Category Archives: Georgia

The Fall of Fort McAllister

December 13, 1864 – As Major General William T. Sherman’s Federal armies surrounded Savannah on the Atlantic coast, a division of XV Corps prepared to capture Fort McAllister, on the Ogeechee River south of the city.

The Confederate garrison at Fort McAllister prevented Sherman from contacting the Federal naval fleet on the Atlantic, which he needed for supplies. The Federals had spent the past three days rebuilding the 1,000-foot King’s Bridge to cross the Ogeechee, and by the 13th, they were ready to move. The 2nd Division of XV Corps, Sherman’s old command, was chosen to make the assault. It was now led by Brigadier General William A. Hazen, an officer new to division command.

Major George W. Anderson commanded the Confederate garrison, which consisted of just 250 men isolated from the main army in Savannah. Anderson reported:

“Receiving from headquarters neither orders nor responses to my telegraphic dispatches, I determined, under the circumstances, and not withstanding the great disparity of numbers, between the garrison and the attacking forces, to defend the fort to the last extremity.”

The Confederates did their best to strengthen the defenses on the fort’s land side in anticipation of an attack, including burying “landmines” (i.e., shells set to detonate when walked upon) in the Federals’ path.

Hazen spent the morning and most of the afternoon moving his 4,000 Federals across the Ogeechee and forming them in line of battle. A Confederate prisoner informed them that land mines were ahead and gave them the approximate locations. Hazen reported:

“Some time was lost in safely removing them, when leaving eight regiments at that point, nine were carried forward to about 600 yards from the fort and deployed, with a line of skirmishers thrown sufficiently near the fort to keep the gunners from working their guns with any effect–those fire to the rear being in barbette.”

Sherman watched the action from a rice mill about three miles away. With only about an hour of daylight left, Hazen signaled Sherman that he would be advancing on the fort soon. Sherman responded that he wanted the fort taken by dark, and Hazen assured him that it would be done.

The Confederates assembled on the fort’s parapets, and skirmishing began. As Sherman watched, someone turned his attention to a smokestack in the distance, moving up the Ogeechee. It belonged to a vessel from the Federal fleet. The ship signaled, “Who are you?” and Sherman identified himself. The ship asked, “Is Fort McAllister taken?” Sherman answered, “Not yet, but it will be in a minute!”

Hazen’s Federals advanced around 4:45 p.m., pushing through the landmines, felled trees, abatis, and other obstructions. Hazen reported:

“The troops were deployed in one line as thin as possible, the result of being that no man in the assault was stuck till they came to close quarters. Here the fighting became desperate and deadly. Just outside the works a line of torpedoes had been placed, many of which were exploded by the tread of the troops, blowing many men to atoms, but the line moved on without checking, over, under, and through abatis, ditches, palisading, and parapet, fighting the garrison through the fort to their bomb-proofs, from which they still fought, and only succumbed as each man was individually overpowered.”

Federal assault on Fort McAllister | Image Credit: Harper’s Weekly, Vol. IX, No. 420, 14 Jan 1865

Anderson recalled that–

“–the full force of the enemy made a rapid and vigorous charge upon the works, and, succeeding in forcing their way through the abatis, rushed over the parapet of the fort, carrying it by storm, and, by virtue of superior numbers, overpowered the garrison, fighting gallantly to the last. In many instances the Confederates were disarmed by main force.”

The Federals lost 134 men in the assault, mostly from the landmines. The Confederates lost 16 killed and 55 wounded; the rest surrendered. Sherman watched the Federals overwhelm the defenders and yelled, “It’s my old division, I knew they’d do it!” Sherman, Major General Oliver O. Howard, and their aides took a rowboat to Fort McAllister, where Sherman congratulated Hazen on his brilliant victory and called it “the handsomest thing I’ve seen in this war.”

The officers toured the fort, which according to Sherman, was–

“–held by a regiment of Hazen’s troops, and the sentinel cautioned us to be very careful, as the ground outside the fort was full of torpedoes. Indeed, while we were there, a torpedo exploded, tearing to pieces a poor fellow who was hunting for a dead comrade. Inside the fort lay the dead as they had fallen, and they could hardly be distinguished from their living comrades, sleeping soundly side by side in the pale moonlight.”

Sherman then rowed out to greet the ship he had communicated with, the U.S.S. Dandelion. He was warmly received by the sailors and officers as he climbed aboard. Sherman was told that the Lincoln administration sent tons of supplies because they had read troubling articles in southern newspapers that Sherman’s army was starving and disintegrating. Sherman sought to dispel such misinformation by writing his first dispatch to Washington since leaving Atlanta:

“To-day, at 5 p. m., General Hazen’s division of the Fifteenth Corps carried Fort McAllister by assault, capturing its entire garrison and stores. This opened to us Ossabaw Sound, and I pushed down to this gun-boat to communicate with the fleet. Before opening communication we had completely destroyed all the railroads leading into Savannah and invested the city.

“The left of the army is on the Savannah River, three miles above the city, and the right on the Ogeechee, at King’s Bridge. The army is in splendid order, and equal to anything. The weather has been fine, and supplies were abundant. Our march was most agreeable, and we were not at all molested by guerrillas… The quick work made with McAllister, the opening of communication with, our fleet, and our consequent independence as to supplies, dissipate all their boasted threats to head us off and starve the army. I regard Savannah as already gained.”

Sherman’s armies were now linked to the sea, where they could be supplied unmolested. This meant that Savannah was doomed. Sherman already started looking ahead in a letter to Chief of Staff Henry W. Halleck:

“I can only say that I hope by Christmas to be in possession of Savannah, and by the new year to be ready to resume our journey to Raleigh. The whole army is crazy to be turned loose in Carolina; and with the experience of the past 30 days I judge that a month’s sojourn in South Carolina would make her less bellicose.”

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References

Angle, Paul M., A Pictorial History of the Civil War Years (New York: Doubleday, 1967), p. 185; Castel, Albert, Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 275, 658-59; CivilWarDailyGazette.com; Davis, Jefferson, The Rise and Fall of the Confederate Government: All Volumes (Heraklion Press, Kindle Edition 2013, 1889), Loc 21087; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 502-03; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 532; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 609-10; Nevin, David, Sherman’s March: Atlanta to the Sea (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 150

Sherman’s March: Federals Target Fort McAllister

December 12, 1864 – Elements of Major General William T. Sherman’s Federal armies prepared to attack Fort McAllister, which blocked Sherman from linking with the Federal navy on the Atlantic below Savannah.

Maj Gen W.T. Sherman | Image Credit: CivilWarDailyGazette.com

By the 10th, most of Sherman’s 60,000 Federals were outside Savannah, having marched over 250 miles from Atlanta since mid-November. The troops surrounded the city’s three land sides on a line stretching from the Savannah River north of town to the Savannah & Gulf Railroad on the Ogeechee River south of town.

Lieutenant General William Hardee could muster just 18,000 men to defend Savannah. They were spread throughout the fortifications ringing the city, supported by heavy artillery. They had flooded the outlying swamps and rice fields to impede a Federal approach. Sherman assessed the defenses and chose not to launch a direct assault, but rather to place Savannah under siege.

But before he could lay siege, Sherman needed to open lines of communication and supply with the Federal naval fleet on the Atlantic. This meant confronting Fort McAllister, which stood on a high bluff on the south bank of the Ogeechee. It blocked the easiest route for the Federal army and navy to link. Confederates had destroyed the 1,000-foot King’s Bridge, which Sherman needed to get to Fort McAllister. The Federals therefore set about felling trees and tearing apart houses to rebuild the bridge.

Meanwhile, Confederate gunboats tried coming down the Savannah River to support Hardee’s men; the fleet consisted of the C.S.S. Macon, Resolute, and Sampson. The Confederates began exchanging fire with Federal shore batteries at Tweedside, but the Federals easily outgunned them. The Resolute was crippled and later captured by the Federals; the other two vessels steamed back upriver to Augusta.

Sherman spent the next two days putting his troops in place to attack Fort McAllister. The Federals were under constant fire from the Confederate guns. Major Henry Hitchcock, Sherman’s aide-de-camp, wrote on the 12th:

“Every now and then we hear the deep tone of those guns, sometimes quickly followed by the equally loud explosion of a shell, to front and left of us some hundred yards ahead. Then other guns off to our right and front, over at the canal; and now others far over to the left, with occasional popping of musketry. Very few guns have been fired on our side–we are not ready.”

The Fort McAllister garrison consisted of just 250 men under Major George W. Anderson. They were isolated from the main Confederate force in Savannah, but as Hitchcock explained:

“It is a strong fort, built to command the entrance to Ogeechee River, about five miles (so I am told) above its mouth, and has twice successfully resisted the attack of our gunboats. It must be taken, for we must communicate without delay with the fleet which is already in Ossabaw Sound; but it is sure, even if we take it, to cost heavily.”

Each night, Federal naval vessels steamed as far up the Ogeechee as possible without coming under fire from Fort McAllister. They launched signal rockets for Sherman but received no response. However, on the night of the 11th, Captain William Duncan and two other Federals from Sherman’s army found a rough path around the fort and met up with Marines, who took them to the naval fleet. Duncan later wrote:

“Let me tell you that in our circumstances, it is a glorious privilege to fall into the hands of marines. The changes from despondency, privations and despair were very sudden. Our object was accomplished; surrounded by friends, and with the United States Flag floating over us, every comfort was provided for us.”

Duncan and his men were taken to Hilton Head, South Carolina, where they met with Rear Admiral John A.B. Dahlgren, commanding the South Atlantic Blockading Squadron, and Major General John G. Foster, commanding the Department of the South. Washington officials had not heard from Sherman since he left Atlanta, but now Dahlgren reported to them:

“I have the great satisfaction of conveying to you information of the arrival of General Sherman near Savannah, with his army in fine spirits… This memorable event must be attended by still more memorable consequences, and I congratulate you most heartily on its occurrence.”

