CHENOWETH: Will Southerners ever get it right about Sherman?

Special to The TelegraphJuly 9, 2014 

Mary Ann Anderson’s charming little trip down antebellum lane in Sunday’s edition unfortunately began with the South’s stubborn misconception about Maj. Gen. William Tecumseh Sherman’s “March Through Georgia” in the War Between the States.

Chased all the way from the Mississippi through Tennessee and now down through northern Georgia, the Confederate Army under Maj. Gen. John Bell Hood headed back up toward Nashville, leaving Atlanta to Sherman. Only the brilliant 27-year-old Confederate Cavalry Maj. Gen. Joe Wheeler and his 5,000 troopers were left to harass the Yankees.

Atlanta in 1864 was just a small railroad junction town of about 9,000 -- nothing like portrayed in “Gone With the Wind.” The state capital was in the slightly larger town of Milledgeville. On Sept. 2, to rest and recoup, Sherman and his army marched into the town that Hood and most of the residents had abandoned. Sherman then ordered the rest of the residents to vacate -- a move that raised the ire of Georgians and that of Confederate President Jeff Davis, who had come to Macon to confer with generals Hardee and Hood.

Prior to the launching of the March to the Sea, Sherman issued explicit orders that: “No inhabitants, nor their houses, nor their slaves, nor their means of livelihood, were to be harmed or interfered with. Only fodder, farm produce, livestock, poultry, tools and cotton were to be confiscated” (all warfare up to then was conducted similarly).

Upon departing Atlanta on November 16th, the Yankees destroyed and burned any stores and structures that might assist the Rebels. In their wake, Rebel marauders and stragglers destroyed and torched the rest -- as Sherman’s troops looked back and witnessed the conflagration.

Sherman formed his army in two massive columns of 30,000 each, one of which feinted toward Augusta, the other, toward Macon.

Each column, with its soldiers and supply trains, stretched some 20 miles in length and took 24 hours to pass a given point. They comprised 2,500 mule-drawn ammunition and supply wagons with 20 to 40 days provisions. Outriders fanned from the columns short distances to forage within the limits Sherman had defined.

Behind the troops marching four abreast and the wagons came 5,000 head of cattle to be slaughtered on the way, and there were over 20,000 horses to feed and some to replace as well.

Each regiment had it own band (the members of which in combat became casualty carriers) and approaching many a small town would break out in stirring renditions of “Dixie.”

Furthermore, the ladies of the plantations (in order to protect themselves) graciously invited Sherman and his top officers to dine with them and their daughters. The Union officers were gentlemen and some returned after the war to court the Southern belles they had met.

Contrary to legend, Shermans’ army did not cut a 60-mile wide swath of destruction and devastation across Georgia; they did destroy specifically those things that would aid and abet the Rebel enemy, the railroads and telegraphs, etc., but bypassed even the arms factories in Augusta and Macon.

The only serious battle was a small engagement at Griswoldville near Macon that was valiantly -- but tragically -- defended by old men and boys, 500 of whom died. Otherwise, casualties were mostly from disease.

What Sherman accomplished was to finalize the severing of the South as the Union Navy encircled it, and upon fighting his way northward through South and North Carolina, would have met up with Grant to defeat Gen. Robert E. Lee, had not Lee been forced to surrender beforehand.

Perhaps a Southern generation will some day get over the vitriol of Reconstruction and get their facts straight about Sherman. Inadvertently, Sherman’s real contribution to warfare came forth in the World War II bombings of enemy industrial complexes far behind the lines.

Sherman and Grant were the North’s best generals -- almost as good as our Robert E. Lee, Stonewall Jackson, J.E.B. Stuart, James Longstreet, Nathan B. Forrest, and A.P. Hill -- and, of course, Joseph Wheeler.

Avery Chenoweth Sr. is a resident of Perry.

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