Known affectionately as "Uncle Billy" by Union soldiers, but reviled in the South as a brutal war criminal, General William Tecumseh Sherman is one of the truly enigmatic and complex figures in the American pantheon. His legacy, built during a five-week campaign of terror and destruction, ranks as one of the most daring endeavors in U.S. military history. Controversial to this day, his epic story is told in The History Channel Presentation SHERMAN'S MARCH.
After Sherman and his forces captured Atlanta, a key supply center for the Southern army, Sherman decided that the North should deliver a knockout blow to the Confederacy. He proposed a march from Atlanta to the coastal city of Savannah, implementing a practice that would come to be known as "total war." "Success would be accepted as a matter of course. Whereas, should we fail, this 'march' would be adjudged the wild adventure of a crazy fool," said Sherman, acknowledging the huge risk he was taking.
On November 15, 1864, Sherman and his troops set out from Atlanta, beginning a massive assault on the South, designed to eliminate all of the resources they needed to make war and to cripple the resolve of the Confederacy. Sherman ordered his troops to burn crops, kill livestock, destroy railroads, pilfer food supplies and to make sure the South's civilian infrastructure was shattered. Although the concept had been around for centuries, this is the first time in modern warfare that total war was used to such an extensive degree. Sherman was given the green light to execute his bold strategy in large part because Lincoln had just been re-elected, the political fallout would be minimal , and the North was ready to do whatever it took to bring the war to a close.
The end result proved successful for Sherman and the Union Army. Savannah was captured and occupied on December 21, 1864. In the spirit of the holidays, Sherman offered the city to Lincoln, "His Excellency, President Lincoln. I beg to present to you as a Christmas gift the city of Savannah. With 150 heavy guns and plenty of ammunition and about 25,000 bales of cotton"
The South never recovered from the capture of Savannah, but just to be sure, Sherman began another march, this time from Georgia through South Carolina. In February 1865, after burning several cities to the ground, something he did not do in Georgia, Sherman reached Columbia, the capital of South Carolina and the cradle of the rebellion. By nightfall the entire city was in flames and would soon be burned to the ground. On the heels of Sherman's destructive onslaughts, the Confederacy officially conceded victory to the Union on April 9, 1865
While viewed as a hero in the North and as a villain in the South, Sherman's military effectiveness is unquestionable. He led 60,000 soldiers over 650 miles in less than 100 marching days, losing only 600 men along the way. When it was all said and done, Sherman achieved his goal, to speed up the end of the American Civil War.