Sherman's Ghosts: Soldiers, Civilians, and the American Way of War
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Sherman’s Ghosts opens with an epic retelling of General Sherman’s fateful decision to turn his sights on the South’s civilian population in order to break the back of the Confederacy. Acclaimed journalist Matthew Carr then exposes how this strategy became the central preoccupation of war planners in the twentieth century and beyond, offering a stunning and lucid assessment of the impact Sherman’s slash-and-burn policies have had on subsequent wars, including in the Philippines, World War II, Korea, Vietnam, and even Iraq and Afghanistan.
In riveting accounts of military campaigns and in the words and writings of American fighting men and military strategists, Carr finds ample and revealing evidence of Sherman’s long shadow. Sherman’s Ghosts is a rare reframing of how we understand our violent history and a call to action for those who hope to change it.
for more than sixty miles around, totally uncultivated and barren, remaining bare even to this present day.”1 “Ravaging” expeditions in which foraging was indistinguishable from plunder were a well-established tactic of medieval European warfare, one that was often radically at odds with the prevailing mythology of knightly chivalrous war. The late twelfth- or early thirteenth-century Chanson des Lorrains describes a typical spectacle of military depredation that would not have been unfamiliar
that future wars should follow the Civil War campaigns of Sherman and Sheridan and take the form of “direct attacks on the enemy economic forces.”24 For Frost and for many military strategists in the interwar years, attacks on economic targets not only offered a potential solution to the strategic deadlock of industrialized warfare, but also pointed the way toward a less destructive form of war than the bloody stalemate of World War I. One of the most influential exponents of this view was the
allies in the 1980s. In Afghanistan in the same period, the Red Army conducted a brutal war against the Afghan mujahideen in which rural villages were bombed, and their crops, wells, and water supply poisoned or destroyed as a policy of food denial to the guerrillas that was collective punishment of the entire population. Guerrillas, terrorists, and other “non-state agents” have often adopted their own small-scale forms of total war that make no distinction between combatants and noncombatants
schools and recruited new teachers, built new roads and banned gambling, marijuana, cocaine, and cockfighting, and vaccinated much of the population against smallpox before it was abruptly brought to an end. This little-known episode embodied the same combination of “coercion and attraction” employed during the Philippine-American War that has become as much a part of the American way of war as blowing things up and killing people. In Military Government (1920), Colonel Harry A. Smith argued
Lee’s invading armies in Pennsylvania to “wage war, even as it has been waged against us, sparing neither public nor private property, but ravaging and destroying in every direction.” Lee did not respond to these exhortations and placed his troops under strict orders to pay the local population for food and supplies. These orders were more or less obeyed, but such restraint was not always present. Confederate bushwhackers had no compunctions about shooting at passenger trains or