“The distance transported is nearly 1,400 miles, about equally divided between land and water. ” Strategic Moves in the Winter of 1865

By January 1865, even a biased observer of the Civil War would have to agree the final acts were due to play out within months.  But before the curtain would open on the next rounds, several actors had to move about on the stage.  As some of the fall 1864 campaigns reached conclusions, the demands of January 1865 prompted movement of troops across theaters.  Both Federal and Confederate troops were in motion that month.  There are three movements which I’d highlight as rather important to the last phases of the Civil War.

I’ve mentioned one of those movements in brief already.  The Second Division, Nineteenth Army Corps, under Major-General Cuvier Grover, were veterans of the vicious fall campaigns of 1864 in the Shenandoah Valley.  But in January 1865, Grover’s men were designated to be the new garrison of Savannah, Georgia.  The division departed Camp Sheridan, outside Winchester, Virginia, on January 7, 1865.  From there, the troops moved by railroad to Camp Carroll, Baltimore, Maryland.  This first leg of the journey was about 100 miles.

The division’s second leg was by steamers from Baltimore to Savannah – some 625 miles, give or take.  The division arrived in Savannah on January 20.  This freed up the division of Major-General John Geary (Second Division, Twentieth Corps) for the movement into South Carolina.  And thus the force that Major-General William T. Sherman had marched through Georgia in the fall of 1864 remained intact for similar treatment of South Carolina.   Grover’s men spent the last winter of the war at the enviable posting of Savannah.

The second troop movement to consider is that of the Twenty-third Army Corps.  The lone formation in the Army of the Ohio, Major-General John Schofield’s troops were veterans of the Atlanta and Franklin-Nashville Campaigns.  And at the start of January 1865 they were south of Nashville.  From the big overview, Schofield’s troops were extra chess pieces on the far side of the board, better employed on the Atlantic Coast.  But Schofield could not simply march the direct route through to the Carolinas.  Instead their route was opposite that taken by the Eleventh and Twelfth Corps in the fall of 1863.

The key individual in the Twenty-third Corps movement was Colonel Lewis Parsons, Chief of Rail and River Transportation.  On January 11, 1865, Parson’s received an order from Assistant Secretary of War Charles A. Dana:

It having been decided that the Twenty-third Army Corps, Major-General Schofield commanding, shall be transferred from the Tennessee to the Chesapeake, you will immediately proceed westward, and take the general supervision and management of its transportation.

Dana advised Parsons to use boat transportation, if practical, to Parkersburg, West Virginia. But if needed, the rail system should be leveraged.  Parsons wasted no time, departing Washington on the same day.

A railroad man before the war, Parsons hedged his bets and contacted “several trustworthy gentlemen intimately connected with the management of Western railroads” to have sufficient rolling stock to move the troops if the situation arose.  Initial estimates called for boat (or rail) capacity to move 10,000 men.  But by January 18, Parsons realized the number was in reality 20,000! Adjusting, Parsons shuffled resources to meet the demands.

The first leg was movement by river boat from Clifton, Tennessee to Paducah, Kentucky. The second leg, along the Ohio River, used over fifty steamboats to move the troops to Cincinnati, Ohio.  At first Parsons planned to move the troops by rail from there because of river conditions.  But as the boats arrived, on January 21-23, ice in the river cleared up.  So the boats pressed on for over 300 more river miles to Wheeling, West Virginia (well past Parkersburg, by the way) where they transferred to the rail-cars.

Though moving from Wheeling to Washington by rail, a harsh winter stood in the way of the next leg of the journey.  To avoid unnecessary delays caused by stops to prepare rations, Parsons had local quartermasters, or the railroad operatives themselves, stage cooked meals ready to serve the troops.  Parsons personally supervised the loading of the last trains on the west side of the Appalachians on January 31.  “I took the train and reached [Washington] on the night of the 1st instant, where, on the following day, I found upon the banks of the Potomac the Twenty-third Army Corps safely encamped.”

Parson reflected on the achievement:

The distance transported is nearly 1,400 miles, about equally divided between land and water. The average time of transportation, from the embarkation on the Tennessee to the arrival on the banks of the Potomac, was not exceeding eleven days; and what is still more important, is the fact that during the whole movement not a single accident has happened causing loss of life, limbs, or property, except in the single instance of a soldier improperly jumping from the car under apprehension of danger….

And keep in mind, I’m offering only the “Cliff Notes” version here.  Parson’s report, including attachments, runs some sixty pages within the Official Records.  Parsons earned a promotion to Brigadier-General that winter.

But while Parson’s job was done, the Twenty-third Corps was still moving.  Within days some troops moved again to Annapolis, Maryland where they boarded ocean-going transports headed to North Carolina.  And here the movement met its first major snag.  Several of the transport vessels were not outfitted to handle troops.  Regardless, the troops went south… some cases on cargo vessels.  Schofield, now in command of the Department of North Carolina and having placed Major-General Darius Couch in command of the corps, directed the Twenty-third Corps to Cape Fear.  The Corps Third Division arrived at Fort Fisher on February 9.  But the remainder arrived in serials.  The last of the corps did not complete the journey until February 28 (with the last elements disembarking at Morehead City, North Carolina).  Though the movement by sea was slow in comparison to Parsons’ charge, elements of the corps arrived in time to take part in the final operations at Wilmington.

The last major movement I’ll mention here is on the other side of the lines.  The start of the new year found the Army of Tennessee somewhat beaten, but still in being.  And an army that “is” is still an army.  However, that army was most needed in South Carolina.  So orders came forth to move some parts of the army eastward. I’ll step past the organizational changes and such details in this post.  But for comparison to Federal activities, let me summarize the movements of Major-General Benjamin Cheatham’s Corps, as recorded by one of the corps’ staff officers, Major Henry Hampton.   On January 27, the corps left Meridian, Mississippi by rail.  Making stops at Demopolis, Selma, and Montgomery, the Corps moved through Alabama from January 29 to February 3.  Starting at Columbus, Georgia on February 3, the troops were able to ride by train to Milledgeville.  On February 7, Hampton recorded:

Left Milledgeville in a storm of rain and rode horseback twenty-five miles, bivouacking near Colonel Lane’s, two miles from Sparta.

Of course, staff officers ride while infantry march.  But using the much maligned  Confederate rail system, some of which Sherman had wrecked only a few weeks earlier, from Mississippi to central Georgia, many footsteps were saved.  Indeed, for Cheatham’s men to reach Augusta, Georgia, the only leg were no railroad existed was the forty-five or so miles from Milledgeville to rail stops on the Georgia Railroad.  By February 10, Hampton reported camping across the Savannah River in South Carolina.  Such was a feat that one could argue rivaled the movements facilitated by Parsons … when one considers what resources were available to the Confederates.

Three movements.  Three substantial troop formations placed at new locations on the map.  All accomplished within weeks.  Although the war was winding down, the troops were still in motion.

(Citations from OR, Series I, Volume 47, Part I, Serial 98, pages 1080-1; Part II, Serial 99, pages 215, 216-7, 219.)


“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.)


“The rebels have driven off everything that they could….”: Ward’s reconnaissance into South Carolina

On December 30, 1864, Brigadier-General William T. Ward received orders to move his division, of the Twentieth Corps, across the Savannah River.  His mission was to reconnoiter the South Carolina side of the river and push back any Confederate pickets.  Ward was to push up the Union Causeway that weeks earlier had been the Confederate’s route of retreat out of Savannah.  Facing Ward were detachments of Confederate cavalry which patrolled to the Savannah River, occasionally firing on Federals. But the cavalry would not cause Ward any large problems.  Instead, it was the weather which caused the delays to this Federal foray.

Ward was directed to use pontoon bridges to cross the Savannah River (Point #1 on the map below).  Federal engineers had repaired those used and partially destroyed by Confederates on December 21.  Ward later reported:

Accordingly I directed my brigade commanders to move at 6.30 a.m. on the morning of the 31st of December, 1864, and moved with them across one channel of the Savannah River onto Hutchinson’s Island, and after crossing which I found that from some cause the bridge was not completed, nor was it likely to be for several days. I at once caused search to be made for small boats, and after much labor in a chilling rain, and under the fire of the enemy’s vedettes, I crossed a portion of my First Brigade, which quickly drove the enemy from the river. Not being able to cross the remainder of this brigade same night I recalled that portion already crossed and camped the brigade upon the island.

