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Chapter 41: the march to the sea; capture of Fort McAllister and Savannah

General Sherman charged me to open further communications with the fleet, and directed Kilpatrick with his cavalry to assist me. As soon as the two wings struck the main works at Savannah, Kilpatrick set out to accomplish his part of the operation. He crossed the Big Ogeechee at Jenks's Bridge, and then went on and followed Colonel Oliver's trail over the Cannouchee, near Bryan Court House. Sherman directed Kilpatrick to try to take Fort McAllister right away, as the garrison probably did not exceed 200 men with 13 guns. Haste was necessary, as in many things our supply was running short, and McAllister was the only remaining obstacle to our communicating with the fleet and establishing a new line of supply. Kilpatrick had visited me and represented the necessity of having infantry support.

This plainly appears in a letter of his to Sherman, dated December 11, 1864, in which he says: “I have proposed to General Howard to cross the Ogeechee with my command and a force of infantry and take the fort. General Howard has accepted my proposition, and will give me the infantry asked for, and I will only await your permission. I promise to take the fort — if it is as it was represented to me — and [87] let in our fleet; at all events I will reach the Sound and communicate with the fleet.”

It was after this visit of Kilpatrick, made to me on his way over the Ogeechee to carry out his instructions, that I went in person to General Sherman and represented to him the necessity of sending infantry to take the fort. I asked him, contrary to his instructions to me, which were to destroy King's Bridge utterly, to allow me to rebuild what was already demolished, and send a division of infantry to take Fort McAllister.

The general asked me which division I would choose, agreeing with me that it would be next to impossible for the cavalry alone to storm the fort. I answered him, “Hazen's.” To this proposition the general agreed. Then I returned to my headquarters the same day and directed Captain Reese to repair King's Bridge and then issued the following order:

Special field orders no. 193.

Headquarters Department and Army of the Tennessee, Little Ogeechee, near Savannah, December 12, 1864.
As soon as King's Bridge is completed, Major General Osterhaus, commanding Fifteenth Corps, will direct his second division, Brigadier General Hazen commanding, to proceed against Fort McAllister and take it.

By order of Major General O. O. Howard. Samuel L. Taggart, Assistant Adjutant General.

The reason I am thus particular in reciting the preliminaries is because in General Sherman's memoirs he conveys the impression that he himself did what I as wing commander began, continued, and accomplished — of [88] course in complete agreement with Sherman and in keeping with his instructions. I stood in the same relationship to capturing Fort McAllister as General Terry did to the taking of Fort Fisher; it was my division, selected by myself, which crossed King's Bridge, repaired the bridge under my instructions, and then proceeded to the fort. And it was my order of December 12th which directed Hazen's division “to proceed against Fort McAllister and take it.” This does not in any way derogate from the honor of the general in chief, under whose instructions to open communication with the fleet I was acting.

On the 13th everybody was ready; Hazen's division crossed over to the west bank of the Ogeechee, starting at daylight, and reached the vicinity of McAllister about eleven o'clock. Hazen captured a considerable picket of Confederates within a mile of the fort, and he judiciously caused them to reveal the whereabouts of the torpedoes which were buried beneath the roads.

It took some time to dig them out; for of course the men, after locating them, were obliged to work with extreme caution. Hazen then left eight of his regiments as a reserve at that point; then slowly worked his way with the remainder to within 600 yards of the work, and there extended his main body into line and pushed out his skirmishers in advance with instructions to creep up toward the fort under cover till they could approach near enough to watch the gunners through the embrasures and, if possible, to prevent them from firing their heavy pieces.

All the bottom lands to the right of the fort were very marshy, intersected with streams which connected [89] with the wide Ogeechee. His deployment was necessarily slow and difficult, and, strange to say, it took him till after half-past 4 in the afternoon to get every man in position as he desired. The whole command, officers and men, understood exactly what they were to do. At last the bugle was sounded for the impulse, “and at precisely five o'clock the fort was carried.”

