previous next


Chapter 42: March through the Carolinas; Savannah, Ga., to Columbia, S. C.

Our first check was at Garden's Corner, where Leggett's division, being on the lead, saw a well-constructed outwork having a long parapet beyond an intervening swampy plateau. Here I saw a stretch of land without grass, apparently soft clay. Little by little I ventured out, trying the ground before charging my men over it. My aid, Captain Beebe, followed me. That morning I had accidentally thrown a civilian coat over my shoulders, so that the enemy behind the parapet permitted me to advance some distance without firing. Finding the ground firm enough, I turned back. One sharpshooter then fired. His three or four bullets stirred up the dust rather too close to me and I took off my hat and made him as polite a bow as I could for his charming salute; then, with Beebe, I disappeared behind our brave skirmishers, who were watching and cheering in the front edge of a neighboring wood.

General Leggett had meanwhile succeeded in turning the entire fort. As soon as this was done the Confederates evacuated the work and ran rapidly to the rear toward Pocotaligo. The Confederate force here encountered was but a rear guard, probably not exceeding two regiments of infantry with two pieces of artillery. We were for a short time in rapid pursuit [102] at Stony Creek, but relieved the hindrance and made a rush for the railroad. We did not quite secure it till the next morning, encountering Fort Pocotaligo, which, like most prepared intrenchments in that neighborhood, had a troublesome swamp directly in front, and was a well-constructed inclosed work with a parapet.

Our men, rapidly approaching from three sides, skirmished up very close and caused a fire from the fort from many pieces of artillery, and from musketry supports. The garrison appeared to be panicky and fired rapidly enough, but spasmodically, without aim. Our men cried out to them, “You'd better get out; we are the Fifteenth Corps!”

We had several wounded and some killed, including two commissioned officers. The artillery fire from the fort and some batteries of ours replying, caused a noise like that of thunder, very startling in that dark, woody country; it continued far into the night.

At dawn in the morning, January 15, 1865, we found that the Confederates had abandoned the fort. I felt grateful to them, because the artillery position was a strong one. There were emplacements for twenty-four cannon, and the marsh, excepting by a few paths, was impassable. It would have cost many lives to have taken the fort by storm.

The 15th was Sunday, and I was glad the enemy had left, for I was always reluctant, unless necessity compelled it, to open an engagement on that day. Our foes had swept off across the Salkehatchie River, destroying the bridges after them. The 15th, we remember, was the day that Sherman had desired me to take possession of Pocotaligo; so one can imagine [103] my gratification to have cleared the field and put my feet safely upon the iron at the railroad crossing on that very day.

Slocum was to have been at Robertsville at the same time, but the rapid rise in the Savannah River prevented him from crossing at Sister's Ferry till after a long delay in laying bridges. I had not heard from him and I tried in vain by my scouts and cavalry to open communication. It will be remembered that in my army there were seven grand divisions; five of them came around by the sea and across Beaufort Island, closing up upon us at Pocotaligo. In order to hasten our concentration I caused one of the two remaining divisions, John E. Smith's, to leave Savannah by the way of the Union causeway. Smith escorted by this route many of our horses, mules, and cattle, which could not be taken over by sea for want of vessels.

Corse, with the other division, followed Slocum up the Savannah, and came to us after Slocum had cleared the way.

In a diary that fell into my hands the small loss that we suffered was contrasted with the losses of the previous commanders and I was highly complimented.

Slocum's delay to get to Robertsville was very favorable to my wing, for it enabled us to bring up our clothing and other supplies, and be better prepared for a forward movement. I issued the following order (a sample for our campaign) for the next move:

Special field orders no. 25.

Near Pocotaliao, S. C., January 28, 1865.
1. The following preliminary movements will take place tomorrow. The division of General Giles A. Smith will move toward the road which runs along the west bank of the Salkehatchie, [104] and encamp preparatory to a forward movement on that road Monday morning.

All wagons of the Seventeenth Corps will be moved and parked so as to leave the road from Pocotaligo to McPhersonville clear for the Fifteenth Corps at 9 A. M. Monday. The bridge train will move to-morrow, following General Giles A. Smith, and encamp in rear of him.

