World Library  
Flag as Inappropriate
Email this Article

Sherman's March to the Sea

Savannah Campaign
Part of the American Civil War

Union soldiers destroying telegraph poles and railroads, and freed slaves assisting Union soldiers and making their way to safety.
Date 1864
Location Georgia
Result Union victory
United States (Union) CSA (Confederacy)
Commanders and leaders
William T. Sherman Joseph Wheeler
Units involved
Army of the Tennessee
Army of Georgia
Confederate militia

Sherman's March to the Sea is the name commonly given to the Savannah on December 21. His forces destroyed military targets as well as industry, infrastructure, and civilian property and disrupted the Confederacy's economy and its transportation networks. Sherman's bold move of operating deep within enemy territory and without supply lines is considered to be revolutionary in the annals of war.


  • Background and objectives 1
  • Opposing forces 2
  • March 3
  • Aftermath 4
  • Legacy 5
  • See also 6
  • Notes 7
  • References 8
    • Primary sources 8.1
  • Further reading 9
  • External links 10

Background and objectives

Sherman's "March to the Sea" followed his successful Atlanta Campaign of May to September 1864. He and the Union Army's commander, Lt. Gen. Ulysses S. Grant, believed that the Civil War would come to an end only if the Confederacy's strategic, economic, and psychological capacity for warfare were decisively broken.[1] Sherman therefore planned an operation that has been compared to the modern principles of scorched earth warfare, or total war. Although his formal orders (excerpted below) specified control over destruction of infrastructure in areas in which his army was unmolested by guerrilla activity, he recognized that supplying an army through liberal foraging would have a destructive effect on the morale of the civilian population it encountered in its wide sweep through the state.[2]

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.

The campaign was designed by Grant and Sherman to be similar to Grant's innovative and successful 1860 census to lead his troops through areas where he believed they would be able to forage most effectively.[3] The twisted and broken railroad rails that the troops heated over fires and wrapped around tree trunks and left behind became known as "Sherman's neckties". As the army would be out of touch with the North throughout the campaign, Sherman gave explicit orders, Sherman's Special Field Orders, No. 120, regarding the conduct of the campaign. The following is an excerpt from the orders:

Opposing forces

Sherman, commanding the Franklin-Nashville Campaign. For the Savannah Campaign, Sherman's remaining force of 62,000 men (55,000 infantry, 5,000 cavalry, and 2,000 artillerymen manning 64 guns) was divided into two columns for the march:

The Confederate opposition from Lt. Gen. Joseph Wheeler, reinforced by a brigade under Brig. Gen. William H. Jackson, had approximately 10,000 troopers. During the campaign, the Confederate War Department brought in additional men from Florida and the Carolinas, but they never were able to increase their effective force beyond 13,000.


Both U.S. President Abraham Lincoln and General Ulysses S. Grant had serious reservations about Sherman's plans.[5] Still, Grant trusted Sherman's assessment and on November 2, 1864, he sent Sherman a telegram stating simply, "Go as you propose."[6] The 300-mile (480 km) march began on November 15. Sherman recounted in his memoirs the scene when he left at 7 a.m. the following day:

Sherman's March to the Sea.

Sherman's personal escort on the march was the 1st Alabama Cavalry Regiment, a unit made up entirely of Southerners who remained loyal to the Union.

The two wings of the army attempted to confuse and deceive the enemy about their destinations; the Confederates could not tell from the initial movements whether Sherman would march on Milledgeville. Slocum's wing, accompanied by Sherman, moved to the east, in the direction of Augusta. They destroyed the bridge across the Oconee River and then turned south.[7]

The first real resistance was felt by Howard's right wing at the Governor Joseph Brown and the state legislature. On November 23, Slocum's troops captured the city and held a mock legislative session in the capitol building, jokingly voting Georgia back into the Union and playing cards.

Sherman's men destroying a railroad in Atlanta.

Several small actions followed. Wheeler and some infantry struck in a rearguard action at Ball's Ferry on November 24 and November 25. While Howard's wing was delayed near Ball's Bluff, the 1st Alabama Cavalry (a Federal regiment) engaged Confederate pickets. Overnight, Union engineers constructed a bridge 2 miles (3.2 km) away from the bluff across the Battle of Waynesboro.

