Summary Statement, 4th Quarter, 1863 – 1st Illinois Artillery

I contend the 1st Illinois Artillery Regiment punched well above its weight during the war. Not just in terms of where they served or battles fought. Though, from a western theater perspective, batteries from this regiment always seemed in the tick of the fight. But the regiment’s impact was beyond just the metal it threw around in battle. This regiment produced several officers who went on to serve in important positions outside the regiment. In last quarter’s post, I mentioned Colonel Joseph D. Webster, the regiment’s first commander, who served as a chief of staff for both Grant and Sherman. Colonel Ezra Taylor, who replaced Webster in May 1863, was dual-hatted as Sherman’s chief of artillery from Shiloh through Vicksburg (in the latter, formally the Chief of Artillery, Fifteenth Corps). Major Charles Houghtaling, who would later become the regimental Colonel, served a similar role for the Fourteenth Corps, in the Army of the Cumberland. Lieutenant-Colonel Charles H. Adams left the regiment for the top spot in the 2nd Tennessee Heavy Artillery, forming at Memphis. Major Allen C. Waterhouse lead the artillery brigade of the Seventeenth Corps, at times filling in as Artillery Chief. And those are just a few notables. As we look down to the battery officers, many very capable officers with fine records stand out. Let’s look at a few of those as we walk through this summary:

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  • Battery A: Larkinsville, Alabama, with five 12-pdr Napoleons and one 10-pdr Parrott.  The battery remained with Second Division, Fifteenth Army Corps, with Captain Peter P. Wood in command.  The battery was part of Sherman’s force sent to relieve Chattanooga, and later sent to relieve Knoxville. They would winter in north Alabama.
  • Battery B: Also at Larkinsville, Alabama, with four 6-pdr field guns and one 12-pdr field howitzer. Like Battery A, this battery was also assigned to Second Division, Fifteenth Corps.  Likewise, the battery supported the reliefs of Chattanooga and Knoxville. Captain Israel P. Rumsey remained in command.
  • Battery C:  Reporting at Chattanooga, Tennessee, now with six 3-inch Ordnance Rifles, being refitted after the campaigns around that city. Captain Mark H. Prescott remained in command, but the battery transferred to the First Division, Fourteenth Corps as the Army of the Cumberland reorganized in October.
  • Battery D: At Vicksburg, Mississippi, now reverting back to reporting four 24-pdr field howitzers, vice four 3-inch Ordnance Rifles reported the previous quarter… which implies a transcription error. Regardless, battery remained with Third Division, Seventeenth Corps, and part of the occupation force at Vicksburg. The battery participated in a couple of expeditions out of Vicksburg in the fall. Then moved, with the division, to duty on the Big Black River, east of Vicksburg. Lieutenant George P. Cunningham was promoted to captain of the battery in December 1864.
  • Battery E: At Corinth, Mississippi, with five 12-pdr Napoleons and one 3.80-inch James Rifle.  Lieutenant John A. Fitch remained in command, and the battery remained under Third Division, Fifteenth Corps. The battery participated in a couple of expeditions across Mississippi during the fall. The division reached Corinth as part of the movement to Chattanooga, but was not forwarded. In November, the division, along with the battery, moved to Memphis (part of the rundown of the Corinth garrison at that time).
  • Battery F: No report. Captain John T. Cheney remained in command of this battery.  As part of Fourth Division, Fifteenth Corps, the battery was part of the reinforcement sent to Chattanooga. Like the other Fifteenth Corps batteries, Battery F played a supporting role at Chattanooga and later at Knoxville.
  • Battery G:  Serving as siege artillery at Corinth, Mississippi, with four 24-pdr siege guns. The battery was assigned to Second Division, Sixteenth Corps.  Captain Raphael G. Rombauer remained in command. When the Corinth garrison was disbanded, Battery G moved to Fort Pickering, in Memphis, in January.
  • Battery H: At Bellefonte, Alabama with three 20-pdr Parrotts.  Assigned to Second Division, Fifteenth Corps, Lieutenant Francis DeGress remained in command of this battery (he would receive promotion to captain in December, after Captain Levi W. Hart was discharged).  As with the other Fifteenth Corps Illinois batteries, DeGress’ were setup to support Sherman’s crossing of the Tennessee in the ill-fated assault on Tunnel Hill. After the march to Knoxville, the battery returned to north Alabama with the division.
  • Battery I: At Scottsboro, Alabama with four 3.80-inch James Rifles. The battery came to Chattanooga as part of Fourth Division, Fifteenth Corps. However, Captain Albert Cudney, who had taken over the battery in June, was not present. Lieutenant Josiah H. Burton, of Battery F, led the battery in support, alongside Battery H (above).  After the relief of Knoxville, the battery followed the division into winter quarters in northern Alabama.
  • Battery K: No return. This battery was stationed at Memphis, Tennessee as part of Grierson’s Cavalry Division, Sixteenth Corps. Recall this battery was, at least up through the spring, equipped with Woodruff guns. Without a return, the equipment at the end of 1863 cannot be confirmed. Captain Jason B. Smith remained in command. 
  • Battery L: In Washington, D.C., with two 12-pdr Napoleons and four 3.80-inch James Rifles. Captain John Rourke commanded this battery, assigned supporting Mulligan’s Brigade, Scammon’s Division, then in West Virginia. So the location given for the return is in question. 
  • Battery M:  Reporting at Loudon, Tennessee with six 3-inch Ordnance Rifles (losing its Napoleons and converting to a uniform battery of rifles). Captain George W. Spencer, promoted in September, commanded this battery. With the reorganization of the Army of the Cumberland, the battery transferred to Second Division Fourth Corps.

