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A History of the United States by Cecil Chesterton

Who was again watching and checking Sherman


Atlanta had fallen, and Davis had unwisely relieved Johnstone of his command. It was now that Sherman determined on the bold scheme which mainly secured the ultimate victory of the North. Cutting himself loose from his base and abandoning all means of communication with the North, he advanced into the country of the enemy, living on it and laying it waste as he passed. For a month his Government had no news of him. Ultimately he reached the sea at Savannah, and was able to tell his supporters that he had made a desert in the rear of the main Confederate armies. Thence he turned again, traversed South Carolina, and appeared, so to speak, on the flank of the main Confederate forces which were holding Grant.

The ethics of Sherman's famous March to the Sea have been much debated. He was certainly justified by the laws of war in destroying the military resources of the Confederacy, and it does not seem that more than this was anywhere done by his orders. There was a good deal of promiscuous looting by his troops, and still more by camp followers and by the Negroes who, somewhat to his annoyance, attached themselves to his columns. The march through South Carolina was the episode marked by the harshest conduct, for officers and men had not forgotten Sumter, and regarded the devastation of that State as a just measure of patriotic vengeance on the only begetter of the rebellion; but the burning of Columbus seems to have been an accident, for which at

least Sherman himself was not responsible. It is fair to him to add that in the very few cases--less than half a dozen in all--where a charge of rape or murder can be brought home, the offender was punished with death.

As a military stroke the March to the Sea was decisive. One sees its consequences at once in the events of the Virginian campaign. Lee had suffered no military defeat; indeed, the balance of military success, so far as concerned the army directly opposed to him, was in his favour. Sheridan's campaign in the Shenandoah Valley had delighted the North as much as Jackson's earlier exploits in the same region had delighted the South; but its direct military effect was not great. From the moment, however, of Sherman's successful completion of his march, the problem of the Southern general becomes wholly different. It is no longer whether he can defeat the enemy, but whether he can save his army. He determined to abandon Richmond, and effect, if possible, a union with Johnstone, who was again watching and checking Sherman.

Did space permit, it would be a noble task to chronicle the last wonderful fight of the Lion of the South; how, with an exhausted and continually diminishing army, he still proved how much he was to be feared; how he turned on Sheridan and beat him, checked Grant and broke away again only to find his path barred by another Union army.

At Appomattox Court House the end came. The lion was trapped and caught at last. There was nothing for it but to make the best terms he could for his men. The two generals met. Both rose to the nobility of the occasion. Lee had never been anything but great, and Grant was never so great again. The terms accorded to the vanquished were generous and honourable to the utmost limit of the victor's authority. "This will have the happiest effect on my people," said Lee, in shaking hands with his conqueror. They talked a little of old times at West Point, where they had studied together, and parted. Lee rode away to his men and addressed them: "We have fought through this war together. I did my best for you." With these few words, worth the whole two volumes of Jefferson Davis's rather tiresome apologetics, one of the purest, bravest, and most chivalrous figures among those who have followed the noble profession of arms rides out of history.

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