January 30, 1865: Sherman’s March Through South Carolina Begins

 

On this day Sherman began his march through the Carolinas, with his ultimate destination Lee’s army, trapping it between his army and Grant’s army.  Most Union troops had very little love for the Palmetto State, blaming it for starting the War, and Sherman’s boys were strictly on their worst behavior in South Carolina, as this diary entry by Lieutenant Colonel George Nichols, a Union staff officer, indicates:

January 30th-The actual invasion of South Carolina has begun. The 17th Corps and that portion of the 15th which came around by way of Thunderbolt Beaufort moved out this morning, on parallel roads, in the direction of McPhersonville. The 17th Corps took the road nearest the Salkahatchie River. We expect General Corse, with the 4th Division of the 15th Corps, to join us at a point higher up. The 14th and 20th Corps will take the road to Robertville, nearer the Savannah River. Since General Howard started with the 17th we have heard the sound of many guns in his direction. To-day is the first really fine weather we have had since starting, and the roads have improved. It was wise not to cut them up during the rains, for we can now move along comfortably. The well-known sight of columns of black smoke meets our gaze again; this time houses are burning, and South Carolina has commenced to pay an installment, long overdue, on her debt to justice and humanity. With the help of God, we will have principal and interest before we leave her borders. There is a terrible gladness in the realization of so many hopes and wishes. This cowardly traitor state, secure from harm, as she thought, in her central position, with hellish haste dragged her Southern sisters into the caldron of secession. Little did she dream that the hated flag would again wave over her soil; but this bright morning a thousand Union banners are floating in the breeze , and the ground trembles beneath the tramp of thousands of brave Northmen, who know their mission, and will perform it to the end.

January 16, 1865: Special Field Order No. 15

 

Sherman

In an attempt to deal with the tens of thousands of black refugees who were following his army, General Sherman issued Special Field Order No. 15.  Issued to deal with an emergency situation and not as an attempt to chart Reconstruction Policy, the order looms large in the mythology of Reconstruction and is the origin of the belief that freed slaves were all promised 40 acres and a mule.  The order was rescinded by President Johnson in the fall of 1865.

Sherman commented on the Order in his Memoirs:

During Mr. Stanton’s stay in Savannah we discussed this negro question very fully; he asked me to draft an order on the subject, in accordance with my own views, that would meet the pressing necessities of the case, and I did so. We went over this order, No. 15, of January 16, 1865, very carefully. The secretary made some verbal modifications, when it was approved by him in all its details, I published it, and it went into operation at once. It provided fully for the enlistment of colored troops, and gave the freedmen certain possessory rights to land, which afterward became matters of judicial inquiry and decision. Of course, the military authorities at that day, when war prevailed, had a perfect right to grant the possession of any vacant land to which they could extend military protection, but we did not undertake to give a fee-simple title; and all that was designed by these special field orders was to make temporary provisions for the freedmen and their families during the rest of the war, or until Congress should take action in the premises. All that I now propose to assert is, that Mr. Stanton, Secretary of War, saw these orders in the rough, and approved every paragraph thereof, before they were made public.

Here is the text of the Order:

IN THE FIELD, SAVANNAH, GA., January 16th, 1865.

SPECIAL FIELD ORDERS, No. 15.

I. The islands from Charleston, south, the abandoned rice fields along the rivers for thirty miles back from the sea, and the country bordering the St. Johns river, Florida, are reserved and set apart for the settlement of the negroes now made free by the acts of war and the proclamation of the President of the United States.

II. At Beaufort, Hilton Head, Savannah, Fernandina, St. Augustine and Jacksonville, the blacks may remain in their chosen or accustomed vocations–but on the islands, and in the settlements hereafter to be established, no white person whatever, unless military officers and soldiers detailed for duty, will be permitted to reside; and the sole and exclusive management of affairs will be left to the freed people themselves, subject only to the United States military authority and the acts of Congress.  By the laws of war, and orders of the President of the United States, the negro is free and must be dealt with as such.  He cannot be subjected to conscription or forced military service, save by the written orders of the highest military authority of the Department, under such regulations as the President or Congress may prescribe.  Domestic servants, blacksmiths, carpenters and other mechanics, will be free to select their own work and residence, but the young and able-bodied negroes must be encouraged to enlist as soldiers in the service of the United States, to contribute their share towards maintaining their own freedom, and securing their rights as citizens of the United States.

