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Ethnics of Sherman's March

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Ethics of Sherman's March

General William Techumseh Sherman's March through Georgia and South Carolina was the turning point in the American Civil War. After heavy fighting in Tennessee and Kentucky General Sherman requested permission to take a large force of men on a campaign to the Atlantic Ocean through North and South Carolina, Georgia, then turning North back through the Carolinas and Virginia. The goal of the campaign was to divide the Confederate states by going through the middle of them and destroying anything of military value. General Sherman's March did achieve its goal from a military standpoint but the manner his army accomplished its goal was ethically improper. Perhaps the most famous portion of Sherman's March was his campaign from Atlanta to Savannah and then to Colombia, South Carolina.

The unique aspect of Sherman's March was they would go without a supply line. "Sherman took from his three armies a picked force of sixty-two thousand, culling out what he called 'the sick, the wounded, and the worthless,' leaving the balance of his army with General Thomas to deal with General Hood." (Kennett) Also included Sherman's force was Brigadier General Judson Kirkpatrick's contingent of Union cavalry. Feeding an army is a most difficult task when operating without a supply line. Thanks to Union spies Sherman found "that he would have no trouble feeding his army on what could be found locally, 'eating out' the country he passed through." (Kennett) Food would be collected for the majority of the army by special foraging teams organized by divisions. This left Sherman's wagons free to carry ammunition and other supplies necessary to military operation.

General Sherman had several objectives in mind when setting out from Atlanta aside from reaching and taking Savannah. Important objectives included destroying any buildings that could assist the Confederacy. Other valuable targets to the Union included excess livestock, railroad tracks and depots, and cotton and tobacco fields. Perhaps most critical to General Sherman was to defeat the Confederate spirit. "When requesting permission to proceed with his campaign Sherman wrote to General Grant 'I can make this march and make Georgia howl.'" (Woodworth) Sherman's presence in the heart of the South was an insult to the pride of local residents, and the fact the Confederate Army could do little to stop it severely belittled national unity.

Perhaps the most difficult obstacles General Sherman faced in his march to the sea were weather and terrain. Generally this is a time of the year when Georgia receives a lot of rain and with red clay composing most of Georgia's soil content saturated ground could leave a large force of men stranded in endless roads of mud. "Sherman had his own notions about the weather: He believed that if the first part of November brought abundant rain, one could expect a spell of fair weather thereafter." (Kennett) Sherman's notions would prove to be right, after a solid week of rain Sherman's enormous force began it's March on November 14, 1864.

The first several days of the March Sherman's army moved so rapidly the first towns they came to had little or no warning of Union advances. The first chance of opposition Sherman's army encountered was at the then state capital, Milledgeville. Although it was anticipated the town would offer heavy resistance, it was taken with no more than a handful of shots fired. Upon leaving Milledgeville Sherman ordered the town courthouse and armory, along with several other military structures, to be burned. The column continued through the Georgia countryside to Savannah, burning many structures of questionable Confederate importance along the way, ending at Fort McAllister, which was the gateway to Savannah.

Sherman's March from Atlanta engaged in few battles in its twenty-seven day excursion to Savannah. While many building were burned in the towns that Sherman's army passed through, the special foraging parties committed most of the damage. Before setting out from Atlanta General Sherman wrote Special Field Order No. 120 that outlined the rules the foraging parties were to abide by. Although the orders were very specific as to how much food could be taken, what structures could be burned, and etiquette with the civilian population, "there was a single sentence in the orders that registered with Sherman's foragers: 'The Army will forage liberally on the country during the march.'" (Kennett) Many soldier believed Sherman issued the order with its intent being contradictory to its words.

Foragers eventually helped themselves to whatever they pleased, often leaving households without enough food to survive the winter. Foraging

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