Marching through Georgia, November 20, 1864: Rain, Mud, slow marching and raiding on Macon

On November 20, 1864, it was General Mud who came to the aid of Georgia’s defense. Rains turned the roads into muddy traces.  All along Major-General William T. Sherman’s line of march, the formations moved slowly. Dawn broke to offer a foggy, rainy morning.  That morning, the last division of the Fifteenth Corps, belonging to Brigadier-General John Corse, crossed the Ocmulgee as they brought up the rear guard behind the Right Wing’s trains.  To the north, the Left Wing turned south as they marched towards the state capital at Milledgeville.  These movements put all of Sherman’s armies on a path through a forty mile corridor between the Ocmulgee and Oconee Rivers – between Macon and Milledgeville.

A spirited Confederate defense might interrupt the Federal designs.  Two operations that day helped to distract the Confederates and prevent such interruption of the march – one planned and the other more a bit of luck.


For the Right Wing, the Ocmulgee now provided some safety for Major-General O.O. Howard’s right flank.  But the line of march was very close to the Confederate force at Macon.  Howard’s plan, derived from instructions passed earlier from Sherman, was to use Brigadier-General H. Judson Kilpatrick’s cavalry to distract the Confederates away from the vulnerable, slow-moving trains.  To accomplish this, Major-General Peter Osterhaus’ Fifteenth Corps had to march hard for Clinton to replace Kilaptrick’s cavalrymen then screening the advance.

But for the first time since leaving Atlanta, the Federals faced a sizable Confederate force in the field.  Major-General Joseph Wheeler advanced towards Clinton that morning with instructions to find the Federal main body.  In the morning fog, Wheeler’s troopers ran into Kilpatrick’s.  In the confusion, Confederate cavalry actually gain the town and captured Osterhaus’ servant.  But that proved a high water mark, as the presence of Federal infantry prompted Wheeler to retire.  This precipitated more fighting south of town. Though Wheeler would claim “We met this charge, checked and returned it with success….” the Federals held the valuable cross roads with no need to press further.  Colonel Thomas J. Jordon, commanding the 9th Pennsylvania Cavalry, later bragged a 100 man detachment posted on the road south of Clinton “engaged two regiments of the enemy, holding them in check for two days….”

While that action secured Howard’s trains, it revealed to Wheeler the presence of Federal infantry.  To keep the Confederates guessing, Kilpatrick maneuvered with his second brigade to the east of Macon in a feint. All along the route the cavalry sparred with Confederate pickets.  But the main “fight” didn’t start until around 3:30 that afternoon.  The 92nd Illinois Mounted Infantry formed a skirmish line along Walnut Creek opposing the Macon defenses.  After the Illinois men and their Spencer repeaters had developed the situation, the 10th Ohio Cavalry made a saber charge that overwhelmed the defenders on Dunlap’s Hill.  Under pressure from the other portions of the Confederate fortifications, the Ohio troopers fell back.  Another attack south of Dunlap’s Hill, from a detachment of the 92nd Illinois, attempted to gain the railroad bridge over Walnut Creek.  After initial gains, they too were repulsed.

I’m over simplifying a complex engagement that deserves more than a paragraph.  But the important point is Kilpatrick’s actions that afternoon masterfully served the required purpose.  Confederate authorities were sure he was isolating Macon, probing for a weak point, and setting up a larger Federal attack.  From far away in West Point, Mississippi, General P.G.T. Beauregard cautioned,

My views are that positions should be defended only so long as not to risk safety of troops and materials required for active operations in the field. Meanwhile removed to safe locality all Government property on line of enemy’s march, and consume or destroy supplies within his reach.

The problem with that was Macon was as much an industrial center (with an arsenal turning out cannons) as depot.  Foundries and factories don’t relocate so easily.  While Kilpatrick was making a show in front of Macon, just to the east at Station No. 18, Captain Frederick Ladd and a detachment of 100 from the 9th Michigan Cavalry sneaked into Griswoldville.  There Ladd and men destroyed the pistol factory of Samuel Griswold.  The Michigan troops left suffering only one wounded and two captured.  And the Confederacy had no more of these brass framed copies of Mr. Colt’s revolver:

“Hell on Wheels” fans may notice something familiar….

