Tag Archives: William T. Sherman

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

The Battle of Honey Hill

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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References

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

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

Sherman’s March to the Sea Begins

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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References

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

Prelude to the 1864 Federal Elections

November 7, 1864 – By November, most pundits believed that President Abraham Lincoln and his Republican party would win the upcoming elections. However, the Republicans were not taking any chances.

Abraham Lincoln and George B. McClellan | Image Credit: Wikipedia.org

In the presidential election, Lincoln ran for reelection on a “National Union” party ticket that included both Republicans and some War Democrats in a united front. Lincoln’s running mate was Andrew Johnson, the Democratic war governor of Tennessee who had been the only southern U.S. senator not to leave Congress when his state seceded.

Lincoln’s opponent was George B. McClellan, the popular former general-in-chief whom Lincoln had fired. McClellan had alienated political allies by repudiating his own party’s platform that called for peace at any cost, including southern independence and continuation of slavery.

The Republican-dominated National Unionists played up the recent military victories as reasons to reelect Lincoln. At a Cincinnati theater, prominent actor James E. Murdoch recited T. Buchanan Read’s latest poem celebrating Major General Philip Sheridan’s victory at Cedar Creek. Titled “Sheridan’s Ride,” it caused a sensation, and Republicans quickly used the poem to fuel their campaigns:

“Up from the South, at break of day

“Bringing to Winchester fresh dismay…

“But there is a road from Winchester town

“A good, broad highway leading down…

“Still sprang from these swift hoofs, thundering south

“The dust like smoke from the cannon’s mouth

“Or the trail of a comet, sweeping faster and faster

“Foreboding to traitors the doom of disaster…”

Secretary of War Edwin M. Stanton urged Lieutenant General Ulysses S. Grant not to provoke a major battle at Richmond or Petersburg out of fear that a military defeat could cost Lincoln the election. Similarly, it was suggested that Major General William T. Sherman wait until after the election to begin his march from Atlanta to the sea.

Every effort was made to furlough soldiers so they could go home and vote. For states allowing absentee voting, election officials were sent to the armies to collect the soldiers’ ballots. Lincoln was confident that the troops would vote for him, even though most who had served under McClellan still revered him.

Two days before the election, Major General John A. Dix, commanding the military department that included New York, announced that Confederate agents from Canada planned to burn New York City on Election Day. That same day, the U.S. State Department issued a communiqué:

“Information has been received from the British provinces to the effect that there is a conspiracy on foot to set fire to the principal cities in the Northern States on the day of the Presidential election.”

New York Gov Horatio Seymour | Image Credit: Wikipedia.org

New York Governor Horatio Seymour, an administration opponent, tried calming fears by stating, “There is no reason to doubt that the coming election will be conducted with the usual quiet and order.” Nevertheless, administration officials dispatched Major General Benjamin F. Butler and 7,000 Federal troops to New York City and the harbor forts to supervise the election process. The military presence may have served as a not-so-subtle persuasion for undecided voters to back the National Unionists.

Even without potential panic in New York, Lincoln’s reelection seemed assured before Election Day. On the 7th, James Russell Lowell published “The Next General Election” in the influential North American Review. He supported Lincoln and denounced Democrat attempts to reconcile with southerners. He called Lincoln “a long-headed and long-purposed man” who had “shown from the first the considerate wisdom of a practical statesman.”

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References

Anderson, Nancy Scott; Anderson, Dwight, The Generals: Ulysses S. Grant and Robert E. Lee (New York: Vintage Books, 1987), p. 507-08; Angle, Paul M., A Pictorial History of the Civil War Years (New York: Doubleday, 1967), p. 183-84; Catton, Bruce, The American Heritage Picture History of the Civil War (New York: American Heritage Publishing Co., 1960), p. 543; CivilWarDailyGazette.com; Davis, Jefferson, The Rise and Fall of the Confederate Government: All Volumes (Heraklion Press, Kindle Edition 2013, 1889), Loc 19810-26; Davis, William C., Death in the Trenches: Grant at Petersburg (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 157-58; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 483; Donald, David Herbert, Lincoln (Simon & Schuster, Kindle Edition, 2011), Loc 11582, 11603-25; 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 12044-54, 13096-137, 15248-58; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 517; Goodwin, Doris Kearns, Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln (New York: Simon and Schuster, 2005), p. 664-66; Linedecker, Clifford L. (ed.), The Civil War A to Z (Ballantine Books, 2002), p. 166; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 592, 594; 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. 780; Ward, Geoffrey C., Burns, Ric, Burns, Ken, The Civil War (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1990), p. 333-34, 353; 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), Loc 56359-62