Author Archives: Craig Swain

Marching Through Georgia, November 22, 1864: Milledgeville and Griswoldville

If there was a Weather Channel around, for November 22, 1864, the prediction offered would have been “cold with continued rain mixed with snow, clearing in the afternoon.”  The overnight temperatures froze General Mud, which was a small consolation for those marching on a cold day.  Maj0r-General William T. Sherman wanted to close the first phase of his march across Georgia on this day by concentrating the armies at Milledgeville and Gordon.  Not only was Milledgeville the state capital with military targets to include arsenals and depots, there were also means to cross the Oconee and establish a bridgehead on the east side.  For the Confederate authorities, what details were known of Sherman’s movements seemed to confirm the next stop would be Augusta.  The responses were not coordinated, which setup the largest field engagement of the campaign with tragic results.


Orders for the Left Wing on the 22nd were simple – reach Milledgeville.  No resistance was expected, and little offered.  The Twentieth Corps under Brigadier-General Alpheus S. Williams had the honor of first entering the state capital.  To reach that goal, the corps had to cross the Little River.  Anticipating this, the day prior an advance column including the pontoon train under Lieutenant-Colonel Joseph Moore put a 220 foot span, with ten boats, over the river.  When the last unit, Brigadier-General John Geary’s Second Division, crossed, the pontoons came up.  Reaching Millegeville, Williams sent forward two regiments to secure and guard the city.  After them came the rest of the corps.  Colonel Erza Carmen, commanding Second Brigade, First Division of the corps, wrote:

When within one mile of the city the Third Wisconsin and One hundred and seventh New York Volunteers were sent forward as guard to the city, Col. William Hawley… being appointed post commander.  The brigade then marched through the city, crossed the Oconee River, encamping near it. The State arsenal and a large amount of public property was destroyed at this place….

Hawley provided a detailed list of property seized and destroyed:

Burned–2,300 muskets, smooth-bore, caliber .69; 10,000 rounds cartridges, caliber .69; 300 sets accouterments; 5,000 lances; 1,500 cutlasses; 15 boxes U.S. standard weights and measures. Thrown into the river–170 boxes fixed artillery ammunition; 200 kegs powder; 16 hogsheads salt. A large amount of cotton, say 1,800 bales, was disposed of by General Sherman; the manner of disposition was not made known to me. About 1,500 pounds tobacco was taken by my order and distributed among the troops generally. Besides the property above enumerated, a large lot of miscellaneous articles, such as harness, saddles, canteens, tools for repairing war materials, caps, &c., was burned in the building situated in the square near the State House.

1,500 pounds of tobacco goes a long way.

On the Right Wing the priority of the day was to close up the wagon train which had been lagging since crossing the Ocmulgee River.  Brigadier-General John Corse, commanding the division guarding the trains, needed good roads.  That was partially addressed by the Third Division, Fifteenth Corps, which cut a road parallel to the main road to Gordon.  Corse also needed protection from the Confederate cavalry making sporadic attacks on the column.  Orders for the day had one brigade from the First Division, Fifteenth Corps to hold back at Clinton until the trains cleared.

Further southeast, where the cavalry maintained a screen outside Griswoldville, Brigadier-General Charles Wood was to have one brigade, under Colonel Milo Smith, guard the road to Gordon and Georgia Central Railroad near the Mountain Spring’s Church.  In front of them, along Little Sandy Creek, the 9th Pennsylvania Cavalry maintained a picket line (with the 5th Kentucky Cavalry in reserve).  Wood’s second brigade, under Brigadier-General Charles Walcutt, would advance up the road toward Macon to put pressure on any Confederates in the sector.  And this was a “hot” sector.

That morning, Major-General Joseph Wheeler caught the 9th Pennsylvania off-guard.  A dawn attack on the line drove in the pickets and captured several.  Although the Pennsylvanians rallied, the situation played back and forth with charge and counter charge through the early dawn.  The scheduled advance of Walcutt’s infantry cleared the fighting. After a short advance, Walcutt selected a good position opposite, an open field, to guard the road and posted skirmishers forward.  In line with normal practice, the Federals began erecting breastworks.

Wheeler, still under orders from Lieutenant-General William Hardee to move east, decided he was not up against just Federal cavalry.  In response, he left the field and marched his command on a route further south.  That should have closed the action for the day.  But Wheeler had not provided information to all nearby commands. By breaking contact, Wheeler left an open situation with chance coming into play.

At the time Wheeler departed, a local defense battalion under Major Ferdinand Cook, followed by a combined division of militia and Georgia State Line troops under Brigadier-General Pleasant Philips, began moving east along the direct road to Gordon.  Around mid-morning, authorities in Macon recognized the danger Philips were walking into.  Major-General G.W. Smith send orders for Philips to avoid any engagement and to fall back to Macon if pressed.

Around mid-day, Cook and Philips began to run into Federal skirmishers.  About the same time Philips reached the destroyed pistol factory at Griswoldville, he received the orders from Macon urging caution.  Philips figured he was facing just over 1,000 Federals.  Between himself and Cook, Philips had some 4,500 men.  While caution was the order, Philips felt he could at least brush the Federals off the road before asking for an updated order from Macon.  That decision triggered the first “battle” on the March to the Sea.

Philips intended to overwhelm the Federal lines.  Though he held the advantage in artillery (a six gun battery against a two gun section), he intended his infantry to carry the day.  The advance started around 2:30 p.m. Soon after they advanced into the open field, the Georgians came under withering fire from the Federal infantry.  Writing in his official report, Colonel Robert F. Catterson, who replaced the wounded Walcutt, stated:

On came the enemy, endeavoring to gain possession of a ravine running parallel to and about 100 yards to our front, but the fire was so terrible that ere he reached it many of his number were stretched upon the plain.  It was at this moment that General Walcutt received a severe wound and was compelled to leave the field.

The Confederate attack stalled.  Though Catterson had to shift his forces around to meet pressure, the Federal line held.  With darkness, the fighting tapered off.  The Federals counted 14 killed and 42 wounded.  On the Confederate side total casualties numbered around 1,200.  One of the most lop-sided engagements of the war was fought due to mis-communication and poor intelligence.  The Federals wouldn’t have been there had Kilpatrick kept the cavalry pressed close to Macon one more day.  The Confederates wouldn’t have gone there had Wheeler provided full information to those in Macon.

(Citations from OR, Series I, Volume 44, Serial 92, pages 107, 234, and 248-9.)



“If General Sherman comes from inland…”: Department of the South plans for Sherman’s arrival

One of the things I like about discussing the March to the Sea is how the discussion leads into the Charleston-Savannah front… which if you haven’t noticed is sort of a favorite of mine.  For example, while the troops of Sherman’s armies were making their way to Milledgeville on November 21, 1864, several senior commanders on the coast of South Carolina were already proposing operations to complement those marching through Georgia.

Writing to Washington, Rear-Admiral John Dahlgren offered a summary of the tactical situation on the coast.  Quoting Major-General John Foster’s estimate of the Confederate force, he reported 4,000 defending Savannah and 5,000 at Charleston.  Then Dahlgren recited details about the defenses around Savannah, reminding the Secretary of the Navy that the ironclads had tested Fort McAllister during the winter months of 1863.  But the bottom line was these defenses were built to deter an attack from the ocean’s direction.  Lacking forces, there was little Foster’s command could do.  But the arrival of troops from the inland side would, of course, change that equation.  Dahlgren thus concluded:

The true attack is upon Savannah or Charleston, in force, while a column severs the communication connecting them by passing up any of the streams which run up from the sea and intersects the railroad.

If General Sherman comes from inland and follows this plan he will certainly take both cities with little effort, and a force from the seaboard could do this for him as he approaches.

That thought had occurred to others.  Writing the same day, Brigadier-General John Hatch, who’d just been reassigned back to command the Northern District (Folly and Morris Islands) outside Charleston, offered his suggestion to Foster:

You were kind enough to ask me for my views relating to the cutting of the railroad between Savannah and Charleston. In my letter of yesterday I stated that I thought it would be best to strike the road from Broad River. The more I examine it the better satisfied I am that that is the true point of operations. By landing where the road from Grahamville strikes the river, opposite Whale Island, a march of less than twenty miles puts you on the road at Gopher Hill. One regiment, with a battery detached, should take the road to the right and throw up intrenchments on the bank of the creek where the road from the Coosawhatchie divides. The main force would throw up a strong fort at Gopher Hill, which is probably a commanding position; a detachment could then be sent to Ferebeeville, to fortify there.

Hatch had served for some time in the department, and knew the area well.  Looking first to Port Royal Sound and the Broad River:


His proposed operations looked something like this on the map:


Once in place, Hatch felt the force could defend that lodgement and then some:

The line from Gopher Hill to Broad River would then be entirely free from molestation, and constant communication could be kept up with Hilton Head, and supplies furnished Sherman’s army, if Lee, abandoning Richmond, should come down to protect Charleston. I would not injure the road, as Sherman may desire to use it. I would get up to Hilton Head the two locomotives from Jacksonville, and have them put in repair, if they need it; also, all the cars and extra pairs of wheels. Of these latter, there is quite a number at Jacksonville and some at Fernandina. There are also at Fernandina spare parts of locomotives that may be found useful.

He even thought of the trains to run supplies!

Hatch figured to pull from the garrisons of Hilton Head, Beaufort, and other points to constitute the force needed for the operation. However there was one significant factor Hatch overlooked.  The Confederates considered that sector a “sensitive” spot. Particularly since just two years before the Federals attempted a similar operation in the same area.  Routes through the marshes were narrow and a small force could easily block a larger force moving inland.

But Hatch’s plan had merit.  As with many of the coastal operations, a strong force could accomplish a lot with surprise and fast movement.  Standing on that merit, the plan would, in a few day’s time, form the basis for the next major operation for the Department of the South.  The next day Foster issued orders for Hatch to proceed.  Unfortunately, it would not turn out to be an easy operation by any measure.

(Citations from OR, Series I, Volume 44, Serial 92, pages 517-8; ORN, Series I, Volume 16, pages 56-7.)


Marching Through Georgia, November 21, 1864: Bad weather, mistakes, but good foraging

One old folk saying goes to the effect “storms of November come together.”* Before leaving Atlanta in mid-November, Major-General William T. Sherman spoke of waiting for rains to pass, as if he accepted that sage wisdom.  For what it is worth, maybe the Farmer’s Almanac was correct… but there were two bunches of storms that November.  The second storm system to pass through Georgia lasted from November 18 to the morning of November 22.  And the trail end of that system was a cold front bringing temperatures to the freezing point and snow.  Lieutenant-General Richard Taylor, heading to Macon to take command of the situation, later wrote, “It was the bitterest weather I remember in this latitude.”  And Sherman’s campaign across Georgia, needing to move at a good rate, suffered setbacks due to that weather.

Looking at a map depicting this day’s marches, the Federal columns began to converge on two cities – Milledgeville and Gordon:


Brigadier-General John Geary’s account of his Second Division, Twentieth Corps is typical of the day’s march for the Left Wing that day:

November 21, a heavy rain fell all last night and continued throughout to-day, rendering the roads very deep and the streams much swollen. After entirely destroying Denham’s tannery and factory, I moved at 8 a.m. on the road to Philadelphia Church, reaching which I took the Milledgeville road, crossed Crooked Creek, and encamped at the forks of the road, one leading to Dennis’ Mill and station, the other to Waller’s Ferry, at the mouth of Little River. A very heavy, cold rain fell all day, and marching was quite difficult. The country passed through was a rich one and supplies were abundant. Distance marched, eight miles. The rain ceased toward night and the air became very cold Among our captures to-day was Colonel White, of the Thirty-seventh Tennessee Regiment. He had been in command of the post at Eatonton, and in attempting to escape from the other column of our troops fell into my hands.

Geary’s men passed Turnwold Plantation, where a young Joel Chandler Harris witnessed the Yankees march.  He reflected back on that experience in On the Plantation published in 1892.  The rest of Twentieth Corps passed through Eatonton and continued on the roads towards Milledgeville, stopping short of the Little River that day.

The Fourteenth Corps made poor progress due to the roads.  Worth noting, Major-General Jefferson C. Davis included this paragraph in the orders for the day:

Useless negroes are being accumulated to an extent which would be suicide to a column which must be constantly stripped for battle and prepared for the utmost celerity of movement. We cannot expect that the present unobstructed march will continue much longer. Our wagons are too much overladen to allow of their being filled with negro women and children or their baggage, and every additional mouth consumes food, which it requires risk to obtain. No negroes, therefore, or their baggage, will be allowed in wagons and none but the servants of mounted officers on horses or mules.

The presence of freed slaves following the Federals was a problem for all the columns.  But Davis seemed particularly annoyed at the issue, perhaps because the sluggish movement of his corps.

On the Right Wing, Major-General O.O. Howard summarized the day’s movements in a report to Sherman that evening:

We have reached Gordon with the head of the column. Giles Smith’s division is in camp there to-night; Woods’ division is also on the railroad, about five miles nearer Macon, and Hazen’s division within supporting distance; Mower’s and Leggett’s divisions are near the Macon and Milledgeville wagon roads; Corse, with the bridge train and the trains belonging to Kilpatrick, is yet between Clinton and Hillsborough.

Howard noted that his command was doing well living off the land, having barely touched their rations.  His wagon trains had exchanged broken down horses and mules and actually increased the number of draft animals.  All courtesy of the people of Georgia… such as “Carrie” Shy, Obediah Belcher, and David Langston. As for other property, “We have destroyed a large amount of cotton, the Planters’ Factory, a pistol factory and a mill at Griswold, the latter three by General Kilpatrick.”  Howard also noted his advanced scouts were already in Milledgeville, accepting the surrender of the town.  He estimated the Confederate concentration at Macon was 10,000 to 15,000.

In regard to the Federal cavalry commander, Brigadier-General H. Judson Kilpatrick, if November 20 was one of his better days then perhaps November 21 was one of his worst.  Charged with blocking the roads leading north and east out of Macon, Kilpatrick did not maintain a presence close to the city.  Instead he backed off to the east.  Throughout the day his troopers sparred with those of Major-General Joseph Wheeler.  And then in the afternoon, Kilpatrick withdrew most of his forces, leaving the 9th Pennsylvania Cavalry on screen along the Milledgeville Road. For Kilpatrick, mistake of sorts, but allowed given the need for fodder and to shift the cavalry for the next phase of the march.

This could not have come at a worse time.  Referring to the march map above, notice the gap between the lead elements of Fifteenth Corps and the trailing Fourth Division escorting the trains for the Right Wing.  Confederate cavalry were making small-scale sorties against the Federal trains, and the fear was a larger force might break through and cause a serious disruption.  But at least Kilpatrick left word for Major-General Peter Osterhaus, commanding Fifteenth Corps, prior to departing.  In response, Osterhaus received permission to deploy First Division, under Brigadier-General Charles Woods a few miles east of Griswoldville as a guard.


Second Division of the corps, minus one brigade held to defend Clinton, and Third Division would proceed on to Gordon.  The hope was these dispositions at Clinton and outside Griswoldville would prevent any further disruptions.

On the Confederate side, Lieutenant-General William Hardee decided that Macon was not the primary target and that troops needed to shift in order to meet a threat to Augusta.  He assumed the Federals were turning more east or north-east, and would leave the roads to Savannah clear.  Hardee sent Brigadier-General Ruben Carswell’s First Brigade Georgia Militia on a march eastward from Macon.  In addition, Hardee left instructions to start other elements of the militia, state line, and home guard to march east toward Gordon.  He requested Wheeler dispatch a regiment to help defend the Oconee Bridge.  Finally, Hardee himself left Macon on a circuitous route through Albany and Thomasville with the intent to get back to Savannah and Charleston using the railroads.

Though unknown to Hardee, Major-General Henry Wayne had already pulled his brigade of Georgia Militia from Gordon to the Oconee Bridge, anticipating a Federal advance.   And of course, also unknown to Hardee, Howard’s Right Wing was marching towards Gordon.

Mistakes on both sides of the line that day.  These queued up to a bloody battle that arguably shouldn’t have happened the next day.

Following the march for November 21st by markers, today one stops at Eatonton, Gordon, and along the Fifteenth Corps line of march.

(Citations from OR, Series I, Volume 44, Serial 92, pages 271, 502, and 509; Taylor, Richard. Destruction and Reconstruction. New York: Bantam, 1992, page 250.)

I fail to find the exact line from the Farmer’s Almanac. But it’s an old saying my grandmother used on occasion.  If you have the line handy, please drop a comment.