With Fort McAllister in Federal hands, the Great Ogeechee River was
open to the navy and resupply was at hand. A wharf and warehouses were
soon built at King's bridge, the river cleared of obstructions, and by
December 16 supplies were arriving and being transported to the
Federal action now shifted to the north. On December 16 Colonel Ezra
A. Carman's brigade of the XX Corps crossed the channel between Argyle
Island to South Carolina and established their position at Izard's Mill,
six miles from Savannah. They could not move further down the left bank
of the Savannah River because the rice fields had been flooded and
behind them was a strong Confederate line. Sherman was reluctant to
commit too many men to the left bank of the Savannah River since the
Confederates had several gunboats in the river and could "destroy any
pontoons laid down by us between Hutchinson's Island and the South
Carolina shore, which would isolate any force sent over from that
Carmen's move into South Carolina put Sherman's left within striking
distance of Union Causeway, the sole line between Savannah and South
Carolina. The road led to Hardeeville, where the railroad passed
northward. As these maneuvers took place, Federal engineers opposite
Hardee's inner line prepared sites for the now arriving siege guns and
began to drain the flooded rice fields between the lines. Hardee, in
turn, realized the danger to his only route of evacuation and had
transferred Major General Joseph Wheeler's cavalry to block any Federal
movement eastward toward the causeway.
On December 15 Colonel Orville F. Babcock, an aide of Lieutenant
General Ulysses S. Grant, arrived with a letter from the commander of
the Union armies, written December 6, informing his friend, "My idea
now, then, is that you establish a base on the sea-coast, fortify and
leave in it all your artillery and cavalry, and enough infantry to
protect them. . . . With the balance of your command come here by water
with all dispatch. Select yourself the officer to leave in command, but
you I want in person." Sherman was furious; he had planned to move
northward taking the war into the interior of the Carolinas. Fort
McAllister offered an ideal site for the concentration and embarkation of
his army, and Sherman ordered his chief engineer, Captain Orlando M.
Poe. to begin the necessary preparations to develop the new port
facility, should Savannah not fall.
A PHOTOGRAPH OF FORT MCALLISTER TAKEN SHORTLY AFTER ITS SURRENDER (LC)|
With the fall of Fort McAllister, Hardee's position had become
untenable. On December 17 Sherman sent Hardee a summons to surrender
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,
and 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 armyburning 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.
Hardee promptly responded:
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 shot 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 you 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 paragraphs 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 future.
ONE OF THE CANNONS AT FORT MCALLISTER. (LC)|
Hardee, realizing his only course was retreat, began to prepare to
evacuate his forces from Savannah.
Hardee, realizing his only course was retreat, began to prepare to
evacuate his forces from Savannah. Using "rice-field flats," shallow
skiffs 80 feet long collected from the plantations, he linked them as
floats for a bridge from the foot of West Broad Street in the city to
Hutchinson's Island to Pennyworth Island to the South Carolina shore.
Railroad car wheels were used to anchor the flats in the river. Planks
from waterfront buildings served as the bridging material; when
completed, the bridge would be covered with rice straw to muffle the
General Beauregard telegraphed Hardee on the seventeenth to speed the
preparations for evacuation. The two generals agreed that the gunboat
Isonidiga and armed tender Firefly would move to Augusta
(they would be beached and burned during the evacuation), the iron-clad
Georgia would be scuttled, and the ironclad Savannah would
cover the evacuation, (The Savannah, unable to escape down the
river, would be scuttled on December 21.)
The pontoon link to Hutchinson's Island was completed on the
seventeenth; however, fog, ship traffic, and a shortage of rice flats
delayed the construction of the remaining two sections until December
20. Wheeler, his cavalry reinforced with part of the Savannah garrison,
held off Federal moves toward the causeway. The evacuation of the city,
the eastern water batteries, and finally the lines facing Sherman was
completed by 3:00 A.M. of December 21. Nine thousand soldiers, along
with 49 field guns, had escaped. The mayor of Savannah, Richard D.