2. Movement for Monday: The Seventeenth Corps, Major General Blair, will commence the forward movement by 9 A. M., ascending the Salkehatchie on the west bank, making, if possible, fifteen miles from Pocotaligo. The Fifteenth Corps, Major General Logan, will move forward to Haywardsville, moving General John E. Smith's division by the bridge road between Pocotaligo and the creek if practicable. Department headquarters (General Howard's) will follow the leading division of the Seventeenth Corps....

Particular pains will be taken to organize foraging parties for each brigade, battery, headquarters, and detachment not to exceed in number an actual necessity ....

The engineer regiment after reaching Garden's Corner will take the right-hand roads, and will follow the Seventeenth Corps. The bridge train will be kept with the Seventeenth Corps for the present. ...

This order was complied with in all its details.

It was a winter campaign. In spite of the swamps, that were numerous, we found the roads often sandy and fairly good, at least in appearance. The timber was abundant, pine almost without exception prevailing.

The nights were cold, the thermometer not descending very low; but the dampness and chill affected us unfavorably, and so demanded warm clothing and abundant night cover.

While Slocum with his wing was struggling on over similar roads beyond my left, I was sweeping up [105] the left bank of the Salkehatchie. On February 1st the part of my command near me came upon a tributary of the main river. This creek and the broad, watery approach were called the “Whippy swamp.”

There were pine woods everywhere-outside and in the swamps; and bordering the creeks we found the cypress trees, often very close together. Occasionally, wide stretches would appear like good ground, but prove on trial to be merely troublesome quicksands with a deceitful surface. Even along the roads, as our men said, “the bottom falls out” before many wagons have passed over, so that we quickly corduroyed by covering the surface with small pines. Thousands of men worked at this.

Passing through this sort of country, Confederate cavalry, now quite numerous, obstructed every causeway, held us in check as long as they could, and then destroyed the lagoon bridges before every column. Sometimes these bridges would be sixty or seventy feet long, and when burned caused much delay for replacement. Now and then the roads were filled with fallen timbers for miles, entangling as the tree tops came together from each side of the road. I followed my skirmishers near Whippy Swamp to get as quick a view as I could of the situation, for the Confederates were in force on the other side of the swamp creek.

As we halted at a point a little higher than the road, an artillery officer of my staff standing near me was struck with a bullet just under his chin. The bullet cut his windpipe and one of the arteries. Fortunately for him, I caught the wound with my hand and stopped the flow of the blood. The officer, Lieutenant Taylor, at first stunned by the blow, quickly came to himself, and, aided by his comrades, succeeded [106] in getting to the surgeon and securing prompt relief. A companion said of Taylor: “We hope he will recover. He is a brave and good boy and a pet with all here. All feel his misfortune very deeply.” He did recover after some months.

In this section our supplies were not very abundant from the plantations, for there were but few of such, and from many farms the produce had been hastily removed to the east bank of the Salkehatchie, and the houses were for the most part without occupants.

The Confederates were very particular to drive off all horses and cattle. Notwithstanding the impoverishment, natural and artificial, our diligent foragers managed to discover and bring in a considerable supply.

The crossing of the Salkehatchie was at last made at several points; but in my immediate front I made a demonstration toward Broxton's Bridge, not intending to cross there, because the enemy was at that point better prepared to receive us, but hoped somehow to make the main crossing at Rivers Bridge.

We had a mounted infantry company, the Ninth Illinois Regiment, led at that time by Lieutenant Colonel Kirby. I have a note of Kirby's action on February 2d:

When Kirby came within long range of the Confederate muskets he deployed his command as skirmishers, and had some infantry supports behind him. He charged the Confederate barricade, his men firing their seven-shooters on the charge. The Confederates stood still until Kirby was upon them.

In this charge Kirby had a magnificent horse shot [107] under him and was himself quite severely wounded. He gained the works, however, and skirmished on, driving the Confederate cavalry before him across the Salkehatchie. General Mower, with his division, was leading the command on this day on the Rivers Bridge road. In this section there was hardly any resistance; the division struck what may be called the last section of the road. Then there was a straight causeway, several small bridges, and a longer one behind which quite a bluff commanded the situation. On it the Confederates had placed some heavy guns which swept the whole section, and particularly the bridge road. As soon as the firing began our men sprang off the road into the swamps. Ten or a dozen were hit, but it was at this time that the colonel of the Forty-third Ohio, Wager Swayne, was struck just below the knee with the fragment of a shell. His leg was badly broken, and when the stretcher bearers bore him past me I saw that he was in pain, and so in sympathy for him I caught a large pine cone from the ground, and fixing his leg in a straighter position, I supported it with the cone. I remember that he looked up into my face with a pleasant, grateful smile, and used a Christian expression that I recall to this day: “The Lord sustains me!” General Swayne's record as a soldier, as a lawyer, as a citizen is too well known to our countrymen to need anything but a reference. He was a grand, manly man.

Under my personal supervision our men as skirmishers worked out on the right and left till they found a safe crossing. Mower then opened two parallel roads, laying foot bridges a mile and a half in extent, for the water was deep on the shores of the Salkehatchie. He bridged sixteen swift streams, and then [108] finally rushed over two brigades in boats across the main river, and came upon the enemy's right flank. The place was abandoned as soon as Mower appeared.

Another division (Giles A. Smith's), unexpectedly to me, managed to work over two miles below me and so cleared Broxton's Bridge. I wrote of this strong work at Rivers Bridge on the evening of February 3d to Sherman:

It was the strongest position I ever saw in my life, and I think was defended by 2,000 men; some regimental flags accompanying troops in motion below Giles Smith, moving down the river, were seen by our men just before dark.

It was wonderful that we secured the eastern bank of the Salkehatchie so quickly and with so little loss; yet everybody felt very deep sympathy for those who were wounded, especially for Colonel Wager Swayne, and, also, sorrow so often repeated for the few who had fallen to rise no more. General Mower's loss was about twelve killed and seventy wounded.

In reading the life of Stonewall Jackson, so ably and truly written by his widow, I notice that while he was always extremely anxious to keep the Sabbath, he seldom allowed his devotion to interfere with military movements. However distasteful this might be, our Christian men also regarded the Sunday march, and often the Sunday attack, as a necessity.

On Sunday, February 5th, my columns completed their crossings of this most difficult Salkehatchie, and the next day, the 6th, pushed on to the Little Salkehatchie.

Logan, with the Fifteenth Corps, had the usual resistance, and a Confederate bridge was burning at his crossing; he secured a place, a mere hamlet, called Dtncanville. He dislodged his foes in quick time [109] and made another rough bridge a hundred feet long and crossed over.

Blair, with the Seventeenth Corps, had a like trial at Cowpen Ford, the famous Revolutionary historical point, and with 260 feet of bridging came up abreast. The two corps struggled on, bothered more by the swamps than by the brave detachments of clustering Confederates that were always in their advancing way.

On February 7th we were out of the woods on the Augusta & Charleston Railroad, near the village of Midway, and destroying the road four miles up and down. The double — forked Edisto River was still ahead. We searched out the crossing as soon as we could drive the Confederates back enough to do so. Holman's, Cannon's, Binnaker's, Walker's, Skillings's, and the railway bridges were examined. Sherman, then with Logan at Lowry's Station (Atlanta & Charleston Railroad), gave us a special field order, directing the taking of Orangeburg.

The swampy approaches to the south fork of the Edisto, the cypress, and other trees thickly studding a wide stretch, and the high water extending back hundreds of yards on our side of the river, might have disheartened any men not made up like our experienced and resolute veterans. How we skirmished up Blair's men under Mower and Force at Binnaker's Bridge, and Logan's under Hazen, and John E. Smith at Holman's and Skillings's crossings; how they put in boats, cut paths, and worked incessantly, often with cartridge boxes and haversacks suspended to their necks, only those who were there could tell I

Mower effected a crossing of the (South) Edisto the evening of the 9th, at about six o'clock. He laid [110] the pontoon to an island, and as soon as he had got one brigade over he pushed on across the island and waded the swamp, making a lodgment on what appeared to be the mainland. He met, however, a hostile skirmish line about 8 P. M.; and, as it was night, concluded to intrench and wait for daylight. The ground was marshy and the water in the main swamp between two and three feet deep. The men here also swung their cartridge boxes around their necks. I am inclined to think the crossing (above) at Holmes's (or Holman's) bridge was no worse than this. Hazen sent some men over a mile and a half above the bridge and cut his way nearly through the swamp. A little later: Mower drove the enemy off from the Orangeburg front, sent back a regiment along the main road, and took a strong position a mile and a half from the river. The bridge on the main road was then laid.

Next came the north fork of the Edisto. General Force was ahead. The principal Orangeburg bridge having been burned, Major Osborn (my chief of artillery) and myself worked our way across Force's footbridge, and went into Orangeburg on foot the morning of February 12, 1865. The village was at least half a mile from the North Edisto River. The troops were posted across all the roads over which the Confederates had retired, and then set to work to destroy the railroad. Another line, the Columbia & Charleston Railroad, ran through the town. There were perhaps 800 population at that time. Cotton brokers had made it a center of some importance. Our skirmishers alleged that they found the town on fire when they came in sight, and before we could arrest the flames a third of the houses were consumed.

From testimony that came to us the fire at Orangeburg [111] originated at home. The Confederate commander ordered that a large collection of cotton bales which belonged to a Jewish merchant be burned. It was done just as Stevenson, commanding a Confederate division, was leaving the village. The merchant then, in his anger, fired his own store within, locked the doors, and accompanied the Confederate troops. The cotton and that store were on fire, burning briskly, producing wonderfully picturesque effects when we came in. Our men, under orders, also burned the cotton that remained-200 bales.

Major Osborn's notes say: “Our soldiers assisted the inhabitants to save their property.” He added another pleasant remark: “All the people say that our officers and men have treated them with real kindness and consideration.” We captured here not less than 100 prisoners, and we lost less than 10 men.

The troops went to work as if they enjoyed the exercise, burning ties and twisting iron rails in different directions from Orangeburg. Blair had a few mounted men who penetrated eastward as far as the State road, and either destroyed or caused their Confederate coadjutors to destroy trestlework in abundance, and regular bridges, railroad included, as far as the Santee River.

On my arrival in Orangeburg, while others were in some confusion, as our troops were being put out to follow up the retreating Confederates, and some men being sent to stop the fires, a lady, much excited and somewhat oversolicitous, came to me and demanded a guard. I tried to tell her to wait a while till we were in shape to furnish guards; but she could not delay. I could not make her see matters as I did in the line of relative importance. My firm rejection of her suit [112] for that time she regarded as an insult, and left me deeply vexed.

While I was still there during February 12th toward night General Sherman joined me.

The general and I with several officers were consulting together in one of the houses of Orangeburg, when that lady was ushered in. She had met Sherman before at Fort Moultrie in better days. She recalled mutual acquaintances and friends. The general was seemingly greatly pleased that she came, and was very kind. She then, to his amusement, entered a formal complaint against one of his officers, who, she said, had treated her with marked discourtesy and roughness. General Sherman was very sorry. He said he would try to make amends and would have the officer punished. “Who could it be” he asked. “It was General Howard,” she said, with emphasis and some severity. The lady did not dream that I was present. “How is this, Howard?” Sherman asked turning to me. The lady was startled to again meet me in that way. I explained as well as I could. Doubtless I had been impatient. When skirmishing is going on and fires are burning, the responsible head may have, on some occasions, too many irons in the fire. Sherman assured her that Howard was usually a kind man and that she would find that he would protect her. In the meantime I had already sent her the desired guard.

The left wing under Slocum had its own operations. I never received, as Sherman did daily, any but the most meager news concerning his movements; yet often his doings and happenings were the most entertaining. So I am made to believe by the subsequent stories and reports of participators. [113]

General George W. Balloch, who had for a long time previous to this campaign been my chief commissary, was now occupying the same official position in the Twentieth Corps. He accompanied the corps at the time it was crossing the Savannah over into the swampy country of South Carolina. Lately he has sent me some of his recollections.

The Twentieth Corps (Balloch's own) had a rough time just before starting from Savannah until it struck dry ground at Robertsville. “Had we been web-footed,” he said, “it would have added to our comfort.”

Balloch adds:

A correspondent of the New York Herald published a letter in his paper and described the situation, which worried my wife not a little, for she knew that I had been quite ill before I left Savannah; in fact, the surgeon had ordered me to go home, but, stubborn as usual, I would not. The letter was in substance to this effect, that one night when hunting for the Headquarters of the Twentieth Corps, the correspondent had heard voices from the regions above calling out:

“Hello, old fellow, is that youth You had better come up and secure a roosting place.”

In looking up he discovered General A. S. Williams, the corps commander, and staff safely ensconced in the forks of the trees. They were enveloped in sheets and blankets that had been foraged from the country while marching through Georgia.

General Williams was smoking and looking as quiet and serene as if he had been in his tent on dry ground. This correspondent's picture gives one who was there a clear reminder of what we did go through.

At Zion's Church, near Columbia, we had to [114] cross a small stream, and I was directed not to use the bridge for my foot trains until Kilpatrick's cavalry had passed. But I took my instructions with some latitude. As soon as our infantry was over, finding a space, I began sending over my trains, and so keeping the road full. In the course of an hour Kilpatrick and his cavalry came up, and he was exceedingly wrathy when he found me using the bridge.

Remembering that a soft word turneth away wrath, I told him very pleasantly that I knew he had the right of way, and that I would speedily give it up to him; that I only used the bridge in order not to have it stand vacant. Then, doubtless with some show of humor, I said:

“By the way, general, I heard a good joke about you yesterday.”

“What was it?” Kilpatrick asked.

General Sherman said that you were changing the names of places about here, so that soon a new geography would have to be made. He said that he sent you up to Barnwell the other day, and that you had changed the name of the place to Burnwell.”

Kilpatrick's anger vanished in an instant. Bursting into laughter, he said:

“ Go on with your train. We might as well take our noon rest here as anywhere.”

My idea was a slight variation from what I understood Sherman to say to Kilpatrick a few days before. Just as he was starting on his trip he asked him:

General Sherman, how shall I let you know where I am?”

“Oh, just burn a bridge or something and make a smoke, as the Indians do on the plains.” [115]

You know that our old friend Slocum at times could be very much out of sorts. Then he was very likely to make everybody else uncomfortable, all at the same time. One cold, dreary, drizzling morning, for example, up in the interior of South Carolina, he had one of these fits on him. As we were riding along we struck my herd of cattle, which were just outside the column. It was a motley herd, I can assure you, and had everything in it that could walk. It had been gathered while on the march, and was made up from a patriarchal bull, with a head as shaggy as a buffalo's, to a sucking calf. At the head of the line was an enormous ox, one of our own stock, and he was led by a soldier who had strapped all his belongings on the ox's back. The soldier was patiently trudging along, singing every few minutes:

“ Yo-ho-ee! Yo-ho-ee! ”

The soldier himself was a picture not soon to be forgotten. A leg of his pants was gone, and part of his hat rim, and he was as grimy as a coal heaver, caused by traveling through the burnt woods. When not calling to his cattle with his “Yo-ho-ee” he was singing in a stentorian voice: “I'll be gay and happy still.”

The sight of that soldier, when Slocum's attention was called to him and his surroundings, was too much for the general. As soon as he looked at him he exclaimed:

“ Look at that fellow Hear him I think if he can be happy and gay, surely I ought to be.” Then Slocum's good humor returned.

From Robertsville, S. C., Slocum's march aimed a little to the north of Columbia, and for the time Kilpatrick's cavalry was beyond his wing northward. [116] Generally Slocum, who sooner struck the upland, had easier marching than my wing, and I had more miles to march, as I moved upon the two sides of the triangle while he was following the diagonal.

As my wing pushed northward after crossing the north fork of the Edisto, ever widening the railroad spaces and spoiling the railway lines, the first considerable obstacles were a deep stream and a swamp; the stream, called the Congaree Creek, being a western tributary to the Congaree River, upon whose left bank the beautiful capital of South Carolina is situated.

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 Dates (automatically extracted)
hide Display Preferences
Greek Display:
Arabic Display:
View by Default:
Browse Bar: