Sherman's March To the Sea
At Rome, when parting with one of the officers he was sending back to Tennessee, Sherman said, "If there's to be any hard fighting, you will have it to do." He perfectly understood that there was no sufficient force in Georgia to thwart his plan or even to delay his march. Before leaving Atlanta he pointed out to one of his principal subordinates that a National army at Columbia, S. C., would end the war unless it should be routed and destroyed. Deprived of the material support of all the States but North Carolina, it would be impossible for the Confederate Government to feed its army at Richmond, or to fill its exchequer. The experience it had with the country west of the Mississippi proved that a region isolated from the rest of the Confederacy would not furnish men or money, and could not furnish supplies; while anxiety for their families, who were within the National lines, tempted the soldiers from those States to desert, and weakened the confidence of the whole army. In such a situation credit would be destroyed, the Confederate paper money would become worthless, its foreign assistance would be cut off, and the rebellion must end. The one chance left would be for Lee to break away from Grant, overwhelm Sherman, and re-establish the Confederate power in a central position by the abandonment of Virginia. But this implied that Lee could break away from Grant, who, on the south side of Petersburg, was as near Columbia as his opponent, and would be close upon his heels from the moment the lines about Richmond were abandoned.
If Sherman, therefore, should reach Columbia with an army that could resist the first onslaught of Lee, the last hope of the Confederacy would be crushed between the national forces meeting from the east and west. Of course, this implied that Thomas should, at least, be able to resist Hood till the Eastern campaign should be ended, when, in the general collapse of the Richmond Government, Hood must, as certainly abandon the hopeless cause, as Johnston was in fact forced to do after Lee's surrender in the following spring.
To establish a new base upon the sea was a necessary part of such a plan, for the old base at Chattanooga must be abandoned from the start, and the practical separation of the Carolinas from the Gulf States could only be accomplished by a great and thorough destruction of railway lines in Georgia. The army could live upon the country while marching, but it must have the ordinary means of supply within a very few days from the time of halting, or it would starve. The country through which it moved was hostile, no local government could be made to respond to formal requisitions for subsistence, and the wasteful method of foraging itself made a necessity for moving on into new fields. A rapid march to the sea, the occupation of some harbor capable of becoming a fortified base, and the opening of lines of ocean communication with the great dépôts of the North must therefore constitute the first part of the vast project. Beyond this Sherman did not venture to plan in detail, and recognizing the possibility that unlooked-for opposition might force a modification even of this, he kept in mind the alternative that he might have to go west rather than east of Macon. He requested that the fleets on the coast might watch for his appearance at Morris Island near Charleston, at Ossabaw Sound just south of Savannah, and at Pensacola and Mobile. If he should reach Morris Island, it would naturally be by the way of Augusta and the left bank of the Savannah River. Ossabaw Sound would, in like manner, indicate the route by way of Milledgeville, Millen, and the valley of the Ogeechee. The Gulf ports would only be chosen if his course to the east should be made impracticable.
On November 12th communication with the rear was broken. The railway bridge at Alatoona was taken to pieces and carried to the rear to be stored; but from the crossing of the Etowah, southward to Atlanta, the whole line of the road was thoroughly destroyed. The foundries, machine-shops, and factories at Rome were burned, lest they should be again turned to use by the enemy, and on the 14th the army was concentrated at Atlanta. Sherman's force now consisted of two corps of the Army of the Tennessee under General Howard, and two of the Army of the Cumberland under General Slocum, which were respectively designated as right and left wing. Logan was absent, and his corps (the Fifteenth) was in command of Major-General P. J. Osterhaus. The division of General J. E. Smith, which had been distributed along the railroad in Northern Georgia, had joined that corps, which now consisted of four divisions, commanded by Generals Woods, Hazen, Smith, and Corse. Blair's corps (Seventeenth) had three divisions, viz., Mower's, Leggett's, and Giles A. Smith's. The assignment of Slocum to the command of the wing left the Twentieth Corps under Brigadier-General A. S. Williams, with Geary, Ward, and Jackson as division commanders. Davis's (Fourteenth) corps retained the organization it had at the close of the Atlanta campaign, and consisted of Carlin's, Morgan's, and Baird's divisions. The cavalry was under Kilpatrick, and was but a single division, composed of the two brigades of Murray and Atkins. The numerical force of the whole, according to the returns of November 10th, only two days before communication with the North was broken, was a little over fifty-nine thousand, but furloughed men and recruits hurried so fast to the front in those last days that the muster at Atlanta showed a total of over sixty-two thousand. No pains had been spared to make this a thoroughly efficient force, for an army in an enemy's country and without a base cannot afford to be encumbered with sick, or to have its trains or its artillery delayed by weak or insufficient teams. The artillery was reduced to about one gun to a thousand men, and the batteries usually to four guns each, with eight good horses to each gun or caisson. Twenty days' rations were in hand, and two hundred rounds of ammunition of all kinds were in the wagons. Droves of beef cattle to furnish the meat ration were ready to accompany the march, and these grew larger rather than smaller as the army moved through the country.
