Just as my blogging pace has eased as the Civil War Sesquicentennial winds down, Major-General William T. Sherman’s troops moved at a relaxed pace as they proceeded towards Washington, D.C. in the month of May 1865. Imagine, if you will, being a soldier in the ranks. These were warm days and the marches were still very much physical exertions. At the same time, there must have been a great sense of anticipation just to have the journey end. Perhaps somewhat like present-day soldiers returning from deployment… though for the present, that anticipation is spent in airport terminals and processing stations. For the men of Sherman’s armies, every footstep on the road was that much closer to Washington, a big parade, and muster out.
On May 10, 1865, the Armies of the Tennessee and Georgia were camped around Manchester, Virginia. The force spent several days resupplying in preparation for the last leg of the march, which would move through Richmond, over the Rappahannock River, and thence into camps near Alexandria. The quartermaster supplied forage, ten days’ full rations, and “400 head of fine beef-cattle for each corps, or about eight days’ rations of fresh beef.” Plenty of protein for those marching.
Special Field Orders No. 69, issued on May 10, placed the Left Wing, under Major-General Henry Slocum, in the lead, crossing over the James on pontoon bridges to Hanover Court-house. Major-General Oliver O. Howard’s Right Wing would “follow at leisure.” Sherman himself would accompany the Left Wing through Richmond. He further specified that “The troops must be marched slowly, not to exceed fifteen miles a day, unless specially ordered by a corps commander.” Additional orders specified that any sick or lame solders would get a boat ride to Alexandria.
While waiting for the movement, soldier were allowed, on official business, to visit Richmond:
In consideration of the necessity of procuring clothing, mess supplies, &c., for officers, the complete prohibition to enter Richmond by officers and men of this army is removed. Officers and soldiers with their side arms on, and with a pass for each, approved by direction of the corps commander, may visit the city between sunrise and sunset until further orders.
With respect to “sightseeing” in Richmond, Sherman’s troops received allowances not too dissimilar to those afforded the Army of the Potomac a few days earlier. Speaking of which, another reason for the delay moving Sherman’s force was the wait for Major-General Philip Sheridan’s cavlary to cross the same pontoons. Around Richmond was a concentration of Federal troops of the likes never seen before. Yet… it being an administrative movement, we don’t get the sense of the grandness of the passing.
Let me again pull from the Official Atlas to demonstrate the movements of Sherman’s command. And in this case, I’ll use the “color” version:
The key here is – Fourteenth Corps in green; Twentieth Corps in purple; Seventeenth Corps in red; and Fifteenth Corps in orange.
The Left Wing (Army of Georgia) moved out of Manchester at 7 a.m. on May 11. In the lead was Fourteenth Corps. The Twentieth Corps followed at 10 a.m. that morning. Commanding First Division of that corps, Major-General Alpheus S. Williams recorded:
May 11, the corps marched at 10 a.m. toward Richmond, this division leading. In the village of Manchester the command was received with military honors by General Devens’ division, of the Twenty-fourth Corps, drawn up in line. Crossed over the pontoon bridge at 12 m. and marched through the city in column, with colors displayed and bands playing. The line of march passed the Libby Prison, Castle Thunder, the State capitol, and through the principle streets. The division encamped in a heavy thunder-storm near Brook Creek on the Hanover pike; marched ten miles.
Both corps (and those of the Right Wing to follow) used the same road immediately north of Richmond to reach Hanover Court-house. Beyond there, the Fourteenth and Twentieth Corps split up to use separate routes. To cross the Pamunkey River, the Fourteenth Corps brought up the Left Wing’s pontoon bridge on the night of May 11. The rains mentioned by Williams brought cooler temperatures, but also left the roads muddy. Although not too terribly difficult, compared to some of those roads of the Carolinas traversed only a few months before.
The Seventeenth Corps passed through Richmond on May 12 without incident, following the path taken by the Left Wing the day before. That left the road clear for the Fifteenth Corps to march out of Manchester and through Richmond on May 13. Sherman’s bummers thus crossed the James River and marched past Richmond. The Right Wing initially followed the route used by the Fourteenth Corps until across the Pamunkey. North of that river, the corps used separate lines of march towards Fredericksburg.
While this movement transpired, a command change took place. Under special instructions, Howard visited Washington while the armies were camped around Manchester. On May 12, news of Howard’s next assignment came down – “assigned to duty in the War Department as commissioner of the Bureau of Refugees, Freedmen, and Abandoned Lands.” In Howard’s place, Major-General John Logan assumed command of the Army of the Tennessee. Logan had gone from being a volunteer with a musket at First Manassas to commanding a victorious corps marching north in just under four years.
The march of Sherman’s troops through the middle of May traversed many of the battlefields contested by the Eastern Armies during the previous three years. For some, particularly those of the Twentieth Corps, this was a return to troublesome fields. For those who’d fought in the west, they had an opportunity to visit some places only read about in the newspapers. So some sight-seeing was in order. Among those early “battlefield stompers” was Sherman himself. As he wrote to Logan on May 12, “I feel anxious to see the ground about Spotsylvania Court-House and Chancellorsville….”
(Citations from OR, Series I, Volume 47, Part I, Serial 98, page 605; Part II, Serial 100, pages 455, 456, and 477. )