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Madeline Kuncio History 427 Term Paper 11/11/13 An Examination of Contemporary Reactions to the March to the Sea The American

Civil War forms an important part of our country‟s national myth. Most Americans have some idea of the basic facts surrounding the war, though those are usually tainted by a century and a half of nostalgia, revisionist history and the persistent myth of the Confederate Lost Cause. One of the key events in national memory of the war is the burning of Atlanta and the following March to the Sea by Major General William T. Sherman and his army. In our distorted national memory, it looks like a war crime, with Union soldiers rampaging through Georgia, stealing and burning as they went. But at the time, many in the Union saw it very differently, and so did some Confederates. This paper will address how contemporaries viewed Sherman‟s march and the measures he took in order to end the war. Did these people see his actions as criminal, regrettably necessary, or merciful? Using accounts from both sides of the war, at various operational levels, this paper will attempt to uncover a clearer, more accurate view of how the people living at the time thought of Sherman‟s march. At the lowest tactical level, individual soldiers in the Union army understood that the war had to be prosecuted vigorously. Union soldiers‟ letters home contained phrases such as: “I don‟t go in for yielding one inch to the rebs.” and most were full of disdain for the Copperhead politicians who were attempting to end the war.1 One soldier suggested that the Copperheads should be forced to swear allegiance to the government or be executed by the Union artillery, and claimed that three-fourths of Sherman‟s army shared his opinion.2 The troops had already endured almost three years of terrible warfare, and to give up now was worse than if they had surrendered at the beginning of the war. These soldiers knew they had

Joseph T. Glatthaar. The March to the Sea and Beyond: Sherman's Troops in the Savannah And Carolinas Campaigns. (New York: New York University Press: 1985) p. 43 2 Joseph T. Glatthaar. The March to the Sea and Beyond. p. 45


” one man wrote. he was now against them. Glatthaar. the March to the Sea was a military necessity. The soldiers in Sherman‟s army were disdainful of McClellan. 46 Joseph T. McClellan had placed himself outside of the fraternity of the army. If elected. Thomas Gordon of the 1st Minnesota Artillery kept a diary during the march. and the entries were the same as they had been for the past three years. 3 4 Joseph T. “I went out jayhawking. was running on a peace platform. they would not get another chance.”4 McClellan‟s peace platform destroyed his popularity among the soldiers. Gordon wrote about which towns he passed through. “He is the representative of a party whose principles no soldier can hold. We cans see nothing but a vigorous prosecution of the war and a final victory not far distant. 1 horse. 46 2 . He was not a true soldier. The March to the Sea and Beyond.power to end the war quickly. In their minds. he was a coward and no soldier would vote for a coward. He mentions foraging only twice during the entire march and he appears to have only done it once with any success. wrote that “I would just as soon vote for Jeff Davis as I would for [McClellan] running on the platform he is. The soldiers were also keenly aware that if they did not win some sort of victory before the election in November of 1864. despite the fact that he had been the commanding general of the Army of the Potomac and popular with his men. he would end the war and recognize the Confederacy as an independent country. the conditions of the roads and the distance he marched each day. However. this did not mean they would be out of control. One Wisconsin soldier wrote that “The [antiwar] platform has placed McClellan in obscurity. p. if they were given free rein to do so. Glatthaar. an Illinoisan. wildly rampaging through Georgia with no thought but destruction. McClellan.5 By supporting a negotiated end to the war. captured 2 mules. we would have voted for him had it not been for that. killed 7 hogs. p. 46 5 Joseph T.” 3 Another soldier. More bluntly. It meant that they would be doing whatever their commanding officers thought was necessary to end the war. For them. rather than with them. p. The March to the Sea and Beyond. Glatthaar. The Democratic candidate. George B. The March to the Sea and Beyond.

For Confederate troops. Aytch: A Confederate Memoir of the Civil War. and damming insult to our people. which meant that the Confederate effort was pointless. Gordon was not a “bummer. “Every day I would look on at the sufferings of delicate ladies. but in a more refined way. Co. Confederate General John Bell Hood marched his army into Tennessee to attack the Union supply lines. October 1862-July 1865. (New York: Touchstone: 2003) p. . . Sherman of the Union army the actions of his men were not 6 7 Gordon. 1864.etc. and mothers with little children clinging to them…and old women. December 6. 204 3 . Sherman had cut himself loose from his lines of communication. Thomas. The commanding generals on both sides shared this view.”8 Watkins blamed the Union for perpetuating this crime. Watkins. When he and some friends tried to forage independently of the army. “I wondered how on earth our generals…could quietly look on this dark. whose grey hairs should have protected them. However. Diary. 204 9 Watkins.7 Gordon was not punished. but he also laid the blame with his own commanding officers. Minnesota Historical Society 8 Sam R. 1864. When Sherman asked the Confederates to evacuate the women and children of Atlanta. and not use at least one effort to rescue them from such terrible and unmitigated cruelty. probably to help pull the guns across the muddy Georgia roads. Diary. Aytch.”9 The actions of Sherman‟s men on the march would further drive home the point that the Southern people and the Southern army could not stop the Union. but this example shows that Sherman was determined to keep control of his men and limit the destruction they caused. After being forced out of Atlanta by Sherman.” charged with bringing in food for the army. Minnesota Historical Society Gordon. black. Co. the Union march was a humiliation that they could do nothing about. He was primarily interested in taking animals. October 1862-July 1865.”6 As an artilleryman. and tottering old men. Thomas. they were stopped and arrested by the cavalry. old men. An idea of how the soldiers felt about their inability to protect Georgia can be seen in Corporal Sam Watkins‟ memoirs. November 22. Watkins was disgusted by Hood‟s acquiescence. For Major General William T.

