Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Documentary Review: Sherman's March to the Sea

This is one of those events in the history of the war which is seen, much as the dropping of the atomic bomb on Japan.  For those who were the victim, the action was one of cruelty and barbarity.  However, it is an action which brought about a quicker end of the war, and in so doing, saved many lived.
General William T. Sherman finally won a hard fought campaign for Atlanta.  At fist he fought against General Joseph E. Johnston, but his defensive, and fall back strategy frustrated President Jefferson Davis.  He finally replaced him with General John B. Hood, who was more rash.  He would pay for this rashness, as he used up his strength in attacked the Federal Soldiers south of Atlanta, and had no choice but to withdraw, leaving Atlanta to the Union.
Atlanta was an important rail hub and industrial center for the South.  When Sherman would vacate Atlanta, he would burn the industrial center, the warehouses and cotton.  The result would be a general destruction of the city.
While in Atlanta, Sherman had proposed to General Ulysses Grant that he take his 60,000 men, leave his supply lines, and march to the sea.
Sherman's strategy was to destroy anything which could be useful in helping the South carry out war.  His men also had to forage for food, as the had no supply line.  The men had been issued 20 days rations which they rolled up in their blankets.
Sherman divided his forces into two columns.  This is the part of the campaign which is so infamous.  They would often leave fires as they destroyed cotton and other items which could be used to conduct war.  They also confiscated food as they went.  Sherman responded to complaints about his tactic, "War is cruelty." 
Local militia at several points confront Sherman's forces, however with repeating rifles, and more men, and hardened soldiers, the Confederacy was not able to stop him. Joseph Wheeler commanded and cavalry brigade against Sherman's forces.  However they were to few to make a direct confrontation, except to attacking marauding groups.  The planted torpedoes (land mines) but Sherman countered this by making Confederate prisoners go in front of his men and remove the mines. 
Sherman's forces attracted many African Americans.  They followed his columns, while the men were recruited to help with making roads and bridges.  There is one scene in which one of Sherman's  columns is pressed by the Calvary.  They cross a river over a pontoon bridge.  As soon as they are across, the severe the bridge, leaving a large group of former slaves stranded.  Colonel Jefferson C. Davis (not the Confederate President) had ordered the bridge removed.  He was a known to have negative feelings towards the African Americans, but also the move made sense strategically.  Many tried to cross and were drowned, while only a few made it. 
As Sherman's forces made it closer to the ocean, their situation became more desperate.  There no longer was a sufficient supply of forage, and the men went hungry.  They had to meet supply ships on the coast as quickly as possible.  There were two choices, to go directly to Savannah which was well defended, or to follow the Ogeechee River to the ocean south of Savannah, which was defended by
Fort McCallister.  There had been a previous Union attempt to take the fort, which had failed.  however in this instance, the attack would come from the land side.  The fort had large cannon pointing towards the sea. 
However, there were few defenders, and the fort was overwhelmed in 15 minutes.  Sherman's campaign would be successful.  Rear Admiral John A. Dahlgren was waiting o meet them with supplies and came into the harbor as soon as the fort was captured.
From there, they would march north to meet up with General Lee.  They would really punish South Carolina, burning homes generally and being more aggressive in their foraging.  They would also burn Columbia.

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