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March to the Sea
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General William Tecumseh Sherman
From the beginning of the Atlanta Campaign in Chattanooga, Tennessee Chattanooga in the Civil War) in late 1863, General William Tecumseh Sherman had a plan to "march to the sea". When a reporter asked him what his objective was before the start of the Atlanta Campaign, Sherman stoically replied, "Salt water." Still, his first objective, as ordered by General Ulysses S. Grant, was the destruction of the Army of Tennessee. Chasing the Confederates south, Sherman captured Atlanta on September_2, 1864. But not the Army of Tennessee.

Pursuing General John Bell Hood around North Georgia was not going to prove successful. Originally Sherman had hoped to push Hood into General George Thomas' Army of the Cumberland spread out between Chattanooga and Nashville. In Kingston, Georgia on November_9, 1864, General Sherman finally received approval from Grant to proceed with a bold attack on the heartland of Georgia known today as the March to the Sea.

One of the hallmarks of Sherman's Civil War campaigns was preparation, and this one would be no different. He sent injured men north by rail to Louisville, Kentucky. Unneeded supplies were returned to General Thomas's command in Chattanooga. His orders to General John Corse in Rome, Georgia called for the destruction of "…all public property not needed by your command, all foundries, mills, workshops, warehouses, railroad depots…" General Sherman also ordered the destruction of all bridges before Corse joined him in Kingston. Corse obeyed the order on November 10th, leaving Rome but a skeleton of its former self, and joined his commander.

General Thomas also played a role in the preparation of the March to the Sea. Men under his command in Chattanooga, Tennessee rode the Western and Atlantic Railroad south to Allatoona Pass, then began tearing up the track, loading it on railcars and transporting it to Dalton, Georgia.

On November 13, 1864 plans had advanced far enough that Sherman was comfortable in beginning the March to the Sea. He took half-a-day to move from Kingston to Cartersville, then sat on the front porch of the Hotel Braban (across the street from the Cartersville Depot) as his men telegraphed his final batch of orders to General Thomas in Nashville. Thomas replied to the orders "Dispatch received. All right." Those were the last words heard from the North by General Sherman and his army until they reached the sea (actually, the Atlantic Ocean) due west of Genesis Point (Fort McAllister) at the mouth of the Ogeechee River.

Map of Shermans March to the Sea imposed on a map of Georgia showing railroads of 1864
As he marched south Sherman picked up the men from outposts along the Western and Atlantic Railroad and from his Kennesaw Mountain headquarters. By the time he reached Atlanta his army was 45,000 men strong; when he left he had 60,000 men. Behind him was Hugh Judson Kilpatrick, Sherman's "Merchant of Terror." Sherman personally ordered the cavalry officer to destroy Atlanta.

Two columns left the city of Atlanta. Sherman had organized four Corps into a "Left Wing" and "Right Wing." The Left Wing, under the command of Henry Slocum, would move to Milledgeville, the state capital, make a feint on Augusta, Georgia then continue on to Savannah, Georgia. The Right Wing, under the command of O. O. Howard would move south towards Macon, Georiga then southwest to the Ogeechee River. Sherman had two reasons for this plan. First, with the armies separated there would be more food to forage, and secondly, it would be easier to travel on the roads. Movement of a foraging army is quite an audible
event. Small arms file - a nearly constant pop, pop, pop, breaks the air. Skirmishing, when it happened on the March to the Sea, was a somewhat louder and constant sound, still significantly quieter than the dun of battle. As the troops
moved east the popping noise was not encounters between Union and Rebel soldiers, but the encounter between a
Union "bummer" and a Rebel pig. The bummers (Union name for foragers) had to relearn their job to handle a 60,000 man army on the move. They had successfully fed the men when they stayed in Atlanta, but keeping up with an Army while
trying to feed it is a more difficult task. Sherman increased the size of the foraging parties in part to offset attacks by Rebel Calvary, in part to increase the amount of foraged food. Sherman later complimented
the foragers on their "skill and success."

