Left to right, Ann Toplovich, Executive Director of the Tennessee Historical Society; Doug Jones, President of the Battle of Nashville Preservation Society; Jeanne Marszalek and John Marszalek; and Mac Mellor, BONPS Program Director.

Gen. William T. Sherman and the Birth of Destructive Warfare in Tennessee, by Historian John Marszalek
The destructive warfare waged on Georgia and the Carolinas in 1864-65 by Gen. William Tecumsah Sherman was formulated during his earlier experiences in Tennessee, according to one of the general’s biographers.

About 70 people attended the Nov. 20, 2003 lecture on “Sherman and the Birth of Destructive War in Tennessee” by noted historian John Marszalek at Lipscomb University’s Shamblin Theater. The lecture was sponsored by BONPS, the Tennessee Historical Society, and the university’s Dept. of History, Politics and Philosophy.

Marszalek, retired professor at Mississippi State University, is the author of Sherman: A Soldier’s Passion for Order and Sherman’s Other War: The General and the Civil War Press.

In December 1863, following the fall of Vicksburg and the battles for Chattanooga, Sherman came to Union-occupied Nashville and formulated a plan to wreak havoc on the Southern economy and society. At Nashville, he received Gen. U.S. Grant’s permission to conduct that campaign.

In February 1864 Sherman executed his plan—the highly destructive Mississippi raid from Vicksburg to Jackson to Meridian, which served as the precursor to his more famous March to the Sea in Georgia later that year.

During his stay in Nashville, Sherman had almost created a riot when he and Grant and several other Union generals attended a theater performance of Hamlet. A devotee of Shakespeare, Sherman thought the acting of the performers atrocious and loudly proclaimed his feelings, provoking many of the Union soldiers in attendance. The generals whisked Sherman out of the theater before any violence erupted.

Sherman had entered the war as a conventional officer, a graduate of West Point who believed that armies should fight armies under strict rules of engagement and that civilians should “stay out of the way.”

However, after Sherman’s duty as military governor in Memphis in 1862, his inherent disdain for disorder drove him to change his tactics. At that time, the Confederate armies had been driven deep into Mississippi and his main problem was Southern guerillas, irregulars, and partisans who were “waging a war of terror against Union troops and loyalists.”

Particularly irksome to Sherman was the practice of guerillas firing upon steamboats from the banks of the river, even firing on steamboats carrying only civilians.

In September 1862, he ordered the village of Randolph, Tenn. burned to the ground in retaliation for a guerilla attack on a supply train.

Sherman had changed his tactics, believing that the destruction of property would break down the South’s will to fight and would result in fewer human casualities than pursing a series of bloody battles such as Shiloh and Chickamauga.

As the father of psychological warfare, Sherman revolutionized American warfare, said Marszalek. He was the first general to apply this type of warfare on a strategic scale, and he first learned it in Tennessee.

Sherman did not fare well in conventional battle. Marszalek noted that Sherman was not a good tactical combat general, that he lacked the killer instinct, and he tried to avoid battle and loss of life. He often tried to outmanuver his enemy.

Sherman shunned politics after the war, even though he came from a political background. He abhorred disorder. He did not like the “give-and-take” of politics. He saw politicians as disorderly people. “He would have made a terrible President, absolutely terrible,” said Marszalek.

Marszalek is currently working on a book on Union Gen. Henry Halleck, which is scheduled for publication in 2004 by Harvard University Press.

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