Summary Statement, 2nd Quarter, 1863 – 3rd New York Cavalry, Allis’s… NOT Allee’s… Howitzers!

Sometimes, even Frederick H. Dyer stands need of correction.  Or at least a small adjustment.

Just below the 3rd New York Artillery’s battery summaries for the second quarter, 1863, there is a lonely line:


  • Section, Attached to 3rd Cavalry: At New Berne, North Carolina with two 12-pdr mountain howitzers.

If we consult Dyer’s Compendium we find a listing:

Allee’s Howitzer Battery

Attached to 3rd New York Cavalry (which see)

Consulting the entry for the 3rd New York Cavalry, we see no mention of the howitzer battery.  And that is normal where a section (or battery) served as an integral component of the parent unit.

In the past, I’ve normally just accepted Dyer’s designation.  You’ll see that in entries for the summaries of fourth quarter, 1862 and first quarter, 1863.  But since this entry stands alone for the second quarter, I thought it convenient to pause and provide a more detailed study of this particular unit.

So who was this Allee that commanded this howitzer battery?

Well… the roster of the 3rd New York Cavalry has no record of an officer named Allee.  In fact, there was no soldier in the regiment by that name.  And there are no references, primary or secondary, that would reconcile the name “Allee” to the regiment.  Rather hard for a person to command a battery if there were not IN the unit!

So who should we be looking for?  Consulting New York State Military Museum’s website (an excellent on-line resource that should be in your bookmarks), specifically a collection of newspaper clippings that reference the 3rd New York Cavalry, we find this entry, discussing Brigadier-General Edward Potter’s July 1863 raid on Greenville, Tarboro, and Rocky Mount (emphasis mine):

We had a most delightful passage from New York and arrived at Newbern on Tuesday evening, 21st inst. I found the city of Newbern quiet and pleasant as ever, although … had gone out early Saturday morning, under the command of that most efficient and gallant officer, Brigadier General Potter, Chief of Staff to General Foster. The troops for the expedition comprised two battalions of the 3d N. Y. cavalry, commanded by Majors Cole and Jacobs; one company of the 1st N. C. cavalry, Lieut. Graham, and one battalion of the 12th N. Y. cavalry, Major Clarkston; two sections of 12 pound howitzers, Lieut. Allis, and one section of flying artillery from the 3d N. Y. regiment, commanded by Lieut. Clark. The cavalry was all under the command of Lieut. Col. Lewis, of the 3d N. Y. cavalry.

And there WAS a Lieutenant James A. Allis with the 3rd New York Cavalry.  And he was detached to artillery service, according to his state muster records:


Note the the remarks.  “… On detached service comd’g artillery detachment since Jan 1/63…” THIS is the commander, and the name, that we need to close the loop.  Very possible that Dyer transcribed the name incorrectly.  However, my wife pointed out that “Allis” is likely a name of Norman-French origin.  If that is the case, it would be pronounced somewhat like “Alee” or such.  So Dyer might have worked from a source that spelled Allis as it sounded.  At any rate, I am pretty sure we can match “Allee’s Battery” to “Allis’s Section” in this case.  Those are the howitzers were are talking about!

James A. Allis was born in Cazenovia, New York (Madison County), on September 17, 1840 to Elijah and Diantha Allis.  His family moved to Syracuse, as he appears there in the 1855 state census, aged 14.  The 1860 census has a 19 year-old James A. Allis, from New York, as a teacher in Joliet, Illinois.  Not for sure this is the same person, but certainly matches with some particulars.

Turning to his muster records:


Allis enlisted in what would be come the 3rd New York Volunteer Cavalry on August 3, 1861 in Syracuse as a sergeant in Company I. The remarks indicate he was born in Syracuse (vice Cazenovia), was 5 foot, 7 ½ inches tall, black eyes (!), and brown hair.

He was promoted to First Sergeant on October 8.  And then this “fast mover” was promoted to First Lieutenant on December 31st to close out the year.   (And a side note, the 3rd New York Cavalry was involved through that time in operations on the upper Potomac, to include Balls Bluff and Edwards Ferry in October … thus he was in my neck of the woods for a while.)

In April 1862, the 3rd New York transferred to the Department of North Carolina.  On May 30,  Allis led a detail of 15 men out of Washington, North Carolina on a reconnaissance mission.  At Trantor’s Creek, about eight miles out of the perimeter, the detail encountered a Confederate patrol.  Allis left a detail to secure the bridge at the creek and took up pursuit.  “Finding himself surrounded by a large body of infantry concealed in the woods,” Captain George Jocknick, commanding Company I reported, “Lieutenant Allis gallantly cut his way through the crowd, and returned here with his command about noon, with only one man–Private Ogden Harrison–badly wounded and 2 horses killed.”   In short, Allis got himself into trouble, but smartly… and aggressively…  extracted himself.   On the heels of that action, Allis received promotion to First Lieutenant. Clearly an officer held in high regard.

I’m not sure when the 3rd New York Cavalry came into possession of the mountain howitzers.  In December, that section was associated with Allis as part of the expedition to Goldsborough.  Captain Newton Hall, commanding the troops from the 3rd New York on that operation, wrote “I must not neglect to mention Lieutenant Allis and his howitzer, which was always ready when wanted, and did us good service at White Hall.”  In March the section supported another expedition out of New Bern.   On May 20-23, the section was involved with a demonstration towards Kinston.   June 17-18, Allis’s section was taken along for a scout to Core Creek.  The section was again called upon in the first week of July to support a raid on the Wilmington & Weldon Railroad.  Later in the month, the battery was part of the expedition toward Rocky Mount mentioned above.

In December 1863, the 3rd New York Cavalry transferred to Newport News, where they became involved with operations against Richmond and Petersburg.  And around that time, Allis appears to have left the howitzers (either the section was turned in, or at least Allis was given other duties).  Allis continued as a lieutenant for Company F and later Company G.  With his initial enlistment complete in the summer of 1864, Allis reenlisted as a captain, in Company C, in July 1864.  However, by that time Allis was working as an aide and staff officer.  In correspondence with Lieutenant-General U.S. Grant, Major General E.O.C. Ord describes Allis as “the best [cavalry] officer I have…” … though it is hard to ascertain the full context, as Ord was speaking from a position of want in regard to proper cavalry!  Still a high accolade, when mentioned between such very high ranking officers.

After the war, Allis returned to Syracuse.  In the 1875 state census, Allis lived with his brother, practicing law.  Around that time, James Allis married Ellen Moore.  The couple had one boy child die in infancy.  But then were blessed with three girls – Olive, Mable, and Ida.  The 1910 census indicated James, still in Syracuse, worked as an equipment clerk.  His three daughters, by then aged 34 to 25, were living with their parents.  All three employed as teachers.  James A. Allis died in Syracuse on October 30, 1920, and is buried in Oakwood Cemetery in Syracuse.

Circling back to the summary statement, the section did not report any ammunition on hand for the quarter.  Though there were ample implements and other supplies.  Perhaps the cavalrymen were just not accustomed to the artillery reporting forms.

The important take-away from examining that lonely line on the summaries is not the need to correct the spelling of Allis’s name in Dyer’s Compendium.  Rather, that the line allows us to be introduced to James A. Allis and the duties he performed during the war.  He was, as they say, mentioned in dispatches.




Mapping through South Carolina: What maps did Sherman use? And were they good maps?

Several readers have asked about the base map used for the daily maps for the Savannah Campaign and now the South Carolina Campaign.  As a convention, I chose to use the area maps from the Atlas to Accompany the Official Records of the War of the Rebellion.  At one time, one could pick up the oversize re-printing of this work in exchange for three pictures of Ulysses S. Grant on rectangular paper.  Today, you can view high-definition scans of the original maps on the Library of Congress’ website.  For the phases of the march worked thus far, I’ve used the map from Plate CXLIV.  In the near future, I’ll move to the next plate, covering the upper half of South Carolina and into North Carolina… or switch to another version of the map that has  different tone background (sometimes the dark blue annotations blends in with the coastal swamps).

