The speed and efficiency of the destruction by Sherman’s army was remarkable. The practice of bending rails around trees, leaving behind what came to be known as Sherman’s neckties
, made repairs difficult. Accusations that civilians were targeted and war crimes
were committed on the march have made Sherman a controversial figure to this day, particularly in the South
The damage done by Sherman was almost entirely limited to the destruction of property. Though exact figures are not available, the loss of civilian life appears to have been very small. Consuming supplies, wrecking infrastructure, and undermining morale were Sherman’s stated goals, and several of his Southern contemporaries noted this and commented on it. For instance, Alabama-born Major Henry Hitchcock, who served in Sherman’s staff, declared that “it is a terrible thing to consume and destroy the sustenance of thousands of people”, but if the scorched earth strategy served “to paralyze their husbands and fathers who are fighting … it is mercy in the end.”
The severity of the destructive acts by Union troops was significantly greater in South Carolina than in Georgia or North Carolina. This appears to have been a consequence of the animosity among both Union soldiers and officers to the state that they regarded as the “cockpit of secession”. One of the most serious accusations against Sherman was that he allowed his troops to burn the city of Columbia.
In 1867, Gen. O.O. Howard, commander of Sherman’s 15th Corps, reportedly said, “It is useless to deny that our troops burnt Columbia, for I saw them in the act.”  However, Sherman himself stated that “[i]f I had made up my mind to burn Columbia I would have burnt it with no more feeling than I would a common prairie dog village; but I did not do it …” Sherman’s official report on the burning placed the blame on Confederate Lt. Gen. Wade Hampton III, who Sherman said had ordered the burning of cotton in the streets. In his memoirs, Sherman said, “In my official report of this conflagration I distinctly charged it to General Wade Hampton, and confess I did so pointedly to shake the faith of his people in him, for he was in my opinion a braggart and professed to be the special champion of South Carolina…”
All this to point out that the people of the South consider Sherman an evil man. Wasn’t it he who said “War is Hell”?