“The treatment of the citizens was respectful”: Transfer of Savannah’s refugees at Charleston

After taking several days to organize and transport the refugees requesting relocation from Savannah, Captain Joseph Audenried arrived at Charleston to conduct the transfer.  The procedural details of this transfer were much like those of the prisoner exchanges conducted in December at Charleston.  The most important detail of this procedure was, of course, the cessation of fires from the batteries that ringed the harbor.  Here, Audenried met a snag in the execution of his appointed task.  When the steamer J.R. Spaulding, with the refugees, approached Morris Island, signals went up to halt the ship.  Brigadier-General Alexander Schimmelfennig, commanding the forces on the island, reported later:

At 9 a.m. I received a signal dispatch from Captain [Gustavus] Scott, the commanding officer of the fleet, stating that a Captain Audenried was at the fleet with some citizens of Savannah to be sent through our lines by a flag of truce at Cole’s Island.  He reported to me that my signal sergeant had made an error in the dispatch, which should have read Charleston Harbor instead of Cole’s Island; that Captain Audenried represented himself as being one of General Sherman’s staff, and that he was sent here for the above-mentioned business by the order of General Sherman. Captain Scott was unable to inform me whether the officer had any written authority or instructions, but suffered the steamer to pass the picket monitor to the rendezvous of exchange.  As I had received no instructions from Major-General [John] Foster in regard to the truce I acted on my previous orders, and at once stopped the steamer in its progress before it had communicated with the rebel tug.

I like this reaction from Schimmelfennig.  He didn’t care who Audenried represented.  Without something in writing, the cease fire was not going to happen. Well, that something in writing came down shortly.  Schimmelfennig dutifully sent his aide to confer with Audenried, “to discover whether he was clothed with any written authority.”  Audenried had no written orders in this regard.  His orders were verbal.  Likely, within the scope of the armies that Sherman directly operated for the previous year, Audenried was familiar enough that his word was easily interpreted as the word of his boss.  But Schimmelfennig was outside of that familiarity and didn’t know Audenried from Adam, and “Upon such authority I told him I could not permit it….”

But, shortly after Audenried arrived at Fort Strong to confer with Schimmelfennig, enlightening orders arrived…

…while conversing with him I unexpectedly received the desired instructions from Major-General Foster, and at once allowed him to proceed.  I regret to say that the dispatch referred to was culpably delayed in being forwarded to me by some now unknown parties, who, when discovered, will be severely punished.  The unfortunate delay caused by this neglect of the quartermaster or captain of the steamer lasted about one hour.

Woe to the man who caused this delay and incurred the wrath of Schimmelfennig!

With that, the transfer went about without incident.  The Confederate steamer Chesterfield met the Spaulding, and the refugees passed the lines. The following day, the Charleston Courier ran a report of the transaction:

The approach of the “Chesterfield” was greeted by a rush of the lady refugees to the side of the “Spaulding,” waving their handkerehiefs with every exhibition of delight at the prospect of so soon being restored to their own people and Southern homes. As the “Chesterfield” ranged alongside, the meeting of friends and acquaintances, the many happy recognitions and pleasing countenances, presented an intensely interesting scene.

Of note, as the Courier continued with the story, was the treatment of the refugees while in Federal hands.  The experienced was at the same time pleasant and distressing:

The refugees state that the treatment of the citizens was respectful. Sentinels were posted with orders to shoot down without taking him to the Guard House any soldier found molesting citizens or forcing an entrance into any house.  Many families, formerly in good circumstances, were obliged to take in sewing and work hard to procure the necessities of life.

The Courier did not state the total number of refugees exchanged, simply saying “A large number were distributed round among our citizens.”  The paper listed 23 individuals and families who were taken to the Wayside Home.

From Audenried’s perspective, as a staff officer, he’d completed the task.  He’d taken this refugee issue off his general’s list of chores.  And he had done so without incident.  Tag this as “good staff work.”

(Citations from OR, Series I, Volume 47, Part II, Serial 99, page 45; Charleston Courier, Friday, January 13, 1865, Page 1, Column 1.)

