Sherman’s March, February 20, 1865: Howard instructs – “These outrages must be stopped at all hazards”

For a few days in late February 1865, Major-General William T. Sherman’s march through South Carolina seemed much more an administrative movement than a military operation.  Movement orders were cut.  The troops started each morning at the appointed time.  Foragers went out.  And guards remained alert.  But the Confederates did little to contest these movements. Sort of like a calm the day after a great storm..  February 20, 1865 was one of those march days.

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The Left Wing set aim for Winnsborough that day.  The Fourteenth Corps, with their pontoon problems behind them, crossed the Little River at Ebenezer Meeting-House.  On their left, the Cavalry Division crossed the Broad River and reached Monticello. Brigadier-General H. Judson Kilpatrick noted, “Found that Wheeler had already crossed the river and was moving north to Chesterville.”   The Twentieth Corps complemented those other movements, completing their crossing of the Broad River and reaching a camp beyond the Little River that night.  Major-General John Geary described conditions on that day’s march:

February 20, my division in the center marched at 2 p.m., following the First Division; crossed Broad River on a long pontoon bridge at Freshly’s Mill and moved forward toward Winnsborough. A short distance from the river we crossed the Abbeville railroad, which is a cheap structure of stringer track and strap rail. Following a very miry and unfrequented road through woods and fields, we forded Little River, a deep, rapid stream thirty yards in width, and at Colonel Gibson’s house entered a main road to Winnsborough. Here, turning to our left, we moved forward on this road, which we found an excellent one, through a very hilly country, and encamped within nine miles of Winnsborough. The country on our route to-day was a rich one, and forage and supplies were plentiful. The soil was a good, rich loam, with subsoil of yellow or red clay; distance, seven miles.

The Right Wing also made progress marching in the direction of Winnsborough that day.  The Seventeenth Corps continued to chew up the Charlotte & South Carolina Railroad as it moved.  The Fifteenth Corps avoided clogging the roads behind the other corps by moving to the east.  The refugee train followed behind the Third Division (third in order of march that day) with the engineers close by to aid passage.  Orders called for a halt at Muddy Springs.  But due to poor water in that vicinity, the corps continued on for a few miles before going into camp.  Before leaving Columbia, Major-General John Logan had the rear guard sweep through the city.  Brigadier-General William Woods (First Brigade, First Division, Fifteenth Corps) “had driven all stragglers and camp followers before him and moved his command from the city in good order.”  Columbia was left to fend for itself.

On the 20th, Major-General Oliver O. Howard became very concerned about pillaging and robberies that he felt were out of order, and increasing in frequency.  In an effort abate these, Howard issued a rebuke that day:

I desire to call your attention to the fact that some of our soldiers have been committing the most outrageous robberies of watches, jewelry, &c. A case has come to my notice where a watch and several articles of jewelry were stolen by a foraging party under the eye of the commissioned officer in charge. Another, where a brute had violently assaulted a lady by striking her, and had then robbed her of a valuable gold watch. In one instance money was stolen to the amount of $150, and another, where an officer with a foraging party had allowed his men to take rings off the fingers of ladies in his presence. To-day a soldier was found plundering, arrested, placed under the guard of one of General Corse’s orderlies, and was liberated by some of his comrades who had arms in their hands, and who threatened the life of the guard. These outrages must be stopped at all hazards, and the thieves and robbers who commit them be dealt with severely and summarily. I am inclined to think that there is a regularly organized banditti who commit these outrages and who share the spoils. I call upon you and upon all the officers and soldiers under you, who have one spark of honor or respect for the profession which they follow, to help me put down these infamous proceedings and to arrest the perpetrators. Please furnish to every inspector, provost-marshal, and officer in charge of a foraging party a copy of this letter, and enjoin them to be on the watch to stop these infamous proceedings, and to bring to justice the individuals who commit them.

Again, there is no denying these offenses took place.  At the same time, one cannot claim authorities turned a blind eye.

