HAMMER AND ANVIL:
[Lincoln and His Generals, including Sherman and Grant, City Point,
Virginia, 1864.Sherman and the Principle of the Flank

by Stuart Rosenblatt

Printed in the American Almanac, March, 1997.


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Today our nation is in the throes of a crisis, not unlike that of the Civil War period of the 1860s. Once again, the modern Agrarians' rabidly anglophile spirit of the Confederacy threatens to destroy the U.S.A. from within. This is also a global crisis, whose outcome will determine whether or not civilization will survive at all, let alone flourish. The question posed by forces committed to those principles which gave rise to nation-states and to the enormous expansion of Western civilization over these past 500 years is very simple: How do we fight to ensure this progress is not lost, but revived and expanded? By what method?

In numerous speeches and writings over the past year, Lyndon LaRouche has pointed to the method of the ``political flanking maneuver'' as the method by which a small group of forces--a Gideon's Army--perhaps numerically inferior to an enemy, can overwhelm and annihilate a superior foe. This method, the method of creative discovery, is equally applicable in the realm of military grand strategy or political campaigning. It is the method of creative breakthrough, wherein a commander discovers the relative weakness of his counterpart commander and troops, and exploits that weakness with a bold stroke, or series of maneuvers, that rout the enemy.

This is the opposite of the suicidal frontal assault against an equal or superior force. Rather, one tries to strike at an exposed flank, and, in so doing, transform the entire scope of the battlefield. In politics, the recent campaigns of the Schiller Institute to assault weak flanks have led to stunning, seemingly ``incalculable'' results, such as the defeat of Ollie North in Virginia's 1994 Senate campaign, the destruction of William Weld and others in the November 1996 general elections, or the exposé of drug kingpin George Bush in the cocaine scandal of 1996.

In the realm of military tactics, the most successful campaigns always aimed at the enemy flanks, with three key constraints:

  1. The essence of the flanking assault was subjective, viz., to develop in the mind of the commanding officer the maneuver that exploited an enemy weakness, so as to transform the geometry of the battlefield itself (see, for example, the campaigns of Alexander the Great at Arbela).

  2. The preferable flanking attack was not against a mere flank, but an attack on the rear echelons of the enemy, to confuse and ultimately rout him. This idea was elaborated by the great German general, Count Alfred Schlieffen, in 1901: "How is the enemy's wing to be attacked? Not with one or two corps, but with one or more armies, and the march of these armies should be directed, not against the flank, but against the enemy's line of retreat, in emulation of what was demonstrated at Ulm, in the winter campaign of 1870, and at Sedan [where Prussia defeated French forces during the Franco-Prussian War]. This leads immediately to a disturbance of the enemy's line of retreat, and through it to disorder and confusion, which gives an opportunity for a battle with inverted front, a battle of annihilation, a battle with an obstacle in the rear of the enemy."

  3. The battle, or war, of encirclement--by means of which you surround all enemy flanks, crush the enemy, and force him to destroy himself. This creates the conditions for a battle of annihilation of the adversary's ability to continue warfare, for which the "Rosetta Stone" is the battle of Cannae, by Hannibal in 216 B.C., when an inferior force of Carthaginians destroyed a superior force of Romans in a battle of encirclement, or double envelopment.


The U.S. Paradigm

In U.S. history, these conceptions of successful flank attacks are no better demonstrated than in the military campaigns of William Tecumseh Sherman, the Civil War general. They are exemplified in the 1864 and 1865 Marches to Atlanta, the Sea, and the Carolinas. These four campaigns appeared to Sherman as one idea in his mind's eye. They were the military equivalent of a symphony in four parts (the middle "movement" being the siege of Atlanta itself). While the underlying concept was movement in least action, the overt manifestation was the continuous employment of the principle of the flank attack. Not only was Sherman steeped in this idea, but he so trained his troops, that by the end of the campaign they were highly independent and mobile on their own. When engaged in battles with no commanding officers present, they would instinctively launch their own flanking attacks, and inevitably overwhelm or rout their enemies.

This was in sharp contrast to other Union commanders. General George McClellan waited forever to concentrate his forces before finally attacking. Halleck dispersed his troops over a wide area, nullifying any advantage in numbers whatsoever, and Burnside fought bloody head-on assaults. Sherman moved his forces along lines of least resistance and greatest gain. This approach guided the March to Atlanta, a series of interwoven flank maneuvers that included one precalculated frontal assault. It was also the motivating idea in the Marches to the Sea and the Carolinas, which Sherman envisioned as necessary, albeit ``apparently roundabout'' flank attacks on General Lee in Virginia. Ironically, these marches over land, totalling over 600 miles, actually shortened the war considerably, perhaps by as much as a year.

Unlike Gen. Robert E. Lee or Jefferson Davis, Sherman, and his close collaborator Gen. Ulysses Grant, had an uncanny grasp of the strategic military battlefield as a whole. They knew the value of simultaneous coordinated campaigns to shape the overall geometry of the war, and Sherman, in particular, understood the importance of indirect attacks, pinning the enemy down in one area, while striking decisively in an area least expected.

The combination of Generals Sherman and Grant, in coordination with President Abraham Lincoln, proved superior in bringing the war to an end. In 1864, against all odds, they launched a final campaign thrust, dubbed the ``Hammer'' (Sherman) and the ``Anvil'' (Grant), which ended the war. It was the quality of what the celebrated Clausewitz had termed Entschlossenheit, boldness of decision and execution, brought to the prosecution of this effort by these men, which ensured the victory. It is to those final campaigns, that we now turn our attention.

In 1864, the United States entered its third year of civil war. The nation had been ripped apart by a rebellion led by Southern aristocrats and slaveholders, and aided by Northern slavetraders and opium-smugglers, but all the while controlled from London by Foreign Minister Palmerston and Prime Minister John Russell. Their purpose was to divide the Union into a group of petty microstates, that would be restored to the pre-American Revolution status of colonies, or satrapies. By destroying the greatest republic on the planet, these oligarchs hoped to permanently eradicate the idea of the nation-state.

Many people err in believing that the twin victories of Vicksburg and Gettysburg had sealed the fate of the Confederacy. The hopes of Southern secession were very much alive in early 1864. The Confederate leaders' strategy, like that of Lords Palmerston and Russell, and Napoleon III, pivoted, not on actually winning the war, but upon merely preventing the North from subjugating the rebellion. The Confederate slaveholders hoped that, by inducing Washington to accept a military stalemate, Lee, et al. would facilitate open, official recognition from the Confederacy's backers in the British and French governments, and thereby ensure a permanent separation.

Despite the Union victories of 1863 at Gettysburg and Vicksburg, 1864 opened as a precarious year for Federal hopes. If the South could hold out until that year's November elections, then a peace candidate, perhaps former Union General George B. McClellan, could secure the Presidential nomination of the August Belmont-controlled Democratic Party, and defeat Lincoln in the election. To ensure victory of the Union cause, it was imperative that substantial battlefield triumphs precede the 1864 election.

In 1864, the North had a wide advantage in men and materials, and Lincoln called up another 500,000 troops to fight the decisive campaigns, despite draft riots and other British subversions. Although the Union had always had more men in arms, logistics, and supplies, it had never utilized its physical superiority to gain military victory. What changed in 1864 was the quality of command, with the appointment of ``Whig'' Generals Ulysses S. Grant and William T. Sherman to lead the Union armies, generals who would prosecute the war to complete victory.


Treachery in High Command

From 1861 to 1864, the Civil War in the Eastern Theater had been prosecuted on the Northern side by a succession of generals distinguished more by their own egos, than by a commitment to the Union cause. And it was in the East that the dominant stages of the war began to unfold initially. At best, none of these early generals really wanted to conquer the South and return it into the Union; they were all content to defend Northern soil. Politically, they were willing to allow a divided nation.

Whether or not George McClellan was an actual traitor can be debated. That he had forsaken the Union cause by 1864, is clear; nor can we overlook his utter failing, as a field commander, during the early years of the war. McClellan did fashion the formidable Army of the Potomac out of Lincoln's untrained raw recruits, but he quaked at the prospect of using this powerful weapon to destroy Lee on the battlefield.

