SHERMAN'S MARCH TO THE SEA
The next threat to Fort McAllister was from the land side. Major
General William T. Sherman approached the city of Savannah at the
conclusion of his famous march to the sea. Sherman had taken Atlanta,
Georgia, as part of the Federal 1864 spring offensive. He began his
southeast advance in mid-November. His 62,000-man army was divided into
two "wings." The right wing was commanded by Major General Oliver O.
Howard and was composed of two corps, the XV Corps commanded by Major
General Peter J. Osterhaus and the XVII Corps led by Major General Frank
P. Blair. The left wing was commanded by Major General Henry W. Slocum
and consisted of Brigadier General Jefferson C. Davis's XIV Corps and
Brigadier General Alpheus S. Williams's XX Corps. Brigadier General
Judson Kilpatrick commanded the cavalry. A pontoon train and a few
companies of engineers, along with fifteen batteries of light artillery,
accompanied the army.
SHERMAN'S TROOPS BEGIN THEIR "MARCH TO THE SEA" AS ATLANTA BURNS BEHIND
Kilpatrick's cavalry and Howard's two corps moved south toward Macon:
Slocum's wing headed east toward Augusta. Confederate Major General
Gustavus W. Smith's force of a few thousand Georgia militia and local
defense troops, along with a few brigades of Major General Joseph
Wheeler's cavalry8,000 menwere south of Atlanta at Lovejoy
Station and withdrew to Macon as the Federals marched out of Atlanta. On
November 20 Howard abandoned his feint on Macon and moved toward
Georgia's capital at Milledgeville. Confederate Lieutenant General
William J. Hardee, headquartered in Savannah, commanded west to central
Georgia and ordered Smith to move his force east to stand between
Sherman's army and Augusta. As part of the move, Confederate Brigadier
General Pleasant J. Phillips's three brigades of militia inadvertently
collided with Union Brigadier General Charles C. Walcutt's rear-guard
brigade of the XV Corps near Griswoldville. Phillips attacked the
well-entrenched Union troops and was repulsed with over 500 casualties;
Walcutt sustained less than 100 killed and wounded and continued on to
On November 24 Sherman moved on to the Ogeechee River: five days
later the Federals entered Louisville. Wheeler's troops, in an
occasional skirmish. were their only opposition. By December 3, Sherman
had reached Millen, almost 70 miles from the coast at Savannah or
Unionist-controlled Port Royal Sound. Alarmed Confederates in Savannah
began in earnest to fortify the western approaches to the city.
Reinforcements from Georgia as well as the Carolinas were moved into
Savannah. Smith's militia reached the city early on November 30.
FEDERAL SOLDIERS FROM THE 107TH NEW YORK STAND ATOP THE ROOF OF THE
STATE CAPITOL AT MILLEDGEVILLE, GEORGIA. (HARPER'S WEEKLY)|
Union forces, anticipating Sherman's arrival on the coast, moved from
Hilton Head inland to cut the Savannah and Charleston Railroad east of
Grahamville, South Carolina. Major General John G. Foster, commander of
the Department of the South headquartered at Hilton Head Island, ordered
Brigadier General John P. Hatch to move up the Broad River from Port
Royal Sound to Boyd's Neck, ten miles east of the railroad at
Grahamville. Hatch and his 5,500 men spent November 29 fortifying their
position. His way was "blocked" by a few companies of the 3d South
Carolina Cavalry. The following morning Hatch's command moved toward
Grahamville. By now a large force on Confederates, including elements of
Gustavus Smith's Georgia militia from Savannah, as well as troops from
Charleston, had been concentrated in the South Carolina village. Smith
moved some of his men to Honey Hill, three miles south of Grahamville.
There, 1,400 men, along with five artillery pieces, dug in. Hatch's
force was delayed by the Confederates, who set the fields and woods
afire to confine the Federals to the road. Hindered by "dense
undergrowth and swamps," the Unionists made little progress. By afternoon the
Federals began to withdraw and by 7:30 they had retreated from the
field. Hatch suffered over 750 casualties; Smith, less than 50.
(click on image for a PDF version)
This map shows the route of Sherman's destructive march to the
sea. From Savannah, Sherman would head north to Charleston, South
As reinforcements continued to arrive in South Carolina, Smith and
his militia returned to the Savannah defenses. Major General Samuel
Jones, headquartered in Charleston, moved down the railroad as far as
Pocotaligo. Jones's line would become the second front for Savannah.
