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Map taken from Battles and Leaders of the Civil War: IV: The Way to Appomattox, p.670
Memoirs, William T. Sherman. One of the classic military auto-biographies, this is a very readable account of Sherman's involvement in the American Civil War, supported by a large number of documents. A valuable, generally impartial work that is of great value to anyone interested in Sherman's role in the war.
Bummers was a nickname applied to foragers of Maj. Gen. William Tecumseh Sherman's Union army during its March to the Sea and north through South Carolina and North Carolina during the American Civil War.
Sherman's March to the Sea - History
A tlanta fell to Sherman's Army in early September 1864. He devoted the next few weeks to chasing Confederate troops through northern Georgia in a vain attempt to lure them into a decisive fight. The Confederate's evasive tactics doomed Sherman's plan to achieve victory on the battlefield so he developed an alternative strategy: destroy the South by laying waste to its economic and transportation infrastructure.
Only the chimneys stand after
a visit by Sherman's Army
Along the way, his army was joined by thousands of former slaves who brought up the rear of the march because they had no other place to go. Sherman's army reached Savannah on December 22. Two days later, Sherman telegraphed President Lincoln with the message "I beg to present to you, as a Christmas gift, the city of Savannah. "
It was the beginning of the end for the Confederacy. Sherman stayed in Savannah until the end of January and then continued his scorched earth campaign through the Carolinas. On April 26, Confederate troops under General Joseph E. Johnston surrendered to Sherman in North Carolina seventeen days after Lee surrendered to Grant at Appomattox.
"Oh God, the time of trial has come!"
Dolly Sumner Lunt was born in Maine in 1817. She moved to Georgia as a young woman to join her married sister. She became a school teacher in Covington, Ga. where she met and married Thomas Burge, a plantation owner. When her husband died in 1858, Dolly was left alone to manage the plantation and its slaves. Dolly kept a diary of her experiences and we join her story as Sherman's army approaches her home:
Slept in my clothes last night, as I heard that the Yankees went to neighbor Montgomery's on Thursday night at one o'clock, searched his house, drank his wine, and took his money and valuables. As we were not disturbed, I walked after breakfast, with Sadai [the narrator's 9-year-old daughter] , up to Mr. Joe Perry's, my nearest neighbor, where the Yankees were yesterday.
'No, don't!' said I, and ran home as fast as I could, with Sadai.
I could hear them cry, 'Halt! Halt!' and their guns went off in quick succession. Oh God, the time of trial has come!
A man passed on his way to Covington. I halloed to him, asking him if he did not know the Yankees were coming.
'Yes,' said I 'they are not three hundred yards from here.'
'Sure enough,' said he. 'Well, I'll not go. I don't want them to get my horse.' And although within hearing of their guns, he would stop and look for them. Blissful ignorance! Not knowing, not hearing, he has not suffered the suspense, the fear, that I have for the past forty-eight hours. I walked to the gate. There they came filing up.
I hastened back to my frightened servants and told them that they had better hide, and then went back to the gate to claim protection and a guard. But like demons they rush in! My yards are full.
To my smoke-house, my dairy, pantry, kitchen, and cellar, like famished wolves they come, breaking locks and whatever is in their way. The thousand pounds of meat in my smoke-house is gone in a twinkling, my flour, my meat, my lard, butter, eggs, pickles of various kinds - both in vinegar and brine - wine, jars, and jugs are all gone. My eighteen fat turkeys, my hens, chickens, and fowls, my young pigs, are shot down in my yard and hunted as if they were rebels themselves. Utterly powerless I ran out and appealed to the guard.
'I cannot help you, Madam it is orders.'
. Alas! little did I think while trying to save my house from plunder and fire that they were forcing my boys [slaves] from home at the point of the bayonet. One, Newton, jumped into bed in his cabin, and declared himself sick. Another crawled under the floor, - a lame boy he was, - but they pulled him out, placed him on a horse, and drove him off. Mid, poor Mid! The last I saw of him, a man had him going around the garden, looking, as I thought, for my sheep, as he was my shepherd. Jack came crying to me, the big tears coursing down his cheeks, saying they were making him go. I said:
But a man followed in, cursing him and threatening to shoot him if he did not go so poor Jack had to yield.
|A family flees the approach|
of Sherman's Army
. As night drew its sable curtains around us, the heavens from every point were lit up with flames from burning buildings. Dinnerless and supperless as we were, it was nothing in comparison with the fear of being driven out homeless to the dreary woods. Nothing to eat! I could give my guard no supper, so he left us.
My Heavenly Father alone saved me from the destructive fire. My carriage-house had in it eight bales of cotton, with my carriage, buggy, and harness. On top of the cotton were some carded cotton rolls, a hundred pounds or more. These were thrown out of the blanket in which they were, and a large twist of the rolls taken and set on fire, and thrown into the boat of my carriage, which was close up to the cotton bales. Thanks to my God, the cotton only burned over, and then went out. Shall I ever forget the deliverance?
About ten o'clock they had all passed save one, who came in and wanted coffee made, which was done, and he, too, went on. A few minutes elapsed, and two couriers riding rapidly passed back. Then, presently, more soldiers came by, and this ended the passing of Sherman's army by my place, leaving me poorer by thirty thousand dollars than I was yesterday morning. And a much stronger Rebel!"
Sherman's March to the Sea
Fort McAllister State Park, Savannah, Ga. David Davis
Major General William Tecumseh Sherman was a contradiction embodied. He eliminated Atlanta's war making potential and brought sheer destruction to Georgia, then offered generous surrender terms. His vision of hard war brought the Confederacy to its knees, but forestalled thousands of battlefield and civilian deaths.
O ne word still resonates more deeply in the American psyche than any other in the field of Civil War study: Sherman. The name immediately conjures visions of fire and smoke, destruction and desolation Atlanta in flames, farms laid to waste and railroad tracks mangled beyond recognition. In our collective memory, blue-clad soldiers march with impunity, their scavenged booty draped about them, leaving a trail of white women and children to sob at their losses and slaves to rejoice at their emancipation. Sherman himself is remembered through a nearly ubiquitous photograph, with a glare so icy it can chill us even across time. To average Americans, whether they are Northerners or Southerners, Sherman was a hard, cruel soldier, an unfeeling destroyer, the man who rampaged rather than fought, a brute rather than a human being.
The full story, however, is not this simple. Certainly, Sherman practiced destructive war, but he did not do it out of personal cruelty. Instead, he sought to end the war as quickly as possible, with the least loss of life on both sides.
The March to the Sea was no off-the-cuff reaction by Sherman to finding himself in Atlanta in September 1864 and knowing he could not remain there. He had for a long time hated the idea of having to kill and maim Confederates, many of whom had been pre-war friends. He wanted his army to win the war and thus preserve the Union, but he also wanted to curtail the battlefield slaughter. He sought to utilize destructive war to convince Confederate citizens in their deepest psyche both that they could not win the war and that their government could not protect them from Federal forces. He wanted to convey that southerners controlled their own fate through a duality of approach: as long as they remained in rebellion, they would suffer at his hands, once they surrendered, he would display remarkable largess.
And so, in Atlanta, Sherman instituted tactics later generations of American war leaders would use in World War II, Korea, Vietnam, Iraq and Afghanistan. In these later conflicts, largely through the use of air power, Americans attempted to destroy enemy will and logistics (a doctrine colloquially known as “shock and awe” in Operation Iraqi Freedom). On the ground and on a much smaller scale, Sherman pioneered this process, becoming the first American to do so systematically. He is rightly called the American father of total warfare, a harbinger of the psychological tactics of the next century.
On his march, Sherman destroyed thousands of acres of Georgia cotton fields like this along with numerous cotton gins and mills. Mike Raker
Just what was this warfare revolution? Two months after capturing Atlanta, Sherman was ready to move out and decided to strip the city of its military infrastructure. In preparation, he moved the few people remaining in the city — about 10 percent of its 20,000-person population in early 1864 — out of the area, and cut his supply line. This freed all his troops for the upcoming movement, rather than relegating a significant number for logistical duty, but this meant that the men would need to “live off the land.” From Atlanta, Sherman would set out across the Southern heartland toward the Atlantic Ocean, eventually turning north to pin Robert E. Lee’s army between his troops and those of Grant.
But the way to the sea was not open Sherman still had to contend with the Confederate army of Lt. Gen. John Bell Hood. So Sherman proposed to split his Union force, taking 62,000 of his best troops on a destructive march, while Maj. Gen. George H. Thomas used the remainder to contain Hood. Lincoln and Ulysses S. Grant preferred for Sherman to destroy the Southern army first and then initiate his psychological war of destruction. But Sherman prevailed upon his commanding officer, who, in turn, convinced the president. Grant himself said that he would not have allowed anyone other than Sherman to attempt such a march — so great was the respect and trust between the two.
Sherman wasted no time. On November 15, 62,000 men — split into two infantry wings (actually four parallel corps columns) with screening cavalry to protect the main bodies as they spread across the landscape — departed Atlanta. The city was hardly burned to the ground, as Gone with the Wind implies. Not all of the destruction was even Sherman’s doing: some one-third of the city’s buildings were in ruins as a result of entrenchments dug by the Confederates and the detonation of ammunition performed as part of Hood’s evacuation. Although Sherman’s army had systematically destroyed Atlanta’s war-making potential, and had used artillery to bombard the city before taking it, 400 houses were still standing when he left.
Sherman wanted to keep his movements as secret as possible he cut telegraph lines to prevent intelligence reports from reaching the enemy (or his superiors in Washington). Although Sherman told his officers and troops little about his plans, they quickly grasped the basic purpose of the march and, trusting their commander fully, were unconcerned about the lack of details. “Uncle Billy, I guess Grant is waiting for us in Richmond?” was a common sentiment along the march.
Georgia, stretching before Sherman’s army with its red clay hills and sandy terrain, was the largest of the Confederate states. It had some large plantations, but many more small farms growing a variety of products: vegetables, cotton, sweet potatoes and, in marshy areas, rice and sugar cane. Well known to Sherman from his study of the 1860 census, Georgia’s fertile soil still held potential to feed the ravenous Confederacy. Although beef cattle trudged along with his army, and he had his men fill their haversacks with food before they left, he knew that they could live off the Georgia land.
Those Confederate troops blocking Sherman’s way were few and weak. Lt. Gen. William J. Hardee commanded the undermanned Department of South Carolina, Georgia and Florida, and Maj. Gen. Gustavus W. Smith led the small Georgia state militia. The most potent Confederate force in the state was Joseph Wheeler’s 3,500-man cavalry, which managed to harass Sherman’s marchers but was too small to pose a deadly threat.
Men on a mission (L to R): Union Maj. Gens. Sherman, O.O. Howard and Henry Slocum and cavalry commander Brig. Gen. Judson Kilpatrick sought to hasten the war’s end without shedding more blood by crippling the Southern heartland. They left a trail of char and rubble, but few corpses, in their wake. Photos Library of Congress, Colorized by MADS MADSEN of Colorized History
From the outset, Sherman’s men destroyed tunnels and bridges, expending particular effort to make railroad tracks unusable. The approach was backbreaking, but simple: rails were torn from the ties, which were stacked to make a bonfire beneath them. Once the rails became red hot, they were twisted into what came to be known as “Sherman’s neckties” or “Sherman’s hairpins.” The campaign’s chief engineer, Col. Orlando Poe, even devised specialized equipment, called cant hooks, for the task.
