This Week in Georgia Civil War History
This Week in Georgia Civil War History
Dec. 11, 1864: As his army approached Savannah on the last state of its March to the Sea, General William T. Sherman wrote in his memoirs of witnessing a gruesome accident on this day.
"I rode forward by the Louisville road, into a dense wood of oak, pine, and cypress, left the horses, and walked down to the railroad-track, at a place where there was a side-track, and a cut about four feet deep. From that point the railroad was straight, leading into Savannah, and about eight hundred yards off were a rebel parapet and a battery. I could see the cannoneers preparing to fire and cautioned the officers near me to scatter, as we would likely attract a shot. Very soon I saw the white puff of smoke and, watching close, caught sight of the ball as it rose in its flight, and, finding it coming pretty straight, I stepped a short distance to one side, but noticed a Negro very near me in the act of crossing the track at right angles. Someone called to him to look out; but, before the poor fellow understood his danger, the ball (a thirty-two pound round shot) struck the ground, and rose in its first ricochet, caught the Negro under the right jaw, and literally carried away his head, scattering blood and brains about. A soldier close by spread an overcoat over the body, and we all concluded to get out of that railroad-cut."
Source: Mills Lane (ed.), Marching Through Georgia: William T. Sherman's Personal Narrative of His March Through Georgia (New York: Arno Press, 1978), p. 159.
A young woman in Georgia wrote to her fiance serving in Virginia; she told him of being glad Sherman's army had not come into their part of the state, and her concerns for her father and brothers trying to oppose him.
"...I have many times in my life wished Pa would sell out and move to middle Geo., as we would have the benefit of better schools and better society. Now I think about how thankful we should be that we are situated just where we are. It is the most safety place of refuge I can think of in this state. A great many refugees and exiles are flocking contin-ually to this county.
I do hope Sherman's army will not be permitted to make their escape in safety; but will all be captured or killed. I suppose they move very slowly in the direction of Savannah. I hope our force ahead is sufficient to meet them.
In my last I told you Pa had to go in service as Gov. Brown's last call embraced his age. He reported at Macon, had two exemptions, his county office and mill consequently he was discharged. You haven't the least idea how rejoiced we were when he came. We had just sat down to supper table, when he drove in the yard and everyone jumped up and ran to meet him, negroes, too. ...
John and Joe started to their command during Sherman's stay near Macon and were not permitted to go through, but in a few days were sent in company with a great many more Va. troops to Savannah by the lower rout, also the Militia went too. ..."
Source: Clyde G. Wiggins III (ed.), My Dear Friend: The Civil War Letters of Alva Benjamin Spencer, 3rd Georgia Regiment, Company C (Macon, Mercer University Press, 2007), p. 174.
Dec. 12, 1864: General William T. Sherman wrote in his memoirs of this day ordering a new bridge to be built south of Savannah, and for Fort McAllister on the Ogeechee River to be taken - opening a line of communication to the sea, which could also be used a means of supplying his army.
"I instructed General Howard to send a division with all his engineers to King's Bridge, fourteen and a half miles southwest from Savannah, to rebuild it. On the evening of the 12th I rode over myself, and spent the night at Mr. King's house, where I found General Howard, with General Hazen's division of the Fifteenth Corps. His engineers were hard at work on the bridge, which they finished that night, and at sunrise Hazen's division passed over. I gave General Hazen, in person, his orders to march rapidly down the right bank of the Ogeechee and without hesitation to assault and carry Fort McAllister by storm. I knew it to be strong in heavy artillery, as against an approach from the sea, but believed it open and weak to the rear. I explained to General Hazen fully that on his action depended the safety of the whole army and the success of the campaign."
Source: Mills Lane (ed.), Marching Through Georgia: William T. Sherman's Personal Narrative of His March Through Georgia (New York: Arno Press, 1978), p. 160.
Exterior View of Fort McAllister, Library of Congress
Signal station on the Ogeechee River at Fort McAllister, 1864 (Library of Congress)
Dec. 13, 1864: Union forces assaulted and easily captured Fort McAllister, on the Ogeechee River south of Savannah.
