Sherman's Mississippi Campaign

Sherman's Mississippi Campaign

Sherman's Mississippi Campaign

Sherman's Mississippi Campaign

Synopsis

The rehearsal for the March to the Sea. With the fall of Vicksburg to Union forces in mid-1863, the Federals began work to extend and consolidate their hold on the lower Mississippi Valley. As a part of this plan, Major General William Tecumseh Sherman set out from Vicksburg on February 3, 1864, with an army of some 25,000 infantry and a battalion of cavalry. They expected to be joined by another Union force moving south from Memphis and supported themselves off the land as they traveled due east across Mississippi. Sherman entered Meridian on February 14 and thoroughly destroyed its railroad facilities, munitions plants, and cotton stores, before returning to Vicksburg. Though not a particularly effective campaign in terms of enemy soldiers captured or killed, it offers a rich opportunity to observe how this large-scale raid presaged Sherman's Atlanta and Carolina campaigns, revealing the transformation of Sherman's strategic thinking.

Excerpt

Civil War journalist-turned-historian Orville J. Victor, in his four-volume history of the Civil War, argued: “The march of [William T.] Sherman through central Mississippi to the Alabama state line was in execution of a masterly design, but little understood at the time, and one which did not receive the notice its importance merited.” This is still very much the case today. Few scholars appreciate the importance of the campaign in the scheme of the war, and Civil War enthusiasts have an inaccurate image of it. During February and March 1864 in Mississippi, Sherman first attempted to use hard war on a large scale, and his expedition had a long-term impact on the war’s outcome. Sherman’s experiences in his march across the Magnolia State shaped and solidified his style of warfare for the rest of the conflict. This was indeed his dress rehearsal for hard war.

Only a handful of publications consider the Meridian campaign in any depth. Richard McMurry’s 1975 Civil War Times Illustrated article discusses the short-term impact of Sherman’s march but is too brief to provide an overall view of the campaign and its repercussions. Only one book-length study exists. Marjorie Bearss’s Shermans Forgotten Campaign, published in 1987, provides a blow-by-blow account of the march; however, it does not offer readers any overall analysis. the work is helpful to those who study battlefield tactics and marching orders, but its pages do not provide insight into the long-term importance of the Meridian campaign to the war or its participants.

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