A lingering question regarding Sherman’s destructive march through Georgia was his disinterest in liberating Northern prisoners at the well-known Andersonville stockade. Given the late 1864 date of his time there, it is possible that the Radical Congress wanted him to leave the Northern men there to die of starvation and disease in order to better demonize the South as the war ended. Also considered is Grant’s late-war termination of prisoner exchanges – which condemned thousands of Northern men to death.
The writer below notes Sherman as not similar to Grant – the latter noted for his bloody human wave attacks against a numerically inferior enemy, regardless of the cost in lives. He was aware that his masters at Washington wanted results, now. At Bentonville, the timid Sherman feared defeat at the hands of Johnston after walking into a trap.
Sherman’s Avoidance of Battle
The Northern General Sherman claimed a victory at the battle of Bentonville in North Carolina, fought in mid-March 1865. He claimed this as he was in possession of the battlefield when the fighting ended, and as General Joseph E. Johnston had not crushed Sherman’s left wing. Nonetheless, the latter had little of which to boast of. Sherman’s force of near-70,000 was more than twice that of General Johnston’s 18,000 – and yet on March 19th, the invaders tottered on the brink of a resounding defeat.
Sherman’s conduct at Bentonville bears out the truth of one of his subordinate’s statements: Strategy was his strongest ability. “Take him into battle and Sherman did not seem to be the equal of a General Thomas or Grant.”
Furthermore, Sherman failed to follow up his success by pursuing his enemy and instead moved his army to Goldsboro. There the forces of Generals Terry and Cox awaited him after their march from Wilmington where they had avoided combat with Major-General Robert F. Hoke’s veteran troops. His total strength was now near 90,000 men, and Sherman’s explanation to Grant as to why he pushed on to Goldsboro rather than confront Johnston leaves something to be desired since he was not in need of food or ammunition – “the only adequate excuse” for halting. He seemed to consider shoes, which were noticeably absent among his men, his most essential need. Bu the scarcity of footwear did not warrant delay at this time – the Southern soldiers were also without shoes.”
(Life and Reminiscences of General Sherman by Distinguished Men of His Time, T. C. Fletcher, editor. H. Woodward & Co., 1891, pg. 292)