Today marks the 150th anniversary of the beginning of the end for the Confederacy in the Eastern Theater. On November 15, 1864, Major General William Tecumseh Sherman led his Union troops on a rampage, sweeping through Georgia while reeking havoc, destruction, and terror on the citizens of the state. It was Sherman’s idea that war should be inflicted on the weak and innocent: no one was immune. “Total war” began two months earlier, when General Philip Sheridan’s Union army stripped the Shenandoah Valley of its resources.
After capturing Atlanta, Sherman’s Federal forces set off for Savannah on November 16. Intending to destroy all Confederate supply surpluses, Sherman also granted liberties to his soldiers that today would seem obscenely, politically incorrect. Some of his orders were as follows:
“… should guerrillas or bushwhackers molest our march, or should the inhabitants burn bridges, obstruct roads, or otherwise manifest local hostility, then army commanders should order and enforce a devastation more or less relentless according to the measure of such hostility …
“… The army will forage liberally on the country during the march. To this end, each brigade commander will organize a good and sufficient foraging party … who will gather, near the route traveled, corn or forage of any kind, meat of any kind, vegetables, corn-meal, or whatever is needed by the command …
“As for horses, mules, wagons, &c., belonging to the inhabitants, the cavalry and artillery may appropriate freely and without limit … Foraging parties may also take mules or horses to replace the jaded animals of their trains, or to serve as pack-mules for the regiments or brigades.”
– William T. Sherman , Military Division of the Mississippi Special Field Order 120, November 9, 1864
Sherman’s orders were not strictly enforced, so many “bummers” took advantage of defenseless civilians. Margaret Mitchell’s classic “Gone With the Wind” portrays Southern characters engulfed in the trials of the tumultuous “march,” particularly those of Scarlet O’Hara.