BACKGROUND Hood, after losing four battles with heavy casualties around Atlanta (blamed on his subordinate officers and fighting men) and with his last rail lines of supply severed, abandoned the city 1 September 1864 to Sherman. Jeff Davis, plagued with...
Hood, after losing four battles with heavy casualties around Atlanta (blamed on his subordinate officers and fighting men) and with his last rail lines of supply severed, abandoned the city 1 September 1864 to Sherman. Jeff Davis, plagued with desertions, waning civilian support and increasing criticism, dwindling resources, and Lee boxed in around Richmond—sanctions Hood’s new proposal. He proposes moving his army north around Atlanta to cut off Sherman’s rail supply line to Chattanooga, with the intent to draw him out of Atlanta and possibly the state with opportunities to defeat his army in detail from highly defensive positions (the same tactic he criticized Johnston for while positioning himself to replace him), or to harass Sherman from the rear if he heads south. (Hood did neither.)
Sherman, leaving a garrison in Atlanta, moved the majority of his forces north in pursuit, but kept them within supporting distance of Atlanta and each other. With Sherman closing in, Hood left the railroad (which was repaired within 23 days), and moved his army west into Alabama. After Hood repeatedly failed to give battle, Sherman saw the futility in chasing after him while trying also to protect his supply line, Atlanta, roadways, and other territory previously fought over, and devised a new strategy he felt could best utilize his army to hasten the war’s end.
Having laid waste to the railroads, infrastructure, and other resources in and around Atlanta and Northern Georgia, as well as stripping the area of food, animal forage, horses, etc. for his own army’s use—Sherman proposed moving his base of operations to the coast. Along the route, he would continue to destroy the Confederate war machine and institute the pain of war on secession-supporting civilians, particularly wealthy slave-owners, by stripping them of their resources and wealth, wrecking the economy, and demonstrating that those fighting on the battlefield would not be the only ones to suffer the war’s ravages, and that neither the Confederate nor state governments could protect them and their property.
To get the Lincoln Administration’s and War Department’s approval, Sherman sent part of his army to reinforce George Thomas, his best general, in Tennessee, in anticipation (rightly assumed) that Hood may take his army there in an effort turn the tide and to redeem is reputation and career. After building up his supply stores, sending remaining resources north along with the sick and wounded, then completing destruction of remaining resources in and around Atlanta (including his own rail supply line), Sherman began his march to the sea 15 November 1864 with approximately 60,000 troops.
This aptly-named book chronicles the destructive 60-mile wide, 300-mile long march of Sherman’s Army from Atlanta to Savanah during late November and early December 1864, and the attempts by local, state, and Confederate patchwork forces to stop them. Also covered: the investment of Savannah, the attack on nearby Fort McAllister to open a supply line with the Union Navy, Confederate efforts to defend and then escape the city, and the Union takeover of the city.
The book starts out by providing insights of Sherman’s life history, including his evolving views and way of thinking that shaped his controversial strategy to facilitate the end of the war. Also included are his actual communications with, and communications between, Grant, Thomas, the War Department, and the Lincoln administration. In the end, Lincoln trusts Grant to make the final decision, and Grant gives his close friend Sherman the green light.
Jefferson Davis’s trip through the south prior to Sherman’s march is also covered, as he meets with Hood, Taylor, Beauregard and other Confederate generals and state officials to strategize against Sherman. Davis appoints Beauregard to oversee military operations throughout the region including adjacent states, to include Hood''s army; however, this appointment is made primarily to placate those calling for Hood’s removal and other criticisms of Davis after Atlanta is captured. Beauregard subsequently learns his position is little more than a figurehead, with little actual power. Hood essentially ignores him, and others consider his directives as “suggestions.”
Sherman, by now skilled in the art of maneuver warfare and managing a large army, marches four veteran infantry corps in two wings, each commanded by Maj Gen O.O. Howard and Maj Gen H.W. Slocum, with each corps further divided into two columns (four columns total) that march roughly parallel and within supporting distance of each other. He also brings Kilpatrick’s cavalry division and two unattached cavalry regiments who scout, secure crossings, screen infantry movements, act as a rear guard, and keep Wheeler’s opposing cavalry busy. They are also sent on special operations well away from the infantry columns, including an attempt to free Union prisoners at a POW camp, and to conduct feints and demonstrations to keep Southern forces off-balance and guessing on Union targets and their ultimate destination.
Specialized units are brought along, e.g., pontoon, pioneer, and the engineers that prove their worth. In anticipation of living off the land and moving swiftly, he reduces the wagons, but still brings along a limited supply of staples and animal forage, as well as a cattle herd. He uses the 1860 census to help chart his route considering areas of heavy crop and livestock production for use by his army, and to identify industrial areas and other targets of opportunity. Captain Poe, Sherman’s chief engineer, sees that maps are constantly updated by the use of scouting reports and information obtained from county court houses and other sources.
Confederate, state, and local forces concentrate and expend time and resources to establish strong defensive positions in and around Macon and Augusta in anticipation of sieges, but Sherman simply bypasses them after feints and demonstrations against them. By keeping his columns constantly on the move and avoiding these two cities, Sherman is able to prevent opposing forces from converging on his army, thereby avoiding heavy casualties while conserving ammunition and keeping his large army sufficiently supplied with food, animal forage, fresh animals, etc.
Beauregard’s calls for Wheeler’s cavalry and other units to strip the country bare in front of Sherman’s columns, and destroy bridges and block roadways, are feebly executed. Furthermore, State officials have their own ideas concerning the use of militia and local units, and they are generally concerned with protecting their particular areas of jurisdiction. Hardee, Bragg, and sometimes Wheeler have their own priorities and often act independently. With no focused command and control, piecemeal and uncoordinated efforts to stop Sherman are easily swept aside. A poorly led attack near Griswoldville by a consolidated division is routed by a crack brigade of Sherman’s 15th Corps. Hardee establishes a strong defensive position with 4,000 troops outside Savannah, but retreats without a fight after being flanked. In effect, there is no centralized strategy for stopping Sherman. Calls by Davis, newspapers, and state officials for civilians to rise up against the invaders are ineffective. There are a number of reports of captured Union troops--mostly foragers, pickets, and cavalry-- executed by irregular forces and Wheeler’s troops. Ultimately, Sherman suffers a little more than 1100 casualties over the entire campaign, including the battle of Fort McAllister. Southern casualties are approximately double.
Regarding Sherman’s “total war” concept against civilians, “…the people of the South having appealed to war are barred from appealing to protection to our Constitution which they have practically and publicly defied.” His general orders; however, instruct soldiers not to enter private homes or threaten civilians, and to discriminate when taking food, horses, mules, etc. and destroying privately-owned resources, e.g., cotton, between the rich, “who are usually hostile,” and the poor and industrious, who are usually “neutral or friendly.” Although some troops overstep these boundaries and even loot personal property, guards are often posted outside homes, including those of the wealthy, at the request of owners. Steps are also taken to discourage and discipline foraging soldiers who are not part of designated foraging units. Union soldiers often allow poor civilians, female factory workers, and blacks to take what they want before they set fire to factories, warehouses, and stores. Few homes are actually destroyed, with the exception of certain wealthy slaveholders considered guilty of prosecuting the war, such as General H. Cobb’s plantation house, homes of civilians caught burning bridges or other hostile acts, and those homes adjacent to factories, mills, or government buildings that are consumed by the spread of fire. According to the author, there is one credible instance of rape, and none of murder, by Sherman’s troops during the campaign. There are numerous reports by citizens, Southern newspapers, and even the Governor of Confederate cavalry, soldiers, and even civilians plundering businesses, government buildings (including the State House and Executive Mansion), and homesteads, ans stealing personal property, horses and mules, and food.
Slaves abandon their owners in droves to follow Sherman’s troops, which he estimates at around 20,000 by the time he reaches Savannah. Although he officially discourages them from tagging along to prevent slowing his columns and consuming his army’s food (stating their disposition will be determined at war’s end), he does not enforce it. It’s likely Sherman realized the negative impact their leaving had on their owners and the economy. Many are hired into pioneer units and perform various jobs along the way and around camps. Blacks often act as guides, provide information on enemy movements and other intelligence, and identify locations where their masters hide livestock, horses, food, and bounty. Ironically, some slave owners called their ex-slaves “traitors” for leaving. The Union’s Jeff Davis, a corps commander with known racist attitudes, pulls up pontoon bridges at two crossings before blacks can cross, leaving them exposed to hostile Southerners. However, Stanton accepts his explanation that the bridges needed to be quickly transported to the front of columns and laid at the next waterway before troops arrived there. Along the way, soldiers destroy slave whipping stocks, slave-trading businesses, and even kill hounds used for tracking down runaways. At Savannah, ships carry runaways to Hilton Head, where abolitionists have established a model community for them.
