[December 24, 2019] The day before Christmas 1864, on this date, Union General William T. Sherman presented the city of Savannah, Georgia, to U.S. President Abraham Lincoln. Sherman captured the city after his famous March to the Sea from Atlanta. Savannah was the last major seaport that remained open to the Confederates.1
Intellectually, General Sherman was not just smart but creative, although not in a devious way like many commanders. Leaders learn early on that creativeness is challenging and often not rewarded. Yet, senior commanders must be imaginative and resourceful if they are to be successful. Sherman knew that to end the war, he had to starve the Confederate army of its supplies.
To do this, Sherman devised a risky strategy. He would cut loose from his supply lines and feed his army by forage, thus living off the land. For an army of 62,000 men, this was a monumental task. Sherman also divided his force into three parts and attempted to confuse the Confederates of his main goal: Savannah, Georgia.
General Sherman’s march across the state of Georgia is famous for the destruction it wrought. His forces destroyed anything that could be of use to the Confederate army; all industries, crops, livestock, and railroads. Savannah was the goal of Sherman because that is where he could link up with the U.S. Navy to receive supplies.
Now all General Sherman had to do was lay siege to the city. On December 17th, Sherman contacted Confederate General Hardee defending the city with an ultimatum – surrender or the city of Savannah will be destroyed. Hardee escaped with his command, and on December 21, the mayor of Savannah surrendered the city.
Known as “Sherman’s March to the Sea,” I even heard about it as a child living in the Deep South. Over 100 years after his destructive drive through Georgia, and the actions of his army still echoed through a century of time. Sherman telegraphed Lincoln with the message, “I beg to present you as a Christmas gift the City of Savannah, with one hundred and fifty guns and plenty of ammunition, also about twenty-five thousand bales of cotton.”2