Much has been written about William Tecumseh Sherman’s March to the Sea in terms of its savagery—but almost nothing in terms of its ingenuity. After Atlanta was destroyed by Sherman’s forces, Confederate General John Bell Hood decided to attack toward Tennessee, destroying Sherman’s supplies.
But what Sherman had decided instead was to avoid Hood’s army altogether and march to Savannah, where he could be resupplied with Union ships waiting near the harbor. So he divided his army into two columns and, while marching, supplied his army with provender hijacked from plantations in the rich farm land along the route. In fact, Sherman arrived in Savannah with more cattle than he started from in Atlanta. And his men were well fed with turkeys, hogs, sweet potatoes, molasses, and corn that they were able to commandeer enroute.
It had been always been the Union Army’s strategy to fight and defeat the enemy’s army. Even Ulysses S. Grant, besieging Petersburg on the outskirts of Richmond, had doubts about the plan, but finally decided to give his approval. Sherman wasted no time in disappearing from the scene, fighting no battles until he re-emerged at Savannah.
The Confederates were thoroughly confused. Hood was marching his army into Tennessee, where it ran into George Thomas’s forces at Franklin and Nashville. Other Confederates thought that Sherman’s goal was Macon or Augusta, which they dutifully reinforced, only to be avoided by Sherman’s columns as they attacked no city larger than Milledgeville, which was until 1868, the State Capitol.
I am currently reading Shelby Foote’s The Civil War: A Narrative, Red River to Appomatox, which provides a Southern view of the end of the Civil War. Even Foote does not accept that Sherman’s soldiers were particularly brutal, though there was a considerable amount of agricultural theft, freeing of slaves, and destruction of property. It seems to have been under control, however, and Foote makes no claims of murder or rapine.