At the conclusion of the “March to the Sea”, Maj. Gen. William Tecumseh Sherman’s armies spent Christmas 1864 in and around Savannah, Georgia. While his men were enjoying a hard earned rest, “Uncle Billy” was busy planning his next maneuver. Exchanging letters with General-in-Chief Lt. Gen. Ulysses S. Grant, who was besieging Robert E. Lee outside Richmond and Petersburg, throughout the month of December, Sherman advocated for a march through the Carolinas. As they had done on the march through Georgia, the Federals would be focusing their efforts not on enemy forces, but on the foodstuffs and infrastructure still serving the fledgling Confederacy.
Sherman felt confident that he could “break up the whole railroad system of South Carolina and North Carolina”. Moreover, the threat to the south might compel Lee to detach troops to engage him and potentially open up an opportunity for Grant to strike a fatal blow in Virginia.
Grant approved of the plan and Sherman began initial preparations in early January. While Maj. Gen. Henry Slocum’s Army of Georgia bridged the Savannah River, Maj. Gen. Oliver O. Howard’s Army of the Tennessee boarded transports, bound for Beaufort, South Carolina. Howard was to march inland, establish a foothold in the state and wait for Slocum. Slocum, however, was delayed due to flooding of the Savannah. Finally, on February 1, 1865, 150 years ago today, Sherman’s armies struck north through the Carolinas.