Sherman’s March, March 1, 1865: “making a march of full twenty miles” out of the flooded sand hills

For the better part of five days at the end of February 1865, heavy rains, mud, and flooded rivers stalled Major-General William T. Sherman’s advance.  Aside from the defenses of Savannah, nothing had delayed Sherman’s progress as the Catawba and Lynches Rivers.  And for one additional day, the situation at Tiller’s and Kelly’s Bridges would resist movement… only for part of the day.

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With any flood comes a crest and eventual retreat of the waters.  Based on accounts, it appears the flooding of the Lynches River crested on February 26, 1865, but required several days to subside.  Behind the flood, the ground remained soft and difficult to traverse.  In spite of bridging and corduroying, passage through the bottoms was difficult.  With heavy traffic, the bridges, which had taken so much labor to construct, failed. Commander of the Right Wing, Major-General Oliver O. Howard, accompanied First Division, Fifteenth Corps, under Major-General William B. Hazen, that day, crossing at Kelly’s Bridge.  Howard recalled:

March 1 the water had subsided so much that a roadway completely practicable was finished by noon at Tiller’s Bridge, while at Kelly’s General Hazen finished his plank bridge about 3.30 p.m.,of nearly a half mile in extent. But owing to the want of sufficient breadth of the trestles, and their resting upon a quicksand, the bridge racked over under the weight of heavy wagons, and part of it had to be reconstructed.

Hazen did get two brigades across to secure Kellytown.  But at the bridge, Third Division, under Major-General John Smith, repaired the bridge and waited to cross.

At Tiller’s Bridge, Major-General John Logan supervised the other two divisions of Fifteenth Corps:

The water having fallen sufficiently to warrant an attempt at crossing our trains, on the 1st of March the crossing was attempted, and by raising our hard bread and ammunition five or six inches in the beds of the wagons the Fourth Division train and a portion of the First Division passed with little or no damage, but before General [Charles] Woods could pass the whole of his train it was necessary to build another bridge of considerable length, so that it was not until the morning of the 2nd of March that he succeeded in crossing the last of his wagons.

As Logan stated, Major-General John Corse’s Fourth Division had crossed all but its trains.  Corse reported reaching Black Creek at 8:30 p.m. that evening, “where I placed my command in a defensible position with reference to my rear and flanks, the front being protected by the creek and swamp…. No enemy has been developed in my front just far.”

Being far in the advance, the Seventeenth Corps held position on March 1, only closing up the trailing wagon trains.  However, Major-General Frank Blair sent out a brigade, under the direct command of Major-General Joseph Mower, to probe for Confederates in the direction of Cheraw. “They encountered the enemy in strong force at the crossing of the Chesterfield and Society Hill road, developed their position, and withdrew.”  The Confederate forces were at that time busy evacuating Cheraw, and this only added to the haste.

In his spare time that day, Blair wrote Special Orders No. 55.  The order addressed the need, again, to reduce the number of excess animals accumulated with the column and procedures for foragers.  Of note, Blair insisted, “the great number of mounted men that are exploring the country in advance of not only the infantry but the cavalry renders any effort of the latter to obtain information concerning the enemy’s movements perfectly futile.”  Blair went on to say:

Foragers are captured every day, and every one captured is a source of information to the enemy.  The most stringent measures must be taken to prevent foraging in front of the columns. The operations of foraging parties can be extended to the flank as far as the commanding officer may see proper to go.

From this point on, Blair’s officers would arrest any foragers found in front of the column.  But it didn’t stop the practice.

For the Left Wing on March 1, the pieces finally moved at once.  Finally free of the Catawba River, Major-General Jefferson C. Davis made good time catching up with the rest of the army.  That evening, Brigadier-General James Morgan, Second Division, reported reaching Clyburn’s Store, “making a march of full twenty miles….” The other two divisions of the corps were near Hanging Rock that evening.

The Twentieth Corps also made a respectable march that day, crossing Lynches River and camping on the road to Chesterfield.  Major-General John Geary recorded:

March 1, my division in rear, moved at 11:40 a.m.; crossed Big Buffalo Creek, and further on, Lynch’s [River], where we found a good bridge at Miller’s Mill.  Slight rain all day. The roads, generally, were good. At the hills bordering on the creeks we had considerable corduroying to make. The country was poor, with sandy soil, and thinly settled by “poor whites;” distance, twelve miles.

On the far left flank of these movements, the Cavalry Division proceeded out of Lancaster on the roads to Chesterfield.  Behind them, later that afternoon, Confederates under Major-General Joseph Wheeler entered Lancaster.  Wheeler reported,

I think Kilpatrick is camped to-day about six miles from here, where he is throwing up breast-works.  The Fourteenth Corps only left the river this morning.  We captured a few of their foragers, who were in advance.  The opinion of citizens who conversed with officers is that the enemy will leave Charlotte to the left.  There is talk among the officers that they are going to Goldsborough.

General Joseph E. Johnston voiced a similar opinion earlier in the day, when describing the situation to General Robert E. Lee in Richmond.  “Our cavalry on their right think them moving toward Florence or Cheraw.”  Johnston went on to say, in a lengthier message later in the  day, “The route by Charlotte, Greensborough, and Danville is very difficult now, as you remark…. It seems to me, therefore, that he, General Sherman, ought not to take it.  His junction with General Schofield is also an object important enough, I should think, to induce him to keep more to the east.”

So much for all those efforts by Major-General H. Judson Kilpatrick to deceive the Confederates as to Sherman’s intentions.

(Citations from OR, Series I, Volume 47, Part I, Serial 98, pages 201, 229-30, and 1123; Part II, Serial 99, pages 630, 635, and 1297.)

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