Hazen acted very wisely when he gave instructions to do what all infantry commanders are now obliged to do: use thin lines. He made his as thin as he could, the result of which was that none of his soldiers were hit by the garrison until they were very near. Of course, at close quarters the fighting between men of equal determination was fierce and bloody.

Not far outside the works other torpedoes were encountered, many. of which were exploded as the feet of the men struck them, in many instances blowing and scattering the men in fragments.

Hazen's last clause in his story is graphic indeed. “The line moved on without checking, over, under, and through abatis, ditches, palisading, and parapets, fighting the garrison through the fort to their bombproofs, from which they still fought, and only succumbed as each man was individually overpowered.” Twenty-four of Hazen's officers and men were killed and 110 officers and men wounded in this assault. They captured, including the killed, 250 men and officers, 24 pieces of ordnance, 10 tons of ammunition, quantities of food, small arms, and the animals and equipments of a light battery, horses and officers, and private stores in abundance which had been placed within Fort McAllister for safety.

The morning in which Hazen left King's Bridge, [90] December 13th, I joined Sherman, and taking with me a few members of my staff we went down the left bank of the Ogeechee as far as Dr. Cheve's rice mill. On the roof, which was but little inclined, our signal officers had secured a good position, and were in communication with Hazen's signal officers near McAllister at the time of our arrival. The battery of DeGress had preceded us to the rice mill and taken a position where the commander thought he could reach the fort with his projectiles.

His guns were of large size — the twenty-pounder-Parrott. The distance appeared to be three miles. DeGress's firing could not do much damage, but was a diversion, and had for its main object to draw the attention of the fleet. For hours we watched all the operations as well as we could. The signal telescope helped us to an occasional revelation, which kept down Sherman's impatience. About noon the cannon of McAllister commenced slowly firing toward the land, and shortly we could see puffs of smoke, which indicated what Hazen's skirmishers were doing. A little later we caught sight of a steamer in the offing below the fort. It was near the bay or broad mouth of the Ogeechee.

Still later in the afternoon our signal communication was perfected and connected with Hazen himself. He said he had invested the fort already. He had also caught sight of the steamer below. Sherman's answering signal emphasized the importance of carrying the fort by assault that very day. When the steamer was near enough it drew the fire of the fort .upon itself. Shortly after this, Captain McClintock and Lieutenant Sampson, our signal officers, descried the moving flag. They talked with the vessel, which [91] they reported to be a tug sent out by Admiral Dahlgren and General Foster for the purpose of opening communication with us. It was at this time, while we were communicating with the tug, that we all noticed an increased fire toward the fort, and our flags in men's hands, passing the obstructions. They crossed the ditch, then over the parapet; when we next saw them, the men were firing upward into the air from right to left, and the sound of their cheering came to us across the water. That, indeed, was a gallant assault Imagine the satisfaction of our watching party at the rice mill. The instant that we received the sure word that the fort was ours we ran for a small rowboat that was close at hand and proceeded as fast as the oarsman could speed us down the Ogeechee to the vicinity of Fort McAllister.

Shortly after landing we saw an ambulance, with the mules hauling it, run upon a hidden torpedo. Mules, ambulance, and men were blown into the air. This sight indicated to us some of the dangers which our brave men had had to encounter. We found HIazen very happy over his victory. His prisoner, Major Anderson, and the other Confederates who, we saw, were not so happy, yet surely they had made a gallant defense.

Hazen very hospitably entertained us after our arrival, and then accompanied us to the fort. We soon took leave of him; after a little delay we secured what Sherman called a yawl, and were rowed down the river some three miles, when we reached the tug. It proved to be the dispatch boat Dandelion, commanded by Captain Williamson, of the navy. Our welcome was hearty and the exchange of good tidings rapid.

