Sherman in Gaza

His march through Georgia has been gravely misunderstood ― as has Israel’s strategy in Gaza.

by Victor Davis Hanson // National Review Online


Share This

39 thoughts on “Sherman in Gaza”

  1. Raymond Fleischman

    I just got a coy of Sherman’s Memoirs and only a bit into it he seems to have a grand sense of humor and a competent chronologist. I was disappointed to see that it only goes to just past the Civil War. I would like to read something objective about his whole career. Could you recommend something for the layman not the scholar?

    1. A new biography of Sherman titled “Fierce Patriot” does a nice job of describing his postwar life. He was Army commander for 10 years and basically built the transcontinental railroad, surveying the route and fighting Indians in the path. General Dodge, his chief of engineering for his army, was the chief railroad engineer. Many of the railroad builders were veterans of his army.

  2. Alan Biesenkamp

    I disagree about Sherman freeing slaves. He did everything in his power to avoid slaves as he had neither the resources or time to feed and care for them (or interest). He at one point pulled a bridge up to strand the groups of slaves following the Army. Raymond, try “Citizen Sherman”; I forget the author’s name but it should be on Amazon.

  3. Such an incredibly well informed post in terms of civil war strategy appears to me uninformed about what actually happened in Gaza. Have you seen the bombing maps of Gaza? Very few parts of Gaza were untouched. I would caution against swallowing the Israeli account hook line and sinker, as they have a propaganda interest in portraying themselves a certain way.

    The civil war is also an example of a war that was not entirely successful. The war was won militarily, but as anyone can tell from a quick glance at the fissures in American society that remained for generations and exist to this day, the extent of the victory remains an open question. Should IDF really be modeling its actions off such a “victory”?

    1. Dr. Hanson’s take on the IDF’s actions in Gaza is correct. The fact that ” Very few parts of Gaza were untouched” does not contradict the fact that incredible care was taken to limit targeting to only those that could humiliate or degrade the Hamas. To prove the point, when the first sustained cease fire broke, the Israeli’s began to target high-ranking Hamas leadership, and high rise buildings (after residents were warned and left). Thus they upped the ante and another cease fire went into effect this evening.

      None of the attacks were indiscriminate, for the targeting of non Hamas affiliated individuals would only hurt Israeli War aims, as Dr. Hanson so brilliantly analogizes with General Sherman’s ‘March to the Sea.

  4. It must be noted that the “patrimonies” of the South referred to whose destruction or debunking so enraged Southerners can be mirrored to a factor of ten in the Arabic hatred of Israelis who have not once, but many times defeated Islamic Manhood on the Battlefield.
    And Islamic Manhood is the very CORE of their Faith.

  5. Rodrigo Castalan

    It should also be remembered that Sherman was one of the few generals who knew precisely how the war was going to go from its outset.

    He had no illusions of the chivalry and romanticism promulgated in the South about the glories of battle and war even as their young men were rotting in fields far from home. And in considering whether those romantic notions extended any further than Southern propaganda, see how the South treated its prisoners of war. It is one thing to wave the hankies and sing Dixie as the boys march off to war, and another entirely to treat the sad fellows who’ve surrendered to your army honorably in a fight to mass starvation and absolute sanitary hell.

    Perhaps most significantly, the official chronology has the city of Atlanta catching fire slowly and in an unplanned fashion, late in the day after Sherman’s men had marched out. The notion of Sherman’s burning the city intentionally is so much nonsense, a romantic propaganda sticker slapped over the reality of the looting and chaos in a city absent any authority hierarchy after the Union army moved on.

  6. The intellect of Dr. Hanson, hits home again as he puts us in Sherman’s shoes and models us into Pattons. One should look at the forever slump in Gaza. In my latest work, I compare and contrast Sherman with Ambrose Burnside. Why is Sherman the better General? Let the critic decide as they have done here. Gaza is being overwhelmed by this modern day Sherman of necessity. I think Victor can see the Greek-style crisis any day now with “Citizen Sherman.” I have said it countless times over and over again, although not well known as a historian and a nobody that wishes he was a somebody, I have called Victor not only the Savior General of Americanism but also someone who knows the General’s and their ideologies.. Who call the shots better than the commanders. The Buffalo Soldier were an Antietam, they charged at Fredericksburg and Gettysburg, Sherman commanded and wrote his memoirs, but like Patton they never kneeled long as subordinates to conflict. “God was with the Generals who commanded and the boys who fail.” A General who gives the order to fix bayonets and knows that he will be killed with his troops shows much more cause for comrades…..