More Union troops entered the campaign from an unlikely direction. Maj. Gen. Hardee had entrenched 10,000 men in good positions, and his 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, William B. Hazen's division of Howard's wing stormed the fort in the Battle of Fort McAllister and captured it within 15 minutes. Some of the 134 Union casualties were caused by torpedoes, a name for crude land mines that were used only rarely in the war.

Now that Sherman had connected to the Navy fleet under Rear Admiral John A. Dahlgren, he was able to obtain the supplies and siege artillery he required to invest Savannah. On December 17, he sent a message to Hardee in the city:

Hardee decided not to surrender but to escape. On December 20, he led his men across the Savannah River on a makeshift pontoon bridge. The next morning, Savannah Mayor Richard Dennis Arnold, with a delegation of aldermen and ladies of the city, rode out (until they were unhorsed by fleeing Confederate cavalrymen) to offer a proposition: The city would surrender and offer no resistance, in exchange for General Geary's promise to protect the city's citizens and their property. Geary telegraphed Sherman, who advised him to accept the offer. Arnold presented him with the key to the city, and Sherman's men, led by Geary's division of the XX Corps, occupied the city the same day.[8]


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."[9] On December 26, the president replied in a letter:[10] I

Many, many thanks for your Christmas gift – the capture of Savannah. When you were leaving Atlanta for the Atlantic coast, I was anxious, if not fearful; but feeling that you were the better judge, and remembering that 'nothing risked, nothing gained' I did not interfere. Now, the undertaking being a success, the honor is all yours; for I believe none of us went farther than to acquiesce. And taking the work of Gen. Thomas into the count, as it should be taken, it is indeed a great success. Not only does it afford the obvious and immediate military advantage; but, in showing to the world that your army could be divided, putting the stronger part to an important new service, and yet leaving enough to vanquish the old opposing force of the whole—Hood's army—it brings those who sat in darkness, to see a great light. But what next? I suppose it will be safer if I leave Gen. Grant and yourself to decide. Please make my grateful acknowledgements to your whole army, officers and men.

The March attracted a huge number of refugees, to whom Sherman assigned land with his Special Field Orders No. 15. These orders have been depicted in popular culture as the origin of the supposed "40 acres and a mule" promise.[11]

From Savannah, after a month-long delay for rest, 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.[12]

We are not only fighting armies, but a hostile people, and must make old and young, rich and poor, feel the hard hand of war, as well as their organized armies. I know that this recent movement of mine through Georgia has had a wonderful effect in this respect. Thousands who had been deceived by their lying papers into the belief that we were being whipped all the time, realized the truth, and have no appetite for a repetition of the same experience.

Letter, Sherman to Henry W. Halleck, December 24, 1864.[13]

Sherman's scorched earth policies have always been highly controversial, and Sherman's memory has long been reviled by many Southerners. Slaves' opinions varied concerning the actions of Sherman and his army. Some who welcomed him as a liberator chose to follow his armies. Jacqueline Campbell has written, on the other hand, that some slaves looked upon the Union army's ransacking and invasive actions with disdain. They often felt betrayed, as they "suffered along with their owners, complicating their decision of whether to flee with or from Union troops."[14] A Confederate officer estimated that 10,000 liberated slaves followed Sherman's army, and hundreds died of "hunger, disease, or exposure" along the way.[15]

The March to the Sea was devastating to Georgia and the Confederacy. Sherman himself estimated that the campaign had inflicted $100 million (about $1.4 billion in 2010 dollars)[16] in destruction, about one fifth of which "inured to our advantage" while the "remainder is simple waste and destruction."[15] The Army wrecked 300 miles (480 km) of railroad and numerous bridges and miles of telegraph lines. It seized 5,000 horses, 4,000 mules, and 13,000 head of cattle. It confiscated 9.5 million pounds of corn and 10.5 million pounds of fodder, and destroyed uncounted cotton gins and mills.[17] Military historians Herman Hattaway and Archer Jones cited the significant damage wrought to railroads and Southern logistics in the campaign and stated that "Sherman's raid succeeded in 'knocking the Confederate war effort to pieces'."[18] David J. Eicher wrote that "Sherman had accomplished an amazing task. He had defied military principles by operating deep within enemy territory and without lines of supply or communication. He destroyed much of the South's potential and psychology to wage war."[19]


Sherman's March to the Sea was celebrated in music in 1865 with words by S.H.M. Byers and music by J.O. Rockwell.

