Diary of Soggy Orrin Brown, camped on Cedar Creek, on the march somewhere in Georgia.
It rained nearly all night and we got our Breakfast in the rain and it has rained nearly all day and the roads are very muddy. We went into Camp at 3 PM, it began to grow cold in the afternoon.
A common image of Sherman’s March to the Sea likens the campaign to the barbarian Vandal hordes screaming, rape and murder across the countryside. To read my ancestor’s journal, to me at least, brings more to mind my 20-mile trek for Hiking Merit Badge, over and over and over again. My feet hurt to think about it. At the same time, hiking is better than dodging bullets. While dame Georgia may have been put thru hell, the Federal Forces played Sisyphus rolling the same rock up hill each day.
Slocum and the Union Army of Georgia made up the Left Wing of Sherman’s force. Williams’ XX Corps kept the easternmost track along the railroad to Madison, Georgia, (feinting toward Augusta) then overland to Eatonton on the way to the state capital, Milledgeville. Pvt. Brown and Davis’ XIV Corps struck off cross-country more directly from Covington towards Monticello to rendezvous at Milledgeville. Much of this area makes up the Oconee National Forest today. Late on the night of the 21st, the first Union Cavalry scouts entered the state capital, soon after the State legislature and governor fled by means of a taxpayer-funded excursion train.
While the route may seem arbitrary, Sherman had spent much time plotting his course. Susan Shulten, history prof at the University of Denver, explained in a New York Times blog how the General worked with his chief topographer and the superintendent of the US Census to bring the power of data to his military purposes. In particular, Sherman used a map of Georgia counties detailing population and agricultural production to craft a route productive enough so that his army could live off the land, while inflicting maximum damage to industry and rail roads.
Immediately after the war, Sherman made this very point. In an open letter to Congress he testified that the data maps had helped his armies to identify supply routes, “which otherwise would have been subjected to blind chance, and it may be to utter failure.” These maps of information allowed his men to cut loose from their chains of supply, for they knew where to find cultivated lands, grain and animals. As he put it bluntly, “I knew exactly where to look for food.”
A pretty good history lesson to end Geography Awareness Week.
(map by Hal Jespersen on Wikipedia.)