November 30, 1864 – Federal troops clashed with a makeshift enemy force while trying to prevent the Confederates from reinforcing Savannah.
Major General John G. Foster, commanding the Federal Department of the South from Hilton Head, South Carolina, sought to aid Major General William T. Sherman’s march toward Savannah. His plan was to cut the Savannah & Charleston Railroad, which the Confederates would need if they were to block Sherman.
Foster loaded “all the disposable troops in this department,” about 5,500 men, onto transports and sent them down the Broad River to Boyd’s Neck, about 35 miles northeast of Savannah. Once landed, the Federals were to march 10 miles east to cut the railroad at Grahamville. Commander George H. Preble of the South Atlantic Blockading Squadron contributed 350 sailors and 150 Marines to augment the Federal infantry. Foster entrusted overall command of this operation to Brigadier General John P. Hatch, who led the Coast Division.
The troops began debarking at Boyd’s Neck on the afternoon of the 29th. Before all the troops landed, Hatch began moving inland with an infantry brigade, a naval command, and eight guns. Bad maps caused the Federals to waste time countermarching to get to their assigned location. This delay enabled Major General Gustavus W. Smith to assemble a Confederate defense force of barely 2,000 Georgia militiamen (they had volunteered to leave their home state to fight the Federals in South Carolina), plus assorted cavalry and infantry.
Hatch’s troops finally arrived at the Grahamville railroad depot around 9 a.m. on the 30th, but by that time, Smith’s defenders blocked their path. Lieutenant General William Hardee, commanding the Confederate Department of South Carolina, Georgia, and Florida, hoped Smith’s troops could hold the Federals off long enough for reinforcements to come from the north.
The Federals drove back advance Confederate units and then approached Smith’s main defense line. The men on this line were strongly positioned along the crest of Honey Hill, about three miles below the Grahamville depot, with streams protecting both flanks. Hatch ordered three direct assaults, but enemy artillery repelled each one with heavy loss. Running low on ammunition, the Federals finally withdrew and built defenses on the Grahamville road.
Hatch sustained 746 casualties in this sharp defeat, while the Confederates lost just 50. Although the Federals failed to destroy the Grahamville depot as planned, they effectively prevented the Confederates from using the Grahamville road for reinforcement or supply. And Sherman’s march toward Savannah proceeded as planned.
Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 494-95; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 525-27; Longacre, Edward G., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 305, 368