Tag Archives: William Hardee

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: The Fall of Milledgeville

November 23, 1864 – Major General William T. Sherman entered the capital of Georgia and saw that his Federals had already begun laying waste to the town.

Sherman’s two Federal armies continued moving east and south through Georgia on their way to the Atlantic coast. Sherman rode with Major General Jefferson C. Davis’s division of XX Corps, which was part of the eastern-moving column (i.e., the Army of Georgia) under Major General Henry W. Slocum. Sherman and his staff stopped at a 6,000-acre plantation about 10 miles north of Milledgeville. Sherman later wrote that they–

“… on inquiring of a negro, found that we were at the plantation of General Howell Cobb, of Georgia, one of the leading rebels of the South, then a general in the Southern army, and who had been Secretary of the United States Treasury in Mr. (James) Buchanan’s time. Of course, we confiscated his property, and found it rich in corn, beans, pea-nuts, and sorghum-molasses.

“Extensive fields were all round the house; I sent word back to General Davis to explain whose plantation it was, and instructed him to spare nothing. That night huge bonfires consumed the fence-rails, kept our soldiers warm, and the teamsters and men, as well as the slaves, carried off an immense quantity of corn and provisions of all sorts.”

Sherman encouraged the slaves to take what they wanted from Cobb’s plantation before the Federals destroyed it. Meanwhile, the Georgia legislature and other state officials fled the capital as the Federals approached. Slocum detached the 3rd Wisconsin and the 107th New York regiments under Colonel William Hawley to seize Milledgeville. The Federals entered the town on the afternoon of the 22nd, and Hawley reported that they–

“… Immediately proceeded to establish patrols in the streets, and detailed suitable guards for the public buildings, including the State House, two arsenals, one depot, one magazine for powder and ammunition, and other buildings containing cotton, salt, and other contraband property.”

The Federals raised the U.S. flag over the capitol building and held a mock session of the legislature, where they voted to repeal Georgia’s ordinance of secession. The troops ransacked the state archives, looted the state library, and burned Confederate currency. Hawley wrote that he believed it “would have required at least a week to obtain” a list of everything that was destroyed. But he provided his best estimate:

“One powder magazine, blown up; railroad depot and surrounding buildings, burned; 2,300 muskets, smooth bore, calibre 69, burned; 300 sets accoutrements, burned; 10,000 rounds ammunition, calibre 69, burned; 5,000 lances, burned; 1,500 cutlasses, burned; 15 boxes United States standard weights and measures, burned; 16 hogsheads salt, thrown into the river; 170 boxes fixed ammunition, and 200 kegs powder. Turned over all that was valuable to Major Reynolds, and threw the balance into the river. About 1,500 pounds tobacco were distributed among the troops. A large quantity of cotton–say 1,800 bales–was disposed of by General Sherman, manner not made known to me. One large three-story building in the square, near the State House, was burned, together with a large number of miscellaneous articles, as parts of harnesses and saddles, a repairshop, with all the necessary tools for repairing all kinds of materials, etc.”

Raising the U.S. flag over the capitol at Milledgeville | Image Credit: Harper’s Weekly, Vol. IX, No. 419, 7 Jan 1865

Sherman accompanied XX Corps into Milledgeville the next day and took up headquarters in the governor’s mansion. This ended the first leg of his march through Georgia. His Federals were quickly earning the reputation of “bummers” by foraging throughout the countryside and seizing food, livestock, draft animals, wagons, and other supplies needed for their march. They looted and burned countless homes and businesses, leaving large swaths of destruction in their wake. Many civilians were left without food or shelter.

From Richmond, President Jefferson Davis wrote to all Confederate commanders in Georgia “that every effort will be made by destroying bridges, felling trees, planting sub-terra shells and otherwise, to obstruct the advance of the enemy.”

Lieutenant General William Hardee, commanding the Confederate Department of South Carolina, Georgia, and Florida, had barely 3,000 militiamen under Major General Gustavus W. Smith to oppose Sherman’s 60,000 Federals. And the Confederates were still unaware that Sherman’s ultimate goal was Savannah, on the Atlantic coast.

Davis wrote Hardee, “When the purpose of the enemy shall be developed, every effort must be made to obstruct the route on which he is moving, and all other available means must be employed to delay his march, as well to enable our forces to be concentrated as to reduce him to want of the necessary supplies.” But Hardee did not have the manpower to obstruct any of the four different routes Sherman’s men were taking through Georgia.

On Thursday the 24th, the Federals at Milledgeville enjoyed a Thanksgiving feast of turkey and chicken. As they ate, Federal escapees from the Andersonville prison camp staggered into town, scantily clad and starving. Many prisoners cried upon seeing their comrades in control of the state capital. Their appearance “sickened and infuriated” the Federals, who thought “of the tens of thousands of their imprisoned comrades, slowly perishing with hunger in the midst of… barns bursting with grain and food to feed a dozen armies.”

The sight of such emaciated men ensured that Sherman’s march would be even more destructive when it resumed.

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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 21069; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 490-92; 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 13503-13; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 522-23; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 599-600; Longacre, Edward G., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 87, 305, 368, 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. 810; Nevin, David, Sherman’s March: Atlanta to the Sea (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 59-60, 62, 68; Ward, Geoffrey C., Burns, Ric, Burns, Ken, The Civil War (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1990), p. 340-44

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

Davis Urges More Sacrifice

October 2, 1864 – Confederate President Jefferson Davis continued his southern tour this month, as he urged citizens to oppose the Federal invasion of Georgia.

Confederate President Jefferson Davis | Image Credit: Wikispaces.com

Davis arrived at Augusta, Georgia, on the 2nd, where he met with General P.G.T. Beauregard, hero of Fort Sumter and Bull Run. Beauregard expected Davis to give him command of General John Bell Hood’s Army of Tennessee. However, Davis offered him command of a new Military Division of the West, which would oversee both Hood’s department and General Richard Taylor’s Department of Alabama, Mississippi, and East Louisiana.

Unimpressed with Beauregard’s tendency to develop grandiose (and impractical) strategies, Davis made Beauregard an advisor who would only directly control troop movements “whenever in your judgment the interests of your command render it expedient.” This appointment gave Davis a more experienced commander to supervise Hood and kept General Joseph E. Johnston, a Davis antagonist, inactive.

The next day, Davis addressed a patriotic Augusta crowd accompanied by Beauregard and Lieutenant General William Hardee. Davis said, “Never before was I so confident that energy, harmony, and determination would rid the country of its enemy and give to the women of the land that peace their good deeds have so well deserved.” He called on Georgians to rise and stop William T. Sherman’s Federal advance because this would embolden northerners seeking peaceful separation with the South:

“Now we have arms for all, and are begging men to bear them. This city of Augusta alone produces more powder than the army can burn… Every man able to bear arms must go to the front… We are fighting for existence, and of fighting alone can independence be gained… We must beat Sherman; we must march into Tennessee. There we will draw from 20,000 to 30,000 to our standard, and, so strengthened, we must push the enemy back to the banks of the Ohio and thus give the peace party of the North an accretion no puny editorial can give.”

Beauregard drew cheers when he said that, having fired the war’s first shot at Fort Sumter, he “hoped to live to fire the last.” The crowd also applauded Hardee for saying that Hood recently vowed “to lay his claws upon the state road in rear of Sherman, and, having once fixed them there, it was not his intention to let them loose their hold.”

The president took a night train to Columbia, South Carolina, and arrived there at dawn on the 4th. Addressing a crowd later that day, he expressed optimism: “(Hood’s) eye is now fixed upon a point far beyond that where he was assailed by the enemy… And if but a half, nay, one-fourth, of the men to whom the service has a right, will give him their strength, I see no chance for Sherman to escape from a defeat or a disgraceful retreat.” He went further with his optimism:

“I see no chance for Sherman… The fate that befell the army of the French Empire in its retreat from Moscow will be re-enacted. Our cavalry and our people will harass and destroy his army, as did the Cossacks that of Napoleon, and the Yankee general, like him, will escape with only a bodyguard… (and then) we must march into Tennessee…”

Davis urged more sacrifice to form a united resistance and vowed ultimate victory:

“South Carolina has struggled nobly in war, and suffered many sacrifices. But if there be any who feel that our cause is in danger, that final success may not crown our efforts, that we are not stronger today than when we began this struggle, that we are not able to continue the supplies to our armies and our people, let all such read a contradiction in the smiling face of our land and in the teeming evidences of plenty which everywhere greet the eye… I believe it is in the power of the men of the Confederacy to plant our banners on the banks of the Ohio, where we shall say to the Yankee: ‘Be quiet, or we shall teach you another lesson’… There is but one means by which you can gain independence and an honorable peace, and that is by uniting… Is this a time to ask what the law demands of you, to ask if the magistrate will take you out of the enrolling office by a writ of habeas corpus? Rather is it time for every man capable of bearing arms to say, ‘My country needs my services, and my country shall have them!’”

The Federals took note of Davis’s speeches, especially his ill-advised announcements of military strategy. Thanks to Davis, Sherman would soon learn that Hood intended to destroy his supply lines and then possibly move north into Tennessee.

Davis began his return trip to Richmond two days later, arriving at the Confederate capital on the 15th. That day, Davis detached General Braxton Bragg as his chief of staff and sent him to command the defenses at Wilmington, North Carolina. Since Wilmington was the Confederacy’s last major seaport, this was an extremely important job for a commander who had a history of turning near-victories into outright defeats.

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References

Davis, Jefferson, The Rise and Fall of the Confederate Government: All Volumes (Heraklion Press, Kindle Edition 2013, 1889), Loc 21000-08; Foote, Shelby, The Civil War: A Narrative: Volume 3: Red River to Appomattox (Vintage Civil War Library, Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, Kindle Edition, 2011), Kindle Locations 12767-87, 12788-808; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 505-06; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 584, 578-80; 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. 807; 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

Jefferson Davis Travels South

September 25, 1864 – President Jefferson Davis visited General John Bell Hood at his Palmetto headquarters to learn more about the condition of the Army of Tennessee.

Hood had requested that either Davis or another high-ranking Confederate official come to Georgia to review the army and discuss future strategy. Although Hood had lost Atlanta to Major General William T. Sherman’s Federals, Davis was optimistic that Hood could still redeem Georgia, telling a congressman before leaving, “Sherman’s army can be driven out of Georgia, perhaps be utterly destroyed.” When asked about the loss of Atlanta and the defeats in the Shenandoah Valley, Davis remarked, “The first effect of disaster is always to spread a deeper gloom than is due to the occasion.”

Confederate President Jefferson Davis | Image Credit: Wikipedia.org

The president left Richmond on the 20th, hoping to not only visit Hood’s army but to lift southern spirits along the way. He arrived at Palmetto five days later, where he met with elements of the Army of Tennessee and addressed a group of Tennesseans: “Be of good cheer, for within a short while your faces will be turned homeward and your feet pressing the soil of Tennessee.”

Davis met with Hood, who took him on an army inspection, where several soldiers openly called out for Davis to replace Hood with their old commander, Joseph E. Johnston. Hood later wrote, “I regretted I should have been the cause of this uncourteous reception to His Excellency; at the same time, I could recall no offense save that of having insisted that they should fight for and hold Atlanta 46 days, whereas they had previously retreated 100 miles within 66 days.”

Regarding strategy, Hood explained that–

“… our only hope to checkmate Sherman was to assume the offensive, cut the enemy’s communications, select a position on or near the Alabama line in proximity to Blue Mountain Railroad, and there give him battle. Should the enemy move south, I could as easily from that point as from Palmetto, follow upon his rear, if that policy should be deemed preferable.”

Davis also met with Lieutenant General William Hardee, the corps commander who Hood blamed for the defeats at Peachtree Creek and Jonesboro. Hardee criticized Hood and urged Davis to replace him with Johnston. Hardee then said that either he or Hood should be removed from the army.

Davis, having personally selected Hood to command the army, would not admit to a mistake by removing him. Therefore, after leaving on the 28th, he instructed Hood, “Relieve Lieutenant-General Hardee from duty with the Army of Tennessee, and direct him to proceed at once to Charleston, S.C., and assume command of the Department of South Carolina, Georgia, and Florida.” Hood was authorized to turn Hardee’s corps over to Major General Benjamin F. Cheatham.

The president traveled to Macon and delivered a speech at a benefit to raise money for the exiled Atlanta residents. Davis declared, “Friends are drawn together in adversity. What though misfortune has befallen our arms from Decatur to Jonesborough, our cause is not lost… Our cause is not lost… Sherman cannot keep up his long line of communications; retreat, sooner, or later, he must.”

Davis admonished all able-bodied men who were not serving in the military: “If there is one who will stay away at this hour, he is unworthy of the name of Georgian.” He cited a report showing that two-thirds of Georgians formerly in the Confederate army were no longer there, “some sick, some wounded, but most of them absent without leave.”

Davis concluded, “If one half the men now absent without leave will return to the front, we can defeat the enemy… I may not realize that hope, but I know there are men that have looked death in the face too often to despond now. Let no one despond.”

Davis moved on to the former Confederate capital of Montgomery, Alabama, where he told an audience, “There will be some men who when they look at the sun can only see a speck upon it… We should marvel and thank God for the great achievements which have crowned our efforts.” He continued on to Selma to meet with Lieutenant General Richard Taylor, commanding the Department of Alabama, Mississippi, and East Louisiana.

Meanwhile, Hood moved his Confederates north across the Chattahoochee River. If he could not defeat Sherman in battle, he would head north into Tennessee, destroying Sherman’s supply lines along the way. Depending on Federal resistance, Hood planned to possibly continue northward into Kentucky or even Ohio. Such a move could force Sherman to abandon Atlanta and chase him down.

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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 20973-82; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 461; 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 12683-14, 12746-77; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 499, 501, 503; Jensen, Les D., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 338; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 570-75; Nevin, David, Sherman’s March: Atlanta to the Sea (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 15-20; 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), Q364