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.


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”:


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:


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.)



January 14, 1865: Blair’s move on Pocotaligo forces a Confederate withdrawal

For Major-General Oliver O. Howard’s Army of the Tennessee, or Right Wing of Major-General William T. Sherman’s armies, the march through South Carolina started on the wrong foot on January 13-14, 1865.  Sherman’s plans called for both corps of the army – the Fifteenth and Seventeenth – to move by water to Port Royal Sound, with the Seventeenth taking the lead.  From there, the Right Wing would move up from the established Federal bases to move inland.  Sherman’s intent was to have the two wings drive into South Carolina from separate points, and thus spread the Confederates thin in their defense.


Within days of putting that plan to paper, Sherman made some small modifications.  One of which had the Right Wing moving to Beaufort, where port facilities were better, across Port Royal Island, and thence onto the mainland by way of Port Royal Ferry.   Keeping to the proposed start date for the offensive, the Seventeenth Corps, under Major-General Frank P. Blair, Jr., began movement from the docks at Thunderbolt to Beaufort on January 4.

But that movement was slow due to the lack of suitable transport vessels.  Yet, on January 11, Howard issued orders for Seventeenth Corps to “make every preparation to cross the Whale Branch of Coosaw River at Port Royal Ferry at daylight on Friday morning, the 13th instant.”  Howard’s orders called for a pontoon bridge spanning to the mainland, from which the corps would build a bridgehead.  From that purchase, Blair would “push on and secure Pocotaligo.”  The Fifteenth Corps would follow as it arrived.

At that time, the troops of the Seventeenth Corps were on Port Royal Island.  But their trains, artillery, and horses were delayed in transit.  On January 12, Lieutenant-Colonel Greensbury L. Fort, Chief Quartermaster of the Fifteenth Corps, reporting the delays at Thunderbolt.  He counted a total of 103 wagons and 1,745 animals remaining from the Seventeenth Corps awaiting transport.

I am advised by officers of the Seventeenth Army Corps, now here, that at the average rate of shipment they will not all embark before to-morrow night or next day morning, after which we can commence on the transportation of the First Division of our corps….  Hardly any of these vessels but would carry a brigade of men after all transportation is on board.  The great trouble is to store the animals on these little boats.

Fort was sure he could get the First Division (Major-General Charles Woods) out on the 13th.  But the Second Division (Major-General William Hazen) could not move until the 15th at the earliest.

Due to the delays, Blair held the movements of his lead divisions – Third and Fourth Divisions under Brigadier-Generals Mortimer Leggett and Giles Smith, respectively – until the afternoon of January 13.  First Division, under Major-General Joseph Mower remained in camp until the bridgehead was established.  At the tactical level, Blair’s plan was for a small force under command of Lieutenant-Colonel Dennis T. Kirby, Blair’s Chief Picket Officer, to cross Whale Branch on small boats that evening.  Once across, a portion of Leggett’s division would follow to secure a bridgehead.  If all went well, “The bridge will then be laid and the command crossed over and placed in camp until daylight… when the forward movement on Pocotaligo will be commenced.”


At the prescribed time, Kirby led the first boats to effect a landing.  Shortly after that, details from Third Division followed.  But the bridging would have to wait.

Whale Branch, unlike some of the inland rivers that the engineers crossed in Georgia, was a tidal feeder.  It featured a long flat on either bank.  Its channel was about 100 yards at low tide.  While a bit more difficult than a normal river crossing, still within the capabilities of the engineers.  However that task was made more difficult by the number of pontoon boats with rotted canvas.  While enough serviceable boats were on hand to make one span, Howard had to draw additional pontoons from Major-General John Foster’s command at Hilton Head.


Leggett’s command finally moved across Port Royal Ferry (Point A on the map above) at daylight, followed shortly after by Smith’s division and Mower’s.  According to Blair’s report, “The enemy, consisting of one regiment of cavalry and three pieces of artillery, was first encountered at a small stream about five miles from the ferry, in a strongly intrenched position.”  Colonel Charles Colcock commanded the Confederate cavalry, numbering only 150, contesting Blair’s advance.  Leggett easily outflanked Colcock’s first positions, just outside Garden’s Corners.  Then Colcock fell back the bridge over Horspa Creek (Point B on the map).  At 9:30 a.m., Colcock reported:

We have checked thus far skirmishing.  Now his advance has appeared in front of the bridge.  Take care of our rear and we will try to hold the position as long as the general wishes.