Brigadier-General Daniel Dustin, commanding Second Brigade of Ward’s Division, recorded:

Crossing over the first channel to Huchinson’s Island, it was found that little or no progress had been made toward bridging the second channel.  The day was excessively uncomfortable, a cold rain was falling, and the troops who had not yet been reclothed since the last campaign, suffered much.

By nightfall, Dustin’s troops were back in camp outside Savannah.  Thus ended Federal movements on the last day of 1864.


On New Year’s Day, 1865, Ward attempted crossing again, sending across once more First Brigade under Colonel Henry Case, “by the most indefatigable labor.”  And again they met the Confederates on the far bank, as Case recalled:

When we commenced crossing rebel scouts and vedettes on the left bank of the river annoyed us with their fire, killing one corporal and wounding one private.  As soon as the rear of the brigade had crossed I immediately pushed out about six miles into the interior and arrived at the residence of Doctor Cheves about 9 p.m., the rebel scouts and vedettes retiring as I advanced.

Case’s advance reached the old Confederate works around the Cheves and Hardee Plantations. (Point #2 on the map)  (Oh… and if you are wondering, no Lieutenant-General William J. Hardee did not have a direct connection to the plantation, nor to Hardeeville in Jasper County, South Carolina. Though his distant relatives were responsible for the placename.)

Having only sufficient boats to move one brigade, Ward had his Second and Third Brigades return to Savannah and camp for the night, “on account of the severity of the weather.”  On the morning of January 2nd, Ward attempted to cross the remainder of his command.  Dustin put his lead regiment across by boats.  But soon the Army Steamer Planter (yes that storied ship again!) arrived to transport the remainder of the division.  While Case’s brigade remained forward in the former Confederate works, the other two brigades remained at Screven’s Ferry (Point #3).

On January 3rd, Ward consolidated his command around the Hardee plantation and began sending forward patrols.  As Ward reported:

I have in person this morning reconnoitered several miles up the road toward Hardeeville. Trees have been felled in the road from the rice-fields to this place and for many miles beyond. I have removed them to this place and for one mile and a half beyond; the others I will not cut out until I have a more minute and extensive examination made farther up the road. The rebels have driven off everything that they could and killed and left dead on the road everything they could not drive away. Few rebels seen. Their camp-fires plainly seen (from a large post) last night, but are not to be seen this morning.

The Confederates were making good on orders issued by Hardee in December.  They would leave nothing behind that might aid the Federals.  Ward added particulars about the Confederate works (Point #4) which he felt would make a good post for his command:

The fort is built on the Hardee farm, about one mile from here. It covers about three acres, large enough to encamp 2,000 men; has embrasures for about fifteen or twenty guns. It is on the highest ground near the road. I think it the best place to encamp my division.

At times, this post is referred to as “Fort Hardee.” But that was not official, and there appears to be some confusion with the works on Hardee’s plantation and other works at Hardeeville, captured later.

On January 4, Ward sent patrols toward the New River Bridge (Point #5) and Jonesville beyond.  Major Hiland Clay led the patrol to that place, and reported no Confederate resistance.  The Confederates retreated before the Federals arrived, continuing their practice of leaving nothing behind of value:

Major Clay also brought in two contrabands from Jonesville, who report that all the cavalry pickets in the river bottom, after the skirmish with my men last evening, were drawn in and retreated full speed through Jonesville last night, up the roads toward Hardeeville, saying that the “Yankees were coming;” since which time they have seen no rebel soldiers near Jonesville, and that they think all of them have gone back to Hardeeville. Before they left they shot down all the hogs and cattle and took all that the “poor negroes” had to eat, stating that the Yankees would get it if they (the rebels) did not kill, destroy, and take it.

Another patrol reached out to Red Bluff to the east (Point #6).  Confederates had built a substantial battery there, which included a columbiad and two rifled guns, to prevent passage up the New River. But the heavy guns were drug off shortly after the evacuation of Savannah.  Federals found an empty fort (which is still there today, on private property), and also a potential port:

They found the roads leading to it high, dry, and good. The fort good but small; the water ten leer deep at low tide; several roads leading from it up and down the river; fine ground for encampments. The fort is three miles from my troops. Captain Crawford and Lieutenant Tuttle, of my staff, think that my troops could be supplied by landing stores at that point.

For all intents, by January 4, Ward had achieved the advance proposed by Colonel Ezra Carman earlier in December.  The difference was that Carman wanted to trap the Confederate army, while Ward was by then chasing them up the road.

