The March through Georgia and South Carolina, lead by General William Techumseh Sherman, was the turning point in the American Civil War. There had been heavy fighting in Tennessee and Kentucky. General Sherman requested permission to take a very large army to the Atlantic Ocean through North and South Carolina, Georgia, then turning North back through the Carolinas and then Virginia. He would divide the Confederate states by blazing a path through the middle of them, foraging and destroying anything of military importance to the Confederates.
General Sherman’s March achieved his goal, from a military standpoint, but the way his army accomplished it, many southerners say was despicable. The most famous portion of Sherman’s March was from Atlanta to Savannah, and then to Columbia, SC. Sherman, with his enormous force, began it’s March on November 14, 1864. He took 62,000 men, without a supply line, from Atlanta, GA to Savannah after capturing Atlanta, by shutting down its supply, the railroad and setting it ablaze. The most difficulty could be feeding his men when operating without a supply line.
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He found very little trouble foraging for food and supplies with his foraging teams. They cleaned a path, left very little food and supplies, mentally raped the civilians, hoping to wear down their will to fight. His objectives included destroying any buildings that could assist the Confederacy, taking valuables, livestock, shutting down the railroad tracks and depots, cotton and tobacco fields. One of the most critical to achieve, was to defeat the Confederate spirit. To request permission to proceed with his plan, Sherman wrote to General Grant. I can make this march and make Georgia howl. ” Sherman’s presence in the middle of the South was an insult to the local residents. Even more so was the fact the Confederate Army could not stop him. Sherman’s army moved so rapidly, the first towns they came to had little or no warning of Union advances and intensions. The first town Sherman’s army encountered, was at the then state capital, Milledgeville. They had anticipated the town would offer heavy resistance, but it only took a handful of shots fired to take the town.
Before leaving Milledgeville, Sherman ordered the town courthouse and armory, along with several other military structures, to be burned to the ground. They continued to burn many structures of Confederate importance along the way, ending at Fort McAllister, which was the gateway to Savannah. In the twenty-seven day excursion to Savannah, Sherman’s March engaged in very few battles. Even though many building were burned in the towns that Sherman’s army passed, the special foraging parties would due the most damage.
Before leaving Atlanta, Sherman or “Uncle Billy” as his men would call him, had wrote “Special Field Order No. 120,” it outlined the rules for the foraging parties to abide by. The orders were very specific, as to how much food could be taken, what structures could be burned, and etiquette with the civilian population, there was a single sentence that the foragers felt gave them opportunity. That was: “The Army will forage liberally on the country during the march. ” Many soldiers believed Sherman issued the order with the intent of being the reverse.
The foragers soon helped themselves to whatever they pleased, sometimes leaving civilians without enough food to survive the winter. They set ablaze many homes, outbuildings and fields when they were done ransacking them. The local residents hid anything of value in the woods and buried them. Militarily speaking the march was an absolute success. Sherman’s army only had to engage in a few minor skirmishes with the Confederate troops. Any military targets were destroyed along the way. Sherman’s army was also well fed, for the majority of the time, and morale was high, which is rare while deep in enemy territory.
The only strategy that could be under question was that of “total war. ” “Total war” is a strategy that has been around a long time, as long as human beings have been at war. The strategy of total war is that, in wartime anything and everything can be a target. Soldier or civilian, it doesn’t matter, when an enemy comes through another’s territory everything in its path can be destroyed. The idea is to make the cost of the fight so unbearable that the opposition loses their will to continue.
In theory it is the fastest way to victory. This strategy had not been used since pre-English Empire times, due to the rules of war prohibiting cruel treatment to those not in uniform. In Europe, the rules of warfare were well established, the invaders presented a list of their needs, such as: food, fuel, housing, ect. to the local government officials and they would collect and deliver the said goods. Sherman’s methods of warfare dictated that his legacy would not be one of honor, but one of brutality and lawlessness by the south.
Georgia has since recovered from General Sherman’s March to the sea however discussing it today with someone from the south comes a deep resentment. The Atlanta Journal-Constitution published an article based on interviews with several leading historians claiming the damage Southerners claim Sherman’s army did, has been extremely embellished and some without truth. There was an angry response, in forms of letters to the editor and irate e-mails. “Sherman’s brutal tactics during his March through Georgia gave a black eye to the pride of the Confederate States that has yet to heal to this day. ”