Sherman’s soldiers enthusiastically embraced his Special Field Order 120, which required every brigade to organize a foraging detachment under the direction of one of its more “discreet” officers with a goal of keeping a consistent three-day supply of gathered foodstuffs. Once, Sherman encountered a soldier walking along a road weighed down by all victuals who quoted from the order to him in a stage whisper: “Forage liberally on the country.” The general said his was a too-liberal interpretation of the order, but he took no action to punish the forager. Clearly this soldier was practicing the psychological destructive warfare against Georgia that his commander wanted.
Not only was Sherman’s army vastly larger and superior to the Confederate military, but he also outmaneuvered the few Confederate forces and kept them uncertain about his destination. He fooled the Confederates into believing that one part of his army was heading toward Augusta, while the other wing was heading for Macon. In fact, his true destination was the Georgia capital of Milledgeville. Wheeler’s 3,500 man Confederate cavalry tried to hinder Sherman’s army, but Brig. Gen. Judson Kilpatrick’s 5,000 Union horse soldiers cleared it out of the way. Confederate political and military leaders — Gov. Joe Brown, Hardee and militia commander Smith among them — all fell for the ruse.
The only real combat of the March took place on November 22, near Griswoldville. The militia, temporarily under the inexperienced command of Brig. Gen. Pleasant J. Phillips, came upon part of Sherman’s rear guard of some 1,700 men. Not realizing that these Federals had repeating rifles and were dug in, temporary commander Phillips ordered his motley force to attack, and they were ripped to pieces by the Federals. After the shooting had stopped, the Union troops discovered, to their horror, that their attackers had been old men and young boys and wondered at the futility of the Confederate cause.
Griswoldville Battlefield State Historical Site, Ga. Photo: Evan Leavitt
No matter — Sherman kept marching. To Confederate bewilderment, he bypassed Augusta and entered Confederate politician and brigadier general Howell Cobb’s plantation some 10 miles outside Milledgeville, his true destination. The capital city panicked. The state legislature extended the existing state draft to include men from 16 to 65 years of age. Those prisoners in the state jail willing to take up arms for the Confederacy — 175 out of 200 — were freed, although some of the newly liberated men burned down the penitentiary rather than report for duty. Politicians hurried to escape the city, and its civilian inhabitants were infuriated when Sherman’s men celebrated Thanksgiving there and mockingly re-enacted a legislative session to vote Georgia back into the Union. More seriously, the soldiers damaged state buildings and destroyed books and manuscripts before leaving Milledgeville on November 24. Sherman’s army had now been marching for a week.
The army moved at a steady pace, covering as much as 15 miles a day. Reveille came at daybreak and sometimes earlier. The 62,000-man army usually spent the night in tents, the campsites stretching in all directions. After a sparse breakfast, they formed the columns and began moving. Railroad tracks were upended and destroyed. Black and white pioneers cleared the path ahead, with Sherman himself sometimes joining in the physical labor. There was no lunch stop instead, the men ate whenever and whatever they could. When they reached the assigned campsite in the evening, each man hooked his tent half to another’s, pitched it, and then prepared the only full meal of the day over a fire. The soldiers entertained themselves by letter writing, card games and other such diversions, but the favorite activity was to hear the adventures of the foragers.
As the main columns had been marching all day, organized soldiers and others fanned out in all directions, looking for food and booty. Very quickly, these foragers came to be called “bummers,” and it was they who did the most damage to the countryside and provided the most food for the troops. They wandered out five or more miles from the main columns and became experts at finding hidden food, horses, wagons and even slaves. Operating under varying degrees of supervision, their exploits formed the foundation of Sherman’s lasting reputation.
Whether it was a plantation manor, a more modest white dwelling or a slave hut, any residence encountered by these bummers stood a chance of being utterly ransacked. Barns, gardens and farms were overrun. Although many of the houses were damaged — and a minority put to the torch and totally destroyed — others were left essentially untouched, an unpredictability that became a source of great fear. “No doubt many acts of pillage, robbery, and violence were committed by these parties of foragers …,” Sherman acknowledged, but maintained that their crimes were generally against property, not individuals. “I never heard of any cases of murder or rape.” Indeed relatively few charges of rape were made, and military medical records showed little sexual disease. Still, sexual violence, especially in wartime, remains an underreported crime up to the present.
How to tie a "Sherman Necktie": #1 Build a bonfire #2 Heat a railway rail until it is malleable #3 When red hot, bend and twist around a tree like a bow tie. Library of Congress
When Joe Wheeler’s horsemen also began destroying property and looting, the psychological shock of Confederates abusing their own people was hard for the Georgia civilians to take. Perhaps in denial of this reality, they came to accuse Sherman of carrying out countless grim acts. He seemed to be everywhere at once, and as he grew ever-larger in the Southern imagination, rumors about where he was and what he did to white women and slaves came to be accepted as fact. Since spreading terror farther afield only intensified the impact of his March to the Sea, all of this suited Sherman’s purposes perfectly.
The arrival of the main columns was even more frightening to the Georgians in their path than the passage of the foragers. As one Georgia woman wrote in her diary: “…like Demons they rush in! … To my smoke house, my Dairy, Pantry, kitchen & cellar.” It was difficult to hide anything from the foragers or the massive main column. Soldiers dug up buried food, valuables and keepsakes, seemingly at will. They searched hollow logs and any hiding place imaginable. Sometimes the slaves would volunteer information, and other times the foragers would force it out of them.
As the marching Federals progressed, they attracted a growing throng of ex-slaves, who greeted them as emancipators. Although he personally considered them inferior to white men, Sherman treated the blacks he met with courtesies not widespread in the 19th century, shaking hands and carrying on conversations to glean their knowledge of the area. While many blacks became laborers and performed tasks necessary to the advance, others simply followed in the wake of the column. This caused Sherman, who was trying to move quickly and live off the land, to worry about their impact on his speed and the supply of food meant for his soldiers. And even in this Union army of liberation, the racism of the age was still prevalent throughout the ranks. The former slaves grew increasingly hesitant about getting too close to the white soldiers, who might be their source of freedom, but who often treated them with harshness and disrespect. Yet, whenever they had a choice, they preferred the Federals to Confederate soldiers and civilians who had no compunction about killing them or returning them to slavery.
It was just such a conflict of interest that caused one of the most horrific events of the campaign. Acting as the rear guard for the army, on December 9, 1864, Federals under the command of Maj. Gen. Jefferson C. Davis were crossing the flooded Ebenezer Creek on a pontoon bridge. The long line of fugitive slaves, some 650 of them, was ordered to await a signal before crossing. But as the last unit of Davis’s rear guard, the 58th Indiana, reached the far side, the bridge was unlashed. The pontoons floated away, leaving the slaves unable to cross the deep water.
St. Stephen's Episcopal Church Milledgeville, Ga. In November 1864, soldiers from the 107th New York Infantry Regiment took shelter in St. Stephen’s, as well as other churches on the square. They burned pews and poured syrup into the pipes of St. Stephen’s organ. When the nearby magazine and arsenal were blown up as the troops left, the roof was damaged and the windows were blown out. Photo: Evan Leavitt
Knowing that Confederate cavalry was nearby, the fugitives, fearful of being captured and killed or re-enslaved, panicked. They jumped into the water, frantically trying to swim across and evade Wheeler. Seeing their terror and desperation, some Federals began throwing logs and anything else they could find toward the drowning people. Although some were saved on makeshift rafts or by soldiers who waded into the creek, a huge number drowned and others were captured by the arriving Confederate troopers. Davis, who was no stranger to scandal — he was arrested for murdering fellow Union general William Nelson in August 1862, but escaped court martial — took a great deal of blame for this horror, but Sherman defended him. He blamed the ex-slave refugees for ignoring his advice not to follow the army.
Two weeks after this incident, and 20 miles removed, the march ended in Savannah. Sherman’s army reached the sea, took Fort McAllister and re-tied itself to a naval supply line. On December 21, Union forces captured Savannah Sherman presented the city to Lincoln as a Christmas gift.
Almost miraculously, damage and destruction immediately ceased. Sherman allowed Hardee’s army to escape the city, although he could have crushed it. Soldiers became model gentlemen, no longer foraging, but paying for what they wanted or needed. Sherman had his favorite regimental band present a concert for the city and brought supply ships from the North to help the city and its people regain a sense of normality. The general himself was a model of deportment. In escaping Savannah, several Confederate generals left their wives and children to Sherman’s personal protection, and he took this responsibility seriously, despite laughing that Confederates were willing to leave their families in the care of someone they considered a brute.
It was a strange end to a destructive month, but perhaps it should not have been unexpected. When Sherman instituted his destructive war, he told Southerners that as long as they continued their resistance, he would make them pay dearly, but that the process would stop when they quit the fight. As soon as the mayor of Savannah surrendered his city, Sherman the fiend became Sherman the friend.
Fort McAllister State Park, Savannah, Ga. David Davis
When it came time to march through the Carolinas, states still in rebellion against the United States, however, destructive war returned. In fact, South Carolina suffered more at Sherman’s hands than Georgia had during the March to the Sea. Sherman demanded surrender, and he would accept nothing less, so his men tore through the Palmetto State. North Carolina suffered less because it was not viewed as responsible for the rebellion, as South Carolina was. When Gen. Joseph E. Johnston surrendered at Durham Station, N.C., in April 1865, Sherman offered a peace plan lenient enough that it caused many in the North to question his loyalty. In reality it was a final iteration of his campaign to show mercy immediately upon surrender.
In short, the March to the Sea demonstrates not that Sherman was a brute, but that he wanted to wage a war that did not result in countless deaths. He saw destruction of property as less onerous than casualties. It is estimated that during the six-week March to the Sea fewer than 3,000 casualties resulted. Compared to the 51,000 killed, wounded and missing at Gettysburg in the three days of fighting there or the 24,000 in the two days at Shiloh, the month-long March to the Sea was nearly bloodless.
Yet, the March is remembered to this day as barbarism unleashed. There was glory to die in Pickett’s Charge at Gettysburg, but only humiliation to have one’s barn burned, silverware taken, house damaged or destroyed, or horses added to the enemy cavalry. Sherman successfully fought a psychological war of destruction. He entered the Confederate psyche and remains in some minds to the present day.
Sherman's March to the Sea - History
November and December of this year mark the 150 th anniversary of General William Tecumseh Sherman’s famous “march to the sea” at the end of the War to Prevent Southern Independence. The Lincoln cult – especially its hyper-warmongering neocon branch – has been holding conferences, celebrations, and commemorations while continuing to rewrite history to suit its statist biases. Business as usual, in other words. But they are not the only ones writing about the event. Historian Karen Stokes has published South Carolina Civilians in Sherman’s Path: Stories of Courage Amid Civil War Destruction that contains a great deal of very telling information about Sherman’s motivation in waging total war on the civilian population of South Carolina.
Stokes begins by quoting a letter that Sherman wrote to General Henry Halleck shortly before invading all-but-defenseless South Carolina: “[T]he whole army is burning with an insatiable desire to wreak vengeance upon South Carolina.” In another message a few weeks later, Sherman reiterated to Halleck that “The whole army is crazy to be turned loose in [South] Carolina.”
South Carolina Civilia. Karen Stokes Best Price: $11.50 Buy New $3.37 (as of 05:45 EST - Details ) A New York newspaperman who was “embedded” with Sherman’s army (to use a contemporary term) wrote that “There can be no denial of the assertion that the feeling among the troops was one of extreme bitterness towards the people of the State of South Carolina.” The Philadelphia Inquirer cheered on as Sherman’s army raped, pillaged, burned, and plundered through the state, calling South Carolina “that accursed hotbed of treason.”
