Tuesday, November 11, 2014

March to the Sea: Breaking Will of the South

Devastation was the result of the five year American Civil War. The Union North and the Confederate South fought each other for slavery and other political motivations. The Industrial might of the North turned towards war and contributed to its eventual victory. The agricultural power of the South brought disadvantages but allowed for them to give a good fight. In 1864, a Union General would launch a campaign a terror campaign that would help to bring the Civil War to the end. The famous March to the Sea by General William T. Sherman would bring fear to the enemy.

General Sherman’s March to the Sea was a campaign launched by the Major General William Tecumseh Sherman in Georgia during the late period of the Civil War. It was a march that began in Atlanta and ended in Savannah lasting from November 15, 1864 up to December 21, 1864. It followed the doctrine of total war evident from Sherman’s words, “War is cruelty.” Under the idea of total war, the way to defeat the enemy was through the destruction of many enemy properties and inflict a psychological blow to the minds and hearts of the opponent. And from this, Sherman aimed to break the will of the Confederates to fight on and to finally end the destructive Civil War.

The March of Sea began with the capture of the city of Atlanta. On March 9, 1864, General Ulysses Grant became the overall commander of the Union Forces. He wanted to push further south and to the center of the Confederates. He wanted to capture Georgia and he approved the request of General William T. Sherman to do. Sherman, a man of powerful courage from the start of the war, took Atlanta, Georgia on September 2, 1864. Upon the capture of Atlanta, Sherman said, “salt water, salt water.”

After the capture of Atlanta, Sherman devised a plan that would break the will of the Southerners to fight. He wanted to launch a psychological strike against the Confederates. But in the high command, generals discussed the capturing of ports of Alabama. However, Sherman voiced his opposition on the grounds that those ports were already blockaded by the Union navy, hence, no longer helped the Confederates. Sherman on the other, proposed to capture instead the port city of Savannah. It was much closer and also, it allows them to cut off South Carolina from the rest of the Confederacy. Furthermore, it was a good opportunity to do so because most of the Confederate forces under John Bell Hood already retreated to Tennessee in hope of diverting the attention of Sherman. Sherman’s superior, General Grant, supported the move and send it to President Abraham Lincoln for approval. Lincoln, however, hesitated to approve it. He did not wanted to gamble, especially when Presidential election was coming. If the plan was a failure, Lincoln could lose the election. Thus, the Sherman’s plan was only approved in November after Lincoln had won the Presidential elections.

Sherman wasted no time in preparing for his arduous and dangerous march. His plan did not relay in supply lines. Troops would march along with wagons of weapons, ammunition, and provisions, along with medical support in ambulances. In addition, men would live off the land. They would gain additional supplies from the lands they march on. Weak men had no place for such an energy-intensive campaign. Before the march, doctors screened soldiers for any physical weakness and sickness. And all those failed would not participate in the march.

In early November, Sherman started the March to the Sea. It began with the burning of parts of Atlanta. The city’s civilians and Union forces evacuated the city. Sherman ordered the burning of all war factories in the city in order to prevent the enemy from using it again in case of capture. Also, as the smoke from the fires rose, it became a premonition of the destruction that Sherman and his army would do. In November 15, 1864, General Sherman began a 60 mile march with 60,000 troops. Along with them were 2,500 supply wagons and 600 ambulances.

Sherman divided his army into two wings. The right wing was made up of the 15th Corps under Peter Osterhaus and the 17th Corp under Francis Blair with Oliver Howard as their overall commander. The left wing was composed of the 14th Corp under Jefferson C. Davis and the 20th Corp under Alpheus Williams and with Henry Slocum as their overall commander. In addition, cavalry units would support each wings with Judson Kilpatrick as the head.

The two wings had different targets. The right wing was tasked to march towards Macon. On the other, the left wing was ordered to march to Augusta. However, the left wing’s destination was all of sudden change. They no longer would proceed to August but would instead go to the capital of Georgia, Milledgeville. Milledgeville fell to Union forces on November 23. And from Milledgeville and Macon, the two forces would march towards Savannah.

During the March to the Sea, Union forces left destruction and desolation on their wake as part of the total war idea. Under the orders of General Sherman, any public facilities would be destroyed. Cotton warehouses and buildings garrisoned by Confederate troops were burned down. Cotton gins were broken. Railroads were dismantled, heated, and rolled into tree trunks. This tracks in the trunks of trees were dubbed as Sherman’s necktie. However, most soldiers disobeyed the orders of Sherman. Many officers and soldiers set ablaze to any building they saw, from barns, to empty houses. Also looting became rampant. From this misguided soldiers, the March of the Sea earned criticisms from being too much brutal. 

Much of the supplies of the Union forces came from foraging and gathering. Groups of foragers, dubbed as “bummers”, collected grains and other available food stuffs for the forces. They would also collect food from farms that were abandoned by civilians.

There were resistance from Confederate troops, but they did not posed any huge threat against Sherman’s march. Much of the Confederate troops under John Bell Hood had moved out of Georgia and positioned themselves in Tennessee in hope that Sherman would pursue them. Nevertheless, there were still some Confederate forces remaining. About 8,000 Confederate cavalry forces under General Joseph Wheeler were present. Also, state level militia under Gustavus Smith were also a hazard for the Union forces. Moreover, Confederate President Jefferson Davis also ordered a scorched-earth policy. It involved civilians destroying their crops and any food stuffs and killing their livestock. The scorched-earth policy would leave nothing for Union forces who relied heavily on collecting supplies from the lands. However, luckily for the Union Forces, when the March to Sea began, almost none followed the orders of President Davis.

There were some encounters between the Union and Confederate forces. On November 22, 1864, in Griswoldville, just near Macon, a unit of Union troops clashed against cavalry units of the Confederates. The result was a victory for the Union. The Confederates suffered casualties numbering to 650 men while the Union only lose 62. On December 13, in Ogeechee River, just 12 miles from Savannah, Union forces under Gen. William Hazen assaulted Fort McAllister, a vital fort for the assault of Savannah. The assault was successful and helped in bringing the March to the Sea campaign to a close.

On December 21, 1864, Sherman’s March to the Sea came to a close. General William Hardee, the commander of the Confederate troops stationed in Savannah, decided to pull out from the city and proceed to South Carolina. He thought that it would be such a shame and a hardship for the civilians if the city would underwent constant bombardment and devastation from a siege. And so, on December 21, 1864, Savannah Mayor Richard Arnold surrendered the city to General Sherman and Union Forces occupied the port. On the following day, Sherman cabled his superiors of the victory. In addition, as a Christmas gift to President Lincoln, Sherman sent him 25,000 bales of cotton confiscated from Savannah.

The March to the Sea campaign was devastating and effective. It caused a huge blow to the moral and to the infrastructure of the Confederates. It demoralized the civilians of the South and destroyed the credibility of the Confederate’s ability to defend their people. It also brought a huge fear to many southerners because the events during the march might happened to them. It broke the will of many from fighting the Union further. Also, with the March to the Sea, plantations, warehouses, cotton gins, and huge amount of cotton, the primary source of revenue of the south, were lost. The March of the Sea contributed to the weakening of the South and eventually the end of the Civil War.

Inscoe, J. (ed.). The Civil War Georgia. Georgia: University of Georgia Press, 2011.

Mikaberidze, Alexander. Atrocities, Massacres, and War Crimes: An Encyclopedia. California: ABC-CLIO, LLC, 2013.

Norton, Mary et. al. A People and A Nation 9th Edition. Massachusettes: Wadsworth Cengage Learning, 2012.

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