Sherman's March Through the Carolinas
Sherman remained with his army in Savannah through January 1865. He had time to consider his options. No Confederate force could reasonably attack him. Sherman decided he could march north along the Atlantic much as he had marched southeast from Atlanta to Savannah. Once he got into northern North Carolina, he could coordinate his movements with Grant, whose army was then around Petersburg in southern Virginia. Along the way, Sherman could occupy major cities in South and North Carolina and continue his destruction of the Southern economy.
Ruins seen from the Circular Church, Charleston, South Carolina, 1865 Photo courtesy of the National Archives (111-B-4667)
Sherman and his army pulled out of Savannah on February 1. He was not likely to face any more opposition than 30,000 Confederates under Joseph Johnston. These were drawn from about 10,000 men who were the escaped Savannah garrison, portions of the Army of Tennessee that had been smashed in front of Nashville in December, and various militia and cavalry groups. Sherman would have as much problem with the lay of the land — many rivers and boggy country to cross — as with Johnston's men.
Sherman made a feint at Charleston, then sent most of his men to Columbia, South Carolina's capital, which they entered on February 17. So stalwart from the sea, the rebellious city could not hold out once its rail lines to the interior were cut; it was turned over to Union authorities on February 18.
The Union men, who had been relatively gentle in Savannah, took again to the kinds of destructive ways they had developed in Georgia. Most of them blamed South Carolina for having started the whole war to begin with. When they left Columbia, it was devastated by fire; whether the blaze was set on purpose or accidentally is still debated. Sherman continued northward. In middle and late March he battled Confederate forces in North Carolina, winning both contests. Soon he was ready to link up with Grant.