Kilpatrick’s cavalrymen also tore up the telegraph and railroad lines east of Macon (not before doing some SIGINT of their own).  This effectively isolated Lieutenant-General William Hardee, who’d arrived in Macon, from the rest of his command.

For the Left Wing, progress slowed to a crawl due to rains and muddy roads.  But one contingent that did make good time was not acting under orders. A small group broke off from Brigadier-General John Geary’s Second Division, Twentieth Corps and crossed the Oconee near Parks’ Mill.  This errant group, mostly of the 134th New York, acted without orders – for better or worse – made a deep “raid” of their own, as Geary later reported:

A small party sent out from my command crossed the river near the burnt bridge and went on foot seven mils to Greensborough, driving a small force of cavalry through the town and taking possession of it. After remaining in undisturbed possession of the town for several hours, and having convinced the inhabitants that the most of General Sherman’s army was close by with designs upon Augusta, this little party returned safely, recrossing the river in canoes. I learned the next day that the enemy were tearing up the Georgia railroad at Union Point, seven miles east of Greensborough , apparently being possessed with the idea that General Sherman’s army was moving on Augusta and using the railroad as it came.  From all I could learn, then and since, it is my opinion that my small command could, at that time, have penetrated to Augusta without serious opposition.

Perhaps Geary was correct, and his division might have taken Augusta at that time.  But within days reinforcements came to Augusta along with Lieutenant-General Braxton Bragg.  Just as with Macon, the concentration at Augusta kept Confederate resources spread out while Sherman maneuvered.  The Greensboro side trip had, though not by design, aided Sherman’s overall scheme.

Following along by way of historical markers, entries for today are at Parks’ Mill, Blountsville, Clinton, Macon, Dunlap Farm battlefield, Dunlap House, and Griswoldville Pistol Factory.

(Citations from OR, Series I, Volume 44, Serial 92, pages 270-1, 387, 407.)


How to get compensation for damages caused by Sherman’s foraging: Southern Claims from Jasper County GA

In 1860, Caroline “Carrie” Shy was a 41-year-old widow living with seven kids at a farm in Jasper County, Georgia.  Carrie had $48,000 in real estate and property value according the the census that year.  In testimony taken in 1872, Carrie stated, “at the beginning sympathized with the union cause.  Feelings were that the war was wrong – that it was made to gratify the ambitions of Jeff Davis and his followers….”

The oldest male in the house, Peyton Shy, was her 18-year-old step-son. At the start of the war, Peyton enlisted in the 4th Georgia Infantry.  He later transferred to the 3rd Georgia and suffered wounds at Chancellorsville and Manassas Gap in 1863.  The second oldest man of the household, Thomas Shy, who was 16 in 1860, seems to have served in one of the state guard units.  Though she sent a son and a step-son to war (reluctantly), and had several nephews in the Confederate service, she “did nothing to supply them….”   Circumstances kept the war distant from Carrie’s farm, and she must have preferred that state of affairs.

That changed on November 21, 1864.  The war came to her door… and knocked hard.  As presented in her 1872 claim for compensation:

Saw 4 horses, 10 mules, 6 hogs, 500 bushels of potatoes, 2 yoke of oxen and 1 cart, and 6 pairs of wagon harnesses taken.

The property was taken on the 21st day of November, 1864, from the place of the claimant in Jasper County, Georgia, by troops belonging to General Sherman’s army. Knew they were Sherman’s troops because they told claimant they were.  They were dressed in blue clothes….

Carrie’s testimony indicates two young sons and two daughters were present at the time, along with two servants.

One of the officers ordered the smoke-house to be broken open.  Claimant asked to be allowed to unlock the door and they allowed her to do so.  The same officer ordered the stock to be taken. The officer said his order was to take the property for the support of the army.

The mules and horses were in the lot, except six of the mules which had been hid away from the place.  The soldiers came and bridled the stock in the lot, and made two negro boys tell them where the hidden stock was, and then go after it.  When the boys came up with the mules they took them and rode them off.

The oxen were on the plantation and claimant things they sent some of the negroes after them. The first she saw of them one pair were hitched to the cart, the other pair were driven off; the cart was backed up to the potato house and was loaded with potatoes, and driven away.

