Sherman’s Lieutenants on the March to the Sea

As mentioned earlier, my intent is to do “something” here on the blog with a focus on Major-General William T. Sherman’s “March to the Sea” in relation to the 150th events.  For starters, it’s a 150th that, due to several factors, may not get much attention on the ground.  Dropping some of the baggage aside, the March is spread across half a state and several weeks, without any major battles (as with, say, the Overland Campaign).  But the Savannah Campaign… er… March… stands as one of the most important events of the Civil War.  It deserves some attention, to say the least.

To kick things off, let me offer a “resource post” today.  I’ve found over the years that most folks will know Sherman in relation to the march, but are not as familiar with the subordinates who executed his plans.  That said, let me walk through the organization that made the March.  We might call it “Sherman’s Army” but it was technically a detachment of the Military Division of the Mississippi.  The detachment consisted of two field armies – The Army of the Tennessee (the Right Wing) and The Army of Georgia (Left Wing).  Each of those Armies contained two army corps.  And Sherman’s force included a cavalry division.

Starting with the Army of the Tennessee, the commander of this storied formation was Major-General Oliver O. Howard.

Let us set aside, for the moment, the particulars for why Howard succeeded Major-General James McPherson in command of the army.  Sherman conducted a major reorganization during the early fall of 1864.  And several parts of the force used to capture Atlanta were sent north.  He retained Howard.  I think that was because of a simple understanding between Sherman and Howard – Howard always did as instructed.  Beyond that, Howard was a “tested” commander… a known quantity.

The Army of the Tennessee consisted of the Fifteenth and Seventeenth Corps.  The Fifteenth, “40 rounds!”, stands tall in the history as originally Sherman’s then Maj0r-General John Logan’s command through the Vicksburg, Chattanooga, and Atlanta Campaigns.  But in November 1864, Logan was north working the election.  In his place, Major-General Peter Osterhaus, one of the best foreign-born union officers of the war, lead the corps.

Osterhaus had four divisions:

  • First Division, Brigadier-General Charles Woods, with three brigades.
  • Second Division, Brigadier-General William B. Hazen, with three brigades.
  • Third Division, Brigadier-General John E. Smith, with two brigades.
  • Forth Division, Brigadier-General John M. Corse, with three brigades.
  • Artillery under Major Charles Stolbrand with four batteries.

Major-General Frank P. Blair, Jr. commanded the Seventeenth Corps.  And to match with Osterhaus, Blair was one of the more competent politician-generals of the war.

Blair had three (somewhat small) divisions:

  • First Division, Major-General Joseph Mower (just returned from an assignment in Missouri).   Three brigades.
  • Third Division, Brigadier-General Mortimer Leggett.  Two brigades.
  • Fourth Division, Brigadier-General Giles A. Smith. Two brigades.
  • Artillery under Major Allen C. Waterhouse with three batteries.

The Left Wing, as the Army of Georgia was know, fell under Major-General Henry Slocum.

As with Howard, Slocum did not have a great track record up to this point in the war, having been “exiled” from the Army of the Potomac the previous winter.  But Slocum was a regular line officer who would follow orders.  That’s what Sherman wanted for a movement in which no major combat actions were expected.  Slocum’s army consisted of the Fourteenth and Twentieth Army Corps.

Major-General Jefferson C. Davis (as opposed to the guy with an “F” as a middle initial!) had the Fourteenth Corps.

Davis’ commission was only a brevet, in part due to lingering effects of the killing of Major-General William Nelson in 1862. Davis was capable and dependable in the field.  His corps consisted of three divisions:

  • First Division, Brigadier-General William Carlin, with three brigades.
  • Second division, Brigadier-General James Morgan, with three brigades.
  • Third Division, Brigadier-General Absalom Baird, with three brigades.
  • Artillery under Major Charles Houghtaling, with four batteries.

The Twentieth Corps, what was left of the old Eleventh and Twelfth Corps from the Army of the Potomac, fell under Brigadier-General Alpheus S. Williams.

William had in his charge three divisions supported by artillery:

  • First Division under Brigadier-General Nathaniel J. Jackson, with three brigades.
  • Second Division under Brigadier-General John Geary, with three brigades.
  • Third Division under Brigadier-General William Ward, with three brigades.
  • Artillery under Major John A. Reynolds, with four batteries.

Rounding out the major elements of Sherman’s army was a division of cavalry, technically the Third Division of the Cavalry Corps, Military Division of the Mississippi, under Brigadier-General Judson Kilpatrick.

Considering Kilpatrick, and Sherman’s decision to put him in charge of an important part of the formation marching to Savannah, we have to keep in mind how much of the “cavalry talent” within the Federal army was in the Shenandoah, for good reason, at that time.  In other words, who else was around?  I have described the selection of Kilpatrick as that to a race-car team going with an aggressive driver – Kilpatrick might not be the idea choice, but on occasion he could make a situation within a void of opportunities.  Maybe I’m being kind there.  But there is from time to time a call for a reckless type to make something happen.  Perhaps Major-General George Stoneman was too much a “by the book” commander to match with a “throw out the book” military campaign.  And perhaps Sherman simply enjoyed hearing the wild tales Kilpatrick concocted for his after-action reports!

I’ve only named-names down to the division level for brevity here.  What is lost with that is a true understanding of the veteran make-up of this army that marched across Georgia.  From the top to the bottom, these were commanders and regiments that had seen hard campaigning and major battles.  And not just “western” battles.  Consider the commander of Second Brigade, First Division, Twentieth Corps – Colonel Ezra A. Carmen.  There was a man who’d seen Antietam, Gettysburg, Chattanooga, and the Atlanta Campaign.  In his brigade were the 2nd Massachusetts, 13th New Jersey, 107th and 150th New York, and 3rd Wisconsin. All units with scores of battle honors to brag about.  If we took all such battle honors from across Sherman’s army and listed them, I dare say only the battles of from the 1864 campaigns in the east would be missing.

Sherman’s army marching through Georgia was indeed a veteran legion.

Published by Craig Swain

"Historical marker hunter" and Civil War enthusiast.

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