Aside from standardizing my map-sets, I chose these maps as they are a composite of those used during the marches.  And that opens a discussion of what maps were used during the march across South Carolina.  Before leaving Savannah, Major-General William T. Sherman tasked Colonel Orlando Poe to provide a set of maps for use in the forthcoming campaign.  Poe could not, of course, ride out an survey South Carolina.  For the most part, Poe had to rely upon a collection of previously published maps to create the desired product.  These maps varied in date of publication and reliability. As such, the lack of accurate, authoritative maps handicapped Federal movements.

A good example of this handicap is the placename I mentioned several times thus far while chronicling the march – Angley’s Post Office.  The label “Angley’s” appears on the Federal maps of the period, located near Jackson’s Branch (tributary to the Salkehatchie River), at a crossroads with forks leading to Buford’s Bridge and Rivers’ Bridge:


With roads leading to those two vital crossing points, one can see why Angley’s would be an important place for the Federals in February 1865.  Trouble is, while that crossroad existed, Angley’s Post-Office did not.  Turning to a map of the Barnwell District from 1825, there was a property owned by John Rose at the crossroads:


The roads had changed a little since 1825.  So the map from that date was still useful. But was this one of the maps collected by Poe and used by Sherman?  I think so.  To the right side of the map is the legend:


You see this map came from a 1818 survey, updated in 1825.  But the inked annotation is what we need to focus on here – “Approved, Chas. R. Suter, 1st Lt., U.S. Engrs., Chf. Engr., D.S.”  I’ve mentioned  Charles Suter before, but as a Captain and Chief Engineer of the Department of the South (thus the “D.S.”). Suter received his brevet to Captain in the summer of 1863 and full promotion in the spring of 1864.  So Suter was at Hilton Head when Poe was looking for maps to use.  But while this seems to fix the date Suter came in possession of the map at sometime prior to July 1863, it does not directly link the map to Sherman.  Those of you examining the details of the map likely noticed in the lower right corner is another annotation – “Sherman #130.”  Other South Carolina “District” (before they were county) maps in the Library of Congress Collection carry similar annotations from Suter and with a “Sherman” number.  While the catalog entry does not state so, I believe these maps are from Sherman’s papers.

So, if the placename “Angley’s Post-Office” didn’t come from the 1825 map, approved by Suter, where did it come from?  Well there is this postal map from 1839, with “Angley’s Branch” at that point:


Rivers’ Bridge is not on this map. But, that is likely because this map depicted “Post offices, postal roads, railroads, and canals.”  Rivers’ Bridge must not have gotten much mail at that time.  So at least one reference map indicated something named “Angley’s” at that location.  And in February 1865, many orders sent troops to Angley’s Post-Office.  Among those were orders to Brigadier-General Manning Force, Third Division, Seventeenth Corps.  On February 2, 1865, Force moved his division to secure Angley’s and the bridge over Jackson Branch to assist the Fifteenth Corps movements.  But he had trouble finding Angley’s.  He had reached the location where the map said Angley’s was, but there was no Angley’s!

As it was now night, and no one in the country had heard of Angley’s Post-Office, though the maps showed it to be near, and as I knew the Fifteenth Corps were to cross this bridge, and the rebel cavalry were in my rear on one road as well as in front, I went into camp, placing one brigade on each side of the stream. An officer of General Howard’s staff arriving in the night told me this was correct, the object of the detour being to secure the bridge for the Fifteenth Corps. Marching to this place to-day, in obedience to orders received in the night, I left one regiment to hold  the bridge until the arrival of the Fifteenth Corps. An old negro told me this morning that Angley’s Post-Office was discontinued thirty or forty years ago and the name had been forgotten.

Force, having secured the place, accomplished his mission.

Another example to mention is the place labeled “Store” on the maps.  It lay on the road south out of Angley’s (and you can see it on the first map above, near Cossawhatchie Swamp). Sherman issued orders sending the Fifteenth Corps to “the place marked ‘Store’ near Duck Branch Post-Office,” on February 2nd.   Later, on February 4, Major-General John Foster reported all the way up to Lieutenant-General Ulysses S. Grant that Sherman’s headquarters was at “a place called ‘The Store,’ at the cross-roads near Duck Bridge, over Coosawhatchie River, thirty-one miles and a half from Pocotaligo Station”   While I’m certain we could narrow down who this “store” belonged to and thus give it a proper name, what I find amusing is the generic title went on correspondence right to the top of the military chain of command.  If Sherman had really become lost that winter, the entire Federal army would have been looking for “stores” across South Carolina!

Just a couple of examples where the map problem came into play.  As a military historian, I feel knowledge of the maps used by the participants is vital to understanding the written primary source materials.  The officers issuing orders or making reports referenced geographic names.  The proper context of those names is only understood when located and identified on the maps the officers used.

(Citation from OR, Series I, Volume 47, Part I, Serial 98, pages 405-6; Part II, Serial 99, page 300.)

“The future of the race is a matter of serious moment”: Foster suggests conscription to fill USCT ranks

On February 2, 1865, Major-General John Foster, commanding the Department of the South, sent this letter to Major-General Henry W. Halleck, Army Chief of Staff in Washington:

Headquarters Department of the South,
Hilton Head, S.C., February 2, 1865.

Maj. Gen. H. W. Halleck,  U.S. Army,
Chief of Staff, U. S. Armies:

General: The experience of the past few weeks has shown that volunteering among the colored men in this department is very slow and may not for a long time furnish the number so much needed for garrison and other duties. These men, just freed from long servitude, are, of necessity, ignorant and improvident. Their idea of liberty is exemption alike from work and care. The streets of Savannah are full of them, lying in the sun and waiting for bread without labor. Needing their services as soldiers, I respectfully ask that the Department will fix a quota for the States of South Carolina and Georgia, and allow me to fill it by conscripting the able-bodied young colored men, under such restrictions and exemptions as may be deemed most wise by the Department. Such as are imposed by the existing U.S. conscription law might be designated with an order that one-half or one-third of the number liable should be drafted. I have consulted with colored pastors on this subject and they agree with me in advising the proposed course. The future of the race is a matter of serious moment. Education is necessary to make freedom truly beneficial. The training of the army will do more to educate these men than any other scheme which can be devised; it will make them self-reliant and will develop their manhood. The camp is to-day the school-house of this race; it may be that in the future the soldierly training of these people will be their protection against local injustice, while the habits of care and economy so learned will make them self-supporting.

Alike, therefore, upon military and humane grounds, I ask the careful attention of the Department to the suggestions of this letter, and am, general,

Very respectfully, your obedient servant,
J. G. Foster,
Major-General, Commanding.

Let me offer this letter “as is” without a lot of context for now.  Just for the reader’s consideration.  I would point out that Foster’s suggestion of conscription follows in line with a similar practice followed by Major-General David Hunter in the spring of 1863.  That is to say, the conscription was as much a means to organize an unaffiliated population that was living within Federal lines.

What do you make of it?

(Citation from OR, Series I, Volume 47, Part II, Serial 99, page 210.)

“There seems no necessity of keeping them…”: Foster requests permission to return the “Immortal 600”

For just over a month, Major-General John Foster held 600 Confederate officer prisoners on Morris Island in retaliation for a like number of Federal prisoners held in Charleston.   In mid-October, Foster moved those prisoners to Fort Pulaski. Through the late fall and into the early weeks of winter, the prisoners remained at Fort Pulaski while exchanges took place and Savannah changed hands.

Despite not being under fire, the Confederate prisoners suffered during their stay at Fort Pulaski.  The weather and poor rations sapped the health of the men.  Yet, for what it is worth, Colonel Philip P. Brown, 157th New York and commander at Fort Pulaski, received a reprimand for not reducing the food issued to “retaliation rations” in December.  (If you are following along as Fort Pulaski National Monument as they post diary entries from Henry Clay Dickinson, you might have noticed the change in rations to “sour meal and pickles.” That change was a result of Brown receiving firm orders for these “retaliation rations.”)

But into January 1865, the prisoners became more of a hindrance to Foster and the Federals.  On January 8, 1865, Foster wrote Major-General Henry Halleck, Army Chief of Staff, on the matter:

General: In order to be able to garrison all the posts in this department I find it necessary to make available every soldier I have. For this purpose I would respectfully ask permission to send North the rebel officers, prisoners of war, that were sent to this department for retaliation. These now number about 500, about 100 of them having been exchanged by Colonel Mulford as being sick and unfit for service.

As the rebel authorities have since removed our prisoners from under fire in the city of Charleston, and these rebel officers being accordingly removed from Morris Island to this post and Fort Pulaski, there seems no necessity of keeping them for the original purpose for which they were sent, as General Hardee has stated that it was not the intention to expose our prisoners to the fire on Charleston. The granting of the above request will liberate one of my best regiments from guard duty and make it available for service in the field or garrison. I respectfully request to be informed, if you see fit to grant this request, to what point they are to be shipped.

The request certainly made sense.  With pressing needs to garrison Savannah and provide support for operations into South Carolina, Foster needed every able hand.  But when Halleck received this request on January 15, he deferred the matter to Secretary of War Edwin Stanton, who was at that time visiting Savannah by way of Hilton Head.  Halleck presumed he had “decided all questions asked in your communications.”  A month later, Foster’s successor would pose the same inquiry, for the same reasons.  The story, and suffering, of the Immortal 600 (though by that time diminished to 500) would continue through the winter.

(Citations from OR, Series I, Volume 47, Part II, Serial 99, pages 27 and 57.)

Grant suggests organizing more USCT regiments: “they can garrison the forts and islands”

Through the opening weeks of 1865, Major-General William T. Sherman worked out several details that would enable success in his planned campaign through South Carolina.  Logistics and the line of march were particulars which needed attention.  And at the same time, Sherman had to figure out how to leave Savannah in good hands.  Based on the examinations by Captain Orlando Poe, Savannah needed a division-sized garrison.  The question was not if Savannah would be abandoned (as Atlanta), but how to provide that garrison.

Sherman preferred to keep his force intact.  At first he suggested the invalid men from those corps, then consolidated at Nashville, might provide the manpower.  But their numbers were not sufficient and the resources to move and organize them was prohibitive.  The Department of the South, under Major-General John Foster, barely had the manpower to hold the coastal garrisons as it was, much less take on Savannah.

One possible solution to this manpower issue lay in the contraband camps.  But Sherman seemed reluctant to go there.  In a telegram to Lieutenant-General Ulysses S. Grant on January 5, 1865, Secretary of War Edwin Stanton suggested:

I think it would be useful if you would write to Sherman, urging him to give facilities to the organization of colored troops.  He does not seem to appreciate the importance of this measure and appears indifferent if not hostile.

Catching Stanton in route to Savannah for a meeting with Sherman, Grant communicated later that day:

I am just in receipt of a letter from Sherman, asking me to re-enforce Foster so that he will not be compelled to leave a division of his army there. Please say to Sherman that I will send the division now embarking at Baltimore. They probably will reach him two days after you do. I wrote to Sherman some time ago to direct Foster to organize negro troops to do garrison duty. Please say to Sherman that if Foster will go to work and organize colored troops they can garrison the forts and islands, leaving all of his white troops for Savannah and the camp at Pocotaligo, enabling the division which I now send to return in the spring, if necessary.

So the temporary solution was to move a division from the Shenandoah Valley to Savannah.  That pulled a “playing piece” off the very active portion of the board to an inactive one.  Beyond that short term solution, Grant preferred to see US Colored Troops organized for the garrison.  And as Grant wrote to Stanton, the process was already in motion.  On the last day of December,  Army Chief of Staff Major-General Henry Halleck had directed Foster to start organizing military units from the contrabands at Savannah.  On January 8, Foster received that message and responded:

I have the honor to acknowledge the receipt of your letter of the 31st ultimo in regard to the organization of all the able-bodied negroes brought in by General Sherman’s army to this department for service in this department, and beg leave to express my gratification at this decision, because I need troops for garrison duty very much, and I can soon make these men available for that duty. I have several officers whose military excellence and gallantry fully entitle them to promotion to be officers in the new regiments. I anticipate no difficulty whatever in organizing these regiments and in obtaining most excellent officers. I will report the appointments, as soon as made, for confirmation by the President. In obedience to your direction, as soon as the letter was received I submitted it to General Sherman, who desired that I might carry out the order as soon as he moved and the city was turned over to my command. Until such time he desired the services of all the negro men in the quartermaster’s department in loading and unloading vessels and in other preparations for a forward movement.

Some of the troops recruited at Savannah went into the ranks of existing units.  But the main fruit of this effort was the 103rd, 104th, and 128th USCT regiments.  Three regiments to replace a division?  And formation of those regiments required more than a letter to Washington.  None of the regiments were mustered in before March.  However, all three regiments remained active through 1866, preforming duties during the early reconstruction period.

(Citations from OR, Series I, Volume 47, Part II, Serial 99, pages 16, 18, and 28.)

Savannah’s Siege, December 20, 1864: “The noise of the retreating enemy could plainly be heard”

For Lieutenant-General William Hardee, December 20, 1864 was a day of anticipation.  Had the pontoon bridge across the Savannah River been ready before dusk the day before, he would have started the evacuation of Savannah.  Instead, he looked to keep up the appearances of holding the city for just one more day and then evacuate under the cover of darkness.  For his plan to work, he had to keep open the one corridor out of Savannah.  To Major-General Joseph Wheeler, who’s men were protecting the bridge and causeway on the South Carolina side, Hardee implored, “The road to Hardeeville must be kept open at all hazards; it is my only line of retreat.”

Most of the Federals, however, were focused on other things than the road to Hardeeville.  Major-General William T. Sherman arrived in Port Royal Sound early on December 20.  Meeting most of the day with Major-General John Foster, the two looked for ways to break the Charleston & Savannah Railroad.  Brigadier-General John Hatch, in command of the force on Deveaux’s Neck opposing the railroad near Coosawhatchie, reported his progress that day:

Yesterday morning I put three rifled guns in the marsh, 900 yards from the small railroad bridge, and damaged it so much that no trains have passed since.  The ground is so bad that I can not get the 30-pounders there. I have a platform laid down for one 30-pounder that will reach the railroad at a range of 1,300 yards. Am not firing now, as we are out of all kinds of ammunition, except that for our muskets; have sent to [Hilton Head] for more, but no attention is paid to our requisitions, or no transportation is furnished to bring it up.

Hatch indicated he was going to stage a feint at a point closer to Hilton Head and then attempt to flank the Confederates with a move across the Coosawhatchie River.  Likely Sherman reviewed this report while with Foster.  Before departing, Sherman promised to transfer some of his veteran troops to aid Hatch.  But that would take some time, and the first “allotment” of that would be the time required for Sherman to transit back to his headquarters to cut the orders.  As he left Hilton Head that afternoon, bad weather was brewing up causing even more delays.  The delayed transit, as we shall see, would have an important effect on events at Savannah.

Along the siege lines outside Savannah, the primary task was completing preparations for an assault on the Confederate works.  Major-General Oliver O. Howard had selected Brigadier-General Giles Smith’s division of Seventeenth Corps to force a lodgement, once Sherman gave the order to commence.  On the far right, Howard also ordered up a brigade from Brigadier-General William Hazen’s division, who were returning to camps at Fort McAllister, to reinforce their fellow Fifteenth Corps troops.  Everything pointed to a grant assault at some point in the near future.

Aside from this, Howard had time to deal with an administrative request.  To Major-General Peter Osterhaus, he responded:

General Corse requested the privilege of raising a negro regiment for his division for the purpose of pioneer duty, details for work in the quartermaster’s and commissary departments, &c. I will approve the raising of two negro regiments, one for each army corps, for the purposes above specified, and give the provisional appointments of such officers as the corps commanders may recommend, subject to the approval of the War Department. Each regiment must be denominated Pioneer Battalion, in conformity with Special Field Orders, No. 120, Military Division of the Mississippi, and must be paid as pioneers are now paid, should the War Department fail to approve my action.

On the Right Wing, Major-General Henry Slocum was likewise busy preparing for the anticipated assault.  Keeping Sherman’s headquarters informed, at 8 a.m. that day he wrote, “I am now fully prepared to execute any orders the general-in-chief may issue. All our batteries are finished, but the six 20-pounder guns have not yet come.”

Slocum’s subordinates examined the potential assault routes that day.  Brigadier-General James Morgan, commanding Second Division, Fourteenth Corps, provided an assessment of the ground in front of his line, prefacing, “I am sorry to say that I have no place from which one could be made with any reasonable hope of success.” Morgan continued on to say the roads leading up to the Confederate works were,

… commanded by a well-constructed fort, with abatis and other obstructions in front, the water of the swamp over and across the road for some eighty yards, depth not known. To advance a column by the flank upon this road without any ground for deployment, under a heavy fire, would be a useless destruction of life, without a corresponding advantage.

To deal with the canal, which crossed his sector, Morgan had foot bridges and fascines constructed.

On the Twentieth Corps sector, scouts from the 33rd Massachusetts sent forward scouts to assess the ground.  Corporal Robert Black reported back:

After arriving at the picket-line he started to about forty paces to the left of the Savannah and Charleston Railroad; advanced some seventy paces on clear ground without discovering any obstructions and no impediments, after which encountered large pine trees felled, ground uneven and no water; with some difficulty climbed over the felled trees and came to swampy ground, and still further on came to a pond varying from six to twelve feet in width, tried the depth of the pond by means of a pole and judged it to be some five feet deep with soft spongy ground, after which moved further to the left by creeping under and climbing over the fallen trees and found tolerable good ground, no water, but fallen timber, and as far as he could see it was all fallen timber–not trimmed.

Black estimated he reached a point 200 yards from the Confederate works before turning back.  Clearly those making the planned assault would have their work cut out for them.

Brigadier-General John Geary’s men improved the fortifications in their sector on the 20th.  Late in the evening the 30-pounder Parrotts arrived and were placed in position.  But while this was going on, Geary reported Confederate activity of note:

I ascertained this morning that the enemy had completed a pontoon bridge from Savannah across to the South Carolina shore, and notified the commanding general corps of the discovery.  This bridge was about two miles and a half from my left.

Wary of any Confederate withdrawal attempt, Geary asked his outposts to keep the bridge under observation.  But no significant activity was reported before nightfall.

Closing his 8 a.m. report, Slocum added, “I have a brigade on the South Carolina shore.” This was, of course that of Colonel Ezra Carman who’d turned a “lodgement” into a full on brigade perimeter in the rice fields.  Further advance was blocked by Wheeler’s men:

December 20, in obedience to orders from the brigadier-general commanding division to determine the position of Clydesdale Creek with reference to my line, I detailed twelve companies of the brigade, under immediate command of Colonel Hawley, Third Wisconsin Volunteers, and accompanied them myself. The force succeeded in reaching Clydesdale Creek with the loss of one man killed, and after erecting works for one regiment and posting therein two companies of Thirteenth New Jersey Volunteers, an effort was made to strike the Savannah and Hardeeville road, but the enemy, anticipating the movement, had thrown a strong force in our front. Having a canal to cross under their fire if we advanced I ordered the detachment to withdraw.

Carman, like Geary, noticed signs the Confederates were withdrawing:

During the day a great number of vehicles of all descriptions were seen passing our front, moving from Savannah toward Hardeeville, which fact was reported to the headquarters of the division.

Later that afternoon, a Confederate gunboat shelled Carman’s position.  After firing some thirty rounds and killing one man, the gunboat fell back due to the tides. Nearing dusk, Carman reported clear indications the Confederates were pulling out:

At 4 p.m. the enemy were re-enforced by three regiments of infantry from Savannah. From 7 p.m. until 3 a.m. the noise of the retreating enemy could plainly be heard as they crossed the bridges from Savannah to the South Carolina shore.

The Confederate withdrawal was underway, with several keen observers on the Federal lines reporting the movement of wagons.  But the army’s chief was not in contact at that moment.  Nor was anyone looking forward to the prospect of fighting through the swamps, ponds, and abitis to get at the departing Confederates.   I’ll turn to the particulars of the Confederate withdrawal… or retreat if you prefer… in the next post.

(Citations from OR, Series I, Volume 44, Serial 92, pages 237, 279, 766, 769, 770-1 and 968.)

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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