Union Troops Removing Ammunition from Fort McAllister, 1864 (Library of Congress)
Union Soldier with Gun at Fort McAllister, 1864 (Library of Congress)
Click here for some modern photos of Fort McAllister.
Following are two accounts of the assault and capture of Fort McAllister, the first from Sherman's military secretary, the second from Sherman himself as recorded in his memoirs.
"Tonight Col. Ewing brought back from beyond the Ogeechee River the glorious news that today at 41/2 P.M. the 2d Division, 15th Army Corps, under General Hazen (Sherman's old division, formerly the 5th Division of the Army of Tennessee) assaulted and carried Fort McAllister, a strong rebel fort on west bank of Ogeechee River, the obstacle to our communication with the fleet below.Gen. Sherman, Gen. Howard, Gen. Giles A. Smith and divers other officers including several of our staff -- unhappily not including myself -- saw the charge and capture from the roof of a mill three miles distant."
Source: M.A. DeWolfe Howe (ed.), Marching with Sherman: Passages from the Letters and Campaign Diaries of Henry Hitchcock, Major and assistant Adjutant General of Volunteers, November 1864-May 1865 (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1995), pp. 172-173.
"About 2 p.m. we observed signs of commotion in the fort and noticed one or two guns fired inland and some musket-skirmishing in the woods close by. This betokened the approach of Hazen's division, which had been anxiously expected, and soon thereafter the signal-officer discovered about three miles above the fort a signal-flag, with which he conversed, and found it belonged to General Hazen, who was preparing to assault the fort and wanted to know if I were there. On being assured of this fact and that I expected the fort to be carried before night, I received by signal the assurance of General Hazen that he was making his preparations and would soon attempt the assault. The sun was rapidly declining, and Was dreadfully impatient. At that very moment someone discovered a faint cloud of smoke and an object gliding, as it were,along the horizon above the tops of the sedge toward the sea, which little by little grew till it was pronounced to be the smoke-stack of a steamer coming up the river. . . . Soon the flag of the United States was plainly visible, and our attention was divided between this approaching steamer and the expected assault. When the sun was about an hour high, another signal-message came from General Hazen that he was all ready, and I replied to go ahead, as a friendly steamer was approaching from below. Soon we made out a group of officers on the deck of this vessel, signaling with a flag, 'Who are you?' The answer went back promptly, 'General Sherman.' Then followed the question 'Is Fort McAllister taken?' 'Not yet, but it will be in a minute!' Almost at that instant of time, we saw Hazen's troops come out of the dark fringe of woods that encompassed the fort, the lines dressed as on parade, with colors flying, and moving forward with quick, steady pace. Fort McAllister was then all alive, its big guns belching forth dense clouds of smoke, which soon enveloped our approaching lines. One color went down, but was up in a moment. As the lines advance, faintly seen in the white sulphurous smoke, there was a pause, a cessation of fire; the smoke cleared away, and the parapets were blue with our men, who fired their muskets in the air and shouted so that we actually heard them, or felt we did. Fort McAllister was taken, and the good news was instantly sent by the signal-officer to our navy friends on the approaching gunboat . . . ."
Source: Mills Lane (ed.), Marching Through Georgia: William T. Sherman's Personal Narrative of His March Through Georgia (New York: Arno Press, 1978), p. 161.
The Confederate Union of Milledgeville printed two items - the first on the condition of their city since Sherman had left two weeks earlier, and the second on the duty of the citizens to respond to that condition.
Dec. 14, 1864: General William T. Sherman wrote in his memoirs that he quickly began establishing the new supply lines made available by the capture of Fort McAllister, with the aid of the Union Navy.
