Marching Through Georgia, November 24, 1864: Cold and Clear… more delays

Another cold and clear day 150 years ago in Georgia.  On the Left Wing of Major-General William T. Sherman’s armies, troops began movement out of Milledgeville.  But the Right Wing remained stalled at the Oconee River.  Though reinforcements arrived for the Confederate forces, those were still lacking unified and coherent leadership.

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For the Left Wing, Twentieth Corps led the march out of camp at Milledgeville, with First Division on the road at 6 a.m.; Second Division following by thirty minutes; and Third Division following shortly after.  The line of march was toward Hebron, in a somewhat southeasterly route.  The eventual objective was Sandersville, which Major-General Henry Slocum hoped to reach in two days. Fourteenth Corps had the same long term march objective, but took a northeasterly route through Black Spring. However its lead division did not start until 7 a.m.  And the rear of the Corps would not clear Milledgeville until the next day.

For both columns, Slocum hoped to see fifteen miles distance during the short daylight hours.  But even with the two corps on separate routes, the roads were rutted and congested.  For Second Division’s march, Brigadier-General John Geary recorded:

November 24, in accordance with orders, moved at 7 a.m., but, finding the road completely blockaded with trains, I did not get my column fairly in motion until 10 o’clock. Just before dark crossed Town Creek, the bridge over which was very bad, and went into camp near Gum Creek, the First Division being encamped about three-quarters of a miles in advance, the Third Division about the same distance in my rear. The road traveled, although rather hilly, was in the main good. Marched during the day fourteen miles.

Slocum’s Orders for the Left Wing that day reflected a growing concern about the presence of Confederate threats:

Increased attention must be given to the care of trains, as it is known that the enemy intend to harass our march by means of cavalry. None but the regular organized foraging parties will be allowed to depart from the right and left of the road.  The foraging parties will, when necessary, seize wagons to bring their plunder to camp, after which the wagons should be burned. All useless and surplus wagons, ox-teams, &c., which now encumber our trains will be destroyed; and the commander of any brigade is hereby authorized to destroy any wagon that delays the march or opens a gap in the column, no matter to whom it belongs; and, generally, the troops will be distributed along the trains.

Slocum also ordered his pioneers up with the advance guard to facilitate rapid repairs to roads and bridges.

Another concern, voiced from Sherman down to the private foragers, was the Confederate “scorched earth” practices then being seen in front of the march.  Slocum closed the orders for the Left Wing, “Should the enemy burn forage and corn on our route houses, barns and cotton-gins must also be burned to keep them company.”  Harsh treatment, but the intent was word would get out – if the citizens prevented the Confederates from destroying forage, the Yankees would only take what they need to subsist.  Otherwise, the hard hand of war would follow.  Here, we see another myth of the march in play.  In reality, the damage due to Confederate forces reacting to the march contributed greatly to the destruction, and was often falsely attributed to Sherman’s men in post-war recollections.

Brigadier-General H. Judson Kilpatrick’s cavalry continued a somewhat administrative march.  The troopers passed through Milledgeville, sharing a road with Fourteenth Corps, to reach their new assignment on the left of the Left Wing.

The Right Wing’s movements were anything but administrative that day.  Major-General O.O. Howard still wanted to achieve two crossing points of the Oconee River – one at Jackson’s Ferry and the other in vicinity of Ball’s Ferry further downstream.  To facilitate this, his troops had to push the pontoon train up through the already heavily used roads. But there was a major problem with the plan.  One of the crossing points mentioned was at best a discontinued ferry and more a placename on the map.

Major-General Frank Blair’s Seventeenth Corps was to destroy the railroad up to the Oconee and secure the crossing site at Jackson’s Ferry.  Throughout the morning, Brigadier-General Giles Smith employed his Fourth Division of the corps toward those objectives.  But around noon he reported to Blair that the road to what was Jackson’s Ferry was not passable for the trains.  This prompted a report to Howard at 3:25 p.m. in which announced, “There is no Jackson’s Ferry or any practicable crossing between Milledgeville and Ball’s Ferry.”  Thus all efforts for crossing refocused to Fifteenth Corps’ sector.  As insurance, Howard sent a dispatch, carried by his brother, Colonel Charles H. Howard, to Sherman dropping the suggestion, “you may have to threaten them from the north….”

Major-General Peter Osterhaus’ Fifteenth Corps also had two assignments.  In the advance, First and Second Divisions were to proceed towards Irwinton, reaching for Ball’s Ferry.  Behind, Third and Fourth Divisions would guard Gordon to protect the Right Wing’s trains and rear.  With knowledge gained about Jackson’s Ferry, by the end of the day Ball’s Ferry became a critical objective for the entire wing.

