On This Day

William Tecumseh Sherman, general Sherman
Mathew Brady/National Archives
Gen. William Tecumseh Sherman

On This Day: Gen. Sherman Captures Savannah, Completing March to the Sea

December 21, 2011 05:00 AM
by findingDulcinea Staff
On Dec. 21, 1864, Union forces under Gen. William T. Sherman ended a month-long, 300-mile “March to the Sea” with the capture of the city of Savannah, Ga.

Sherman’s March to the Sea

The forces of Gen. Williams Tecumseh Sherman captured Atlanta in September 1864. Sherman proposed that he next march toward the coastal city of Savannah, believing that advancing across the state would be effective as a form of psychological warfare, demonstrating to Southerners that their army could not protect them from the invading troops.

The plan was risky for Sherman. His troops would advance beyond their supply line, leaving them cut off from the rest of the Union Army and forcing them to find their own food by raiding farms along their path.

Sherman employed a scorched earth policy to inflict maximum psychological, economic and tactical damage to the Confederacy. His men destroyed farms and plantations, burned down food stores, and twisted railroad tracks. He left a trail of destruction that devastated Southern morale.

Sherman’s troops faced light resistance along the march, fighting only one significant battle before reaching the outskirts of Savannah on Dec. 10. Savannah was well defended, but on Dec. 13 a Union division under William B. Hazen captured Fort McAllister, located on the coastline south of Savannah. It allowed Sherman’s men to link up with Navy ships holding supplies. Sherman prepared a siege of Savannah and the Confederate forces escaped, forcing the city to surrender to Sherman on Dec. 21.

The following day, Sherman wrote a letter to President Abraham Lincoln declaring, “I beg to present you as a Christmas gift, the city of Savannah, with one hundred and fifty heavy guns and plenty of ammunition, and also about twenty-five thousand bales of cotton.”

President Lincoln wrote back to Sherman in a letter dated Dec. 26: “Many, many thanks for your Christmas-gift—the capture of Savannah. When you were about leaving Atlanta for the Atlantic coast, I was anxious, if not fearful; but feeling that you were the better judge, and remembering that 'nothing risked, nothing gained’ I did not interfere. Now, the undertaking being a success, the honor is all yours.”

Historical Context: The Civil War

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