Union soldiers sang many songs during the March, but it is one written afterward that has come to symbolize the campaign: "Henry Clay Work in 1865. Sung from the point of view of a Union soldier, the lyrics detail the freeing of slaves and punishing the Confederacy for starting the war. Coincidentally, Sherman came to dislike the song, in part because he was never one to rejoice over a fallen foe, and in part because it was played at almost every public appearance that he attended,[20] but it was widely popular with soldiers of wars in the 20th century. Reputedly, an English town played it to welcome southern U.S. soldiers in World War II, unaware of the antipathy that many American southerners felt towards the song.

See also


  1. ^ Eicher, p. 739.
  2. ^ Trudeau, pp. 47-48, 51-55.
  3. ^ Trudeau, p. 52.
  4. ^ Coffey, Walter. "The Civil War This Week: Oct 27-Nov 2, 1864". Wordpress. Retrieved 28 March 2015. 
  5. ^ Trudeau, pp. 40-41.
  6. ^ Trudeau, p. 45.
  7. ^ Nevin, p. 48.
  8. ^ Sherman, Memoirs, p. 693.
  9. ^ Trudeau, p. 508.
  10. ^ Trudeau, p. 521.
  11. ^ Henry Louis Gates, Jr., "The Truth Behind '40 Acres and a Mule'", The Root, 7 January 2013.
  12. ^ Eicher, pp. 793–94, 797–99, 831–35.
  13. ^ OR, Series I, Vol. XLIV, Part 1, p. 798.
  14. ^ Campbell, p. 33.
  15. ^ a b Catton, pp. 415-16.
  16. ^ Inflation Calculator website, accessed April 14, 2010.
  17. ^ Kennett, p. 309.
  18. ^ Hattaway and Jones, p. 655.
  19. ^ Eicher, p. 768.
  20. ^ Eicher, p. 763.


  • Campbell, Jacqueline Glass. When Sherman Marched North from the Sea: Resistance on the Confederate Home Front. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2003. ISBN 978-0-8078-5659-8.
  • Catton, Bruce. The Centennial History of the Civil War. Vol. 3, Never Call Retreat. Garden City, NY: Doubleday, 1965. ISBN 0-671-46990-8.
  • Eicher, David J. The Longest Night: A Military History of the Civil War. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2001. ISBN 0-684-84944-5.
  • Hattaway, Herman, and Archer Jones. How the North Won: A Military History of the Civil War. Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1983. ISBN 0-252-00918-5.
  • Kennett, Lee. Marching through Georgia: The Story of Soldiers and Civilians During Sherman's Campaign. New York: HarperCollins Publishers, 1995. ISBN 0-06-092745-3.
  • McPherson, James M. Battle Cry of Freedom: The Civil War Era. Oxford History of the United States. New York: Oxford University Press, 1988. ISBN 0-19-503863-0.
  • Nevin, David, and the Editors of Time-Life Books. Sherman's March: Atlanta to the Sea. Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1986. ISBN 0-8094-4812-2.
  • Trudeau, Noah Andre. Southern Storm: Sherman's March to the Sea. New York: HarperCollins, 2008. ISBN 978-0-06-059867-9.

Primary sources

  • Sherman, William T. Memoirs of General W.T. Sherman. 2nd ed. New York: Library of America, 1990. ISBN 0-940450-65-8. First published 1889 by D. Appleton & Co.
  • U.S. War Department, The War of the Rebellion: a Compilation of the Official Records of the Union and Confederate Armies. Washington, DC: U.S. Government Printing Office, 1880–1901.
  • )Official Records, Series I, Volume XLIV, pages 19-25Savannah Campaign Union order of battle (
  • )Official Records, Series I, Volume XLIV, pages 875-876Savannah Campaign Confederate order of battle (

Further reading

  • Davis, Stephen, What the Yankees Did to Us: Sherman's Bombardment and Wrecking of Atlanta. (Macon, GA: Mercer University Press, 2012). ISBN 0881463981
  • Fowler, John D. and David B. Parker, eds. Breaking the Heartland: The Civil War in Georgia (2011)
  • Frank, Lisa Tendrich. The Civilian War: Confederate Women and Union Soldiers During Sherman's March (LSU Press, 2015)
  • Glatthaar, Joseph T. The March to the Sea and Beyond: Sherman's Troops in the Savannah and Carolinas Campaigns. (New York University Press, 1985) ISBN 0-8147-3001-9.
  • Miles, Jim. To the Sea: A History and Tour Guide of the War in the West, Sherman's March across Georgia and through the Carolinas, 1864–1865. Nashville, TN: Cumberland House, 2002. ISBN 1-58182-261-8.
  • Rubin, Anne Sarah. Through the Heart of Dixie: Sherman's March and American Memory (U of North Carolina Press, 2014)
  • Smith, David. Sherman's March to the Sea 1864: Atlanta to Savannah (Osprey Publishing, 2012), Short and well-illustrated
  • Smith, Derek. Civil War Savannah. Savannah, Ga: Frederic C. Beil, 1997. ISBN 0-913720-93-3.
  • Welch, Robert Christopher. "Forage Liberally: The Role of Agriculture in Sherman's March to the Sea." (Iowa State University thesis 2011). online
  • Whelchel, Love Henry. Sherman's March and the Emergence of the Independent Black Church Movement: From Atlanta to the Sea to Emancipation (Palgrave Macmillan, 2014)

External links

  • Groce, W. Todd, Rethinking Sherman's March
  • Today in Georgia History: March to the Sea
  • Today in Georgia History: Sherman in Savannah
  • National Park Service battle descriptions for the Savannah Campaign
  • National Park Service report on preservation and historic boundaries at the Savannah Campaign battlefields
  • Harper's History: March to the sea
  • New Georgia Encyclopedia article on the March
  • Army of Georgia Historical Society
  • Clark, Frank Oliver, Article on Sherman's March to the Sea
  • Photographic views of Sherman's campaign, from negatives taken in the field, by Geo. N. Barnard, official photographer of the military div. of the Mississippi. Published/Created: New York, Press of Wynkoop & Hallenbeck, 1866. (searchable facsimile at the University of Georgia Libraries; DjVu & layered PDF format)
  • Sheet music for "Sherman's March to the Sea" from Project Gutenberg
  • Photo of Sherman's handwritten note for the telegraph, offering Savannah as a present for President Lincoln
  • Noah Andre Trudeau Webcast Author Lecture at the Pritzker Military Museum & Library on September 11, 2008.
  • Georgia Public Broadcasting: 37 weeks - Sherman on the March
This article was sourced from Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike License; additional terms may apply. World Heritage Encyclopedia content is assembled from numerous content providers, Open Access Publishing, and in compliance with The Fair Access to Science and Technology Research Act (FASTR), Wikimedia Foundation, Inc., Public Library of Science, The Encyclopedia of Life, Open Book Publishers (OBP), PubMed, U.S. National Library of Medicine, National Center for Biotechnology Information, U.S. National Library of Medicine, National Institutes of Health (NIH), U.S. Department of Health & Human Services, and, which sources content from all federal, state, local, tribal, and territorial government publication portals (.gov, .mil, .edu). Funding for and content contributors is made possible from the U.S. Congress, E-Government Act of 2002.
Crowd sourced content that is contributed to World Heritage Encyclopedia is peer reviewed and edited by our editorial staff to ensure quality scholarly research articles.
By using this site, you agree to the Terms of Use and Privacy Policy. World Heritage Encyclopedia™ is a registered trademark of the World Public Library Association, a non-profit organization.

Copyright © World Library Foundation. All rights reserved. eBooks from World Library are sponsored by the World Library Foundation,
a 501c(4) Member's Support Non-Profit Organization, and is NOT affiliated with any governmental agency or department.