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General William Tecumseh Sherman, USA This part of my site is dedicated to detailing the scourge and brutality of General William T. Sherman, commanding a combined Union army of 100,000 and receiving orders from General Grant to "move against Johnston's army, to break it up, and to get into the interior of the enemy's country...inflicting all the damage you can." As General Grant put his plan into action and faced General Lee's army in "The Wilderness", General Sherman began his "March to the Sea."



As was General Grants's orders, General W.T. Sherman's objective in his famous "March to the Sea", was to deprive the struggling Confederacy, as well as it's armies, of the goods and transport that had been supporting the war effort. In these more modern times, the destruction of manufacturing facilities, food stuffs, and products made to support combat troops in the field, are all considered "righteous" targets. The wanton destruction of personal property, civilian communities, hospitals, orphanages, etc.. is considered taboo and leaves one to appear as a war criminal. Had General Sherman stayed the path of his given orders, history would look upon this "March" in an entirely different manner. In the world we now find ourselves, I wonder if William Tecumseh Sherman would not be tried as a war criminal, at least in world opinion if not in the courts.


General Sherman and his Staff Officers
General Sherman and Staff

The Atlanta Campaign
General Sherman assumed command of his army on 18 March 1864. The army was a combination of General Thomas's Army of the Cumberland; General McPherson's Army of the Tennessee; and General Schofield's Army of the Ohio. This combined army was then quartered in and around Chattanooga, Tennessee. His plans were to move against the Confederate Army of Tennessee, now being commanded by General Joseph Johnston, located in Northern Georgia. The Union army's advantage in numbers were nearly 2 to 1 with just over 100,000 effective troops, while the Confederate army numbered only about 53,000.


General Joseph E. Johnston, CSA Atlanta, Georgia... the city that would quickly become General Sherman's first objective, was nearly 100 miles away. It was a bustling hub of activity, a major transportation, war goods manufacturing, and storehouse of munitions for the entire South. General Johnston's Confederate army's objective while poised in prepared defensive positions, was to prevent the Union army from capturing this major prize.


By this time in the war, the commanding generals on both sides, had come to realize that the Napoleonic method of open field frontal assaults was both outdated and pure lunacy. General Sherman demonstrated what was referred to as "Indian Fighting", as he preferred not to make direct assaults on prepared defensive positions, but instead would send forces around the enemy position and reak havoc in his rear. He would order the destruction and interdiction of supply lines, and the interruption of lines of communication. It was his hope to draw the Confederate army out into the open and than destroy it in detail.

General Joseph Johnston, commanding the Army of Tennessee, was considered to be a defensive specialist. He would be quick to strike against overextended lines or against a carelessly mounted defensive position. General Sherman, having a great superiority in numbers, presented a difficult problem for General Johnston.

General Sherman would use his numbers to out maneuver the Confederates. He ordered movements around the perimeter of the city and the destruction of railroads running into the area. The tactic was to prevent the resupply of both the Confederate soldiers and the civilian inhabitants of the city. Eventually, the Confederate army would have to withdraw and the city itself would fall to the Union.

In one such attempt to prevent the use of the railroads, General Sherman ordered a cavalry detachment to destroy the line between Macon and Savannah. The cavalry troops not only destroyed locomotives, over 100 cars and track, they also burned the bridge across the Oconee River. While in the area of Macon and having no intention of entering the city, they shelled the city with no regard for the civilian population.

General Sherman found that his horsemen did not do enough damage, as the Confederates were able to repair the tracks in short order. He than would send large numbers of infantry to destroy tracks and disrupt traffic in any way possible. These troops would permanently destroy sections by taking up the rails, heating them on large fires and than bending them around trees and other fixed objects.

At one point, the Union infantry troops were sent to destroy a section of track near Jonesboro, Ga. They were attacked by defending Confederate troops and suffered a great number of casualties before overpowering the outnumbered Confederate troops. As the Southern soldiers were trying to surrender, the killing continued; the Union soldiers began to club, bayonette and shoot the surrendering Rebel troops. The Union buglers had to sound the cease fire call several times before the masacre finally stopped.

General Johnston would skillfully out maneuver General Sherman, continuously falling back to already prepared defensive positions. General Sherman was content to continue this strategy, as the Confederates were falling back towards Atlanta. They fell back from their positions at Dalton, Resaca, Cassville and Allatoona Pass. Finally, there was a large battle that lasted for four days at New Hope Church.


By the end of June, the Confederate defensive positions were all the way back to Marietta, Ga. Here, while observing the Rebel positions on Pine Mountain, General Sherman noticed a group of Confederate officers standing on an open hilltop. He ordered nearby artillery to bring this hill under fire. He would later learn that this group of Confederate officers were General Johnston and his staff. General Johnston's friend and a valuable Corps commander, Lieutenant General Leonidas Polk was killed in this volley.


Lieutenant General Leonidas Polk, CSA
Kennesaw Mountain The Confederate army than retreated to Kennesaw Mountain, where on 27 June 1864, General Sherman ordered an attack. Here General Sherman was taught the lessons learned by many other commanding officers of this era, well dug in fortified defenders are nearly impervious to fronal assault. The Union attack failed miserably and at a very high cost.


