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Biography of William T. Sherman

A PBS biography of William T. Sherman



Sherman's March to the Sea


It tore through a 60-mile strip of land from Atlanta to Savannah. Entire plantations were devastated. There were herds of dead livestock left to rot, and once-sturdy government buildings went up in flames. Sound like the effects of a vicious, tornado? The destruction path of a horrible hurricane? The evil work of a massive, mechanical, monster from Mars? These acts of destruction were the result of General William Tecumseh Sherman's "March to the Sea". Sherman's March to the Sea involved 62,000 Union soldiers going over 250 miles up the east coast. Along the way he and his army destroyed everything in their path.

For 26 days his soldiers marched in two groups, leaving burning buildings and empty stables in their wake. Sherman had not prepared his troops with enough food for a month of work, but instead ordered them to take "whatever is needed," from the farms and plantations they encountered. The soldiers took every opportunity to do so to the extreme. One woman begged a soldier to leave her a few chickens to feed her young children with, but the soldier felt no pity on her. "Madam," he replied, "we're gonna suppress this rebellion if it takes every last chicken in the Confederacy." And so, eating their way heartily through the heart of Georgia, Sherman's troops marched on. Food was not the only thing the soldiers were taking. They took everything from furniture and other valuables, to women's hats which they sometimes wore as they marched through town. Although General Sherman did not encourage these actions, he certainly did not discipline the men to stop, and at times seemed amused by them.

Ten miles outside of Macon was where the Battle of Griswoldville took place. This battle turned out to be a massacre because the city was unable to properly defend itself. Sherman and his men burned the city and even removed the railroad tracks from the ground. By the time they reached Fort McAllister in Savannah, they had left a large part of Georgia in ruins. Sherman named this technique "total war." He had wanted to destroy everything in his path. He figured it would make the South stop fighting and give up. He may have been right, because after they had reached the fort, it took them only one night to defeat 10,000 Confederate troops. Sherman then sat down to write a letter to Abraham Lincoln, offering up Savannah as "a Christmas Present" for the U. S. President.

Was Sherman right to use the tactics of "total war" to bring an end to America's Civil War? His soldiers remind me of misbehaving, spoiled children who stole and destroyed things for whatever reason they wanted. True the war needed to stop as so many Americans had already died. That does not mean that he had any right to let his soldiers treat people the way they did. Maybe Sherman went too far and some of his actions should not have happened. One thing is clear, although Sherman's campaigns were terrifying and brutal "total war" totally worked.


Please email me at: rebecca@ustrek.org


Links to Other Dispatches

Neda - Harriet Tubman goes to war
Teddy - Abe Lincoln's last night