Arnold, came out to surrender the city early on the morning of the
twenty-first. At 6:00 A.M. Federal troops reached the City Exchange and
raised the United States flag. Sherman was away conferring with General
Foster and when he returned that night found himself in possession of
the city. The following day, he sent President Lincoln word of his
prize: "I beg to present 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."
THE CONFEDERATE RAM SAVANNAH IS TORCHED ON THE EVE OF THE FEDERAL
OCCUPATION OF SAVANNAH. (HARPER'S WEEKLY)|
Sherman has been criticized for his desultory conduct before Savannah
and for allowing Hardee to escape. Sherman feared that if his army was
divided by the river, Hardee might crush the detached wing as
Confederate gunboats, still active in the river, prevented additional
troops from coming to their support. He realized that he needed to
resupply his men from his new deepwater base. Finally, he had received a
letter from Grant ordering him to send the bulk of his forces north on
ships to take part in the final push against Lee; for this reason he had
to keep his force intact and at the coast.
Sherman, along with Federal forces in Hilton Head, could have
prevented Hardee's escape. Sherman was aware that the Confederates were
building a pontoon bridge to South Carolina, yet upon his departure for
Hilton Head Island on December 19, he left orders for his army not to
attack the Savannah works until he had returned. Sherman's subordinates
clearly observed the Confederate evacuation on December 20 yet did
nothing to interfere with it. Sherman's victory in Savannah was won
through default, not brilliant tactical maneuver.
CONFEDERATE TROOPS CROSS A PONTOON BRIDGE OVER THE SAVANNAH RIVER AS
THEY EVACUATE SAVANNAH AND MARCH TOWARD SOUTH CAROLINA. (FMTW)|
For his part, Hardee ably employed the limited tactical resources he
had. He had 10,000 men, yet he had to secure the water approaches east
of Savannah, as well as man the western defensive line. Hardee later
reflected: "Tho' compelled to evacuate the city, there is no part of my
military life to which I look back with so much satisfaction."
Between 1869 and 1872 Fort Pulaski's demilune was remodeled.
Underground magazines and emplacements for heavy guns were added. Major
renovations were planned for the fort; however, the project was
abandoned when plans were developed to build batteries on Tybee Island.
After 1879 little further active military use was made of Fort Pulaski.
During the Spanish-American War, a few men were garrisoned in the fort
to man the guns installed on the demilune as well as at the battery on
the north shore of Cockspur Island. Electric mines were strung across
the mouth of the Savannah River and were controlled from Cockspur
Island; the operators were also housed in the fort.
CONFISCATED CONFEDERATE COTTON IS SHIPPED TO NEW YORK BY SHERMAN'S
OCCUPYING FORCES. (COLLECTION OF NY HISTORICAL SOCIETY)|
During the early years of the twentieth century, Fort Pulaski was
totally abandoned. The moat again filled with silt and was overgrown
with marsh grass. A jungle of brush and trees overgrew the parade.
Snakes slithered everywhere. Although designated for inclusion as a
national monument in 1915 under the American Antiquities Act, further
action was delayed by American participation in the First World War. In
1918 district engineer Colonel John Millis recommended Pulaski's
immediate preservation. His successor, Colonel F. W. Alstaetter, working
with local Savannah groups, began to seek national monument status for
the fort. Finally, in 1924, Congressman Charles G. Edwards introduced a
bill to make Fort Pulaski a national monument; it was passed and on
October 15, 1924, President Calvin Coolidge issued the proclamation. The
site remained an overgrown jungle until the War Department transferred
it to the Department of the Interior in 1933. The National Park Service
then began to preserve the fort and develop the area for visitors.
Blueprints, specifications, and other plans were available in the War
Department files. Using funds provided by the Public Works
Administration and labor of the Civilian Conservation Corps, restoration
was begun. Completed in 1938, Cockspur Island was joined to the mainland
(McQueens Island) by a bridge across the south channel of the Savannah
THE OCCUPATION OF SAVANNAH
All through the night of December 20 Savannah's civilians listened
with dread to the sounds of marching feet and cannon and wagons
rumbling in the streets. The Confederate army was evacuating the city
over a pontoon bridge and dawn would bring the Union army, which had
burned its way across Georgia.
Confederate stragglers had plundered stores and warehouses in the
night, and daylight found poor whites and slaves fighting over food
stocks. Federal soldiers briefly renewed their looting activities until
the arrival of General John Geary. The former San Francisco mayor posted
guards and detailed a brigade to patrol the city. Sherman allowed few
soldiers into the city, and those only by pass. Officers were required
to remain in camp to keep their troops in rein.
Mayor Richard Arnold surrendered the city with a "respectful request"
that its citizens, primarily women and children, be protected. The final
Confederate edition of the Savannah Republican counseled
"obedience and all proper respect" to the conquerers.
THE FEDERAL ARMY UNDER GENERAL SHERMAN ENTERS SAVANNAH ON DECEMBER 21,
Sherman immediately pronounced military law superior to civil
authority but stated that "peaceful inhabitants" should resume their
"usual pursuits." Family, business, and social activities continued
Sherman retained local officials to operate the city. Newspapers,
"held to the strictist accountability," were regularly published.
Only 200 families refuged from the city. The relatives of four
Confederate generals who personally asked Sherman's protection were
reassured that "no harm was designed" toward any resident.
Sherman later bragged that Savannah never had "a better government
than during our stay." He remembered popular parades and concerts,
teeming schools and churches, and plentiful provisions for all, rich and
poor, black and white.
One Union soldier disagreed, describing the city as "a most miserable
hole" with dilapidated buildings lining deserted streets strewn with
The most disturbing reports were that Union soldiers desecrated
cemetery vaults for thievery and shelter. "Surely such men are not
human," declared Frances Thomas Howard.
Civilians were secure, although some ladies complained of petty theft
and minor harassment. The women continually provoked much of that
misconduct with their hauty attitudes. When asked by Charles Green,
Sherman's host, if she wanted the general to be comfortable, a lady
exclaimed, "No, indeed, I do not! I wish a thousand papers of pins were
stuck in his bed and that he was strapped down on them."
Fanny Cohen, whose hatred for Federals rendered her "almost
speechless," was forced to entertain an officer she later described as
"a well bred dog."
CIVILIANS ARE ISSUED PASSED BY GENERAL GEARY. (FMTW)|
When northern cities donated food to Savannah, Elizabeth Mackay
Stiles wrote, "Then they think they are so liberal, giving us food, and
they stole more from one plantation than the whole of New York
During Christmas services civilians often walked out of church when
Union chaplains participated. A Presbyterian minister declined the
assistance of one Federal minister, explaining bitterly, "Sir, my people
need comfort, and that you cannot give."
Some gaiety was experienced during the holidays. As Union General O.
O. Howard played with little Daisy Gordon (later Girl Scout founder
Juliette Lowe), she noted that he was missing an arm. Told that rebels
had shot it off, Daisy replied brightly, "Did they? Well, I shouldn't
wonder if my Papa did it. He has shot lots of Yankees."
Whether they realized it or not, the people of Savannah were
fortunate, Sherman's army had destroyed Atlanta and would soon torch
Columbia, but in this beautiful city the dogs of war had been
Fort McAllister returned to forest and brush after the war. Henry
Ford acquired the site with the tracts he purchased in Richmond Hill; he
restored the fort in the late 1930s. In 1958, the International Paper
Company purchased a parcel of land from the Ford estate and transferred
the title to the state of Georgia. In ensuing years, the Georgia
Historical Commission restored the parapets and bombproofs to their
appearance during 1864. Parts of the Rattlesnake's machinery have
been salvaged and are also located at the site.
UNION SOLDIERS GAZE UPON A TRANQUIL OGEECHEE RIVER FROM FORT MCALLISTER.
(click on image for a PDF version)
Back cover: Original map from General Gillmore's report on the siege
of Fort Pulaski from the National Archives.|