Tag Archives: Oliver O. Howard

Sherman’s March: Federals Close in on Savannah

December 10, 1864 – Main elements of Major General William T. Sherman’s Federal armies arrived on the outskirts of Savannah after cutting a path of destruction through Georgia from Atlanta to the sea.

Sherman’s Federals continued heading toward Savannah, one of the Confederacy’s last functioning seaports on the Atlantic. The cavalry, led by Brigadier General H. Judson Kilpatrick, continued skirmishing with Major General Joseph Wheeler’s Confederate troopers, but the infantry was virtually unopposed. Lieutenant General William Hardee, the Confederate department commander, had just 10,000 men to defend Savannah, mostly consisting of Major General Lafayette McLaws’s division and state militia.

On the 5th, the Federals approached a small line of defensive works about 50 miles west of Savannah. The works had been manned by Hardee’s Confederates, but according to Sherman, Hardee “must have seen that both of his flanks were being turned, and prudently retreated to Savannah without a fight.” The Federal march continued, as Sherman wrote in his memoirs:

“The weather was fine, the roads good, and every thing seemed to favor us. Never do I recall a more agreeable sensation than the sight of our camps by night, lit up by the fires of fragrant pine-knots. The trains were all in good order, and the men seemed to march their 15 miles a day as though it were nothing. No enemy opposed us, and we could only occasionally hear the faint reverberation of a gun to our left rear, where we knew that General Kilpatrick was skirmishing with Wheeler’s cavalry, which persistently followed him. But the infantry columns had met with no opposition whatsoever. McLaws’s division was falling back before us, and we occasionally picked up a few of his men as prisoners, who insisted that we would meet with strong opposition at Savannah.”

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

But the Federals encountered opposition of a different kind on the 8th. Retreating Confederates had planted “land torpedoes,” forerunners to landmines, in the roads leading east. These devices were eight-inch shells wired to detonate when stepped on. Sherman came across a young officer whose leg had been nearly blown off by one of the shells, and he later wrote:

“This was not war, but murder, and it made me very angry. I immediately ordered a lot of rebel prisoners to be brought from the provost-guard, armed with picks and spades, and made them march in close order along the road, so as to explode their own torpedoes, or to discover and dig them up. They begged hard, but I reiterated the order, and could hardly help laughing at their stepping so gingerly along the road, where it was supposed sunken torpedoes might explode at each step, but they found no other torpedoes till near Fort McAllister.”

The Federal XIV Corps, holding the left of Sherman’s left (north) wing, reached the Savannah River on the 8th, where troops were fired upon by the C.S.S. Macon. However, as a soldier wrote, “The curiosity of all to see a live Rebel Gunboat in operation overcame whatever alarm might have been felt and there was a rush to the river bank in such numbers that the boat was frightened away and soon disappeared up the river.”

To the right, troops of XX Corps had to build a new corduroy road to continue their advance. Farther right, Sherman rode with XVII Corps of the right wing, which halted at Pooler’s Station, about eight miles from Savannah. On the extreme right, men of XV Corps drove off a small Confederate force and reached the Canoochee River, below Savannah. From here, the Federals learned that the Confederates had abandoned defenses on the Little Ogeechee River. It also brought Sherman very close to linking with Federal naval forces on the Atlantic.

Major General Oliver O. Howard, commanding the Federal right wing, received a message from one of Sherman’s aides:

“If you can possibly do so, he wishes you to send a note by a canoe down the Ogeechee, pass the railroad bridge in the night, and inform the naval commander that we have arrived in fine condition and are moving directly against Savannah, but, for the present, do not risk giving any details.”

Sherman hoped to surprise Hardee at Savannah, but Hardee’s troops had captured a messenger and already knew the location of each of Sherman’s four corps. But there was little Hardee could do against Sherman’s armies, which outnumbered him six-to-one. Hardee’s superior, General P.G.T. Beauregard at Charleston, also conceded the strong possibility that Savannah may fall. He wrote to Hardee:

“Having no army of relief to look to, and your forces being essential to the defense of Georgia and South Carolina, whenever you shall have to select between their safety and that of Savannah, sacrifice the latter, and form a junction with General (Samuel) Jones, holding the left bank of the Savannah River and the railroad to this place as long as possible.”

Beauregard traveled to Savannah on the 9th and consulted with Hardee. Upon leaving, Beauregard wrote him:

“It is my desire, after the consultation that has taken place, that you should hold this city so long as in your judgment it may be advisable to do so, bearing in mind that should you have to decide between a sacrifice of the garrison or city, you will preserve the garrison for operations elsewhere.”

The Confederacy could ill afford to lose another army, therefore Hardee had to give up Savannah if it looked like he could not stop the Federals from taking it. Beauregard directed men to build a bridge over the Savannah River that Hardee could use to escape to Charleston if necessary. Major General Samuel Jones, commanding a small force in South Carolina, would cover Hardee’s retreat.

Hardee recruited all available men in Savannah, raising the size of his force to about 18,000. These troops built fortifications overlooking all possible Federal approaches to the city, and they flooded the surrounding rice fields and swamps. This limited an enemy approach to just five constricted causeways. The Confederate garrison at Fort McAllister blocked Federal attempts to reach the navy on the Atlantic via the Ogeechee River.

The bulk of Sherman’s army arrived outside Savannah on the 10th, taking positions north, west, and south of the city. Since leaving Atlanta, the Federals had covered 250 miles in 26 days and caused $100 million in destruction. The men and horses were hungry due to lack of forage in the area, so Sherman directed the cavalry to reconnoiter Fort McAllister as part of the larger effort to open a supply link to the Atlantic fleet.

As the cavalry set off, Sherman quickly saw that Savannah’s defenses were too strong to overcome by direct assault, and he therefore resolved to place the city under siege.

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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 21078; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 498-500; 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 13660-70; 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. 608-09; Longacre, Edward G., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 474-75

Sherman’s March: The Waynesborough Engagement

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Gen Hugh Judson Kilpatrick | Image Credit: Wikispaces.com

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

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

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

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

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

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

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References

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

Sherman’s March Cannot Be Stopped

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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References

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

Sherman’s March Causes Panic

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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References

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

Sherman’s March to the Sea Begins

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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References

Angle, Paul M., A Pictorial History of the Civil War Years (New York: Doubleday, 1967), p. 184-85; CivilWarDailyGazette.com; Davis, Jefferson, The Rise and Fall of the Confederate Government: All Volumes (Heraklion Press, Kindle Edition 2013, 1889), Loc 21069; Davis, William C., Death in the Trenches: Grant at Petersburg (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 157-58; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 487-88; Foote, Shelby, The Civil War: A Narrative: Volume 3: Red River to Appomattox (Vintage Civil War Library, Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, Kindle Edition, 2011), Loc 13434-44, 13464-74; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 520-21; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 597; Longacre, Edward G., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 474-75; McPherson, James M., Battle Cry of Freedom: The Civil War Era (Oxford History of the United States Book 6, Oxford University Press, Kindle Edition, 1988), p. 808-09; Nevin, David, Sherman’s March: Atlanta to the Sea (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 34-35, 45-46; Sommers, Richard J., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 304; Ward, Geoffrey C., Burns, Ric, Burns, Ken, The Civil War (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1990), p. 340-44

Sherman Prepares to March to the Sea

November 6, 1864 – Major General William T. Sherman, having received formal authorization, finalized plans to advance his Federal armies through Georgia, from Atlanta to the Atlantic Ocean.

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

Sherman explained his intentions to Lieutenant General Ulysses S. Grant, the overall Federal commander. Sherman wrote that his Federals would “act in such a manner against the material resources of the South as utterly to negate (President Jefferson) Davis’ boasted threat” to cut them off from the rear. Sherman wrote:

“If we can march a well-appointed army right through his territory, it is a demonstration to the world, foreign and domestic, that we have a power which Davis cannot resist. This may not be war, but rather statesmanship… If the North can march an army right through the South, it is proof positive that the North can prevail.”

To ensure high morale and support for President Abraham Lincoln in the upcoming election, Federal paymasters visited all the camps before the troops moved out. Sherman informed Grant that he would begin moving after Lincoln’s victory, “which is assured.” Once in motion, “I will not attempt to send couriers back, but trust to the Richmond papers to keep you well advised.” Grant replied the next day, “Great good luck go with you. I believe you will be eminently successful, and at worst can only make a march less fruitful than is hoped for.”

On the 9th, Sherman issued Special Field Orders No. 120 from his Kingston, Georgia, headquarters. These detailed the upcoming march. The army would consist of 60,000 infantrymen in two wings:

  • Major General Oliver O. Howard would lead XV and XVII corps (i.e., the Army of the Tennessee) on the right wing.
  • Major General Henry W. Slocum would lead XIV and XX corps (i.e., the Army of Georgia) on the left wing.

A cavalry division of 5,500 men under Brigadier General H. Judson Kilpatrick would also join the march, and artillery would be “reduced to the minimum, one gun per 1,000 men.”

Each regiment was assigned just one wagon for ammunition and other “essentials.” Sherman wrote, “The army will forage liberally on the country during the march,” taking food, horses, and other necessities from civilians as needed. If the people resisted, officers “should order and enforce a devastation more or less relentless…” Sherman’s plan was loosely based on Grant’s march down the west bank of the Mississippi River to get into the rear of Vicksburg in 1863.

The next day, Federals began returning to Atlanta from various stations north of the city, particularly Kingston and Rome. They burned factories, foundries, mills, and warehouses as they left, and they destroyed the Western & Atlantic Railroad connecting Atlanta to Chattanooga. Sherman wrote, “My army stood detached and cut off from all communication with the rear.”

In Atlanta, the Federals destroyed anything that Sherman feared the Confederates could salvage for military purposes after his army left town. Churches and private homes were to be spared, but many of these burned as well. Sherman went to Marietta on the 13th and saw that his men had already destroyed most of that town. Sherman motioned to the troops still there and said:

“There are the men who do this. Set as many guards as you please, they will slip in and set fire. That Court House was put out–no use–dare say the whole town will burn, at least the business part. I never ordered burning of any dwelling–didn’t order this, but can’t be helped. I say Jeff. Davis burnt them.”

This marked the beginning of Sherman’s legacy of destruction in the South. As the troops assembled in Atlanta for the southeastern movement, Sherman later recalled:

“The most extraordinary efforts had been made to purge this army of non-combatants and of sick men, for we knew well that there was to be no place of safety save with the army itself; our wagons were loaded with ammunition, provisions, and for age, and we could ill afford to haul even sick men in the ambulances, so that all on this exhibit may be assumed to have been able-bodied, experienced soldiers, well armed, well equipped and provided, as far as human foresight could, with all the essentials of life, strength, and vigorous action.”

Sherman allowed slaves who escaped from nearby masters to join the army if they worked as laborers or cooks. But he placed severe restrictions on this to prevent his troops from being bogged down by a mass slave exodus along the way.

The only real opposition to Sherman’s army was Major General Joseph Wheeler’s cavalry at Jonesboro, south of Atlanta. Wheeler dispatched scouts on the night of the 13th, and they quickly confirmed rumors that Sherman would be heading southeast soon, possibly bound for Augusta or Savannah. Wheeler did not have enough men to stop the Federals, so all he could do was notify the garrison and militia commanders in Sherman’s supposed path and hope for reinforcements.

The next day, Sherman issued specific marching orders:

“The armies will begin the movement on Milledgeville and Gordon tomorrow, the 15th of November as follows: I. The Right Wing will move, via McDonough and Monticello, to Gordon. II. The Left Wing, General Slocum, will move, via Covington, Social Circle, and Madison, to Milledgeville, destroying the railroad in a most thorough manner from Yellow River to Madison. III. The cavalry, General Kilpatrick commanding, will move in concert with the Right Wing, feigning strong in the direction of Forsyth and Macon, but will cross the Ocmulgee on the pontoon bridge of General Howard. IV. Each column will aim to reach its destination–viz, Gordon and Milledgeville–on the seventh day’s march, and each army commander will on arrival communicate with the other wing and the commanding general, who will accompany the Left Wing.”

The wings would move along parallel routes, starting at 7 a.m. each morning and averaging about 15 miles per day. The wanton destruction of civilian property was prohibited, but officers were authorized to order retaliatory attacks against anyone resisting the advance. The Federals had 1.2 million rations, or 20 days’ worth, with orders to live off the land beyond that time.

Sherman reported that by the night of the 14th, the Federals about to leave Atlanta had–

“–leveled the great depot, round-house, and the machine-shops of the Georgia Railroad, and had applied fire to the wreck. One of these machine-shops had been used by the rebels as an arsenal, and in it were stored piles of shot and shell, some of which proved to be loaded, and that night was made hideous by the bursting of shells, whose fragments came uncomfortably near Judge Lyon’s house, in which I was quartered. The fire also reached the block of stores near the depot, and the heart of the city was in flames all night, but the fire did not reach the parts of Atlanta where the court-house was, or the great mass of dwelling-houses.”

The destruction continued through the night, with the long-anticipated march to begin the next morning.

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References

Angle, Paul M., A Pictorial History of the Civil War Years (New York: Doubleday, 1967), p. 184-85; CivilWarDailyGazette.com; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 485-87; 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 13044-86; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 519-20; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 594-96; Nevin, David, Sherman’s March: Atlanta to the Sea (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 45; White, Howard Ray, Bloodstains, An Epic History of the Politics that Produced and Sustained the American Civil War and the Political Reconstruction that Followed (Southernbooks, Kindle Edition, 2012), Q464

Hood’s Tennessee Campaign Begins

October 22, 1864 – General John Bell Hood led his Confederate Army of Tennessee out of Gadsden, Alabama, intending to move north and redeem both Tennessee and Kentucky for the Confederacy.

Confederate General J.B. Hood | Image Credit: Flickr.com

Hood planned to move 30 miles northwest to Guntersville on the Tennessee River. He would cross that waterway there and then push north. General P.G.T. Beauregard, commanding the Confederate Military Division of the West over Hood, allowed Hood to commandeer Major General Nathan Bedford Forrest’s cavalry for the campaign. But Forrest was at Jackson, Tennessee, and Hood did not wait for him to join the army before moving out.

The plan was quickly compromised when the Confederates found Guntersville too heavily defended by Federals to penetrate, and the Tennessee too high to cross there. Hood therefore redirected his army toward Decatur, 45 miles west.

Major General William T. Sherman, commanding the Federal forces that had pursued Hood into Alabama, thought that Hood was still at Gadsden. He had received permission to stop chasing Hood and instead march through Georgia to the Atlantic coast. Sherman left the job of dealing with Hood to Major General George H. Thomas, who commanded a portion of his Army of the Cumberland at Nashville.

Sherman notified Thomas that the Confederates might be trying to implement the plan that President Jefferson Davis had recently described in a public speech. He warned Thomas that Hood “may go on to perfect Davis’ plan for invading Tennessee and Kentucky to make me let go of Atlanta. I adhere to my former plan, provided always you can defend the line of the Tennessee. Decatur and Chattanooga must be held to the death.”

Believing that Beauregard had replaced Hood as Confederate army commander, Sherman explained that he would leave a force for Thomas to defend important Tennessee cities such as “Nashville, Murfreesborough, Pulaski, and Columbia.” Thomas was to remain on the defensive “unless you know that Beauregard follows me south. If Beauregard attempts Tennessee it will be from the direction of Decatur.”

Meanwhile, the Federal XV Corps under Major General Peter J. Osterhaus moved toward Gadsden to try learning Hood’s intentions. Skirmishing occurred on the 25th as the Confederates headed west, resulting in the capture of some prisoners. Osterhaus reported:

“The information received, however, from those who fell into our hands and from the citizens was not very definite in regard to General Hood’s movements. All agreed that his army had left Gadsden and moved in a western direction. The exact whereabouts could not be ascertained. Rumor placed them near the Tennessee River.”

Based on this vague information, Sherman informed Thomas that if Hood went to Guntersville, Sherman’s Federals will “be after it.” If Hood continued west toward Decatur, “I must leave it to you for the present and push for the heart of Georgia.” Thomas told Sherman that based on reports from Brigadier General Robert Granger, commanding the Federal District of Northern Alabama, “Hood’s army is threatening to cross the Tennessee River at various places between Guntersville and Decatur.”

On the 26th, Hood’s Confederates arrived outside Decatur and found it too heavily guarded to force a river crossing. Hood therefore redirected his men toward Courtland, another 20 miles west. General Richard Taylor, commanding the Confederate Department of Alabama, Mississippi, and East Louisiana in which Hood was operating, directed Forrest to join Hood’s army. Hood felt that being detoured to the west actually worked to his advantage because it brought him closer to joining forces with Forrest. However, Forrest was caught up in his own operations and was delayed in linking with Hood.

Hood arrived at Courtland the next day, where his engineers informed him that they did not have enough pontoons to span the river. This forced Hood to continue moving west to Tuscumbia, another 25 miles downriver, where he hoped to use a partially demolished railroad bridge to get his army across the Tennessee. The vital element of speed was lost, and the delays gave the Federals time to build defenses.

Beauregard met with Hood near Courtland. He expressed dismay that Hood had moved west without notifying him, and also that he had not yet crossed the river. Hood blamed Forrest for this, reporting, “As I had not a sufficient cavalry force without his to protect my trains in Tennessee, I was compelled to delay the crossing and move farther down the river to meet him.”

Still unaware of Hood’s exact intentions, Sherman led his Federals back toward Atlanta on the 28th. He notified Chief of Staff Henry W. Halleck that he would prepare “to carry into effect my original plan” of marching to the sea. In the meantime, “I will await a few days to hear what head he (Hood) makes about Decatur, and may yet turn to Tennessee; but it would be a great pity to take a step backward. I think it would be better even to let him ravage the State of Tennessee, provided he does not gobble up too many of our troops.”

In another update, Sherman told Halleck that he was “pushing my preparations for the march through Georgia.” He then asked Halleck to send reinforcements to Thomas so Sherman’s Federals would not have to return to Tennessee. Sherman wrote, “I do not want to go back myself with the whole army, as that is what the enemy wants.” Privately, Sherman said of Hood, “Damn him! If he will go to the Ohio River, I’ll give him rations. Let him go north, my business is down south.”

Sherman continued preparing to march away from Hood as October ended. He dispatched IV and XXIII corps to reinforce Thomas, which he believed “would enable General Thomas to defend the railroad from Chattanooga back, including Nashville and Decatur, and give him an army with which he could successfully cope with Hood should the latter cross the Tennessee northward.” Sherman reorganized his remaining four corps into two wings:

  • XIV Corps under Major General Jefferson C. Davis and XX Corps under Major General Alpheus Williams, formerly part of the Army of the Cumberland, would now be the Army of Georgia, led by Major General Henry W. Slocum.
  • XV Corps under Osterhaus and XVII Corps under Major General Francis P. Blair, Jr., remained the Army of the Tennessee, led by Major General Oliver O. Howard.

Meanwhile, Hood’s Confederates continued having problems crossing the Tennessee due to high water and strong Federal defenses. They finally crossed at Tuscumbia and drove Federal cavalry out of Florence. Tuscumbia would be Hood’s headquarters and supply base for the Tennessee incursion. Hood then informed Beauregard that his men lacked food, shoes, and other necessities. This message shocked Beauregard, who thought that Hood would not have begun this campaign without first gathering the necessary supplies. He scrambled to establish a railroad supply line to Tuscumbia.

On the last day of October, Major General David S. Stanley, commanding the Federal IV Corps, received confirmation that the Confederates were crossing the Tennessee at Florence. Stanley’s troops were at Athens, 40 miles east of Hood. Stanley began moving his Federals to Pulaski, Tennessee, where he expected Hood to attack.

As Stanley’s men left, Granger received alarming (but false) reports that the Confederates were targeting Athens. Stanley gave Granger permission to abandon the garrison there if he felt threatened, and he did so. However, as Stanley later reported, “Athens was evacuated on false rumors. At 4 p.m., the same afternoon, by General R.S. Granger’s order, a very considerable amount of public property was destroyed, although no enemy had shown themselves between Elk River and the Tennessee.”

Not only was Hood poised to thrust into Tennessee, but Forrest’s Confederates were threatening vital Federal shipping on the Tennessee at Johnsonville. Sherman later wrote, “There is no doubt that the month of October closed to us looking decided squally; but, somehow, I was sustained in the belief that in a very few days the tide would turn.”

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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 21106; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 478-82; 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 12970-92; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 514-16; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 587, 590-91; Nevin, David, Sherman’s March: Atlanta to the Sea (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 20-34