Sherman’s March, February 19, 1865: Slocum burns his excess baggage; Howard creates a refugee train

Major-General William T. Sherman wrapped up activities around Columbia, South Carolina on February 19, 1865.  The weather was “warm and pleasant” that day.   The Right Wing completed the task of destroying railroads and war-supporting facilities.  The Left Wing maneuvered to the west and, with more progress than the day before, got astride the Broad River:


The Fourteenth Corps crossed the Broad River on the late-in-coming pontoon bridge at Freshly’s Mills.  From there, the corps fanned out with one division reaching a few miles beyond Alton on the Spartanburg & Union Railroad.  The Twentieth Corps followed the Fourteenth, but went into camp before crossing the river.  Major-General H. Judson Kilpatrick’s cavalry remained around Alton, guarding against any effort by the Confederates to interfere with the movement.  (Speaking of which, Major-General Benjamin Cheatham’s corps began a wide ranging march, aiming to cross the Broad River further upstream from the Federal force.)

With the Left Wing being “formed up” for the last few days, Major-General Henry Slocum at last had an opportunity to review his command’s manner of march. And there were some things he wanted corrected.  General Orders No. 6, issued the night before, went out with the morning distributions:

The attention of all officers is called to Special Field Orders from headquarters of the army, prohibiting the transportation of tents, except one for brigade headquarters and upward. An immediate and rigid enforcement of this order is expected. All surplus tents and every pound of baggage not authorized by regulations and existing orders, will at once be burned or abandoned. A portion of the army has recently marched ten days through a country yielding but little forage, and following this march it has been compelled to remain at one point nearly two days. The result has been that portions of the command have been utterly destitute of forage and the animals have suffered severely. We have got a long and arduous march to make with almost an absolute certainty of being delayed several days at one point on our line, and that, too, in a section which will probably yield but small supplies for either man or animals. Under these circumstances the importance of collecting supplies as rapidly as possible, and of making an economical use of them, must be apparent to all. The stores now on hand will be placed in as few wagons as possible, and all wagons obtained either by this method or by the abandonment of tents and private baggage, will at once be loaded with such subsistence stores and forage as can be obtained in the country. At least six days’ forage should, if possible, be kept constantly on hand. All disabled and worthless mules and horses will at once be shot. No person, white or black, not connected with the army will be permitted to accompany either column at the slightest risk of embarrassment to our future operations.

The Left Wing’s movements had been sluggish, compared to the Right Wing.  And there had been external factors causing the march delays.  Not much Slocum could do about that.  But he could influence the internal factors and reduce the weight of his train.

The Right Wing concluded work in Columbia with a flurry of railroad destruction.  The Seventeenth Corps reached points fifteen miles above the city.  The 29th Missouri Mounted Infantry returned from the Wateree, having damaged or destroyed several bridges along the railroad leading east.  All but one division of the Fifteenth Corps returned to camps around Columbia, having wrecked the railroad east of the city.

In Columbia, Major-General Oliver O. Howard supervised a transition from military control back to civilian authorities.  He “directed the salt and the other provisions at the depot be hauled to the new capitol….” and given to Mayor T.J. Goodwyn for distribution to the citizens.  Furthermore, Howard arranged for 500 head of cattle transferred the next morning.  Howard urged:

You will do well to advise the destitute citizens to leave Columbia for the country as far as possible. You had better organize foraging parties, under the direction of reliable citizens, that will go into the country and take provisions in your name, giving a receipt. Some such forced loans will be necessary to relieve the present necessities by the fire.

In particular, Howard was concerned about the well-being of the many negroes who were left in the city.  Howard also left 100 small arms for Goodwyn, who made an oath those weapons would “never be employed in any way against the United States Government or to advance the interests of the so-called Southern Confederacy.”

While the Left Wing was trimming its march order, the Right Wing did something on February 19 that added to the column – formal creation of a “refugee train.”  Second paragraph of Special Field Orders No. 43 detailed this:

Major [William H.] Reynolds, Fourteenth New York Heavy Artillery, is hereby assigned to the command of all escaped Union officers and soldiers, and will also take charge of all refugees and their conveyances accompanying the army. These officers and soldiers will move with the refugee train as an escort, and from them will be organized a foraging party. One officer will be selected to act as quartermaster and commissary. The train will be assigned its position in the column from day to day. Major Reynolds will report to these headquarters for instructions.

Without taxing his formations for details, Howard had formed a rudimentary guard from recaptured prisoners.  The formation of such a train is in stark contrast to earlier efforts to reduce, and rid, the march of refugees and followers.  In some regards, it is a reflection of reality.  No matter what the Federal officers sent down in the field orders, people were going to follow the march.

(Citations from OR, Series I, Volume 47, Part II, Serial 99, pages 479, 485 and 488.)

Published by Craig Swain

"Historical marker hunter" and Civil War enthusiast.

4 thoughts on “Sherman’s March, February 19, 1865: Slocum burns his excess baggage; Howard creates a refugee train

  1. Sherman and his men were certainly dependent on foraging, although I’ve read that they respected property as much as possible. South Carolina was a different. The “bummers” were proud of their avocation and their ability to sustain themselves was vital to their eventual success. Take care

  2. Did the left wing/calvery make their right turn @Whiterock SC to Freshleys Mill road and cross the broad river there?

  3. Really enjoy your site. After leaving Lexington did the left wing and calvery cross the Saluda river at Mt Zion church?

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: