Best Defense

Thomas E. Ricks' daily take on national security.

1st thoughts on Gen. William Sherman’s memoirs: Clarity in writing and warfare

When I was in Austin I picked up for $2.50 a used copy of both volumes of the memoirs of General William T. Sherman.  The first thing that struck me was how clear his writing is, especially in issuing orders. In that he was like Grant, but I think maybe even better in expressing his ...

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When I was in Austin I picked up for $2.50 a used copy of both volumes of the memoirs of General William T. Sherman

The first thing that struck me was how clear his writing is, especially in issuing orders. In that he was like Grant, but I think maybe even better in expressing his intent. Here, for example, is part of his order for his march across Georgia, in which he set off with about 60,000 and almost no supplies.

In districts and neighborhoods where the army is unmolested, no destruction of property should be permitted; but should guerrillas or bushwhackers molest our march, or should the inhabitants burn bridges, obstruct roads, or otherwise manifest local hostility, then army commanders should order and enforce a devastation more or less relentless.

When I was in Austin I picked up for $2.50 a used copy of both volumes of the memoirs of General William T. Sherman

The first thing that struck me was how clear his writing is, especially in issuing orders. In that he was like Grant, but I think maybe even better in expressing his intent. Here, for example, is part of his order for his march across Georgia, in which he set off with about 60,000 and almost no supplies.

In districts and neighborhoods where the army is unmolested, no destruction of property should be permitted; but should guerrillas or bushwhackers molest our march, or should the inhabitants burn bridges, obstruct roads, or otherwise manifest local hostility, then army commanders should order and enforce a devastation more or less relentless.

Like a good counterinsurgent, he wanted to visit his wrath on the intransigent while sparing the friendlies and the neutrals, telling soldiers they should be “discriminating … between the rich, who are usually hostile, and the poor and industrious, usually neutral or friendly.”

Thomas E. Ricks covered the U.S. military from 1991 to 2008 for the Wall Street Journal and then the Washington Post. He can be reached at ricksblogcomment@gmail.com. Twitter: @tomricks1

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