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Chapter 37:

  • Gen. Grant's opinion of maneuvering.
  • -- Lee his master in every branch of generalship. -- the Federals get possession of the Weldon Railroad. -- action at Ream's Station. -- operations North of James River. -- surprise and capture of Fort Harrison.attempt of the Confederates to retake it disconcerted and defeated. -- Grant plans a general advance in October. -- three corps of the enemy in motion. -- attempt to turn the Confederate position on Hatcher's Run, and seize the Southside Railroad. -- defeat of the enemy and frustration of his plans. -- public attention drawn to Georgia. -- Sherman's march to the sea. -- he returns from Gaylesville to Atlanta. -- the work of destruction commenced at Rome. -- burning of Atlanta. -- more than four thousand houses consumed. -- outline of Sherman's march from Atlanta. -- the country it traverses full of supplies. -- pillage of Madison. -- concentration of the enemy's forces at Milledgeville. -- an affair of militia at Griswoldsville.Kilpatrick's demonstration on Augusta. -- statement of Confederate forces there. -- Sherman's march to Millen. -- he meets with no resistance. -- his devastation of the country. -- prowess of his troops in pillage and villainy. -- nothing but militia and hasty levies to oppose him. -- Sherman's approach to Savannah. -- Fort McAllister taken by assault. -- gallantry of the Confederate garrison. -- Gen. Hardee evacuates Savannah. -- extent of Sherman's captures. -- how much of his achievements was “simple waste and destruction.” -- review of “the great march.” -- absurd historical comparisons in the North. -- character of Gen. Sherman. -- his charlatanism. -- his proper place in history

It is said that at the opening of the campaign on the Rapidan, Gen. Meade, in conversation with Gen. Grant, was telling him that he proposed to maneuver thus and so; whereupon Gen. Grant stopped him at the word “manoeuvre,” and said, “Oh! I never maneuvre.” We have seen that the famous Federal commander, who thus despised manuring, had failed to destroy Lee's army by “hammering continuously” at it; had failed to take either Richmond or Petersburg by a coup de main. We shall now see that he was no longer unwilling to avail himself of the resource of manuring; and we shall observe that in this resource also, he was overmatched by Lee, who showed himself his master in every art of war, [607] and indeed left Grant not a single branch of generalship in which he might assert his reputation.

For some time after the mine explosion, but little was done by the Federals in front of Petersburg. In the remaining months of summer and autumn, some maneuvers were executed with more or less breadth of design, which may be briefly stated here in the order of their occurrence.

On the 18th and 19th August, Grant's left under Warren, after a defeat on the first day, succeeded in holding the Weldon Railroad. This line of communication with the South was not of any great importance to Gen. Lee, as long as he held the road to Danville, the main avenue to the fertile grain districts of the South. A series of severe actions, however, ensued to break Warren's hold upon the road; and he maintained his position only after a loss which he himself officially reports as 4,455 killed, wounded, and missing. Meanwhile Hancock's corps was brought in rear of the position held by Warren, and ordered to destroy a southward section of the road. On the 25th August, this force was encountered at Reams' station by A. P. Hill's corps under Wilcox, Heth, and Mahone. A vigorous attack of Heth broke the enemy's line, and drove a division which was in reserve, while one line of breastworks was carried by the Confederate cavalry under Gen. Hampton. The results of the day were, twelve stands of colours captured, and nine pieces of artillery, ten caissons, 2,150 prisoners, and 3,100 stand of small-arms. The Confederate loss was, in cavalry, artillery, and infantry, 720 men, killed, wounded, and missing. Warren, however, still continued to hold the Weldon railroad; but after a sum of disaster, as we have seen, that was a very extravagant price, compared with the little real importance of the acquisition. The road was permanently retained by the enemy; and he now proceeded to form a line of redoubts connecting the new position with the old left of the army on the Jerusalem plank road.

About the close of September, attention was again drawn to operations north of James River, and a movement on Gen. Butler's front resulted in a serious disaster to the Confederates, and, it must be confessed, accomplished one real success for this ill-stared General in the operations against Richmond. On the night of the 28th September, Butler crossed to the north side of the James, with the corps of Birney and Ord, and moved up the river with the design of attacking the very strong fortifications and entrenchments below Chapin's farm. known as Fort Harrison. A portion of Butler's force was moved on the Newmarket road, and while a severe engagement was occurring there, a column of the enemy made a flank movement on Fort Harrison, and practically succeeded in surprising this important work, which surrendered after a very feeble resistance on the part of the artillery, and while a force of Confederates was on the double-quick to reinforce it. [608]

This fort occupied a commanding position below Drewry's Bluff, and constituted the main defence of that part of our lines. Its loss, with fifteen pieces of artillery, was a severe blow to the Confederates, attended with circumstances of mortification, and the resolution was quickly taken to attempt its recapture. Gen. Field was for attacking at once before the enemy could strengthen the position; but he was overruled, and the attack deferred until the afternoon of the next day. It was arranged that Anderson's, Bratton's, and Law's brigades of Field's division should make the assault in front, while Hoke was to attack on the other side, taking advantage of a ravine by which he was enabled to form his men within two or three hundred yards of the fort. The plan of attack miscarried by a singular circumstance. Anderson's men being put in motion merely to adjust the line, misunderstood the orders of their commander, leaped the breastworks of the enemy, rushed forward with a yell, and were soon past control. This necessitated rapid movement on the part of the other brigades. Gen. Hoke, awaiting the signal that had been agreed upon for action, did not move; and the enemy was thus enabled to concentrate his fire on the scattered assault of the brigades of Field's division. Law's brigade accomplished its object in retaking a redan to the left of the fort, thus protecting our left flank; but the main attack failed; and the general result was that the lodgment of Butler's army on the north side of the James was secured, and a position thus obtained very menacing to Richmond.

Before settling down to winter-quarters, Gen. Grant determined to make a last vigorous attempt to retrieve the campaign and to strike one more blow for the capture of Petersburg. The sequel of this enterprise was the occasion of the usual attempt to misrepresent it as a mere reconnoissance in force; but there can no longer be any doubt that Gen. Grant, in the movement of October, 1864, designed a real advance, and hoped to achieve a success which would influence the approaching Presidential election, only a few days distant, and electrify the North with the news of a great victory.

He made every preparation to conduct the movement on the largest scale. Three days were occupied in the preparations. The hospitals were emptied of their sick and wounded, all of whom were sent to the rear. Five days rations were issued to the troops. All superfluous or unnecessary baggage was sent to the rear with the trains. The army was put in what is called light marching order. In fact, nothing was left undone to insure the success of the undertaking. During the night preceding the movement nearly all the Federal troops were withdrawn from the breastworks on both sides of the James and massed some distance in the rear, ready to march forward at daylight. Guns were mounted to cover Grant's communications with his base at City Point, in case the Confederates should take possession of the trenches he had evacuated, and every indication [609] pointed to a design to abandon the line before Petersburg, and take possession of the Southside railroad.

The movement occupied three corps of the enemy, and commenced at daylight of the 27th October. The right of the Confederate entrenched line rested on the east bank of Hatcher's Run; and it was hoped to turn this, and then march upon and lay hold of the Southside railroad, which was Lee's principal communication. As the advance of the enemy moved forward to the Boydton plank road, the Confederate pickets and skirmishers were encountered, and a lively fire of musketry was kept up all the morning. When the Boydton road was reached the Confederates were found strongly entrenched at every point. It was thought that by making a wide detour these intrenchments could be taken in flank and the Confederates forced back to Petersburg; but when Hancock's corps reached a point below where the Confederate works were supposed to terminate, they were found to extend a considerable distance in the direction of Stony Creek, and their appearance was so formidable that it was deemed imprudent to attempt to carry them.

During Hancock's march towards what was supposed to be the extreme right of the Confederate line, a gap occurred between his right and the left of the Fifth corps. The Confederates were not slow to perceive the advantage. Gen. Heth had crossed Hatcher's Run to attack the enemy, and Mahone's division quickly assailed Hancock's right in its exposed situation, driving back Gibbon's division more than a mile, and inflicting upon it considerable loss. Meanwhile Hampton's cavalry fell upon the rear of Hancock, and increased the disorder. Mahone captured four hundred prisoners, three stand of colours, and six pieces of artillery. A subsequent effort of the enemy to recover his position was bravely resisted; Gen. Mahone broke three lines of battle; and night found him standing firmly on the Boydton road, and successfully resisting all efforts to drive him from it.

Finding the Confederates strongly fortified along the Boydton road, and also on both sides of Hatcher's Run, and seeing the hopelessness of attempting to break through works fully as formidable as those before Petersburg, Grant issued orders for the troops to withdraw to their original position,--that is, the entrenchments in front of Petersburg-and during the night they retraced their steps, and were settled back in their old camps. The design to turn the Confederate position and take possession of the Southside railroad, had been completely frustrated; and thus failed, almost shamefully, Grant's ambitious movement of October, 1864.

