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William Sherman’s March To The Sea Impact

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Published: 23rd Sep 2019 in History

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How significant was William Sherman’s March To The Sea on the post-war recovery and reintegration of Georgia?

Identification and Evaluation of Source

This investigation will explore the question: How significant was William Sherman’s March To The Sea on the post-war recovery and reintegration of Georgia? The entire Reconstruction era of the South, from the Emancipation of 1863 to the Compromise of 1877, will be examined in order to examine both the immediate effects and its impact on long-term recovery and reintegration of the southern people, as it is this time period where the region can be examined before, during, and long after the march. The state of Georgia will be focused on, as it is the region that was most affected directly by William Sherman’s March.

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 A woman’s wartime journal; an account of the passage over a Georgia plantation of Sherman’s army on the march to the sea, as recorded in the diary of Dolly Sumner Lunt is a diary written by a Georgian woman who first-handedly experienced Sherman’s March in 1864. The origin of this source is valuable because the author, as a victim, provides a profound material and emotional insight on how communities and individual lives were affected rather than a mundane, objective report of statistics. This source is limited, however, by the narrow perspective given—as it is the unique recounting of one highly specific region and individual, it is impossible to apply the implications to the rest of the state and its people.

 The purpose of this diary is for the author to write what she feels and to keep a record of her thoughts on William Sherman’s army specifically. This is valuable because there is no intent to persuade or appeal to anyone while focusing entirely on her thoughts and the events that occured. Additionally, the time after the march is also described, allowing a glimpse of the sentiments and the recovery of the people. However, it is limited in that it skips around in time and omits many details because of the same lack of intent to inform anyone else other than herself, leaving the author to only write when she feels like it.

 Sherman’s March; Journal Of An Eye-Witness by an unnamed correspondent of The New York Times is a newspaper article of a first-hand recounting of a man, unaffiliated with the army, who followed Sherman’s army as they marched through Georgia. The origin of this source is valuable because the correspondent provides a mixture of commentary and reports on not just fighting, but also interactions with civilians, soldiers, officers, and slaves during the march. Other sources, whether through officers or soldiers, would not provide such a broad context of the events. The limitations of the origin is that the correspondent works for a Union newspaper and thus has a biased view on the events as he is against the Southern people and the Rebels.

 The purpose of this source is for propaganda, detailing the actions of the Union Army as they crippled the South and weakened their morale. This is valuable because it highlights all of the successes of Sherman’s Army, which is the destruction that affects the Georgian recovery and reintegration. However, it is limited in providing all of the observations. The reader must keep in mind that as a tool of propaganda, all recountings must be taken into question as they may not be entirely accurate.

Investigation

 Sherman’s March to the Sea is one of the most controversial events in the Civil War: while militarily practical, a “scorched earth” policy left a huge psychological mark on the residents whose industry, agriculture, and infrastructure were ruthlessly destroyed. Of course, demoralizing and hurting the people and economy of the South was the goal of this military campaign, which is often considered a contributor to the eventual Union victory[1]. However, in the following years in Georgia, the “success” of this march would be seen in both the recovery of the industries and economy as well as the reintegration of the people into society and the nation.

 The immediate effects of the campaign created both a rift and an economic hurdle: an estimated total of 100 million (1.4 billion today) dollars was destroyed[2]. Even though Sherman’s orders were for army commanders to “enforce a devastation more or less relentless, according to the measure of such hostility” through the destruction of infrastructure with military value, such as mills, bridges, roads, and cotton-gins[3], there were cases where civilian property that could not have contributed to military efforts were damaged, despite clear orders not to[4]: “homes were burned up, and the Union engineer claimed they were accidents.”[5] Additionally, the location of the campaign and the resources at hand did not allow Sherman to march conventionally. He was unable to sustain his troops with supply lines in the hostile territory, so he opted to have his troops “live off the land.” As a result, most of the Union soldiers would forage, steal, and rob the local populace as they marched across Georgia. An estimated “5,000 horses, 4,000 mules, 13,000 head of cattle, 9.5 million pounds of corn, and 10.5 million pounds of fodder[6][7]” were confiscated during the march. Not only was capital needed for livelihood destroyed, but soldiers also took away private property away. This is sure to cause social confusion and ill feelings towards the north after the war. One woman recounts such and event: “A few minutes elapsed, and two couriers riding rapidly passed back. Then, presently, more soldiers came by, and this ended the passing of Sherman’s army by my place, leaving me poorer by thirty thousand dollars than I was yesterday morning. And a much stronger Rebel!”[8] With the same events taking place throughout the rest of the March, it is unsurprising that these sentiments would slow down the reintegration of the same civilians amongst a government that ordered such actions.

According to a study done by the National Bureau of Economic Research, the devastated industries greatly hindered the recovering process during the Reconstruction. The civilians in the path of Sherman’s March were forced to rebuild their towns while not having the financial means to do so. Agriculture was completely ruined: what Sherman’s troops did not forage for the sustenance of their campaign was often torched[9]. Agricultural and manufacturing outcomes before and after the march were compared in the local regions, showing a great discrepancy in output and processes. These negative effects were found to have persisted for more than five decades after. This meant that in the long-run, Reconstruction was slowed, and this decline kept up until the 1920s[10]. Manufacturing was stated to be more complicated, with economic factors such as changing demands affecting the analysis. However, like agriculture, there is significant correlation between the output before and after the war. The value of many agricultural goods, such as farms and livestock, declined between 14% to 21% more in march counties from 1860 to 1870 relative to the unaffected counties[11]. In the entire path, this correlation was established; overall, these results show that the capital destruction caused by Sherman’s march had a very significant effect on the local agricultural economy, with the effects still seen over six years later.

As a result of this, many resources were lacking in the path of Sherman’s March.

On an overall economic view, there was an influx of investment into the southern industries and agriculture that ensued. While output capabilities were drastically restricted by the sudden and widespread destruction, this gave way to opportunity for businessmen to reinvest and allowed a shift in the type of output. An examination of this investment allows a comparison with the other states that show the predicted and possible growth of the economy. Before 1860, the sectors of both manufacturing and agriculture were both small and local. Strong development resulted, and overall manufacturing grew “substantially in the second part of the century relative to the pre-war level; after declining from $71M in 1860 to $57M in 1870, southern manufacturing and mining output grew to $100M in 1880[12] Compared to the states not directly affected by Sherman’s march, there was a substantial decline in both absolute and relative values[13]. When comparing the pre-war (1860) capital to the subsequent two decades, the overall capital in Georgia had declined 30% more than in non-Sherman counties[14]. The immediate effects were even more substantial in both industry and agriculture, and the recovery was slower as well.

In addition, there was the problem of the newly freed slaves, which completely disrupted the social and political climate. A Georgian, when interviewed on this topic, said that this made the situation for the “negro and the poor white man” even worse, as now they are bitter enemies competing for the same, limited work[15]. Additionally, slaves flocked to Sherman’s march by the droves and this dislocated many of them throughout the state as many considered themselves free.[16]

Socially, the impact could not be measured, but rather described through general sentiment and personal opinions. Very few historians would disagree that the destruction of homes and property did not result in southern resentment for the rest of the war and afterwards. In the recovery phase, these feelings of dissent and bitterness slowed the reunification of Georgia and the Union. Georgia was very uncooperative, especially since there were federal soldiers stationed everywhere in the state. Added with the fact that there was very little compensation by the government for the damages done by the army, the social climate was detrimental to reintegration. In fact, it even strengthened division: one man believed that the “Northern people will upbraid them for having so much forbearance” after having “giving up property on the demands of the United States Government…. Without compensation.”[17] With war wounds that were physically impossible to compensate or cure and the fact that there was enmity between the north and south that had run longer than just the four years of the civil war, the process of creating a “Union” was seen to have actually been hindered by military campaigns like Sherman’s March. The fact that the so-called “countrymen” were not unwilling to ravage their homes created incontrovertible barriers between the two sides that were felt not only in Georgia, but in the South as a whole: “I could not close my eyes, but kept walking to and fro, watching the fires in the distance and dreading the approaching day, which, I feared, as they had not all passed, would be but a continuation of horrors”[18] It is very clear that the intended goal of Sherman’s March was completed: the spirits of the confederacy to continue fighting was shattered without the loss of many lives. However, this outcame came with a double edged price—it gave the Georgians even more reason to feel like they aren’t part of the same country.

 

REFLECTION

This investigation has provided me a better understanding of the complexities of social history and history economics. Considering this was only one military campaign, I now realize that there is still a lot of other factors that I have not analysed that also contributed to the Reconstruction. In doing this, I have reached a conclusion that can only be stated as a relative standard. I also found it very difficult to find the “truth,” especially with the stark contrast between different sources. The values and limitations was often assessed the reliability based on objectivity, especially for finding the impact on recovery, but for the reintegration these explicit perspective differences greatly aided in examining the psychological effect that led to a Georgian distrust.

In the beginning, I began with a similar question to the one stated above. However, as I delved into my investigation, I realized many things about what can be analyzed and compared. Originally, I had thought that the extent of Sherman’s influence extended over a large sphere in the south, affecting other states socially and economically. However, this was significantly more difficult to analyze with the sources available and sometimes, as seen with my source from the National Bureau of Economic Research, too broad to analyze effectively. Here, I found it much more reasonable to establish a connection between Sherman and those directly affected.

