The third day of the March to the Sea was by all accounts a good weather day – clear with temperatures in the 50’s. Dry weather was important, as the march transited an area well known for its Georgia red clay. To keep up the pace, the Left Wing aimed to reach Social Circle and Covington, while the Right Wing moved through Jackson to a place called Planter’s Factory. These movements brought the march up to the first great river barrier along the way – the Ocmulgee.
Notice also the separation between the Left and Right Wings at this point in the march.
Operations on the march began to pick up a routine – times of march, march orders, formations, and practices. For example, Brigadier-General John Smith, commanding Third Division, Fifteenth Corps, Right Wing, issued these instructions for movement on November 17, 1864:
This division will march at 5.30 a.m. to-morrow, the 17th instant. The troops will, until further orders, be supplied with three days’ rations in haversacks.
Order of march: First, Second Brigade as advance guard, each regiment followed by one ambulance and one wagon; second, pioneer corps, tool wagons, one ambulance, and one wagon (baggage); third, artillery (one battery); fourth, one regiment First Brigade, followed by one ambulance and one wagon; fifth, ammunition train; sixth, division headquarters train and provost guard; seventh, Second Brigade train; eighth First Brigade train; ninth, quartermaster’s train; tenth, supply train; eleventh, remainder of ambulance corps not otherwise assigned; twelfth, two regiments First Brigade, well deployed, one upon each flank of the entire train; thirteenth, two regiments First Brigade, rear guard – one ambulance and one wagon for each of the flanking and rear-guard regiments will be placed between the last two regiments.
Lay this out in a diagram to see the grains of this tactical arrangement:
Recall that Smith’s division was a small two-brigade formation. The larger divisions kept a similar formation, generally with the additional brigade added in front of the trains and more flankers. The formation gave the division a combat force in the lead, guard forces all around, and additional forces spread through the column in order to respond to threats. But the distribution of these forces was not one that facilitated rapid transition from the march into a major field engagement. The Federals were hoping to avoid such action. In the modern sense, we call this a “movement to contact.” According to Field Manual (FM) 3-90:
Movement to contact is a type of offensive operation designed to develop the situation and establish or regain contact. A commander conducts this type of offensive operation when the tactical situation is not clear or when the enemy has broken contact. A properly executed movement to contact develops the combat situation and maintains the commander’s freedom of action after contact is gained.
The formation, with modern equipment like tanks and armored personnel carriers, looks like this on paper:
See some similarities? Though there are some differences to note which speak, in my opinion, to technology more so than tactics.
The orders of the day also mentioned several practices enforced for the march. For Second Division, Fourteenth Corps, Brigadier-General James Morgan instructed, “Only ambulances sufficient to carry the sick and broken-down men will follow in rear of the brigades…. Cattle in rear of all the trains.” To the Left Wing’s Twentieth Corps, which faced a march over broken terrain, Major-General Henry Slocum instructed:
The animals must all be fed and watered at 4 o’clock, and all quartermasters must give this matter their personal attention. General Ward and General Jackson will each detail eight regiments to assist their respective trains up the hills between here and General Geary’s present camp, and at such other points as may be necessary on the march. All staff officers of the entire command will be distributed through the column to see that troops and trains are closed up and pushed forward as rapidly as possible. When a halt is ordered the troops and trains will always double up, and when possible the trains will park in the fields.
Brigadier-General A.S. Williams, commanding the Twentieth Corps, further explained the duties of men accompanying the wagons that day:
Each division commander will detail a sufficient number of men to accompany the trains, that each wagon will have one man to lock and unlock the wheels. These men must not in any case be permitted to stray from the wagon to which they have been assigned.
These orders outline practices best for an army on the move, not one preparing for heavy combat. The commander’s intent, from Sherman on down, was to move quickly and avoid fighting. Slocum’s report to Sherman at 5 p.m. on the 17th affirmed the intent was met, up to that point in the march: “I have seen no enemy and everything is working well.”
In the cavalry division, Brigadier-General H. Judson Kilpatrick issued orders that seem somewhat odd for a cavalry force:
The general commanding desires to impress upon the minds of all officers and men the great importance of carefully saving their ammunition and properly caring for their horses. Regimental commanders will be held responsible for any unnecessary skirmishing and every round fired away without sufficient reason. The firing last evening in both brigades (Colonels Atkins and Murray), and throughout the entire command on the march from Bear Creek Station, and in the vicinity of regimental camps, for the purpose of killing hogs, was most unmilitary, and a willful waste of ammunition. This must cease at once.
The general commanding calls upon brigade, regimental, and company commanders to enforce this order. Let the men catch and kill their hogs with their sabers, a weapon that can be used equally as well to kill hogs as rebels.
No trotting of horses will hereafter be allowed. All marching and formations must be made at a walk. All company officers who allow the men of their companies to trot their horses, without orders having been properly received to that effect, and by the bugle from the head of the column, will be dismounted, placed under arrest, and sent to march with the division train till such point is reached where a court-martial can be convened for their trial and dismissal.
Each regimental commander must be furnished with a copy of this order, and will cause it to be read to his regiment, paraded for that purpose, twice each day until further orders.
So there would be no trotting through Georgia and the saber was preferred over the carbine.
(Citations from OR, Series I, Volume 44, Serial 92, pages 472, 474-6, and 485.)