The determination to abandon Atlanta involved also the undoing of much work that had been done there in the early autumn. As the town could not be used by the National forces, the defences must be destroyed, the workshops, mills, and dépôts ruined and burned. This task had been given to Colonel Poe, Chief Engineer, and was completed by the time the army was assembled and ready to march southward.
On the morning of November 15th the movement began. The two corps of each wing were ordered to march upon separate roads, at first diverging sharply, and threatening both Macon and Augusta, but having the neighborhood of Milledgeville, the capital of the State, for their place of rendezvous at the end of the first stage. Sherman himself accompanied the left wing, which followed the line of railway leading from Atlanta to Augusta; for, by doing so, he could get the earliest and best information of any new efforts the Confederate Government might make for the defence of the Carolinas. In this way he could best decide upon the proper direction for his columns after he should reach the Oconee River.
After leaving the mountainous region of Northern Georgia, the topography of the country is determined by the river courses, which run in radiating lines from the highlands a hundred miles northeast of Atlanta. The Savannah River, which separates the State from South Carolina, flows nearly southeast in a very direct general line to the sea. Augusta is on the right bank like a half-way house, and Savannah, on the same side of the stream, is near its mouth. The Ocmulgee and Oconee Rivers rise near Atlanta, and flow in parallel valleys about forty miles apart in the same southeasterly direction nearly two hundred miles, when they unite to form the Altamaha, which enters the ocean a little north of the Florida line. Macon is on the west bank of the Ocmulgee, about a hundred miles from Atlanta, and Milledgeville, thirty miles northeast of Macon, is on the same side of the Oconee, which, however, has a direction more nearly north and south above the city. The only other stream of any importance in this part of the State is the Ogeechee, which rises midway between Milledgeville and Augusta, but gradually approaches the Savannah, so that for fifty or sixty miles from the ocean these rivers are nearly parallel and from fifteen to twenty miles apart.
The general line of Sherman's march was between the Ocmulgee and Oconee Rivers, though he sent his right wing at first along the Macon Railroad by more westerly routes, for the purpose of deceiving the enemy, and to drive off Wheeler's cavalry and some three thousand Georgia militia, under General G. W. Smith, which had been assembled at Lovejoy Station for some days. Howard's right (Fifteenth Corps) marched by way of Jonesboro, McDonough, and Indian Spring to the crossing of the Ocmulgee at Planters' Factory, the Seventeenth Corps keeping a little farther east, but reaching the river at the same place. Kilpatrick, with most of the cavalry, was upon this flank, and drove the enemy's skirmishers before him to Lovejoy's. Smith had retired rapidly upon Macon with his infantry, but the old lines at Lovejoy's were held by two brigades of cavalry with two pieces of artillery. Kilpatrick dismounted his men and charged the works on foot, carrying them handsomely. He followed his success with a rapid attack by another column, which captured the guns and followed the retreating enemy some miles toward Macon. The cavalry continued its demonstrations nearly to Forsyth, creating the impression of an advance in force in that direction; then it turned eastward and crossed the Ocmulgee with the infantry.
A section of pontoon train was with each corps, and Howard put down two bridges; but though his head of column reached Planters' Factory on the 18th, and the bridges were kept full day and night, it was not till the morning of the 20th that the rear guard was able to cross. The bank on the eastern side of the river was steep and slippery from rain, making it tedious work getting the trains up the hill. His heads of columns were pushing forward meanwhile, and reached Clinton, a few miles north of Macon, by the time the rear was over the river. Kilpatrick now made a feint upon Macon, striking the railway a little east of the town, capturing and destroying a train of cars, and tearing up the track for a mile. Under cover of this demonstration and while the cavalry were holding all roads north and east of Macon, Howard's infantry on the 22d closed up toward Gordon, a station on the Savannah railroad, twenty miles eastward. Woods's division of the Fifteenth Corps brought up the rear and was approaching Griswoldville.
Returning to the left wing, which Sherman accompanied, we find that it had applied itself in earnest to the destruction of the railway from Atlanta to Augusta, making thorough work of it to Madison, seventy miles from Atlanta, and destroying the bridge over the Oconee River, ten or twelve miles further on. Here, the divergence between the wings was greatest, the distance from Slocum's left to Kilpatrick, on the right, being fifty miles in a direct line. Sherman, however, did not cross the Oconee, but directed Slocum to turn southward along the right bank of the river with Williams's (Twentieth) corps, while Davis's (Fourteenth) took the interior line by a more direct route to Milledgeville, where the left wing assembled on the 23d, the advance of the Twentieth Corps having entered the city the day before, driving out a small force of the enemy, which retreated rapidly across the river, leaving the bridge uninjured. Slocum immediately threw out Jackson's division to the east, covering and securing the bridge for further operations.
Sherman's advance from Atlanta drew from Beauregard a rattling volley of telegraphic despatches to all the Confederate officials, civil and military. In these he made much of the fact that he had ordered General Taylor in Alabama to move with his available forces into Georgia; but Taylor had no available forces, and could only go in person to Macon, where he arrived on the 22d, just in time to meet Governor Brown with his Adjutant, Toombs, escaping from the State Capitol on the approach of Slocum's columns. The only organized troops were Wheeler's cavalry, Smith's division of Georgia militia, and a couple of battalions of local volunteers. General Howell Cobb was nominally Confederate commander of "reserves," but there seems to have been no reserves to command. Hardee had been there the day before, coming up from Savannah, and judging rightly that the spread of Sherman's wings from Oconee Bridge to Planters' Factory argued a course toward Augusta or Savannah, he declared that Macon was in no danger and directed Smith to move his division rapidly eastward, to interpose, if possible, between Sherman and Augusta, delaying his march and obstructing the roads. Wheeler, under orders already given, would continue to harass the flank and rear of the National forces. Orders from Richmond had extended Hardee's authority over the theatre of operations in Georgia, and having given the best directions the circumstances allowed, he hastened back to Savannah to strengthen its means of defence and to be in direct communication with Augusta, Charleston, and Richmond.
