Lincoln's victory in the 1864 election further battered the morale of war-weary Southerners. Jefferson Davis responded to Lincoln's reelection by proclaiming that the South stood as "defiant as ever" thanks to the "indomitable valor [intense bravery] of its troops" and the "unquenchable [unable to be satisfied] spirit of its people." But Northern military leaders sensed that the Southern willingness to continue the fight was wavering. In the final weeks of 1864, General Sherman set out to break the spirit of the Southern people once and for all.
Sherman rolled out of Atlanta in mid-November with sixty thousand troops, leaving the city's factories and public buildings in smoking ruins so that they could not be used by the Confederacy. His sights set on the coastal city of Savannah, Sherman marched eastward through the heart of Georgia. He moved his army forward at a leisurely pace, confident that the Confederacy did not have the military capacity to stop his progress. Over the next few weeks, Sherman fed and supplied his troops by seizing whatever he needed from Georgia's farms and villages. His army then systematically destroyed any crops and supplies that it did not use. "We cannot change the hearts of those people of the South," stated Sherman. "But we can make war so terrible and make them so sick of war that generations would pass away before they would again appeal to it."
As Sherman's "March to the Sea" continued through the Confederate heartland, his army left a path of sorrow and ruin in its wake. The Yankee invaders razed (leveled to the ground) hundreds of farms and plantations, determined to hammer the Southern people into submission. Georgia's suffering was made even worse by a lawless group of thieves and deserters who followed behind Sherman's force. These wild hooligans, known as "bummers," robbed and burned anything that the army left behind, terrorizing the local people in the process.
Sherman completed his March to the Sea in mid-December, and he took immediate steps to take Savannah from Confederate control. He captured the city within a few days, and on December 22 he sent a telegram to Lincoln offering Savannah as a "Christmas gift." The seizure of Savannah thus ended one of the most successful Union campaigns of the entire war. As Paul M. Angle pointed out in A Pictorial History of the Civil War Years, Sherman's push to Savannah brutalized both Southern morale and Southern military capacity: "With fewer than 2,000 casualties he had destroyed a large portion of the war potential of the deep South, he had demonstrated that a large section of the Confederacy was a defenseless shell, and he had placed his army in a position from which he could move north and cooperate with Grant in a final campaign against Lee."
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