By 1860, states in the southern part of the United States were fed up with the North's desire to keep a strong federal government and to abolish slavery. They felt their only choice was to withdraw or secede from the union and form their own country and laws. Abraham Lincoln who hated slavery was elected President and called on 75,000 troops to come forward to fight for the union against the new country called the Confederate States of America.
The Civil War began in April 1861. After two years it seemed evident that the South was not going to be able to endure and win the war. Nevertheless, they kept on fighting. From November 15 until December 21, 1864, Union General William T. Sherman led a march of 63,000 soldiers through Georgia from Atlanta to Savanna. His desire was to make the people of Georgia withdraw from the Confederacy.
The union troops had captured Atlanta in September. Atlanta was important economically and for morale purposes. The city had railroads and munitions and food with which they supplied thousands of Confederate troops. It was a symbol of Confederate pride. Atlanta stood midway between the Gulf of Mexico on the west and Charleston on the east. With its fall, the South really knew that the end was near. Confederate soldiers went west toward Nashville. They destroyed Union supplies wherever they could.
Major General George Thomas then took 60,000 men and went west to Nashville, Tennessee, to follow the retreating Confederate troops. Sherman led 63,000 soldiers east toward Savanna on the coast. He destroyed factories, farms and railroads which were necessary for the continuation of the war. He wanted to make life so difficult for the Georgians that they would beg the South to surrender.
He started east with two wings, 30 miles apart. At Griswoldsville, some Confederates tried to stop them, but then they fled south and burned supplies so that Sherman couldn't get them. The Union soldiers raided every farm they saw and carried off or burned all food supplies as they went. They said that they wanted to teach the Georgians a lesson.
Sherman's troops reached Savanna after three weeks, on December 21, 1864. The city had no defense. The 10,000 soldiers supposed to be defending the city had fled. Sherman informed President Lincoln that he was giving him a Christmas gift of 25,000 bales of cotton and the city of Savanna. In early 1865, Sherman and his men continued their course of stealing and destroying food. They went across South Carolina to Charleston. The South had had enough. They surrendered in April 1865.
Sherman's destructive tactics in his 'March to the Sea' might seem harsh, but he knew that the only way to keep the union together was for the South to be brought to its knees. The people of Georgia had to be made helpless to live a normal life and totally in disagreement with the decision to secede. They realized that their Confederate government was not strong enough to save them. His plan most likely was the reason for the surrender of the South.
William Tecumseh was the originator of 'total war.' This phrase became common in the twentieth century. Although southerners hated him for his methods, he was one of the two greatest Union generals of the Civil War, along with General Ulysses Grant. One of Sherman's officers said this, 'To sustain it (the union government) we must war upon and destroy the organized rebel forces, cut off their supplies and their communications and produce among the people of Georgia a thorough conviction of the personal misery which attends war.'
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