Devouring the Land: Sherman’s 1864-65 Campaigns

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"We have devoured the land," wrote William Tecumseh Sherman in a letter to his wife, Ellen, in June of 1864. "All the people retire before us, and desolation behind. To realize what war is one should follow our tracks."1 Sherman was reflecting on the damage wrought by the protracted battle between his Union forces and Confederate Gen. Joe Johnston's army for control over Northern Georgia. Neither side had set out to destroy the landscape. The devastation was instead the unavoidable result of armies in motion and one of the inevitable costs of war. Five months later, however, Sherman implemented a strategy, derived from an ancient form of warfare, that shifted devastation from an unintended, haphazard consequence of war into a deliberate and organized weapon of war. Sherman's campaigns through Georgia and the Carolinas from November 1864 to April 1865 focused on destroying the physical, economical, and social landscapes of the region.

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