Sherman’s Locust Strategy


This excerpt from the German-language magazine "Signal" from WW2 illustrates a concern that American "Yankee" troops in Europe might imitate the habits of the legendary war criminal Sherman. It is ironic though that the German Midwesterners of Sherman’s locusts were reportedly responsible for the worst of his pacification techniques. Nonetheless, Europeans viewed Sherman and his war crimes with horror though Spain sent General Valeriano Weyler to Cuba in 1896 to brutally subdue the native freedom fighters—Weyler as a young officer had been military attache’ at the US Spanish legation during the War Between the States and served as an observer during Sherman’s march through Georgia, absorbing his tactics and the bummers daily routines. He knew quite well how to apply the same "war is hell" antidote to the Cuban independence movement.

"I begin to regard the death and mangling of a couple of thousand men as a small affair, a kind of morning dash."
Sherman to his wife Ellen in a letter dated June 30, 1864.

Bernhard Thuersam, Executive Director
Cape Fear Historical Institute
Post Office Box 328
Wilmington, NC 28402

America’s Contribution to the Conduct of War.
The Anaconda Plan, by Walter Kiaulehn, Wehrmacht Publication, authorized by German Ministry of Propaganda.
(Hitler’s Wartime Picture Magazine, S.L. Mayer, Editor, Bison Books, 1976)

"Our method of warfare is different from that in Europe. We are not fighting against enemy armies but against an enemy people; both young and old, rich and poor must feel the iron hand of war in the same way as the organized armies. In this respect my march through Georgia was a wonderful success." General Sherman to General Grant, End of January, 1865.

Both the date and the author of this letter must appear extraordinary to every European. How could an American general write such a monstrous thing just at that particular time? The most noble minds and hearts in Europe were then making every effort to humanize warfare as far as possible.

On the other hand, a 45-year old man in Ohio, America, the son of a lawyer of Puritan descent, General William Tecumseh Sherman had invented a new warfare that was directed against the enemy people, against the civilian population. Sherman was the inventor of locust strategy. His doctrine was: Where I have been the war has ceased because all forms of life no longer exist. It involves nothing more than the suppression of humane warfare.

The cruelties of the Marquis de Sade and the atrocities perpetrated by Jack the Ripper have never led to mass suggestion. Sherman’s strategy however, has been acclaimed as classical. After carrying out his acts of cruelty as a general, Sherman was appointed commander in chief of the (army of the) United States of America. His method has become the ideal. It first infected the Anglo-Saxon world; the great von Moltke ominously predicted at the end of the century that in future wars armies would not fight against one another but peoples.

Sherman’s strategy is the art of war employed by the unsuccessful. It is necessary to bear this in mind when considering Sherman’s methods. He was unsuccessful but by no means untalented. It was his fate always to fight against enemies better than himself. He never won a success against an enemy of equal strength.

We are discussing what is known as the War of Secession. "Secessio" was what the ancient Romans used to call the effort to achieve independence. Superficially, this was being fought on the question of the abolition of slavery. Temperament and religious fanaticism converted it into one of the bloodiest massacres in history. In his book "Der Krieg ohne Gnade" (War Without Quarter), the Swiss historian Bircher says that force of arms alone could not decide the war. It was not until Sherman employed his locust strategy that the Northern States won the victory.

Sherman said it was foolish to continue the war in the manner of a usual campaign as had been the case so far. The way the war was being fought meant that you were continually dependent on the enemy. Whether you advanced or retreated, you always had to reckon with the enemy. The war could only be brought to a close by surprise operations, and such surprise operations could only be carried out if the enemy was prevented from sticking at your heels. Sherman said it was his intention to disappear without the enemy being in a position to follow him. It was necessary for him to destroy his supply base…"I will sow economic ruin throughout the country so that no soldier coming after me will find anything to eat."

Sherman consequently wrote to Grant as follows:
"Until we can repopulate Georgia, it is useless to defend it, but the complete destruction of its roads, its buildings, its population and its military resources is essential. The attempt to defend its roads costs us a thousand men every month and brings us no advantages. I can carry out the march and make Georgia howl."

The truth is that Sherman wished to act on the offensive but not against the enemy’s army. He wished to make the land of Georgia howl, not the army of Georgia of which he was afraid. He was planning a bold crime and covertly (in a letter to Grant) indicated his intention in the words "This operation is not purely military and strategic." He had become a violent criminal who wished to confer victory on his country’s politics whatever it cost the enemy. He had converted war from being an act of violence against an enemy army to an act of violence against an enemy people. He went even further and made it an act of total violence. Even violence has limits imposed on it by morality.

When he reappeared, Savannah fell and the world regarded this as a sign of Sherman’s bravery and of his military genius. During the time he spent in Georgia, Sherman enriched the history of tactics by only one feature, but that alone should have sufficed to exclude him from the company of gentlemen. He had prisoners of war put on carts which had to drive along in front of his own troops. If they were blown up, Sherman knew that a minefield lay ahead. He answered all protests against his cruel treatment of defenseless people with the icy coldness characteristic of all his writings."