Tag Archives: Georgia Campaign

Special Field Orders Number 15

January 16, 1865 – Major General William T. Sherman issued directives for Federal troops to seize abandoned land along the Atlantic coast and redistribute it to newly freed slaves.

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

As Sherman’s armies conducted their march from Atlanta to Savannah, they were inundated by thousands of slaves fleeing from nearby plantations. Sherman had complained that his men should not be responsible for taking care of these refugees because they impeded his military progress. Sherman wrote to Chief of Staff Henry W. Halleck, “The South deserves all she has got for her injustice to the negro, but that is no reason why we should go to the other extreme.”

Sherman’s troops routinely mistreated the refugees, and in Washington rumors spread that Sherman “manifested an almost criminal dislike to the Negro.” Secretary of War Edwin M. Stanton headed south, ostensibly for health reasons, but really to discuss the matter with Sherman. (President Abraham Lincoln also asked Stanton to urge Sherman to hurry and launch a new campaign, explaining that “time, now that the enemy is wavering, is more important than ever before. Being on the downhill, and somewhat confused, keep him going.”)

Stanton met with Sherman and a delegation of black preachers who testified that the general was a “friend and a gentleman.” The delegation’s spokesman said, “We have confidence in General Sherman, and think that what concerns us could not be in better hands.” When Stanton asked how best to transition from slavery to freedom, he said, “The way we can best take care of ourselves is to have land, and turn in and till it by our labor… We want to be placed on land until we are able to buy it, and make it our own.”

The preachers stated that recruiting black men for the army did not actually grow the army as much as it allowed white men to let the blacks take their place. The leader also opined that if the Confederates recruited blacks into their armies, “I think they would fight as long as they were before the ‘bayonet’, and just as soon as they could get away they would desert, in my opinion.”

Sherman later wrote that Stanton was skeptical about his handling of fugitive slaves, “but luckily the negroes themselves convinced him that he was in error, and that they understood their own interests far better than did the men in Washington, who tried to make political capital out of this negro question.”

After Stanton left, Sherman issued Special Field Orders No. 15, which authorized the redistribution of confiscated land to former slaves. The land included a strip of coastline from Charleston, South Carolina, to the St. John’s River in Florida, Georgia’s Sea Islands, and the mainland 30 miles in from the coast. Approved by both Stanton and Lincoln, this was the most radical military order of the war.

The order served two military purposes:

  1. It gave the refugees their own land so they would no longer rely on Sherman’s army for protection and subsistence
  2. It encouraged freed slaves to join the Federal army as soldiers so they could fight to maintain their new liberty

The order also served two political purposes:

  1. It offered Washington politicians a solution to the problem of what to do with the millions of new free southern laborers
  2. It blunted the perception in Washington that Sherman and his armies were callous toward blacks

Each slave family was to receive “a plot of not more than forty acres of tillable ground.” This order became the basis for the slogan “forty acres and a mule,” or the notion that Federal authorities should forcibly seize land from southern planters and redistribute it to former slaves. Brigadier General Rufus Saxton, a Massachusetts abolitionist who had previously overseen black recruitment into the army, was assigned to enforce Sherman’s order.

Under this directive, some 40,000 former slaves and black refugees temporarily received “possessory title” of land until Congress “shall regulate the title.” Once on their land, “the blacks may remain in their chosen or accustomed vocations” and “no white person whatever, unless military officers and soldiers detailed for duty, will be permitted to reside; and the sole and exclusive management of affairs will be left to the freed people themselves, subject only to the United States military authority, and the acts of Congress.”

Like Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation, this measure was imposed based on the executive’s supposed “war powers.” Sherman also issued a proclamation regarding the treatment of former slaves:

“By the laws of war, and orders of the President of the United States, the negro is free, and must be dealt with as such. He cannot be subjected to conscription, or forced military service, save by the written orders of the highest military authority of the department, under such regulations as the President or Congress may prescribe. Domestic servants, blacksmiths, carpenters, and other mechanics, will be free to select their own work and residence, but the young and able-bodied negroes must be encouraged to enlist as soldiers in the service of the United States, to contribute their share toward maintaining their own freedom, and securing their rights as citizens of the United States.”

Later this year, President Andrew Johnson revoked Special Field Orders No. 15, citing the constitutional ban on confiscating private property without due process.

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References

BlackPast.org-Special Field Orders No. 15; Catton, Bruce. Grant Takes Command (Open Road Media. Kindle Edition, 2015), p. 406; CivilWarDailyGazette.com; 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 15336-46, 15684-704; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 540-41, 544; GeorgiaEncyclopedia.org-Sherman’s Field Order No. 15; Linedecker, Clifford L. (ed.), The Civil War A to Z (Ballantine Books, 2002), p. 237; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 619; Longacre, Edward G., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 683; 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. 841; Wikipedia.org-Sherman’s Special Field Orders No. 15

Sherman Plans to Invade South Carolina

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

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

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

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

Halleck agreed:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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References

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

The Fall of Savannah

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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References

Angle, Paul M., A Pictorial History of the Civil War Years (New York: Doubleday, 1967), p. 185; Castel, Albert, Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 658-59; CivilWarDailyGazette.com; Davis, Jefferson, The Rise and Fall of the Confederate Government: All Volumes (Heraklion Press, Kindle Edition 2013, 1889), Loc 21097; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 507, 509; Foote, Shelby, The Civil War: A Narrative: Volume 3: Red River to Appomattox (Vintage Civil War Library, Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, Kindle Edition, 2011), Loc 14934-54, 14995-15015, 15180-90; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 535; Goodwin, Doris Kearns, Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln (New York: Simon and Schuster, 2005), p. 684-85; Korn, Jerry, Pursuit to Appomattox: The Last Battles (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 52; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 613-16; McPherson, James M., Battle Cry of Freedom: The Civil War Era (Oxford History of the United States Book 6, Oxford University Press, Kindle Edition, 1988), p. 811; Nevin, David, Sherman’s March: Atlanta to the Sea (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 155-69; Pollard, Edward A., Southern History of the War (New York: The Fairfax Press, 1990), p. 431

Confederates Prepare to Evacuate Savannah

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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References

Castel, Albert, Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 658-59; CivilWarDailyGazette.com; Davis, Jefferson, The Rise and Fall of the Confederate Government: All Volumes (Heraklion Press, Kindle Edition 2013, 1889), Loc 21097; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 506; Foote, Shelby, The Civil War: A Narrative: Volume 3: Red River to Appomattox (Vintage Civil War Library, Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, Kindle Edition, 2011), Loc 14924-34; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 534-35; Freeman, Douglas Southall, Lee (Scribner, Kindle Edition, 2008), Loc 8060; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 613; Pollard, Edward A., Southern History of the War (New York: The Fairfax Press, 1990), p. 431

Sherman’s March: Savannah is Doomed

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sherman noted:

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

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

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References

Castel, Albert, Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 658-59; CivilWarDailyGazette.com; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 505; Foote, Shelby, The Civil War: A Narrative: Volume 3: Red River to Appomattox (Vintage Civil War Library, Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, Kindle Edition, 2011), Loc 14905-25, 14974-84; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 534; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 612; Nevin, David, Sherman’s March: Atlanta to the Sea (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 156; Pollard, Edward A., Southern History of the War (New York: The Fairfax Press, 1990), p. 431

Sherman’s March: Federals Target Savannah

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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References

Castel, Albert, Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 658-59; CivilWarDailyGazette.com; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 503-05; Foote, Shelby, The Civil War: A Narrative: Volume 3: Red River to Appomattox (Vintage Civil War Library, Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, Kindle Edition, 2011), Loc 13680-90, 14905-25, 14964-84; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 533-34; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 612; Nevin, David, Sherman’s March: Atlanta to the Sea (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 155-69; Pollard, Edward A., Southern History of the War (New York: The Fairfax Press, 1990), p. 431

The Fall of Fort McAllister

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Anderson recalled that–

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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References

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