“War is Hell” p. That he agreed to Sherman‟s demands shows that in some sense John Bell Hood understood that he was helpless to protect the women and children of Atlanta. 10 Lane Mills. Hood could protest. Beehive. “but we can make war so terrible…that generations would pass away before they would again appeal to it.only a military duty. In his memoirs. “The unprecedented measure you propose transcends. Sherman and Confederate General John Bell Hood corresponded through messengers. for better or worse. McPherson. For the Confederates.”10 His goal was to end the war as quickly as possible. with as few deaths he could manage. they were moral necessity. they painted Sherman as little better than Genghis Khan. making this fiery letter somewhat pointless except as a way for Hood to defend his reputation after the war.”11 The march to the sea was more than a campaign.‟ In response. “We cannot change the hearts of those people of the South. it was a crusade to prevent the war from continuing. but the South would see that he had failed in his duty to protect the home front. both in outrage and because they hoped to shift the blame away from their own failures. ed.”12 Yet he still agreed to Sherman‟s truce. in studied and ingenious cruelty. 107 4 . It showed that they were helpless to protect their „nation. Sherman's Personal Narrative of His March Through Georgia. (Savannah. which was exactly what Sherman was trying to accomplish. all acts ever brought to my attention in the dark history of war. 142 11 James M.” Sherman wrote. "War is Hell:" William T. Hood decried Sherman‟s suggestion that the women and children be removed from the city. “I was strongly inspired with the feeling that the movement on our part was a direct attack on the rebel army and the rebel capital at Richmond…and that. He wrote to Sherman. Sherman‟s march accomplished exactly what he said it would. During the Siege of Atlanta. then that was what he would do. ed. it would end the war. Battle Cry of Freedom: The Civil War Era. 1974) p. he wrote. (New York: Ballantine: 1988) 12 Lane Mills. If the most efficient way to accomplish that was to march through Georgia and demonstrate the weakness of the Confederacy.

were viewed more harshly by the government. 180 5 . The Civil War and the Limits of Destruction. Neely. and by 1864 the Union shifted to a “hard war” policy. his excesses against Sherman‟s sensible measures such as “the stripping of crops. Jr wrote “The president and the society he directed to victory…came down on the side of not making war terrible. One historian wrote. Grimsley. burning homes and crops and living off the land.”14 Halleck contrasted Hunter with Sherman. In the summer of 1864. p. (Cambridge: Harvard: 2007) p. but of making it no worse than necessary. that the war hard be harsh. Grimsley. and the evacuation of Atlanta‟s civilian population. it would be a calculated prosecution. Jr. but that there had to be limits and the destruction must be controlled. It was about destroying the Confederate home front‟s will to fight. His actions. the burning of mills. But like Sherman‟s soldiers.By the time Sherman began his march. Union general David Hunter led a raid in the Shenandoah Valley. 197 Mark E. 13 The Union armies would devastate the South‟s logistical and moral infrastructure. the leaders of the Union had realized that this war was a war of conquest. but Hunter‟s conduct was found to be excessively harsh. (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press: 1995) p. This paper has already shown the example of Thomas Gordon. All attempts at reconciliation had failed.”15 Halleck‟s response illustrates the Union high command‟s official policy. though very similar to Sherman‟s. 180 15 Mark E. Historian Mark E. The Hard Hand of War. They would prosecute the war to its fullest extent in order to end it. Major General Henry Halleck wrote a letter to Sherman complaining of Hunter‟s actions and calling them “barbarous. Neely. “Northern expressions of support for intensified war-making assumed that the Confederate army was an instrument of the Southern populace and that the populace was 13 14 Mark E. Part of the reason for this control was that the march to the sea was about more than destroying property. The Hard Hand of War: Union Military Policy Toward Southern Civilians. 1861-1865. who was arrested by his own side‟s cavalry for attempting to loot without permission. but it would be a controlled devastation. The situation was similar at higher levels. Grant had ordered the raid.

