Take a look even today at a map of the Southeastern United States – like Rome of old, all roads lead to Atlanta.  So it was when the city fell to Union troops on September 2, 1864, to be followed by Sherman’s famous (or infamous, if you are a “Lost Cause” romantic) march to the sea.  In the larger scheme of things; i.e. political, economic and psychological,  the fall of Atlanta had far more significance than either the battle of Gettysburg or the fall of Vicksburg; the two events most hailed as turning points.  Before its fall, Lincoln was about to be beaten in the presidential election by George McClellan, who was running on a platform of accommodation with the Confederacy. Before its fall and the march to the sea, most of the South’s railroads and manufacturing (such as they were) were still in operation.  Before its fall, desertion in the Confederate armies was at least somewhat manageable.  All of that changed, and the end of the war was in sight.

At the war’s commencement, most on both sides thought it would be quick and glory-filled – but not Sherman. When he received news of South Carolina’s secession he was with his friend and fellow faculty member (of what is LSU today) David French Boyd. Boyd recalled that “Cump” was in tears, and in outburst gave the following warning:

You people of the South don’t know what you are doing. This country will be drenched in blood, and God only knows how it will end. It is all folly, madness; a crime against civilization!

You people speak so lightly of war; you don’t know what you are talking about. War is a terrible thing! You mistake too, the people of the North. They are a peaceable people but an earnest people, and they will fight too. They are not going to let this country be destroyed without a mighty effort to save it….

Besides, where are your men and appliances of war to contend against them? The North can make a steam engine, locomotive, or railway car; hardly a yard of cloth or a pair of shoes can you make. You are rushing into war with one of the most powerful, ingeniously mechanical, and determined people on earth – right at your doors.

You are bound to fail. Only in your spirit and determination are you prepared for war. In all else you are totally unprepared, with a bad cause to start with. At first you will make headway, but as your limited resources begin to fail, shut out from the markets of Europe as you will be, your cause will begin to wane. If your people will but stop and think, they must see in the end that you will surely fail.

Most of us have heard or read that Sherman often said that “war is hell,” but his clearest statement upon the subject can be found in his letter in response to the City Counsel of Atlanta’s protest of his evacuation orders, where he wrote,

“You cannot qualify war in harsher terms than I will. War is cruelty, and you cannot refine it…. You might as well appeal against the thunder storm as against these terrible hardships of war.”

What looms upon our horizon today, to which we should apply such clarity of mind and purpose? There is this: A dragon has awakened on the other side of the world. A nation in the vice-grip of totalitarian communists and a population of 1.4 billion has set its sights on becoming the world’s premier superpower.  It is signaling its march on all fronts – military, economic, diplomatic, technological and psychological – through its shift to “wolf warrior” tactics.

It is allying itself with our global opponents such as Iran and Cuba, and threatening allies such as Taiwan, Japan and Australia. Its naval ships now outnumber ours and we are only now beginning to wake up.

Only by a show of strength and foresight on all fronts can we hope to avoid a devastating third world war, while blunders and blindness can only guarantee one. Then if by chance – or the hand of Providence – the Chinese people themselves throw off their shackles and establish a course towards the rule of law, respect of human rights and of property, we can say to them as Sherman wrote to the City Counsel of Atlanta:

“But my dear sirs, when peace does come, you may call upon [us] for anything.  Then [we] will share with you the last cracker, and watch with you to shield your homes and families against danger from every quarter.”