For the moment, Major-General William T. Sherman was content to hold this advanced post in South Carolina.  While Ward’s men were patrolling, the Seventeenth Corps was embarking at the Thunderbolt docks for transit to Port Royal.  The string restraining Sherman for the moment was not the Confederates in front of him, but that of logistics.  Still, he planned to launch his next major movement by mid-January.  So the important work of staging troops in the right locations continued.

(Citations from OR, Series I, Volume 47, Part I, Serial 98, pages 782, 788, and 802; Part II, Serial 99, pages 12-13, and 15.)


January 2, 1865, “Time is a very important consideration…”: Supplies rushed forward for Sherman’s next move

At this time in 1865, the Federal armies in Savannah were like a coiled spring, waiting for the trigger to surge forward again.  On Christmas Eve, Major-General William T. Sherman wrote to Lieutenant-General Ulysses S. Grant suggesting a move through South Carolina.  Sherman preferred to leave Charleston and Augusta (Georgia) alone while he drove through the center of the state towards Branchville and Columbia.  From there, Sherman proposed to move towards Wilmington, North Carolina to assist sea-based forces in the capture of that important Confederate port.

On January 2, Sherman received correspondence from Grant, written on December 27th, approving the conceptual plan.  Grant wrote, “Without waiting further directions, then, you may make preparations to start on your northern expedition without delay.” That in hand, Sherman responded to Grant,

Everything here is quiet, and if I can get the necessary supplies in my wagons I shall be ready to start at the time indicated in my project, but until those supplies are in hand I can do nothing; after they are I shall be ready to move with great rapidity.

Sherman also enclosed a copy of his “project for January” outlining preliminary movements:

Right Wing move men and artillery by transports to head of Broad River and Beaufort; get Port Royal Ferry and mass the wing at or in the neighborhood of Pocotaligo.

Left Wing and cavalry work slowly across the causeway toward Hardeeville to open a road by which wagons can reach their corps about Broad River; also by a rapid movement of the Left secure Sister’s Ferry and out as far as the Augusta road–Robertsville.

In the meantime all guns, shot, shells, cotton, &c., to be got to a safe place, easy to guard, and provisions and wagons got ready for another swath, aiming to have our army in hand about the head of Broad River, say Pocotaligo, Robertsville, and Coosawhatchie by the 15th of January.

Second. Move with loaded wagons by the roads leading in the direction of Columbia, which afford the bust chance of forage and pro visions. Howard to be at Pocotaligo 15th of January, and Slocum to be at Robertsville and Kilpatrick at or near Coosawhatchie about same date.

General Foster’s troops to occupy Savannah, and gun-boats to protect the rivers as soon as Howard gets Pocotaligo.

Let me lay those proposed movements on the map, also showing some of the actual movements taking place in those first days of January 1865:


As Sherman wrote his response to Grant, Brigadier-General William T. Ward’s division (Third Division, Twentieth Corps) was crossing the Savannah River and securing the shore opposite the city of Savannah.  I’ll detail Ward’s advance in a separate post.  But his objective was to clear the Confederates out of the area between Savannah and Hardeeville (Point #1 on the map above).   Confronting him was a screen of Confederate cavalry.   The main Confederate line of resistance was the Combahee River.   However, the local commander, Major-General Lafayette McLaws, maintained forces at Grahamville, Coosawhatchie, and Pocotaligo.

The initial movements proposed by Sherman, to develop over the first weeks of January, would spread the wings of his army back out from Savannah.  The Right Wing would move by ship, up the Broad River, to the foothold held by Brigadier-General John Hatch outside Coosawhatchie (Point #2).  From there, Major-General Oliver O. Howard would press the Confederates out of Pocotaligo (Point #3).  Meanwhile, Major-General Henry Slocum would move the Left Wing up the Savannah River, major elements crossing at Sister’s Ferry (Point #4), to gain Robertsville (Point #5).  Brigadier-General H. Judson Kilpatrick’s cavalry would move behind the Right Wing to Coosawhatchie (Point #6).  If successful, these movements would prompt the evacuation of Beaufort County, South Carolina and give Sherman a firm foothold in the state.

