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?
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.