After Atlanta's fall on September 2nd, Maj. Gen. William T. Sherman occupied the city for 10 weeks, resting his army, damaging local communications, and plotting new strategy. Meanwhile, Gen. John Bell Hood's Army of Tennessee began to range northand wset on a march that would carry it into Tennessee. Sherman briefly pursued but soon adopted a more productive course. He resolved to send his trusted subordinate Maj. Gen. George H. Thomas, with 2 infantry corps and the majority of the calvary, to Nashville for a showdown with Hood. The remainder of Sherman's command, some 62,000 troops of all arms and 64 cannon, he would lead through Georgia to the Atlantic Ocean.
Sherman had several reasons for waging such a campaign. As listed above in the Campaign Explanation, he wanted to "make Georgia howl." He felt the South should pay for all of the destruction and misery that they have caused by starting the Civil War in the first place.
His troops departed Atlanta on November 15th, simultaneously moving east toward Augusta and southeast in the direction of Macon. These moves would deceive the Confederates as to his ultimate objective, which was Savannah. He accompanied the column taking the upper route, the XIV and XX corps of the Army Of Georgia, under Maj. Gen. Henry W. Slocum. The lower column, led by Maj. Gen. Oliver O. Howard, commander of the Army of the Tennessee, consisted of the infantry of the XV and XVII corps, Pontoon trains and engineer units accompanied each wing, but provisions wagons were left behind; the troops would forage off the land.
The first leg of the march, which ended with the columns converging on the state capitol, Milledgeville, was an easy one, principally due to Sherman's lack of opposition, and set the tone for the entire journey. With Hood gone, the nearest sizable Confederate force was the 18,000 man garrison under Lt. Gen. William J. Hardee at Savannah. The only others who remained to challenge him were 3,000 Georgia militia and state troops under Maj. Gen. Gustavus W. Smith, Maj. Gen. Joseph Wheeler's understrength calvary corps, and miscellaneous local forces. Smith, who had concentrated at Macon, was caught by surprise when Howard's column veered sharply east above the city. Wheeler's troopers had to be content with harassing the main Union body and battling Kilpatrick's cavalry at Waynesborough, Millen Grove, Rocky Creek Church, Thomas' Station, Brier Creek, and Ebenezer Creek.
After wrecking supply depots and several railroads, the convergent columns destroyed the military utility of Milledgeville on November 22-24th and sacked state government buildings. The columns again spread apart when leaving the capitol, continuing to rip up railroad track (over 200 miles of it eventually), which they burned and twisted into "Sherman's Hairpins". Meanwhile, marauding Bummers looted and torched along a path up to 60 miles wide, conduct tolerated, if not condoned, by Sherman's philosophy.
The only general engagement fought by the infantry was at Griswoldville, on November 22, where 523 overconfident militiamen fell dead or wounded while attacking a well-fortified XV Corps brigade. Otherwise, the foot soldiers brushed aside Wheeler's troopers, easily occupying Sandersville on November 26th, Louisville on November 29th, Millen on December 3rd, and numerous other towns. By December 10th, when they pulled up outside Savannah, having come 250 miles in 26 days, Sherman's soldiers had done $100 million in damage, reducing Georgia's midsection to debris and desolation.