Category Archives: South Carolina

The Fall of Charleston

February 18, 1865 – City officials surrendered Charleston, South Carolina, to Federal forces this morning.

Charleston was the Confederacy’s prized port city, having defied a Federal naval siege for nearly two years. But the fall of Columbia, the destruction of the South Carolina Railroad, and the Federal threat to Wilmington had left Charleston isolated, so Lieutenant General William Hardee reluctantly ordered his Confederate troops to abandon the city that had symbolized their cause throughout the war.

Federal troops from Major General John G. Foster’s Department of the South began landing at Bull’s Bay on the 17th to divert Confederate attention from Major General William T. Sherman’s advance through central South Carolina. That night, the Confederates began moving north toward Florence and Cheraw to join forces with General P.G.T. Beauregard’s troops opposing Sherman’s march.

Before withdrawing, Commodore John R. Tucker directed his men to scuttle the ironclads in Charleston Harbor and nearby shipyards. The Confederates burned cotton in buildings and warehouses to avoid Federal confiscation. They also destroyed quartermasters’ stores, arsenals, and railroad bridges. Forts Moultrie, Johnson, Beauregard, and Castle Pinckney were evacuated. Confederates finally abandoned Fort Sumter, site of the engagement that had begun the war. Sumter had long symbolized Confederate defiance to Federal subjugation, having survived two years of heavy naval bombardment.

At 9 a.m. on the 18th (the fourth anniversary of Jefferson Davis’s presidential inauguration), Federal Brigadier General Alexander Schimmelfennig accepted Charleston’s surrender from the mayor. The 21st U.S. Colored Troops, made up mostly of former slaves from the Charleston area, proudly entered the city first. Lieutenant Colonel Augustus G. Bennett of the 21st reported:

“On the morning of February 18 I received information that led me to believe the defenses and lines guarding the city of Charleston had been deserted by the enemy. I immediately proceeded to Cumming’s Point, from whence I sent a small boat, in the direction of Fort Moultrie, which boat, when forty yards cast from Fort Sumter, was met by a boat from Sullivan’s Island containing a full corps of band musicians abandoned by the enemy. These confirmed my belief of an evacuation.”

Most white residents had already fled the city. According to a northern scribe, Charleston was a “city of ruins–silent, mournful, in deepest humiliation… The band was playing ‘Hail, Columbia,’ and the strains floated through the desolate city, awakening wild enthusiasm in the hearts of the colored people…” Reporter Charles C. Coffin later wrote that fleeing Confederates had set numerous fires as they hurried out of town that morning:

“The citizens sprang to the fire-engines and succeeded in extinguishing the flames in several places; but in other parts of the city the fire had its own way, burning till there was nothing more to devour… At the Northeastern Railroad depot there was an immense amount of cotton which was fired. The depot was full of commissary supplies and ammunition, powder in kegs, shells, and cartridges. The people rushed in to obtain the supplies. Several hundred men, women, and children were in the building when the flames reached the ammunition and the fearful explosion took place, lifting up the roof and bursting out the walls, and scattering bricks, timbers, tiles, beams, through the air; shells crashed through the panic-stricken crowd, followed by the shrieks and groans of the mangled victims lying helpless in the flames, burning to cinders in the all-devouring element.”

Colonel Bennett reported:

“While awaiting the arrival of my troops at Mills’ Wharf a number of explosions took place. The rebel commissary depot was blown up, and with it, it is estimated, that not less than 200 human beings, most of whom were women and children, were blown to atoms. These people were engaged in procuring food for themselves and families, by permission from the rebel military authorities. The rebel ram Charleston was blown up while lying at her anchorage opposite Mount Pleasant ferry wharf, in the Cooper River.”

According to a northern correspondent:

“Not a building for blocks here that is exempt from the marks of shot and shell… Ruin within and without, and its neighbor in no better plight. The churches, St. Michael’s and St. Philip’s, have not escaped the storms of our projectiles. Their roofs are perforated, their walls wounded, their pillars demolished, and with the pews filled with plastering. From Bay-street, studded with batteries, to Calhoun-street, our shells have carried destruction and desolation, and often death with them.”

The Fall of Charleston | Image Credit: Flickr.com

Since the Federals belonged to the Department of the South, they went to work extinguishing fires and restoring order more diligently than Sherman’s bummers may have done had they captured Charleston. The Federals seized 250 guns and salvaged the ironclad C.S.S. Columbia, which had been run aground but not destroyed. The Federals also captured several “David”-type semi-submersibles that had been used to attack Federal vessels in the harbor.

Federal naval crews left the signal lights burning in the harbor to lure in Confederate blockade-runners, and two were captured. Rear Admiral John A.B. Dahlgren, commanding the South Atlantic Blockading Squadron, wrote, “You see by the date of this (the 18th) that the Navy’s occupation has given this pride of rebeldom to the Union flag, and thus the rebellion is shut out from the ocean and foreign sympathy.”

