Category Archives: Military

The Battle of Nashville

December 15, 1864 – After numerous delays, Major General George H. Thomas finally launched his long-awaited Federal assault on the Confederate Army of Tennessee south of Nashville.

Gen J.B. Hood | Image Credit: Wikipedia.org

By this time, General John Bell Hood’s Confederate army held a line partially encircling Nashville from the south in three corps:

  • Lieutenant General Alexander P. Stewart’s corps held the left, southwest of Nashville.
  • Lieutenant General Stephen D. Lee’s corps held the center, south of Nashville.
  • Major General Benjamin F. Cheatham’s corps held the right, southeast of Nashville.

The bulk of Hood’s cavalry had been sent to attack the Federal garrison at Murfreesboro, while his remaining 25,000 men were building fortifications and trying to survive in the bitter cold. Most of these men were exhausted and demoralized.

Thomas, commanding the Federal Army of the Cumberland in Nashville, had been under heavy pressure from his superiors to attack Hood’s Confederates as soon as possible. But Thomas took his time to make sure everything was in place, and then a bitter ice storm delayed his planned assault. The ice started melting on the 14th, and Thomas was finally ready to move his 50,000 well-equipped men out the next morning.

Major General George H. Thomas | Image Credit: Histmag.org

Thomas checked out of his headquarters at the St. Cloud Hotel and rode out to join his troops at the front. At 4 a.m., the bugles sounded and the Federals advanced through heavy fog. Nashville residents came out to watch the fight; Federal Colonel Isaac R. Sherwood recalled, “All the hills in our rear were black with human beings watching the battle, but silent. No army on the continent ever played on any field to so large and so sullen an audience.”

Scouts had informed Hood that a Federal attack might come against his left. However, the initial fighting occurred on his right, as Major General James B. Steedman’s division crossed the Murfreesboro Pike and slammed into Cheatham’s corps at dawn. Unbeknownst to Hood, Steedman’s assault was just a diversion; Thomas really did intend to target Hood’s left.

To the west, Major General Andrew J. Smith’s XVI Corps and Brigadier General Thomas J. Wood’s IV Corps advanced, with Brigadier General James H. Wilson’s cavalry on their flank. Elements of Major General John Schofield’s XXIII Corps were in reserve behind Smith and Wood. The Federals hit Stewart’s overextended corps near midday. According to Major General Edward C. Walthall, commanding the lead division under Stewart:

“About 11 o’clock, the enemy, exposing a large force in my front, concentrated a heavy artillery fire on the redoubt in front of my left, and after keeping it up for about an hour, with great damage to the force within, moved upon it with a heavy body of infantry, enveloped the base of the hill, and by assault carried the position, which was well defended.”

Elements of XVI Corps advance | Image Credit: Harper’s Weekly, Vol. IX, No. 420, 14 Jan 1865

The Federals poured down the Hillsborough Pike and began seizing each of the Confederate redoubts. Walthall reported, “When these redoubts were taken, the enemy moved up in my front and shelled my troops heavily. He made no assault on my position, but threw a force across the pike into the woods near Compton’s house and threatened my left.”

The Confederates slowly gave ground, unable to withstand such a large-scale assault. Wood’s Federals seized Montgomery Hill, while troops from Schofield’s and Wilson’s commands turned the Confederate left flank. Stewart ordered a retreat, and the Confederates pulled back in good order between the Middle Franklin and Franklin pikes. The fighting ended after nightfall.

Hood directed his army to regroup two miles south on a more compact defense line. He could have retreated to save what was left of his army, but he instead opted to make a stand against a renewed Federal drive in the morning. Stewart’s corps was virtually destroyed, so Hood would have to make do with Cheatham on his left, Lee on his right, and the remnants of Stewart’s command in the center. The Confederate line of retreat through Franklin remained open.

From Federal headquarters, Thomas telegraphed Chief of Staff Henry W. Halleck at 9 p.m.:

“I attacked the enemy’s left this morning and drove it from the river, below the city, very nearly to the Franklin Pike, a distance about eight miles… The troops behaved splendidly, all taking their share in assaulting and carrying the enemy’s breastworks. I shall attack the enemy again tomorrow, if he stands to fight, and, if he retreats during the night, will pursue him, throwing a heavy cavalry force in his rear, to destroy his trains, if possible.”

Secretary of War Edwin M. Stanton sent Thomas a wire celebrating “the brilliant achievements of this day” as “the harbinger of a decisive victory that will crown you and your army with honor and do much toward closing the war. We shall give you a hundred guns in the morning.”

Lieutenant General Ulysses S. Grant, the overall Federal commander, had been on the verge of removing Thomas from command for taking so long to launch the assault. He initially sent Major General John A. Logan to replace Thomas, but then decided to go to Nashville and replace Thomas himself. While traveling through Washington on his way to Nashville, Grant received Thomas’s message from the night before the battle: “The ice having melted away today, the enemy will be attacked tomorrow morning.”

Grant then received the dispatches describing the Federal triumph. Grant wrote Thomas that he intended to come there and remove him from command, but “detailing your splendid success of today, I shall go no farther. Push the enemy and give him no rest until he is entirely destroyed… Do not stop for trains or supplies, but take them from the country as the enemy has done. Much is now expected.”

Grant sent a second message around midnight: “I congratulate you and the army under your command for today’s operations, and feel a conviction that tomorrow will add more fruits to your victory.”

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References

Angle, Paul M., A Pictorial History of the Civil War Years (New York: Doubleday, 1967), p. 186; Catton, Bruce, The American Heritage Picture History of the Civil War (New York: American Heritage Publishing Co., 1960), p. 559; CivilWarDailyGazette.com; Crocker III, H.W., The Politically Incorrect Guide to the Civil War (Washington: Regnery Publishing, 2008), p. 127-28; Davis, Jefferson, The Rise and Fall of the Confederate Government: All Volumes (Heraklion Press, Kindle Edition 2013, 1889), Loc 21171-80; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 504; 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 14368-88, 14425-35, 14589-609; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 533; Linedecker, Clifford L. (ed.), The Civil War A to Z (Ballantine Books, 2002), p. 190-91; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 610-11; 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. 814; Nevin, David, Sherman’s March: Atlanta to the Sea (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 125-26, 128, 130-31; Stanchak, John E., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 285-86, 715

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

Nashville: Both Armies Immobilized

December 11, 1864 – Major General George H. Thomas faced increasing pressure from his Federal superiors to attack the Confederate Army of Tennessee south of Nashville, but a bitter cold front prevented that.

The harsh winter storm continued raging throughout the 10th, as Thomas’s Federal Army of the Cumberland and General John Bell Hood’s Confederate army continued glowering at each other from frozen trenches. According to Major General Jacob D. Cox, commanding XXIII Corps in Thomas’s army:

“During the time of the ice blockade, the slopes in front of the lines were a continuous glare of ice, so that movements away from the roads and broken paths could be made only with the greatest difficulty and at a snail’s pace. Men and horses were seen falling whenever they attempted to move across country. A man slipping on the hillside had no choice but to sit down and slide to the bottom, and groups of men in the forts and lines found constant entertainment watching these mishaps… maneuverers were out of the question for nearly a week.”

The freezing weather caused severe hardships among the troops, especially the Confederates, who lacked adequate clothing or shelter for such conditions. Hood wrote his superior, General P.G.T. Beauregard, requesting blankets and 10,000 new uniforms. Hood explained, “The weather is severe, the ground covered with snow, and the men stand much in need of them.”

On the Federal side, Thomas had fallen into disfavor among his superiors for refusing to attack until all his forces were ready. Lieutenant General Ulysses S. Grant, the overall Federal commander, had threatened to remove Thomas from command if he did not attack soon, but the storm gave Thomas a brief reprieve. He met with his officers at his St. Cloud Hotel headquarters in Nashville and resolved to attack Hood’s Confederates as soon as the ice melted.

Maj Gen G.H. Thomas | Image Credit: Harper’s Weekly, 17 Dec 1864, Vol. VIII, No. 416

This did not satisfy Grant, who feared that Hood would swing around Thomas’s army and head north into Kentucky or possibly even Ohio. Grant wrote Thomas on the 11th, “If you delay attack longer, the mortifying spectacle will be witnessed of a rebel army moving for the Ohio River, and you will be forced to act, accepting such weather as you find… Delay no longer for weather or reinforcements.”

Thomas responded the next day:

“I will obey the order as promptly as possible, however much I may regret it, as the attack will have to be made under every disadvantage. The whole country is covered with a perfect sheet of ice and sleet, and it is with difficulty the troops are able to move about on level ground.”

By the 13th, Grant finally had enough. He ordered Major General John A. Logan to replace Thomas as army commander. Logan, who was stationed in Washington at the time, was to head to Louisville by rail. If Thomas attacked Hood by the time Logan got there, Thomas would retain his command. If not, Logan was to continue on to Nashville and take over. Earlier in the year, Thomas had lobbied against Logan taking command of the Army of the Tennessee because he had been a politician, not a military officer, before the war. Ironically, Logan was poised to replace the man who opposed him.

Fortunately for Thomas, the temperatures rose and the ice melted on the 14th. He called his officers back to the St. Cloud Hotel at 3 p.m. and announced that they would attack the Confederates the next morning. The troops would wake to reveille at 4 a.m., with the assault starting two hours later, “or as soon thereafter as practicable.” According to Thomas’s plan:

  • Cox’s XXIII Corps, under Major General John Schofield’s overall command, would feint against the Confederate right (east) flank.
  • Major General Andrew J. Smith’s XVI Corps would assemble on the Hardin pike and “make a vigorous assault on the enemy’s left.”
  • Brigadier General Thomas J. Wood’s IV Corps would advance on Smith’s left along the Hillsborough pike to Montgomery Hill.
  • XXIII Corps and all remaining Federal forces would hold Smith’s and Wood’s lines as their men advanced.

To prepare for the assault, seven Federal gunboats steamed down the Cumberland River to destroy Major General Nathan Bedford Forrest’s Confederates batteries, which threatened Thomas’s left. The gunboats pinned the Confederate gunners down while Federal cavalry swept up from behind and captured their guns.

Thomas issued final orders for next morning’s attack and informed Chief of Staff Henry W. Halleck at 8 p.m., “The ice having melted away to-day, the enemy will be attacked to-morrow morning. Much as I regret the apparent delay in attacking the enemy, it could not have been done before with any reasonable hope of success.”

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References

Angle, Paul M., A Pictorial History of the Civil War Years (New York: Doubleday, 1967), p. 186; CivilWarDailyGazette.com; Crocker III, H.W., The Politically Incorrect Guide to the Civil War (Washington: Regnery Publishing, 2008), p. 127-28; Davis, Jefferson, The Rise and Fall of the Confederate Government: All Volumes (Heraklion Press, Kindle Edition 2013, 1889), Loc 21161; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 500, 502-03; 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 14236-56, 14348-88, 14425-35; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 531-33; 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. 125-26

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

Nashville: The Standoff Continues

December 8, 1864 – The Federal and Confederate armies south of Nashville continued their standoff, as neither of the opposing commanders was quite ready for battle yet.

Major General George H. Thomas | Image Credit: Histmag.org

Major General George H. Thomas, commanding the Federal Army of the Cumberland, held a 10-mile defense line below Nashville. The line formed a rough semicircle, with both flanks anchored on the Cumberland River. The Federals faced General John Bell Hood’s Confederate Army of Tennessee two miles to the south. The Confederates held a weak line just four miles long.

Both Thomas and Hood planned to attack each other, but both needed time to fully prepare for battle. Hood needed more men from the scattered Confederate commands in the Western Theater, and Thomas needed to strengthen his cavalry, led by Brigadier General James H. Wilson, to confront Hood’s formidable horsemen under Major General Nathan Bedford Forrest.

Thomas, whose army doubled the size of Hood’s and was much better equipped, was under intense pressure to attack the Confederates before they could be reinforced. Thomas knew his superiors looked upon him with suspicion because he was a Virginian, even though he remained loyal to the U.S. after Virginia joined the Confederacy. Regardless, he would not attack until all his resources were available and all details were worked out.

Hood was not faring much better. A brutal cold front swept through Tennessee on the night of the 8th, making life miserable for the ill-clad Confederates. Captain Sam Foster recalled:

“We are suffering more for shoes than anything else, and there is no chance to get new ones. At Brigade Head Quarters there has been established a Shoe Shop, not to make shoes, for there is no leather, but they take an old worn out pair of shoes and sew Moccasins over them of green cow hide with the hair side in. The shoe is put on and kept there, and as the hide dries it draws closer and closer to the old shoe.”

A rash of desertions prompted Hood to have his officers conduct “regular and frequent roll calls…” But this did little to solve the problem, and soon Hood’s demoralized army fell below 24,000 men.

By the morning of the 9th, heavy sleet and snow had formed a solid sheet of ice over the prospective battlefield between the Federal and Confederate armies. Major General Jacob D. Cox, commanding XXIII Corps in Thomas’s army, wrote:

“The weather, which had been good for a week, suddenly changed. A freezing storm of snow and sleet covered the ground, and for two or three days the alternations of rain and frost made the hills about Nashville slopes of slippery ice, on which movement was impracticable.”

Thomas, who had finally planned to launch his long-awaited assault on the 10th, now had to postpone due to the freeze. Unaware of this, Chief of Staff Henry W. Halleck and Lieutenant General Ulysses S. Grant still believed that Thomas was refusing to move because Wilson’s cavalry was not ready. Halleck wrote, “General Grant expresses much dissatisfaction at your delay in attacking the enemy. If you wait till General Wilson mounts all his cavalry, you will wait till doomsday, for the waste equals the supply.”

Thomas replied at 2 p.m. on the 9th. He expressed regret about Grant’s “dissatisfaction at my delay in attacking the enemy. I feel conscious that I have done everything in my power… If he should order me to be relieved I will submit without a murmur. A terrible storm of freezing rain has come on since daylight, which will render an attack impossible until it breaks.” Thomas then wrote Grant:

“I had nearly completed my preparations to attack the enemy tomorrow morning, but a terrible storm of freezing rain has come on today, which will make it impossible for our men to fight to any advantage. I am, therefore, compelled to wait for the storm to break and make the attempt immediately after. Major General Halleck informs me that you are very much dissatisfied with my delay in attacking. I can only say I have done all in my power to prepare, and if you should deem it necessary to relieve me I shall submit without a murmur.”

By the time Grant received this message, he had already decided to replace Thomas. He telegraphed Washington, “Please telegraph order relieving him at once and placing Schofield in command.” Both Secretary of War Edwin M. Stanton and President Abraham Lincoln approved the order replacing Thomas with Major General John Schofield, commanding the eastern sector of Thomas’s line.

Meanwhile, Thomas held a council of war with his top officers and told them that if the army did not attack soon, he would most likely be replaced. But the officers agreed that an effective attack could not be made until the ground thawed.

During this time, Grant received Thomas’s explanation for the delay and decided to suspend the order removing him from command. Grant explained his decision to his superiors, stating, “I am very unwilling to do injustice to an officer who has done as much good service as General Thomas has, and will, therefore, suspend the order relieving him until it is seen whether he will do anything.” Grant wrote Thomas at 7:30 p.m.:

“I have as much confidence in your conducting a battle rightly as I have in any other officer, but it has seemed to me that you have been slow, and I have had no explanation of affairs to convince me otherwise… I telegraphed to suspend the order relieving you until we should hear further. I hope most sincerely that there will be no necessity for repeating the order, and that the facts will show that you have been right all the time.”

Thus, Thomas was temporarily reprieved. But he still could not give battle to Hood’s suffering Confederate army until the weather improved.

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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. 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 14236-46, 14260-70, 14318-38, 14348-58; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 530-31; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 607-08; Nevin, David, Sherman’s March: Atlanta to the Sea (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 123