7. William Tecumseh Sherman is vilified for his famed March to the Sea
In late 1864 the army under the command of Major General William Tecumseh Sherman departed Atlanta and plunged deeply into Georgia. Intent on capturing Savannah, Sherman ordered his troops to live off of the land and destroy property of those who exhibited hostility. Private property, including homes, was specifically exempted from destruction, as were businesses which did not offer any opposition. Railroads were systematically destroyed. The rails were taken up, heated in fires, and twisted around trees, rendering them useless. Sherman recognized the railroads importance in moving supplies and troops, and considered them a weapon of war. During his march more than 10,000 formerly enslaved people followed his army as refugees. Despite his own shortage of supplies, Sherman fed and clothed them during the march.
Following the war, the Lost Cause of the Confederacy proponents labeled Sherman’s March as little more than vengeful destruction driven by Yankee brutality. Sherman became the most hated of all the Union leaders during the war, a counterpoint to the chivalric and gentlemanly Southern commanders. In truth, the March to the Sea was a military masterpiece. For six weeks, Sherman’s troops operated deep in enemy territory, with no supply lines and no outside support. They reached their destination five days before Christmas, 1864, having destroyed much of what remained of the South’s ability to wage war. A month later they departed Savannah for another, similar march through South Carolina and North Carolina, where they accepted the surrender of the last Confederate Army in the field in April, 1865. Sherman shortened the war through his achievement, though he remains a villain throughout much of the American south.