In a January 31, 1864 letter to Major R.M. Sawyer, Sherman explained the reason why he hated the South in general, and South Carolina in particular, so much. The war, he said “was the result of a false political doctrine that any and every people have a right to self-government.” In the same letter Sherman referred to states’ rights, freedom of conscience, and freedom of the press as “trash” that had “deluded the Southern people into war.”
Sherman’s subordinates expressed similar opinions. In 1865 Major George W. Nichols published a book about his exploits during Sherman’s “march” in which he describing South Carolinians as “the scum, the lower dregs of civilization” who are “not Americans they are merely South Carolinians.” General Carl Schurz is quoted by Stokes as remarking that “South Carolina – the state which was looked upon by the Northern soldier as the principal instigator” of the war was “deserving of special punishment.” Lincoln Unmasked: What. Thomas J. Dilorenzo Best Price: $5.95 Buy New $9.85 (as of 07:10 EST - Details )
All of this is so telling because it reveals that neither Sherman, nor his subordinate officers, nor the average “soldier” in his army, were motivated by anything having to do with slavery. South Carolina suffered more than any other state at the hands of Sherman’s raping, looting, plundering, murdering, and house-burning army because that is where the secession movement started. It was NOT because there were more slaves there than in other states, or because of anything else related to slavery. It was because South Carolinians, even more than other Southerners, did not believe in uncompromising obedience to the central state.
Shortly after the war ended some prominent Northerners began to pour into South Carolina to revel in the scenes of destruction (and to steal whatever they could). The goofy Brooklyn, New York, Reverend Henry Ward Beecher went on one such excursion and gave a speech while standing under a giant U.S. flag in Charleston in which he declared:
“Let no man misread the meaning of this unfolding flag! It says, ‘GOVERNMENT hath returned hither.’ It proclaims in the name of vindicated government, peace and protection to loyalty humiliations and pains to traitors. The Real Lincoln: A Ne. Dilorenzo, Thomas J. Best Price: $4.25 Buy New $7.48 (as of 07:05 EST - Details ) This is the flag of sovereignty. The nation, not the States, is sovereign. Restored to authority, this flag commands, not supplicates . . . . There may be pardon [for former Confederates], but no concession . . . . The only condition of submission is to submit!”
In other words, the purpose of the war was to “prove” once and for all the false nationalist theory that the states were never sovereign they did not ratify the Constitution, as explained in Article 7 the constitution created them that the states never delegated certain powers to the central government in the Constitution (Article 1, Section 8) and that the central government is to have unlimited “supremacy” over all individuals and institutions.
This was the nationalist superstition about the American founding, first fabricated by Alexander Hamilton and repeated by successive generations of nationalist/consolodationist/mercantilist despots such as John Marshall, Joseph Story, Daniel Webster, and Abraham Lincoln.
This is why Sherman and his army reveled so much in their brutalization of defenseless South Carolinian women and children and the looting and destruction of their property. And they bragged about it for the rest of their lives. Much of the boasting is catalogued in South Carolina Civilians in Sherman’s Path. Stokes quotes a General Charles Van Wyck as writing that “nearly every house on our line of march has been destroyed.” An “embedded” New York reporter named David P. Conyngham is quoted as described one South Carolina town after observing “the smoking ruins of the town, to tall, black chimneys looking down upon it like funeral mutes” with “old women and children, hopeless, helpless, almost frenzied, wandering amidst the desolation.” The book contains dozens of other eye-witness accounts by Union Army soldiers and Southern civilians of the burning down of entire cities and towns, rape, robbery, and wanton destruction of all varieties of private property, all of it occurring after the Confederate Army had vacated. All to prove once and for all, to South Carolinians and all other Americans, North and South, that federalism and self-government was a “delusion,” to quote General Sherman himself.
Articles Featuring Sherman’s March From History Net Magazines
Hardee&rsquos field headquarters was about 40 miles from Beauregard&rsquos, but Beauregard might as well have been on the moon.
Standard histories of Major General William T. Sherman&rsquos celebrated March to the Sea invariably portray the Confederacy&rsquos response as inconsequential. Former Southern Brigadier General Clement A. Evans asserted, for example, that there was &ldquono force available to obstruct&rdquo Sherman&rsquos soldiers. Such broad generalizations may assuage wounded Southern pride, but they also rewrite history.
Efforts to forestall Sherman&rsquos operations in central Georgia began in late September 1864, when President Jefferson Davis personally visited the threatened front. On September 25 he reached Palmetto, Ga., some 25 miles southwest of enemy-occupied Atlanta. Palmetto was then headquarters for General John B. Hood, commanding the Confederate Army of Tennessee.
Just two months earlier Davis had bumped Hood up the seniority ladder to take over the army after General Joseph E. Johnston had failed to stop Sherman&rsquos march from Chattanooga to the outskirts of Atlanta. Hood quickly launched a series of fierce offensive strikes at the Union forces enfolding the city. None succeeded in halting the enemy, however, and Atlanta was abandoned on September 1.
Hood did have another plan, which, considering his situation, was about as good as could be expected. Outnumbered more than 2-to-1, his best option was to march around north of Atlanta to disrupt the Federals&rsquo attenuated supply line and draw them away from the city in order to protect their vital rail link with their Tennessee depots. Hood planned to strike at exposed portions of the Federal force, but only when the odds favored him. At worst, he thought, if the enemy&rsquos attention was on him, it would mean the rest of Georgia would be left alone.
Should Sherman not play along&mdashby choosing to thrust southward through Georgia instead&mdashHood would then harry his rear. Add to this the home force&rsquos familiarity with the Georgia countryside, the prospect of a general rising of civilian forces promised by the state&rsquos governor and an active Confederate cavalry, Davis had a &ldquonot unreasonable hope that retributive justice might overtake the ruthless invader.&rdquo
Hood&rsquos army wasn&rsquot the only piece of Davis&rsquo strategy. His first move solved a prickly personality clash by transferring Hood&rsquos unhappy senior subordinate, Lt. Gen. William J. Hardee, from commanding a corps in the Army of Tennessee to taking charge of the Department of South Carolina, Georgia and Florida. Hardee would anchor the defense of Sherman&rsquos likely targets along the Atlantic coast.
Davis also met with Lt. Gen. Richard Taylor, commanding the Department of Alabama, Mississippi and East Louisiana. Although skeptical of Hood&rsquos chances for success, Taylor agreed with the president&rsquos belief that having General P.G.T. Beauregard, a Confederate hero early in the war, coordinate the region&rsquos military response would &ldquoawaken a certain enthusiasm&rdquo among the citizenry.
On October 3 Davis met with Beauregard in Augusta. It was not a comfortable occasion, since the two had quarreled bitterly over issues of strategy and resources. Even so, Beauregard pronounced Hood&rsquos plan &ldquoperfectly feasible…according to the principles of war.&rdquo Davis offered Beauregard command of a new organizational jurisdiction, to be called the Division of the West, encompassing five states and including the forces under Hood and Taylor (Hardee&rsquos coastal domain would be added later). His duties would be largely administrative, leaving it to others to command in the field. Beauregard eagerly accepted the new position, afterward insisting that Davis had promised him the cooperation of the Confederate War Department.
Rebel operations began on September 29, when Hood started marching his army counterclockwise around Atlanta. By October 3 his infantry was wrecking the Federal depots at Acworth and Big Shanty. Two days later a Rebel division nearly captured Allatoona Pass, a natural choke point in the Federal supply route. Sherman reacted according to expectations by taking most of his troops out of Atlanta to chase after Hood.
So far, so good. Hood, however, soon tired of playing the spoiler&rsquos role. Worse yet, he would not recognize Beauregard&rsquos ultimate authority. Believing that Hood enjoyed a direct sanction from Davis, Beauregard was reluctant to press the issue and limited his role to that of adviser and facilitator. Not that Hood was interested in his advice as he made changes to the Davis-approved plan. Instead of bobbing, weaving and jabbing to foil his opponent, Hood began thinking of striking into Tennessee to capture its Federal-occupied capital, Nashville.
Toward that end, Hood marched west and north to close on the Tennessee border. Soon he was well out of Georgia, with Sherman between him and the heart of the state. But Sherman quickly reversed course, returned to Atlanta and, on November 15-16, moved his armies out of the city in two large columns, or wings, on routes both east and southeast. Hood was not in position to pursue.
Beauregard was hoping Hood&rsquos surge into Tennessee might eventually draw Sherman back, but he took an important step to bolster the defenses in central Georgia. In early November he freed up the cavalry assigned to Hood under Maj. Gen. Joseph Wheeler by replacing it with the Tennessee-based command of Maj. Gen. Nathan Bedford Forrest. Wheeler&rsquos units were then sent south into the region between Atlanta and the all-important manufacturing center of Macon. Sherman, however, had begun his march before that transfer was completed.
With Hood out of the picture, Wheeler&rsquos troopers, Georgia state militia, and garrisons in Macon, Augusta and Savannah&mdashperhaps 15,000 men altogether, supplemented by an un­known number of small irregular units&mdashremained to oppose Sherman&rsquos 60,000 Federals. In Macon, Maj. Gen. Howell Cobb, a Georgia state officer, remained in charge, but Augusta and Savannah both fell under Hardee&rsquos control. On November 16 Beauregard ordered Taylor to proceed immediately to Macon and take charge.
To slow down Sherman, Beauregard instructed Taylor to &ldquocut and block up all dirt roads in advance of him, [and] remove or destroy supplies of all kinds in his front&rdquo while Wheeler&rsquos cavalry harassed his flanks and rear.
Beauregard sent another message to General Cobb, who was with the Georgia militiamen falling back toward Macon from forward positions just south of Atlanta. Cobb was advised to prepare Macon for a siege. In the midst of all the complicated planning for his Tennessee invasion, Hood added his bit to the mix. He advised Wheeler: &ldquoIf Sherman advances to the south or east destroy all things in his front that might be useful to him, and keep a portion of your force constantly destroying his trains.&rdquo
Had it been aggressively pursued, the last suggestion could have caused Sherman real problems. Even though he was counting on foraging to keep his army supplied, Sherman had hedged his bets by filling 2,500 wagons with a 20-day supply of bread 40 days&rsquo of sugar, coffee and salt, as well as three days&rsquo of animal feed. Moving with the lengthy wagon trains were 5,000 cattle, representing a 40-day beef supply. This long logistical tail was Sherman&rsquos weak point.
It seemed too that &ldquoGeneral Weather&rdquo was wearing Confederate gray. Just a few days out from Atlanta, Sherman&rsquos men were pummeled by a series of rain and snow storms that slowed the wagons to a crawl. Fearing what would happen if Wheeler&rsquos men got loose among the Yankee supply trains, Sherman&rsquos wing commanders allotted whole brigades and even divisions to the role of protecting them.
Further complicating matters were a series of significant rivers requiring pontoon bridging&mdashnatural congestion points that an alert and aggressive enemy could exploit. The prospect greatly worried Brig. Gen. Judson Kilpatrick, commanding Sherman&rsquos cavalry, who retorted later: &ldquoWas there no enemy to oppose us? Yes, yes! Sufficient, if concentrated in our front, to have disputed the passage of every river and delayed us days and days, which of itself would have been fatal.&rdquo
Problems abounded for the Rebels, too. Both Beauregard and Taylor were held up by the Confederacy&rsquos decrepit transportation network. In a pinch, Beauregard summoned Hardee from Savannah to take charge in Macon, with Hardee arriving just as the first elements of Union Maj. Gen. Oliver O. Howard&rsquos Right Wing began appearing north of the city.
