SHerman's March to the Sea - Georgia
|Sherman's March to the Sea
General William Tecumseh Sherman and his staff
post in one of Atlanta's forts shortly before the
beginning of the March to the Sea.
Library of Congress
Battle of Griswoldville
One of the bloodiest battles
of the March to the Sea took
place at Griswoldville on
November 22, 1864.
Battle of Buckhead Creek
"Fighting Joe" Wheeler and
"Kill Cavalry" Kilpatrick fought
at Buckhead Creek on
November 28, 1864.
Historic Sites of Sherman's March to the Sea
"I will make Georgia howl..."
|Copyright 2014 by Dale Cox
All rights reserved.
Last Updated: April 24, 2014
Civil War in Georgia
Site of Camp Lawton
The major prisoner of war
camp at Magnolia Springs
(Camp Lawton) was targeted
by Union troops during the
March to the Sea.
The small Southern garrison
at Fort McAllister would not
surrender and fought against
Sherman until completely
The March to the Sea was one of the most
destructive and most important military
campaigns of the War Between the States (or
Leaving his base of supply at Atlanta, Union
General William Tecumseh Sherman and
his army marched through Georgia to the
Atlantic Ocean. The army lived off the land as
it advanced, inflicting extreme suffering on
the civilian population.
Professor Anne J. Bailey of Georgia College
and State University has called the March to
the Sea the "most destructive campaign
against a civilian population during the Civil
War." It was a campaign launched to make
clear to the women, children and elderly of
the South that the North could and would
impose its will on them however it saw fit.
Delaying the start of the campaign until after
Election Day 1864 to avoid the risk of a
setback impacting President Abraham
Lincoln's reelection hopes, Sherman and his
army of 60,000 men marched out from
Atlanta in November 1864. There was no
army ahead of them, only scattered Southern
troops and thousands of defenseless
The Union army was divided into two wings.
The right was commanded by General Oliver
O. Howard, the left by General Henry W.
Slocum. The commanding general did issue
orders prohibiting unauthorized foraging and
destruction, but no one paid any attention to
On November 15, 1864, the campaign began
when Sherman ordered the destruction of all
public buildings, depots, shops and captured
Confederate ammunition stocks in Atlanta.
The fires spread and the burning of Atlanta
remains one of the most controversial acts in
American history. That Sherman knew the
extent of the destruction he caused is
obvious from his own words, "Behind us lay
Atlanta smoldering and in ruins."
As they left Atlanta, the two wings of the
Union army set off in different directions. The
left under Howard - accompanied by
Sherman in person - headed for the City of
Milledgeville, then the capital of Georgia. The
right, under Slocum, moved toward Macon.
General Joseph "Fighting Joe" Wheeler had
only round 8,000 Confederate cavalry to
oppose the advance. He did all that he could
by skirmishing with the columns, destroying
bridges and obstructing roads, but he had no
chance of stopping a 60,000 man army.
The Confederates feared that Sherman was
targeting their industrial complex at Augusta,
Georgia. All available militia and state troops
were ordered to concentrate there for the
expected defense of the city. After the Battle of
Walnut Creek near Macon on November 21,
1814, General Pleasant J. Philips marched
from Macon with a force of around 2,300 men
from the 1st Division of Georgia Militia.
Fighting broke out around the community of
Griswoldville on the morning of November 22
when cavalry forces under "Fighting Joe"
Wheeler drove Union cavalry out of the
burning community. The Federals fell back
on their main body at nearby Duncan's Farm
and Wheeler wisely decided not to launch a
frontal assault. He ordered a sweeping move
around the head of the Union advance and
led the way.
Philips unfortunately came up just as the last
of Wheeler's men were leaving. They warned
him that a large Union force was digging in at
Duncan's Farm. In a disastrous decision,
General Philips decided to launch a frontal
assault on the seasoned and well-armed
The result was the Battle of Griswoldville, a
bloody affair that saw the boys, old men and
invalids of the Georgia militia march up a hill
and right into the guns of 1,500 Union
soldiers. The courage of the Georgia troops
was remarkable, but they had no chance. By
the time the battle ended, the Confederates
had lost 51 killed and 472 wounded. The
Federals lost 13 killed and 79 wounded.
