Digital History

The Civil War

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Digital History ID 3089



Initially, Lincoln and his generals anticipated a conventional war in which Union soldiers would respect civilians' property. Convinced that there was residual unionist support in the South, they expected to preserve the South's economic base, including its factories and rail lines. But as the war dragged on, the Civil War became history's first total war, a war in which the Union sought the Confederacy's total defeat and unconditional surrender. To achieve success, Union officers such as Ulysses S. Grant and William Tecumseh Sherman believed that it was necessary to break the South's will to fight. Sherman summed up the idea of total war in blunt terms: "We are not only fighting hostile armies," he declared in 1864, "but a hostile people, and must make old and young, rich and poor, feel the hard hand of war."

A year earlier, a general order was issued that declared that military necessity "allows of all destruction of property" and "appropriation of whatever an enemy's country affords necessary for the subsistence and safety of the Army." This order allowed soldiers to destroy anything that might be of use to the Confederacy.

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