Georgia’s Railroads: Sherman’s target and the Confederacy’s lifeline

One cannot discuss the March to the Sea without mentioning railroads.  And what usually comes to mind is this:

The destruction of the rail lines encountered on the way to Savannah was an important part of the March to the Sea.  Earlier in the war those rail lines moved legions on their way to Virginia.  Then later it brought some of them back to fight in Northern Georgia.  And when not moving troops, the vital supplies which kept the Confederate Army in the field came from Florida, Alabama, and other points through Georgia.  The rail lines connected the valuable manufacturing centers of Georgia.  Even with the loss of Atlanta, with the valuable rail hub and facilities, did not suppress the Georgia rail system.  In November 1864, the railroad net still reached across the state, shown here in dark red:


At that time, Macon had assumed the important role as the central rail hub of what remained.  The Muscogee Railroad connected to Columbus and from there into Alabama.  The Southwestern Railroad through the Flint River valley.  More important was the Central Georgia Railroad that ran to Savannah.  A branch line from the Georgia Central connected to the capital at Milledgeville.  And the Augusta & Waynesboro Railroad linked to Augusta’s depot with the Georgia Railroad.

Augusta and Savannah offered important rail connections into South Carolina, and thus to North Carolina and Virginia beyond.  And Savannah also terminated the Savannah & Gulf Railroad which swept down the coast then to the west.  The owners intended to link that line all the way to Albany, but that was not accomplished before the Civil War.  Had it been, the line would have provided a valuable link for the Confederacy.

These rail lines were a lifeline for the Confederacy during the later stages of the war.  And thus they were prime targets for Sherman.   Consider the line of the march (in green), overlaying that rail network:


Sherman’s march chewed up the Georgia Central, to say the least.  The Georgia Railroad and the line through Waynesboro suffered some damage also.  And at the end of the campaign, the Savannah & Gulf was destroyed to the Altamaha River.  The campaign erased a good portion of those dark red lines across the state map.

But as of November 24, 1864, much of that destruction was yet to come.   Consider the yellow boxes I’ve added to the second map. Earlier today I mentioned the movement of Georgia Militia from Macon to Savannah.  They used the rail lines south to Albany.  After marching to Thomasville, the troops moved again by rail to Savannah.  Had there been a rail line between Albany and Thomasville, it would have saved Georgians some blisters.  But even at that, the mobility afforded the Confederates by that patchwork of rail lines enabled a force which was defeated at Griswoldville and bypassed at Macon to get back into position confronting the Federals.

That also brings up another point.  When planning the march, Sherman suggested to authorities in Washington that forces in South Carolina might aid his operations with an attack on the Charleston & Savannah Railroad.  That led to Halleck’s mid-November order to Foster and eventually to a fight at Honey Hill.  Which, by the way, saw those Georgia troops who “rode the rails” arrive in time to hand the Federals a stunning defeat.  See what I mean  – both target and lifeline.


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