Sherman’s March to the Sea 1864 Book Review

Sherman’s March to the Sea 1864: Atlanta to Savannah

By David Smith, Illustrated by Richard Hook

Series: Osprey Campaign Series Number 179

Softcover, 96 pages, profusely illustrated, index

Published by Osprey, February 2007

Language: English

ISBN-10: 1-84603-035-8

ISBN-13: 978-1-84603-035-2

Dimensions: 7.2 x 0.2 x 9.9 inches

Sherman’s March to the Sea is one of better-known campaigns of the American Civil War.  It has been described as an example of “scorched earth” or “total war”, but it did not see the intentional destruction of the civilian population or their personal property as a goal.  In fact, Sherman’s orders specifically protected the general population and prohibited destruction of houses and other property unless his army was itself opposed or impeded.

While civilians were not the direct target, destroying the economy of Georgia and removing the state’s ability to contribute to the war effort was the goal.  Sherman was operating deep in enemy territory, and instructed his armies to supply themselves by foraging.  Food, cattle, horses, and mules were to be appropriated where found.  Any government buildings or infrastructure necessary to the Confederate war effort was to be destroyed, including railroads and cotton gins.

The March began with the burning of Atlanta on November 15th, and ended with the surrender of Savanna on December 20th.  Sherman divided his armies into two columns which left a wide path of destruction in their wakes.  Confederate resistance was weak and sporadic, the only meaningful opposition being offered by Wheeler’s cavalry which was too badly outnumbered to do much more than conduct harassing attacks.

In the end, Sherman’s March was successful – the economic devastation of Georgia ended the state’s contribution to the Confederate war effort – in fact the effects would be felt for decades.  I was surprised to read of the political wrangling behind the scenes.  Lincoln faced re-election in November 1864, his Democratic opponent George McClellan was running on a platform of negotiating a peace with the South.  With the conduct of the war being the hot political issue, it was not until after the fall of Atlanta that Lincoln felt politically secure.  Sherman also made a political maneuver, offering Georgia’s Governor Joseph Brown to spare his state’s destruction if he would withdraw Georgia from the rebellion.  It is interesting to ponder the ramifications of a McClellan presidency with negotiated end to the war, as well as the cessation of Georgia from the Confederacy in 1864. This is a well-balanced volume in Osprey’s Campaign series, just enough to give a decent overview while brief enough to digest in an evening.  Recommended.