Sherman Invades South Carolina

February 4, 1865 – Major General William T. Sherman’s Federals advanced into South Carolina virtually unopposed, while Confederates scrambled to stop him.

Sherman had begun his northward advance from Savannah, Georgia four weeks late due to winter rains that swelled creeks and rivers. But once Sherman’s Federals got going, they advanced at an impressive pace of 10 miles per day, despite the watery roads. Advance units of Sherman’s army began crossing the Savannah River into South Carolina on February 1, burning the town of McPhersonville. The two-pronged advance feinted toward Augusta, Georgia and Charleston, South Carolina while actually targeting the state capital of Columbia.[1]

The Burning of McPhersonville | Image Credit: Wikipedia.org

The Burning of McPhersonville | Image Credit: Wikipedia.org

General P.G.T. Beauregard, commanding all Confederate troops in the region, called Generals William Hardee (leading South Carolina troops), G.W. Smith (leading Georgia militia), and D.H. Hill (volunteering for the emergency) to a meeting at Augusta to discuss how to stop Sherman. With only 20,000 effectives opposing over 60,000 invaders, Beauregard decided to defend Columbia while Hardee defended Charleston and Hill defended Augusta. Smith’s Georgia militia had little use because Georgia law prohibited them from leaving their state.[2]

Meanwhile, Sherman’s advance continued against sporadic opposition. The Federal wings under Generals Oliver O. Howard and Henry Slocum destroyed the region around Blackville, including the railroad linking Charleston and Augusta. Still unaware of the Federals’ true target, the South Carolinian in Columbia stated there was “no real tangible cause” for believing they would attack the state capital.[3]

In fact, the Federals were not only moving toward Columbia, but they were moving so fast that as soon as Beauregard established headquarters at the capital, he instructed D.H. Hill to abandon Augusta and reinforce him. Federals detached from Sherman’s main force also attacked James Island and Johnson’s Station around Charleston Harbor to keep the Confederates guessing about where the main strike would be.[4]

Land and sea strikes against Charleston left Beauregard still unsure whether Charleston was the true target after all. When Confederate President Jefferson Davis urged Hardee to gather all local forces to defend Charleston, Beauregard recommended that Hardee abandon the city or risk losing his entire army in case Sherman’s main force attacked. Meanwhile, Sherman destroyed some 65 miles of railroad track between Charleston and Branchville, effectively cutting Hardee off from any possible reinforcements from the west.[5]

Beauregard reached Charleston on February 14 and urged Hardee to evacuate. Davis suggested that Hardee hold on until certain that Beauregard could not gather a force to oppose Sherman, but Davis left it for Beauregard to decide strategy. As Sherman prepared to cross the Congaree River with overwhelming numbers, Beauregard peremptorily ordered Hardee to escape while he still could. At the same time, Sherman reported he was turning his army toward Columbia “without wasting time or labor on Branchville or Charleston.” Columbia residents began evacuating the capital as the Federals closed in. By February 16, the Federals had already unleashed more destruction on civilians and their property than during their eight months in Georgia, with Columbia now in their sights.[6]

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  • [1] Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 631-32; Angle, Paul M., A Pictorial History of the Civil War Years (New York: Doubleday, 1967), p. 213-14; Foote, Shelby, The Civil War: A Narrative: Volume 3: Red River to Appomattox (Vintage Civil War Library, Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, Kindle Edition, 2011-01-26), Kindle Locations 15674-15684; http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Carolinas_Campaign
  • [2] Foote, Shelby, The Civil War: A Narrative: Volume 3: Red River to Appomattox (Vintage Civil War Library, Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, Kindle Edition, 2011-01-26), Kindle Locations 16541-16561
  • [3] Foote, Shelby, The Civil War: A Narrative: Volume 3: Red River to Appomattox (Vintage Civil War Library, Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, Kindle Edition, 2011-01-26), Kindle Locations 16501-16511, 16588-16598
  • [4] Foote, Shelby, The Civil War: A Narrative: Volume 3: Red River to Appomattox (Vintage Civil War Library, Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, Kindle Edition, 2011-01-26), Kindle Locations 16560-16570; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 637
  • [5] Foote, Shelby, The Civil War: A Narrative: Volume 3: Red River to Appomattox (Vintage Civil War Library, Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, Kindle Edition, 2011-01-26), Kindle Locations 16560-16570; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 637; Pollard, Edward A., Southern History of the War (New York: The Fairfax Press, 1990), p. 445
  • [6] Foote, Shelby, The Civil War: A Narrative: Volume 3: Red River to Appomattox (Vintage Civil War Library, Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, Kindle Edition, 2011-01-26), Kindle Locations 16569-16579; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 638-39
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