Those particulars out of the way, we can look to the ammunition reported for this varied lot of cannon. Starting with the smoothbore:

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  • Battery A: 207 shot, 80 shell, and 270 case for 12-pdr Napoleons.
  • Battery D: 177 shell for 24-pdr field howitzers.
  • Battery E: 163 shot, 159 shell, and 246 case for 12-pdr Napoleons.
  • Battery G: 314 shot and 120 shell for 24-pdr siege guns.
  • Battery L: 70 shot and 504 shell for 6-pdr field guns; 385 shot (unprepared) for 12-pdr “heavy” guns; 134 shot and 639 case for 12-pdr Napoleons; and 189 shell and 48 case for 12-pdr field howitzers (a wide array of ammunition types perhaps reflecting garrison duty in West Virginia).

We’ll split this next page into groupings for the rest of the smoothbore and then the first columns of rifle ammunition:

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Smoothbore:

  • Battery A: 69 canister for 12-pdr Napoleons.
  • Battery D: 140 case and 33 canister for 24-pdr field howitzers.
  • Battery E: 158 canister for 12-pdr Napoleons.
  • Battery G: 72 case, 89 canister, and 113 stands of grape for 24-pdr siege guns.
  • Battery L: 255 canister for 12-pdr mountain howitzers; 923 canister for 12-pdr Napoleons.

And the other half of this section covers rifled projectiles:

  • Battery C: 448 Hotchkiss time fuse shell for 3-inch rifles.
  • Battery E: 93 Hotchkiss time fuse shell for 3.80-inch James rifles.
  • Battery L: 580 Dyer’s case for 3-inch rifles; 1005 Hotchkiss time fuse shell for 3-inch rifles; 186 Hotchkiss shot and 144 Hotchkiss time fuse shell for 3.80-inch James rifles. (Apparently Battery L was managing an ammunition dump.)
  • Battery M: 343 Hotchkiss time fuse shell for 3-inch rifles.

Hotchkiss and James Projectiles on the next page:

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The remaining Hotchkiss first:

  • Battery C: 238 percussion fuse shell, 11 bullet shell, and 252 canister for 3-inch rifles.
  • Battery E: 17 percussion fuse shell for 3.80-inch James rifles.
  • Battery H: 49 canister for 20-pdr Parrott.
  • Battery L: 232 bullet shell and 268 canister for 3.80-inch rifles; and 115 percussion fuse shell and 504 canister for 3-inch rifles.
  • Battery M: 232 percussion fuse shell, 409 bullet shell, and 29 canister for 3-inch rifles.

And the James columns:

  • Battery E: 50 canister for 3.80-inch James rifles.
  • Battery I: 64 shot, 214 shell, and 256 canister for 3.80-inch James rifles.
  • Battery L: 387 shot, 106 shell, and 19 canister for 3.80-inch James rifles.

Parrott and Schenkl on the next page:

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First the Parrotts:

  • Battery A: 121 shell, 24 case, and 16 canister for 10-pdr Parrott.
  • Battery H: 163 shell, 77 case, and 17 canister for 20-pdr Parrott.

Then Schenkl:

  • Battery L: 300 shell for 3-inch rifles; and 282 shell for 3.80-inch James rifles.

On to the small arms:

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  • Battery A: Three Colt army revolvers, thirty Colt navy revolvers, and four horse artillery sabers.
  • Battery B: Six Colt navy revolvers and two cavalry sabers.
  • Battery C: Seven Colt army revolvers, ten Colt navy revolvers, and ten cavalry sabers.
  • Battery D: Five cavalry sabers.
  • Battery E: Two cavalry sabers.
  • Battery G: Sixty .58 caliber Springfield muskets and thirteen cavalry sabers.
  • Battery I: Eleven Colt navy revolvers and three cavalry sabers.
  • Battery L: Seventeen Sharps carbines, twenty-eight Colt army revolvers, and 148 cavalry sabers.
  • Battery M: One Colt army revolver and one cavalry saber.

Lots of cartridge bags, cartridges, and fuses over the last two pages:

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  • Battery C: 33 cartridge bags for case shot (field guns or howitzers).
  • Battery E: 161 cartridge bags for James rifles.
  • Battery G: 120 cartridge bags for 24-pdr siege guns and 2,400 musket cartridges.
  • Battery I: 515 cartridge bags for James rifles.
  • Battery L: 2,283 cartridge bags for James rifles and 765 cartridge bags for case (for 12-pdr Napoleons)
  • Battery M: 872 cartridge bags for 3-inch rifles.
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  • Battery A: 550 army caliber and 900 navy caliber pistol cartridges.
  • Battery B: 120 navy caliber pistol cartridges and 1,336 friction primers.
  • Battery C: 344 paper fuses and 275 friction primers.
  • Battery D: 500 friction primers.
  • Battery E: 1,750 friction primers and four portfires.
  • Battery G: 2,620 pounds of cannon powder and 569 friction primers.
  • Battery H: 1,410 paper fuses, 1,850 friction primers, 19 yards of slow match, and 48 portfires.
  • Battery I: 240 navy caliber pistol cartridges and 556 friction primers.
  • Battery L: 3,000 army pistol cartridges, 609 paper fuses, 4,540 friction primers, and 3,600 percussion caps (pistol).
  • Battery M: 1.096 paper fuses, 628 friction primers, 250 percussion caps (musket?), and 10 portfires.

