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Sherman vs. Hardee, 1864Chapter Writing

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Hardee and the Savannah Campaign

In 1864, Major General William Tecumseh Sherman, following the "scorched earth" example set by General Sheridan marched the Union Army towards Savannah in a Campaign to the Sea, which resembled an exercise in total war.

Savannah was the final destination of Sherman's March from Atlanta. Defending the city was Lieutenant-General William J. Hardee of the Confederate Army. This paper will describe the involvement of Lieutenant-General William J. Hardee in the Savannah Campaign of Nov-Dec 1864 in the American Civil War. It describes the man, his role in the defense of Savannah, his forces, and his ability to deal with the impending attack from Sherman.

Lieutenant-General William J. Hardee was a Native Georgian, a military man (graduate of West Point), whose experience included time in the Mexican-American War under Zachary Taylor, much like his commander in chief, Jefferson Davis.

A noted tactician (he taught military tactics later at West Point), Hardee was respected for his field of knowledge and his book Rifle and Light Infantry Tactics for the Exercise and Maneuvers of Troops When Acting as Light Infantry or Riflemen was a popular manual for both sides during the Civil War.

When Georgia seceded from the Union in 1861, Hardee became a Confederate, working his way up from brigadier general to lieutenant general. He took part in notable battles and campaigns such as the one at Perryville in 1862 and Chattanooga in 1863. Hardee was not a hasty man and he deplored the seemingly careless tactics of Lieutenant-General John Hood, which resulted in many casualties of war. It is not surprising therefore to find Hardee taking a more defensive approach to Sherman before abandoning Savannah without a fight in 1864.

The Savannah Campaign was the final stage of Sherman's plan to utterly crush the morale of the South by taking the war to the civilians. Sherman separated his men from their supply line and trekked headlong into enemy territory. His plan was to move quickly and furiously, wreaking havoc wherever Southerners put up an opposition. This he did all the way to Savannah where he ran into the first real resistance in his March to the Sea. Whereas Sherman was engaging in total war, what he met outside Savannah was the more typical trench warfare: Hardee had placed his men in trenches in defense of the city. Sherman thus made an about face and headed for the Ogeechee River, won the Battle of Fort McAllister and proceeded to link up with the U.S. Navy and the supplies that he and his men were in need of after their march. Now Sherman was ready to attack Savannah. It was up to Hardee to decide what he was going to do.

Hardee had at his disposal 10,000 men deeply entrenched outside Savannah on the morning of December 10, 1864 when Sherman arrived. Sherman had a force of six times Hardee's: 55,000 infantry, 5000 cavalry, and 2000 artillerymen on 64 guns. This force marched in two columns for the Savannah Campaign. With so little resistance to Sherman's force, Hardee dug in and flooded the fields that surrounded Savannah. There was no way for Sherman to get to the city except by the elevated causeway roads which stuck up above water. These were narrow and for the moment put a damper on Sherman's plans. But his quick victory at Fort McAllister allowed him to retrieve bigger and better artillery from the U.S. Navy -- perfect for laying siege to Savannah. One week later, on December 17, Hardee received a personal message from Sherman, which informed Hardee that his adversary now had the means to rain down fire upon his head, in spite of trenches and flooded fields. Not only this, but Sherman informed him every road into Savannah was now under Sherman's control. The letter was a demand for Hardee's surrender.

The strategic setting of the Savannah Campaign was pivotal in the sense that the fall of Savannah would be a crushing blow to the already dwindling Confederate morale, completing Sherman's March to the Sea. Sherman had been given the role of delivering this blow by U.S. Grant and Lincoln: it was a direct attack on the infrastructure of the South, which Sherman estimated in monetary terms at around $100 million, or $1 billion accounting for inflation. Savannah was also a symbolic city for the South and Hardee's defense of it was a kind of last defense of Southern Pride. The South had already lost its major ports to the U.S. Navy. It had been left out in the cold by Europeans, on whom it had been depending for foreign assistance. And it was now feeling itself strangled by a snake-like vise that stretched from the sea around the south and inland -- and with Sherman now invading the heartland of the South, the very thing that Southerners held dear, their domesticity, was being destroyed, ripped up from the earth like the railroad tracks that Sherman's men turned into "neckties." The Operational Situation was bad all around for Hardee, who had hardly enough men to counter an attack by Sherman: thus, his only tactical maneuver of any logic was to dig in and entrench the few thousand he did have. The flooding of the fields outside Savannah was also a good decision -- but because the Confederates were no match for Sherman (as was seen at Fort McAllister, this tactic was merely a stall tactic. Once Sherman met up with the Navy, he would be resupplied and in possession of enough weapons to decimate Savannah -- which is not what anyone wanted, but is something Sherman was willing to do if Hardee refused to surrender.

The Operational Situation for Hardee was bleak. Surrender terms were rejected but his next move was uncertain. He awaited word from Jefferson Davis, who sent word to Hardee that the Confederate Army was more valuable at this point than the possession of Savannah and he ordered the Army's evacuation of the city. Hardee had his men cross the Savannah River on pontoons.

The Tactical Situation was not one in which the great tactician could very easily excel, considering the vastly inferior numbers he held and the dire situation of the Confederate Army. The trenches and the flooding were decisive in delaying the inevitable and even the withdraw of the soldiers, rather than a surrender, was really on another delay tactic, putting off the inevitable surrender, which indeed came only months later. Sherman had decimated the pride of the Confederates. Hardee's trenches were a last resort. The man whose tactical genius had produced one of the most well-known books on military tactics of the time had been reduced by sheer lack of men to a leader with precious little means of mounting a resistance.

The significance of Hardee's trench defense of Savannah with merely a sixth of his adversary's military strength was clear: the Confederates were at the end of their rope. One of the brightest military tacticians of the time was handcuffed by the deplorable conditions in which the South had found itself, routed on all sides by the enemy. The surrender of Savannah, which did happen (after Hardee and his men escaped), was inevitable and merely the consequence of Sherman's will and determination to bring the war to a close by employing the most brutal of all military tactics -- total war. Hardee could not oppose this given that his own forces were no match for the brunt force of Sherman's.

Thus, as Hardee retreated and gave up the Savannah Campaign to live another day, the Southern Cause died a little more. The citizens of Savannah handed over the keys to the city to the conquerors, as Sherman himself reported to Lincoln. In fact, had the Navy's "iron-clads" been able to move inland anymore, Hardee's escape route would have been cut off the action would have been complete -- at least, so bemused The New York Times, which published this thought in its account of Sherman's Campaign.

Hardee was not finished with Sherman, however. As Sherman turned northward to tear up the Carolinas, Hardee followed and attempted to engage one wing of Sherman's Army. It was too little, too late. The strategy failed and Hardee did what he had put off doing in December in Savannah -- he surrendered.

In conclusion, Lieutenant-General William Hardee was unable to defend Savannah with any realistic chances of success against Sherman's onslaught. Hardee's trench tactic was essentially a stall tactic, which diverted the invaders to Fort McAllister, where Confederate forces were promptly put down. With Sherman linking up with the U.S. Navy, Hardee faced certain annihilation if he chose to stay and fight. Not a man to send his soldiers to early graves if at all unnecessary, he followed Davis's command to retreat. Thus the Savannah Campaign ended with the surrender of the city following the Confederate withdrawal. Hardee would surrender to Sherman just four months later in the Carolina Campaign. The significance of Hardee's escape from Savannah… [END OF PREVIEW]

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