previous next


Chapter 40: return to Atlanta; the March to the sea; Battle of Griswoldville, ga.

The Army of the Tennessee changed its camp from Gaylesville, Ala., to Cave Spring and Cedartown, Ga., making short marches. Every hostile soldier was so far away that our occupation of the country was peaceful. The inhabitants soon became acquainted with us, and our camps afforded good centers for trade.

On account of insufficiency of time to graze we lost many of the poorer mules and some artillery horses; and, in fact, those losses distressed us till after passing Ship's Gap, north of the Etowah, when the forage wagons became empty and grass neither abundant nor nutritious.

The weaker mules were detached and sent away in herds to Chattanooga. The best being retained were held in service. During our rqst at Gaylesville, Ala., pursuant to new directions from General Sherman, a redistribution of artillery was made, leaving but one battery to a division; then, by judicious exchanges, the good horses were attached to the retained batteries, and the remainder were hurried off toward our depot at Rome and Chattanooga. Cedartown, Ga., and all its bright neighborhood, rejoiced in a plentiful supply of grain. So our animals day by [69] day were gaining flesh and their strength, and, indeed, my army was surprisingly well supplied with provisions from the country during our return march, which was made by short stages for the very purpose of rest and refreshment after the 300 miles of severe additional campaigning.

November 3d I encamped near Dallas.

The 4th we were grouped near Lost Mountain, where it was easier to lose your way from the thick woods and crooked roads than to lose sight of the mountain. In fact, the mountain, unaccountably named “Lost,” enabled a wanderer to refind his pathway.

The 5th brought the Army of the Tennessee back to Smyrna Camp Ground. There we remained until November 13th.

General Sherman himself, as early as November 2d, had changed his headquarter belongings again to the little hamlet of Kingstown, Ga. From this point that same day was the significant dispatch to Grant: “If I turn back, the whole effect of my campaign will be lost.... I am clearly of the opinion that the best results will follow my contemplated movement through Georgia.”

Grant's reply is: “Your dispatch of 9 A. M. yesterday just received. ... I do not see that you can withdraw from where you are to follow Hood without giving up all we have gained in the territory; I say, then, go on as you propose.”

Our sick in increasing numbers before the campaign, but proportionately diminishing during Hood's raid, were brought together at Rome and Atlanta. While we rested, they were carefully removed to Chattanooga and Nashville; also surplus stores of every [70] kind that had accumulated at Atlanta were sent back as fast as possible.

General Corse acted in Rome in this respect as did our Chief Quartermaster at Atlanta. Then, on November 10th, after he had demolished the storehouses, he evacuated Rome and commenced his march toward Atlanta. During November 12th the troops with me destroyed all the railroad from Big Shanty forward to the Chattahoochee River, burning the ties in heaps and twisting the rails. The stretch of railroad completely disabled was about twenty-two miles in extent.

November 13, 1864, my army broke camp and proceeded from Smyrna Camp Ground to Atlanta. We chose a place for concentration at a railroad station south of the city, then called White Hall, situated about halfway to East Point.

Corse arrived the evening of the 14th. John E. Smith's division, that had been guarding the railroad during the greater part of our Atlanta campaign, portions of which had been stationed at Resaca and Allatoona, concentrated at Cartersville, then marching on southward, also joined us the morning of the 14th. Thus again my own field command was gathered together. Of course, by breaking up our lines of communication the effective force was increased. Besides these additions, an encouraging number of sick recovered, and recruits brought from the North joined the different regiments, so that my effective troops were in the neighborhood of 33,000. My army did not witness the destruction of Atlanta.

While Sherman, accompanied by Slocum, commanding the Army of Georgia, were taking their last glimpse of this great railroad center, now mostly in ashes, and pushing off toward Augusta, my command [71] was moving southward. We left White Hall November 15, 1864, and I made a feint toward Macon to deceive the enemy gathering in my front.

Kilpatrick's cavalry, about 5,000 horsemen, had already reported to me, and were sent during the first of “The March to the sea” to clear my front and watch my right flank as we wandered southward.

Till November 19th to all appearances we were sweeping on toward Macon; then first our infantry by a sudden turn to the left crossed to the east of Ocmulgee on pontoon bridges. The steep and muddy banks were bothersome. The cavalry followed close, and, as soon as over the river, again quickly turned down the first roads toward East Macon. The army, clambering up with difficulty the east bank of the river, made straight for a station on the Macon & Savannah Railroad called Gordon. Our trains, including Kilpatrick's, stretched out, would have been thirty-seven miles long. To get those wagons “parked” at Gordon without accident was our problem.

Osterhaus, commanding our Fifteenth Corps (Logan being absent), was on the right. I was with him when he struck the Macon & Savannah Railroad early November 22d. Then, turning back a little from East Macon, I had him send General Charles R. Woods to watch out that way with his division and help Kilpatrick, for much Confederate force of infantry, cavalry, and artillery was reported as over the Ocmulgee in East Macon, which evidently proposed to attack something. They might, at least, catch our long, snaky trains and cut them asunder. General Woods faced back, and took up a strong position near a church; then he sent forward one brigade under Brigadier General C. C. Walcutt, with total present for duty [72] 11,513 men, partly armed with Spencer repeating rifles. Walcutt also had two cannon. Just then, at the start, the Confederates were noisily driving before them a part of Kilpatrick's cavalry. Woods thereupon sent Walcutt that way past the station of Griswoldville.

Our cavalry and infantry kept skirmishing in a lively manner, till Osterhaus naturally thought that Walcutt had gone far enough. He instructed Woods to draw him back to Duncan's farm, nearer to his supporting division. Here they found abundant trees and some convenient swamps, impassable except at a few points. Walcutt noisily chose the edge of a wood with open ground in front of him, throwing up the usual cover of rails and logs, while some of Kilpatrick's men guarded the more distant swamps. One thousand five hundred and thirteen Yankee men behind that barrier with two cannon to cover the approaches by using iron hail were more than equal to 10,000 opponents, however determined they might be.

General Gustavus W. Smith was an assistant professor in engineering at West Point the last year of my cadet term (1853-4), and taught our class, instructing me how to recognize and take “a military position.” He, though at the time quite a young officer, had been twice brevetted for gallantry and merit in the Mexican War. He was a self-respecting, dignified man of marked ability. He had left the army, and was trying his skill in civil pursuits, holding just before the war the office of Street Commissioner in New York City, when the secession outburst took him south. Now he was said to be commanding the Confederates in my front in the neighborhood of Macon, November 15, 1864.

The size of his command was: [73]

Return to Atlanta

Effective muskets (sent from Jonesboro1,900
Reserves of all kinds1,200
Two batteries (a battalion, probably 200)200
State-line troops400
Actual fighting men with rifles and muskets.3,700

The battle began at 2.30 P. M. and lasted until sunset. During the engagement the enemy made three separate charges and were as often repulsed with heavy loss.

General Woods foots his losses: 13 killed, 79 wounded, and 2 missing; total, 93.

The enemy's loss was a little over 600. General Smith had been delayed in Macon while his command was hastening on toward Augusta; they found that we had two corps of our army across all their roads of egress toward Atlanta, Milledgeville, Augusta, or Savannah; hence came about the battle of Griswoldville of which I reported November 27, 1864:

That this engagement was of a more severe character and our loss a little greater than I had at first supposed; but fortunately the enemy attacked us at the very point where we were prepared; though with a force one-third less than that of the enemy. The Confederates were so completely defeated that they troubled us no more in that quarter. During the battle I took post with my staff where I could reenforce if necessary. I was glad to be able to demonstrate General Smith's instructions in regard to taking a new military position.

1 [74]

After the battle I wrote the following to Major General Osterhaus, commanding the Fifteenth Corps.

General: I take pleasure in congratulating the brigade of General Walcutt of General Woods's division of the fifteenth Corps on its complete success in the action of yesterday. Officers from other commands who were looking on say that there was never a better brigade of soldiers. I am exceedingly sorry that any of our brave men should fall, and for the sufferings of those who are wounded. The thanks of the army are doubly due them. I tender my sympathy through you to the brave and excellent commander of the brigade, Brigadier General Walcutt.

It is hoped that his wound may not disable him.

Very respectfully, your obedient servant, O. O. Howard, Major General.

We marched over rough places and jolted along corduroy roads, yet all our wounded from this battle were transported from Griswold Station to the sea without loss of life.

The object I had in sending, through Osterhaus, Woods's division off to my right was to help Kilpatrick keep back any forces of the Confederate cavalry or infantry from getting at our long trains. These trains were struggling over muddy and difficult roads, so that it was hard to keep them reasonably closed up. We drew them out of the wagon road at Gordon, and had the teamsters, urged by their wagon masters, drive as rapidly as possible into park. Fortunately, we got all the wagons well massed near that small railroad station without loss of any.

An incident took place before reaching Gordon, near the town of Clinton, which indicates how the troops came into collision. Wheeler found Osterhaus's [75] men moving through Clinton. He did not observe them, owing to a dense fog, until in close proximity. Six Confederates rushed into town, and succeeded in capturing an orderly who was in personal service at the time at Osterhaus's headquarters. This man was seized within twenty feet of the corps commander himself, yet the captors escaped in safety.

Slocum, with the left wing, had meanwhile reached Milledgeville, where his men had instituted a mock legislature, completed the issue of a newspaper, and celebrated the occasion by rich festivals of their own contrivance. General Slocum communicated with me and with Kilpatrick by scouting parties moving across from Slocum's column to mine, the distance being in the neighborhood of ten or twelve miles. Thus far “The March to the sea,” more serious on my route by the loss of about a hundred men and the exciting event of a battle, was working greatly to Sherman's satisfaction.

I sent a dispatch from my halting place at Gordon by Kilpatrick, who was now ordered to pass from my column over toward the left to work forward in conjunction with Slocum. This dispatch was addressed to Sherman. I told him that the Oconee was before me, and that I was examining the crossings. Fuller accounts of what we had done had already been forwarded by the hands of Captain William Duncan, who had the immediate command of his company, acting as scouts for me.

Curiously enough, this Captain Duncan, who, from some reports sent me about that time by General Blair concerning him and his scouts, appeared to me to be rather reckless, at this time performed a feat quite in keeping with his subsequent remarkable career. [76]

It was before Sherman and Slocum had reached Milledgeville. In a letter I remarked: “To-morrow I will have everything substantially at Gordon. Our marches at first (from Atlanta), until we reached Ocmulgee, were very pleasant, having good roads and good weather. Since then our roads have been very heavy, and the rain continuous. We have found the country full of provisions, and thus far have drawn very little upon our rations. We have destroyed (as instructed) a large amount of cotton, the Planters' Factory, a pistol factory, and a mill at Griswold; the latter three by Kilpatrick.”

Now, referring to Captain Duncan's enterprise ten miles ahead of us and toward our left front, I said: “The Mayor of Milledgeville surrendered the town, the capital of Georgia, formally to Captain Duncan and a few scouts.” Then, speaking of some cavalry that went from Blair's headquarters or mine to support the scouts, I wrote: “After Duncan's capture a company of the First Alabama Cavalry entered the town with Captain Duncan and destroyed the depot and some seventy-five or one hundred boxes of ammunition and the telegraph office. Duncan had returned to me, meeting me at Gordon; and so I sent him back again November 22d with a fuller report of our late battle to be delivered to General Sherman.”

After receiving full news and causing Kilpatrick with his cavalry to cross over to the left, Sherman from Milledgeville issued instructions for further movements November 23d. It was in this communication that he ordered Kilpatrick to use all possible effort to rescue our prisoners of war confined near Millen. In the accomplishment of this the cavalry failed. [77]

Referring to the railroad I was substantially following, Sherman suggested that great attention should be paid to the destruction of this road. Besides burning bridges and trestles, the iron should be carefully twisted and warped, so that it would not be possible ever to use it again. To this end, our rate of travel should be reduced to ten miles a day.

One or two harsh measures may be inserted to modify somewhat the feeling that has existed, that our foraging soldiers too often exceeded their instructions. They were directed by Sherman “to capture wagons; to bring their plunder to camp, after which the wagons should be burned.” Also: “Wherever such obstruction occurs (referring to citizens destroying bridges, culverts, etc.), the commanding officer of the troops present on the spot will deal harshly with the inhabitants near by, to show them that it is for their interest not to impede our movements.”

Again, we noticed how the burning of cotton, already imperatively directed, was again emphasized by our general: “Should the enemy burn forage and corn on our route, houses, barns, and cotton gins must also be burned to keep them company.”

These implicit instructions, together with the wellknown expression of our general, “to forage liberally on the country,” caused irregularities almost beyond the power of control, so that very soon, so far as my wing was concerned, I was obliged to stop the burning of mills, except by my own direct orders. And I issued these restrictive words:

The attention of the corps commanders and the commanders of unattached regiments and detachments is called to the irregularities existing in foraging, and the manner in which this privilege is often [78] abused. It is noticed that many men not belonging to proper foraging parties are allowed to straggle from the ranks and forage for themselves without any authority whatsoever. It is by such men that the greater part of the pillaging is done, and depredations committed, of which there is so much complaint. Officers in charge of foraging parties must be continually instructed to keep their men well in hand, never allowing them to precede the advance guard of the column, and to use more discretion in taking from the poor, being careful to leave them sufficient for their immediate subsistence. It is also noticed that the number of mounted men is very largely increasing, and that the ranks are correspondingly diminished. Means will be at once taken to check this growing evil. The number of mounted foragers to each brigade should be limited and regulated in orders, which, if not done, mounted foragers will be no longer allowed. We are now nearing the enemy, and foraging parties should be cautioned against preceding the advance of the column.

In order to keep ourselves in more complete communication where the country was penetrated in every direction by Wheeler's scouts, and where General Wayne had a force of at least 1,000 men, I took advantage of Kilpatrick's leftward march to send my aid-de-camp, Lieutenant Colonel C. H. Howard, to Sherman the morning of November 24th, just as I was moving forward. He was to remain with the general until we came together.

The message that he bore to Sherman showed that Blair's corps was on the direct road to the railroad bridge; that his advance had dislodged Wayne's men from a stockade close to the Oconee River where they [79] had had two or more pieces of artillery. I wrote to Sherman that I might have to ask him to threaten the enemy from the north of my troops, because the swamps bordering the Oconee were so difficult that an inferior force might be hindered. I had searched for a place to cross the Oconee near the railroad bridge, called Jackson's Ferry, but no such ferry then existed. There was a series of lagoon bridges running across the main stream and its branches in the neighborhood of Ball's Ferry, which was six miles south of the railroad bridge. Osterhaus with his Fifteenth Corps was making for that crossing. To that point I went myself.

The point of meeting to which Colonel Howard was to accompany the general in chief was called Sandersville, beyond and east of the Oconee and north of our railroad, where the two wings of Sherman's army would naturally touch each other. Finding all attempts at crossing in front of Blair impracticable, I was obliged to bring his corps to the vicinity of Ball's Ferry, following Osterhaus.

My escort, the Alabama (Union) cavalry, had succeeded in getting a small detachment beyond the Oconee before the bridges were destroyed; but Wayne, coming upon them with infantry and artillery, drove them back across the river to our side. Then Wayne planted himself strongly upon a prominent bluff east of the river which commanded every approach and swept the causeways and bridges so thoroughly that no man could appear for an instant upon them. The swamp on our side was a mile or more broad, with water waist deep, and studded with trees, many of which were cypress.

Moving on from Gordon, November 25th, I came to the vicinity of the Oconee, and dismounted to rest and [80] send dispatches near a house on the right side of the road, when Osterhaus, coming back, told me before he dismounted that he could get no farther, as the enemy was too strong on the other side. I told him that that was no way to talk, but to keep deploying his skirmishers up and down the river until he got no return fire, and report.

He soon returned and assured me that he found no enemy a few hundred yards up the river. I then instructed him to send in a brigade with the canvas boats, already put together, and push over the men rapidly into the clearings beyond, then come down the river and take the enemy in the flank. Of this movement Wayne reported: “The enemy have driven us back from the cross bridge, three heavy columns are across the river, and they have possession of Ball's Ferry, below here. . . . To save the men I will retire.”

This Oconee crossing was the most difficult that we had to encounter, though the forces in our front continued to enlarge as we proceeded from place to place. The Confederate garrisons fell back, and reenforcements kept coming forward from Savannah. The Confederate general then in charge of a geographical division, Braxton Bragg, peremptorily ordered Wheeler with his cavalry and some artillery to stick close to us; to harass us in front and flank, and, above all, to destroy subsistence and forage in the route over which we advanced.

Some 5,000 Confederates fell back from Sandersville before Sherman arrived. At that point, the 25th, Sherman himself accompanied my left corps on the eastern bank of the Ogeechee, while I followed the one or the other of my two columns on the right bank, [81] usually keeping them from six to ten miles apart. Corse's division was as far to the right as Wrightsville, but I had it brought gradually back into a closer connection with the rest of the Fifteenth Corps.

In fact, this division, though having the longest journey, came up to the vicinity of Station No. 2, some thirteen miles ahead of Blair's Seventeenth Corps, the leading regiment reaching that part of the Ogeechee, where there were two bridges, Wright's and Jenks's. The Confederates had destroyed them both by fire. Wright's brigade was across the Ogeechee, three miles above Jenks's. Colonel Williamson, commanding a brigade, managed to get a regiment over this broad river, and on the east side made a bridgehead and manned it; then he sent fifty men of the Ninth Iowa on to the Gulf Railroad to break it. Captain McSweeney, in charge of this detachment, accomplished the purpose in plain sight of a train loaded with Confederate troops; after which he brought his men safely to the bridgehead.

Oliver's brigade of Hazen's division, which had been below watching Jenks's bridge, with many Confederates opposite to him, was sent away up a tributary westward, with instructions to secure a crossing at a bridge near Bryan Court House. He left one regiment, the Ninetieth Illinois, with a battery of artillery, at Jenks's bridge, and went on his expedition. He held Jenks's bridge.

At Bryan Court House the river was obstructed by a strong Confederate force on the other side, but Osterhaus, supporting Oliver, had a search made for another crossing. They found an old ferry below the bridge which was practicable. An expedition was sent across in the night. The Confederates were surprised. [82] Finding their flank turned like Wayne's at the Oconee, they fled at the first alarm.

Having secured the crossing near Bryan's Court House, Osterhaus promptly sent a sufficient force to break up a portion of the Gulf Railroad south of the Ogeechee.

Osterhaus now concentrated the most of his.force near Jenks's bridge. General Corse was on the lead. On his arrival he found Colonel Owen Stuart behind a line of rifle pits exchanging shot with considerable force on the other bank. Corse sent up a battery and located it so as to clear away all riflemen that would bother his boats. Then he sent Stuart's regiment across the river. As soon as the first troops got firm foothold east of the Ogeechee, the Confederates fell back to a prepared work, which formed a regular defensive connection from the river to the high ground.

Osterhaus, using some of Corse's division (Rice's and Williamson's brigades), working up against swampy places, double lines, and intrenchments, carried everything before him. His men took the works, killed and wounded some, captured thirty prisoners, and put the remainder of the Confederates to flight. In these operations Corse and Williamson had the help of that famous twenty-four-pounder-Parrott battery which, under DeGress, had been such a bone of contention at the battle of Atlanta. The First Missouri Battery also bore a part in this small battle.

There are other small affairs in which single brigades and small regiments bore a part, but now speedily all the right wing was brought up against the defenses of Hardee, which he had so carefully prepared to envelop the city from Savannah River around north [83] to the bay below. As the left wing had marched abreast of mine, Sherman, establishing his own headquarters on the Louisville road, soon invested Savannah, covering every approach, in conjunction with our naval fleet, except the communications with Charleston across the Savannah River.

Just before this operation of investment began-December 9, 1864, after our last combat, and near the Savannah Canal — I drew up a dispatch to the commander of the naval forces to this effect:

We have met with perfect success thus far. Troops in fine spirits and near by.

Respectfully, O. O. Howard, Major General Commanding.

I believe that I inserted the word “Sherman” before “near by” but the above is the form in which the dispatch has always appeared.

I selected Captain William Duncan, who had escaped from capture and had returned to my escort, and told him to take with him Sergeant Myron J. Amick and Private George W. Quimby and proceed down the Ogeechee, passing Confederate stations, the King's Bridge, Fort McAllister, and all obstructions, and go out to sea and communicate with the fleet. It seemed next to impossible that the feat could be accomplished, but Captain Duncan's already distinguished career as a scout and his confidence that he could accomplish the enterprise led me to try him. He secured a long dugout, rather narrow and somewhat weather-beaten; then, putting in rations, he took my dispatch and another from my signal officer and set out. He went along very well by night, having passed the bridge [84] and carefully worked through the torpedo obstructions.

When the day dawned the morning of the 10th, he found some negroes, who befriended him and his men. The party kept pretty well under cover until evening. During the night they appear to have made considerable progress, but did not succeed in getting past Fort McAllister. They went ashore to get a negro guide and some provisions; they tied up their boats and then made their way through some bushes and thin groves till they came near a roadway. Here they heard the voices of some Confederates passing along the road. By lying down and keeping very quiet, they were not discovered.

Soon after this they came to quite a sizable negro house, went in, and were well treated and refreshed with provisions. While they were eating they were startled by hearing a party of Confederate cavalry riding toward the house. Of course they expected to be instantly captured, but the negroes coming quickly to their rescue concealed them under the floor. The coolness and smartness of the negroes surprised even Captain Duncan, though he had believed in and trusted them. The cavalry stopped but remained only a short time, and the negroes guided our men back to their boats.

In such operations as these, with hairbreadth escapes, they hid through the 11th in the daytime. When night came, to avoid one danger, they crossed the wide river; but hearing some voices, they feared a recapture from the bank, so they quietly pushed away, avoided a boat filled with oarsmen who were passing over the Ogeechee from a Confederate gunboat at anchor below Fort McAllister. They ran so [85] near this gunboat that they were in terror for fear some noise that they had to make in paddling, or some flashlight from the vessel, would discover them; but, surprising to say, they passed all obstacles, and soon after daylight on the morning of the 12th they drifted out into the broad bay.

There the Dandelion, a dispatch boat of our navy, discovered the dugout with its three weary scouts. They were taken on board and carried to Port Royal Harbor to the flagship Philadelphia, arriving about eight o'clock the same morning, and saw my brief dispatch put into the hands of Rear Admiral Dahlgren, to whom it was addressed.

Admiral Dahlgren reported on this expedition: “It may be perhaps exceeding my province, but I cannot refrain from expressing the hope that the department will commend Captain Duncan and his companions to the Honorable Secretary of War for some mark of approbation for the success of establishing communication between General Sherman and the fleet. It was an enterprise that required both skill and courage.”

1 Later, during the stormy Reconstruction period, General G. W. Smith defended me in the face of criticism of my efforts to alleviate the suffering of the negro when passing from slavery to freedom. I have always remembered the kindness with gratitude and appreciation.

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 United States License.

An XML version of this text is available for download, with the additional restriction that you offer Perseus any modifications you make. Perseus provides credit for all accepted changes, storing new additions in a versioning system.

hide Places (automatically extracted)

View a map of the most frequently mentioned places in this document.

Sort places alphabetically, as they appear on the page, by frequency
Click on a place to search for it in this document.
Atlanta (Georgia, United States) (10)
Milledgeville (Georgia, United States) (5)
Griswoldsville (Georgia, United States) (4)
Savannah (Georgia, United States) (3)
Gordon (Georgia, United States) (3)
Fort McAllister (Georgia, United States) (3)
Augusta (Georgia, United States) (3)
Whitehall (Georgia, United States) (2)
Sandersville (Georgia, United States) (2)
Ocmulgee (Georgia, United States) (2)
Georgia (Georgia, United States) (2)
Gaylesville (Alabama, United States) (2)
Clinton (Georgia, United States) (2)
Cedartown (Georgia, United States) (2)
Camp Ground (Tennessee, United States) (2)
Wrightsville (Pennsylvania, United States) (1)
West Point (Georgia, United States) (1)
Resaca (Georgia, United States) (1)
Ogeechee (Georgia, United States) (1)
Oconee (Georgia, United States) (1)
Millen (Georgia, United States) (1)
Louisville (Kentucky, United States) (1)
Lost Mountain (Georgia, United States) (1)
Kingston, Caldwell County, Missouri (Missouri, United States) (1)
Jonesboro (Georgia, United States) (1)
Edgefield (Tennessee, United States) (1)
East Point (Georgia, United States) (1)
Dallas, Ga. (Georgia, United States) (1)
Chattahoochee River, Ga. (Georgia, United States) (1)
Cave Spring, Ga. (Georgia, United States) (1)
Cartersville (Georgia, United States) (1)
Allatoona (Georgia, United States) (1)

Download Pleiades ancient places geospacial dataset for this text.

hide Display Preferences
Greek Display:
Arabic Display:
View by Default:
Browse Bar: