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.

VAMarch_May19

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”:

SCMarch_Feb4

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:

MarchDec18

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.”

MarchDec18Argyle

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.)

Marching Through Georgia, December 6, 1864: A dash for the bridges over the Ogeechee

In yesterday’s post, I quoted Major-General William T. Sherman’s assessment and instructions to Major-General Oliver O. Howard, sent in the afternoon of December 5, 1864.  Sherman sat high importance on closing up the marching columns before reaching the outskirts of Savannah.  This meant delaying the Right Wing somewhat, as the Left wheeled.  But that ensured all the combat power within the advance were compressed to deliver a blow when needed.  To keep the Confederates off balance, Sherman had the Fourteenth Corps, on the far left of the advance, to pass through several possible locations at which the Savannah River might be crossed.  Though not intended for such, Major-General John Foster’s landings up the Broad River reinforced this idea – at least in the mind of Major-General Samuel Jones in charge of South Carolina’s defense.   And on the far right of the advance, Sherman asked Howard to keep the Fifteenth Corps on the south-west side of the Ogeechee to turn the flanks of any Confederate line.  Speaking in reference to the station numbers on the Georgia Central Railroad, “You may make all the dispositions to cross at 3, but the point 2 is the true one….”

MarchDec6

Major-General Jefferson C. Davis’ marching instructions for the Fourteenth Corps was to move “as far in advance as the roads will permit” on the 6th.  When the last military vehicle crossed Beaver Dam Creek, Davis had the bridges destroyed.  As with previous crossings, this was aimed to reduce, if not cut off, the masses of escaped slaves who were following the column.  As elements of the corps passed potential crossing points on the Savannah River, they were confronted by Confederate pickets.  Since the Federals were not looking to cross, just the appearance served the purpose.  Davis reported his divisions averaged 20 miles that day, marching on corduroy roads in the swamps.

Brigadier-General Alpheus Williams held the Twentieth Corps to a shorter march, as he allowed Davis to catch up.  With the orders for the day, Williams issued this general instruction to the troops:

The order heretofore issued in reference to burning buildings, &c. is hereby reiterated, and commanders of divisions will be held responsible that it is obeyed. Great care must be taken that the grass and woods are not fired by the troops, as such fires occasion great delay, especially to the ammunition train.

Recall from yesterday’s post, the troops were in the area where wiregrass grows.  Williams also felt the need to reiterate the instructions for foraging.  “All foraging by individuals is especially prohibited.”  Brigadier-General John Geary’s division was second in the line of march on the 6th.  He reported delays waiting for trains to pass and roads to be corduroyed.  Though he would observe, “The country was better than usual along the route to-day, and foraging parties were quite successful.”  His division covered only seven miles.

Brigadier-General H. Judson Kilpatrick received a response from his Confederate counterpart, Major-General Joseph Wheeler, to acknowledge the treatment given Captain Samuel Norton, left behind at Waynesboro.  Though Wheeler could not resist a dig:

I have only to ask, for the sake of these old associations, for your own sake, and for the sake of the institution where military honor was taught, that you will offer some protection to the families necessarily left defenseless, and not to leave them at the mercy of a brutal soldiery. By so doing, not only will other advantages be gained, but your name will stand before the world in a much more enviable light. It is useless for me to recount the atrocities committed; suffice it to say, that the history of no war, however barbarous, can tell of atrocities equal to those daily and hourly committed by your command.

Norton, unfortunately, would die of his wounds within two weeks.

Kilpatrick, then covering the rear of the Fourteenth Corps had more pressing issues than Wheeler’s digs.  The Federal cavalry’s mounts were worn out.  Writing to Sherman on December 5, he’d reported, “My loss has been quite severe, particularly in horses, having upward of 200 in killed and wounded.”  Promptly on the 6th, Sherman replied with his support, drafting 100 mounts from every corps.  These were to be driven by mounted negroes, so as to avoid disrupting the soldiers at their appointed tasks.  Communicating through his aide-de-camp, Sherman vowed to “dismount every person connected with the infantry not necessary for its efficient service, and take team horses, even if the wagons and contents have to be burned,” in order to keep the cavalry mounted.

To allow the Left Wing to get abreast, Seventeenth Corps made only a short march on the 6th.  However, unlike previous days, the Georgia Central Railroad received less attention.  Brigadier-General Giles Smith’s Fourth Division had orders “to destroy bridges and culverts, without tearing up the track.”  Recall Sherman felt there might be a need for the line after Savannah fell.

The Fifteenth Corps was also under orders for a slow march that day.  But run out from the main body were three different columns (shown with dashed lines in the map above) dispatched with a mind to seize bridges over the Ogeechee and Canoochee Rivers.   The smallest of these was a detachment lead by Lieutenant Charles M. Harvey with the objective to gain bridges over the Canoochee and reach the Savannah & Gulf Railroad.  But he found bridges there burned and picketed.

From the left-most of his two columns, Major-General Peter Osterhaus dispatched Third Brigade, Colonel James Williamson commanding, of Brigadier-General Charles Woods’ First Division.  Williamson was to move “equipped in the lightest marching order but with plenty of ammunition” to Wright’s Bridge, just opposite Station No. 3, or Guyton.   Woods later reported:

The bridge, however, had been destroyed, but Colonel Williamson managed to cross the Twenty-fifth and part of the Ninth Iowa Infantry, who at once secured a firm foothold on the east side of the river.  The rebels here made their appearance in small force, and some considerable skirmishing occurred.  Three companies of the Ninth Iowa were advanced to Station No. 2 on the railroad; but before they could succeed in tearing up any of the track a superior force of the enemy appeared, and the companies were obliged to return to the river crossing.

Further down steam, another Federal column focused on what Sherman had designated the “true one.”  Jenks’ Bridge was opposite Station No. 2.  Osterhaus directed Brigadier-General William Hazen to dispatch a brigade, reinforced with artillery, to capture it.  Colonel John Oliver’s Third Brigade of the Second Division drew the assignment.  The brigade covered fifteen miles in about four hours.  Arriving at the river, Oliver found the bridge destroyed.  He posted the 15th Michigan and 17th Ohio Infantry at the riverbank, with his other three regiments covering the rear.  In the middle, the artillery setup to range the river.

Though the Fifteenth Corps had but one bridgehead at the end of the day, the advanced parties had cleared the way for the main body to force a lodgement the next day.  Before closing their march that day, the First, Third, and Fourth Divisions of the corps went into camps within striking distance of Jenks’ Bridge.  (I chose to simplify this on the map above, depicting only part of that movement for clarity.) The “true one,” as Sherman called it, would be the main objective for the 7th.

Only two markers relate to the movements of December 6, 1864, both covering the movement of the Right Wing towards Jenks’ Bridge.

(Citations from OR, Series I, Volume 44, Serial 92, pages 628, 631, 633, 635, 647.)

Sedalia and Glasgow, October 15, 1864: The Dichotomy of the war in Missouri on display

For the middle week of October 1864, Major-General Sterling Price’s Army of Missouri continued its march, somewhat sluggish march, across the center of the state.  After the fight at Boonville on October 11, Price moved westward the next day.  Putting eleven miles on the march for October 12, Price’s headquarters then moved fourteen miles on the 13th and another eight miles on the 14th.  Near Jonesborough, Price ordered several concurrent operations in an effort to gather more supplies.  He sent Brigadier-General John Clark’s brigade to the north side of the Missouri River with the objective of Glasgow.  Brigadier-General Joseph Shelby led part of his division to a point opposite Glasgow in support.  Brigadier-General M. Jeff Tompson led his (Shelby’s old Iron  Brigade) southward to Sedalia.  A battalion of cavalry desended upon the Pacific Railroad outside Otterville to destroy a span over the LaMine River (east of Sedalia, red arrow).

Price_Campaign_Oct15

The product of these wide ranging columns was two battles, fought on October 15, at Sedalia and Glasgow.  Like much of Price’s campaign that fall, the elements within those actions show the dichotomy that existed with the war in Missouri – a formal, conventional war alongside a bitter, ugly, and deeply partisan war.  For every “good” interaction between the combatants and civilians, there always seemed to be one matching “bad,” and often bloody, interaction.  And even where proper military order was maintained, there always seemed to be a caveat of exception.  That was true at both Sedalia and Glasgow.

To the south, Thompson was successful at Sedalia.  Using his artillery to negate the blockhouses defending the town, Thompson forced the garrison into retreat.  He then set about securing supplies.  But his troops got out of control, as he later wrote:

As soon as the town was in our possession I used every means in my power to control the men, to prevent pillage, and also to secure as much valuable material as was possible for the army; but in spite of every effort there was considerable plundering of the stores, but I am confident the private houses were respected…. Colonel Slayback’s command was used as a provost guard, but the other regiments, having been broken in their charges, were less manageable, but still I am proud to say no outrage or murder was committed. The prisoners that we captured were paroled, as mentioned in a special report to corps headquarters.

At least Thompson could write with pride that his command had not devolved into a rabble.  Though it took considerable effort on his part.

The move on Glasgow was also successful.  Shelby described the action at there in his report filed after the campaign (and Shelby, you will notice, had a way with words):

Traveling hard all night Glasgow was reached an hour before daylight, and just as the distant east gave token of the coming day I opened with infantry and artillery upon the sleeping Federals, the silent town, and the rough and rugged fort. The surprise at first was complete, but the enemy, taking breath and courage, opened a merciless fire of sharpshooters upon the battery and upon the infantry drawn up along the shore.

Shelby had Captain Richard Collins’ Missouri Battery deploy to overlook the town from the south bank and support the assault to good effect:

Yet Captain Collins, who never seems at home save in the rage and roar of battle, by the splendid aim of his guns and the rapidity of their serving, drove the enemy from his hiding-places, and there was a lull in the tempest of lead. It was expected that General Clark’s attack would be simultaneous with mine, and that the object of my movement should be to cover the real assault; but he did not arrive until two hours after I commenced the fight. My ammunition was considerably expended. Yet, when his guns were heard from the north I again returned to the work with renewed energy, sending at the same time to you for re-enforcements and ammunition, intending to cross the river myself if there should be any failure from the other side. With this view I called for volunteers to cross to the other side in a yawl and get up steam in a large boat lying opposite, which was responded to by Captain McCoy and Captain Carrington, of my staff. They crossed in plain view of the enemy, found the boat in serviceable condition, and came back to report, the bullets plowing and hissing in the water all around them. This was a most gallant exploit, and one which is deserving of the highest praise. Before, however, additional help arrived the town surrendered to General Clark. Colonel Jackman, acting in conjunction with him, displayed his usual courage and made a most brilliant and successful charge, driving everything before him.

With Glasgow in hand, the Confederates went about securing the needed supplies.  Staying a few days, Price’s detachment secured over 1,000 small arms along with clothing and horses.  Generally, the men under Shelby and Clark behaved well.  They kept order and paroled the soldiers captured from the town’s defense.  In fact, Captain George A. Holloway, a Federal staff officer in transit and caught up in the action, later reported, “I must testify to the uniform, kind, and gentlemanly treatment we received at the hands of the Confederate officers….”

But all that good will was balanced by what happened six days later in Glasgow when William “Bloody Bill” Anderson arrived.

Benjamin Lewis was a wealthy tobacco planter and a slave owner.  But he remained a staunch unionist.  To that point, he’d freed his 150 slaves in 1863 as a show of support for the Emancipation Proclamation.  Anderson singled out Lewis both for his wealth and his support of the Federals.  Before receiving a “ransom” of $5,000, Anderson had brutally beaten Lewis, had his horse trample him, and raped one of Lewis’ servants.

The story was one more chapter in the horrific wartime exploits of Anderson, and one of many tales which left bitter memories for Missourians well past the war’s end.

(Citations from OR, Series I, Volume 41, Part I, Serial 83, pages 431, 656-7, and 665.)

“With these changes this army will be a unit in all respects”: Sherman organizes for his march on Atlanta

On this day (April 2) in 1864, Major-General William T. Sherman wrote Lieutenant-General U.S. Grant seeking approval for organizational changes in his department, in front of preparations for the spring campaign season:

Hdqrs. Military Division of the Mississippi,
Nashville, Tenn., April 2, 1864. (Received 6 p.m.)
Lieut. Gen. U.S. Grant,
Washington, D.C.:
After a full consultation with all my army commanders, I have settled down to the following conclusions, to which I would like to have the President’s consent before I make the orders:

First. Army of the Ohio, three divisions of infantry, to be styled the Twenty-third Corps, Major-General Schofield in command, and one division of cavalry, Major-General Stoneman, to push Longstreet’s forces well out of the valley, then fall back, breaking railroad to Knoxville; to hold Knoxville and Loudon, and be ready by May 1, with 12,000 men, to act as the left of the grand army.

Second. General Thomas to organize his army into three corps, the Eleventh and Twelfth to be united under General Hooker, to be composed of four divisions. The corps to take a new title, viz, one of the series now vacant. General Slocum to be transferred east, or assigned to some local command on the Mississippi. The Fourth Corps, Major-General Granger, to remain unchanged, save to place Major-General Howard in command. The Fourteenth Corps to remain the same. Major-General Palmer is not equal to such a command, and all parties are willing that General Buell or any tried soldier should be assigned. Thomas to guard the lines of communication, and have, by May 1, a command of 45,000 men for active service, to constitute the center.

