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but it was justified as a military necessity, exactly
as many other cruel things t i in the dark history
of war," as Hood called it, are justified as acts of
military necessity. The incident does not show us
Sherman in an amiable light, but he is not to be
blamed on that score. Conquering generals cannot
afford to be amiable. Their paths are strewn with
awful misery not with roses. "War is cruelty,
and you cannot refine it."



BY the middle of September Sherman s thoughts
began to revolve around the question of the future.
In other words, now that he had got his armies
into Atlanta, what was he to do with them next ?
Hood s army had left the city, to be sure, but it
was not far away, and Sherman was not certain of its
intentions. "I concluded," he narrates, "to await
the initiative of the enemy, supposing that he would
be forced to resort to some desperate campaign by
the clamor raised at the South on account of the
great loss to them of the city." What would be
the new campaign I Sherman already had an idea
in embryo. As early as the 10th of September,
General Grant had telegraphed to him from City
Point: "As soon as your men are sufficiently
rested, and preparations can be made, it is desir
able that another campaign should be commenced.
We want to keep the enemy pressed to the end of
the war. If we give him no peace whilst the war
lasts, the end cannot be distant."

After the fall of Atlanta, Jefferson Davis, recov
ering from his momentary depression at the blow,
made several speeches with pluck if not exactly
with wisdom, one of them to Hood s army, in which


he sought to invest the people of the state of Geor
gia with renewed confidence and to put fresh in
spiration into the Confederate cause. He held out
hopes that Sherman s army would soon be cut off
from supplies, and would then be destroyed or cap
tured by the Confederates.

Sherman at this very time was given to under
stand that Governor Brown, of Georgia, was tired
of the war, and he actually invited that official to
have a conference with him in Atlanta. He hoped
that he might persuade Brown to withdraw all the
Georgia troops from the armies of the Confederacy,
and thus add to his military successes as conqueror
of Atlanta the subtle successes of diplomacy. But
the governor, although he sent the state militia to
their homes to gather corn and sorghum, did not
accept the general s invitation.

Next General Hood, becoming active once more,
began to destroy the railroad in Sherman s rear,
while General Forrest, a genius in the management
of Confederate cavalry (now in middle Tennessee)
and General Wheeler started in to be unpleasantly
aggressive. Sherman was obliged to assume the
offensive, going with portions of his force hither and
thither, until, as Grant tells us, it was evident it
would be impossible to hold the line from Atlanta
back and yet leave Sherman any troops with which
to continue his movements.

Sherman thus summarized the situation when he
wrote home (October llth) : "I still hold Atlanta
in strength, and have so many detachments guard-


ing the railroad that Hood thinks he may venture
to fight me. He certainly surpasses me in the quan
tity and quality of cavalry, which hangs all around
and breaks the railroad, and telegraph wires, every
night. You can imagine what a task I have, 138
miles of railroad, and my forces falling off very

As Grant puts it, " something had to be done ;
and to Sherman s sensible and soldierly mind the
idea was not long in dawning upon him, not only
that something else had to be done, but what that
something else should be."

The " something else" to be done was described
to Grant in a telegram which Sherman sent from
Atlanta :

l We cannot now remain on the defensive. With
25,000 infantry and the bold cavalry he has, Hood
can constantly break my road. I would infinitely
prefer to make a wreck of the road and of the coun
try from Chattanooga to Atlanta, including the lat
ter city ; send back all my wounded and unservicea
ble men, and with my effective army move through
Georgia, smashing things to the sea. Hood may turn
into Tennessee and Kentucky, but I believe he will
be forced to follow me. Instead of being on the de
fensive, I will be on the offensive. . . . The
difference in war would be fully twenty-five per
cent. I can make Savannah, Charleston, or the
mouth of the Chattahoochee."

In other words, Sherman desired to extricate him
self from his new difficulties by a march southeast-


wardly to the seaboard, in the progress of which
he would destroy railroads, crops, factories, war
stores, etc. thus ruining the country so far as to
make it useless for the military and supply purposes
of the Confederacy. He regarded the march as " a
shift of base " of a strong army i i from the interior
to a point on the seacoast, from which it could
achieve other important results." The " other im
portant results," as they later developed, would
have as an objective point, Columbia, S. C., where
he would be in the rear of General Lee and Rich
mond. "It was a bold game, this marching away
from Hood while the latter was trying to lure Sher
man back to the line of the Tennessee by threaten
ing his communications."

Sherman, who in later life was often pestered by
well-meaning friends to tell them when the thought
of this march first "entered his mind," says, in his
autobiography, that as soon as General Hood shifted
his position to Palmetto Station, twenty -five miles
southwest of Atlanta, he "saw the move in his
mind s eye" ; and that when Jefferson Davis made
a speech at Palmetto (September 26th), in which he
predicted that the Union army would have a retreat
more disastrous than that of Napoleon from Mos
cow, he became even more positive in his convic
tion. In a few days he determined on the " time
and manner."

Grant had previously looked upon Mobile as the
objective point of Sherman s army. Indeed, this
1 " A Bird s Eye View of Our Civil War. "


had been for some time a favorite project of the
lieutenant-general s. But he finally fell in with the
scheme of a march to the sea because his military
instincts grasped its value, practical and strategic.
The danger of Sherman s present position was be
coming more and more apparent, and Hood s opera
tions along the railroad back from Atlanta grew
more and more annoying. The Union troops
were making a brave and spirited defense in certain
entrenched positions, yet there was great risk of
their capture, as evidenced, for example, in the
straits of the men who held Allatoona, under
the indomitable General Corse. In a fierce attack
here he was shot through the face, but bravely
stuck to his post, amid great odds, and repulsed the

" How could I keep open my line of communica
tion with the North and also keep up this warfare ? "
Sherman asked himself. And, having at last ob
tained Grant s consent to the proposed march, he
began to make all his preparations and to dispose
properly of his troops. " Sherman," says Grant,
" thought Hood would follow him, though he pro
posed to prepare for the contingency of the latter
moving the other way while he was moving
South, by making Thomas [who had been sent to
Nashville] strong enough to hold Tennessee and
Kentucky. I, myself, was thoroughly satisfied that
Hood would go north, as he did." * So Sherman
ordered a large force to Thomas s assistance, in-
1 " Personal Memoirs of U. S. Grant."


eluding General Schofield, commanding the Army
of the Ohio.

On the 2d of November Sherman s scheme of
the march through Georgia was officially approved.
It had not found great favor at Washington.
" Even when it came to the time of starting," Grant
relates, "the greatest apprehension as to the pro
priety of the campaign he was about to commence
filled the mind of the President, induced, no doubt,
by his advisers. This went so far as to move the
President to ask me to suspend Sherman s march
for a day or two until I could think the matter over.
My recollection is, though I find no record to show
it, that out of deference to the President s wish I
did send a dispatch to Sherman asking him to wait
a day or two, or else the connections between us
were already cut, so that I could not do so."

Grant very handsomely adds that the entire credit
of the plan, in its conception and execution, be
longs to Sherman. "I was in favor of Sherman s
plan from the time it was first submitted to me," he
observes. But there were many people who realized
that Sherman was taking great chances ; some, in
deed, firmly believed that he was again about to play
the part of a lunatic. It was not strange, therefore,
that the lieutenant-general did not give the plan in
stant approval. So late as the 1st of November
he had telegraphed Sherman, probably at Lincoln s
suggestion : " Do you not think it advisable, now
that Hood has gone so far north, to entirely ruin
him before starting on your proposed campaign f


With Hood s army destroyed, you can go where you
please with impunity."

Sherman, evidently much wrought up over a pos
sible change in his plans, sent Grant two telegrams
in reply. In the second one he said :

" If I turn back the whole effect of my campaign
will be lost. By my movements I have thrown
Beauregard 1 [Hood] well to the west, and Thomas
will have ample time and sufficient troops to hold
him until reinforcements from Missouri reach him.
We have now ample supplies at Chattanooga and
Atlanta, and can stand a month s interruptions to
our communications. I do not believe the Con
federate army can reach our railroad lines except by
cavalry raids, and Wilson [General J. H. Wilson]
will have cavalry enough to checkmate them. I am
clearly of the opinion that the best results will fol
low my contemplated movement through Georgia."

It was then that Grant had given his consent in
the words, " Go on as you propose." We can
imagine the joyous twinkle in Sherman s clear eyes
when he received this final imprimatur. He hurried
forward the preparations for the march of three
hundred miles. The sick and wounded were
sent to Chattanooga ; the troops garrisoning the
railroad back from Atlanta, and designed for the
march, were quickly brought into the city ; and in
structions were given to render the country to the

1 General Beauregard was now exercising a general supervi
sion over the movements of Hood and his army, having been
made commander of the " Military Division of the West."


rear as useless as possible to the enemy (by the de
struction of tracks, mills, factories, ete.). The army,
thoroughly equipped and organized, now comprised
about 60,000 men, divided into a right wing, com
manded by Major-General O. O. Howard, and a left
wing, commanded by Major-General H. W. Slocum.
Of these forces there were some 53,000 infantry,
5,000 cavalry, and nearly 2,000 artillery. The
right wing was composed of the Fifteenth Corps
(Osterhaus) and the Seventeenth Corps (Blair)
while the left wing comprised the Fourteenth Corps
(J. C. Davis) and the Twentieth Corps (A. S. Will
iams). The cavalry division, under Kilpatrick,
was held subject to Sherman s personal orders.

Without divulging to the troops the object or
ultimate destination of the march, Sherman is
sued a " special field " order, wherein he indicated
the requisites of the campaign. There was to be
no general train of supplies, but each corps was to
have its own ammunition-train and provision-train.
The army was to " forage liberally " on the country
during the march ; each brigade commander was to
organize a good foraging party which would
gather, along the route traveled, all necessary corn,
horse-feed, meat, vegetables and the like. Soldiers
must not enter the dwellings of the inhabitants,
"or commit any trespass; " but during a halt they
might " gather turnips, potatoes, and other vege
tables, and drive in stock in sight of their camp."
Horses, mules, and wagons were to be appropriated
freely, although discrimination was to be made be-


tween the rich, " usually hostile," and the poor,
i i usually neutral or friendly. Negroes, when able-
bodied and destined to be serviceable, might be
taken with the army along the route, but it was
hinted that none would be allowed to hamper the
moving columns.

Sherman had given the greatest possible attention
to the artillery and wagon trains. Each gun, cais
son and forge was drawn by four teams of horses.
There were in all about twenty-five hundred wagons,
with six mules to each, and six hundred ambulances,
with two horses to each. A goodly supply of am
munition was stored in the wagons, and each sol
dier carried forty rounds. The troops had over a
million rations, (about twenty days supply), to
gether with beef-cattle, to be driven along on the
hoof, and five days allowance of fodder. Sherman
knew that Georgia would furnish, under protest, the
rest of the food. All superfluous men, baggage and
artillery were sent to the rear. t The Northern
army," as General Force aptly expresses it, "was
an athlete stripped for contest."

On the 14th of November Colonel Poe, of the
Engineer Corps, began a "special task of destruc
tion." He superintended the demolition of the
railroad depot, roundhouse and machine shops in
Atlanta structures which might aid the Confeder
ates, should they repossess them, in the operations
of war. In one of these machine shops, used as an
arsenal by the secessionists, were stored piles of
shot and shell ; fire was applied to the wreckage of


the buildings ; during the night there were loud ex
plosions from the shells ; the fire reached a block of
stores near the depot ; the heart of the city was in
flames. Already Sherman had cut all telegraphic
and railroad communication with the North ; the
army stood detached from its friends and was de
pendent upon itself and the resources of its un
daunted commander.

The march from Atlanta began the next morning,
the 15th. The right wing and cavalry followed the
railroad southeast toward Jonesboro, and General
Slocum, with the Twentieth Corps, led off to
the east toward Madison. These were divergent
lines, taken to prevent a concentration by the
enemy at Sherman s real immediate objective,
Milledgeville, about a hundred miles to the south
eastward. Sherman, with the Fourteenth Corps
and the rear guard of the right wing, remained to
complete the loading of the trains and the destruc
tion of buildings which might be converted to
hostile uses. "The heaven is one expanse of lurid
fire," writes Major Nichols ; " the air is filled with
flying, burning cinders ; buildings covering two
hundred acres are in ruins or in flames ; every in
stant there is the sharp detonation or the smothered
booming sound of exploding shells and powder.
. . . The city, which next to Richmond, has fur
nished more material for prosecuting the war than
any other in the South, exists no more as a means
for injury to be used by the enemies of the Union."
1 "The Story of the Great March."


On the morning of the 16th of November, Sher
man and his staff briskly rode out of Atlanta by
the Decatur road, which was filled with the march
ing troops of the Fourteenth Corps. As he cantered
along he could see the woods in which poor Mc-
Pherson fell ; behind him was the smouldering city,
the black smoke rising like a pall over the ruins.
Away in the distance was the rear of Howard s
column, the gun-barrels of the soldiers glistening
in the sun. One of the bands of the Fourteenth
Corps struck up " John Brown s body lies a-mould-
ering in the grave" ; the men caught the refrain,
and sang the chorus of " Glory, glory, hallelujah ! "
with a spirit that fairly thrilled the not always re
sponsive Sherman.

"Then," says the latter, "we turned our horses
heads to the east ; Atlanta was soon lost behind the
screen of trees, and became a thing of the past.
. . . The day was extremely beautiful, clear
sunlight, with bracing air, and an unusual feeling
of exhilaration seemed to pervade all minds a feel
ing of something to come, vague and undefined,
still full of venture, and intense interest."

We must remember that the anxiety which was
felt at the North regarding this hazardous move
ment, was emphasized by the fact that the wires and
communication with the outside world had been
cut off completely, and the utmost uncertainty
was to prevail for a time as to the fate of the
army. Thousands of people discussed the pos
sible outcome, and in London the Times remarked,


judicially, though not sympathetically: "That
it is a most momentous enterprise cannot be
denied ; but it is exactly one of those enterprises
which are judged by the event. It may either
make Sherman the most famous general of the
North, or it may prove the ruin of his reputation,
his army, and even his cause together. l

The soldiers seemed to be as much inspired
as their commanding general. Many of them
called out to him, as he rode past, l i Uncle Billy,
I guess Grant is waiting for us at Richmond !
The sentiment among the men was that Sherman
was marching straight for the Confederate capital.
There was a "devil-may-care" spirit pervading
officers and men which made him "feel the full
load of responsibility " ; for success would be
accepted as a matter of course, whereas, should
he fail, the march would be adjudged "the wild
adventure of a crazy fool." Sherman had no in
tention of marching direct to Richmond ; he now
designed to reach the seacoast at Savannah, or Port

On the first night out the general encamped by
the roadside, near Lithonia. Already the work of
destroying the railroad en route was merrily pro
gressing. All night groups of men were busy
heating and then bending the rails, so as to render
them absolutely useless to the enemy. Sherman
gave great attention to this matter of putting the
tracks hors de combat. The favorite method was to

1 London Times, December 3, 1864.


heat the middle of the rails on bonfires made of the
cross-ties, and then to wind them around a tele
graph pole or the trunk of a tree. Some of these
twisted rails are still to be found in Georgia.

The next day Sherman and the troops with whom
he traveled, passed, in military pageant, through
the town of Covington, with flags unfurled and the
bands playing patriotic airs. The whites of the
place looked on with a sort of disgusted interest ;
the emotional, unthinking negroes went wild with
joy, as they clustered around Sherman s horse, and
hailed him as their deliverer. The poor savages
for they were little more than that no doubt fondly
believed that the Millennium had arrived, and that
in future they would have nothing to do but idle,
sing plantation songs, and eat in plenty. But as we
have seen, Sherman was never troubled with any
false sentiment about the black race, and he was re
solved that his march should not be encumbered by
numbers of useless negroes. He explained to one
of them, more intelligent than the rest, that he de
sired the slaves to remain where they were, and not
load down his army with " useless mouths," which
would " eat up the food" needed by the soldiers;
that a few of the younger blacks might be received
as pioneers, but that most of them would not be al
lowed to follow, and thereby cripple, the army. In
short, although he did not say so, he proposed that
the South, not the North, should bear the black
man s burden, as heretofore. We Northerners pur
sue the same policy to the present day. We are


very ready to say sweet nothings to the negro, but
we go no farther. When it conies to dealing with
him, or living with him, then we too often become
suddenly cold, and leave that complex duty to the
Southerner. Thus it was with Sherman, who had
no idea of inviting famine through an empty theory.

While we are on this subject it is only fair to say
that while many of the negroes in the South wel
comed the Northern troops, yet many more re
mained faithful, unto the last, to their old masters.
This does not mean that there was any moral justifi
cation for slavery, but it does mean that there were
thousands of slaves who always regarded their mas
ters as kind friends rather than as taskmasters.
When we consider the degeneracy of a large pro
portion of the negro race to-day (a degeneracy from
which a man like Booker T. Washington stands out
as a delightful exception) we are tempted to say :
"Slavery was wrong and theoretically inhuman,
but have we Americans, with all our boasted civi
lization, done anything to make six out of every
seven blacks better than they were in the old days ? "
It is a great problem and we must let the South
solve it, if solved it may be !

It was near Lithonia that Sherman saw passing
him a soldier with a ham fixed on his bayonet,
a jug of molasses under his arm, and a piece of
honey in his hand. Catching the eye of " Uncle
Billy," he remarked to his companion, in a low
tone, but loud enough to be heard: u Forage lib
erally on the country a quotation from the special


field orders of the general. Whereupon Sherman
reproved the man, explaining that " foraging"
must be done in a systematic way, without ex
cess, etc., etc. But it was a frightfully abused in
stitution during the whole march, and the depre
dations of " Sherman s bummers," as these foragers
were called, soon became a theme over which
the most placid Southerners waxed red with
rage. The " bummer," in fine, became a hideous
comedian inevitable yet disgraceful ; a requisite
of the march, yet a most disagreeable personage
for the historian to dwell upon, now that the war
has been over for so many years.

We have a Meissonier-like portrait of the "bum
mer," drawn by a skilled hand, in Hedley s "March
ing Through Georgia. " " Sherman had given him a
personality, and specified his duties ; but certainly
no one could have been more surprised than the
general himself, to see the aptitude of this creature
for his task, and the originality of his methods."
Theoretically, the official foraging parties, which
turned over their captures of horses, mules, meat,
grain, etc., to the commissary and quartermasters 7
departments, for issue in the regular order of things,
should have amply sufficed for the needs of the
marchers. But in point of fact under this "due
process of law," there was seldom enough "loot"
to satisfy everybody. The result was that each
regiment sent out an independent foraging party,
whose duty it was "to see that its particular com
mand was furnished with all the delicacies the


country afforded." As the region was quite rich in
provender, the result may easily be imagined.

When the " bummer" started out on his first
day s jaunt he went either on foot, or bareback on
some wheezy horse or mule. At the first farmhouse
he came to he would steal a fresh mount. "Then
he would search the place for provisions, and soon
have his animal, and perhaps two or three others,
loaded down with poultry, meats, meal, sweet
potatoes, honey, sorghum, and frequently a jug
of apple-jack ; or, he would find a wagon and load
it, with the aid of a few negroes, and hitch together
mules and horses indiscriminately with such impro
vised harness as he could make out of old ropes,
chains, and leather straps." Sometimes, on a hint
from a friendly darky, he would open what looked
like a newly-made grave but proved to be a snug
receptacle for provisions.

In many cases the unfortunate farmers, alarmed
by the approach of the Union army, had disap
peared, taking with them what little they could.
"Where the premises were abandoned, the l bum
mer made a clean sweep, appropriating everything
he wanted, and a great many things he did not
want. If the negroes on the place told stories of
great cruelty they had suffered, or of bitter hostility
to the Union, or if there were bloodhounds about,
which had been used to run down slaves, the injury
was generally avenged by the torch. Where the
bummer found women and children, he was usually
as courteous as circumstances admitted. He would


1 pass the time of day with the old lady, enquire
when she had heard from the old man, and

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Online LibraryEdward RobinsWilliam T. Sherman → online text (page 14 of 22)