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, February 4, 1865: A missed opportunity for the Confederates?

The map showing Major-General William T. Sherman’s movements for February 4, 1865 does not offer a lot of “arrows”:


As with the previous day, delays getting the Left Wing across the Savannah River caused the Right Wing to slow down on February 4.  But on the positive, Major-General Henry Slocum’s wing finally had a corduroyed, bridged path out of the Savannah River bottoms.  After crossing on the 3rd, Major-General H. Judson Kilpatrick’s cavalry division moved past Robertsville to Lawtonville.  His mission was to feint towards Augusta.  Allendale and Barnwell were next on Kilpatrick’s agenda.

The Second Division, Twentieth Corps followed the Cavalry across Sisters’ Ferry and escorted Kilpatrick’s wagons. However, Major-General John Geary found “the road for nearly three miles through Black Swamp utterly impassable for trains….” and the division was only able to make nine miles that day.  Major-General John Corse’s Fourth Division, Fifteenth Corps crossed the river that evening, and escorted a large number of Fifteenth and Twentieth Corps wagons.  The Fourteenth Corps waited their turn to cross the next day.

Major-General Alpheus Williams, with two of his Twentieth Corps divisions (minus one brigade), performed Sherman’s desired demonstration towards Barnwell.  “On the 4th, to avoid the deep water of Coosawhatchie Swamp, I diverged to the left by a settlement road through very swampy ground as far as Smyrna Post-Office, and then moved north on the Barnwell pike, encamping at Allendale Post-Office,” recalled Williams.

Major-General John A. Logan did have the Fifteenth Corps in motion that day.  With word of success at Rivers’ Bridge the day before, Logan received orders to move on Buford’s Bridge upstream:

In compliance with these orders I directed General [Charles] Woods to move forward from his advanced position at 6 o’clock, sending a brigade in light marching order, unencumbered with wagons, to Buford’s Bridge to secure the same and to follow on with the rest of his command as rapidly as possible.  General [John] Smith moved in rear of the First Division.  General [William] Hazen was ordered to Angley’s Post-Office…. On reaching the bridge General Woods found the works of the enemy deserted, but the bridge over the main stream had been destroyed and the lagoon bridges, some twenty-six in number, had been all broken down.  The roads were heavy and required a good deal of work from the pioneer corps.

There was a minor skirmish between Hazen’s men and Confederate cavalry near Angley’s.  But otherwise only the swamps and terrible roads contested the Federal advance.  The crossing at Rivers’ Bridge prompted most of the Confederate forces in the sector to fall back.  Major-General Lafayette McLaws began movement back from the Combahee-Salkehatchie to the Ashepoo and Little Salkehatchie Rivers.  Orders came for Major-General Joseph Wheeler to move portions of his command on the far side of the Salkehatchie to in front of Branchville.  These movements, while compliant with plans formulated on February 2nd, removed the Confederate forces from an opportunity which opened… very briefly… behind the Federal advance.

Consider the activity, or inactivity, of the Seventeenth Corps that day.  Major-General Frank Blair concentrated his corps on the far side of the Salkehatchie over the hard-won crossing points.  And Blair mentioned, “A train of thirty wagons and some ambulances was sent back to Pocotaligo with our sick and wounded, under escort of the Ninth Illinois Mounted Infantry.”  Not that Blair had thirty wagons full of wounded.  Rather those wagons were going back to replenish supplies.  All the empty wagons from the Right Wing headed back to Pocotaligo that day.  Keep in mind Sherman’s report from late January which mentioned having four days of fodder on hand to start the campaign.  It was the fourth day of the march from Pocotaligo.

Fifty wagons and ambulances were but a portion of the vehicles supporting the Right Wing.  In a report posted February 3, the quartermaster of the Fifteenth Corps tallied 794 wagons and 144 ambulances.  Still that was fifty wagons to carry a vital supply.  And that supply line was lengthy and prone to interruption, had the Confederates desired.  However, just a day earlier, Confederate leaders had concluded, “The enemy moving with a certain number of days’ rations for all his troops, with the hope of establishing a new base at Charleston after its fall, has in reality no lines of communication which can be threatened or cut.”

In one way, the Confederate assessment was correct, in that Sherman moved with a limited supply with hopes of replenishing later in the march.  But the assessment assumed that would necessitate the capture of Charleston and not continued foraging along the march.  That same assessment pointed to the need to delay Sherman for a week to ten days in order to get reinforcements form the Army of Tennessee into play.

While a dash against the Right Wing’s supply lines would not have stopped the invasion of South Carolina, it might have caused pause and provided the Confederates the desired week to ten days.  Instead, the forces directly in front of the Federals were instructed to fall back to a new line of resistance.  The key point governing Confederate decisions was this:

During the pending negotiations for peace, it was thought of the highest importance to hold Charleston and Augusta, as long as it was humanly possible.

The Confederate commanders facing Sherman were not contesting every inch of ground in South Carolina.  Rather they were hoping to play out the clock.

(Citations from OR, Series I, Volume 47, Part I, Serial 98, pages 222-3, 377, 582, and 683;  Part II, Serial 99, page 1085.)

Savannah’s Siege, December 18, 1864: “90 or 100 men, in small boats, to effect a lodgement”

Over the last couple of days, posts have focused at the operational, or theater, level to show the implications of orders coming down from Washington and Richmond.  While that was occurring, the tactical situation remained somewhat static.  But with some notable exceptions.  Let me run through those dispositions and movements for December 16 through 18, 1864, looking at the “big” map to start:


Major-General William T. Sherman planned to have the siege guns borrowed from the Department of the South in place by December 20.  In the interim, he ordered preparations made for assaulting the works, including facines.

