4 June 2014 What was the Significance of General Sherman’s Capture of Atlanta and March to the Sea during the Civil War? “I am tired and sick of war. Its glory is all moonshine. It is only those who have neither fired a shot nor heard the shrieks and groans of the wounded who cry aloud for blood, for vengeance, for desolation. War is hell.”
William Tecumseh Sherman (Sherman, as qtd. in “William T. Sherman”). On September 2nd, 1864, Union Army Major General William Tecumseh Sherman wired
President Lincoln saying, “Atlanta is ours, and fairly won” (Sherman as qtd. in Catton 526 ).
However, this great victory did not come easily for Sherman and his XV Corps. It was only after fighting off twelve Confederate assault waves, the loss of one of Sherman's most beloved generals, General McPherson, and 3,641 casualties, that Sherman was able to surround Atlanta, the workhorse of the Confederacy, on three sides. Seeing an inevitable defeat, the Confederate
General in charge of defending Atlanta, General John Bell Hood, evacuated his troops from
Atlanta and retreated southward. With Atlanta’s fall, Sherman became less interested in confronting Hood’s retreating army and more interested in destroying Georgia, as well as the
Confederacy's will to fight. For Sherman, the next month was one of extreme annoyance filled with short spurts against Hood’s army around the north of Atlanta. Frustrated, Sherman decided
to change his tactics and announced, “Damn him [Hood], if he will go to the Ohio River, I’ll give him rations...my business is down South.” (Sherman as qtd. in “William T. Sherman”). This strategy soon was put into action and, when the Capital approved his plans, Sherman issued all citizens of Atlanta to evacuate. On the night of November 15th, 1864, Sherman commanded his soldiers to “torch anything of military value”(Sherman as qtd. in Royster 254)., resulting in the destruction of the entire business district and a quarter of the city. That day marked the start of
Sherman’s March to the Sea, which he promised would “make...Georgia howl!” (Sherman as qtd. in Royster 254).and that would ultimately change the course of the war. His policy of scorched earth involved destroying anything that might be useful to the enemy while advancing towards the port city of Savannah. Sherman's capture of Atlanta and march to the sea were two of the most significant periods in the war because they eliminated Georgia’s economic usefulness in the War, cemented Abraham’s reelection, and destroyed Southern moral.
In his 62day campaign of destruction, Sherman accomplished his goal of destroying
Georgia economically by ordering his 62,000man army to cut a ruinous, 60milewide hole through Georgia by burning factories, tearing up railroads, burning plantations, destroying bridges, seizing livestock and freeing slaves. Sherman was the first modern General to recognize the importance of waging war on an enemy’s infrastructure, and, as a result, the already compromised and fragile Southern economy collapsed. It all started with the railroads, however, as Georgia played a critical role to the Confederate cause by supplying the Confederacy with transportation, various supplies and food. The Civil War was the first ‘modern war’ in history, and the first in which railroads held a major significance. This was unlike other wars where railroads were mere pawns in the total picture of war. The Confederate government, reflecting
the prewar philosophy of the mainly agrarian South, was slow to recognize this change and not able to protect railroads whose sole purpose was to transport cotton to the ports, thus losing its main income generator. The more industrious northern counterpart, the Union, however, was much more aware of the vital importance of the railroads and saw its destruction as a gamechanger. During the war, the Union had