December 5, 1864: Sixty miles from Sherman’s march, Foster makes “several demonstrations”

Following the disaster at Honey Hill on November 30, 1864, the Federal forces under Brigadier-General John Hatch fell back to their position at Boyd’s Neck.  Instead of withdrawing back to Hilton Head, Major-General John Foster ordered Hatch to continue to look for a way to accomplish the objectives (which were or were not stated clearly, for what it is worth). Rumors about Major-General William T. Sherman’s advance were just as wild on the Federal side as they were for the Confederates.  Some had Sherman on the outskirts of Savannah on December 5.  Others had him crossing the Savannah River into South Carolina.  But with the clear perspective that history allows, we know that Sherman was still 40 miles from Savannah, and some 60 miles (give or take) from Hatch’s position on Boyd’s Neck:

Dec5Situation
However, the Savannah River, its swampy bottoms, and a sizable Confederate force separated the two Federal units.  Not to mention, there was no communication, much less a common plan of operations, between the two commands.

In his report of the campaign, Foster related:

From November 30 to December 5, while keeping the greater part of the force at Boyd’s Neck, I made at different points, with the assistance of the navy, several demonstrations – in one of which the Twenty-fifth Regiment Ohio Volunteer Infantry marched six miles into the interior toward Pocotaligo and captured two pieces of artillery at Church Bridge, near Gardner’s Corners, one of which the men dragged off by hand.

Based on the one expedition Foster discussed in that passage and a couple of other dispatches, we can plot two of these “several demonstrations” on the map:

HoneyHill_Dec5

On December 4th, Foster alerted the Navy to a move by Hatch in the direction of Bee’s Creek.  That apparently did little more than verify the Confederate presence in that quarter.  The 25th Ohio’s excursion was undated in Foster’s report, but I have always figured it happened on the 5th.  If anything, this demonstrated that away from the main defensive belt along the railroad, the Confederates were thin.  If he kept probing, there was a chance Foster would find a weak spot to exploit.  Adding pressure to his operation, interrogation of a deserting Confederate officer indicated, “that General Sherman is within sight of Savannah, and that all the women and children were sent out of the city last night.”  Perhaps with that information urging him to more action, Foster passed an order to Hatch:

You will have all the white regiments of Brigadier-General Potter’s command prepare at once two days’ rations (cooked if time permits), and twenty extra rounds of ammunition in pockets, and move to the landing to-night as early as possible, for embarkation on transports.

Hatch was instructed to have a battery of artillery prepared for movement in the morning.  (And the Naval Brigade was relieved from duty at the same time, to report back to Rear-Admiral John Dahlgren.)  Foster put the infantry in motion that night:

On the night of December 5 I embarked a force under command of Brigadier-General Potter.  From Boyd’s Neck proceeded, at daylight, to Tullifinny Creek, and landed the men at James Gregory’s plantation, on the right bank, in pontoons and launches.

Once again, Foster had a force of infantry pressing toward the Charleston & Savannah Railroad.  And once again he hoped to sever the line in order to aid Sherman’s operations… of which Foster knew less than he did of the Confederate dispositions!  I’ll turn to the Tullifinny Creek operation in a post tomorrow.

(Citations from OR, Series I, Volume 44, Serial 92, pages 420 and 635-6.)

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