That covers the 1st Illinois Artillery. We’ll pick up the 2nd Illinois in the next installment.

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Sherman’s March, February 16, 1865: “I instructed him not to fire any more into”… Columbia

If you ask me, Battery H, 1st Illinois Light Artillery should be among the most recognized artillery formations of the Civil War. The battery served in many important campaigns of the war and played critical roles in several major battles.  Armed with 20-pdr Parrott guns, this volunteer battery saw action at Shiloh (those big guns in Grant’s Last Line), Vicksburg, Chattanooga, Atlanta (where the guns were lost and recaptured on July 22, 1864), and the march to the sea.  Captain Francis DeGress was the battery commander from the summer of 1862 onward, so the unit was commonly referenced in reports by his name.  And yes, the battery hauled the heavy 20-pdrs, which artillerists such as Brigadier-General Henry Hunt shunned, on light-order marches across Mississippi, Georgia, South Carolina, and North Carolina.  If we could ever determine a surviving example from those allotted to the battery, those Parrotts would be among the most storied cannons from the Civil war.   Consider, those 20-pdrs fired on Vicksburg, Atlanta, Fort McAllister, Savannah, and, on February 16, 1865, Columbia, South Carolina.  The State House still bears the scars from DeGress’ guns:

More Battle Damage on the State House

A map of Major-General William T. Sherman’s dispositions on February 16, 1865 might simply have a solid line from Granby to a point above Columbia on the Broad River, simply saying “Sherman.”  At no time since early January were all the columns so contracted:

SCMarch_Feb16

In brief, the Right Wing moved, Fifteenth Corps leading, from positions near Granby forward to find bridges over the Congaree burned.  From there, Second Division of the corps leading, engineered a crossing of the Saluda and reached the Broad River before nightfall.  The Seventeenth Corps trailed, but went into camp along the Congaree opposite Columbia.  The Twentieth Corps concentrated behind the Right Wing.  And the Fourteenth Corps moved in from Lexington and took position to cross the Saluda River near Mount Zion Church.  The Cavalry Division moved to Lexington, with advances towards Wise’s Ferry.

Thus Sherman’s entire march force covered an area roughly eleven miles by six miles.  This disposition allowed Sherman to threaten entry into Columbia at several points, and if need be even continue flanking to the north.  Such compelled the Confederates to withdraw.  That’s the macro-view of the movement for February 16.  For the micro-view, let me focus on the advance of Major-General William Hazen’s Second Division, Fifteenth Corps, with the Ninth Illinois Mounted Infantry, detached from the Seventeenth Corps, assisting.

Throughout the night prior, Hazen’s division suffered from considerable Confederate artillery firing from positions outside Columbia.  Hazen reported the loss of one officer killed and two wounded from this firing (keep this in mind for later).  On the morning of February 16, Hazen advanced his skirmish line to find the Confederate positions from the day before abandoned.  Just after daylight, the skirmishers reached the Congaree Bridge, finding it burned by the retreating Confederates.  By 8 a.m. Hazen had his division alined along the river, and was exchanging fire with Confederates on the opposite bank.  At this time, DeGress’ battery deployed and began countering Confederate artillery and sharpshooter fire.  (And I’ll return to DeGress in a moment.)

At 11 a.m., orders from Sherman, passed down through Logan, directed Hazen to move to a bridge over the Saluda near Saluda Factory.  The lead of this advance was Colonel Theodore Jones’ First Brigade of the division, specifically the 13th Ohio and 57th Illinois.  Reaching the Saluda, Jones found the bridge there also burned.  But that did not stop the movement, as Jones later reported:

The Thirtieth Ohio and Fifty-fifth Illinois were crossed in pontoon-boats, and drove the enemy over the crest of the first ridge, where they remained, covering the working party until the bridge was completed. The rest of the brigade then crossed over the bridge.

Once again, the leading elements of a Federal advance had effected, engineered, a crossing and avoided delays.  The advance continued, wheeling onto the Broad River and the bridges into Columbia from the west, as Jones continued:

The command “forward” was then given to the skirmishers, who advanced, driving the enemy with great rapidity across Broad River, the enemy burning the bridge. The brigade then went into camp; distance marched, eight miles.

With darkness, the Federals halted, with preparations to throw a pontoon bridge over the Broad River the next morning.  Hazen reported three wounded in the day’s action.

Hazen’s aggressive advance put the Federals on two fronts against Columbia, but not yet in Columbia.  Again, Sherman was not interested in storming the defenses to gain the city.  Putting a premium on any loss of life, at least in the Federal ranks, Sherman was content to pressure the Confederates into conceding ground.   And a Confederate high command focused more on keeping an army in being, over retaining any control over geographic points, was content to give Sherman the city.

But back to DeGress and his 20-pounders.  Lieutenant-Colonel William H. Ross, Chief of Artillery for the Fifteenth Corps, described the deployment of DeGress’ guns that morning:

February 16, it was found necessary to put a battery in position on the extreme left in order to command rebel batteries, which were shelling the main road leading to the main bridge over Congaree River, and in order to accomplish this it was necessary to run the blockade of the rebel batteries, which I ordered and which was gallantly performed by this battery, Captain De Gress leading the column in sections. The position was gained without casualties; firing commenced and the rebel batteries silenced. Major-General Howard then ordered one section of this battery placed in the road at west end of bridgeway over Congaree River, commanding the main street in the city of Columbia in which the rebel cavalry were moving. The street was briskly shelled and made untenable.

The initial deployment of the guns, as indicated by both Hazen and Ross, was to counter Confederate batteries firing from the opposite shore.  After silencing the Confederate artillery fire, DeGress turned on the depots and other military targets within range.  Around that time, Sherman himself came up to take a look at Columbia from the same position occupied by DeGress:

Captain De Gress had a section of his twenty-pound Parrott guns unlimbered, firing into the town. I asked him what he was firing for; he said he could see some rebel cavalry occasionally at the intersections of the streets, and he had an idea that there was a large force of infantry concealed on the opposite bank, lying low, in case we should attempt to cross over directly into the town. I instructed him not to fire any more into the town, but consented to his bursting a few shells near the depot, to scare away the negroes who were appropriating the bags of corn and meal which we wanted, also to fire three shots at the unoccupied State-House. I stood by and saw these fired, and then all firing ceased. Although this matter of firing into Columbia has been the subject of much abuse and investigation, I have yet to hear of any single person having been killed in Columbia by our cannon. On the other hand, the night before, when Woods’s division was in camp in the open fields at Little Congaree, it was shelled all night by a rebel battery from the other aide of the river. This provoked me much at the time, for it was wanton mischief, as Generals Beauregard and Hampton must have been convinced that they could not prevent our entrance into Columbia. I have always contended that I would have been justified in retaliating for this unnecessary act of war, but did not, though I always characterized it as it deserved.

While DeGress’ firing on the city, specifically, ceased, the artillery fire in general continued against Confederate cavalry and sharpshooters, well into the afternoon. Major-General Frank Blair, who’s Seventeenth Corps moved up to the position, noted, “The enemy’s sharpshooters kept up an exceedingly annoying fire from the opposite bank of the river, which compelled us to open upon them and the city with artillery.”  While DeGress’ guns relocated to Hazen’s sector, other Federal batteries arrived to continue firing against the Confederates in Columbia. The Twelfth Wisconsin Battery fired 31 rounds that day.  Company H, First Missouri Light Artillery added 135 rounds.  While there is no breakdown, DeGress fired 110 rounds from both positions occupied during the day.  And batteries of the Seventeenth Corps no doubt added their weight.

It is said in some circles that DeGress fired upon the city with no justification.  What is clear, even before we get to Sherman’s post-war memoirs, is that the Confederates made Columbia a military target starting the night before and continuing through the 16th.  Quite the contrary, one would be hard pressed to explain why the Federals would not have fired on Columbia that day.

The final play for Columbia would wait until the next day.  But Sherman had already posted orders in regard to the occupation of the city.  A passage in Field Orders No. 26 read:

… occupy Columbia, destroy the public buildings, railroad property, manufacturing and machine shops, but will spare libraries and asylums and private dwellings.

That was the written intent.

(Citations OR, Series I, Volume 47, Part I, Serial 98, pages 287, 372, 379; William T. Sherman, Memoirs of General Sherman, Volume 1, New York: D. Appleton and Company, 1889.)

(Photo credit: Bill Coughlin, August 9, 2013, Courtesy HMDB.)

December 21, 1864: Savannah’s surrender “exactly four years since the passage by the State of South Carolina of the secession act”

December 21, 1864, found Major-General William T. Sherman was on the USS Harvest Moon, in the company of Rear-Admiral John Dahlgren and still in transit from Port Royal to his base at King’s Bridge on the Ogeechee River.  Bad seas delayed passage, and necessitated a slower route closer to shore.  Sherman remained disconnected from his headquarters or any subordinates while major events took place just a few dozen miles away in Savannah.

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Before dawn pickets on Brigadier-General John Geary’s sector noticed the Confederates had ceased firing.  Taking a queue from what he’d observed the day before and into the evening, Geary took an aggressive stance:

December 21, after 3 o’clock this morning the firing ceased, and my pickets advancing to the enemy’s line found them hastily retreating. Having possession of their line of works, with all their cannon in front of my own and the other divisions of the corps, I immediately sent a staff officer to notify the general commanding, and at the same time pushed forward rapidly in the direction of Savannah, hoping to overtake and capture a part of the enemy’s forces. My skirmishers deployed, and swept overall the ground between the evacuated works and the Ogeechee Canal from the river to the Augusta road, while my main body of troops marched rapidly by the flank through McAlpin’s plantation to the Augusta road and on into the city.

