Marching through Georgia and the Carolinas.
by Daniel Oakey, Captain, 2D Massachusetts Volunteers.
To us of the Twelfth Corps who had gone West with the Eleventh Corps from the Army of the Potomac, the distant thunder of “the battle of the clouds” was the first sound of conflict in the new field.
Some of our “Potomac airs,” which had earned us the name of “Kid gloves
and paper collars,” 1
began to wear away as we better under-stood the important work to be done by the great army organizing around us, and of which we were to form a considerable part.
A most interesting feature of these preparations was the reenlistment of the old three-years regiments.
The two Potomac corps were consolidated, and we of the Twelfth who wore “the bloody star” were apprehensive lest different insignia should be adopted; but the star became the badge of the new (Twentieth) corps, the crescent men amiably dropping their Turkish emblem.
General W. H. Slocum
, who had commanded the Twelfth so long, was assigned to command at Vicksburg
, but was recalled to succeed Hooker
in the command of the Twentieth Corps when toward the end of August, 1864, Hooker
asked to be relieved because Howard
, who was his junior, had been placed at the head of the Army of the Tennessee to fill the vacancy made by the death of McPherson
This temporary separation from our commander was hard, as all will remember who crowded to his headquarters on the evening of April 7th, 1864.
But the sorrow of the hour was dispelled by the generous hospitality of his staff and his indulgent order to waive all rank for the occasion.
We observed in the Western
troops an air of independence hardly consistent with the nicest discipline; but this quality appeared to some purpose at the battle of Resaca
, where we saw our Western companions deliberately leave the line, retire out of range, clean their guns, pick up ammunition from the wounded, and return again to the fight.
This cool self-reliance excited our admiration.
On we went in a campaign of continual skirmishes and battles that ended in the capture of Atlanta
The morale of the troops had been visibly improved by this successful campaign.
On my way to army headquarters at Atlanta
to call upon a staff friend, I met General Sherman
, who acknowledged my salute with a familiar “How do you do, Captain
Scrutinizing the insignia on my cap, he continued, “Second Massachusetts?
Ah, yes, I know your regiment; you have very fine parades over there in the park.”
could be easily approached by any of his soldiers, but no one could venture to be familiar.
His uniform coat, usually wide open at the throat, displayed a not very military black cravat and linen collar, and he generally wore low shoes and one spur.
On the march he rode with each column in turn, and often with no larger escort than a single staff-officer and an orderly.
In passing us on the march he acknowledged our salutations as if he knew us all, but hadn't time to stop.
On “the march to the sea” a soldier called out to Sherman
, “Uncle Billy, I guess Grant
's waiting for us at Richmond
's acquaintance among his officers was remarkable, and of great advantage, for he learned the character of
every command, even of regiments, and could assign officers to special duties, with knowledge of those who were to fill the vacancies so made.
The army appreciated these personal relations, and every man felt in a certain sense that Sherman
had his eye on him.
Before the middle of November, 1864, the in-habitants of Atlanta
, by Sherman
's orders, had left the place.
Serious preparations were making for the march to the sea. Nothing was to be left for the use or advantage of the enemy.
The sick were sent back to Chattanooga
, along with every pound of baggage that could be dispensed with.
The army was reduced, one might say, to its fighting weight, no man being retained who was not capable of a long march.
Our communications were then abandoned by destroying the railroad and telegraph.
There was something in-tensely exciting in this perfect isolation.
The engineers had peremptory orders to avoid any injury to dwellings, but to apply gunpowder and the torch to public buildings, machine-shops, depots, and arsenals.
Sixty thousand of us witnessed the destruction of Atlanta
, while our post band and that of the 33d Massachusetts played martial airs and operatic selections.
It was a night never to be forgotten.
Our regular routine was a mere form, and there could be no “taps” amid the brilliant glare and excitement.
The throwing away of superfluous conveniences began at daybreak.
The old campaigner knows what to carry and what to throw away.
