Marching Through Georgia, December 6, 1864: A dash for the bridges over the Ogeechee

In yesterday’s post, I quoted Major-General William T. Sherman’s assessment and instructions to Major-General Oliver O. Howard, sent in the afternoon of December 5, 1864.  Sherman sat high importance on closing up the marching columns before reaching the outskirts of Savannah.  This meant delaying the Right Wing somewhat, as the Left wheeled.  But that ensured all the combat power within the advance were compressed to deliver a blow when needed.  To keep the Confederates off balance, Sherman had the Fourteenth Corps, on the far left of the advance, to pass through several possible locations at which the Savannah River might be crossed.  Though not intended for such, Major-General John Foster’s landings up the Broad River reinforced this idea – at least in the mind of Major-General Samuel Jones in charge of South Carolina’s defense.   And on the far right of the advance, Sherman asked Howard to keep the Fifteenth Corps on the south-west side of the Ogeechee to turn the flanks of any Confederate line.  Speaking in reference to the station numbers on the Georgia Central Railroad, “You may make all the dispositions to cross at 3, but the point 2 is the true one….”


Major-General Jefferson C. Davis’ marching instructions for the Fourteenth Corps was to move “as far in advance as the roads will permit” on the 6th.  When the last military vehicle crossed Beaver Dam Creek, Davis had the bridges destroyed.  As with previous crossings, this was aimed to reduce, if not cut off, the masses of escaped slaves who were following the column.  As elements of the corps passed potential crossing points on the Savannah River, they were confronted by Confederate pickets.  Since the Federals were not looking to cross, just the appearance served the purpose.  Davis reported his divisions averaged 20 miles that day, marching on corduroy roads in the swamps.

Brigadier-General Alpheus Williams held the Twentieth Corps to a shorter march, as he allowed Davis to catch up.  With the orders for the day, Williams issued this general instruction to the troops:

The order heretofore issued in reference to burning buildings, &c. is hereby reiterated, and commanders of divisions will be held responsible that it is obeyed. Great care must be taken that the grass and woods are not fired by the troops, as such fires occasion great delay, especially to the ammunition train.

Recall from yesterday’s post, the troops were in the area where wiregrass grows.  Williams also felt the need to reiterate the instructions for foraging.  “All foraging by individuals is especially prohibited.”  Brigadier-General John Geary’s division was second in the line of march on the 6th.  He reported delays waiting for trains to pass and roads to be corduroyed.  Though he would observe, “The country was better than usual along the route to-day, and foraging parties were quite successful.”  His division covered only seven miles.

Brigadier-General H. Judson Kilpatrick received a response from his Confederate counterpart, Major-General Joseph Wheeler, to acknowledge the treatment given Captain Samuel Norton, left behind at Waynesboro.  Though Wheeler could not resist a dig:

I have only to ask, for the sake of these old associations, for your own sake, and for the sake of the institution where military honor was taught, that you will offer some protection to the families necessarily left defenseless, and not to leave them at the mercy of a brutal soldiery. By so doing, not only will other advantages be gained, but your name will stand before the world in a much more enviable light. It is useless for me to recount the atrocities committed; suffice it to say, that the history of no war, however barbarous, can tell of atrocities equal to those daily and hourly committed by your command.

Norton, unfortunately, would die of his wounds within two weeks.

Kilpatrick, then covering the rear of the Fourteenth Corps had more pressing issues than Wheeler’s digs.  The Federal cavalry’s mounts were worn out.  Writing to Sherman on December 5, he’d reported, “My loss has been quite severe, particularly in horses, having upward of 200 in killed and wounded.”  Promptly on the 6th, Sherman replied with his support, drafting 100 mounts from every corps.  These were to be driven by mounted negroes, so as to avoid disrupting the soldiers at their appointed tasks.  Communicating through his aide-de-camp, Sherman vowed to “dismount every person connected with the infantry not necessary for its efficient service, and take team horses, even if the wagons and contents have to be burned,” in order to keep the cavalry mounted.

To allow the Left Wing to get abreast, Seventeenth Corps made only a short march on the 6th.  However, unlike previous days, the Georgia Central Railroad received less attention.  Brigadier-General Giles Smith’s Fourth Division had orders “to destroy bridges and culverts, without tearing up the track.”  Recall Sherman felt there might be a need for the line after Savannah fell.

The Fifteenth Corps was also under orders for a slow march that day.  But run out from the main body were three different columns (shown with dashed lines in the map above) dispatched with a mind to seize bridges over the Ogeechee and Canoochee Rivers.   The smallest of these was a detachment lead by Lieutenant Charles M. Harvey with the objective to gain bridges over the Canoochee and reach the Savannah & Gulf Railroad.  But he found bridges there burned and picketed.

From the left-most of his two columns, Major-General Peter Osterhaus dispatched Third Brigade, Colonel James Williamson commanding, of Brigadier-General Charles Woods’ First Division.  Williamson was to move “equipped in the lightest marching order but with plenty of ammunition” to Wright’s Bridge, just opposite Station No. 3, or Guyton.   Woods later reported:

The bridge, however, had been destroyed, but Colonel Williamson managed to cross the Twenty-fifth and part of the Ninth Iowa Infantry, who at once secured a firm foothold on the east side of the river.  The rebels here made their appearance in small force, and some considerable skirmishing occurred.  Three companies of the Ninth Iowa were advanced to Station No. 2 on the railroad; but before they could succeed in tearing up any of the track a superior force of the enemy appeared, and the companies were obliged to return to the river crossing.

Further down steam, another Federal column focused on what Sherman had designated the “true one.”  Jenks’ Bridge was opposite Station No. 2.  Osterhaus directed Brigadier-General William Hazen to dispatch a brigade, reinforced with artillery, to capture it.  Colonel John Oliver’s Third Brigade of the Second Division drew the assignment.  The brigade covered fifteen miles in about four hours.  Arriving at the river, Oliver found the bridge destroyed.  He posted the 15th Michigan and 17th Ohio Infantry at the riverbank, with his other three regiments covering the rear.  In the middle, the artillery setup to range the river.

Though the Fifteenth Corps had but one bridgehead at the end of the day, the advanced parties had cleared the way for the main body to force a lodgement the next day.  Before closing their march that day, the First, Third, and Fourth Divisions of the corps went into camps within striking distance of Jenks’ Bridge.  (I chose to simplify this on the map above, depicting only part of that movement for clarity.) The “true one,” as Sherman called it, would be the main objective for the 7th.

Only two markers relate to the movements of December 6, 1864, both covering the movement of the Right Wing towards Jenks’ Bridge.

(Citations from OR, Series I, Volume 44, Serial 92, pages 628, 631, 633, 635, 647.)


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