At other times during the war, a small force such as Colcock’s had stopped large forces attempting to move out of the narrow corridors through the marshes.  However, in this case Leggett had two roads to use and did not delay.  Sending one of his brigades on the Sheldon Road (Point C) towards Pocotaligo, Leggett had rendered Colcock’s position untenable.  Using his full force, he pressed the Confederates at all points.  At 3:15 p.m., Colcock reported:

The enemy having flanked me by the Sheldon road and driven in my cavalry there, I am falling back to Old Pocotaligo.  I could not hold the position at Stony Creek because the enemy were on the other road also.

Leggett’s skirmishers pursued Colcock right up to the works at Pocotaligo (Point D).  Blair summarized the closing actions on the 14th:

The skirmishers moved forward through an almost impassable swamp or flooded rice-field to within musket-range of his works.  About this time it became so dark that further movements were impossible.

These movements prompted a flurry of activity on the Confederate side.  At first, Major-General Lafayette McLaws, commanding the sector, called upon Major-General Joseph Wheeler to reinforce Colcock.  But later that evening, as the situation became clear, McLaws countermanded his earlier request.  “The enemy are immediately in front here at Pocotaligo.  I will try and withdraw to-night, the movement commencing from the right.”  This triggered the contingency plan laid out by Lieutenant-General William Hardee (and approved by no less than President Jefferson Davis himself) to fall back on the Combahee-Salkehatchie River line.

Though the Seventeenth Corps’ start was delayed by transportation problems and delays, as the sun sat on January 14 they were well into South Carolina.  The next phase of Sherman’s march was on.

(Citations from OR, Series I, Volume 47, Part I, Serial 98, pages 374-5; Part II, Serial 99, pages 35, 43, 48, 1011, and 1013.)

Scorched Earth for South Carolina? Hardee’s dispositions to defend the Palmetto State

During the days leading up to the Confederate evacuation of Savannah, Confederate leaders in the department began organizing the next line of resistance, anticipating future moves of Major-General William T. Sherman.  The loss of Savannah did reduce the number of points the Confederates had to defend.  But at the same time, a large Federal force operating on the Atlantic coast brought other points into range, thus complicating plans.  Furthermore, the nature of Sherman’s operations, particularly by not garrisoning and holding points in central Georgia, brought the expectation that Confederate or state forces would reoccupy that left in the wake of the march.

After conferring with General P.G.T. Beauregard on December 20, 1864, Lieutenant-General William Hardee issued a circular outlining proposed troop movements as part of the Savannah evacuation.  After reviewing the circular, Beauregard endorsed the plan, recording his concern about the manpower available:

Maj. Gen. G. W. Smith’s command (about 2,000 men) being sent to Augusta, will leave of the troops coming from Savannah about 6,500, which, added to those under the immediate command of Maj. Gen. Sam. Jones, on the line of the Savannah and Charleston Railroad (say about 5,500, exclusive of those in and around Charleston), makes about 12,000 troops. Of these he thinks there should be about 2,500 to guard the left bank of the Combahee, with about 1,000 in reserve at a central point between the Combahee and Ashepoo; about 3,500 in the Fourth Sub-District, with about 1,000 of them in reserve at or near Adams’ Run and Green Pond, and about 5,000 in the Second and Third Sub-Districts, in addition to those already there.

Beauregard, from his experiences earlier in the war, knew the railroad line was critical to facing any Federal threat from the coast.  Using that railroad, a strong mobile reserve could react to enemy advances.  However, as of December 22, the Savannah garrison was still spread across the neck between the Savannah and Broad Rivers.  Though guarded by a screen of cavalry, those troops had to be moved quickly or risk, again, encirclement.  The map below roughly depicts the locations of Federal (blue) and Confederate (red) positions as of that date, from Savannah to Charleston.  The thick red line, with pointer, indicates the withdrawing Savannah garrison.


Beauregard’s intention was to establish a new line anchored on the coast at the Combahee River (in orange).  This line would pass all the way up to the Savannah River in Barnwell County, South Carolina, thus covering both Augusta and Charleston.

On December 22 the circular, approved by Beauregard, became Special Field Orders No. 17 from Hardee’s headquarters.   The orders moved Major-General G.W. Smith’s Georgia troops, by way of Charleston and Augusta, back to Georgia.  The North Carolinians under Major-General Lafayette McLaws would move to Charleston, while the general himself took command of the Pocotaligo-Combahee sector from Major-General Samuel Jones (who would resume duties in Charleston).  Major-General Ambrose Wright, joined by the South Carolina reserves and militia, moved to Fourth Military District, replacing Brigadier-General Beverly Robertson, around Adams Run and Green Pond.   The artillery batteries withdrawn from Savannah would fall under Colonel A.J. Gonzales, long time artillery chief of the department, but be parceled out to support points in contact with the Federals.

To Major-General Joseph Wheeler, commanding the cavalry screen, Hardee instructed:

Major-General Wheeler’s cavalry corps (that part of it east of the Savannah River, and the remainder should it come up) will guard the crossing of the Savannah and New Rivers and the landings east of Screven’s Causeway until forced by the enemy to retire. General Wheeler will then guard and defend the country between the Savannah River and the defensive line of the Combahee and the right flank of that line, resting at or near Barnwell Court-House.

This would set a screen in front of the new defensive line desired by Beauregard.  However, it also gave up the remaining portions of Beaufort County, and parts of Barnwell County, to any advance of the Federals.  Addressing that, Hardee’s orders stipulated, in Paragraph XI:

As the cavalry retires before the enemy it will drive off all cattle, sheep, and hogs not necessary for its consumption, and impress and send to Charleston, to be turned over to engineer department, all negroes capable of bearing arms; all mills, boats, buildings that may be used by the enemy for military purposes, and all rice, corn, and other provisions not necessary for the subsistence of the cavalry, and not absolutely needed for the consumption of the owners, their families, and slaves, will also be destroyed.

Of note are the instructions with respect to slaves – either they would be withdrawn by their masters or turned over to the government for labor.  As opposed to allowing them to be employed or, as specifically called out, armed by the Federals. Paragraph XII allowed the cavalry to requisition property:

All wagons and teams (with drivers) on plantations about to fall into the hands of the enemy, and which are not required by the owners for the removal of their own property, will be impressed for the use of the army.

Throughout November and December, Wheeler’s men operated under similar “scorched earth” instructions in Georgia.  Arguably those did little to slow Sherman’s march, but did much to anger the local population.  Already there were repercussions working through political channels in regard to Wheeler’s operations.  Those in South Carolina were already concerned about these drastic measures.

(Citations from OR, Series I, Volume 44, Serial 92, pages 970 and 975-6.)

Leaving Savannah in the Night: Hardee’s evacuation

On January 3, 1861, pro-secessionist forces seized Fort Pulaski.  Events propelled Savannah into the the forefront of the secession crisis.  From the start, the Savannah was one of the Confederacy’s leading cities.  And from the start, Confederate leaders prepared to defend the city.  Fortifications ringed the city and warded off Federal threats, even after the fall of Fort Pulaski.  Savannah became both depot and bastion.  Now, just short of four years after the ball started rolling, the Confederate army was leaving the city in the middle of the night.

On December 19, Lieutenant-General William Hardee issued a circular starting with:

The troops in and around Savannah will be transferred to-night to the left bank of the Savannah River, and will proceed thence to Hardeeville.

The remainder of the thirteen part circular detailed specific actions and movement times for subordinate units. At dark the field artillery would “be withdrawn by hand,” limbered when in the rear, and drawn over the river.  Major-General Ambrose Wright’s division, furthest south on the outer lines, would withdraw at 8 p.m.  Garrisons in the coastal fortifications, east and south of the city, would retired starting at 9 p.m.  Major-General Lafayette McLaws’ men would retire at 10 p.m.  Then Major-General G.W. Smith’s division at 11 p.m. Skirmishers would maintain a presence on the line, but start retiring at 10:30, in the same order as the divisions.

