General Sherman's march through the state of Georgia from Atlanta to Savannah was one of the most devastating blows to the South in the American Civil War. Not only did he take control of Atlanta, a major railroad hub, and Savannah, a major sea port, but he laid the land between Atlanta and Savannah to waste, destroying all that was in his path.
Before the March
Prior to his famous march to the sea, General Sherman led 100,000 men into the southern city of Atlanta. He defeated Confederate General John Hood at the Battle of Atlanta on July 22, 1864. He had a lot more soldiers than General Hood who only had 51,000. General Sherman finally gained control of the city of Atlanta on September 2, 1864.
The March to Savannah
After establishing control of Atlanta, General Sherman decided to march to Savannah, Georgia and take control of the sea port there. He was well into enemy territory, however, and didn't have supply lines back to the north. This was considered a risky march. What he decided to do was live off the land. He would take from the farmers and livestock along the way to feed his army.
Map of Sherman's March to Savannah by Hal Jespersen click map for larger view
General Sherman also decided that he could hurt the Confederacy even further by destroying cotton gins, lumber mills, and other industries that helped the Confederate economy. His army burned, looted, and destroyed much that was in their path during the march. This was a deep blow to the resolve of the Southern people.
During the march, Sherman divided up his army in four different forces. This helped to spread out the destruction and give his troops more area to get food and supplies. It also helped to confuse the Confederate Army so they weren't sure exactly what city he was marching to.
When Sherman arrived in Savannah, the small Confederate force that was there fled and the mayor of Savannah surrendered with little fight. Sherman would write a letter to President Lincoln telling him he had captured Savannah as a Christmas gift to the president.
Interesting Facts about Sherman's March to the Sea
The tactic of destroying much in an army's path is called "scorched earth".
The Union soldiers would heat up rail road ties and then bend them around tree trunks. They were nicknamed "Sherman's neckties".
Sherman's decisive victories are thought to have assured Abraham Lincoln's reelection as president.
The soldiers who went out to forage for food for the army were called "bummers".
Sherman estimated that his army did $100m in damage and that's in 1864 dollars!