Some Corrections of Sherman's Memoirs.
By Colonel A. R. Chisolm, of General Beauregard's staff.
New York, May 6th, 1879.Dear Sir — Having recently had occasion to read General Sherman's Memoirs, together with his evidence before the Committee upon the Conduct of the War, I feel called upon to make a record in your valuable pages of my personal knowledge of certain important historical transactions of which General Sherman has spoken and written at length — giving a version, as I am sure, contrary to the truth of history. As a point in military history, it is deserving of particular attention that at Savannah — the end of his “march to the sea” --General Sherman lost an easy and brilliant opportunity of capturing Hardee's entire command of about 10,000 men, with that city. He writes ( “Memoirs,” page 284) 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's retreat! At this time Hardee's only line of retreat was by Screven's Ferry to a causeway on the South Carolina bank; he was without pontoon bridge or other means of getting away, relying only on three very small steamboats; and 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 1,000 men. At this time General Beauregard's Military division of the West embraced the department of Lieutenant-Generals Hood and Taylor, but not that of Lieutenant-General Hardee, although he had authority to bring the latter within his command, either at Hardee's request or at his own discretion in an emergency. He had arrived in Charleston, therefore, 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 circumstance to risk the garrison, and to be ready for withdrawal to a junction with Major-General Samuel Jones at Pocotaligo, South Carolina. At Hardee'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 for pontoons, moored by old guns and car-wheels for anchors, and covered with flooring supplied by pulling down the wharves and wooden buildings. After giving a letter of instruction as to the plan of operations, indicating the contingency under which the movement should begin, he returned to Charleston. Instructions were also given for the most feasible defence of the causeway and road from Screven's Ferry. On the 14th Hardee telegraphed the General, stating the enemy's movements, his own doubts, and his desire in the emergency to have orders; and on the 15th he again telegraphed, urging the General to return and determine on the ground the actual time for the movement of evacuation and junction with Jones. Beauregard (whom I accompanied) arrived again in Savannah on the night of the 16th, after running the gauntlet of Foster's batteries near Pocotaligo, in a wagon, so as to save the railroad from obstruction by an unlucky shot at his train, and making, by like conveyances, the distance along which the railroad had been broken by Sherman near Savannah. 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 Chief Engineer (Colonel) John G. Clarke, in person, that by daylight of the 19th the General 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 which led over the swamps to the main land of the Carolina bank. Beauregard 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 — Hardee 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 celebrated evacuations of Corinth and of Morris' Island by the same commander. But, meanwhile, General Sherman, cautiously leaving his sixty thousand men concentrated on the Georgia bank of the river, 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, which 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 excused 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 causeway, but intervening obstacles were such that before I could get troops on the road, Hardee had slipped out.” The real point is, that disposing of 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 such a movement from General Foster. As to intervening obstacles, they consisted of some light artillery and a very thin line of that cavalry of which, in his letters, he sees fit to write in the most disparaging terms. In this case they seem to have sufficed to cover the retreat of about ten thousand men whom he should have captured! To estimate General Sherman's error here, we must 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 chief importance and might have led to grievous consequences, as in the event of a bold and rapid junction of a portion of Lee's army with the forces then assembling under Beauregard in order to strike a supreme, decisive blow against Sherman, and, if successful, then to concentrate all forces upon Grant — an operation which, with the advantage of interior lines, Beauregard had suggested to the Government as the only chance left to save the Confederacy. General Sherman's report to the Committee on the Conduct of the War consists of his letters, orders, &c.--these being, as he says, the best report he could submit. His letters are, indeed, an industrious daily correspondence, full of interest to the military student, including those who fought against him; and from the date of Vicksburg, March 4th, 1864, to Saint Louis, November 21st, 1865, have all been carefully published by him, excepting his letters and orders during the four days between the date of “In the field opposite Columbia, South Carolina, February 16, 1865,” and “In the field, Winsboroa, South Carolina, February 21st, 1865,” (pages 327, 328 of report). Why are these surpressed? In his “Memoirs” (page 287) he states that “the burning of Columbia [during this four days period] was accidental.” Yet in the “cotton cases” it transpired  that General-in-Chief Halleck wrote him: “Should you capture Charleston, I hope by some accident the place may be destroyed; and if a little salt should be thrown upon its site, it may prevent the growth of future crops of nullification and secession” ; and General Sherman replied from Savannah, December 24th: “I will bear in mind your hint as to Charleston, and do not think ‘salt’ will be necessary. When I move, the Fifteenth corps wilt be on the right of the right wing, and their position will bring them naturally into Charleston first, and if you have watched the history of that corps, you will have remarked that they generally do their work pretty well. The truth is, the whole army is burning with an insatiable desire to wreak vengeance upon South Carolina. I almost tremble at her fate, but feel that she deserves all that seems in store for her. I look upon Columbia as quite as bad as Charleston.” 1 His army at this date numbered ( “Memoirs,” page 172) 62,204 men, exclusive of General Foster's army; the Confederate forces in that region embraced only Hardee's 10000 troops in Savannah (one-half militia and reserves above the military age), and some 4,000 or 5,000 in South Carolina, all of them part of a desired main force which Beauregard in this strait was seeking to concentrate. Under such circumstances, Sherman's promise to Halleck was not difficult to carry out. General Sherman should not keep from the light his letters and orders of these four days, for surely their publication can show nothing worse than their suppression would infer. It is to be hoped, therefore, that in the discussion evoked by his book, he or his friends may yet fill this hiatus in a valuable series of daily letters and orders, which constitutes one of the completest detailed records in military history. Respectfully, yours,
To the Editor of the Southern Historical Society Papers:
To the Editor of the Southern Historical Society Papers: