Category Archives: Georgia

The Capture of Jefferson Davis

May 10, 1865 – Federal cavalry seized Confederate President Jefferson Davis and members of his party near Irwinville, Georgia.

Davis had reunited with his wife Varina and their children on the 9th out of fear that they might be vulnerable to nearby marauders. Once their combined wagon train reached Irvinville that night, Davis felt confident that his family was safe, and he therefore planned to separate from them again the next morning to keep them out of Federal danger. Davis hoped to continue south before turning west and carrying on the fight beyond the Mississippi River.

During the night, troopers of the 4th Michigan Cavalry under Lieutenant Colonel Benjamin C. Pritchard surrounded the Davis encampment after learning the party had traveled south from Abbeville. Just before dawn, Davis’s coachman notified him that men were approaching. Thinking they were marauders, Davis told his wife, “Those men have attacked us at last; I will go out and see if I cannot stop the firing; surely I will have some authority with the Confederates.” According to Varina:

“Just before day the enemy charged our camp yelling like demons. Mr. Davis received timely warning of their approach but believing them to be our own people deliberately made his toilette and was only disabused of the delusion, when he saw them deploying a few yards off. He started down to the little stream hoping to meet his servant with his horse and arms, but knowing he would be recognized, I pleaded with him to let me throw over him a large waterproof wrap which had often served him in sickness during the summer season for a dressing gown and which I hoped might so cover his person that in the grey of the morning he would not be recognized.

“As he strode off I threw over his head a little black shawl which was around my own shoulders, saying that he could not find his hat and after he started sent my colored woman after him with a bucket for water hoping that he would pass unobserved. He attempted no disguise, consented to no subterfuge but if he had in failure is found the only matter of cavil.”

As the president left the tent, a Federal trooper rode up and ordered him to halt. Davis refused and the trooper raised his rifle toward him. Davis turned as if to charge the man, but Varina came forward and threw her arms around him. The Davises and the trooper exchanged angry words as more troopers rode up. Davis finally said, “God’s will be done,” and sat down at a fire near the tent.

Northern version of Davis’s capture | Image Credit: Flickr.com

Davis, his wife, and their four children became prisoners, along with aide Colonel William P. Johnston (son of the late General Albert Sidney Johnston), secretary Burton Harrison, Treasury Secretary John Reagan, former Texas Governor Francis Lubbock, and some others. The Federals plundered Davis’s camp, seeking incriminating documents and the millions of dollars that Federal officials claimed he carried. Colonel Pritchard later reported:

“Upon returning to camp I was accosted by Davis from among the prisoners, who asked if I was the officer in command; and upon my answering him that I was, and asking him whom I was to call him, he replied that I might call him what or whom I pleased; when I replied to him that I would call him Davis, and after a moment’s hesitation he said that was his name; when he suddenly drew himself up in true royal dignity and exclaimed, ‘I suppose that you consider it bravery to charge a train of defenseless women and children, but it is theft–it is vandalism!’

“After allowing the prisoners time to prepare breakfast, I mounted them on their own horses, taking one of the ambulances for my wounded, and one of the wagons for the dead, using the other two ambulances for the conveyance of the women and children, and started on my return by the direct route to Abbeville, where I arrived at sunset the same day. Here I halted for the night and called in the rest of my regiment from its duty along the river, and resumed my march toward Macon at an early hour on the morning of the 11th, after having buried our dead and performed the last solemn rites of the soldier over his fallen comrades; sending couriers in advance to announce the success of the expedition.”

As news of Davis’s capture reached the North, rumors quickly spread that he had been captured while disguised in women’s clothing. However, Davis actually wore a raincoat and shawl due to the rain. Reagan later asserted:

“As one of the means of making the Confederate cause odious, the foolish and wicked charge was made that he was captured in woman’s clothes; and his portrait, showing him in petticoats, was afterward placarded generally in show cases and public places in the North. He was also pictured as having bags of gold on him when captured. This charge of his being arrested in woman’s clothes is disproven by the circumstances attending his capture. The suddenness of the unexpected attack of the enemy allowed no time for a change of clothes. I saw him a few minutes after his surrender, wearing his accustomed suit of Confederate gray, with his boots and hat on, and I have elsewhere shown that he had no money.”

With the capture of Jefferson Davis, all that was left of the Confederate government ceased to exist.

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References

CivilWarDailyGazette.com; Clark, Champ, The Assassination: The Death of the President (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 145; Davis, Jefferson, The Rise and Fall of the Confederate Government: All Volumes (Heraklion Press, Kindle Edition 2013, 1889), Loc 23150-69; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 569; Faust, Patricia L., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 840-41; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 590; Linedecker, Clifford L. (ed.), The Civil War A to Z (Ballantine Books, 2002), p. 83; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 687; Maddox, Robert J., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 209; Murphy, Richard W., The Nation Reunited: War’s Aftermath (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 18-24; Spearman, Charles M., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 832-33; White, Howard Ray, Bloodstains, An Epic History of the Politics that Produced and Sustained the American Civil War and the Political Reconstruction that Followed (Southernbooks, Kindle Edition, 2012), Q265

The Davis Family Reunites

May 7, 1865 – President Jefferson Davis reunited with his family at Dublin, Georgia, after responding to rumors that they were under attack by desperate Confederate troops.

Jefferson and Varina Davis | Image Credit: Pinterest.com

Davis and his small escort had camped on the Oconee River on the night of the 6th. First Lady Varina Davis and the couple’s children were part of a different group about 20 miles away. When Davis learned that his family might be in danger, he rode out to catch up to their wagon train. The rest of Davis’s party chose to join him, and they rode all night along dark, unknown roads while Federal forces combed the nearby countryside looking for them.

The president finally caught up to his family near Dublin. This marked the first time that the Davises had seen each other since Varina and the children left Richmond just before its fall. When Davis questioned the men guarding the camp, they assured him that the rumors of straggling troops attacking their wagon train were false and the family was not in danger.

Meanwhile, Federal cavalry was closing in on the Davis party. Major General James H. Wilson, commanding the Federals in Georgia, wrote to Major General John Schofield, commanding the Federal Department of North Carolina:

“Davis’ escort has been crowded so closely on all sides that it has been disbanded. Three regiments have given themselves up to us here, and many others are surrendering in Northern Georgia. Davis himself and a small party, variously reported from six to forty men, are supposed to have turned south from Washington. I have the Ocmulgee picketed from its head to Hawkinsville, and by 6 p.m. to-morrow will have it closely watched from Hawkinsville to Jacksonville. I have a line of stations along the railroad from Atlanta to Eufaula and Albany, and have directed McCook, at Tallahassee, Fla., to send scouts to north and eastward in all directions.”

Wilson wrote in his official report:

“The troops occupied almost a continuous line from the Etowah River to Tallahassee, Fla., and the mouth of the Flint River, with patrols through all the country to the northward and eastward, and small detachments at the railroad stations in the rear of the entire line. It was expected that the patrols and pickets would discover the trail of Davis and his party and communicate the intelligence by courier rapidly enough to secure prompt and effective pursuit.”

Wilson dispatched Colonel Robert Minty’s cavalry division to guard the Ocmulgee and Flint rivers, south of Macon, in case the Davis party tried moving in that direction. Minty in turn ordered Lieutenant Colonel Benjamin C. Pritchard to lead the 4th Michigan Cavalry to block any crossing of the Oconee River between Spalding and Hawkinsville, in case the Davis party managed to escape the dragnet covering the Ocmulgee and Flint. Minty sent another detachment to Randolph. According to Minty’s orders:

“You will take possession of and guard all Government property which you may find, not interfering, however, with that turned over to the State authorities by the major-general commanding for the benefit of the poor. All supplies needed for your command will be taken from the country, but proper vouchers will invariably be given by your quartermaster or commissary.”

At Dublin, Davis directed his secretary Burton Harrison to take the excess baggage and ride with Varina and the children while Davis went off with the small presidential escort. Harrison later wrote that the president “bade us goodbye and rode forward with his own party, leaving us, in deference to our earnest solicitations, to pursue our journey as best we might with our wagons and incumbrances.”

On the night of the 8th, Davis sent word to Harrison that Federal patrols were nearby. The Harrison party rode through a terrible storm to Abbeville, where the Davis party had stopped for the night to rest their horses. Harrison recalled:

“As we passed through the village of Abbeville, I dismounted and had a conversation with the President in the old house, where he was lying on the floor wrapped in a blanket. He urged me to move on, and said he should overtake us during the night, after his horses had had more rest. We kept to the southward all night, the rain pouring in torrents most of the time, and the darkness such that, as we went through the woods where the road was not well marked, in a light, sandy soil, but wound about to accommodate the great pines left standing, the wagons were frequently stopped by fallen trees and other obstructions. In such a situation, we were obliged to wait until a flash of lightning enabled the drivers to see the way.”

The next day, the Davis and Harrison parties joined once more and continued southward. The joint group made camp around 5 p.m. near Irwinville, Georgia, about 70 miles from the Florida state line and 120 miles from the Gulf Coast. Davis planned to continue on before dawn.

Pritchard’s 4th Michigan rode into Abbeville earlier that day, where they met elements of the 1st Wisconsin Cavalry. The commander of the 1st Wisconsin informed Pritchard that a wagon train had crossed the Ocmulgee and halted at Abbeville to rest the horses before continuing south toward Irwinville. The commander said the train might include Mrs. Davis but most likely did not include the president. Pritchard rode along and heard several other eyewitness accounts of the train’s crossing.

Pritchard led his troopers through the woods to the outskirts of Irwinville, arriving there around 1 a.m. on the 10th. They soon learned there was an encampment near the town on the Abbeville road. Pritchard deployed his men to surround the camp, careful not to make their presence known. Pritchard planned to attack at daylight, to prevent those encamped from escaping into the darkness of night.

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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. 568; 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 21248-68; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 590; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 686; White, Howard Ray, Bloodstains, An Epic History of the Politics that Produced and Sustained the American Civil War and the Political Reconstruction that Followed (Southernbooks, Kindle Edition, 2012), Q265

Jefferson Davis Reaches Sandersville

May 6, 1865 – Jefferson Davis and his small Confederate escort reached the banks of the Oconee River in Georgia, while Federal forces rapidly closed in on them.

Confederate Secretary of State Judah P. Benjamin | Image Credit: Wikipedia.org

After holding what would be his last council of war, Davis and his party left Abbeville, South Carolina, and crossed the Savannah River on the 3rd. Secretary of State Judah P. Benjamin dropped out because he could no longer ride a horse. Davis urged Benjamin to try to escape from the U.S. via the Caribbean, get to Europe, and appeal for foreign aid. But by this time, Benjamin’s chances of getting to Europe were slim, and his chances of getting foreign aid were almost none.

Meanwhile, the Confederate guards escorting the presidential party were on the verge of mutiny. Fearing they might loot the gold being hauled along in the treasury, Secretary of War John C. Breckinridge paid them from the reserves. But in the rush to get the money, some took too much while others got nothing. That night, Breckinridge wrote Davis, who was riding in the front of the column:

“Nothing can be done with the bulk of this command. It has been with difficulty that anything has been kept in shape. I am having the silver paid to the troops and will, in any event, save the gold and have it brought forward in the morning, when I hope Judge (Treasury Secretary John) Reagan will take it. Many of the men have thrown away their arms. Most of them have resolved to… make terms. A few hundred men will move on and may be depended on for the object we spoke of yesterday (i.e., escaping to Mexico).”

Pres. Jefferson Davis | Image Credit: Wikipedia.org

The party reached Washington, Georgia, on the 4th, where Navy Secretary Stephen R. Mallory dropped out. He had resigned on the 2nd and would now go tend to his family at LaGrange, Georgia. He offered to arrange for a boat to take Davis up the Indian River to Cuba or the Bahamas, but Davis refused to leave the Confederacy as long as men continued fighting for it. He held a cabinet meeting at Washington and explained that he was reluctant to disband the government because there was no provision for such a thing in the Confederate Constitution.

Davis directed Reagan to turn over the remaining treasury assets to designated naval officers, who were to secret them to Charleston, Savannah, or some other port where they could be shipped away. The assets were to go to the Confederate envoy in England, currently stationed at Nassau in the Bahamas. Before doing this, Reagan saw to it that the officers still present were paid.

Meanwhile, First Lady Varina Davis and the couple’s children were also on the run, moving under a different escort farther south than the presidential party. Davis received a letter from Varina while in Washington:

“Do not try to meet me. I dread the Yankees getting news of you so much, you are the country’s only hope, and the very best intentioned do not calculate upon a stand this side of the river. Why not cut loose from your escort, go swiftly and alone with the exception of two or three?”

Heeding Varina’s advice, Davis directed Breckinridge to take command of the five cavalry brigades riding with the party and went off separately with an escort of about 350 horsemen. Of these 350, Davis quickly discharged all but about 10 volunteers. These men were to protect the president, three of his military aides, and various servants, teamsters, and secretaries. They were to also protect Reagan, who insisted on staying with Davis, possibly because Davis planned to head for Reagan’s home state of Texas.

By this time, Federals were scouring the countryside in search of the Confederate president, and President Andrew Johnson’s proclamation reached Federal troops in nearby Macon, Georgia:

“One hundred thousand dollars Reward in Gold will be paid to any person or persons who will apprehend and deliver JEFFERSON DAVIS to any of the military authorities of the United States. Several millions of specie reported to be with him will become the property of the captors…”

Major General James H. Wilson, commanding Federal forces in Georgia, reported to Secretary of War Edwin M. Stanton at Washington, D.C.:

“One of our scouts says Davis left Washington (Georgia) with only six men. This I regard as probable. He can’t possibly get through the country with an escort… Our scouts are already on every road in North Georgia, by tonight, I will have a complete watch in every part of the State as far down as Hawkinsville on the Ocmulgee.”

Wilson then wrote Major General John Schofield, commanding the Federal Department of North Carolina:

“My own impression is that we have yet no definite clue to his movements, and therefore I am filling the country full of scouts and watching every crossing and road… If Mr. Davis is a fugitive and well mounted, it will be exceedingly difficult to stop him, but I will spare no effort… Mr. Davis was guarded by about seventy-five officers who had volunteered for that purpose. The troops were supposed to number about 3,000, but were deserting very rapidly. The leading officers were to have held a council at Cokesbury, but the approach of our troops from the north broke it up.”

The small Davis party arrived at Sandersville on the 6th and camped that night on the east bank of the Oconee River. Wilson had guessed that Davis would try crossing the Oconee, but he did not have time to cover all the crossings. Davis’s aides received word that Varina’s party was about 20 miles away, and rumors quickly spread that it had been robbed by straggling troops.