Before Hardee reached Macon, it was every officer for himself. The militia field commander, Maj. Gen. Gustavus W. Smith, then at Forsyth, determined that the best place for his citizen-soldiers was &ldquoin the fortifications at Macon, leaving the outside work to the cavalry.&rdquo Wheeler was also getting plenty of advice in lieu of concrete missions. With his units being asked to help protect Macon as well as slow Sherman, the frustrated cavalryman sent an urgent request to Richmond on November 17 asking to be directed to someone &ldquowho knows the course they desire pursued.&rdquo He never received a clear answer to his query.
Hardee entered Macon on November 19 to grim news: The enemy was close and in strength. There was more bad news. An investigation of Savannah&rsquos landside defenses revealed them to be weak. Hardee told the garrison commander &ldquoto press Negroes if you need them.&rdquo No effort was to be attempted to save the state capital, Milledgeville, which the Federals finally occupied on November 22.
Hardee paid attention only to Macon&rsquos immediate needs, ignoring the first significant opportunity to upset Sherman&rsquos plans. Thanks to the poor roads and unceasing rain, the Union Right Wing was stretched out for nearly 30 miles, with its head at Clinton while its wagon-heavy tail was greatly delayed getting across the Ocmulgee River.
One unanticipated consequence of the Union feint toward Macon was to concentrate the various Confederate military assets more effectively than it had been ordered when the Federal supply columns were so attenuated. A strike against the Right Wing&rsquos supply train could wreak havoc with Sherman&rsquos tight timetables.
But the command-and-control systems failed to kick in. Beauregard and Taylor were out of touch, and Hardee viewed his task as limited to Macon&rsquos present danger. Wheeler had his hands full scouting the Federal advance and meeting emergencies. All the remaining high-ranking individuals in town were state officers obsessed with protecting Macon. No one was thinking beyond the immediate horizon.
Isolated in Macon, lacking telegraphic connection north or east, Hardee soon reckoned that the city was no longer menaced by Sherman&rsquos forces and reasoned that Augusta must be the Yankees&rsquo true objective. Without any contrary information from Wheeler, Hardee wrongly assumed that the Federal line of march was well to the northeast, leaving the railroad clear from Gordon to the coast.
It would be quickest for Macon&rsquos now superfluous militia to tramp east the 20 or so miles to Gordon, where the men could catch trains to Augusta. Orders to that effect were issued to the various units around the city. Taking his own cue, Hardee packed up, and on the evening of November 21 headed for the coast.
The immediate consequence of Hardee&rsquos decision was the needless Battle of Griswoldville, on November 22. A division&rsquos worth of the militia that he had ordered east collided there with a brigade-sized Union rear guard. The citizen-soldiers were thrown back with serious losses. Even as that combat was unfolding, Taylor arrived at Macon. The experienced field commander at once instructed Macon&rsquos defenders to stand down, but orders to recall the troops from Griswoldville arrived too late to avert the tragedy.
That same day Jefferson Davis sent more of his military brain trust to help by temporarily assigning General Braxton Bragg (then overseeing affairs in North Carolina) to Augusta to &ldquoemploy all available force against the enemy now advancing into Southeastern Georgia.&rdquo Preventing Sherman from capturing Augusta&rsquos irreplaceable powder works was Davis&rsquo top priority.
An effort to better focus the state&rsquos military response to Sherman&rsquos advance became mired in political controversy. Declaring that Governor Joseph Brown was &ldquodisabled&rdquo by being cut off in Macon (where he had fled before the fall of Milledgeville), Augusta-based Ambrose R. Wright, second-in-command of state forces as president of the Georgia Senate, activated a clause in the law empowering him to intervene. He took control of the militia east of the Oconee River and ordered it to Macon.
Governor Brown&rsquos partisans viewed Wright&rsquos action as a blatant subversion of gubernatorial authority. The resulting clamor prompted Wright to request Brown&rsquos approval of his action, which the governor promptly refused. Wright&rsquos action only compounded the confusion.
One of the Georgia legislature&rsquos final acts that session was to authorize a general mobilization of Georgia civilians against the invaders. While Governor Brown expected thousands to turn out, he hadn&rsquot counted on the inability of the state&rsquos bureaucracy to manage such an enterprise. By the time the machinery finally began to turn, Sherman&rsquos March to the Sea was a matter for the history books.
The one Confederate action that actually stopped Sherman went virtually unnoticed at this time. Near where the Central of Georgia Railroad bridged the Oconee River, a Rebel force of some 700 men held Sherman’s entire Right Wing at bay for nearly three days. This action was undertaken entirely on the initiative of officers on the scene, who reported to Savannah, where Hardee was headed from Macon. Wheeler, on a self-appointed mission to protect Augusta, passed behind the defenders without lending any significant aid, leaving the little force very much on its own.
On the night of November 25, Howard used his superior numbers to flank the defenders and force them to retreat. Hardee, who had just reached Savannah, sanctioned the withdrawal, hoping to save the troops and bolster Savannah&rsquos garrison. Hardee&rsquos field headquarters was about 40 miles from Beauregard&rsquos, but with all telegraphic communication north and east of the city disrupted, Beauregard might as well have been on the moon.
That same day Braxton Bragg reached Augusta. The threat posed by Sherman&rsquos army caused Jefferson Davis to break his own rule by allowing Bragg to bring with him some Regular CSA units (a few hundred men) assigned to defend coastal North Carolina. He also suspended a law restricting the use of militia reserves to their own states, so that there would be nothing to hinder South Carolina units from coming into Georgia.
Bragg and Hardee turned their attention to protecting Augusta and Savannah. After sending Taylor to assist in Savannah and urging Hood to move promptly to divert Sherman&rsquos attention, Beauregard departed for Mobile, for reasons not entirely clear.
After reaching Montgomery, Ala., on December 1, Beauregard received a message from Richmond informing him that all coastal forces opposing Sherman&rsquos march had been added to his command. He didn&rsquot make it back to Augusta until December 6.
There was one last opportunity to stop Sherman before he reached Savannah. Nearly 4,000 Rebels, in­cluding reinforcements sent by Hardee, were aligned before the advancing Federals near the modern town of Oliver, at the naturally strong defensive position formed where Ogeechee Creek and the Ogeechee River meet.
Sherman placed one corps to flank the position from the north and another across the river to the south. On December 4 Hardee sent his veteran commander Maj. Gen. Lafayette McLaws to the post for an assessment. Deciding that the 4,000 muskets were more crucial to Savannah&rsquos defense, McLaws ordered a withdrawal. The last best chance to stop Sherman had been abandoned without a fight.
Once Wheeler drew close to Augusta, he came under the jurisdiction of Bragg, who used the cavalry to blunt Federal thrusts toward the city. The result was a series of mounted clashes between Wheeler and his Federal counterpart Kilpatrick that climaxed at Waynesboro on December 4. Wheeler always believed that his stubborn defense of that point halted Sherman&rsquos grab for Augusta, although Kilpatrick&rsquos orders were to turn south there to shield the rear of the infantry columns while they pivoted into a swampy, peninsulalike corridor with little to forage from as they closed on Savannah. But yet again no concerted action was taken against Sherman&rsquos vulnerable logistical tail.
When Beauregard arrived in Augusta, a new phase be­gan in the campaign. He first sent a long report to Richmond expressing concern over the lack of Confederate success but also declaring that Sherman would &ldquodoubtless be prevented from capturing Augusta, Charleston, and Savannah, and he may yet be made to experience serious loss before reaching the coast.&rdquo
Beauregard moved his headquarters to Charleston. On December 8 he instructed Hardee that if he were forced to choose between the safety of his army or &ldquothat of Savannah, sacrifice the latter.&rdquo
Davis reluctantly seconded Beauregard&rsquos priorities, hoping that &ldquothe fullest possible defense consistent with the safety of the garrison&rdquo would be made. Beauregard promptly directed all his resources toward holding open the narrow land corridor north of Savannah that was Hardee&rsquos only escape route.
On the night of December 20, with Sherman well away from the front in Hilton Head and most of the Union troops besieging Savannah in a purely defensive posture, the Confederates evacuated the city. Sherman&rsquos March to the Sea was over.
The Jefferson Davis scheme to subvert Sherman in his mission failed in every aspect. Once Hood was permitted to pursue an independent agenda, he completely removed his army from the Georgia arena. Hood failed to realize that the Union strength remaining in Tennessee was sufficiently large enough to stop him outside Nashville, and Sherman never gave a second thought to turning back.
When P.G.T. Beauregard was not ineffectively carping at John B. Hood, he seemingly managed to be anywhere except where he was most needed. Once Beauregard was finally in a position to influence events, his determination to preserve military assets at all costs doomed Savannah.
Hardee, Taylor and then Bragg limited their participation to narrowly focused defensive measures, leaving larger strategic issues hanging. Wheeler never looked beyond the enemy in his immediate front, and though he may have banged up Kilpatrick&rsquos cavalry from time to time, his men never posed a serious threat to Sherman&rsquos timetables.
Southern soldiers who found themselves in Sherman&rsquos path fought hard, but most of the opposition was limtited to hit-and-run attacks that the Federals could easily counter. Approximately 2,300 Confederates were killed, wounded or captured in the efforts to defend Georgia.
Sherman&rsquos surge through the state was not unstoppable. If Wheeler&rsquos mounted units had been concentrated against the Federal army&rsquos logistical tail, with intelligent deployment of the militia to cover those actions, the Union columns would have been considerably impeded and Sherman would have reached Savannah in a much weakened condition. Had Hardee issued orders to defend the city to the fullest, risking his small garrison in the process, it would have taken Sherman much longer to capture the city. All of which might have delayed his departure into the Carolinas well into March.
What the badly hemorrhaging Confederacy might have done with the extra time, however, is another question altogether.
Noah Andre Trudeau&rsquos latest book, Southern Storm: Sherman&rsquos March to the Sea, reexamines that event and the Southern response to it.
Burning Atlanta and the Start of the March
Sherman left Chattanooga in May 1864 and captured the vital railroad and supply center of Atlanta. There, he out-maneuvered Confederate General Joseph E. Johnston and laid siege to Atlanta under the command of General John Bell Hood, Johnston's replacement. On September 1, 1864, Hood evacuated Atlanta and withdrew his Army of Tennessee.
In early October, Hood moved north of Atlanta to destroy Sherman's rail lines, invade Tennessee and Kentucky, and draw the Union Forces away from Georgia. Sherman sent two of his army corps to reinforce Federal forces in Tennessee. Eventually, Sherman left Major General George H. Thomas to chase Hood and returned to Atlanta to begin his march to Savannah. On the 15th of November, Sherman left Atlanta in flames and turned his army east.
Sherman's "March to the Sea" hurt the CSA's economy and helped to end the war. An estimate of the damage in dollars, made by Sherman stated that the campaign had inflicted about 100 million dollars worth of damage. To put that into context, the CSA, in 1863, had only 700 million dollars worth of bonds, (money in those days did not work as it does today) and even less in gold reserves. Unfortunately, there was a lack of data on just how much the CSA spent during the course of the war, and so, could not compare the two numbers. The march was also one of the first ever examples of being able to work deep in enemy territory, which is hard to do because 1) The lack of supplies, and 2) The inability to comunicate with other commanders. This means that the people of the South, and the Generals of the CSA could not have expected such devastation. Sherman's March not only destroyed the CSA's economy, it also struck fear into the populace with it's brutal tactics. Sherman ordered his men to "forage liberally" meaning, steal as much food as possible. He also ordered his men to burn pillage and destroy according the the regions hostility, breaking the spirit of the most resistant regions. Sherman's March was a surprise to the CSA that tore it's economy to shreds along with it's peoples will to fight. Sherman's March, in a military perpective, helped to end the war.
From an economic perspective, you can question the effectiveness of the march, despite the waste and destruction at the time, and the difficulty of repair afterward. What the March did do was show that the Government of the CSA was a sham that could no longer defend itself, outside of the Richmond entrenchments.
Sherman said it himself: "This may not be war," he said, "but rather statesmanship."
The effects were clear: from the reported calls by Georgians to go and do the same to South Carolina, from the increase in desertion in Lee's army as Sherman marched to the Sea and then north nearly to Richmond itself. And a final effect might be in the willingness of the South to disband the armies and give up rather than to try and find a redoubt to fight on in. Sherman had already showed that his army could go anywhere it wanted to.
From a military perspective, an "all out war" deep into enemy territory without any logistics is a rare occasion. It is mostly found in desperate situations. For other examples, Hannibal's march from Africa through Spain over the Alps to Italy with an army including elephants, Sultan Mehmet's decision to get ships into Halic from land, Mustafa Kemal's famous order in Gallipoli: yelling an infantry division out of ammo to charge with bayonettes and die (Which was literally the order: "I am not ordering you to fight, I am ordering you to die!")
Now, from a military science perspective, all of these examples are totally insane. Really, really insane. But, officership is an art about managing expeditions. Those campaigns might look completely wrong from a scientific look. But as I state, managing an army is an art rather than science. It is about making people believe a cause, giving them a reason to endure extreme pain. So saying that a military decision was correct/wrong is not an easy task. For example, in common sense of officership, an officer must stay out of the enemy's fire range. The reason is not he is a coward. It is simply because without him managing the situation, an entire squad may die. This is a general rule in military. But contrary to that, the teachings of officership also says, if it is truly necessary, an officer may choose to charge in front of his squad to encourage them and get the things done.
So, for being able to decide about Sherman's March to the Sea, we need an extremely deep understanding of the current state back there. Even if we do, it is still not certain.
No. Sherman did not hasten an end to the Civil War, but he likely helped secure a more complete Union victory that could be used for a better position in negotiations with the defeated Confederacy. By 1863, all major cities in the Confederacy were experiencing severe shortages of food and necessary supplies caused by Union blockades of major ports. In 1863, bread riots had broken out and desertion rates from the army were becoming unsustainable and the problem was accelerating due to inflation of the currency, a bad harvest in 1862 and the dependance on the white male workforce for agricultural work(http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Southern_Bread_Riots). CSA president Davis reported that 2/3 of the army was gone without leave http://www.georgiaencyclopedia.org/articles/history-archaeology/desertion-during-civil-war. Political dissent among the Confederate leadership led to the formation of the "Peace Party" who were actively engaged in negotiating a peace treaty with the Union. Lincoln's main opponent in the 1864 presidential election, McClellan, supported signing such a peace treaty, since voters in the North had also become war-weariedhttp://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/United_States_presidential_election,_1864. Dissent in the North was at times violent, including the New York Draft Riot of 1863.
Lincoln did not believe he would win re-election, but he did not support an early end to hostilities, either. Therefore, Grant and Sherman developed a strategy to try to end the war as quickly as possible. While Grant attacked Lee in Virginia, Sherman started the Atlanta Campaign. The successful capture and burning of Atlanta by Sherman is credited with helping Lincoln win re-election. So, due to Sherman's actions, instead of peace, the war continued longer.
After Sherman destroyed Atlanta, he started his "March to the Sea." He believed that was the best way to shorten the war, but whether he accomplished his goal is difficult to prove. The "March to Sea" increased desertion rates and helped force a surrender of Johnston's army, but it did not cause Lee's troops to surrender. Instead of the "March to the Sea," Sherman could have decided to join Grant, as he was originally requested to do so, in defeating Lee's army.
Subsequent history of the modern era has shown that military campaigns that use "total war" as practiced by Sherman to target civilians to be of little military utility to shorten a war, since it can often lengthen wars by causing the populations to become more determined. As supplies are destroyed, food, medicine and industry are increasingly rerouted to the army away from civilians. World War II is considered the apex of the use of the "total war" strategy and the Allied bombing campaign is the best example of its failure. Therefore, although difficult to prove, Sherman's "March to Sea", was likely also ineffective in shortening the war.
But Sherman's "March to the Sea" and his march through the Carolinas destroyed much of the slavery-based economic power of the South so that when the final peace negotiations took place (excluding those made on the battlefield), they were completely on the terms of the North, but most importantly it had a strong psychological effect. This was important during Reconstruction, because the South was able to be held under martial law during this time and slavery finally ended. Although there was wide spread violent opposition to the Reconstruction era governments, there are no examples, excluding black militias, of the occupying Union soldiers being targets of vigilante or terrorist groups (Fellman, Michael. In the Name of God and Country: Reconsidering Terrorism in American History).
William Tecumseh Sherman, and his March to the Sea.
William Tecumseh Sherman, was born February 8, 1820, in Lancaster, Ohio. When Sherman was nine years old his father, a successful lawyer on the Ohio Supreme court, unexpectedly died in 1829. From then on Sherman lived with his family’s neighbor and friend, Senator Ewing. When Sherman reached the age of sixteen, Ewing secured Sherman an appointment to be a cadet in the United States Military Academy at West Point, and so Sherman’s time in Ohio came to an end. Years later fighting on the side of the Union Army, Sherman worked as a General and became well known through his use of total war in subduing the Confederate States. Sherman’s March to the Sea (or the Savannah Campaign), highlights the conduct Sherman was willing use and was a major Union success in pushing the Confederacy towards surrender.
After the battle of Chattanooga on June 8, 1862, the Confederacy was feeling quite weakened under the pressure of advancing Union forces, and soon the Confederate States would be at risk of being cut in half by the forces of Sherman. Sherman eventually forced the Confederates out of Atlanta in September of 1864. It is at this point Sherman sought a way in which he could checkmate Confederate General John Bell Hood, and ultimately concluded that a march through Georgia, ending at the sea severing the heart of the Confederacy. This strategy, which was met with disapproval by some Union leaders, such as General George Thomas, as well as some apprehension from Ulysses. S. Grant, but ultimately when Hood began to cross the Tennessee river with the aim of invading Tennessee, Sherman convinced Grant of the plan and was dispatched the message “Go as you propose”(5: 466).
Having finally finalized his choice to march into the depths of the Confederacy, and trusting in Thomas to hold Tennessee from an advancing Hood, Sherman sent a final message simply stating “all right,”(5: 241), and began his march towards Savannah, now cut off from any Union support in the North. Thus on the morning of November 15, 1864, two wings of almost equal strength began the 300 mile journey towards the sea to the southeast, with a total strength of around sixty-two thousand men. Ultimately Sherman and his men encountered little resistance as they steadily marched to Savannah, and after twenty anxiety inducing days of marching in unknown areas they saw the sea they were marching towards in the distance.
Having successfully reached the sea as he had hoped, Sherman’s next task was to do away with the Confederate forces holding Savannah. This meant taking Fort McAllister, which was “bristling with heavy guns, and armed with heroic men” (7:243). Despite such a situation, Sherman ordered an assault on Fort McAllister as nighttime began to approach, and on December 13 a division of Major General Hazen’s blue coats moved steadily towards the fort. Even with artillery, the explosion of hidden torpedoes, and musketry fire coming from the fort, the Union forces would quickly breach through the Confederate’s defenses. In a mere fifteen minutes, Sherman assaulted and captured Fort McAllister. This allowed for communication to be made with the Union fleet, and with the withdrawal of Confederate troops from Savannah followed by the city’s Mayor proposing a surrender to the Union troops on December 20, completed the second step in Sherman’s march. More than this, Sherman had not spared anything that might support the Confederate’s ability to fight throughout his march. Railroad infrastructure, bales of cotton, cotton gins, machine-shops, among many other tools of industry were burned or destroyed by Sherman’s men. Alongside such destruction, Sherman’s men known as “bummers”, foraged and seized food and supplies from local farms. Along with helping to hinder the Confederacy’s ability to supply its army, these actions also served to heavily demoralize the people of the Confederacy who were at the mercy of Sherman and his men.
In the months to follow Sherman’s success at Savannah, he looked to complete his turning movement and face what remained of Lee’s army alongside Grant and his troops. At this point what remained of the Confederate army was dwindling, both in man-power as well as fighting spirit, and Sherman’s movement into the South had only further hurt their ability to fight. Thus Sherman made his way through the Carolinas with ease, continuing to employ his belief in total war by leaving destruction in this path. Eventually Sherman accepted the surrender of Confederate General Joseph Eggleston Johnston on April 26, 1865 in North Carolina. With Lee having surrendered to Grant’s forces earlier in the month, this marked the end of Sherman’s movements in the South, and the war itself was coming to a close. In the end Sherman’s choice to move into unknown enemy territory whilst having no communication with his allies, proved a stunning success for the Union. It is not without criticism however, as Sherman’s actions relating total war would leave great antipathy in many who lived in the Confederate states that were subject to his might.
The Effect of Total Warfare
While it is clear that Sherman’s movement through Georgia was successful with regards to capturing Fort McAllister and essentially splitting the Confederacy into two, there is still the question of the success of his employment of total warfare on the state of Georgia and the Confederate followers living in it. An example of a typical Georgian whose life was effected by Sherman’s march to Savannah is the experience of Dolly Lunt Burge, a woman taking care of her plantation in Georgia when Sherman marched through Georgia. As Sherman’s men moved through the area, Dolly Burge describes the actions of the Union soldiers as barbaric: “like famished wolves they come, breaking locks and whatever is in their way”, and “My eighteen fat turkeys, my hens, chickens, and fowls, my young pigs, are shot down in my yard and hunted as if they were rebels themselves” (1:23). In the midst of Sherman’s march, she exemplified the terror she felt towards the Union soldiers stating, “I could not close my eyes, but kept walking to and fro, watching the fires in the distance and dreading the approaching day, which, I feared, as they had not all passed, would be but a continuation of horrors”(1:22). While this fear could be seen as a victory in regards to crushing the Confederate spirit, the final thought of Dolly Burge as Sherman’s army finished passing through was that, “A few minutes elapsed, and two couriers riding rapidly passed back. Then, presently, more soldiers came by, and this ended the passing of Sherman’s army by my place, leaving me poorer by thirty thousand dollars than I was yesterday morning. And a much stronger Rebel!”(1:34).
Destruction of a railroad in Atlanta by Sherman’s men (from Wikipedia.org).
