Sherman’s March to the Sea: So What?

Will Hickox asks:

Did Sherman’s March contribute materially to the defeat of the Confederacy? Instead of doing the logical thing for an army commander to do–march after the enemy force that was trying to win back Tennessee and invade the North–he merely left behind some forces for another general (Thomas) to organize and do the fighting, while he (Sherman) marched off in the opposite direction on a giant raid through enemy territory that offered no threat.

Did showing the Confederacy was a “hollow shell” make the march justified, or should he have dealt with Hood first?

Joshism observed:

I am under the impression Sherman felt he couldn’t deal with Hood after Atlanta fell. At that point, Sherman’s army was the exposed one as he couldn’t defend his supply line back to TN against Hood’s raids. Rather than trying to chase Hood around GA or AL with a strained supply line Sherman cut free instead.

Joshism’s observations may help explain why Sherman chose the course he did, but the question remains as to the role that the oft-heralded March to the Sea played in securing Confederate defeat. After all, it took place after Lincoln’s reelection, and one might observe that simply ripping up the rails would have left the Confederacy with a logistical nightmare. The rest of the destruction, while it may have had a material impact, served more to get into the hearts and minds of white Georgians.

I’ve posted on this issue before.

Richmond Falls, 1862: So What?

Commenter Shek asked:

Would the capture of Richmond in the 1862 Peninsula Campaign have ended the war? The thrust of the question is two-fold. First, would the Confederacy have simply surrendered or would it have moved the capital and carried on the fight. Second, pre-supposing that it would have resulted in surrender, since Union policy at the time was conciliation, the root cause of the war (slavery) would have remained, and so what would have prevent a renewal of hostilities in the future over some later spark?

There are a lot of what-ifs in that one, but one must consider them if one is to assess the importance of the Seven Days and Lee’s repulse of McClellan/McClellan’s change of base to the James.

Would the Confederacy have collapsed? I’m not sure. An evacuation of the capital elsewhere was possible. The capture of a capital does not always mean defeat or victory. Otherwise the United States would have been in a great deal of trouble, and the example of the Mexicans after the capture of Mexico City also stands out.

Would slavery have remained in place had the Confederacy surrendered in 1862? In the short term, yes. In the long term? Well, that’s where one’s imagination grounded in various assumptions takes flight. I also think one might ponder what a surrender would have looked like and what restoration would have looked like under those circumstances. I can see the Confederacy collapse and conflict continue, for example, at least for a while. Perhaps colonization takes hold as the best option under the circumstances … but a relatively intact southern interior might set the stage for a second conflict. Again, we don’t know.