Third. Major-General McPherson to draw from the Mississippi the divisions of Crocker and Leggett, now en route, mostly of veterans on furlough, and of A. J. Smith, now up Red River, but due on the 10th instant out of that expedition, and to organize a force of 30,000 men to operate from Larkinsville or Guntersville as the right of the grand army; his corps to be commanded by Generals Logan, Blair, and Dodge. Hurlbut will not resign, and I know no better disposition of him than to leave him at Memphis.

I propose to put Major-General Newton, when he arrives, at Vicksburg.
With these changes this army will be a unit in all respects, and I can suggest no better.

Please ask the President’s consent, and ask what title we shall give the new corps of Hooker, in lieu of the Eleventh and Twelfth, consolidated. The lowest number of the army corps now vacant will be most appropriate.

I will have the cavalry of the Department of the Ohio reorganize under Stoneman at or near Camp Nelson, and the cavalry of Thomas, at least one good division, under Garrard, at Columbia.

W. T. Sherman,
Major-General.

Looking at this request 150 years after the fact, we know Longstreet’s corps in East Tennessee returned to Virginia before Major-General John Schofield’s Army of the Ohio had anything to say about the matter.  The Army of the Ohio was for all practical matters simply the Twenty-third Corps when counting maneuver elements.  But Sherman purposely kept that command separate for use as a “left guard.”

Major-General George Thomas’ Army of the Cumberland formed Sherman’s “center.” And Sherman mentioned two very significant changes within that army.  The first of which, consolidating the old Eleventh and Twelfth Corps into (though not known at the time of writing) the Twentieth Corps, involved old Army of the Potomac formations sent west in the fall of 1863.  Generals Alpheus Williams, John Geary, and Daniel Butterfield retained divisions in that consolidated corps.  And of course, Major-General Joseph Hooker remained employed as the head of that corps.  So the names involved were familiar to you “easterners.”

The Fourth Corps, Army of the Cumberland, received a new commander in the form of Major-General O.O. Howard.  Major-General John Newton, formerly of the Army of the Potomac’s First Corps, took command of the Second Division of Howard’s Corps.  So disregard that “exiled to Vicksburg” line from Sherman.  Major-General Henry Slocum drew that assignment instead.

The Fourteenth Corps, Thomas’ old corps, was, in my opinion, the cornerstone of the Army of the Cumberland.  But despite Sherman’s reservations, Major-General John Palmer remained at the head.  Don Carlos Buell left the service instead of serving under Sherman.  Buell’s explanation was he held date-of-rank over Sherman.  Read into that what you will, as Grant has long since weighed in on the matter.

The Army of the Tennessee was once Grant’s command and later Sherman’s. Now it served under the very capable Major-General James McPherson. Note however, the three corps in that army had non-West Pointers in charge – Major-General John A. Logan with the Fifteenth Corps; Major-General Grenville Dodge with the Sixteenth Corps; and Major-General Frank P. Blair with the Seventeenth Corps.

With mention of these commands and commanders, I would pose a question.  Were the personalities and internal friction in Sherman’s command any better or worse than that of armies in the east?

(Citation from OR, Series I, Volume 32, Part III, Serial 59, page 221.)

Marching Through Loudoun: June 19, 1863

I like comparing situations across time to help with frame of reference. For instance at this time in 1863, the Army of the Potomac was oriented to the west. The last time the army had faced west to give battle was at Antietam. Days before that bloody battle, the Army of the Potomac marched out from Frederick towards gaps in the Catoctin Mountain. After several small, but sharp, cavalry actions (which my friend Laurence Freiheit has written about at length) the army reached passes in South Mountain.

Now nine months later, the army faced the Virginia side of the Catoctin, and Bull Run Mountains to the south. Large, and vicious, cavalry actions occurred between those rims and the Blue Ridge Mountains to the west. But, Major-General Joseph Hooker didn’t find any “lost orders” on which to guide his movements.

On June 19, 1863, Hooker continued to build the “Bull Run-Catoctin” line (my phrase and observation, not Hooker’s, to be clear) by moving the infantry corps forward. First Corps marched to Guilford Station, just one stop up on the Alexandria, Loudoun, & Hampshire Railroad (rail-less at this time in the war). Major-General George Meade’s Fifth Corps moved up to Aldie. Behind them, the Third Corps moved into the area of Gum Springs. Second Corps started movement for Thoroughfare Gap reaching Centreville.

June19Positions

Beyond Aldie, the Cavalry Corps opened a day long fight with their Confederate counterparts. Let me cover the Battle of Middleburg in a separate post. But while we are thinking about the horse soldiers, Colonel John B. McIntosh’s brigade from Second Division remained in the Thoroughfare Gap and Haymarket area, guarding that important pass. Further out, Colonel Othniel De Forest, sent out the previous day to reconnoiter to Warrenton, ran into resistance there. De Forest’s command was as part of Major-General Julius Stahel’s division. While not part of the Army of the Potomac at the time, within a ten days, the division would be – and under a new set of commanders.

But let me discus two events which put focus on Leesburg. With armies in motion and the possibility of battle practically every hour, the Twelfth Corps paused briefly to exercise martial responsibilities. Brigadier-General Alpheus Williams recorded this in his letters home:

Today we had the most unpleasant duty of shooting three deserters, about the first capital punishments which have taken place in the army for this offense. Two of them, of the 46th Pennsylvania Volunteers, deserted about two weeks ago when we were under orders to march towards the enemy. They bought citizens’ clothes, but were apprehended while trying to get off by Aquia Creek. The other (13th New Jersey Volunteers) deserted a year or more ago and was sent back from home. He neglected to avail himself of the pardon offered by the President in April last…. The whole corps was paraded in a large field and formed three sides of a square. By Gen. Hooker’s orders the execution was under my direction as commander of the division to which the men belonged. The carrying out of details I put, of course, on my provost marshal. Three graves were dug some two feet apart in a slight depression of the field, and on the gentle swell of the ground the troops were formed so every man could see the execution.

One of these days I must trace down the location of this incident (and see if possible to have it marked, of course).

While this grim duty was completed, Major-General Henry Slocum carried on a significant correspondence with army headquarters. In a report at 10:40 a.m., Slocum urged the placement of a pontoon bridge at Edwards Ferry. In response, Army Chief of Staff Major-General Daniel Butterfield sent a barrage of questions:

What advantages are to be gained by putting a bridge at Edwards Ferry? Are there any reasons why we cannot cross at Noland’s and Hauling Fords? We think the enemy are in the Shenandoah Valley, Longstreet and A. P. Hill, one portion, perhaps, this side of the Blue Ridge. Ewell is reported in Maryland or Pennsylvania, but we cannot get any reliable or definite idea from there. The whole country, generals and all, seem struck with heavy stampede.

If General Warren is at the mouth of the Monocacy, request him to report here by safe route through your corps.

Do you hold Noland’s and Hauling Fords? They are held by our cavalry on the opposite side.

Slocum replied with the logic of a man seasoned in the problems encountered while campaigning in enemy territory:

I think the bridge should be built at Edwards Ferry to supply us. I have not force enough to keep the route to Vienna, or to hold many fords on the river in the country filled with guerrillas. Edwards Ferry is most accessible, and is covered by a strong redoubt on this side. Our supplies should be sent from Georgetown, by canal, to Edwards Ferry.

Supply. I’ve covered this in detail over many posts on Edwards Ferry. It is my opinion the placement of this first bridge was driven more by logistical requirements than any need to pass the army into Maryland. The redoubt mentioned by Slocum is Fort Evans. As seen on this map, that work dominates the approaches Edwards Ferry.

Northeast Approaches to Leesburg

Built in 1861-2 during the Confederate stay in Leesburg, the fort remains today as one of the best preserved in Northern Virginia.

Fort Evans 008

Convinced by Slocum’s reply, Butterfield cut orders for the engineers to begin building a pontoon bridge over the Potomac.

One last bit to consider. How was this conversation between Slocum and Butterfield transmitted? Leesburg and Fairfax Courthouse are some 27 highway miles apart. There was no direct telegraph line between. So those messages passed through a mixed network using wig-wags and telegraph, some of which is depicted on the map below:

Stations In Use During Crossing
Signal Stations: June 19-22.

Each message carried the tag “via Poolesville” indicating the message went from Leesburg to Poolesville by wig-wag, and then through Washington to Fairfax by telegraph. With First Corps moving up to Guilford Station, the telegraph lines extended out to that point down the railroad right of way, but not beyond.

Closing June 19, the army’s itinerary for the day read:

The First Corps marched from Herndon Station to Guilford Station; the Third Corps from Centerville to Gum Springs; and the Fifth Corps from Gum Springs to Aldie. Gregg’s cavalry division, except McIntosh’s (late Wyndham’s) brigade, advanced to Middleburg. McIntosh’s brigade moved from Aldie to Hay Market.

Now five infantry and one cavalry corps occupied Loudoun County.

(Citations from From the Cannon’s Mouth: The Civil War Letters of General Alpheus S. Williams, edited by Milo Quaife, pages 216-7 and OR, Series I, Volume 27, Part I, Serial 43, page 142; Part III, Serial 45, pages 208-9.)