I learned for the first time that Captain William [92] Duncan and his companions whom I had sent down the Ogeechee from the Savannah Canal had succeeded in avoiding all dangers and hindrances, and had reached the fleet the morning of the 12th inst. Admiral Dahlgren had received their communications and had forwarded them to Washington. Sherman, as he was wont to do, immediately called for writing materials and wrote hastily several dispatches.

As soon as they were completed we commenced our return journey, the Dandelion pushing us up as near McAllister as was safe from torpedoes. On landing from our boat we found our way back to Hazen's quarters and encamped in a rough way after the soldier's fashion for the night. Yet Sherman was hardly asleep when he was awakened by a messenger from the fleet. General Foster had come within safe distance and begged Sherman to join him. Foster was too lame from an old wound to come ashore.

The general, with his usual cheeriness and kindness of heart, sprang up, and walked a mile or more to the boat landing and was taken to General Foster's vessel. I remained with Hazen, and went back the next morning, December 14th, to my headquarters, then on Anderson's plantation, near the little Ogeechee, to make further efforts for the capture of Savannah.

In conjunction with Admiral Dahlgren I reconnoitered all the southern approaches by water as well as by land to Savannah. Sherman in his letter of December 17th, addressed to Iardee, commanding in Savannah, indicates the opening of complete supplies for his own army and the bringing together of heavy siege guns; he claimed to have control already of every avenue.

Sherman further declared that he was justified in [93] demanding the surrender; he would wait a reasonable time for Hardee's answer before opening with heavy ordnance. He offered liberal terms, but if these were rejected he might resort to the harshest measures. He said that he would make little effort to restrain his army, burning to avenge a great National wrong, which they attributed to Savannah and other large cities so prominent in dragging our country into civil war. He finished by inclosing a copy of Hood's demand for the surrender of Resaca, where Hood promised no quarter.

Hardee's reply, of the same date, is dignified. He showed Sherman's idea of complete investment to be incorrect, for there was one channel beyond the Savannah, leading to Charleston, not yet closed. “Your demand for the surrender of Savannah and its dependent forts is refused.” He closed with these words: “I have hitherto conducted the military operations intrusted to my direction in direct accordance with the rules of civilized warfare, and I should deeply regret the adoption of any course by you that may force me to deviate from them in the future.”

As soon as Hardee's reply reached Sherman he let us go on with our preparations for assaulting the works. Slocum pushed a command across to an island in the Savannah River which more closely threatened the last of Hardee's communications. Then next, on the 19th, he landed a brigade on the South Carolina shore.

Hardee's dispatch from Hardeeville, December 21st, to His Excellency, Jefferson Davis, explains the result. He says: “On the 19th the enemy forced a landing on the South Carolina side, so near my communications that to save the garrison it became necessary [94] to give up the city. Its evacuation was successfully accomplished last night. .. .” Speaking of his force Hardee adds: “Summed up, it was over 9,089.” Truly it was a small force to have given us so much trouble; but Savannah almost defended itself by its bays, bogs, and swamps all around, leaving only causeways to be defended. I think we would have carried the works, for the assault would have been simultaneous from every quarter like that of Hazen. We had prepared light fascines of twigs and of straw in plenty to fill the ditches before our assaulting columns, and were ready with every modern device to accomplish our purpose; but I am glad indeed that the Confederate authorities agreed with Hardee to save their garrison and withdraw it in season.

A long detention would have been unfavorable to us in the opening of our next campaign.

There was a little contention, a sort of friendly rivalry, as to what troops had gone first into Savannah. Gerry's division of Slocum's army at last carried off the palm.

General Sherman took up his headquarters with an English gentleman, Mr. Charles Green, who had very generously tendered his home for this purpose. Sherman had hardly reached the city and become settled in his temporary home before he sent to Mr. Lincoln the dispatch which was so widely published, viz.:

Savannah, Ga., December 22, 1864.
To His Excellency, President Lincoln, Washington, D. C.
I beg to present to you as a Christmas gift the city of Savannah, with 150 guns and plenty of ammunition; also about 25,000 bales of cotton.

