Tag Archives: William Hardee

Sherman Looks to South Carolina

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Davis wrote to Taylor:

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

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

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

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

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References

CivilWarDailyGazette.com; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 515, 518; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 541, 544; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 622-23; Still, Jr., William N., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 703

The Fall of Savannah

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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References

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

Confederates Prepare to Evacuate Savannah

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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References

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

Sherman’s March: Savannah is Doomed

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sherman noted:

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

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

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References

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

Sherman’s March: Federals Target Savannah

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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References

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

Sherman’s March: Federals Target Fort McAllister

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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References

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

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