Sherman's March to the Sea

  • 0:03 Sherman Heads for Atlanta
  • 2:01 The Election of 1864
  • 3:07 Sherman's March to the Sea
  • 4:33 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Alexandra Lutz

Alexandra has taught students at every age level from pre-school through adult. She has a BSEd in English Education.

In 1864, General William T. Sherman began his Atlanta campaign. His success assured Lincoln's re-election in 1864. Sherman then began his destructive March to the Sea in order to capture Savannah.

Sherman Heads for Atlanta

'We are not only fighting hostile armies, but a hostile people, and must make old and young, rich and poor, feel the hard hand of war.' - William Tecumseh Sherman

Sherman reached Atlanta successfully by going around Confederate lines.
Sherman Heads to Atlanta Map

In 1864, General Ulysses S. Grant planned a two-part offensive to capture Richmond, the capital of the Confederacy and win the war. One part of that plan was for Grant to wear down Confederate General Robert E. Lee's army in a war of attrition, reducing his ability to keep fighting in the east. The second part was for General William Tecumseh Sherman to leave Chattanooga, Tennessee, and capture Atlanta. The two arms of the Union army began their campaigns almost simultaneously in early May 1864.

Soon after Sherman's Atlanta campaign began, Confederate General Joseph Johnston entrenched himself in Sherman's path. But Sherman, having learned the lessons of the eastern army, avoided deadly frontal confrontations. Instead, he moved around the Southern lines, forcing Johnston to continually retreat into another prepared line. This advance lasted for three months, incorporating seventeen engagements with two different Southern commanders. But by late July, he was within sight of Atlanta and dug in for a month-long siege, warning the residents of the city to evacuate. They sent him a letter, begging him to change his mind. This is part of his reply:

'Those who brought war into our country deserve all the curses and maledictions a people can pour out? You might as well appeal against the thunder-storm as against these terrible hardships of war? Now you must go, and take with you the old and feeble, feed and nurse them, and build for them, in more quiet places, proper habitations to shield them against the weather until the mad passions of men cool down, and allow the Union and peace once more to settle over your old homes in Atlanta.'

The Election of 1864

Lincoln chose a Southerner to run with him in the election of 1864.
Presidential Candidates 1864

On September 2nd, Sherman did capture Atlanta. It was good news for President Abraham Lincoln, who was in a hotly contested bid for re-election. For more than three decades, no incumbent had won a second term. Plus, the public was tired of war and death, and Lincoln had many opponents. Besides the Democrats, who nominated former Union commander George McClellan, Radical Republicans formed a third party to challenge him, nominating John Frémont. In a move to attract more voters, Lincoln dumped his former vice president and selected Andrew Johnson, a War Democrat from Tennessee - the only Southerner to remain in the United States Senate - to be his running mate. However, when Sherman captured Atlanta, nothing else mattered. Public morale soared, Frémont dropped out of the race, and Lincoln won an electoral landslide in the election of 1864. (Of course, none of the Southern states participated.)

What came next was most aptly described by Sherman himself: 'War is Hell.'

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