Date of Award


Degree Type

Closed Dissertation

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)



First Advisor

Wendy Hamand Venet - Chair

Second Advisor

Timmothy Crimmins

Third Advisor

Charles Steffen


This dissertation will examine the formation of the myth that William T. Sherman laid waste to the state of Georgia in 1864, and almost single-handedly invented the concept of “total war.” It will also examine how Sherman’s reputation has evolved over the years from accusations of being a Southern sympathizer and traitor at the end of the Civil War to the modern image of Sherman as the destroyer of the old South. William Tecumseh Sherman was the most controversial general of the American Civil War. The modern image of Sherman is either a destructive monster who violated the laws of civilized warfare or a strategic genius who invented modern warfare. Both of these images have evolved over the years. In large part, they have been the product of Lost Cause writers trying to reinterpret the history of the war, but also the product of Union generals and politicians attempting to glorify their own place in the history of the war, men with personal grudges against the general and modern historians using Sherman to make their own arguments about contemporary society. The sources used for this dissertation were the journals, letters and memoirs of the participants. The Official Records of both the Union and Confederacy were examined as well as nineteenth and twentieth century newspapers and magazines. This dissertation will show that the modern conception of General Sherman is not the same as the historical fact, but rather a post-war creation. Individuals’ agendas have created and sustained the myth of Sherman to explain defeat in the Civil War, justify later military strategy, condemn later conflicts and for personal gain. It is not enough to know that historical events as commonly understood are inaccurate; it is important to understand how and why these inaccuracies came about.