After resting and resupplying his army after capturing Atlanta, General Sherman took a portion of his army to Savannah. In his march he would destroy valuable food supplies.
After General Sherman captured Atlanta, the South stood no chance of winning the war. The Confederacy had been defeated in Georgia. However, to make sure that everyone knew that further resistance was futile, General Sherman began a new campaign.
Much of Atlanta was reduced to ruins and General Sherman's "March to the Sea" became one of the most famous and controversial episodes of the war. This march through the heart of the South, he believed was, the most effective way to spread a sense of helplessness. It is difficult to say how much this crushed people's morale. Many still question whether the devastation was carried too far.
General Sherman spent 10 weeks resting his army, damaging local communications and making his plans.
All civilians were evacuated. While General Sherman planned, General Hood's Confederate Army attempted to cut General Sherman's supply line. A Union garrison won a small battle at Allatoona Pass, but General Hood failed to break the Union supply line.
In a bold and desperate gamble, General Hood tried to get General Sherman to abandon Atlanta and come in pursuit of him.
General Sherman pursued with a force of 40,000 men, but his slower pace confirmed by a message sent to General Grant on October 9 proved that he did not really want to chase general Hood's army. General Sherman desired only to start his march through Georgia.
Sherman returned to Atlanta, and on November 14, and 15, burned it.
After stating "I can make Georgia howl!", on November 15, 1864 General Sherman set out for the sea. His 62,000 troops moved slowly covering a front sixty miles wide. His soldiers had orders to destroy anything and everything that might help the Rebels.
They tore down and burned bridges, railroads, machine shops, warehouses and barns. Food for men and animals was taken as needed, but most was simply destroyed. In areas where the army was not resisted, private residences, farm buildings and mills were sometimes spared.
Since General Hood's army had moved to Tennessee, General Sherman's march was opposed only by Major General Joseph Wheeler's corps of cavalry, Major General Gustavas W. Smith's Georgia militia and a few local defense units. Their total strength at no time would exceed 8,500 men. General Sherman expected that the only sizable force to be encountered would be the 18,000 man garrison under Lt. General William J. Hardee at Savannah. Small battles were fought at Griswoldville and Milledgeville, but the only major battle was at Fort McAllister near Savannah.
Feeding the Union army off the land was a necessary part of General Sherman's plan.
Each of the regiments organized foraging parties, which kept near enough to be of support if attacked by an Confederates. Each party set out in the morning and returned at the end of the day. These parties were prohibited from entering homes or damaging private property. In the best disciplined divisions, these orders were enforced.
Discipline in the Union armies, however, was not even. Among 62,000 men, there were those willing to become robbers, and officers were often willing to ignore these actions or to share in the loot. The name given to these looters was "bummers". General Sherman probably could have controlled them, but he said his job was to get his army safely to the sea. He could not spare the manpower or energy to protect the people of Georgia.
By December 10, General Sherman had nearly reached Savannah. He moved 250 miles in 26 days. On December 13, he attacked and took Fort McAllister, and established a connection between himself and the Union Navy. He could now supply his troops from the sea.
The forces defending Savannah evacuated the city on December 21, and General Sherman moved in. General Sherman sent President Lincoln a telegram, offering him Savannah as a Christmas present.
On his march, General Sherman left a swath of destruction and ruin. He estimated the damage at one hundred million dollars of which eighty million was simply waste and destruction. With less than 2,200 casualties, General Sherman had destroyed a large portion of the South's war potential.
From Savannah, General Sherman moved North on February 1, 1865 with orders to join General Grant in Virginia, where he held General Robert E. Lee under siege. The burning and destruction continued in the South.
On April 9, 1865, General Robert E. Lee surrendered to General Grant at Appomattox.
When the last remnants of the Southern army surrendered at Bentonville, North Carolina, the war ended.