General Sherman went back to his original strategy and began flanking maneuvers and forced the Confederates to retreat to defensive positions near the Chattahoochee River. They were now only ten miles away from Atlanta. General Sherman sent General McPherson's army on a flanking movement around General Johnston's Confederates, crossing the river unopposed and causing the Rebel army to fall back to the defenses around the city of Atlanta.


General McPherson, USA
Federal Pickets before Atlanta On 17 June 1864, Confederate President Davis replaced General Johnston as the commanding officer of the Army of Tennessee, with General John Bell Hood. This was an important move, as General Sherman's staff officers had known General Hood before the war and knew him to be impetuous and a brave fighter. General Sherman, on advice from his staff, braced for an attack.

General John B. Hood was well aware that President Davis had put him in command to fight, and he would waste no time in doing so. In crossing the Chattahoochee River, General Sherman's armies were overextended and there was a gap between those of General McPherson and that of General Thomas. On 20 July 1864, General Hood ordered his army to attack General Thomas'.


General Hood's attack was beaten off by the Union troops and his army suffered heavy losses. However, two days later he attacked again. This time the Union army had rejoined it's forces and the Confederate troops were thrown against General McPherson's army in a flanking movement. This fight was to become known as the Battle of Atlanta.

General Hood was very nearly able to succeed in defeating the Union army, in fact General McPherson was killed during this fight. The Confederates had successfully outflanked the Union troops and were hitting them from the front and rear at once. The Union troops, greater in number, rallied and were able to break the assault and General Hood was forced to withdraw to the defensive positions within the city. The past two days of fighting had cost the Confederates over 13,000 men. Troops they could not afford to lose.

As General Sherman maneuvered his troops to the right of Atlanta, General Hood came out to fight once more at Ezra Church. Here, the Confederates were once again defeated and again retreated to their positions in Atlanta. Soon General Sherman started an incesasant bombardment of the city.


After this bombardment of the city and the Confederate lines, General Sherman once again began an encircling movement to the southwest of the city. It was obvious that General Hood's efforts to drive the Union army away from Atlanta would fail and the city would soon fall. On 01 September 1864, General Hood withdrew his army from Atlanta, rather than continue to endure a seige and lose the effective troops he had left. On 02 September 1864, General Sherman's victorious army entered and occupied the city.


Potter Family House in Atlanta after bombardment.
Although gaining the prize he had sought for months, General Sherman realized that holding Atlanta would be a monumental task. He also realized that it would take a very large number of troops to defend the city and that General Hood could successfully campaign against his army, placing the city under a Confederate seige. The Union supply line was now vulnerable to cavalry attack and a serious threat to General Sherman's army would exist.

Adding to this situation were all of the Confederate wounded that were left behind, as well as the civilian population who had chosen to remain in the city. To help alleviate this problem, he ordered that all the residents of the city were to be evacuated. He justified this by explaining that he needed to use the evacuated homes for housing his own men and to store supplies. He was also planning to destroy parts of the city which did not enhance his defensive plans.

General Hood had not the stomach for attacking the supply lines of the Union army, nor did he plan to stand and fight those troops sent out by General Sherman to challenge the Confederates. In fact, General Hood retreated further in to Tennessee and Alabama. With this threat to the occupied city gone, General Sherman designed his March to the Sea.


Ruins of a depot as Sherman's troops leave Atlanta. As the Union army began to move from Atlanta, General Sherman ordered all buildings, factories, munitions, etc... that could be used by the Confederates, be burned. He made no preparation or specific plans to prevent damage to the surrounding areas of the city. Thus, the city was burned, many civilian houses and buildings were destroyed. Civilian damage greatly outweighing that of military damage. This, as well as the wanton destruction and theivery of personal property constitutes a breach of the law of war.


General Sherman's responsibility to stop this destruction and abuse of power was and is legally reprehensible. He should have taken all steps to prevent it, stop it once it started and/or punish those who took part in it. The criminal responsibility of General Sherman is obvious and his crimes were against non-combatant civilians, more than they were against an opposing army.

The March to the Sea
General Sherman was quick to realize that it would be the undoing of his army, should he choose to remain in Atlanta for an indefinite period. After communicating with General Grant, he put into action an operational plan that would take his troops to Savannah and the sea.

This plan called for dividing his troops, one section to be commanded by General George Thomas, marching to oppose General Hood and the Confederate Army of Tennessee. The other section was to be led by General Sherman in his March to the Sea. This section, numbering nearly 62,000 effective troops, began their march with anticipation of laying the entire state of Georgia under seige.

Once again, General Sherman intended to lay waste to the state's ability to produce food or any other item which may be used by the Confederate armies. He wanted to cripple the state's economic resources, its war making resources, and its ability to support its own people.

