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Sherman's march to the sea, as seen by a Northern soldier,

[ “M. Quad” has been writing for the Detroit Free Press a series of very interesting, and in the main, very fair articles on the battles of the late war. His account of “Letting an army loose, to plunder and destroy,” is so much fairer, and more truthful, than we often find from Northern pens, that we print it in full.]

Neither Sherman nor his admirers have been able to convince more than a small share of the American people, that his order removing the women and children from Atlanta was not a studied act of cruelty. When Bragg was driven out of Chattanooga, Rosecrans did not find it necessary to remove the women and children, though he had a more reasonable excuse than Sherman. When Grant captured Vicksburg, he issued no such order. Lee did not inflict such cruelty on the helpless people of Frederick city, Harper's Ferry, Sharpsburg, and the other towns he captured. Burnside did not do so at Fredericksburg, nor [411] Butler at New Orleans, nor McClellan on the Peninsular. All had the same excuses as Sherman, or could have found them, but none had his malignity. He meant to destroy Atlanta before he left it, and he must first get rid of the women and children. Atlanta could have been made a great base of supplies without disturbing a single person, as dozens of other points had been, but Sherman had a further plan. He could not take the city with him, when he started for Savannah, and he would not leave it to be reoccupied by the army which had defended it so well.

One of the most devilish acts of Sherman's campaign was the destruction of Marietta. One of the present editors of the Marietta Journal was then a boy of fourteen, but he has a vivid remembrance of every incident, from the hour he heard the cannon shot which killed Polk, to the afternoon he stood on the street and saw the family homestead in ruins, and the Federal soldiers mocking at the grief of his poor old mother. If there was any excuse for destroying Marietta, then Lee may be blamed for not burning every building in every Pennsylvania town he passed through. The military institute, and such mills and factories as might be of benefit to Hood, could expect the torch, but Sherman was not content with that. The torch was applied to everything, even to the shanties occupied by colored people. No advance warning was given. The first alarm was followed by the crackling of flames. Soldiers rode from house to house, entered without ceremony, and kindled fires in garrets and closets, and stood by to see that they were not extinguished. In some cases a few articles of furniture had been saved. In others, the women and children stepped forth bareheaded, to make the ground their bed, and the sky their roof. If anyone protested or asked for time, a revolver or bayonet silenced and drove them out.

When night fell, Marietta was no more. Three or four half-burned dwellings, and the smoking heaps of ashes alone remained of one of the handsomest towns in the South. The people had not only been deprived of their homes, but of clothing and provisions as well. Next morning the hungry children were prowling around the Federal camps in search of bits and bones, and the women had nothing. Sherman should have been there to gaze on the picture, and to hear what was said by Federal soldiers who had wives and children at home, and who had the hearts of men beneath the discipline of the soldier.

What could the women and children do? It will surprise many to know what they did do. Right there at hand were the battle fields of Lost and Kennesaw Mountains. They took baskets, sacks, pails and [412] pans, and flocked to the fields to pick up lead and iron. There were tons of metal lying upon the ground, and it was not a long day's work to pick up all that one could carry. Some of the people found knives, watches, jewelry and money, while all had good picking, so far as lead and iron went. They were thus battling on the battle fields — not for glory and renown, but to win a victory over starvation and suffering. Whatever had value could be sold to traders, and whoever had money could purchase something to eat and wear. After Sherman was well on his way to Savannah, some of the people of Marietta, then living in old tents, took junk and drove up into mountain towns where war had not set its foot. The blacksmiths would buy all the iron brought them, and the sellers would invest their money in cloth, provisions and live stock. The garrison left at Marietta knew all that these people had suffered, and could see how hard they were seeking to secure the necessaries of life, and yet it happened in a score of instances, that the calves, pigs and poultry, brought back after a journey of five or six days, would be stolen by the soldiers on the day of their arrival. He who asks those women and children to forget the insults heaped upon them that year, is asking more than human nature has ever yet granted. It is not the bitterness of battle and defeat which rankles in the hearts of people who felt the tread of Sherman's march, but of such acts of oppression, insult and cruelty, as few conquerors have been guilty of. There was not the shadow of an excuse for burning Marietta, and Sherman's excuses are becoming fewer each year.

When Sherman issued his proclamation to the effect that all the inhabitants must leave Atlanta, the people were appalled. The city was over-crowded with refugees from Dalton, Resaca, Marietta and the country between. Many of them had come bare-handed and without means. If they left Atlanta where could they go to, and how subsist? That was a matter which did not worry Sherman in the least.

The only excuse urged by the Federal commander was that, with the city held by his troops, the inhabitants would have no means of subsistence. If they starved outside the city limits he would not be worried. The real motive that guided his actions appeared later, when men were detailed to deliberately burn the city to the ground. Sherman s own book settles this question. In it the author writes: “We then deliberately destroyed Atlanta.” It was deliberate. The intention was to burn every building, and only a few escaped.

The appeal was in vain. Some few managed to evade the order to vacate by hiding and remaining in seclusion, but the great majority obeyed it. Such as were transferred to Hood's lines, to be sent further [413] South, were made as comfortable as possible, but one who desires to know what hardships and suffering were undergone by people totally unfit to cope with them, must go down there and hear the stories from their own lips. When Sherman was in full possession of Atlanta he began his preparations for the march through the heart of the Confederacy. Hood was now in his rear instead of his front, and what should be done with him?