One subject of great debate is the number of assaults on Georgia women during the march. A number of diaries mention either actual sexual assault or fear of one, however, Northern historians tend to downplay the fact while Southern historians claim the number is greatly under-reported. At the time this crime was rarely discussed and only ccasionally written about, so it is probable that significantly more assaults occurred than were reported.

The Left Wing, Part I

Sherman's Left Wing headed east from Atlanta along the tracks of the Georgia Railroad, tearing up sections as they traveled. Decatur, Lithonia, Social Circle, Rutledge and Madison, all of which had witnessed significant growth because of the railroad now witnessed destruction, and in many cases the destruction was completed, with depots, tracks and homes destroyed. Only Madison was spared thanks to Confederate Senator Joshua Hill's association with both John and William Sherman. He personally rode out to meet Left Wing commander Henry Slocum and requested the general spare his city. Although the city was spared the torch, as the Union soldiers moved through Madison there was heavy looting. Sherman detached General John Geary to continue down the Georgia Railroad track towards Augusta. By keeping the Rebels guessing about his intentions he hoped to minimize the attacks on his columns.

From Madison the Left Wing began to move in a more southerly direction, passing through Eatonton on the way to Milledgeville, where they arrived on November 23. Here, in the Georgia state capitol, the soldiers had a good deal of fun, first raising a U. S. flag over the capitol during a parade of Union soldiers, then holding a session of the General Assembly in which the Georgia counties were represented by soldiers. General Sherman quartered himself in the governor's mansion After eating the General began to read confiscated newspapers that indicated the Union Army was "retreating" across Georgia. Of course, everything was not playful. Sherman issued Special Field Order No. 127 from the mansion telling soldiers to deal harshly with citizens who interfered. As he left, Sherman's men destroyed much of the government including 50 years of records while sparing non military targets.

The Right Wing, Part I

One of the few Confederates to offer resistance to the advancing
Union Army on the March to the Sea was dashing Cavalry General Joseph "Fighting Joe" Wheeler
Heading in a southeastern direction, the right wing followed the Macon and Western Railroad as if preparing to attack the city of Macon, Georgia. Through Jonesboro, McDonough, Griffin, and Forsyth, the major towns on the railroad, Oliver Otis Howard led his men south. In Jonesboro men stopped to tear up about 5 miles of track, creating quite a few Sherman's Neckties, although the main body of the wing never entered the city. Further south in Lovejoy, the Georgia militia awaited Howard's army of some 30,000, ready to defend their position with no more than 3,000 mostly young boys and old men. Additionally, about 1,000 battle hardened members
of the Orphan Brigade had been left to guard the road to Macon. After a brief encounter, these men pulled back to the city limits of Macon

Many of the South's most famous generals journeyed to the city to participate in its defense. William Hardee, the
swarthy Georgian was technically in command, but also in the city was Howell Cobb, one-time Georgia
governor and former Secretary of the Treasury in command of the Georgia militia,Joseph Brown, present-day governor, and General P. G. T. Beauregard, who was in command of all Georgia forces. Unfortunately, the Union Army failed to show up. At Jackson they began a sweeping turn to the east, crossing the Ocmulgee River and heading into the low country.

As the columns moved east, Joe Wheeler and his men moved out of Macon to the northeast, quickly running into heavy
skirmishing. He informed the command that the Union Army had unexpectedly bypassed Macon. The arsenal in Augusta was now the major concern to these Confederate commanders. To help defend it, General P. J. Phillips was ordered to advance with some 3,700 men (actually old men and boys) to Augusta . When Phillips, who had little battlefield experience, ran into resistance, he ordered a direct frontal assault on the Union center, across an open field. His men came up against seasoned Union veterans, many of whom had deadly Spencer Repeating Rifles. The ensuing fight, known as the Battle of Griswoldville, was little more than a slaughter of Phillips' men.

With Sherman in Millledgeville with the Left Wing, Howard and his Right
Wing were in Irwinton, some 20 miles due south of the Georgia capital.
Since Howard did not expect any more resistance, he ordered Kilpatrick
to join Sherman.

