As a result of the hardships on women and children, desertions increased in Robert E. Lee's army in Virginia. Sherman believed his campaign against civilians would shorten the war by breaking the Confederate will to fight, and he eventually received permission to carry this psychological warfare into South Carolina in early 1865. By marching through Georgia and South Carolina he became an archvillain in the South and a hero in the North.
Poe later estimated that 37% of Atlanta was destroyed; Southerners would later claim that the destruction was much more widespread, and included many private dwellings. Either way, it should be noted that few civilians were harmed – Sherman had evacuated civilians from Atlanta on September 7, 1864, weeks before he departed Atlanta for the March to the Sea.
On November 12, 1864, the destruction of Atlanta began. Sherman ordered everything destroyed except “houses and churches”. Anything that could help the Southern war effort was destroyed – railroads, warehouses, manufacturing plants, public buildings, etc. Sherman’s chief engineer Orlando Poe was in charge of the destruction, and used battering rams, fire, and explosives.
Sherman’s March was also something new in warfare where a large modern amy on purpose destroyed its own supply lines, and decided to live off the land for several weeks.Another interesting feature of the March was the fact that there was no significant organized resistance at any point along the 275 mile corridor in central Georgia until Sherman’s 62,000 man army faced 10,000 Confederates under Hardee in Savannah.
Sherman’s march to the sea was inconceivable to the American military in 1861; governmental policy towards civilians in the various theaters of operation changed drastically between the fall of Fort Sumter in April, 1861, and the spring of 1864. The evolution of the army’s approach to interacting with non-combatants developed because of Northern impatience with a prolonged war.
Reenactor J.C. Nobles recounts the financial impact of the march noting that of the $100 million of damage done in Georgia, Gen. Sherman estimated that $80 million of that was pure waste. Professor Thomas concludes that Sherman was doing his job as a professional soldier, and while some may disagree, the March to the Sea helped to shorten the war and bring peace to the nation.
Thus right across the fertile land a stretch of waste and desolation was created about sixty miles wide. Yet it was not done in wantonness, but as a terrible necessity of war. It clove the Confederacy from east to west as thoroughly as the Mississippi clove it from north to south. It rifled and well-nigh exhausted the rich granary which fed the Confederate army, and by destroying the railroads prevented even what was left being sent to them. Grant meant to end the war, and it seemed to him more merciful to destroy food and property than to destroy men.
General William T. Sherman’s, U.S.A., hard-marching Federal force had captured Atlanta, Georgia in September 1864. General Sherman followed his successful Atlanta campaign with his much heralded "March to the Sea."
General Sherman’s intent was to cut a path of destruction through the South, bringing the horror of war home to the Southern people.
After four years of war, the Southern Confederacy was nearing collapse. Among most Southern leaders, the hope of defeating the North had vanished. However, they knew to secure an equitable peace Southern soldiers had to stand firm on the battlefield. The need for a Confederate victory to force negotiation was obvious to both Southern leaders and soldiers.
No other campaign in the entire war has contributed more to keeping alive sectional feeling than Sherman's march through Georgia and South Carolina. The march began in November, after the crops had been gathered.