  7. Victor,
    I find fault with Sherman in some ways. What I have read about Sherman shows that he was opposed to commanding African American troops, Grant’s Total War ideology butted heads with Sherman. Sherman mind is nevertheless extremely interesting as are your writing on him. I like to compare and contrast Burnside with Sherman. Why? Burnside was a hard-luck commander out of favor with his superiors, Fort Pegram was the closets point on the Confederate line defending Petersburg the last defense of Richmond by tunneling forward from the Union position beneath the fort to explode its defenses. Burnside need the USCT’s for one desperate rush. Burnside was all guts and not glory. The comparison was that Sherman too little risks in harm’s way. Lincoln knew the difference. What was an honest account of the frontal war during the Civil War? Comparing and contrasting the Generals of the Civil War is a broad and interesting topic, but cowardly Generals lived to see the Wars end. Frontal assaults in themselves are the reasons why Civil Wars show the stupidity of those who march into conflict. Had he not meet his demise perhaps Burnside would have out shadowed Sherman who refused to command African-American troops.

  8. We know VDH knows that Sherman did not care for the Buffalo Soldiers and commanding them, but being a General of the North mean’t that he was in favor of freeing the slaves. 600,000 dead and 400,000 wounded Sherman and all involved would agree at the end of the war that whatever measures were needed must be taken into account to stop the evils of the Civil War. Slavery was not just the cause or common defense of war in the North or the South, but it was the emotions that ran through the vines of the northerner and the southerner that pitted brother against brother. The Cain vs. Abel of Cause and effect. VDH, as always makes an interesting case for the First Stormin Norman of American Generalship…….
    jwc…….c.f.p. i.

  9. Christian Speicher

    I am afraid that killing a lot of young Islamists will be neccessary in the future for the war against this new form of facism to be won. At the same time that Israel is destroying the property of Hamas henchmen in Gaza it is deliverying trucksloads of food, water and energy to its enemies. Billions of Dollars are given annually by well meaning and fearsome westeners to the failed states of the middle east, to Pakistan and Afghanistan. If a western army is fighting against mass murdering Islamists it always does it with at least one arm tied behind the back. That way a lot of Muslim “youths” do no need to get up and go to work to live or wory too much to be killed if they act aggressively and warlike, but can dream the dream of glorious Jihad and the Khalifat instead. I do not see why we should enable and pamper these new barbarians any more than Southern slave owners or German Nazis. It would be a blessing for the whole world to reduce their numbers drastically.

    1. Your post is spot on. Can one imagine how much less violence coming from Gaza there would be if Hamas actually had to spend money and be responsible for feeding, providing electricity to, and educating the people of Gaza? They wouldn’t be able to afford paying their militants, building tunnels, and producing rockets. If it weren’t for the U.N and western countries picking up the tab for much of the basic necessities in Gaza, Hamas would think twice about attacking Israel.

      I think that VDH is correct that some residents of Gaza will question their leaders after the war is over. However, I do not think the war will change the strategic picture without destroying more civilian infrastructure to the point at which the willpower of the civilian population to support Hamas will end.

  10. What a great, riveting read that wasn’t too far over my head. All of this comports with my personal observations of human nature and with my (meager, but growing thanks to VDH) knowledge of history. I also love Sherman’s sly reference to Proverbs and elsewhere in Scripture – “fear is the beginning of wisdom…” – as Martin Luther would say: This is most certainly true.

    Thank you for all that you continually do, VDH. Love your Wednesday chats with Greg Garrison and occasional spots on Batchelor. Your abilty and genuine desire to commune with mere earthlings contending with the deadly toxic culture/media/academic complex is dearly appreciated and inspiring. I am certain I speak for many 100s of thousands. Please don’t ever lose your pen or your phone ; ) Take up bowling instead of biking will you please? ~signed, Mom

  11. Have we come full circle since the Civil War? It is my understanding that Lee would not tolerate war against civilians, except to forage to support his army. Sherman’s march was seen as an unprecedented action against civilians that, in the minds of southern civilians, was an atrocity. In World War II, we were attempting to avoid bombing civilians until a German bomber pilot mistakenly dropped his load on London, and the British unloaded on Berlin. By the end of the war, allied air power laid waste to German cities and civilians, and we more or less ruined several of Japan’s most populous cities with incendiary bombing, culminating with the use of nuclear weapons on two Japanese cities that killed far less civilians than the incendiary bombings. We call the folks that made this happen the Greatest Generation. Today, such an action by the US would be condemned by friend and foe. By the time of the most recent wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, it had become, in the eyes of the world, a despicable act to even accidently kill any significant number of civilians, particularly if the US or Israel was responsible for these deaths. Where will the pendulum swing next.

  12. The UN more than Hamas represents the “plantationist class” within Gaza. Their “romantic” claim is they constitute a moral authority and can do no wrong. My view is that the UN by means of funding supports Hamas’ war effort regardless of intententions labelled as humanitarian. How can Israel confront the UN?

  13. I’ve often wondered about the Arab cultural self-identification as fearsome warriors. Recently, I’ve been wondering whether ISIS’s brutality and savagery isn’t, in some sense, a reaction to the humiliating deficiencies and defeats at the hands of the West. An effort to recover, in some sense, the crown of fearsome warrior.

    I agree that a more thorough and prolonged defeat would be more effective at disabusing the Arabs of this misguided self-assessment and, hopefully, aid in helping them reconsider aspects of their culture that leave them on the outside looking in, in the 21st C.

    I find it sad and ironic that the Progressive view on war actually sustains conflict and increases casualties by denying the West the strategies and tactics necessary to bring finality to a conflict.

  14. Wayne Fairclough

    Interesting but culture is crucial to this argument.

    Can we draw inferences from the response of one culture to another?

  15. There is a very stark difference between General Sherman, the Generals of the IDF and the Arabs: Sherman wasn’t fighting a foe inspired by a religious premise, only an interfamilial war based on a premise of liberty. The IDF, rooted in a non to irreligious foundation refuses to accept the religious premise that inspires its Muslim Arab foe, and so fights as if it is Sherman come back to life.

    The Arabs were humiliated by their loss in 1948 and 1956. They were horribly humiliated and embarrassed by their pummeling in 1967. But the Arab populations never lost their bellicose rhetoric calling for the eradication of Jews and destruction of the Zionist state. No amount of personal property loss has kept the Muslim population from attempting to attain this goal. In this quest they are sustained by foreign money. Not Arab oil money, per se, which feeds the basic needs of the Arab population, but European and North American donations, that enable the fighting capacity of the Muslim holy warriors. In this the Christian West hopes to finalize the nearly attained goals that a thousand years of Anti-Semitism in Europe wrought: The Final Solution. The failure of the Holocaust has kept Europeans from actively acknowledging the underlying reason for funding Gaza. It has not eradicated the ant-Semitism inbred for a thousand years.

    Only the religiously oriented Jews in Israel and around the world know this to be fact and not paranoia.

  16. Alan, you confuse freeing the slaves and taking responsibility for them afterwards. They are not the same concepts. The armies of the day had camp followers in the form of families. Those followers were fed by the army. The army was responsible for their safety. By freeing the slaves to do whatever they wanted – and not taking on responsibility to feed – care – protect them – was to place additionalsignificant burdens on the South as a whole, a burden he did not want (nor could) take on.

  17. HAMAS recently shoot some of their people as “spies” or “collaborators”. It could be these were the first civilians to ask why they were suffering, and used as human shields. If the non HAMAS Palestinians noted that the Israelis were restricting their attacks to the leaders of HAMAS, then the best thing to do is to tell the Israelis were the HAMAS leadership was located. These executions were an attempt to head that off. Let’s see how well it works.

  18. Very interesting. Particularly, “We tend to hate most deeply in war those who despoil us of our romance, especially when they humiliate rather than kill us — and teach us the lesson that the louder and more bellicose often prove the more craven and weak.”

    Do you think this has any application to our experiences in the Middle East and what we are doing right now? If so, how can we apply those principles?

  19. Hi, Mr Hanson!

    I found your brief essay about Sherman and the IDF to be fascinating and brilliantly illuminating. It speaks to what B. H. Liddell Hart ( ) would have called the “upper grand strategy” to be found in both instances. He and J.F.C. Fuller laid the intellectual foundations that the Germans used for their doctrine of Blitzkrieg in WWII.

    This upper grand strategy you outline by Sherman and the IDF prompts me to ask what about upper grand strategy can be applied to our current political situation. You see, if war is the extension of policy by other means, then a strong case can be made that politics can be an extension of war by other means. Can we as advocates for America against Progressives mount our own Sherman’s March to the Sea against the intellectual hinterland of Progressivism? I suspect we can, but you thoughts on this should be very valuable.

