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Sherman's March to the Sea is the name commonly given to the Savannah Campaign conducted across Georgiamarker during November-December 1864 by Maj. Gen. William Tecumseh Sherman of the Union Army in the American Civil War. The campaign began with Sherman's troops leaving the captured city of Atlanta, Georgiamarker on November 15 and ended with the capture of the port of Savannahmarker on December 21. It is widely remembered for inflicting significant property damage, particularly to industry and infrastructure (as per the doctrine of total war), but also to civilian property. A military historian wrote that Sherman "defied military principles by operating deep within enemy territory and without lines of supply or communication. He destroyed much of the South's potential and psychology to wage war."

Background and orders for the March

Sherman's March to the Sea followed his successful Atlanta Campaignmarker of May to September 1864. He and U.S. Army commander, Lt. Gen. Ulysses S. Grant, believed that the Civil War would end only if the Confederacy's strategic, economic, and psychological capacity for warfare were decisively broken. Sherman therefore applied the principles of scorched earth: he ordered his troops to burn crops, kill livestock, consume supplies, and destroy civilian infrastructure along their path. This policy is often considered a component strategy of total war. The recent re-election of President Abraham Lincoln ensured that short-term political pressure would not be applied to restrain these tactics.

A second objective of the campaign was more traditional. Grant's armies in Virginia continued to be in a stalemate against Robert E. Lee's army, besieged in Petersburg, Virginiamarker. By moving in Lee's rear, performing a massive turning movement against him, Sherman could possibly increase pressure on Lee, allowing Grant the opportunity to break through, or at least keep Southern reinforcements away from Virginia.

The campaign was designed to be similar to Grant's innovative and successful Vicksburg Campaignmarker, in that Sherman's armies would reduce their need for traditional supply lines by "living off the land" after their 20 days of rations were consumed. Foragers, known as "bummers", would provide food seized from local farms for the Army while they destroyed the railroads and the manufacturing and agricultural infrastructure of the state. The twisted and broken railroad rails that the troops heated over fires and wrapped around tree trunks and left behind became known as "Sherman's neckties". Since the army would be out of touch with the North throughout the campaign, Sherman gave explicit orders regarding the conduct of the campaign:

Opposing forces

Sherman, commanding the Military Division of the Mississippi, did not employ his entire army group in the campaign. Confederate Lt. Gen. John Bell Hood was threatening Sherman's supply line from Chattanoogamarker, and Sherman detached two armies under Maj. Gen. George H. Thomas to deal with Hood in the Franklin-Nashville Campaign. For the Savannah Campaign, Sherman's remaining force of 62,000 men (55,000 infantry, 5,000 cavalry, and 2,000 artillerymen manning 64 guns) was divided into two columns for the march:

The Confederate opposition from Lt. Gen. William J. Hardee's Department of South Carolina, Georgia, and Florida was meager. Hood had taken the bulk of forces in Georgia on his campaign to Tennessee. There were about 13,000 men remaining at Lovejoy's Stationmarker, south of Atlanta. Maj. Gen. Gustavus W. Smith's Georgia militia had about 3,050 soldiers, some of them boys and elderly men. The Cavalry Corps of Maj. Gen. Joseph Wheeler, reinforced by a brigade under Brig. Gen. William H. Jackson, had approximately 10,000 troopers. During the campaign, the Confederate War Department brought in additional men from Florida and the Carolinas, but they never were able to increase their effective force beyond 13,000.


The march began on November 15, 1864. Sherman recounted in his memoirs the scene when he left at 7 a.m. the following day:

Sherman's March to the Sea.

Sherman's personal escort on the march was the 1st Alabama Cavalry Regiment, a unit made up entirely of Southerners who remained loyal to the Union.

The two wings of the army attempted to confuse and deceive the enemy about their destinations; the Confederates could not tell from the initial movements whether Sherman would march on Maconmarker, Augustamarker, or Savannah. Howard's wing, led by Kilpatrick's cavalry, marched south along the railroad to Lovejoy's Stationmarker, which caused the defenders there to conduct a fighting retreat to Macon. The cavalry captured two Confederate guns at Lovejoy's Station, and then two more and 50 prisoners at Bear Creek Stationmarker. Howard's infantry marched through Jonesboromarker to Gordon, southwest of the state capital, Milledgevillemarker. Slocum's wing, accompanied by Sherman, moved to the east, in the direction of Augusta. They destroyed the bridge across the Oconee River and then turned south.

The state legislature called for Georgians to "Die freemen rather than live [as] slaves" and fled the capital. Hardee arrived from his headquarters at Savannah and realized that that city, not Macon, was Sherman's target. He ordered the Confederate cavalry under Wheeler to harass the Federal rear and flanks while the militiamen under Smith hurried eastward to protect the seaport city. On November 23, Sherman's staff held a mock legislative session in the state capitol, jokingly voting Georgia back into the Union and playing cards.

The first real resistance was felt by Howard's right wing at the Battle of Griswoldvillemarker on November 22. Wheeler's cavalry struck Kilpatrick's, killing three and capturing 18. The infantry brigade of Brig. Gen. Charles C. Walcutt arrived to stabilize the defense, and the division of Georgia militia launched several hours of badly coordinated attacks, eventually retreating with about 1,100 casualties (of which about 600 were prisoners), versus the Union's 100.

Sherman's men destroying a railroad in Atlanta.

Several small actions followed. Wheeler and some infantry struck in a rearguard action at Ball's Ferry on November 24 and November 25. While Howard's wing was delayed near Ball's Bluff, the 1st Alabama Cavalry (a Federal regiment) engaged Confederate pickets. Overnight, Union engineers constructed a bridge two miles (3 km) away from the bluff across the Oconee River, and 200 soldiers crossed to flank the Confederate position. On November 25–26 at Sandersville, Wheeler struck at Slocum's advance guard. Kilpatrick was ordered to make a feint toward Augusta before destroying the railroad bridge at Brier Creek and moving to liberate the Camp Lawton prisoner of war camp at Millenmarker. Kilpatrick slipped by the defensive line that Wheeler had placed near Brier Creek, but on the night of November 26 Wheeler attacked and drove the 8th Indiana and 2nd Kentucky Cavalry away from their camps at Sylvan Grove. Kilpatrick abandoned his plans to destroy the railroad bridge and he also learned that the prisoners had been moved from Camp Lawton, so he rejoined the army at Louisvillemarker. At the Battle of Buck Head Creekmarker on November 28, Kilpatrick was surprised and nearly captured, but the 5th Ohio Cavalry halted Wheeler's advance, and Wheeler was later stopped decisively by Union barricades at Reynolds's Plantation. On December 4, Kilpatrick's cavalry routed Wheeler's at the Battle of Waynesboromarker.

More Union troops entered the campaign from an unlikely direction. Maj. Gen. John G. Foster dispatched 5,500 men and 10 guns under Brig. Gen. John P. Hatch from Hilton Headmarker, hoping to assist Sherman's arrival near Savannah by securing the Charleston and Savannah Railroad. At the Battle of Honey Hillmarker on November 30, Hatch fought a vigorous battle against G.W. Smith's 1,400 Georgia militiamen, three miles (5 km) south of Grahamville Station, South Carolina. Smith's militia fought off the Union attacks, and Hatch withdrew after suffering about 650 casualties, versus Smith's 50.

Sherman's armies reached the outskirts of Savannah on December 10 but found that Hardee had entrenched 10,000 men in good positions, and his soldiers had flooded the surrounding rice fields, leaving only narrow causeways available to approach the city. Sherman was blocked from linking up with the U.S. Navy as he had planned, so he dispatched cavalry to Fort McAllister, guarding the Ogeechee River, in hopes of unblocking his route and obtaining supplies awaiting him on the Navy ships. On December 13, William B. Hazen's division of Howard's army stormed the fort in the Battle of Fort McAllister and captured it within 15 minutes. Some of the 134 Union casualties were caused by torpedoes, a name for crude land mines that were used only rarely in the war.

Now that Sherman had connected to the Navy fleet under Rear Admiral John A. Dahlgren, he was able to obtain the supplies and siege artillery he required to invest Savannah. On December 17, he sent a message to Hardee in the city:

Hardee decided not to surrender but to escape. On December 20, he led his men across the Savannah River on a pontoon bridge hastily constructed of rice flats. The next morning, Savannah mayor R. D. Arnold rode out to formally surrender, in exchange for General Geary's promise to protect the city's citizens and their property. Sherman's men, led by Geary's division of the XX Corps, occupied the city the same day.


Sherman telegraphed to President Lincoln, "I beg to present you as a Christmas gift the City of Savannah, with one hundred and fifty guns and plenty of ammunition, also about twenty-five thousand bales of cotton." On December 26, the president replied in a letter:

From Savannah, Sherman marched north in the spring through the Carolinas, intending to complete his turning movement and combine his armies with Grant's against Robert E. Lee. After a successful two-month campaign, General Joseph E. Johnston surrendered his forces to Sherman in North Carolinamarker on April 26, 1865.

Sherman's scorched earth policies have always been highly controversial, and Sherman's memory has long been reviled by many Southerners. Many slaves—some of whom left their plantations to follow his armies—welcomed him as a liberator. A Confederate officer estimated that 10,000 slaves fled their plantations to follow Sherman's army, and hundreds died of "hunger, disease, or exposure" along the way.

The March to the Sea was devastating to Georgia and the Confederacy. Sherman himself estimated that the campaign had inflicted $100 million in destruction, about one fifth of which "inured to our advantage" while the "remainder is simple waste and destruction." The Army wrecked of railroad and numerous bridges and miles of telegraph lines. It seized 5,000 horses, 4,000 mules, and 13,000 head of cattle. It confiscated 9.5 million pounds of corn and 10.5 million pounds of fodder, and destroyed uncounted cotton gins and mills. Military historians Herman Hattaway and Archer Jones cited the significant damage wrought to railroads and Southern logistics in the campaign and stated that "Sherman's raid succeeded in 'knocking the Confederate war effort to pieces'." David J. Eicher wrote that "Sherman had accomplished an amazing task. He had defied military principles by operating deep within enemy territory and without lines of supply or communication. He destroyed much of the South's potential and psychology to wage war."


Sherman's March to the Sea was celebrated in music in 1865 with words by S.H.M.
Byers and music by J.O.

The soldiers sang many songs during the March, but it is one written afterward that has come to symbolize the campaign: Marching Through Georgia, written by Henry Clay Work in 1865. Sherman despised the song, in part because he was never one to rejoice over a fallen foe, and in part because it was played at almost every public appearance that he attended, but it was widely popular with soldiers of wars in the 20th century. The song underrates the strength of Sherman's army by 20% in the line "Sing it as we used to sing it, 50,000 strong."

See also


  1. Eicher, p. 768.
  2. Nevin, p. 48.
  3. Sherman, Memoirs, p. 693.
  4. Catton, pp. 415-16.
  5. Kennett, p. 309.
  6. Hattaway and Jones, p. 655.
  7. 5th Michigan Infantry Marching Band website


  • Catton, Bruce, Never Call Retreat: The Centennial History of the Civil War, Volume 3, Doubleday, 1965, ISBN 0-671-46990-8.
  • Eicher, David J., The Longest Night: A Military History of the Civil War, Simon & Schuster, 2001, ISBN 0-684-84944-5.
  • Hattaway, Herman, and Archer Jones, How the North Won: A Military History of the Civil War, University of Illinois Press, 1983, ISBN 0-252-00918-5.
  • Kennett, Lee, Marching through Georgia: The Story of Soldiers and Civilians During Sherman's Campaign, HarperCollins Publishers, 1995, ISBN 0-06-092745-3.
  • McPherson, James M., Battle Cry of Freedom: The Civil War Era (Oxford History of the United States), Oxford University Press, 1988, ISBN 0-19-503863-0.
  • Nevin, David, and the Editors of Time-Life Books, Sherman's March: Atlanta to the Sea, Time-Life Books, 1986, ISBN 0-8094-4812-2.
  • Sherman, William T., Memoirs of General W.T. Sherman, 2nd ed., D. Appleton & Co., 1913 (1889). Reprinted by the Library of America, 1990, ISBN 0-940450-65-8.
  • Taylor, Paul, Orlando M. Poe: Civil War General and Great Lakes Engineer, Kent State University Press, 2009, ISBN 978-1-60635-040-9.
  • U.S. War Department, The War of the Rebellion: a Compilation of the Official Records of the Union and Confederate Armies, U.S. Government Printing Office, 1880–1901.

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