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.)

February 3, 1865: Confederate leaders plan to counter Sherman

On February 2, 1865, there was a meeting of the “chiefs” at Green’s Cut Station, south of Augusta, Georgia (where else would the greens be cut?).  General P.G.T. Beauregard, Lieutenant-General William Hardee, Major-General Daniel H. Hill, and Major-General Gustavus W. Smith attended.  These generals’ attention was focused on a single question – How to stop Major-General William T. Sherman’s force moving out of Savannah?  Results of this conference went out in a memorandum posted February 3.

The generals reviewed the forces available for the task, counting some 22,450 infantry, 8,200 cavalry, and 2,800 artillerists (they didn’t list the number of artillery pieces, but I’ve mentioned some of those in an earlier post).   But that aggregate number didn’t tell the whole story.  The details indicated an operational constraint:

  • Hardee’s department – 8,000 regulars and 3,000 militia or reserves.  2,000 artillerists.  1,500 men in Brigadier-General Matthew Butler’s division, of which only one half were on hand.
  • Smith’s Division of Georgia Militia numbered 1,450.
  • Arriving from the Army of Tennessee were three corps with 10,000 men.
  • Only a portion of the Army of Tennessee’s artillery was due to arrive, if at all.
  • Wheeler’s Cavalry numbered 6,700 and constituted the bulk of the mounted arm available.

The constraint felt was the arrival times of the Army of Tennessee’s troops.  Major-General S.D. Lee’s with 4,000 men were mostly in Augusta.  But 3,000 of Major-Generals Benjamin Cheatham’s Corps would not arrive until February 5.  And Major-General A.P. Stewart’s were not due until the 11th.  So from an aggregate of 33,450, almost a third were not on the board to move.  And what was on the board included a large number of militia or un-tested troops.

However, just to be fair to history, Sherman’s mobile force numbered right at 60,000.  The the divisions of the Department of the South working along the coast added another 10,000 or so.  But that 1:2 ratio was not deemed sufficient to defend against Sherman. Furthermore, reports filtering in through Richmond indicated the Twenty-third Corps and the Nineteenth Corps were joining Sherman (while in reality on division of the Nineteenth was in Savannah, it was not going to the field.  And the Twenty-third was heading to North Carolina).  Given that news, the Confederate generals opted for a safe course of action designed to preserve the fighting force on hand:

In view of Sherman’s present position, his manifest advance toward Branchville from Pocotaligo and Coosawhatchie, the weakness of our forces, and the expected arrival of the re enforcements above referred to, it was deemed inadvisable to concentrate our forces at Branchville, and there offer battle to Sherman. 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. Moreover, it being in violation of all maxims of the military art to adopt a place as a point of concentration which it was possible that the enemy, with a largely superior force, could reach before our columns could arrive….

Yes, notice the “pending negotiations” as that also factored into the response to Sherman.  Imperative was keeping the Confederate army in being. In response, this “council of war” offered five points:

First. That the line of the Combahee should be held as long as practicable, resisting the enemy strongly at all points.

Second. Should the enemy penetrate this line, or turn it in force, General Hardee should retire with his forces, covering his rear with about 500 cavalry, toward Charleston, resisting the advance of the enemy in that direction vigorously behind every available creek, river, or swamp; whilst Wheeler, dividing his forces temporarily, should fall back with the main portion in the direction of Columbia, checking the enemy’s advance, should he follow, and hold the line of the Congaree until re-enforcements could arrive. The other portion of his cavalry was to fall back toward Augusta, covering that place.

Third. Should the enemy follow Hardee and indicate an attack on Charleston, whenever it should become evident that a longer defense was impracticable, General Hardee should abandon the place, removing all valuable stores, and hasten to form a junction in front of Columbia with the forces of General Beauregard, who would have to cover Columbia and take up the Congaree as a line of defense.

The fourth point called for the removal of Georgia troops then deployed at Brier Creek to displace back to a line closer to Augusta.  That line, anchored at Spirit Creek and Sandbar Ferry, where strong batteries and torpedoes defended the Savannah River, would be easier to maintain if Sherman turned on Augusta.

Lastly, the fifth point discussed the movement of the Army of Tennessee reinforcements and the defense of Charleston:

Fifth. It was held in contemplation to send Lee’s corps to Branchville, and in the event of the happening of the contingency alluded to in the second and third resolutions, Major-General Stevenson, commanding that corps, should retire toward the Congaree, protected by the cavalry, where he would watch and guard its crossings until the arrival of Generals Beauregard and Hardee. In the course of the conference General Hardee expressed the opinion that it would require at least 20,000 men to defend Charleston successfully, during about twenty days, being the extent of provisions there accumulated. … The troops arriving from the Army of Tennessee were still without artillery and wagons. Three batteries were expected to arrive at Augusta in two or three days, but the other six, and the wagon trains, could not be expected to commence arriving before eight or ten days. 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. His overpowering force enables him to move into the interior of the country like an ordinary movable column.

Charleston, they felt, was necessary for Sherman’s plans simply because of logistics.  But at the same time, they felt no exposed line of supply existed which they might prey upon.  Simply put, the Confederate leaders predicted Sherman would move on Charleston because of the need to resupply his light marching columns…. and Charleston might hold out for twenty days if pressed.