Leaving the safety of Atlanta, the Union army heading east, was quick to out distance its supply lines from the Nashville railroad. Due to this, foodstuffs for the army as well as for its animals, was quick to run short. It was General Sherman's orders to his troops to "forage liberally on the countryside during the march", which led to some of the most criminal behavior of his troops.

In addition to the troops foraging for food,horses, and muels, General Sherman's army was preceded by a destructive force of lawless stragglers, deserters, men temporarily away without leave, as well as deserters from the Confederate army that joined ranks with these men for the sake of the loot. These hordes of men were known by both sides as "Bummers". They robbed from everyone, pillaged and burned everything they could, from Atlanta to the sea. There was no reason for this behavior other than total anarchy among these men, wanting to inflict as much harm as they could, they were completely out of control.

General Sherman was able, with his large army, to prevent much of this horror. He did not try, he felt it was beyond his scope of responsibility to prevent this terror on the people of Georgia. His responsibility was to get his army safely to the sea. As we now know, the "Bummers" were doing exactly what General Sherman wanted, destruction of the state, destruction of the supplies and manufacturing ability of the state, making the "state of Georgia Howl".

The "Bummers" were definitely laying waste to the Confederate homeland. That was all that mattered to General Sherman. The state of Georgia was howling, mostly from the deeds of these lawless bands of hooligans, deserters and dragues of Northern society. It is no wonder General Sherman did little if anything to restrain them. He was able to accomplish his goals and act as though he was above the acts of terror. His was "Total War".

Anything that lay in the Union armies path, that was considered of benefit to the Confederate army or its people, was destroyed. Bridges, railroads, machineshops, and factories of all description were burned or dismantled. Barns were raided and stripped of their contents. General Sherman had been careful to choose a path that would lead his army through the fertile farming country just after the harvest. So much food was taken by the Union troops that much of it was wasted and spoiled.

Total and wholesale destruction of the land, its people and its future, was General Shermans intent. It was a common belief among the Union soldiers that it was their right to "devastate their (the rebel's) land entirely." They believed the Confederate people had no rights and their march was described as a "month long Halloween celebration." The areas which this so called army passed through, was forever damaged and scarred.

The people of Georgia did not just watch as this rape of their homeland was taking place. Partisan warfare was used in some cases. In others, farmers would destroy there own crops rather than allow it to fall into the hands of these northerners. In still other cases, bridges were burnt and roads blocked by felled trees. In these cases, General Sherman odered surrounding buildings, farms and barns to be burnt or destroyed in reprisal.

During this march, General Sherman sent no word back to Washington to report his progress. As far as anyone north of Georgia was concerned, Genral Sherman's army had disappeared from the face of the earth. However, the people of Georgia knew better. In December of 1864, the northern army was near Savannah. Here, they encountered landmines, which had been placed in the roads by the Confederate troops in the area.

Ironically, General Sherman would later write of the Confederates failure to provide advance warning of these hazards as, "not war, but murder." His next act of barbarity was to use Confederate prisoners of war as mine sweeps, forcing them to march in close order in front of his troops. They would either unknowingly set off the mines or see them and dig them up before his own Union troops could be harmed by them. He had done this sort of thing before. During the Atlanta campaign, he had threatened to place carloads of Confederate prisoners of war on the supply trains from Nashville to prevent the Confederate cavalry from attacking of destroying the cars or tracks. Nothing was sacred to this "Devil-may-care" General.


By 10 December 1864, General Sherman's army had reached the coast south of Savannah. Contact was made with the Union navy off the coast and word was sent to the north that General Sherman had reached the coast. His army prepared to assault the city of Savannah. This city was defended by a scant 10,000 Confederate troops under the command of General William Hardee.


General William Hardee, CSA.
General Sherman wrote to General Hardee, demanding the surrender of the city and all troops defending it. If General Hardee was to force him to make an assault on the city, General Sherman would feel "justified in resorting to the harshest measures, and make little effort to restrain my army...burning to avenge the National wrong which they attach to Savannah and other large cities which have been so prominent in dragging our country in to Civil War." Of course, General Hardee refused and General Sherman prepared to attack the city.

On 21 December 1864, General Hardee was able to evacuate his army across pontoon bridges on a route that was not prevented by the Union troops. He left behind many pieces of heavy artillery, ammunition and supplies that he could not take with him. General Sherman's army marched into Savannah on 24 December and General Sherman sent word to President Lincoln that he was making a Christmas present of the city to him and the nation.

The primary objective of General Sherman's March to the Sea, was to deprive the Confederacy of a substantial portion of its production and transport of goods which could be used by the Confederacy to prolong its war effort. Without question, he was successful in reaching that objective. However, he was more than brutal, unforgiving and criminally responsible for all that was brought down on the people of Georgia. He and his army are guilty of many breaches of the law of war. Reprisals were not only made against the Confederate army but also against the civilian non-combatant people of the state. His orders to destroy personal as well as military property, his lack of action against those who inflicted harm against civilians, the use of Confederate prisoners of war as either shields or as fodder in sweeping landmines, and his threat to destroy the city of Savannah with the "harshest measures", are all presumptively criminal and beyond any that would be acceptable behavior today or than.