Negroes so enlisted will be organized into companies, battalions and regiments, under the orders of the United States military authorities, and will be paid, fed and clothed according to law.  The bounties paid on enlistment may, with the consent of the recruit, go to assist his family and settlement in procuring agricultural implements, seed, tools, boots, clothing, and other articles necessary for their livelihood. (more…)

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December 22, 1864: Sherman’s Christmas Gift

 

 

 

 

Sherman and his men completed their March to the Sea with the siege of Savannah, Georgia.  The end of the siege was anti-climactic with Lieutenant General W. J. Hardee evacuating his garrison from the city of Savannah.  Sherman sent this message to Lincoln announcing the fall of Savannah.

 

SAVANNAH, GA., December 22, 1864
(Via Fort Monroe 6.45 p.m. 25th)

His Excellency President LINCOLN:

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.

W.T. Sherman,
Major General.

The message reached the White House on Christmas Day.  It was published in the papers and roused huge joy throughout the North as another sign that the end of the War was in sight.  Lincoln spoke for the North when he telegrammed back to Sherman:

MY DEAR GENERAL SHERMAN:

Many, many thanks for your Christmas gift, the capture of Savannah. When you were about leaving Atlanta for the Atlantic coast, I was anxious, if not fearful; but feeling that you were the better judge, and remembering that ‘nothing risked, nothing gained,’ I did not interfere. Now, the undertaking being a success, the honor is yours; for I believe none of us went further than to acquiesce. And taking the work of General Thomas into the county, as it should be taken, it is indeed a great success. Not only does it afford the obvious and immediate military advantages, but, in showing to the world that your army could be divided, putting the stronger part to an important new service, and yet leaving enough to vanquish the old opposing force of the whole — Hood’s army — it brings those who sat in darkness to see a great light. But what next? I suppose it will be safer if I leave General Grant and yourself to decide. Please make my grateful acknowledgments to your whole army, officers and men. (more…)

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August 25, 1864: Sherman Makes His Move on Atlanta

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Frustrated by his failures to cut the railroad lines to Atlanta,  Sherman at the end of August 1864 decided to use most of  his force to accomplish that goal.  On August 25, Sherman marched six of his seven corps out of the siege lines of Atlanta and moved them south east to cut both the rail lines into Atlanta.  Hood sent out Hardee with two corps to attempt to stop the Union movement.

By the 28th the Union was in control of a section of  West Point & Atlanta Railroad  and Sherman’s men were busy destroying it.  On the 30th, the Union corps closed in on Jonesborough, held by Hardee.  Hardee launched an attack on the Union force on the morning of August 31, that was beaten back after hard fighting.  Fearing a direct attack on Atlanta, Hood withdrew Stephen Lee’s corps from Hardee that evening.  On September 1, 1864, Sherman attacked the heavily outnumbered Hardee at 4:00 PM.  After tenacious fighting by the Confederates, the Union troops took Jonesborough and the last rail line into Atlanta.  Atlanta was now untenable for the Confederates to hold.

Here are Sherman’s comments on the movement that led to the fall of Atlanta:

(more…)

Marching Through Georgia

Something for the weekend.  Marching Through Georgia (1865).  Tennessee Ernie Ford gives us a spirited rendition.  Written by the composer Henry Clay Work in 1865, who did not participate in the march, or serve in the Union Army, the song is inextricably linked with Sherman and his troops.  Ironically, Sherman came to cordially detest the song, largely due to the fact that it was inevitably played whenever he made a public appearance.  He inserted a provision in his public speaking contracts that the song was not to be played in his presence.

January 11, 1863: Battle of Arkansas Post

One of the more effective combined operations of the Civil War, the battle of Arkansas Post was fought January 9-11, 1863.  The Confederates constructed Fort Hindman at the mouth of the Arkansas River to prevent the Union from steaming up the river from the Mississippi and taking Little Rock.  The garrison consisted of about 5500 men under Brigadier General Thomas J. Churchill.

Union Major General John McClernand, a War Democrat political general from Illinois.  He convinced Major General William Tecumseh Sherman to join him in landing 33,000 troops at Fort Hindman, bombard the fort with Union gunboats and take Fort Hindman.  McClernand informed Lincoln of his plans but did not tell Grant or Henry W. Halleck, the General in Chief.

