General Sherman's March to the Sea


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General William Tecumseh Sherman's March to the Sea

Sherman's March to the Sea. General Grant arranged two campaigns for the year 1864. One, under his own immediate direction, was for the seizure of Richmond, the Confederate capital; the other was for the seizure of Atlanta, Ga., the focus of several converging railways. The latter expedition was led by General Sherman. His army numbered nearly 100,000 men, comprising the Army of the Cumberland, led by Gen. George H. Thomas; the Army of the Tennessee, commanded by Gen. J. R. McPherson: and the Army of the Ohio, led by Gen. J. M. Schofield.

Sherman and his Generals


When, on May 6, 1864, Sherman began to move southward from the vicinity of Chattanooga, his army was confronted by a Confederate force of 55,000 men, led by confederate General Joseph E. Johnston, and arranged in three corps, commanded respectively by Generals Hardee, John Hood, and Polk. This army then lay at Dalton, at the parting of the ways —one leading into east Tennessee and the other into west Tennessee.

To strike that position in front was, at least, perilous; so Sherman began a series of successful flanking movements. When he flanked the Confederates at Dalton, they fell back to Resaca Station, on the Oostenaula River, on the line of the railway between Chattanooga and Atlanta. There a sharp battle was fought on May 15. Joseph Johnston took his next position at Allatoona Pass, and Sherman massed his troops at Dallas, westward of that post, where a severe battle was fought May 25. Johnston finally pressed on to Marietta and Atlanta, where, towards the middle of July, he was succeeded by Hood.

Sherman's March Through Georgia


Atlanta was captured by Sherman, who entered it Sept. 2, 1864. Late in October Sherman prepared for a march through Georgia from Atlanta to Savannah. See Burning of ATLANTA.

When he resolved to march through the heart of Georgia from Atlanta to the sea, he delegated to General Thomas full power over all the troops under his (Sherman's) command excepting four corps. He also gave him command of two divisions of A. J. Smith's, then re-turning from the expulsion of Price from Missouri, also of the garrisons in Tennessee, and all the cavalry of the military division excepting a division under Kilpatrick, which he reserved for operations in Georgia. General Wilson had just arrived from Petersburg to take command of the cavalry of the army. He was sent to Nashville to gather up all the Union cavalry in Kentucky and Tennessee, and report to Thomas. It was believed that Thomas now had strength sufficient to keep General John Bell Hood out of Tennessee, whose force then was about 35,000 infantry and 10,000 cavalry. When, on Nov. 1, Hood was laying a pontoon bridge over the Tennessee at Florence for the invasion of Tennessee, Sherman, who had pursued him, turned his forces towards Atlanta, his troops destroying all the mills and foundries at Rome, and dismantling the railway from the Etowah River to the Chattahoochee. The railways around Atlanta were destroyed, and on Nov. 14 the forces destined for the great march were concentrated around the doomed city.

Those forces were composed of four army corps, the right wing commanded by Gen. O. O. Howard, and the left wing by Gen. H. W. Slocum. Howard's right was composed of the corps of Generals Osterhaus and Blair, and the left of the corps of Gen. J. C. Davis and A. S. Williams. General Kilpatrick commanded the cavalry, consisting of one division.

Sherman's entire force numbered 60,000 infantry and artillery and 5,500 cavalry. On Nov. 11 Sherman cut the telegraph wires that connected Atlanta with Washington, and his army became an isolated column in the heart of an enemy's country. It began its march for the sea on the morning of the 14th, when the entire city of Atlanta—excepting its courthouse, churches, and dwellings—was committed to the flames.

Sherman Marching Out of Atlanta


The buildings in the heart of the city, covering 200 acres of ground, formed a great conflagration; and, while the fire was raging, the bands played, and the soldiers chanted the stirring air and words, " John Brown's soul goes marching on!"

For thirty-six days that army moved through Georgia, with very little opposition, pillaging the countryside. It was a sort of military promenade, requiring very little military skill in the performance, and as little personal prowess, as well trained union troops were deployed against defenseless citizens. It was grand in conception, and easily executed. Yet on that march there were many deeds that tested the prowess and daring of the soldiers on both sides. Kilpatrick's first dash across the Flint River and against General Joseph Wheeler's cavalry, and then towards Macon, burning a train of cars and tearing up the railway, gave the Confederates a suspicion of Sherman's intentions. There was widespread consternation in Georgia and South Carolina, for the invader's destination was uncertain.

Confederate General P. G. T. Beauregard was sent from the Appomattox to the Savannah to confront the Nationals. He sent before him a manifesto in which he said, "Destroy all the roads in Sherman's front, flank, and rear," and, "be trustful in Providence." Benjamin H. Hill, of Georgia., in the Confederate Congress at Richmond wrote to the people of his State: " Every citizen with his gun and every negro with his spade and axe can do the work of a soldier. You can destroy the enemy by retarding his march. Be firm!" The representatives of Georgia in the Confederate Congress called upon their people to fly to arms.


"Remove your negroes, horses, cattle, and provisions from Sherman's army," they said, " and burn what you cannot carry away. Burn all bridges and block up the roads in his route. Assail the invader in front. flank, and rear, by night and by day. Let him have no rest." And Governor Brown, before he fled from Milledgeville on the approach of the Nationals, issued a proclamation ordering a levy en masse of the whole white population of the State between the ages of sixteen and forty-five, and offering pardon to prisoners in the penitentiary if they would volunteer and prove themselves good soldiers. But the people did none of these things, and only about 100 convicts accepted the offer.

All confidence in President Davis and the Confederate government had disappeared in Georgia, and a great portion of the people were satisfied that it was, as they expressed it, " the rich man's war, and the poor man's fight," and would no longer lend themselves to the authorities at Richmond. The National army moved steadily forward. At Griswoldsville there was a sharp engagement (Nov. 22, 1864) with a portion of Hardee's troops sent up from Savannah, and several brigades of militia. The Confederates were repulsed with a loss of 2,500 men. Howard could have taken Macon after this blow upon its defenders, but such was not a part of Sherman's plan. The Nationals were attacked at the Oconee River while laying a pontoon bridge, but the assailants, largely composed of Wheeler's cavalry, were defeated. 

Kilpatrick made a feint towards Augusta to mislead the Confederates as to Sherman's destination, also to cover the passage of the army over the Ogeechee River, and, if possible, to release Union captives in the prison pen at Millen. Kilpatrick and Wheeler had several skirmishes, but no severe battles. On Nov. 30, Sherman's whole army, excepting one corps, had passed the Ogeechee. This was a most skilful maneuver; and then, having destroyed the principal railways in Georgia over long distances, Sherman was prepared to make a final conquest of the State.

General Sherman's Headquarters


Moving on seaward, the division of Hazen had a severe skirmish (Dec. 4, 1864) at Statesburg, south of the Ogeechee. The Confederates were dispersed. On the same day Kilpatrick fought Wheeler on the railway between Millen and Augusta, drove him from his barricades through Waynesboro, and pushed him 8 miles, while a supporting column of Union infantry under Baird were tearing up the railway and destroying bridges.

When Sherman reached Millen, the Union prisoners had been removed; and he pushed on, amid swamps and sands, with the city of Savannah, where Hardee was in command, as his chief object. Kilpatrick and Baird covered the rear of the wing columns between the Ogeechee and Savannah rivers. There was some skirmishing, but no Confederates in force were seen until within 15 miles of Savannah. All the roads leading into that city were obstructed by felled trees, earthworks, and artillery. These were turned, and by Dec. 10, 1864 the Confederates were all driven within their lines, and Savannah was completely beleaguered; but the only approaches to it were by five narrow causeways. They had broken communications, so that no supplies could be received in Savannah. Sherman sought to make the Ogeechee an avenue of supply, oceanward, for his army, and to communicate with the Union fleet outside. The latter was soon effected. Fort McAllister, near the mouth of the Ogeechee, was in the way, and, on the 13th, Slocum ordered General Hazen to carry it by assault. It was a strong, enclosed redoubt, garrisoned by 200 men. It was carried, and this was the brilliant ending of the march from Atlanta to the sea.