    Thank you for your work and your attention to my email! 🙂

  20. Would that I could write so well. Brilliant article that shows just how blind we are to the civilized, albeit necessary and brutal actions of the IDF. There is no textbook on how to fight stateless terrorism. Be it Israel with Hamas, or the western world against ISIS, these entities must be destroyed, for the just to prevail.

  21. Later in his career Sherman led many battles, as I recall, against Indians. He is reputedly the originator of the statement that “the only good Indian is a dead Indian.”

    1. Actually that quote was allegedly made by Gen. Phil Sheridan… and is a misquote anyway. One story goes, when asked by a reporter if he ever met any good indians he replied, “The only good one was the last one, and he was dead.”

  22. Like the comparison.

    Hamas’ purpose and leadership even worse than the South’s. Hope they shrivel and die.

    The difference is Islam is the cause and it is not going away. Slavery and its plantation class ended.

    This will be a long, long war.

  23. Charles Bracelen Flood wrote a dual biography of Grant and Sherman. I don’t remember the title but it should be easy to find. It covers the post-Civil War years as well as the war, and is wonderfully well written.

  24. If anyone is interested in getting a fuller understanding of Sherman I would point out his own correspondance with family, friends, associates. It’s a wonderful read of this complex human being. Very lengthy, often redundant, but man, he brings all aspects of the civil war to life.

    Sherman’s Civil War : selected correspondence of William T. Sherman, 1860-1865 / edited by Brooks D. Simpson and Jean V. Berlin. pub. 1999.

  25. Such a wonderful article. But if VDH is right, should Israel not be finding a way to target Qatar? It would seem to me that they and their oil fields are the equivalent to the rich plantations of the south.

  26. Wolfgang Hebold

    Great article describing the new strategy of the IDF – but nobody notice this shift from targeting only military objects to targeting the sources of the so called asymmetric warfare. The IDA is systematically destroying houses und other civil installations making the the arabs in Gaza feel the punishment of their decision to support the Hamas. But the civilians are the center piece of the asymmetric warfare. If they suffer to much, they will refuse fighting any longer. The other point is: Five times Israel accepted a ceasefire proposed by Cairo on conditions the Hamas would obviously not accept. Again and again the IDF stopped their attacks only to continue the bombing and shelling immediately after the Hamas sent more mortar shells and rockets. So the Hamas was as the result of a nice timing the aggressor even for the public in the west. But probably the most important point of this stop and go warfare was: The 50 days of war showed no real peak of the fightings but and endless repetition, so the public in the west lost its interest. In a way it was a war of attrition in the age of asymmetric warfare. Well executed, Mister Netanjahu.

  27. What a powerful and riveting read! Now think of George Will’s comment re if Lincoln, Grant and Sheridab had to fight the Civil War with today’s media coverage and the concept of “proportionate” responses to moves by Lee & Co.0-we would still have slavery.

  28. Americans, especially those educated in the post Vietnam Wat years, and the liberal media-are grossly ignorant of their own history and the tactics used in the Civil War and World war II. Lincoln ordered a blockade of all southern ports, Aside from Sherman’s march thru Georgia and South Carolina, Sheridan destroyed the Shenandoah Valley-which was a breadbasket for Lee’s forces. In WW2, the US bombed Germany and engaged in unconditional submarine war as well dropped two nuclear weapons on Japanese cities-whch saved hundreds of thousands of American lives and broke the will of Japan to engage in kamikaze attacks. War is both an extension of a nation’s foreign policy, and is hell.

  29. Very interesting ideas-I was unaware of the motives behind Gen. Sherman’s march. And, perhaps the IDF strategy involved some of this. But there are some very sobering facts: the tunnels still exist, hamas has plenty of rockets, and the fear that caused some tens of thousands of Israeli residents to flee their homes in the south is still existent. It’s as if Israel will just go from round to round, only hamas will get stronger and more accurate rockets-it’s a pretty unbearable situation. So, Dr. Hanson, how does this figure in (I don’t mean to be snide, but I have family in Israel and am very concerned about the safety of the country).

  30. A neo-con flak (Victor David Hanson) supporting a war criminal (Sherman whose crimes also extended to the Native Americans) and a criminal regime. All goes together nicely.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *