William T.Sherman and the Civil War

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Battles are fought and won not by the brute strength of men but by the minds and genius of their commanders. The American Civil War was decided not by the strength of the North over the South, but due to brilliance of William T.Sherman, a commander of the Union Army.

Like all good leaders, he also led from the front. Whatever burdens and struggles his men experienced, he too would share in them. For it was his belief that:

“Soldiers have a right to see and know that the man who guides them is near enough to see with his own eyes”

During his time as a training school commander, he encouraged his cadets to come speak to him and if a cadet fell sick, he would be at his bedside several times a day encouraging him.

Another aspect of his leadership was his ability to show moral courage even in difficult times. After loss at the Battle of the Bull Run where the morale of the troops was low and many soldiers wanted to be discharged, a Captain came up to him one day and casually said he was going back to his business in New York. In front of the observing men,Sherman rebuked him saying, “You are a soldier and must submit to orders till you are properly discharged. If you attempt to leave without orders it will be mutiny and I will shoot you like a dog!”. Sherman understood the laws of human nature and knew that if he had not stood his ground and asserted his authority, the rest of the soldiers would have revolted.

He also knew that the resisting power of the South was through the strength of the popular will rather than the strength of the armies. By marching through Georgia and pillaging the South, he broke the will of the Southerners.

Man has two supreme loyalties – to country and to family. And with most men, the second being the more personal is the stronger

Through the Vicksburg campaign, he realised that the way to decide wars and win battles was more by movement of troops than by fighting. His army was a “mobile machine willing and able to start at a minute’s notice and to subsist on the scanties of food”. In Liddel Hart’s words, he understood that “the way to success is strategically along the line of least expectation, and tactically along the line of least resistance.”

As long as his men could shoot, march and obey orders, and best of all use what was inside their heads, he cared nothing as to what was outside their bodies. He was a pragmatist and even the carelessness of his dressing reflected his pragmatic approach toward war. Once when he reprimanded a soldier for not changing into his uniform, he rebutted that a general with “such a hat as he had had no right to talk to him about a uniform”.┬áIn Washington, after the war, the Eastern armies marched in well-clad and well-drilled with their ranks trim and spotless. Sherman’s Western armies in sharp contrast bore travel-stained and patched uniforms, marching freely in front of the crowds.

Throughout the war, his knew what the end point was and never wavered. Inscribed on his statue in Washington, in his words:

“The legitimate object of war is a more perfect peace”

He could have pursued the war to the end and demonstrated retribution on the South. But he accepted the peace terms against the popular will and demonstrated patriotism and faith in the renewal of the country.

” Therefore, my friends now that the war is over, let us all go back to work and do what seems honest and just to restore our country to its former prosperity.”