On this day in 1864, Union Major General William Tecumseh Sherman’s army reached the outskirts of Savannah. Thanks to certain circumstances, Savannah is one of the few cities along the “March to the Sea” that was not irrevocably damaged.
Following the capturing and burning of Atlanta in mid-November, Sherman’s troops headed southeast to Savannah, a crucial port for the Confederacy. Along the way, they burned crops and buildings, destroyed railroads and destroyed key military and industry targets, effectively breaking the economic and military backbone of the South.
When Sherman reached Savannah in December, there was a high likelihood that Georgia’s oldest city would burn. However, Confederate General William Hardee effectively blocked the Union Army’s entrance into the city for 10 days before escaping across the Savannah River with his men. On December 21, Savannah Mayor R. D. Arnold formally surrendered the city in exchange for the Union Army protecting the city and its property.
Sherman then telegraphed President Abraham Lincoln with the words, “I beg to present you as a Christmas gift the City of Savannah, with one hundred and fifty guns and plenty of ammunition, also about twenty-five thousand bales of cotton.” In January of 1865, he then moved into South Carolina and applied the same methods he used in southeast Georgia.