McClernand began the movement on Hindman on January 4.   Troops landed at Hindman on January 9.  After two days of naval and land bombardment, most of the artillery at Fort Hindman was silenced and Churchill surrendered.  The Confederates put up a fierce resistance in those two days, with Union casualties exceeding a  thousand with 134 killed.  The entire Confederate garrison was captured, a true disaster for the Confederacy.  Grant was furious, ordering Sherman and McClernand back to the Mississippi and taking personal command of the stalled Vicksburg campaign.  Here is General Sherman’s comments on the Arkansas Post campaign from his memoirs: (more…)

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October 5, 1864: Hold the Fort

Map of Allatoona

 

Few battles have inspired a hymn, but the successful defense by a Union garrison of Allatoona Pass, fought 150 years ago,  did.  At a meeting held in Rockford, Illinois, on April 28 through April 29, 1870 Daniel Webster Whittle, formerly a Major in Sherman’s army and now an evangelist and hymn writer, regaled an audience with the tale of how the garrison at Allatoona withstood the Confederate attack, with Union signal flags from Sherman signaling the defenders:  “Hold the Fort; I am coming!”.  In the audience was hymn writer Philip Paul Bliss who was inspired to write the hymn Hold the Fort: 

Ho, my comrades, see the signal,
Waving in the sky!
Reinforcements now appearing,
Victory is nigh.

“Hold the fort, for I am coming,”
Jesus signals still;
Wave the answer back to heaven,
By thy grace we will.”

See the mighty host advancing,
Satan leading on,
Mighty men around us falling,
Courage almost gone!

“Hold the fort, for I am coming,”
Jesus signals still;
Wave the answer back to heaven,
By thy grace we will.”

See the glorious banner waving,
Hear the trumpet blow!
In our Leader’s name we’ll triumph,
Over every foe.

“Hold the fort, for I am coming,”
Jesus signals still;
Wave the answer back to heaven,
By thy grace we will.”

Fierce and long the battle rages,
But our help is near,
Onward comes our great Commander,
Cheer, my comrades, cheer.

“Hold the fort, for I am coming,”
Jesus signals still;
Wave the answer back to heaven,
By thy grace we will.”

Although Major Whittle had almost all the facts right, Sherman, as Sherman noted in a letter in 1875, did not use the exact words hold the fort, although as he later wrote that was clearly the intent of his messages to the garrison.  What was actually singaled to the defenders was:  Sherman is moving in force; Hold Out!  General Sherman says Hold Fast. We are coming.

The hymn proved very popular and Whittle and Bliss toured the country, speaking to audiences and leading the singing of the hymn, including a memorable tour of the Allatoona battlefield in 1876, where they gave an emotional rendition of the hymn.  Here is the account of the battle by Sherman in his memoirs: (more…)

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July 20, 1864: Battle of Peachtree Creek

peachtreemap1BattleMap

Sherman was closing in on Atlanta.  General Joseph Johnston had delayed the advance of Sherman but he had not been able to stop him.  On July 8 Sherman crossed the Chattahoochie River, the last major physical obstacle between him and Atlanta.  Johnston withdrew across Peachtree Creek north of Atlanta, planning to attack Sherman’s army as it crossed the creek.  As he made his preparations, Johnston was suddenly removed from his command by Davis.  Davis and Johnston were old enemies, but Davis removing Johnston was more an act of desperation than anything else.  If Atlanta fell, the Confederate heartland was open for an invasion by Sherman, and Johnston’s strategy of maneuver and retreat convinced Davis that Johnston would not fight for Atlanta.  Rolling the dice, Davis promoted one of Johnston’s corps commanders to the temporary rank of full general and John Bell Hood found himself in command of the Army of Tennessee.

Thirty-three years old and a West Point graduate, Hood had earned a reputation as an aggressive and successful division commander in the Army of Northern Virginia.  At Gettysburg he was severely wounded and lost the use of his left arm.  At Chickamauga he led the assault that cracked the Union army, and was again wounded losing his right leg.  Equipped now with a wooden leg, Hood had lost none of his aggression and self-confidence.  Under him retreat was to be a thing of the past, as he swiftly readied his army to take aggressive action to save Atlanta.

On July 19, Hood learned that Sherman was dividing his army, following his usual course of having the Army of the Cumberland under Thomas cross Peachtree Creek for a direct advance on Atlanta, while the Army of the Tennessee under McPherson and the Army of the Ohio under Schofield maneuvered to the East, to outflank the Confederates and to cut rail lines and the Confederate supply lines.  For a commander as fond of attack as Hood this was a golden opportunity to launch an assault on Thomas. (more…)

April 26, 1865: Johnston Surrenders

 

Sherman and Johnston

After the rejection of the surrender terms that he had negotiated with Johnston, with Breckinridge cleverly pulling the strings, go here to read about it, a clearly irked Sherman wasted no time in carrying out his orders to arrange new surrender terms with Johnston:

HEADQUARTERS MILITARY DIVISION OF THE MISSISSIPPI
IN THE FIELD, RALEIGH, NORTH CAROLINA, April 25, 1865.