When Davis heard this, he immediately called for his horse and announced, “This move will probably cause me to be captured or killed. I do not feel that you are bound to go with me, but I must protect my family.” The rest of the party opted to go with him, heedless of the Federals closing in.

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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. 565, 567; 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 21219-58; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 589-90; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 685-86; White, Howard Ray, Bloodstains, An Epic History of the Politics that Produced and Sustained the American Civil War and the Political Reconstruction that Followed (Southernbooks, Kindle Edition, 2012), Q265

Sherman Plans to Invade South Carolina

January 3, 1865 – Major General William T. Sherman began moving Federal troops north of Savannah in preparation for his impending march into South Carolina.

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

As the year began, Sherman worked with the navy to send his sick and wounded by water to northern hospitals up the coast. He also began planning his next campaign; in a letter to Chief of Staff Henry W. Halleck, Sherman proposed moving north along the vital railroad system through Branchville and Columbia, avoiding Augusta and Charleston altogether. The march would end at Wilmington, on the North Carolina coast. Sherman wrote:

“I rather prefer Wilmington, as a live place, over Charleston, which is dead and unimportant when its railroad communications are broken… I think the time has come now when we should attempt the boldest moves, and my experience is that they are easier of execution than more timid ones, because the enemy is disconcerted by them–as for instance, my recent campaign.”

Halleck agreed:

“The destruction of railroads and supplies in South Carolina will do the enemy more harm than the capture of either or both of those cities. They can be left for a backhanded blow. If you can lay waste the interior of South Carolina and destroy the railroads Charleston must be abandoned by all except a small garrison. It is useless talking about putting any of our armies into winter quarters. It is not necessary, and the financial condition of the country will not permit it. Those troops not required for defense must move into the enemy’s country and live on it. There is no alternative; it must be done.”

This brought Halleck to Major General George H. Thomas, who commanded the Army of the Cumberland within Sherman’s military division. Halleck was highly dissatisfied with Thomas’s plan to go into winter quarters after halting his pursuit of the shattered Confederate Army of Tennessee. Halleck complained that “he is too slow for an effective pursuit… entirely opposed to a winter campaign, and is already speaking of recruiting his army for spring operations.” Halleck proposed breaking up most of Thomas’s army and sending part of it into Alabama to destroy war-related resources and ultimately capture Mobile.

Meanwhile, Sherman began moving elements of his two armies north of Savannah in preparation for the thrust into South Carolina. On Sherman’s right, XVII Corps of Major General Oliver O. Howard’s Army of the Tennessee moved to Beaufort, 40 miles north of Savannah, and Howard’s XV Corps soon followed. The U.S.S. Harvest Moon and other transports from Rear Admiral John A.B. Dahlgren’s South Atlantic Blockading Squadron conveyed the troops by water to avoid a tiring march.

On Sherman’s left, XIV Corps and the bulk of XX Corps from Major General Henry W. Slocum’s Army of Georgia maintained the occupation of Savannah, while a division from XX Corps moved to Hardeeville, 10 miles northeast of the city.

Sherman corresponded with Dahlgren about possible navy support for the march through the Carolinas. Dahlgren’s fleet could help Sherman’s Federals as they moved through South Carolina, but once they entered North Carolina, they would be in the realm of Rear Admiral David D. Porter’s North Atlantic Blockading Squadron. Sherman wrote Dahlgren:

“I am not certain that there is a vessel in Port Royal from Admiral Porter or I would write him. If there be one to return to him I beg you to send this, with a request that I be advised as early as possible as to the condition of the railroad from Beaufort, N.C., back to New Bern, and so on, towards Goldsboro; also all maps and information of the country above New Bern; how many cars and locomotives are available to us on that road; whether there is good navigation from Beaufort, N.C., via Pamlico Sound, up Neuse River, etc.…”

Sherman added his opinion of the recent failure to capture Fort Fisher outside Wilmington:

“The more I think of the affair at Wilmington the more I feel ashamed for the army there; but Butler is at fault, and he alone. Admiral Porter fulfilled his share to admiration. I think the admiral will feel more confidence in my troops, as he saw us carry points on the Mississippi, where he had silenced the fort. All will turn out for the best yet.”

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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. 511-13; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 538

The Fall of Savannah

December 22, 1864 – Major General William T. Sherman’s Federals completed their devastating march to the sea by capturing the vital Confederate port city of Savannah.

By sunrise on the 21st, Lieutenant General William Hardee’s small Confederate army had evacuated Savannah. They cut their pontoon bridge over the Savannah River loose to keep the Federals from pursuing. Skirmishers from Sherman’s armies cautiously probed forward and found Savannah’s outer defenses empty. The Federals quickly advanced on the abandoned city.

That morning, Brigadier General John W. Geary’s division of XX Corps marched into Savannah unopposed. Mayor Richard Arnold formally surrendered the city on behalf of his 20,000 constituents, many of whom were tired of war and supportive of surrender. Federal Major George W. Nichols later wrote:

“… The path by which Hardee escaped led through swamps which were previously considered impracticable. The Rebel general obtained knowledge of our movement through his spies, who swarmed in our camp. It was fortunate that our troops followed so quickly after the evacuation of the city by the enemy, for a mob had gathered in the streets, and were breaking into the stores and houses. They were with difficulty dispersed by the bayonet of our soldiers, and then, once more, order and confidence prevailed throughout the conquered city… We had not been in occupation 48 hours before the transport steamer Canonicus… lay alongside a pier, and our new line of supplies was formed.”

Federal troops entering Savannah | Image Credit: Harper’s Weekly, Vol. IX, No. 420, 14 Jan 1865

The crew of the U.S.S. Winona, which had been bombarding the Savannah defenses, recorded in their log on this date: “At 10:05 saw the American Ensign flying on Ft. Beaulieu. Ships cheered; captain left in the gig and proceeded up to the fort.” Confederate Commander Thomas W. Brent directed the destruction of the C.S.S. Firefly, Isondiga, and Savannah to prevent their capture. The floating battery C.S.S. Georgia in Savannah Harbor was also destroyed. This ended Confederate naval resistance in Savannah.

Meanwhile, Federal troops in Savannah quickly seized all war materiel that Hardee’s Confederates did not destroy. Sherman’s two army commanders, Major Generals Henry W. Slocum and Oliver O. Howard, quickly set up headquarters in the city. Sherman followed the next morning. As he wrote in his autobiography:

“On the morning of December 22nd, I followed with my own headquarters, and rode down Bull Street to the custom-house, from the roof of which we had an extensive view over the city, the river, and the vast extent of marsh and rice-fields on the South Carolina side. The navy-yard, and the wreck of the iron-clad Savannah, were still smoldering, but all else looked quiet enough.”

To Sherman’s annoyance, a Federal Treasury agent was already in town calculating what the value of the city’s cotton and other commodities would be to the government. But he liked the agent’s idea to deliver the city itself as a Christmas present to Washington. Sherman therefore wrote to President Abraham Lincoln: “I beg to present you, as a Christmas gift, the city of Savannah, with 150 heavy guns and plenty of ammunition, and also about 25,000 bales of cotton.”

This ended Sherman’s remarkable 285-mile march from Atlanta to the sea. The trek lasted nearly a month and a half and yielded fewer than 2,000 Federal casualties. During that time, the Federals cut an unprecedented swath of destruction through the Georgia heartland, demoralizing the people and severely damaging the Confederacy’s ability to wage war. In fact, the Federal army was in better condition and spirits than when it had left Atlanta.

Sherman was disappointed that Hardee’s Confederates got away, but he now held a vital point from which he could move northward and continue his destruction through the Carolinas. For the moment, Sherman was content to stop long enough to rest, resupply, and reorganize his troops.

The Federal army quickly became an occupation force, although Sherman allowed the municipal government to continue functioning as long as it did not interfere with his operations. Meanwhile, the local slaves quickly broke free from their masters. According to a history of the First Colored Baptist Church of Savannah:

“When the morning light of the 22nd of December, 1864, broke in upon us, the streets of our city were thronged in every part with the victorious army of liberty; every tramp, look, command, and military movement told us that they had come for our deliverance, and were able to secure it to us, and the cry went around the city from house to house among our race of people, ‘Glory be to God, we are free!’”

Two days later, Lieutenant General Ulysses S. Grant, the overall Federal commander, wrote Sherman congratulating him on “on the successful termination of your campaign. I never had a doubt of the result” and “would not have intrusted the expedition to any other living commander.”

Grant had originally wanted Sherman to stop his move on Savannah and move his army by sea to join forces with the Federals besieging General Robert E. Lee at Petersburg: “I did think the best thing to do was to bring the greater part of your army here, and wipe out Lee, (but) the turn affairs now seem to be taking has shaken me in that opinion.” Now Grant wrote:

“I want to get your views about what ought to be done, and what can be done… my own opinion is that Lee is averse to going out of Virginia, and if the cause of the South is lost he wants Richmond to be the last place surrendered. If he has such views, it may be well to indulge him until we get everything else in our hands.”

That night, Sherman replied that he was glad that Grant changed his mind about him moving north, “for I feared that the transportation by sea would very much disturb the unity and morale of my army, now so perfect… In about 10 days I expect to be ready to sally forth again. I feel no doubt whatever as to our future plans. I have thought them over so long and well that they appear as clear as daylight.”

Lincoln released Sherman’s message from the 22nd to the public on Christmas Day, making the holiday extra special in the North. Major General John A. Logan, currently in Washington but preparing to return to Sherman’s army, brought along a letter for Sherman from the president:

“My Dear General Sherman: Many, many thanks for your Christmas gift–the capture of Savannah. When you were about to leave Atlanta for the Atlantic coast, I was anxious, if not fearful, but feeling that you were the better judge, and remembering that ‘nothing risked, nothing gained,’ I did not interfere. Now, the undertaking being a success, the honor is all yours; for I believe none of us went further than to acquiesce. And taking the work of General Thomas into the count, as it should be taken, it is indeed a great success… Please make my grateful acknowledgements to your whole army, officers and men. But what next? I suppose it will be safer if I leave General Grant and yourself to decide.”

