Sherman's March to the Sea is the name commonly given to the Savannah Campaign conducted across Georgia 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, Georgia on November 15 and ended with the capture of the port of Savannah on December 21. It inflicted significant damage, particularly to industry and infrastructure (as per the doctrine of total war), and 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 Campaign 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 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, Virginia. 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 Campaign, 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, Sherman's Special Field Orders, No. 120, regarding the conduct of the campaign. The following is an excerpt from the orders:
... IV. The army will forage liberally on the country during the march. To this end, each brigade commander will organize a good and sufficient foraging party, under the command of one or more discreet officers, who will gather, near the route traveled, corn or forage of any kind, meat of any kind, vegetables, corn-meal, or whatever is needed by the command, aiming at all times to keep in the wagons at least ten day's provisions for the command and three days' forage. Soldiers must not enter the dwellings of the inhabitants, or commit any trespass, but during a halt or a camp they may be permitted to gather turnips, potatoes, and other vegetables, and to drive in stock of their camp. To regular foraging parties must be instructed the gathering of provisions and forage at any distance from the road traveled.
V. To army corps commanders alone is entrusted the power to destroy mills, houses, cotton-gins, &c., and for them this general principle is laid down: In districts and neighborhoods where the army is unmolested no destruction of such property should be permitted; but should guerrillas or bushwhackers molest our march, or should the inhabitants burn bridges, obstruct roads, or otherwise manifest local hostility, then army commanders should order and enforce a devastation more or less relentless according to the measure of such hostility.
VI. As for horses, mules, wagons, &c., belonging to the inhabitants, the cavalry and artillery may appropriate freely and without limit, discriminating, however, between the rich, who are usually hostile, and the poor or industrious, usually neutral or friendly. Foraging parties may also take mules or horses to replace the jaded animals of their trains, or to serve as pack-mules for the regiments or brigades. In all foraging, of whatever kind, the parties engaged will refrain from abusive or threatening language, and may, where the officer in command thinks proper, give written certificates of the facts, but no receipts, and they will endeavor to leave with each family a reasonable portion for their maintenance.
VII. Negroes who are able-bodied and can be of service to the several columns may be taken along, but each army commander will bear in mind that the question of supplies is a very important one and that his first duty is to see to them who bear arms. ...
– William T. Sherman , Military Division of the Mississippi Special Field Order 120, November 9, 1864.
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 Chattanooga, 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 right wing was the Army of the Tennessee, commanded by Maj. Gen. Oliver O. Howard, consisting of two corps:
- XV Corps, commanded by Maj. Gen. Peter J. Osterhaus, with the divisions of Brig. Gens. Charles R. Woods, William B. Hazen, John E. Smith, and John M. Corse.
- XVII Corps, commanded by Maj. Gen. Frank Blair, Jr., with the divisions of Maj. Gen. Joseph A. Mower and Brig. Gens. Mortimer D. Leggett and Giles A. Smith.
- The left wing was the Army of Georgia, commanded by Maj. Gen. Henry W. Slocum, also with two corps:
- A cavalry division under Brig. Gen. Judson Kilpatrick operated in support of the two wings.
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 Station, 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 300-mile (480 km) march began on November 15, 1864. Sherman recounted in his memoirs the scene when he left at 7 a.m. the following day:
... We rode out of Atlanta by the Decatur road, filled by the marching troops and wagons of the Fourteenth Corps; and reaching the hill, just outside of the old rebel works, we naturally paused to look back upon the scenes of our past battles. We stood upon the very ground whereon was fought the bloody battle of July 22d, and could see the copse of wood where McPherson fell. Behind us lay Atlanta, smouldering and in ruins, the black smoke rising high in air, and hanging like a pall over the ruined city. Away off in the distance, on the McDonough road, was the rear of Howard's column, the gun-barrels glistening in the sun, the white-topped wagons stretching away to the south; and right before us the Fourteenth Corps, marching steadily and rapidly, with a cheery look and swinging pace, that made light of the thousand miles that lay between us and Richmond. Some band, by accident, struck up the anthem of "John Brown's soul goes marching on;" the men caught up the strain, and never before or since have I heard the chorus of "Glory, glory, hallelujah!" done with more spirit, or in better harmony of time and place.
