“Role of Union logistics in the Carolina Campaign of 1865”: Thesis from CGSC

When I first attempted detailed study of Major-General William T. Sherman’s Carolinas Campaign, it was from the perspective of an army officer seeking lessons that might apply to his profession.  As I approached the march into South Carolina, it was attractive to visit places where the army moved and fought.  But those were relatively minor affairs with precious few of the great-battle moments to consider.

However, that was not to say the Carolinas didn’t offer something for the officer corps to consider.  As UPS has us singing… Logistics!  The entire campaign depended upon a series of calculations and assumptions with respect to logistics.  The burning of Columbia, South Carolina, the capture of Charleston, and the battle of Bentonville – all important events.  But none would have happened if the troops didn’t have ammunition and food… and the horses some fodder.  I’ve touched on some of those logistical concerns here in my posts.  But let me encourage a deeper dive.  The U.S. Army’s Combined Arms Research Library (CARL) digital collection includes a thesis written in 2002 by Major Johnny Sokolosky, titled “The Role of Union logistics in the Carolina Campaign of 1865”.  Summarizing the importance of Sherman’s logistical planning, Sokolosky wrote (pages 108-9, in the thesis):

Logistics operations are planned to allow flexibility that enables military forces to receive uninterrupted support throughout an operation even in the event of unexpected changes in conditions.  To ensure success it is imperative that the logistics planners strike a balance in regards to the right amount of support that is to be provided to the commander. Sherman accomplished a correct balance of logistic support for use during the Carolinas Campaign.  At times shortfalls arose, but his staff and subordinate commanders reacted well to unexpected changes.  What sets this campaign apart from his previous is its success weighed heavily not only on the immediate logistical operations under his control but others outside his tactical view.  To ensure success Sherman coordinated the logistical support from assets at the strategic level as well as operations.  As the force commander, Sherman developed a concept of support that met the force’s needs and ensured that it allowed for flexibility and accommodation in the event of changing situations.  The success of his Carolina Campaign is in part due to Sherman’s focus on logistics preparations.

I think that is a fair, and astute, assessment of the campaign from a logistical standpoint.  And that logistical success should factor high in any scholarly treatment of the campaign.

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