It would seem then that while part of Sherman’s aim in moving through Georgia with unbridled might was to deter the civilians in the seceding states to cast out their loyalty to the Confederacy, it often had the opposite affect. This aim can be seen clearly in one of Sherman’s letters to General Henry Halleck, wherein he puts for the idea that “We cannot change the hearts of those people of the South . . . but we can make war so terrible that they will realize the fact that, however brave and gallant and devoted to their country, still they are mortal and should exhaust all peaceful remedies before they fly to war” (3:126). Unfortunately for Sherman this did not seem to be the typical response of those who saw the devastation in the wake of his march, as can be seen with Dolly Burge. Instead the resolve of the Confederate rebels Sherman sought to demoralize simply grew increasingly spiteful towards Sherman and the Union troops, only feeding the flame of rebellion. A similar result was seen when Sherman moved through the Carolinas following his successful capture of Savannah. South Carolina is described as being “plunged into the purgatory of defeat, conflagration, and utter despair. The march through Georgia was, in comparison, a mere maneuver” (8:699). As it had been in Georgia, those in South Carolina who suffered from Sherman’s total war style fighting came away not with shaken resolve in the Confederacy, but rather a strengthened resentment for Sherman and Union he fought for. That being said, it would be inaccurate to insist that Sherman’s march was wholly ineffective in his aims to demoralize the enemy. Sherman himself wrote to Halleck in December 1864:
We are not only fighting hostile armies, but a hostile people, and must make old and young, rich and poor, feel the hard hand of war, as well as their organized armies. I know that this recent movement of mine through Georgia has had a wonderful effect in this respect. Thousands who had been deceived by their lying newspapers to believe that we were being whipped all the time now realize the truth, and have no appetite for a repetition of the same experience(4:227).
Clearly, at least from the perspective of Sherman, the efforts to crush Confederate resolve was not an entirely unfruitful endeavor. That said, the strengthening resentment for the Union that seemed to be a common result of Sherman’s actions would indicate that the battle over the strength of will of those in the Confederacy was not where the true potency and effectiveness of Sherman’s march and his employment of total warfare resides.
What was it then, which made Sherman’s March to the Sea of such significance? The answer to this lies in the other half of what total warfare achieves, not the destruction of people’s spirits but rather their resources. Even if the people of the Confederacy did not lose their spirit to fight, Sherman made it his goal to deny them any resource that could aid the Confederacy’s fight against the Union. Of the most important of such resources is that of railroads, as with connected and working rail lines came better logistical support, an important factor in being able to proper be supplied and continue fighting during the war. Thus railroads became key targets for Sherman, and his time at the city of Meridian exemplified his determination to crush tools such as railroads, among other assets, that could aid the Confederacy. Sherman describes his men’s efforts in Meridian saying, “For five days 10,000 men worked hard and with a will in that work of destruction, with axes, and crowbars, sledges, clawbars, and with fire, and I have no hesitation in pronouncing the work as well done”(2:173-79). Sherman’s destruction in Meridian went beyond railroads, but also depots, store-houses, hospitals, arsenals, and many other assets that were deemed of potential use to the Confederacy (10:471). The treatment of Meridian is not an outlier, rather the typical treatment of the cities who met with Sherman during his march, as well as the South Carolinian cities afterwards. The sheer amount of destruction that Sherman managed to inflict upon large portions of the Confederacy quite clearly inhibited an already dwindling army’s ability to fight. Logistically, the Union had already had the upper hand, and following Sherman’s March to the Sea this was only made even truer. So while Sherman’s embracement of total warfare may have turned many Confederates to even greater supports of the Confederacy, he also ripped from them any means in which they could legitimately oppose the Union. This is where the great success in Sherman’s actions lie.
Beyond The Civil War
It is also worth looking beyond the scope of the end of the Civil War to see why else Sherman’s March to the Sea holds importance. The first is that while it is clear that Sherman’s actions hastened the war’s end, it did so in spite of the aim of the war. Ultimately the Union wanted to bring back into the fold the states that sought to secede, yet due to Sherman’s actions this was half accomplished. While the Confederate states did in fact return to the Union, several, namely Mississippi, Georgia, and South Carolina,they did so with deep wounds that would remain unhealed for generations (10:480). Forgiveness for their treatment during the Civil War took these states no small amount of time, and even still some might look back painfully at the destruction their State once suffered. Such wounds certainly did not help when guerrilla warfare sought to resist Reconstruction following the conclusion of the Civil War. Beyond even the scope surrounding the Civil War itself, it is also important to note the implications Sherman’s actions had toward warfare as a whole. Sherman’s March to the Sea was the first military action of the United States that could be said to employ total warfare, but over time such a view of warfare would become the standard in United States conflicts in the twentieth century such as the first or second World Wars.
Sherman’s March to the Sea
Soldiers of Gen. Sherman's army destroy railroad tracks in Atlanta, Georgia, 1864.
ALMOST TWO MONTHS after William Tecumseh Sherman captured Atlanta, the Union general’s new military secretary reported for duty and learned what his chief planned for an encore.
At first glance, Alabama-born and Yale-educated Maj. Henry Hitchcock, who had received his appointment only 30 days earlier, seemed to have little in common with the combat-hardened commander from Ohio. But they quickly hit it off after Hitchcock arrived at Sherman’s headquarters in Rome, Ga., on October 31, 1864.
That night over a plain but satisfying dinner, and later around the campfire, they chatted about St. Louis, where Hitchcock, 35, practiced law and Sherman had spent considerable time before the war. Sherman spoke admiringly of Hitchcock’s uncle, Maj. Gen. Ethan Allen Hitchcock, who had fought in the Mexican War and was now in Washington advising the Union war effort.
The rapport established with his new secretary allowed Sherman to confide that he was not planning to sit on his laurels. “He told me this evening, briefly, his plans,” Hitchcock wrote. Sherman characterized his scheme as “a big game,” then added “but I can do it—I know I can do it.”
What Sherman had in mind was his own version of “shock and awe,” with Union troops moving southeast from Atlanta toward the port city of Savannah. The march would deprive Confederate troops of valuable foodstuffs and destroy railroads. More important, it would demoralize Southern civilians with a punitive demonstration of Northern military might deep in the heart of the Confederacy.
At first, Hitchcock embraced the concept with unqualified enthusiasm. “General Sherman is perfectly right—the only possible way to end this unhappy and dreadful conflict is to make it terrible beyond endurance,” he wrote on November 4. But as time went on and Sherman pushed deeper into Georgia, the idealistic aide’s enthusiasm for punitive war, recorded in letters and a diary, came to be mingled with outrage and dismay.
It was still unclear as the general and his new aide reminisced about St. Louis whether the campaign Sherman envisioned would proceed at all. Rebel General John B. Hood remained a threat, with a force of up to 40,000. Ulysses S. Grant wanted Sherman to pursue Hood, who had retreated into Alabama hoping to draw Sherman away from recently conquered Atlanta.
But Sherman pressed his unorthodox plan. Making the case to Grant, he asserted that he and his troops could cut a swath through the Georgia countryside that would result in “the utter destruction” of “roads, houses and people” and hobble the Southern war effort in the process. He also maintained that such a move made tactical sense because it would put the Rebels on the defensive. “Instead of my guessing at what he means to do, he will have to guess at my plans,” he said.
But above all, a march from Atlanta to the Atlantic Coast offered an opportunity to deliver a crippling blow to Southern morale. “I can make the march and make Georgia howl!” Sherman crowed.
Sherman understood well the horror of what he contemplated. Few other Union officers had seen so many of the war’s most significant battles or so much of its carnage. As a newly commissioned colonel back in July 1861, Sherman had retreated with the rest of the Union troops at First Bull Run. A year later, with Grant, he survived the bloodbath at Shiloh. In 1863 he aided in the Siege of Vicksburg and later fought with Grant at Chattanooga.
Sherman had not been inclined to deal harshly with Rebels at the outset of the war. While military governor of Memphis in the summer of 1862, he issued receipts for confiscated property and cultivated local citizens as potential allies. But his attitude changed when he fought Nathan Bedford Forrest in Mississippi. As Forrest waged his guerrilla campaign against Union forces, Sherman began to confiscate civilian foodstuffs, pack animals and anything else that could be used against his troops.
Sherman eventually became convinced that half measures would not do. To win the war and end the bloodshed, he determined, the South must be brought to its knees.
“I would make this war as severe as possible, and show no symptoms of tiring until the South begs for mercy,” he wrote in September 1863. “Indeed I know…that the end would be reached quicker by such a course than by any seeming yielding on our part. I don’t want our Government to be bothered by patching up local governments, or by trying to reconcile any class of men. The South has done her worst, and now is the time for us to pile on our blows thick and fast.”
European military theorists had long advocated this kind of campaign. Prussian Carl von Clausewitz sanctioned devastating an enemy’s home territory as part of a broader effort to destroy an opponent’s army. Although Clausewitz’s works had yet to be translated into English, the views of another European—Antoine-Henri de Jomini—heavily influenced Sherman’s instructors at West Point.
The Swiss-born Jomini, who served with Napoleon, argued that “national wars” against a “united people” required a firm display of military strength that would dishearten enemy civilians and deprive the opposing army of an important source of support. This was the situation Sherman believed he confronted.
“The war which prevails in our land is essentially a war of races,” Sherman wrote in January 1864 to Union Maj. R.M. Sawyer, his chief of staff, in Hunstville, Ala. “The Southern people entered into a clear compact of Government, but still maintained a species of separate interests, history, and prejudices. These latter became stronger and stronger, till they have led to a war which has developed the fruits of the bitterest kind.”
Months later, Sherman waited impatiently in Georgia to put theory into practice. When Grant finally relented, the total war for which Sherman had long argued would finally be unleashed.
Atlanta had already felt his wrath. Soon after taking control of the city, Sherman ordered the evacuation of all civilians—a measure denounced by Hood for exceeding “in studied and ingenious cruelty, all acts ever before brought to my attention in the dark history of war.”
Sherman shrugged off Hood’s indignation, and proceeded to empty the city. In mid-November, on the eve of his departure for the coast, Sherman tore up Atlanta’s rail lines and set fire to its factories, warehouses and rail depots, producing what Hitchcock described as “immense and raging fires, lighting up whole heavens.”
Sherman believed he had little choice. After his column embarked, he determined, Atlanta would be vulnerable to recapture by the Confederates, and he could ill afford to let the city’s industrial and transportation resources fall back into the hands of the enemy.
In addition, Sherman believed Atlanta occupied a dark place in the annals of the war. “We have been fighting Atlanta all the time, in the past,” the general explained to Hitchcock. Throughout the war Union troops captured guns, wagons and other war-making gear manufactured in the city, Sherman said, adding, “since they have been doing so much to destroy us and our government we have to destroy them.”
Since they have been doing so much to destroy us and our government we have to destroy them
As Atlanta smoldered behind them, Sherman’s 65,000 troops embarked on November 15, for the sea. Before departing, Sherman cut the telegraph wires linking him with the North, leaving newspapers to guess at his whereabouts. More important, he also issued detailed orders describing how Union forces would proceed through the Georgia countryside.
Supply trains would not accompany his troops, who would “forage liberally on the country during the march.” In a departure from his practice in Memphis, Sherman specifically ordered his soldiers not to issue receipts for foraged goods. But they were prohibited from trespassing or entering dwellings and were limited to scrounging for vegetables, and were permitted only to “drive in stock in sight of their camp.” Only corps commanders possessed the authority to destroy houses, cotton gins and mills. Able-bodied escaped slaves would be welcomed to join the march, but Sherman’s orders discouraged commanders from being too hospitable by noting that their primary responsibility was to “see to those who bear arms.”
On paper, the directive seemed stern but straightforward. Much would depend on how closely it was observed.