Meanwhile, Sherman oversaw the restoration of King’s Bridge over the Ogeechee. He directed Brigadier General William B. Hazen’s division of XV Corps–the same division that Sherman had commanded at Shiloh–to attack and capture Fort McAllister. Sherman wrote, “I knew it to be strong in heavy artillery as against an approach from the sea, but believed it open and weak to the rear. I explained to General Hazen, fully, that on his action depended the safety of the whole army, and the success of the campaign.”

Hazen was ordered “to march rapidly down the right bank of the Ogeechee, and without hesitation to assault and carry Fort McAllister by storm.” This assault would take place on the 13th.

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References

Castel, Albert, Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 275; CivilWarDailyGazette.com; Davis, Jefferson, The Rise and Fall of the Confederate Government: All Volumes (Heraklion Press, Kindle Edition 2013, 1889), Loc 21078-87; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 500-02; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 531; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 609; Nevin, David, Sherman’s March: Atlanta to the Sea (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 144-49

Sherman’s March: Federals Close in on Savannah

December 10, 1864 – Main elements of Major General William T. Sherman’s Federal armies arrived on the outskirts of Savannah after cutting a path of destruction through Georgia from Atlanta to the sea.

Sherman’s Federals continued heading toward Savannah, one of the Confederacy’s last functioning seaports on the Atlantic. The cavalry, led by Brigadier General H. Judson Kilpatrick, continued skirmishing with Major General Joseph Wheeler’s Confederate troopers, but the infantry was virtually unopposed. Lieutenant General William Hardee, the Confederate department commander, had just 10,000 men to defend Savannah, mostly consisting of Major General Lafayette McLaws’s division and state militia.

On the 5th, the Federals approached a small line of defensive works about 50 miles west of Savannah. The works had been manned by Hardee’s Confederates, but according to Sherman, Hardee “must have seen that both of his flanks were being turned, and prudently retreated to Savannah without a fight.” The Federal march continued, as Sherman wrote in his memoirs:

“The weather was fine, the roads good, and every thing seemed to favor us. Never do I recall a more agreeable sensation than the sight of our camps by night, lit up by the fires of fragrant pine-knots. The trains were all in good order, and the men seemed to march their 15 miles a day as though it were nothing. No enemy opposed us, and we could only occasionally hear the faint reverberation of a gun to our left rear, where we knew that General Kilpatrick was skirmishing with Wheeler’s cavalry, which persistently followed him. But the infantry columns had met with no opposition whatsoever. McLaws’s division was falling back before us, and we occasionally picked up a few of his men as prisoners, who insisted that we would meet with strong opposition at Savannah.”

Maj Gen W.T. Sherman | Image Credit: Harper’s Weekly, 17 Dec 1864, Vol. VIII, No. 416

But the Federals encountered opposition of a different kind on the 8th. Retreating Confederates had planted “land torpedoes,” forerunners to landmines, in the roads leading east. These devices were eight-inch shells wired to detonate when stepped on. Sherman came across a young officer whose leg had been nearly blown off by one of the shells, and he later wrote:

“This was not war, but murder, and it made me very angry. I immediately ordered a lot of rebel prisoners to be brought from the provost-guard, armed with picks and spades, and made them march in close order along the road, so as to explode their own torpedoes, or to discover and dig them up. They begged hard, but I reiterated the order, and could hardly help laughing at their stepping so gingerly along the road, where it was supposed sunken torpedoes might explode at each step, but they found no other torpedoes till near Fort McAllister.”

The Federal XIV Corps, holding the left of Sherman’s left (north) wing, reached the Savannah River on the 8th, where troops were fired upon by the C.S.S. Macon. However, as a soldier wrote, “The curiosity of all to see a live Rebel Gunboat in operation overcame whatever alarm might have been felt and there was a rush to the river bank in such numbers that the boat was frightened away and soon disappeared up the river.”

To the right, troops of XX Corps had to build a new corduroy road to continue their advance. Farther right, Sherman rode with XVII Corps of the right wing, which halted at Pooler’s Station, about eight miles from Savannah. On the extreme right, men of XV Corps drove off a small Confederate force and reached the Canoochee River, below Savannah. From here, the Federals learned that the Confederates had abandoned defenses on the Little Ogeechee River. It also brought Sherman very close to linking with Federal naval forces on the Atlantic.

Major General Oliver O. Howard, commanding the Federal right wing, received a message from one of Sherman’s aides:

“If you can possibly do so, he wishes you to send a note by a canoe down the Ogeechee, pass the railroad bridge in the night, and inform the naval commander that we have arrived in fine condition and are moving directly against Savannah, but, for the present, do not risk giving any details.”

Sherman hoped to surprise Hardee at Savannah, but Hardee’s troops had captured a messenger and already knew the location of each of Sherman’s four corps. But there was little Hardee could do against Sherman’s armies, which outnumbered him six-to-one. Hardee’s superior, General P.G.T. Beauregard at Charleston, also conceded the strong possibility that Savannah may fall. He wrote to Hardee:

“Having no army of relief to look to, and your forces being essential to the defense of Georgia and South Carolina, whenever you shall have to select between their safety and that of Savannah, sacrifice the latter, and form a junction with General (Samuel) Jones, holding the left bank of the Savannah River and the railroad to this place as long as possible.”

Beauregard traveled to Savannah on the 9th and consulted with Hardee. Upon leaving, Beauregard wrote him:

“It is my desire, after the consultation that has taken place, that you should hold this city so long as in your judgment it may be advisable to do so, bearing in mind that should you have to decide between a sacrifice of the garrison or city, you will preserve the garrison for operations elsewhere.”

The Confederacy could ill afford to lose another army, therefore Hardee had to give up Savannah if it looked like he could not stop the Federals from taking it. Beauregard directed men to build a bridge over the Savannah River that Hardee could use to escape to Charleston if necessary. Major General Samuel Jones, commanding a small force in South Carolina, would cover Hardee’s retreat.

Hardee recruited all available men in Savannah, raising the size of his force to about 18,000. These troops built fortifications overlooking all possible Federal approaches to the city, and they flooded the surrounding rice fields and swamps. This limited an enemy approach to just five constricted causeways. The Confederate garrison at Fort McAllister blocked Federal attempts to reach the navy on the Atlantic via the Ogeechee River.

The bulk of Sherman’s army arrived outside Savannah on the 10th, taking positions north, west, and south of the city. Since leaving Atlanta, the Federals had covered 250 miles in 26 days and caused $100 million in destruction. The men and horses were hungry due to lack of forage in the area, so Sherman directed the cavalry to reconnoiter Fort McAllister as part of the larger effort to open a supply link to the Atlantic fleet.

As the cavalry set off, Sherman quickly saw that Savannah’s defenses were too strong to overcome by direct assault, and he therefore resolved to place the city under siege.

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References

Angle, Paul M., A Pictorial History of the Civil War Years (New York: Doubleday, 1967), p. 185; Castel, Albert, Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 275, 658-59; CivilWarDailyGazette.com; Davis, Jefferson, The Rise and Fall of the Confederate Government: All Volumes (Heraklion Press, Kindle Edition 2013, 1889), Loc 21078; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 498-500; Foote, Shelby, The Civil War: A Narrative: Volume 3: Red River to Appomattox (Vintage Civil War Library, Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, Kindle Edition, 2011), Loc 13660-70; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 531; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 608-09; Longacre, Edward G., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 474-75

Sherman’s March: The Waynesborough Engagement

December 4, 1864 – Federal and Confederate cavalry forces clashed for several days as Major General William T. Sherman’s Federal march to the sea seemed unstoppable.

Federal Maj Gen W.T. Sherman | Image Credit: collaborationnation.wikispaces.com

Sherman’s two Federal armies continued advancing in multiple columns toward Savannah on the Atlantic coast. The Federals followed the railroads, tearing up track behind them and twisting them around trees so the Confederates could not repair them; these became known as “Sherman neckties.” Sherman’s “bummers” also continued ransacking farms, looting homes, and burning towns along the way.

In response, Major General Joseph Wheeler’s Confederate cavalry patrolled the countryside and executed any Federals they caught pillaging. General Braxton Bragg, the new Confederate commander in Georgia, ordered Wheeler to block Sherman’s advance, but a few thousand cavalrymen were no match for 60,000 Federal veterans. Nevertheless, Bragg told Wheeler that until reinforcements arrived, he was to “cover the enemy’s front and retard his movements much, whatever may be his line of march.” Bragg continued:

“The bridges, causeways, &c., on all creeks should be destroyed; forest trees should be felled at every point where they will obstruct the march; fences may be pulled down and used–indeed, every expedient which ingenuity may suggest should be adopted to retard the enemy’s movements. At the same time you should keep your fighting force close in his front, so as to make him work under every disadvantage… Let it be known through the country generally that we are very largely re-enforced here and at Savannah, and are prepared for any movement on us.”

Meanwhile, Brigadier General H. Judson Kilpatrick, commanding the Federal cavalry at Louisville, received orders of his own. Sherman directed him to push Wheeler toward Augusta to make him think the Federals would head that way. Sherman actually planned to march to Millen and then pivot southeast to Savannah. Kilpatrick was assigned “to cover the movements of our troops, marching in several columns on Millen.”

Detachments from Kilpatrick’s and Wheeler’s commands clashed about nine miles outside Waynesborough (now known as Waynesboro) on the 1st. That night, Kilpatrick reported to Sherman, “Several of my men have been killed after being taken prisoners, others have been found with their bodies mutilated, throats cut, &c.” Kilpatrick requested authorization to retaliate.

Sherman warned Kilpatrick to be “very careful as to the correctness of any information you may receive about the enemy murdering or mutilating our men.” Then, he allowed Kilpatrick to proceed:

“When our men are found, and you are fully convinced the enemy have killed them after surrender in fair battle, or have mutilated their bodies after being killed in fair battle, you may hang and mutilate man for man without regard to rank.”

In the meantime, Sherman accompanied units of XVII Corps into Millen on the 3rd. From there, he took stock of his army’s location:

  • The right (southwest) wing consisted of Major General Oliver O. Howard’s Army of the Tennessee. Howard was with XV Corps near Scarboro, south of the Ogeechee River, while his XVII Corps was with Sherman at Millen.
  • The left (northeast) wing consisted of Major General Henry W. Slocum’s Army of Georgia. Slocum was with XX Corps at Buckhead Church, four miles north of Millen.
  • Major General Jefferson C. Davis’s XIV Corps from Slocum’s army was at Lumpkin’s Station, 10 miles north of Millen.
  • Kilpatrick’s cavalry screened XIV Corps and stood ready to support the army if threatened.

Federal troops came across the former Federal prisoner of war camp at Millen. Confederates had transferred the prisoners to Florida before Sherman could free them, but the bodies of several unburied dead men remained. This sight outraged the Federals, who retaliated by destroying the town’s hotel and railroad depot.

Kilpatrick’s Federals wrecked the railroad between Augusta and Millen. After they bivouacked for the night, Wheeler’s horsemen sneaked artillery close up on them, “shelling their camp with good effect.” The Confederates then withdrew to Waynesborough, about 30 miles south of Augusta. Kilpatrick responded by ordering his cavalry “to attack and rout the command of Wheeler” the next day.

Gen Hugh Judson Kilpatrick | Image Credit: Wikispaces.com

Kilpatrick’s leading brigade, commanded by Colonel Smith D. Atkins, met Confederate advance units a few miles south of Waynesborough around 7:30 a.m. on the 4th. Atkins pushed them back to the main force, which fought behind barricades. The Federals used horse artillery and repeating rifles to silence the Confederate gunners, and then charged against Wheeler’s right flank. This dislodged the defenders and sent them retreating to a second set of defensive works.

Colonel Eli H. Murray’s Federal brigade charged Wheeler’s front and knocked the Confederates back once more. They retreated across Brier Creek, four miles north of Waynesborough. The Federals inflicted 250 casualties while sustaining about 190. Kilpatrick reported, “The men of my command fought most bravely throughout the day, and it is impossible to single out from among the officers individual cases of gallantry when all did so well.”

The Federals then burned the bridges over Brier Creek, thus keeping Wheeler’s men on the Augusta side of the waterway while Sherman’s Federals turned away from them toward Savannah. Kilpatrick had successfully screened the main Federal movement.

During this time, the four corps of Sherman’s two wings resumed their march on the four roads leading to Savannah. Bragg, finally realizing that the Federals were targeting Savannah instead of Augusta, scrambled to find troops to stop them. When word reached Savannah, Captain W.W. Hunter of the Confederate Navy contacted Lieutenant Joel S. Kennard of the C.S.S. Macon:

“The Charleston and Savannah Railway Bridge at the Savannah River is a very important point to defend, and should it become necessary, endeavor to be in position there to defend it. In order to do so, and also to patrol the Savannah River, watch carefully the state of the river, and do not be caught aground or be cut off from the position at the bridge.”

Major General Wade Hampton’s cavalry force was on its way from Virginia, and Lieutenant General William Hardee’s infantry (consisting of Major General Lafayette McLaws’s division and state militia) blocked Sherman’s path to the coast. But they were hopelessly outnumbered, and it was only a matter of time before Sherman broke through.

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References

CivilWarDailyGazette.com; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 496-97; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 527-29; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 605-06; Longacre, Edward G., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 474-75, 810

Sherman’s March Cannot Be Stopped

November 26, 1864 – Major General William T. Sherman’s Federal march through Georgia resumed, as did the destruction and desolation left in the soldiers’ wake.

Maj Gen W.T. Sherman | Image Credit: CivilWarDailyGazette.com

Sherman had two armies on the move in Georgia. The left wing (i.e., the Army of Georgia under Major General Henry W. Slocum) had captured the state capital of Milledgeville and, on the 24th, was on the move again. Slocum’s new target was Sandersville, 30 miles east.

The right wing (i.e., Major General Oliver O. Howard’s Army of the Tennessee) moved south along the Oconee River. A small force of Confederates put up a fight on the Oconee, but Howard easily outflanked them. Lieutenant General William Hardee, commanding the Confederate Department of South Carolina, Georgia, and Florida, ordered the troops back to Sebastopol, 40 miles east. The Federals crossed the Oconee and continued advancing to keep pace with Slocum’s left wing to the north.

Sherman directed his cavalry, led by Brigadier General H. Judson Kilpatrick, to move northeast, feint toward Augusta, and then turn to destroy the bridge over Briar Creek near Waynesboro, on the Augusta & Savannah Railroad. This would cut the rail link between Augusta and Millen. Sherman also instructed Kilpatrick to try freeing the Federal prisoners held at Millen.

