On this day in 1864, nearly a week into the famous March to the Sea, the army of Union General William T. Sherman moves toward central Georgia, destroying property and routing small militia units it its path. Advanced units of the army skirmished with scattered Rebel forces at Clinton, Walnut Creek, East Macon, and Griswoldville, all in the vicinity of Macon.
The march began on November 15 and ended on December 21, 1864. Sherman led 62,000 troops for some 285 miles across Georgia and cut a path of destruction more than 50 miles wide. He divided his force into two columns and widened the swath of destruction. The Yankees cut away from their supply lines at Atlanta and generally lived off the land. What they did not consume, they destroyed. More than 13,000 cattle fell into Union hands, as well as 90,000 bales of cotton and numerous sawmills, foundries, cotton gins, and warehouses.
Sherman’s superiors, President Abraham Lincoln and General in Chief Ulysses S. Grant, endorsed his controversial tactic. Sherman planned, in his words, to “make Georgia howl,” and argued that, although it would be brutal, destroying the resources of the South could bring the war to aquicker end. Though he did not permit violence against civilians or the wanton destruction of property, there seemed to be little enforcement of that policy. The Union troops moved nearly unopposed across the region until they reached Savannah on December 21. The March to the Sea devastated Southern morale and earned Sherman the lasting hatred of many Southerners.