U.S. Secretary of War Edwin M. Stanton ordered “a national salute” fired from “every fort arsenal and army headquarters of the United States, in honor of the restoration of the flag of the Union upon Fort Sumter.” Northerners especially rejoiced at the fall of this hated city. Most black residents welcomed the Federal occupation troops, especially the 55th Massachusetts, a black regiment.

The simultaneous falls of Columbia, Charleston, and Fort Sumter devastated the South. Lieutenant John Wilkinson, commanding the blockade runner C.S.S. Chameleon (formerly the Tallahassee), learned about the fall of Charleston while in the Bahamas and lamented, “This sad intelligence put an end to all our hopes…” President Davis acknowledged, “This disappointment to me is extremely bitter.”

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References

Chaitin, Peter M., The Coastal War: Chesapeake Bay to Rio Grande (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 141; CivilWarDailyGazette.com; Davis, Jefferson, The Rise and Fall of the Confederate Government: All Volumes (Heraklion Press, Kindle Edition 2013, 1889), Loc 22024; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 535-36; 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 16560-79, 16755-65; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 555-56; Freeman, Douglas Southall, Lee (Scribner, Kindle Edition, 2008), Loc 8168; Goodwin, Doris Kearns, Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln (New York: Simon and Schuster, 2005), p. 696; Korn, Jerry, Pursuit to Appomattox: The Last Battles (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 61; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 639-41; McMurry, Richard M., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 131; 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. 828; Pollard, Edward A., Southern History of the War (New York: The Fairfax Press, 1990), p. 446-47; Ward, Geoffrey C., Burns, Ric, Burns, Ken, The Civil War (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1990), p. 360

The Fall of Columbia

February 17, 1865 – Major General William T. Sherman’s Federals captured the South Carolina capital of Columbia.

On the morning of the 17th, elements of the Federal XV Corps crossed the Broad River, the last barrier between them and the state capital. Lieutenant General Wade Hampton, commanding the Confederate rear guard out of town, directed Mayor T.J. Goodwyn and three aldermen to surrender the city to the oncoming Federals. The men rode out in a carriage bearing a white flag and met with Colonel George Stone, commanding the leading Federal brigade.

Goodwyn asked Stone what terms he was willing to offer, and, according to Stone, “I refused anything but an unconditional surrender which, after a few words, he consented to and unconditionally surrendered the city of Columbia.” Stone climbed into the mayor’s carriage and later wrote that when they came across Confederates resisting the Federal advance:

“I at once called a corporal and three men, who happened to be near me, and put the mayor and aldermen in the corporal’s charge, and… took about 40 of my flankers and advanced on the cavalry. The corporal was instructed that in case one man was killed or wounded he should at once shoot the mayor and his party.”

There were no further casualties. Sherman arrived in Columbia around midday and assured Goodwyn, “Go home and rest assured that your city will be as safe in my hands as if you had controlled it.” A white flag appeared on the City Hall steeple, and with bands playing and flags flying, Federal soldiers marched from Main Street to the Capitol Square.

Stone and his immediate forces raised the U.S. flag over the State House, and when they came out of the building, they were met by pandemonium. Large quantities of liquor were available in the city, as Charleston merchants had shipped it there believing it would be safe from confiscation. Stone wrote:

“When I rejoined my command, (I) found a great number of the men drunk. It was discovered that this was caused by hundreds of negroes who swarmed the streets on the approach of the troops and gave them all kinds of liquors from buckets, bottles, demijohns, &c. The men had slept none the night before, and but little the night before that, and many of them had no supper the night before, and none of them breakfast that morning, hence the speedy effect of the liquor. I forthwith ordered all the liquor destroyed, and saw 15 barrels destroyed within five minutes after the order had been given.”

Meanwhile, Hampton’s cavalry withdrew, leaving Columbia at the Federals’ mercy. Before leaving, the Confederates had started setting fire to cotton bales to keep them out of Federal hands, but they left before finishing the job. According to Confederate Major N.R. Chambliss, “the city was in the wildest terror. The army had been withdrawn, the straggling cavalry and rabble were stripping the warehouses and railroad depots, and the city was illuminated with burning cotton.”

The Burning of Columbia | Image Credit: Bing Public Domain

Regardless of whether Federals or Confederates started the fires, by nightfall flames engulfed Columbia. Sherman later wrote:

“The fire continued to increase, and the whole heavens became lurid. I… received… repeated assurances that all was being done that could be done, but that the high wind was spreading the flames beyond all control… The whole air was full of sparks and of flying masses of cotton, shingles, etc., some of which were carried four or five blocks, and started new fires. The men seemed generally under good control, and certainly labored hard to girdle the fire, to prevent its spreading; but, so long as the high wind prevailed, it was simply beyond human possibility.”

Sherman employed Federal troops to fight the fires “and arrest all soldiers and disorderly persons.” But because Columbia had been the birthplace of secession, vengeful Federals were reluctant to act. Ultimately 370 soldiers were arrested, two were killed, and 30 were wounded. Hampton later alleged that Sherman, after promising Columbia’s safety, had “burned the city to the ground, deliberately, systematically and atrociously.”

Sherman blamed Hampton for “ripping open bales of cotton, piling it in the streets, burning it, and then going away… God Almighty started wind sufficient to carry that cotton wherever He would.” However, Sherman acknowledged in his memoirs that he had quickly blamed Hampton without evidence to demoralize southerners into abandoning the Confederate cause.

Historians have alternately blamed Hampton’s cavalry and drunken Federal soldiers for starting the fires. Others have cited escaped Federal prisoners of war, residents, criminals released from the city jails, or vengeful slaves. Perhaps they all share the blame. Sherman concluded, “Though I never ordered it, and never wished it, I have never shed any tears over it, because I believe that it hastened what we all fought for–the end of the war.”

The gale-force winds eased up around 3 a.m., and the fires started dying down an hour later. By that time, Columbia had suffered the worst destruction inflicted on any city during the war. The blaze ravaged 84 of the city’s 124 blocks, destroying many homes including Hampton’s. Major General William B. Hazen wrote:

“The sight when day opened was most saddening. An oppressive stillness prevailed. The solid portion of the city was in ashes… Crowds of homeless women and children were gathered in the public square… The city where secession was first proclaimed was turned to ashes. I have never doubted that Columbia was deliberately set on fire in more than a hundred places. No one ordered it, and no one could stop it. The officers of high rank would have saved the city if possible; but the army was deeply imbued with the feeling that as South Carolina had begun the war, she must suffer a stern retribution.”

Sherman added to the ruin by ordering the destruction of all buildings, railroads, and material considered potentially useful to the Confederate war effort. This included about 10,000 rifles, 10,000 artillery shells, and 500,000 rifle rounds. Twenty soldiers were killed when the powder magazines were accidentally detonated. The railroad depot was also destroyed along with 20 boxcars and 19 locomotives.

Southerners viewed the fate of Columbia as a symbol of Federal depredation and atrocity, and they quickly began rebuilding their wrecked city. At the same time, Sherman’s Federals prepared to continue laying waste to South Carolina as they headed north.

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References

Angle, Paul M., A Pictorial History of the Civil War Years (New York: Doubleday, 1967), p. 213-14; CivilWarDailyGazette.com; Davis, Jefferson, The Rise and Fall of the Confederate Government: All Volumes (Heraklion Press, Kindle Edition 2013, 1889), Loc 21975-84; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 535-36; 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 16588-608, 16627-67; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 555; Korn, Jerry, Pursuit to Appomattox: The Last Battles (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 58-63; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 639-41; 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. 828-29; Murphy, Richard W., The Nation Reunited: War’s Aftermath (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 30-31; Pollard, Edward A., Southern History of the War (New York: The Fairfax Press, 1990), p. 448; Ward, Geoffrey C., Burns, Ric, Burns, Ken, The Civil War (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1990), p. 358-60

South Carolina: Federals Cross the Congaree

February 14, 1865 – By this time, Major General William T. Sherman’s Federal armies were moving directly toward the South Carolina capital of Columbia.

Sherman reported that he was advancing “without wasting time or labor on Branchville or Charleston.” The troops advanced in two wings, with Major General Oliver O. Howard’s Army of the Tennessee on the right (or east) and Major General Henry W. Slocum’s Army of Georgia on the left.

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

Part of Sherman’s force reached the Congaree River, the last major waterway separating the Federals from Columbia. The men discovered some undefended fords and began building bridges to cross the river. General P.G.T. Beauregard, the overall Confederate commander in the region, finally realized that Sherman was targeting Columbia and not Charleston.

Beauregard traveled from Columbia to confer with Lieutenant General William Hardee, commanding the Confederates around Charleston. Beauregard wrote, “The holding of Charleston is now reduced to only a question of a few days. Its loss does not jeopardize the safety of the State of South Carolina, but the loss of its garrison would greatly contribute to that end.”

Gen P.G.T. Beauregard | Image Credit: Wikispaces.com

On his way back to Columbia, Beauregard stopped at Florence and wired General-in-Chief Robert E. Lee that Hardee would evacuate Charleston immediately and withdraw his troops to Chesterville, north of Columbia. Beauregard then forwarded intelligence received from Major Generals Carter L. Stevenson and Joseph Wheeler, commanding Confederates at Columbia, that the “enemy has appeared in their front and driven their pickets across Congaree, at railroad bridge near Kingsville. They consider movement on Columbia serious.”

Beauregard saw this as all the more reason for Hardee to abandon Charleston because if Columbia fell, Hardee would be isolated and easily destroyed. He wrote to Hardee, “Commence immediately movement as arranged, and if practicable, average 20 miles a day.” Hardee forwarded a message from President Jefferson Davis urging him to save Charleston “for future use, and save us the pain of seeing it pass into the hands of the enemy.”

Beauregard quickly replied to Davis: “I have far from sufficient force to hold the enemy in check in the field… Hence I see no good reason for deviating from the plan already decided upon; on the contrary, I urge its immediate execution.” Beauregard returned to Columbia that night and notified Lee that all of Sherman’s four corps were “moving on this place, two of them pressing our troops back on south side to within about four miles of the river.”

Confederate reinforcements from the Army of Tennessee were expected to arrive in Columbia at any moment, but these totaled no more than 5,000 men from the depleted corps of Major General Benjamin F. Cheatham and Lieutenant General Alexander P. Stewart. This would give Beauregard less than 20,000 men to oppose Sherman’s 60,000 veterans.

Beauregard directed Stevenson, whose Confederates were falling back north of the Congaree River, to “construct works on this side to keep enemy’s batteries as far from city as possible.” Columbia “must then be held as long as circumstances will permit to give time to our re-enforcements to arrive.”

The next day, residents began evacuating Columbia as Sherman’s Federals inched closer through thick morning fog. Stevenson’s batteries opened on them, but the fog caused many gunners to miss their marks. By late afternoon, a large Federal force had outflanked Stevenson’s men, forcing them to fall back. Lieutenant General Wade Hampton’s Confederate cavalry made a desperate charge across an open field, but it did nothing to stop the irresistible Federal wave coming toward the capital.

The bulk of Sherman’s force arrived directly opposite Columbia on the 16th. Captain Francis De Gress ordered artillerists to unlimber two guns and start shelling the town. Sherman rode to the sound of the firing and, as he later wrote, “I instructed him not to fire anymore into the town, but consented to his bursting a few shells near the depot, to scare away the negroes who were appropriating the bags of corn and meal which we wanted, also to fire three shots at the unoccupied State-House.”

Sherman then directed Major General John A. Logan’s XV Corps (of Howard’s army) to “occupy Columbia, destroy the public buildings, railroad property, manufacturing and machine shops; but will spare libraries, asylumns, and private dwellings.” Sherman’s remaining three corps would bypass the city and continue to North Carolina as planned.

A brigade was dispatched to find a river crossing, and the Federals found one on the Broad River, northwest of Columbia, before its confluence with the Congaree. By the end of the day, two divisions of XV Corps were poised to enter the capital first thing next morning. Sherman wrote:

“The night of the 16th, I camped near an old prison bivouac opposite Columbia, known to our prisoners of war as ‘Camp Sorghum,’ where remained the mud-hovels and holes in the ground which our prisoners had made to shelter themselves from the winter’s cold and summer’s heat. The Fifteenth Corps was then ahead, reaching to Broad River, about four miles above Columbia; the Seventeenth Corps was behind, on the river-bank opposite Columbia; and the left wing and cavalry had turned north toward Alston.”

Earlier that day, Beauregard, unable to wait for reinforcements any longer, ordered Columbia evacuated. Troops and residents hurried out of town, leaving behind bales of cotton sitting in wagons; there was no time to carry out the order to burn them before the Federals arrived.

Joe Wheeler’s cavalry rode into town, and according to a southern reporter, “proceeded to break into the stores along main street and rob them of their contents” on the premise that the Federals would soon pillage the city anyway. As Wheeler’s troopers rode off, Hampton conducted the final Confederate withdrawal from Columbia. Both Columbia and Charleston were now doomed.

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References

Angle, Paul M., A Pictorial History of the Civil War Years (New York: Doubleday, 1967), p. 213-14; CivilWarDailyGazette.com; Davis, Jefferson, The Rise and Fall of the Confederate Government: All Volumes (Heraklion Press, Kindle Edition 2013, 1889), Loc 21975; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 533-34; Foote, Shelby, The Civil War: A Narrative: Volume 3: Red River to Appomattox (Vintage Civil War Library, Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, Kindle Edition, 2011), Kindle Locations 16569-608, 16627-67; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 554; Korn, Jerry, Pursuit to Appomattox: The Last Battles (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 58-63; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 638-41; McMurry, Richard M., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 131, 153; Murphy, Richard W., The Nation Reunited: War’s Aftermath (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 30-31; Pollard, Edward A., Southern History of the War (New York: The Fairfax Press, 1990), p. 446, 448

South Carolina: Federals Destroy Orangeburg

February 12, 1865 – Major General William T. Sherman’s Federal armies continued storming through South Carolina, leaving destruction in their wake.

By this time, Sherman’s Federals had wrecked the South Carolina Railroad, cutting the link between the Confederate garrisons at Augusta and Charleston. The Federals then moved north toward Orangeburg on their way to the state capital of Columbia. The heavy rains of the past few weeks had stopped, so the troops could now move much quicker in their devastating march.

Gen P.G.T. Beauregard | Image Credit: Wikispaces.com

General P.G.T. Beauregard, the Confederate department commander, was at Columbia and becoming increasingly certain that the Federals were coming his way. Lieutenant General William Hardee, commanding the Confederates at Charleston, was convinced the Federals were targeting him. And Major General D.H. Hill, commanding at Augusta, believed that Sherman was heading for him.

Hardee posted a defense line under Major General Lafayette McLaws along the Edisto River from Orangeburg to Branchville to try covering both Columbia and Charleston. Major General Carter L. Stevenson commanded the Orangeburg sector, and as Sherman’s Federals approached his front from the other side of the Edisto, Stevenson informed McLaws, “The enemy have not yet crossed,” but they “are skirmishing with my infantry in front of this place.”

Beauregard ordered Stevenson to “hold your present line as long as practicable.” He then contacted Major General Joseph Wheeler, commanding the Confederate cavalry, to send troopers from Augusta “to protect the flanks of Stevenson and McLaws.”

As Wheeler hurried to comply, he received an urgent order from Hill to burn all the cotton at Augusta before it fell into Federal hands. Wheeler answered, “I beg that this may not be done. We would feel very badly to burn so much cotton if the enemy should not reach the city.” Major General Benjamin F. Cheatham soon arrived at Augusta with 4,000 Confederates from the shattered Army of Tennessee to reinforce Hill. However, it was becoming apparent that Sherman would not threaten that town.

Hardee traveled out to the Orangeburg-Branchville line on the 12th and reported to President Jefferson Davis that it was still “not certain whether enemy intend going to Columbia or to Charleston.” But Beauregard knew that if Sherman captured Columbia, Charleston and Hardee’s force would be cut off. He therefore urged Hardee to abandon that city and join forces with him at Columbia, adding, “You can better judge of the precise moment for commencing the movement. I am of opinion that you have not much time to lose to accomplish it successfully.”

Meanwhile, Sherman’s right wing under Major General Oliver O. Howard began shelling Stevenson’s Confederates at Orangeburg. The Confederates burned Schilling’s Bridge, but Federal detachments went up and down the Edisto to find other crossings. Other Federals began felling trees to make a bridge of their own and some, led by Major General William B. Hazen, opted to march through the swampy river by “wading water three to five feet deep for more than a mile.”

The Confederates soon found both their flanks threatened by superior numbers and were forced to withdraw. Stevenson led his men northeast toward Columbia. He joined the Confederates already there, along with Lieutenant General Wade Hampton’s cavalry which had just arrived from the Army of Northern Virginia.

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

The Federals entered Orangeburg and burned public buildings, businesses, and private homes. Sherman arrived soon after, finding that “several stores were on fire, and I am sure that some of the towns-people told me that a Jew merchant had set fire to his own cotton and store, and from this the fire had spread.” About half the town of 800 residents was destroyed.

Sherman’s troops approached the Congaree River on the 13th, plundering the countryside along the way. While Hardee continued trying to hold Charleston against Sherman on the landside, he was now receiving reports that naval forces were approaching the city from the seaside. One report stated “that there are twelve vessels of different kinds on the bay.” Beauregard left Columbia on a roundabout journey to Charleston to determine what should be done there.

Before he left, Beauregard asked Hill to send either Cheatham’s corps or the incoming corps under Lieutenant General Alexander P. Stewart to Columbia. Hill responded, “The order has been given, and Cheatham will move at once with five days’ rations.” But there were issues with the railroad, prompting Hill to “inquire into the capacity of the Georgia Railroad for the transportation of troops, and probe thoroughly its operations to ascertain if it be to blame, and, if to blame, whether from inefficiency, carelessness, or indisposition to aid the public service.”

Beauregard asked Major General Robert F. Hoke to send troops from Wilmington, North Carolina, but Hoke replied, “No force can be spared from this department for the purpose indicated.” In fact, Commodore John R. Tucker was leading the crews of the C.S.S. Chicora, Palmetto State, and Charleston out of Charleston to reinforce the garrison at Wilmington, which was also being threatened by a Federal army. It seemed that nothing could stop the relentless Federal advance through the Carolinas.

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References

CivilWarDailyGazette.com; Davis, Jefferson, The Rise and Fall of the Confederate Government: All Volumes (Heraklion Press, Kindle Edition 2013, 1889), Loc 21975; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 531-33; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 552-54; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 637-38; Pollard, Edward A., Southern History of the War (New York: The Fairfax Press, 1990), p. 445

South Carolina: Sherman’s Entire Force Arrives

February 4, 1865 – Major General William T. Sherman’s two Federal armies were now entirely in South Carolina while what remained of a Confederate resistance scrambled to stop them.

Sherman’s men advanced northward from Savannah in two columns: Major General Henry W. Slocum’s Army of Georgia comprised the left (west) wing, and Major General Oliver O. Howard’s Army of the Tennessee comprised the right (east) wing. The Federals marched past Augusta to their left and Charleston to their right en route to the South Carolina capital of Columbia straight ahead.

On the 3rd, Howard’s column drove off a small Confederate force guarding Rivers’ Bridge on the Salkehatchie River. The Federals advanced through three miles of swampland to outflank the defenders and cross the river. Their immediate objective was the South Carolina Railroad at Blackville, which connected the Confederates at Augusta and Charleston.

Federals in South Carolina | Image Credit: Harper’s Weekly, Vol. IX, No. 427, 4 Mar 1865

By the 4th, Sherman’s entire force had entered South Carolina, skirmishing with Confederates at Buford’s Bridge, Fishburn’s Plantation, and on the Little Salkehatchie River near Barnwell. Confederate Flag Officer William W. Hunter directed the crews of the C.S.S. Macon and Sampson, trapped on the Savannah River, to turn their ammunition over to army forces so they could better stop Sherman’s advance. It helped little.

General P.G.T. Beauregard, the Confederate department commander, set up headquarters at Columbia and asked President Jefferson Davis to send him reinforcements from General Robert E. Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia. However, Lee told Davis that he had no men to spare, so Beauregard would have to confront Sherman “wherever he can be struck to most advantage.”

Meanwhile, the Federal advance continued, pushing through natural obstacles and Confederates all the same. Sherman used naval transports to get his men across swollen rivers and swamps whenever possible, and the march soon became so difficult that he even considered changing direction and moving along the coast instead. He wrote to Rear Admiral John A.B. Dahlgren, commanding the South Atlantic Blockading Squadron:

“We are on the railroad at Midway (S.C.), and will break 50 miles from Edisto towards Augusta and then cross towards Columbia. Weather is bad and country full of water. This may force me to turn against Charleston… Send word to New Bern (N.C.) that you have heard from me, and the probabilities are that high waters may force me to the coast before I reach North Carolina, but to keep Wilmington busy.”

Along the way, Federal “bummers” roamed the countryside, looting and pillaging houses, barns, and anything else they found. Major General Joseph Wheeler, commanding the Confederate cavalry, wrote to Sherman asking him to restrain his men. Sherman responded that most civilians had fled before the Federals came through, adding, “Vacant houses being of no use to anybody, I care little about. I don’t want them destroyed, but do not take much care to preserve them.”

Howard’s troops reached Blackville on the 7th, where they seized the Edisto River Bridge and the railroad. Beauregard directed the Confederates in that area to fall back to Cheraw and Chester, thus relinquishing central South Carolina to the Federals. Slocum’s men came up on Howard’s left two days later, and the Federals spent the next few days wrecking a 50-mile stretch of the railroad. By this time, the troops had perfected their technique of melting the iron rails and twisting them around trees so as to make it impossible for Confederates to straighten them out.

The Federals left destruction in their wake as they continued moving toward Columbia. They were supported by the gunboats U.S.S. Pawnee, Sonoma, and Daffodil as they crossed the Edisto River and headed for the Congaree. Still unaware of the Federals’ true target, the editor of the Columbia South Carolinian opined that there was “no real tangible cause” for believing they would attack the state capital.

But the Federals were not only moving toward Columbia, they were moving so fast that as soon as Beauregard set up headquarters there, he called on Major General D.H. Hill to abandon Augusta and reinforce him. Meanwhile, Federals detached from Sherman’s main command attacked James Island and Johnson’s Station around Charleston Harbor to keep the Confederates guessing about where the main strike would be.

President Jefferson Davis still believed that Charleston was Sherman’s true target. Davis wrote to Lieutenant General William Hardee, commanding the Confederates at Charleston:

“The indications suggest Charleston as the objective point, and if you have supplies inside the works and General Beauregard has the hoped-for success in concentrating the army and in raising auxiliary forces in Georgia and South Carolina, the attempt of the enemy will, I hope, be reduced to operations on the sea front and be finally defeated.”

By this time, Beauregard had changed his mind about Sherman attacking Columbia and agreed with Davis that Charleston would be hit. He wrote Hardee, “By late movements of the enemy, it is apparent that he intends to move upon Charleston, or to cut off your communications along the Northeastern Railroad. It is therefore advisable that you proceed to execute as soon as possible the movement agreed upon the 2nd instant.”

The “2nd instant” movement involved Hardee evacuating Charleston and joining forces with Beauregard at Columbia. Hardee was reluctant to abandon a city as important as Charleston and wrote to Beauregard, “Do you direct that the agreement made on the 2nd instant be carried into effect immediately? Please answer at once.”

Beauregard did not give a direct answer; he instead instructed Hardee to shorten his defensive line, adding, “Send here soon as practicable the siege-train guns and all available rifled guns on siege carriages, with their ammunition.” He also directed Hardee to begin building bridges over the Santee River using all available ferry boats on hand. Anything that could not be used was to be destroyed.

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References

Angle, Paul M., A Pictorial History of the Civil War Years (New York: Doubleday, 1967), p. 213-14; CivilWarDailyGazette.com; Davis, Jefferson, The Rise and Fall of the Confederate Government: All Volumes (Heraklion Press, Kindle Edition 2013, 1889), Loc 21975; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 527-31; 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 15674-84, 16501-11, 16541-79, 16588-98; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 549-52; Freeman, Douglas Southall, Lee (Scribner, Kindle Edition, 2008), Loc 8168; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 631-32, 634, 637-39; McMurry, Richard M., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 153; Pollard, Edward A., Southern History of the War (New York: The Fairfax Press, 1990), p. 445; Wikipedia: Carolinas Campaign

South Carolina: The Federal Destruction Begins

February 1, 1865 – Major General William T. Sherman’s Federal armies continued moving into South Carolina, disregarding the elements and sporadic Confederate resistance along the way.

Sherman had left Savannah, Georgia, with 60,000 men consisting of Brigadier General H. Judson Kilpatrick’s cavalry and two Federal armies:

  • Major General Oliver O. Howard’s Army of the Tennessee, which included XV and XVII corps under Major Generals John A. Logan and Francis P. Blair, Jr. respectively
  • Major General Henry W. Slocum’s Army of Georgia, which included XIV and XX corps under Major Generals Jefferson C. Davis and Alpheus Williams respectively

Sherman’s initial objective was to move through South Carolina and link with the Federals moving inland from the North Carolina coast. From there, the united Federal armies would continue north and join forces with the Federals besieging Petersburg and Richmond, Virginia. This march would not be easy; it was a 425-mile hike over rough ground and treacherous waterways during one of the wettest winters on record. But the Federals were imbued with high morale and a deep hatred for South Carolina because it was the first state to secede.

Howard’s army comprised Sherman’s right wing, which was stationed near Pocotaligo, South Carolina, as February began. Slocum’s army comprised the left wing, which was at Sister’s Ferry, about 40 miles north of Savannah on the flooded Savannah River. Howard cleared enemy obstructions at Pocotaligo, Slocum finally crossed the Savannah, and the march began in earnest on the 1st. The destruction began at the town of McPhersonville, which was burned until, according to a resident, “there was left standing the Presbyterian Church and two houses.”

The Burning of McPhersonville | Image Credit: Wikipedia.org

Despite the foul weather, Sherman’s Federals advanced at an impressive average of 10 miles per day. The two wings feinted toward Augusta to the northwest and Charleston to the northeast while actually targeting Columbia to the north.

The Confederates in the Georgia-South Carolina region were commanded by Lieutenant General William Hardee. He had a small garrison under Major General D.H. Hill defending Augusta while he stayed with the other garrison guarding Charleston. Major General Joseph Wheeler’s cavalry patrolled the Savannah River, but this force was too small to contest Slocum’s crossing. Sherman later wrote that Wheeler was “capable of making a respectable if not successful defense, but utterly unable to meet our veteran columns in the open field.”

Sherman was confident that his men could reach their objective, but “the question of supplies remained still the one of vital importance… we might safely rely on the country for a considerable quantity of forage and provisions, and that, if the worst came to the worst, we could live several months on the mules and horses of our trains.” Once Slocum’s Federals crossed the river, Sherman “gave the general orders to march, and instructed all the columns to aim for the South Carolina Railroad to the west of Branchville, about Blackville and Midway.”

General P.G.T. Beauregard, the Confederate department commander, arrived at Augusta on the 2nd to discuss the situation with Hill and Hardee, who came from Charleston by rail. Major General Gustavus W. Smith was also there with 1,500 Georgia militia.

Beauregard estimated his total force to be 33,500 men scattered between Georgia and South Carolina. This included Smith’s militia, which was barred by law from leaving Georgia. It also included the Army of Tennessee, which had not yet arrived from the west. And even when it did, it would number no more than 10,000 demoralized men hardly fit for combat. This left Beauregard with only about 20,000 effectives to oppose Sherman’s 60,000 veterans.

News of a possible peace conference had reached Beauregard, who later explained his strategy: “During the pending negotiations for peace, it was thought of the highest importance to hold Charleston and Augusta as long as it was humanly possible.” Once the Confederate commanders concluded that Sherman would march on Charleston, they placed two of Hardee’s divisions along the Combahee River. According to Beauregard’s orders:

“Whenever it should become evident that a longer defense was impracticable, General Hardee should abandon the place, removing all valuable stores, and hasten to form a junction in front of Columbia with the forces of General Beauregard, who would have to cover Columbia, and take up the Congaree (River) as a line of defense.”

Beauregard would hold Columbia with a token force, and Hill’s Confederates would continue holding Augusta while standing ready to reinforce Beauregard if needed. When Wheeler reported that Sherman was headed for Branchville, Beauregard concluded that the Federals were not targeting either Charleston or Augusta, but rather Columbia.

Beauregard dispatched Lieutenant General Stephen D. Lee’s 4,000 troops from the Army of Tennessee to cover Branchville while the rest of the army was on its way. But this would not be enough to stop Sherman, and Beauregard reported to President Jefferson Davis: “Concentration of Hardee’s forces and mine cannot, therefore, take place south of Columbia.”

Charleston and Augusta could be saved, Beauregard explained, if he could keep the Federals out of Columbia. But to do that, more men were needed. Beauregard wrote, “I respectfully urge the vital importance of concentrating at Columbia such forces as can be sent from North Carolina and Virginia. Ten or twelve thousand additional men would insure the defeat of Sherman…”

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References

Angle, Paul M., A Pictorial History of the Civil War Years (New York: Doubleday, 1967), p. 213-14; CivilWarDailyGazette.com; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 525-26; Foote, Shelby, The Civil War: A Narrative: Volume 3: Red River to Appomattox (Vintage Civil War Library, Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, Kindle Edition, 2011), Kindle Locations 15738-48, 15865-75, 16541-61; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 549; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 631-32; McMurry, Richard M., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 131; 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. 825, 827; Rhodes, James Ford, History of the Civil War, 1861-1865 (New York: The MacMillan Company, 1917 [Kindle Edition, Reservoir House, 2016], Loc 5479

Sherman Turns Toward Columbia

January 29, 1865 – Major General William T. Sherman’s Federals began turning inland, away from the coast, as they inched northward from Savannah into South Carolina.

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

Sherman formed his two armies into wings, with Major General Oliver O. Howard’s wing (i.e., the Army of the Tennessee) operating around the Georgia-South Carolina border, and Major General Henry W. Slocum’s wing (i.e., the Army of Georgia) staying mostly around Savannah. Slocum’s Federals began moving out of town on the 20th, with Sherman himself following two days later.

The Confederates expected Sherman to attack both the prized port city of Charleston and the key supply base at Augusta. Sherman guessed that they would, and therefore planned to feint toward those cities while actually targeting the South Carolina capital of Columbia. But he did not divulge this plan to anybody, including most of his own staff. According to Sherman’s judge-advocate Henry Hitchcock:

“As to where we are going or what we are going to do, that will all appear in time. Nobody knows the details except Gen. Sherman himself; very few know even the general outlines, though my position is such that I am one of those; and you may be assured that neither the rebels nor the newspaper men know anything about it–and value what you see in the papers accordingly.”

As the Federals advanced, they stayed close enough to the coast so they could be supported by the Federal naval fleet if needed. The movement was slowed by heavy rains that flooded the roads. But as the Federals reached Pocotaligo on the 24th, Sherman received good news from Lieutenant General Ulysses S. Grant, the overall Federal commander: the Confederates would be sending no troops from Virginia to help oppose Sherman’s advance.

Meanwhile, the Confederates sent all the men they could to Sherman’s presumed targets of Charleston and Augusta. Major General D.H. Hill was sent from Virginia to command the skeleton force guarding Augusta, while Lieutenant General William Hardee commanded the various troops at Charleston. Major General Joseph Wheeler’s cavalry was the only substantial mobile force that could oppose the Federals.

Hill informed Hardee that a problem was developing in the region: men were forming irregular cavalry companies and plundering the countryside. And since it had been reported that most of these men lacked adequate horses to be real cavalry, Hill wrote:

“What I wish to propose is the getting together of this organized or semi-organized mob and putting them into infantry service… Ought not the attention of the Secretary of War be called to this great evil, and to the necessity of disbanding or changing into infantry this omnivorous mob before they bring a famine upon the fighting men of the army?”

Hardee could do little to help Hill because he was having his own problems with the Confederate War Department. He had been promised a regiment of North Carolina regulars, but since then the Federals had captured Fort Fisher and were now threatening Wilmington. Thus, the North Carolinians stayed back to defend their home state. Hardee wrote to Secretary of War James A. Seddon, “They are almost the only regular troops holding line of the Combahee; the remainder, Reserves, are much dissatisfied at being detained out of their own States.”

At the same time, Hill at Augusta sent a desperate message to his cavalry commander:

“I cannot use too strong language in urging upon you the importance of delaying the enemy by fighting them. If you but draw a line of battle every mile you will compel him to do the same, and thus give us time, which is everything to our success… If you divide your command and hold each road you can check the Yankees until our forces come up. Augusta depends upon this delay.”

The Federals, by now veterans of moving through hostile country under adverse conditions, continued advancing despite the rain. Like their march from Atlanta, they discarded all excess baggage and intended to live off the land. By the 29th, they were slowly turning away from the coast, skirmishing with various Confederate detachments as they began moving toward Columbia.

Sherman had set up headquarters at Pocotaligo and stayed there several days while waiting for the rain to stop. Hitchcock wrote, “It is understood that we leave here tomorrow morning ‘for parts unknown’, but you know by this time that a soldier’s punctuality consists in his being ready to move at the appointed hour.” Hitchcock also wrote of meeting with black troops (in a brigade of whites and blacks) for the first time:

“The white troops are ‘vets’ and march and look best; but the blacks are a fine looking body of men, and one of the regiments fought at Olustee. A captain in it, an intelligent man, though not of much culture, who was at Olustee fully confirms the good account then given of the negroes’ good behavior there; claiming, I do not doubt truly, from other evidence also, that their steadiness under very adverse circumstances, saved the defeat from being a total and serious rout.”

By month’s end, Sherman’s Federals had definitively turned northwest, with small pockets of Confederate defenders scrambling to stop them. The first units from the shattered Army of Tennessee arrived at Augusta, but it was clear that they still lacked the numbers to offer any effective resistance. President Jefferson Davis desperately turned to new General-in-Chief Robert E. Lee for suggestions “in this, our hour of necessity…”

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References

CivilWarDailyGazette.com; Davis, Jefferson, The Rise and Fall of the Confederate Government: All Volumes (Heraklion Press, Kindle Edition 2013, 1889), Loc 21975; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 522-24; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 548; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 630