Tag Archives: Oliver O. Howard

The Battle of Bentonville: Day Two

March 20, 1865 – The fight that began yesterday in North Carolina ended as Major General William T. Sherman scrambled to unite his Federal army to oppose General Joseph E. Johnston’s makeshift Confederate force.

Generals W.T. Sherman and J.E. Johnston | Image Credit: Bing public domain

By daybreak on the 20th, Johnston’s Confederates had returned to their original line behind Mill Creek, north of the Goldsboro road. Having sustained about 2,000 casualties in yesterday’s fighting, Johnston could field no more than 16,000 men. His left flank guarded the Mill Creek Bridge, which was the Confederates’ only escape route if retreat became necessary.

The left wing of Sherman’s army–Major General Henry W. Slocum’s XIV and XX corps–held positions near Bentonville, while Sherman rushed his right wing–Major General Oliver O. Howard’s XV and XVII corps–westward to reinforce them. According to Sherman, “I ordered General Howard to proceed with due caution, using skirmishers alone, till he had made junction with General Slocum, on his left.” Once Sherman’s wings were united, the force would number close to 60,000 men.

Confederate cavalry troopers harassed Howard’s marching Federals, but Howard wrote that they were “unable to offer any serious opposition until our head of column encountered a considerable body behind a barricade at the forks of the road near Bentonville, about three miles east of the battlefield of the day before. This body of cavalry was, however, quickly dislodged, and the intersection of the roads secured.”

The Confederates “reported that the right wing of the Federal army, which had struck the road on which we were some miles to the east, was rapidly moving down on our rear and left flank.” Johnston responded by refusing the line on his left flank until his line resembled a misshapen “V”. Major General Robert F. Hoke’s infantry and Lieutenant General Wade Hampton’s cavalry manned the left. Hampton wrote:

“Our line was a very weak one, and our position was extremely perilous, for our small force was confronted, almost surrounded, by one nearly five times as large. Our flanks rested on no natural defenses, and behind us was a deep and rapid stream over which there was but one bridge, which gave the only means of withdrawal. Our left flank–far overlapped by the enemy–was held along a small stream which flowed into Mill Creek, and this was held only by cavalry videttes stationed at long intervals apart.”

Johnston expected Sherman to attack, but the Federals spent the day mostly probing the Confederate defenses. As Howard’s troops arrived on Slocum’s right (i.e., the Confederate left), Howard wrote:

“We came upon the enemy infantry between 10 and 11 a.m. He had a position at the forks where the right hand road leads to Bentonville and the straight forward road on toward Averasborough… In this place he was carefully intrenched. The ground was for the most part low, swampy, and covered with woods.”

All four of Sherman’s corps arrived by midday, and any chance Johnston may have had to defeat Sherman’s army while separated was gone. Howard’s troops now comprised the Federal right, with XVII Corps on the flank. Major General Joseph A. Mower’s division of XVII Corps held the end of the line. The Federals conducted several reconnaissances in force, and according to Johnston:

“The Federal army was united before us about noon and made repeated attacks, between that time and sunset, upon Hoke’s division… In all, the enemy was so effectually driven back, that our infirmary corps brought in a number of their wounded that had been left on the field, and carried them to our field-hospitals.”

Hoke praised his North Carolina Junior Reserves, referred to as “the seed corn of the Confederacy,” for standing firm against “every charge that was made upon them.” But the left was still in danger, and as such Johnston shifted Major General Lafayette McLaws’s division to that sector.

Johnston hoped that Sherman would commit a blunder by attacking his fortified positions. However, Sherman’s top priority was not to defeat Johnston, but to get to Goldsboro, join forces with those of Major Generals John Schofield and Alfred H. Terry, and rest his exhausted men after their grueling march through the Carolinas.

As rain opened the 21st, the troops continued watching each other from opposing lines. Mower received permission to conduct a reconnaissance, but as he later reported, “Learning that a road leading from the right of the line crossed Mill Creek by a ford, I pushed my command down that road for the purpose of closing on the enemy’s flank.” Thus, instead of just a reconnaissance, Mower would try moving two brigades around the Confederate flank to seize the vital Mill Creek Bridge.

As Federal pickets closed in on the Confederate line, Hampton recalled:

“I immediately rode down to report this fact to General Johnston, and I told him that there was no force present able to resist an attack, and that if the enemy broke through at that point, which was near the bridge, across the main stream, our only line of retreat would be cut off.”

Hampton scrambled to put every available Confederate unit on the line to stop the Federal movement. Lieutenant General William Hardee then arrived on the scene and, being the ranking commander, ordered the Confederates to charge. Hampton wrote that “the attack was so sudden and so impetuous that it carried everything before it, and the enemy retreated hastily across the branch.”

Hardee himself participated in the attack and said, “That was Nip and Tuck, and for a time I thought Tuck had it.” He survived, but his 16-year-old son Willie was killed. Earlier that day, Hardee had reluctantly allowed Willie to see action with the 8th Texas Cavalry.

The Federals were momentarily stopped, but they were still within just a mile of the bridge, and Mower was poised to counterattack. But just then Sherman ordered him to stop where he was and build defenses. An assault might have cut off Johnston’s line of retreat and possibly forced him to surrender. Sherman later admitted:

“I think I made a mistake there, and should rapidly have followed Mower’s lead with the whole of the right wing, which would have brought on a general battle, and it could not have resulted otherwise than successfully to us, by reason of our vastly superior numbers; but at the moment, for the reasons given, I preferred to make junction with Generals Terry and Schofield, before engaging Johnston’s army, the strength of which was utterly unknown.”

The armies disengaged, and according to Johnston:

“At night all the wounded that could bear transportation had been removed; so that we had no object for remaining in a position made very hazardous by the stream behind us, rendered unfordable by recent rain. The army was therefore ordered to cross Mill Creek by the bridge at Bentonville before daybreak of the 22nd.”

This battle was well fought by both sides. The Federals sustained 1,527 casualties while the Confederates lost 2,606, a much greater loss in proportion to their total number. Never before or after did the Confederacy field so few men under so many high-ranking officers: Generals Johnston and Braxton Bragg; Lieutenant Generals Hardee, Hampton, and Alexander P. Stewart; and Major Generals Hoke, McLaws, D.H. Hill, Joseph Wheeler, and William W. Loring.

Although the Confederates fought hard against heavy odds, they could not stop Sherman’s march to Goldsboro, where his force combined with Schofield’s and Terry’s would number nearly 90,000. Johnston would never be able to muster more than 20,000 men. The fight at Bentonville marked the Confederates’ last effective opposition to the relentless Federal sweep into North Carolina.

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References

Angle, Paul M., A Pictorial History of the Civil War Years (New York: Doubleday, 1967), p. 213; CivilWarDailyGazette.com; Davis, Jefferson, The Rise and Fall of the Confederate Government: All Volumes (Heraklion Press, Kindle Edition 2013, 1889), Loc 22128; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 548-49; 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 17335-45, 17433-43; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 568-69; Kennedy, Frances H. (ed.), The Civil War Battlefield Guide (John G. Barrett, The Conservation Fund, Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1990), p. 271-72; Korn, Jerry, Pursuit to Appomattox: The Last Battles (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 70-75; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 653-56; Longacre, Edward G., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 736; McMurry, Richard M., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 56; 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. 829-30; Pollard, Edward A., Southern History of the War (New York: The Fairfax Press, 1990), p. 453; Ward, Geoffrey C., Burns, Ric, Burns, Ken, The Civil War (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1990), p. 362-63

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

The Freedmen’s Bureau

March 3, 1865 – President Abraham Lincoln signed a bill into law establishing the Bureau of Refugees, Freedmen, and Abandoned Lands, which became known as the Freedmen’s Bureau.

By this time, it was clear that both the war and slavery would soon end, and a government program would be needed to help transition slaves to freedom. The bill creating such a program was based on the findings of the American Freedmen’s Inquiry Commission, which had been formed by the War Department in 1863.

The bill’s passage had been delayed by debate over whether the program belonged under the War or Treasury Department. The Radical Republicans who dominated Congress wanted the Bureau under the Treasury Department because it was headed by their close ally, Salmon P. Chase. But after Chase resigned last June, the Radicals agreed to place it under the War Department. Major General Oliver O. Howard, currently commanding the Army of the Tennessee under William T. Sherman, later became head of the new agency.

The Freedmen’s Bureau consolidated the efforts of many local organizations in becoming the first social welfare agency in U.S. history. Bureau agents were authorized to take “control of all subjects relating to refugees and freedmen from rebel States.” This included providing temporary food, clothing, and shelter to over four million former slaves with no jobs, money, homes, or education. To avoid accusations of granting preferential treatment to blacks, the Bureau offered aid to poor southern whites as well (but few accepted). Bureau agents also adjudicated disputes between blacks and whites since blacks could not testify against whites in most American courts.

A Freedmen’s Bureau School | Image Credit: LatinAmericanStudies.org

Agents were empowered to seize some 800,000 acres of “abandoned” or confiscated land in the Confederacy, border states, the District of Columbia, and the Indian Territory. From this land, former slaves would “be assigned not more than forty acres” to rent for three years, after which time they could buy the land if desired, with “such title thereto as the United States can convey.” This caused a constitutional problem because Congress had no power to grant bills of attainder, while the president had powers to pardon former Confederates and return their property.

Radicals strongly supported the confiscation and redistribution of Confederate property as punishment for secession. Radical Senator Charles Sumner of Massachusetts, the Bureau law’s sponsor, sought to make the agency a permanent cabinet post, but Congress instead gave it a one-year term, starting at war’s end.

Southern whites resented Bureau agents because many acted for political rather than humanitarian purposes. Since most agents were Republicans, they worked to ensure that freed slaves also became Republicans in a region where white Democrats comprised the majority of property owners and taxpayers. Even some free blacks expressed concern about such unprecedented Federal control over life, liberty, and property; civil rights leader Frederick Douglass feared that government aid could “serve to keep up the very prejudices, which it is so desirable to banish” by granting blacks special treatment over whites.

Despite criticisms, the Bureau issued some 150,000 rations per day throughout the summer. It also helped set up thousands of elementary, industrial, and technical schools during its existence. But as for the Federal promise of “forty acres and a mule” to each freed slave family, only about 3,500 blacks in South Carolina and Georgia actually benefited from the redistribution.

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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. 541-42; DiLorenzo, Thomas J., The Real Lincoln: A New Look at Abraham Lincoln, His Agenda, and an Unnecessary War (New York: Three Rivers Press, 2003), p. 209; Faust, Patricia L., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 290; Ferrell, Claudine, Reconstruction: Greenwood Guides to Historic Events 1500-1900 (Greenwood, 2003), p. 8; Foner, Eric, Reconstruction: America’s Unfinished Revolution, 1863-1877 (New York: HarperCollins, 1988), p. 68; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 561; FreedmensBureau.com; Linedecker, Clifford L. (ed.), The Civil War A to Z (Ballantine Books, 2002), p. 265; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 646-47; 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. 842; Murphy, Richard W., The Nation Reunited: War’s Aftermath (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 28; Napolitano, Andrew P., Dred Scott’s Revenge: A Legal History of Race and Freedom in America (Kindle Edition), p. 108

South Carolina: Federals Cross the Congaree

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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References

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

South Carolina: Federals Destroy Orangeburg

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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References

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

South Carolina: Sherman’s Entire Force Arrives

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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References

Angle, Paul M., A Pictorial History of the Civil War Years (New York: Doubleday, 1967), p. 213-14; CivilWarDailyGazette.com; Davis, Jefferson, The Rise and Fall of the Confederate Government: All Volumes (Heraklion Press, Kindle Edition 2013, 1889), Loc 21975; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 527-31; Foote, Shelby, The Civil War: A Narrative: Volume 3: Red River to Appomattox (Vintage Civil War Library, Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, Kindle Edition, 2011), Loc 15674-84, 16501-11, 16541-79, 16588-98; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 549-52; Freeman, Douglas Southall, Lee (Scribner, Kindle Edition, 2008), Loc 8168; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 631-32, 634, 637-39; McMurry, Richard M., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 153; Pollard, Edward A., Southern History of the War (New York: The Fairfax Press, 1990), p. 445; Wikipedia: Carolinas Campaign

South Carolina: The Federal Destruction Begins

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

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

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

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

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

The Burning of McPhersonville | Image Credit: Wikipedia.org

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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References

Angle, Paul M., A Pictorial History of the Civil War Years (New York: Doubleday, 1967), p. 213-14; CivilWarDailyGazette.com; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 525-26; Foote, Shelby, The Civil War: A Narrative: Volume 3: Red River to Appomattox (Vintage Civil War Library, Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, Kindle Edition, 2011), Kindle Locations 15738-48, 15865-75, 16541-61; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 549; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 631-32; McMurry, Richard M., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 131; McPherson, James M., Battle Cry of Freedom: The Civil War Era (Oxford History of the United States Book 6, Oxford University Press, Kindle Edition, 1988), p. 825, 827; Rhodes, James Ford, History of the Civil War, 1861-1865 (New York: The MacMillan Company, 1917 [Kindle Edition, Reservoir House, 2016], Loc 5479