Each group of messmates decided which hatchet, stewpan, or coffee-pot
should be taken.
The single wagon allowed to a battalion carried scarcely more than a grip-sack and blanket, and a bit of shelter tent about the size of a large towel, for each officer, and only such other material as was necessary for regimental business.
Transportation was reduced to a minimum, and fast marching was to be the order of the day. Wagons to carry the necessary ammunition in the contingency of a battle, and a few days' rations in case of absolute need, composed the train of each army corps, and with one wagon and one ambulance for each regiment made very respectable “impedimenta,” averaging about eight hundred wagons to a corps.
At last came the familiar “Fall in” ; the great “flying column” was on the march, and the last regiment in Atlanta
turned its back upon the smoking ruins.
Our left wing (the Fourteenth and Twentieth corps under Slocum
) seemed to threaten Macon
, while the right wing (the Fifteenth and Seventeenth corps under Howard
) bent its course as if for Augusta
Skirmishers were in advance, flankers were out, and foraging parties were ahead gathering supplies from the rich plantations.
We were all old campaigners, so that a brush with the militia now and then or with Hardee
's troops made no unusual delay; and Wheeler
's cavalry was soon disposed of. We were expected to make fifteen miles a day; to corduroy the roads where necessary; to destroy such property as was designated by our corps commander, and to consume everything eatable by man or beast.
proved to be Sherman
's first objective, and both wings came within less than supporting distance in and around the capital of the State
Our colored friends, who flocked to us in embarrassing numbers, told many stories about the fear and flight of the inhabitants at the approach of Sherman
Cock-fighting became one of the pastimes of the “flying column.”
Many fine birds were brought in by our foragers.
Those found deficient in courage and skill quickly went to the stew-pan in company with the modest barn-yard fowl, but those of redoubtable valor won an honored place and name, and were to be seen riding proudly on the front seat of an artillery caisson, or carried tenderly under the arm of an infantry soldier.
Our next objective was Savannah
's capture of Fort McAllister
opened the gates of that beautiful city, while Hardee
managed to escape with his little army; and Sherman
, in a rather facetious dispatch, presented the city to Mr. Lincoln
as a Christmas gift.
Flushed with the success of our march, we settled down for a rest.
Our uniforms were the worse for wear, but the army was in fine condition and fully prepared for the serious work ahead.
In the middle of December in the neighborhood of Savannah
, after Hardee
's troops had nearly exhausted the country, which was now mainly under water, there was little opportunity for the foragers to exercise their talents, and some of them returned to the ranks.
The troops bivouacked here and there in comparatively dry spots, while picket duty had to be performed at many points in the water.
In going from Sister's Ferry to Robertsville
, where my regiment was in bivouac, I waded for a mile and a half in water knee-deep.
the pickets were all afloat in boats and scows and on rafts, and the crestfallen foragers brought in nothing but rice, which became unpalatable when served three times a day for successive weeks.
At length, when we left Savannah
and launched cheerily into the untrodden land of South Carolina
, the foragers began to assume their wonted spirit.
We were proud of our foragers.
They constituted a picked force from each regiment, under an officer selected for the command, and were remarkable for intelligence, spirit, and daring.
Before daylight, mounted on horses captured on the plantations, they were in the saddle and away, covering the country sometimes seven miles in advance.
Although I have said “in the saddle,” many a forager had nothing better than a bit of carpet and a rope halter; yet this simplicity of equipment did not abate his power of carrying off hams and sweet-potatoes in the face of the enemy.
The foragers were also important as a sort of advance guard, for they formed virtually a curtain of mounted infantry screening us from the inquisitive eyes of parties of Wheeler
's cavalry, with whom they did not hesitate to engage when it was a question of a rich plantation.
When compelled to retire, they resorted to all the tricks of infantry skirmishers, and summoned reinforcements of foragers from other regiments to help drive the “Johnnies” out. When success crowned their efforts, the plantation was promptly
A bivouac among the Georgia pines. |
Destroying a Railroad. |
stripped of live stock and eatables.
