William T. Sherman was one of the more famous generals of the American Civil War. Best known for his march through Georgia in 1864-65, cutting themselves off from their supply trains. His armies foraged off the territory they were traveling through, reaching Savannah right before Christmas 1864, in time for Sherman to present the President of the United States with a Christmas present of the Georgia city. By the spring of 1865, Sherman continued his march, this time northward through South Carolina and North Carolina, where he accepted the surrender Joseph E. Johnston’s Confederate army.
Sherman didn’t believe, like a lot of military officers, that war was a gentleman’s game. For example, when boats and trains carrying his troops were shot at, Sherman sent soldiers to burn buildings in the towns where the shots came from and placed hostages on the trains and boats. When he was the military commander in Memphis in 1862, he sent families south through Confederate lines as retaliation for his troops being shot at.
Almost as controversial was Sherman’s policy toward runaway slaves. As a Democrat, Sherman was against freeing slaves, the opposite view from his brother John, the Republican senator from Ohio. When the Union army moved into Tennessee following the battle at Shiloh, slaves thought the troops were their salvation. Sherman gave Union commanders permission to take slaves as long they could prove they were used in the war effort.
Sherman first encounter with combat was at First Bull Run. After that, he was sent to Kentucky when he was forced to leave to recover from mental problems. At Shiloh, Tennessee, in April 1862, he fought alongside Ulysses Grant. He followed Grant as the Union commander in Memphis. After spending a number of weeks in Memphis in 1862, Grant ordered Sherman to move downstream and attack Confederate forces near Vicksburg, Mississippi. Although that expedition was a failure, it set the stage for Grant’s attack on Vicksburg the following year, when, after a long siege, the Confederates occupying the city surrendered on July 4, opening the Mississippi and splitting the Confederacy. The next target for the two generals was Chattanooga.
The Chattanooga campaign was Grant’s last in the West, before he was sent to Virginia by President Lincoln to oppose Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia. Before Sherman and Grant got to East Tennessee, the Union Army of the Cumberland was soundly beaten by Braxton Bragg’s Army of Tennessee as Chickamauga in Northern Georgia. Sherman and Grant’s task was to raise the siege placed on Rosecrans’ Union forces in Chattanooga by Bragg’s army, which occupied high ground around the city. In two months, the Union Armies of the Tennessee and the Cumberland drove the Confederates into Georgia, setting the stage for Sherman’s Atlanta campaign and eventually the March to the Sea.
For much of the the next year, 1864-65, Sherman’s army strived to capture Atlanta by not confronting Joseph Johnston’s Confederate army head on, but rather using flanking attacks. The one time he did order a full frontal attack, at Kennesaw Mountain, it was a disaster for the enemy was dug in, in well built trenches. Sherman’s army attacked with 15,000 men and suffered twenty percent casualties. After that, the only barrier keeping Sherman from Atlanta was the Chattahoochee River, which he crossed July 17. After a series a battles around the city, Sherman, tired of bloodletting, settled in for a siege, which ended on September 1st, when the Federals learned the enemy had retreated.
Sherman famed March to the Sea through Georgia began on November 15. His army was divided into two wings both heading generally southeast. The Confederates thought Augusta on the border of South Carolina was the target, so Jefferson Davis sent Braxton Bragg to defend the city. But right before Christmas Sherman’s army reached the outskirts of the real destination, Savannah. Since the defenders of the city had withdrawn, the local government declared Savannah an open city, saving it from destruction. Sherman sent President Lincoln a telegram presenting him with Savannah as a Christmas present.
The Union army occupying Savannah rested in preparation for the next step in their advance through Confederate territory: South Carolina. Where Sherman governed his troops actions in Georgia, that was not the case in South Carolina. Union soldiers were looking forward to causing as much damage in South Carolina as possible because they knew that’s where the war started. The state capital, Columbia, was heavily damaged by fire, which Sherman blamed on Confederate troops under the command of South Carolina native Wade Hampton. As Jacqueline Campbell states, historians have debated the cause of the extent of the damage in Columbia. Having read both sides of the argument, I have come to the conclusion it was a combination of the Confederates burning cotton to keep it out of the hands of the advancing Federals and Union soldiers getting their hands on liquor and carrying on with drunken partying while setting fires.
The Spring of 1865 found Sherman and his army in the Old North State, where the war was winding down. The original plan which he and Grant had cooked up had Sherman’s army moving north through North Carolina to Lee from the rear. However, Lee had surrendered the Army of Northern Virginia to Grant on April 9 at Appomattox Courthouse. That ended that aspect of the war in Virginia. President Davis and other members of his administration had already escaped southward by train, but making it clear he wished the war to continue. In the meantime, Sherman was pursuing General Johnston’s army in the piedmont of North Carolina, hoping to negotiate a surrender soon. That happened on April 26, two weeks after Lee’s capitulation.
The books listed below include Sherman’s Memoirs; Biographies by Eisenhower, Fellman. Kennett, and Marszalek; Flood’s study of his relationship with General Grant; and finally Campbell, Hess, and Trudeau’s books on the Atlanta campaign, the march through Georgia and beyond. There is caveat about General John Eisenhower’s book: he died before it was published and the person who edited it evidently didn’t have a background in Civil War history for the Union Army of the Tennessee and the Confederate Army of Tennessee are thoroughly mixed up the book.
Battles and Leaders of the Civil War, Volume 4.
Jacqueline Glass Campbell. When Sherman Marched North from the Sea: Resistance on the Confederate Home Front.
John S. D. Eisenhower. American General: The Life and Times of William Tecumseh Sherman.
Michael Fellman. Citizen Sherman: a Life of William Tecumseh Sherman.
Lee Kennett. Sherman: A Soldier’s Life.
John F. Marszalek. Sherman: A Soldier’s Passion for Order.
William T. Sherman. Sherman: Memoirs of General W. T. Sherman.
Noah Andre Trudeau. Southern Storm: Sherman’s March to the Sea.
Steven E. Woodworth. Nothing But Victory: the Army of the Tennessee, 1861-1865.