On the Confederate side, the situation seemed chaotic.  The opportunity Lieutenant-General Wade Hampton saw two days earlier had lapsed. His cavalry fell back around Winnsborough. Major-General Benjamin Cheatham’s corps remained at Newberry that day, but received orders to move to Charlotte, North Carolina.  General P.G.T. Beauregard called for a concentration at that point.  He’d suggested General Braxton Bragg bring his command out of the Wilmington area to unite.  And fearing Sherman might intercept the forces withdrawn from Charleston, Beauregard ordered Lieutenant-General William Hardee (Major-General Lafayette McLaws being the field commander at that time) to move rapidly to Florence.  But to authorities in Richmond, Beauregard painted a dim picture of the situation:

There are so many roads in this section of country on which the enemy can move towards Charlotte it is impossible with my small force of infantry to remove or destroy all supplies.

To help Beauregard sort things out, in particular get the troops moving faster towards a concentration, Richmond sent Major-General Jeremy F. Gilmer to Charlotte, with instructions to “advise as to the movement of his forces, the roads most available to effect the earliest possible junction of his troops, which should be effected before a battle with the enemy is risked.”

One more great battle was in order before the Confederacy gave up on the Carolinas.

(Citations from OR, Series I, Volume 47, Part I, Serial 98, pages 288, 687, and 859; Part II, Serial 99, pages 505-6 and 1229.)

Sherman’s March, February 4, 1865: A missed opportunity for the Confederates?

The map showing Major-General William T. Sherman’s movements for February 4, 1865 does not offer a lot of “arrows”:

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As with the previous day, delays getting the Left Wing across the Savannah River caused the Right Wing to slow down on February 4.  But on the positive, Major-General Henry Slocum’s wing finally had a corduroyed, bridged path out of the Savannah River bottoms.  After crossing on the 3rd, Major-General H. Judson Kilpatrick’s cavalry division moved past Robertsville to Lawtonville.  His mission was to feint towards Augusta.  Allendale and Barnwell were next on Kilpatrick’s agenda.

The Second Division, Twentieth Corps followed the Cavalry across Sisters’ Ferry and escorted Kilpatrick’s wagons. However, Major-General John Geary found “the road for nearly three miles through Black Swamp utterly impassable for trains….” and the division was only able to make nine miles that day.  Major-General John Corse’s Fourth Division, Fifteenth Corps crossed the river that evening, and escorted a large number of Fifteenth and Twentieth Corps wagons.  The Fourteenth Corps waited their turn to cross the next day.

Major-General Alpheus Williams, with two of his Twentieth Corps divisions (minus one brigade), performed Sherman’s desired demonstration towards Barnwell.  “On the 4th, to avoid the deep water of Coosawhatchie Swamp, I diverged to the left by a settlement road through very swampy ground as far as Smyrna Post-Office, and then moved north on the Barnwell pike, encamping at Allendale Post-Office,” recalled Williams.

Major-General John A. Logan did have the Fifteenth Corps in motion that day.  With word of success at Rivers’ Bridge the day before, Logan received orders to move on Buford’s Bridge upstream:

In compliance with these orders I directed General [Charles] Woods to move forward from his advanced position at 6 o’clock, sending a brigade in light marching order, unencumbered with wagons, to Buford’s Bridge to secure the same and to follow on with the rest of his command as rapidly as possible.  General [John] Smith moved in rear of the First Division.  General [William] Hazen was ordered to Angley’s Post-Office…. On reaching the bridge General Woods found the works of the enemy deserted, but the bridge over the main stream had been destroyed and the lagoon bridges, some twenty-six in number, had been all broken down.  The roads were heavy and required a good deal of work from the pioneer corps.

There was a minor skirmish between Hazen’s men and Confederate cavalry near Angley’s.  But otherwise only the swamps and terrible roads contested the Federal advance.  The crossing at Rivers’ Bridge prompted most of the Confederate forces in the sector to fall back.  Major-General Lafayette McLaws began movement back from the Combahee-Salkehatchie to the Ashepoo and Little Salkehatchie Rivers.  Orders came for Major-General Joseph Wheeler to move portions of his command on the far side of the Salkehatchie to in front of Branchville.  These movements, while compliant with plans formulated on February 2nd, removed the Confederate forces from an opportunity which opened… very briefly… behind the Federal advance.

