Sherman’s March, February 24, 1865: “The rain and bad roads had prevented the complete accomplishment of each order of march”

On February 24, 1865, General Mud came to the aid of the Confederacy.  What had been a relatively incident free crossing of the Wateree-Catawba Rivers became the most difficult maneuver of Major-General William T. Sherman’s march through South Carolina.


Major-General Oliver O. Howard summarized the difficulty for the Right Wing that day:

Before General Blair completed his crossing of the Wateree a heavy rain commenced and continued all the following night and the next day. The soil which was hard during fair weather, became slippery and muddy, so that it was with extreme difficulty that the teams were worked up the steep hills. … The rain and bad roads had prevented the complete accomplishment of each order of march, so that the troops were somewhat scattered. The country, after passing Flat Rock, was for the most part sandy, with pine forests, filled with numerous roads and cross-roads.

In addition to these natural impediments, Howard noted, “The rebel cavalry here annoyed us considerably, capturing some of our foragers and a few wagons from General John E. Smith’s division.”

The Fifteenth Corps remained split into two columns, with the aim to secure the road network between Camden and Cheraw.  The Second and Fourth Divisions marched around Camden to reach the Camden-Cheraw Road.  Three regiments entered Camden to destroy public property and military stores.  The troops encountered a Confederate cavalry detachment, but drove that back, wounding two and capturing seven.  Major-General John Corse reported:

The expedition burned 1,000 bales of cotton, the depot buildings, and a large building filled with flour and meal (sacked), several hogsheads of sugar and rice, besides a flouring mill filled with corn and wheat; also cut the telegraph wires, recaptured and released seven men of the Second Division who were picked up by the enemy while foraging.

Course also reported capturing the entire Confederate commissary office, some sixteen men.  On the other line of march, the First and Third Divisions continued marching towards Lynches River (called Lynch’s Creek in many wartime accounts).  The main element only reached Pine Tree Church with trains back at West’s Cross Roads.

The Seventeenth Corps moved with great difficulty on the 24th.  In addition to delays getting the last division across the bridges on the Wateree, the corps faced roads made terrible by the rains (mentioned above in Howard’s report).  “… General [Frank] Blair continued his march via Russell Place, and, finding a straight road from Russell Place to Flat Rock, he undertook that route, but getting into an impassable quicksand was obliged to turn back and move farther south.” Blair had his First and Fourth Divisions camp near Patterson’s Mill that night, and the Third, trailing from the bridge crossing, at Russel Place.   Overall, the Right Wing’s advance was delayed by mud and quicksand.  Quicksand and mud!

(Worth noting here, the placenames and maps come into place again at this point in the march.  I believe the Seventeenth Corps camped near Patterson’s Mills at a fork in the road running between Red Hill and Russell Place, on Beaver Creek.  Taking the fork to the west, there was a “Patterson’s Crossroads” further north near Cedar Creek, where there was a Patterson home. I should denote such on my maps… but you would protest at the clutter!)

The Left Wing’s advance, also contesting the mud and a few Confederates along the way, was most delayed due to the river crossing. That morning, as mentioned in yesterday’s post, Major-General John Geary had to pull over the last eight-five wagons following the Twentieth Corps (the majority of which belonged to the cavalry division).  Not until 10 a.m. was the bridge clear for the Fourteenth Corps to cross.  And it was time for Major-General Jefferson C. Davis to complain again about the work of the pontooniers,

The rainy season, which so seriously impeded our progress for the succeeding few days, had already set in, and caused the river to rise to such an extent as to threaten the security of the bridge, which at the first had been located in a very injudicious place, and to render the passage of wagons very unsafe and slow. Nevertheless the crossing was continued….

As to the charge the bridge was poorly placed, the wing commander, Major-General Henry Slocum and Sherman himself had been at the crossing point the day before.  Slocum might have avoided mention of such details, but Sherman would have corrected such, and recorded the change.  Neither described the bridge placement as improper.  Lieutenant-Colonel Joseph Moore, commanding the pontoon trains, only mentioned the steep bank on the far shore in regard to placement issues.  The real problem seemed to be the rising waters.  Though Davis was able to push over part of his command that day, most remained on the west side of the Catawba.  (At a site which just downstream from the modern Rocky Creek Dam.)

Leading the Twentieth Corps, Major-General Alpheus S. Williams reported marching only three miles on the very bad roads before running into a column of the Seventeenth Corps.  He stopped there, at what he called Patterson’s Crossroads, for the night, preparing to corduroy the roads the next day.  Three miles advance against General Mud!

Major-General H. Judson Kilpatrick reached camp near… aptly… Camp Creek that evening.  Reporting to Sherman, he noted that Lieutenant-General Wade Hampton had established his headquarters in Lancaster, South Carolina, to the north.  But several issues troubled Kilpatrick.  First was the nature of the river crossing.  The top-trooper in Sherman’s command felt he’d been delayed needlessly by the infantry commanders:

I did not get the bridge last night till 10.30 p.m. General Williams must have known that I was to have the bridge at 7 p.m., when he ordered General Geary (who had already gone into camp) forward at 6 p.m. I are sorry to trouble you with such matters, but I know of no other way of preventing a similar occurrence in the future.

But that was not Kilpatrick’s only grievance with the Twentieth Corps:

Yesterday five of my people, detailed to forage for my wounded in ambulances with Twentieth Corps were arrested by a provost-marshal of that corps and strapped to a tree and there kept till the corps marched by, with inscriptions on their breasts “House-breakers.” I do not recognize General. Williams’ right to punish my people or disgrace them. I can and will do all the punishment myself. If I liked, I could retaliate every hour. Stragglers and foraging parties of the Twentieth Corps were here yesterday, eight miles from their command, committing acts most disgraceful.  …  I shall now allow no foraging parties to pass through or out of my lines, and I shall dismount and seize all horses ridden by infantrymen who enter my column. …. I also most respectfully call your attention to the fact that foraging parties and stragglers from Twentieth Army Corps burned sufficient forage on this road to have fed my entire command.

Not content to open retaliation against the Confederate cavalry, Kilpatrick was now ready to confront his own infantry!

In another note to Sherman that evening, Kilpatrick reported details of more foragers found murdered and hung.  To best relate that situation, which deserves more attention than this already lengthy post will allow, let us look at the details and Sherman’s response in the next installment.

(Citations from OR, Series I, Volume 47, Part I, Serial 98, pages 200 and 431; Part II, Serial 99, pages 554 and 549.)

Published by Craig Swain

"Historical marker hunter" and Civil War enthusiast.

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