Tag Archives: Army of the Tennessee

Sherman Approaches North Carolina

March 5, 1865 – Major General William T. Sherman’s Federal armies began crossing the Pee Dee River after leaving a swath of destruction through South Carolina.

As March began, Sherman’s troops continued their northward march. The Federals laid waste to most everything in their path, making sure that the state which had been the first to secede felt their fury. They were hampered by bad roads and rough wire grass, but they still averaged about 10 miles per day.

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

Sherman planned to invade North Carolina and feint toward Charlotte while occupying Fayetteville. From there, he intended to join forces with Major General John Schofield’s Army of North Carolina, which was securing a supply line from the Atlantic to Goldsboro.

Sherman’s right wing, consisting of Major General Oliver O. Howard’s Army of the Tennessee, entered the town of Cheraw on the 2nd. Lieutenant General William Hardee, whose small Confederate force had retreated through South Carolina after abandoning Charleston, withdrew across the Pee Dee River. Sherman arrived at Cheraw the next day and later wrote:

“Cheraw was found to be full of stores which had been sent up from Charleston prior to its evacuation, and which could not be removed. I was satisfied from inquirers, that General Hardee had with him only the Charleston garrison, that the enemy had not divined our movements, and that consequently they were still scattered from Charlotte around to Florence, then behind us. Having thus secured the passage of the Pedee, I felt no uneasiness about the future, because there remained no further great impediment between us and the Cape Fear River, which I felt assured was by that time in possession of our friends (i.e., Schofield).”

Sherman reported that Cheraw had been a sort of sanctuary for people who had fled Charleston. Many had brought their possessions with them, including luxury items that the Federals quickly seized. Sherman added, “There was an immense amount of stores in Cheraw, which were used or destroyed; among them twenty-four guns, two thousand muskets, and thirty-six hundred barrels of gunpowder. By the carelessness of a soldier, an immense pile of this powder was exploded, which shook the town badly, and killed and maimed several of our men.”

An investigation was conducted as to the cause of the deadly blast, and according to the official report:

“The explosion was caused by ignition of a large quantity of rebel ammunition which had been found in the town of Cheraw and hauled out and thrown into a deep ravine lying between the town and the pontoon bridge… After diligent inquiry I am unable to ascertain the names of the men who set fire to the powder, but I have no doubt they were ignorant, as I was myself, that any explosive material was in the ravine.”

Another explosion occurred behind Sherman’s armies in South Carolina. Rear Admiral John A.B. Dahlgren, commanding the Federal South Atlantic Blockading Squadron, left Charleston aboard his flagship Harvest Moon to inspect the recently captured Fort White at Georgetown. During the trip, the flagship struck a torpedo. One man was killed, but Dahlgren escaped. He later reported:

“Suddenly, without warning, came a crashing sound, a heavy shock, the partition between the cabin and wardroom was shattered and driven in toward me, while all loose articles in the cabin flew in different directions… A torpedo had been struck by the poor old Harvest Moon, and she was sinking.”

The ship went down in five minutes.

Back at Cheraw, Sherman learned that General Joseph E. Johnston had assumed command of the Confederate forces in the region. Sherman guessed that Johnston’s priority would be to unite these scattered commands and then make a stand against him somewhere in North Carolina. As such, Sherman sought to hurry and join forces with Schofield before Johnston could stop him.

The Federals laid a pontoon bridge over the Pee Dee on the 4th and began crossing the next day. They moved in four columns, with Howard’s XV and XVII corps on the right (east), and Major General Henry W. Slocum’s XIV and XX corps of his Army of Georgia on the left (west). Brigadier General H. Judson Kilpatrick’s cavalry division screened the Federal left. By the 8th, Sherman’s entire force had crossed into North Carolina.

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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. 541-44; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 560-63; Kennedy, Frances H. (ed.), The Civil War Battlefield Guide (John G. Barrett, The Conservation Fund, Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1990), p. 268; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 648; Longacre, Edward G., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 254-55, 506; Pollard, Edward A., Southern History of the War (New York: The Fairfax Press, 1990), p. 451-52

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

The South Carolina Campaign Begins

January 19, 1865 – Major General William T. Sherman issued orders for his Federal troops to start moving north, out of Savannah and into South Carolina.

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

Sherman’s force consisted of two armies and a cavalry division, numbering about 60,000 men:

  • Major General Henry W. Slocum’s Army of Georgia, which mainly occupied Savannah, included XIV and XX corps under Major Generals Jefferson C. Davis and Alpheus Williams respectively.
  • Major General Oliver O. Howard’s Army of the Tennessee, which had already begun moving up the coast, included XV and XVII corps under Major Generals John A. Logan and Francis P. Blair, Jr. respectively.
  • The cavalry, led by Brigadier General H. Judson Kilpatrick, occupied Robertsville.

Slocum turned over occupation duty in Savannah to Major General John G. Foster’s Department of the South on the 18th, and then moved to join Howard’s forces near the South Carolina state line. Sherman planned to march northward in two wings:

  • The right wing (Howard) would advance up the Atlantic coast, then move inland to capture Pocotaligo on the railroad between Savannah and Charleston.
  • The left wing (Slocum) would move up the Savannah River’s west bank, feinting an advance on Augusta.

Sherman directed Howard, “Break up railroad at leisure and either send away the iron or disable it absolutely… accumulate food and forage at Pocotaligo and establish a depot at Hilton Head.” Howard ordered Blair to collect all available railcars at Pocotaligo “and there pile them up for future use.” If this was not possible, “you will please go on and destroy the road as indicated in the order.” In Slocum’s wing, Davis was to move toward Springfield and cross the Savannah River at Sister’s Ferry, while Williams occupied Purysburg.

The troops were in high spirits, eager to invade South Carolina since it had been the first state to secede. It was generally assumed that the Federals would ravage this state more than they did Georgia. The initial objective would be the state capital of Columbia. Sherman later wrote:

“Of course, I gave out with some ostentation, especially among the rebels, that we were going to Charleston or Augusta; but I had long before made up my mind to waste no time on either, further than to play off on their fears, thus to retain for their protection a force of the enemy which would otherwise concentrate in our front, and make the passage of some of the great rivers that crossed our route more difficult and bloody.”

The Confederate high command fell for Sherman’s deception and planned for an attack on either the important port city of Charleston or the vital supply center at Augusta. Major General D.H. Hill was sent to take over the small militia force guarding Augusta; Secretary of War James A. Seddon ordered him to arrange “the removal of cotton, whether of the Government or of private individuals, from Augusta. To promote removal and to be prepared for contingencies, make preparations to burn whatever cotton may be in the city in event of its evacuation or capture. It must not fall into the hands of the enemy.”

At the same time, a Federal prisoner told his captors that his comrades “have in the main the Fifteenth and Seventeenth Army Corps; that Sherman is in Beaufort and the whole force will be over in a few days; that part of Sherman’s army is marching from Savannah and thinks part of it has already arrived at Coosawhatchie; thinks Sherman is aiming for Charleston direct.”

Major General Lafayette McLaws, commanding the Confederate division holding defenses outside Charleston, reported on the 21st–

“… that yesterday two divisions of the Seventeenth Army Corps, the First and Fourth, marched out from Pocotaligo with two days’ rations and sixty rounds of ammunition, and came down to the river with a large pioneer force, stopping at a place called Blountville until 10 o’clock last night, when they returned to Pocotaligo. I think they returned because the waters were rising and because they heard the cheers of our troops. I regret to add that my troops fired upon each other in the swamp, the mistake being caused by the nature of the country in which they were operating.”

According to McLaws, reports indicated that Federals “are taking up the iron from the railroad between the Salkehatchie and Pocotaligo Station.” Major General Joseph Wheeler, commanding the Confederate cavalry, submitted his scouting report:

“A citizen who was a prisoner at Hardeeville on the 19th thought that there was at least a corps at Hardeeville, and said that he had heard drums in the direction of Purysburg, but was unable to learn from the enemy the name of the commanding general or the corps. He saw little cavalry, but large crowds of infantry; could hear nothing of any crossing the Savannah River. Had heard nothing of any boats coming as high up as Purysburg.”

General Robert E. Lee, commanding the Confederate army under siege at Petersburg, Virginia, reluctantly detached Brigadier General Matthew C. Butler’s cavalry troopers without their horses to reinforce their fellow South Carolinians. Lee made it clear that detaching this division was “with the understanding that it is to return to me in the spring in time for the opening of the campaign.”

Slocum’s men began moving out of Savannah on the 20th, but heavy rain made the dirt roads nearly impassable, and the Federal advance slowed to a crawl over the next two weeks. During that time, Sherman transferred his headquarters from Savannah to Beaufort.

Sherman ignored War Department orders to force Confederate sympathizers out of Savannah before leaving. Even so, Foster’s occupation force deported many families with Confederate ties, a bitterness compounded by the arrival of three black regiments to rule over the city. A week later, a large fire swept through Savannah, destroying about 200 homes and leaving Federals and Confederates to blame each other for the destruction.

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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. 519-20; 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 15923-43; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 545; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 626-27; Nevin, David, Sherman’s March: Atlanta to the Sea (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 160-61; Pollard, Edward A., Southern History of the War (New York: The Fairfax Press, 1990), p. 445

Sherman Plans to Invade South Carolina

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

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

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

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

Halleck agreed:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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References

CivilWarDailyGazette.com; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 511-13; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 538

Sherman’s March: The Waynesborough Engagement

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Gen Hugh Judson Kilpatrick | Image Credit: Wikispaces.com

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

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

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

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

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

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

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References

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

Sherman’s March Cannot Be Stopped

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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References

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

Sherman’s March Causes Panic

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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References

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

Sherman’s March to the Sea Begins

November 15, 1864 – Leading elements of Major General William T. Sherman’s Federal armies began moving out of Atlanta, headed southeast toward the Atlantic Ocean.

Sherman’s March to the Sea | Image Credit: Wikispaces

By the 15th, Federal troops were continuing to burn Atlanta’s business and industrial sections, as well as anything else that Confederates could use for military purposes. Churches and homes were swept up in the destruction as well. New York Herald correspondent David Conyngham noted, “The heart was burning out of beautiful Atlanta.” The devastation spread over 200 acres, and Captain Orlando Poe, the chief Federal engineer, estimated that 37 percent of Atlanta lay in ruins.

Meanwhile, Sherman was ready to start his precarious march to the sea. He reorganized his army into four corps totaling some 62,000 men in 218 regiments. The vanguard headed out in two wings:

  • Major General Henry W. Slocum’s Army of Georgia (formerly Army of the Cumberland), consisting of XIV and XX corps, comprised the left wing.
  • Major General Oliver O. Howard’s Army of the Tennessee, consisting of XV and XVII corps, comprised the right wing.

Slocum would follow the Georgia Railroad east toward Augusta, while Howard would follow the Macon & Western Railroad southeast toward Macon. The cavalry, led by recently arrived Brigadier General H. Judson Kilpatrick, would screen Howard’s right. Sherman’s armies would move along diverging paths to avoid crowding on one road and keep the Confederates guessing as to their final destination. As Sherman later explained, “My first object was, of course, to place my army in the very heart of Georgia.”

Sherman would be violating a key military axiom by detaching himself from all lines of communication and supply deep in enemy territory. He would not be able to contact any of his Federal comrades outside his armies–superior or subordinate–and with supply wagons severely restricted, his men would not be regularly fed. Sherman therefore ordered them to live off the land, allowing them to cut a path of destruction 60 miles wide through the state.

As regimental bands played patriotic songs, the leading Federals marched out of Atlanta in high morale. The fires continued raging behind them, leading an officer to later write, “All the pictures and verbal descriptions of hell I have ever seen never gave me half so vivid an idea of it as did this flame-wrapped city tonight.”

Confederate opposition consisted only of a few thousand militia under Major General Howell Cobb and 3,500 cavalry troopers under Major General Joseph Wheeler. Kilpatrick later recalled, “We left Atlanta on the morning of November 15, crossed the Flint River and occupied Jonesboro. A portion of General Wheeler’s cavalry, and the Georgia militia under General Cobb, was reported to be at Lovejoy’s Station.”

Wheeler reported, “Enemy have burned many houses in Rome, Marietta, and Atlanta; also destroyed railroad and burned bridge over Chattahoochee.” Wheeler tried slowing the Federal advance by ordering that “all mills near the enemy’s lines of march will be rendered useless to the enemy by breaking the machinery, and, when practicable, by drawing off the water.” However, “no mill building, corn-crib, or any other private property will be burned or destroyed by this command.” Wheeler authorized his men to seize farm animals to prevent them from Federal capture, but he urged the troopers to account for them so their owners could be reimbursed.

The rest of Sherman’s forces left Atlanta on the 16th. This included Sherman himself, who later recalled:

“About 7 a.m. of November 16th we rode out of Atlanta by the Decatur road, filled by the marching troops and wagons of the Fourteenth Corps; and reaching the hill, just outside of the old rebel works, we naturally paused to look back upon the scenes of our past battles… Behind us lay Atlanta, smoldering and in ruins, the black smoke rising high in air, and hanging like a pall over the ruined city.

“Away off in the distance, on the McDonough road, was the rear of Howard’s column, the gun-barrels glistening in the sun, the white-topped wagons stretching away to the south; and right before us the Fourteenth Corps, marching steadily and rapidly, with a cheery look and swinging pace, that made light of the thousand miles that lay between us and Richmond. Some band, by accident, struck up the anthem of ‘John Brown’s soul goes marching on;’ the men caught up the strain, and never before or since have I heard the chorus of ‘Glory, glory, hallelujah!’ done with more spirit, or in better harmony of time and place.

“Then we turned our horses’ heads to the east; Atlanta was soon lost behind the screen of trees, and became a thing of the past. Around it clings many a thought of desperate battle, of hope and fear, that now seem like the memory of a dream; and I have never seen the place since. The day was extremely beautiful, clear sunlight, with bracing air, and an unusual feeling of exhilaration seemed to pervade all minds–a feeling of something to come, vague and undefined, still full of venture and intense interest.”

Northerners would not hear from Sherman or his army for nearly a month. During that time, nobody in the North knew for sure whether Sherman was triumphant or vanquished deep in enemy territory.

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References

Angle, Paul M., A Pictorial History of the Civil War Years (New York: Doubleday, 1967), p. 184-85; CivilWarDailyGazette.com; Davis, Jefferson, The Rise and Fall of the Confederate Government: All Volumes (Heraklion Press, Kindle Edition 2013, 1889), Loc 21069; Davis, William C., Death in the Trenches: Grant at Petersburg (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 157-58; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 487-88; 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 13434-44, 13464-74; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 520-21; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 597; Longacre, Edward G., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 474-75; McPherson, James M., Battle Cry of Freedom: The Civil War Era (Oxford History of the United States Book 6, Oxford University Press, Kindle Edition, 1988), p. 808-09; Nevin, David, Sherman’s March: Atlanta to the Sea (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 34-35, 45-46; Sommers, Richard J., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 304; Ward, Geoffrey C., Burns, Ric, Burns, Ken, The Civil War (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1990), p. 340-44