Sherman's March to the Sea: Long Term Consequences of Scorched Earth Tactics

Jonathan Obert, Amherst College
Eleonora Mattiacci, Amherst College

Combatants have often intentionally destroyed their enemy's territory during wars employing so-called scorched earth techniques. But what are, if any, the long term economic and political consequences of these techniques for the areas affected? More precisely, given that such tactics are frequently directly at the most strategically valuable land and resources, do these areas become the focus of post-war reconstruction or are they instead subject to long-term decline? We study these questions analyzing one of the most quintessential instances of the use of scorched earth techniques during war - General Sherman's March to the Sea. Explicitly authorized via the Special Field Order No.120, the campaign took place from November 15 until December 21, 1864 and led to incredible devastation in one of the South's primary economic corridors. Using a multiplicity of data and methods (regression discontinuity, demographics and economic data, soldiers' memoirs), we assess both the short term and long term consequences of this strategy for both economic development in the South as well as long term institutional change.

No extended abstract or paper available

 Presented in Session 78. Community impacts and economics