One of the members of the Civil War Talk forum I belong to brought up that Union General David Hunter was infamous for his ways of handling the confederate towns he was in, including burning homes on a seemingly indiscriminate basis. My response was thus:
Steve Knott from the US Army War College at at Carlisle, Pa gave an interesting talk about JEB Stuart and the Gettysburg campaign in June of last year. And he talks about the simple equation used by military strategists. It is Power of Resistance = Means x Will. And as he stated when the Power of resistance goes to zero the war is over. Robert E Lee could not attack the North’s means as they had infinitely more so he had to attack the North’s will. And that meant he had to destroy the Army of the Potomac and therefore destroy the North’s morale. And when morale goes to zero the north goes to the peace table. After his greatest victory he was quite incensed that the Army of the Potomac was allowed to escape after Chancellorsville. He knew that the clock was always ticking for him and his army.
In retropect I think that Hunter was a buffoon and that his methods were heavy handed to say the least. But as another one of my Civil War Talk members stated “Suspension of morality is a prerequisite for war making”. The Civil War has been seen as being on the cusp between old style war where honor was involved and modern war where anything goes. It starts out in heroic Napoleanic charges and ends up in World War I’s bitter trench warfare. So what the North was doing essentially with Sheridan and Sherman was the “scorched earth” policy the followed in later wars. Destroy the opposing army but if you can’t destroy the South’s will to fight by taking out their food supply, railroads, etc. As Sherman stated (and people thought he was crazy when he told what would to expect in the war) “War is Hell”.