Although the Federals gained several positions from which they could
shell the railroad, they never severed the Charleston and Savannah
Railroad. The Federal failure to sever the railroad would result in a
loss of the opportunity to trap Hardee and his forces in Savannah.
Meanwhile, as Sherman approached Savannah, Hardee prepared his
defenses. He commanded about 10,000 troops and had no chance to defeat
Sherman. His only hope was that Sherman, without supply lines, would be
unable to subject the city to a prolonged siege and be forced to seek
the Federal navy and supplies elsewhere, perhaps at Beaufort, South
Carolina, the closest point under Federal control. Hardee, however,
hoped to retain control of the Charleston and Savannah Railroad, which
extended about twenty miles from the city before turning north to cross
the Savannah River. His outer line of defenses extended from the
Savannah River above the bridge southwest to the Great Ogeechee River.
Swamps and a few detached works, containing artillery, constituted the
UNION TROOPS BURN A RAILROAD BRIDGE OVER THE OGEECHEE RIVER ON NOVEMBER
CONFEDERATE BATTERIES LIKE THIS ONE SURROUNDED SAVANNAH. (AMERICAN
Sherman left Millen on December 4 with three of his corps moving
between the Ogeechee and Savannah Rivers. Osterhaus's XV Corps moved
down the right bank of the Ogeechee River and thereby flanked Hardee's
outer line, forcing him back to the inner line of defenses.
The right of the Confederate inner line extended on the right from
Williamson's Plantation on the Savannah River north of the city, near
the upper end of Hutchinson Island, across high ground to the Little
Ogeechee River. Much of the front was swamp and flooded rice fields. Two
railroads and three wagon roads penetrated the defenses; they had been
cut and stood under several feet of water. Fort Hardeman on the Savannah
River protected the canal that allowed flooding of the rice fields.
Battery McBeth covered the railroad as it passed through the central
Confederate works. Piney Point Battery and Battery Jones covered the
roads from the southwest. Confederates occupied the lower end of
Hutchinson Island, covering the right flank of the inner line. Artillery
from some of the river batteries east of the city was moved to protect
against the threat of Federal land forces; 54 guns were moved after
GENERAL JUDSON KILPATRICK LEADS A UNION CAVALRY CHARGE AGAINST JOSEPH
WHEELER'S CONFEDERATES AT WAYNESBORO, GEORGIA. (FMTW)|
The right of the Confederate was occupied by G. W. Smith's 2,000-man
militia and 20 pieces of artillery; they extended to the Georgia Central
Railroad. Major General Layfette McLaws's 3,750 men held the center four
miles with a mixture of Confederate and reserve regiments and 29 guns.
Major General Ambrose R. Wright's 2,700 men and 32 pieces of artillery
defended the left, a line extending to the Little Ogeechee River near
the railroad crossing. This entire line was about ten miles along. In
addition, the Confederates manned detached Fort McAllister on the Great
Ogeechee River, as well as the batteries on the waterways east of the
Fort McAllister was isolated after Hardee was forced to abandon the
outer defense line. McAllister kept Sherman from using the Great
Ogeechee River as a link to the Federal navy and resupply. Resupply for
Sherman meant not only provisions but heavy artillery and ammunition for
a siege of Savannah. Hardee without communication to McAllister, hoped
it could hold out long enough for Sherman to be forced to move elsewhere
to rendezvous with the Union navy.
Hardee ordered the Savannah River Squadron, which had been largely
inactive since its 1862 activities in conjunction with Fort Pulaski, up
the river to defend the Charleston and Savannah Railroad bridge, which
was beyond the inner line of defenses. Commodore William W. Hunter sent
his gunboats Macon and Sampson, along with the tender
Resolute, to protect the bridge.
THE SAVANNAH RIVER SQUADRON SURROUNDS FEDERAL VESSELS IN NOVEMBER 1864.
Hardee stated that he had no plans to evacuate Savannah but that
if it became necessary, he planned to use the Savannah River gunboats to
ferry his men to South Carolina.