This plan looked fine if two things were indeed true – that Sherman was moving on Charleston … and that the Combahee-Salkehatchie line, as mentioned in the first point, could hold just long enough for the Army of Tennessee reinforcements to arrive.

Reality has a way of disrupting good plans.  Sherman was not moving on Charleston.  And events on February 3, 1865 would serve to make the first point derived from the council of war “overtaken by events.”  The Battle of Rivers’ Bridge, though small in relation to other actions of the war, would have far reaching implications.

(Citation from OR, Series I, Volume 47, Part II, Serial 99, pages 1084-6.)

“The veteran condition of your troops would justify a material reduction in the number of guns.”: Barry starting the Atlanta Campaign

Recall back in the winter of 1864 our diarist Colonel Charles S. Wainwright lamented the re-assignment of Brigadier-General William F. Barry to the west.  Barry figures importantly for anyone looking at the Federal artillery arm. Having organized the Army of the Potomac’s artillery early in the war, he then served in Washington as the inspector of artillery with responsibilities to include managing the artillery depot.  In the winter of 1864, Major-General William T. Sherman needed a senior, experienced artillery chief, and Barry was the best choice.

To some degree, Barry was once again building – or perhaps rebuilding would be an apt word – an artillery arm to support a field army.  As such, there’s ample room to compare Barry’s actions in 1861 to those in 1864.   Let’s start out with the state of affairs Barry inherited when arriving in Chattanooga:

On the 20th of March, 1864, the date of my appointment as chief of artillery of your army, the field artillery of the four separate armies, which at that time composed your command, consisted of 16,250 men (effective), 530 guns, 4,300 horses, and 987 mules. The proportion of artillery to the aggregate infantry and cavalry force was about three guns to 1,000 men. The guns were of varied patterns, twelve different calibers being at that time in actual use. The severity of the campaigns of the previous autumn and winter had also reduced the number of draft animals much below what was necessary.

So 530 guns, of twelve different calibers, averaging out to around three guns per thousand men.  Recall that in 1861, Barry suggested a ratio of three guns per thousand men.  And that by mid-war, the Army of the Potomac actually fielded a much higher ratio – around five per thousand.  Also in 1861, Barry was content with a mix of 6-pdr field guns, 12-pdr howitzers, 12-pdr Napoleons, and rifled guns to support the infantry corps (and he accepted several larger calibers for the reserve and siege trains).  But after the 1862 campaigns, Barry urged the replacement of the light smoothbores with the Napoleons.

One might expect Barry to be content with the number of guns, but press for uniformity of calibers.  Not so.  Barry did not simply apply the 1861 formula without considering the full situation – particularly the troops supported by the artillery:

Believing that the character of the country and of your proposed operations, as well as the veteran condition of your troops, would justify a material reduction in the number of guns, and convinced that efficiency and facility of service and supply demanded a reduction of the number of calibers, I submitted both questions to your consideration. You approved of my recommendation that the proportion of artillery to the other two arms should not exceed two guns per 1,000 men, and that the number of calibers should be reduced to four. Immediate measures were taken to carry out these views. Horses and mules in sufficient numbers were provided and distributed; the proportion of artillery was reduced to rather less than two guns per 1,000 men, and all the odd or unnecessary calibers were eliminated by being either turned into arsenals or placed in the depots or other fortified posts in our rear, where they were used as guns of position.

Here’s a fine case of an artillerist being true to his word. In the Instruction for Field Artillery, which Barry co-authored, the ratio was explained as such:

The proportion of field artillery to other arms varies generally between the limits of 1 and 4 pieces to 1,000 men, according to the force of the army, the character of the troops of which it is composed, the force and character of the enemy, the nature of the country which is to be the theater of the war, and the character and object of the war. Similar considerations must regulate the selection of the kinds of ordnance, and the proportions of the different kinds.

Considering terrain and in particular the veteran nature of the troops, Barry opted for a ratio less than that adopted in 1861.  And far less than that used in 1863.  A reduction of battery strength from six guns to four guns provided a means to keep organizational flexibility – assigning the same number of batteries to each corps or division, while reducing the overall number of guns.  But the important reduction came by casting off so many odd calibers.

Barry retained an artillery reserve for each army (recall Sherman’s force consisted of three named armies – Cumberland, Tennessee, and Ohio).  But that reserve remained in the rear at readiness for a call to the front when the need arose (and it did at points later in the campaign).

When Sherman’s force stepped off on the Atlanta Campaign, on May 5, 1864, Barry could report the overall strength in guns to be 254:


However, Barry never quite reduced the variety of the guns down to the desired levels.  In a table providing the amount of ammunition expended during the Atlanta Campaign, he recorded continued use of 12-pdr and 24-pdr howitzers.  The addition of 4.5-inch siege rifles came towards the end of the campaign during the siege of the city.


That total should bring a whistle or sigh – 145,323 rounds from May 5 to September 2, 1864.

The story of the artillery in the Atlanta Campaign, I feel, is somewhat under-appreciated.  The arm did sterling service and was a valuable asset throughout.  As time permits, I hope to bring that story out here on the blog at the appropriate sesquicentennial moments this summer!

(Citations from OR, Series I, Volume 38, Part I, pages 119-123; Instructions for Field Artillery: Prepared by a Board of Officers, Philadelphia: J.B. Lippingcott & Co., 1861, page 4.)