McClellan's fears allowed him to squander his two-to-one, and sometimes greater, troop advantage, at the Seven Days Battle, Antietam, and elsewhere. His overblown estimates of enemy strength--McClellan claimed he was always outnumbered by the significantly smaller Confederate forces--determined his equally small-minded tactics.

His timidity, and obvious paranoia respecting Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee, was utilized by his adversary to great success. Commenting on McClellan's cautious use of the Army of the Potomac to crush Lee, President Lincoln described the Army of the Potomac "not as an Army, but only as McClellan's bodyguard."

McClellan was succeeded in command by Gen. Ambrose Burnside, better remembered for his long, distinguished "sideburns" (Burnsides) than for his suicidal headlong assaults at Antietam and Fredericksburg. McClellan and Burnside also shared supreme command in the early years with Gen. John Pope and Gen. Joe Hooker. On taking command, both latter emerged as overconfident braggarts, remarkably indecisive in the heat of battle.

These four generals were distinguished corps commanders. Yet, once they had been handed total command, their personal squabbling, backstabbing, and political intriguing, betrayed a serious failure to comprehend the life-and-death political nature of the struggle. Their mental flight was complemented by a stubborn refusal to innovate appropriate battlefield tactics. McClellan especially was a practitioner of impotent "diplomat's wars" otherwise known as the tradition of "Eighteenth-Century Cabinet warfare." He displayed a total disregard for the principles of mobility, speed, or flanking operations.

In 1863, President Lincoln, arguably the greatest Union General for the first three years of the war, chose Gen. George Meade as commanding General of the Army of the Potomac. Lincoln knew that a showdown with Lee was to be fought imminently, and somewhere in Pennsylvania; he chose the Pennsylvania-reared Meade because he knew that Meade would ``defend his own dunghill''!

Meade did so admirably at the crucial battle of Gettysburg. As a defensive warrior, Meade was brilliant, yet he failed to pursue Lee across the Potomac River, failed to crush his adversary. Meade telegraphed Lincoln at the conclusion of Gettysburg: "We succeeded in driving he invader from our soil." In an anguished tone, Lincoln replied, "Drive the invader from our soil, is that all?" After watching Meade allow Lee one week to escape across the Potomac, Lincoln sardonically told Meade later that, "Your attitude towards Lee for a week after the battle reminded me of an old lady trying to shoo her geese across a creek."

Lincoln was justified in his anger. While Meade was turning back Lee, Grant had totally routed Pemberton at Vicksburg, securing the Mississippi line, and cutting the Confederacy in half. Had Meade pursued and destroyed Lee, then the war could have been quickly brought to a conclusion.

As the campaigns of 1863 closed, Lee's army was still intact. Pemberton's army had been dismantled, but, in northwest Georgia, another Western army, under the command of Gen. Joseph Johnston, was being readied for a spring campaign.

Thus, 1864 was to be the decisive year of the war. It was an election year, and Northern voters were growing tired of the perpetually stalemated conflict. Draft riots in New York, instigated by London's agents, the Belmont family, had occurred in 1863, and there were rumors of new riots to come. Mounting Union casualties were taking their toll on a grief-stricken nation. And the same Belmonts were poised with their Democratic Party peace candidate George McClellan (sic) to seize the Presidency, topple Lincoln, and end the war.

Were the military stalemate to continue into the fall, the Union would likely be destroyed.


The Whig Tradition: Fighting To Preserve the Union

As the spring campaign dawned in 1864, the Union command was thoroughly revamped. Western General Ulysses S. Grant, the hero of Vicksburg, was named Lieutenant General of the Army, only the third general so honored. (George Washington and Winfield Scott were the other two.) He was placed in charge of all the Union armies. General Henry Halleck, "Old Brains," was named chief of staff, and became Grant's liaison to Lincoln in Washington. Although Lincoln withdrew from day-to-day oversight of the army, he naturally continued as commander-in-chief. Grant's subordinate and close collaborator, William Tecumseh Sherman, was named commander of the Western Department. These men constituted, with their staffs, the first modern general staff in United States history.

Lincoln, Grant, and Sherman were all of one mind. All hailed from the West: Lincoln from Kentucky and Illinois, and Grant and Sherman from Ohio. All were steeped in the strong Federalist-Whig tradition that was uncompromisingly proselytized in the frontier states.

All had participated in the development of "internal improvements" in their states: roads, canals, and other infrastructure. All were products of advanced semi-Classical education. Grant and Sherman were graduates of a West Point molded by Sylvannus Thayer and Dennis Hart Mahan in the image of the French Ecole Polytechnique. Here they were trained in academics, the theory of war, and in engineering and the arts of fortification, skills that would be essential in the following years.

Grant's father, Jesse, raised his family in Georgetown, Ohio, in southern Ohio overlooking the Ohio River. Jesse Grant, a self-made businessman, entered into politics as well. After a stay in the Democratic Party, he opposed the Jacksonian takeover of the party and became a Whig in the 1830s. Soon after, he was elected mayor of Georgetown. He also contributed to a local abolitionist newspaper in town.

The case of Lincoln, and his immersion in the American Whig tradition is, of course, well established.

Sherman's background was similar. His father, Judge Charles Sherman, a well-known jurist and Masonic leader in Lancaster, Ohio, was virtually ``kin'' with the leading Lancaster Whig family, that of Thomas Ewing. Charles Sherman died suddenly, of typhoid fever, in 1829, and the Sherman brood of ten children was divided up, with young Tecumseh going to live with the Ewings, just up the street. He was baptized a Roman Catholic several years later, when his mother prefixed ``Tecumseh'' with the Christian name, William. Though never religious in later life, he attended numerous religious meetings with his new family. He also made a boyhood acquaintance at these meetings one Philip Sheridan, who was to be a comrade-in-arms later in life.

It was the Whig atmosphere surrounding the Ewing household which left its indelible print on William T. Sherman. Ewing's father, George, was a lieutenant under George Washington and a committed Federalist. Following the war, George Ewing had helped open up the Western territories and settled in Ohio. Thomas Ewing was raised in a family that fought for the Constitution, and against the Articles of Confederation. Tom Ewing continued this battle, first as a lawyer, then as a member of Congress, a U.S. senator and secretary of commerce, and, later, secretary of the interior. During the 1840s, he nearly became the Whig vice presidential nominee. Ewing was, thus, a staunch Whig, as was another neighbor, and frequent household guest, Thomas Corwin, also a U.S. Senator from Ohio and noted Whig agitator.

Thomas Ewing became a close collaborator and personal associate of Henry Clay and Daniel Webster during his stay in office. William Sherman was raised in a house that reverberated with the cause of the Union, the republic against the "states rights" treachery that was rocking the Congress of the 1830s and 1840s. When Ewing was brought into the Harrison cabinet during the 1840s, it was as an already avowed enemy of Martin Van Buren, the latter explicitly committed to the dismantling of President Andrew Jackson's banking policy. As secretary of the interior, Ewing was among the leaders in proposing the construction of a transcontinental railroad line. For Ewing, as for young Sherman, the issue was never abolitionist versus slaveholder, though they opposed slavery, but, rather, the recognition, that without the preservation of the Union, no man's freedom could be secured. In young Sherman's Ohio home, the interests of the nation came first, overriding all sectional and secondary issues.

So, for Sherman, Grant, and Lincoln, unlike many among the previous Union generals, the issue was preserving the Union. In his memoirs, Sherman recalled, that when he left the post of superintendent of the Louisiana State Military Academy on the day the State of South Carolina seceded from the Union, he looked up at the motto inscribed on the door of the Academy, "The Union--Esto Perpetua." The horrible irony of the situation stayed in his memory.

In 1864, these Whig generals from the West took over the high command.


1864--The Advent of Total War

By 1864, the North had assembled the mightiest military machine in the history of war. This was forged by the dirigistic state policies of the Lincoln administration. Credit was cheap, and it use was directed by the central government; the munitions factories churned out the arsenal.

Railroad construction had vastly augmented the Northern cause. Telegraph lines were continuously built and federalized for the war effort. And new innovations, from the Ironclad, to the submersible, to the Gatling machine gun, made their way onto the battlefield.

But no instrument so altered the face of this war as the advent of the breech-loading rifle and the rifled field gun. Previously, the smoothbore musket had dominated warfare, but its inefficient and slow firepower had a range of only several hundred yards. These weaknesses forced the infantry into close lines, in order to mass its firepower, in the hope that causing sufficient enemy casualties would allow a bayonet charge to carry the field.

The breech-loading rifle changed all this. Now, firepower could be effective at long range. Massed columns were sitting ducks, and bayonet charges against fortified positions were suicide. New tactics had to be innovated, to utilize the new technologies. The advantage had swung to the defense; and, so, bold new offensive strategies had to be created.

In 1864, Lincoln and Grant developed a strategic plan for the Union armies. It was an updated version of Gen. Winfield Scott's original Anaconda Plan. They decided to launch campaigns simultaneously in the Eastern and Western theaters, and converge their forces on a common center in the Carolina-Virginia nexus, encircle and crush the Confederate Army. This was the first coordinated Grand Strategy of the war, something Lee never attempted.

General Butler was to move from Fortress Monroe up the James River, menace Richmond, and, if possible capture the Confederate capital, then, destroy the railroads to the south of Richmond that supplied Lee's Army. At the same time, an army under General Banks was to move from New Orleans to Mobile. An army under Gen. Franz Sigel was to clean out the Shenandoah Valley, and destroy all the foodstuffs in the valley.

Grant was to direct all the armies, but be stationed alongside Meade, with the Army of the Potomac. The Army of the Potomac had the singular responsibility for destroying Lee. Said Grant to Meade: "Wherever Lee goes, there you will go also."

Grant's instructions to Sherman were to "move against Gen. Joseph Johnston's army in Georgia, to break it up, and to get into the interior of the enemy's country as far as you can, inflicting all the damage you can against their war resources."

Thus, Grant proposed to use the massive superiority of the North to hammer at the rebels from all sides, and win by attrition, if all else failed. For this purpose, Lincoln issued a call to draft 500,000 more men, despite the howls of political protest. Lincoln understood Grant's plan very well. He understood the strategy of coordinated multiple offensives and flanking maneuvers. "Whoever isn't skinning should hold a leg," quipped the President.

This was to be Total War. Economic targets, enemy armies, munitions centers: All were to be given equal priority. For Sherman especially, the goal was to be as much economic as military destruction; his purpose was to crush the Confederate "will to fight, not merely their armies."

Unfortunately, neither Banks nor Butler fared well in their opening campaigns, both becoming bogged down. Sigel also was unsuccessful in his Shenandoah Valley campaign, and had to be replaced by Gen. Philip Sheridan, who did successfully wipe out the Confederate operation in that theater. This did not occur until far later in the year.

Grant and Meade did pursue Lee, and with a vengeance. In a series of bloody engagements: ``The Wilderness,'' ``Spotsylvania,'' ``Hanover Junction,'' and ``Cold Harbor,'' Grant fought Lee to the outskirts of Petersburg. Here the wily, outmanned Lee positioned himself behind sturdy trenches; so, a long siege began in June of 1864.

These victories were crucial but costly. While Grant relied generally on a flanking approach to the effort, he launched numerous headlong assaults against the rugged fieldworks of Lee and sustained heavy casualties. Lee lost 45 percent of his troops and any vestige of offensive capability. But Grant sustained over 50,000 casualties on the march, almost twice as many as he had lost in all the Western campaigns!

The high price took its toll of Northern morale. Grant's slow progress did not justify the losses, said the treacherous Northern press; by the summer of 1864, Lincoln's re-election in the fall seemed only a remote possibility. If there were no military breakthrough by fall, Lincoln would be defeated, in which case, the war would be over, and the nation permanently divided.

However, Grant had accomplished something remarkable, albeit at great cost, something that no Union general had achieved during the entirety of the war up to that time. He had fought Lee back to the gates of Richmond, laid siege to the Confederate capital, and penned in Lee's army so that it could not aid Joe Johnston in Georgia. Unlike McClellan, Grant would not let go until Lee was vanquished. The ``Anvil'' aspect of the summer campaign had succeeded.

Even before he set out for Atlanta, Sherman had the outline of his famous March to the Sea in his mind. He realized, that were he to be successful in the capture of Atlanta, he would be holed up in Atlanta, 400 miles in the interior of the Confederacy, isolated from any Union support and effectively surrounded by a hostile population and amidst hostile armies. Therefore, he had already envisioned his next move.

On May 5, 1864, Sherman discussed the campaign with his inspector-general, Colonel Warner. Sherman outlined the march to Atlanta, complete with all the likely flanking maneuvers and options resulting in the capture of Atlanta. Warner then queried him as to what his next move would be, stuck in the hinterland some 450 miles from his real base of support and hugging one rail line for his supplies. Sherman blurted out, "salt water." Warner shook his head, studied a map and "asked him if he meant Savannah or Charleston, and he said `yes.'"

He initially conceived of the March to the Sea as a joint move with General Banks, then in Alabama, who would march from Alabama (in the south) and meet him in Columbus, Georgia, and from there Sherman would march east to the Atlantic coast.

Thus, all eyes turned to the West and the campaign of General William Tecumseh Sherman.


Sherman's March to Atlanta

Sherman began his campaign into Georgia from Chattanooga in the spring of 1864. He had two main objectives: To defeat the army under Gen. Joe Johnston, or at least prevent him from shipping fresh troops or supplies to reinforce Lee; second, to completely destroy the economic backbone of the South, centered in Atlanta, and thereby demoralize the Southern armies.

Atlanta was a major manufacturing center of the South; its foundries and machine shops supplied a large proportion of the Confederate Army. Confederate guns could be seen in any military theater with the label ``Made in Atlanta'' embossed on them. Atlanta was also the major rail center of the Confederacy. All the rail lines connecting the Atlantic seaboard and the Gulf coast to the West ran through Atlanta; and this had become a railroad war. All troops and provisions for the armies moved through this hub. Finally, Atlanta was the ``inner gateway'' to the Carolinas, the bastion of resistance; to seize Atlanta was to pierce the heart of the Old South.

So, prior to his march, from Chattanooga to Atlanta, Sherman studied the state of Georgia in depth. He knew the military topography from earlier visits in his career. He now obtained the tax returns for each county, to calculate the population and resources, and he mapped out a campaign to seize the state, and march to the sea.

Of the 200,000 men in his department, he chose to take 100,000 on the expedition. He had to supply them in Chattanooga by May 5, the starting date. He seized control over the railroad system in the Spring and forced all civilians to use the wagon roads. Further, he commandeered all rail cars arriving in Nashville and had them brought to Chattanooga.

Sherman had no equal in preparing his troops for battle. He moved in provisions, including prefabricated bridge parts, pontoons, mules for transport, beef cattle, foodstuffs, etc. One supply officer was sharply ordered, ``If you don't keep my army supplied, sir, we will eat your mules up, sir ... eat your mules up.'' Sherman kept his troops supplied, but light and mobile, as well. Each division and brigade had a relatively small supply train, for each man carried five days rations on his back. Tents were forbidden, except for the sick and wounded. He complained bitterly that the long supply trains of the past kept down the mobility of the army. This was to be a daring campaign over rough terrain, and he wanted no encumbrances.

Sherman began the march with 98,000 men and 254 guns divided into three armies. In the center at the Georgia-Tennessee border was the Army of the Cumberland, numbering 60,000, commanded by Sherman's closest friend from West Point, Gen. George Thomas, the famous "Rock of Chickamauga." Thomas always moved more slowly than Sherman liked, but when he attacked, he struck hard. On the wings, were the Army of the Ohio commanded by Gen. John Schofield, which had 13,000 men, and the Army of the Tennessee, Sherman's old command. This corps had 24,000 men and was headed by another of Sherman's Ohio and West Point associates, Gen. James McPherson.

