Sherman’s March to the Sea

US #257 – Prior to the war, Sherman had served in the South and considered it a second home.

Sherman’s March to the Sea

After burning Atlanta, Union General William Tecumseh Sherman embarked on his month-long March to the Sea on November 15, 1864.

Following his capture of Atlanta on September 2, 1864, Major General William T. Sherman turned his sights to Savannah, an important port city for the Confederacy. Traveling away from his supply lines, Sherman’s forces would forage area plantations for provisions. He wanted more from this campaign than to capture Southern land – he hoped to destroy the Confederacy’s ability to continue the war.

US #2975q – When the war began, Sherman was offered a Confederate commission, but he turned it down to join the Union.

After setting fire to much of Atlanta, Sherman and his 62,000 men began their march toward Georgia’s eastern border on the morning of November 15. His first goal was to confuse the enemy about his army’s destination, whether toward Macon or Savannah. Sherman divided his force into two columns. Though they occasionally encountered small bands of Confederate forces, they prevailed each time.

Item #M7377 – Sherman’s victory helped Lincoln win re-election.

As Sherman’s army marched to the east, they targeted the industries and agriculture that resupplied Confederate forces. He set out to negatively affect the morale of the citizens who still felt the South could win the war. In addition to gathering corn, meat, and vegetables, Sherman instructed his officers to oversee the burning of mills and confiscation of horses and mules. If a village did not resist, the soldiers were told to leave the buildings standing. Those areas that burned bridges or organized guerrilla armies were, however, subject to “a devastation more or less relentless according to the measure of such hostility,” according to his field orders. With their objectives in mind, the Military Division of the Mississippi set out to permanently change the landscape of Georgia and the minds of its residents.

US #3185i – The recovery from Sherman’s march is included in Gone with the Wind.

Sherman’s forces converged at the outskirts of Savannah on December 10. By this time, 10,000 Confederates were entrenched in the city. They had flooded the surrounding rice fields, leaving only narrow causeways to enter Savannah. This disrupted Sherman’s plan to meet up with the US Navy to be resupplied. He sent a division to capture the Confederate-held Fort McAllister and open an alternate route to the sea. On December 13, the division stormed the fort and overtook it in 15 minutes. Sherman was now able to get his supplies, as well as siege artillery to aim at Savannah.

US #2446 – The burning of Atlanta scene was shot long before filming began to make room for the movie’s sets.

On December 17, Sherman sent a message to Confederate commander William Hardee “demanding the surrender of the city of Savannah” and promising “liberal terms to the inhabitants and garrison.” On December 20, rather than surrender, Hardee and his men escaped across the Savannah River on a makeshift pontoon bridge. The next morning, the city’s mayor rode out and told one of Sherman’s generals he would surrender Savannah in exchange for protection of the citizens and their property. The general telegraphed Sherman, who agreed to the terms. The division occupied the city that day.

Sherman sent a telegram to President Lincoln reporting, “I beg to present you as a Christmas gift the City of Savannah” along with guns, ammunition, and bales of cotton. Lincoln responded, thanking Sherman and his men, calling the campaign “a great success.”

Antigua #2538-39 includes a stamp honoring the Battle of Atlanta.

After spending the winter in Savannah, Sherman marched through the Carolinas. He continued his total war strategy in the successful two-month campaign. The army reached North Carolina by April 1865, and Sherman accepted the surrender of Confederate General Joseph Johnston on the 26th. Sherman’s strategy was effective in disrupting Southern supplies and lowering the morale of Confederates, but it came at a great cost. He estimated the campaign caused $100 million in damage. His reputation in the South was irreparably damaged as the citizens of Georgia held onto bitter memories of the destruction he was responsible for. In spite of this, historians say Sherman may have brought an early end to the war because of the loss of Confederate industries and crops.

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10 responses to "Sherman’s March to the Sea"

10 thoughts on “Sherman’s March to the Sea”

  1. To end the war the destruction seems inevitable. Still destruction of cities and suffering of people is painful even to read and watch movie Gone with the wind. World was never with out war and destruction. Hopefully peaceful times that we are enjoying now will last long.

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  2. Part of US History that I started to learn about at a young age. My Great Grandfather, my Mother’s Grandfather, who she knew as a young child, was in the Union Army. I do not believe he carried a weapon as he served as a medic. All of that side of the family was from Massachusetts and he shared with my Mother’s oldest Brother that he found New Orleans unbearable in the Summer heat. It is understandable the ill feelings that the South harbored towards Sherman but his mission was to bring the South to its’ knees and that is what he did.

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  3. Sherman said that if you are serious, REALLY SERIOUS about stopping a war, then you should attack the civilians because they support the war effort. That’s what Truman did with the atomic bombs because Hiroshima and Nagasaki were supplying their war effort.

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  4. I have, over the years, studied the Civil War and the aftermath, Reconstruction and have come to firm opinion lately that reconstruction could have been done in a more benevolent and civilized way. The Southern States were treated like a conquered country (in matter of fact we treated Italy, Germany and Japan far better). Had that been done there more than likely have not been the 100+ years of bitterness that the South carried toward the North. Had Lincoln lived more than likely the Reconstruction period would have been much better because with his death the Northern Profiteers took over and wanted not only to grind the South under their heels but to get a much out of it for themselves and make themselves rich. John Wilkes Booth did more to hurt their cause than to help it. He should be reviled by every Southerner.

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    • Let’s not put all the blame for the tragedy of Reconstruction Northern politicians and profiteers. Unreconstructed Southerners never accepted emancipation and were determined to keep the black race down. With the abdication of the North to follow through with the promises of emancipation and the 13th, 14th, and 15th amendments, they were able to do so with the imposition of the Jim Crow system.

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    • They deserved harsher treatment, especially those former U.S. officers, who took up arms against the country they had sworn to defend. I am sure there was plenty of rope and trees to accomplish what they deserved in 1865. With 500,000 dead, traiters should have been given what they deserved. Maybe then, Jim Crow and other disgusting behaviours, would not have had free reign.

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  5. It’s sort of ironic but predictable that, after the war, embittered Southerners would blame Sherman for the destruction rather than the Southern leaders who pushed for secession and plunged the nation into war.

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  6. Amazing to hear these same old comments today. And how do we view militaries taking retribution against civilians now? Syria? Iran? North Korea? Is it okay when it’s one side but not okay when the other side does the same? Look deep into the mirror. Sherman left people starving and desperate. Black or white! To take the basics of life from people in the winter…. not the hero portrayed. It’s called winning at any cost. Not chilivary. Not “honorable”. Ends don’t always justify the means. Grant defeated Lee, Sherman didn’t win the war.

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  7. Both sides committed atrocities…Sherman’s’ march to the sea, the Confederate’s Andersson Prison, the North’s scorched earth policy in the Shenandoah Valley, the Confederate’s massacre of black troops who had surrendered in the Ft. Pellow massacre…plenty to go around.

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