Beauregard issued from Corinth, Miss., a proclamation to the people of Georgia, calling upon them to arise for the defence of the State, and to "obstruct and destroy all roads in Sherman's front, flank, and rear," assuring them that the enemy would then starve in their midst. He strove to raise vague hopes also by announcing that he was hastening to join them in defence of their homes and firesides. A more practical step was his order to Hood to begin the Tennessee campaign, the only counter-stroke in his power. At Milledgeville, the approach of Sherman was met by an Act of the Legislature to levy en masse the population, with a hysterical preamble, picturing the National general as an ogre, and exhorting the people "to die freemen rather than live slaves." The act, to have been of any use, should have been passed a month before, when Hood was starting west from Gadsden. It was now only a confession of terror, for there was no time to organize. Any disposition of the inhabitants along his route to destroy roads was effectually checked by Sherman's making it known that the houses and property of those who did so would be destroyed. Such opposition to a large army can never be of real use; its common effect is only to increase by retaliation the miseries of the unfortunate people along the line of march, and in this ease there was, besides, no lack of evidence that most of them were heartily tired of the war, and had lost all the enthusiasm which leads to self-sacrifice. Even in such a panic the strife of political factions was not stilled, and the opponents of Governor Brown's States-rights policy took advantage of the flight from the Capital to perpetrate a novel absurdity. The Lieutenant-Governor, Wright, was also a general in the Confederate army, and on the 21st, the day before our occupation of the Capital, issued a proclamation from Augusta, declaring himself ex-officio Governor of the part of the State east of the Oconee, and ordering the people under the levy en masse to report to him, by reason of what a Confederate historian calls the "territorial disability" of the Governor. The proclamation had no result, but the ridiculousness of it is shown by the fact that the Georgia militia under Smith were moved by Brown's orders to Savannah, reaching there on the 30th, and General Taylor returned from Savannah to Macon after that time, as will be seen. In truth, communication by courier from Augusta to Macon was only interrupted while the army was passing.
While Taylor, Brown, Toombs, and Cobb were conferring at Macon on the 22d, the division of Georgia militia under Brigadier General Phillips was marching toward Gordon in the effort to obey Hardee's order. At Griswoldville, about eight miles out, they ran into Walcutt's brigade of Woods's division, which was the rear guard of the right wing, and attacked it with more courage than discretion. Walcutt had been making a reconnoisance toward Macon, driving back Wheeler's cavalry, and was recalled by General Woods to a position on the Duncan Farm, a little east of the town. Here his flanks were protected by swampy ground, his line was on the crest of a hill, with open ground in front, on which the enemy must attack. This Phillips did with a great deal of vigor, putting in all four of his brigades, and striving hard also to turn the flanks of Walcutt's position. He was superior in artillery, as Walcutt had only two guns with him, and was obliged to withdraw these early in the engagement. But the infantry attacks, which were renewed several times, were repulsed with severe loss, and Phillips retreated, after several hours' fighting, having lost over six hundred in killed and wounded. On the National side, General Woods, who was present, reports a total of ninety-four casualties. Walcutt was severely wounded in the leg, and the command of the brigade devolved upon Colonel Catterson (Ninety-seventh Indiana) during the latter half of the combat. Both officers distinguished themselves by their conduct and courage.
Nothing could be more useless than this engagement, for Phillips had before him two corps if Walcutt had been driven off; but he had been ordered to move along the railroad, and thought he was obliged to do so till he should be recalled. This was done as soon as Smith at Macon heard of the fight, and the division, at the instance of Taylor, was sent southward by rail to Albany, which was the end of the railway in that direction. Thence they marched sixty miles to Thomasville on the Savannah and Gulf Railroad, where Toombs hectored the railway officials into furnishing transportation with unwonted promptness, and they reported to Hardee in Savannah on the last day of the month. Hardee's orders to Wheeler now directed him to get in front of Sherman's forces and cover all the roads by which he might move. Wheeler accordingly marched south of the Central Railroad, swam the Oconee River, and reached Sandersville on the 26th, just before the National columns. The change of position of the Confederate cavalry was followed by Kilpatrick, who moved, by Sherman's direction, to the front and left of the infantry, there being no enemy whatever on the right flank after crossing the Oconee.
Sherman had not delayed at Milledgeville, but had marched again on the 24th. Davis's (Fourteenth) corps now became the flanking column on the left. The Twentieth Corps (Williams's), after passing Sandersville, reached the Central Railroad at Tennille and marched to Davisboro, destroying the track as they went. From Davisboro both corps of the left wing moved by the same road to Louisville, crossing the Ogeechee River before reaching that place, where they camped on the 29th. The work of destroying the railway was begun by the right wing at Griswoldville, and of the hundred miles between that station and Millen very little of the road was left. Howard found the crossing of the Oconee near Ball's Ferry a difficult operation, for the river was up and the current so swift that the ferry could not be used. Wheeler's cavalry made some resistance from the other side. A detachment of Blair's corps, directed by the engineers, succeeded in constructing a flying bridge some two miles above the ferry, and getting over to the left bank, moved down to the principal road, which had been cleared of the enemy by the artillery on the hither side. The pontoons were then laid and the march resumed.
