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crossed the Savannah Eiver with his army by a
pontoon bridge, and thus beat a judicious retreat.
To prevent their falling into the hands of the enemy,
he had destroyed an ironclad gunboat and a ram;
but had left for the conquerors valuable artillery,
with stores of ammunition, locomotives, cars, and
steamboats, not to mention cotton and other sup
plies. Once more was Sherman s military acumen
gloriously vindicated. The march to the sea, in its
end as well as in its bold beginning and continu
ance, had proved a triumph that set the whole
loyal North into another great frenzy of emotional
patriotism. Sherman was more of a hero than ever.

The happy general sent off to Lincoln, the follow-


ing message which reached the President, very ap
propriately, on Christmas eve :


"December 2%, 1864.


I beg to present you, as a Christmas gift,
the city of Savannah, with one hundred and fifty
guns, and plenty of ammunition 5 also about twenty -
five thousand bales of cotton.

Maj or-General.

The President was delighted, and no wonder.
He wrote Sherman an admirable reply to the mes
sage from Savannah. "Many, many thanks,"
he said, "for your Christmas gift the capture
of Savannah. When you were about leaving
Atlanta for the Atlantic coast I was anxious if
not fearful, but feeling that you were the better
judge, and remembering that l nothing risked,
nothing gained, I did not interfere. Now, the un
dertaking being a success, the honor is all yours ;
for I believe none of us went farther than to acqui
esce. And, taking the work of General Thomas
into the count, as it should be taken, it is indeed a
great success. Not only does it afford the obvious
and immediate military advantages ; but, in show
ing to the world that your army could be divided,
putting the stronger part to an important new


service, and yet leaving enough to vanquish the old
opposing force of the whole Hood s army it
brings those who sat in darkness to see a great
light. But what next? I suppose it will be safer
if I leave General Grant and yourself to decide.
Please make my grateful acknowledgments to your
whole army, officers and men. 7

It is not every President of the United States,
either before or after Lincoln, who would have so
frankly tendered to another all the credit of a great
military movement.

During the Georgia campaign, or " March to the \
Sea," beginning with the departure from Atlanta
and ending with the capture of Savannah, Sher
man s casualties, comprising killed, wounded, and
missing, aggregated only 764 men, while there were
captured by his forces over 1,300 men. The prop
erty confiscated during the march included thou
sands of horses and mules, not to mention the
supplies, or the fact that the army and its live
stock obtained an abundance of food while in

Sherman s own opinion of the strategic value
of the movement is, naturally, of great importance.
"I considered this march," he says, "as a means
to an end, and not as an essential act of war.
Still, then, as now, the march to the sea was gen
erally regarded as something extraordinary, some
thing anomalous, something out of the usual order
of events ; whereas, in fact, I simply moved from
Atlanta to Savannah, as one step in the direction


of Eichmond, a movement that had to be met
and defeated, or the war was necessarily at an
end." l

, He goes on to say, however, that " were he to ex

press his measure of the relative importance of the
march to the sea, and of that from Savannah north
ward, he would place the former at one, and the
latter at ten, or the maximum."

Although he does elsewhere, Sherman seems
not to give here all necessary importance to the
"moral effect" of the march an effect which is
clearly appreciated in Lincoln s letter thanking
him for the " Christmas gift." In the actual
march there was nothing extraordinary, but the
wonderful characteristic of it the genius of it, so
to speak, lies in the fact that Sherman, beset by
difficulties around Atlanta, had the audacity to
extricate himself therefrom by a movement in the
very heart of the enemy s country, which, although
it turned out so successfully, might have resulted
iu disaster to the army in progress. 2

John Cannon well observes of the march that
" of its vast influence toward closing the war, of
the irreparable blow it inflicted on the battered

>" Memoirs of General William T. Sherman," Vol. II, p.

2 "The boldness [of the march] lay in conceiving its far-
reaching advantages ; not in carrying through the mere details
of the progress." " Bird s Eye View of Our Civil War."
The London Times said, editorially, on January 9, 1865:
"The capture of Savannah completes the history of Sherman s
march, and stamps it as one of the ablest, certainly one of the
\ most singular, military achievements of the war."


body of the Confederate states, the on-coming
year, 1865, was to bring astounding evidence." *

In an official report on the campaign Sherman
estimated the damage done to Georgia at a hundred
millions of dollars. "This," he said, "may seem
a hard species of warfare, but it brings the sad
realities of war home to those who have been
directly or indirectly instrumental in involving us
in its attendant calamities."

Sherman had now reached an airy pinnacle of
fame from which, fortunately, he was never obliged
(save for several weeks of temporary unpopularity)
to descend. In the North the people invested him
with a halo of romance, and Congress formally
tendered him the public thanks ; at Savannah,
where he was now comfortably quartered, his
soldiers, without giving him a halo, accorded him
their admiration and confidence. They knew
him as he was a sturdy, uncompromising war
rior, rather than a cavalier, or an officer of the
Duinaseque type. He wrote home just then: "I
hear the soldiers talk, as I ride by, i There goes
the old man. AWs right! Not a waver, doubt,
or hesitation when I order, and men march to
certain death without a murmur if I call on them,
because they know I value their lives as much as
my own. I do not feel any older, and have no
gray hairs yet. ... I do not fear want of ap
preciation, but, on the contrary, that an exagger-

" Grant s Campaign for the Capture of Richmond."


ated faith will be generated in my ability, that no
man can fulfil."

Sherman, in fine, was jubilant, and as he told Hal-
leek, could afford, to " chuckle over Jeff Davis s
disappointment in not turning the Atlanta coin-
paign into a Moscow disaster. ? > Furthermore,
he had been pleased by the receipt of a letter from
Grant, written just before the capture of Savannah,
in which the lieutenant-general practically left
Sherman free to go north by land, rather than by
sea. "I did think," wrote Grant, "the best thing
to do was to bring the greater part of your army
here, and wipe out Lee. The turn affairs now
seem to be taking has shaken me in that opinion.
I doubt whether you may not accomplish more
toward that result where you are than if brought
here, especially as I am informed, since my arrival
in the city [Washington], that it would take about
two months to get you here with all the other calls
there are for ocean transportation. ... If you
capture the garrison of Savannah, it certainly will
compel Lee to detach from Eichmond, or give us
nearly the whole South. My own opinion is that
Lee is averse to going out of Virginia, and if the
cause of the South is lost he wants Eichmond to be
the last place surrendered."

Grant was, indeed, preparing to strike his great
blow against Lee who was still making so fine a
defense in Virginia. Shrewd Southerners, those
who could read the handwriting on the wall, and
were not carried away by sectional patriotism, be-


gaii to see that unless the unexpected happened
their cause would soon be lost. The fall of Savan
nah filled the South with uneasiness and created an
unpleasant sensation in Eichmond where such
sensations were now becoming the rule instead of the
exception. The newspapers there kept themselves
in cheer with difficulty. One ^of them said that as
Savannah was neither a military nor a manufactur
ing place, its loss was not, after all, a very serious
blow ; but it admitted that the general military situ
ation was unsatisfactory. Another journal advised
ki all cowards to leave immediately for England,
Canada or Mexico." Still another predicted,
wisely, that Sherman would soon advance north,
and that hard times were in store for the Carolinas.
Men are silent, and some dejected," writes a
looker-on in Eichmond ; "it is unquestionably the
darkest period we have yet experienced."

During Sherman s brief stay in Savannah, where
he had about twenty thousand inhabitants to deal
with, he appears to have been in an amiable frame
of mind, and even conciliatory. He gave the
citizens the option of remaining at home or going
to Charleston or Augusta, and most of them re
mained. He even visited the house of one lady
(the wife of a Confederate, General G. W. Smith)
to see that she was receiving proper treatment at
the hands of the conquerors. Further he estab
lished friendly relations with the mayor and city
council, whom he allowed to resume charge of the
1 Jones, "A Rebel War Clerk s Diary."


public interests of the city, although subject, of
course, to military law. In short, the people of
Savannah, who had come to regard Sherman as an
ogre and his army as a ferocious phalanx of rob
bers, murderers, and ravishers, must have been
most agreeably disappointed. And surely the
general had a right to be in good humor.

