, should be administered in purity and truth. Or more solemnly, I did only what my duty demanded. I could have taken no other course without dishonor. And if it  were  all  to  be done over again,  I should act in precisely  the same manner.” 31


1 T. R. Dawley, The Life of Gen. Wm. T. Sherman (New York: T. R. Dawley, Publishers, 1864), 17.

2 Personal Memoirs of Gen. W. T. Sherman, Volume 1 (New York: Charles L. Webster & Company, 1890), 116.

3 Personal Memoirs of Gen. W. T. Sherman, Volume 1 (New York: Charles L. Webster & Company, 1890), 129.

4 Thomas Budd Van Horne, History of the Army of the Cumberland, Volume 2 (Cincinnati: Robert Clarke & Company, 1875), 122.

5 Georgia: Historical and Industrial Illustrated (Atlanta: George W. Harrison, State Printer, 1901), 670.

6  Ibid., 670-671.

7 Ibid., 671.

8 William Harden, History of Savannah and South Georgia, Volume 1 (Chicago: The Lewis Publishing Company, 1913), 457.

9 William Harden, History of Savannah and South Georgia, Volume 1 (Chicago: The Lewis Publishing Company, 1913), 459.

10 Ibid., 459.

11 Ibid., 459.

12 Ibid., 463.

13 William Henry Morgan, Personal Reminiscences Of The War Of 1861-5 (Lynchburg, Va., J. P. Be;;, 1911), 234.

14 P. C. Headley, Life And Military Career Of Major-General William Tecumseh Sherman (New York: George A Leavitt, Publisher, 1868), 17.

15 F. Senour, Major General William T. Sherman and His Campaigns (Chicago: Henry M. Sherwood, 1865), 427.

16 General Sherman’s Official Account of His Great March Through Georgia and the Carolinas (New York: Bunce & Hunington, Publishers, 1865), 60. 

17  Personal Memoirs of Gen. W. T. Sherman, Volume 2 (New York: Charles I. Webster & Company, 1890), 227.

18 Ibid., 152.

19 W. Fletcher Johnson, Memoirs of Gen. William T. Sherman, Volumes 1-2 (New York: D. Appleton & Company, 1891), 339.

20 Personal Memoirs of Gen. W. T. Sherman, Volume 1 (New York: Charles I. Webster & Company, 1890), 270-271.

21 Supplemental Report of the Joint Committee on the Conduct of the War: Supplemental to Senate Report No. 142, 38th Congress, 2d Session, Volume 1 (Washington: Government Printing Company, 1865), 92.

22 The War of the Rebellion: A Compilation of the Official Records of the Union and Confederate Armies Series 1, Volume 39, Part 3 (Washington: Government Printing Office, 1892), 494.

23 Ibid., 511.

24 Supplemental Report of the Joint Committee on the Conduct of the War: Supplemental to Senate Report No. 142, 38th Congress, 2d Session, Volume 1 (Washington: Government Printing Company, 1866), 334.

25 Jennifer Blizin Gillis, Robert E. Lee: Confederate Commander (Capstone, 2005), 25.

26 Edward A. Pollard, The Early Life, Campaigns, and Public Services of Robert E. Lee (New York: E. B. Treat, Publisher, 1871), 334.

27 Peter Earle, Robert E. Lee (Weidenfeld and Nicolson, 1973), 76.

28 J. William Jones, Personal Reminiscences, Anecdotes, And Letters Of Gen. Robert E. Lee (New York: D. Appleton & Company, 1875), 163.

29 Mary M. Williamson, The life Of Gen. Robert E. Lee For Children, In Easy Words (Richmond: Baughman Stationary Company, 1895), 89.

30 Henry Alexander White, Robert E. Lee And The Southern Confederacy 1807-1870 (New York: G. P. Putnam's Sons, 1897), 361-362.

31 Gamaliel Bradford, Jr., Lee The American (Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1912), 46.


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