On leaving Milledgeville, Sherman ordered Kilpatrick to make a considerable detour to the north, feinting strongly on Augusta, but trying hard to reach and destroy the important railway bridge and trestles at Briar Creek, near Waynesboro, half way between Augusta and Millen. He was then to move rapidly on Millen in the hope of releasing the National prisoners of war who were in a prison camp near that place. Kilpatrick moved by one of the principal roads to Augusta, giving out that he was marching on that city. After he had passed the Ogeechee Shoals, Wheeler heard of his movement, and rapidly concentrated his force on the Augusta road, where it debouches from the swamps of Briar Creek. Kilpatrick, however, in obedience to his orders, turned the head of his columns to the right, upon the road running from Warrenton to Waynesboro, and they were well on their way to the latter place before Wheeler was aware of it. Murray's brigade was in the rear, and two of his regiments, the Eighth Indiana and Second Kentucky, constituted the rear-guard. These became too far separated from the column when they camped at evening near a place called Sylvan Grove. Wheeler heard of their whereabouts, and attacked them in the middle of the night. Though surprised and driven from their camps, the regiments stoutly fought their way back, and were only gradually driven in on the rest of Murray's brigade. Wheeler followed up persistently with his superior forces, harassing the rear and flank of the column, and causing some confusion, but gaining no important advantage, except that Kilpatrick was obliged to abandon the effort to burn the Briar Creek bridge and trestles, and to turn his line of march southwesterly from Waynesboro, after destroying a mile or two of the railroad. He reported that he here learned that the Millen prisoners had been removed, and determined to rejoin the army at Louisville. On the 27th Murray's brigade passed through that of Atkins, which now became the rear-guard, and on the 28th this order was reversed, each brigade taking, alternately, the brunt of the continuing fight with Wheeler. Early in the morning of the 28th Kilpatrick himself narrowly escaped capture, having improperly made his quarters for the night at some distance from the body of his command, the Ninth Michigan being with him as a guard. The enemy got between him and the column, and it was with no little difficulty he succeeded in cutting his way out, and saving himself from the consequences of his own folly. The long causeway and bridge at Buckhead Creek was held while the division passed, by Colonel Heath and the Fifth Ohio, with two howitzers, and Wheeler there received a severe check. The bridge was destroyed, and Kilpatrick took a strong position at Reynolds's plantation. Wheeler here attacked in force, but was decisively repulsed, and Kilpatrick effected his junction with the infantry without further molestation. Wheeler's whole corps, consisting of Dibrell's, Hume's, and Anderson's divisions, was engaged in this series of sharp skirmishes, and he boasted loudly that he had routed Kilpatrick, causing him to fly in confusion with a loss of nearly two hundred in killed, wounded, and captured. Chafing at this rebuff, Kilpatrick obtained permission to deliver a return blow, and after resting his horses a day or two, marched from Louisville on Waynesboro, supported by Baird's division of Davis's (Fourteenth) corps. He attacked Wheeler near the town, and drove him by very spirited charges from three successive lines of barricades, chasing him through Waynesboro, and over Briar Creek. Wheeler admits that it was with difficulty he "succeeded in with drawing" from his position at the town, but seeks to take off the edge of his chagrin by reporting that he was attacked by the Fourteenth Corps, as well as by Kilpatrick's cavalry. Baird's division was not actually engaged, but its presence and close support no doubt assisted Kilpatrick, by enabling him to make more decisive movements than he could otherwise have ventured on, as he could freely use his horsemen on the flanks of a solid body of advancing infantry.
Millen was reached on December 3d, by Blair's corps, which Sherman accompanied, and the direct railway communication between Savannah and Augusta was cut. Three corps now moved down the narrowing space between the Savannah and Ogeechee Rivers, while Osterhaus, with the Fifteenth, marched on the right bank of the latter stream in two columns some miles apart. Howard was in person with this corps and met with no resistance. Indeed from Millen onward the march of the whole army was a methodic progress with no noticeable opposition, for even Wheeler's horsemen generally kept a respectful distance, and soon crossed to the left bank of the Savannah. The country became more sandy, corn and grain grew scarcer, and all began to realize that they were approaching the low country bordering the sea, where but little breadstuffs or forage would be found. On the 9th and 10th the columns closed in upon the defences of Savannah, Davis's corps resting its left upon the Savannah River, Williams's, Blair's, and Osterhaus's continuing the line toward the right, near the Ogeechee. Cavalry detachments, and skilful infantry scouts were sent out to open communication with the fleet and to cut the Gulf Railway, thus severing the last connection of the city with the south. But before tracing these operations farther, some of the characteristic features of the march just made are worthy of a little more attention.
The destruction of railway communication between the Confederate Army at Richmond, and the Gulf States, had been a very important part of Sherman's purpose, and he spared no pains to do this thoroughly. A battalion of mechanics was selected and furnished with tools for ripping the rails from the cross-ties and twisting them when heated, and these were kept constantly at work; but the infantry on the march became expert in methods of their own, and the cavalry also joined in the work, though the almost constant skirmishing on the flanks and rear of the army usually kept the mounted troops otherwise employed. A division of infantry would be extended along the railway line about the length of its proper front. The men, stacking arms, would cluster along one side of the track, and at the word of command, lifting together, would raise the line of rail with the ties as high as their shoulders; then at another command they would let the whole drop, stepping back out of the way as it fell. The heavy fall would shake loose many of the spikes and chairs, and seizing the loosened rails, the men, using them as levers, would quickly pry off the rest. The cross-ties would now be Idled up like cob-houses and with these and other fuel a brisk fire would be made; the rails were piled upon the fire, and in half an hour would be red hot in the middle. Seizing the rail now by the two ends, the soldiers would twist it about a tree, or interlace and twine the whole pile together in great iron knots, making them useless for anything but old iron, and most unmanageable and troublesome, even to convey away to a mill. In this way it was not difficult for a corps marching along the railway to destroy, in a day, ten or fifteen miles of track most completely; and Sherman himself gave close watch to the work, to see that it was not slighted. Then all machine-shops, stations, bridges, and culverts were destroyed, and the masonry blown up.
The extent of line destroyed was enormous. From the Etowah River through Atlanta southward to Lovejoy's, for a hundred miles nothing was left of the road. From Fairburn through Atlanta eastward to Madison and the Oconee River, another hundred miles, the destruction was equally complete. From Gordon southeastwardly the ruin of the Central road was continued to the very suburbs of Savannah, a hundred and sixty miles. Then there were serious breaks in the branch road from Gordon northward through Milledgeville, and in that connecting Augusta and Millen. So great a destruction would have been a long and serious interruption even at the North; but the blockade of Southern ports and the small facilities for manufacture in the Confederate States made the damage practically irreparable. The lines which were wrecked were the only ones which then connected the Gulf States with the Carolinas, and even if Sherman had not marched northward from Savannah the resources of the Confederacy would have been seriously crippled. The forage of the country was also destroyed throughout a belt fifty or sixty miles in width. Both armies cooperated in this; the Confederate cavalry burning it that it might not fall into the hands of the National Army, and the latter leaving none that they could not themselves use, so that wagon transportation of military supplies across the belt might be made more difficult.
As the campaign progressed, great numbers of negroes attached themselves to the columns and accompanied the march. This was contrary to the wish of Sherman, who felt the embarrassment of having thousands of mouths added to the number of those who must be fed from the country as he moved. Those who had less responsibility for the campaign did not trouble themselves so much with this consideration, and the men in the ranks generally encouraged the slaves to leave the plantations. The negroes themselves found it hard to let slip the present opportunity of getting out of bondage, and their uneducated minds could not estimate the hope of freedom at the close of the war as having much weight against the instant liberty which was to be had by simply tramping away after the blue-coated soldiers.
The natural result was that the regular bivouacs of the troops were fringed by numberless gipsy camps, where the negro families, old and young, endured every privation, living upon the charity of the soldiers, helping themselves to what they could glean in the track of the army foragers. On the march, they trudged along, making no complaint, full of a simple faith that "Lincoln's men" were leading them to abodes of ease and plenty.
When the lower and less fruitful lands were reached, the embarrassment and military annoyance increased. This was more particularly felt in the left wing, which was then the only one exposed to the attacks of the enemy. Losing patience at the failure of all orders and exhortations to these poor people to stay at home, General Davis (commanding the Fourteenth Corps), ordered the pontoon bridge at Ebenezer Creek to be taken up before the refugees who were following that corps had crossed, so as to leave them on the further bank of the unfordable stream and thus disembarrass the marching troops. It would be unjust to that officer to believe that the order would have been given, if the effect had been foreseen. The poor refugees had their hearts so set on liberation, and the fear of falling into the hands of the Confederate cavalry was so great, that, with wild wailings and cries, the great crowd rushed, like a stampeded drove of cattle, into the water, those who could not swim as well as those who could, and many were drowned in spite of the earnest efforts of the soldiers to help them. As soon as the character of the unthinking rush and panic was seen, all was done that could be done to save them from the water; but the loss of life was still great enough to prove that there were many ignorant, simple souls to whom it was literally preferable to die freemen rather than to live slaves.
When Savannah was reached, the great number of colored refugees with all the columns were placed on the Sea Islands, under the care of government officers, and added largely to the colonies already established there. The Freedmen's Bureau was afterward, in great measure, the necessary outgrowth of this organization.
The subsistence of the army upon the country was a necessary part of Sherman's plan, and the bizarre character given it by the humor of the soldiers has made it a striking feature of the march. It is important, however, to distinguish between what was planned and ordered, and what was an accidental growth of the soldier's disposition to make sport of everything that could be turned to amusement. The orders issued were of a strictly proper military character. The supplies in the trains were to be treated as a reserve to be drawn upon only in case of necessity, and a systematic foraging upon the country for daily food was the regular means of getting rations. Each regiment organized a foraging party of about one-twentieth of its numbers under command of an officer. These parties set out first of all, in the morning, those of the same brigades and divisions working in concert, keeping near enough together to be a mutual support if attacked by the enemy, and aiming to rejoin the column at the halting place appointed for the end of the day's march. The foragers became the beau ideal of partisan troops. Their self-confidence and daring increased to a wonderful pitch, and no organized line of skirmishers could so quickly clear the head of column of the opposing cavalry of the enemy. Nothing short of an intrenched line of battle could stop them, and when they were far scattered on the flank, plying their vocation, if a body of hostile cavalry approached, a singular sight was to be seen. Here and there, from barn, from granary and smoke-house, and from the kitchen gardens of the plantations, isolated foragers would hasten by converging lines, driving before them the laden mule heaped high with vegetables, smoked bacon, fresh meat, and poultry. As soon as two or three of these met, one would drive the animals, and the others, from fence corners or behind trees, would begin a bold skirmish, their Springfield rifles giving them the advantage in range over the carbines of the horsemen. As they were pressed they would continue falling back and assembling, the regimental platoons falling in beside each other till their line of fire would become too hot for their opponents, and these would retire reporting that they had driven in the skirmishers upon the main column which was probably miles away. The work of foraging would then be resumed. It was of the rarest possible occurrence that Wheeler's men succeeded in breaking through these enterprising flankers and approaching the troops of the line, and as the columns approached the place designated for their evening camp, they would find this ludicrous but most bountiful supply train waiting for them at every fork of the road, with as much regularity as a railway train running on "schedule time."
They brought in all animals that could be applied to army use, and as the mule teams or artillery horses broke down in pulling through the swamps which made a wide border for every stream, fresh animals were ready, so that on reaching Savannah the teams were fat and sleek and in far better condition than they had been at Atlanta.
