“In North America, European influence had always dominated and this logically included modes of warfare mostly in accordance with European standards. There were of course departures from this but usually armies fought each other rather than terrorizing civilian populations – the war with Mexico being an example which did not revert to total war against noncombatants.
In his book “Advance to Barbarism, F.J.P. Veale writes: “. . . the first historic break with European practice . . . took place in the sanguinary American Civil War (or “The War Between the States,” as the Southerners still prefer to designate it). It was the Northern or Federal armies which produced this historic reversion to primary or total warfare. The North had endured much more bellicose contact with the Red Indians and was much less influenced by Europe than the South.” (C.C. Nelson, 1953, pg. 121)
Veale finds “the traditional habit of saddling [Sherman with the] Northern departure from civilized warfare” unjust. He saw that “Sherman only executed the most dramatic and devastating example of the strategy which was laid down by President Lincoln himself and was followed by General Ulysses S. Grant as commander-in-chief of the Northern armies.
Veale continues: “That Lincoln determined the basic lines of Northern military strategy has been well-established . . . [and] Grant only efficiently applied Lincoln’s military policy in the field. [Professor Harry T. Williams writes that Grant] “grasped the . . . concept that war was becoming total and that the destruction of the enemy’s economic resources was as effective and legitimate a form of warfare as the destruction of his armies.”
Hence it is apparent that Sherman was only carrying out effectively the military policy which Lincoln and Grant had adopted (pg. 122).