Sherman had one main supply line: the railroad stretching from Chattanooga to Atlanta. The initial terrain facing the march was mountainous and covered with a thick underbrush, not a very inviting target to attack.

Opposing Sherman, once he crossed the Georgia line, was the veteran Confederate commander Gen. Joseph E. Johnston. Johnston, also a West Point graduate, was well-schooled in the arts of defensive warfare and fortifications, and perhaps equal to Lee as a field tactician.

Johnston was charged with defending Atlanta. His main line of operations would be the rail line connecting Chattanooga with Atlanta, providing him supplies and communications to his base. Thus, for Johnston, this campaign would revolve around a singular objective: preventing the capture of Atlanta. Johnston knew that Sherman was after this prize, and could devise tactics accordingly. Both generals also knew that possession of the rail line from Chattanooga and its adjacent telegraph lines defined the main line of fighting.

Johnston had an army of 60,000 men. He had thoroughly fortified the mouth of the tunnel in the mountains near Dalton; he had dammed up a creek in the area to form a wet ditch and had defended the Buzzard's Roost, the deep and narrow gorge on the Rocky Face Ridge; and, he had prepared the defense of all roads leading in from Tennessee.

All this was done on the assumption that Sherman would attack him directly. Johnston reasoned that Sherman had him outnumbered five-to-three and would seek engagement quickly, as near to his supply base as possible in Chattanooga. Johnston would repulse Sherman's initial assault and counterattack, driving the Blue Army back into Tennessee.


Sherman's Opening Move

Presuming that this were Johnston's plan, Sherman devised a bold opening stratagem. He ordered Thomas to seize an outlying ridge near Buzzard Roost, secure it, and threaten Dalton from the front; attack only if attacked. Sherman knew better than to hit the Dalton stronghold directly, thereby risking the blazing riflefire of Johnston's forces. As was commonly known among professionals, one rifleman behind a strong breastwork could easily hold down three to five attackers: Burnside's errors, once committed, need not be repeated. Thomas was also ordered, that if either wing were attacked he was not to come to the aid of that threatened wing, unless otherwise told; the best support to give any threatened flank was not to send reinforcements but to pressure the enemy elsewhere.

Schofield was to link with Thomas and help in the frontal--but diversionary--maneuver.

On the right flank, McPherson was to undertake a long flanking march through the uncharted thickets and hills on the west, to the Snake Creek Gap, secure, it and make a bold attack on the rail and telegraph lines between Tilton and Resaca. Hitting Johnston from the rear, would sever him from his communications, and force his entire army out of its entrenchments eastwards, and into the hilly country and rough roads, where they could be easily pursued and destroyed. The purpose of the rear attack was not to crush the enemy there, but to "unhinge" his morale, and dislocate his position, such that a subsequent blow would knock him out.

Johnston was totally unaware of Sherman's bold move; he was caught flat-footed. On May 7, the Thomas-Schofield demonstrations to the north began; this occupied Johnston's attention so much, that he failed to notice McPherson slipping around to his left. As planned, McPherson seized the Snake Creek Gap and moved on Resaca. His 24,000 men were met by 4,000 Confederates. They engaged in intense skirmishing, some telegraph lines were cut; but, at a crucial moment, McPherson lost his nerve and pulled back to the Snake Creek Gap. He failed to destroy the rail line.

Immediately, Johnston was informed of the attack and began to move troops down to counter McPherson. Sherman knew the crucial moment was lost. On seeing McPherson, several days later, Sherman said to him, "Well, Mac, you have missed the great opportunity of your life."

However, Sherman, realizing the element of surprise was gone, immediately reworked his plan, and moved Thomas and Schofield down the side of the mountain, to join McPherson at Resaca. At no time did they venture through the well-entrenched Buzzard Roost, or any of Johnston's other fortifications. They left one corps at Dalton to maintain the pretense of attack and keep Johnston guessing.

Johnston moved his army down to Resaca, fortified the position, and prepared a flanking assault for May 14. Here he engaged Joe Hooker, at the battle of Resaca.

All the while, Sherman was already launching a new flanking attack. He had carried pontoon bridges down with him from Chattanooga, and McPherson used these to cross the Oostenhaula River on the far right flank, near Calhoun, again below Johnston! McPherson, however, was again slow in executing his plans to strike Johnston's rear; but, the maneuver forced Johnston out of another well-entrenched position, this time at Resaca, to avoid being destroyed.

Johnston fell back again, this time through Adairsville, to Cassville, on May 18. Including the newly added force of Gen. (and Episcopal Bishop) Leonidas Polk and his troops, Johnston now had 75,000 men. At this point, he decided to launch his counterattack. The fighting was no longer in the wooded hill country to the far northwest, but had now moved to the rich, flatland, halfway to Atlanta.

The road divided on the way to Adairsville and two roads continued down. Johnston assumed Sherman would move down each road. He prepared to attack Sherman at the widest division of the roads and split and destroy Sherman's army. To this effect, he gave a rousing speech to his troops and prepared his gambit.

Eschewing all military maxims, Sherman now divided his troops into several corps, which marched as a wide ``net'' toward Johnston, thereby outflanking him again! On the twentieth of May, outflanked again, and quite demoralized, Johnston crossed the next major river, the Etowah, at Carterville, a ``move I always regretted,'' he said.

Johnston entrenched the Allatoona Pass, and ten miles behind, he fortified his fallback at Marietta.

From his previous service in Georgia in 1843, Sherman knew the Allatoona Pass all too well and had no desire to be drawn into battle at this point. A new plan took shape in his mind. He decided to push south, across the Etowah River, leave the line of the railroad (his only supply line) and swing in on it, again in Johnston's rear.

While this was going on, Sherman's engineer corps were working miracles. Both armies had been following the line of the Western and Atlantic Railroad running south from Chattanooga to Atlanta. This was their mutual supply line. The railroad was being abandoned, and usually burned by Johnston, as he retreated; and repaired and opened by Sherman only days later.

At one point Sherman was told by his chief engineer that it would take four days to repair the bridge over one river. Sherman replied, "Sir, I give you 48 hours or a position in the front ranks." The repairs were made in half the time.

These repairs had a salutary affect on the Union Army, carrying them fresh supplies and food on a regular basis. It had a corresponding depressing affect on the Confederates, as they heard the whistling of Sherman's locomotives so near to the front.

One Georgia regular told the following story. A tunnel in Sherman's rear had reportedly been blocked by one of Gen. Forrest's cavalry raids. The Confederates were exultant, but one man piped up, ``Stop your noise; suppose Forrest has broken the tunnel; Sherman's got a duplicate of it and it's fixed up before this time!''

Despite Sherman's ability to supply his troops, foraging the countryside for food had already begun, and with it, flaming houses. Sherman did not sanction random burnings, maiming of women, children or non-combatants, but this was ``total war.''

On May 23, Sherman flanked sharply to the right, led by his old Army of the Tennessee, to engage Gen. John B. Hood in the bloody battles of Dallas and New Hope Church. The spring rains interrupted the contest. When they subsided, Sherman flanked again, this time to the east, hoping that Johnston had left the railroad unguarded.

Johnston countered quickly, setting up a line of defense along the row of mountains immediately in front of Marietta. Sherman took the opportunity to seize the Allatoona Pass and the W&A Railroad line; but, the rainy season forced Sherman to settle into a modified siege operation. He kept extending his flanks to the right, and skirmished with Hood throughout the month of June. His purpose was to stretch Johnston's lines to a breaking point.

At the end of June, Sherman launched his only direct assault of the campaign. Sherman had stretched Johnston's lines as far as he thought he could, and then, in a surprise attack, assaulted Kennesaw Mountain, which he deemed to be the most likely break point. The controversial assault failed, with Sherman suffering a total loss of about 2,500 men; but, nevertheless, Sherman knew the tactical gamble was a strategic success.

In his report to the government, Sherman wrote, ``I perceived that the enemy and our officers had settled down into a conviction that I would not assault fortified lines. All looked to me to outflank. An army, to be efficient, must not settle down to a single mode of offense, but must be prepared to execute any plan which promises success. I wanted, therefore, for the moral affect, to make a successful assault against the enemy behind his breastworks and resolved to attempt it at the point where success would give the largest fruits of victory. The general point selected was the left center, because if I could thrust a strong head of column through ... boldly and rapidly two and one-half miles, it would reach to Marietta at the railroad below, cut off the right and center from its line of retreat and then by turning on either part it could be overwhelmed and destroyed.''


At the Outskirts of Atlanta

Following the defeat at Kennesaw, Sherman quickly began a new flanking movement, moving McPherson to the right. This forced Johnston to abandon the mountains and take up his mammoth defenses in front of the Chattahootchee River, the final barrier to Atlanta. Within days, Sherman flanked again, this time to the north. Near Roswell and at points lightly south, he slipped his cavalry upstream on the river, and in a lightning maneuver, launched several bold pontoon crossings of the river on July 9 and 10. These moves threatened to surround Johnston, and so the latter evacuated these last and strongest defenses for the confines of Atlanta.

On the morning of July 17, Johnston was replaced in command by John Bell Hood, at the insistence of Jefferson Davis.

Sherman was now on the outskirts of Atlanta. The Confederacy was gripped by severe demoralization. They had seen Sherman come 100 miles, with slightly over 10,000 casualties, and inflict virtually the same number on a skillful opponent who was operating, during the entire time, with the advantage of the defense.

In this campaign, Sherman wrote the textbook on the principle of the flank. Said one rebel soldier on surrendering to the 103rd Illinois, ``Sherman will never go to hell; he will flank the devil and make heaven in spite of the guards.''

Jefferson Davis's replacement of General Johnston with General Hood, would prove catastrophic for the Confederacy. Simply, Johnston had been out-dueled in one of the most brilliant campaigns in history. He still had his army intact and could defend Atlanta. Davis, now desperate, was hot-tempered, irrational, and reckless. He assumed wrongly that his own military achievements in the Mexican war, some 20 years earlier, against an outmanned opposition, qualified him as a Civil War general. He had led frontal assaults against an outgunned foe,- and thought Johnston should have done the same. Hence, he turned the army over to a courageous, but wild-eyed, division commander, John B. Hood.

Turning the Confederate army over to Hood, was a blessing for Sherman. Sherman knew the quick tempered Hood, ``Hotspur'' as he was called, would leave his trenches and attack Sherman, giving the South a ``dose of the Kennesaw medicine.''

Hood did just that. In the first nine days of his command, Hood confronted Sherman at Peachtree Creek, and two other major encounters. Each assault was a desperate miscalculation; in the end, Hood had lost 15,000 troops out of the 50,000 originally under his command.

Sherman then bombarded Atlanta and laid siege to the city. He maintained a continuous movement to encircle it; he hoped to force a wholesale surrender of the city as Grant had done one year earlier at Vicksburg. Hood made a last desperate attempt to fight in the Battle of Jonesboro on Aug. 31, but he was repulsed and abandoned the city. On Sept. 1, Sherman marched in, and later that day, sent his famous communique to President Lincoln: "So Atlanta is ours and fairly won!"

With Grant bogged down at Petersburg, and the other campaigns stalled, this victory saved the Union. The nation rejoiced. Lincoln issued a proclamation tendering the nation's thanks to Sherman and his army. Celebrations erupted throughout the nation.

Soon Northern newspapers were reprinting the Richmond Examiner's condemnation of President Davis for his removal of Johnston from command: "The result is disaster at Atlanta in the very nick of time when a victory alone could save the party of Lincoln from irretrievable ruin .... It will obscure the prospect of peace, late so bright. It will also diffuse gloom over the South."

Lincoln's victory at the polls in November was now guaranteed, and with that, the promise that the war would be prosecuted to its conclusion.

However, to hasten the time of that now-likely victory, one more chapter remained to be written. By no means had Sherman vanquished Hood, nor Grant, Lee. And while the morale of the North had been buoyed, the spirit of the London-backed slaveholder's rebellion had yet to be crushed.


From Atlanta to the Sea

Grant and Lee were to be mired in their fierce duel for the next seven months. Therefore, the strategic advantage lay with Sherman's army, as both Sherman and Jefferson Davis well knew.

Davis and Hood spent the next ten weeks maneuvering to lure Sherman out of Georgia. This was for two reasons: with the Mississippi Line now held in northern hands, Georgia became the breadbasket for the remaining Southern armies; and, with Atlanta conquered, the gateway stood open for Sherman to seize not only Georgia, but the Carolinas, as well, and thereby wreck the Confederacy and tighten the noose about Lee's neck.

Sherman was aware of the plan. He realized that Davis's plan was to force Sherman out of Georgia at all costs, and defeat him either in Tennessee, or Alabama, in a protracted struggle chasing that ``will o' wisp'' Hood. But Sherman knew this was suicide, and he would end up losing all the terrain, geographical and political, that he had just conquered. He proposed to Grant, instead, the move that he had been contemplating since leaving Chattanooga: To march his army to the Atlantic Ocean, destroying all that lay in his path; and once at the sea, to wheel around and march through the Carolinas to Virginia. Let Hood chase him, or be destroyed in Tennessee, but he would march through Georgia.

The march through Georgia, the third movement in Sherman's symphonic work, represented an enormous conceptual breakthrough, as evidenced by the strong resistance it met from both Grant and Lincoln. Sherman proposed to wage war, not by attacking a fixed object, as he had with Atlanta, or by attacking an enemy army, but, rather, by assaulting the mental resistance of the Southern population, thus breaking their will to destroy the Union. He proposed to march an army through the heartland of the Confederacy, destroy infrastructure and food, and crush the rebellion.

In a letter to General Thomas on Oct. 20, Sherman wrote, ``I propose to demonstrate the vulnerability of the South and make its inhabitants feel that war and individual ruin are synonymous terms.''

On Nov. 6, Sherman elaborated the conception. "I propose to act in such a manner against the material resources of the South as utterly to negate Davis's boasted threat and promises of protection. If we can march a well-appointed army right through his territory, it is a demonstration to the world, foreign and domestic, that we have a power which Davis cannot resist. This may not be war, but rather statesmanship.... Now, Mr. Lincoln's election, which is assured, coupled with the conclusion thus reached, makes a complete, logical whole. Even without a battle, the result operating upon the minds of sensible men would produce fruits more than compensating for the expense, trouble and risk. Admitting this reasoning to be good, that such a movement per se is right, still there may be reasons why one route would be better than another...."

There were other compelling reasons to launch the march. It would be a direct attack on Lee's rear flank, insofar as it would cut off his munitions flow, hardware, and food supplies from Georgia. It would disrupt the morale of Lee's troops, as they would become increasingly concerned about the well-being of loved ones rather than the battle against the tenacious Ulysses Grant.

During October and November, the planned march took final shape in Sherman's mind. He proposed to divide his army, in the middle of enemy territory, into two parts. To satisfy Lincoln's fears of a last Confederate invasion of the North by Hood, he would send Gen. George Thomas with over 30,000 troops to garrison Tennessee and engage Hood. He would, simultaneously, set out with 60,000 men divided into two more armies to devastate Georgia and reach the sea ... somewhere.

Writing to Grant on Oct. 9, Sherman said, "I propose we break up the railroad from Chattanooga, and strike out with wagons to Milledgeville, Millen, and Savannah. Until we can repopulate Georgia, it is useless to occupy it, but the utter destruction of its roads, houses, and people will cripple their military resources. By attempting to hold the roads [railroads back to Tennessee--ed.] we will lose 1,000 men monthly, and will gain no result. I can make the march, and make Georgia howl."

He would march without a supply train, without communications to Washington, and with no fixed objective. Rather than let Hood determine the battlefield, i.e., retracing his steps back to Tennessee and out of Georgia, Sherman gave Hood two equally bad options: follow him to the sea and risk battle against a superior force, or fight Thomas in heavily fortified positions in Tennessee.

The march would be one of least resistance. Sherman was not marching in search of an army to fight. Rather, he was assaulting Confederate public opinion. Sherman's planned march would use his two wings to menace several targets at once, thus keeping the Georgia military opposition guessing as to what his real target was, always leaving him the remaining simple path to follow. He outlined three different routes to the sea: To Pensacola, Florida, to the Appalachicola River, or to Savannah, Georgia. He would initially menace both Macon and Augusta (two different directions), with two armies marching 60 miles apart, and make his next move based on Confederate countermoves.

His new opponent inside Georgia was P.G.T. Beauregard, and Sherman was familiar with Beauregard's thinking from earlier days at West Point. Sherman ultimately guessed correctly as to how Beauregard would operate.

On Sept. 20, Sherman outlined his thinking in a letter to Grant. He began with a suggestion that Grant occupy the Savannah River with the Navy prior to Sherman jumping off for the coast. ``If once in our possession, and the river open to us, I would not hesitate to cross the State of Georgia with 60,000 troops, hauling some stores, and depending on the country for the balance. Where a million people find subsistence, my army won't starve; but as you know, in a country like Georgia, with few roads and innumerable streams, an inferior force can so delay an army and harass it, that it will not be a formidable object; but if the enemy knew that we had our boats in the Savannah River I could rapidly move to Milledgeville, where there is abundance of corn and meat, and could so threaten Macon and Augusta that the enemy would doubtless give up Macon for Augusta; then I would move so as to interpose between Augusta and Savannah, and force him to give us Augusta, with the only powder mills and factories remaining in the South, or to let me have the use of the Savannah River. Either horn of the dilemma will be worth a battle. I would prefer his holding Augusta, as the probabilities are; for then, with the Savannah River in our possession, the taking of Augusta will be a matter of time.''

As for his communications on the march, Sherman quipped that people should read the Richmond papers to keep informed as to his whereabouts.


Sherman Evacuates Atlanta

Sherman had already been preparing for the march. He never intended to garrison Atlanta, for he knew that it would be impossible to hold. Shortly after its capture he announced a shocking plan: he would evacuate the entire city! Some people would be dropped off near Hood's troops; others would be shipped up North. The citizenry screamed for his head!

In a reply to one of his many detractors, the Mayor of Atlanta, Sherman told him, ``You cannot qualify war in harsher terms than I will. War is cruelty and you cannot refine it; and those who brought war into our country deserve all the curses and maledictions a people can pour out. I know I had no hand in making this war, and I know I will make more sacrifice today than any of you to secure peace. But you cannot have peace and a division too. If the United States submits to a division now, it will not stop until we reap the fate of Mexico, which is eternal war.''

Following his evacuation of the city, and in preparation for the march to the sea, he carried out an extraordinary series of actions.

He divided his army of 90,000, sending Gen. George Thomas with 30,000 troops back to Nashville. He instructed Thomas to mass all the troops in the Tennessee Department into garrisons at Nashville and Chattanooga for a decisive showdown with Hood. For good measure, he later sent General Schofield of the Army of the Ohio to join Thomas. This would ensure the destruction of Hood. Then, Sherman sent all disabled troops and numerous baggage trains, tents, and other equipment to the rear. For the march, he carried a veteran army of 62,000 men. He brought 600 ambulances, 20 days rations, five days forage, 5,000 head of beef cattle and minimal personal luggage. There would be no supply train.

Never in history, had so large an army divided itself in the midst of battle, nor had one section of that army marched directly into enemy territory without a supply train or a communications line to a home base!

On Nov. 14, the majority of the army stepped out, marching briskly to the stirring music of ``The Battle Hymn of the Republic.'' General Sherman, his engineers, and a single corps, stayed back to oversee the burning of all crucial military installations in Atlanta that might be of some use to the Confederacy. They burned arsenals, the railroad roundhouse, warehouses, and other facilities. Then, they cut off the railroad tracks and burned all the bridges back to Dalton. This burning of Atlanta, coupled with the forced evacuations earlier, left their terrible mark on the horrified citizens of Georgia, as Sherman set out to ``make the state howl.'' Sherman has been damned by numerous would-be detractors, notably Margaret Mitchell, author of Hollywood's Gone with the Wind sequel to its pro-Ku Klux Klan Birth of A Nation, of burning Atlanta to the ground. That charge of, course, is entirely unjust. That one-third of the city, its military targets, was deliberately razed, is fact; the remainder of the complaint, is Mitchell's nostalgic grieving for the ``Lost Cause.''

The two wings marched out of Atlanta, 50 to 60 miles apart, feinting assaults toward Macon on the south, and Augusta on the north. This flexibility kept Generals Hardee and Beauregard of the Confederate command totally confused. They were outmanned to be sure; but, they could never mount any defensive posture that could halt Sherman. After Sherman's initial moves, Beauregard rushed to have Macon covered first, and then Augusta; but Sherman moved too quickly for the rebel generals, as he swung his wings into the center and converged up on the Georgia state capitol of Milledgeville, his original target. He occupied Milledgeville briefly, and then moved on. He swung his cavalry from right to left, to the outskirts of Augusta, reined them in, and separated his two flanks again. He used the left wing to destroy 100 miles of the Central Georgia Railroad, then converged on Millen, Georgia. These rapid maneuvers and the continuous rampage confused and terrified his enemy.

However, Sherman's men were not merely marching. They were living--quite handsomely--off the land. Each brigade sent a foraging party of 25-50 men, "Sherman's bummers" as they became known, off every morning to pick the countryside clean. They gathered food of all sorts; the harvest was sitting freshly picked in bins at every farm; they took horses, cattle, and supplies in addition. Wealthy plantations were picked clean; poor farmers were left virtually untouched, a Robin Hood principle of sorts. Any town that showed resistance, faced retribution; large plantations were burned, as were cotton gins, powder factories, and other mills.

Despite rumors to the contrary, the foraging process was tightly controlled. The wholesale appropriation of supplies was the policy, and it shocked the population, who felt the hard hand of war directly. On the issue of random burnings, rapes, or robbery, Union officers were empowered to prosecute any offenders to the limit, and generally did. That there were incidents of burnings and personal acts of violence, is undeniable, but the army treatment of the Georgian population was remarkably civil.

Towns that resisted were attacked, and in some instances obliterated. Most did not, and were treated fairly. Most plantation houses were systematically attacked; the Union soldiers, a highly politicized army, and one hailing mostly from the western Whig states (Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, etc.), placed the blame for the war directly on the slaveocracy and dealt with them ruthlessly.

``The wealthy people of the South were the very ones to plunge the country into secession, now let them suffer,'' said a chaplain. An Illinois soldier believed that ``Atlanta and every other Southern city deserved nothing better than general destruction from Yankees, for buying and selling their betters.'' A Massachusetts officer wrote his family on the verge of the Carolina invasion: ``Pity for these inhabitants, I have none. In the first place, they are rebels, and I am almost prepared to agree with Sherman that a rebel has no rights, not even the right to live except by our permission.''

"Anything and everything, if it will help us and weaken them, is my motto." So said a man from the Badger State [Wisconsin] to his parents. Just prior to the Savannah, campaign a Minnesotan declared in his journal: "Let the Confederates be assured that they must either whip our armies, or be themselves annihilated unless they give up the contest, and many of them will lay down their arms." Another Wisconsinite proposed, "Let them howl and get down on their Bended Knees and Beg Pardon from father Abraham for their past sins."

One of the major purposes of the march was the need to destroy all war-making, or war-waging capabilities in the region. Sherman, an engineer by training, realized the importance of rail and all forms of transit and communication in this war. During the course of all the marches, he concentrated enormous energies to dismantle the Southern infrastructure. During the march to the Sea, Sherman's army destroyed 317 miles of railroad track, and, in the Carolinas, he wrecked another 126 miles. In Georgia, Sherman put the two large east-west railroads entirely out of commission, and in the Carolinas he ruined the four major lines.