Consider the activity, or inactivity, of the Seventeenth Corps that day.  Major-General Frank Blair concentrated his corps on the far side of the Salkehatchie over the hard-won crossing points.  And Blair mentioned, “A train of thirty wagons and some ambulances was sent back to Pocotaligo with our sick and wounded, under escort of the Ninth Illinois Mounted Infantry.”  Not that Blair had thirty wagons full of wounded.  Rather those wagons were going back to replenish supplies.  All the empty wagons from the Right Wing headed back to Pocotaligo that day.  Keep in mind Sherman’s report from late January which mentioned having four days of fodder on hand to start the campaign.  It was the fourth day of the march from Pocotaligo.

Fifty wagons and ambulances were but a portion of the vehicles supporting the Right Wing.  In a report posted February 3, the quartermaster of the Fifteenth Corps tallied 794 wagons and 144 ambulances.  Still that was fifty wagons to carry a vital supply.  And that supply line was lengthy and prone to interruption, had the Confederates desired.  However, just a day earlier, Confederate leaders had concluded, “The enemy moving with a certain number of days’ rations for all his troops, with the hope of establishing a new base at Charleston after its fall, has in reality no lines of communication which can be threatened or cut.”

In one way, the Confederate assessment was correct, in that Sherman moved with a limited supply with hopes of replenishing later in the march.  But the assessment assumed that would necessitate the capture of Charleston and not continued foraging along the march.  That same assessment pointed to the need to delay Sherman for a week to ten days in order to get reinforcements form the Army of Tennessee into play.

While a dash against the Right Wing’s supply lines would not have stopped the invasion of South Carolina, it might have caused pause and provided the Confederates the desired week to ten days.  Instead, the forces directly in front of the Federals were instructed to fall back to a new line of resistance.  The key point governing Confederate decisions was this:

During the pending negotiations for peace, it was thought of the highest importance to hold Charleston and Augusta, as long as it was humanly possible.

The Confederate commanders facing Sherman were not contesting every inch of ground in South Carolina.  Rather they were hoping to play out the clock.

(Citations from OR, Series I, Volume 47, Part I, Serial 98, pages 222-3, 377, 582, and 683;  Part II, Serial 99, page 1085.)

Sherman’s March, February 2, 1865: Skirmishing everywhere!

Yesterday I put some of the geographic and “demographic” aspects of the first days of Major-General William T. Sherman’s advance into South Carolina.  Today, let me focus on more of the martial aspects.   Lots of skirmishes broke out across the line of advance on February 2, 1865.  Some of those are depicted on the map below with yellow stars:

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As mentioned earlier, the level of skirmishing in South Carolina is in contrast to that in Georgia the previous fall.  While contact with Confederate forces of some sort happened every day in Georgia, often days would pass with a column encountering no organized resistance.  Such was not the case in South Carolina.  Every day of the march, some Confederates formation was there to contest the advance.

Specific to February 2nd, Major-General Lafayette McLaws’ division manned a line along the Combahee River, upstream to the mouth of the Salkehatchie River.  The extension of this line was a brigade under Colonel George P. Harrison covering the bridges over the Salkehatchie.  Harrison’s command included three regular Georgia regiments, two Georgia reserve regiments, detachments of South Carolina cavalry, and a battery of artillery.  All told, just over 2,000 effectives.  From there, the division of Brigadier-General William Y.C. Humes, from Major-General Joseph Wheeler’s cavalry, covered the area between the Salkehatchie and Savannah Rivers.  (Not depicted on the map, the division of Major-General Alfred Iverson covered the Georgia side of the Savannah River… to the displeasure of Major-General D.H. Hill.)

The advance of the Right Wing had to cross the lines defended by Humes and Harrison.  Reacting to the advances on February 1, McLaws sent a request for Humes to “cross the Salkehatchie with the greater portion of your command and assist in guarding the crossings of that stream from Rivers’ Bridge to Buford’s and above as far as possible.”  Later in the day Humes reported falling back to cover Barker’s and Buford’s Bridges, though he kept his headquarters near Angley’s Post-Office, south of the Salkehatchie.  Harrison posted his troops to cover Rivers’ and Broxton’s Bridges (not labeled on the original map, but with a gold box on my overlay above).

Major-General Oliver O. Howard’s original orders for February 2 had the Seventeenth Corps, of Major-General Frank P. Blair, continuing the line of march on the roads paralleling the Salkehatchie with the aim of securing Rivers’ Bridge and a lodgement on the other side.  The Fifteenth Corps, under Major-General John A. Logan,  was to move on their left to Angley’s Post-Office.  But in the evening of February 1, Sherman asked Howard to amend those orders:

Slocum is a little behind.  I don’t want Logan to get farther to-morrow than the place marked “Store” near Duck Branch Post-Office. I want to make show marches till Slocum gets up, or nearly so.  Please make your orders accordingly.

We need to consider the maps as primary sources here.  There are plenty of “stores” around South Carolina.  The one in question is indeed simply marked “store” on the military map (a gold colored box on my map above).  Logan complied with the amended orders:

 … the Second Division having the advance, moved to Loper’s Cross-Roads. Our advance was contested by the enemy’s cavalry at the crossing of all the streams and creeks, in which timber had been felled, with the same pertinacity as on the previous day, but with the same result, and our mounted infantry found no difficulty pushing them back across Duck Branch.

Logan kept his Second Division at Duck Branch, but turned First Division towards Angley’s.  The Third Division followed but remained within supporting distance of both divisions when going to camp that night.

On the right, Blair sent forward the Ninth Illinois Mounted Infantry, followed by the Third Division, on a road to the left to reach Whippy Swamp Post-Office.  Along the main road, First Division, under Major-General Joseph Mower, assumed the vanguard.  Mower first moved up to Broxton’s Bridge, which was burned by the time of his arrival.  Leaving one regiment posted to keep the Confederates in place, he moved the rest of the division forward to Rivers’ Bridge:

I took the balance of my command on the Rivers’ Bridge road and ordered the Twenty-fifth Wisconsin, Colonel Rusk commanding, forward as skirmishers; they gallantly charged up toward the enemy’s works, and drove them so rapidly that they had no time to burn the bridges, sixteen in number, over the causeway leading to the other side of the Salkehatchie River. Having saved the bridges I directed Lieutenant-Colonel Rusk to deploy his regiment on the right and left of the road and drive the enemy’s skirmishers (if he had any) from this side of the river. The next regiment, the Forty-third Ohio Volunteer Infantry, Colonel Swayne commanding, I ordered to move in and take position on the right of the road. While showing him his position a piece of shell struck him in the leg, rendering amputation necessary, which deprived me of the services of a very brave and valuable officer.

Harrison brought up his only artillery at that time, and swept the Federals back away from the bridge itself.  Mower’s direct action had saved the crossing, but effecting a crossing was another matter.  Towards that end, Mower deployed the remainder of his division to threaten a crossing and started looking about:

After reconnoitering the enemy’s position I found his works too strong to assault them in front, so I ordered all the troops out of the swamp, which was about one mile long, only leaving a very strong skirmish line, and placed my command on high ground; I then put all my pioneers to work felling trees and constructing a road through the swamp, the water in most places being from one to eight feet deep. I reported the condition of affairs in the swamp to Major-General Blair that evening, who ordered me to go on constructing bridges and to cross, if possible, the next day.

A note here to any aspirant armchair generals… this is what you do when confronted with an “impossible” situation.  You look for openings and try to make something happen.

Elsewhere, the Left Wing continued its efforts to get out of the Savannah River bottom lands.  To close some of the gap developing between the wings, Major-General Henry Slocum directed the two divisions of the Twentieth Corps already over the river to push out towards Lawtonville.  Major-General Alpheus Williams left one brigade to protect Robertsville.  Major-General William T. Ward’s division lead the advance:

Marched for Lawtonville upon the 2d of February, meeting the enemy about one mile from town, barricaded in a dense swamp, with artillery. I deployed two brigades, and pressing forward two regiments, One hundred and fifth and One hundred and twenty-ninth Illinois Volunteers, and four companies of Seventieth Indiana, dislodged the enemy, losing 2 killed and 12 wounded; enemy’s loss, 8 killed, 30 or 40 wounded.

In addition to these movements, Brigadier-General John Hatch started a demonstration towards Combahee Ferry.  With one regiment and two Napoleon guns, Colonel Edward Hallowell’s objective was simply a reconnaissance, but “If you are confident that you can carry the work without serious loss you will do so.”   That move would develop over the following days.

(Citations from OR, Series I, Volume 47, Part I, Serial 98, page 222, 387, and 782; Part II, Serial 99, pages 194, 203, and 1053.)