“With a few simple cautions, he hopes to lead you to achievements equal to those of the past…”
It began with a letter to his men written by his Aide-de-Camp, L.M. Dayton, on November 8, 1864:
The general commanding deems it proper at this time to inform the officers and men of the Fourteenth, Fifteenth, Seventeenth and the Twentieth Corps, that he has organized them into an army for a special purpose, well known to the War Department and to General Grant. It is sufficient for you to know that it involves departure from our present base, and a long and difficult march to a new one. All the chances of war have been considered and provided for, as far as human sagacity can. All the asks of you is to maintain that discipline, patience and courage, which have characterized you in the past; and he hopes, through you, to strike a blow at our enemy that will have material effect in producing what we all so much desire, his complete overthrow. Of all things, the most important is, that the men during marches and in camp, keep their places and do not scatter about as stragglers or foragers, to be picked up by a hostile people in detail. It is also of the utmost importance that our wagons should not be loaded with anything but provisions and ammunition. All surplus servants, non-combatants, and refugees, should now go to the rear, and none should be encouraged to encumber the march. At some future time we will be able to provide for the poor whites and blacks who seek to escape the bondage under which they are now suffering. With these few simple cautions, he hopes to lead you to achievements equal in importance to those of the past.
By order of Major-General W.T. Sherman
L.M. Dayton, Aide-de-Camp
As you can see, the above letter was sent to the soldiers who were in the army of my favourite Civil War General, William Tecumseh Sherman. This was the letter that was sent informing troops they would be going on what has become known as Sherman’s March To The Sea. Also issued at this time was Special Field Orders. No 120. I’m going to discuss that more in another post.
Cump was about to “make Georgia howl”. In a cable to Grant on October 9, 1864, he stated:
If the North can march an army right through the South, it is proof positive that the North can prevail in this contest…Even without battle, the result operating upon the minds of sensible men would produce fruits more than compensating for the expense, trouble and risk
Robert L. O’Connell says it best in his biography about Sherman called “Fierce Patriot”: “Sherman was proposing a trek across the mind of the South as much as a march across their territory”. In other words, this was not just physical war. Sherman was about to crush the morale of the south.
The troops were, of course, in Atlanta, Georgia. And the place where they were headed? First stop was Milledgeville. The final stop? The ultimate goal? Savanah. A distance of approximately 285 miles. Wow…
And for that, you need soldiers who are in very good shape. These were the Spartans of the Civil War. Sherman had medical inspectors. They went through ALL the troops. The result? Around 62,000 troops who were in very good shape. O’Connell states that “the weeding out process had left them feeling like members of a truly elite force”. You can bet this also boosted morale about them and with Uncle Billy knowing “exactly where he was going and what he was doing” (O’Connell) , these men probably felt damn near invincible. They would be walking fifteen to twenty miles a day carrying a blanket, pot, extra shirt, socks, canteen, food, gun plus forty rounds of ammo. This was considered the bare essentials.
And like I mentioned, Atlanta to Savannah is a LONG way when you’re on your feet…
Military strategist/genius/hottie that Sherman was, he didn’t want the Confederacy to know what he was up to (though they had their suspicions). Cump meant business. This is why there is a right wing, led by General Oliver O. Howard and a left wing, led by General Harvey W. Slocum. These two divergent lines, as Cump explains in his memoirs, were designed to threaten both Macon and Augusta and “to prevent a concentration at our intended destination”, of which was Milledgeville.
Keep ’em guessing, Cump.
Sherman estimated 7 seven days to arrive at Milledgeville.
It was on November 15, 1864 that Howard with the 15th and 17th Corps plus cavalry and Slocum with the 20th Corps, left Atlanta. Sherman would leave the next day. He stayed behind with the 14th Corps, which would eventually join General Slocum.
Sherman stayed behind to complete the loading the trains and for the destruction of many of the buildings in Atlanta. He believed they “could be converted to hostile uses” and he clearly wanted to make sure that did NOT happen.
Over the next several weeks, I’ll be doing more posts about Sherman’s March to the Sea. One of the best accounts I’ve ever read of it is in Robert L. O’Connell’s “Fierce Patriot”. If y’all haven’t read that one yet and are looking for a good bio about General Sherman, read this one! It is freaking awesome!
As always, thanks for reading!
Until next time,
O’Connell, Robert L. “Fierce Patriot: The Tangled Lives of William Tecumseh Sherman”. Random House: New York, 2014.
Sherman, General William T. “Memoirs”. Barnes & Noble: New York, 2005 (originally published in 1886).
Trudeau, Noah Andre. “Southern Storm: Sherman’s March To The Sea”. Harper Collins: New York, 2008.