Marching Through Georgia: November 16, 1864, a day of poor foraging

Having “uncoiled” from Atlanta on November 15, 1864, the armies of Major-General William T. Sherman put several miles behind them for the first day of their March to the Sea.  The “hurry up and wait” was made worse by poor march discipline, particularly with the wagon trains moving in the column. Although the complaints came from all ranks, but perhaps Major-General Peter Osterhaus offered the most direct in as part of Special Orders No. 173, issued on the morning of November 16:

The very loose order of a portion of the trains during [yesterday’s] march renders it necessary to again call the attention of division commanders to this constant cause of annoyance, that it may be corrected. Quartermasters must be required to remain with their trains and oversee their movements in person. They will be held strictly responsible for all irregularities hereafter. It is perfectly preposterous to think that the troops should be delayed successively for hours, and thus lose the necessary amount of rest, because a worthless wagon-master or teamster sees fit to disregard his duties.

Osterhaus went on to require all animals be watered prior to starting the day’s march.  Other commands issued similar orders, all with the aim to speed up the march.  There was a need to move quickly, lest the Confederates find an opening to exploit or mass in front of the column.  And at the same time, the Federals wanted to move as far from Atlanta as possible.  The route of November 15 and for much of the 16th passed through grounds that had already been picked over by Federal and Confederate alike.  Too keep the armies fed, the Federals need to move out past the counties that had already seen the hand of war.  The movements for November 16th were designed to get beyond that territory:


On the far right side of the Federal advance, Brigadier-General Judson Kilpatrick’s cavalry continued their advance southward to give the impression of an advance on Macon.  In a brief fight at Lovejoy’s Station, the cavalrymen re-captured two 3-inch ordnance rifles (had been lost during one of the unsuccessful cavalry raids earlier in the year).  Further south, Confederates under Major-General Joseph Wheeler made a stand at Bear Creek Station.  Wheeler reported he “checked” the Federals.  But Kilpatrick’s men regrouped and pressed the Confederates out by dusk.  Wheeler withdrew to Griffin.

For the Right Wing’s Fifteenth Corps, Osterhaus fanned out his divisions, in part to ease the traffic on the main roads.  While Brigadier-General William Hazen’s division lead on the main road to McDonough, Brigadier-Generals Charles Woods and John Smith proceeded on a route to the southwest.  Brigadier-General John Corse’s division, the last from the corps to leave Atlanta, caught up by using the direct road from Rough and Ready. The other corps in the Right Wing, Major-General Frank Blair, Jr’s Seventeenth Corps, made an uneventful march toward McDonough.  The convergence of two corps near that town reinforced the notion Macon was the intended destination.

On the Left Wing, the Fourteenth Corps, under Major-General Jefferson C. Davis, had some catching up to do, having been the last to leave Atlanta the day before.  Two of the divisions moved along the Georgia Railroad behind the Twentieth Corps.  But the first division of the corps made a more direct march on the road through Latimer’s. The divisions averaged fifteen miles and reached Lithonia that evening.

The Twentieth Corps pulled off the railroad route and marched east toward the Yellow River.  Commanding the Second Division of that corps, Brigadier-General John Geary recorded,

November 16, I broke camp at 8 a.m. and moved out in advance of the corps. Crossed Yellow River, at Rock Bridge, about 3 p.m., and went into camp three miles beyond, having marched during the day ten miles.  The marching today was necessarily slow, owing to the bad character of the roads and bad condition of our animals. The country though which I passed was for the most part poor and undulating, and east of Yellow River the road crosses a number of swampy streams and step ridges.

Because of that difficult terrain, the next day Colonel George Buell, commanding the pontoon train following Major-General Henry Slocum’s Left Wing, would lay two bridges of 120 feet.  Those were the first of nearly 2,000 feet of bridging laid by the pontoniers during the march.

If you follow the route by way of markers, for the second day of the March to the Sea there are three to consider – Lovejoy’s Station, McDonough, and east of Lithonia.

(Citations from OR, Series I, Volume 44, Serial 92, pages 269-70, 362, and 472.)


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