Sherman Marches to the Sea
Sherman began his infamous March to the Sea on November 15. Atlanta was torched as he moved his men out, and smoke filled the skies as the city was reduced to rubble. Despite having sent both Thomas and Schofield back to Nashville with sizeable forces, Sherman still had 62,000 men at his command. They would not have a supply line back to Chattanooga and the north. They would have to live off of what they brought with them and what they could take from Confederate farmers and planters along the way.
Sherman's men burned many homes in their paths, generally leaving nothing standing except the masonry chimneys. These became known as Sherman Sentinels. Railroad ties that the soldiers heated and then wrapped around trees became known as Sherman Neckties.
Sherman split his army into two columns. Together, they presented a front that was twenty-five to sixty miles wide. Like army ants, they swarmed over the countryside, destroying railroads, bridges, telegraph lines, manufacturing plants, plantations, and anything else that Sherman deemed of value to the Southern war effort.
Although they were cut off from supplies coming by rail from the north, Sherman's men found plenty to eat. While Lee's army starved for lack of provisions, it was harvest time and Sherman's army had more food than it could possibly consume. Extra supplies were either abandoned or given to the growing contingent of runaway slaves who eagerly followed the army that had liberated them.
Sherman gave orders not to steal from private citizens, but these orders was not strictly enforced, and many Union soldiers took it upon themselves to punish the Southern citizenry. Families and entire towns fled the approaching army, rightfully fearful of retribution; they often returned to find everything they owned gone and their homes and farms destroyed.
By the late fall of 1864, low morale was beginning to show on the Southern ranks. According to Bruce Catton's Never Call Retreat,their sketchy records reveal that between 100,000 and 200,000 enlisted soldiers were not present for duty.
Sherman's army was so large that it faced little opposition from Confederate forces aside from a small number of state troopers, militiamen, and cavalry. There were occasional skirmishes, but Sherman's army quickly overran any opposing forces in its path. On December 10, Sherman reached the Atlantic coast after a march of 300 miles. He had inflicted an estimated $100 million worth of damage along the way.
The Move to Savannah
Savannah was Sherman's next objective, but as he prepared a major assault, Confederate general William S. Hardee withdrew his greatly outnumbered 10,000-man army rather than face certain annihilation. Sherman marched into Savannah on December 22 and wired Lincoln two days later to offer the city as a Christmas present. Lincoln was elated.
Meanwhile, Union general Thomas came out of Nashville's defenses and smashed Hood's worn-down army outside the city. The battle took place on December 15 and 16. Hood's men, stretched to the limit even before the battle, gave way. The Army of Tennessee was never again a substantial fighting force.