“Should any delay occur it will arise from the endless excuses made by ladies….”: Savannah families permitted to pass through the lines

Relative to other points, say Vicksburg or Atlanta, the capture of Savannah to Federal troops in December 1864 involved a very short siege.  The speed of that campaign and the Confederate military’s focus on extracting their forces meant that a sizable population was left behind in the city.  And a large number of those left behind were family members of Confederate soldiers.  Quite naturally requests came forward to allow those who wished an opportunity to pass through the lines.  On January 9, 1865, Major-General William T. Sherman, in a message to Major-General William J. Hardee, routed through Major-General Joseph Wheeler, gave his approval:

General: Yours of January 8, with dispatches inclosed, is received. I will send the families, as requested, to Charleston Harbor, and give public notice that a steamer will take them on board here on Wednesday, and suppose they can reach the anchorage off Charleston next day.; but should any delay occur it will arise from the endless excuses made by ladies, which General Hardee will understand. I will order my quartermaster to have a steamer at the wharf all Wednesday, to transport families to Charleston, to carry a small guard and flag to our gun-boat anchorage, and thence to such point as the naval commander may suggest.

“Endless excuses?”  There you have it.  Among other things, Sherman was a misogynistic pig.

To his Quartermaster, Brigadier-General Langdon C. Easton, Sherman instructed:

I have undertaken to send the families from Savannah to Charleston, and have fixed Wednesday, the 11th instant, to take them on board at our wharves. Captain Audenried, of my staff, will conduct the business, and I will authorize any expense necessary to carry out the undertaking. Please give public notice that the families who choose to leave Savannah under existing orders will be transported to Charleston, and that a steamer will receive them at such a time at such a dock on Wednesday. Place the steamer at the disposal of Captain Audenried. I think the admiral would cheerfully give you the use of the Harvest Moon, and Captain Audenried can relieve you of all details by simply giving him the necessary means and authority.

Very clear, specific orders that deserve attention.   Sherman wanted to be fully focused the invasion of South Carolina.  He was a general, and that’s the sort of stuff generals do.  But matters such as these families distracted him.  So what did he do?  Communicate a statement of intent to his staff so they would carry it out. This is little more than “please get this off my plate, OK?”

Captain Joseph Audenried was among the best staff officers of the Civil War.  Brian Downey provided biographic article with particulars of Audenried’s Civil War career for his Antietam on the Web project. Audenried was, as of January 1865, one of Sherman’s aides.

So what is the point here?  OK, having used Sherman’s somewhat humorous line in the first message to bring attention to this otherwise obscure, mundane aspect of the activity at Savannah, we see an example of how a good staff officer operates.  And at the same time, how a good commander uses a good staff.  Often you will hear derisive remarks about staff officers having cushy jobs.  Perhaps a staff officer’s life has some perks (the general’s mess being one of them).  But to keep that cushy job, a staff officer must perform well under the close observation of his boss.  Furthermore, the tasks given to staff officers are more often than not the unglamorous, but very much necessary, chores that need not pull the command away from important duties.  Things like the relocation of Confederate families, at their own wishes, to a transfer point.

How many things could go wrong with this operation?  One delay, one mistake, or one foul-up, Audenried’s fault or just an act of nature, might land this otherwise minor, unimportant operation on the front page of the newspapers.  Any resolution short of “transfer was completed with nothing significant to report” would be measured by degree of failure.  And a minor failure would not play well.  If nothing else, injury or insult of these families would provide the Confederates some “play” for the papers.  So Audenried did not have a “simple” task by any means.

Consider – we read little of this movement of families out of Savannah in secondary sources. Indeed, one has to dig around the Official Record and other primary sources in order to piece together what happened.  The transfer of the families took place at a busy time, on both sides of the line, and at a point where hostile guns fired almost daily.  Yet, I have practically nothing to write about it, save mention of a few dispatches.  I would submit that “consideration” is evidence of good staff work by Audenried.

(Citations from OR, Series I, Volume 47, Part II, Serial 99, page 29.)