Sherman Marches Through Georgia and the Carolinas Summary

  • Last updated on November 10, 2022

By employing what later came to be known as the tactics of total war and doing almost everything possible to demoralize the enemy, General William Tecumseh Sherman carved a path of destruction through Georgia and the Carolinas that materially moved the Union closer to victory in the U.S. Civil War.

Summary of Event

Following his victory at Chattanooga, General Ulysses S. Grant went to Washington, D.C., where he was promoted to commander in chief of the Union army. His successor in the western theater was General William Tecumseh Sherman. In the spring of 1864, both generals launched new offensives. Grant advanced on General Robert E. Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia Civil War, U.S. (1861-1865);Army of Northern Virginia Army of Northern Virginia , and Sherman moved against General Joseph E. Johnston’s Army of Tennessee. Grant spent the spring and summer fighting Lee in northern Virginia, where his men suffered heavy casualties Civil War, U.S. (1861-1865);casualties but forced the Confederates to fall back. By fall, the Union forces were besieging the Confederate capital at Richmond Richmond, Virginia;siege of in overwhelming numbers. Civil War, U.S. (1861-1865);Sherman’s march to sea Sherman, William Tecumseh [p]Sherman, William Tecumseh;march to sea Georgia;Sherman’s march[Shermans march] Grant, Ulysses S. [p]Grant, Ulysses S.;and Sherman’s march[Sherman’s march] Johnston, Joseph Eggleston [p]Johnston, Joseph Eggleston;and Sherman’s march[Shermans march] Hood, John Bell [kw]Sherman Marches Through Georgia and the Carolinas (Nov. 15, 1864-Apr. 18, 1865) [kw]Marches Through Georgia and the Carolinas, Sherman (Nov. 15, 1864-Apr. 18, 1865) [kw]Georgia and the Carolinas, Sherman Marches Through (Nov. 15, 1864-Apr. 18, 1865) [kw]Carolinas, Sherman Marches Through Georgia and the (Nov. 15, 1864-Apr. 18, 1865) Civil War, U.S. (1861-1865);Sherman’s march to sea Sherman, William Tecumseh [p]Sherman, William Tecumseh;march to sea Georgia;Sherman’s march[Shermans march] Grant, Ulysses S. [p]Grant, Ulysses S.;and Sherman’s march[Sherman’s march] Johnston, Joseph Eggleston [p]Johnston, Joseph Eggleston;and Sherman’s march[Shermans march] Hood, John Bell [g]United States;Nov. 15, 1864-Apr. 18, 1865: Sherman Marches Through Georgia and the Carolinas[3750] [c]Wars, uprisings, and civil unrest;Nov. 15, 1864-Apr. 18, 1865: Sherman Marches Through Georgia and the Carolinas[3750] [c]Atrocities and war crimes;Nov. 15, 1864-Apr. 18, 1865: Sherman Marches Through Georgia and theCarolinas[3750] Howard, Oliver O. Slocum, Henry Warner Lee, Robert E.

Sherman began his own campaign on May 7, starting from Chattanooga with 100,000 troops and heading toward Atlanta Atlanta, Georgia;in Civil War[Civil War] . Johnston, his opponent, had a strength of about 62,000. Johnston used delaying tactics, refusing to fight a major battle and falling back toward Atlanta. Johnston’s tactics—which are called “Fabian,” after the ancient Roman general Quintus Fabius Maximus, who defeated Hannibal by avoiding decisive confrontations in the Second Punic War—exasperated Confederate president Jefferson Davis, who replaced him with John Bell Hood.

Despite having inferior numbers, Hood then attacked Sherman twice, at Peachtree Creek on July 20 and in the Battle of Atlanta on July 22. Hood lost 8,500 soldiers to Sherman’s loss of 3,700 and had to abandon Atlanta Atlanta, Georgia;in Civil War[Civil War] . Hood then slipped around Sherman’s flank, heading toward the Union supply dumps at Chattanooga and Nashville, Tennessee.

General Grant, Union chief of staff Henry Halleck, and President Abraham Lincoln all wanted Sherman to follow Hood and to destroy his army. Instead, Sherman left a comparatively small force under George Thomas at Nashville and prepared to march across Georgia to the Atlantic port of Savannah. After burning Atlanta Atlanta, Georgia;in Civil War[Civil War] , he began the march on November 15. With Hood moving against Thomas in Nashville—where Hood eventually lost most of his army—the Confederates could oppose Sherman’s 60,000 troops with only 13,000 soldiers, mostly cavalry. Sherman advanced in two wings, brushing all opposition aside. Oliver O. Howard Howard, Oliver O. commanded his right wing, and Henry Warner Slocum Slocum, Henry Warner commanded the left wing.

Sherman’s men lived off the land. “Bummers” went out each morning to the flanks, collecting chickens, cows, vegetables, and whatever else they could find. Along the way, they burned down homes and buildings and destroyed the railroad system. Sherman was determined to see to it that Georgia’s civilians realized the horrors of war, and he succeeded. He also wished to cut off Lee’s Lee, Robert E. food supply and encourage desertion in the Army of Northern Virginia. Civil War, U.S. (1861-1865);Army of Northern Virginia Army of Northern Virginia He hoped that Confederate soldiers would want to return to their homes to protect them from his “bummers.” As Sherman expressed his philosophy,

Until we can repopulate Georgia, it is useless to occupy it; but the utter destruction of its roads, houses and people will cripple their military resources. . . . I can make the march, and make Georgia howl.