Major General Joseph Wheeler led his Confederate cavalry to Sandersville, where they awaited Slocum’s approach on the 25th. According to Sherman:

“A brigade of rebel cavalry was deployed before the town, and was driven in and through it by our skirmish line. I myself saw the rebel cavalry apply fire to stacks of fodder standing in the fields at Sandersville, and gave orders to burn some unoccupied dwellings close by. On entering the town, I told certain citizens (who would be sure to spread the report) that, if the enemy attempted to carry out their threat to burn their food, corn, and fodder, in our route, I would most undoubtedly execute to the letter the general orders of devastation made at the outset of the campaign. With this exception… the people did not destroy food, for they saw clearly that it would be ruin to themselves.”

As Slocum’s Federals entered Sandersville, Wheeler turned north to take on Kilpatrick’s horsemen, which were reportedly threatening Augusta. Kilpatrick arrived at Millen on the 26th, where he discovered that the Federal prisoners there had been transferred to Florida. Kilpatrick instead ordered his troopers to destroy a stretch of the railroad before camping for the night.

Wheeler’s Confederates approached near midnight and targeted the camps of the 8th Indiana and 2nd U.S. Cavalry at Sylvian Grove, near Waynesboro. Wheeler reported:

“I started immediately with my command, overtaking him about midnight. I immediately attacked and captured his picket, and pushed on to his camp and drove him back from the main Augusta road and out of his camps, capturing 1 stand of colors, some prisoners, some 50 horses, clothing, blankets, camp equipage, &c., in considerable quantities.”

Kilpatrick, who had been sleeping in a nearby house, hurried onto his horse in his nightshirt and barely escaped capture. Wheeler’s Confederates pursued closely, preventing the Federals from burning the railroad bridge over Briar Creek. Wheeler hoped to save Augusta from destruction. He later wrote:

“Being mindful of the great damage that could be done by the enemy’s burning the valuable mills and property which were not protected by fortifications, including the factories in the vicinity, the large portion of the city outside of the fortifications, the arsenal and sand hills, I hoped by pressing him hard he might be turned from his purpose.”

The forces of Kilpatrick and Wheeler clashed on the 27th in a fight that included saber charges and close-range pistol fire. The Federals withdrew and camped for the night at Buck Head Creek, unaware that Wheeler’s troopers were still nearby. Kilpatrick inexplicably set up his tent away from the main encampment, and when the Confederates attacked the next morning, he was nearly captured again.

Kilpatrick and the 9th Michigan fended Wheeler off long enough to join the main body of cavalry. As the Federals crossed Buck Head Creek, the 5th Ohio formed a rear guard and stopped the Confederate attackers with a section of howitzers. The 5th Ohio’s colonel reported, “When the smoke… cleared away the rebels who were crowded on the causeways of the bridge were not seen.”

The Federals burned the bridge to slow Wheeler’s pursuit, and Colonel Smith D. Atkins’s Federal brigade formed a defense line near Reynolds’ Plantation to the south. Atkins’s men repelled two Confederate charges “quickly and easily,” enabling Kilpatrick’s command to rejoin Slocum’s left wing at Louisville.

As November ended, Slocum’s Federals crossed the Ogeechee River without any real opposition. The Confederate high command soon began realizing that Sherman was headed for the Atlantic. President Jefferson Davis wrote General P.G.T. Beauregard, commanding the Confederate Western Theater, that the Federals “may move directly for the Coast.”

Davis then sent General Braxton Bragg, currently stationed at Wilmington, North Carolina, to supersede Hardee. Bragg accepted the assignment but wrote, “In assuming it, I must candidly express my belief that no practicable combinations of my available men can avert disaster.” Bragg arrived at Augusta on the 27th, certain that the Confederates could do nothing to stop Sherman’s advance.

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References

CivilWarDailyGazette.com; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 492-95; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 523-25; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 601, 603-04; Longacre, Edward G., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 87, 474-75; Nevin, David, Sherman’s March: Atlanta to the Sea (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 67

Sherman’s March: The Fall of Milledgeville

November 23, 1864 – Major General William T. Sherman entered the capital of Georgia and saw that his Federals had already begun laying waste to the town.

Sherman’s two Federal armies continued moving east and south through Georgia on their way to the Atlantic coast. Sherman rode with Major General Jefferson C. Davis’s division of XX Corps, which was part of the eastern-moving column (i.e., the Army of Georgia) under Major General Henry W. Slocum. Sherman and his staff stopped at a 6,000-acre plantation about 10 miles north of Milledgeville. Sherman later wrote that they–

“… on inquiring of a negro, found that we were at the plantation of General Howell Cobb, of Georgia, one of the leading rebels of the South, then a general in the Southern army, and who had been Secretary of the United States Treasury in Mr. (James) Buchanan’s time. Of course, we confiscated his property, and found it rich in corn, beans, pea-nuts, and sorghum-molasses.

“Extensive fields were all round the house; I sent word back to General Davis to explain whose plantation it was, and instructed him to spare nothing. That night huge bonfires consumed the fence-rails, kept our soldiers warm, and the teamsters and men, as well as the slaves, carried off an immense quantity of corn and provisions of all sorts.”