3 Nov.”17 The Daily South Carolinian of Columbia accused his men of rape and pillage. Of course. South Carolina] [December 14. where Union soldiers had subdued the Confederate armies handily.a legitimate object of attack. 3 Nov. Chattanooga and Atlanta. When the 16 Royster. 2013 19 “An Empty Boast. Additionally. having failing to subdue our soldiers…determined to try whether it could not torture their brave hearts by subjecting their wives and little ones to a thousand outrages.” Daily South Carolinian [Columbia. because they understood that bringing the war to the civilian population was a legitimate course of action for the government to take.S. Stonewall Jackson. 2013. that. but opined that Sherman‟s march would have a purifying effect on the Confederacy. but had the same objective: to destroy Union morale. Web. It was legal according to the laws of war. Newspapers. These expressions of support came from both civilians and politicians." Daily Richmond Examiner [Richmond." Daily South Carolinian [Columbia. Virginia] [3 Oct. 1864]: n. 3 Nov. Charles.the last resort of a baffled foe. 1991) p. (New York: Alfred E. 6 . the author cannot recall John Hunt Morgan and Nathan Bedford Forrest‟s raids into Union territory. “The flame which consumed the labor of a lifetime purified the political atmosphere. 2013. Nineteenth Century U. and the Americans.p. The Daily Richmond Examiner called Sherman “a Yankee Brute. 81 17 "The Result of Sherman's Order—A Picture of Yankee Warfare. Newspapers.S. Newspapers. South Carolina] 16 Dec.”18 The Daily South Carolinian felt that Sherman‟s depredations would convince every person in the Confederacy that there was no hope of reconciliation and that the Confederate States must win or be destroyed. Knopf. In another article. 18 “The Effect of Sherman‟s March. 1864: n.S. 1864]: n. which may have been smaller in scale.. and kindled in the heart of the sufferer the fires of patriotism. the paper referred to the March to the Sea as “. the Confederates did not see things in quite the same light.p. Web. Nineteenth Century U. Vicksburg.p Nineteenth Century U.”19 The author of the article seemed to have forgotten the battles of Gettysburg..”16 The key word here is legitimate. and the common understanding of how wars should be fought. The Destructive War: William Tecumseh Sherman. Web.

Glatthaar.” New York Times [New York City.”20 The New York Times was openly scornful of Southern resistance. but when the Union invaded their „nation. even in areas far away from Sherman‟s path and among the highest levels of government. who said.23 Grant agreed with him. hammering home the point that Confederacy had failed in its bid for independence and should surrender.”21 Pessimism had set in across the South. even small children. and Sherman made the entire Confederacy howl. For all the Daily South Carolinian’s insistence that the March to the Sea had strengthened Confederate resolve. Despite what the Confederate newspapers claimed. Charles. Magrath of South Carolina called for his people to burn their crops before Sherman‟s army could reach them. Before Sherman set out from Atlanta. events on the ground told a different story. “War is Hell” p. they were in the right. 3 Nov 2013 22 Royster. The March to the Sea and Beyond. but a chilling apprehension of the futility of doing so.‟ it was suddenly a crime on a massive scale. ed. 129 7 . Sherman and his subordinate generals kept good control over their men in contrast to other Union generals. p. the paper said. the negroes. but he wrote to Jefferson Davis privates that they would not do it. “It is not unwillingness to opposes the enemy. Soldiers in Sherman‟s army reported hearing Southerners admit that they had lost the war. and make Georgia howl!” he assured Grant. Grant that it was a good strategic move. 70 “Sherman's March. “More sober rebels than [Beauregard]”. “I can make the march. and all possible and impossible powers and weaknesses to aid them. even in South Carolina. 4 ProQuest Historical Newspapers.Confederacy was attacking. 346 23 Lane Mills.”22 The people of the Confederacy had lost the war. “Our men can‟t whip you-ones. he had to convince a skeptical Ulysses S. Governor Andrew G. p. Sherman‟s March had done what he had intended it to do. New York] [26 November 1864]: p. The Destructive War. the damage was not as severe as they would have liked to imagine. such as David Hunter in the Shenandoah Valley. No one at the 20 21 Joseph T. Web. “are calling on the elements. which affects the people. The March to the Sea was inexorable and unstoppable. and they knew it.

More than anything else.‟ 8 . The myth that Sherman was a war criminal who enjoyed wreaking havoc on Confederate civilians was a creation of later Southern historians. Even some Confederates realized that what he was doing would end the war quickly and end their suffering. because they failed to provide security for their people. Later partisans of the Lost Cause blamed Sherman because it was easier to lay the blame on him than it was to find fault with their own soldiers. who failed to protect their „nation. the March to the Sea proved that the Confederates were not a nation. who refused to admit they had lost in a fair fight.highest levels of the United States government or military saw Sherman‟s actions as anything other than a necessity.