On December 9 Confederate General Pierre G. T. Beauregard arrived in
Savannah from Charleston. The Creole commanded the department in which
Savannah was located. He urged Hardee to make arrangements to abandon
the city if he could not successfully defend it. Hardee stated that he
had no plans to evacuate Savannah but that if it became necessary, he
planned to use the Savannah River gunboats to ferry his men to South
Carolina. Beauregard suggested that Hardee construct a pontoon bridge,
to which Hardee objected as a waste of labor and as an obstruction of
On December 10 Hardee sent orders, by the Ida, for Hunter's
squadron to burn the bridge. Federals had established batteries along
the river and disabled the Ida, which had played a conspicuous
role earlier in the war. Aground, she was captured and burned by Captain
Henry A. Gildersleeve, of the 115th New York. On December 11, two
companies of the 3d Wisconsin reached Argyle Island, between the
railroad bridge and Hutchinson's Island. The next morning six more
companies arrived. Reinforcements soon moved onto the northwestern tip
of Hutchinson's Island. On December 12, Commodore Hunter's squadron,
which had been guarding the railroad bridge, received orders to destroy
it and return to Savannah. They burned the bridge, but as they returned
to the city, they encountered Federal forces who had prepared for the
possibility. When the gunboats Macon and Sampson and
tender Resolute approached, a Federal battery opened on them. As
the Resolute turned, she hit the gunboats, lost control, and ran
aground on Argyle Island, where she was immediately taken by men of the
3d Wisconsin. The two gunboats were able to escape the battery and
continued up river to Augusta.
To the south on December 9 Confederate troops who had been guarding
the approaches to Fort McAllister realized how badly they were
outnumbered by the approaching Federals. They abandoned their position
and moved south across the Altamaha River. McAllister's garrison was now
isolated on the south bank of the Great Ogeechee River. A month's
provisions would enable the men to withstand the isolation. Great stocks
of ammunition had been moved to the magazines. All of the trees within a
half mile of the fort had been cut. The landward rear wall of the fort
was strengthened and guns moved to cover this approach. "Ground
torpedoes"land minescovered the land approaches.
The next day, December 10, Sherman's forces moved on the Savannah
defensive line. From right to left were the XVII, the XIV, and the XX
Corps; the XV Corps was on the north side of the Great Ogeechee River.
Light skirmishing occupied the Federals, but they made no effort to
break Hardee's lines. Sherman did not press his assault but rather tried
to establish contact with the navy off the coast.
GEORGIA CIVILIANS DURING SHERMAN'S MARCH
As Union soldiers marched out of Atlanta on the morning of November
16, 1864, they anticipated following William Sherman's orders to
"forage liberally on the country."
Martha Amanda Guillen measured the Federal advance that first day by
observing smoke plumes on the horizon. Near Stone Mountain Thomas
Maguire described the losses on his farm as the "destruction of
Jerusalem on a small scale."
On November 17 the blue columns reached Dolly Sumner Lunt Burge's
plantation near Covington.
"But like Demons they rushed in!" Burge wrote. "To my smoke-house, my
Dairy, Pantry, Kitchen and Cellar, like famished wolves they come,
breaking locks and whatever is in their way. The thousand pounds of meat
in my smoke house is gone in a twinkling, my flour, my meat, my lard,
butter, eggs, pickles . . . are all gone. My eighteen fat turkeys, my
hens, chickens and fowl, my young pigs are shot down in my yard and
hunted as if they were the rebels themselves."
At Chamblee's Mill an old blind mule pulling a wagon filled with six
grieving women and the coffin of a small child to a cemetery was seized
by soldiers. Foragers at Birdsville Plantation dug up the graves of twin
infants, four days dead, while searching for treasure.
As a Spalding County farm was being sacked, a woman glanced out a
window and noticed that it was snowing.
"No, misses," a servant replied. "Those men are ripping up all your
feather beds and pillows to see the feathers fly."
PHOTOGRAPH OF WILLIAM T. SHERMAN AND FIVE OF HIS GENERALS TAKEN AFTER
THE INFAMOUS MARCH TO THE SEA. L-R: O. O. HOWARD, JOHN A. LOGAN, W. B.
HAZEN, SHERMAN, JEFFERSON C. DAVIS, AND H. W. SLOCUM. (LC)>|
Louise Caroline Reese Cornwell was forced to feed General O. O.
Howard, one of Sherman's four corps commanders, at her home in
Hillsboro. She found it strange that while Howard "sat at the table and
asked God's blessing, the sky was red from flumes of burning houses."
General Howard himself would soon note "many instances of the most
inexecusable and wanton acts."
