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Savannah may have been spared the devastation that befell other southern cities on Sherman's March to the Sea, but the infamous general and his troops seized her cotton, guns, and artillery, and occupied the city for several weeks.
"...I beg to present to you as a Christmas Gift, the City of Savannah with 150 heavy guns and plenty of ammunition and also about 25,000 bails of cotton..."
So read Union General William T. Sherman's telegram to President Lincoln written from on Dec. 22, 1864 from the home we now know as the Green-Meldrim House.
Savannah Civil War Tours
Georgia became the fifth state to secede from the United States in January 1861, and in March, a convention at Savannah ratified the constitution of the new Confederate States of America. Local militia units began to ready themselves for war. The Chatham Artillery, Georgia Hussars, Jasper Greens, Phoenix Riflemen and Oglethorpe Light Infantry, were now joined by colorful new outfits like the Rattle Snakes and Hyenas. Young boys enlisted in the Savannah Cadets.
After the state of New York refused to release a shipment of guns to the South, Georgia Governor Joseph Brown ordered all New York vessels in the port of Savannah seized. In retaliation, a Federal fleet of 41 vessels sailed to South Carolina and landed just 25 miles from Savannah in October 1861. Federal cannons breached the walls of Fort Pulaski after only a few hours of bombardment, and the Confederate forces surrendered. That would be the last of the fighting in the area around Savannah, but only the beginning of the hardships for Savannahians during the long four years of the war.
Sherman's March to the Sea:
In May 1864, General William T. Sherman began his famous March to the Sea bringing the war to Savannah’s very doorstep. Following the tracks of the railroad running from Chattanooga to Atlanta to Macon and Savannah, Sherman and his 62,000 soldiers left a wake of destruction, 30 miles wide and 300 miles long. By December, the Union army reached the outskirts of Savannah.
On Dec. 21, 1864 Federal troops marched unopposed into the City of Savannah. A prison camp was set up on Bay Street and temporary quarters were erected in the squares. Charles Green, a wealthy English cotton merchant, hoping to buy Sherman’s good will and keep his inventory of cotton safe from confiscation, offered his mansion on Madison Square for military headquarters. It was here that Sherman penned his famous message to President Lincoln. Sherman occupied Green’s home until February 1, 1865. Sherman ordered all the cotton seized, but Savannah was spared from the devastation that Sherman’s troops had visited on Atlanta and from the fate that awaited Columbia, South Carolina a short time later.
Several well-known Confederate Generals lived in Savannah before the war including William Hardee, Francis Bartow, A. P. Lawton, G. Moxley Sorrel, Henry Jackson, and Hugh Mercer. Confederate Army Commander General Joseph E. Johnston moved to Savannah after the war and lived here for a number of years before returning to Virginia.
Civil War Tours
You can tour the homes of these famous generals on guided Civil War Tours offered by some of the Savannah tour companies. You'll see other interesting Civil War sites including Sherman's headquarters and will learn about the devastating effects of the Union blockade and the hardships suffered by Savannah's citizens.
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