The natives were accustomed to bury provisions, for they feared their own soldiers quite as much as they feared ours.
These subterranean stores were readily discovered by the practiced “Yankee” eye. The appearance of the ground and a little probing with a ramrod or a bayonet soon decided whether to dig. Teams were improvised; carts and vehicles of all sorts were pressed into the service and loaded with provisions.
If any antiquated militia uniforms were discovered, they were promptly donned, and a comical procession escorted the valuable train of booty to the point where the brigade was expected to bivouac for the night.
The regimentals of the past, even to those of revolutionary times, were often conspicuous.
On an occasion when our brigade had the advance, several parties of foragers, consolidating themselves, captured a town from the enemy's cavalry, and occupied the neighboring plantations.
Before the arrival of the main column hostilities had ceased; order had been restored, and mock arrangements were made to receive the army.
Our regiment in the advance was confronted by a picket dressed in continental uniform, who waved his plumed hat in response to the gibes of the men, and galloped away on his bareback mule to apprise his comrades of our approach.
We marched into the town and rested on each side of the main street.
Presently a forager, in ancient militia uniform indicating high rank, debouched from a side street to do the honors of the occasion.
He was mounted on a raw-boned horse with a bit of carpet for a saddle.
His old plumed chapeau in hand, he rode with gracious dignity through the street, as if reviewing the brigade.
After him came a family carriage laden with hams, sweet-potatoes, and other provisions, and drawn by two horses, a mule, and a cow, the two latter ridden by postilions.
At Fayetteville, North Carolina
, the foragers as usual had been over the ground several hours before the heads of column arrived, and the party from my regiment had found a broken-down gristmill.
Their commander, Captain Parker
, an officer of great spirit and efficiency, and an expert machinist, had the old wheel hoisted into its place and put the mill in working order.
Several parties from other regiments had been admitted as
Sherman's foragers on a Georgia plantation. |
working members, and teams of all sorts were busy collecting and bringing in corn and carrying away meal for distribution.
This bit of enterprise was so pleasing to the troops that plenty of volunteers were ready to relieve the different gangs, and the demand was so great as to keep the mill at work all night by the light of pine-knot fires and torches.
The march through Georgia
has been called a grand military promenade, all novelty and excitement.
But its moral effect on friend and foe was immense.
It proved our ability to lay open the heart of the Confederacy
, and left the question of what we might do next a matter of doubt and terror.
It served also as a preliminary training for the arduous campaign to come.
Our work was incomplete while the Carolinas, except at a few points on the sea-coast, had not felt the rough contact of war. But their swamps and rivers, swollen and spread into lakes by winter floods, presented obstructions almost impracticable to an invading army, if opposed by even a very inferior force.
The task before us was indeed formidable.
involved exposure and indefatigable exertion.
To succeed, our forward movement had to be continuous, for even the most productive regions would soon be exhausted by our 60,000 men and. more, and 13,000 animals.
Although we were fully prepared, with our great trains of ammunition, to fight a pitched battle, our mission was not to fight, but to consume and destroy.
Our inability to care properly for the wounded, who must necessarily be carried along painfully in jolting ambulances to die on the way from exhaustion and exposure, was an additional and very serious reason for avoiding collision with the enemy.
But where he could not be evaded, his very presence across our path increased the velocity of our flying column.
We repelled him by a decisive blow and without losing our momentum.
The beginning of our march in South Carolina
was pleasant, the weather, favorable, and the country productive.
Sometimes at the midday halt a stray pig that had cunningly evaded the foragers would venture forth in the belief of having escaped “the cruel war,” and would find his error, alas!
too late, by encountering our column.
Instantly an armed mob would set upon him, and his piercing shrieks would melt away in the scramble for fresh pork.
But the midday sport of the main column and the happy life of the forager were sadly interrupted.