Early in January there arrived from the North,
on a revenue cutter, Secretary of War Stanton and
other officials who wished to inspect the fruits of
the latest victory. Mr. Stanton, who spent several
days in the city, manifested a remarkable interest
in, and sympathy for, the negroes, which, as Sher
man shrewdly tells us, * was not of pure humanity,
but of politics." The u negro question," which is
still a question, forty years since, was already be
ginning to loom politically, and it was foreseen
by many that the former slaves would secure the vot
ing franchise. "I did not dream of such a result
then, says Sherman, with commendable frankness,
in quite refreshing contrast to the hypocrisy of cer
tain alleged " friends of the colored brother." " I
knew that slavery, as such, was dead forever, and
did not suppose that the former slaves would be
suddenly, without preparation, manufactured into
voters, equal to all others, politically and socially."

It is hard for the new generation to realize the
atmosphere of sympathy with which the negro was
invested by the North forty years ago. It was
often a sincere sympathy and there were many
enthusiasts who actually believed that the colored


race should be placed on a social par with the w
Mr. Stanton is an inscrutable historical character,
in whom there is much to condemn, much to praise,
and we cannot undertake to say how far his profes
sions of love were, or were not, honest. But he
talked a great deal on the subject and got Sherman
to arrange for him an interview with about twenty
of the more intelligent negroes of the place, mostly
Baptist and Methodist preachers. The secretary of
war now proceeded to ask these men a variety of
questions, regarding slavery, emancipation, etc.,
and finally demanded of them: "What is the
feeling of the colored people toward General Sher
man, and how far do they regard his sentiments
and actions as friendly to their rights and interests,
or otherwise ?

The answer to this was that the general s "de
portment " toward the negroes in Savannah charac
terized him as "a friend and gentleman." It was
added that "we have confidence in General Sher
man, and think what concerns us could not be in
better hands.

Sherman, as we have seen, was a sincere well-
wisher of the negroes, but had no sympathy with
impossible theories about them. He was un
deniably disgusted at the gross conduct of Stan-
ton. It certainly was a strange fact, he thought,
that the great secretary of war should catechize
colored men concerning the character of a general
who had commanded a hundred thousand men in
battle, had conducted an army across miles and


iniles of hostile territory, and had just brought
some thousands of freedinen along with the army to
a place of security. But because he had not
"loaded down his army with hundreds of thou
sands of poor negroes he was supposed to be
k i hostile to the black race.

Here it should be mentioned that Sherman had
but recently received a confidential letter from
General Halleck, warning him that certain persons
near Mr. Lincoln were instilling doubts into the
latter s mind as to the general s orthodoxy regard
ing the " inevitable Sambo." "They say," wrote
Halleck, "that you have manifested an almost
criminal dislike to the negro, and that you are not
willing to carry out the wishes of the government in
regard to him, but repulse him with contempt.
They say you might have brought with you to
Savannah more than fifty thousand, thus stripping
Georgia of that number of laborers, and opening a
road by which as many more could have escaped
from their masters ; but that, instead of this, you
drove them from your ranks, prevented their fol
lowing you by cutting the bridges in your rear, and
thus caused the massacre of large numbers by
Wheeler s cavalry."

Sherman seems to have satisfied Stanton that he
was friendly toward the negro, and, at the sug
gestion of the secretary, he issued a special order
providing for the enlistment of colored troops and
giving the freedinen certain rights to settle on land.
The general also convinced the zealous secretary


that there was no truth in the charges, indicated by
Halleck, as to large numbers of negroes being driven
from the ranks to be " massacred" by Wheeler s
cavalry. These charges were due to the fact that
on one occasion, when General Jefferson C. Davis,
of the Fourteenth Corps, removed a pontoon bridge
from Ebenezer Creek, during the " march to the
sea," some of the black camp-followers tried to
swim across the stream, in their fright at being left
behind, and were drowned. Davis could not be
blamed for the panic among the poor fellows who
thought their only salvation was in following in the
wake of "Massa" Sherman. It need hardly be
added that General Wheeler, every inch the soldier
and the gentleman, did not engage in the " mas
sacre " of defenseless negroes.

Sherman was now revolving in his own mind the
project to march northward, and join Grant s army.
Grant himself wrote from City Point, on the 27th
of December, that he believed the thing was prac
ticable. "The effect of such a campaign," he
added, will be to disorganize the South, and pre
vent the organization of new armies from their
broken fragments. Hood is now retreating, with
his army broken and demoralized. His loss in men
has probably not been far from twenty thousand,
besides deserters. If time is given, the fragments
may be collected together and many of the deserters
re-assembled. If we can, we should act to prevent
this. Your spare army, as it were, moving as pro
posed, will do it. ... Of course, I shall not


let Lee s army escape if I can help it, and will not
let it go without following to the best of my ability.
Without waiting further directions, then, you may
make your preparations to start on your northern
expedition without delay. "

Sherman began his preparations at once, although
he was in doubt as to whether the administration at
Washington wished him to take Charleston en route
or confine himself to breaking up the railways of
North and South Carolina with the ultimate object
of uniting with Grant before Eichmond. Later on
Grant, wishing to aid Sherman in every way, or
dered General Schofield s corps to the east, to ad
vance up the Neuse Eiver to Goldsboro, N. C.,
and also directed General A. H. Terry, the captor
of Fort Fisher, to take Wilmington. The forces
of Sherman were put in good order; recruits
came from the North ; men returned from fur
loughs, and his army soon comprised 59,000 in
fantry, 4,400 cavalry, and 1, 700 artillery, together
with about 2,500 six-mule wagons, sixty-eight guns,
with six horses to each, sixty-eight four-horse cais
sons, and numerous ambulances. Each division
had its own supply train ; rations were to be issued,
but reliance was to be placed on the customary for
aging, and cattle were to be taken along on the hoof.

Sherman, not receiving any orders to the con
trary, made up his mind to waste no time on Charles
ton or Augusta, although he purposely gave it out,
with some ostentation, that he was heading for
either one of those points. His real objective was


Columbia, South Carolina. By the middle of
January all was ready ; a garrison was left in
charge of Savannah, and the movement began.
We need not go into the details of the exacting
march, with the vast difficulties caused by heavy
rains, the bridging over of streams, and the constant
necessity of "corduroying" roads. The opposi
tion, indeed, at first came more from nature than
from the military. The forces of the enemy im
mediately facing Sherman did not frighten him.
General Wheeler still had a cavalry division, albeit
much reduced in size by his constant fighting ; and
General Wade Hampton had been sent to South
Carolina to raise men to punish Sherman for the
u insolent attempt to invade the glorious state."
Sherman was more concerned as to whether Lee
would move southward to oppose him, not relishing
the idea of having the supplies of his (Lee s) army
cut off; or whether the remains of Hood s army
(which were being hurried across Georgia) would
join with the forces of Hardee, Wheeler, and Hamp
ton to offer a spirited resistance. With such possi
bilities Sherman pursued his new march, which
brought him, on the 16th of February, opposite

The eyes of the whole country were now fixed
upon Lee and Grant in Virginia and upon Sher
man in the Carolinas. In the North already there
was talk of making the latter a lieutenant-gen
eral, and hints that he might, in time, be a feasible
Presidential candidate. But the general frankly


discouraged any such ideas, and wrote to John
Sherman that he deemed it unwise to create another
lieutenant-general. "Let the law stand as now,"
he said. I will accept no commission that would
tend to create a rivalry with Grant. I want him
to hold what he has earned and got. I have
all the rank I want." He added, apropos of the
political gossip concerning him: "If you ever
hear anybody use my name in connection with
a political office, tell them you know me well
enough to assure them that I would be offended
by such association. I would rather be an en
gineer of a railroad, than President of the United
States. ... I have commanded one hundred
thousand men in battle, and on the march, success
fully and without confusion, and that is enough for
reputation. Next, I want rest and peace, and they
can only be had through war." l

Columbia was peaceably occupied by Sherman
on the 17th of February, and the incident would
have had but passing importance in the history of
the campaign had it not been for the great fire
which broke out that day in the town and finally
reduced the best part of it to ashes.