For this loss, in 1872 Carrie filed for $2870.  To the officer reviewing the claim, Carrie’s statement concerning loyalty to the union was unconvincing.  But the main basis for denial of the claim was ownership. The reviewer complained that no will or documents were provided to demonstrate the transfer of ownership.  Furthermore, “Two of the heirs at least were volunteers in the rebel army.”  In conclusion he wrote, “The whole claim here presented seems but a bundle of false pretenses….”

A fellow Jackson County resident, Obediah Belcher, had his claim for $825, covering three horses, three mules, and 100 pounds of bacon, denied.  In Belcher’s case the reviewer noted, “He had five sons in the rebel army & militia to whom he sent clothes and $100 in Confed. money.”  There was some question as to Belcher’s business dealings with the Confederate army.  And though not mentioned in the file, Belcher did sell fodder to the Confederates as late as May 1864.  The reviewer noted the only witnesses testifying to Belcher’s loyalty was another man also making a similar claim along with a nephew named “Shy” (could it be?…).  In the end, the reviewer concluded, “The evidence wholly fails to satisfy us of his loyalty.”

However, David Langston, who lived in Montecello, had a better case.  Summarizing the details, the officer reviewing his claim wrote:

The claimant was an overseer on a farm during the entire war. He voted for Douglas for President in 1860, and on the union side & made public speeches against secession. He regretted the defeat at Bull Run & rejoiced at the capture of Vicksburg & the final surrender.

A committee of citizens in 1862 ordered him & N. H. Couch to stop expressing union sentiments on pain of being mobbed or tarred & feathered.

Mr. Ambrose Troup, a near neighbor, testifies that claimant lived on the adjoining farm, that he was bitterly opposed secession, and that it was through his influence that witness was kept out of the Confederate army. — Loyalty proved.

But even with that, Langston only received $230 of the $403 he claimed.  Compensation for his two shot guns, bedding, and 400 pounds of salt were not allowed.  (And for what it’s worth, Langston indicated Kilpatrick’s cavalrymen took his bedding.)

Perhaps a lesson here: If you plan to file for compensation in the wake of Sherman’s bummers, avoid mention of any relatives who served the Confederacy.  Make sure you can demonstrate sole ownership of the property, legally.  Keep under wraps any business dealings with the Confederate government. However, threats of tar and feathers play well with the reviewers.

Just some of the stories that arise from the Southern Claims… in this case brought on by events 150 years ago as Sherman’s men marched through Jasper County, Georgia.

Marching Through Georgia, November 19, 1864: “The light was so bright that it reflected… the crossing columns of troops”

November 19, 1864 was a critical day for Maj0r-General William T. Sherman and his March to the Sea.  The Left Wing of his force was past the Ocmulgee River crossings.  But his Right Wing, under Major-General O.O. Howard was delayed in crossing at Planters’ Factory.  The plan of the march depended upon rapid movements.  But a few hundred feet of river presented more resistance to movement than the entire Confederate presence in the state.


To the north, on the Left Wing, the Twentieth Corps divided it’s march after leaving Madison.  The 1st Division, under Brigadier-General John Geary moved along the Georgia Railroad to Buckhead Station and beyond to a long bridge over the Oconee River.  “The railroad bridge, which was a fine structure, about 400 yards long and 60 feet high from the water, and was approached by several hundred yards of trestle-work at each end, was thoroughly destroyed.”  A modern equivalent of that bridge crosses what is today Oconee Lake (created by a dam further downstream).  In addition, Geary’s men destroyed over 500 bales of cotton, 50,000 bushels of corn, several cotton gins, and five miles of railroad.

The remainder of Twentieth Corps passed through Madison with much fanfare and marched southeast towards, but not reaching, Eatonton.  The Fourteenth Corps marched hard from Covington to reach Shady Dale.  All formations on the Left Wing put a lot of miles behind on November 19th.

But for the Right Wing, the day was a continuation of the 18th’s river crossing.  Most of the Seventeenth Corps was across the river, though their rear guard and trains had not.  Only one division of the Fifteenth Corps was across the Ocmulgee.  And Brigadier-General H. Judson Kilpatrick’s cavalry division was on the west side.  To bounce the Ocmulgee, Howard’s wing needed an early start and all of the day.

Kilpatrick’s cavalry was first in the order to cross, beginning in the early morning darkness.  To ease the traffic on the pontoon bridges, Brigadier-General William Hazen’s Second Division of the Fifteenth Corps would cross at nearby Roach’s Ferry.  In closing his orders for the day, Howard added:

Corps commanders will prohibit their soldiers from entering houses, and enforce the order by severe penalties. More care must be taken in the selection of foragers. Many have been drunk and disorderly. Foraging for the different headquarters must be regulated. Division and brigade commanders will be required to be with their commands during the march.

In his report of the campaign, Howard described the crossing operations:

On the morning of the 19th instant regiments were detailed in each division to assist the trains in getting up the hill. The Fifteenth Corps, following “the cavalry, took country roads to Hillsborough. The Seventeenth Corps moved to the vicinity of Hillsborough via Monticello. The roads now becoming very heavy, the progress was slow. We had two bridges at the point of crossing, and they were kept full all day, yet the crossing was not completed by the rear guard until the morning of the 20th instant.

Major-General Peter Osterhaus, of the Fifteenth Corps, provided a little more detail and description:

At 7.30 a.m. November 19 the Seventeenth Corps yielded the bridge to us and we commenced crossing, General Hazen leading. General Smith had previously received orders to march on the direct road to Hillsborough, Generals Hazen and Woods were to follow Smith, while General Corse, who brought up the rear, had orders to march, via Monticello, to Hillsborough. This general was also directed to destroy, before leaving the west bank of the Ocmulgee, the cotton factory, &c.c which had been used for military purposes by the rebel Government. Rain, very bad roads, and the long trains of the whole Army of the Tennessee, including those of the cavalry, and the pontoon trains and some 4,000 head of beef-cattle, delayed General Corse considerably. His rear could not leave the river before next morning….

However, I am most fond of the more descriptive account offered in the 92nd Illinois Mounted Infantry in regard to their early morning crossing:

On the nineteenth of October, marched at one a.m.; raining hard, and as dark as a pocket; crossed the Ocmulgee on the pontoons, at Planters’ Factory, where two hundred girls were employed making cotton cloth for the Rebel army.  Great fires were kept blazing on both banks of the river to light up the bridge. The light was so bright that it reflected the factory, and trees upon the banks, and the crossing columns of troops in the water as clearly and distinctly as if the river had been a mirror.

There’s a painting waiting for the artist, if you ask me.

Once on the east side, Howard attempted to ease congestion by fanning out the divisions.  Most of the Seventeenth Corps moved by way of Monticello.  The Fifteenth took some smaller roads in a direct southeasterly route.  But the roads and the objectives brought both corps back to the main road south towards Clinton by day’s end.  Howard directed the Seventeenth to use the left of the road while the Fifteenth took the right.  By the end of the day, Kilpatrick’s cavalry were skirmishing with Wheeler’s men in Clinton.

As mentioned, the rear of the Right Wing did not clear the crossing until early the next morning.  In their wake, all of the structures at Planters’ Factory lay in ruins (oddly, the nearby Smith’s Mill remained, according to its NRHP documentation).

One problem delaying movement was the large number of additional horses in the formation.  Maybe this is a trend for Howard’s commands, since a year earlier the same occurred at Edward’s Ferry.  Many of the infantry had taken up mounts during their “foraging.”  Likewise many officers had accumulated additional “lead horses.”  So during the long wait, Howard directed that the broken and weak animals in the trains be exchanged for fresh ones from confiscated mounts.  The exchanged, cast-off animals were put up on the islands in the river downstream from the pontoons.  Before leaving, the Federals killed the animals in order to prevent their capture by Confederates.  For many decades after, visitors reported seeing horse bones along that stretch of the river.

Following along by the markers today, you can consult entries for Buckhead, Blue Springs, Monticello, Hillsboro, and Clinton.  And a side note… backtracking to Madison, there is a marker discussing a direct result of Sherman’s march – the Freedman’s School in that community.

(Citations from OR, Series I, Volume 44, Serial 92, pages 66, 81-2, 270, and 493; Ninety-Second Illinois Volunteers, Freeport, Illinois: Journal Steam Publishing House and Bookbindery, 1875, page 175.)