The sun grew dim, and the rain came and continued.
A few of our excellent foragers were reported captured by Wheeler
's cavalry, while we sank deeper and deeper in the mud as we approached the Salkehatchie Swamp
, which lay between us and the Charleston and Augusta railroad.
As the heads of column came up, each command knew what it had to do. Generals Mower
and G. A. Smith
got their divisions across by swimming, wading, and floating, and effected lodgments in spite of the enemy's fire.
An over-whelming mass of drenched and muddy veterans swept away the enemy, while the rest of our force got the trains and artillery over by corduroying, pontooning, and bridging.
It seemed a grand day's work to have accomplished, as we sank down that night in our miry bivouac.
The gallant General Wager Swayne
lost his leg in this Salkehatchie
Luckily for him and others we were not yet too far from our friends to send the wounded back, with a strong escort, to Pocotaligo
We destroyed about forty miles of the Charleston and Augusta railroad, and, by threatening points beyond the route we intended to take, we deluded the enemy into concentrating at Augusta
and other places, while we marched rapidly away, leaving him well behind, and nothing but Wade Hampton
's cavalry, and the more formidable obstacle of the Saluda River
and its swamps, between us and Columbia
, our next objective.
As the route of our column lay west of Columbia
, I saw nothing of the oft-described and much-discussed burning of that city.
During the hasty removal of the Union
prisoners from Columbia
officers managed to make their escape.
Exhausted and almost naked, they found their way to my command; My mess begged for the privilege of caring for one of them.
We gave him a mule to ride with a comfortable saddle, and scraped together an outfit for him, although our clothes were in the last stages.
Our guest found the mess luxurious, as he sat down with us at the edge of a rubber blanket spread upon the ground: for a table-cloth, and set with tin cups and platters.
Stewed fighting-cock and bits of fried turkey were followed by fried corn-meal
Then came our coffee and pipes, and we lay down by a roaring fire of pine-knots, to hear our guest's story of life in a rebel prison.
Before daybreak the tramp of horses reminded us that our foragers were sallying forth.
The red light from the countless camp-fires melted away as the dawn stole over the horizon, casting its wonderful gradations of light and color over the masses of sleeping soldiers, while the smoke from burning pine-knots befogged the chilly morning air. Then the bugles broke the impressive stillness, and the roll of drums was heard on all sides.
Soon the scene was alive — with blue coats and the hubbub of rollcalling, cooking, and running for water to the nearest spring or stream.
The surgeons looked to the sick and footsore, and weeded from the ambulances those who no longer needed to ride.
It was not uncommon to hear shots at the head of the column.
The foragers would come tumbling back, and ride alongside the regiment, adding to the noisy talk their account of what they had seen, and dividing among their comrades such things as they had managed to bring away in their narrow escape from capture.
A staff-officer would gallop down the roadside like a man who had for-gotten something which must be recovered in a hurry.
At the sound of the colonel's ringing voice, silence was instant and absolute.
Sabers flashed from their scabbards, the men brought their guns to the “carry,” and the battalion swung into line at the roadside; cats, fighting-cocks, and frying-panspassed to the rear rank; officers and sergeants buzzed round their companies to see that the guns were loaded and the men ready for action.
The color-sergeant loosened the water-proof cover of the battle-flag, a-battery of artillery flew past on its way to the front, following the returning staff-officer, and we soon heard the familiar bang of shells.
Perhaps it did not amount to much after all, and we were soon swinging into “route step” again.
At times when suffering from thirst it was hard to resist the temptation of crystal swamp water, as it rippled along the side of a causeway, a tempting sight for the weary and unwary.
In spite of oft-repeated cautions, some contrived to drink it, but these were on their backs with malarial disease at the end of the campaign, if not sooner.
After passing Columbia
there was a brief season of famine.
The foragers worked hard, but found nothing.
They made amends, however, in a day or two, bringing in the familiar corn-meal
, sweet-potatoes, and bacon.
We marched into Cheraw
with music and with colors flying.
Stacking arms in the main street, we proceeded to supper, while the engineers laid the pontoons across the Pedee River
The railing of the town pump, and the remains of a buggy, said to belong to Mr. Lincoln
's brother-in-law, Dr. Todd
, were quickly reduced to kindling-wood to boil the
The road from McPhersonville.
Sherman and his staff passing through water and mire.
From a sketch made at the time. |
The necessary destruction of property was quickly accomplished, and on we went.
A mile from the Lumber River
the country, already flooded ankle-deep, was rendered still more inhospitable by a steady down-pour of rain.
The bridges had been partly destroyed by the enemy, and partly swept away by the flood.
An attempt to carry heavy army wagons and artillery across this dreary lake might have seemed rather fool-hardy, but we went to work without loss of time.
The engineers were promptly floated out to the river, to direct the rebuilding of bridges, and the woods all along the line of each column soon rang with the noise of axes.
Trees quickly became.logs, and were brought to the submerged roadway.
No matter if logs disappeared in the floating mud; thousands more were coming from all sides.
So, layer upon layer, the work went bravely on. Soon the artillery and wagons were jolting over our wooden causeway.
As my regiment was the rear-guard for the day, we had various offices to perform for the train, and it was midnight before we saw the last wagon over the bridge by the light of our pine torches.
It seemed as if that last wagon was never to be got over.
It came bouncing and bumping along, its six mules smoking and blowing in the black, misty air. The teamster, mounted on one of the wheelers, guided his team with a single rein and addressed each mule by name, reminding the animal of his faults, and accusing him of having, among other peculiarities, “a black military heart.”
Every sentence of his oath-adorned rhetoric was punctuated with a dexterous whip-lash.
At last, drenched to the skin and covered with mud, I took my position on the bridge, seated in a chair which one of my men had presented to me, and waited for the command to “close up.”
As we passed the wagon camp, there was the deafening, indescribable chorus of mules and teamsters:, besides the hoarse shouting of quartermasters and wagonmasters plunging about on horse-back through the mud, to direct the arriving teams into their places.
But it all died away in the distance as we marched on to find the oozy resting-place of the brigade.
The army had been in bivouac some hours, and countless camp-fires formed a vast belt of fire that spread out into the black night.
As we advanced into the wild pine regions of North Carolina
the natives seemed wonderfully impressed at seeing every road filled with marching troops, artillery, and wagon trains.
They looked destitute enough as they stood in blank amazement gazing upon the “Yanks
” marching by. The scene before us was very striking; the resin pits were on fire, and great columns of black smoke rose high into the air, spreading and mingling together in gray clouds, and suggesting the roof and pillars of a vast temple.
All traces of habitation were left behind, as we marched into that grand forest with its beautiful carpet of pine-needles.
The straight trunks of the pine-tree shot up to a great height, and then spread out into a green roof, which kept us in perpetual shade.
As night came on, we found that the resinous sap in the cavities cut in the trees to receive it, had been lighted by “bummers” in our advance.
The effect of these peculiar watch-fires on every side, several feet above the ground, with flames licking their way up the tall trunks, was peculiarly striking and beautiful.
But it was sad to see this wanton destruction of property, which, like the firing of the resin pits, was the work of “bummers,” who were marauding through the country committing every sort of outrage.
There was no restraint except with the column or the regular foraging parties.
We had no communications, and could have no safeguards.
The country was necessarily left to take care of itself, and became a “howling waste.”
The “coffee-coolers of the Army of the Potomac were archangels compared to our” bummers,/ who often fell to the tender mercies of Wheeler
's cavalry, and were never heard of again, earning a fate richly deserved.
On arriving within easy distance of the Cape Fear River
, where we expected to communicate with the navy, detachments were sent in rapid advance to secure Fayetteville
Our division, after a hard day of corduroying in various spots over a distance of twelve miles, went into camp for supper, and then, taking the plank-road for Fayetteville
, made a moonlight march of nine miles in three hours, but our friends from the right wing arrived there before us.
retired to a good position at Averysboro
‘, where Kilpatrick
found him intrenched and too strong for the cavalry to handle unassisted.
It was the turn of our brigade to do special duty, so at about 8 o'clock in the evening we were ordered to join the cavalry.
We were not quite sure it rained, but everything was dripping.
The men furnished themselves with pine-knots, and our weapons glistened in the torch-light, a cloud of black smoke from the torches floating back over our heads.
The regimental wits were as ready as ever, and amid a flow of lively badinage we toiled on through the mud.
When the column was halted for a few minutes to give us an opportunity of drawing breath, I found Sergeant Johnson
with one arm in the mud up to the elbow.
He explained that he was trying to find his shoe.
We floundered on for five miles, and relieved a brigade of Kilpatrick
's men whom we found in some damp woods.
There was a comfort in clustering round their camp-fires, while they retired into outer darkness to prepare for the morning attack.
But the cavalry fireside was only a temporary refuge from the storm, for we also had to depart into the impenetrable darkness beyond, to await in wet line of battle the unforeseen.
Those who were exhausted sank down in the mud to sleep, while others speculated on the future.
The clear wintry dawn disclosed a long line of blue-coats spread over the ground in motionless groups.
This was the roaring torch-light brigade of the night before.
The orders “Fall in!”
in gruff tones broke upon the chilly air, and brought us shivering to our feet.
We moved to the edge of the woods with the cavalry.
The skirmish line, under Captain J. I. Grafton
, had already disappeared into the opposite belt of woods, and evidently were losing no time in developing the enemy and ascertaining his force.
drawing his fire from all points, indicating a force more than double that of our brigade.
Dismounted cavalry were now sent forward to prolong the skirmish-line.
was reported badly wounded in the leg, but still commanding with his usual coolness.
Suddenly he appeared staggering out of the wood into the open space in our front, bareheaded, his face buried in his hands, his saber hanging by the sword-knot from his wrist, one leg bound up with a handkerchief, his uniform covered with blood; in a moment he fell toward the colors.
Officers clustered about him in silence, and a gloom, spread through the brigade as word passed that Grafton
The main column was now arriving, and as the troops filed off to the right and left of the road, and the field-guns galloped into battery, we moved forward to the attack.
The enemy gave us a hot reception, which we returned with a storm of lead.
It was a wretched place for a fight.
At some points we had to support our wounded until they could be carried off, to prevent their falling into the swamp water, in which we stood ankle-deep.
Here and there a clump of thick growth in the black mud broke the line as we advanced.
No ordinary troops were in our front.
They would not give way until a division of Davis
's corps was thrown upon their right, while we pressed them closely.
As we passed over their dead and wounded, I came upon the body of a very young officer, whose handsome, refined face attracted my attention.
While the line of battle swept past me I knelt at his side for a moment.
His buttons bore the arms of South Carolina
Evidently we were fighting the Charleston
Sunset found us in bivouac on the Goldsboro' road, and Hardee
As we trudged on toward Bentonville
, distant sounds told plainly that the head of the column was engaged.
We hurried to the front and went into action, connecting with Davis
Little opposition having been expected, the distance between our wing and the right wing had been allowed to increase beyond supporting distance in the endeavor to find easier roads for marching as well as for transporting the wounded.
The scope of this paper precludes a description of the battle of Bentonville
, which was a combination of mistakes, miscarriages, and hard fighting on both sides.
It ended in Johnston
's retreat, leaving open the road to Goldsboro
‘, where we arrived ragged and almost barefoot.
While we were receiving letters from home, getting new clothes, and taking our regular doses of quinine, Lee
surrendered, and the great conflict came to an end.
Sherman's “bummers” capturing Fayetteville Court House, N. C. From a sketch made at the time. |