31st Illinois Regiment: March to Savannah

The route of the 31st Illinois' march to Atlanta.  http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/6/6b/Savannah_Campaign.png

Click to zoom. The route of the 31st Illinois’ march to Atlanta.

After the victory at Atlanta, Gen. Sherman took on a daring military adventure. His plan was to abandon the captured city of Atlanta and march to the sea. With General Nathan Bedford Forest’s Confederate cavalry tailing his force, and running low on supplies, Sherman recognized that the march covering 2,000 miles, would have to be done quickly. He stripped his men of all useless supplies, and sent hurt soldiers or new recruits on furlough, only taking the veteran regiments. Of the 60,000 men who went on the march, the 31st Illinois was included. Morris notes that they were, “shorn of all useless supplies.”  (Morris p. 123)


The Union entering Savannah. From the Library of Congress. http://www.loc.gov/pictures/resource/cph.3a01444/

According to the authoring committee of Morris, Kuyendall, and Hartwell Jr., the march had two primary purposes: to meet with the coastal fleet and attack Richmond, and raid the countryside destroying Confederate hope. Regarding demoralizing they noted the goal was, “To eat up the means of subsistence in the hostile states to be traversed; to parade a conquering army before the very doors of the inhabitants of all classes; to break the delusive spell that had given them faith in the prestige of the Confederate leaders; to scatter and disarm this warlike people, dispel its dream of empire, compel the surrender of their great chieftains, on the march of wherever found and thus assure the fall of the Confederate capital.” (Morris p. 129-130)

Savannah destroyed. From the Library of Congress.  http://www.loc.gov/pictures/resource/cwpb.03242/

Savannah destroyed. From the Library of Congress.

The quotas given for damage of the march were outstanding in number. Thousands of cattle and horses were estimated to have been taken, almost all railroads along the way destroyed, 250 siege guns of Savannah, and 31 bales of cotton from the storehouse. Savannah itself was surrendered after being blockaded by the Union navy, and losing the perimeter Ft. McAllister to the Union army.