Exit 106 in GA I-95s To: Jimmy DeLoach Pkwy No Services near Savannah, GA
This week in 1864, General William Tecumseh Sherman’s troops departed Atlanta for the March to the sea. Often history is best told in the words of the combatants themselves. As the sounds of war approached, the Mayor of Savannah, R. D. Arnold, wrote this letter to General Sherman : “The city of Savannah was last night evacuated by the Confederate military and is now entirely defenseless. As chief magistrate of the city I respectfully request your protection of the lives and private property of the citizens and of our women and children. Trusting that this appeal to your generosity and humanity may favorably influence your action, I have the honor to be, your obedient servant.”
Later, the Mayor rode out to offer the formal surrender of the city. The offer was accepted. Union officers promised to protect Savannah's citizens and their property. By 8am, Savannah was in Union hands.
Still, visitors to any of Savannah’s homes are not likely to find a portrait of General William Tecumseh Sherman. In another Georgia City, Atlantans who live many miles north west of here jokingly credit Sherman for inspiring an "urban renewal project”. It was the railroad and armaments hub of the Confederacy. Knock out Atlanta and the Southern war effort would be all but dead. Nobody knew it better than Sherman. Starting in July, his torch throwing solders reduced 4000 homes to ashes. Throughout Georgia, they set fire to plantations, slaughtered cattle and turned the rails into twisted, molten steel. They occupied Atlanta for two months. Only a few churches, a medical college and about 400 homes were saved.
But Sherman had plans for Savannah all the same. It would pose as a propaganda piece. A Christmas gift to the Union. And even perhaps a premonition that the north could be forgiving of the Rebel South. As the Civil War entered its final five months, Union General William Tecumseh Sherman sent a message to President Lincoln notifying him that he had captured the city of Savannah, thereby completing his three hundred mile “March to the Sea” that had begun in Atlanta.
Sherman’s letter was published in the December 26 edition of The New York Times. It read, “I beg to present you as a Christmas gift, the city of Savannah.”
President Lincoln wrote back to Sherman:
“Many, many thanks for your Christmas-gift, the capture of Savannah. When you were about to leave Atlanta for the Atlantic coast, I was anxious, if not fearful; but feeling that you were the better judge, and remembering that ‘nothing risked, nothing gained’ I did not interfere. Now, the undertaking being a success, the honor is all yours.”
After Savannah, Sherman did not however lay down his scorched earth policy. Sherman’s troops marched north through the Carolinas, again destroying everything in their path, including the South Carolina capital of Columbia.
Sherman’s tactics remain one of the most controversial subjects of the war. Many argue that he brought unnecessary hardship upon the Southern people. As Sherman himself saw it, the sooner the end of the war, the better for everyone. And by being chivalrous just prolonged the suffering interminably.
This then became the future of warfare. It was called Total War. But lucky Savannah managed to avoid Total Warfare. So get off the next exit if you want to see an untouched antebellum gem that is the city of Savannah.
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