There are many cruel things done during wars and civil wars even more so. The American Civil War was no exception.
One of the more terrible atrocities of that war was the manner in which the Union General Sherman devastated the State of Georgia. Even though he was a native of Ohio, because of his infamous March Through Georgia, Sherman’s name is much more associated with that state. In the Northern States he was hailed as a hero while, even still, he was a hate figure in the South.
He graduated from West Point in 1840 and served in the army until the mid 1850s. Following the start of the Civil War he rejoined the army with the rank of Colonel and soon after fighting at the Battle of Bull Run, he was promoted to Brigadier General.
He was one of several commanders who marched south after the Confederate Army and in summer 1864 led his army of 100,000 men into Georgia. Eventually, on September 1, he entered Atlanta intending only to burn the military buildings in the city. However the fires started by his army burned out of control and they destroyed most of the city – the scenes of which are vividly portrayed in the film Gone With the Wind.
Sherman then decided to strike right across the State of Georgia to intimidate and prove to the civilian population that the Confederacy could not protect them.
He claimed that they were fighting a hostile people as well as a hostile army and that he needed to make everybody feel the hand of war. It was a early example of psychological warfare. Other Union generals were opposed but he persuaded Ulysses S Grant that by breaking the Confederate will to fight, he would shorten the war, so Grant approved the plan.
However because of opposition from President Lincoln, who did not want him to move further into enemy territory until after the Presidential Elections, he had to delay the start of his march until mid November.
Hurrah! Hurrah! we bring the jubilee!
Hurrah! Hurrah! the flag that makes you free!
So we sang the chorus from Atlanta to the sea
While we were marching through Georgia
On November 15 at Atlanta he started his March to the Sea, the most destructive campaign of the entire war and reached Savannah before Christmas.
He divided his troops into two columns approximately 30 miles apart and they devastated everything in their path. Most of the time they were only faced by civilians and there were only two minor military skirmishes. They burned or captured all the food supplies that the people of Georgia had stored for the winter and left behind a starving population.
They probably did about $100 million worth of damage, most of which was simply waste. They wrecked 300 miles of railroad and confiscated millions of tons of corn and fodder. More importantly they ruined the South’s ability to sustain the war. When they reached their destination, Sherman offered the city of Savannah and 25,000 bales of cotton to the President as a Christmas present. The following year he continued his campaign through North and South Carolina.
Sherman’s infamous March to the Sea ended when he captured the city of Savannah on December 21, 1864 – 148 years ago this week.