Marching through Georgia: November 15, 1864 – The first day of Sherman’s March to the Sea

Well before dawn on November 15, 1864, soldiers stirred in their bivouacs around Atlanta and began the tasks to prepare for a day’s march.  These men were, almost all, veterans of a long summer campaign to take Atlanta.  They’d captured the city.  And now they were watching it burn as they commenced a march away from the city.  This was a long anticipated movement.  Down to the privates, everyone knew another campaign would commence in November.  The details were not particularly relevant in the ranks.

In Special Field Orders No. 124, issued on November 14, Major-General William T. Sherman provided instructions for the first leg of the march.  Generally the Right Wing, under Major-General O. O. Howard, moved towards Gordon, by way of McDonough and Monticello.  The Left wing, under Major-General Henry Slocum, aimed for Milledgeville, but specifically focusing on railroad destruction.  The cavalry under Brigadier-General Judon Kilpatrick would make a feint towards Forsyth and Macon to cover these marches.  (And I’ll go over some specifics as to the order of march and how that broke down to the division and brigade levels… as it is an interesting side note to consider.)

The official maps depicting this movement leave something to be desired, in my opinion:


That shows ALL the movements of EVERYTHING ever under the command of Sherman – to include cavalry raids during the Atlanta Campaign and the last raids of the war in 1865.  Too busy!

Pulling one of the “area” maps from the Atlas of the Official Records, here’s a general depiction of that first day’s march:


The Right Wing faced some resistance as they marched south.  The delay was noticeable, but not critical.  The Fifteenth and Seventeenth Corps converged near the Cotton River that evening. Of these formations from Howard’s command, the fourth division of the Fifteenth Corps didn’t clear Atlanta to make a significant march that day. Arriving from Rome, Georgia, Brigadier-General John M. Corse’s three brigades had the task of re-supplying as the rear-guard in Atlanta actively tried to destroy any and all remaining supplies.

To the right (west) of Howard’s wing, Kilpatrick and the cavalry division swung across to reach the outskirts of Jonesboro, gaining possession of the bridge over the Flint River.  This movement caught most of the Confederate’s attention, as Sherman intended.  On the Confederate side, worries about Macon’s defenses outweighed all other concerns.

Only the Twentieth Corps of the Left Wing made any significant marches out of Atlanta on November 15.  Following and destroying the Georgia Railroad as instructed, Brigadier-General A.S. Williams camped his command in sight of Stone Mountain that evening.  The station there looked like this in better times:


The Fourteenth Corps, the other component of the Left Wing, arrived from Rome, Georgia on the 15th and did not begin their march until November 16th.  They were among the last Federals to depart Atlanta.

Following up on the “marker” story from earlier this week, if you would like to track the progress of Sherman’s march by way of markers, we have a collection of those on the Historical Marker Database.  Relevant markers for the November 15th march are located in Jonesboro, Stockbridge (with another mentioning the Kentucky Orphan Brigade’s delaying actions), Stone Mountain, and Lithonia.


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