It opened to Sherman's army a new base of supplies. Sherman communicated with the officers of the fleet, and, on Dec. 17, he summoned Hardee to surrender. Hardee refused. Perceiving the arrangements made to cut off his retreat to Charleston, Hardee secretly withdrew on the dark and stormy night of Dec. 20, 1864, and, with 15,000 men, escaped to that city. The National army took possession of Savannah on Dec. 22. 1864.

The Battle of Fort McAllister


On the 26th Sherman wrote to President Lincoln: " I beg to present to you, as a Christmas gift, the city of Savannah, with 150 heavy guns and plenty of ammunition, and also about 25,000 bales of cotton." On his march Sherman had lived generously off the country, helping himself to the private property of Southern familes. He appropriated to the use of the army 13,000 beeves, 160,000 bushels of corn, more than 5,000 tons of fodder, besides a large number of sheep, swine, fowls, and quantities of potatoes and rice. He forced into the service 5,000 horses and 4,000 mules. He captured 1,328 prisoners and 167 guns, and destroyed 20,000 bales of cotton. Fully 10,000 negroes followed the flag to Savannah, and many thousands more, chiefly women and children, were turned back at the crossings of rivers.

Sherman appointed Jan. 15, 1865, as the day for beginning his march northward from Savannah. The 17th Corps was sent by water to a point on the Charleston and Savannah Railway, where it seriously menaced Charleston. The left wing, under Slocum, accompanied by Kilpatrick's cavalry, was to have crossed the Savannah on a pontoon bridge at that city; but incessant rains had so flooded the swamps and raised the streams that the army was compelled to cross higher up, and did not effect the passage until the first week in February. Savannah and its dependencies were transferred to General Foster, then in command of the Department of the South, with instructions to cooperate with Sherman's inland movements by occupying, in succession, Charleston and other places. Sherman notified General Grant that it was his intention, after leaving Savannah, "to undertake, at one stride, to make Goldsboro an open communication with the sea by the Newbern Railway. Feints of attacks on Charleston kept Hardee from interfering with Sherman's inland march.

Wheeler had been putting obstructions in his pathway to Columbia; but the movements of the Nationals were so mysterious that it distracted the Confederates, who could not determine whether Sherman's objective was Charleston or Augusta. His invasion produced widespread alarm. Sherman's army steadily advanced in the face of every obstacle. They drove the Confederates from their position at Orangeburg and began destroying the railway there.

General Sherman's Headquarters in Savannah Georgia


On Feb. 18 they began a march directly to Columbia, the capital of South Carolina, driving the Confederates before them wherever they appeared. Sherman's march was so rapid that troops for the defense of the capital could not be gathered in time. He was in front of Columbia before any adequate force for its defence appeared. Beauregard was in command there, and had promised much, but did little. On Feb. 17 the Nationals entered Columbia; and on the same day Charleston, flanked, was evacuated by Hardee. The rear guard of the Confederates, under Wade Hampton, on retiring, set fire to cotton in the streets; and the high wind sent the burning fiber into the air, setting fire to the dwellings, and in the course of a few hours that beautiful city was in ruins. Sherman, after destroying the arsenal at Columbia, left the ruined city and pressed on with his forces to Fayetteville, N. C., his cavalry, under Kilpatrick, fighting the Confederate cavalry led by Wheeler many times on the way. He left a black path of desolation through the Carolinas 40 miles in width. Arriving at Fayetteville, Sherman opened communications with the National troops at Wilmington.

General Sherman was promoted major general, United States army, in August, 1864, and lieutenant - general in July, 1866. On March 4, 1869, he succeeded General Grant as general-in-chief of the armies of the United States. He was retired on his own request, Feb. 8, 1884, on full pay. He died in New York City, Feb. 14. 1891.



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