[lit-ideas] Sherman and his doubters

  • From: "Lawrence Helm" <lawrencehelm@xxxxxxxxxxxxxx>
  • To: "Lit-Ideas" <Lit-Ideas@xxxxxxxxxxxxx>
  • Date: Sat, 21 Jun 2008 18:18:28 -0700

Hanson, op. cit., pp 144-7.

"Might not so many thousands of men devour the very Georgia countryside that
they traversed?  Might not his men end up, as fanatical Georgians promised,
not 300 miles away in Savannah, but perhaps 150 to the east of Atlanta in
Midwinter in the middle of nowhere - lost and stuck in transit in the red
Georgia mud, starving, and picked off by guerrillas -as Grant warned and
Jefferson Davis promised - as local militias blocked roads, burned bridges,
and destroyed the food supply?  What if the Army of the West had to fight
for a week or so straight?  How could a mere two hundred rounds of
cartridges per man suffice, scarcely what an army might fire in a single day
of heavy fighting?  Were animals that had been collected and stalled in
Atlanta fit enough to pull wagons three hundred miles through Georgia?
Without communications, how was Sherman to know whether Hood, Longstreet, or
even Lee was marching to blindside him near the coast?  If Grant and Thomas
were defeated while he was incommunicado, how was he to explain that his men
were not fighting Rebs but burning plantations?  Could the North spare an
army of 60,000 out of the theater of battle operations?  And if so, for how

"To the iconoclast B. H. Liddell Hart, Sherman's preference for the indirect
approach in ending the war was 'a supreme act of moral courage.'  

'To have the enemy in his rear, to divide his army, to cut himself adrift
from railroad and telegraph, from supplies and reinforcements, and launch
not a mere raiding force of cavalry but a great army into the heart of a
hostile country - pinning his faith and his fortune on a principle which he
had deduced by reasoning contrary to orthodoxy.  And with nothing to fortify
his spirit beyond that reasoning, for his venture was to be made under the
cloud of dubious permission of his military superior, the anxious fears of
his President, and the positive objections of their advisers.'

"The chorus of doubters was indeed unanimous in their disdain.  Neutral
observers in Europe wrote, 'He has done either one of the most brilliant or
one of the most foolish things ever performed by a military leader.'
General Halleck wavered and General Rawlins, Grant's chief of staff, went to
Lincoln to stop him: Sherman, who had suffered one breakdown, was now about
to sacrifice his entire army.  Even Grant for a time believed that Sherman
'would be bushwacked by all the old men, little boys, and such railroad
guards as are still left at home.'  Lincoln himself later would confess to
Sherman, 'When you were about leaving Atlanta for the Atlantic coast, I was
anxious, if not fearful; but feeling that you were the better judge, and
remembering "nothing risked, nothing gained," I did not interfere.'  On
Sherman's departure Lincoln had earlier remarked to anxious inquirers, 'I
know what hole he went in, but I don't know which one he will come out.'
Later in the afterglow of Sherman's fame the envious would claim that Grant,
Halleck, Thomas, or others had planned the March to the Sea, but in November
1864, no other than Sherman wanted anything to do with the idea of a march
through Georgia.  'In thus fixing his purpose,' wrote Jacob Cox, one of
Sherman's generals, 'Sherman had no assistance.'  

"Southerners feigned delight with the madman's apparent recklessness.  One
minister proclaimed that 'God has put a hook in Sherman's nose and is
leading him to destruction.'  The old war veteran Jefferson Davis, president
of the Confederacy, pompously dismissed the idea of a march through his
country in pseudo-historical terms:

'Sherman can not keep up his long line of communications, and must retreat.
Soon or later he must, and when that day comes the fate that befell the army
of the French Empire in its retreat from Moscow will be re-enacted.  Our
cavalry and our people will harass and destroy his army.  As did the
Cossacks that of Napoleon, and the Yankee General, like him will escape with
only a bodyguard.'

"Sherman in contrast had not a doubt - neither did the majority of his men.
As he left Atlanta in flames on November 16, Sherman in fact rejoiced at the
thought  of leading 62,000 men wherever he wished:

'The day was extremely beautiful, clear sunlight, with bracing air, and an
unusual feeling of exhilaration seemed to pervade all minds - a feeling of
something to come, vague and undefined, still full of venture and intense
interest.  Even the common soldiers caught the inspiration, and many a group
called out to me as I worked my way past them, "Uncle Billy, I guess Grant
is waiting for us at Richmond"'

"Sherman continued:

'Indeed the general sentiment was that we were marching for Richmond, and
that there we should end the war, but how and when they seemed to care not;
nor did they measure the distance, or count the cost of life, or bother
their brains about the great rivers to be crossed, and the food required for
man and beast, that had to be gathered by the way.  There was a
"devil-may-care" feeling pervading officers and men, that made me feel the
full load of my responsibility, for success would be accepted as a matter of
course, whereas, should we fail, this 'march' would be adjudged the wild
adventure of a crazy fool.'

"To his superior, General Halleck, this crazy fool was more sober.  'I can
take so eccentric a course that no general can guess my objective.  Then
when you hear I am off have look-outs at Morris Island, S.C., Ossabaw sound,
GA., Pensacola and Mobile Bay.  I will turn up some where.'

"And so he did, and when he came out the hole he had entered, the fate of
the Confederacy was at last sealed.  The Iowa sergeant, Alexander Downing,
summed up the army's spirit best as they left Atlanta: 'Started early this
morning for the Southern coast, somewhere, and we don't care, so long as
Sherman is leading us.'"


The idea of starting out as Sherman did sounds really spooky to me and
dangerous.  I have a terribly poor sense of direction, hate to travel, and
haven't done much of it, but Sherman wasn't like me.  He had a superb sense
of direction and he loved travel.   In earlier years he traveled extensively
in the South.  He didn't forget the places he had been.  He knew the South
intimately.  He knew where he was going, and he was confident he could
deceive any of the Southern armies about his location at any given time.

When Eric said Liddell Hart was over-rated, I looked for him in Hanson's
bibliography and in his index.     He isn't there, and yet Hanson does quote
him here, calling him an iconoclast in the process.   Years ago I read Heinz
Guderian's Panzer Leader.  Guderian said in the volume I read that he
learned from Hart.  I later learned that Hart impacted the English version
to show Guderian favoring Hart over J. F. C. Fuller.   In the German
Guderian makes no distinction between them.  He appreciated both of them

Then too, the one biography about Hart hasn't done his reputation any good,
?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1214096559&sr=1-3   An Amazon reviewer says, "Finally
about BLH. He was a military historian and strategist that rose from the
ashes of the Great War. He was an innovator (guilty of a bit of measurable
theft). He wrote biographies of military leaders that had an ulterior
purpose that lent to a biased rendering of the biography (see my review of
Scipio Africanus). He had the ear of the highest levels of the British
Military and a few devotees among the Nazi generals. He was a warrior that
came to despise war. Later biographers implied that he was unwilling to
recognize the 'naked reality of evil" after he published flattering accounts
of his meetings with Nazi generals. In that way he reminds me of current
public figures that would treat organized terrorism as a law enforcement
problem to be resolved judicially.'"

So Eric's friend may be right, but I am not concerned with Hart's reputation
as a whole, only with what he has to say about Sherman.   Other than calling
him an iconoclast, Hanson treats him with respect, so I shall as well -
unless I hear more damaging information from Eric. 

Lawrence Helm
San Jacinto

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