"We still had in our wagons and in camp abundance of meat, but we needed bread, sugar, and coffee, and it was all-important that a route of supply should at once be opened, for which purpose the aid and assistance of the navy were indispensable. We accordingly steamed down the Ogeechee River to Ossabaw Sound, in hopes to meet Admiral Dahlgren, but he was not there, and we continued on by the inland channel to Wassaw Sound, where we found the Harvest Moon and Admiral Dahlgren. I was not personally acquainted with him at the time, but he was so extremely kind and courteous that I was at once attracted to him. There was nothing in his power, he said, which he would not do to assist us, to make our campaign absolutely successful He undertook at once to find vessels of light draught to carry our supplies from Port Royal to Cheeve's Mill or to King's Bridge, whence they could be hauled by wagons to our several camps; he offered to return with me to Fort McAllister, to superintend the removal of the torpedoes, and to relieve me of all the details of this most difficult work. General Foster then concluded to go on to Port Royal, to send back to us six hundred thousand rations, and all the rifled guns of heavy calibre and ammunition on hand with which I thought we could reach the city of Savannah from the positions already secured. Admiral Dahlgren then returned with me in the Harvest Moon to Fort McAllister. This consumed all of the 14th of December. . . ."
Source: Mills Lane (ed.), Marching Through Georgia: William T. Sherman's Personal Narrative of His March Through Georgia (New York: Arno Press, 1978), pp. 165-166.
Fort McAllister, with Ships on Ogeechee River, 1864 (Library of Congress)
Dec. 15, 1864: A Wisconsin soldier with Sherman's army wrote home to his wife of being camped outside of Savannah and meeting some minor Confederate resistance; he also noted the beauty of what would become Georgia's state tree - the live oak.
"We have changed positions several times since arriving in front of Savannah; we are now between the Charleston & Savannah and the Central Railroads. On the right, there is also a turnpike running along the railroad. On these roads the rebels have a very strong fort, mounted with heavy guns; they throw spherical case loaded with balls two inches in diameter from time to time. Quite a number of the balls and pieces of shell have come into our camp, but no one has been hurt. We have strong breastworks, which afford us protection. Just after we came here, I became the owner of a beautiful black mare in a rather peculiar manner. I rode out on the right a ways to see about our connection with the 14th Corps, when I was met by three soldiers, two of them mounted on mules and one on the mare in question. The latter stopped and said, 'Say, I would like to give you a first-rate blooded mare.' I looked at him in surprise and asked him what I should give him for her; but he said, 'I just want to give her to you; I have been detailed on cattle guard and rode her so far; she is a captured horse, unfit for Government use, and I have no forage and want to give her to some one who will take good care of her.' He was an utter stranger to me. Of course, I took the mare and promised to take good care of her. On the river here is a group of beautiful live oak trees; the trunks are very thick, and the branches extend out in all directions. The trees form a grove with a continuous roof. I don't know whether the fleet has landed yet. There were obstructions in the river which had to be removed first."
Source: Civil War Letters of Major Fredrick C. Winkler, in 26th Wisconsin Infantry Volunteers Home Page
The Augusta Chronicle and Sentinel carried the following account of what was happening in Atlanta with the Union troops gone.
"Many of the old citizens are returning, and the general watchword is repair and rebuild. Whit Anderson has opened a bar-room on Decatur Street, where he serves his customers with dignity and grace, and Sid Holland a small grocery on Peachtree Street. The [Atlanta newspaper] Intelligencer has returned, and is now issuing an extra from the old shoe factory on Alabama Street. J.J. Toon has secured the old pay office on Whitehall Street for an office, and resides in Markham's fine villa on Walton Street. The post office is open on Decatur Street, under the charge of the energetic Dick Wall, and Bob Yancey has his shaving emporium next door. Johnson Bridwell has started a salt factory. Col. L.J. Glenn, the efficient commandant of the post, is considered the right man in the right place. He is courteous to all, yet rigidly attentive to the interests of the government and the people. The Macon & Western Railroad is running to Lovejoy's Station and the Atlanta & La Grange Railroad to Palmetto. The city is filled with thousands of dogs and cats, ownerless and almost wild."
Source: Franklin M. Garrett, Atlanta and Environs: A Chronicle of its People and Events (Athens: University of Georgia Press, 1969 reprint of 1954 original volume), p. 661.
Atlanta Intelligencer Office, 1864 (Library of Congress)
Meanwhile the Confederate army that had tried to defend Atlanta under General John Bell Hood was now on the outskirts of Nashville, TN after their retreat through Alabama and Tennessee. Their last part in the Civil War began on this day with the Battle of Nashville. Hood was opposed by Union troops under the command of General George H. Thomas, who had been the Union hero at the Battle of Chickamauga. The Union assault drove the Confederate lines back two miles before fighting stopped for the day; both sides prepared for the battle to resume the next day.
