November 15, 1864
|Maj. Gen. William Tecumseh Sherman|
The March to the Sea -- Maj. Gen. William Tecumseh Sherman and about 60,000 of his troops step off on the five-week adventure that will go down in history as the March to the Sea. Sherman’s objective is to march through Georgia destroying as much war materiel as possible in what is now the Confederacy’s most productive state, culminating in the capture of Savannah on the Atlantic coast. Back on Nov. 4 and 5, Gen. Forrest and his Rebel riders conducted a major raid on the Union rear areas in Tennessee and northern Georgia, destroying the huge Union supply base at Johnsonville, Tennessee. This only reinforces Sherman’s determination to carry out his March as he and Grant did in Mississippi during the Vicksburg Campaign: to abandon all supply lines and to re-supply by foraging the countryside, thereby hurting the Rebels’ ability to supply their own troops. Sherman issues an order relevant to this unique doctrine of living off the land:
. . . IV. The army will forage liberally on the country during the march. To this end, each brigade commander will organize a good and sufficient foraging party, under the command of one or more discreet officers, who will gather, near the route traveled, corn or forage of any kind, meat of any kind, vegetables, corn-meal, or whatever is needed by the command, aiming at all times to keep in the wagons at least ten day's provisions for the command and three days' forage. Soldiers must not enter the dwellings of the inhabitants, or commit any trespass, but during a halt or a camp they may be permitted to gather turnips, apples, and other vegetables, and to drive in stock of their camp. To regular foraging parties must be instructed the gathering of provisions and forage at any distance from the road traveled.
V. To army corps commanders alone is entrusted the power to destroy mills, houses, cotton-gins, &c., and for them this general principle is laid down: In districts and neighborhoods where the army is unmolested no destruction of such property should be permitted; but should guerrillas or bushwhackers molest our march, or should the inhabitants burn bridges, obstruct roads, or otherwise manifest local hostility, then army commanders should order and enforce a devastation more or less relentless according to the measure of such hostility.
VI. As for horses, mules, wagons, &c., belonging to the inhabitants, the cavalry and artillery may appropriate freely and without limit, discriminating, however, between the rich, who are usually hostile, and the poor or industrious, usually neutral or friendly. Foraging parties may also take mules or horses to replace the jaded animals of their trains, or to serve as pack-mules for the regiments or brigades. In all foraging, of whatever kind, the parties engaged will refrain from abusive or threatening language, and may, where the officer in command thinks proper, give written certificates of the facts, but no receipts, and they will endeavor to leave with each family a reasonable portion for their maintenance. . . .
— William T. Sherman, Military Division of the Mississippi Special Field Order 120, November 9, 1864.
Sherman’s force consists of two small armies: the Army of Georgia, under Maj. Gen. Henry W. Slocum, consisting of the XIV Corps under Brig. Gen. Jefferson C. Davis (an unfortunate name for a Yankee), and the XX Corps under Brig. Gen. Alpheus Williams; the Army of the Tennessee, commanded by Maj. Gen. Oliver O. Howard, which consists of the XV Corps under Maj. Gen. Peter J. Osterhaus, and the XVII Corps, commanded by Maj. Gen. Francis Blair, Jr. Altogether, there are 13 infantry divisions, supported by a cavalry division under Brig. Gen. Judson Kilpatrick. There are 60,000 men in blue. As the Federals move out, Howard’s force heads directly south from Atlanta, and Slocum moves out eastward from the city on routes that roughly parallel Howard’s.
|Sherman's March to the Sea, Nov-Dec 1864|
Opposing Sherman is a slap-dash collection of Southern troops led by Lt. Gen. William J. Hardee, formerly a corps commander under Hood. Hardee had about 13,000 Confederates left over, cut off from Hood’s hurried retreat out of Atlanta, and a little over 3,000 Georgia State Militia under Maj. Gen. Gustavus Smith. Joseph Wheeler and cavalry corps, nearly 10,000 troopers. Hardee rarely has more than 13,000 men at any given location to use.
Sherman leaves an additional 55,000 veteran troops under Maj. Gen. George Thomas to occupy and defend Tennessee in order to deal with any Confederate incursions into the Federal-occupied state.