I also found it very difficult to reach a conclusion. While it was certainly obvious to me that Sherman’s March had devastating social and economic influences, it is hard to distinguish the extent of which that it contributes to, as I saw that it was hard to relate this isolated event to the broad Reconstruction as a whole. In addition, I found examining the testimonies and interviews of citizens during the recovery period up to the Compromise of 1877 to be very difficult as they were almost always the of the same perspective: vehement decrying of the Union and their active role in changing the lifestyle. I also found gathering the sources for the recovery period to be difficult, especially since they had to be targeted to Georgia. Most sources were found in obscure archives and the occasional memoir that, once again, never touched upon the successes of recovery. In sum, this investigation has enlightened me with the complexities of analyzing history through both secondary and primary sources, highlighting the importance of assessing the reliability of sources and altering perspectives when forming an opinion.

WORKS CITED


[1] “Scorched Earth.” American Battlefield Trust, 14 Nov. 2018, www.battlefields.org/learn/articles/scorched-earth.

[2] “Scorched Earth.” American Battlefield Trust, 14 Nov. 2018, www.battlefields.org/learn/articles/scorched-earth.

[3] William T. Sherman, William T. Sherman, Special Field Orders No. 120, November 9, 1864, Civil War Era NC, accessed January 30, 2019, https://cwnc.omeka.chass.ncsu.edu/items/show/145.

[4] William T. Sherman, William T. Sherman, Special Field Orders No. 120, November 9, 1864, Civil War Era NC, accessed January 30, 2019, https://cwnc.omeka.chass.ncsu.edu/items/show/145.

[5] “SHERMAN’S MARCH.; JOURNAL OF AN EYE-WITNESS.” The New York Times, The New York Times, 23 Dec. 1864, www.nytimes.com/1864/12/23/archives/shermans-march-journal-of-an-eyewitness.html.

[6] William T. Sherman, William T. Sherman, Special Field Orders No. 120, November 9, 1864, Civil War Era NC, accessed January 21, 2019, https://cwnc.omeka.chass.ncsu.edu/items/show/145.

[7] Feigenbaum, James J., et al. “Capital Destruction and Economic Growth: The Effects of Sherman’s March, 1850-1920.” NBER, NBER, 20 Dec. 2018, www.nber.org/papers/w25392. p.9

[8] Burge, Dolly Lunt. “A Woman’s Wartime Journal: an Account of the Passage over Georgia’s Plantation of Sherman’s Army on the March to the Sea, as Recorded in the Diary of Dolly Sumner Lunt (Mrs. Thomas Burge).” Jeannie Howse and Friend, Online Distributed Proofreading Team, 1996, http://www.gutenberg.org/files/32595/32595-h/32595-h.htm

[9] Feigenbaum, James J., et al. “Capital Destruction and Economic Growth: The Effects of Sherman’s March, 1850-1920.” NBER, NBER, 20 Dec. 2018, www.nber.org/papers/w25392.

[10] Feigenbaum, James J., et al. “Capital Destruction and Economic Growth: The Effects of Sherman’s March, 1850-1920.” NBER, NBER, 20 Dec. 2018, www.nber.org/papers/w25392.

[11] Feigenbaum, James J., et al. “Capital Destruction and Economic Growth: The Effects of Sherman’s March, 1850-1920.” NBER, NBER, 20 Dec. 2018, www.nber.org/papers/w25392.

[12] Feigenbaum, James J., et al. “Capital Destruction and Economic Growth: The Effects of Sherman’s March, 1850-1920.” NBER, NBER, 20 Dec. 2018, www.nber.org/papers/w25392.

[13] Feigenbaum, James J., et al. “Capital Destruction and Economic Growth: The Effects of Sherman’s March, 1850-1920.” NBER, NBER, 20 Dec. 2018, www.nber.org/papers/w25392. p.9

[14] Feigenbaum, James J., et al. “Capital Destruction and Economic Growth: The Effects of Sherman’s March, 1850-1920.” NBER, NBER, 20 Dec. 2018, www.nber.org/papers/w25392.

[15] “SOUTHERN SENTIMENT.; A Georghan on the Freedmen and Reconstruction.” The New York Times, The New York Times, 7 Jan. 1866, www.nytimes.com/1866/01/07/archives/southern-sentiment-a-georghan-on-the-freedmen-and-reconstruction.html.

[16] “SHERMAN’S MARCH.; JOURNAL OF AN EYE-WITNESS.” The New York Times, The New York Times, 23 Dec. 1864, www.nytimes.com/1864/12/23/archives/shermans-march-journal-of-an-eyewitness.html.

[17] “SOUTHERN SENTIMENT.; A Georghan on the Freedmen and Reconstruction.” The New York Times, The New York Times, 7 Jan. 1866, www.nytimes.com/1866/01/07/archives/southern-sentiment-a-georghan-on-the-freedmen-and-reconstruction.html.

[18] Burge, Dolly Lunt. “A Woman’s Wartime Journal: an Account of the Passage over Georgia’s Plantation of Sherman’s Army on the March to the Sea, as Recorded in the Diary of Dolly Sumner Lunt (Mrs. Thomas Burge).” Jeannie Howse and Friend, Online Distributed Proofreading Team, 1996, http://www.gutenberg.org/files/32595/32595-h/32595-h.htm

 

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