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Sherman Spares Savannah

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I beg to present you a Christmas Gift, the City of Savannah . . .

                      — General Sherman to President Lincoln, telegram, December 22, 1864

Sherman reviewing his army in Savannah
Gen Sherman reviewing his army in Savannah before starting on his new campaign. Drawing by William Waud, December 1864.

One hundred fifty years ago in December 1864, General William T. Sherman and his troops completed their “March to the Sea” which had begun in mid November with the burning of Atlanta. Sherman’s Savannah Campaign was nearing completion as the two masses comprised of 30,000 men each had left behind parallel scorched paths through Georgia. Savannah’s destruction would complete the grim mission.

A preliminary step was to force the city’s residents to evacuate. With time on the Union side, the siege did not take long. After Fort McAllister fell and Confederate defenders within the city retreated, the mayor, realizing that Savannah was completely vulnerable, surrendered. In a December 22 telegram Sherman presented to President Lincoln an early Christmas gift, the spared city of Savannah (complemented by 150 heavy guns, abundant ammunition, and 25,000 bales of cotton).

Sherman at Savannah print.
Sherman at Savannah, Ga. Print by Major & Knapp, copyrighted 1865. [Note: The words of Sherman’s telegram to Lincoln are hand-annotated in the lower right corner of the print.]
Savannah, Georgia. Meldrim house, General Sherman's headquarters. Photograph.
Savannah, Georgia. Meldrim house, General Sherman’s headquarters. Photograph by Sam A. Cooley, 1865.

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  1. Sherman did not burn Atlanta. The Confederates did. When Sherman arrived, it was already ablaze. This misconception was made popular in books like Gone with the Wind. The only town that Sherman burned in Georgia was Milledgeville, after his troops found some prisoners from Andersonville. What people think Sherman did to Georgia, he actually did to South Carolina, with vigor.

    Savannah’s destruction was not his mission, its capture was. His purpose was to destroy the Confederates’ war-making capabilities. He had hoped for surrender. He even wrote a letter to the governor of Georgia offering to pay for his army’s food. A good concise account of this is available in Osprey Publishing’s “Sherman’s March to the Sea,” by David Smith

    John M., Savannah, GA.

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