Sherman’s Lieutenants on the March to the Sea

As mentioned earlier, my intent is to do “something” here on the blog with a focus on Major-General William T. Sherman’s “March to the Sea” in relation to the 150th events.  For starters, it’s a 150th that, due to several factors, may not get much attention on the ground.  Dropping some of the baggage aside, the March is spread across half a state and several weeks, without any major battles (as with, say, the Overland Campaign).  But the Savannah Campaign… er… March… stands as one of the most important events of the Civil War.  It deserves some attention, to say the least.

To kick things off, let me offer a “resource post” today.  I’ve found over the years that most folks will know Sherman in relation to the march, but are not as familiar with the subordinates who executed his plans.  That said, let me walk through the organization that made the March.  We might call it “Sherman’s Army” but it was technically a detachment of the Military Division of the Mississippi.  The detachment consisted of two field armies – The Army of the Tennessee (the Right Wing) and The Army of Georgia (Left Wing).  Each of those Armies contained two army corps.  And Sherman’s force included a cavalry division.

Starting with the Army of the Tennessee, the commander of this storied formation was Major-General Oliver O. Howard.

Let us set aside, for the moment, the particulars for why Howard succeeded Major-General James McPherson in command of the army.  Sherman conducted a major reorganization during the early fall of 1864.  And several parts of the force used to capture Atlanta were sent north.  He retained Howard.  I think that was because of a simple understanding between Sherman and Howard – Howard always did as instructed.  Beyond that, Howard was a “tested” commander… a known quantity.

The Army of the Tennessee consisted of the Fifteenth and Seventeenth Corps.  The Fifteenth, “40 rounds!”, stands tall in the history as originally Sherman’s then Maj0r-General John Logan’s command through the Vicksburg, Chattanooga, and Atlanta Campaigns.  But in November 1864, Logan was north working the election.  In his place, Major-General Peter Osterhaus, one of the best foreign-born union officers of the war, lead the corps.

Osterhaus had four divisions:

  • First Division, Brigadier-General Charles Woods, with three brigades.
  • Second Division, Brigadier-General William B. Hazen, with three brigades.
  • Third Division, Brigadier-General John E. Smith, with two brigades.
  • Forth Division, Brigadier-General John M. Corse, with three brigades.
  • Artillery under Major Charles Stolbrand with four batteries.

Major-General Frank P. Blair, Jr. commanded the Seventeenth Corps.  And to match with Osterhaus, Blair was one of the more competent politician-generals of the war.

Blair had three (somewhat small) divisions:

  • First Division, Major-General Joseph Mower (just returned from an assignment in Missouri).   Three brigades.
  • Third Division, Brigadier-General Mortimer Leggett.  Two brigades.
  • Fourth Division, Brigadier-General Giles A. Smith. Two brigades.
  • Artillery under Major Allen C. Waterhouse with three batteries.

The Left Wing, as the Army of Georgia was know, fell under Major-General Henry Slocum.

As with Howard, Slocum did not have a great track record up to this point in the war, having been “exiled” from the Army of the Potomac the previous winter.  But Slocum was a regular line officer who would follow orders.  That’s what Sherman wanted for a movement in which no major combat actions were expected.  Slocum’s army consisted of the Fourteenth and Twentieth Army Corps.

Major-General Jefferson C. Davis (as opposed to the guy with an “F” as a middle initial!) had the Fourteenth Corps.

Davis’ commission was only a brevet, in part due to lingering effects of the killing of Major-General William Nelson in 1862. Davis was capable and dependable in the field.  His corps consisted of three divisions:

  • First Division, Brigadier-General William Carlin, with three brigades.
  • Second division, Brigadier-General James Morgan, with three brigades.
  • Third Division, Brigadier-General Absalom Baird, with three brigades.
  • Artillery under Major Charles Houghtaling, with four batteries.

The Twentieth Corps, what was left of the old Eleventh and Twelfth Corps from the Army of the Potomac, fell under Brigadier-General Alpheus S. Williams.