As the troops left Atlanta, Sherman noted the exhilaration and “devil-may-care” attitude of the soldiers who enthused that they would soon rendezvous with Grant at Richmond. Hitchcock witnessed the same spirit but also noticed something troubling—a drunken soldier vigorously cursing Sherman as the general rode within earshot, signaling laxity in the ranks that Hitchcock found deeply disturbing.
“I am bound to say I think Sherman lacking in enforcing discipline,” Hitchcock confided a week later in his diary. “Brilliant and daring, fertile, rapid and terrible, he does not seem to me to carry out things in this respect.”
Hitchcock noted another ominous sign as the Union column departed from Atlanta. At Latimer’s Crossroads, Hitchcock saw with relief that an empty house appeared to have been untouched by advancing Union forces. Later, after he pitched camp for the night, Hitchcock observed a “ruddy glow over treetops” that indicated the home had been torched, probably by a lone straggler.
Earlier that day, Hitchcock and aide-de-camp Lewis Dayton engaged in a “warm discussion” about the ethics of such behavior. Hitchcock maintained Union forces were required to observe generally accepted laws of war, but Dayton insisted that the North should match every atrocity committed by Confederates. “His views not important,” Hitchcock noted with evident disgust, “except as typical.”
A day out of Atlanta, Hitchcock had seen few white men but plenty of women and children watching as the Yankees marched past. Several days later, Hitchcock and Sherman ate lunch at the home of a Mrs. Farrar, who proudly proclaimed that her husband was fighting with the Rebels by choice—“the first woman who has not declared her husband was forced to go,” Hitchcock recalled in his diary. Unimpressed, Sherman calmly told his defiant hostess that she and her neighbors faced the prospect of utter ruin if they did not obey the law and stop fighting.
While whites often reacted with a mixture of fear and resentment to the presence of Union soldiers, Sherman recounted that blacks were “simply frantic with joy” as he passed through the town of Covington. At the Farrar Farm, Hitchcock reported, slaves said they had been customarily whipped with hand-saws and paddles with holes, with salt applied to open wounds. When they also reported that a neighbor’s hound hunted runaway slaves, Union troops found and shot the dog, producing “great glee” among the slaves. “No wonder,” Hitchcock mused.
Sherman’s troops are depicted foraging on a Georgia plantation in this period woodcut. The pig in the foreground meets an unfortunate fate. (Battles and Leaders of the Civil War, Vol. 4)
Sherman professed to be pleased by the efficiency and ingenuity of the “bummers” who foraged for food as his troops filed through the Georgia countryside. The bummers kept his troops well fed by loading up wagons procured from the neighborhood with pork, corn meal and poultry, and delivering the goods to the brigade commissary.
At one point, Sherman encountered a soldier carrying a jug of sorghum molasses and a musket with a ham speared on the end. As Sherman passed, the soldier muttered something to a fellow soldier about his duty to “forage liberally on the country,” paraphrasing the orders issued at the outset of the march. Sherman reminded the soldier of the prohibition against scavenging. But the story—recounted by Sherman himself—suggests that the general was amused rather than outraged by what he saw and heard.
Hitchcock, on the other hand, was unsettled by the practice. He understood it was necessary to keep the Union troops well fed and essential as a means of inflicting punishment on enemy civilians. But the line that separated foraging from pillaging was frequently ignored. “Certainly the laws of war allow of damage enough being done to teach a terrible lesson, and that lesson must be taught: it is unavoidable and right. But I would find a way to stop anything beyond,” he wrote in his diary.
Hitchcock did not record whether he encountered Dolly Sumner Burge as he rode through the Georgia countryside, but her experience surely would have confirmed many of his worst fears. Burge lived on a plantation near Covington, and on the night of November 18 she went to bed worried after hearing Union troops had helped themselves to a neighbor’s wine and valuables.
The following day, Sherman marched by and Union troops swept across her property. They emptied her smokehouse of meat. Poultry and pigs were “shot down in my yard and hunted as though they were rebels themselves.” As night fell, “the heavens from every point were lit up with flames from burning buildings.”
“Such a day, if I live to the age of Methuselah, may God spare me from ever seeing again!” she exclaimed in her diary.
Four days later, Sherman’s column arrived at the plantation of Howell Cobb, a prominent Georgia politician who had served before the war as speaker of the House and secretary of the treasury in Washington and later numbered among the possible candidates for the presidency of the Confederacy. The estate had been abandoned, with elderly and young slaves left behind.
Hitchcock said the departing Rebels took everything they could, but plenty remained. Union troops confiscated corn, oats, peanuts, salt and 500 gallons of sorghum molasses before setting the estate on fire. “I don’t feel much troubled about the destruction of H.C.’s property,” Hitchcock admitted, because Cobb was “one of the head devils.”
But Hitchcock’s discomfort soon returned. On November 25, Sherman’s column had camped at Buffalo Creek, six miles west of Sandersville, after discovering the bridge that spanned the stream had been burned down. When Col. Charles Ewing proposed setting ablaze the deserted home where the column had halted, Hitchcock protested. The pair argued about the matter until Sherman, sitting nearby unnoticed by Hitchcock, interjected.
“In war everything is right which prevents anything. If a bridge is burned I have a right to burn all houses near it,” Sherman declared.
“Beg pardon,” Hitchcock responded, “but what I was contending for…was that indiscriminate punishment was not just—and that there ought to be good reason for connecting the man with the burning of the bridge before burning his house.”
Sherman was unmoved. “Well, let him look to his own people, if they find that their burning bridges only destroys their own homes, they’ll stop it.”
That evening, a chastened Hitchcock reflected on the exchange. “To volunteer advice to General Sherman I have neither the right nor duty,” he confided in his diary. To a “certain extent,” Hitchcock conceded, the general’s views were correct. “[W]ar is war and a horrible necessity at best yet when forced on us as this war is, there is no help but to make it so terrible that when peace comes it will last.” Hitchcock’s diary does not record whether the house was spared.
Although Hitchcock recorded more examples of abuses by Northern soldiers as the march progressed, he seemed less eager to catalog the practices that had troubled him so profoundly. “Certainly the army is a bad school for religion,” he wrote on December 4, “and its dangers, etc., rather harden men than solemnize their thoughts. Take human nature as it is, and this is not at all strange, sad as it is.”
But even battle-hardened Union soldiers were shocked by one incident that occurred as they closed in on Savannah. When a column led by Brig. Gen. Jefferson C. Davis and accompanied by a throng of escaped slaves approached Ebenezer Creek in early December, Davis allowed able-bodied slaves to cross with his troops, but ordered the rest to wait.
After the soldiers crossed on December 9, Davis ordered the pontoon bridge taken down. Panicked slaves stranded on the other side tried to ford the stream as the Confederates approached. Some drowned, while those who stayed behind were captured by Maj. Gen. Joseph Wheeler’s cavalry and returned to their owners.
The fiasco produced outrage in the ranks. One soldier called it a “most dastardly trick,” and another denounced Davis as a “military tyrant, without one spark of humanity in his make-up.” In Washington, Radical Republicans complained that it “manifested an almost criminal dislike to the negro” by Sherman, according to Maj. Gen. Henry Halleck.
In most other respects, however, Sherman’s March to the Sea proved to be a military triumph. Slightly more than 100 Union officers and men were killed and 430 were wounded. Union soldiers destroyed more than 100 miles of Georgia railroad and demonstrated “that a large army can march with impunity through the heart of the richest rebel state,” Hitchcock observed.
On December 22, Sherman and his staff rode down Bull Street in Savannah, which the Confederates had evacuated the day before. Later that day, Sherman informed President Abraham Lincoln via telegraph of his conquest. “I beg to present you as a Christmas-gift the city of Savannah, with one hundred and fifty heavy guns and plenty of ammunition, also about twenty five thousand bales of cotton.”
The news of Savannah’s fall produced elation throughout the North. “The campaign will stand as one of the most striking feats in military history, and will prove one of the heaviest blows at the vitality of the great Southern rebellion,” The New York Times exulted. A joint resolution of Congress praised the “triumphal march.”
Hitchcock’s reaction, however, was more subdued. In a letter home written on Christmas Eve, he expressed his belief that “warlike purposes and preparations for renewed efforts to crush and overwhelm the enemies of the country” were indeed necessary.
But after nearly 40 days of marching through the Georgia countryside and witnessing the excesses and cruelty of the campaign, Hitchcock was in no mood to celebrate. “[T]here is something very sad, if one did not look beyond the present, to be in the midst of these sounds and sights of war, and immersed in plans for another campaign, on this evening, sacred to ‘Peace on Earth—Good-will to men.’ ”
Meanwhile, Sherman was thinking ahead to the first state to secede and the home of some of the most notorious Southern fire-eaters. “The truth is,” Sherman wrote Halleck on December 24, “the whole army is burning with an insatiable desire to wreak vengeance upon South Carolina. I almost tremble at her fate, but feel that she deserves all that seems in store for her.”
Washington writer Robert B. Mitchell marches through the kitchen to his refrigerator.
This article was originally published in the November 2014 issue of America’s Civil War magazine.
Was Shermans "March to the Sea" Really Necessary?
I've been listening to the A Civil War podcast by the Rich and Lacie and its been very good!
I havent gotten to this part of the podcast yet (the March itself), but I do know a little bit about it already just being a native american and history lover.
I only ask how necessary the pillaging and scorched earth tactics actually were, because it seems to me that such strategies are akin to carpet bombing.
I know carpet bombing theoretically is supposed to induce surrender, but historically its done the opposite.
Did Sherman's march actually make people hate the north even more rather than surrender? I know to this day some people still harbor hatred for the north and wondering how much such an action would have contributed to said long lasting hatred.
There is so much information and misinformation out there. Im curious to know what the consensus is.
Shermans march destroyed the war making capacity of the previously safe heartland of the confederacy. Virginia was already ravaged by the war there for four years and the west of the Mississippi was cut off by union victory leaving only the south east to feed and supply the remainder of confederate resistance. By marching in and destroying its capacity to sustain the confederacy sherman further weakened confederate defence in Virginia while also tying up men who could have reinforced Lee. (What good is holding virginia if you lose everything else)
So the long and short of it is, is that it was the essentially the last bastion of strategic industrial capacity that the confederates had.
The major problem with the March to the Sea is knowing how much was done by Sherman's Forces and how much was done by hangers-on, sometimes known as bummers.
Sherman went in with a lot of assumptions, based on his extensive travel throughout the area when he was younger. He also had a definite need to relieve that forces in Savannah, who were isolated and could be under potential threat. He believed that, based on the recent harvest and the relative lack of opposition, he could march across northern Georgia and reach Savannah, getting food from off the land.
Union soldiers unquestionably took foodstuffs and materiel from confederate civilians. They wrecked infrastructure as they went on. They almost certainly razed civilian government buildings and burned crops.
But much of the worst damage was done by the "bummers." Hangers-on who weren't part of Sherman's forces: perhaps deserters, perhaps people disguised as Union forces, etc.
Sherman knew what the bummers were doing, but he didn't see the point in expending the Army's strength to stop them when it would slow the army's actual march to Savannah, impoverished the breadbasket of the Confederacy, and kept food and materiel out of the hands of the Confederate government.
Frankly, the civilians had little affect on what happened in the coming months. Whether they were frightened or angered, Ulysses Grant's goal was to get Lee to surrender. The civilians' anger or pacification did really matter if there wasn't an army to defend them.
