A military strategy by an Army general with a solid Fort Leavenworth connection began 148 years ago tomorrow and ended with thousands of people mad at him, then and now.
The general was none other than William T. Sherman, who as commanding general of the U.S. Army gave the order that began what is today the Army Command and General Staff College. But this column is about an event that began Nov. 15, 1864, and ended some six weeks later.
It was the famous "Sherman's march to the sea" during the last few months of the Civil War. Sherman had been wildly successful in every endeavor during the war, and this fateful march would continue his reputation.
He had devised a plan to capture Atlanta, then came up with one even more grand: a march to the sea that would cut a 60-mile swath of devastation through the economic heart of the dying and short-lived Confederacy.
Before leaving Atlanta, Sherman's engineers burned selected buildings and destroyed all rail lines leading from the city. His force had four corps, some 62,000 men, who would cut communications with other Union forces, live off the land, and burn, burn, burn. Supply wagons carried 20 days of food and other supplies.
Depending on what forces or impediments the marchers encountered, it would end at Pensacola, Charleston, or Savannah, and it mattered not to Sherman what the destination was. As the troops started the march, they burned or destroyed anything they came across they didn't need to take with them.
No Confederate force was encountered, so there was no resistance. From a Georgia perspective, the march became "a rowdy excursion" and an excuse for simple thievery.
The Army's official history book, American Military History, in the Army Historical Series of the official history, says both President Lincoln and Gen. U.S. Grant were less than enthusiastic about the plan, but accepted it as a show of faith in Sherman, in whose judgment both by then had a lot of faith.
Sherman, the commander of Union forces in the western theater, had sold his bold and controversial plan to his bosses by insisting that this type of warfare would destroy not only the economic heart of the south, but its peoples' resolve to continue such a devastating war. And ending the war would ultimately save lives of soldiers and civilians.
So the methodical march began. It was a 19th Century precursor of the 20th Century's economic warfare and total devastation by strategic aerial bombardments. During the world wars the term "scorched earth" was given to this type of total warfare.
The March to the Sea didn't end the war, but the fighting lasted only four months after the march ended with the capture of Savannah, Ga.
Page 2 of 2 - As a bit of historical side note, the quartermaster general of the Army, Montgomery Meigs, promised all needed logistical support during the march. His great-grandson, Maj. Montgomery Meigs, was an armor officer in the class of 1979, returned a few years later as the CGSC commandant, and retired as the four-star Army commander in Europe.
As a footnote, following the Mexican War, Sherman lived briefly in Leavenworth where he worked as a lawyer in a local law firm. When the Civil War began he returned to his native Ohio, joined the Army, and was elected an officer.
He obviously enjoyed his time in Leavenworth and visits to the fort, for in 1881 he chose Fort Leavenworth as the home for a new school for young lieutenants. The rest is history.
John Reichley is a retired Army officer and retired Department of the Army civilian employee.