“The distance transported is nearly 1,400 miles, about equally divided between land and water. ” Strategic Moves in the Winter of 1865

By January 1865, even a biased observer of the Civil War would have to agree the final acts were due to play out within months.  But before the curtain would open on the next rounds, several actors had to move about on the stage.  As some of the fall 1864 campaigns reached conclusions, the demands of January 1865 prompted movement of troops across theaters.  Both Federal and Confederate troops were in motion that month.  There are three movements which I’d highlight as rather important to the last phases of the Civil War.

I’ve mentioned one of those movements in brief already.  The Second Division, Nineteenth Army Corps, under Major-General Cuvier Grover, were veterans of the vicious fall campaigns of 1864 in the Shenandoah Valley.  But in January 1865, Grover’s men were designated to be the new garrison of Savannah, Georgia.  The division departed Camp Sheridan, outside Winchester, Virginia, on January 7, 1865.  From there, the troops moved by railroad to Camp Carroll, Baltimore, Maryland.  This first leg of the journey was about 100 miles.

The division’s second leg was by steamers from Baltimore to Savannah – some 625 miles, give or take.  The division arrived in Savannah on January 20.  This freed up the division of Major-General John Geary (Second Division, Twentieth Corps) for the movement into South Carolina.  And thus the force that Major-General William T. Sherman had marched through Georgia in the fall of 1864 remained intact for similar treatment of South Carolina.   Grover’s men spent the last winter of the war at the enviable posting of Savannah.

The second troop movement to consider is that of the Twenty-third Army Corps.  The lone formation in the Army of the Ohio, Major-General John Schofield’s troops were veterans of the Atlanta and Franklin-Nashville Campaigns.  And at the start of January 1865 they were south of Nashville.  From the big overview, Schofield’s troops were extra chess pieces on the far side of the board, better employed on the Atlantic Coast.  But Schofield could not simply march the direct route through to the Carolinas.  Instead their route was opposite that taken by the Eleventh and Twelfth Corps in the fall of 1863.

The key individual in the Twenty-third Corps movement was Colonel Lewis Parsons, Chief of Rail and River Transportation.  On January 11, 1865, Parson’s received an order from Assistant Secretary of War Charles A. Dana:

It having been decided that the Twenty-third Army Corps, Major-General Schofield commanding, shall be transferred from the Tennessee to the Chesapeake, you will immediately proceed westward, and take the general supervision and management of its transportation.

Dana advised Parsons to use boat transportation, if practical, to Parkersburg, West Virginia. But if needed, the rail system should be leveraged.  Parsons wasted no time, departing Washington on the same day.

A railroad man before the war, Parsons hedged his bets and contacted “several trustworthy gentlemen intimately connected with the management of Western railroads” to have sufficient rolling stock to move the troops if the situation arose.  Initial estimates called for boat (or rail) capacity to move 10,000 men.  But by January 18, Parsons realized the number was in reality 20,000! Adjusting, Parsons shuffled resources to meet the demands.

The first leg was movement by river boat from Clifton, Tennessee to Paducah, Kentucky. The second leg, along the Ohio River, used over fifty steamboats to move the troops to Cincinnati, Ohio.  At first Parsons planned to move the troops by rail from there because of river conditions.  But as the boats arrived, on January 21-23, ice in the river cleared up.  So the boats pressed on for over 300 more river miles to Wheeling, West Virginia (well past Parkersburg, by the way) where they transferred to the rail-cars.

Though moving from Wheeling to Washington by rail, a harsh winter stood in the way of the next leg of the journey.  To avoid unnecessary delays caused by stops to prepare rations, Parsons had local quartermasters, or the railroad operatives themselves, stage cooked meals ready to serve the troops.  Parsons personally supervised the loading of the last trains on the west side of the Appalachians on January 31.  “I took the train and reached [Washington] on the night of the 1st instant, where, on the following day, I found upon the banks of the Potomac the Twenty-third Army Corps safely encamped.”

Parson reflected on the achievement:

The distance transported is nearly 1,400 miles, about equally divided between land and water. The average time of transportation, from the embarkation on the Tennessee to the arrival on the banks of the Potomac, was not exceeding eleven days; and what is still more important, is the fact that during the whole movement not a single accident has happened causing loss of life, limbs, or property, except in the single instance of a soldier improperly jumping from the car under apprehension of danger….

