Sherman’s March, March 6, 1865: “Virtually living upon the country” as the Federals advance

Well, seeing as the majority of votes from Wednesday called for continued marching with Major-General William T. Sherman, let us proceed along his line.

For March 6, 1865, the columns made limited progress as Sherman held the right wing to allow the Left Wing to negotiate the PeeDee River.


The Seventeenth Corps moved to Bennettsville, to the southeast, to ease congestion near Cheraw and also to allow for foraging of fresher areas of the sparse countryside. The Fifteenth Corps moved just a few miles further out from the east side of the PeeDee.  And, as Major-General John Logan added, made use of the area’s grist mills:

During the campaign every opportunity was seized to work all grist and flour mills met with in the country, and on encamping for the night the mills in the neighborhood were regularly assigned to the different divisions.  Virtually living upon the country, it was necessary to husband our supplies and put under contribution all the resources of the country.

Colonel Reuben Williams’ expedition returned to Cheraw on the 6th.  This allowed the Fifteenth Corps to complete crossing the river.

The Left Wing continued to experience delays associated with the bridging operations.  Not until late in the afternoon was a pontoon bridge ready to receive traffic.  And even then, it used several wagons, covered with canvas, as ersatz pontoons.  Brigadier-General George Buell, who supervised the bridging in lieu of the incapacitated Lieutenant-Colonel Joseph Moore, crossed his brigade first to cover the distant shore.  But at that time, the right of way passed to Major-General H. Judson Kilpatrick’s cavalry.  Their crossing would take most of the night.  The Fourteenth Corps would wait for their turn the next day…and then assume the lead in Sherman’s movement in echelon to Fayetteville.

In order to speed the crossing, the Twentieth Corps started movement at 8 a.m. that morning to Cheraw.  After waiting for the last of Fifteenth Corps to cross, the Twentieth took to the pontoon bridge at 4 p.m.  Most of the corps crossed during the night.  Thus by morning of March 7th, most of Sherman’s forces had bounced over the PeeDee.  But, as seemed to be the case throughout the march, the Fourteenth Corps, which had been designated to lead the next advance, was behind.

A lot of other parts were in motion outside of Sherman’s direct control at this point.  The Confederates under Lieutenant-General William Hardee continued their withdrawal north.  Some confusion existed in Confederate command with respect to where Hardee should move next.  By the end of the day his objective was confirmed as Fayetteville. The cavalry was crossing the PeeDee at a point upstream of the Federals, to keep pace with Sherman’s movements.  And to the east, off my map, General Braxton Bragg reported an advance towards Kinston in force.  This was a column under command of Major-General Jacob Cox with about 12,000 men.  Bragg could oppose that move with some 8,500 men from various detachments and commands. But for a few days delay on either sector, the Confederates could consolidate forces and be in front of Sherman.  On March 6, opportunities were opening up for Confederate action.

Meanwhile, far to the south of all this movement, the city of Charleston was adjusting to life under occupation.  The previous day, Brigadier-General John Hatch reported:

I would suggest that two or three additional points be designated where the people can register their names and subscribe to the oath. I hear that the crowd is so large and the delay so great that many persons are obliged to spend time that they can hardly spare. I have also heard that it is proposed to get up a demonstration on Thursday next by the colored people. If it meet your approval it is very well, but the city being under martial law no assemblage should be allowed without your previous sanction. One thing more; I would suggest that an order prohibiting enlisted men being in the streets (except on duty) after retreat would at the present time assist in preventing the numerous robberies and irregularities. This need be only temporary.

Such was life in the “Cradle of Secession” under the Federal flag.  Yet, March 7th, the Charleston Courier, still in print, would proclaim, “The Yankees may hold Charleston for a time, as the British did in the Revolution, but the end of the war will restore it to the Confederate flag, and it will enter a new career of prosperity and importance.”

Well we might say at least the second half of the prediction was fulfilled.

(Citations from OR, Series I, Volume 47, Part I, Serial 98, pages 321; Part II, Serial 99, page 698.)


Published by Craig Swain

"Historical marker hunter" and Civil War enthusiast.

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