– William T. Sherman , Memoirs of General W.T. Sherman, Chapter 21
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 Macon, Augusta, or Savannah. Howard's wing, led by Kilpatrick's cavalry, marched south along the railroad to Lovejoy's Station, 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 Station. Howard's infantry marched through Jonesboro to Gordon, southwest of the state capital, Milledgeville. 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 Griswoldville 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.
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 2 miles (3.2 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 Millen. 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 Louisville. At the Battle of Buck Head Creek 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 Waynesboro.
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 Head, hoping to assist Sherman's arrival near Savannah by securing the Charleston and Savannah Railroad. At the Battle of Honey Hill on November 30, Hatch fought a vigorous battle against G.W. Smith's 1,500 Georgia militiamen, 3 miles (4.8 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:
I have already received guns that can cast heavy and destructive shot as far as the heart of your city; also, I have for some days held and controlled every avenue by which the people and garrison of Savannah can be supplied, and I am therefore justified in demanding the surrender of the city of Savannah, and its dependent forts, and shall wait a reasonable time for your answer, before opening with heavy ordnance. Should you entertain the proposition, I am prepared to grant liberal terms to the inhabitants and garrison; but should I be forced to resort to assault, or the slower and surer process of starvation, I shall then feel justified in resorting to the harshest measures, and shall make little effort to restrain my army—burning to avenge the national wrong which they attach to Savannah and other large cities which have been so prominent in dragging our country into civil war.
– William T. Sherman , Message to William J. Hardee, December 17, 1864, recorded in his memoirs
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:
Many, many thanks for your Christmas gift – the capture of Savannah. When you were leaving Atlanta for the Atlantic coast, I was anxious, if not fearful; but feeling that you were the better judge, and remembering that 'nothing risked, nothing gained' I did not interfere. Now, the undertaking being a success, the honour is all yours; for I believe none of us went farther than to acquiesce. And taking the work of Gen. Thomas into the count, as it should be taken, it is indeed a great success. Not only does it afford the obvious and immediate military advantage; but, in showing to the world that your army could be divided, putting the stronger part to an important new service, and yet leaving enough to vanquish the old opposing force of the whole – Hood's army – it brings those who sat in darkness, to see a great light. But what next? I suppose it will be safer if I leave Gen. Grant and yourself to decide. Please make my grateful acknowledgements to your whole army – officers and men.
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, Sherman accepted the surrender of General Joseph E. Johnston and his forces in North Carolina 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 300 miles (480 km) 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."
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."
- Sherman's Special Field Orders, No. 15
- Sherman's Special Field Orders, No. 120
- Western Theater of the American Civil War
- Collective punishment
- Sherman's March (2007 documentary).
- The March (2005 historical novel by E. L. Doctorow)
- Eicher, p. 768.
- Nevin, p. 48.
- Sherman, Memoirs, p. 693.
- OR, Series I, Vol. XLIV, Part 1, p. 798.
- Catton, pp. 415-16.
- Kennett, p. 309.
- Hattaway and Jones, p. 655.
- 5th Michigan Infantry Marching Band website
| This article needs additional citations for verification.
Please help improve this article by adding reliable references. Unsourced material may be challenged and removed. (June 2009)
- 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.
- National Park Service battle descriptions for the Savannah Campaign
- Harper's History: March to the sea
- New Georgia Encyclopedia article on the March
- Clark, Frank Oliver, Article on Sherman's March to the Sea
- Photographic views of Sherman's campaign, from negatives taken in the field, by Geo. N. Barnard, official photographer of the military div. of the Mississippi. Published/Created: New York, Press of Wynkoop & Hallenbeck, 1866. (searchable facsimile at the University of Georgia Libraries; DjVu & layered PDF format)
- Sheet music for "Sherman's March to the Sea" from Project Gutenberg
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