Sherman was the plunder-in-chief, and he had three solid years of practice for his March to the Sea. In the autumn of 1862 Confederate snipers were firing at Union gunboats on the Mississippi River. Unable to apprehend the combatants, Sherman took revenge on the civilian population by burning the entire town of Randolph, Tennessee, to the ground. In a July 31, 1862 letter to his wife Sherman explained that his purpose in the war was "extermination, not of the soldiers alone, that is the least part of the trouble, but the people."
In the spring of 1863, after the Confederate Army had evacuated, Sherman ordered his army to destroy the town of Jackson, Mississippi. They did, and in a letter to General Ulysses S. Grant Sherman boasted that "The inhabitants [of Jackson] are subjugated. They cry aloud for mercy. The land is devastated for 30 miles around."
Meridian, Mississippi was also destroyed after the Confederate Army had evacuated, after which Sherman wrote to Grant: "For five days, ten thousand of our men worked hard and with a will, in that work of destruction, with axes, sledges, crowbars, clawbars, and with fire, and I have no hesitation in pronouncing the work well done. Meridian . . . no longer exists."
In Citizen Sherman Michael Fellman describes how Sherman’s chief engineer, Captain O.M. Poe, advised that the bombing of Atlanta was of no military significance (the Confederates had already abandoned the city) and implored Sherman to stop the bombardment after viewing the carcasses of dead women and children in the streets. Sherman coldly told him the dead bodies were "a beautiful sight" and commenced the destruction of 90 percent of all the buildings in Atlanta. After that, the remaining 2,000 residents were evicted from their homes just as winter was approaching.
In October of 1864 Sherman even ordered the murder of randomly chosen citizens in retaliation for Confederate Army attacks. He wrote to General Louis D. Watkins: "Cannot you send over about Fairmount and Adairsville, burn ten or twelve houses . . ., kill a few at random, and let them know that it will be repeated every time a train is fired upon . . ." (See John Bennett Walters, Merchant of Terror: General Sherman and Total War