Sherman’s March, May 24, 1865: The Grand Review and the end of the Great March

At 9 a.m., 150 years ago this morning, a signal gun and triggered the procession of Major-General William T. Sherman’s command on their Grand Review in front of cheering crowds in Washington D.C.

Sherman and Major-General Oliver O. Howard lead the procession with their staffs.  Behind them came Major-General John Logan and the Fifteenth Corps.

Behind them, Major-General Frank Blair and the Seventeenth Corps.

After the Right Wing passed, Major-General Henry Slocum lead the Left Wing on review:

The Twentieth Corps, led by Major-General Joseph Mower, came next in the line.

As I like to mention, the Twentieth Corps had its roots in the east – formed of the Army of the Potomac’s Eleventh and Twelfth Corps.  As such it provided the link between the Armies of the Tennessee and the Potomac.

The next formation in the review also offered a link – however to an army not present on parade that day. Major-General (a brevet that was soon to be disallowed) Jefferson C. Davis led the Fourteenth Corps.   And, you should know that the Fourteenth Corps had its roots as the Army of the Cumberland.

I’ve always felt their presence was somewhat representative of that “other” great Federal army of the western theater.

You may want to click over to Seven Score and Ten, Civil War Daily Gazette, and General Sherman’s Blog for more on the Grand Review’s second day.

For the photos above, I’ve relied upon the Library of Congress captions to identify the units.  As we well know, those captions have their errors.  So please take the identification with a grain of salt.  If the captions are correct, the troops of the Twentieth Corps received a good bit of attention from the photographers:

Remarkable that all four of the corps which conducted the Great March were photographed on this day 150 years ago.  We have scant few photographs from the Great March (Altanta to Savannah to Columbia to Goldsboro to Raleigh to Washington).  Aside from a number of photos taken at Fort McAllister in December 1864, the majority of the photos of the Great March come on the last day of the movement.

And just as the Great March’s conclusion was captured in photos, the veterans cemented the memory of the Grand Review in their minds and … even 150 years later … in the public’s mind.  This shaped our impression of the event to the point it becomes the “victory parade” after which similar festivities are modeled to celebrate the end of more recent wars.  Keeping with that notion, allow me to close with the somewhat definitive “lore” of the Great March by George W. Nichols:

On the 24th of May, Sherman’s Army passed in review before the President of the United States in Washington.  It was the last act in the rapid and wonderful Drama of the four gallant corps. With banners proudly flying, ranks in close and magnificent array, under the eye of their beloved Chief, and amid the thundering plaudits of countless thousands of enthusiastic spectators, the noble army of seventy thousand veterans paid their marching salute to the President of the Nation they had helped to preserve in its integrity – and then broke ranks, and set their faces toward Home.  This was the farewell of Sherman’s Army! So, too, ends the Story of the Great March.

(Citation from George Ward Nichols, The Story of the Great March from the Diary of a Staff Officer, New York: Harper & Brothers Publishers, 1865, page 322.)

Sherman’s March, May 19, 1865: “And thus was completed the great circuit …”

Recording the march of 1st Division, Twentieth Corps for May 19, 1865, Major-General Alpheus Williams wrote:

May 19, after a march of fourteen miles, the division pitched tents upon the high ground above Holmes’ Creek, near Cloud’s Mills, within two miles of Alexandria.


Today this area is part of a stand of townhouses named “Cameron Station” and Brenman’s Park.  (And as I write this, realization sets in that, while I’ve taken time to locate dozens of camp sites through Georgia and the Carolinas, I have not set down with wartime maps and sorted out where the rest of Sherman’s troops camped around Alexandria.  Someone has probably already documented those details.  If not, I shall in time!)

When he submitted his official report of the march up from North Carolina on May 27, Williams offered a summary of the movements of the 1st Division through the last half of the war.  Recall that Williams and the division had been part of Twelfth Corps, Army of the Potomac, in 1863.  The Twelfth, along with the Eleventh, rushed to Chattanooga in the fall of 1863.  They’d been consolidated into the Twentieth Corps as part of the reorganizations during the winter of 1864.  They fought as such during the Atlanta Campaign.  And they were among the four corps chosen to march on the Savannah Campaign, with Williams temporarily commanding the corps.  So Williams had a lot of ground to cover… in more ways than one.  I submit his summary as a good closing for my coverage of the Great March:

