I beg to present you a Christmas Gift, the City of Savannah . . .
— General Sherman to President Lincoln, telegram, December 22, 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).
- Look within the Civil War images available in the Prints & Photographs Online Catalog for 80 pictures related to Savannah from the Civil War era including photographs, prints, drawings, and even envelopes.
- Read news accounts of the Savannah Campaign in Topics in Chronicling America — Sherman’s March to the Sea, a part of the digital collection of American historic newspapers called Chronicling America.
- The city of Savannah is a living museum of American architectural history. Starting at the Savannah River and driving inland is akin to traveling along an architectural timeline. One will see numerous examples of housing styles dating back to the early eighteenth century and progressing through the decades. Take a virtual tour of homes with over 140 surveys found in the Historic American Buildings Survey (HABS)/Historic American Engineering Record (HAER)/Historic American Landscapes Survey (HALS) collections.
- See close to 300 photographs of houses, churches, and forts in Savannah in the Carnegie Survey of Architecture of the American South taken in the 1930s by noted architectural photographer Frances Benjamin Johnston.
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.