On November 15th, 1864 Major-General William Tecumseh Sherman, commander of the Grand Army of the West, embarked on a raid which would become known as the march to the sea designed to cut a 60 mile wide swath from Atlanta to Savannah. Once in Savannah he would turn north through South and North Carolina and on into Virginia to help Grant defeat Lee at Richmond. As Sherman's soldiers were leaving Atlanta, now in flames, they went forward with the intent of shortening the Civil War. Sherman's troops accomplished this with a brand of warfare seen only sporadically in the previous four years of battle. Sherman decided to turn his attention on destroying the "enemy's war economy” (Oates, 1998, p.594), going after the infrastructure of the South. Along the way his troops burned, pillaged, stole personal belongings, and confiscate possessions and property of the civilian population. Did the end justify the means and was this a just course of action?
By November 1864, the Civil War had seen gruesome days to be sure. By the end of the war the total number of soldiers killed in combat and by disease and other non-combat related causes for both the North and South were 623, 026 (Foote, 1974). The total wounded for both sides were 471,427 (Foote, 1974). These numbers are staggering in that only 2,750,000 soldiers participated in the war. The battles of Manassas, Fredericksburg, Chancellorsville, Gettysburg, and Antietem to name a few, were some of the most bloody of the war. The Union Army had changed commanders many times, among them Meade, Hooker, McClellan twice, Burnside, and Grant. Ulysses S. Grant was there to stay. Grant's best subordinate officer was General Sherman.
Sherman had taken command of the Western Theater and pushed Joseph Johnston off Lookout Mountain outside of Chattanooga, then maneuvered him out of position after position until Johnston fell back upon Atlanta, where Joe Johnston was relieved and the firebrand John ...
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