Did Sherman destroy everything in his path?

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frontrank2

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Sherman's famous ( or infamous ) March to the Sea took just about a month. He telegraphed Lincoln on Dec. 22: "I beg to present to you as a Christmas-gift the City of Savannah." But did Sherman destroy everything in his path? The answer is No. But as a part of his strategic plan to make war hard on the civilian populace, his march left many feeling that way, even to this day.
Since his 50,000 plus army was without supply lines, it had to literally live off the land. "Forage liberally," he famously ordered - and many troops took that as license to pillage.
One letter home describes the spoils that foragers returned to camp with one night: "Pumpkins, chickens, cabbages" for the evening meal, but also "a looking-glass, an Italian harp ..., a peacock, a rocking chair."
Some destruction was officially sanctioned. Anything that was of use to the Confederacy was a target: cotton gins, barns, factories, even Confederate officials homes were put to the torch. Railroads were torn up and their rails turned into Sherman's Neckties. Uncle Billy even ordered some towns that harbored snipers or guerrillas to be burned. The few battles that did take place along the march were quickly won by the Union juggernaut.
Rumors of the unstoppable destruction spread fearfully among those in Sherman's path. And who knew what that path was? Even Lincoln would say: "We know what hole he went in, but we don't know what hole he'll come out of."
And the hard feelings persist even to the present day.
Historian William Marszalek said he's often approached after talks.

"He burned my great-grandfather's barn," a listener will say.

"Where was that?" Marszalek will ask - and it will be nowhere near Sherman's path.

"He got into people's psyche. That's exactly what he wanted to do. And it's still very much there," Marszalek said.

Along Sherman's route today, a visitor will hear about total ruin - but then see signs beckoning tourists to an "antebellum trail" of unburned plantation houses.
Sherman claimed to have inflicted $100 million worth of damage, but this is only a guess. However, the damage to Southern morale was beyond calculation.

bummers.jpg
 

Rhea Cole

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Sherman's famous ( or infamous ) March to the Sea took just about a month. He telegraphed Lincoln on Dec. 22: "I beg to present to you as a Christmas-gift the City of Savannah." But did Sherman destroy everything in his path? The answer is No. But as a part of his strategic plan to make war hard on the civilian populace, his march left many feeling that way, even to this day.
Since his 50,000 plus army was without supply lines, it had to literally live off the land. "Forage liberally," he famously ordered - and many troops took that as license to pillage.
One letter home describes the spoils that foragers returned to camp with one night: "Pumpkins, chickens, cabbages" for the evening meal, but also "a looking-glass, an Italian harp ..., a peacock, a rocking chair."
Some destruction was officially sanctioned. Anything that was of use to the Confederacy was a target: cotton gins, barns, factories, even Confederate officials homes were put to the torch. Railroads were torn up and their rails turned into Sherman's Neckties. Uncle Billy even ordered some towns that harbored snipers or guerrillas to be burned. The few battles that did take place along the march were quickly won by the Union juggernaut.
Rumors of the unstoppable destruction spread fearfully among those in Sherman's path. And who knew what that path was? Even Lincoln would say: "We know what hole he went in, but we don't know what hole he'll come out of."
And the hard feelings persist even to the present day.
Historian William Marszalek said he's often approached after talks.

"He burned my great-grandfather's barn," a listener will say.

"Where was that?" Marszalek will ask - and it will be nowhere near Sherman's path.

"He got into people's psyche. That's exactly what he wanted to do. And it's still very much there," Marszalek said.

Along Sherman's route today, a visitor will hear about total ruin - but then see signs beckoning tourists to an "antebellum trail" of unburned plantation houses.
Sherman claimed to have inflicted $100 million worth of damage, but this is only a guess. However, the damage to Southern morale was beyond calculation.

View attachment 335174
In the Library of Congress is the map Sherman used to plan the March to the Sea. It was created by the Census Bureau. In a triumph of cartography & statistical analysis, the map lists the produce, animal & manufacturing out put of each county in Georgia. Using that map, Sherman ordered his forces to pass through counties where they could do the most harm to Confederate war production. Counties that did not produce a significant number of hogs, for example, were bypassed. As he approached the coast, the agricultural output dropped precipitously. From living off the fat of the land, his bummers found themselves having hard times. Sherman planned his route with that obstacle in mind. Unlike the lurid depictions that began even as the march was in progress, the March to the Sea was a carefully calculated & managed operation. Maximum damage to the enemy with minimal risk to his forces was Sherman's guiding principal. I would post the map, but it really doesn't look like much in this kind of format.
 

AndyHall

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bummers.gif


Some years back, I encountered a posting by a young man from Georgia on Facebook -- I think he was not long out of high school -- whose immediate and extended families were in a very difficult situation, financially. He had somehow convinced himself that his CW-era relatives had been very wealthy plantation owners, who had been burned out by Sherman, left with nothing, and his family's financial struggles right down to the present day were a direct and lingering result of the depredations of Uncle Billy's bummers a century and a half before.

I looked up the ancestor he named as the wealthy plantation owner, and found him in the 1860 Census -- an ordinary farm laborer with no assets listed. Furthermore, he lived in the southwestern part of the state, many miles from the path of Sherman's army. The story the young man was telling himself had no verifiable truth to it at all, but he believed it nonetheless, because it suited him -- we were great once, until those people took it from us. It's a powerful narrative, and an appealing one. He probably remains quite bitter today about the imaginary horrors his relatives suffered at the hands of Uncle Billy's mudsills.
 
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frontrank2

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In the Library of Congress is the map Sherman used to plan the March to the Sea. It was created by the Census Bureau. In a triumph of cartography & statistical analysis, the map lists the produce, animal & manufacturing out put of each county in Georgia. Using that map, Sherman ordered his forces to pass through counties where they could do the most harm to Confederate war production. Counties that did not produce a significant number of hogs, for example, were bypassed. As he approached the coast, the agricultural output dropped precipitously. From living off the fat of the land, his bummers found themselves having hard times. Sherman planned his route with that obstacle in mind. Unlike the lurid depictions that began even as the march was in progress, the March to the Sea was a carefully calculated & managed operation. Maximum damage to the enemy with minimal risk to his forces was Sherman's guiding principal. I would post the map, but it really doesn't look like much in this kind of format.
Precisely. :thumbsup:
 

trice

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Being anywhere near an army that is foraging on the countryside and "living off the land" is a pretty miserable experience.

It doesn't matter much who is foraging or what period of history it is. In Napoleon's day, in Europe, the French were famous for doing it but it was considered that the Cossacks were the worst with the Prussians right behind them (which led to a lot of Prussian foragers being shot by French farmers in 1814-15). Lee's ANV was very polite as the foraged in Pennsylvania in 1863 -- and also extremely efficient at stripping the countryside as they passed, because Lee did it in a very organized way. Even as Sherman's men ate their way through Georgia and the Carolinas, many Southerners seem to have felt a visit from Wheeler's Confederate cavalry was worse than having Sherman's men march through your farm.

What really matters is discipline and command control. Efficiency in foraging requires discipline and control to minimize wanton destruction and waste. Lee knew this, which is a major reason he insisted on strong control of foraging as he moved through Pennsylvania. Davout (called "The Iron Marshal" in Napoleon's day) enforced strong discipline in his Corps -- men like Soult and Massena (a former smuggler) did not. In normal times, the locals had much less to worry about from Davout -- but if Davout felt he really needed to bear down, his quartermasters would find and take every last crumb of food, every last nail, every animal that came within reach -- destroying little while taking everything.
 

Belle Montgomery

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