DBQ: The Civil War-Total War
What impact did the military strategy of Total War have on the people of the South during the Civil War?
Union General William Tecumseh Sherman implemented a strategy of total war during his “march to the sea” in 1864. The concept of total war called for expanding military targets to include civilian economic resources.
Use your knowledge of the Civil War and Documents A, B, C, and D to answer questions 1 through 4.
“Sherman’s Atlanta campaign in May to September 1864 won the Confederate prize that ensured Lincoln’s reelection that year. Sherman ordered a civilian evacuation of Atlanta, burned anything of any military value, and in November headed out of the city on his famous ‘march to the sea’. More than any other Civil War commander, Sherman grasped the brutal logic of total war. In such a war, civilian morale and economic resources are as much military targets as the enemy’s armies. For Sherman, war unleashed the fury of hell, and he refused to sentimentalize the killing and pillaging required for victory.”
-William L. Barney, the Reader’s Companion to American History
“Citizens of Atlanta Leaving the City in Compliance with General Sherman’s Orders.”
“Many people on both sides believed that the war would be short-one or two battles and the cowardly Yankee or slovenly rebels would give up…Responsible leaders on both sides did not share the popular faith in a short war. Yet even they could not foresee the kind of conflict this war would become – a total war, requiring total mobilization of men and resources, destroying these men and resources on a massive scale, and ending only with unconditional surrender. In the spring of 1861 most northern leaders thought in terms of a limited war. Their purpose was not to conquest the South but to suppress insurrection and win back the latent loyalty of the southern people. The faith in southern unionism lingered long.
-James M. McPerhson, Battle Cry of Freedom
“William Tecumseh Sherman was considered one of the ablest generals in the Federal army, but he was a cruel one…His celebrated march through Georgia put a stain upon his name that will cling to it as it is found upon the ages of history…With his grand army of veterans, almost unopposed, he had overrun and desolated that fairest section of the South, burning cities, town, and country dwellings; had wantonly destroyed many millions of dollars worth of property, both public and private; had made thousands of women and children and aged men homeless and destitute by burning their homes and destroying their means of subsistence. And it was to glorify him for these deeds of barbarism that ‘Marching through Georgia’ was written, and it is for this that it is sung.”
-Milford Overly, “What Marching Thorough Georgia’ Means”
1. The authors of Documents A and C define total war as what? (What is their opinion?)
2. Which of the documents focuses on southerners reacting to total war? Explain
3. According to Document A, why might Sherman have refused to “sentimentalize” total war?
4. Writing Task: What impact did the military strategy of total war have on the people of the South during the Civil War? Use your knowledge of the war and specific evidence from the primary sources above to support your opinion.