Anything of military value that could be move would be transported over the river.  And what could not be moved, would be destroyed.  Heavy guns were to be spiked. But “The ammunition will be destroyed by throwing it into the river, or otherwise, and not by blowing it up.”  For this escape plan to work, Hardee did not need an explosion to tip off  the Federals.  Chief engineer Colonel John Clarke would destroy the bridge when the last skirmishers had crossed.

But, as mentioned in yesterday’s post, Hardee put the execution time off for a day due to delays setting the pontoon bridge over the river.  So on the 20th, the order of execution went out:

The movement ordered in confidential circular from these headquarters dated December 19, 1864, will be executed to-night at the hours as originally arranged, and not as subsequently amended–that is, Wright’s division will move at 8 o’clock, McLaws’ division at 10 o’clock, and Smith’s division at 11 o’clock, and Wright’s skirmishers will be withdrawn at 10.30 o’clock, McLaws’ skirmishers at 12.30 o’clock, and Smith’s skirmishers at 1 o’clock.

So other than a twenty-four hour delay, the circular stood in effect.

The Confederate artillerists, faced with hauling ammunition to the river for disposal, opted instead to fire off as much as allowed.  Brigadier-General John Geary did notice all this activity:

The usual artillery firing was kept up by the enemy during the day and night. During the night I heard the movement of troops and wagons across the pontoon bridge before mentioned, and sent a report of the fact to the general commanding corps. Leaving one of my staff to watch the sounds in that direction, I notified my officer of the day and brigade commanders to keep a vigilant watch upon the enemy, as they were probably evacuating.  The details on Forts 2 and 3 continued working through the night, the enemy shelling them heavily.

But, for the most part, the Federals remained in their positions only occasionally sparring with their opponents.  For the first time in the Savannah Campaign, the Confederates had stolen a march on Sherman.  But, of course, it was the closing movement of the campaign.

With the evacuation of Savannah, the Confederates had a substantial amount of supplies to either move, destroy, or to distribute.  Not all of it would be processed.  But under Hardee’s orders, fires were kept to a minimum.  There would be no repeat of the conflagration when Atlanta was abandoned.

With the evacuation of Savannah, its naval squadron would lose a base.  After assisting with the withdrawal, the vessels were to get out as best possible.  The ironclad CSS Savannah was to make for open sea by way of St. Augustine Creek.  The gunboats CSS Isondiga and CSS Firefly would attempt passage up river to link up with the other elements of the Confederate fleet near Sister’s Ferry.  Since the CSS Georgia could not move, her crew would scuttle the ironclad battery and escape to South Carolina. The CSS Water Witch, which had been captured earlier in the year, would be burned to prevent re-capture.

In the event, none of the vessels would make it out of Savannah. The Isondiga ran aground upstream from the pontoon bridge and was burned to prevent capture.  Throughout the night the Firefly assisted with the withdrawal and lay at Screven’s Ferry dock.   Unable to clear the torpedoes from any channels to the sea, the Savannah also remained in the vicinity of Screven’s Ferry.  There, the ironclad could at least prevent the Federals from repairing the pontoon bridge and making a pursuit over the river.

Not taken into account with Hardee’s orders were the more than 20,000 civilians in Savannah.  Very few received passes over the bridge to escape.  With the last of the Confederate army withdrawn in the early morning hours, the city found itself at the mercy of the Federal forces which had destroyed Atlanta, Milledgeville, and other cities across Georgia.  December 21 would bring a reckoning of one sort or the other.

(Citations from OR, Series I, Volume 44, Serial 92, pages 279, 967, 972.)