And keep in mind, I’m offering only the “Cliff Notes” version here.  Parson’s report, including attachments, runs some sixty pages within the Official Records.  Parsons earned a promotion to Brigadier-General that winter.

But while Parson’s job was done, the Twenty-third Corps was still moving.  Within days some troops moved again to Annapolis, Maryland where they boarded ocean-going transports headed to North Carolina.  And here the movement met its first major snag.  Several of the transport vessels were not outfitted to handle troops.  Regardless, the troops went south… some cases on cargo vessels.  Schofield, now in command of the Department of North Carolina and having placed Major-General Darius Couch in command of the corps, directed the Twenty-third Corps to Cape Fear.  The Corps Third Division arrived at Fort Fisher on February 9.  But the remainder arrived in serials.  The last of the corps did not complete the journey until February 28 (with the last elements disembarking at Morehead City, North Carolina).  Though the movement by sea was slow in comparison to Parsons’ charge, elements of the corps arrived in time to take part in the final operations at Wilmington.

The last major movement I’ll mention here is on the other side of the lines.  The start of the new year found the Army of Tennessee somewhat beaten, but still in being.  And an army that “is” is still an army.  However, that army was most needed in South Carolina.  So orders came forth to move some parts of the army eastward. I’ll step past the organizational changes and such details in this post.  But for comparison to Federal activities, let me summarize the movements of Major-General Benjamin Cheatham’s Corps, as recorded by one of the corps’ staff officers, Major Henry Hampton.   On January 27, the corps left Meridian, Mississippi by rail.  Making stops at Demopolis, Selma, and Montgomery, the Corps moved through Alabama from January 29 to February 3.  Starting at Columbus, Georgia on February 3, the troops were able to ride by train to Milledgeville.  On February 7, Hampton recorded:

Left Milledgeville in a storm of rain and rode horseback twenty-five miles, bivouacking near Colonel Lane’s, two miles from Sparta.

Of course, staff officers ride while infantry march.  But using the much maligned  Confederate rail system, some of which Sherman had wrecked only a few weeks earlier, from Mississippi to central Georgia, many footsteps were saved.  Indeed, for Cheatham’s men to reach Augusta, Georgia, the only leg were no railroad existed was the forty-five or so miles from Milledgeville to rail stops on the Georgia Railroad.  By February 10, Hampton reported camping across the Savannah River in South Carolina.  Such was a feat that one could argue rivaled the movements facilitated by Parsons … when one considers what resources were available to the Confederates.

Three movements.  Three substantial troop formations placed at new locations on the map.  All accomplished within weeks.  Although the war was winding down, the troops were still in motion.

(Citations from OR, Series I, Volume 47, Part I, Serial 98, pages 1080-1; Part II, Serial 99, pages 215, 216-7, 219.)


Marching Through Georgia, December 1, 1864: Marching on Millen, giving fight to Wheeler

On the first day of December 1864, Major-General William T. Sherman pushed his armies on the next leg of the march toward Savannah.  Millen was the next major waypoint.  The previous day he’d sent orders to the Right Wing commander, Major-General Oliver O. Howard, instructing the Fifteenth Corps to remain on the south side of the Ogeechee as a precaution should the Confederates mount a defense.  But he also feared the forces gathering at Augusta, particularly Major-General Joseph Wheeler, might move on his left or rear.  Guarding against that, Sherman put in motion a combined infantry-cavalry column which would cover the main armies from Wheeler.  Specifically, Sherman told Brigadier-General H. Judson Kilpatrick, “if Wheeler gave him the opportunity, to indulge him with all the fighting he wanted.”


Kilpatrick’s cavalry division paired with Brigadier-General Absalom Baird’s Third Division of Fourteenth Corps for this important mission.   Marching out from Louisville that morning, the two divisions took the road northeast toward Waynesboro.  Although Wheeler’s main body remained in position behind Rocky Creek, several of his detachments contested the advance.  Baird recorded “During the day considerable skirmishing with the enemy’s cavalry, with a loss on our side of 3 men killed and 10 wounded.” On the other hand, Kilpatrick rated the day’s march as “without a severe skirmish.”   Wheeler reported the Federals were “making for Augusta.”

The rest of Fourteenth Corps had the line of march easterly towards Buckhead Creek.  Brigadier-General William Carlin’s First Division had to move up from Sebastapol in order to get back to the corps.  This took them across the Twentieth Corps’s line, which was on the road to Birdsville.  Confederate cavalry sparred with the Federals along the way.  Lieutenant-Colonel Cyrus Briant, 88th Indiana Infantry, in Carlin’s Division, reported one of his foraging party were attacked, but managed to return without loss and their gathered supplies intact.