Sherman’s troops pulling up railroad tracks in Atlanta, Georgia.

(Library of Congress)

After Sherman reached Savannah on December 10, he sent President Lincoln a telegram stating that he wished to offer Savannah as “a Christmas present” to the commander in chief. After refitting his army with supplies carried from Washington by sea, he marched north into the Carolinas. South Carolina;Sherman’s march[Shermans march] Again his troops, facing no major opposition, devastated the countryside. The Northern troops were even more ruthless in South Carolina than they had been in Georgia, since they tended to blame South Carolina, the first state to secede, for the war. As Sherman put it,

We can punish South Carolina as she deserves. . . . I do sincerely believe that the whole United States, North and South, would rejoice to have this army turned loose on South Carolina to devastate that State, in the manner we have done in Georgia.

South Carolina’s capital city, Columbia, was engulfed in flames in late February.

By late March, 1865, Sherman was in the middle of North Carolina North Carolina;Sherman’s march[Shermans march] , where his old Confederate opponent, Joseph Johnston, had scraped together a small force to resist him. In Virginia, meanwhile, Grant had forced Lee to abandon Richmond Richmond, Virginia;and Confederacy[Confederacy] and retreat toward western Virginia. By early April, Grant was in close pursuit.

Lee, Lee, Robert E. [p]Lee, Robert E.;surrender of with his army almost gone as a result of starvation and desertion, surrendered on April 9 at Appomattox Courthouse, Virginia. By then, the proud Army of Northern Virginia Civil War, U.S. (1861-1865);Army of Northern Virginia Army of Northern Virginia Civil War, U.S. (1861-1865);casualties was reduced to a force of 26,700, while Grant still had nearly 113,000 troops. Johnston, with the major Confederate army gone, decided to follow Lee’s example, and on April 18 he signed an armistice with Sherman.

Significance

With Johnston’s surrender to Sherman, the Civil War was effectively over. As Sherman, who earlier in his career had directed a Louisiana military school, explained succinctly, “The South bet on the wrong card and lost.” His fifty-seven-mile-wide path of destruction had demoralized the South’s population and, with Grant’s military success, helped hasten the war’s end. By that time, to many, the Civil War had become a total war, and this fact finally led to the Confederacy’s capitulation. Sherman’s march to the sea was also an early intimation of the German Blitzkrieg of World War II.

Further Reading
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Bailey, Anne J. War and Ruin: William T. Sherman and the Savannah Campaign. Wilmington, Del.: Scholarly Resources, 2003. Chronicles Sherman’s March to the sea, from its inception in Atlanta to its culmination in Savannah, describing its impact upon Georgians. Bailey contends that the physical damage was less severe than the psychological horror inflicted by the march; the campaign depleted Southerners’ morale and spurred Confederate defeat.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Boyd, David F. General W. T. Sherman as a College President. Baton Rouge: Ortlieb’s Printing House, 1910. Documents Sherman’s early service in the South and his fondness for the people of the region.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Chesnut, Mary Boykin. A Diary from Dixie. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1949. An eyewitness account of the destruction of the South’s heartland during Sherman’s march.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Davis, Burke. Sherman’s March. New York: Vintage Books, 1988. This well-written narrative chronicles Sherman’s rapid march through Georgia and the Carolinas.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Glatthaar, Joseph T. The March to the Sea and Beyond: Sherman’s Troops in the Savannah and Carolinas Campaigns. New York: New York University Press, 1985. An excellent analysis of the makeup and attitudes of the common soldier in Sherman’s army during his marches. The author analyzes the soldiers’ views about their cause, black Southerners, white Southerners, camp life, and pillaging.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Kennett, Lee. Sherman: A Soldier’s Life. New York: HarperCollins, 2001. Generally sympathetic biography, focusing on Sherman’s military career, including descriptions of his military training and Civil War battles.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Liddell Hart, Basil Henry. Sherman: Soldier, Realist, American. New York: Dodd, Mead, 1929. Dated but still useful biography of Sherman by a leading authority on military history.
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    xlink:type="simple">Marszalek, John F. Sherman’s Other War: The General and the Civil War Press. Memphis, Tenn.: Memphis State University Press, 1981. Explores Sherman’s rocky relationship with the critical press.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Osborn, Thomas W. The Fiery Trail. Knoxville: University of Tennessee Press, 1986. An examination of Sherman’s conception of total war.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Sherman, William T. Memoirs of General William T. Sherman. 2 vols. New York: D. Appleton, 1875. Reprint. Introduction by William S. McFeely. New York: Da Capo Press, 1984. Sherman’s controversial and absorbing account of his life from 1846 to the end of the Civil War, originally published in 1875. This is an essential source for gaining an understanding of Sherman’s perception of the battles in which he participated and the leaders with and against whom he fought.

Establishment of the Confederate States of America

U.S. Civil War

First Battle of Bull Run

Union Enacts the First National Draft Law

Battles of Gettysburg, Vicksburg, and Chattanooga

Reconstruction of the South

Surrender at Appomattox and Assassination of Lincoln

Watie Is Last Confederate General to Surrender

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