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The March to the Sea

After destroying the city of Atlanta, Gen. William T. Sherman turned his attention to the rest of the state and ordered what is known in history as the March to the Sea. Union soldiers were under orders to forage liberally and live off the land as they marched from Atlanta to Savannah. Bringing war to the people by destroying personal property and the whole economy was unheard of until then. University of Georgia historian Emory Thomas acknowledges that this wartime event was seen by many as an ultimate act of barbarism. Marty Willett, a historic interpreter at the Jarrell Plantation in Jones County, focuses the story of Sherman’s march on one man, John Fitzgerald. Willett lists the farm animals owned by Mr. Fitzgerald and describes how he prepared for the arrival of Union soldiers by hiding his animals and burying cured meat. His slave, Prince Clark, tried to tell the soldiers where the meat was buried, but when it could not be found, the soldiers hung the slave by his thumbs. Ironically, he was rescued by his owner. Fate was not as kind to Mr. Fitzgerald. Willett recounts that Fitzgerald’s spirit was broken by the arrival, day after day, of soldiers who eventually took all the livestock, burned his cotton gin, and poured his cane syrup on the ground. Like most Georgians in Sherman’s path, he was left hopeless, angered, and in despair with no will to fight. The entire town of Griswoldville in Jones County, where the Navy Colt revolver was manufactured, was destroyed under orders from Sherman. Griswoldville was also the site of the only major battle in the March to the Sea. Reenactor J.C. Nobles recounts the financial impact of the march noting that of the $100 million of damage done in Georgia, Gen. Sherman estimated that $80 million of that was pure waste. Professor Thomas concludes that Sherman was doing his job as a professional soldier, and while some may disagree, the March to the Sea helped to shorten the war and bring peace to the nation.

Teacher tip: After viewing the Georgia Story, ask students to summarize the effectiveness of the March to the Sea on two fronts–at home and on battlefields not in the path of the march.