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From November to December 1864, Gen. Sherman led over 60,000 soldiers from Atlanta to Savannah, Georgia in a scorched earth campaign to completely demoralized the Southern war effort. Sherman explained that they needed to “make old and young, rich and poor, feel the hard hand of war.”

Excursus:  The Election of 1864

  1. In the summer of 1864, the Union war effort seemed to be going terribly.  Sherman was stalled in front of Atlanta, Grant had lost 60,000 men in a month and was stuck in front of Petersburg, and other Union efforts (Banks, Butler, Sigel) had failed.
  2. There was a great amount of opposition to Lincoln, even among Republicans.
  3. Lincoln could have suspended the elections, but he chose not to.  He said: “We can not have free government without elections; and if the rebellion could force us to forego, or postpone a national election it might fairly claim to have already conquered and ruined us.”
  4. This was the first time the U. S. had an election in the middle of a war, and the first time in history any nation had one in the midst of a civil war.
  5. Some Radical Republicans sought to dump Lincoln for John C. Fremont or Salmon P. Chase, but these efforts came to nothing, and most Republicans eventually rallied behind Lincoln.
  6. The Republicans changed their name to the /National Union Party.  The sitting VP, Hannibal Hamlin, was dumped in favor of Andrew Johnson from Tennessee. Lincoln urged voters “don’t change horses in midstream.”
  7. The Democrats nominated George McClellan. McClellan promised to make peace with the South.  Democrats based their hopes for victory on the desire for peace among northerners. McClellan was a War Democrat, but the platform was a peace platform (awkward for McClellan!)
  8. Lincoln felt sure he would lose.   He wrote: “This morning, as for some days past, it seems exceedingly probable that this Administration will not be re-elected. Then it will be my duty to so co-operate with the President-elect, as to save the Union between the election and the inauguration; as he will have secured his election on such ground that he can not possibly save it afterwards.”
  9. Many US soldiers were allowed to take trains to polls and vote.  This also helped Lincoln, because 80% of soldiers who voted did so for Lincoln.
  10. Just prior to the election, Union forces won several victories. This helped Lincoln get re-elected. Lincoln won 212 electoral votes to McClellan’s 21.  Lincoln won all but 3 Union states (KY, NJ, and DE).

Hood’s March into Tennessee

  1. Hood proposed to march his army around Sherman’s and get in his rear.  This, he thought, would force Sherman to turn around and go after Hood, lest his supply line be broken. Davis approved the plan.
  2. Davis and Hood hoped the campaign might even result in the recapture of TN and possibly KY.  
  3. The Confederates set out in September.
  4. Sherman ignored Hood’s movement. He proposed to go on a destructive march to the coast, living off the land.  He said “where a million people live, my army won’t starve.”
  5. Sherman sent George Thomas and his army to Nashville to stand in Hood’s way.
  6. Hood, with 40,000 men, marched toward Nashville.  Thomas had 50,000, which grew to 60,000.
  7. Hood’s soldiers were not equipped with cold weather gear, and they were running low on food.
  8. Hood arrived at Franklin, where 28,000 Federals under Schofield waited for him.  Hood did not wait until all his troops were in place, meaning he only had 18,000 soldiers.
  9. The rebels attacked an entrenched position across 2 miles of open ground.
  10. 6000 Confederates were casualties, including 12 generals (including Patrick Cleburne, who was killed).  The Federals had only 2300 casualties and withdrew to Nashville after the attack.
  11. Hood continued to Nashville, where he camped.
  12. On December 15, Thomas attacked.  He attacked again on the second day, and drove the rebels back in the Battle of Nashville.  In a freezing rainstorm, Hood retreated into Alabama. He only had 15,000 soldiers left.
  13. This ended the war for Tennessee and Hood’s career.


The March to the Sea

        1. After sending Thomas and Schofield back to Tennessee, Sherman had 62,000 soldiers.  There were only a few Confederate cavalry and Georgia militia to oppose him.
        2. Grant ordered him to “clear the country” ahead of him and to form black regiments when he had encountered enough former slaves (he didn’t do this).
        3. Sherman said he would “move through Georgia, smashing things to the sea. I can make the march and make Georgia howl.”  He wanted to not only damage the South’s capacity to make war, but also to inflict psychological damage as well.
        4. In early November, Sherman ordered all civilians out of Atlanta and then burned much of the city.  About 40% of the city was destroyed.
        5. When Hood protested, Sherman replied “If the people raise a howl against my barbarity and cruelty I will answer that war is war and not popularity seeking. If they want peace, they and their relatives must stop the war.”  To the mayor of Atlanta, Sherman said “War is cruelty and you cannot refine it.”
        6. On November 16, Sherman’s army left Atlanta.  His orders were to forage for food and not to destroy civilian property (this was not often obeyed).  They destroyed much (but not all) of what they encountered. Sherman estimated he did $100 million in damage.
        7. One week later, they reached Milledgeville, the capital of Georgia. In the state capitol, they held a mock legislative session, during which they repeal the ordinance of secession.
        8. They met with very little resistance along the march, and on December 21, they entered Savannah.  Sherman wired Lincoln “I beg to present you as a Christmas gift the city of Savannah, with guns and also about 25,000 bales of cotton.”  They had marched 250 miles. They had also picked up several thousand former slaves.
        9. One Union soldier wrote home, saying “We had a gay old campaign.  We destroyed all we couldn’t eat. We stole all their Negroes, burned their cotton and gins, spilled their sorghum, burned and twisted their railroads, and raised Hell generally.”
        10. Sherman met with Black leaders to seek their advice on what to do with the former slaves who had attached themselves to his army. They tell Sherman that owning their own land is the best way for them to be truly free.  Sherman issues Field Order 15, which confiscated 400,000 acres of land, dividing it into 40-acre plots and giving each plot to a black family (this order was later rescinded by President Johnson).


The March through the Carolinas

        1. A bill is introduced to make Sherman the same rank as Grant.  Sherman refuses it.
        2. Over the next few weeks, Sherman rested the army, which grew to 100,000.
        3. Then in late January, Sherman marched through South Carolina.  One officer wrote “Here is where treason began, and by God, here is where it will end.”
        4. The weather was terrible, raining every other day.  The army cut down trees and made corduroy roads. The army was even more destructive in SC than in GA.
        5. Despite the terrible weather, Sherman’s army advanced 10-12 miles per day.  Joseph Johnston, hearing of Sherman’s progress, said “there had been no such army in existence since the day of Julius Caesar.”
        6. Charleston surrendered on February 18.
        7. The city of Columbia was burned to the ground (both sides were responsible).
        8. Sherman’s army continued into North Carolina.  There on March 19-21, he fought the Battle of Bentonville against a small army (22,000) under Joseph Johnston (Johnston attacked).  The Federals drove the Rebels back.


      1. Sherman’s capture of Atlanta and his marches destroyed hundreds of millions of dollars of Confederate property and supplied.
      2. They also greatly demoralized the Southern people.
      3. The marches were an overwhelming success.  650 miles in fewer than 100 marching days. Captured 3 state capitals, losing fewer than 600 men from an army of 60,000.

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"History of the Civil War in 10 Battles, Part 17: Sherman’s March to the Sea" History on the Net
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June 12, 2024 <https://www.historyonthenet.com/shermans-march-to-the-sea>
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