And thus was completed the great circuit made by this division within the last twenty months. From the banks of the Rapidan it was transferred, in September, 1863, to the Army of the Cumberland, through the States of Virginia, Maryland, Ohio, Indiana, Kentucky, and Tennessee. Leaving Tennessee in May, 1864, it has marched in succession through Northern Alabama, through Georgia from its north line near Chattanooga to Savannah, including the State capital, through the center of South Carolina, circuitously from the rice-fields opposite Savannah to its northeastern angle near Cheraw, through the center and capital of North Carolina, through Southern Virginia and its conquered capital back to the precise spot it left a little over a year and a half ago. Such a happy return to familiar scenes after marches, labors, exposures, and events of such extent and magnitude might well occasion and excuse a manifestation of unusual enthusiasm and exultation among all ranks.

A lot had transpired in those twenty months.  A lot of marching.  A lot of difficult crossings.  A lot of fighting.  A lot of campfires.  And a fair number of nights in cold camps.  Two of the hardest years of the war.  And, as Williams alluded to, the men had returned to the point at which the war had started for many of them – Washington, D.C.

The troops would rest and refit for a few days after May 19.  Their last “march” would take them through Washington, D.C. on May 24 to camps north of the city.  This march was met with much more celebration than others on the “great circuit.”

(Citations from OR, Series I, Volume 47, Part I, Serial 98, pages 605-6.)

Sherman’s March, May 14-17, 1865: Passing through old battlefields and crossing the Rappahannock

The last important river barrier for the armies of Major-General William T. Sherman in their march to Alexandria, Virgina was the Rappahannock River.  To gain crossing, the armies would cross through Spotsylvania and Stafford Counties, with one column traversing Orange and Culpeper Counties.  That area of Virginia was the stage for so much of the war in the east, with numerous battles fought.  For some members of Sherman’s command, this was a return to fields contested just a couple years earlier.  For most, however, this was a chance for the “Westerners” to see where the “Easterners” had fought.

The four corps fanned out in their march north, each taking a separate line for the most part:


The Right Wing used the direct route to Fredericksburg.  The Fifteenth Corps remained east of the Richmond & Potomac Railroad, generally using the Stage Road (the officers in Sherman’s command referred to this as the “Fredericksburg Road”).  Meanwhile, the Seventeenth Corps marched on the west side using the Telegraph Road.  Major-General Mortimer Leggett was in temporary command of the Seventeenth Corps, with Major-General Frank Blair at the time in Washington. Of these administrative marches, the commanders filed mundane reports of movement.  Typical was that of Major-General William B. Hazen, commanding Second Division, Fifteenth Corps, for May 16, 1865:

I have the honor to report that this division broke camp at 7 a.m., moving in the center of the column, the First Division being in advance and the Fourth Division in the rear, and went into camp about five miles from Fredericksburg at 4:30 p.m., having made a distance of twenty-two miles.

Yes, somewhat more distance than Sherman had preferred.  But the march was made over terrain familiar to military movements and where roads were well prepared.  While Hazen camped outside Fredericksburg that evening, Major-General Charles Woods’ First Division held a camp on the north bank of the Rappahannock River.   I believe the camp location used by Woods’ men was in proximity to the “Slaughter Pen” of the December 1862 battlefield.  But the records I have defy exact positioning.

The following day, Major-General John Logan officially assumed command of the Right Wing.  The Fifteenth and Seventeenth Corps crossed the Rappahannock using a pontoon bridge left by the Army of the Potomac at Franklin’s Crossing… yet another place name harkening back three years.  But only wagon traffic delayed the progress of the men as the Army of the Tennessee bounded the Rappahannock with relative ease, compared to crossings by Federal forces earlier in the war.

The Left Wing had a wider line of march.  To avoid congesting the roads through the Wilderness, the Fourteenth Corps took a route through Orange County to Raccoon Ford and thence into Culpeper County.  This route took the Fourteenth Corps, under Major-General Jefferson C. Davis, through one of the most heavily contested areas of the Civil War.  But the soldiers were not sight-seeing.  For them, a camp outside Stevensburg on May 15 was just one of over a hundred camps they made during the long war.   But it was the last made during the war in Culpeper County…  which had also seen hundreds of such camps.