William had in his charge three divisions supported by artillery:

  • First Division under Brigadier-General Nathaniel J. Jackson, with three brigades.
  • Second Division under Brigadier-General John Geary, with three brigades.
  • Third Division under Brigadier-General William Ward, with three brigades.
  • Artillery under Major John A. Reynolds, with four batteries.

Rounding out the major elements of Sherman’s army was a division of cavalry, technically the Third Division of the Cavalry Corps, Military Division of the Mississippi, under Brigadier-General Judson Kilpatrick.

Considering Kilpatrick, and Sherman’s decision to put him in charge of an important part of the formation marching to Savannah, we have to keep in mind how much of the “cavalry talent” within the Federal army was in the Shenandoah, for good reason, at that time.  In other words, who else was around?  I have described the selection of Kilpatrick as that to a race-car team going with an aggressive driver – Kilpatrick might not be the idea choice, but on occasion he could make a situation within a void of opportunities.  Maybe I’m being kind there.  But there is from time to time a call for a reckless type to make something happen.  Perhaps Major-General George Stoneman was too much a “by the book” commander to match with a “throw out the book” military campaign.  And perhaps Sherman simply enjoyed hearing the wild tales Kilpatrick concocted for his after-action reports!

I’ve only named-names down to the division level for brevity here.  What is lost with that is a true understanding of the veteran make-up of this army that marched across Georgia.  From the top to the bottom, these were commanders and regiments that had seen hard campaigning and major battles.  And not just “western” battles.  Consider the commander of Second Brigade, First Division, Twentieth Corps – Colonel Ezra A. Carmen.  There was a man who’d seen Antietam, Gettysburg, Chattanooga, and the Atlanta Campaign.  In his brigade were the 2nd Massachusetts, 13th New Jersey, 107th and 150th New York, and 3rd Wisconsin. All units with scores of battle honors to brag about.  If we took all such battle honors from across Sherman’s army and listed them, I dare say only the battles of from the 1864 campaigns in the east would be missing.

Sherman’s army marching through Georgia was indeed a veteran legion.

More troops sent north by Foster: Reinforcements for Virginia

Early in the Civil War, it was possible for commanders in the far flung theaters of war to operate with some degree of separation from the advances or setbacks in other sectors.  By the summer of 1864, that was simply not possible.  Partly by way of Lieutenant-General U.S. Grant’s approach to the war, the theaters of war were connected as resources shifted in accordance with priorities.  In August 1864, the pressing priority was not Charleston, or Savannah.  Rather, due to the actions of Confederate Major-General Jubal Early, top on the list was the Shenandoah Valley.

As such, orders came from Washington for Major-General John Foster to forward any troops that might be spared from the Department of the South.  On August 15, Foster wrote to Major-General Henry Halleck acknowledging the orders, noting he had already sent a brigade under Brigadier-General William Birney:

I had already sent Brigadier-General Birney’s brigade, which I thought was all that I could safely spare, but being desirous to carry out my orders to the very letter, and to meet the wishes of the commanding general, I have so arranged, since the receipt of your telegram, as to send three or four white regiments in addition. Although this will leave me too weak in some points, especially as I have to provide for the security of the prisoners of war that are to be sent here, yet I believe I can so arrange, by the rapid transfer of troops from one point to another in case of attack, as to meet any emergency that is likely to occur. I trust it will not be longer than the return of cold weather before a sufficient force can be given me to enable me to operate successfully against the enemy in this department.

On August 18, Foster reported progress in the transfers and identified specific regiments going north:

I am sending every man that can possibly be spared. This will leave me very weak, but I can take care of the department with what remains, and if the rebels attack us, which I consider out of the question, I will show them a revised edition of Little Washington. I have thought it my duty to send good and tried regiments. Those sent in this second brigade are all whites and old, well-tried troops, most of them veterans. I hope my active efforts to meet General Grant’s wishes at this time may be effective in securing me, as soon as cold and healthy weather sets in, a sufficient force to take Charleston and Savannah. I am sure that this can be done at any time that the Government orders it.

The regiments sent now–four in number–report as follows, very nearly, viz:

  • 41st New York Volunteers – 400 men, 300 effectives.
  • 103d New York Volunteers – 500 men, 370 effectives.
  • 74th Pennsylvania Volunteers – 500 men, 350 effectives.
  • White regiment from Florida – ?

Later the 104th Pennsylvania became the “to be determined” regiment from Florida.  This effectively stripped the Department of any offensive capability by land, short of a risky reallocation of defenses.  The “Little Washington” alluded to was of course a reference to Fort Stevens and the fight there in July of that year.  Foster did not believe the Confederates could muster more than a demonstration.   The three identified regiments were on transports heading north that day, as Foster noted in a follow up report:

I sent this day, per steamers Arago and Cosmopolitan, two old regiments, the One hundred and third New York Volunteers and the Seventy-fourth Pennsylvania Volunteers, with orders to the commanding officers to stop at Fort Monroe, Va., and telegraph from that place their arrival en route to Washington. These regiments number in the aggregate some 1,100 men, but in the effective about 680. Still they are old and well-seasoned troops and well officered. I feel confident that they will accomplish as much as new regiments of much larger size. The Forty-first New York Volunteers left here last night in steamer John Rice, with orders similar to those given to Colonel Heine.

Important to note, Foster was sending units that, while veteran, had significant numbers near to mustering out.  To some degree this was a practical matter, as those men would have been shipped north anyway.  For example, the 74th Pennsylvania lost nearly half of its number as veterans mustered out later in September.   Later, with reenlistments and recruits, the regiment garrisoned West Virginia to the close of the war.  What remained of the 41st New York and the 103rd New York, along with a battalion from the 104th Pennsylvania, were part of Colonel J. Howard Kitching’s provisional brigade, and would see active service with the Army of the Shenandoah that fall and later on the siege lines in front of Richmond-Petersburg.  So we cannot simply dismiss these units as “nearly end of service.”  Clearly enough men were available at roll-call to matter.

Foster continued to remind Washington that Charleston and Savannah were practical objectives, for what it was worth.  And indeed sixth months would prove him correct… though from a direction not foreseen in the summer of 1864.

The second half of Foster’s August 18 report to Halleck concerns the prisoner of war situation.   I will look at those details in the next post.

(Citations from OR, Series I, Volume 35, Part II, Serial 66, pages 234-5, 247, and 248.)

July 2, 1864: “At Daylight the Yankees appeared suddenly…” – Federal demonstration on James Island

Continuing on with Major-General John Foster’s July 1864 operations in front of Charleston, having discussed Foster’s plan, coordination with the Navy, and the failures with columns striking for the Charleston & Savannah Railroad, let me turn to the concurrent actions on James Island.  I’m a bit out of the 150th time line here.  The actions described below occurred “yesterday 150 years ago” from this posting.

Under Foster’s plan, Brigadier-General Alexander Schimmelfennig was to press a demonstration in front of James Island for the purpose of drawing troops there.  Foster hoped this would distract from the other, main effort, operations against the railroad and possibly uncover some of the Confederate defenses elsewhere.  Schimmelfennig put Colonel Alfred Hartwell in charge of the demonstration, consisting of the 54th and 55th Massachusetts, 103rd New York, and 33rd USCT.  The infantry were supported by  This force moved in two columns.  One column including the 54th Massachusetts moved by way of the repaired causeway from Cole’s Island, through Battery Island, to Sol Legare.  The other, led by the 103rd New York, crossed over from Long Island to Sol Legare from the east.  From there the two columns would merge and move over to James Island by way of Rivers’ Causeway.

July1864Hartwell1

For the men of the 54th Massachusetts, this was familiar ground where they had fought just over a year earlier.  Furthermore the Federals conducted numerous patrols in the area over the winter and spring months.  The crossing points and landing areas were well known.  But the Federals had failed to appreciate the  Confederate units posted, in rotations, at the crossing points from Sol Legare.

As with the other Federal operations, this movement was scheduled for the morning of July 1.  The 24-hour delay meant Major Joseph Morrison’s men of the 103rd New York spent much time counter-marching and rowing.  Likewise the men of the other column, moving by the causeway, spent considerable time exposed to the heat in light marching order.  But despite the fatigue, both columns went forward on the morning of July 2.