Sherman quickly dispelled rumors that he would ask for a military rank equal to Grant:

“I will accept no commission that would tend to create a rivalry with Grant. I want him to hold what he has earned and got. I have all the rank I want. I would rather be an engineer of a railroad, than President of the United States. I have commanded a hundred thousand men in battle, and on the march, successfully and without confusion, and that is enough for reputation. Now, I want rest and peace, and they are only to be had through war.”

Sherman now looked to move his army northward, through the Carolinas, on the way to join Grant in Virginia. Regarding this, Sherman sent an ominous message to Chief of Staff Henry W. Halleck:

“The truth is the whole army is burning with an insatiable desire to wreak vengeance upon South Carolina. I almost tremble at her fate, but feel that she deserves all that seems in store for her. Many and many a person in Georgia asked me why we did not go to South Carolina, and when I answered that I was en route for that State the invariable reply was, ‘Well, if you will make those people feel the severities of war, we will pardon you for your desolation of Georgia.’

“Thousands who had been deceived by their lying papers into the belief that we were being whipped all the time, realized the truth, and have no appetite for a repetition of the same experience. To be sure, Jeff Davis has his people under a pretty good state of discipline, but I think faith in him is much shaken in Georgia; and I think before we are done, South Carolina will not be quite so tempestuous.”

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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. 658-59; CivilWarDailyGazette.com; Davis, Jefferson, The Rise and Fall of the Confederate Government: All Volumes (Heraklion Press, Kindle Edition 2013, 1889), Loc 21097; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 507, 509; 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 14934-54, 14995-15015, 15180-90; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 535; Goodwin, Doris Kearns, Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln (New York: Simon and Schuster, 2005), p. 684-85; Korn, Jerry, Pursuit to Appomattox: The Last Battles (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 52; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 613-16; 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. 811; Nevin, David, Sherman’s March: Atlanta to the Sea (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 155-69; Pollard, Edward A., Southern History of the War (New York: The Fairfax Press, 1990), p. 431

Confederates Prepare to Evacuate Savannah

December 19, 1864 – Lieutenant General William Hardee, commanding the small Confederate force defending Savannah on the Atlantic coast, issued orders for his troops to evacuate the city in the face of overwhelming Federal numbers.

Major General William T. Sherman’s Federal armies closed in on Savannah, one of the Confederacy’s last major seaports. Hardee worked with his superior, General P.G.T. Beauregard, to abandon the city. Their only escape route was to the north, but Sherman’s XX Corps was closing in on that sector. Beauregard notified Hardee, “The city must be evacuated (as) soon as practicable.”

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

On the 19th, Hardee directed his men to pull out, starting at nightfall the next day. The Confederates built a pontoon bridge by lashing 30 rice flats together; this would enable the army to cross the waterways on their way into South Carolina. The C.S.S. Water Witch, a Federal vessel the Confederates had captured earlier that year, was destroyed to prevent her recapture.

The next day, Sherman opened a punishing artillery bombardment on Savannah. He also directed Major General John G. Foster, commanding the Department of the South, to close in on the city from the east and block the Confederate escape route. But Sherman was too late.

Hardee’s Confederates evacuated Savannah on the 20th, using the makeshift pontoon bridge to cross the Savannah River and its attending causeways. Supplies that could not be taken on the march were left behind; Hardee prohibited destroying them because the Federals might see or hear the destruction and attack. The wagons headed out first, followed by the artillery, and then the infantry and rear guard. Each division headed to its next assignment:

  • Major General Gustavus W. Smith’s militia was to go to Charleston and then Augusta.
  • Major General Lafayette McLaws’s troops were to go to Charleston and then James Island.
  • Major General Ambrose Wright’s troops were to go west of Charleston.

Major General Joseph Wheeler’s Confederate cavalry was to burn the bridge over the Savannah River once Hardee’s men crossed. The Confederates destroyed the navy yard, all vessels still intact, and the fortifications ringing the city. They left behind 250 guns and 40,000 bales of cotton.

Sherman conducted meetings with naval commanders at Hilton Head on the 20th, unaware of Hardee’s evacuation. Federal troops observed the movement from a distance but could not tell if it meant the Confederates were retreating or surrendering. By the time they realized it was the former, the escape had been made.

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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. 658-59; CivilWarDailyGazette.com; Davis, Jefferson, The Rise and Fall of the Confederate Government: All Volumes (Heraklion Press, Kindle Edition 2013, 1889), Loc 21097; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 506; 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 14924-34; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 534-35; Freeman, Douglas Southall, Lee (Scribner, Kindle Edition, 2008), Loc 8060; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 613; Pollard, Edward A., Southern History of the War (New York: The Fairfax Press, 1990), p. 431

Sherman’s March: Savannah is Doomed

December 17, 1864 – Major General William T. Sherman’s Federal armies assumed attack positions outside Savannah, hoping to capture this vital port city on the Atlantic coast and complete their march to the sea.

Sherman Before Savannah | Image Credit: Harper’s Weekly, Vol IX, No. 419, 17 Jan 1865

By the 17th, Sherman’s 60,000 Federals were poised to attack about four miles outside Savannah. Their line stretched from the Savannah River north of town to a link with the Federal navy via Ossabaw Sound to the south. This naval link ensured that the Federals would be well-supplied indefinitely. The Confederates defending Savannah, led by Lieutenant General William Hardee, numbered less than 20,000.

The Federals surrounded Savannah to the north, west, and south, but the Confederates were positioned behind strong fortifications, and they had flooded the approaches to make an assault as difficult as possible. Nevertheless, Sherman tried coaxing a surrender out of Hardee in a message he sent through the lines:

“General: You have doubtless observed from your station at Rosedew that sea-going vessels now come through Ossabaw Sound and up Ogeechee to the rear of my army, giving me abundant supplies of all kinds, and more especially heavy ordnance necessary to the reduction of Savannah. I have already received guns that can cast heavy and destructive shot as far as the heart of your city; also, I have for some days held and controlled every avenue by which the people and garrison of Savannah can be supplied; and I am therefore justified in demanding the surrender of the city of Savannah and its dependent forts, and shall await a reasonable time your answer before opening with heavy ordnance.

“Should you entertain the proposition, I am prepared to grant liberal terms to the inhabitants and garrison; but should I be forced to resort to assault, and the slower and surer process of starvation, I shall then feel justified in resorting to the harshest measures, and shall make little effort to restrain my army–burning to avenge a great national wrong they attach to Savannah and other large cities which have been so prominent in dragging our country into civil war.”

Hardee quickly responded, reminding Sherman that his Federals were still four miles away, held back by the Confederates’ outer defenses. Hardee also asserted that the Federals had not yet cut his army off from the rest of the Confederacy; “I am in free and constant communication with my department.” As such, “Your demand for the surrender of Savannah and its dependent forts is refused.” Hardee then addressed Sherman’s threat of destruction:

“I have hitherto conducted the military operations intrusted to my direction in strict accordance with the rules of civilized warfare, and I should deeply regret the adoption of any course by you that may force me to deviate from them in the future. I have the honor to be, very respectfully, your obedient servant, W.J. Hardee, Lieutenant General.”

Hardee’s strong words notwithstanding, he knew that the fall of Savannah was inevitable. His superior, General P.G.T. Beauregard, knew this too. He had instructed Hardee to abandon Savannah if it meant saving his army, and this had been endorsed by President Jefferson Davis. It was also endorsed by Adjutant General Samuel Cooper, who wrote Beauregard on the 18th: “It is hoped Savannah may be successfully defended. But the defense should not be too protracted, to the sacrifice of the garrison. The same remarks are applicable to Charleston.”

Beauregard came to Savannah and began transferring Hardee’s units out of the city. The troops defending Forts Jackson and Lee were to spike their guns and withdraw toward Charleston, and the few remaining Confederate naval vessels were to move up the Savannah River. Major General Joseph Wheeler, commanding the Confederate cavalry in Georgia, was to “guard the crossings of the Savannah and New Rivers, also the landings east of Sereven’s Ferry Causeway, until compelled by the enemy to retire.”

Beauregard then sent a message to General Robert E. Lee, commanding the besieged Army of Northern Virginia at Petersburg:

“General Sherman demanded the surrender of Savannah yesterday of General Hardee, which was refused. The loss of Savannah will be followed by that of the railroad from Augusta to Charleston, and soon after of Charleston itself. Cannot (Robert) Hoke’s and (Bushrod) Johnson’s divisions be spared for the defense of South Carolina and Georgia until part or whole of (John Bell) Hood’s army could reach Georgia?”

President Davis forwarded this message to Lee, who replied on the 19th: “Beauregard and Hardee must judge of necessity of evacuating Savannah… If Hoke and Johnson are sent south, it will necessitate the abandonment of Richmond with the present opposing force.”

Meanwhile, Sherman’s Federals enjoyed an abundance of food, clothing, and equipment, courtesy of the Federal navy. Sherman arranged for troops from Major General John G. Foster’s Department of the South to try working their way around east of Savannah to completely surround the city. He also wrote Lieutenant General Ulysses S. Grant, the overall Federal commander, urging him to reconsider his order for Sherman to stop everything and send his army to Virginia by sea.

Sherman argued that it would be more devastating to the Confederacy to march his army overland, through the Carolinas, than to go to Virginia by sea. He wrote, “We can punish South Carolina as she deserves, and as thousands of people in Georgia hoped we would do. I do sincerely believe that the whole United States, North and South, would rejoice to have this army turned loose on South Carolina, to devastate that state in the manner we have done in Georgia.” Such destruction “would have a direct and immediate bearing upon the campaign in Virginia.”

Sherman noted:

“I estimate $100 million, at least 20 millions of which has inured to our advantage, and the remainder is simple waste and destruction. This may seem a hard species of warfare, but it brings the sad realities of war home to those who have been directly or indirectly instrumental in involving us in its attendant calamities.”