The orders given these parties forbade their entering occupied private houses, or meddling with private property of the kinds not included in supplies and munitions of war, and in the best disciplined divisions these orders were enforced. Discipline in armies, however, is apt to be uneven, and among sixty thousand men there are men enough who are willing to become robbers, and officers enough who are willing to wink at irregularities or to share the loot, to make such a march a terrible scourge to any country. A bad eminence in this respect was generally accorded to Kilpatrick, whose notorious immoralities and rapacity set so demoralizing an example to his troops that the best disciplinarians among his subordinates could only mitigate its influence. His enterprise and daring had made his two brigades usually hold their own against the dozen which Wheeler commanded, and the value of his services made his commander willing to be ignorant of escapades which he could hardly condone, and which on more than one occasion came near resulting in Kilpatrick's own capture and the rout of his command. But he was quite capable, in a night attack of this kind, of mounting, bare-backed, the first animal, horse or mule, that came to hand, and charging in his shirt at the head of his troopers with a dare-devil recklessness that dismayed his opponents and imparted his own daring to his men.
Then, the confirmed and habitual stragglers soon became numerous enough to be a nuisance upon the line of march. Here again the difference in portions of the army was very marked. In some brigades every regiment was made to keep its own rear guard to prevent straggling, and the brigade provost guard marched in rear of all, arresting any who sought to leave the ranks, and reporting the regimental commander who allowed his men to scatter. But little by little the stragglers became numerous enough to cause serious complaint, and they followed the command without joining it for days together, living on the country, and shirking the labors of their comrades. It was to these that the name "bummer" was properly applied. This class was numerous in the Confederate as in the National Army, in proportion to its strength, and the Southern people cried out for the most summary execution of military justice against them. Responsible persons addressed specific complaints to the Confederate War Secretary, charging robbery and pillage of the most scandalous kinds against their own troops. Their leading newspapers demanded the cashiering and shooting of colonels and other officers, and declared their conduct worse than the enemy's. It is perhaps vain to hope that a great war can ever be conducted without abuses of this kind, and we may congratulate ourselves that the wrongs done were almost without exception to property, and that murders, rapes, and other heinous personal offences were nearly unknown.
The great mass of the officers and soldiers of the line worked hard and continuously, day by day, in marching, in bridging streams, in making corduroy roads through the swamps, in lifting the wagons and cannon from mud-holes, and in tearing up the railways. They saw little or nothing of the people of the country, and knew comparatively little of the foragers' work, except to enjoy the fruits of it and the unspeakable ludicrousness of the cavalcade as it came in at night. The foragers turned into beasts of burden, oxen and cows as well as the horses and mules. Here would be a silver-mounted family cartage drawn by a jackass and a cow, loaded inside and out with everything the country produced, vegetable and animal, dead and alive. There would be an ox-cart, similarly loaded, and drawn by a nondescript tandem team, equally incongruous. Perched upon the top would be a ragged forager, rigged out in a fur hat of a fashion worn by dandies of a century ago, or a dress-coat which had done service at stylish balls of a former generation. The jibes and jeers, the fun and the practical jokes ran down the whole line as the cortege came in, and no masquerade in carnival could compare with it for original humor and rollicking enjoyment.
The weather had generally been perfect. A flurry of snow and a sharp, cold wind had lasted for a day or two about November 23d, but the Indian summer set in after that, and on December 8th the heat was even sultry. The camps in the open pine-woods, the bonfires along the railways, the occasional sham-battles at night, with blazing pine-knots for weapons whirling in the darkness, all combined to leave upon the minds of officers and men the impression of a vast holiday frolic; and in the reunions of the veterans since the war, this campaign has always been a romantic dream more than a reality, and no chorus rings out with so joyous a swell as when they join in the refrain, "As we were marching through Georgia."
Source: "The March To The Sea/Franklin And Nashville" By Jacob D. Cox, LL. D.,
Late Major-General Commanding Twenty-Third Army Corps
Chapter II.--The March Through Georgia.
You've just read the Union version, now read the Confederate.
This Page last updated 02/16/02