By the summer of 1864, Robert E. Lee and the Confederate army had their backs against the wall and their supplies were slowly being bled dry. Union officer William T. Sherman had captured Atlanta and the Union navy had rendered Mobile Bay in the Gulf of Mexico useless for the Confederates as a port. With Lee defending Virginia, Confederate John Bell Hood decided he would try to counterattack against the Union forces in order to alleviate some of the pressure felt by the civilians as well as the army. Hood wanted to march to Chattanooga in an attempt to bring Sherman’s forces back to Tennessee as well as hoping to recapture long-lost Tennessee to give the fading Confederacy some hope. Hood’s plan was to take back Chattanooga as a doorstep to the rest of Tennessee and Kentucky to turn the tide of the war in the western theater, where fighting for the Confederacy had ultimately proved disastrous. Though Hood believed that his movements would raw Sherman away to protect the Union supply lines and Chattanooga, he did not bite.
Instead of moving his entire army to counter Hood’s movements, Sherman sent a small part of the army led by George Thomas to Tennessee while Sherman continued onward. Ulysses S. Grant had developed a plan to bring a war of attrition to the Confederates in hopes that it would quicken their defeat. Sherman took this plan to the next step, hoping to make life hell for the Confederate civilians as he marched through Georgia and the Carolinas. Hood’s march toward Tennessee was short lived as he was defeated by the Union Army of the Cumberland, which had gained notoriety in the western theater of war through many victories. At Nashville in the winter of 1864 Hood was crushed by Thomas and ended Hood’s campaign before it ever gained any sort of momentum. Hood’s army was routed and he was left with a force not even strong enough to fight, with less men than many single battles had taken as casualties.
With Hood being taken care of, Sherman was free after his capture of Atlanta to continue across Georgia and tear through the heart of the Confederacy, including South Carolina, the symbolic state of the Confederacy that had led the push for secession. On his so-called “March to the Sea” Sherman hoped to ruin the Confederate land and the supplies he came across to not only destroy any supplies the Confederate army could possibly use, but to do it in such a fashion that the Confederate civilians would be so horrified that their morale would plummet as they lost all faith in the Confederate cause. Sherman was largely successful in fulfilling these goals.
The amount of damage Sherman’s army caused was tremendous. Agriculture and industry suffered a huge blow as they tore up the land as they travelled, destroying supply lines by tearing up the railroads. The railroads that Sherman’s troops tore up were they heated until they could be bent into loops, a symbol of Sherman’s march to the sea that is known as “Sherman’s Neckties” because of the resemblance the misshapen railroad ties now made. As Confederate morale, indeed, plummeted, the amazing progress Sherman made in November and December caused Northern morale to come back from a dip and increase quickly as Sherman’s success on his march complimented his capture of Atlanta at a time where news of Northern success was being limited.
Almost unmatched, William Tecumseh Sherman marched straight through Georgia and into South Carolina, rampaging through this state with just about as much ease as had been seen after Sherman left Atlanta. The troops were especially harsh on the symbol of Confederate secession because of what it symbolized to Southern civilians who still believed in the war effort. The Confederates could do little to stop or even defend themselves against Sherman in the first state to secede from the Union. Sherman’s campaign carried through winter and into the spring of 1865 as Sherman overtook Charleston and Columbia at the beginning of the new year. As Sherman’s troops marched through North Carolina the amount of territory under Union control seemed endless and the Confederate army was now cornered because of what came to resemble the original Anaconda Plan set forth at the onset of the war.
Archer Jones and Herman Hattaway – “How the North Won: A Military History of the Civil War”
James McPherson – “Battle Cry of Freedom: The Civil War Era”