One of the reasons I prefer to use “period” maps to depict the movements (both here for the March to the Sea and for other subjects) is that the maps themselves often prove the key to interpreting accounts written at the time. We often see place names referenced in orders or in reports that are taken directly from those maps. Commanders often did not know the land to the degree necessary to issue orders from memory. Instead, they often did what we call today a “map recon” and issued orders using the maps as a reference. In the case of the March to the Sea, the maps provided the commanders were based on county maps and other sources. In some cases the maps were out of date or simply inaccurate. As seen over the search for Jackson’s Ferry, this often got in the way of Federal plans. Another such map inaccuracy disrupted plans on November 28, 1864.
For the Fifteenth Corps on the right side of the Federal advance, Major-General Peter Osterhaus issued these orders for the marching on the 28th:
The corps will move forward to Johnson at 7 a.m. to-morrow, in the following order: The Fourth Division, Brigadier-General [John] Corse commanding, with trains, will move on the direct road, followed by the First Division, Brigadier-General [Charles] Woods commanding, with trains, &c. The right column will also move on the direct road from their present camp, Third Division, Brigadier-General [John] Smith commanding, in advance, accompanied by the pontoon trains and trains of department and corps headquarters, to be followed by the Second Division, Brigadier-General [William] Hazen Commanding.
Osterhaus also detailed Hazen to provide a regiment to act as rear guard. There was one serious problem with these orders. While the town of “Johnson” existed on the Federal maps (see above), there was no such place in Johnson County, Georgia, through which the Federals were marching. Johnson County, having been formed in 1858, had its county seat in Wrightsville, just east of the Ohoopee River. (My thoughts are the error was in transcription from another map, where the map-maker mistook the small map name “Johnson” indicating the county for the name of a town, non-existent though it was.)
So an entire Federal corps marched off in search of a non-existent town. Corse had his men on the road by 5:30 that morning. Lead elements of the column confused local guides as they pressed for the “road to Johnson.” In the lead that morning, Second Brigade of Corse’s Division, under Colonel Robert Adams, was directed down the road to the county court house in Wrightsville. Not until later that day was the error realized. Reporting to Major-General William T. Sherman, Right Wing commander Major-General Oliver O. Howard explained that one brigade of Corse’s was at Wrightsville “having gotten off the road and mistaken that place for Johnson.” Still, nobody in the chain of command was willing to admit the maps were wrong. Marching instructions continued to mention the “road to Johnson.”
The end result of this confusion left two divisions of Osterhaus’ Corps reaching a point near Station No. 11 (modern day Bartow) on the Georgia Central Railroad while the other rest of the corps were spread out between the Ohoopee and Little Ohoopee Rivers to the south. And there was Adams lone brigade marching up from Wrightsville. The “mistake” was largely overlooked, if not covered up, in the official reports. Adams’ report seemed to have left out a paragraph between events of November 26 and those of December 3. Only Major Wheelock Merriman of the 12th Illinois Infantry gives it any attention, saying “Marched sixteen miles on the 28th, passing through Wrightsville.”
Elsewhere along the march, the Seventeenth Corps split its march along the railroad and parallel roads leading east. The Fourth Division of the corps brought up the rear with the trains, just clearing Irwin’s Crossroads that day.
The Twentieth Corps continue its march towards Louisville with objectives of wrecking more railroad miles and obtaining a crossing of the Ogeechee River. Brigadier-General John Geary’s Second Division drew the task of destroying railroad lines through Davisboro. “My orders were executed, and the remaining five miles of road, with a number of bridges, trestle-work and water-tanks, were effectually destroyed.” While this was going on, Brigadier-General Samuel Ferguson’s cavalry brigade made its appearance. But the Confederates were driven off by the skirmishers from the rear guard. Geary’s men remained around Davisboro that evening. Of note, Geary provided a good description of the terrain surrounding the town, as way of highlighting the difficulty destroying the railroad:
It is a continuous morass, known as Williamson’s Creek or Swamp. The stream is quite a large one, running in general direction parallel to the railroad and crossing it many times. The land in the vicinity of both sides is soft and swampy, with dense thickets of underbrush and vines. Through this swamp the railroad is constructed on an embankment of borrowed earth thrown up from the sides, averaging from six to ten feet in height. The superstructure consisted of cross-ties bedded in the earth, with string timbers pinned to them upon which the iron rails were spiked. The mode of destruction was to tear up, pile, and burn the ties and string timbers, with the rails across, which, when heated, were destroyed by twisting.
Further along the Twentieth Corps’ march, Colonel Ezra Carman in the First Division reported destroying three miles of railroad on the way to Spiers Station (No. 11).
The rest of Twentieth Corps marched eastward. The road into Louisville crossed that river and then Rocky Comfort Creek before entering the town. Confederates burned both bridges. Immediately, the engineers went to work, as Lieutenant-Colonel Joseph Moore, 58th Indiana reported:
… we reached Ogeechee River about 1 p.m. and found the bridge across the river burned, and seven others across the swamp, which was near three-quarters of a mile in width. I put a pontoon bridge across the river, using five boats and making 110 feet of bridge. I also set my men at work and cut a new road across the swamp, which we had to corduroy from the river through the entire swamp.
The Fourteenth Corps also found their way into Louisville slowed by burnt bridges. Even after the pontoon bridges were in place, the corps trains did not get across until later the next day. The burnt bridges left many soldiers resentful. And they took out those feelings on the townspeople. While days earlier Sandersville residents were spared the worst, Louisville’s citizens suffered.
As with previous day’s installments, I’ll cover the cavalry actions in a separate post.
(Citations from OR, Series I, Volume 44, Serial 92, pages 141, 162, 272-3, 558, and 565.)