Through the Heart of the South
The great Civil War was drawing to a close. The exhausted Confederacy was bleeding to death. There was a shortage of men and supplies, but the South was hanging on desperately to a cause that already was doomed. Grant and Lee were fighting it out in Virginia, while Sherman, the Northern General, having captured Atlanta, was making ready for his march to the sea.
His army of sixty thousand men was unopposed. The fair, open country was before them, with the harvests of the fall already gathered in the barns. It was to be a march of destruction, but without violence to the people themselves.
"The people must feel the hard hand of war. It is better to lose property than to lose lives. This is the best means to end the war," were the reflections of General Sherman, as his men started out on their six-weeks, holiday march to the sea.
The distance was three hundred miles, and the soldiers were told to live on the country, as they advanced. There was no need of wagon trains, when the land was provided with food which was being gathered for the Confederate soldiers in Virginia.
The Federal army spread out to cover a front of forty miles. The men had orders to march about fifteen miles a day, and to forage as they went along. These foragers brought in poultry, vegetables, cattle, and food supplies of all kinds. They had orders not to destroy property needlessly, but these orders were not strictly observed, and, in many instances, farm houses, gin houses, and cotton crops were burned, while fields were laid waste. Often, the horses were taken from the farms, and the cows and hogs were driven away or else slaughtered for the immediate use of the soldiers.
In spite of regulations, a large number of "bummers" and thieves followed the army, who were not responsible to any orders. Before these bandits the Southern people were helpless. They not only robbed houses of their provisions, but took away silver ware, clothing and valuable articles of furniture.
In order to do as much damage as possible, the soldiers tore up the railroad tracks, burned the ties, and, heating the rails, bent many of them around the telegraph poles. In this way, a path of desolation was cut through the heart of the South, that did much to hasten the inevitable end of the conflict.
The Federal army was followed by crowds of negroes, many of them neither knowing where they were headed, nor what the march meant. They were just moving along with the soldiers, careless and happy, singing their songs, by night, and helping the marching men, by day.
"Bless de Lord, we'se free, and we'se gwine along wid dese sojers," said one old woman with a child in her arms.
"But where are you going, and what will you do when you get there?" asked one of the officers.
"Dat makes no diffunce now. Dat's a mont' off. I nevah looks dat fur ahead," was the philosophical reply.
The soldiers traveled along leisurely. The weather was good, the supplies were sufficient, the march was unopposed. All the telegraph lines were cut, and no news of their whereabouts was sent to the North. They were having a holiday, after the hard fighting of the first part of the year.
Finally, after much anxiety on the part of the North, General Sherman reached Savannah. On Christmas Eve he sent a message to President Lincoln:
"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."
Thus it was that Sherman's army marched through Georgia, doing no violence to the people, but doing a property damage that was estimated at one hundred millions of dollars. Such is the sad havoc of war.