The March to the Sea

Butts County has seen its share of conflicts. Whether it was skirmishes between the Native population and settlers in the War of 1812 or the Civil War, old battlefields dot our landscape. One of the things that Butts County is known for is being part of Sherman’s “March to the Sea.” You may also know it as the “Savannah Campaign.” Major General William Tecumseh Sherman, one of the leaders of the Union Army, felt strongly that the key to winning the Civil War lay in the total destruction of the Confederate’s ability for warfare.

His plan was simple: march from Atlanta, where he’d just had a tremendous victory and laid waste to the city, all the way to Savannah—while destroying anything useful to the enemy as they went. He developed a “scorched earth” strategy—his men foraged and acquired all available food sources, destroyed mills and cotton gins, and exchanged any of their lame horses or mules with better animals they encountered. They were not to harass those they met along the way (although they could still essentially steal from them)unless they turned out to be Confederate sympathizers. Sherman had his men burn down the homes and barns of people who opposed the Union. He wanted to demoralize not just the Confederate Army, but anyone who believed in their cause as well.

Along the way, a man named Orlando Metcalfe Poe, who served as Chief Engineer, supervised the destruction of all buildings and structures that might prove useful to the Confederates who came after them. This included rail depots and tracks, arsenals, and storage areas. He also oversaw infrastructure improvements to allow the Union soldiers to cross rivers and swamps more easily.

One faction of the soldiers was led by Union Major General Oliver O. Howard. He took a division out of Locust Grove and into Jackson. Part of their path was actually now the site of Sylvan Grove Hospital. As they travelled, they were harassed by the residents. According to the strategy laid out by Sherman, Howard had his men burn Jackson upon arrival. Another group split off and set up camp near the Liberty Baptist Church for a while. Then they went toward Indian Springs to meet up with the rest of their men so that they could cross the Ocmulgee River. There is a maker on the Jackson town square to detail this crossing.

The march took Sherman’s men a little over a month and covered 285 miles. Obviously, this caused a lot of damage to this great state of Georgia. Back then, Sherman guesstimated the devastation to run about $100 million, or over $1.4 billion now. That is a lot of destruction! Add to that the estimated 2,300 Confederates who were killed trying to stop Sherman and the cost is staggering. It took a lot of will and determination to rebuild after something like that, but those of us who live in Butts County know that we have what it takes!