In his journal, Confederate Major Edward Manigault wrote:

At daylight the Yankees appeared suddenly at the East End of James Island.  Lieut. [Thomas] DeLorme, who had his horses all hitched in, gallopped down to River’s Causeway. The Enemy advanced at first in Column (or probably by a flank 4 deep) along the back beach of James Island from the East.  Lieut. DeLorme immediately opened fire upon them at first with Shell & Case Shot and afterwards with Canister.

DeLorme had with him a section of Battery A, 1st South Carolina (Blake’s Battery), consisting of two 12-pdr Napoleons.  They were reinforcing the fifteen man picket normally stationed at the crossing.  In the action, DeLorme’s gunners would fire 54 rounds.  And with telling effect, as Morrison recounted:

The first fire of the enemy killed 7 of my men and wounded many others, and as my regiment was taken completely by surprise and in no position to charge the battery, I was compelled to fall back a few rods and reform behind a strong rifle-pit, running in front of the enemy’s works.

Eventually, though, the Federal numbers pressed the Confederate defense.  The 33rd USCT were able to provide covering fire as the 55th Massachusetts moved forward to occupy the earthworks defending the crossing.  The 55th captured the guns, though at a cost of seven killed and 21 wounded.  The road was now open, but the Confederates were well alarmed to the Federal advance.

Hartwell now ordered a general advance onto James Island and formed a battle line from near Grimball’s Landing over to the approaches to Secessionville.

Moving up to support Hartwell’s four regiments were the Rocket Battery and a section of Battery B, 3rd New York Artillery.  The gunboat USS Commodore McDonough moved up the Stono River to cover the Federal left flank.  Opposing the advance, Manigault had only 449 men.  But the Confederates were behind works with heavy artillery commanding the approaches.

JamesIslandLinesMay64West

They threw a picket line forward of the defenses to keep the Federals at arms length.

July1864Hartwell2

Furthermore, the heat of the day began to take a toll heavier than bullets and shells on both sides.  Manigault wrote, “In some of the Commands nearly one fourth were reported incapacitated.”  He also added, “I remember my intense Thurst.”  On the other side of the line, Luis Emilio of the 54th Massachusetts later recalled:

Throughout that whole day, with a temperature at 110º, offices and men on James Island, both Union and Confederate, were succumbing to the heat of the sun.  More than fifty men of the Fifty-fourth were affected to a greater or lesser degree…. Captain Jones, commanding the skirmishers, was compelled to retire, and was taken to the rear delirious.  He suffered all his life thereafter in head and brain, and died from the effects in 1886.  Lieut. Chas. Jewett, Jr., was seriously injured from the same cause, and died from it in 1890…. It was not possible to send a relieving force without sustaining heavy casualties, so stretchers were taken out, and upon them a number of men were brought back.

As the day wore on, both sides continued to spar between picket lines.  The Federals began constructing breastworks behind their advanced lines, in many cases converting captured Confederate works. Their presence and indications they intended to stay cause great alarm in Charleston.  Over 500 men shifted from other points around the harbor to reinforce James Island.  And within the James Island garrison, Brigadier-General William Taliaferro shifted troops out of Fort Johnson and surrounding works to help hold the west end of his line.

By nightfall, the Federals quietly retired to that new line and prepared for the next day.  The demonstration, costly in lives and fatiguing many more, did serve its purpose.  In reaction to this strong show of force, the Confederates had weakened a significant portion of their lines.  The Federals knew this and were prepared to exploit.

(Sources and citations from: OR, Series I, Volume 35, Part I, Serial 65, pages 76-7; Luis Fenollosa Emilio, History of the Fifty-Fourth Regiment of Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry, 1863-1865, Boston: Boston Book Company, 1894, pages 199-206; Edward Manigault, Siege Train: The Journal of a Confederate Artilleryman in the Defense of Charleston, edited by Warren Ripley, Charleston: University of South Carolina Press, 1986, pages 191-5.)