At around 4:30 a.m., Geary ran into a delegation from the city including the mayor.  Geary sent word of this back through the lines, though the messenger had difficulty convincing the Federals still in their siege positions that he was a “Yankee” and the Confederates were indeed gone.

In the meantime my entire division entered the city of Savannah at early dawn, and before the sun first gilded the morning clouds our National colors, side by side with those of my own division, were unfurled from the dome of the Exchange and over the U.S. custom-house. Barnum’s brigade, which led in entering the city, was at once ordered to patrol it, reduce it to order and quiet, and prevent any pillaging or lawlessness on the part either of soldiers or citizens. My orders on the subject were very strict, and within a few hours this city, in which I had found a lawless mob of low whites and negroes pillaging and setting fire to property, was reduced to order; many millions of dollars’ worth of cotton, ordnance, and commissary stores, &c., which would otherwise have been destroyed, were saved to the United States Government, and the citizens once more enjoyed security under the protection of that flag which again waved over them, exactly four years since the passage by the State of South Carolina of the secession act.

Indeed, the significance of the date cannot be overlooked.  Nor can Geary’s sense of responsibility as he took up position to restore order to the city.  Later in the day official orders placed Geary in command of the city.

Geary’s division fanned out and occupied fortifications, depots, and other military facilities around the city.  A detachment of the 29th Ohio reached Fort Jackson around mid-morning.  After placing the American flag over the fort, they came under fire from the CSS Savannah, at anchor at Screven’s Ferry.

This caught the attention of Major John Reynolds, Twentieth Corps artillery chief.  But the only guns around were 3-inch rifles of Battery E, Pennsylvania Light Artillery, under Captain Thomas Sloan.  The battery engaged the ironclad, with little effect.  And the ironclad was unable to return effective fire as lacking a good position and unable to elevate her guns.  Sloan’s gunners, however, found other targets on the South Carolina shore.  “One hundred and twenty rounds were expended on the morning of the 21sth endeavoring to drive off the enemy from a boat on the river, from which they were unloading supplies.”  Captain Francis DeGress, 1st Illinois, Battery H, sent 20-pounder Parrott rifles up that afternoon to spar with the ironclad.  But by nightfall neither those or heavier 30-pdrs had done any significant damage to the ironclad.

On the South Carolina shore, Colonel Ezra Carman’s brigade was still in their extended “lodgement” threatening the Confederate line of retreat.  Except now Carman opposed the entire Savannah garrison and was vastly outnumbered.  Orders came at 7 a.m. to withdraw the brigade.  Carman sent the 150th New York back to Argyle Island as a rear guard and commenced removing the artillery.  But the same rough weather that delayed Sherman worked to hinder Carman’s passage of the river channel.

It was 2 o’clock before the artillery and stores could be got far enough away to warrant the withdrawal of the balance of the brigade; then it was withdrawn, followed by our skirmishers, the enemy pressing hard. The One hundred and seventh New York Volunteers crossed; then the enemy grew more bold, advancing at all points, but under cover of the numerous dikes they were held in check. At sunset the Thirteenth New Jersey Volunteers crossed, and Colonel Hawley, commanding Third Wisconsin, with’ the skirmish line, was left to the delicate task of withdrawing under cover of darkness. At 11 p.m. the skirmish line crossed and without the loss of a man captured.

Elsewhere on the Federal lines, as dawn broke units began to move over the former Confederate works.  Brigadier-General John Corse’s division, on the far right end of the Federal line, advanced up to Fort Brown on the southeast perimeter of the city.  On the Vernon River, Lieutenant-Commander W.H. Dana’s gunboats continued shelling the now empty Fort Beaulieu.  “Expended 11 XI-inch shell, 19 30-pounder Parrott percussion, 6 howitzer shells.  At 10 a.m. called away all boats, manned and armed them for assaulting.”  Within a few minutes, the sailors were in the fort and had the U.S. flag flying.

Not until late afternoon, near dark, did an army steamer finally catch up with Sherman, who by then had transferred to Dahlgren’s barge to better make way in the shallow waters.  The message from Lewis M. Dayton, Sherman’s Aide-de-Camp, read, dated the 21st at 9 a.m.:

I have sent you two dispatches via Fort McAllister in hopes of reaching you. General Slocum reports enemy gone from his front and he has got eight guns – this report at 4 [a.m.]  He is also gone from this front and General Howard reports Leggett near the city, and no enemy.  General Woods also got six guns.  General Slocum is moving and General Howard the same and I have no doubt both are in Savannah now.  I will ride with General Howard, at his request, and leave our camp until the matter is more definite and you make orders.

While Sherman was at sea, the entire situation changed.  He now had full possession of Savannah, though his adversary had escaped in the night.

Dahlgren began concentrating his available forces at Tybee Roads.  Even with the fall of Savannah, the ironclad that had defended the city remained a threat.  Fearing the Savannah might still attempt a sortie, he brought up monitors.   But the Savannah was not going anywhere.

The Confederate’s own torpedoes blocked her passage downstream.  As the last forces were withdrawn from Screven’s Ferry, the crew of the ironclad abandoned ship.  Shortly before midnight, a loud explosion signaled the end of the Savannah Campaign and the march to the sea.  The CSS Savannah, just as Confederate Savannah itself, ceased to exist.

(Citations from OR, Series I, Volume 44, Serial 92, pages 279, 361 and 771; ORN Series I, Volume 16, page 137.)

Marching Through Georgia, December 13, 1864: The taking of Fort McAllister, Part 2

In part 1, earlier today, I offered some background on Fort McAllister’s attackers and defenders.  Looking now to the “moving pieces” we turn to King’s Bridge.  At around 5 a.m. on the morning of December 13, 1864, the engineers stopped their repair work on the bridge to allow Brigadier-General William B. Hazen’s division to cross.  Within a few hours march, the division reached Joseph McAllister’s Strathy Hall plantation.

There Hazen posted guards, even though Brigadier-General H. Judson Kilpatrick’s cavalrymen had already ransacked the house.  The infantry column pressed on to the turn off towards Genesis Point (just upstream from Fort McAllister).   Nearing Hardwick, at the base of a peninsula formed by a wide “bow” of the Ogeechee River, a signal team went out to establish a station and communicate with the station at Cheves Rice Mill to the north.  Hazen’s infantry continued on the road to Fort McAllister, skirmishing with Confederate outposts.  Along the way they encountered several buried torpedoes on the roadway.

While Hazen’s men were marching, several other pieces were in motion (Some of the arrows are positioned to simplify the map):

MarchDec13_FtMcAllister1

To Hazen’s front, Kilpatrick’s cavalry withdrew from Genesis Point, where they’d pressed the fort’s pickets back.  Kilpatrick spoke with Hazen, providing details of the Confederate dispositions.  With that, Kilpatrick’s men split up into two columns.  Colonel Eli Murray’s brigade moved into Liberty County, moving by way of Midway.  Colonel Smith Atkins moved his brigade further south on Bryan’s Neck towards Kilkenny Bluff.  The cavalry’s task was to seek out Federal blockaders in St. Catherine’s Sound, as a contingency against failure at Fort McAllister.

At Cheves’ Rice Mill, Major-Generals William T. Sherman and Oliver O. Howard arrived to take up an advance observation post.  Captain James M. McClintock, at his signal station, observed Hazen’s movement and searched, without luck, for naval activity on the Ogeechee.  Captain Francis DeGress maintained sporadic fire on Fort McAllister with no effect other than gain the Confederate’s attention.

The arrival of Captain William Duncan on the 12th prompted Major-General John Foster and Rear-Admiral John Dahlgren to start actively looking to establish positive contact with Sherman.  Foster sent Lieutenant George Fisher, an experienced signal officer, to reconnoiter the rivers south of Fort Pulaski.  Unfortunately, as Dahlgren noted in his diary entry for the 13th, the navy was simply stretched too thin.  Not until the morning of the 13th was Fisher on board the tug USS Dandelion, a fine vessel but not the sort of warship Sherman looked for.  Not knowing where Sherman’s men might be, they began searching along the Vernon River, and then into the Little Ogeechee River.  Although the ship’s captain was wary of Confederate batteries, he did provide Fisher a skiff to get into some of the smaller creeks to a point opposite Fort McAllister.   Hearing the sound of muskets across the marshes, Fisher:

… Looked about and saw, about thee miles northwest of where I was lying in the marsh, a flag upon the top of an old rice mill, but there being no air stirring, I was unable to make out of what nature it was. I could then indistinctly see persons through a broken part of the roof, one of whom, taking hold of the end of the flag, drew its folds out so that I could see our own glorious Stars and Stripes.

Fisher immediately made his way back to the tug and asked the captain to proceed up the Ogeechee.  The time was around 2:00 p.m. with not much daylight left.

What had caused the musketry heard by Fisher was the arrival of Hazen’s lead elements at Fort McAllister’s outer line of defenses.  Skirmishers fanned out and started to engage the fort’s garrison with a purpose.  With the fort’s guns sitting above the parapets, instead of firing through embrasures, the Federal sharpshooters could harass the Confederate gunners and keep down their rate of fire.

Hazen needed time to deploy his division.  He wanted to first encircle the fort, using nine regiments (three from each brigade), backed up with three more regiments in reserve.  When all was in position, he’d launch a grand assault to overwhelm the defenders.  Hazen, as he did in most operations, did well to keep his subordinates informed as to the plan, setup control measures to reduce mistakes, and, above all, provide as much information as was available about the situation.

The plan called for Second Brigade, arriving first at the fort, to form a line anchored on the river to their left.  Next, First Brigade would sweep around to the far side of the fort and setup in position to assault from the south.  Third Brigade would file in to fill the gap  between.  The problem was, for Second Brigade, a creek cut across the line of march.  Thus the deployments were far too slow for Hazen’s, Howard’s, and Sherman’s likings.

While the infantry deployed, elsewhere the other parts of this “drama” were moving:

MarchDec13_FtMcAllister2

Kilpatrick’s cavalry moved to their new assignments.  In Liberty County, Murray dispatched the 5th Kentucky Cavalry to Sunbury (near the old Revolutionary War post of Fort Morris).  Likewise Atkins’ men reached Kilkenny Bluff.  Both forces searched for a way to catch the eye of the blockaders.

