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02.07.13 Walters, John B., Merchant of Terror: General Sherman and Total War, published in 1973 by Bobbs-Merrill Company.

Notes Concerning the Author

Dr. John B. Walters, Jr. received his B.A., M.A., and Ph.D. degrees from Vanderbilt University.  In 1957 he came to Alabama College and became the chairman of the Social Science Division.  He was later Dean of the college, which is now known as the University of Montevallo.


This book is a concise, scholarly, well written account of the military career of Federal General William Tecumseh Sherman during the War Between the States, tracing the development of his policy and practice of total war and terrorism, much of which targeted largely defenseless civilian populations.

In a brief biographical sketch, the author touches on influences in Sherman’s youth that led him to oppose State Secession and to regard the Federal Government as supreme over the States.  Among other things, it was Sherman’s belief in “the best government that ever was” that gave him the motivation and justification to wage a “hard war” against the seceded States, and to call secession “folly, madness, a crime against civilization!”   

After rising to the rank of general during the war, Sherman wrote a letter to Major R. M. Sawyer in which he contended that the people of the southern States were a separate people, despite the fact that they had shared a common government with the northern States, and that the war was “essentially a war of races.”  The general went on to point out the folly of State Secession, and stated his belief about the causes of the war: “I believe that this war is the result of false political doctrine . . . namely, that any and every people have a right to self-government.”  Such a view certainly contradicted the principles of the men who signed America’s Declaration of Independence.  Sherman also believed that the poorer classes of the South would soon discover “the error of their ways” and be grateful for a strong central government, adding that the “political nonsense” of such things as “slave rights, State rights, freedom of conscience, freedom of press, and other such trash…” had “deluded the Southern people into war . . . .”  In the same letter, Sherman asserted that the Federal Government could rightfully take the property, and even the life, of anyone who resisted its authority.

Sherman spent part of his life in the southern States, and evidently formed sincere attachments to some friends and associates, yet during the war, he manifested an unmistakable, venomous hatred toward those whom he considered to be in “rebellion” against a “righteous government,” even to the point of expressing genocidal sentiments, writing to his wife in July 1862, for instance, that his purpose in the war was the “extermination” of the people of the seceded States.  

Merchant of Terror . . . recounts Sherman’s campaigns in Kentucky, Mississippi, and Tennessee, and devotes chapters to his most infamous “marches” through Georgia and South Carolina.  At Atlanta in 1864, Sherman’s artillery shelled the city without notice, deliberately aiming over the Confederate lines of defense and sending deadly fire into the residential and business districts inhabited by thousands of civilians.  The following year, the people of South Carolina, the “original secessionists,” were targeted for a particularly brutal and destructive treatment by his army.  Walters wrote that Sherman’s troops “destroyed and wrecked South Carolina with a thoroughness and deliberation that arose out of pure hatred for that state.”

Walters draws on many contemporary accounts by eyewitnesses to and victims of these destructive “acts of terror,” and, in a moving and eloquent epilogue, he examines their moral and human cost, and bitter legacy. 

Availability of the Book

Merchant of Terror, General Sherman and Total War, is out of print, but used copies can be found.  Suggest Amazon and similar outlet.  Don’t be fooled by a more recent book (1992) with a similar title.  Walters’ book deserves to be reprinted, and should be read by everyone interested in the unvarnished truth about a most destructive, cruel and unnecessary war.