Travel Channel retraces Sherman’s March to the Sea

Brian Unger, host of the  Travel Channel’s new series “Time Traveling with Brian Unger,” takes a look at Union Gen. William Tecumseh Sherman’s March to the Sea in the episode scheduled to air at 10 p.m. tonight.

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An 1868 engraving by Alexander Hay Ritchie depicting Sherman's March to the Sea. The engraving shows Union soldiers destroying telegraph poles and railroads.

This 1868 engraving by Alexander Hay Ritchie portrays a moment from Union Gen. William Tecumsah Sherman’s March to the Sea. Union soldiers are shown destroying telegraph poles and railroads.

“When you physically retrace someone’s footsteps it begins to pack an emotional punch,” Unger said. “The soil in the South contains so much suffering and tragedy. Sherman’s March ended up being a very emotional story for us.”

Here’s a preview:

Last year marked the 150th anniversary of the Battle of Atlanta, which preceded the March to the Sea. The Atlanta Journal-Constitution created an extensive, interactive digital presentation at the time. The link is here.

Union Gen. William T. Sherman and his men are shown standing near where Atlanta University Center is today. File Photo, courtesy of Atlanta History Center Archives, from the AJC's Battle of Atlanta digital presentation. http://battleofatlanta.myajc.com/

Union Gen. William T. Sherman and his men are shown standing near where Atlanta University Center is today. File Photo, courtesy of Atlanta History Center Archives, from the AJC’s Battle of Atlanta digital presentation. http://battleofatlanta.myajc.com/

Sherman and 110,000 troops moved south from Chattanooga in the spring of 1864. By July 20, Union cannons had reached a position where shells could hit downtown Atlanta. For 36 days, 32,418 Union shells weighing more than 230 tons leveled Atlanta. Because of the town’s extensive railroad connections (it was previously known as “Terminus,” remember), crippling the town as a transportation hub was key to the Union’s strategy.

Following the fall of Atlanta, Sherman headed east bound and down. The Travel Channel piece will include a stop in Sandersville, where Sherman commandeered the Brown House as his temporary headquarters. Upon his departure he ordered the courthouse and jail burned, and continued east.

The Travel Channel piece also includes a stop at the Camp Lawton Civil War Prison Site, located at Magnolia Springs State Park in Millen, about an hour’s drive south of Augusta. Most of the prisoners of war sent to Camp Lawton in the fall of 1864 came from the overcrowded Camp Sumter at Andersonville, and life there was miserable. Prisoners had to construct their own shelters, known as “shebangs.”

During the episode, Unger and his travel companions try their hand at constructing the rudimentary structures.

“We were pulling these Georgians through history with us,” he said. “To know that over 1,000 soldiers died there, it began to feel like an emotional journey to our guests.”

Union forces burned the stockade and adjacent buildings at Camp Lawton, where more than 10,000 prisoners of war had once been confined. The camp was evacuated in November 1864 upon word that Sherman was on his way.

The episode concludes in Savannah, which was spared from Union destruction and instead presented to U.S. President Abraham Lincoln as a “Christmas gift” on Dec 22, 1864.

Sherman's 1864 Christmas gift to Lincoln. Photo: whitehousehistory.org

Sherman’s 1864 Christmas gift to Lincoln. Photo: whitehousehistory.org

 

“I was fascinated by Sherman,” Unger said. “I grew up in Ohio (Sherman’s home state) and the controversy is alive and well about Sherman’s legacy. No one owned the suffering and no one owned the sense of vengeance.”

The crew spent four days filming the episode.

“I loved being down there,” Unger said. “The people were so lovely. There are these rare moments where you can be transported to history.”