Hood had been defeated and driven, but he was not crushed. He would either draw Sherman from Atlanta or head for Nashville. He wanted reinforcements in either case, but his telegrams to that effect met with the reply that none could be sent him. From August 1st until October 21st Hood was operating on Sherman's lines, destroying railroads, capturing small garrisons and retaking many of the towns which Sherman had wrested from Johnson. In his movements north Sherman had followed him with at least half his army, and although almost every hour of every day witnessed a hot skirmish there was nothing like a general battle. Hood could damage and delay Sherman, but he could not cripple him and he was not strong enough to offer him general battle. On the 21st Hood began his movement towards Nashville, but it was a full month before he was at Columbia, on the Duck river. In the interim Sherman had headed Schofield's army for Nashville, left a strong garrison at Atlanta, and filed out of the city on his march to the sea.

Had one been able to climb to such a height at Atlanta as to enable him to see for forty miles around the day Sherman marched out, he would have been appalled at the destruction. Hundreds of houses had been burned, every rod of fence destroyed, nearly every fruit tree cut down and the face of the country so changed that one born in that section could scarcely recognize it. The vindictiveness of war would have tramped the very earth out of sight had such a thing been possible. At every rod along every highway there was a soldier's grave, and in rear of hospital sites were acres of them.

The railroad lines were the special objects of destruction, and the wonder is that they were so soon repaired. The Federals struck the Macon Road four or five different times at four or five different places, and worked such destruction each time that the line was reported permanently disabled, and yet within thirty hours the Confederates had everything repaired. On one occasion Kilpatrick destroyed four miles of track at once. The rails were removed, heated in the centre, and bent around trees until the ends passed each other. Every culvert was torn out, every cut filled [414] up by blasting down the banks and every tie burned up. Kilpatrick reported to Sherman that the break could not be repaired in a month, but the cars were running in less than sixty hours. Ten thousand Federal cavalry worked for a month to cripple the Macon line, but could not do it. Sherman had to move his whole army before he could accomplish that event. As soon as the Federals had cut and destroyed the line and retired, a force of Confederates set to work on the road-bed and a few hours would place it in order. Fresh ties were cut, rails were brought up from the store laid aside for such an emergency, and trains were soon running. The ties would be twice the usual distance apart and not bedded, but as trains reached these breaks they slowed down and crawled safely over.

It was the same when Forest and Wheeler were operating on Sherman's lines. Twelve miles of road was destroyed on one occasion, and and this destruction included the blasting down into cuts of so much rock and earth that a Confederate civil engineer said that ten thousand laborers could not repair the damages in three weeks. They were repaired within four days. While soldiers became adept in the work of destroying railroads, they became equally skillful in the matter of repairing them. Sherman had to destroy thirty miles of the Augusta road before he could permanently cripple it.

At the very opening of the campaign at Dalton the Federal soldiery had received encouragement to become vandals. Not one private soldier out of every forty in that army turned robber and incendiary, but there were enough to cast a stigma on the whole. From Dalton to Atlanta every house was entered a dozen times over, and each new band of foragers robbed it of something. When there was nothing in the shape of money, provisions, jewelry or clothing left, the looters destroyed furniture, abused women and children, and ended by setting fire to the house. As these parties rode back to camp, attired in dresses and bon nets, and exhibiting the trophies of their raids, and nothing was said to them, others were encouraged to follow suit. The treatment of colored women was brutal in the extreme, and not a few of them died from the effects. One who has the nerve to sit down and listen to what they can tell will find his respect for the ignorant and savage Indians increased.

But these were preparatory lessons. When Sherman cut loose from Atlanta everybody had license to throw off all restraints and make Georgia drain the bitter cup.

In the first place Sherman intended to subsist on the country. Details were made from every regiment to forage. The quartermasters [415] and commissaries took in all live stock, hay, grain, meat, etc., and destroyed what they could not carry off. Then the men who skulked out of the ranks to forage on their own account, visited the houses and robbed them of whatever they fancied. Then the camp followers appeared to insult and abuse the helpless, smash furniture, rip open beds, break out windows, and end by applying the torch. When Lee invaded Pennsylvania his men foraged liberally, and in many cases cleaned out stores and houses, but where is the instance of an insult to a woman, or burning of a farm house? It cannot be shown that they destroyed what they could not remove. In scores of cases Lee guarded farms so rigidly that not a rail was taken for fire-wood.

The Federal who wants to learn what it was to license an army to become vandals, should mount a horse at Atlanta and follow Sherman's route for fifty miles. He will hear stories from the lips of women that will make him ashamed of the flag which waved over him as he went into battle. When the army had passed, nothing was left but a trail of desolation and depair. No house escaped robbery, no woman escaped insult, no building escaped the fire-brand, except by some strange interposition. War may license an army to subsist on the enemy, but civilized warfare stops at live-stock, forage and provisions. It does not enter the houses of the sick and helpless, and rob the women of finger rings and carry off their clothing.

In Sherman's official report of his march to Savannah, he says “We have consumed all the forage on a line of thirty miles front from Atlanta to Savannah; also all the sweet potatoes, cattle, hogs, sheep and poultry, and have carried away more than 10,000 horses and mules. I estimate the damage done to the State of Georgia at $100,000,000, $80,000,000 of which is simply waste and destruction.”

Does Lee's report of the Pennsylvania campaign contain any such figures? He had the same right to plunder, burn and destroy, as Sherman had, and yet, he did not destroy, outside of the town which Early burned, $200,000 worth of private property.

The march from Atlanta to Savannah was so little opposed, that it was a sort of holliday excursion to the Federals. He who desired to let himself loose, had only to leave the ranks. He could rob and burn, and Sherman had no reproofs. The more he destroyed, the greater hero he was. While only $20,000,000 worth of legitimate plunder could be laid hands on, these bummers were licensed to destroy four times that sum in private property, and they accomplished it in a manner to do credit to the savages of the West.

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