Dec. 16, 1864: From outside Savannah, General William T. Sherman wrote to General Ulysses S. Grant on the hopeless condition of native Georgian General William J. Hardee, who commanded what little Confederate forces available to defend Savannah.
". . . If General Hardee is alarmed, or fears starvation, he may surrender; otherwise I will bombard the city . . . . I think Hardee, in Savannah, has good artillerists, some 5,000 or 6,000 infantry, and it may be a mongrel mass of 8,000 to 10,000 militia. . . . There must be 25,000 citizens -- men, women, and children -- in Savannah that must also be fed, and how he is to feed them beyond a few days I cannot imagine, as I know that his requisitions for corn on the interior counties were not filled, and we are in possession of the rice fields and mills which could alone be of service to him in this neighborhood. He can draw nothing from South Carolina, save from a small corner down in the southeast, and that by a disused wagon road. . . ."
Click here to read the full letter from Sherman to Grant.
A man in Forsyth County, north of Atlanta, wrote to Georgia Governor Joseph E. Brown, complaining of lawless bands of renegades roaming the countryside stealing and "committing other depredations." He also asked the governor to find a way to end the war.
". . . There are bands of armed men calling themselves 'scouts' who are constantly ranging through this county foraging on the citizens, stealing horses and mules and committing other depredations, causing great distress and fearful apprehensions and tending to alienate the feelings of many from the Southern cause. This is a dreadful state of things, and if these evils are not suppressed, the whole country will be desolated and the people utterly ruined. Some driven to desperation by these outrages mutter threats of vengeance, others in a state of almost hopeless despair contemplate with trembling and dismay the dreadful alternative of 'bushwhacking.' Fearful thought! What is to become of us? The darkest gloom hangs over the future. What can be done? surely something should be done looking to the suppression of at least the checking of these great evils and something promising protection and security for the future.
"Can nothing be done to bring about cessation of hostilities? Stop the effusion of innocent blood, stay the hand of the destroying angel, open the way to negotiation and expedite peace. Shall men continue to be blinded by passion and urged on by unholy, towering ambition to prosecute this unnatural war until the last flickering spark of freedom is extinguished in the blood of our sons and brothers and the heaven-given boon of self-government, with all the inestimable blessings of liberty, shall be buried forever in the vortex of revolution? Will ambitious aspirants continue to grovel in human blood for place, power and wealth until all that is desirable to free men is lost and lost forever? Forbid it, mercy, forbid it! Heavens, if the American people do not end -- and that speedily -- this fraticidal conflict, ruin, fearful ruin, to our whole people will be the inevitable result.
"Sir, cannot something be done to avert [this] direst of all human calamities? Cannot something be accomplished by conventions? Cannot the states in their sovereign capacity do something in this way? Suppose you take the initiative. Many of your friends who regard you as the greatest champion of state rights think that you should move in this matter, by calling a convention of this state or in some other way."
Source: Mills Lane (ed.), Georgia: History written by Those who lived It (Savannah: Beehive Press, 1995), pp. 178-179.
The Battle of Nashville concluded on this day, with the Union attacking from both wings, and finally routing the Confederate army, which fled in disastrous defeat - no longer an effective fighting force. General John Bell Hood retreated all the way to Tupelo, MS, where he resigned his command.
Dec. 17, 1864: Union General William T. Sherman wrote the following letter to Confederate General William J. Hardee, demanding the surrender of Savannah.
- Headquarters Military Division of the Mississippi,
In the Field, near Savannah, Ga., December 17, 1864.
