Special Field Orders, No. 120 (ongoing)

In mid-November, 1864, General William Tecumseh Sherman’s army set out from Atlanta on a calculated campaign that cut a swath of destruction through the heart of the Confederacy as it made its way to the East Coast, toward Savannah, Georgia. Sherman swore to “make Georgia howl,” and in his Special Field Order No. 120 he laid out the rules of destruction and conduct for the march. This was a culmination of Sherman’s belief that forcing civilians to feel the “hard hand of war” was a military necessity meant to demoralize and undermine the South’s war efforts and hasten victory for the Union.

“To know what war is, one should follow our tracks,” Sherman once wrote to his wife, describing the devastation left in the wake of his army’s march through Georgia during the American Civil War. My project, Special Field Order No. 120, will be an investigation of these “tracks” and the long shadow Sherman’s March to the Sea continues to cast not only on historical memory, but also on militarism in the United States and the American way of war.

In the end, Sherman’s March was a strategic success. It demonstrated the power of terror and psychological warfare in breaking the enemy’s will to resist. The campaign’s slash-and-burn tactics subsequently became a main point of reference for war planners in the 20th century and beyond, including World War II, Vietnam, and more contemporary conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan. In fact, Sherman’s March has been cited by some historians as the forerunner of modern total war.

Working with a 4x5 field camera, I will retrace Sherman’s March from Atlanta to Savannah. Making numerous trips to the area throughout the course of the project, I will capture the landscape itself during the time when the march took place (November 15 – December 21, 1864). Along the way, I will document the historical traces of Sherman’s campaign as they exist today. These include the monument to the Confederacy at Stone Mountain just outside of Atlanta, the Civil War-era state capital of Milledgeville, old Southern plantations, battlefield sites, and the city Savannah itself decorated for the holiday season. In addition, I will seek out instances that speak to the impact Sherman’s March continues to have on America today in the form of modern military bases and academies, veteran affairs hospitals, Civil War re-enactors, wounded veterans, VFW Posts, and refugees from Iraq and Afghanistan now living in the United States. More specifically, I want to pair images of wounded veterans with Civil War re-enactors, document air force bombers at Robins Air Force Base, and photograph the community commemorations of Veterans and Memorial Day. Taken in total, the project will offer a look at militarism in America and its impact on combatants and noncombatants alike through history to the present.     

Using Format