Fisher, by then back on the Dandelion, moved through “Hell’s Gate” into the Ogeechee.  The tug risked the big guns of Fort McAllister to a point just below a bend in the river.  There Fisher began attempts to signal the station at the rice mill he’d seen.

The time was around 4:30 p.m.  Tensions at Cheves’ Rice Mill ran high.  The sun was setting low in the west.  The planned assault of the fort was not yet ready.  And the fleet had not been seen.  In the words of more than one observer, Sherman was anxious if not outright nervous.  But this was right when all the moving pieces converged to turn the day for the Federals.  Observers at the rice mill noticed the smoke from the tug.  Soon Fisher was sending a query:

Who are you?
Fisher, Lieutenant.

McClintock, General Howard’s signal officer.

How can I get to you? What troops are at Fort McAllister?
Fisher, Lieutenant.

We are now investing Fort McAllister with Hazen’s division.
Howard, General.

General Howard:
What can we do for you? We are ready to render you any assistance.
Foster, General.  Dahlgren, Admiral.  Fisher, Lieutenant.

General Foster:
Can you assist us with your heavy guns?
Sherman, General.

General Sherman:
Being only a tug-boat, no heavy guns aboard.
Fisher, Lieutenant.

(And I’ve often wondered what Sherman’s real thoughts were, receiving that last line from a lowly lieutenant!)

The dialog cut short by Fisher’s last reply, McClintock now signaled to Hazen’s station:  “It is absolutely necessary that the fort be taken immediately. The Stars and Stripes must wave over the battery at sundown. Sherman, General.”  With that, Hazen knew he’d exceeded the time allowed for deployment.  He had to go in even if Second Brigade was not in position:

MarchDec13_FtMcAllister3

With some of the luck which had followed the men throughout the march, Second Brigade fell into position just as the bugles sounded to start the charge.

The assault was not a forgone conclusion by any means.  Nor was it simply a dash for the parapets.  The troops first had to close several hundred yards of cleared ground.  That reached, they had to wrestle through several layers of abatis and felled trees.  Exiting that obstacle, there were mines planted.  Then they had cross the ditch, breaking through the palisades in the way.  (Recall the photos from the earlier post.)

But these were hardened veterans who’d seen many assaults of this type in the past.  When the bugle sounded, they surged forward.  With that, allow me to pause and break this post up for ease of reading.  I’ll take up the assault and offer an assessment in part 3.

(Citations from OR, Series I, Volume 44, Serial 92, page 753.)

Marching Through Georgia, December 12, 1864: Focus on Fort McAllister

On December 12, 1864, a fast steamer headed north out of Port Royal Sound.  On board were messages from Major-General John Foster and Rear-Admiral John Dahlgren, both citing messages carried by Captain William Duncan from Major-General Oliver O. Howard.  Word of Major-General William T. Sherman’s arrival at Savannah would bring some authoritative information for the newspapers which had been speculating upon speculation.  More important, the news triggered actions at the bases in South Carolina and Georgia.  At Hilton Head depots and on boats in Port Royal Sound were supplies of all sorts, all earmarked for Sherman’s men.  But to get those supplies to Sherman, the Federals needed a port facility, even a small one.  While the forces off shore might transport the goods, it was up to Sherman’s men to force a break in the Confederate coastal defenses through which those could flow.  The focus thus turned to Fort McAllister on the Ogeechee River.

But that is not to say the rest of the lines around Savannah were inactive.  To the contrary, December 12 was a day of much activity.  On the Savannah River, Colonel Ezra Carman’s brigade supported the slow movement of the 3rd Wisconsin to Argyle Island.  Having only one raft capable of carrying 12 men at a time, the process had taken nearly a full day, and was still not complete that morning.  However, the Federal raft was not the only vessel plying the river that morning.

Earlier on December 10th, Flag-Officer William W. Hunter passed up the Savannah with the CSS Sampson and CSS Resolute, with orders to guard the Charleston & Savannah Railroad bridge.  There, Hunter joined with the CSS Macon, which had been harassing the Federals on the march.  On the 11th, Hunter received orders to destroy the bridge and retire to aid in defense of Savannah.  After destroying the bridge that day, Hunter waited until 7 a.m. on the 12th to descend the river:

When opposite Argyle Island we obtained information from a man on shore that the Yankees were at a mill farther down, grinding.  He stated that he did not think there was any artillery. As we went along we saw at the different places smoking ruins. After we passed the mill, at Tweedside, situated on a back river a short distance, where we saw the enemy, as above stated, we were opened upon by one or more light batteries of Parrott guns, posted upon a bluff in the bend of the river, which we had to approach head-on, and entirely commanding the channel, apparently supported by infantry, and about 1,000 or 1,200 yards distant.

The guns firing at Hunter’s gunboats were those of Captain Charles Winegar, Battery I, First New York Light Artillery.  They were stationed at the Colerain plantation just below a sharp bend of the main river channel:

MarchDec12_GunboatFight

Winegar later reported:

On the morning of the 12th day of December, about 8 o’clock, the enemy’s gunboats made their appearance…. After an engagement of about three-quarters of an hour, from 2,400 to 2,700 yards, they were forced to retire up the river, leaving their tender behind disabled, together with her officers and crew, numbering about 30, our expenditure of ammunition being 138 rounds.