At that moment, the Confederates directly facing Sherman’s force numbered only around 12,000.  So if anything were to stop him from moving, it was, as he alluded to in the message to Grant, logistics.  Attempting to tie up that loose end, Sherman’s Quartermaster, Brigadier-General Langdon C. Easton sent a message to Major-General Montgomery Meigs, Quartermaster-General in Washington:

General: I wrote you on the 30th ultimo in regard to sending to this place sixty days’ grain for 35,000 animals; also requesting you to send me six very light-draught steamers and twenty Schuylkill barges. I am now instructed by General Sherman to say that he contemplates a very important move, and desires the sixty days’ grain and subsistence for 70,000 men for sixty days sent forward as rapidly as possible, one-half the grain and one-half the subsistence (thirty days’) to be sent into Wassaw Sound in steamers drawing not over twelve feet of water, and the other half to Hilton Head in such vessels as can be procured, but the lighter they are the better. There is but thirteen feet water from Wassaw Sound to this place, at the highest tide. It is important in selecting the vessels that as many as possible be fixed upon that have capacity and conveniences for carrying animals, and I request that they may be selected with that view. Time is a very important consideration, and I suggest that such sail vessels as it may be necessary to use in this work be towed by the steamers in order to save as much time as possible. Send all grain and no hay. Hurry forward all the clothing and other stores I have asked for as soon as possible. The sixty days’ grain will be required at the commencement of the move. In addition to this we must have grain to last us until that time, say fifteen days. The light steamers and barges asked for in my letter of the 30th ultimo I still require. The animals of this army are in great jeopardy at present for the want of grain, as but little has as yet arrived, and the animals have been without for several days. Grain should be pushed forward with the utmost dispatch.

The opportunity that lay before Sherman had a shelf life.  If his armies did not move quickly, the Confederates might find a way to mass forces to oppose him… or someone in Washington might come up with a better use for his troops.  So Easton pressed for light draft steamers and all the supplies need for another sixty days’ worth of campaigning.

(Citations from OR, Series I, Volume 44, Serial 92, page 820; Volume 47, Part II, Serial 99, pages 6-8.)

Poe’s plan for the garrison, defense of Savannah reflected Sherman’s operational scheme

During the days after Christmas in 1864, residents of Savannah were just becoming acquainted to life under Federal occupation. Even the troops in Savannah were still setting up, having transitioned over the span of barely two weeks from a light order field army, to siege operations, and finally to winter quarters of sorts.  Yet Major-General William T. Sherman was already looking to the next campaign.  The details of such were still in the air somewhat, but clearly the armies which had crossed Georgia would not remain garrisoned around Savannah.  Such a large body of healthy, veteran troops would move to press the Confederates in other sectors.

But Savannah was too good a port for the Federals to abandon entirely.  Sherman’s plan was to leave the minimum garrison possible in Savannah as his forces moved out on the next expedition.  Good, well positioned defenses were the key to reducing the manpower allocated to the garrison to a minimum.  Toward that end, Sherman asked his chief engineer, Captain Orlando Poe, to survey the area in and around the city.  On December 26, 1864, Poe offered his brief report:

In accordance with your instructions, I have the honor to submit the accompanying rough sketch of plan for the defense of this city. I have reduced the garrison to the lowest probable limit; a smaller one would render it difficult to use any part of it for such offensive operations as might be desirable. The proposed line will be so close to the city that some of the buildings will have to be torn down, and in case of attack all parts of the city will be under artillery fire. Still, the presence of the women and children of the enemy within our lines will render such a fire extremely improbable; and should it be decided by the enemy that they ought to bombard the city, all stores and other valuable property will be quite secure at or near the levee. It is proposed to hold Fort Jackson only because a temporary occupation of it by the enemy would cause us serious inconvenience; to destroy it would require much labor, and even then its site would remain, which would be as detrimental to our interests as the fort itself. Fort Boggs should be dismantled, and so much of it as can give a fire upon the city should be destroyed, because, being an inclosed work, an enemy might effect a lodgment and hold it for a limited time, much to our annoyance. All the remainder of the enemy’s old line, being open to the rear, can do us no injury, and can therefore stand as it is. It is a good line, but too extensive for any garrison that will probably be left in the city; it would require 15,000 men to man it completely. The accompanying sketch does not show the character of the works proposed, but merely the approximate position of the line. The line of works should consist of a system of detached redoubts, in defensive relations, which could be connected by infantry parapet at our leisure.

Poe’s map is lost somewhere between 1865 and today.  But the line of works he mentions here does appear on the map submitted for the Official Records (that surveyed by Poe to accompany Sherman’s report):


The inner blue line, well back of the old Confederate works, is that built under Poe’s supervision.  As Poe suggested, the line is very close to the city itself, much closer than the Confederate line.   It also covers the rear of those former works rendering them useless for any attacker.  Most of the ground between the new Federal line and the old works was open field… rice fields with defensive qualities well known to the Federals at that time.

As Poe mentioned, the exception to all this arrangement was Fort Boggs, and would need be dismantled.  I would offer that the work towards that goal was not completed with vigor.  Remains of the fort appeared on maps right up into the 20th century, and traces of the line there are visible today.

Fort Jackson… Old Fort Jackson to all… remained as an outpost.  Far too much effort to tear down the brickwork.  The fort also served as a communication link and control point downriver to Fort Pulaski.

Poe’s line would require less than 10,000 men.  Sherman sought to pull troops from the Department of the South, but Foster was already too thin.  Further he hoped to allocate invalid troops (who were not capable of field duty) from the Department of Mississippi, for this duty.  Thus a call back to Nashville for troops originally from the Armies of Tennessee and Georgia (Fourteenth, Fifteenth, Seventeenth, and Twentieth Corps) for the task.  But this was both impractical and would provide far too troops for the task.  The ultimate solution was to pull troops from Virginia – Second Division, Nineteenth Corps under Brigadier-General Cuvier Grover from the Army of the Shenandoah.  Grover received orders for transit to Savannah in early January, and was able to relieve Brigadier-General John Geary on January 19, 1865.  (The movement took place in just over two weeks.  A fine example of the operational mobility possessed by the Federals in the later stages of the war.)

One portion of Poe’s report that I would call out for thought:  “Still, the presence of the women and children of the enemy within our lines will render such a fire extremely improbable….”  Somewhat a twist of circumstances here with a Federal officer offering the presence of civilians would preclude indiscriminate firing.  Was this to say the Confederates would never fire upon the civilians?  I would not go that far.  The precise military tone of Poe’s assessment continued in the second half of the sentence, “… and should it be decided by the enemy that they ought to bombard the city, all stores and other valuable property will be quite secure at or near the levee.”   So it was not so much that the Confederates would not fire on a city filled with civilians, but that their guns could not hit anything of importance.  In short, bombarding the city under those circumstances was not considered worthwhile.   Such, of course, was very apparent to any Confederate threatening Savannah, as their generals had shrugged off a similar threat from Sherman just over a week earlier.

(Citation from OR, Series I, Volume 44, Serial 92, pages 811-12.)

December 26, 1864: “The city of Savannah… will be held as a military post” – Military jurisdiction over the hostess city

If I were better at photo-editing, I’d have Sherman’s face here over that of Dr. Seuss’s Grinch:

On the day before Christmas, while communicating with Major-General Joseph Wheeler in regard to citizens requesting to pass through the lines, Major-General William T. Sherman wrote, “No provision has been made for the families in Savannah, and many of them will suffer from want – and I will not undertake to feed them.”  Sherman wanted no more refugees to pass into Savannah. Furthermore, Sherman added, “If your pickets fire on our boats, I will clear Savannah and river of all unfriendly parties.”  So much for the holiday spirit!  Those civilians left in Savannah might have expected a harsh, desperate winter lay ahead.

But on December 26, 1864, Sherman issued Special Field Orders, No. 143 from his headquarters at Savannah:

The city of Savannah and surrounding country will be held as a military post and adapted to future military uses; but as it contains a population of some 20,000 people who must be provided for, and as other citizens may come, it is proper to lay down certain general principles that all within its military jurisdiction may understand their relative duties and obligations.

I. During war the military is superior to civil authority, and where interests clash the civil must give way, yet where there is no conflict every encouragement should be given to well-disposed and peaceful inhabitants to resume their usual pursuits; families should be disturbed as little as possible in their residences, and tradesmen allowed the free use of their shops, tools, &c.; churches, schools, and all places of amusement and recreation should be encouraged, and streets and roads made perfectly safe to persons in their pursuits. Passes should not be exacted within the line of outer pickets, but if any person shall abuse these privileges by communicating with the enemy, or doing any act of hostility to the Government of the United States, he or she will be punished with the utmost rigor of the law. Commerce with the outer world will be resumed to an extent commensurate with the interests of the citizens, governed by the restrictions and rules of the Treasury Department.

II. The chief quartermaster and commissary of the army may give suitable employment to the people, white and black, or transport them to such points as they may choose where employment can be had, and may extend temporary relief, in the way of provisions and vacant houses, to the worthy and needy, until such time as they can help themselves; they will select, first, the buildings for the necessary uses of the army, next, a sufficient number of stores to be turned over to the Treasury agent for trade stores; all vacant storehouses or dwellings and all buildings belonging to absent rebels will be construed and used as belonging to the United States until such times as their titles can be settled by the courts of the United States.

III. The mayor and city council of Savannah will continue, and exercise their functions as such, and will, in concert with the commanding officer of the post and the chief quartermaster, see that the fire companies are kept in organization, the streets cleaned and lighted, and keep up a good understanding between the citizens and soldiers; they will ascertain, and report to the chief commissary of subsistence as soon as possible, the names and number of worthy families that need assistance and support. The mayor will forthwith give public notice that the time has come when all must choose their course, viz., to remain within our lines and conduct themselves as good citizens, or depart in peace. He will ascertain the names of all who choose to leave Savannah, and report their names and residence to the chief quartermaster, that measures may be taken to transport them beyond the lines.

IV. Not more than two newspapers will be published in Savannah, and their editors and proprietors will be held to the strictest accountability, and will be punished severely in person and property for any libelous publications, mischievous matter, premature news, exaggerated statements, or any comments whatever upon the acts of the constituted authorities; they will be held accountable even for such articles though copied from other papers.

These orders governed the Federal occupation of Savannah.  Contrary to fears and concerns expressed in the days before the city’s capture, Sherman did not plan to lay waste to the city.  Instead, the focus was on maintaining order and security. Brigadier-General John Geary, appointed military commander of Savannah, setup a headquarters downtown at the Central Railroad Bank Building, next to the US Custom House.  “Office hours for ordinary business from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m.”   Within weeks, the City of Savannah was passing proclamations lauding the fair-hand of Geary’s administration.

Contrary to Sherman’s Christmas Eve note, plans were made to support the population of the city.  Most of that effort came by way of what we’d call today a “Non-Governmental Organization” or NGO.  Julian Allen, acting as an agent between Savannah and northern cities, made appeals through the respective Chambers of Commerce in New York and Boston.  Through Allen’s efforts, aid began to flow into Savannah. The city sold rice left behind by retreating Confederates for other foodstuffs.  (Allen, incidentally, was a Polish immigrant. Often cited as a Federal colonel, that rank appears to be tied to his service in Europe.  I will plan to explore this part of the story in more detail in a later post.)

Arguably, occupied Savannah had an easier winter of 1865 than Richmond or Charleston… probably better than any city left in the Confederacy at that time!  What can we attribute the change of policy, from December 24 to December 26?  Did Sherman’s heart warm, like the Grinch, over Christmas Day?

No so fast.  There were two separate audiences in the correspondence considered.  To Confederate authorities, Sherman gave a cold and uncompromising front.  He was also using the situation, pointing out it was Confederate citizens, which those authorities were charged with the care of, who were going to suffer if the situation deteriorated.  The Christmas Eve message to Wheeler had served notice – the Confederates had abandoned their “charge” to the mercy of the Federals AND the behavior of the Confederates would determine the measures taken to govern those abandoned charges.

But to the citizens of Savannah, the message was different.  Notice Orders No. 143 carried no requirement for oaths of allegiance.  So long as order was maintained and nothing interfered with military operations, the occupation would avoid harsh measures.  The Federals had learned from occupation of Confederate cities earlier in the war.  Savannah’s occupation was, for the most part, without incident.

(Citations from OR, Series I, Volume 44, Serial 92, pages 796, 800-1 and 812-3.)


Christmas Day, 1864, in Savannah

Wishing a merry Christmas, or respective happy holiday to all readers.  In observance of the day, I will refrain from normal posting today.  But I cannot resist at least one 150th mention:


From Harper’s Weekly, Major-General William T. Sherman and company enjoying Christmas dinner at his headquarters, the Green House (now Green-Meldrim) in Savannah.