Marching Through Georgia, November 29, 1864: Return of the Cavalry, Wrecking the Georgia Central

As the month of November 1864 ran down, Major-General William T. Sherman’s armies had passed two river barriers to their march and were astride the Ogeechee River.  That river, and the Georgia Central Railroad that ran generally parallel, offered an avenue of advance towards the goal – Savannah.   But that goal was still 120 miles distant on November 29, 1864.

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On the Right Wing, the Fifteenth Corps began to close up after the misdirection of the previous day’s march.  After passing the intersection marked “Johnson” on their maps, the columns continued east.  Part of their line of march on the 29th picked up the Old Savannah Road, an ancient path south of the Ogeechee.  By nightfall, the First Division of Fifteenth Corps, in the lead, was at Summerville.  A road leading north from there led back to Station 9.5 (Burton or Barton) on the Georgia Central.  At this point in the march, the roads afforded means to keep the advancing columns in contact for mutual support (though it was not needed).

Still strung out along the roads after the Oconee River crossing, the Seventeenth Corps began to close up on the 29th.  The lead of the corps reached Rocky Creek, about a dozen miles short of the Ogeechee River, during the day’s march.

The Twentieth Corps, of the Left Wing, split into two columns on the 29th.  The First and Second Divisions continued their work destroying the Georgia Central.  Colonel Ezra Carman said his brigade destroyed four miles of track. In addition, his crew came across a large stash of lumber set-aside for bridges, labeled for Strawberry Plains and Chattanooga Creek.

This timber has been gotten out and made ready for use, even to having the pegs to unite it turned, and was intended, as I afterward learned from a citizen, for future operations of the enemy in East Tennessee.  I should estimate the number of feet in this pile of timber to be 1,500,000.

Carman’s men put it all to the torch.

Behind this, Brigadier-General John Geary’s Second Division marched twenty-one miles to catch up, having spent most of the previous days wrecking the rail lines further west.  Third Division, under Brigadier-General William Ward, moved through Lousiville to Big Creek, where the Confederates had destroyed the bridges.

Like the other columns, the Fourteenth Corps began closing up on the 29th as the trail units closed on Louisville.  For the most part the men of Major-General Jefferson C. Davis’s command spent the day resting.  However,  Staff officer Major James Connolly was not among those, as he recalled in his entry for the day:

I was awakened this morning before daylight, by somebody in my tent calling to me; it proved to be one of Kilpatrick’s staff officers, and he was very much excited.  He told me in broken sentences that they had been fighting day and night for the past three days; that Wheeler’s cavalry was all around them with a vastly superior force; that they were out of ammunition, and men and horses utterly worn out; that Kilpatrick didn’t know where our infantry was but had started him off at midnight last night to try and make his way to some infantry column and beg for support or they would all be lost.

No fan of the mounted arm, Connolly continued:

I have seen enough of Kilpatrick’s Cavalry to know that their stories of hard fighting are cut after Baron Munchausen’s style, but I also knew that Kilpatrick left us at the “Oconee” to make a raid toward “Augusta” and “Millen” and that he might possibly be seriously involved; this appeared more probable too on account of none of our infantry columns meeting with any serious opposition, so we couldn’t tell but that the whole force of the enemy was closing around Kilpatrick.

Connolly woke Brigadier-General Absalom Baird, commanding the Third Division, Fourteenth Corps.  And in turn the request went up to Corps Headquarters.  Soon Colonel Morton Hunter’s First Brigade went forward to aid the Cavalry.

The brigade was in motion before sunrise, and after marching about five miles they began to hear sounds of skirmishing ahead; selecting a good position they immediately formed a line, and in about ten minutes Kilpatrick’s jaded cavalry hove in sight, skirmishing with Wheeler and retiring before him; but when they saw the line of blue coated infantry drawn up in line across the road, and extending off into the woods on either side, they knew that they were saved, and sent up such shouts as never before were heard in these “Piney Woods” which our infantry responded to with right good will.  Mr. Wheeler, taking the hint, from this shouting, prudently refrained from pursuing any farther, and quietly withdrew; while Kilpatrick moved in near our camp and went into camp.

Major-General Joseph Wheeler figured Kilpatrick was “too much demoralized to again meet our cavalry” at that point.  He pulled his cavalry back to picket Brier Creek, fully convinced he’d saved Augusta.  Cavalry of both sides needed a rest before they could be employed again.

Following the march by markers, only one marker at Wadley covers this day’s activities.

(Citations from OR, Series I, Volume 44, Serial 92, page 234;  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, pages 331-2.)

2 thoughts on “Marching Through Georgia, November 29, 1864: Return of the Cavalry, Wrecking the Georgia Central

  1. Kilpatrick: Saved by the infantry!
    Must have pained him to admit that to others, and himself. (If he ever did.)

    When Kilpatrick’s Brigade was forced off Fleetwood Hill on June 9, 1863, he fell back toward the Rappahannock–and regrouped under the cover of an infantry brigade commanded by General Adelbert Ames. In fact, the stalwart presence of this musket brigade kept a sensible Jeb Stuart from following up his Fleetwood success; so point being, Judson Kilpatrick retained experience at being “saved by the infantry.”

    • I think it is the nature of combined arms operations that one arm will always be “saved” by the other (the artillery often saving both the infantry and cavalry when the situation is most pressed). It is also in the nature of combined arms operations for each arm to “tease” the other!

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