One of the most hated characters of all time here in the south must be General William T. Sherman, whose “March to the Sea” devastated a great deal of Georgia. It was General Sherman who was in charge of the Union forces at the battle of Kennesaw Mountain (and later Atlanta). He employed a largely untried strategy: rather than trying to maintain long supply chains that could get overextended and cut off, he launched out with the bold plan to forage and live off the land – and that’s quite an undertaking when you are talking about feeding over 100,000 soldiers. After they passed through an area, they destroyed anything that the Rebel forces might have used to strengthen or prolong their war effort. Sherman burned much of the infrastructure, and took railroad ties, heated them and then had them bent around tree trunks (“Sherman’s bow-ties”).
When we were at Kennesaw Mountain National Battlefield Park on Saturday, there was a small museum and we toured it briefly. I took today’s photo inside of the museum. It features one of the weapons of war (a cannon) with a cut-out shape of Sherman on his horse in the background. But what struck me wasn’t the cannon or cutout, but the words that accompanied the cut-out: “War is cruelty and you cannot refine it.” I suspect that, without question, truer words were never spoken.
I seriously doubt that Sherman enjoyed his reputation, nor what he did to earn it. I suspect that most generals would rather not fight wars at all, though that’s what they train to do. And when they did fight, I feel certain most would like to avoid civilian loss of life – and even the loss of life of the enemy – as much as possible. No one wants to see another human die or be blown apart, left mangled or crippled for life. Yet, must as the dilemma that Truman faced during WW2 (to use the atomic bomb on Japan, or risk a minimum of 250,000 American troop casualties that it would have taken to invade and fight on Japanese soil), Sherman felt his approach was the best way to bring the long, bloody conflict between the states to an end. And he was apparently right. The war that everyone had thought would be over in 2-3 months had lingered for 4 years with huge numbers of dead and wounded dads, sons, brothers…not to mention civilian losses.
I’m not justifying war, nor the cruelty of it. I wish wars never happened. But they do. It is a cruel, de-humanizing thing, but can it really be refined? I suspect not. If it could, it would no longer be war. It has always been my belief that if you are going to have a war, you go all out to win it as fast as possible. I suspect that is ultimately as close to refined and compassionate as one can get when it comes to war.
ON THIS DAY IN HISTORY: in 1945, US forces landed at Luzon on the Philippines.
TRIVIA FOR TODAY: brain disorders can distort smell. Epileptics often experience auras of strange odors just before having a seizure.