Lieutenant-General U. S. GRANT, present.

GENERAL: I had the honor to receive your letter of April 21st, with inclosures, yesterday, and was well pleased that you came along, as you must have observed that I held the military control so as to adapt it to any phase the case might assume.

It is but just I should record the fact that I made my terms with General Johnston under the influence of the liberal terms you extended to the army of General Lee at Appomattox Court-House on the 9th, and the seeming policy of our Government, as evinced by the call of the Virginia Legislature and Governor back to Richmond, under yours and President Lincoln’s very eyes.

It now appears this last act was done without any consultation with you or any knowledge of Mr. Lincoln, but rather in opposition to a previous policy well considered.

I have not the least desire to interfere in the civil policy of our Government, but would shun it as something not to my liking; but occasions do arise when a prompt seizure of results is forced on military commanders not in immediate communication with the proper authority. It is probable that the terms signed by General Johnston and myself were not clear enough on the point, well understood between us, that our negotiations did not apply to any parties outside the officers and men of the Confederate armies, which could easily have been remedied.

No surrender of any army not actually at the mercy of an antagonist was ever made without “terms,” and these always define the military status of the surrendered. Thus you stipulated that the officers and men of Lee’s army should not be molested at their homes so long as they obeyed the laws at the place of their residence.

I do not wish to discuss these points involved in our recognition of the State governments in actual existence, but will merely state my conclusions, to await the solution of the future.

Such action on our part in no manner recognizes for a moment the so-called Confederate Government, or makes us liable for its debts or acts.

The laws and acts done by the several States during the period of rebellion are void, because done without the oath prescribed by our Constitution of the United States, which is a “condition precedent.”

We have a right to, use any sort of machinery to produce military results; and it is the commonest thing for military commanders to use the civil governments in actual existence as a means to an end. I do believe we could and can use the present State governments lawfully, constitutionally, and as the very best possible means to produce the object desired, viz., entire and complete submission to the lawful authority of the United States.

As to punishment for past crimes, that is for the judiciary, and can in no manner of way be disturbed by our acts; and, so far as I can, I will use my influence that rebels shall suffer all the personal punishment prescribed by law, as also the civil liabilities arising from their past acts.

What we now want is the new form of law by which common men may regain the positions of industry, so long disturbed by the war.

I now apprehend that the rebel armies will disperse; and, instead of dealing with six or seven States, we will have to deal with numberless bands of desperadoes, headed by such men as Mosby, Forrest, Red Jackson, and others, who know not and care not for danger and its consequences.

I am, with great respect, your obedient servant,

W. T. SHERMAN, Major-General commanding. (more…)

March 19, 1865: Battle of Bentonville Begins

 

The life of the Confederacy was ebbing fast, but it still had soldiers willing to fight for it, as was amply demonstrated at the battle of Bentonville, North Carolina, fought March 19-21, 1865.

Outnumbered 60,000 to 21,000, General Joseph Johnston’s only hope of victory was to attack a portion of Sherman’s army and defeat it.  Moving on Goldsboro, Sherman had his army marching in two groups, a left wing under Major General Henry Slocum and a right wing under Major General O. O. Howard.  On March 19, 1865, Slocum ran into the entrenched troops of Johnston.  Thinking that he was opposed only by cavalry, Slocum attacked and was repulsed.  In the afternoon Johnston attacked and was initially successful, routing two Union divisions.  The fighting continued until midnight, with Union reinforcements stopping the Confederate attack, and the Confederates withdrawing to their lines.

On March 20, Howard joined Slocum and only light skirmishing occurred.

On March 21, Sherman stopped an attack which, in retrospect, he regretted stopping, since it might well have led to a general action which may have ended in the destruction of Johnston’s force.

Johnston had been lucky and the Confederates had fought skillfully, but the results of the battle demonstrated the futility of fighting against a force that was so numerically superior.  Johnston lost 2600 men, almost ten percent of his force, while Sherman had 1604 casualties which diminished his force almost not at all.

One of the Confederate casualties underlined the endless tragedies of the War.  On the 21rst Willie Hardee, the 16 year old son of Confederate Lieutenant General William Hardee, was mortally wounded.  His father had reluctantly agreed a few hours before his wounding to his son serving with the elite Eighth Texas Cavalry, popularly known as Terry’s Texas Rangers, his son desperate to see action before the end of the War.  Willie’s death was mourned by General O.O. Howard who commanded Sherman’s right wing and who had been a friend of Hardee at West Point and who had tutored Willie.

Here are Sherman’s comments on the battle in his memoirs: (more…)

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