To His Excellency President Lincoln, Washington, D.C.:
I beg to present to you as a Christmas gift the city of Savannah, with one hundred and fifty guns and plenty of ammunition, also about twenty-five thousand bales of cotton.
/s/ W.T. SHERMAN, Major-General
Thus ended the Historic March to the Sea, 150 years ago this week. Thus also ended any notion, as expounded ad nauseum in Confederate newspapers since his departure from a captured and neutered Atlanta exactly 37 days before, that he was on the run out of enemy territory like Napoleon fleeing Moscow. No, this was a historic military maneuver that ushered in a concept of total war against the civilian population that made the war possible and a logistical marvel of living off the forage of an enemy’s land. In Georgia, midway through the March, after no Plantation owners chose to fight for their land, Sherman concluded what he had suspected:
“Pierce the shell of the C.S.A. and it’s all hollow inside.”
William Tecumseh Sherman’s capture of the Confederate railroad hub in Atlanta on September 2, 1864 ensured the re-election of President Abraham Lincoln and the defeat of his Democrat opponent and former failed Union general who most surely would have brokered a peace with the C.S.A., thus making permanent the sundering of the United States of America begun with arms at Fort Sumter, South Carolina.
Sherman’s pending March through South Carolina to show the progenitors of secession what they had wrought first hand would cement the general’s reputation as a “modern-day Caesar”, in the words of the Confederate General P.G.T. Beauregard who ordered the first shot in Charleston Harbor, due to his astounding slog on Union Army-built corduroy roads through the Salkehatchie swamps of the South Carolina Low Country.
During the earlier stages of the March begun on Novemeber 15, 1864 and just completed on December 21, 1864, Sherman made it plain that the “war is on our part a war against anarchy”, further declaring that:
“The law is or should be our king; we should obey it, not because it is meets our approval but because it is the law and because obedience is some shape is necessary in every system of civilized government.”
Would that President Barack Obama and the Democrats of this day had learned the lesson taught and learned by The South 150 years ago.
On Day Five of the March in Newborn (Sandtown), Georgia, the General conversed with a “queer old cock” named John A. Pitts who had founded the village, and was given the full Sherman lecture against the South’s hopeless cause, and who agreed and confessed that the “Confederates were a great deal worse than [Sherman’s] men, that they pillaged and plundered everybody, and the inhabitants dreaded their coming.”
Negroes along the way flocked to the Union troops. An Ohio infantryman said, “you could see hope in their eyes.” One black man explained why so many followed the troops: “We must go. Freedom is as sweet to us as it is to you.”
“And go with us they did,”, added the soldier.
Just as the troops began to leave Newborn, an elderly black man there died. A black woman attending him said to the soldier: “He dead, suh! But bless God he died free!
In Louisville at the Hodgson plantation, a Minnesota soldier, who passed two bales of the thousands burned along the March, related to an Illinois compatriot that they mentally exclaimed, “Cotton is not King!” A Wisconsin man thought it a “splendid sight to see cotton gins burn.”
Sherman met an elderly slave among several near Millen and discussed the problem of large numbers of freed slaves following their army. The elderly slave, very knowledgeable of African-American history including the service of blacks for General Andrew Jackson at New Orleans during the War of 1812 (200 years ago this month and next culminating on January 8, 1815), agreed that they should “stay put.” Asked would blacks fight for the Confederacy, as was being considered by Confederate President Jefferson Davis, the elderly slave replied:
“No, Sir, de day dey gives us arms, dat day de war ends!”
The war would finally end the following Spring at Appomattox Court House, Virginia when General Robert E. Lee would surrender his sword to Union General Ulysses S. Grant. Our commemorations of the 150th anniversary of the War Between the States will continue next year. But as we celebrate Christmas, thank God that happier New Years were made possible in free United States thanks to men like Sherman, Grant and Lincoln.
[Originally published at Examiner.com and see our archives here for all previous columns commemorating Sherman’s Atlanta Campaign and March to the Sea.]
“What our forefathers with so much difficulty secured, do not basely relinquish.” – William Bradford