The civilians reacted with bitter defiance. "Our men will fight you
as long as they live," a woman said quietly as her farm was stripped of
food, then she waved at her children and continued, "and these boys'll
fight you when they grow up."
Sherman seemed unable to comprehend their hatred, writing to his
wife, Ellen, "I doubt if history affords a parallel to the deep and
bitter enmity of the women of the South. No one who sees them and hears
them but must feel the intensity of their hate."
Sherman's army marched swiftly to Milledgeville, the midpoint of the
journey, where they rested for several days. Although soldiers had
destroyed considerable property and cleaned the country of provisions,
they had molested few civilians. That changed after skeletal escapees
from the infamous Andersonville prison camp reached Union lines.
In Irwinton on November 25 an officer wrote that "the boys had a good
time last night. Wrecked town recovered valuables." Next day the men
were lined up and read an order prohibiting looting and arson for "I
guess the twentieth time," he concluded.
UNION SOLDIERS CAUSE MAYHEM AND DESTRUCTION DURING THEIR MARCH ACROSS
GEORGIA. A SLAVE SEEKS REFUGE AMID THE CHAOS. (LC)|
As the march slowed from cold rain, swampy roads, and resistance,
soldiers found time for mischief. Near Louisville a squad took Mrs. Nora
M. Canning's elderly husband into a swamp to persuade him to divulge the
location of his valuables, which were stored in a Macon bank. Rejecting
this reply, the Federals tossed a rope over a branch and tied a noose
around Canning's neck. The men trice hoisted Canning up until he was
unconscious, then settled for his watch.
"Oh! the horrors of that night!" Mrs. Canning wrote of caring for her
husband, who "lay with scorching fever, his tongue parched and swollen
and his throat dry and sore. He begged for water and there was not a
drop. The Yankees had cut all the well ropes and stolen the
At Magnolia Springs, near Millen, Sherman's troops burned an empty
Confederate prison camp that dwarfed Andersonville. The primitive
conditions of the camp "made my heart ache," declared Chaplain George
Bradley, "miserable hovels barely fit for swine." Soldiers' hearts were
further hardened toward residents of the Confederacy. Learning that
hounds were used to track escaped prisoners, they shot every dog they
encountered, including a poodle. "There's no telling what it'll grow
into if we leave it," a raider told its owner.
Federals overran Mrs. Charles Colcock Jones's plantation near Midway
on December 15. She watched in horror as they seized ducks and chickens,
"tearing them to pieces with their teeth like ravenous beasts."
One day later, Cornelia Screven prepared food for her children three
times, only to have soldiers snatch it from their plates. She begged
them to leave some for her hungry children, but a Federal snarled, "Damn
you, I don't care if you all starve," a scene repeated across
After capturing Savannah, Sherman estimated that his army had stolen
7,000 horses and mules, 20,000 head of cattle, 20 million pounds of corn
and fodder, and an incalculable number of hogs, chickens, turkeys,
vegetables, and fruit. Sherman believed his army had inflicted $1
billion worth of destruction on Georgia$20 million military
valuethe remainder pure vandalism.
"This may seem a hard species of warfare," Sherman wrote, "but it
brings the sad realities of war home to those who have been directly or
indirectly instrumental in involving us in its attendant calamities."
The modern term is total war, waged against combatants and civilians
TERRIFIED SOUTHERN CITIZENS FLEE FROM THE APPROACHING UNION ARMY. (DEPT.
OF CULTURAL RESOURCES, NORTH CAROLINA DIVISION OF ARCHIVES AND HISTORY)|
On December 9 Sherman's men had built a pontoon bridge across the
Ogeechee and on the tenth they rebuilt King's bridge, a major causeway
across the Ogeechee River about a mile above the destroyed railroad
bridge. At the same time Sherman ordered Kilpatrick to his right; the
cavalrymen reconnoitered the area around Fort McAllister on the twelfth
with the intention of taking the fort the next day. Confederate Major
George W. Anderson and a small party of scouts collided with
Kilpatrick's advance just south of King's bridge. In the brisk skirmish
that ensued, the Confederates were able to withdraw into Fort
McAllister. The troopers rode out to Genesis Point but stopped short of
the causeway to the fort. Shortly thereafter a courier arrived with
Sherman's revised orders to Kilpatrick, namely, that he not take the
fort but turn the mission over to the infantry. Kilpatrick withdrew and
set up his headquarters at Strathy Hall, home of Confederate Lieutenant
Colonel Joseph L. McAllister, on whose land the fort had been built.
Kilpatrick then sent the 9th Michigan Cavalry to take Kilkenny Bluff in
anticipation of linking with the navy in Saint Catherines Sound. The
remainder of the troopers spread out through the counties to the south,
and some went to the site of Sunbury on the Midway River, a deepwater
port abandoned from colonial times. Kilpatrick would make contact with
the Fernandina on the thirteenth.
THE RESOLUTE IS BARRAGED BY FEDERAL GUNFIRE. (FMTW)|
DITCHES WITH ABATIS IN FRONT OF FORT MCALLISTER. (LC)|
Sherman ordered Brigadier General William B. Hazen's Second Division
of the XV Corps across the Ogeechee River to take the fort on the
thirteenth. Sherman himself had commanded that division at Shiloh and
Vicksburg. At dawn on December 13, Hazen's 4,300 men crossed the bridge
and moved east down the road on Bryan Neck to approach the fort from the
rear. As his men assembled two miles from the fort, twelve scouts ran
down the causeway a mile from the fort. They captured the unsuspecting
Confederate pickets. The prisoners told the scouts about the "land
torpedoes," both on the road ahead and outside the fort. The Federals
forced the prisoners to locate and remove them from the causeway.
Removing the torpedoes took several hours and delayed the Federals
from moving close enough to assault the fort. While Hazen was clearing
the road of mines, he deployed sharpshooters to annoy the fort's
garrison; artillery several miles upstream and across the river at Dr.
Cheves's rice mill shelled the Confederates in McAllister. Because of
the wooded and swampy terrain, it took all afternoon for Hazen to deploy
CAPTURED CONFEDERATE PRISONERS DIG UP BURIED TORPEDOS IN FRONT OF FORT
THE STORMING OF FORT MCALLISTER BY GENERAL HAZEN'S DIVISION ON DECEMBER
13, 1864. (HARPER'S WEEKLY)|
Hazen planned a three-pronged assault. Three regiments of each
brigade were set to assault the fort; the remainder were held in
reserve. The 47th and 54th Ohio and 111th Illinois from the Second
Brigade would attack on the left. The 19th and 48th Illinois and the
70th Ohio of the Third Brigade formed on the center. The 6th Missouri,
30th Ohio, and 116th Illinois from the First Brigade would move on the
right. The infantry deployed in a line 600 feet from the fort on an arc
from the river below the fort to the river above it. They were arranged
"as thin as possible so that no man in the assault was struck till they
came to close quarters."
At 4:45 P.M. they charged in unison. Slashed timber briefly impeded
the men; they scrambled on and over the cheavaux-de-frise and abatis and
swarmed over the parapet into the fort. Land mines outside the wall were
responsible for most of the Federal casualties, "blowing many men to
atoms." Within fifteen minutes Hazen's force had overwhelmed Major
Anderson and his remaining garrison of 229 men and officers. In
addition, 11 Confederates were killed and 21 wounded. Eleven heavy guns,
a 10-inch mortar, twelve field guns, 60 tons of ammunition, and a
month's supply of food were captured. Hazen lost 24 killed and 110
THE DANDELION SIGNALS TO SHERMAN ON THE SHORE. (FMTW)|
MAJOR GENERAL JOHN FOSTER WELCOMES GENERAL SHERMAN ABOARD THE
NEMAHA. (COLLECTION OF THE NY HISTORICAL SOCIETY)|
Sherman and Howard watched the assault from the roof of a shed at Dr.
Cheves's rice mill, where a signal station had been built. As Hazen
began his assault, signalers saw and signaled the Federal tug
Dandelion. After the fort surrendered, Sherman and Howard went
downriver in a skiff, had dinner with Hazen and the captured Major
Anderson, and were taken to the tug, where Sherman wrote Stanton,
Halleck, and Grant. He then returned to McAllister for the night.
Sherman was soon awakened and told that General Foster was aboard the
steamer Nemaha downstream. Sherman joined him and together they
went to Wassaw Sound to meet with Admiral John A. Dahlgren aboard his
flagship Harvest Moon. There, Sherman learned of the situation in
South Carolina along the Charleston-Savannah Railroad. After arranging
for supplies and the transfer of heavy siege guns from Port Royal to use
against Savannah, Sherman returned to his troops.