...Sherman’s ‘March to the Sea’ was a classic chevauchee, a tactic used regularly in the Hundred Years War and related to scorched earth and the Russian defense in depth. A chevauchee was a cross country raid that literally wiped out everything of any value in a broad swath of countryside. According to Barbara Tuchman in A Distant Mirror both sides set out on these rampages killing and burning everything of value that they couldn’t carry off or eat on the spot. The path of destruction could be miles wide and 50 miles long. In the process they not only burned crops in the field or storage but girdled fruit trees, up rooted grape vines and burned everything else. Some of this went on in the 30 Years War – as the tactic was to deny the enemy the support of the local population and of course food. It could be accomplished by a smaller group of men and avoided pitched battle (source: link)
Sherman pretty well sliced the South in half and kept going. They uprooted the train tracks they weren’t using and bent the rails – and since the South didn’t have much industrial capacity, that was the end of the railroad. (Footnote, the South maintained a different rail road gage until the 1880 when a single width rail line was standardized.)
What I find amazing is that the population always came back from hiding and in a few years, had good farms running again. In parts of Germany, the countryside was so depopulated that men were forbidden to enter Holy Orders until age 50 and polygamy enjoyed a brief, sanctioned revival.