General William J. Hardee,
- Commanding Confederate Forces in Savannah:
GENERAL: You have doubtless observed from your station at Rosedew that sea-going vessels now come through Ossabaw Sound and up Ogeechee to the rear of my army, giving me abundant supplies of all kinds, and more especially heavy ordnance necessary to the reduction of Savannah. I have already received guns that can cast heavy and destructive shot as far as the heart of your city; also, I have for some days held and controlled every avenue by which the people and garrison of Savannah can be supplied; and I am therefore justified in demanding the surrender of the city of Savannah and its dependent forts, and shall await a reasonable time your answer before opening with heavy ordnance,. Should you entertain the proposition I am prepared to grant liberal terms to the inhabitants and garrison; but should I be forced to resort to assault, or the slower and surer process of starvation, I shall then feel justified in resorting to the harshest measures, and shall make little effort to restrain my army -- burning to avenge a great national wrong they attach to Savannah and other large cities which have been so prominent in dragging our country into civil war. I inclose you a copy of General Hood's demand for the surrender of the town of Resaca, to be used by you for what it is worth.
I have the honor to be your obedient servant,
Source: U.S. War Department, The War of the Rebellion: A Compilation of the Official Records of the Union and Confederate Armies (Washington: U.S. Government Printing Office, 1893, reprinted by The National Historical Society, 1971), Series I, Vol. XLIV, p. 737.
And, for the time being, Hardee refused.
- Hdqrs. Dept. of S. Carolina, Georgia, and Florida.
- Savannah, Georgia, December 17, 1864.
Maj.-Gen. W.T. Sherman,
- Commanding Federal Forces, near Savannah, Ga.:
GENERAL: I have to acknowledge receipt of a communication from you of this date, in which you demand "the surrender of Savannah and its dependent forts," on the ground that you have "received guns that can cast heavy and destructive shots into the heart of the city," and for the further reason that you "have for some days held and controlled every avenue by which the people and garrison can be supplied." You add that should you be "forced to resort to assault, or to the slower and surer process of starvation, you will then feel justified in resorting to the harshest measures, and will make little effort to restrain your army," &c. The position of your forces, a half a mile beyond the outer line for the land defenses of Savannah is, at the nearest point, at least four miles from the heart of the city. That and the interior line are both intact. Your statement that you "have for some days held and controlled every avenue by which the people and garrison can be supplied" is incorrect. I am in free and constant communication with my department. Your demand for the surrender of Savannah and its dependent forts is refused. With respect to the threats conveyed in the closing paragraph of your letter, of what may be expected in case your demand is not complied with, I have to say that I have hitherto conducted the military operations intrusted to my direction in strict accordance with the rules of civilized warfare, and I should deeply regret the adoption of any course by you that may force me to deviate from them in the future.
I have the honor to be, very respectfully, your obedient servant,
Source: U.S. War Department, The War of the Rebellion: A Compilation of the Official Records of the Union and Confederate Armies (Washington: U.S. Government Printing Office, 1893, reprinted by The National Historical Society, 1971), Series I, Vol. XLIV, pp. 737-738.
A Georgia soldier in Virginia wrote to his father, telling him how he wished the war would end, how worried he was about him, and how much he missed home. It also showed how many Southerners underestimated slaves' desire for freedom.
"...I am well at present and enjoying excellent health and would be tolerable well satisfied if I could I would see an end to this dreadful and cruel war. ...
I am very much afraid the Yankees paid you a visit, as I heard one of our company say that he saw a letter from home stating the Yanks had passed...I am afraid they have destroyed your stock and perhaps stole some of your Negroes off, but I think they surely have better sense than to leave you to follow Yanks. If they have, I guess they will well wish they were back before long if they don't already. ... I fear I shall hear some bad news perhaps that you have been visited by the Yanks and perhaps all you have destroyed by those scoundrels or perhaps you may be in the army, enduring all the hardships and privations of a soldier. ...
I have travelled enough, seen enough, heard enough to convince me there is no place like home, sweet home. ..."
Source: Mills Lane (ed.), "Dear Mother: Don't grieve about me. If I get killed, I'll only be dead.": Letters from Georgia Soldiers in the Civil War (Savannah: Beehive Press, 1990), p. 338.
This week's edition of Harper's Weekly printed a cartoon mocking the measures Southern states had resorted to in order to man their armies.
Image Courtesy of Hargrett Rare Book and Manuscript Library / University of Georgia Libraries
Harper's Weekly also printed an image of the man Georgians most hated - Union General William T. Sherman.
Image Courtesy of Hargrett Rare Book and Manuscript Library / University of Georgia Libraries
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