Sherman’s March To The Sea
Sherman’s March to the Sea or the Savannah campaign was the offensive launched across Georgia by Union general William T Sherman during the civil war. After successfully conducting The Atlanta Campaign earlier the same year, Sherman and his men started the Savannah campaign from the captured city of Atlanta on November 15, 1864. The campaign ended on December 21, 1864 with capture of port city of Savannah. By the time Sherman started his march to the sea; Confederate army was already on the back foot. The aim of Sherman’s offensive was to cripple Confederate economy and morale and hasten the end of the war.
The Atlanta Campaign:
From May to September, 1864 General Sherman successfully ran his Atlanta campaign during which his army had taken over the city of Atlanta from Confederate control. Atlanta was a railroad hub. After the control around Atlanta had been established, Sherman was tasked by General Ulysses S Grant to plan his next offensive in a manner that Confederate economy, morale and will to fight was targeted.
General Sherman planned his offensive across Georgia on the modern ‘Scorched Earth’ warfare. His army was divided into four parts and started their march on November 15, 1864 from Atlanta. His march was unique as he did not have supply lines back in North to feed and replenish his army. He decided to move forward without supply lines and provided for his army by taking food and livestock from local farmers and plantations.
His men looted and plundered the area during their march. They also burned and destroyed infrastructure like cotton gins and lumber mills that were vital for Confederate economy. They also destroyed 300 miles of railroads during the march. Union troops heated up portions of railroad tracks and bent them around tree trucks, calling them ‘Sherman’s Neckties’. Union army had many small battles and skirmishes with Confederate troops on their way but none really affected Sherman’s plan and pace.
Sherman’s forces finally reached the port city of Savannah, which was their last objective. Sherman had planned to link with US Navy after taking Savannah. However, as he reached the outskirts, he realized that Confederate General Hardee had established defensive positions around the city with 10,000 men. He had also flooded rice fields in the outskirts of the city. In a daring action, a Union force stormed Fort McAllister and gained access to US Navy carrying supplies and artillery pieces.
General Sherman then wrote to Hardee and told him that he had siege artillery with him and was in a position to target the entire city. He gave Hardee, the option to surrender or face wrath of his army. General Hardee decided to flee and on December 20, he and his men crossed the Savannah River. Early the next day, mayor of Savannah approached Union army and offered to surrender if Sherman promised to protect people and their property. Sherman agreed and on December 21, Savannah fell to Union.
After taking over Savannah, Sherman sent a telegraph to President Lincoln and presented the invasion of Savannah as a Christmas gift to the president. His campaign dealt a crippling blow to the Confederate war effort. Sherman’s strategy of riding deep inside enemy territory without supply lines was considered revolutionary at the time.