The troops marched into one of the fairest cities
of the South, with its wide, tree-lined streets, hand
some buildings, and imposing new capitol, glitter
ing in the sun ; they left it blackened, charred,
half-ruined. Yet there seems no reason to believe
that the soldiers were, in the main, responsible

1 " The Sherman Letters," p. 245.


for this result, although it was long believed, by
his enemies, that Sherman had deliberately planned
the destruction of the whole place. He had ordered
General Howard to destroy the " public buildings,
railroad property, manufacturing and machine
shops" ; but to spare Columbia s libraries, asylums
and private dwellings. These orders gave rise to
the assertion that the subsequent conflagration,
which burned out the heart of the city, and led to
some pillage, was to be attributed to the Union
forces, while Sherman always contended that it
resulted from bales of cotton set on fire by Wade
Hampton s party of cavalry before it beat its

It is certain that Sherman did all in his power to
relieve the unfortunate citizens, stricken alike by
war and the flames. He had already made every
effort to stop the fire on the night of the 17th, but
without success. There is no doubt, however, that
among a certain element of the Union soldiers that
night there were drunkenness, rioting and acts of
vandalism which, while perhaps inevitable, were
nevertheless inexcusable although one cannot hold
Sherman personally responsible for this want of
discipline, occurring, as it did, amid the inde
scribable confusion incident to a large fire.

William Gilmore Simms, the Southern novelist,
afterward wrote a bitter arraignment of the con
duct of some of the troops on that wretched night.
Women, he says, were "hustled" from their rooms
their ornaments snatched away from them the


clothes which they were trying to save from the
flames stolen from their hands. "It was in vain
that the mother appealed for the garments of her
children. They were torn from her grasp and
hurled into the flames. The young girl striving to
save a single frock had it rent to fibres in her grasp.
Men and women, bearing off their trunks, were
seized, despoiled ; in a moment the trunk was burst
asunder with the stroke of the axe or gun butt, the
contents laid bare, rifled of all the objects of desire.
1 Your watch ! l Your money ! was the demand.
Frequently no demand was made. Barely was a
word spoken, where the watch, or chain, or ring,
or bracelet, presented itself conspicuously to the
eye. It was incontinently plucked away from the
neck, breast, or bosom. Hundreds of women, still
greater numbers of old men, were thus despoiled.
The slightest show of resistance provoked violence
to the person."

Simms goes on to say that these acts were not
always confined to the common soldier. " Commis
sioned officers, of rank so high as that of colonel,
were frequently among the most active in spolia
tion, and not always the most tender or considerate
in the manner and acting of their crimes ; and,
after glutting themselves with spoil, would often
utter the foulest speeches, coupled with oaths as
condiment, dealing in what they assumed, besides,
to be bitter sarcasms upon the cause and country."

Undoubtedly a few private houses were fired by
1 Simms, <l The Burning of Columbia."


incendiaries; undoubtedly a few of the soldiers
themselves were fired with bad Southern whiskey.
But the author of " Marching Through Georgia,"
who was in Columbia at the time (while Simms was
not) says distinctly : i There were some ghouls in
this army, as in all others, no matter how civilized
the age, or righteous the cause; and a very few
such in the midst of thousands of honest and con
scientious soldiers, could readily bring reproach
upon all. But the author does not know, nor, after
diligent inquiry, has he been able to find, any sol
dier who was in Columbia at that time, who knows
of any such vandalism as was attributed to Sher
man s army by William Gilmore Simms."

Colonel Nichols, who was also an eye-witness of
the fire, records in his " Story of the Great March "
and he penned the words almost as the incidents
were happening that the Union soldiers worked
nobly, removing household belongings from the
dwellings which were in the track of the approach
ing flames, and here and there extinguishing a fire
when there was hope of saving a structure. He
adds that Sherman and his officers "worked with
their own hands" until long after midnight, trying
bo save life and property. "The house taken for
headquarters is now filled with old men, women,
and children who have been driven from their homes

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Online LibraryEdward RobinsWilliam T. Sherman → online text (page 16 of 22)