That morning, Major-General Henry C. Wayne had delayed the Right Wing for a day and the 24th would make it two full days.  However, Wayne’s reports to Savannah indicated the situation was dire.  At around 9 p.m., Wayne reported the Federals had destroyed much of the trestle on the west side of the Oconee, but he still held the east bank.  He was concerned about the size of the Federal force, “The enemy are in heavy force on the other side. I believe I have more than Kilpatrick’s division in front of me.”  Major Alfred Hartridge, commanding an independent Confederate Army detachment assigned to the Oconee Bridge, discounted Wayne’s assessment, “The force of the enemy is, in my opinion, exaggerated. I do not think there are more than 800 men.”  While not contradicting Wayne, Hartridge did perform a valuable action that day.  His troops destroyed the bridges over Buffalo Creek to the north of Oconee.  This would block any potential attempt to flank the Confederate position from the north… which was what Howard had suggested that very day.

South of the Oconee Bridge, Major-General Joseph Wheeler’s cavalry completed their crossing of the river near Dublin and were marching north.  Out of position to threaten the Right Wing’s rear, Wheeler was, however, in position to aid Wayne. But other than the remainder of Brigadier-General Joseph Lewis’ Orphan Brigade, Wheeler sent no reinforcements to Wayne.  Wheeler was more concerned about getting to Sandersville and from there preventing any move on Augusta.

Major-General William Hardee, arriving in Savannah from his round-about journey from Macon, now took charge of the threatened sector.  He directed supplies to Wayne and gave orders to Wheeler.  And then Hardee rode the Georgia Central Railroad out to Tennille to counsel with Wayne.

Also arriving in “theater” was General P.G.T. Beauregard.  Though remaining in Macon, he approved the transfer of the Georgia State Troops and other formations from that town to help Hardee further east.  Major-General Gustavus Smith would recall that route went, “by rail to Albany; thence march to Thomasville; thence by rail to Savannah.”  Troops that had seen a terrible day on the field outside Griswoldville would see further action before the month ended.  This queues up a sidebar post about those Georgia railroads.

Following along with the March by way of markers today, there are some repetitive entries keeping pace with armies that were not moving much – Irwinton, Oconee, Toomsboro, and Tennille.

(Citations from OR, Series I, Volume 44, Serial 92, pages 272, 414, 532, 536, and 892.)

 

A demonstration “to cut the Charleston and Savannah Railroad”: Plans leading to Honey Hill

Give or take a day, 150 years ago at this time Major-General John Foster received a letter sent on November 13, 1864 by Major-General Henry Halleck in Washington.  For the most part, the letter told Foster what he already knew:

Major-General Sherman expects to leave Atlanta on the 16th instant for the interior of Georgia or Alabama, as circumstances may seem to require, and may come out either on the Atlantic coast or the Gulf. If the former, it will probably be at Savannah, Ossabaw Sound, Darien, or Fernandina. Supplies are being collected at Hilton Head, with transports to convey them to the point required. Supplies are also collected at Pensacola Bay, to be transported to any point he may require on the Gulf. Should Sherman come to the Atlantic coast, which I think most probable, he expects to reach there the early part of December, and wishes you, if possible, to cut the Charleston and Savannah Railroad near Pocotaligo about that time. At all events a demonstration on that road will be of advantage. You will be able undoubtedly to learn his movements through rebel sources much earlier than from these headquarters, and will shape your action accordingly.

By the last days of November, Foster, like everyone else from Atlanta to Charleston, knew Sherman was on the march.  And it was clear Sherman was not going to a Gulf Coast port.  But where on the Atlantic?

What’s important here is the chain of events.  Foster had already started planning to meet this request even before receiving it.  He had solicited a proposal from Brigadier-General John Hatch for an operation up the Broad River towards Grahamville  – receiving that on November 21 at the latest.  On the 22nd, Foster received Halleck’s order.  On the same day, Foster issued orders to implement Hatch’s proposal.  Then on November 25, Foster replied that he’d received Halleck’s order and was executing.

Halleck’s orders were not restrictive to a simple demonstration.  He set an objective – cut the railroad.  Hatch’s proposal, likewise, had an objective – gain the railroad.  The main difference between those objectives was the actions proposed after gaining possession of the railroad.  Halleck wanted a demonstration that impeded Confederate movement.  Hatch looked to create a beachhead that could use the railroad to support future operations.  To say the two were one and the same would be a misstatement.

The orders Foster issued on November 22, to Hatch and to Brigadier-General E. P. Scammon (commanding in Florida), contained lengthy details.  He specified the number of troops, to be drawn from strong, seasoned regiments.  He specified each man would carry “his blanket, overcoat, rubber blanket or shelter-half, and one extra pair of good socks.”  Foster specified each man would carry 20 rounds with another 100 rounds per man brought along in crates.  The force would have a battery of artillery in support.  Plus he wanted as many mounted men as possible brought along.

The operation would draw from Morris Island, Hilton Head, and Florida all the troops not absolutely necessary for manning the lines.  This was a reach for a department already strapped for resources.  But a gamble worth taking considering the Confederate forces in theater would be drawn inland to face Sherman.

But the one thing lacking in all of Foster’s details was the objective.  To Hatch, he simply said, “fully concur with you in your views as to the point of attack.”  To Scammon, he simply said, “I am, therefore, getting ready to make an attack upon some point of the enemy’s line, so as to aid [Sherman].”  To Halleck, he responded, “I am preparing to carry out your instructions.”  At no point, in the written record, did Foster reconcile any differences between Halleck’s objective and that proposed by Hatch.

Foster did set a date for execution – November 27.  Later this backed off to the 28th.  While the objective might be ill-defined, the operation would go forward.  If it succeeded, the Federals would finally cut the railroad connecting Charleston and Savannah.  Since mid-1862 the Federals had attempted, without success, to do just that.  Such would limit the Confederates’ ability to shift troops in defense of threatened sectors.

But was this a realistic objective?  Could the forces at hand reach the railroad? Hold the railroad? And, that accomplished, would it aid Sherman’s advance?

All good questions that queue up some more blog posts.

At the same time Foster’s response was leaving Hilton Head for Washington, Halleck penned another order for the Department of the South.  The order issued on November 23rd would not arrive for another ten days:

Lieutenant-General Grant directs that the expenditure of ammunition upon Charleston and Fort Sumter be discontinued, except so far as may be necessary to prevent the enemy from establishing new batteries at the latter place. This is not intended to prohibit the throwing of occasional shell into Charleston, if circumstances should require. The object is to economize ordnance stores.

The focus of operations in the Department of the South was changing.  Savannah and Charleston were still prizes.  But those would be gained from the land side.

(Citations from OR, Series I, Volume 35, Part II, Serial 66, page 328; Volume 44, Serial 92, pages 525-6, 535, and 547.)

Marching Through Georgia, November 23, 1864: Missed opportunity

November 23, 1864 was a clear, but still bitterly cold, day in Georgia.  In contrast to earlier days, the Federal advance was not quite as great.  Portions of the Left Wing remained in camps most of the day while tending to tasks around Milledgeville.  On the Right Wing, the column closed up as the trains made their way through Gordon.  One might surmise the Federals missed an opportunity on a good marching day.  Perhaps.  But that was inconsequential compared to the missed opportunity for the Confederates.

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On the Left Wing, the Fourteenth Corps closed the last of the trains and rear guard through Milledgeville on the 23rd. The Twentieth Corps remained camped around the state capital.  But the troops didn’t simply mill around camp.  Their day was spent primarily destroying supplies and selected facilities around the city.  The State Penitentiary was burned, as was the nearby arsenal and buildings associated with the railroad depot.

But the Governor’s Mansion and State Capitol were spared… at least from destruction. Though the soldiers did their damage.  Point should be made that when leaving the city days earlier, Governor Joseph Brown had evacuated with most of the property, down to the rugs and furnishings.

The soldiers held a mock legislative session in which they repealed the Ordnance of Secession.  When bundles of unsigned, and thus not ready for issue, state currency were found, the soldiers confiscated the lot.  Some was burned.  Others impressed the useless script for personal tasks which paper is often used.  And some of the invalid currency was passed to female factory workers and slaves.  But orders came down to avoid destruction of private property, with guards posted as needed.  For the most part, the Federal soldiers had enough public property for their mischief.

Major-General William T. Sherman took the time to issue a new set of orders outlining the next phase of the march.  Brigadier-General H. Judson Kilpatrick would transit from the right to the left and make demonstrations toward Augusta while heading for Millen, in hopes of recusing Federal prisoners held there.  The Right Wing would continue across the Oconee and take up a line of march south of the Georgia Central Railroad. The Left Wing would advance to that same railroad and thence on the north side toward Sandersville.  The proposed plan would bring the wings in closer proximity, but also prepare for a drive towards the Ogeechee River.

The Right Wing, however, had another day of marching on the 23rd.  Major-General O.O. Howard had the Fifteenth Corps proceed towards Irwinville.  However, with the trail of the wing reaching Gordon that day, Howard had Brigaider-General John Corse’s Fourth Division replaced as guard with the Third Division, under Brigadier-General John Smith.  With that switch, Howard wanted the pontoon trains expedited through Gordon to the fore of the column.  His intent was to have it in place for the crossing of the Oconee River.  And looking to that river, Howard pushed Seventeenth Corps forward along the railroad line to probe crossings.  The plan was for Seventeenth Corps to make a crossing the next day at a place called Jackson’s Ferry.  Problem was, there was no Jackson’s Ferry, save that indicated on Federal maps!

On the east side of the Oconee River, Major-General Henry C. Wayne, Georgia’s Adjutant and Inspector General, found himself employed in the capacity of field commander.  Wayne had arrived a few days earlier, with roughly a battalion’s strength, withdrawn from Gordon.  There he found Major Alfred Hartridge with an independent detachment of 186 soldiers, under direct orders from Lieutenant-General William Hardee to hold the railroad bridge outside Oconee.  Wayne had misgivings about such a stand, but was convinced to stay.

The position was one which could be held effectively by a small force, if lucky.  The railroad crossed a large swamp on the west side of the river, limiting approaches to the bridge.  Wayne had a small blockhouse built there to further deter the Federal approach.  To reinforce the forward position, he had an artillery piece mounted on a railcar.  When arriving on November 21, he reported to Major-General Lafayette McLaws that he expected to be attacked at any time.  But that threat was slow in developing.  The Fourth Kentucky Mounted Infantry, from the famous Orphan Brigade, arrived to reinforce on the 22nd.  Then later more reinforcements arrived to include cadets from the Georgia Military Academy.

Around mid-morning, advance scouts in front of the Seventeenth Corps reached Wayne’s defenses.  Brigadier-General Giles Smith, commanding Fourth Division of the corps, reported:

The [1st Alabama Cavalry] having the advance drove in the enemy’s skirmishers from a stockade about two miles from the bridge. The ground near the bridge being very swampy it could only be approached by the railroad.  The enemy were posted behind a second stockade, with infantry and artillery.  Colonel Potts, commanding First Brigade, was ordered to detach two regiments and drive them across the river.  One piece of artillery from Lieutenant Hurter’s First Minnesota Battery was taken down the track by hand to assist.  After a short skirmish this was accomplished, and two miles of trestle-work destroyed and about three miles of track, but the enemy could not be dislodged from the opposite side on account of the inaccessibility of the swamp.

Unable to press further, the Federals searched for other crossing points and found Ball’s Ferry downstream.   Smith dispatched a 150 man force from Station No. 15 to scout that location in the afternoon.  They succeeded in crossing but ran up against a Confederate force under Hartridge and fell back. To Savannah, Wayne reported at 9 p.m. that evening:

Major Hartridge has driven the enemy back across this river, but they have the flat. Austin, with the cadets, has gallantly held the bridge. The enemy are constructing a flat in the woods to try to cross below me to-night.  Send 5,000 .54 cartridges.

The advantage of position favored Wayne, but he knew eventually the Federal numbers would play against him.  All the Federals needed was one secure crossing and the Oconee line would fail.  But an opportunity lay on the west side of the river.  To accomplish a crossing, the Federals, who were already spread out from the march, had to develop the front.  Howard would need to feel out potential crossing points and spread out his command.  Meanwhile the trains were still far to the rear of the march and guarded by a single division of troops.

A Confederate move on Howard’s rear guard might disrupt the entire wing’s march.  But what forces might move in that direction?  Major-General Joseph Wheeler, with his cavalry force, would be the select formation for such a task.  But Wheeler had computed August was the next critical point to defend.  On November 23rd, his forces were moving by way of Dublin in hopes of getting in front of Sherman’s march.  Despite the rough day at Griswoldville, there were still a substantial number of Georgia state troops in Macon.  But orders came on the 23rd to move those forces south and then east, using some of the intact railroads, toward Savannah.

Perhaps seeking to bring some unity to the dis-jointed effort to respond, President Jefferson F. Davis telegraphed Major-General Ambrose Wright, in Augusta, urging him to assume control:

I deem it very fortunate that you are in position to exercise at the same time the authority of your Confederate and State commission.  The Adjutant-General, C.S.A., will issue an order placing you on duty in Georgia.

This presumptive move would further strain the relations between Richmond and the Georgia governor.  Still, no single authority on the Confederate side called the shots bringing a fog of confusion.  In that fog, a perfect opportunity to upset Sherman’s plans was missed.  More Confederate forces were moving away from the Federals on November 23, 1864 than were moving towards them.

Following along by the markers for November 23, 1864, there are several around Milledgeville pointing out important sites – Junction of the Left Wing, Route of the Twentieth Corps, Provost Guard camp, and Campsite of the Army.  Also in and around Milledgeville are Howell Cobb’s plantation (missed yesterday in my post, but not missed by Sherman’s men!), the Old Governor’s Mansion, Old State Capitol, Great Seal of Georgia, and State Hospital.  Other markers of note for this day’s activities are found in Scottsboro, McIntyre, Toomsboro, and Oconee.

(Citations from OR, Series I, Volume 44, Serial 92, pages 454, 887, 889.)