One soldier, commenting on the wreckage Sherman rent upon the railroads, told his buddies that he thought it would be a good idea for Sherman to buy a coal mine in Pennsylvania and spend his postwar years smoking cigars and rebuilding the railroads he had wrecked during the war.

In Atlanta, the army destroyed the train-car shed, the depots, machine shops, foundries, rolling mills, merchant mills, arsenals, a laboratory, armory, and every species of machinery that was not destroyed by fire was most ingeniously broken and made worthless in original form. Any other machine shops or factories along the march, such as the arsenal at Fayetteville or the giant cloth factory, Ocmulgee Mills, in Georgia, was destroyed and burned. Over 90,000 bales of cotton, valued at $36 million, were burned, along with thousands of cotton gins, presses, sawmills, and gristmills. And the brutal symbols of the power of the Southern aristocracy: whipping posts, slave pens, and auction blocks, were also torched.

Sherman and his engineering corps (Sherman routinely marched with the engineers) always left their signature when they had finished with a particular area. His men had developed an ingenious method of lifting, heating, and melting rail lines over the wooden ties, and then wrapping them around trees to cool. These ``Sherman neck ties'' were a poignant reminder of the passage of Federal troops.

The march was also called a ``Halloween March.'' It made a mockery of southern ``chivalry.'' Foraging parties held dignified plantations in utter contempt; they invaded the homes, entered into the boudoirs of the Southern ``belles,'' donned stately evening gowns and pearls, top hats and other ornaments, and pranced about the premises in wild spectacles. At Milledgeville, in the state capitol, the army entered the legislature, now empty, and held a mock trial of Jefferson Davis and the Southern leadership. The farm boys of the Western states, who comprised the vast majority of Sherman's army, held the feudalist aristocracy in total disdain.

These raiding parties spread terror throughout Georgia. By the end of the march, the announcement, ``We're Billy Sherman's raiders and you better git,'' sent militiamen and civilians alike scrambling to get away from this marauding army. This was psychological warfare at its most vicious.

The editor of the Macon Telegraph wrote of Sherman as if he were of some supernatural power: ``the spirit of a thousand fiends centered in one ... it would seem as if in him alone all the attributes of man were merged in the enormities of the demon, as if Heaven intended in him to manifest depths of depravity yet untouched by a fallen race ... unsated in his demoniac vengeance he sweeps over the country like a simoom of destruction.''

This same paper later referred to Sherman as the ``Attila of the West.''


Sherman the Liberator

The march also freed the slaves whose plantations lay in its path. Thousands of blacks thronged the march, hailing Sherman as "God" and "Liberator." While Sherman refused, for military and supply reasons, to incorporate the greater number of them into his legion, again the psychological impact on the Southern aristocracy was devastating. Sherman was ripping apart the social fabric of the ante-bellum South.

On Dec. 10, he resurfaced at the outskirts of Savannah, much to the chagrin of Lee, and to the relief of Lincoln and the North. Lincoln had remarked at the outset to Sherman's brother, John, a U.S. Senator, "I know what hole he went in at, but I can't tell what hole he will come out of." He knew Sherman's move would decide the war. Were Sherman to lose, Lee could conceivably have been reinforced and held out against Grant. Were Sherman to succeed, the Southern cause would be mortally wounded.

After a brief flanking maneuver, Sherman seized Savannah. On Dec. 25, 1864, he wired Lincoln, "I beg to present you as a Christmas gift the city of Savannah, with one hundred and fifty heavy guns and plenty of ammunition, also about twenty-five thousand bales of cotton."

Sherman's handling of captured Savannah further compounded Southern woes. The officials and citizenry of this port city expressed their desire to re-enter the Union, and so Sherman's treatment of the city was quite lenient. He restarted commerce, awarded each freed slave 40 acres of land on which to farm, ensured the population was fed, and for good measure, kicked out the British merchants who were trying to peddle cotton on the wharves. In fact, Sherman threatened to sink the entire island of Nassau, where the British merchants were plying Georgia cotton for British arms!

In addition, he allowed the city's elected representatives to remain in office, though he did appoint military leaders to run the city. These moves served to further shatter the Confederate cause.

On taking Savannah, Sherman reported to Washington that he had caused about $100 million in damage, destroyed over 250 miles of rail lines and seized over 25,000 bales of cotton. Sherman had left his supply base and marched over 350 miles, averaging well over 10 miles per day, while wrecking the granary of the South. However, the greatest damage was wreaked upon the psyche of the Confederacy. Jefferson Davis's hold over the population, reinforced by their wild-eyed media, was being broken.

``Pierce the shell of the CSA and it's all hollow inside,'' recorded Henry Hitchcock, assistant adjutant-general on Sherman's staff, in his diary during the Savannah campaign. ``Yet, such a march as this, the mere fact of it, is bound to have a powerful influence of itself: it shows the real hopelessness of their `cause,' first to those who suffer, and to the people of The South, and then to all the world.''

This view was confirmed on the Confederate side by Confederate General Alexander, ``There is no question that the moral effect of this march upon the country at large ... was greater than would have been the most decided victory.''

While Sherman was successfully marching to the sea, General Thomas engaged General Hood at the Battle of Nashville in Tennessee on Dec. 15-16. Slow to move, Thomas struck like a sledgehammer and destroyed Hood's army in this bloody encounter, proving again the veracity of Sherman's initial plan. Hood had been eliminated and Sherman had seized Savannah.


In the Footsteps of Hannibal

Sherman said his next campaign would be ten times harder than the previous one. He proposed to march up from Savannah, cross through South Carolina, into North Carolina, and link up with Grant somewhere in the eastern corridor of North Carolina. Sherman and his army knew South Carolina was the home of secession, and it must be brought to its knees. He knew Jefferson Davis would do everything in his power to oppose him, but this final assault would both break all Southern resistance, and force Lee out of Richmond.

General Grant initially opposed Sherman's new plan. He proposed instead to ferry Sherman's entire army to link up with him in Virginia and attack Lee directly. Sherman's plan aimed to destroy the center of the rebellion in South Carolina and make both Carolinas feel the heavy hand of war. Grant failed to understand the full meaning of Sherman's proposal, though this was in no small amount influenced by the anti-Sherman sentiments floating through Washington at the time. By altering the entire battlefield--lengthening it to include the remaining hotbeds of rebellion--Sherman was in fact closing in on Lee more powerfully. Sherman would pierce the center of rebellion, cut off food, shut down supplies, and force Lee either to leave Richmond, or face a Vicksburg-style defeat at the hands of Grant.

When Grant realized he could not transport Sherman's army by sea in a timely fashion, he accepted Sherman's plan warmly, and added his own strategic insight. He surmised that Lee, the proud Virginian, was fixated on holding Richmond to the end, thus clinching his own downfall. "My own opinion is that Lee is averse to going out of Virginia, and if the cause of the South is lost, he wants Richmond to be the last place to surrender.... If he has such views, it may be well to indulge him until we get everything else in our hands."

Once Sherman's plan was accepted, he sent a communiqué to Grant outlining the move in detail. This plan echoes the march through Georgia, replete with multiple options of movement, lines of least resistance, various targets, and a follow-up campaign in North Carolina. "I would then favor a movement direct on Raleigh. The game is then up with Lee, unless he comes out of Richmond, avoids you and fights me; in which case I would reckon on you being on his heels. Now that Hood is used up by Thomas, I feel disposed to bring the matter to an issue as quick as possible."

