This Day in Georgia Civil War History
November 15, 1864
March to the Sea Began; Battle of Stockbridge; Burning of Atlanta
The March to the Sea began with the Union army divided into two wings. The right (or western) wing was commanded by General Oliver O. Howard and consisted of two Corps, plus a cavalry division. They marched southward out of Atlanta following the Macon & Western Railroad to White Hall, just south of the city, where they split. One Corps would take the road to Jonesboro, and from there proceed to McDonough, Jackson, Clinton, and then reunite in seven days with the other Corps at Gordon (located south of Milledgeville). The planned route for this Corps was to march from White Hall to Stockbridge, McDonough, Jackson, Monticello, and Gordon. Just north of Stockbridge, however, they encountered several Confederate regiments that were part of the “Kentucky Orphan Brigade” (so-called because Kentucky had not seceded, which left Confederate units from that state as “orphans.”). A brief engagement followed - the Battle of Stockbridge). Greatly outnumbered, the Kentuckians temporarily blocked the Union advance, but they were soon outflanked and forced to retreat. To the west, one or two Kentucky regiments engaged the other Union Corps in another skirmish, but with no better results. The two Union columns camped for the night, ready to continue their March to the Sea the next morning.
Meanwhile, earlier that morning, General Henry Slocum had led his Corps eastward out of Atlanta with instructions to follow the Georgia Railroad eastward to Decatur, Lithonia, Covington, and Madison, tearing up the railroad along the way. Slocum’s forces were supposed to burn the railroad bridge over the Oconee River east of Madison, and then proceed southward to Georgia’s capital city of Milledgeville. With three of his four columns on the road, General William T. Sherman remained in Atlanta to oversee the destruction of anything with possible military value to the Confederacy. His military secretary, Henry Hitchcock, recorded his view of the destruction in his diary.
“Today the destruction fairly commenced … .This P.M. the torch applied … .Clouds of heavy smoke rise and hang like pall over doomed city. At night, the grandest and most awful scene… From our rear windows … horizon shows immense and raging fires, lighting up whole heavens… . First bursts of smoke, dense, black volumes, then tongues of flame, then huge waves of fire roll up into the sky: presently the skeletons of great warehouses stand out in relief against against and amidst sheets of roaring, blazing, furious flames, – then the angry waves roll less high, and are of deeper color, then sink and cease, and only the fierce glow from the bare and blackened walls … as one fire sinks another rises, further along the horizon, … it is a line of fire and smoke, lurid, angry, dreadful to look upon.” 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. 56-57.