But the pressing matter, in Sherman’s mind, was the isolation of Savannah.  Hardee had boasted, in his reply to the surrender demand, of communications back to Richmond (which was true).  In an explanation to Washington, Sherman discounted this by pointing out Foster’s guns could range that line.  On December 17, Brigadier-General John Hatch, in command near Coosawhatchie, reported, “We got a battery in position last night bearing on the bridge; have not opened with it, as we hope to catch a train crossing this morning.”  But such was not good enough. Sherman was determined to get more from Foster… and Foster would push Hatch, replying on December 18:

I… am pleased that you have pushed your batteries up and, in a measure, stopped the running of the trains. I am not, however, fully satisfied with the damage we are doing them, and therefore want you to take the railroad, if you can, and destroy it; if you cannot do this, be sure and secure such an artillery fire as will destroy any train that attempts to pass.

Foster suggested a further move to the right, passing over Tullifinny Creek, to strike at Pocotaligo.

While waiting on the guns to get in place, both outside Savannah and on the Coosawhatchie, Sherman also inquired with subordinates in regard to possible demonstrations or flanking movements that might be performed (indicated with dashed lines on the map, and keyed).  One option (#1) was a demonstration against the Rosedew and Coffee Bluff Batteries by Major-General Oliver O. Howard.  Along with that, Howard also explored a movement directly on the works at the extreme left of the Confederate lines.  Another (#2) would be a combined army-navy force up the Vernon and Burnside Rivers.  Rear-Admiral John Dahlgren was prepared to allocate mortar schooners and gunboats to this effort.  A third (#3 on the map) option was a movement against the causeway leading north from Savannah.  This last was less well defined in concept and would also be a joint operation.

Not everything focused on Savannah.  To the south, the Federal Right Wing, along with Brigadier-General H. Judson Kilpatrick’s cavalry, were working over Liberty County.  Leaving three regiments behind at Fort McAllister, Brigadier-General William B. Hazen assigned each brigade of his division to wreck a section of the Savannah & Gulf Railroad from Walthourville back to the Ogeechee.  Major-General Joseph Mower led two brigades of his division (Seventeenth Corps), accompanied by a section of Battery C, 1st Michigan Artillery, further down the line to destroy the bridge over the Altamaha River.  Recall the cavalry attempted to gain that bridge earlier only to find it too well defended.  By the evening of December 18, Mower destroyed the railroad up to a point eight miles short of the bridge.  These railroad wrecking operations were the main efforts in Liberty County.  Elsewhere cavalry and infantry foraged widely. In fact, over the next weeks, the Federals would practically clean out the county.  And while this was going on, the Navy staged several raids along the coast into adjacent counties.  (I’m planning a post aimed at the operations around Liberty County as there are some well documented military-civilian interactions and quite a bit of story to contemplate.)

However, it was along the Savannah River that Federal movements caught the most attention from Confederates.  On December 16, Colonel Ezra Carman received orders to cross his brigade from Argyle Island to South Carolina.  Scheduled for the 17th, those orders carried considerable caution.  Carman was to use only small boats until a perimeter was established on the far shore.  But most important, the orders had a leash attached, as Brigadier-General Alpheus S. Williams directed, “after you have crossed, you occupy and hold a position near the river, not attempting to advance far into the country.”


Yet, before dawn on the 17th, that order was countermanded.  Instead, Carman was to send “90 or 100 men, in small boats, to effect a lodgement, if possible, and feel the enemy’s position.”  Williams went into detail to ensure Carman did not misunderstand the intent:

He [Williams] wishes him [Carman] to take only such force as can be readily brought back in the case the enemy is too strong for them.  He also desires that Colonel Carman will send reconnoitering parties up the island, to examine the country and channel, and see if a crossing can be effected farther up the river; it may, perhaps, be well to send a small boat or two with this party.  The two pieces of artillery will be put in position near the mill [on Argyle Island], as directed in the former order.  The general desires to have one-half of the flat-boats brought to this side of the island, the other half to be kept on the north side, in vicinity of the mill, where they can be sheltered as much as possible.

Carman responded by selecting Colonel William Hawley to command a detachment of the 3rd Wisconsin – who’d been at the vanguard of all these river operations – to make the trip back into South Carolina.  This must have seemed the extreme of caution for Hawley and Carman, as foraging parties had already crossed the river several times in the previous days.  Still, there were snags in this movement, perhaps vindicating Williams’ caution … or because of Williams’ caution – as Carman recorded in his official report:

December 17, I found it impossible to cross 100 men in small boats, not having enough for the purpose, and the low state of the tide not warranting the use of the large barges.  Nothing special occurred during the day, save a desultory fire on our position by a light battery of General Wheeler’s cavalry command, which had now taken up position on the South Carolina shore opposite us.

Carman maintained that “lodgement” on the 18th, “with slight shelling from General Wheeler’s guns.”  Brigadier-General Pierce M.B. Young, with his Georgia cavalry reinforced by two sections of artillery, were busy keeping Carman’s lodgement contained.

As things stood on the evening of December 18, Sherman was just short – in some places just yards – of isolating Savannah from the rest of the Confederacy.  At the same time, the Confederates were just hours away from extracting themselves from that predicament.

(Citations from OR, Series I, Volume 44, Serial 92, pages 236, 734-5, 739, 750.)