To the south, the Seventeenth Corps continued destroying the Georgia Central Railroad before making their march.   Major-General Frank Blair Jr. sent Brigadier-General Giles Smith’s Fourth Division west from Barton to destroying four miles of railroad.  Major-General Joseph Mower an equal distance east on the same mission.  Brigadier-General Mortimer Leggett and Third Division escorted the baggage train on the road to Millen.  In his orders for the day, Blair drew attention to the task of railroad busting: “In destroying the road, every tie and sleeper must be burned and every rail heated and warped.”

Sherman himself rode along with the Seventeenth Corps, offering his input as to the best ways to ensure railroad destruction.  He would camp at the Jones Plantation that evening (see marker below).

Fifteenth Corps progressed in split columns on the south side of the Ogeechee.  Divisions of Brigadier-Generals William Hazen and John Smith moved on a road furthest from the river.  On a parallel road closer to the river were the divisions of Brigadier-Generals Charles Woods and John Corse.  Major-General Peter Osterhaus kept these two columns within mutual support range at all times and “used a portion of the Twenty-ninth Missouri (mounted) to keep up communication and explore the intermediate ground between the columns.”  Osterhaus also kept a section of the pontoon train handy, should a crossing of the Ogeechee be required.

Aside from the movements, the orders passed down to the troops of the Right Wing included words with regard to foraging practices.  Howard called attention to “irregularities existing in foraging, and the manner in which this privilege is often abused.”  In particular, the commander cited the number of troops straggling from the ranks and not part of organized forage parties.  “It is by such men the greater part of the pillaging is done and depredations committed, of which there is so much complaint.” Howard also complained of the growing number of unauthorized mounted men in the columns. To remedy these ills, Howard re-iterated that all foraging parties must be authorized, organized, and led by an officer.  Furthermore, “The number of mounted foragers to each brigade should be limited and regulated….”

Far in advance of the Right Wing, scouts reported back from Millen.  Howard relayed the information back to Sherman on December 1, indicating they “find no force there except a small number of the enemy’s cavalry.”  Although a train had arrived in Millen that day, it proceeded “with great caution” and went back to Savannah.  While the news indicated Sherman’s precautions were unnecessary, the dispositions remained as ordered.

Another issue that Sherman himself took time to address was that of retaliation for prisoner abuses.  There had been reports almost from the start of the march of foragers and cavalrymen executed by Confederates.  Sherman had not addressed the issue directly, as not enough evidence came forward on which to direct a complaint towards Confederate authorities.  In response to Kilpatrick’s request of the previous day to hold hostages, Sherman provided a response to the cavalry commander:

As regards retaliation, you must be very careful as to the correctness of any information you may receive about the enemy murdering or mutilating our men.  You may keep the prisoners you have, or turn any portion of them over to General Slocum’s infantry to guard, and keep such as you may wish to retain for your object.  You may communicate with Wheeler by flag of truce, and notify him of the conduct of his command towards our men, and that you will retaliate, which you may do until you feel satisfied.  When our men are found, and you are fully convinced the enemy have killed them after surrender in fair battle, or have mutilated their bodies after being killed in fair battle, you may hang and mutilate man for man without regard for rank.

Not quite a “raise the black flag” response. But Sherman’s attitude on the prisoner issue matched his response to Confederate “scorched earth” actions in front of the march.  I think it is important in context that Wheeler received an order on the same day urging him:

The bridges, causeways, & c., on all creeks should be destroyed; forest trees should be felled at every point where they will obstruct the march; fences may be pulled down and used – indeed every expedient in which ingenuity may suggest should be adopted to retard the enemy’s movements.  To enable you successfully to carry out these orders you are authorized to impress, for temporary use, all the laborers and tools necessary, and to use the means of the people in the country, as far as they may be of advantage.  Supplies of all kinds useful to the enemy and not required for your use must be destroyed….

Wheeler was to make war on the trees, in the biblical sense.  The people of Georgia would suffer deprivations from both sides.

Following the March of December 1, 1864 by markers, there are stops at Old Town Plantation (and a nearby U.D.C. marker at Bark Camp Church) and the Jones Plantation.

(Citations from OR, Series I, Volume 44, Serial 92, pages 9, 172, 204, 364, 579, 581, 593, and 916.)