W. T. Sherman, Major General.


I took up my headquarters and then wrote home: “I want to see the loving faces, yours and the children's, so much that I am really homesick. I went to General Sherman and told him: ‘Now let me off. I don't ask but two days at home.’ He answered: ‘General, I would give a million of dollars, if I had it, to be with my children. Would you do more than that?’ I told him I should say nothing more; and I have given up for the present.”

It was only four days after the writing of that letter before a new and more difficult campaign of the Carolinas opened before us.

We remained in comparative quiet at Savannah till January 1, 1865.

On New Year's Day Sherman took me aside and said that we were to move on through the Carolinas as soon as possible. He had a map of the coast in his hand. Opening it he showed me Robertsville in South Carolina, and also Pocotaligo Junction, on the Savannah & Charleston Railroad.

It was not far from Pocotaligo that the Confederates, including G. W. Smith's Macon contingent, had met Foster's and Saxton's Union men and defeated them while we were on the march from Atlanta to the sea.

Sherman said that he wanted me to move my wing of the army by water over to the Island of Beaufort, S. C., and go thence northward, cross an arm of the sea, secure a landing, and then proceed to Pocotaligo. I must time myself so as to get there by January 15th (inst.). “Can you do it” There were too many elements in the problem presented to be solved offhand.

After, Yankeelike, asking some questions, I said that the time was rather short, “but we would do the [96] best we could.” He assured me that General Foster's quartermaster would give me all the water transports which he could command, and that Admiral Dahlgren would carry over all the men and material which he could handily take on and off his naval vessels.

That same day I went to call on General Blair, and happened on a New Year's festival. It was a jolly table that I found with Blair that day, he doing the honors of the occasion. My coming seemed to surprise the party; suddenly all arose before me in a stiff and dignified style, as cadets at command in a mess hall after a meal.

I apologized for the interruption, called Blair aside, explained the coming orders and the contemplated movements, and bowed myself out. It was in this informal way that Sherman often set on foot the most important projects.

I find in my record that very day, January 1, 1865, a letter from myself to General Easton, Sherman's chief quartermaster. Easton was an old officer, and inclined to be formal and dignified with my chief quartermaster. At least it was so reported to me with complaint, hence the letter:

General: I regret exceedingly to trouble you, but I wish you to know the exact state of things. It is reported to me by Major General Osterhaus that his artillery horses are dying at the picket rope of actual starvation, and other officers report that public and private horses of the command are without forage. Must this be allowed when forage is within six miles of us? Is there no expedient we can resort to in order to get a supply? Are there no inlets where we can land forage? Are there no flats or small boats in which we can bring grain ashore? Be assured, general, that my officers and men and [97] myself are at your service, and willing to work night and day. I am held responsible by my command for these things. My only alternative is to apply to you. I do not wish to oppose you, but to assist you in every way in my power.

Easton acted quickly and well. I felt in the outset in view of the Carolina campaign that it was to be the most trying of any which we had hitherto undertaken. Our enemies would increase as we advanced northward. Food and forage would be destroyed before us, the swamps would be worse than in Georgia, and other troubles would multiply. And, surely, it was hard to commence a sea voyage with only vessels enough at best to take over to Beaufort a tenth of my army at a trip.

About this time I received the following letter from my friend, the distinguished Rev. E. B. Webb, D. D., of Boston, written the day before Christmas:

How glad we were when your scout (Captain Duncan) arrived down the river and communicated with the fleet We followed you daily with our prayers, and yet we can hardly say “followed,” for we did not know for a long time where you were going. Our generals and our Government seemed to have found out the secret of keeping their own secrets.

You just moved off beyond the circle of our horizon into the unknown, and left us to wonder, to doubt, to believe, to guess, but-God be praised-you are out of the woods, in the sense that we . . . hear from you almost every day.

