Atlanta to Savannah: The March to the Sea
Shermanıs Georgia Campaign (the proper name for his famed ³March to the Sea²) can be viewed as simply an extension of his Atlanta Campaign, which began in the northwestern mountains in May, 1864. His original goal of cutting the critical transportation and manufacturing center of Atlanta off from the rest of the Confederacy having been met by early September, Sherman pondered what to do next. One of his earliest thoughts was to strike southwest towards LaGrange and West Point, while Union forces stationed in Mobile and Pensacola marched north to meet him, opening the Chattahoochee and Apalachicola rivers to Union control.
Another considered then rejected plan was to strike towards the state capital at Milledgeville, then turn on Macon, Augusta, and ³sweep the whole State of Georgia,² but concern over the still undefeated CSA Army of Tennessee just outside Atlanta gave him serious pause. His primary concern was that his supply line snaked through a relatively narrow defended corridor over 100 miles to the north in Chattanooga, and from there another 130 miles north to the main Union base at Nashville. Both the Confederate Army of Tennessee under CSA Major General John Bell Hood and CSA Major General Joseph Wheelerıs Cavalry Corps up in Tennessee threatened to cut off this supply route at any given time.
Researching population and agricultural records for every county in Georgia, Sherman finally concluded that his 60,000 plus men could live off the land for a short time, giving opportunity to join a Union army somewhere along the Atlantic coast. Under great pressure to send his army south to rescue Union prisoners at the notorious Camp Sumter prisoner of war camp near Andersonville, Georgia, Sherman admitted that going down the Flint River to accomplish this would probably be the safest course of action. However, he had objectives other than simple safe military maneuver.
Shermanıs grand army had simply walked into the contested city after Hood had abandoned it during the night of September 1, 1864. Hood, in one of his many rash decisions, had sent his entire cavalry force north to strike at the Union supply lines in Tennessee, leaving him without scouts to report on what his Union opposite was up to. Sherman, learning of the poor tactical decision, took advantage of the situation by shifting part of his forces to the south of Atlantaıs defense belt, and cut the single remaining railroad supply line into the city, near Jonesboro. Hood, left without means of supply or reinforcement, and faced with the prospect of a protracted siege, took what opportunity was left and snuck his remaining combat forces out of the cityıs defense under cover of dark.
Rather than face the small but combat-hardened veterans of Hoodıs army at their new defense lines near Lovejoy Station, Sherman elected to simply march his army into the city and take over the strong belt of fortification himself. Hood, faced with the prospect of bleeding his army dry against the very fortification they had built, decided instead to take his army north, cut the Union supply line, and try to starve Sherman out.
Sherman had some interesting problems to deal with, other than the roaming Confederate army at his gate. The extensive line of fortifications built by Confederate engineers and slaves around Atlanta was simply too large for his huge army to fully man, so he ordered his own engineers to tighten it down to a smaller ring of artillery emplacements defended by trenches for infantry. The nearly 30,000 civilians still within the city troubled him, for he did not wish to ³waste² any of the mountains of supplies flowing down from Chattanooga on the noncombatants.
On September 8, Sherman announced one of his most controversial orders of the war, ³The city of Atlanta, being exclusively required for wartime purposes, will at once be evacuated by all except the armies of the United States.² All civilians would be transported under flag of truce 10 miles south to Rough and Ready, then unceremoniously dumped in the unprepared area without provision for shelter or food.
Needless to say, this act provoked a howl of protest from Confederate civilian and military authorities. Hood stated in a letter to Sherman, ³permit me to say that the unprecedented measure you propose transcends, in studied and ingenious cruelty, all acts ever brought to my attention in the dark history of war.² Mayor James M. Calhoun of Atlanta protested that the majority of citizens left were old, infirm, women and children, and could not stand up to the coming winter without shelter or food. In a letter to Sherman he wrote that the act was ³appalling and heartrending.²
Sherman was not impressed. In a lengthy reply to Hoodıs letter, he reiterated his intentions and blasted Hood for suggesting it was anything truly unusual:
³In the name of common sense, I ask you not to appeal to a just God in such a sacrilegious manner. You, who in the midst of peace and prosperity have plunged a nation into war, dark and cruel war, who dared and badgered us into battle, insulted our flag, seized our arsenals and forts that were left in the honorable custody of a peaceful ordnance sergeant, and seized and made prisoners of war the very garrisons sent to protect your people against negroes and Indians...Talk thus to the Marines, but not to me...if we must be enemies, let us be men, and fight it out as we propose to do, and not indulge in such hypocritical appeals to God and humanity.²
Sherman had no intention of changing his orders, and on September 10 the first wagonloads of civilians left Atlanta. Hood was beside himself with the barbarity of Shermanıs actions, and just couldnıt leave it be without a parting shot. ³We will fight you to the death,² he wrote back to Sherman, ³better die a thousand deaths than submit to live under you.²
By October 1, Sherman finally made up his mind where to go next. Ordering USA Major General George H. Thomas back to Chattanooga with two corps to defend Tennessee, he began stripping down his remaining army to a hand-picked fighting force of 55,255 infantry, 4,588 cavalry and 1,759 artillerymen with 68 guns organized into four army corps. Writing a series of letters to his friend and commander, Lieutenant General Ulysses S. Grant, back in Washington, he outlined his planned offensive, ³Until we can repopulate Georgia (with Unionists), it is useless for us to occupy it; but the utter destruction of its roads, houses, and people will cripple their military resources...I can make this march and make Georgia howl.² He further advised that he was sending his wounded and unfit soldiers back up to Tennessee, ³and with my effective army, move through Georgia, smashing things to the sea.²
Shermanıs only real worry was that the few good roads and frequent stream and river crossing in southern Georgia could allow the remains of Hoodıs army and small bands of Georgia militia and home guards to delay his advance to an unhealthy degree. Unwittingly, Hood himself helped relieve some of this concern, with a renewed offensive against Shermanıs rear.
Realizing that there was no way his battered army could ever hope to take Atlanta back by force, Hood, with Confederate President Jefferson Davisı blessings, marched his troops out of camp near Palmetto northwards, hoping to cut Shermanıs supply lines north of Atlanta and force him to turn and fight him there. Crossing the Chattahoochee River near Campbellton on October 1, he continued north for two days, finally encamping near Hiram. CSA Major General Alexander P. Stewart was ordered to move east and attack and cut the Western & Atlantic Railroad line at Big Shanty (now Kennesaw), Acworth and Allatoona.
Stewartıs men surprised and captured about 170 Union troops at Big Shanty on October 4, then quickly moved north and captured a larger garrison at Acworth. Flushed with these easy successes, Hood personally ordered CSA Major General Samuel G. French to take his division on up the tracks and capture and destroy the bridge and railroad cut at Allatoona Pass. Hood was under the impression that the pass was only lightly held, as the two previous rail stops had been. However, Sherman had made the tiny settlement on the south side of the deep railway cut into a central base of logistical operations, had it heavily fortified and ordered another division under USA Brigadier General John M. Corse forward to garrison it. On both peaks over the 90 foot deep railroad cut heavily reinforced emplacements had been built. The westernmost set of peak defenses was dubbed the Star Fort, because of the arrangement of railroad ties surrounding it.
French divided his force and approached Allatoona from the north, west and south. Once all were in position, he rather arrogantly sent Core a terse message,
³Sir: I have the forces under my command in such positions that you are now surrounded, and, to avoid a needless effusion of blood, I call upon you to surrender your forces at once, and unconditionally. Five minutes will be allowed for you to decide. Should you accede to this, you will be treated in the most honorable manner as prisoners of war.²
Corse was somewhat less than impressed. 15 minutes later he replies, ³Your communication demanding surrender of my command, I acknowledge receipt of, and respectfully reply, that we are prepared for the needless effusion of bloodı whenever it is agreeable with you.²
French wastes no time, sending CSA Brigadier Generals Francis M. Cockrellıs Missouri Brigade and William H. Youngıs (Ectorıs) Brigade assaulting from the west. Both push through the first line of defenses, then the second, then through a third line of defense, all the while fighting hand-to-hand with clubbed rifles and bayonets. Advancing to within a few feet of the Star Fort, the fighting rapidly intensifies, with the Confederate advance finally being stopped before it could overrun the fort. Finally, with warnings coming from outposts that a Union force had been spotted moving rapidly towards the battle area, French disengages and marches his depleted force west to rejoin Hood.
All through the day long battle, a Union signal post at Kennesaw Mountain sent a message to Corse, ³General Sherman says hold fast; we are coming.² This message, which popularized the expression, hold the fort, Iım coming,ı was nothing more than a moral booster, for Sherman did not order any additional infantry to the area until the next day, and none arrived until two days later. The forces spotted by the Confederate side were apparently just cavalry on a scouting mission.
Casualties in the brief, little remembered battle were exceptionally high (one, admittedly biased, local historian said it was the ³bloodiest battle of the war²), with Corse reporting 706 dead and wounded, and French also reporting 706 (including 70 officers), about 30 percent of either sides total force. Young himself was wounded just outside the fort and captured shortly afterwards. Corse reported that he, too, had been wounded in a message to Sherman, ³I am short a cheek bone and an ear but am able to lick all hell yet!² When Sherman came up later, he was unimpressed with the severity of his wounds, ³Corse, they came damn near missing you, didnıt they?²
The battlefield is accessible from Interstate 75 north from Atlanta, take exit 122 (Emerson-Allatoona Road), turn right (east), and go about 2 miles to the Pass area. On the way, you will cross over a set of railway tracks, which are the modern relocation of the tracks the soldiers were fighting over.
Nearly all the area covered by the battle is today heavily overgrown or equally heavily developed, and the east side of the battlefield is under the murky waters of Lake Allatoona. The dug railroad gap is heavily overgrown and it is difficult to get a clear picture of the tactical situation, but at least one period structure remains. The Mooney House, the yellow and white tin-roofed structure in the sharp curve in the road at the pass entrance was used as a field hospital during the battle, and can be seen in a well-known photograph of the area taken just after the battle by George M. Barnard. A small marker next to the houseıs mailbox indicates the location of a mass grave of soldiers who died in the hospital following the brief battle; it is now partially covered by the road and driveway.
There is a small parking area with two historic markers across the street from the Mooney House, which indicate quite well the 1864 layout and tactical situation. One contains a fair reproduction of the Barnard photo, which gives landmarks still visible today. The Star Fort still exists, although overgrown and in deteriorating condition on top of the left peak of the railway cut. A warning, both the fort and the Mooney House are private property and not open to the public, please be respectful and observe them from the parking lot. The eastern redoubt, on top of the right peak, is on U.S. Army Corps of Engineers property, and can be accessed by a steep, partially overgrown path just inside the entrance to the pass walking north.
Following the decisive loss at Allatoona Pass, Hood elected to continue north, hitting the Union garrisons at Rome, Resaca, Dalton and Tunnel Hill before turning west into Alabama. Sherman initially sent a force of some 40,000 men chasing after him, but soon wearied of the endless pursuit. Hoodıs strategy here is uncertain, but if it was to keep Sherman bottled up in northern Georgia, it both succeeded and failed. When Hood slipped away after the Union troops deployed for battle at Lafayette (just south of the Chickamauga battlefield) on October 17, Sherman remarked that Hoodıs tactics were ³inexplicable by any common-sense theory...I could not guess his movements as I could those of Johnston.² After a total of three weeks of chasing the fast-moving CSA Army of Tennessee, Sherman ordered his forces to return to Atlanta and prepare for a march to the south.
Warned by Grant that Hood was taking his army north into Tennessee and threatened his supply lines, Sherman remarked, ³No single force can catch Hood, and I am convinced that the best results will follow from our defeating Jeff Davisı cherished plan of making me leave Georgia by maneuvering.²
At the same time, Davis was begging Hood ³not to abandon Georgia to Sherman but defeat him in detail before marching into Tennessee.² Hood replied back that it was his intent to ³draw out Sherman where he can be dealt with north of Atlanta.² In his postwar memoirs, Hood clung to this unrealistic stance and hopes of defeating both Sherman and Thoması powerful force in Tennessee:
³I conceived the plan of marching into Tennessee...to move upon Thomas and Schofield and capture their army before it could reach Nashville and afterward march northeast, past the Cumberland River in that position I could threaten Cincinnati from Kentucky and Tennessee...if blessed with a victory (over Sherman coming north after him), to send reinforcements to Lee, in Virginia, or to march through gaps in the Cumberland Mountains and attack Grant in the rear.²
Hood continued his march north, and Sherman, upon hearing the news, couldnıt have been happier. ³If he will go to the Ohio River, I will give him rations.² Just before Hoodıs eastward ranging cavalry cuts the telegraph lines, Sherman sends one last message to Grant:
³If I start before I hear from you, or before further developments turn my course, you may take it for granted that I have moved by way of Griffin to Barnesville; that I break up the road between Columbus and Macon good and if I feign on Columbus, I will move by way of Macon and Millen on Savannah; or if I feign on Macon, you may take it for granted I have shot toward Opelika, Montgomery and Mobile Bay, I will not attempt to send couriers back, but trust to the Richmond papers to keep you well advised, I will see that the road is completely broken between the Etowah and the Chattahoochee, and that Atlanta itself is utterly destroyed.²
Content with his plans, happy about Hood being over a hundred miles to his rear and with his army primed and ready for action, Sherman has but one task left before turning his attention on gaining the sea before winter sets in.
Planning to begin his march out of Atlanta southwards on November 16, Sherman issued orders that anything of military value in the city be destroyed before they departed. Giving the task over to his Chief of Engineers, USA Captain Orlando M. Poe, Sherman intended to render useless anything even remotely related to manufacturing, transportation or communications. Poe took this order and applied it quite liberally, without any objection from Sherman. Starting on the afternoon of November 11, block after block was set afire, the contents being pillaged and looted beforehand by large gangs of drunken Union soldiers and sober Southern citizens alike.
Above Atlanta, Sherman gave orders that anything of ³military value² be destroyed by his troops gathering for the march south. Rome, Acworth and Marietta were all consigned to the torch, and soon little was visible of the once pretty small towns but heaps of smoldering ruins and lonely chimneys standing like pickets.
To conduct his destruction more efficiently, Poe had devised a new machine, consisting of a 21-foot long iron bar, swinging on chains from a 10-foot high wooden scaffold. With a gang of soldiers to move and swing it, it was a devilishly clever way to knock down whatever struck his fancy. The railroad roundhouse, factories, warehouses, residences and masonry buildings of all description were soon reduced to piles of rubble. Under other buildings Union soldiers piled stack of mattresses, oil-soaked wagon parts, broken fence rails and just about anything else that would burn. Atop everything they piled artillery shot and shells abandoned by Hoodıs retreating army. In a touch of irony, sentries were then posted to prevent ³unauthorized² acts of arson.
Finally ready to move out, Sherman ordered Poe to start the fires late on the afternoon of November 15. Within a few minutes the ³authorized² fires had been set, at first confined to factories and warehouses containing Hoodıs abandoned supplies. An early evening wind soon built up the fires, and spraying sparks and burning cinders in every direction, the fires spread like, well, wildfire. Pleased by the sight of the soon out-of-control fires raging through the city, Sherman was moved to remark only that he supposed the flames could be visible from Griffin, about 45 miles to the south.
As a sort of explanation to his staff, who were starting to view the wanton destruction with unease, Sherman remarked,
³This city has done more and contributed more to carry on and sustain the war than any other, save perhaps Richmond. We have been fighting Atlanta all the time, in the past; have been capturing guns wagons, etc. etc., marked Atlanta and made here, all the time; and now since they have been doing so much to destroy us and our Government we have to destroy them, at least enough to prevent any more of that.²
As the huge fire built and built, block after block literally exploded into flame, the thick smoke choking the Union soldiers who clapped and danced with glee among the ruins, barely waiting until the flames died down to start their looting and drunken revelry once again. What initially escaped the ³authorized² fires did not escape these undisciplined wretches away from their officers, who helped spread the flames by burning homes and businesses to cover up their crimes. In the midst of the chaotic riot, the 33rd Massachusetts Regimental Band stood, calmly and righteously playing, ³John Brownıs Soul Goes Marching On.² USA Major George Ward Nichols, Shermanıs aide-de-camp, remarked without a hint of sarcasm that he had ³never heard that noble anthem when it was so grand, so solemn, so inspiring.²
Other Union soldiers and officers viewed the destruction differently, remarking that the burning and looting of private property was not necessary, and a ³disgraceful piece of business.² Another summed up the view more widely held by their Confederate opponents, ³We hardly deserve success.²
As the flames died down overnight, dawn on November 16 revealed that over 4,100 of the 4,500 buildings in town had been leveled by the flames and rioting Union troops, including every single business. Sherman mounted his horse, Sam, and slowly led his men out of the ruined city, bound for Savannah and the Atlantic ocean.
³The wild adventure of a crazy fool²
With the ³business² in Atlanta taken care of, his men up and ready and prospects of an easy adventure before them, Sherman orders the march out of the city to begin. The 60,598 Union soldiers were deployed in two huge columns, sometimes called wings.ı On the morning of November 15, USA Brigadier General Alpheus Williamsı XX Corps headed off to the due east through Decatur, headed toward Augusta, USA General Peter Osterhausı XV Corps and USA General Frank Blairıs XVII Corps formed the right column under overall command of USA Major General Oliver O. Howard, and moved southward toward Macon. Early on the morning of November 16, USA Major General Jefferson C. Davisı XIV Corps moved out behind Williamsı Corps. The two pronged attack was designed to fool Confederate defenders into thinking that Augusta and Macon were the targets of the separate wings, and force them to divide their already inadequate forces, while the two columns would then swing south and east and converge on the Georgia capital of Milledgeville.
To oppose the Union juggernaut was a pitiful handful of mostly irregular troops; CSA Major General Gustavus W. Smithıs (Combined) Georgia Militia, the battered remnants of the Georgia State Line- freshly arrived after leaving the march north with Hoodıs army, a few home guardı and hastily organized local militia groups, and the remnants of CSA Major General Joseph Wheelerıs Cavalry Corps. All told, less than 8,000 men were available to try and stop Sherman, most of whom had never fired a rifle in combat before.
About 7 AM on the morning of November 16, Sherman rode his horse slowly out of the bombarded, burned out hulk of a once thriving city along with the vanguard of his XIV Corps, down the dirt road leading towards Decatur and Stone Mountain. Stopping briefly, he turned to take another look at the scene of his greatest triumph and some of his greatest sorrows. From his vantage point he could barely make out the copse of trees where his close and beloved friend, USA Major General James Birdseye McPherson, had been shot and killed on July 22. Setting his battered hat back on his head, and unwrapping another cigar to chew on along the way, he sets his horse to a walk and leaves the city without uttering a word to anyone. In his memoirs, he remarked,
³Then we turned our horsesı heads to the east; Atlanta was soon lost behind the screen of trees, and became a thing of the past. Around it clings many a though of desperate battle of hope and fear, that now seem like the memory of a dream...There was a devil-may-careı feeling pervading officers and men, that made me feel the full load of responsibility, for success would be expected as a matter of course, whereas, should we fail, this march would be adjudged the wild adventure of a crazy fool.²
Marching Through Georgia
Both columns moved out of Atlanta, proceeding initially almost due east and south separately, with almost no opposition. Following Shermanıs orders to the letter and spirit, nearly everything of any value that they encountered was confiscated or burned, and assigned work gangs destroyed most of the railroad tracks. The rails were lifted and the crossties pulled out from under them, piled high and set afire, then the rail were held over the burning ties until they were glowing red hot, then twisted and bent into unusable pretzel shapes called ³Shermanıs bow-ties.²
The only Confederate opposition to the first part of the march was scattered elements of Wheelerıs cavalry, in a series of small to moderate size skirmishes between Rough and Ready (10 miles north of Jonesboro; now called Mountain View) and East Macon.
Almost without opposition the two huge columns moved through central Georgia, their flankers, skirmishers and foraging parties creating a nearly 60 mile wide path of destruction as they went. Slocumıs left wing moved like a blue buzzsaw through Stone Mountain, Lithonia, Conyers, Social Circle and Madison before encountering any resistance to speak of. At Buckhead (a small town, not the Atlanta suburb), Confederate sharpshooters caused a relative handful of casualties before being driven off; Sherman ordered the town totally burned to the ground in reprisal.
Howardıs right wing had moved more in a southeasterly direction, hoping to give the impression that Macon was their destination. Moving through McDonough and Locust Grove, Howard ordered a turn more to the east at Indian Springs, to close in tighter with the left wing and head more directly to Milledgeville. By November 20, the closest flanks of both wings were within 10 miles of each other, and just a days march from the Georgia capital.
East of Macon
From the start of the march, USA Brigadier General Judson Kilpatrickıs 3rd Cavalry Division had ridden to the far right of Howardıs massed columns, ordered to travel south as close to Macon as he dared, tearing up the railroad tracks as he went, and then to close up again near Milledgeville. On November 20, he had a brief skirmish with Wheelerıs cavalry just east of Macon, quickly driving the Confederates back into the line of entrenchments surrounding the city.
The next day, a single regiment, USA Captain Frederick S. Laddıs 9th Michigan, was sent to assault the small industrial town of Griswoldville, 10 miles east of Macon. Moving in without resistance, the cavalrymen soon destroyed most of the buildings in town, including the railroad station, a pistol factory and a candle and soap factory. As they mopped up, USA Colonel Eli H. Murraysıs 1st Brigade settled in for the night about two miles to the east.
The Capital City
As the right wing set up just to their south, Slocumıs left wing made ready to enter the Georgia capital. By November 19, it became obvious that the capital was Shermanıs real target, and pandemonium erupted. The Georgia Legislature was then in session, and upon hearing of the danger, promptly sprang into action. A law was quickly passed requiring every physically able male citizen to join in the armed resistance to the Union invasion, exempting only themselves and sitting judges from the noble sacrifice. Turning to issues of a more immediate nature, they then authorized expenditure of $3,000 in public funds to hire a train to carry themselves, their families, their furniture and their baggage to safety.
Georgia Governor Joseph Emerson Brown acted in an equally heroic manner. Stripping the Governorıs Mansion of everything that wasnıt nailed down (and a few things that were), he fled Milledgeville at a high rate of speed. Not far behind was the trainload of politicians from the legislature, who left with a scant more dignity, actually pausing long enough to announce they were heading ³for the front² before setting off in the opposite direction.
Civilians were equally panicked, but most lacked access to tax money to use to flee the city. A.C. Cooper, a local resident who had left Atlanta on Shermanıs approach in July, later wrote about the effect of Sherman on the horizon:
³Reports varied; one would be that the enemy would be upon us ere long, as a few bluecoats had been seen in the distance,and we women were advised to pack up and flee, but there was blank silence when we asked, ³Where shall we flee?²...Hurry, scurry, run here, run there, run everywhere. Women cried and prayed, babies yelled...dogs howled and yelped, mules brayed.²
Late in the night of November 21 the first Union cavalry scouts entered the city, followed the next afternoon by the vanguard of the Union left wing, both without encountering the slightest act of resistance. Moving down Greene Street, officer of the XX Corps ordered the men into parade march, and with the bands playing selections of northern patriotic tunes, made their way to the steps of the Capital building. With the bands sarcastically playing Dixie,² a large U.S. flag was raised on the buildings tall flagpole.
As their men fanned out to see what they could steal in the city, officers amused themselves by occupying the recently deserted seats in the state legislature. In a high spirited debate, the issue of secession was once again banded about, and promptly voted down. Sherman, who rode into town the next day, said that he ³enjoyed the joke.²
As Shermanıs officer were amusing themselves playing politician in the legislative chambers, things were a bit more subdued just to the south. At dawn on November 22, Wheelerıs cavalry suddenly struck Murrayıs encampment. A short but furious fight ensued, ending when reinforcements from USA Colonel Charles C. Walcuttıs 2nd Brigade rushed to Murrays aid. Together they pushed the Confederate cavalrymen back through the burned-out town of Griswoldville, before breaking contact and returning to their original positions, where they heavily entrenched atop a small, wooded ridge.
The previous day CSA Lieutenant General William J. Hardee, commander of the Confederate forces facing Sherman, had become aware that the Union forces were bypassing his location at Macon, and made the assumption that they were heading towards the critical supply and manufacturing depot at Augusta. A hastily assembled force was pieced together around CSA Major General Gustavus Woodson Smithıs four regiments of the Georgia Militia and ordered to move out post haste to protect the river city.
Besides the four brigades of Georgia Militia, the small task force contained CSA Major Ferdinand W.C. Cookıs Athens and Augusta Local Defense Battalions; CSA Captain Ruel W. Andersonıs four gun Light Artillery Battery; and the decimated ranks of the combined two regiments of the Georgia State Line under CSA Lieutenant Colonel Beverly D. Evans. With the exception of the State Line, which had been in near continuous combat since May 29, the overwhelming majority of the command were the archetypical old men and boys,ı this force representing the literal bottom of the barrel for reinforcements.
By Hardeeıs direction, CSA Colonel James N. Willisı 1st Brigade, Georgia Militia, along with Cookıs command left early on the morning of November 22 bound for Augusta via the road to Griswoldville, to be followed later that same day by the remaining commands. Hardee left at the same time for Savannah, to help prepare itıs defenses, and Smith elected to remain in Macon to do administrative chores, leaving command of the task force to the senior officer present, CSA Brigadier General Pleasant J. Philips. As they left Macon, quite a few in the ranks remarked about how much Philips had been seen drinking that morning.
As Philipıs command moved out, Howardıs entire right wing was also on the move, swinging a little more to the south and heading straight towards Griswoldville.
Philips left Macon with the main part of his command and marched steadily on, arriving just outside Griswoldville just after noon. There he found Cookıs defense battalions drawn up into a defensive perimeter, having spotted the well-entrenched Union lines just up the road.
Despite his explicit orders from both Hardee and Smith not to do so, Philips ordered preparations for an attack. Arranging his men perpendicular to the railroad tracks on the east side of town, CSA Brigadier General Charles D. Andersonıs 3rd Brigade, Georgia Militia, was placed on the left, just north of the tracks. CSA Brigadier General Henry K. McKayıs 4th Brigade was placed on Andersons right, just south of the tracks, and Philipıs own 2nd Brigade (now commanded by CSA Colonel James N. Mann) moved in reserve to the rear of McKay. Evanıs State Line troopers moved forward in the very center as skirmishers, and Cookıs small battalions took the extreme right of the line. Captain Andersonıs battery set up just north of the tracks near the center of the line.
Facing Philipıs small command was Walcuttıs strong 2nd Brigade, 1st Division, XV Corps, consisting of no less than seven reduced-strength Infantry regiments (the 12th, 97th and 100th Indiana, 40th and 103rd Illinois, 6th Iowa and 46th Ohio), two cavalry regiments (5th Kentucky and 9th Pennsylvania), and Captain Albert Arndtıs Battery B, 1st Michigan Artillery. In all, about 4,000 mostly ill-trained and poorly equipped Georgia troops faced about 3,000 well armed, well entrenched and combat hardened veteran Union troops.
About 2:30 PM Philips ordered an all-out assault, and the ragged force began moving smartly across the open field towards the Union entrenchments. USA Major Asias Willison of the 103rd Illinois wrote in his after-action report what happened next:
³As soon as they came within range of our muskets, a most terrific fire was poured into their ranks, doing fearful execution...still they moved forward, and came within 45 yards of our works. Here they attempted to reform their line, but so destructive was the fire that they were compelled to retire.²
While most of Philipsı militiamen were being blown apart behind them, the State Line charged up the slope towards the Union position, only to be thrown back to the wooded base. The State Line charged several more times, meeting the same result, until Evans was seriously wounded and all retired from the field.
Most of the militiamen never got closer than 50 yards to the Union position, but bravely held their ground and returned fire until dusk. Philipsı ordered a retreat off the field then, and the shattered ranks limped slowly back into Macon. Left behind were 51 killed, 422 wounded and nine missing. The Union lines were never in any real danger of being breached, but losses amounted to 13 killed, 79 wounded and two missing in the brief fight. Walcutt himself was among the wounded, and had to be carried off the field during the engagement, replaced by USA Colonel Robert F. Catterson.
Sherman Drives On
With the pitiful remnants of Philipsı command safely back inside Maconıs defense by 2 AM on November 23, there was literally nothing standing between Sherman and any path he might choose to take next. That morning he issued new orders for all four corps to march east, the southern wing to head straight down the Georgia Central Railroad tracks towards Millen, while the northern wing and attached cavalry were to follow roads on the north side of the tracks. Their target was Camp Lawton, sometimes called Magnolia Springs, to rescue the estimated 11,000 Union prisoners recently brought there from Andersonville.
Early on the morning of November 24 the grand march resumed. Strangely, Milledgeville was left relatively intact, although all the government buildings, libraries and some churches were ransacked and desecrated, and once again anything of value went along with the blue-suits.
Confederate resistance to this part of the march was nearly non-existent, and what did show up was grossly outnumbered. A good example is the defense of the Oconee River bridge near Oconee, where a force of exactly 186 men, the remnants of three separate commands, stood ready to keep Sherman from crossing. Even with nearly 1,000 cavalrymen from Wheelerıs command backing them up, over 30,000 Union soldiers moved like a blue tidal wave down the road to crush them. Fortunately, cooler heads prevailed, and the tiny command was withdrawn before it made contact.
Sherman still today has a reputation as a thief and firebug in certain parts of Georgia, and this section of the grand march is where it was earned. All along authorizedı foraging parties had scoured the countryside, collecting food for both soldiers and animals, and ³jesı a lilı² booty for themselves while they were at it. With military opposition nearly non-existent, and no doubt with the blessings of many veteran officers, roving gangs of ³bummers² roomed the countryside, casually stealing or destroying whatever caught their fancy. A 40 mile wide path between Milledgeville and Millen was stripped down nearly to the roots, one traveler who crossed this area shortly after Shermanıs passing remarked that they saw everything down to and including fence posts either taken or burned.
The destruction the Union troops were creating started to disturb many Union officers, although Sherman himself wasnıt among them. His attitude was that the Georgians had forcedı him to sponsor such actions by virtue of their secession, and that he only regretted that he hadı to do such acts. The situation deteriorated so much at one point that even Shermanıs blindly admiring aide, USA Major Henry Hitchcock, noted in his memoirs that ³I am bound to say I think Sherman lacking in enforcing discipline.²
Blairıs XVII Corps arrived in Millen completely without resistance on December 1. USA Brigadier General Judson Kilpatrickıs 3rd Cavalry Division, moving rapidly to the north on Shermanıs personal order, arrived at the site of Camp Lawton on November 27, after a fierce resistance by Wheelerıs cavalry, only to discover that the Union prisoners had been moved again, this time to a rude camp near Blackshear, near Waycross in deep southeast Georgia.
Sherman entered Millen on December 3 with the rest of his army. Deeply angered that he had been unable to rescue the POWs, he issued orders to march directly on Savannah beginning the next morning, and took out his wrath on the small town as they left. In a classic understatement, he mentioned in his memoirs, ³I caused the fine depot of Millen to be destroyed, and other damage done...²
The Last of the March
Leaving Millen on the morning of December 4, all four corps marched directly towards Savannah and arrived nearly unmolested on the outskirts of the city between December 10 and 12. Along the way, two separate Confederate defenses were mounted, with what remained of the Georgia Militia and the Georgia State Line supplemented by Wheelerıs cavalry and some local defense forces, both on both occasions their commanders elected to withdraw in the face of such overwhelming Union opposition.
Savannahıs defenses were formable, stretching over 13 miles from the Savannah River to the Little Ogeechee River, and manned by a little under 10,000 men, the bare remnants of every militia and state defense force that could be scraped together. In addition, over 50 artillery pieces with a fair supply of ammunition sat in the ring of strong earthwork fortifications.
Sherman had a serious problem by this time, his supplies of food and clothing were running critically low, and there was nothing much in the surrounding salt marshes and swamps that he could send foraging parties out for. He desperately needed to make contact with the Union Navy lying just off the coast, but the two possible river approaches were both guarded by powerful Confederate fortifications. Needing the supply line open and opened fast, he personally ordered USA Brigadier General William Babcock Hazen to take his 2nd Division (XV Corps) down to the Ogeechee River 14 miles below Savannah, assault and take the Confederate fort there, and open the river to the Union Navy.
Fort McAllister, on Genesis Point guarding the entrance to the Ogeechee River, had been designed by Major John McCrady, Chief Engineer for the State of Georgia, in the late spring of 1861. Ordinarily, a massive masonry fort like Ft. Pulaski or Jackson east of Savannah would be desirable, but these were both time, money and manpower intensive projects, none of which he had available.
Instead he settled on a star-shaped, four gun emplacement earthwork fort with walls 20 feet tall and 17 feet thick, originally intended to be equipped with four 32-pounder smoothbore cannons. The walls originally only faced the river, and a large earthen bombproofı stood behind the gun emplacements, to serve as a hospital. On June 7, 1861, the DeKalb Rifles, Company A, 1st Georgia Infantry Regiment under CSA Lieutenant Alfred L. Hartridge was sent in to build and man the structure.
Having an infantry company build and man an artillery post strikes one as an odd move, but the relative few trained cannoneers were needed at posts where actual combat was expected. At backwater posts like Ft. McAllister, infantry companies were customarily sent in to while away the war years.
Hartridgeıs men did a very good job, clearing away the thick forest for a mile behind the fort site, to provide clear lanes of fire, and almost immediately setting about building up and improving the design.
Ft. McAllister in Combat
By the time of Shermanıs arrival, the earthwork fort had both been tripled in size and assaulted without success some seven separate times by Union gunboats. The DeKalb Rifles had long since departed for hotter action to the north, and a new commander had taken over, CSA Major George W. Anderson. The garrison now consisted of about 230 men of the Emmet Rifles and the Georgia Reserves, along with real artillerymen of CSA Captain Nicholas B. Clinchıs Georgia Light Artillery Battery.
The post by this time looked quite different, having been expanded into a five sided fort 650 feet long and 750 feet wide, with a dry ditch studded with sharpened stake abatis surrounding it. More and heavier artillery had been brought in; two 32-pounder rifled guns, three 10-inch Columbiads, and three 8-inch Columbiads guarded the river approaches. To guard against expected infantry attacks, a rear wall slightly smaller than the front wall had been built and 12 field artillery pieces mounted atop it. To complete the armament, a 10-inch Tredegar Seacoast Mortar was mounted just outside the main defense walls.
The reluctant decision to make the post an earthwork arrangement proved most fortuitous. Ft. Pulaski, a few miles to the north and long regarded as a impregnable guardian of the northern approaches to Savannah, had been breached by heavy rifled cannon fire on April 11, 1862, and surrendered after a mere 30 hours of shelling. With that single action, the thousand year era of the heavy masonry fort came to an end. The earth walls of Ft. McAllister were nearly impervious to incoming fire, however, the walls either deflecting or swallowing upı the Union artillery fire. Even if a shell buried deep in the earth before exploding, repairing the crater was a simple matter of shoveling a few wheelbarrel loads of dirt back in it.
Shermanıs choice of the West Point graduates division to assault the Confederate fort was not a random one; not only had Hazen proven to be a capable and brave battlefield commander, but the 2nd Division was the same that Sherman himself had commanded at Vicksburg and Shiloh, one in which he ³felt a special pride and confidence.² Hazen was ordered to take the fort as soon as possible, and he left the morning of December 13, marching rapidly down the old Hardwicke road (now Ga. 144).
Shortly after noon, Hazen reached the causeway leading out to the fort, and promptly captured the lone Confederate sentry posted there, CSA Private Thomas Mills. After his capture, Mills revealed that his unit had placed torpedoesı, or buried shells that exploded when stepped on, all along the soft sand causeway. Hazen ordered his men to immediately search for and dig up the land mines, delaying his approach to the fort.
By the time the road was made safe and the rest of his command came into line, it was after 4:30 PM. Leaving nine regiments behind as reserves, Hazen moved the other nine regiments forward until they were arrayed in a semi-circle around the isolated post, but no closer than 600 yards out. Confederate guns opened up, but with little effect. Union skirmishers ran forward, closing to within 200 yards of the fort, and began a damaging fire on the gunners. One of the forts major weaknesses was the fact that all the guns were mounted en barbetteı, or up on the top of the ramparts, leaving the gunners exposed to rifle fire.
The Battle for Ft. McAllister
Sherman, watching the action from atop a rice mill across the river, was nearly beside himself with impatience. As the afternoon wore on and dusk approached, he had a signal sent over to Hazen, ³You must carry the fort by assault to-night, if possible.² A few minutes later a reply came back, ³I am ready and will assault at once!² At 4:45 PM Hazen ordered a general assault to begin.
As the Union infantry sprang to the feet and began moving towards the fort at the double-quick, a furious rain of fire came from both sides. Moving up close to the ramparts, the Union men had almost entered the outer defense bands when huge explosions rocked the earth; more torpedoesı had been buried all around the fort in the soft sand, making them nearly impossible to spot. Forcing their way forward despite the deadly mines and deafening cannon fire to their front, the 47th Ohio quickly gained the west wall and began running down it, looking for an opening to enter the fort. At the far northwestern corner they discovered that the line of abatis stopped above the high-tide mark (it was then low-tide), and they quickly ran through the opening and up onto the ramparts.
Almost at the same moment the 70th Ohio and 111th Illinois regiments pushed through the tangle of fixed defenses and appeared atop the ramparts nearby, and the fight quickly escalated into a vicious hand to hand brawl. The Confederate garrison refused to surrender, even in the face of such overwhelming odds. As each artillery position was overrun, the cannoneers continued to resist with ramrods swung as clubs and even just their fists, until bayoneted or beaten to the ground by the swarming blue masses. Each bomb-proof emplacement had to be taken individually, and the fight ended only when every last Confederate was killed, wounded or beaten into submission. Hazen stated in his after-action report, ³...the line moved on without checking, over, under and through abatis, ditches, palisading and parapet, fighting the garrison through the fort to their bombproofs, from which they still fought and only succumbed as each man was individually overpowered.²
Although the whole action took only 15 minutes to complete, the fight was somewhat more than the Union soldiers had expected. The resistance of Clinch was typical:
³When [Clinch was] summoned to surrender by a Federal captain [USA Captain Stephen F. Grimes of the 48th Illinois], [he] responded by dealing a severe blow to the head with his sabre. (Captain Clinch had previously received two gun shot wounds in the arm). Immediately a hand to hand fight ensued. Federal privates came to the assistance of their fellow officer, but the fearless Clinch continued the unequal contest until he fell bleeding from eleven wounds (three sabre wounds, six bayonet wounds, and two gun shot wounds), from which, after severe and protracted suffering, he has barely recovered. His conduct was so conspicuous, and his cool bravery so much admired, as to elicit the praise of the enemy and even of General Sherman himself.²
Anderson had to know that his position had no hope of reinforcement from Hardeeıs troops inside Savannah, nor did he have any real chance of stopping Hazenıs men from taking his post. However, in the archaic Southern fashion, he stood his ground and resisted until their was no-one left standing. In his after-action report he noted, ³The fort was never surrendered. It was captured by overwhelming numbers.²
With the fall of Ft. McAllister, the March to the Sea for all practical purposes ended. By 5 PM Sherman was able to signal the route was clear to a Navy steamer already coming up the river with badly needed supplies. Losses were high for such a short fight, with Hazen losing 24 killed and 110 wounded, and Anderson losing 17 killed, 31 wounded and all the rest made prisoner.
As soon as news reached Hardee of the fall of Ft. McAllister, he knew that holding onto Savannah would be futile, and began making preparations to evacuate his army into South Carolina. His engineers immediately set about making a series of pontoon bridges from the foot of West broad Street across the series of tidal rivers to Hardeville on the South Carolina border. This escape route ran along the narrow top of Hugerıs Causeway (roughly the route that U.S. Highway 17 follows today). Thick layers of rice straw was put over the wooden planks of the bridges, to deaden the sound of wagon and gun carriage wheels. All was ready by December 19, and everyone impatiently awaited Hardeeıs order to leave.
Meanwhile, back on the siege line, Union gunners had kept up a steady drumbeat of fire on the city since setting up on December 10. Shermanıs engineers built a series of large, well fortified gun emplacements for the large siege cannon they expected to receive via the Navy in short order, and most began settling in for what was expected to be another long stand.
On December 17, Sherman sent a rather harsh note across to Hardee demanding his immediate surrender, warning that he had plenty of large guns and ammunition, and that unless quarter was given he would ³make little effort to restrain my army burning to avenge the great national wrong they attach to Savannah and other large cities which have been so prominent in dragging our country into civil war.²
Hardee, obviously bidding for a little more time, replied the next morning that he refused to surrender, and made threats that if Sherman carried out his threats to ignore the conventions of war and carry out unrestrained rape and pillage, then he would ³deeply regret the adoption of any course by you that may force me to deviate from them in the future.² For the time, this was a rather crude and uncivilized exchange of threats, and both not only knew it, neither was actually fully prepared to back them up.
To cover up his planned movement, Hardee requested what help was available from the Confederate Navy, and sent three regiments of infantry to reinforce Wheelerıs cavalry up on the line. Late on the afternoon of December 20, the Confederate ironclad Savannah steamed upriver a bit and began lobbing shells at the Union positions. As darkness fell, every heavy artillery position began shooting up what was left of their ammunition supply, heavy shells raining down with some accuracy on the Union positions for over two hours.
While the shot, shell and cannister rounds kept the Union troops heads down, Hardee began his retreat out of the city. All the field guns that could be moved left first, while work gangs set the remaining boats afire at their moorings. When the big guns ammunition ran out, their crews spiked the barrels and watered down the remaining gunpowder in the magazines. CSA MAjor General Ambrose R. Wrightıs Division was the first to leave, about 8 PM, followed by CSA Major General Lafayette McLawıs Division two hours later, and Smithıs Georgia Militia at 11 PM.
Acting as the rear guard, the Georgia State Line, now under command of CSA Colonel James D. Wilson, stayed in their skirmish line, and along with Wheelerıs cavalry, kept up a steady fire towards the Union lines. When a signal rocket flared up about 1 AM, both commands gradually ceased fire and one company at a time left the trenches and quickly moved across the bridges into South Carolina. The bridges were then sunk in place or cut loose from their moorings by engineers, the last link setting adrift at 5:40 AM on December 21.
Union Troops Enter the City
When all firing ceased about 3 AM, forward skirmishers of a dozen different Union regiments cautiously moved forward and dropped into the newly abandoned Confederate positions. Sending word back of their discovery, a general advance was soon ordered, and Shermanıs bummersı began moving east into the city itself. The advance was led by USA Brigadier General John W. Gearyıs 2nd Division (XX Corps). About 4:30 AM, as the last of Hardeeıs men were filtering across the river to the north, USA Colonel Henry A. Barnum of the 3rd Brigade, Gearyıs Division, encountered Savannah Mayor Richard D. Arnold near the intersection of Louisville and Augusta Roads. There the mayor handed the Union colonel a formal letter of surrender of the city, addressed to Sherman:
³Savannah, Dec. 21, 1864
Maj. Gen. W.T. Sherman, Commanding U.S. Forces near Savannah:
Sir: The city of Savannah was last night evacuated by Confederate military and is now defenseless. As chief magistrate of the city I respectfully request your protection of the lives and private property of the citizens and of our women and children. Trusting that this appeal to your generosity and humanity may favorably influence your action, I have the honor to be, your obedient servant,
Mayor of Savannah²
Barnumıs men continued into the city, where as the rosy light of dawn appeared over the horizon, the Stars and Stripes were once again raised over the U.S. Customs house. Two brigades moved on east to take the newly abandoned post at old Fort Jackson. As they entered and raised the national banner on the ramparts, the Savannah, retreating downriver nearby, lobbed a few shells their way. Union batteries returned fire, but these last shots of the campaign had no real effect on either side.
Sherman had been at Hilton Head Island nearby, conferring with Navy officers on the next plan of action, and did not return to the city until late on the night of December 21. Making his headquarters in the large, comfortable Green-Meldrin House at Madison Square (still existent), he sends a telegram from the parlor to President Lincoln the next day:
³Savannah, Ga., Dec. 22, 1864
His Excellency President Lincoln,
I beg to present to you, as a Christmas gift, the city of Savannah, with 150 heavy guns and plenty of ammunition, and also about 25,000 bales of cotton.
1 Fort Jackson Rd. * (912) 232-3945
Located 2 1/2 miles from the center of town on the (only) road out to Tybee Island, this is the oldest standing brick fortress, built in 1808. The 20-foot high walls contained five 32-pounder smooth bore cannon, one 32-pounder rifled gun, two 8-inch Columbiads and one 12-pounder mountain howitzer, all manned during the war by the 22nd Battalion of Heavy Artillery commanded by CSA Major Edward Clifford Anderson (later the Mayor of Savannah). A small museum inside houses displays centering on the Confederate naval history of the area, including several about the CSS Georgia, whose watery grave is marked by a red buoy about 300 yards away in the Savannah River.
The only action here during the war came in an 1862 brief skirmish with two Union gunboats, and when it was fired upon by the CSS Savannah as Union troops raised their flag atop it in December, 1864. The fort is open 9 AM to 5 PM daily except Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Yearıs Day; admission is $2.50 for adults, and $2 for seniors, active military and children six to 18.
Ft. Pulaski National Monument
Construction of this massive fortress began in 1829, partially under the direction of a new graduate from West Point, 2nd Lieutenant Robert E. Lee. The 25 foot high, 7 1/2 foot thick walls required 18 years, 25 million bricks and then then-princely sum of $1 million dollars to complete. The ³Third System² fort was armed with 48 heavy guns manned by 385 officers and men of the 1st Regiment of Georgia Volunteers and the 25th Regiment of Georgia Regulars. Five 8-inch and four 10-inch Columbiads, one 24-pounder Blakely Rifle and two 10-inch seacoast mortars stood on the ramparts facing Tybee Island; in the casements below one 8-inch Columbiad and four 32-pounder guns faced the seaward island. In batteries outside the wall stood two 12-inch and one 10-inch seacoast mortar to add to the fire that could be directed against any seaward Union attack.
The massive walls were thought to be impregnable to artillery fire, the only danger of capture coming from a protracted siege. Post Commander CSA Colonel Charles H. Olmstead carefully laid in over six months worth of rations to forestall this possibility.
Union troops landed and took over the abandoned emplacements on Tybee Island on November 24, 1861, and soon began bringing in heavy guns to deal with Ft. Pulaski. Secretly constructing 11 batteries on and around the island, by April, 1862, USA Major General Quincy A. Gillmore, now in command on Tybee Island, was ready to begin his assault on the massive fortress. In battery were 36 heavy guns, including a new weapon, the James Rifled Cannon.
With all in place, Gillmore called for the forts surrender. Olmstead merely replied, ³I am here to defend the fort, not surrender it.² Within minutes of the reply, at 8:10 PM on April 10, 1862, Gillmore ordered his batteries to open fire. Two 84-pounder, two 64-pounder and one 48-pounder James Rifles along with 15 slightly smaller cannon and 14 heavy mortars fired a total of 5,275 shot and shell at the fort in the next 31 hours.
With the massive walls actually breached by the new rifled cannon in several places, his rampart guns knocked off their mounts and useless and solid shot threatening to penetrate to the powder magazines, at 2 PM on April 11, Olmstead raised the white flag of surrender. The thousand-year era of masonry fortresses as main defenses came to a sudden end.
The old, still battered fort is now restored and operated by the National Park Service, and open for tours. A small museum with a good bookstore contains a bare handful of artifacts and some reasonably well-preserved regimental battle flags, and there are several rather nice mini-museumsı within casements of the fort itself.
Back to the AP & Honors US Histoty page...