General Sherman on the “March to the Sea,” 1865

A primary source by William T. Sherman

William T. Sherman to James H. Wilson, January 21, 1865. (GLC02947)In the fall of 1864, Gen. James H. Wilson took command of Gen. William T. Sherman’s cavalry. Sherman and Wilson met and discussed various operations in Sherman’s “March to the Sea” from Atlanta to Savannah, Georgia. Wilson’s instructions were to prevent Confederate Gen. John B. Hood from operating in Tennessee, to sweep through Alabama and Georgia, and to rejoin Sherman in either the Carolinas or Virginia.

Shortly after that meeting, Wilson and his 17,000 cavalry soldiers joined Gen. George H. Thomas’s troops in destroying Hood’s army. This letter, written on January 21, a month after the fall of Savannah on December 21, 1864, shows both Sherman and Wilson ready to begin the second phase of their plan: Sherman would march through the Carolinas and Wilson would take Alabama. The colorful General Sherman uses typically brash language to describe how he “knocked daylight through Georgia.”

A full transcript is available.


Headquarters, Military Division of the Mississippi,
In the Field, Savannah, Geo 1865
January 21,    

Dear Wilson,

I got yours of January 5, and am glad to reciprocate your Kind expressions. I remember well our talks at the Camp fire at Gaylesville and think we have Cause of personal Congratulation that we have worked out the Calculation of that time. I knocked daylight through Georgia, and in retreating to the s[outh] like a sensible man I gathered up some plunder and walked into this beautiful City, whilst you & Thomas gave Hood & Forest, a taste of what they have to Expect by trying to meddle with our Conquered Territory. Kirkpatrick did very well and by Circling round pretty freely he Completely bamboozled Wheeler and so befuddled Hardee that he had no idea what was going on. – It is time for me to be off again for Columbia, but it has been raining hard and the Country is all under water, but I will soon be off. Kirkpatrick will have to keep close to our Infantry as Wheeler has a superior force but Kirkpatrick did whip him fairly at Waynesboro and thinks he can do it [ag]ain. I want Thomas to make the trip to Selma but can only give him general instructions.

I know that there is plenty of Forage in Alabama after you get 60 miles south of the Tennessee River all along down the Tombigbee and Black [Rivers] to arrive in large fields of Corn last fall, also below Talladega on the Coosa. The proper Route is from Decatur & Eastport to Columbia, then Tuscaloosa, Selma, and up the Coosa or Tallapoosa to Rome.

[text loss]

[written in another hand]

My route north is well inland

                           W. T. Sherman
                                          Maj Gen

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