From Atlanta To The Sea
A newly discovered Union diary shows that Sherman’s march was about as Ruthless as Southerners have always said it was
December 1978 | Volume 30, Issue 1
When General William Tecumseh Sherman started his devastating march through Georgia in November of 1864, Captain James Royal Ladd, twenty-eight years old, an adjutant in the 113th Ohio Volunteers, was one of the sixty-two thousand tough veterans in his army. The huge force swept diagonally across the state, meeting little opposition, foraging, plundering, and burning as it went. When Lincoln was asked where Sherman was heading, he said “I know the hole he went in at, but I can’t tell you what hole he will come out of. “Savannah proved to be Sherman ‘s objective. During the short siege that preceded the fall ofthat city, Ladd wrote an account of the month-long trek to his wtfe, Mary, telling the whole story with a casual, even cheerful brutality. This unusually frank diary came to the attention of AMERICAN HERITAGE through Captain Ladd ‘s granddaughter, Ruth Ladd Pierson.
Head Qrs, 113th Ohio Vol., in the field 3 miles north of Savannah, Ga., Dec. 14th, 1864.
I hardly know whether it is of any use to write at present or not, but having nothing else to do to while away the time, I will attempt to commence a letter and send it when I can. Will tell you what we have all been about during our exile from the world and all communication therewith and in order to inform you I must necessarily go back to the time we left Cartersville [Georgia]. I last wrote you from Atlanta Nov. 9th. Upon the llth I returned to Cartersville.
Nov. 13th at 6 A.M. we bade adieu to the town after burning the same and commenced our march. We proceeded to the R.[ail] Road and commenced tearing up the same, which we did in the following manner. The iron was torn from the ties and the ties piled up, the iron was then lain across them and the ties set on fire which heated the iron to such a degree that it bent in any form the boys chose to put it. On that day we tore up six miles of road which brought us to Allatoona, which is a small town but a place of considerable note, having been two hard fought battles here this summer, both times our army were victorious and in the last the Rebs were badly handled. The town we did not burn for the reason that the Rebels were occupying the larger portion of it for a hospital. But the few [hospitals] that I visited I should call them Charnel houses of Death for never in my experience in the army have I ever seen such holes called hospitals, they were sickening beyond description. That evening we marched to Acworth, making a march of 14 miles.
Nov. 14th. Marched at 6 A.M. passing over the ground near Kinesaw [Kennesaw] Mountain where we fought last summer. Little did we think at that time that so soon again would we be called upon to remarch the same again. We passed through several lines of works which the 113th had built itself and saw several graves of the boys we had buried, which served to awaken sad thoughts within our breasts. We continued our march late in the evening marching 24 miles and burning everything we came to as we went, camping for the night near Vinings Station.
Nov. 15th. Marched at 6, moving very slowly, halting repeatedly and remaining some time at Chattahoochee River. We arrived in the suburbs of Atlanta at 2 P.M. No sooner did we arrive than the boys commenced burning every house in that part of the town. The wind was blowing hard at the time and soon that part of the city was gone. We marched through the city to the east side and encamped for the night. Then one of the most beautiful and terrific scenes I ever had the pleasure of witnessing took place, viz., the burning of the main portion of the city. It was truly a terrific sight. Torpedoes had been previously placed underneath the walls of the Rail Road buildings which were very large and numerous. One constant explosion took place throwing the walls in every direction and the burning brands ditto. Soon the whole business portion of the city was in flames, and notwithstanding the night was dark the blaze illuminated the country for miles. Some few families remained in the city regardless of Sherman’s order until it was too late to get away and to witness them getting away from the fire was decidedly rich. They remained long enough to see the folly of their ways but too late to repent and save their furniture.