The following morning, the troops marched north to Kelly’s Ford to cross the Rappahannock.  Again, lost on the soldiers on the march was the significance of that point on the map.  Armies had fought over and crossed that ford repeatedly over the four previous years.  The Fourteenth Corps was the last military command to splash through.  Just another river crossing for the soldiers, but a significant mark in the passing of the war.  The corps continued its march through places named Bristoe Station, Manassas Junction, Centreville, and Fairfax Court-house.  All of which were simply waymarks of the march home for these men.

Either by design or by serendipity, the men of the Twentieth Corps – formerly the Eleventh and Twelfth Corps – marched through Spotsylvania.  Major-General Alpheus Williams, commanding First Division, Twentieth Corps, recorded the progress:

May 14, the division having the advance marched, the same hour as yesterday, crossed the North Anna on pontoon bridge, and took a circuitous route toward Spotsylvania Court-House.  The Mat, Ta, and Po, and several other smaller creeks were crossed during the day’s march; encamped south of Spotsylvania Court-House after a march of sixteen miles.  Many officers and men embraced the opportunity to visit the famous battle-fields in this vicinity.

Yes, the Twentieth Corps’ men had reason, by connection, to be sight-seeing.  The next day’s march traversed Chancellorsville. Williams, who’d commanded a division of Twelfth Corps during the fighting there in May 1863, noted more “sight-seeing.”

May 15, the division moved out at 5 a.m. toward Chancellorsville.  The route was a portion of the section known as the Wilderness.  At Chancellorsville the division was halted for three hours upon the battle-ground to enable the officers and men of the division to visit the scenes of that memorable contest in which most of the regiments took part.  The division encamped for the night at United States Ford; marched fifteen miles.

Sherman himself traveled over to visit the Twentieth Corps that day, with Major-General Henry Slocum providing some orientation.

The next day, the Twentieth Corps crossed the Rappahannock at United States Ford… in different circumstances from the last time those men had crossed at that point.  The remainder of the march toward Alexandria took the Twentieth Corps through places such as Hartwood Church, Brentsville, and Fairfax Station. In more ways than one, the Twentieth Corps was going home.

On May 19 the Armies of the Tennessee and Georgia reached their designated camps outside Alexandria.  There, near the banks of the Potomac, the Great March which had started in Atlanta came to its last pause.  The last short march required of these soldiers was a Grand Review in the nation’s capital – a formal closure to the march… and the war.

(Citations from OR, Series I, Volume 47, Part I, Serial 98, page 605; Part III, Serial 100, page 509.)

Sherman’s March, May 10-13, 1865: The Bummers march through Richmond

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. )

May 8, 1865: “I… march with my troops, and prefer we should not meet” No love lost between Sherman and Halleck

As the Armies of the Military Division of the Mississippi (the Armies of the Tennessee and Georgia) neared Richmond in May 1865, they were ordered into camps at Manchester, south of the James River.  The ultimate destination for these troops was Alexandria, Virginia.  And to reach that point, the troops would need to cross the James River at some point.  Richmond was the best place to accomplish that.

The Army of the Potomac was itself just leaving Richmond, also on their way north to Alexandria.  The commander of the Military Division of the James, Major-General Henry Halleck, had kept the Army of the Potomac on a tight leash during their passing.  The last thing Halleck wanted was some uncontrolled mob running loose in Richmond.  So soldiers were restricted to camps, unless issued passes.  And when the Army of the Potomac moved, it did so along defined routes.

On May 8, 1865, Halleck had issued similar instructions to the Armies of the Tennessee and Georgia.  But as Major-General William T. Sherman was somewhat a peer, based on the level of command, Halleck offered a personal invite:

General Slocum’s army will leave Richmond on the morning of the 10th and General Howard’s will soon follow.  Can’t you meet them as they pass through?

Then later:

When you arrive here come directly to my headquarters. I have a room for you, and will have rooms elsewhere for your staff.

But Sherman was not having any of this.  He was, to say the least, holding a grudge against Halleck for the events which transpired in April:

After your dispatch to the Secretary of War of April 26 I cannot have any friendly intercourse with you.  I will come to City Point to-morrow and march with my troops, and prefer we should not meet.

No love lost there.

Sherman played things cool, and strictly by the book.  He inquired to Lieutenant-General Grant on the next day in regards to changes of his command, and specifically about orders for the march to Alexandria.   Sherman was looking for that official piece of paper so as to have in hand when dealing with Halleck.  Sort of a “I’ve got my orders, so please leave me and my men alone” sort of stance.  In the meantime, Major-General Jefferson C. Davis had planned to review the Fourteenth Corps in Richmond as part of the move north.  This put Sherman in a bit of a bind, as that could escalate things with Halleck.  So he called that review off.  Writing to Halleck on May 9, from Manchester:

I have the honor to report my arrival and that I have assumed immediate command of this army and await General Grant’s orders. If you have any general orders, relating to the march of the armies northward, I will be obliged for a copy.  The review ordered by Major-General Davis in Richmond will not take place.

So Halleck responded with a strict “facts only” message, relating that no orders from Grant had arrived, but instructions were to move Sherman’s forces (with or without him) through Richmond as soon as resupply had been completed.  Nothing but dry conversation, without frivolous cordiality. In a later message (sent on May 9, or at least early on May 10), Halleck attempted to break the ice:

You have not had during this war nor have you now a warmer friend and admirer than myself. If in carrying out what I knew to be the wishes of the War Department in regard to your armistice I used language which has given you offense it was unintentional, and I deeply regret it. If fully aware of the circumstances under which I acted I am certain you would not attribute to me any improper motives. It is my wish to continue to regard and receive you as a personal friend. With this statement I leave the matter in your hands.

Well… with that, Sherman had enough.  So he responded in kind… and then some:

I received your cipher dispatch last evening, and have revolved it in my mind all night in connection with that telegraphic message of April 26 to Secretary Stanton, and by him rushed with such indecent haste before an excited public. I cannot possibly reconcile the friendly expressions of the former with the deadly malignity of the latter, and cannot consent to the renewal of a friendship I had prized so highly till I can see deeper into the diabolical plot than I now do. When you advised me of the assassin Clark being on my track I little dreamed he would turn up in the direction and guise he did, but thank God I have become so blasé to the dangers to life and reputation by the many vicissitudes of this cruel war, which some people are resolved shall never be over, that nothing surprises me. I will march my army through Richmond quietly and in good order, without attracting attention, and I beg you to keep slightly perdu, for if noticed by some of my old command I cannot undertake to maintain a model behavior, for their feelings have become aroused by what the world adjudges an insult to at least an honest commander. If loss of life or violence result from this you must attribute it to the true cause–a public insult to a brother officer when he was far away on public service, perfectly innocent of the malignant purpose and design.

Sherman was acting somewhat in a bubble.  He sensed insult and slight from many quarters.  And his reaction to Halleck was, while disturbing, somewhat understandable in that light.  Fortunately this affair did not cause any serious change in the marches or other inconvenience upon the troops.  The generals kept this between them.  Although, Halleck did, on the same day, withdraw his support for Major-General John Schofield in regard to the post of military governor of North Carolina.  In his statement to the War Department, Halleck cited Schofield’s involvement with Sherman’s surrender talks with General Joseph Johnston.  Clearly Halleck was linking Sherman’s subordinates to Sherman’s actions.

The bullets were no longer flying. But the verbal war had not ceased. Now among the leaders of the Federal Armies, “honor” was deemed more precious than all else.  Nobody wanted a tarnish, left over from the last days of the war, following them into the peace.

(Citations from OR, Series I, Volume 47, Part III, Serial 100, pages 435, 446, and 454-5.)


May 6, 1865: Sherman and Chase and suffrage for the freedmen

Earlier today, Allen Gathman, on his blog Seven Score and Ten, posted a letter from Chief Justice Salmon Chase to Major-General John Schofield, which was addressed 150 years ago today (May 7, 1865).  The important passage of Chase’s letter spoke of specific rights for the freedmen – the right to vote:

I have, since his accession had several conversations with President Johnson, and think myself authorized to say that he desires the earliest possible loyal reorganization of the late insurgent States. He thinks that this reorganization should be the work of the people themselves, acting in their original sovereign capacity, and would be willing to aid their action in any proper way, as, for example, by the enrollment of all the loyal citizens, preparatory to the election of delegates to a convention. in this enrollment he would prefer that the old constitutional rule in North Carolina which recognized all freemen as voters, should be followed, rather than the rule the new constitution, which excludes all freemen of color.

Consider the addressee here.  Here 150 years later, would Chief Justice John Roberts directly address General John F. Campbell over in Kabul, Afghanistan?  Perhaps, but not on policy matters, I would venture to guess.  I would offer, however, that Schofield in 1865 and Campbell here in 2015 are both involved with “reconstruction” efforts to some degree. Both are dealing with questions of how to implement suffrage (perhaps less so in 2015 as we were in 2004). The major difference between lay in the object of reconstruction.  Schofield was a military commander orchestrating the reconstruction of a state in OUR country… not attempting to repair some other country.

At the same time Chase was conversing with Schofield, he also had similar correspondence with Major-General William T. Sherman.  That commander wrote a letter to Chase only a day before, May 6.  And the contents were not exactly in agreement with Chase’s opinion.  Let me offer it here in whole, instead of dicing Sherman’s words:

Dear Sir: On reaching this ship late last night I found your valued letter, with the printed sheet, which I have also read, but not yet fully matured.  I am not yet prepared to receive the negro on terms of political equality for the reasons that it will arouse passions and prejudices at the North, which superadded to the causes yet dormant at the South, might rekindle the war whose fires are now dying out, and by skillful management might be kept down. As you must observe, I prefer to work with known facts than to reason ahead to remote conclusions that by slower and natural laws may be reached without shock. By way of illustration, we are now weather bound; is it not better to lay quiet at anchor till these white-cap breakers look less angry and the southwest wind shifts? I think all old sailors will answer yes, whilst we, impatient to reach our goal, are tempted to dash through, at risk of life and property. I am willing to admit that the conclusions you reach by pure mental process may be all correct, but don’t you think it better first to get the ship of state in some order, that it may be handled and guided? Now at the South all is pure anarchy. The military power of the United States cannot reach the people who are spread over a vast surface of country. We can control the local State capitals, and it may be slowly shape political thoughts, but we cannot combat existing ideas with force. I say honestly that the assertion openly of your ideas as a fixed policy of our Government, to be backed by physical power, will produce new war, and one which from its desultory character will be more bloody and destructive than the last.

Our own armed soldiers have prejudices that, right or wrong, should be consulted, and I am rejoiced that you, upon whom devolves so much, are aiming to see facts and persons with your own eye. I believe you will do me the credit of believing that I am as honest, sincere, true, and brave as the average of our kind, and I say that to give all loyal negroes the same political status as white “voters” will revive the war and spread its field of operations. Why not, therefore, trust to the slower and not less sure means of statesmanship? Why not imitate the example of England in allowing causes to work out their gradual solution instead of imitating the French, whose political revolutions have been bloody and have actually retarded the development of political freedom? I think the changes necessary in the future can be made faster and more certain by means of our Constitution than by any plan outside of it. If, now, we go outside of the Constitution for a means of change, we rather justify the rebels in their late attempt, whereas now, as General Schofield tells us, the people of the South are ready and willing to make the necessary changes without shock or violence. I, who have felt the past war as bitterly and keenly as any man could, confess myself “afraid” of a new war, and a new war is bound to result from the action you suggest of giving to the enfranchised negroes so large a share in the delicate task of putting the Southern States in practical working relations with the General Government.

With great respect,
W. T. SHERMAN,  Major-general.

I think with full 150 years of hindsight, we can agree Sherman was on the wrong side of this issue.  But at the same time, we would do dis-service to generalize and paint Sherman into some corner of history with just this letter in hand.  Perhaps it is best to just let Sherman’s written words speak for him, instead of trying to impose what we think he must have thought.

Regardless of where you want to place Sherman … or Chase… or Schofield at this point in time, the issue of suffrage for the freedmen was one clearly identified as a central topic, if not THE central topic, for Reconstruction.  And reading the correspondence you can see this topic was not as clean and clear such as we might consider, with our view 150 years removed.

History is often a story of simple ideas being applied to a complex reality.  We should embrace that complexity, for with it comes true understanding of what transpired.  And I would offer that no more genuine and simple idea was more complex in implementation as universal suffrage.

(Citations from OR, Series I, Volume 47, Part III, Serial 100, pages 410-1 and 427.)

Sherman’s March, May 1-5, 1865: Leaving North Carolina and entering Virginia on the way to Washington

At the end of last month, I offered a summary of the orders issued by Major-General William T. Sherman upon the final-final surrender agreement with General Joseph E. Johnston.  Considering the “Great March,” as the veterans called it, in phases, this was the last phase of the movement of the Armies of the Tennessee and Georgia.  Their transit across the northern part of North Carolina and through Virginia to Washington was far less of a tactical movement, and more so an administrative march.  No need for skirmishers.  Foraging was prohibited.  But the march was still a military affair with the daily rhythm of an army on the move.

And move they did.  Let me “steal” a section of the Plate CXVI from the Official Records Atlas:


One of these days I might trace the march in a day-by-day format, looking to the various places the troops marched.  But for now allow me to to wave the hand over the map, and say they moved up from Raleigh in the typical formation seen since Atlanta – Fourteenth and Twentieth Corps on the left, Seventeenth and Fifteenth Corps on the right.  Absent, of course, was the cavalry which was left behind with Major-General John Schofield.

Even though the march was unopposed, the Federals still had to survey and repair roads.  And where needed, the engineers had to lay pontoon bridges to cross rivers.  Brigadier-General Orlando Poe estimated some 3,000 feet of pontoons were laid to support the movement from Raleigh to Washington.  That figure, though similar in magnitude to the amount laid in the Atlanta and Savannah Campaigns, was over a greater distance.   After all, the Confederates were no longer burning bridges behind them to slow the Federal march.  Likewise, Poe recorded only 20 miles of corduroy laid to facilitate this last march.  In summary, Poe wrote, “Of course there was no especial merit in anything done by the engineers during this march any more than there would be during any other march in a time of profound peace.”

More concerned with the bridges was Major-General John Geary, commanding Second Division, Twentieth Corps.  On April 30, Geary encountered issues crossing the Neuse River, “on a rickety bridge at falls of Neuse Paper Mills.”  Geary complained, “The bridge, which had been repaired by the division preceding me, broke down before all my trains had crossed.  The remaining wagons forded the river below, and reached camp during the night….”  Although Geary found “an excellent bridge” over Cedar Creek the next day, he had to cross the Tar River on a pontoon bridge, finding the original washed away.  On May 3, Geary’s division would cross the Roanoke River at Taylor’s Ferry on a set of pontoon bridges measuring 385 yards.  Thus about 1,000 feet of Poe’s estimated 3,000 feet of bridging allowed Geary’s division to pass that barrier.

Once over the Roanoke River, the Armies approached Petersburg:


This line of march brought them close to many familiar place names associated with the long siege of that city and the Appomattox Campaign of a month earlier.  The Fourteenth Corps approached Nottoway Court-house; the Twentieth Corps reached Blacks and Whites Station; the Army of the Tennessee passed through Dinwiddie and used the Boyton Plank Road.  Some elements of the Fifteenth Corps reached Reams’ Station.

Now the urgency of the war was past so marches were supposed to be “easy”… as if any fifteen mile march with pack and provisions would be “easy.”  But there was still the urge to “get there first” and turn the march into a race against other formations.  Corps commanders had to govern the march to prevent this.  On the evening of May 5, Major-General Frank Blair, from Spain’s Plantation,  issued instructions for the next day’s march:

The command will move forward to-morrow at daylight in the same order as to-day. If the day is clear and hot the command will halt at 11 a.m., and starting again at 2 p.m. Will march until sundown.

Look a bit behind the words here.  Sure, Blair is prescribing a break (that refreshes) in the middle of the day.  But more important are the times prescribed here.  Only a month earlier, a similar movement order would have given a specific time of day.  For the military planner, “daylight” is ambiguous.  It would be like saying “Oh, sometime once you get up.”  Normally, field orders were issued with the reliance on synchronized watches from the corps down to the regimental level.  Given tables issued from the Naval Observatory, the staff could accurately determine sunrise, sunset, and other times based on astrological observations.  In short, there was a “standard” time that commanders used as a reference in their orders. It was not the “atomic clock” stuff we have today, but was within tolerances and effective.

However, that evening Blair was not concerned with the exact time to start the march or even end the march of May 6.  He was concerned about ensuring his troops had a three hour rest period during the day.  And I would expect somewhere a junior staff officer had the task of riding the line of march between 11 a.m. and 2 p.m. that day to determine who, if any, were violating the commander’s order. A far bit removed from the days of struggling through the swamps of Georgia, South Carolina, and North Carolina.  Priorities changed, you might say.

As the Armies neared Richmond, a question was in the air.  Would Sherman’s men be allowed to march through Richmond?  I’ll look to that in the next installment.

Also…. Let me also mention, looking further down the route of march, that Noel Harrison, at Mysteries and Conundrums, has an excellent post up touching upon the passage of Sherman’s Armies through Spotsylvania and Fredericksburg.  Good read!

(Citations from OR, Series I, Volume 47, Part I, Serial 98, pages 175 and 700-1; Part II, Serial 100, page 403.)