Hear the rumble.
Hear the drum.
Why the Fall? (Haiku)
War Approaches the Heart of South Carolina
It was near the close of the war before invasion reached for the very heart of South Carolina. Prior to this, only the coast had suffered invasion by the bluecoat. Sherman's march to the sea was the beginning of the end for South Carolina. In 1864 the Confederacy was tottering to its fall. By that time the crisis of the war had passed with the fall of Vicksburg on the Mississippi and the battle of Gettysburg. Most of the seaports had fallen and the South was shut off from commerce, except such as could be carried on under blockade conditions. Our people went back to home-made clothes, raised less cotton and more grain. Coffee, tea and other luxuries were not to be had, while such necessaries as salt were hard to get. Sherman began the Georgia expedition with the intention of destroying the military resources of the state. He entered Georgia in May, 1864, with nearly 100,000 soldiers. He was opposed near Dalton by General Joseph E. Johnston, with a force of 50,000, later increased to 64,000 men. Johnston had difficulty getting his commanders to stand and fight, and fell back again and again. There is a large map of Sherman's march through Georgia on this link, supplied by Jim Birch. I don't suggest that you open this map on a modem!
I have read many excuses for Johnston's inability to fight, but the simple fact remains that a good commander can get his men to fight, and get more out of them than an ordinary mortal. Viewed in this context, Johnston was unable to stem the Sherman tide. Johnston retreated before Sherman's greater army until he reached Marietta, where in the mountainous country he made a stand for twenty-three days of hard fighting. Johnston lost 10,000 of his men, but Sherman's loss was 25,000 (putting the numbers at ~75,000 versus ~54,000). Early in July Sherman forced Johnston to fall back again to prevent being cut off from Atlanta.
On July 17th President Davis removed Johnston from command, turning his army over to General Hood. General Hood was a poor commander. He attacked Sherman, throwing away seasoned and badly needed men, and was severely defeated. He was forced to leave Atlanta, and instead of going southward, he led his army toward Tennessee, hoping that Sherman would follow. But the Federal general detached a part of his army to watch Hood and prepared the remainder for his march. Hood's ineptitude left Sherman essentially unopposed. There was no force left in the deep South that could come close to opposing Sherman now. South Carolina here we come! (gulp)
The Burning of Atlanta - a Portent of Things to Come! Ya'll Don't Come Now - You Heah?
When he entered Atlanta, Sherman issued an order requiring all the people to leave within five days. Hood protested against this order, and the mayor and council of Atlanta appealed to Sherman to withdraw it, pointing out that most of the inhabitants were women and children, who would suffer greatly if compelled to leave their homes. To this Sherman replied, "I have read it [the petition] carefully, and give full credit to your statements of the distress that will be occasioned, and yet shall not revoke my orders, because they were not designed to meet the humanities of the case." When all preparations for the southward march had been made and the people had been forced to depart, Sherman burned Atlanta to the ground.
The March Begins
In preparing for the long march before him, Sherman left behind all disabled or weak men, and made up a fine army of 60,000 seasoned veterans, of whom 5,000 were cavalry. The army was to feed itself on the country. Each brigade had a party of foragers, called "bummers." These men were instructed to take all necessary provisions, horses and mules, but were ordered not to enter dwellings, nor insult the people, and were told to leave a part of their property to every family, so that none would be destitute. Where the army was not opposed, Sherman ordered that mills, cotton gins and houses should not be destroyed; but they were to be burned, if resistance were made. All these orders were very badly obeyed, no effort seemingly having been made to enforce the instructions.
Atlanta to Milledgeville
The march was directed toward the capital, Milledgeville. Sherman divided his army into two divisions, the right wing under General O. O. Howard following the railroad by Jonesboro and McDonough, with orders to stop at Gordon, on the Central of Georgia Railroad; the left wing, under General H. W. Slocum, marching by way of Decatur and Covington to Madison; and thence to Milledgeville. General Sherman was with the left wing. The army spread out, visiting the important towns in that section of the state. The movement from Atlanta began on November 15th, and by the 23rd Sherman and the left wing reached Milledgeville, and the right wing had stopped at Gordon. Sherman did not destroy the capitol buildings at Milledgeville.
Milledgeville to Savannah
On November 24th the march was resumed, now in the direction of Savannah. Sherman's army visited in this section Sandersville, Tennille, Louisville, Millen and other towns. Although I cannot speak for all towns, in Louisville, where some of my kin resided, Sherman's men piled all deed books in front of the court house and burned them. The logic was that the big plantations would not be able to prove land ownership. These actions are the bane of Georgia and South Carolina genealogists. The cavalry, under Kilpatrick, passed through many places not visited by the army, such as Waynesboro. In this part of Georgia Sherman was opposed by small bodies of cavalry and infantry under various generals. These small forces did not expect to stop Sherman's army, but hoped to keep it in a narrow path, so as to limit the amount of destruction.
The Fall of Savannah
On December 9th the Federal army reached the neighborhood of Savannah. The city was defended by General Hardee with 10,000 men, and was well protected by forts and by the rice swamps which had been flooded. Though cannonading was kept up for a number of days between attackers and defenders, the city was not hurt. After cooperation had been established between Sherman and the Federal gunboats on the coast and in the mouths of the rivers, Hardee saw that it would be impossible to hold Savannah, and in order to save his army he withdrew across the Savannah River into South Carolina, on December 21st. On the following day Sherman entered Savannah and sent this telegram 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."
Sherman's Conduct in Georgia
No other campaign in the entire war has contributed more to keeping alive sectional feeling than Sherman's march through Georgia and South Carolina. The march began in November, after the crops had been gathered. The "bummers" found the barns bursting with grain, fodder, and peas, the outhouses full of cotton, the yards crowded with hogs, chickens, and turkeys. The soldiers in the Southern armies were starving, not because there was no food, but because the rail roads had been destroyed and it was impossible to send supplies to the front. Sherman was not content simply to use what food and supplies he needed, but boasted that he would "smash things to the sea" and make Georgia howl. His men entered dwellings, taking everything of value that could be moved, such as silver plate and jewelry; and killed and left dead in the pens thousands of hogs, sheep and poultry. Many dwellings were burned without any justification. Sherman in his own Memoirs testifies to the conduct of his men, estimating that he had destroyed $80,000,000 worth of property of which he could make no use. This he describes as "simple waste and destruction." One of the most serious aspects of his work was the destruction of the railroads; the Central from Macon to Savannah, for instance, was almost totally ruined. According to Angle and Miers (1960), Sherman had no black soldiers in his army and did not think highly of them.
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Copyright ©1999, Dr. Frank Oliver Clark. These documents may be freely used for private purposes, and included in your own genealogy. However, all of these documents are copyrighted and may not be sold, nor given to anyone who may attempt to derive profit from same. Please send any errors, corrections, conjectures, updates, etc. to Dr. Frank O. Clark.