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[483]

Most unwilling to criticise the conduct of that very gallant and faithful soldier who, battle-scarred and mutilated, survived the war, and whose recent death our country has so much deplored, I must say after the event, as I did before it, that I consider this movement into Tennessee ill-advised.

Thomas having been sufficiently reenforced in Tennessee to enable him to hold Hood in check, and Sherman relieved from the necessity of defending himself against an active army, and of protecting a long line of railroad communication with a fortified base in his rear, resolved upon his march to the sea, abandoning Atlanta, after having first utterly destroyed that city by fire. Not a single house was spared, not even a church. Similar acts of vandalism marked the progress of the Federal army at Rome, Kingston, Acworth, Marietta, and every town or village along its route, thus carrying out General Sherman's order ‘to enforce a devastation more or less relentless’ along the line of his march, where he encountered only helpless women and children. The arson of the dwelling houses of noncombatants and the robbery of their property, extending even to the trinkets worn by women, made the devastation as relentless as savage instincts could suggest.

On November 16th Sherman left his entrenchments around Atlanta and, dividing his army into two bodies, each from twenty-five to thirty thousand strong, the one followed the Georgia Railroad in the direction of Augusta, and the other took the line of the Macon and Western Railroad to Jonesboro. Avoiding Macon and Augusta, they passed through central Georgia, taking Milledgeville on the way, marching in compact column and advancing with extreme caution, although opposed only by detachments of Wheeler's cavalry and a few hastily formed regiments of raw militia. Partial efforts were made to obstruct and destroy the roads in the front and on the flanks of the invading army, and patriotic appeals by prominent citizens were made to the people to remove all provisions from its path, but no formidable opposition was made, except at the railroad bridge over the Oconee, where Wheeler, with a portion of his command and a few militia, held the enemy in check for two or three days. With his small force, General Wheeler daringly and persistently harassed, and, when practicable, delayed the enemy's advance, attacking and defeating exposed detachments, deterring his foragers from venturing far from the main body, defending all cities and towns along the railroad lines and affording protection to depots of supplies, arsenals, and other important government works. The report of his operations from November 14th to December 20th displays a dash, activity, vigilance, and consummate skill which justly

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