Burning of Atlanta and Sherman’s March to the Sea

Engraving depicting Sherman's march to the sea. (Alexander Hay Ritchie via Wikimedia Commons)
Engraving depicting Sherman’s march to the sea. (Alexander Hay Ritchie via Wikimedia Commons)

On this date in 1864, the Union general William Tecumseh Sherman began his March to the Sea following the burning of Atlanta.

Here are some things you may not have known about it.

The previous year, under Ulysses S. Grant, the Military Division of the Mississippi routed the Confederate Army at the Battle of Chattanooga. Following the victory, Grant was called by Abraham Lincoln to lead all Union armies. Taking Grant’s place as commander was Sherman.

Under Sherman, the division entered Georgia, reaching Atlanta on May 7. By some estimates, the Union forces were double the size of the Confederates. Between May 7 and September 4, the two sides would engage more than 50 times before Union forces emerged victorious.

Casualties on both sides were roughly equal with about 4,000 Union troops killed, and 3,000 Confederates dead. However, because of the relative size of the forces, the losses for the Rebels were enormous.

The Union troops regrouped for the next two months in Atlanta while Sherman planned the next move.

That next move was a 300-mile march to the Atlantic Ocean behind enemy lines without the benefit of supply infrastructure.

On the army’s way out of Atlanta, it’s estimated that between 37 and 90 percent of the buildings in Atlanta were destroyed, mostly by fire.

Much of the destruction in Atlanta was blamed on disobedient Northern troops. Sherman had specifically stated that only military targets were to be destroyed, but he did little to prevent his men from doing further damage.

Using scorched earth tactics on the way to the Atlantic, the two wings of the army tried to confuse the Confederate forces as to their destination. The Union forces wanted it to appear that they might be headed for Macon, Augusta or Savannah.

Ultimately, the goal was, in fact, Savannah, where Sherman planned to meet up with the U.S. Navy, and then make a turn to the north and engage Confederate forces from the rear.

The two sides faced off several times between Atlanta and Savannah, including at Griswoldsville, and the state capital of Milledgeville. After taking the capitol building, U.S. troops held a mock legislative session and jokingly voted Georgia back into the Union.

Sherman and his armies reached the outskirts of Savannah on December 10, but found the city well defended and virtually unapproachable because of flooded rice paddies surrounding it.

Following the taking of Fort McAllister, the Union forces made contact with the Navy and received enough backup to force the Confederate forces to flee the city. The mayor and city leaders of Savannah, abandoned by the army, surrendered with no resistance, which prevented the burning of the city.

After spending a month in Savannah, Sherman and his troops headed up the Eastern Seaboard where they forced the surrender of General Joseph E. Johnston in North Carolina the following spring.

Sherman estimated that the campaign inflicted $100 million in damage, or about $1.4 billion today. 300 miles of railroad lines were destroyed, 5,000 horses, 4,000 mules and 13,000 head of cattle were seized.

Some historians have said that the march destroyed the South’s physical and psychological ability to fight the war. It’s estimated that almost all of the damage done was limited to destruction of property. There appear to have been few losses of civilian life .

Sherman died of pneumonia in 1891 at the age of 71.

Our question: What NHL team’s nickname is a reference to Sherman’s Burning of Atlanta.

Today is Republic Proclamation Day in Brazil, Peace Day in Ivory Coast and King’s Feast in Belgium.

It’s unofficially America Recycles Day, National Raisin Bran Cereal Day, and Little Red Wagon Day.

It’s the birthday of artist Georgia O’Keeffe, who was born in 1887; actor Ed Asner, who is 87; and actor Sam Waterston, who is 76.

Because our topic happened before 1960, we’ll spin the wheel to pick a year at random.

This week in 1960, the top song in the U.S. was “Georgia on My Mind” by Ray Charles.

The No. 1 movie was “BUtterfield 8,” while the novel “Hawaii” by James Michener topped the New York Times Bestsellers list.

Weekly question

What Savannah, Georgia, native wrote the lyrics to songs such as “Moon River,” “Fools Rush In” and “Skylark”?



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