Forage Liberally: The Role of Agriculture in Sherman's March to the Sea

USS ALASKA

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An interesting take on Sherman's March from an agricultural viewpoint...

Graduate Theses and Dissertations Iowa State University
Capstones, Theses and Dissertations
2011

Forage Liberally: The Role of Agriculture in Sherman's March to the Sea
by Robert Christopher Welch

Iowa State University
This Dissertation is brought to you for free and open access by the Iowa State University Capstones, Theses and Dissertations at Iowa State University Digital Repository. It has been accepted for inclusion in Graduate Theses and Dissertations by an authorized administrator of Iowa State University Digital Repository. For more information, please contact digirep@iastate.edu.

With apologies to Wendell Berry, the Civil War was an agricultural act. The secession crisis and war were born of the dispute over an agricultural labor system, and our culture has oversimplified the conflict as one between the industrial Northern states and the agrarian Southern states. The war changed agriculture in both regions as civilians fought to feed their families and the respective armies in the field, as well as manage with the loss of labor due to military enlistment. In an era when combat required large open spaces for the mobilization of armies, fighting scarred the agricultural landscape from Pennsylvania and Virginia to Arkansas and Georgia. To understand the causes and effects of the Civil War, agriculture serves as one of the best lenses available to the historian.

William Tecumseh Sherman’s Savannah Campaign in November, 1864, remembered as the March to the Sea, is the ultimate expression of the war’s interaction with agriculture. While historians have long discussed the campaign’s effects on the transportation infrastructure and collective psychology of the South, the mantra of destruction glosses over agriculture in many cases. Foraging, the army’s main interaction with Georgia’s farms and plantations, gleaned the wealth of the land from the storehouses and sheds of the state, and yet the act of foraging and the Union soldier’s understanding of the Southern agricultural landscape often falls into anecdotal discussion while authors and historians write about other aspects of the campaign. Agriculture played the central role in the planning and execution of the March to the Sea. If Sherman had been wrong about the wealth of Georgia’s agricultural resources, history would remember the Savannah Campaign as a failed expedition, an incident similar to Napoleon’s retreat from Moscow. But Sherman was not wrong; he is not remembered for leading an army to its destruction, but rather for helping to usher modern warfare, the warfare of annihilation as historian Russell Weigley described in The American Way of War, into the American lexicon.

https://lib.dr.iastate.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1407&context=etd

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USS ALASKA
 

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