As Sherman waited for Grant’s response, he continued tightening his stranglehold on Savannah. And Hardee began arranging his evacuation.

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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. 658-59; CivilWarDailyGazette.com; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 505; 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 14905-25, 14974-84; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 534; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 612; Nevin, David, Sherman’s March: Atlanta to the Sea (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 156; Pollard, Edward A., Southern History of the War (New York: The Fairfax Press, 1990), p. 431

Sherman’s March: Federals Target Savannah

December 14, 1864 – After taking Fort McAllister, Major General William T. Sherman’s Federal armies shifted their focus to Savannah itself.

The capture of Fort McAllister gave the Federals control of the Ogeechee River and Ossabaw Sound, which enabled the naval fleet to keep them abundantly supplied from the Atlantic Ocean. Gunboats and transports brought over half a million rations to Sherman’s troops; the men also received mail from home for the first time since leaving Atlanta in mid-November.

The U.S.S. Sonoma, Winona, and other gunboats began supporting Sherman’s impending advance on Savannah by bombarding Forts Beaulieu and Rosedew in Ossabaw Sound. With Savannah’s fall virtually assured, Confederate Navy Secretary Stephen R. Mallory wrote the Confederate flag officer in command of the region:

“Should the enemy get and hold Savannah, and you can do no further service there, you are expected to dispose of your squadron to the greatest injury to him and the greatest benefit to our country. If necessary to leave Savannah, your vessels, except the Georgia, may fight their way to Charleston. Under no circumstances should they be destroyed until every proper effort to save them shall have been exhausted.”

General P.G.T. Beauregard, overall Confederate commander in the region, instructed Lieutenant General William Hardee, commanding the small force defending Savannah, to evacuate the city if he could not stop the Federal advance. If necessary, Hardee’s Confederates were to retreat north to Charleston.

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

On the 15th, Sherman met with his army commanders, Major Generals Oliver O. Howard and Henry W. Slocum, and issued orders for an assault on Savannah. The naval fleet delivered heavy artillery and ammunition in case the city had to be placed under siege. As the Federals took up positions four miles outside Savannah, Sherman went through the newly arrived mail and discovered a message from the overall Federal commander, Lieutenant General Ulysses S. Grant, who was laying siege to General Robert E. Lee’s Confederates in Virginia.

Grant wrote, “I have concluded that the most important operation toward closing out the rebellion will be to close out Lee and his army.” If Sherman’s army came up to reinforce him, “I think the job here will be effectually completed.” Grant directed Sherman to “establish a base on the sea-coast, fortify and leave in it all your artillery and cavalry, and enough infantry to protect them, and at the same time so threaten the interior that the militia of the South will have to be kept at home.” Grant then ordered:

“With the balance of your command come here by water with all dispatch. Select yourself the officer to leave in command, but I want you in person. Unless you see objections to this plan which I cannot see, use every vessel going to you for the purpose of transportation.”

This alarmed Sherman because he had planned to capture Savannah and then move overland through the Carolinas, reaping destruction along the way before joining Grant in Virginia. Loading his men on transports and shipping them north would cancel his plan. When Sherman learned that the vessels that Grant sent had not arrived yet, he decided to go ahead with his original plan of capturing Savannah before heading north.

Sherman wrote Grant on the 16th, explaining that he had met with Rear Admiral John A.B. Dahlgren, commanding the South Atlantic Blockading Squadron, and Major General John G. Foster, commanding the Federal Department of the South. Based on what they knew:

“If I had time, Savannah, with all its dependent fortifications, would surely fall into our possession, for we hold all its avenues of supply… But in view of the change of plan made necessary by your order of the 6th, I will maintain things in status quo till I have got all my transportation to the rear and out of the way, and until I have sea-transportation for the troops you require at James River, which I will accompany and command in person.

“My four corps, full of experience and full of ardor, coming to you en masse, equal to 60,000 fighting-men, will be a reinforcement that Lee cannot disregard. Indeed, with my present command, I had expected, after reducing Savannah, instantly to march to Columbia, South Carolina; thence to Raleigh, and thence to report to you. But this would consume, it may be, six weeks’ time after the fall of Savannah; whereas, by sea, I can probably reach you with my men and arms before the middle of January.”

Meanwhile, Hardee asked President Jefferson Davis to send him reinforcements from Lee’s army. Davis replied that Hardee could expect no such help and recommended that he “provide for the safety of your communications and make the dispositions needful for the preservation of your army.” Thus, Davis endorsed Beauregard’s directive to save the small army by abandoning Savannah if necessary.

On the Federal side, Sherman decided that while he waited for Grant’s response to his latest message, he would demand Savannah’s surrender.

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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. 658-59; CivilWarDailyGazette.com; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 503-05; 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 13680-90, 14905-25, 14964-84; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 533-34; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 612; Nevin, David, Sherman’s March: Atlanta to the Sea (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 155-69; Pollard, Edward A., Southern History of the War (New York: The Fairfax Press, 1990), p. 431

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