Although Hunter’s gunboats carried rifled 32-pdr guns and certainly had the weight of firepower to their advantage, the river channel prevented them from bringing that to bear.

Winegar was able to engage almost immune from any broadsides. Attempting to retire upriver, Hunter’s boats ran into each other.  As result, the Resolute was disabled and drifted to Argyle Island.  The vessel proved to be a valuable addition for the Federals and was soon employed transporting troops and forage across the river.  Hunter, however, retired his remaining gunboats up to the cover of Wheeler’s Cavalry.  Yet another combat force was taken off the map for the Confederates, unable to influence the events to follow.

Elsewhere along the lines the Federals continued to press up close to the Confederate lines in order to gain the measure of the defenses.  The Right Wing continued to adjust lines due to the shift prompted by the late arrival of the Fourteenth Corps.  Likewise the Fourteenth Corps had to develop their place in line. Though some commanders at the brigade and division levels saw opportunities and asked for permission to attack, none were granted.  Very clear was Sherman’s intent, perhaps seasoned from experiences earlier in the war.  Sieges were operations of patience and time.  Sherman would act to ensure his army had plenty of both.

The one commodity that Sherman did worry about running low on was fodder for his animals.  Orders went down on December 12 to dismount anyone not absolutely necessary for operations.  Various men who’d mounted themselves during the march turned in horses.  In addition, all those animals needed in supply operations would be centrally held.  Typical were the orders for the Fifteenth Corps:

All the teams and cattle will be ordered up to their respective divisions, and will be parked and corralled with a view to the convenience of forage.  As the article will become very scarce during our stay, the greatest economy in the use of it is recommended, and the collecting and distributing of the same must be well systematized within the divisions to prevent waste.

As for the troops, while many complained the columns still had plenty of issue rations – hardtack and such – for the men.  Of course, the men were in preference to what Georgia had provided during the earlier weeks.

Further south, Brigadier-General H. Judson Kilpatrick had Colonel Eli Murray’s brigade of cavalry slip over the Canoochee River.  Murray reached McAllister’s plantation and pushed scouts out to within a couple miles of Fort McAllister.

MarchDec12_FtMcAllister

Later in the day, Kilpatrick reported to Sherman:

I met the enemy’s picket near the railroad, and chased Major Anderson, the commanding officer at Fort McAllister, back to his fort. From one of his escort captured, I learn that the fort is garrisoned by five companies, two of artillery and three militia; in all, about 200 men none of whom, however, have ever been under fire. There is a deep broad ditch to cross on entering the fort, and considerable opposition no doubt, will be met with. There is a low swamp about one mile this side the fort; a battery of four guns covers the road leading through this swamp…

Kilpatrick went on to suggest his forces might force their way into the fort:

… by forcing this battery to retire, a charging party could follow it directly into the fort, and the affair would be over. I did not intend, general, to attempt the capture of the fort by a sudden dash, but I intended to deliberately storm the works. I have old infantry regiments, armed with Spencer rifles, who could work their way up to within easy range and force every man to keep his head beneath the parapet, and, finally, force my way into the fort–of course, I intended to maneuver my troops as infantry.

Sherman, however, wanted Kilpatrick to begin scouting further south and look to possibly making contact with the fleet at one of the other riverways along the coast.  The cavalry chief took those orders and moved out the next day.

Opposite Fort McAllister, some distance away, the signal station at Cheves’ rice mill remained vigilant watching the Confederates while at the same time looking for the Federal fleet.  Throughout the day, a section of 20-pdr Parrotts from Captain Francis DeGress’ Battery H, 1st Illinois Light Artillery, supported by part of Battery H, 1st Missouri Light Artillery, sparred with the Confederate gunners.  Neither side did little more than annoying the other.

Instead of a cavalry rush, Sherman wanted to use the infantry to ensure the act was completed quickly.  Howard detailed Second Division, Fifteenth Corps, under Brigadier-General William B. Hazen, for the task.  The selection had significance.  The core of that division were a few veteran regiments which had served in Sherman’s division at Shiloh back in April 1862.  It had subsequently been part of Fifteenth Corps, under Sherman, during the Vicksburg Campaign.  Among the division’s previous commanders was Major-General Frank P. Blair, Jr., by then in charge of the Seventeenth Corps.  Not only was the Second Division somewhat “Sherman’s own” but it embodied the long story that was the Western Theater.  To battle honors that included Shiloh, Corinth, Chickasaw Bluffs, Vicksburg, Chattanooga, Resaca, Kennesaw, and Atlanta, the division would add another the next day – Fort McAllister.

Considering the March by way of Markers, today there are two entries discussing specific events on December 12.  One at Port Wentworth discusses the gunboat-artillery fight.  Another at Richmond Hill notes Kilpatrick’s scout.

(Citations from OR, Series I, Volume 44, Serial 92, pages 357, 685 and 698; ORN, Series I, Volume 16, page 357.)