In a remarkable communiqué to General Halleck in Washington, Sherman revealed his strategic perspective,

"I think the time has come now when we should attempt the boldest moves, and my experience is, that they are easier of execution than more timid ones, because the enemy is disconcerted by them--as, for instance, my recent campaign. I also doubt the wisdom of concentration beyond a certain extent, for the roads of this country limit the amount of men that can be brought to bear in any one battle, and I do not believe that any general can handle more than sixty thousand men in battle. I think our campaign of the last month, as well as every step I take from this point northward, is as much a direct attack upon Lee's army as though we were operating within the sound of his artillery.... I attach more importance to these deep incisions into the enemy's country, because this war differs from European wars in this particular: we are not only fighting hostile armies but a hostile people, and must make old and young, rich and poor, feel the hard hand of war, as well as their organized armies. I know that this recent movement of mine through Georgia has had a wonderful effect in this respect. Thousands who had been deceived by their lying newspapers to believe that we were being whipped all the time, now realize the truth, and have no appetite for a repetition."

On Feb. 1, after issuing new orders to his troops, Sherman again sent out his two flanks to launch the campaign. He placed his left flank astride the Savannah River to menace Augusta, which he had deliberately left untouched in the earlier campaign for just this reason. His right wing was ferried by the Navy to Beaufort and thence to Pocotaligo halfway between Savannah and Charleston. This wing was to threaten Charleston.

Again, the Confederate generals found themselves stuck on the horns of a dilemma: which stronghold would Sherman attack? The Confederates again split their forces, and Sherman did the unexpected, and "the impossible."

He divided his troops into five to seven columns marching in parallel, again foraging off the land. This time he plunged into the swamps and rivers that separated the two citadels. This area was considered impassable in the winter. Freezing rains drenched the area, swelling the many rivers and streams, and flooding the swamps.

Yet, Sherman, like Hannibal, did the impossible. His tough, veteran troops of the Western frontier mustered all their skills in forestry and bridging, and transported the army at over 10 miles per day! They worked day and night, often in bitterly cold water, waist- or shoulder-deep, to corduroy roads, haul ammunition or supplies, or fell trees.

These troops did not need motivational speeches; they knew this audacious campaign would end the war.

Gen. Joseph Johnston, Sherman's old adversary, was appointed to take command against this march. While awaiting his orders, Johnston marvelled at Sherman's undertaking: "When I learned that Sherman's army was marching through the Salk [Salkahatchie River in South Carolina] swamps, making its own corduroy roads at the rate of a dozen miles a day or more, and bringing its artillery and wagons with it, I made up my mind that there had been no such army in existence since the days of Julius Caesar."

This was also the beginning of the ``Smoky March,'' as Sherman's troops put the torch to many pine trees--in both Carolinas--and turpentine factories, bridges, rail lines, and mills, filling up the dense forest areas with smoky, billowing, fires. Again, the troops lived off the land, consuming the food and supplies of their hosts.

Union morale had never been higher. Troops that marched all night through dismal swamps emerged in the morning, with Indian war whoops, to ransack Confederate breastworks that would have seemed invincible to lesser outfits.


Charleston Falls

In the middle of February, this torn and tattered, blue-clad army splashed out of the Edisto swamps, astride the Augusta-Charleston Railroad and destroyed 50 miles of track. This severed Charleston's lifeline; it also placed the Union troops within striking distance of Columbia, the state capital. A frantic P.G.T. Beauregard ordered Charleston abandoned and all troops brought for the final defense of Columbia. The abandoned coastal port was quickly captured by Union gunboats that had been moving in parallel with Sherman's Army. This also set off hails of celebration in the North, as a keystone of the Confederacy fell. Beauregard's call came too late. By Feb. 16, Sherman had seized Columbia, still smoldering from the bales of cotton set ablaze by the retiring Confederate Gen. Wade Hampton as he fled the city the night before.

On Feb. 17, despite Sherman's determined efforts to control his troops and the fires, the smoking cotton caught fire again. This time a high wind, some say this was the Lord's Retribution, fanned the flames around the city. Union bucket brigades were pressed into service, but drunken soldiers could be seen carrying torches to set other fires, so by morning, two thirds of the city has burned. The capital of the state that had launched the rebellion lay in ashes.

On the morning of the Feb. 18, Sherman made extensive provisions for the care of the homeless. He left 500 head of cattle to feed the needy, and 100 muskets to help restore order. By the next day, the army was prepared to extend the march. He crossed into North Carolina by March, and once in the state, the soldiers were ordered to be more lenient, as North Carolina was the last state to leave the Union.

The bitter toll of this campaign had already been taken on the Confederate Army. Mass defections from Lee's forces in Virginia were beginning to mount. On Feb. 24, Lee wrote to Governor Vance of North Carolina that the despair of the North Carolinians was threatening to break up his army. "Desertions are becoming very frequent and there is good reason to believe that they are occasioned to a considerable extent by letters written to the soldiers by their friends at home. It has been discovered that despondent persons represent to their friends in the army that our cause is hopeless, and that they had better provide for themselves."

Sherman's final march had served its purpose. Within a few weeks, he linked up with his veteran corps commander, Gen. John Schofield, in Goldsboro, North Carolina. Schofield, after defeating Hood at Franklin in December, had been reassigned to Grant's command in the East, and was dispatched to link up with Sherman in North Carolina.

Sherman had marched 425 miles in seven weeks. He had crossed five rivers, dozens of streams, and swamps. And he left a terror-stricken, hopeless Confederacy in his wake. Due to his actions and those of Sheridan in the Shenandoah Valley, men were streaming out of Lee's Petersburg defenses for lack of food and supplies, and heading south to rebuild their burned out homes. The war, soon to end, had been shortened by as much as one year.

The war of encirclement was now complete; the relentless flanking attacks of Sherman and the persistent pummeling of Grant had routed the Confederacy. Now President Lincoln could contemplate Reconstruction and perhaps wage a final war, this time against the real enemy, the British Empire. He had a war plan to invade Canada, and a naval plan to use ironclads against an outmoded British Navy. He also had at his disposal the greatest economy in the world and the finest ground army. Rather than risk war, the British quickly assassinated Lincoln, and threw the U.S. into disarray.


The Lessons of Sherman's Campaigns

The lessons of these campaigns were not lost on future generations. The German General Staff studied Sherman's campaigns over the next decades; the "old" von Moltke of the Battle of Sedan, and the celebrated Alfred Graf von Schlieffen, illustrate that point. Gen. Douglas MacArthur did likewise, as he prepared for battle in the Far East in during World War II. His father, Arthur MacArthur, had been a wagon master under Sherman in the Atlanta campaign, and was highly decorated for his efforts. Gen. George Patton, in a long leave immediately prior to the invasion of Normandy in 1944, poured over Sherman's campaigns. He studied Sherman's use of flanking maneuvers, swerving thrusts, and the value of "marching light" in order to gain mobility. He demonstrated these lessons in his subsequent march through Europe.

Also it should be noted that Sherman's troops, the finest fighting army in the world at the conclusion of the Civil War, was also the most skilled engineering corps. Many of these same men, Sherman included, turned their wartime skills to peacetime chores. Much of the work constructing the continental railroad system was completed under the direct supervision of Sherman, and completed by veterans of his army.


For Further Reading

Earle, Edward Mead (editor), Makers of Modern Strategy (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1943).

Glatthar, Joseph T., The March to the Sea and Beyond (New York: New York University Press, 1985).

Lewis, Lloyd, Sherman: Fighting Prophet (New York: Harcourt, Brace, and World, 1960).

Liddell Hart, B.H. Sherman: Soldier, Realist, American (New York: F.A. Praeger, 1958).

McFeely, William S., Grant (New York: W.W. Norton and Co., 1982).

McWhiney, Grady and Jamieson, Perry D., Attack and Die Montgomery: University of Alabama Press, 1984).

Sherman, William T., Memoirs (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1957).

Symonds, Craig, A Battlefield Atlas of the Civil War (Annapolis: Nautical and Aviation Publishing Co. of America, 1984.

Welsh, Douglas, The Civil War, A Complete Military History (New York: Gallery Books, 1981).

Williams, T. Harry, Lincoln and His Generals, (New York: Alfred Knopf, Inc., 1952).


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The preceding article is a rough version of the article that appeared in The American Almanac. It is made available here with the permission of The New Federalist Newspaper. Any use of, or quotations from, this article must attribute them to The New Federalist, and The American Almanac.


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