WTF Fun Fact 13722 – Savannah, Georgia – Lincoln’s Gift

In 1864, General William Tecumseh Sherman captured Savannah, Georgia, and presented it as a Christmas gift to President Abraham Lincoln. This marked a pivotal moment in the war and American history.

Sherman’s March and the Preservation of Savannah, Georgia

In his infamous march to the sea, General William Tecumseh Sherman employed harsh tactics that culminated in the burning of Atlanta, a significant act that demoralized the Confederacy and disrupted their supply lines drastically. However, his approach shifted notably as he reached Savannah.

Unlike Atlanta, Savannah was spared from destruction. Sherman found the city’s beauty compelling and decided to preserve it intact. This decision was strategic and symbolic, offering a stark contrast to the devastation left behind in other parts of Georgia.

The fall of Savannah was crucial because it was a key port for the Confederacy, and its capture significantly disrupted southern supply lines.

Sherman’s telegram to President Lincoln encapsulated the significance of this victory. He wrote, “I beg to present you as a Christmas gift the city of Savannah, with one hundred and fifty heavy guns and plenty of ammunition, also about twenty-five thousand bales of cotton.” This gesture was symbolic, illustrating the shift in the war’s momentum towards the Union forces.

Strategic and Symbolic Importance of Savannah, Georgia

The strategic importance of Savannah’s capture provided the Union with a valuable port and further isolated the southern states. Economically, the seizure of cotton bales disrupted the Confederacy’s ability to trade with European nations, particularly Britain, who relied heavily on Southern cotton.

Symbolically, the gift of Savannah to Lincoln represented hope and victory. It boosted morale among Union supporters and signaled the beginning of the end for the Confederacy. This act also emphasized the power and success of Sherman’s military strategies, which were both revered and reviled.

Implications for the Civil War

The capture of Savannah was a critical component of Sherman’s broader strategy to divide and conquer the Confederacy. By severing the South’s resources and infrastructure, Sherman aimed to hasten the end of the conflict. This approach contributed significantly to the eventual surrender of Confederate forces in April 1865.

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Source: “The must-have Christmas gift of 1864” — The National Archives

WTF Fun Fact 12691 – The Roots of Memorial Day

In the U.S., Memorial Day honors all military personnel who died while serving in the U.S. Armed Forces.

While the Act of Congress establishing the holiday was passed in 1968 and enacted in 1971, the roots of Memorial Day date back to the years after the American Civil War. And while Waterloo, New York, was identified by the federal government as the “birthplace” of the holiday, records show the first Memorial Day commemoration happened much farther away. (Waterloo was chosen because it hosted the first widespread, formal, annual event where businesses were closed and people visited the graves of soldiers who died in battle.)

Less than a month after the Confederacy surrendered and the Civil War ended in 1865, a group of formerly enslaved people held a celebration in Charleston, South Carolina, in honor of fallen Union soldiers.

Years earlier, the newly-freed men and women had stayed behind in order to give a proper burial to the 260+ Union soldiers who had been buried in a mass grave outside a racetrack the Confederacy had turned into a prison. The Union soldiers died of disease and exposure and were hastily buried in pits. Yet these men and women chose to honor them instead of evacuating the badly damaged city, removing them from the mass graves, and creating new graves for each soldier in a new cemetery labeled “Martyrs of the Race Course.”

The commemoration event to honor them in 1865 involved nearly 10,000 people, mostly Black with a few white missionaries, who marched to the racetrack carrying flowers. Black regiments marched in the parade while ministers recited Bible verses and a children’s choir sang. (You can read about the event in the book Race and Reunion by David W. Blight – though people still question whether there’s enough evidence to say the parade happened.)

While a file in an archive labeled this event the “First Decoration Day,” a few years later, in 1868, May 30 was chosen by the leader of the Northern Civil War veterans organization as a day to remember fallen soldiers as well. General John A. Logan called for a nationwide day of remembrance “designated for the purpose of strewing with flowers, or otherwise decorating the graves of comrades who died in defense of their country during the late rebellion, and whose bodies now lie in almost every city, village and hamlet churchyard in the land.”

Logan called the proposed holiday “Decoration Day” and chose the date because it didn’t commemorate any particular battle (thereby including everyone from both sides of the war in the memorial event).

Decoration Day was, indeed, celebrated long before there was a federal holiday called “Memorial Day.” General (later President) James Garfield made a speech while 5,000 participants decorated the resting places of the Civil War soldiers buried at Arlington National Cemetary (which contained the graves of 20k soldiers).

Later, Northern states organized Decoration Day and began to hold it on the same day every year, all declaring it a state holiday by 1890. The Southern states honored their war dead as well, but they each chose a different date to celebrate it. No one mentioned the Charleston celebration at the time.

While Decoration Day was originally a day to honor the Civil War dead, after WWI, it became a day to celebrate all the people in the military who lost their lives while serving.

The Act of Congress that created “Memorial Day” fixed that date as the last Monday in May (rather than the 30th) and declared it a federal holiday. This made it part of a movement to create more three-day weekends.

However, the story of the freed slaves who commemorated Union soldiers was lost to time, and some still reject it as a part of the Memorial Day timeline. However, the graves of the soldiers have been found and moved to a new cemetery (the re-burial was not in doubt), and some local residents grew up hearing stories about the massive parade from their grandparents. Still, it will likely never be recognized as the “first Memorial Day” (even though the title may be less important than simply remembering the story). That’s because it was only written about once, as far as we can tell. Perhaps archives will reveal more evidence in time.

As a bonus fun fact, did you know that there is a national moment of remembrance each year at 3:00 p.m. local time each Memorial Day? If you can’t make it out for a formal remembrance but want to honor the dead, a 3 p.m. moment of silence is a simpler act of reverence for those who want to acknowledge the day.  WTF fun facts

Source: “One of the Earliest Memorial Day Ceremonies Was Held by Freed African Americans” —

WTF Fun Fact 12656 – Wilmer McLean’s Role in the Civil War

People say Wilmer McLean “was perhaps the only man who ever had the first major pitched battle of a war fought in his front yard and the surrender signed four years later in his parlor.”

It’s a strange fact that few people know about the Civil War – but it all started and ended at one man’s house.

Wilmer McLean was a grocer from Virginia, but his farm was one of the first places to see artillery fire on July 21, 1861, in what would later become known as the First Battle of Bull Run (First Manassas) in Manassas, Prince William County, Virginia. That’s because it was being used as a headquarters for Confederate Brigadier General P. G. T. Beauregard. McLean swiftly regretted getting involved after a cannonball fell through his kitchen.

That’s when McLean took his family to Appomattox, Virginia, hoping to never see violence again (and to headquarter his own business supplying sugar to the Confederate Army in a more strategic location).

While he had long retired from the military himself, the war found him again as the Confederates lost and General Robert E. Lee surrendered to Lieutenant Ulysses S. Grant. All they needed was a safe place to meet. And that’s when McLean got a second knock on his new door on April 9, 1865.

A messenger requested to use his home – his parlor, to be exact – for the surrender. McLean is supposed to have said, “The war began in my front yard and ended in my front parlor.” That’s where Lee surrendered to Grant and effectively ended the U.S. Civil War.

McLean may have seen history twice, but his house got ransacked both times as Army members made off with his furniture, knowing it would be a part of history. However, they handed him money as they did it. For example, Major General Edward Ord paid McLean $40 (equivalent to around $700 today) as he made off with the table on which the document of surrender was signed.

If you want to see what McLean’s house looked like before that event, it has been recreated at the Appomattox Court House National Historical Park. – WTF Fun Facts

Source: “Key Civilians at Appomattox” – National Park Service