March to The Sea

Leaving Milledgeville, the Left Wing once again
took a more easterly direction, moving towards Sandersrville
along the track of the Central
of Georgia. In Sandersville there was a brief skirmish with
General Joe Wheeler's cavalry. The Right Wing
moved unopposed through open fields to the south, both
bearing down on the saltwater for which General Sherman had yearned
for in Chattanooga. Moving east from Sandersville, though,
Wheeler started putting up stiffer resistance. It took two
days (November 27-28) for Judson Kilpatrick to drive Wheeler's
men from the city of Wayneborough, Georgia.

In the North, the only information on the March to the Sea came from the Southern
Press, which claimed Sherman had been trapped in Atlanta and now was beating
a hasty retreat to the safety of the Georgia coast, where
Union vessels awaited the commander with food and munitions.
As the two wings moved east the edges of the advancing units
began to blur, although the Ogeechee River did a pretty good
job of keeping them distinct.

On December 4, 1864, Wheeler's Cavalry struck the men turning the Georgia
railroads into Sherman's neckties near
Waynesborough. Initial skirmishing with troops assigned to
protect the railroad wreckers turned into a heavier engagement
as Union cavalry advanced, along with some infantry. Finally,
Wheeler had enough and pulled back, ending the engagement.
To the south, near Statesboro, the Right Wing also ran into
some minor skirmishing.

As the Federals moved east on December 7 three skirmishes,
at Jenks' Bridge over the Ogeechee River, Buck Creek, and the Cypress
Swamp near the Sister's Ferry broke out between Union soldiers
and elements of Wheeler's slowly dwindling cavalry. Still,
the land was becoming flatter and the vegetation change and sandy soil told
the soldiers that the Atlantic Ocean was within reach.

Finally, on December 9, Sherman arrived at the Ogeechee
Ferry. From here the Left Wing began to reconnoiter the Savannah defenses. Georgian
William Hardee had done a remarkable job preparing Savannah
for a battle, flooding the rice fields on the outskirts of
the city and leaving only five narrow roads for Sherman to
use in an attack. General Sherman began to sweep around the
city, looking for a weak point.

To the south of Savannah lay Fort McAlister. To slow the federal advance towards the fort at Genesis Point on the Ogeechee the major bridge on the Kings Road had been torched. On December 11 Sherman's men began rebuilding the bridge, intent on contacting the U. S. fleet awaiting Sherman just off the Georgia coast.

On Tuesday, December 13 a division of men under the command of General William B. Hazen launched an attack against the 230 men in the fort. The fort fell in 15 minutes, Sherman's men advanced to the coast and quickly began unloading munitions, food and letters from home. Sherman had reached his objective;the March to the Sea was over. The Union Army rested and regrouped in preperation for taking Savannah.

The Battle of Savannah

Slowly, carefully, the Union Army enveloped the city of Savannah. As William C. Hardee's position became more untenable General Beauregard ordered him to withdraw, since a surrender would cost the Confederacy the only remaining major fighting force in Georgia. On December 20, 1864, General Hardee withdrew, across the Savannah River on a hastily constructed pontoon bridge. Sherman occupied the city the following day and with his usual flare presented the city to President Abraham Lincoln for Christmas. Sherman and his 60,000 men, still mostly intact, would take significant time to rest and regroup in the coastal Georgia

The Civil War in Georgia:

Causes of the Civil War
The Great Locomotive Chase

The Civil War in Georgia
Beginning with the Great Locomotive Chase and the battle of Chickamauga, to the Atlanta Campaign and the March to the Sea

Article Links
Allatoona Pass
Army of Tennessee
Atlanta Campaign
Augusta, Georgia
Battle of Griswoldville
Chattanooga in the Civil War
Chattanooga, Tennessee
General William Tecumseh Sherman
George Thomas
Howell Cobb
Joseph Brown
Kennesaw Mountain
Macon, Georiga
P. G. T. Beauregard
Savannah, Georgia
Sherman's Neckties
The Civil War in Georgia
The Great Locomotive Chase
Ulysses S. Grant
Western and Atlantic Railroad

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