Confederate apologists and Lost Causers often seem to revel in their victimhood, and Sherman's March to the Sea is often an easy thing to latch onto. The reality was that it was necessarily for a number of reasons. It secured a major Union victory in time for impact the 1864 Election, which helped Lincoln secure reelection over McClellan, who would have likely settled for some sort of negotiated peace. It also cut out a significant portion of the South's ability to feed itself and transport goods, as Atlanta was a major rail hub and Savannah was one of the few ports remaining open (even if it was blockaded.) Finally, all the 'pillaging' was not uncommon for thee time, and was actually standard practice for European armies at the time it was more a way for Sherman to get along without supply lines rather than a specific punishment for the South, but that's war for you.
To be fair, Georgia's destruction was not imaginary. It was real and had economic consequences for generations. A study done estimated that the economic downturn in Georgia was effective until 1920. Adult men basically lived their entire lives without seeing Georgia recover from the effects of Sherman's march, and their children lived to see World War II, meaning that it probably took until the worst war in history for those scars to heal. I am far from supporting the "Lost Cause," but it takes a generation for those wounds to heal, and the grand-children and great-grandchildren were effected economically. You have to take that into account.
I am not a fan of Sherman, though I am deep admirer of US Grant. I am willing to accept the reality of the March to the Sea for what it was, but the suffering of the regular people was absolutely real, and the effects lasted for over a half-century.
"It secured a major Union victory in time for impact the 1864 Election, which helped Lincoln secure reelection over McClellan, who would have likely settled for some sort of negotiated peace."
So would this be the most pressing reason in your estimate? It was to keep Little Mac from securing the presidency? Was he really that much of a threat?
The March to the sea was brutal, yes, but not unusual. What people fail to remember is that the United States and the confederacy had different goals. The United States had to fight to win the war, the confederacy just had to fight not to lose. The confederacy wanted a peace settlement, the union needed nothing less than total victory, and that meant breaking the rebel forces utterly. When Sherman began his march, a peace settlement was starting to seem more likely, especially with the election coming up.
And also, not necessarily related but I hear it in lost cause arguments when this comes up, the confederate army looted farms just as often as the union army did. They need money and food. It was pretty standard practice for armies at the time.
Not to mention the Army of Virginia reenslaving free blacks along their route.
And also, not necessarily related but I hear it in lost cause arguments when this comes up, the confederate army looted farms just as often as the union army did.
How could anyone expect it to be different? That was part of the war of it all, I just had suspected the March to the Sea was intentionally made destructive more than was required for the foraging of the armies in question.
My thoughts on the March to the Sea is that for all the attention it receives from Americans, it was probably the gentlest example of "strategic" warfare the country has ever experienced and they American should have more sympathy for the people around the world that have been subjected to far, far worse, (particularly when done by the hand of America).
The March was necessary because the Union wanted to encircle the Army of Northern Virginia. Marching across Georgia was the easiest way to do so, but doing so required that the army loot food from the countryside.
For what it's worth, Northern Virginia was totally spent as the massive armies of the Union and CSA wandered across a relatively small area for years.
It was absolutely necessary for 3 reasons:
The Political Angle: As touched on by a few others, it gave Lincoln a victory he could point to to rally the north and win the election. The south had no long term prospect to win by this point unless the northern populace stopped supporting the war and Lincoln lost the election.
The Practical/Strategic Angle: Winning a war strategically, is about ending the enemies ability to wage war. By destroying communication, transportation, and production means, Sherman greatly increased hardships on all remaining confederate armies and ultimately saved lives by shortening the conflict. Another way to end the enemies ability to wage war is by eroding political support/public appetite for the war. By bringing destruction to the deep south, the heart of the rebellious territories experienced first hand the consequences of the war.
The Military Theory Angle: This one is my favorite as military theory is fascinating to me. (The Great Courses has an amazing course about Military Theory titled "Master's of War" for those interested.
To win a war of rebellion like the South (or the colonies during the revolution) was fighting, you don't have to "win" in the way we think of "winning" a war traditionally. You just have to "not lose" for long enough that your enemy gets tired of fighting and goes home because the losses (in men, money or political capital) become too high. The North on the other hand had to conquer and hold the South.
For examples of this, think of U.S. involvement in Vietnam. The North Vietnamese didn't "beat" the U.S. but they outlasted the U.S. appetite for war and "won" because of it. Think also of the Public wars. The Romans were beaten handily and repeatedly by Hannibal and the Carthaginian army but because the Carthaginians could not conquer and hold Italy/Rome, they just refused to surrender and after a decade of fighting, eventually won.
So back to The Civil War from the beginning. For the North to win. Defeat all southern armies. Occupy all major southern cities until the south capitulates completely. For the South to win. Make the war costly enough that voters, businessmen, politicians in the North don't find the benefit of winning the war to be greater than the cost of fighting. After Gettysburg and the fall of Vicksburg, the South could no longer effectively invade the North but that didn't mean they could not employ Fabian tactics as George Washington did in the revolution and eventually won the war. The March took away the South's ability and will to continue while it bolstered the North and isolated Lee and lead directly to the end of the war.
In my opinion, Sherman (and Grant to a lesser extent) was the first to understand the essence of modern warfare and execute a strategy that didn't simply involve "kill those guys and block that port".
Did Sherman’s March actually make people hate the north even more rather than surrender?
Hate and surrender aren’t on opposite ends of the spectrum. Quite the contrary. Sherman’s March made surrender fairly inevitable, as the CSA was no longer capable of coordinating shipments across long distances or keeping its army and any remaining functioning organs of state paid and functional. As a result of that surrender came shame, which metastasized into hate.
If Johnson hadn’t reversed Sherman’s Special Field Orders No 15, much of Georgia and coastal South Carolina would’ve been given over to the families of former slaves trying to make it in postwar USA. That was the galvanizing source of lasting hatred toward Sherman. Yes, he was one commander with a bloody reputation out of several. But Sherman was the one who actually claimed the property of the proto-Lost Cause losers and announced his intention to award all of those cities and farmland to black families. That earned Sherman a special place in the collective hatred of the surviving white gentry in GA & SC.
A few years later, once SFO No 15 had been rescinded and the land stolen back, the hate for Sherman continued to be white hot. But rather than discussing property transfers and land reform, lest that get dicey, the March campaign was further embellished as if it were unique in human history. Southern campaigns into Pennsylvania had pursued much the same tactics.
I know to this day some people still harbor hatred for the north and wondering how much such an action would have contributed to this long lasting hatred.
If it wasn’t this, it would be something else. The people who cling to that garbage dance on the knife’s edge of their own collective victimhood 150 years on while also insisting on their collective valor and ignoring the victimhood of enslaved people whom they had collectively exploited so that there would never be a true reckoning for their exploitation.
What I really want to emphasize is that this is largely post-hoc rationalization. There isn’t a comparable living myth in south central Pennsylvania because people got on with their lives, even though many families lost everything and received no federal assistance. It’s remarkable special pleading to say Georgia was unique in this instance.
And also, there were northerners who came down to rebuild Georgia and other places on the terms the US made clear at the outset. These “carpetbaggers” were treated as the enemy, often terrorized and sometimes killed, until they stopped their efforts to assist with re-development of these communities, which preferred not to have outside investment as long as the federal government turned a blind eye to what they considered their internal affairs. So Georgians had an opportunity to redevelop sooner, but they opted out of those efforts. Well excuse the hell out of me for not crying for people who won’t abide by the terms of their own surrender and then blame the other side. Distasteful as it may have been to white southerners, they gave their word to end their insurrection and took it back in ways little and big as quickly as they could.
In the late 19th C, the locust population swarmed the farms of the Midwest and created havoc, panic, and famine in much of the country. That’s another example of a comparable time frame of a place in the US that saw its farms razed and population impoverished. Land management and pest control remain important. There are USDA offices in most of the 5000-odd counties in the US. But that event isn’t memorialized in the same way, in part because it wasn’t man-made (during an active war begun by the southern states), but I think because there wasn’t a political end in exploiting the grievance against locusts. People still make hay in Georgia about what was inflicted upon their land by a cruel invading army with zero appreciation for the deep irony in their griping.
Honestly, so far I like your response the best.
Hate and surrender aren’t on opposite ends of the spectrum. Quite the contrary.
I didnt mean to make a false dichotomy out of my question lol
It was necessary to take Georgia and South Carolina to end the war in the quickest possible way.
It was absolutely barbaric and unnecessary to imprison women and children (who had never taken arms) as enemy combatants and ship them hundreds of miles, then drop them in a foreign state to fend for themselves. Even northern papers shamed him for that. For many, it was the open declaration of war against all citizens - soldier or not - that fuels their hatred for him.
Interestingly, he later committed genocide against the native tribes in the plains, which speaks to his use of strategy to win.
Well, let's see what Sherman himself said about the burning of Atlanta, where he began the march to see. The citizens of Atlanta petitioned him to spare his city, he responded in a letter.
I have your letter of the 11th, in the nature of a petition to revoke my orders removing all the inhabitants from Atlanta. I have read it carefully, and give full credit to your statements of the distress that will be occasioned, and yet shall not revoke my orders, because they were not designed to meet the humanities of the case, but to prepare for the future struggles in which millions of good people outside of Atlanta have a deep interest. We must have peace, not only at Atlanta, but in all America. To secure this, we must stop the war that now desolates our once happy and favored country. To stop war, we must defeat the rebel armies which are arrayed against the laws and Constitution that all must respect and obey. To defeat those armies, we must prepare the way to reach them in their recesses, provided with the arms and instruments which enable us to accomplish our purpose. Now, I know the vindictive nature of our enemy, that we may have many years of military operations from this quarter and, therefore, deem it wise and prudent to prepare in time. The use of Atlanta for warlike purposes is inconsistent with its character as a home for families. .
You cannot qualify war in harsher terms than I will. War is cruelty, and you cannot refine it and those who brought war into our country deserve all the curses and maledictions a people can pour out. I know I had no hand in making this war.
You might as well appeal against the thunder-storm as against these terrible hardships of war. They are inevitable, and the only way the people of Atlanta can hope once more to live in peace and quiet at home, is to stop the war, which can only be done by admitting that it began in error and is perpetuated in pride.
We don't want your negroes, or your horses, or your houses, or your lands, or any thing you have, but we do want and will have a just obedience to the laws of the United States.
You have heretofore read public sentiment in your newspapers, that live by falsehood and excitement and the quicker you seek for truth in other quarters, the better. I repeat then that, by the original compact of Government, the United States had certain rights in Georgia, which have never been relinquished and never will be that the South began war by seizing forts, arsenals, mints, custom-houses, etc., etc., long before Mr. Lincoln was installed, and before the South had one jot or tittle of provocation. I myself have seen in Missouri, Kentucky, Tennessee, and Mississippi, hundreds and thousands of women and children fleeing from your armies and desperadoes, hungry and with bleeding feet. In Memphis, Vicksburg, and Mississippi, we fed thousands upon thousands of the families of rebel soldiers left on our hands, and whom we could not see starve. Now that war comes home to you you feel very different. You deprecate its horrors, but did not feel them when you sent car-loads of soldiers and ammunition, and moulded shells and shot, to carry war into Kentucky and Tennessee, to desolate the homes of hundreds and thousands of good people who only asked to live in peace at their old homes, and under the Government of their inheritance.
But, my dear sirs, when peace does come, you may call on me for any thing. Then will I share with you the last cracker, and watch with you to shield your homes and families against danger from every quarter.
W. T. SHERMAN, Major-General commanding.