Much is made of the marches conduced by William T. Sherman through Georgia (the late fall of 1864) and the Carolinas (mid-winter 1865). The stories are the stuff of legend, myth, and memory. They are cited as illustrative of Sherman’s modern approach to war, and just the type of operation that was designed to break the Confederate will to resist. Sherman himself characterized the march through Georgia as “statesmanship.”
Really? Might it not be argued that these marches were not only necessary, but also counterproductive? After all, when Sherman embarked on his march to the sea in November 1864, Lincoln was already reelected. Sure, one could argue that short of withdrawing northward toward Chattanooga or pursuing John Bell Hood’s Army of Tennessee that Sherman had no other options, and that marching toward Savannah was but one step in an effort to commence a strategy designed to close out the war in Virginia. But did any of the destruction really hamper the Confederate war effort? Wouldn’t it have been just as well to wreck some railroads and leave it at that? And might not the destruction have been counterproductive to Lincoln’s own approach of “with malice toward none, and charity to all,” words uttered just over two weeks after Sherman had entered Columbia, South Carolina?
Were the marches necessary … or wise?