Tag Archives: John G. Foster

The Fall of Charleston

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Colonel Bennett reported:

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

According to a northern correspondent:

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

The Fall of Charleston | Image Credit: Flickr.com

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

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

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

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

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References

Chaitin, Peter M., The Coastal War: Chesapeake Bay to Rio Grande (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 141; CivilWarDailyGazette.com; Davis, Jefferson, The Rise and Fall of the Confederate Government: All Volumes (Heraklion Press, Kindle Edition 2013, 1889), Loc 22024; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 535-36; Foote, Shelby, The Civil War: A Narrative: Volume 3: Red River to Appomattox (Vintage Civil War Library, Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, Kindle Edition, 2011), Loc 16560-79, 16755-65; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 555-56; Freeman, Douglas Southall, Lee (Scribner, Kindle Edition, 2008), Loc 8168; Goodwin, Doris Kearns, Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln (New York: Simon and Schuster, 2005), p. 696; Korn, Jerry, Pursuit to Appomattox: The Last Battles (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 61; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 639-41; McMurry, Richard M., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 131; McPherson, James M., Battle Cry of Freedom: The Civil War Era (Oxford History of the United States Book 6, Oxford University Press, Kindle Edition, 1988), p. 828; Pollard, Edward A., Southern History of the War (New York: The Fairfax Press, 1990), p. 446-47; Ward, Geoffrey C., Burns, Ric, Burns, Ken, The Civil War (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1990), p. 360

The 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 Looks to South Carolina

January 10, 1865 – Major General William T. Sherman prepared for what promised to be another devastating Federal march through the southern heartland.

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

After capturing Savannah late last year, Sherman began developing a plan to move his 60,000 men northward into South Carolina. The Federals were especially eager to lay waste to that state because both secession and the war had begun there.

Sherman planned to leave Major General John G. Foster’s Federals from the Department of the South to hold Savannah. Sherman’s Federals would feint toward the coveted port city of Charleston while truly heading for the South Carolina capital of Columbia. Meanwhile, Rear Admiral John A.B. Dahlgren’s South Atlantic Blockading Squadron would divert Confederate attention by operating around Charleston. Sherman wrote Dahlgren:

“When we are known to be in the rear of Charleston, about Branchville and Orangeburg, it will be well to watch if the enemy lets go of Charleston, in which case Foster will occupy it, otherwise the feint should be about Bull’s Bay… I will instruct Foster, when he knows I have got near Branchville, to make a landing of a small force at Bull’s Bay, to threaten, and it may be occupy, the road from Mount Pleasant to Georgetown. This will make the enemy believe I design to turn down against Charleston and give me a good offing for Wilmington.”

As some of Dahlgren’s vessels cleared obstructions in Charleston harbor, the U.S.S. Patapsco struck a torpedo (i.e., a floating mine) and sank within 15 seconds. The blast killed 62 officers and men.

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

In South Carolina, the only real resistance in Sherman’s path was a small, makeshift Confederate force led by Lieutenant General William Hardee. The force included Major General Joseph Wheeler’s cavalry, which tried to find out where Sherman would go. Wheeler reported that some Federal prisoners said Sherman had “received some recruits at Savannah and some at Beaufort,” and “the talk in camp is that Charleston is their destination.”

Falling for Sherman’s ruse, Hardee posted the bulk of his force in and around Charleston. He notified President Jefferson Davis that he would post Major General Lafayette McLaws’s division near the Combahee River to try slowing Sherman down.

Hardee reported that he had about 7,600 infantry troops (3,500 regulars, 3,000 reserves, and 1,100 militia), 6,100 cavalry troopers, and 5,000 garrison troops. He wrote, “Of the force above mentioned, McLaws’ is the only command I regard as movable. The remainder is needed for the defense of Charleston. I am acting on the defensive, and unless heavily re-enforced must continue to do so.” Hardee requested 15,000 troops, but, “If this force cannot be furnished, 5,000 regular troops will still be required for the present defensive line.”

Besides Hardee’s force, the only other substantial force consisted of Major General Gustavus W. Smith’s militia. General John Bell Hood’s Army of Tennessee barely numbered 18,000 effectives after being decimated at Franklin and Nashville late last year. Lieutenant General Richard Taylor had just a token force in his Department of Alabama, Mississippi and East Louisiana. And General Robert E. Lee could spare nobody as his Army of Northern Virginia remained under siege at Petersburg and Richmond.

Hardee wrote, “I have no reason to expect re-enforcements from Georgia other than Maj. Gen. G.W. Smith’s force of militia, now at Augusta, which is rapidly diminishing by desertion, and numbers less than 1,500 muskets. I have no information whatever from Hood, and have no reason to expect re-enforcements from that quarter.”

Hardee pinned high hopes on Wheeler’s cavalry, which had been the only force opposing Sherman’s march to the sea. He wrote:

“It is a well organized and efficient body. The reports of its disorganization and demoralization are without foundation, and the depredations ascribed to his command can generally be traced to bands of marauders claiming to belong to it.”

Davis replied, “Your plan seems to me judicious and I hope may, with Divine favor, prove successful… (I will) make every exertion to re-enforce you from that army as rapidly as possible.” Davis then contacted General P.G.T. Beauregard, commanding the Western Theater, and directed him to send as much of the Army of Tennessee as he could to South Carolina. Despite reports that those men needed rest, Beauregard wrote, “President orders that whatever troops you can spare be sent forthwith to General Hardee’s assistance.”

Davis wrote to Taylor:

“Sherman’s campaign has produced bad effect on our people, success against his future operations is needful to reanimate public confidence. Hardee requires more aid… and Hood’s army is the only source to which we can now look.”

Davis suggested that Taylor keep some troops to defend the western states, while the main part of Hood’s army should be sent “to look after Sherman.”

Davis then wrote to Georgia Governor Joseph E. Brown asking for all possible troops for defense. When South Carolina Governor A.G. Magrath wrote the president explaining the dire situation in his state, Davis replied, “I am fully alive to the importance of successful resistance to Sherman’s advance, and have called on the governor of Georgia to give all the aid he can furnish.”

But the Confederacy no longer had the manpower to stop Sherman’s onslaught, which promised to be even more relentless than it had been in Georgia.

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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. 515, 518; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 541, 544; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 622-23; Still, Jr., William N., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 703

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 Fort McAllister

December 12, 1864 – Elements of Major General William T. Sherman’s Federal armies prepared to attack Fort McAllister, which blocked Sherman from linking with the Federal navy on the Atlantic below Savannah.

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

By the 10th, most of Sherman’s 60,000 Federals were outside Savannah, having marched over 250 miles from Atlanta since mid-November. The troops surrounded the city’s three land sides on a line stretching from the Savannah River north of town to the Savannah & Gulf Railroad on the Ogeechee River south of town.

Lieutenant General William Hardee could muster just 18,000 men to defend Savannah. They were spread throughout the fortifications ringing the city, supported by heavy artillery. They had flooded the outlying swamps and rice fields to impede a Federal approach. Sherman assessed the defenses and chose not to launch a direct assault, but rather to place Savannah under siege.

But before he could lay siege, Sherman needed to open lines of communication and supply with the Federal naval fleet on the Atlantic. This meant confronting Fort McAllister, which stood on a high bluff on the south bank of the Ogeechee. It blocked the easiest route for the Federal army and navy to link. Confederates had destroyed the 1,000-foot King’s Bridge, which Sherman needed to get to Fort McAllister. The Federals therefore set about felling trees and tearing apart houses to rebuild the bridge.

Meanwhile, Confederate gunboats tried coming down the Savannah River to support Hardee’s men; the fleet consisted of the C.S.S. Macon, Resolute, and Sampson. The Confederates began exchanging fire with Federal shore batteries at Tweedside, but the Federals easily outgunned them. The Resolute was crippled and later captured by the Federals; the other two vessels steamed back upriver to Augusta.

Sherman spent the next two days putting his troops in place to attack Fort McAllister. The Federals were under constant fire from the Confederate guns. Major Henry Hitchcock, Sherman’s aide-de-camp, wrote on the 12th:

“Every now and then we hear the deep tone of those guns, sometimes quickly followed by the equally loud explosion of a shell, to front and left of us some hundred yards ahead. Then other guns off to our right and front, over at the canal; and now others far over to the left, with occasional popping of musketry. Very few guns have been fired on our side–we are not ready.”

The Fort McAllister garrison consisted of just 250 men under Major George W. Anderson. They were isolated from the main Confederate force in Savannah, but as Hitchcock explained:

“It is a strong fort, built to command the entrance to Ogeechee River, about five miles (so I am told) above its mouth, and has twice successfully resisted the attack of our gunboats. It must be taken, for we must communicate without delay with the fleet which is already in Ossabaw Sound; but it is sure, even if we take it, to cost heavily.”

Each night, Federal naval vessels steamed as far up the Ogeechee as possible without coming under fire from Fort McAllister. They launched signal rockets for Sherman but received no response. However, on the night of the 11th, Captain William Duncan and two other Federals from Sherman’s army found a rough path around the fort and met up with Marines, who took them to the naval fleet. Duncan later wrote:

“Let me tell you that in our circumstances, it is a glorious privilege to fall into the hands of marines. The changes from despondency, privations and despair were very sudden. Our object was accomplished; surrounded by friends, and with the United States Flag floating over us, every comfort was provided for us.”

Duncan and his men were taken to Hilton Head, South Carolina, where they met with Rear Admiral John A.B. Dahlgren, commanding the South Atlantic Blockading Squadron, and Major General John G. Foster, commanding the Department of the South. Washington officials had not heard from Sherman since he left Atlanta, but now Dahlgren reported to them:

“I have the great satisfaction of conveying to you information of the arrival of General Sherman near Savannah, with his army in fine spirits… This memorable event must be attended by still more memorable consequences, and I congratulate you most heartily on its occurrence.”

Meanwhile, Sherman oversaw the restoration of King’s Bridge over the Ogeechee. He directed Brigadier General William B. Hazen’s division of XV Corps–the same division that Sherman had commanded at Shiloh–to attack and capture Fort McAllister. Sherman wrote, “I knew it to be strong in heavy artillery as against an approach from the sea, but believed it open and weak to the rear. I explained to General Hazen, fully, that on his action depended the safety of the whole army, and the success of the campaign.”

Hazen was ordered “to march rapidly down the right bank of the Ogeechee, and without hesitation to assault and carry Fort McAllister by storm.” This assault would take place on the 13th.

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References

Castel, Albert, Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 275; CivilWarDailyGazette.com; Davis, Jefferson, The Rise and Fall of the Confederate Government: All Volumes (Heraklion Press, Kindle Edition 2013, 1889), Loc 21078-87; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 500-02; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 531; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 609; Nevin, David, Sherman’s March: Atlanta to the Sea (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 144-49

The Battle of Honey Hill

November 30, 1864 – Federal troops clashed with a makeshift enemy force while trying to prevent the Confederates from reinforcing Savannah.

Major General John G. Foster, commanding the Federal Department of the South from Hilton Head, South Carolina, sought to aid Major General William T. Sherman’s march toward Savannah. His plan was to cut the Savannah & Charleston Railroad, which the Confederates would need if they were to block Sherman.

Foster loaded “all the disposable troops in this department,” about 5,500 men, onto transports and sent them down the Broad River to Boyd’s Neck, about 35 miles northeast of Savannah. Once landed, the Federals were to march 10 miles east to cut the railroad at Grahamville. Commander George H. Preble of the South Atlantic Blockading Squadron contributed 350 sailors and 150 Marines to augment the Federal infantry. Foster entrusted overall command of this operation to Brigadier General John P. Hatch, who led the Coast Division.

Gen J.P. Hatch | Image Credit: Wikipedia.org

The troops began debarking at Boyd’s Neck on the afternoon of the 29th. Before all the troops landed, Hatch began moving inland with an infantry brigade, a naval command, and eight guns. Bad maps caused the Federals to waste time countermarching to get to their assigned location. This delay enabled Major General Gustavus W. Smith to assemble a Confederate defense force of barely 2,000 Georgia militiamen (they had volunteered to leave their home state to fight the Federals in South Carolina), plus assorted cavalry and infantry.

Hatch’s troops finally arrived at the Grahamville railroad depot around 9 a.m. on the 30th, but by that time, Smith’s defenders blocked their path. Lieutenant General William Hardee, commanding the Confederate Department of South Carolina, Georgia, and Florida, hoped Smith’s troops could hold the Federals off long enough for reinforcements to come from the north.

The Federals drove back advance Confederate units and then approached Smith’s main defense line. The men on this line were strongly positioned along the crest of Honey Hill, about three miles below the Grahamville depot, with streams protecting both flanks. Hatch ordered three direct assaults, but enemy artillery repelled each one with heavy loss. Running low on ammunition, the Federals finally withdrew and built defenses on the Grahamville road.

Hatch sustained 746 casualties in this sharp defeat, while the Confederates lost just 50. Although the Federals failed to destroy the Grahamville depot as planned, they effectively prevented the Confederates from using the Grahamville road for reinforcement or supply. And Sherman’s march toward Savannah proceeded as planned.

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References

Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 494-95; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 525-27; Longacre, Edward G., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 305, 368

Eastern Tennessee: Longstreet Wins and Foster Leaves

January 28, 1864 – The Federals looked to follow up their victory at Fair Gardens, while Major General Ulysses S. Grant looked to replace the Federal commander at Knoxville.

On the 27th, Brigadier General Samuel D. Sturgis, commanding the cavalry in the Federal Army of the Ohio, defeated half of Lieutenant General James Longstreet’s Confederate cavalry under Major General William T. Martin with just one division. That night, Sturgis vowed to pursue and destroy the enemy, as locals reported that the retreating Confederates “presented the appearance of a panic-stricken mob as they were running through the mountains.”

The next morning, Sturgis directed his other two divisions to advance on Dandridge, where Longstreet’s corps was based. Martin, calling for reinforcements, received support from cavalry under Brigadier General Frank C. Armstrong and infantry under Brigadier General Bushrod R. Johnson. The Federals approached the French Broad River and came upon the Confederate reinforcements crossing the waterway and taking up strong defenses.

The Confederates easily repulsed Federal attacks near Swann’s Island. When Sturgis received word that Longstreet was trying to get between the Federal army base at Knoxville and Sturgis’s base at Sevierville, he ordered a withdrawal. The Federals fell back to Sevierville, but when the Confederates advanced to confront them, they continued retreating to Maryville, south of Knoxville.

Confederate Lt Gen James Longstreet | Image Credit: BlogSpot.com

Longstreet now controlled the region between Sevierville and Dandridge, which provided much-needed forage for his troops. Sturgis reported, “Our loss in this engagement is pretty severe, about eight officers that I now know of, and a great many men I fear.” He also regretted the loss of Sevierville, stating, “It is hard to leave these loyal people to the mercies of the enemy, but it can’t be helped. If I had had a division of infantry at Sevierville, I could have annihilated both these divisions of rebel cavalry…”

Meanwhile, General Grant, commanding the Federal Military Division of the Mississippi, continued pressing Major General John G. Foster, commanding the Army of the Ohio, to send his entire army to confront Longstreet. Foster had resisted, citing the unforgiving countryside, his troops’ lack of supplies, and his own condition (he was still recovering from a wound that needed treatment).

Grant responded, “While you may deem it impracticable to immediately assume the offensive against Longstreet, keep at least far out toward him active parties to watch his movements and impede any advance he may make by positive resistance.” Unaware of the fighting between Sturgis and Martin, Grant advised Foster to “be prepared at any moment on receipt of orders for offensive operations.”

Grant contacted Major General George H. Thomas, commanding the Army of the Cumberland at Chattanooga, and reiterated that Foster may need his help. Thomas replied, “I am trying to get up forage enough for a 10-days’ expedition, and if successful will make a strong demonstration on Dalton and Resaca (in Georgia), unless Longstreet’s movements compel me to go to East Tennessee.”

Revisiting Foster’s request to be removed as commander so he could tend to his wound, Grant considered several candidates. These included Thomas and Major General James B. McPherson, commanding a corps in the Army of the Tennessee. Ultimately, Major General John Schofield was chosen, having recently been removed as commander of the contentious Department of Missouri. Schofield headed toward his new assignment as Foster prepared to obey Grant’s orders to launch an offensive.

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References

CivilWarDailyGazette.com; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 392; Stanchak, John E., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 252-53; Wilson, David L., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 642