The failure to capture Hardee.
When General Sherman
in his march across Georgia
had passed through Milledgeville
, General Beauregard
was hastily ordered from Mississippi
, there to assume command of the department then commanded by General Hardee
who had urgently asked for his presence.
When he arrived in Charleston Sherman
vas close to Savannah
, the end of his march to the sea. Here he lost an easy and brilliant opportunity to capture, with that city, Hardee
's entire command of about 10,000 men. In his “Memoirs” he writes (Vol.
II., p. 204) that General Slocum
wanted to transfer a whole corps to the South
Carolina bank of the Savannah River
, the object being to cut off Hardee
At that time Hardee
's only line of retreat was at Screven's Ferry to a causeway,
over two miles in length, on the South
Without a pontoon-bridge or other means of getting away, he was relying only on three very small steamboats.
The only troops he had on the Carolina bank were a small force of light artillery and Ferguson
's brigade of Wheeler
's cavalry, numbering not more than 1000 men. At this time Beauregard
's Military division of the West did not embrace the department of General Hardee
, although he had authority and discretion there, in an emergency.
Therefore he had gone to Charleston
on December 7th, with a view of saving and concentrating the scattered Confederate forces in that region for some effective action against Sherman
He telegraphed Hardee
(December 8th), advising him to hold Savannah
as long as practicable, but under no circumstances to risk the garrison, and to be ready for withdrawal to a junction with Major-General Samuel Jones
at Pocotaligo, South Carolina
's urgent request Beauregard
went to Savannah
on the morning of the 9th.
Finding no means prepared for the contingency of evacuation he directed the immediate construction of a pontoon-bridge, with the plantation rice-flats (collected at my suggestion) for pontoons.
These, moored by old guns and car-wheels for anchors, were covered with flooring supplied by pulling down the wharves and wooden buildings.
After giving instructions as to the plan of operations, Beauregard
returned to Charleston
, Instructions were also given for the best feasible defense of the causeway and road from Screven's Ferry.
On the 14th Hardee
telegraphed to Beauregard
of the enemy's movements, his own doubts and his desire to have specific orders; and on the 15th he again telegraphed, urging Beauregard
to return and determine the actual time for the evacuation and junction with Jones
(whom I accompanied) went to Savannah
on the night of the 16th, in my wagon, running the gauntlet of Foster
's batteries near Pocotaligo
so as to save the railroad from obstruction by an unlucky shot at his train, and traversing by like conveyance the distance along which the railroad had been broken by Sherman
, my wagon and pair of horses being transported between the breaks in freight-cars.
He found the pontoon-bridge only about one-third constructed, some of Wheeler
's cavalry having destroyed a number of rice-flats collected, supposing they had been gathered by Sherman
for the crossing of the river.
But the work was prosecuted with such vigor by the chief engineer
, Colonel John G. Clarke
, in person, that by daylight of the 19th General Beauregard
found it all but completed, stretching from the city to Hutchinson's Island
, over which a causeway was built; thence to Pennyworth Island
, where another causeway was laid; thence across the Back River
to a causeway that led over the swamps to the main-land of the Carolina bank.
ordered the movement to be made that night, though accident delayed it until the night of the 20th, when by this route — the only exit from Savannah
was safely withdrawn, with field-artillery, baggage, and stores, and the bridge then destroyed.
This was one of the neatest achievements of the war, rivaling in decision, resource, and skill the evacuations of Corinth
and of Morris Island
by the same commander.
But meanwhile, cautiously leaving his 60,000 men concentrated on the Georgia
bank of the river, General Sherman
had gone in person around by the sea to Hilton Head
in order to procure the assistance of Foster
's army for the investment of Savannah
from the Carolina bank.
It is clear that, had Slocum
's suggestion been adopted, or had even the single brigade of his corps that had crossed the river above Savannah
been vigorously pushed against the thin line of Confederate pickets covering this causeway, all escape from Savannah
must have been cut off. General Sherman
saw his mistake too late, and, in his letter of December 24th, 1864, he excuses himself to Halleck
: “I feel somewhat disappointed at Hardee
's escape, but really am not to blame.
I moved as quickly as possible to close up the Union
cause-way, but intervening obstacles were such that, before I could get troops on the road, Hardee
had slipped out.”
The real point is that, having an overwhelming force, his movement should have been a prompt and vigorous one to the rear of Savannah
, and not a voyage to Hilton Head
to borrow forces from General Foster
As to “intervening obstacles,” they consisted of some light artillery and a very thin line of cavalry of which, in his letters, he saw fit to write in the most disparaging terms.
In this case they seem to have sufficed to cover the retreat of about 10,000 men.
To estimate General Sherman
's error we must here consider that the Confederate
troops in Savannah
formed the only substantial force then interposed, and the bulk of the only force afterward interposed, between him and Grant
From a military point of view, therefore, this failure was of importance.
had suggested to the Government
a bold and rapid concentration of a portion of Lee
's army with the forces that he was then assembling, in order to try a supreme and decisive blow against Sherman
, and, if successful, then to concentrate all forces upon Grant
Advancing under difficulties. |