Sherman encouraged the slaves to take what they wanted from Cobb’s plantation before the Federals destroyed it. Meanwhile, the Georgia legislature and other state officials fled the capital as the Federals approached. Slocum detached the 3rd Wisconsin and the 107th New York regiments under Colonel William Hawley to seize Milledgeville. The Federals entered the town on the afternoon of the 22nd, and Hawley reported that they–

“… Immediately proceeded to establish patrols in the streets, and detailed suitable guards for the public buildings, including the State House, two arsenals, one depot, one magazine for powder and ammunition, and other buildings containing cotton, salt, and other contraband property.”

The Federals raised the U.S. flag over the capitol building and held a mock session of the legislature, where they voted to repeal Georgia’s ordinance of secession. The troops ransacked the state archives, looted the state library, and burned Confederate currency. Hawley wrote that he believed it “would have required at least a week to obtain” a list of everything that was destroyed. But he provided his best estimate:

“One powder magazine, blown up; railroad depot and surrounding buildings, burned; 2,300 muskets, smooth bore, calibre 69, burned; 300 sets accoutrements, burned; 10,000 rounds ammunition, calibre 69, burned; 5,000 lances, burned; 1,500 cutlasses, burned; 15 boxes United States standard weights and measures, burned; 16 hogsheads salt, thrown into the river; 170 boxes fixed ammunition, and 200 kegs powder. Turned over all that was valuable to Major Reynolds, and threw the balance into the river. About 1,500 pounds tobacco were distributed among the troops. A large quantity of cotton–say 1,800 bales–was disposed of by General Sherman, manner not made known to me. One large three-story building in the square, near the State House, was burned, together with a large number of miscellaneous articles, as parts of harnesses and saddles, a repairshop, with all the necessary tools for repairing all kinds of materials, etc.”

Raising the U.S. flag over the capitol at Milledgeville | Image Credit: Harper’s Weekly, Vol. IX, No. 419, 7 Jan 1865

Sherman accompanied XX Corps into Milledgeville the next day and took up headquarters in the governor’s mansion. This ended the first leg of his march through Georgia. His Federals were quickly earning the reputation of “bummers” by foraging throughout the countryside and seizing food, livestock, draft animals, wagons, and other supplies needed for their march. They looted and burned countless homes and businesses, leaving large swaths of destruction in their wake. Many civilians were left without food or shelter.

From Richmond, President Jefferson Davis wrote to all Confederate commanders in Georgia “that every effort will be made by destroying bridges, felling trees, planting sub-terra shells and otherwise, to obstruct the advance of the enemy.”

Lieutenant General William Hardee, commanding the Confederate Department of South Carolina, Georgia, and Florida, had barely 3,000 militiamen under Major General Gustavus W. Smith to oppose Sherman’s 60,000 Federals. And the Confederates were still unaware that Sherman’s ultimate goal was Savannah, on the Atlantic coast.

Davis wrote Hardee, “When the purpose of the enemy shall be developed, every effort must be made to obstruct the route on which he is moving, and all other available means must be employed to delay his march, as well to enable our forces to be concentrated as to reduce him to want of the necessary supplies.” But Hardee did not have the manpower to obstruct any of the four different routes Sherman’s men were taking through Georgia.

On Thursday the 24th, the Federals at Milledgeville enjoyed a Thanksgiving feast of turkey and chicken. As they ate, Federal escapees from the Andersonville prison camp staggered into town, scantily clad and starving. Many prisoners cried upon seeing their comrades in control of the state capital. Their appearance “sickened and infuriated” the Federals, who thought “of the tens of thousands of their imprisoned comrades, slowly perishing with hunger in the midst of… barns bursting with grain and food to feed a dozen armies.”

The sight of such emaciated men ensured that Sherman’s march would be even more destructive when it resumed.

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References

CivilWarDailyGazette.com; Davis, Jefferson, The Rise and Fall of the Confederate Government: All Volumes (Heraklion Press, Kindle Edition 2013, 1889), Loc 21069; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 490-92; Foote, Shelby, The Civil War: A Narrative: Volume 3: Red River to Appomattox (Vintage Civil War Library, Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, Kindle Edition, 2011), Loc 13503-13; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 522-23; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 599-600; Longacre, Edward G., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 87, 305, 368, 474-75; McPherson, James M., Battle Cry of Freedom: The Civil War Era (Oxford History of the United States Book 6, Oxford University Press, Kindle Edition, 1988), p. 810; Nevin, David, Sherman’s March: Atlanta to the Sea (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 59-60, 62, 68; Ward, Geoffrey C., Burns, Ric, Burns, Ken, The Civil War (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1990), p. 340-44

Sherman’s March Causes Panic

November 18, 1864 – Georgia Governor Joseph E. Brown issued a proclamation urging all able-bodied men between the ages of 16 and 55 to form militias and oppose Major General William T. Sherman’s march through the state.

Sherman’s two Federal armies continued moving east and south from Atlanta. Major General Henry W. Slocum’s Army of Georgia moved east through Madison and approached Eatonton on its way to the state capital of Milledgeville. Increasing numbers of fugitive slaves joined the Federals, cheering them as they burned a slavepen in Madison.

Major General Oliver O. Howard’s Army of the Tennessee moved south through Hillsboro on its way to Clinton, which was west of the Georgia capital at Milledgeville. Federal cavalry under Brigadier General H. Judson Kilpatrick screened Howard’s advance. Governor Brown’s call for men to rise in defense of their homes did little to stop the Federals, as most Georgians saw the futility of resisting such a large force.

President Jefferson Davis urged Major General Howell Cobb, commanding a small Confederate militia force near Macon, to “endeavor to get out every man who can render any service, even for a short period of time, and employ negroes in obstructing roads by every practical means.” He also asked Cobb to arm himself “with shells prepared to explode by pressure, and these will be effective to check an advance.”

Confederate Lieut Gen William Hardee | Image Credit: Flickr.com

The “shells” were land mines that Confederate Colonel Gabriel Rains had developed before the war. General P.G.T. Beauregard, commanding all Confederates in the Western Theater, ordered “a large supply of Rains’ subterra shells, with competent person to employ them,” for Cobb’s men. Beauregard was on his way from Alabama to take field command at Macon, but due to bad roads, he would not get there before Sherman’s Federals did. Beauregard therefore asked Lieutenant General William Hardee, commanding the Confederates at Charleston, South Carolina, to take command at Macon. Beauregard then issued an appeal to the people of Georgia:

“Arise for the defense of your native soil! Rally round your patriotic Governor and gallant soldiers! Obstruct and destroy all roads in Sherman’s front, flank, and rear, and his army will soon starve in your midst! Be confident and resolute! Trust in an overruling Providence, and success will crown your efforts. I hasten to join you in defense of your homes and firesides.”

As Hardee prepared to go to Macon, he received word that the Federals were bypassing that town and closing in on Augusta instead. He therefore concluded that Sherman’s ultimate goal would be Savannah, on the Atlantic coast. Hardee contacted Major General Lafayette McLaws, commanding the Confederates at Savannah, “What defense have you to protect Savannah from land attack?”

McLaws replied, “Have no defenses but an inundation, which is not complete and does not cover the crossing of the Charleston railroad over the Savannah River.” Hardee instructed him to “be prepared to press negroes if you need them” to build defenses. Meanwhile, Governor Brown and other state officials evacuated Milledgeville as Sherman’s Federals approached.

Hardee arrived at Macon on the night of the 19th. He had just 14,680 officers and men in his Department of South Carolina, Georgia, and Florida to face over 60,000 Federals. Hardee met with Major General Joseph Wheeler, commanding the Confederate cavalry in Georgia, and directed him to ride toward Clinton to “ascertain the enemy’s force and location.”

On the morning of the 20th, Wheeler’s horsemen rode into Clinton and clashed with Federal infantry under Major General Peter J. Osterhaus. Wheeler reported, “Six men dashed into the town and captured General Osterhaus’ servant (an enlisted man) within 20 feet of General Osterhaus’ headquarters.” Kilpatrick’s Federal cavalry quickly came up to stop the Confederate advance. Wheeler wrote, “A regiment of the enemy’s cavalry charged us, making the retreat of my small escort necessary.”

Wheeler’s Confederates withdrew toward Milledgeville as Kilpatrick’s Federals rode toward Macon. A Federal brigade met Confederate forces about four miles east of Macon and pushed them back toward the town. The forces collided again at Walnut Creek, and this time the Confederates held their ground. The Federals fell back toward Griswoldville, where the rest of Kilpatrick’s troopers were busy destroying the town. They burned a factory that turned out revolvers, along with a locomotive, the railroad, and most public buildings.

Hardee directed Wheeler to lead his men to Griswoldville, but by the time they got there, the Federals were gone. On the night of the 20th, Howard’s column stopped between Clinton and Gordon, while Slocum’s stopped near Milledgeville. When it became apparent that the Federals would not threaten Macon, Hardee directed General Gustavus W. Smith to take his militia by train from Macon to Augusta and harass the Federal rear.

Smith’s 2,000 militiamen caught up to the Federal XV Corps rear guard at Griswoldville on the 22nd. The first and only infantry fight of the march ensued, as Brigadier General P.J. Phillips ordered the Confederates to charge across an open field and take the strongly defended Federal position. The Federals easily repulsed the charge, inflicting 523 casualties (51 killed and 472 wounded) while sustaining just 92 (13 killed and 79 wounded). Smith angrily denounced Phillips for ordering such a suicidal assault.

Meanwhile, Slocum’s Federals closed in on the state capital.

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References

CivilWarDailyGazette.com; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 488-90; Foote, Shelby, The Civil War: A Narrative: Volume 3: Red River to Appomattox (Vintage Civil War Library, Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, Kindle Edition, 2011), Loc 13561-71; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 521-22; Jensen, Les D., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 328; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 598; Longacre, Edward G., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 474-75, 704; McPherson, James M., Battle Cry of Freedom: The Civil War Era (Oxford History of the United States Book 6, Oxford University Press, Kindle Edition, 1988), p. 809; Nevin, David, Sherman’s March: Atlanta to the Sea (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 59-61, 82