What was historically significant about Sherman's March to the Sea in 1864?

Expert Answers
mkoren eNotes educator| Certified Educator

General Sherman’s March to the Sea was historic. After capturing Atlanta in September 1864, General Sherman decided to use a different tactic to bring the South to its knees and to break the morale of the southerners. While the March to the Sea was aimed at the people of Georgia, its goal was to help end the Civil War as quickly as possible. General Sherman and his army destroyed those things that made life comfortable for the citizens of the South and for the Confederate army. Anybody who fought against General Sherman and his army had their homes and their property destroyed.

General Sherman believed one reason why the South was able to survive as long as it did was that the southern people gave both material and moral support to the Confederate soldiers. Thus, General Sherman wanted to destroy the things that helped the Confederate soldiers. These things included railroads, farms, and factories. If the food supply would be destroyed, the southern soldiers would be hungry. If the railroads were destroyed, then it would be more difficult for products to reach the soldiers. If factories were destroyed, the southerners wouldn’t have enough supplies. General Sherman believed all of this destruction would break the spirit of the southerners, especially for those people who lived in Georgia between Atlanta and Savannah. He believed his actions would help end the Civil War more quickly.

brettd eNotes educator| Certified Educator

General William Tecumseh Sherman's March t the Sea in November and December of 1864 marked not only a turning point in the Civil War, but also in military history, and the history of the United States.

Sherman fought differently than the generals of his time, as he believed that to win a war, one must also make war on civilians, who he referred to as "the backers up of things".  Destroy everything that might be of use to the enemy, including food, supplies, railroads, etc.  This was very hard on the civilian population of Georgia, as it would take them a very long time to recover economically and otherwise.  "Total War", therefore, was a new concept, and significant in history.

The savagery of the campaign and the damage his army inflicted also was the final nail in the South's coffin.  They were already going to lose, and what Sherman did was speed up the end date of that war, and the depth to which that loss was felt by southerners.

As testament to his efficacy, my Grandmother, a Georgian born well after the Civil War, still cursed Sherman when I was young.