Officers and men were fearless and resolute. They had come to be robust in health-had well developed muscular force in themselves. What Sherman ordered they were ready to undertake, not only without opposition, but with hearty good will. The vessels furnished us were too few and the water delays [98] as bothersome as usual; but my Seventeenth Corps was carried over to Beaufort in reasonably quick time.

Blair began the actual movement of it January 3, 1865, and by the 11th his entire corps (the Seventeenth) and one division of Logan's (the Fifteenth) had arrived and were disembarked at Beaufort, S. C.

While the sea voyages were progressing I was able to spend most of my time at Beaufort. General Rufus Saxton had his headquarters there. He was quite domesticated amid a new Northern community and multitudes of negroes that were peopling that part of the seacoast which had come into our possession. GeneralSaxton and Mrs. Saxton gave me a sweet home and cordial welcome with them for a few days. I visited at Beaufort, St. Helena, and other neighboring inlands the first colored schools that I had seen. Some of them were excellent. Of these schools at that time I wrote:

Yesterday (January 19, 1865) I visited five colored schools, where I found the children sparkling with intelligence, the teachers noble women who had devoted their strength to this work. One school bears the look of our best New England schools; the order, the reading, the arithmetic, and the singing strike you with wonder. The “America” and “Rally round the flag, boys,” ring out with such heart and harmony as to imbue you with enthusiasm. You can't help saying, That is not the stuff of which to make slaves.

On St. Helena's Island Miss Towne and the three Misses Murry, who were wealthy ladies, devoted themselves and their income to this work. After describing the completeness and convenience of the structure for the school, I added:

They sing on the right, then on the left, and then together; and such singing! Little ones about three feet high sing away in perfect time and with great zest and joy. [99]

Mrs. General and Mrs. Captain Saxton took me to ride yesterday afternoon, and they said it was done to take me away from official duties. We went to visit two negro schools on Beaufort Island in full operation. We found the children quite as far advanced as white children of the same age. There are two white teachers, one for each school; a Miss Botume, of Boston, and a Miss Danby, also from Massachusetts . . . The weather is cool, but not cold; really delightful. These old trees are green (in January) and luxuriant. Mrs. Saxton is a lovely lady, and wants to see Mrs. Howard. General Saxton has taken me personally right to his house, given me a room, and allowed me to enjoy the luxuries of his table.

One Sunday I addressed a little negro Sunday school. As I was about to close, I asked if any little boy or girl could tell me who was the Saviour of the world. One bright lad held up his hand, and said: “Yes, sah I ken tell; I ken telll” “Well, who is he?” “Abum Linkum, sah; Abum Linkum.”

Our soldiers were so many, needed so many supplies, and felt themselves at last on South Carolina soil, that a lawless spirit came over them and many complaints came to me of their doings. They were just then inclined to make “forced loans” and to live on the country. The Northern civilian immigrants to the Sea Islands seemed to be most hurt, but the negroes for the most part would give them anything they asked for.

With Blair's corps, at about twelve o'clock midnight (January 13, 1865), we set out for what we called “Whale branch.” One brigade of Logan's command followed Blair's. It was an all-night march. Blair, now habitually using canvas boats, sent his pontoon bridge and a guard ahead, and so, when we arrived, we found that some of his men had rowed across the branch, captured the Confederate pickets, and built a [100] bridgehead to protect the men while they were laying the bridge. I wrote to Sherman:

Our bridge was so poor, on account of the rotten canvas, that many delays occurred in the crossing and closing up. It had to be pieced out on the enemy's side, and frequently broke near that shore.

When I came near the ferry, about dawn, I heard some singing and shouting coming from a number of negro huts not far off. I went thither to see what the negroes who filled the cabins were doing. They were much excited; both joy and fear appeared to possess them; they would pray and sing and dance and shout indiscriminately. They had kept up that delicious exercise the whole night. Indeed, to them, more ignorant than any I had hitherto met, the day of jubilee had come.

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