The "March to the Sea"
Sherman's "March to the Sea" is the name commonly given to the Savannah Campaign conducted around Georgia from November 15, 1864 to December 21, 1864 by Maj. Gen. William Tecumseh Sherman of the Union Army. The campaign began with Sherman's troops leaving the captured city of Atlanta, Georgia , on November 16 and ended with the capture of the port of Savannah on December 21. It inflicted significant damage, particularly to industry and infrastructure..
Sherman's "March to the Sea" followed his successful Atlanta Campaign of May to September 1864. He and the U.S. Army commander, Lt. Gen. Ulysses S. Grant, believed that the Civil War would end only if the Confederacy's strategic, economic, and psychological capacity for warfare were decisively broken. Sherman therefore applied the principles of scorched earth; he ordered his troops to burn crops, kill livestock and consume supplies. Finally he destroyed civilian infrastructure along his path of advance. The recent re-election of President Abraham Lincoln ensured that no short-term political pressure would restrain these tactics.
The second objective of the campaign was more traditional. Grant's armies in Virginia continued in a stalemate against Robert E. Lee's army, besieged in Petersburg, Virginia. By moving in Lee's rear and performing a massive turning movement against him, Sherman could possibly increase pressure on Lee, allowing Grant the opportunity to break through, or at least keep Southern reinforcements away from Virginia.
Scorched Earth and the Capture of Savannah
The campaign was similar to Grant's innovative and successful Vicksburg Campaign, in that Sherman's armies reduced their need for traditional supply lines by "living off the land" after consuming their 20 days of rations. Foragers, known as "bummers," provided food seized from local farms, while they destroyed the railroads, manufacturing, and agricultural infrastructure of Georgia. In planning for the march, Sherman used livestock and crop production data from the 1860 census to lead his troops through areas where he believed they would be able to forage most effectively.
Sherman's armies reached the outskirts of Savannah on December 10 but found 10,000 troops entrenched in good positions. The soldiers had flooded the surrounding rice fields, leaving only narrow causeways available to approach the city. Sherman was blocked from linking up with the U.S. Navy as he had planned, so he dispatched cavalry to Fort McAllister, guarding the Ogeechee River, in hopes of unblocking his route and obtaining supplies awaiting him on the Navy ships. On December 13, troops stormed the fort in the Battle of Fort McAllister and captured it within 15 minutes. Now that Sherman had connected to the Navy fleet he was able to obtain the supplies and siege artillery he required to invade Savannah.
After capturing Savannah, Sherman telegraphed 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. " On December 26, the president replied in a letter: Many, many thanks for your Christmas gift – the capture of Savannah. "
From Savannah, Sherman marched north in the spring through the Carolinas, intending to complete his turning movement and combine his armies with Grant's against Robert E. Lee. After a successful two-month campaign, Sherman accepted the surrender of General Joseph E. Johnston and his forces in North Carolina on April 26, 1865.
Sherman's scorched earth policies have always been highly controversial, and many white Southerners have long reviled Sherman's memory. Slaves, meanwhile, welcomed him as a liberator and left their plantations to follow his armies. The March to the Sea was devastating to Georgia and the Confederacy. Sherman himself estimated that the campaign had inflicted $100 million in damages, or about $1.378 billion in 2010 dollars.