Sherman moves through South Carolina

Grant's continued siege of Petersburg made it impossible for Lee to send the Army of Northern Virginia against Sherman's invasion. Lee could only stand by helplessly as Sherman left Georgia and plowed northward through South Carolina, leaving a trail of ruined crops and burning buildings in his wake.

Sherman's march through South Carolina resembled his late-1864 invasion of Georgia in some ways. Just as in Georgia, his Union troops fed and clothed themselves by taking whatever they needed from Southern homeowners, farmers, and shopkeepers. In addition, Sherman's army continued to destroy unused crops and set fire to buildings, just as it had done during its "March to the Sea" a few months before.

People to Know

John Wilkes Booth (1838-1865) actor who assassinated Abraham Lincoln

Jefferson Davis (1808-1889) president of the Confederacy, 1861-65

Ulysses S. Grant (1822-1885) Union general who commanded all Federal troops, 1864-65; led Union armies at Shiloh, Vicksburg, Chattanooga, and Petersburg; eighteenth president of the United States, 1869-77

Joseph E. Johnston (1807-1891) Confederate general of the Army of Tennessee who fought at First Bull Run and Atlanta

Robert E. Lee (1807-1870) Confederate general of the Army of Northern Virginia; fought at Second Bull Run, Anti-etam, Gettysburg, Fredericksburg, and Chancellorsville; defended Richmond from Ulysses S. Grant's Army of the Potomac, 1864 to April 1865

Abraham Lincoln (1809-1865) sixteenth president of the United States, 1861-65

Philip H. Sheridan (1831-1888) Union major general who commanded the Army of the Potomac's cavalry corps and the Army of the Shenandoah; also fought at Perryville, Murfreesboro, Chickamauga, and Chattanooga

William T. Sherman (1820-1891) Union major general who commanded the Army of the Tennessee and the Military Division of the Mississippi, led famous "March to the Sea"

Union general William T. Sherman (leaning against the back of a cannon) discusses strategy with his staff. (Photograph by George N. Barnard. Courtesy of the Library of Congress.)

But Sherman's troops treated South Carolina even more harshly than they had treated Georgia. South Carolina had been the first state to secede from the United States, and Sherman and the members of his army wanted to punish it for its leading role in establishing the Confederacy. As a result, the invading Union army looted South Carolina homes and burned South Carolina farmlands with great enthusiasm. The state capital of Columbia went up in flames, too, although people continue to disagree about how the fire got started. Some observers insisted that Federal troops purposely set the city on fire, but others called the fire an accident or blamed it on fleeing Southerners. In any event, Sherman's march through South Carolina left the state in ruins. "All is gloom, despondency [loss of hope or courage], and inactivity," admitted one South Carolina native. "Our army is demoralized and the people panic stricken. To fight longer seems to be madness."

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