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Home > History > Sherman's March to the Sea

Sherman's March to the Sea

This page tells the story of Sherman's fiery path from Atlanta to Savannah.

Sherman's March to the Sea

Sherman's March to the Sea is the popular name given to the military campaign under the Command of Union General William Tecumseh Sherman, in which Union forces tore through Georgia between November 15 and December 21, 1864, destroying Confederate property, infrastructure, railroads, and farmlands as well as civilian targets.

Demoralizing Georgia

Sherman's March to the Sea was born from the idea that the Confederates would only surrender if the economy and collective psyche was broken. Union Generals Ulysses S. Grant and William T. Sherman endeavored to break the will of the Southern people by reducing their land and property to ruins in utilizing a practice called scorched earth warfare. In addition, rather than opening supply lines, Sherman ordered his army to "live off the land," which meant he gave his men permission to requisition supplies and food in any way possible, including by taking them from civilians by force.

Total Warfare

On November 15, 1864 Sherman's army of 62,000 men divided into two columns and began the "march" south from the devastated city of Atlanta toward Savannah that would eventually result in over $100 million dollars in damage (in 1864 value). Interestingly, Sherman's personal guard was comprised mostly of the 1st Alabama Cavalry Regiment, a southern unit loyal to the Union. In all, Sherman's Army destroyed nearly 300 miles of railroad tracks and numerous bridges and telegraph lines. It took at least 9.5 million pounds of corn and 10.5 million pounds of animal fodder. Any cotton gins or mills in the path of Sherman's army were also destroyed. When Sherman finally reached Savannah, he offered it as a "Christmas" gift to President Lincoln. Savannah was spared from being torched.

On to the Carolinas

In early 1865, Sherman's army turned north into South Carolina where his soldiers were eager to lay ruin to the state they believed started the war. On February 17, 1865, he occupied the capital city of Columbia, which was set aflame and largely ruined. A few days later, Sherman's Army entered North Carolina where they took the port city of Wilmington on February 22. On April 26th, 1865, Sherman accepted the formal surrender of Joseph Johnston, who commanded the last major Confederate army in the field.

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