Marching Through Georgia, December 10, 1864: “The last five of our 300 mile march”

On this day in 1864, Major-General William T. Sherman’s columns reached the main line of defenses outside Savannah.  For the most part, I’ve been able to use large scale maps to provide a general description of the movements of the columns during the march.  For December 10th, that map would look like this:


The general plan of movement is there.  But as we follow along the march in the closing phase (as in the last “hours” of the march, as we might think of it), the narrative needs to focus down to the tactical level.  The large scale map doesn’t show the Confederate defenses or the extent of marshes, swamps, and rice fields which lay in the path of the Federals.  For that, let me turn again to Captain Orlando Poe’s map (Oh… by the way… 150 years ago today his survey teams were starting work on said map).  Looking to the western approaches I’ve highlighted the major avenues of approach:


Broad brush, there were two main corridors.  First corridor was due west of the city. On the Federal left, the Augusta Road and Charleston & Savannah Railroad joined near Monteith Station and followed parallel paths toward the city.  Those routes joined the Georgia Central and Louisville Road.  From there, crossing a couple of important creeks and the Savannah-Ogeechee Canal, the route led directly to Savannah.  Corridor two was southwest of the city and included the Ogeechee Road (to King’s Bridge) and the Savannah & Gulf Railroad.

Overlay on top of that the Confederate dispositions:


Major-General Gustavus W. Smith had his Georgia militia, roughly 2,000 strong, on the right flank close to the river.  Smith’s line covered the first corridor. Recall these were troops who’d defended Macon, then traveled by rail to Savannah (some fighting at Honey Hill). They were supported by twenty cannons:

MarchDec10CSDef - Smith

Major-General Lafayette McLaws’ Division covered from the Canal to the Ogeechee Road.  The 4,000 men of McLaws’ command included a North Carolina brigade, rushed from the Wilmington defenses, and the famous Kentucky Orphan Brigade.  McLaws also had a formidable arrangement of 29 cannons:

MarchDec10CSDef - McLaws

To the left of McLaws, the division of Major-General Ambrose R. Wright covered the approaches down to the Little Ogeechee River and Middle Marsh.  Wright commanded a varied force of state troops – militia, home guard, and reserves, bolstered with artillery. Looking close at the snip below, you’ll notice Poe’s terrain annotations indicating the terrain advantage:


The square-hatched areas were rice fields.  The marshes are shown with dash-hatched areas.  Notice how Wright’s left, though hanging out in the air on the “big” map, was actually anchored on a vast expanse of marsh.  Likewise to get at Wright’s front, Federals had to cross rice fields and marshes.  Just “getting at” the defenses would be a chore into itself.

To the left of Wright, Major Alfred Hartridge’s battalion held a series of outposts against any attempt to cross the series of tidal rivers to the south (chiefly the Little Ogeechee and Vernon rivers).

Sherman’s orders for the day stressed the need to close up to the main Confederate defensive line, but without becoming too heavily engaged.  He wanted to consolidate his armies in front of those lines.  He, and many of his men, had experienced sieges of Vicksburg and Atlanta.  Everyone knew well the need to find weaknesses in the line before committing to the positions for siege.  This was a day of “feeling” for the enemy’s works.

On the left flank and center of the advance, three corps approached the first corridor from different directions:


The Seventeenth Corps approached, as they had been for well over a week, down the Georgia Central Railroad.  Advancing from Pooler that morning, the Corps soon encountered Confederate artillery at McBeth Battery.

The Twentieth Corps march took the road from Monteith. The 1st and 3rd Divisions bypassed the railroad station and proceeded up the Charleston & Savannah Railroad.  The 2nd Division marched with the corps’ wagons to Monteith Station and then picked up the rear of the march.

The Fourteenth Corps, still lagging behind after delays in the swamps, paused when reaching the railroad to allow Twentieth Corps to pass.  Third Division, under Brigadier-General Absolam Baird, moved to the left and proceeded to destroy the railroad back to and including the bridge over the Savannah River.

The Fifteenth Corps continued to advance in columns to close on the Confederate line:


Underscoring the need for improved maps, Major-General Oliver O. Howard’s orders for the 10th had the Third and Fourth Divisions moving against points which either did not exist or were unreachable without boat:

First, Major-General Osterhaus, commanding Fifteenth Army Corps, will direct Brig. Gen. J. E. Smith, commanding Third Division, to push his division forward toward a point marked on the map as Beverly, reconnoitering and feeling for the enemy by the plank and other roads leading into Savannah. Second, he will direct Brigadier-General Corse, commanding Fourth Division, to continue his reconnaissance toward a point marked Hermitage, carefully feeling toward Savannah by all the roads in his front leading thereto.