Sherman entered Milledgeville on the day
after the fight at Griswoldville. His men
continued their frenzy of destruction, even
convening a fake "session of the legislature"
in the captured Old Capitol Building. They
poured molasses in the organ at beautiful St.
Stephens Episcopal Church and stabled
their horses in the sanctuary.
Despite all that Wheeler and his cavalry
could do, the Union advance continued. In
Augusta, Confederate forces under General
Braxton Bragg prepared for defense, digging
in and even piercing the brick walls of historic
Magnolia Cemetery with loopholes. It was all
in vain as Sherman turned off after nearing
Augusta and bypassed the city.
More fighting took place at places including
Buckhead Creek, Waynesboro and the
Oconee River Bridge. Along the way Federal
troops took the town of Gordon, where they
encountered J. Rufus Kelly. He went out on
crutches with only one other man to oppose
the Union soldiers and is remembered today
in Georgia as the man who "wouldn't run."
In the end, though, Sherman's army closed in
on Savannah. In an event that symbolizes the
cruelty of the march, Union General Jefferson
C. Davis ordered a pontoon bridge over
Ebenezer Creek cut as soon as the last of
his men were across. Davis knew that his
column was being followed by hundreds of
African Americans seeking freedom from
slavery, but he cut the bridge at Ebenezer
leaving them behind.
With forces from Wheeler's Cavalry coming,
the frightened former slaves rushed into the
Creek. One Union officer described the
Sherman presented the city of
Savannah to Abraham Lincoln
as a Christmas present when
it fell at the end of the March to
...[W]ith cries of anguish and despair, men,
women and children rushed by hundreds into
the turbid stream and many were drowned
before our eyes.
It was a horrible incident and the number
who died will never be known. Many of the
survivors were captured by Wheeler's men
and returned to the plantations from which
they had escaped.
Sherman reached the vicinity of Savannah on
December 10, 1864. Small but powerful Fort
McAllister, however, blocked him from the
supplies waiting on U.S. Navy ships offshore.
Orders were given for the storming of the fort.
On December 13, General William B. Hazen
moved against Fort McAllister with 4,000
men. The Confederate commander, Major
George Anderson, had only 120 soldiers but
refused to surrender. His men were equally
determined to fight to the end.
As Sherman and other officers watched from
the top of a rice mill across the coastal
marshes, Hazen's men stormed Fort
McAllister. The fort was overrun, but still its
defenders would not surrender. They
continued to fight until, as Hazen reported,
"each man was individually overpowered."
Communication with the fleet offshore was
now open and Sherman pressed in on
Savannah itself. The city was defended by a
small Confederate army under famed
General William J. Hardee. In sharp fighting
they held back the Federals until December
21, 1864. That night, in a carefully planned
withdrawal, Hardee led his men out of
Savannah and north across the Savannah
River into South Carolina.
Sherman took beautiful Savannah the next
day, bringing the infamous March to the Sea
to an end. He spared the beautiful city,
however, and by telegram gave it to President
Lincoln as a Christmas gift on December 22,
The rest of Sherman's route was not so
fortunate. The Union soldiers had indeed
carried out a war on civilians, burning
houses and barns, looting food stocks,
desecrating churches and terrorizing citizens.
As he had promised before the march,
Sherman and his "bummers" had made
He Wouldn't Run
A monument in Gordon pays
tribute to J. Rufus Kelly, who
went out on crutches with only
one supporter to fight against
Battle of Oconee Bridge
A small Confederate force
defied an entire wing of the
Union army in the remarkable
fight at Oconee Bridge.
As they advanced, Sherman's
men destroyed mile after mile
of the Central of Georgia
Railway. The depot in Bartow
was rebuilt from the ruins of
one damaged during the
March to the Sea.