Civil War, U.S. - Unforgettable Sights - SHERMAN'S MARCH TO THE SEA

SHERMAN'S MARCH TO THE SEA (Illustration) Civil Wars Social Studies Visual Arts Nineteenth Century Life Biographies Famous Historical Events Geography American History

This engraving, by Alexander Hay Ritchie, depicts General Sherman’s “March to the Sea.” During this part of his campaign, Sherman is near Atlanta where his Union soldiers are destroying Confederate train lines and burning buildings. The engraving is based on the original work of  F.O.C. (Felix Octavius Carr) Darley (1822-1888). Online via the Library of Congress. Click on the image for a better view.


Destroying the South's ability to continue fighting was Sherman's primary objective as he issued his orders to "March to the Sea." In his wake were burned towns and horrified people. Yet, some of the South's residents cheered his efforts since captured Confederate territories resulted in freed slaves.

Before his march to the sea could take place, however, Sherman and his troops had to besiege, attack and conquer Atlanta. Made legendary in the book and movie Gone With the Wind, the battle for Atlanta was relentless and vicious.

Despite Confederate palisades - on the north side of town, for example, and in front of homes like the Potter House - Union soldiers advanced on the city.  Fortifications at or near the battlefield did little good as the federal army conquered Atlanta.

Establishing Union strongholds in conquered forts (like Federal Fort No. 7), the General Sherman surveyed his conquests deep in Southern territory. His men, like those of the 2nd Massachusetts Infantry, set up camp in front of important buildings such as Atlanta's City Hall.

Making good on Sherman's plan to obliterate the South's ability to make war, Union troops also controlled Atlanta's railroad depot until they left town. Then they destroyed it together with the Confederate engine house. The city was decimated.

Moving on from Atlanta (in November of 1864), about 62,000 Union troops cut a path through Georgia 60 miles wide and 300 miles long. They left little for Georgians to begin anew.

Burning mills, destroying railroads, confiscating livestock and displacing people, Sherman and his troops set the state back economically at least 100 years. By the General's own estimates, the loss was $100 million.

But when he arrived in Savannah shortly before Christmas, even Sherman pulled back from his famous quote:

War is hell.

He did not obliterate the beautiful Southern town located on the Savannah River, near the sea. The same could not be said for Columbia, South Carolina where the city was left in ruins.

The Southern way of life, as Margaret Mitchell described it in the title of her famous book, was "Gone with the Wind."  (As it happens, the Pulitzer-Prize winning novel may have included real stories of real people whom Mitchell knew - as evidenced by the recent discovery of her Aunt's scrapbook.) * 

During April, 1865, Confederate forces surrendered. General Robert E. Lee, and six of his Northern Virginia Army officers, were "paroled" prisoners of war who agreed to no longer fight against the North. (Later in the year, Lee signed an Amnesty Oath in which he acknowledged loyalty to the United States.)

Few people could have imagined that five days after Lee surrendered the Army of Northern Virginia  - with Longstreet at his side - America would be shocked by one of the worst tragedies in its young history.


* Sally Tippett Rains discusses those possibilities in her 2009 book, Making of a Masterpiece.  Although she was able to interview several still-alive actors from the film, Rains could not talk with Vivien Leigh - who played Scarlett O'Hara - since she had died decades earlier.  Leigh did  discuss the topic - and film-making in general - with Edward R. Murrow, in 1958.

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Author: Carole D. Bos, J.D. 5190stories and lessons created

Original Release: Feb 01, 2003

Updated Last Revision: Apr 29, 2019

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