The author provides an effective analysis in the last chapter regarding the impact and legacy of Sherman’s campaign. Apart from the psychological effects, the physical damage to the Confederate war effort was substantial, with hundreds of miles of rail destroyed, including trestles, bridges, depots, water tanks, wood piles, and moving stock. Government buildings and assets at all levels were destroyed, as well as iron-works, food and animal forage not used by his army, cotton, cotton and food mills, tanneries, factories, armories, and warehouses. In Savannah alone, enormous stockpiles of resources were captured, including 38,500 bales of cotton (sold to help pay for the war), 167 artillery pieces, 13 operational locomotives along with almost 200 cars, rail machinery, and a blockade runner filled with supplies that entered the harbor unaware the city was in Union hands. Also, two Confederate ironclads were destroyed along with other boats captured or destroyed, many scuttled by Confederates. Although Augusta was not attacked, the threat of attack resulted in critical machinery of the Confederate Powder Works being dismantled and moved, interrupting the production of gunpowder for a month.
The book also includes the rosters of opposing forces, chapter notes, and a very extensive bibliography.
GRAMMAR AND READABILITY
Editing is top notch, with almost no grammatical or typographical errors. The book is easy to read and comprehend, transitions are smooth, and the information flows well chronologically, organized effectively by each successive day and night of the campaign, sometimes by the hour where appropriate.
Each chapter chronicles a single day or two outlining notable activities by both militaries, including movements, skirmishes and battles, foraging, destruction of buildings and railroads, key meetings and communications, and problems encountered. Included are many personal observations by soldiers and civilians alike, gleaned from journals, letters, memoirs, regimental histories, official war records, newspapers, and other sources. Major Hitchcock, an aid to Sherman, kept a detailed journal, and the activities of Sherman during the campaign including his movements, planning, coordination, and discussions he has with his generals, and even privates and civilians, including run-away slaves, are very insightful. I often felt I was there as an observer. The propaganda printed in newspapers was also insightful.
I found the narrative to be even-handed, and detected no designed bias regarding leaders or sides. Hero worshipers may disagree. The author identifies mistakes and unflattering behavior on both sides, as well as instances of heroism and outstanding leadership where it is due.
The battle narrative is engaging as first-hand accounts give readers a feeling of the terror, chaos, desperation, fear, courage, and the carnage of battle. The action includes close quarters and even hand-to-hand combat, desperate cavalry charges, artillery action, accounts of deaths and wounds, and the suffering and privations endured by man and animal.
Good maps of the theater of operations are provided for each day, outlining the movements of each Union column and the cavalry. The large-scale black and white maps are relatively easy to comprehend, appropriately titled, with date, time, and even the weather, and include population centers, major roads, waterways, railways, and some key features. Good maps are also provided showing the alignment and movement of opposing forces during key engagements, some down to the regimental and even company level, as well as the alignment of Union Army Corps around Savannah during its investment. Maps are typically half-page or a bit larger.
Many period drawings and a handful of photographs are consolidated in the center of the book. I would have liked to have seen more photographs vs. drawings. Most of the portraits of leaders on both sides are drawings, even though photographs of them exist.
HARDBACK BOOK QUALITY
The hardback book is of average size, with a good quality dust cover. The binding is good but the pages are rather susceptible to tearing and absorption. The text is dark, clean, relatively large, and easy to read.
CONCLUSION AND AFTERTHOUGHTS
This is a well-rounded, comprehensive book documenting Sherman’s march to the sea, including the capture of Savannah, told from the perspective of participants on both sides, including civilians. Lively battle narrative is included for military engagements along the way.
The meticulous research, readability, organization, editing, supporting maps and illustrations, and objective analysis make this an outstanding read and historical resource.