William Tecumseh Sherman's famous March to the Sea didn't develop overnight. The idea for it began with Ulysses S. Grant's failed first attempt at capturing Vicksburg. On December 26, 1862 Grant launched a two pronged attack. Sherman via the Yazoo River would attack from the northeast. Grant would follow the railroad line of the Mississippi Central. Sherman would be defeated with heavy losses at Chickasaw Bayou on December 29th. In the meantime Confederate General Earl Van Dorn destroyed Grant's supply base at Holly Springs and General Nathan Bedford Forrest destroyed rail lines in West Tennessee stopping the transfer of supplies to Grants army. Without a line of supply Grant abandoned his part of the attack. He discovered however that his army could live off of the land. Grant simply confiscated and foraged for enough food to get his army safely back to base.
By February 1864 Vicksburg was in Union hands. Sherman decided to destroy the city of Meridian Mississippi. It was a collection point for war supplies. Three railroads intersected at Meridian and it lay halfway between the capital at Jackson and the manufacturing center of Selma Alabama which produced cannon and munitions. Meridian was deep in enemy territory and Sherman would be operating as an independent command. This was a trial run for the March to the Sea. The area was a fertile food producing area and Sherman would benefit from the earlier lesson learned in the failed Vicksburg campaign. He could live off of the land. Of course if the Confederates had been as ruthless as the Russians, after Germany invaded in 1941, and used a scorched earth policy, the history of the Civil War might have been different. As a tactic, scorched earth was unthinkable by the Confederates in 1864. By the time of the March to the Sea Sherman's army was a well oiled machine. The Union Army was replacing destroyed bridges, tunnels, roads and crossing rivers with ease. His march damaged the psyche and ruined the spirit of the South. It convinced the North that there was a light at the end of the tunnel. For the South that light was an oncoming train.