General descriptions of the route of Major-General William T. Sherman’s March to the Sea mention a sixty-mile wide swath through Georgia. However, that varied at times with the separate routes taken by the individual corps constituting the wings of the march. On November 27, 1864, the line of march was only about 30 miles wide … if you don’t count the cavalry:
Leaving the Oconee River behind, the two wings advanced parallel to the Georgia Central Railroad, with the Twentieth and Seventeenth Corps using the railroad itself. This merged the two wings for the first time since the march started. (As I did yesterday, allow me to handle the “adventures” of Brigadier-General H. Judson Kilpatrick and Major-General Joseph Wheeler in a separate post.)
On the Left Wing, Major-General Henry Slocum had two main missions that day – secure a crossing over the Ogeechee River and destroy all the railroad line possible. From Fourteenth Corps, Major-General Jefferson C. Davis sent his Second and Third Divisions, with Brigadier-General Absalom Baird in overall command, to Fenn’s Bridge. Baird was to cross the Ogeechee there, with pontoons if necessary, and “thence by such road as General Baird may deem best, with a view of turning Louisville and maintaining possession of that place.” Sherman’s worry was Lieutenant-General William Hardee would setup a line of resistance at Louisville. By rushing two divisions forward, any such line would be outflanked.
Advancing without cavalry support, into enemy territory, Baird’s force had to be cautious. Major James A. Connally, staff officer in Third Division, was among those in the lead:
We have found the road to day, all the way as far as the “Ogeechee” filled with cavalry tracks going eastward, but, about ten rods west of the river, we found that they had turned off on side roads to the right and left. We approached “Fenn’s Bridge” cautiously, deploying two regiments and moving them forward in line, with a strong line of skirmishers in front of them. Being as full of curiosity as a woman, and being anxious to get the first sight of the rebels, I rode along with the skirmish line, watching every tree and stump, listening very intently, and moving as quietly as a cat in the sandy road, expecting every moment to hear the crack of a rifle from some concealed rebel; at such a moment the excitement is so intense that all thoughts of personal safety are forgotten, the senses of sight and hearing are extraordinarily acute, but they take no notice of anything passing, being intent alone on discovering the enemy….
Closing on the bridge, the Federals found it intact. The Confederates detailed to destroy Fenn’s Bridge had started their work elsewhere with the intent to return later. Later was too late in this case. Blair recorded that after taking Fenn’s Bridge he continued to advance the column, and “Head of column reached Rocky Comfort Creek at 8:30 a.m….” with a march through the night (indicated in dashed lines on the map.
The Twentieth Corps handled the other major responsibility of the wing that day, with First and Second Divisions wrecking the railroad from Tennille eastward towards Davisboro. Brigadier-General John Geary, of Second Division, recorded:
November 27, in accordance with orders, moved this morning at 7 o’clock, destroying the railroad for four miles, to a point indicated, where the road crosses the railroad seven miles from Station No. 13. From here, pursuance of my orders, I marched to Davisborough…. Distance marched, twelve miles.
Brigadier-General Nathaniel Jackson’s First Division added a couple more miles of track destroyed, but spent most of the day covering the sixteen miles to Davisboro.
For the Right Wing, the Seventeenth Corps completed its crossing of the Oconee on the 27th and also gave attention to the railroad leading from the river towards Tennville. Brigadier-General Mortimer Leggett’s Third Division had the chore of destroying the east side of the railroad bridge and all line to “a point opposite Irwin’s Cross-Roads.” In regard to railroad destruction on the west side of the Oconee, responding to an inquiry by Sherman, Major-General O. O. Howard expressed he had not yet received official reports from the corps, but:
I think the from fires from yesterday seen in that direction there is litle doubt that they are consumed. The railroad on the other side is burned from Gordon up to the railroad bridge, but I fear that a part is not as well done as usual, owing to the great difficulty of getting the rail off the longitudinal pieces; but these and the cross-pieces are so much burned that all will have to be gotten up and replaced. In some places, on account of the water, the trestle-work could not be burned. There it was effectively cut down. You may be sure it will cost some labor to repair damages between the Ocmulgee and the Oconee.
The Fifteenth Corps sent four brigades (detailed from two divisions) to wreck the rail lines at points between Oconee and Tennille. “The destruction of the railroad, particularly of the iron, must be as complete as possible” ordered Major-General Peter Osterhaus. All told, that day close to fifteen miles of track were destroyed.
While half of Fifteenth Corps proceeded northeast to the intersection of the road to Johnson, the other half took a road southeast toward the same objective. Osterhaus’ command was then prepared to resume its position on the far right flank of the army with a march on the 28th.
(Citations from OR, Series I, Volume 44, Serial 92, pages, 199, 272, 548,550, 552, and 556; James A Connolly, Three Years in the Army of the Cumberland: The Letters and Diary of Major James A. Connolly, Ed. by Paul M. Angle, Indiana University Press, 1996, page 326.)