Bismarck Receives Sheridan's Lesson on Total War
Bismarck’s Reich supported Lincoln in his war against the American South as the German consolidator promoted Northern war bonds to his countrymen. Bismarck might have been ruthless while fighting foreigners, but Sherman and Sheridan were fighting ruthlessly to deny Americans self-government.
Bernhard Thuersam, www.circa1865.org
Bismarck Receives Sheridan’s Lesson on Total War
“The discipline which during the summer had forced the German troops to respect civilian property was gradually relaxed. “At first we were forbidden, with the severest of penalties, to burn vine-posts in bivouacs, and woe to him who used un-threshed corn for his palliasse. Child-like innocence! Now no one asks whether you are using garden fencing or the doors of houses or wagons for fuel . . . no Frenchman can any longer lay claim to property or means of livelihood.”
Thus throughout the autumn and winter of 1870 the terrorism of the [French partisan] francs-tireurs and the reprisals of the Germans spiraled down to new depths of savagery. If the French refused to admit military defeat, then other means must be used to break their will. The same problem had confronted the United States in dealing with the Confederacy six years earlier, and [General] Sherman had solved it by his relentless march through the South.
[Chief of Prussian General Staff] Moltke had believed war to consist in the movement of armies; but General [Philip] Sheridan, who was observing the war from German headquarters, pointed out that this was only the first requirement of victory.
“The proper strategy [he declared after Sedan] consists of inflicting as telling blows as possible on the enemy’s army, and then in causing the inhabitants so much suffering that they must long for peace, and force the government to demand it. The people must be left nothing but their eyes to weep with over the war.”
Bismarck took this advice more seriously than did Moltke. The more Frenchmen who suffered from the war, he pointed out, the greater would be the number who would long for peace at any price. “It will come to this, that we will shoot down every male inhabitant.” Every village, he demanded, in which an act of treachery had been committed, should be burned to the ground and all male inhabitants hanged. To show mercy was “culpable laziness in killing.” [Bismarck’s wife suggested] that all Frenchmen should be “shot and stabbed to death, down to the little babies,” and the German press abounded in similar ideas.
Nor did the French lag behind in urging suitable torments for the invaders. Each nation came to believe that it was upholding civilization against a race of barbarians which could only be bullied into submission by brute force.”
(The Franco-Prussian War, Michael Howard, Routledge Press, 1961, pp. 380-381)