While “Beverly” and “Hermatige” appear on the large-scale map that Howard was using, these placenames were not included on Poe’s smaller scale map (finished after the campaign).  To reach the area of “Beverly” Smith’s division would need to traverse two major rice fields and a marsh while crossing Forest River (a tributary of the Little Ogeechee).  Corse would need to cross open water and marshes to reach “Hermitage” which was in the vicinity of Coffee Bluff.

Amid this mental fog (and there was a “real” fog that day coming off the marsh), Smith’s division moved by way of the canal tow-path to a point opposite McLaw’s line.  Corse made headway up the Ogeechee Road, but likewise found no way through the Confederate lines.

With contact established all along the Confederate front, the Federals quickly went about erecting their own fortifications.  Again, many of the men in the ranks had earlier experience in similar situations.  These veterans did not need orders to start erecting breastworks.  Long gone were the early days of the war when commander and private alike shunned the shovel.

Two episodes of note occurred during the movement up to the Confederate lines.  In Twentieth Corps sector, foragers fanned out down to the Savannah River that day.  One of those teams ran into the Confederate navy.  As reported by Colonel Ezra Carman, the brigade commander:

A forage party under command of Captain [H.A.] Gildersleeve, One hundred and fiftieth New York Volunteers, this day captured the rebel dispatch steamer Ida on the Savannah River, taking thirteen prisoners, among whom was Colonel Clinch, of General Hardee’s staff.  The steamer was burned by Captain Gildersleeve, he not being able to hold it on account of rebel gun-boats on the river.

With the railroads severed and the Federals along the river, the only way for communication (and resupply) of Savannah was by way of the Union Causeway, leading to the road to Hardeeville, South Carolina.

On the Seventeenth Corps sector, Sherman himself accompanied the march.  Major Henry Hitchcock, his aide, recorded a close call with Confederate artillery.  Sherman stopped at a frame farmhouse not far from the advance.  While the staff conducted business in the yard of the house, Sherman wandered off several times to observe or just to keep to himself.  At times Hitchcock went out to tend to the general, only to see him wander off again.

After twenty or thirty minutes saw General again quietly start off down the road along which troops had been steadily passing to the front and deploying on right of road and now [Brigadier-General Mortimer] Leggett’s division were coming up and deploying to the left of it.  Following him at once and before long overtook him, say 100 yards from the house.  Had hardly done so when – just after report of cannon ahead to which I had paid no attention though loud and near, certainly not over 800 yards off, – saw him stop quickly, look forward and upwards, and step one side; at same moment heard loud rush and wizzing in air over and in front of us, very like noise of a rocket, understood that easily, looked for the shell (as I supposed it) but “couldn’t see it” – saw, however, very decided and rapid movements of men near us in and on side of road,  – concluded to “git” myself, but no shelling was near, and so, expecting the shell to strike and burst concluded to risk its striking me, but to dodge the pieces if possible, and thereupon went down on the sand into a gracefully recumbent posture; the next moment heard the shot strike the ground heavily somewhere near, but “didn’t see it” still.

Hitchcock recovered and rejoined Sherman.  “As I joined him, he said quietly – ‘This place is not safe, they are firing down the road – we had better go back.’ So we went back….”  Hitchcock was convinced that Sherman had indeed dodged the projectile simply by gauging it’s flight.

For the day, Hitchcock recorded one other point in his diary:

Didn’t march our fifteen miles today, nor ten miles either – if we had, “Savannah serait prise.” How long will it take us to get the last five of our “300 mile march”?

Already in motion, Sherman had plans to achieve those last five miles.  Attention would turn to Fort McAllister on the Ogeechee.

For this installment, following the march to the sea, I’ll say there are no specific entries to cover the day’s activities.  But I’ll mention several of those around Savannah in the upcoming days.

(Citations from OR, Series I, Volume 44, Serial 92, pages 235 and 669; Henry Hitchcock, Marching with Sherman: passages from the letters and campaign diaries of Henry Hitchcock, Yale University Press, 1927, pages 169-70. )