While thus the Confederate lines around Richmond and Petersburg stood successful and defiant, the shadow of a great misfortune fell on another part of the country. In the last months of 1864, public attention was drawn unanimously and almost exclusively after the march of Sherman [610] through the State of Georgia; and to this event, fraught with consequences and recriminations eventually fatal to the Confederacy, we must now direct the course of our narrative.

Sherman's march to the sea.

At last accounts of operations in Georgia, Gen. Sherman was meditating a march to the sea-board. Preparations were made to abandon all the posts south of Dalton, and from Gaylesville and Rome orders were issued concerning the new movement. In the latter place commenced the work of destruction: a thousand bales of cotton, two flour mills, two tanneries, foundries, machine-shops, depots, store-houses, and bridges were set on fire; the torch was applied to private dwellings, and the whole town wrapped in a fearful and indiscriminate conflagration. The march back to Atlanta left a track of smoke and flame.

Having concentrated his troops at Atlanta by the 14th of November, Sherman was ready to commence his march, threatening both Augusta and Macon. On the night of the 15th the torch was applied to Atlanta; and where the merciless commander had already created a solitude, he determined to make a second conflagration, by the light of which his marching columns might commence their journey to the sea. The work was done with terrible completeness; buildings covering two hundred acres were in flames at one time; the heavens were an expanse of lurid fire; and amid the wild and terrific scene the Federal bands played “John Brown's soul goes marching on.” The next morning Sherman's army moved from a scene of desolation such as had occurred in no modern picture of civilized war. From four to five thousand houses were reduced to ruins; and four hundred left standing was the melancholy remnant of Atlanta. Nearly all the shade trees in the park and city had been destroyed, and the suburbs, stripped of timber, presented to the eye one vast, naked, ruined, deserted camp.

The main outline of Sherman's march was, that Howard, with the right wing, should follow the Georgia Central road, running southeast through Macon and Milledgeville to Savannah; while Slocum, commanding the left wing, was to march directly east, on the railroad leading from Atlanta to Augusta, destroying it as he went. Two columns of cavalry-one to the north of Slocum, and the other to the south of Howard-were to protect their flanks, and conceal entirely from view the routes of the infantry. An order directed the army “to forage liberally on the march.”

The country immediately around Atlanta had been foraged by Slocum's corps when it held the city; but two days march brought Sherman's troops into regions of such abundance as were scarcely supposed to exist [611] within the limits of the Southern Confederacy. There were, indeed, many parts of the Confederacy which the difficulties of transportation had gorged with supplies, and none more so, perhaps, than that part of Georgia now traversed by Sherman's troops. There were pits of sweet potatoes, yards of poultry and hogs, and cellars of bacon and flour, offering abundance on every hand, and gratifying the soldiers with a change of diet. It is said “hard tack” was scarcely heard of in Sherman's army on its march through Georgia. The cattle trains soon became so large that it was difficult to drive them along; and they were turned nightly into the immense fields of ungathered corn to eat their fill, while the granaries were crowded to overflowing with both oats and corn.

Slocum continued to move out on the Augusta line, destroying the railroad as he advanced, until he reached Madison. This, a pretty town of two thousand inhabitants, was pillaged, the stores gutted, and the streets filled with furniture and household goods, broken and wrecked in mere wantonness. From Madison Slocum turned suddenly south towards Milledgeville, and on the 21st November entered the capital of Georgia. Meanwhile Howard, covered by a cloud of Kilpatrick's cavalry, had demonstrated on Macon, and crossing the Ocmulgee, had pressed on towards Milledgeville; Sherman's forces being thus rapidly concentrated at the capital of Georgia, after having threatened both Augusta and Macon, thus confounding the Confederates as to his intentions.

A part of Howard's command had been left at Griswoldsville, ten miles cast of Macon, for demonstrative purposes merely. It was attacked by a force of Confederate militia, which marched out from Macon, and were severely repulsed by the enemy's artillery. This affair, small as it was, was the most serious fight of Sherman's campaign from Atlanta to the sea.

Having sufficiently rested at Milledgeville, Sherman resumed his march eastward; while Kilpatrick's cavalry continued to operate towards Augusta, advancing as far as Waynesboroa, to create the impression of a heavy movement upon Augusta. There had been concentrated at this city some Confederate militia, two or three South Carolina regiments, and a portion of Hampton's command, sent there to remount. Even if the real movement of Sherman's army had been known, this force could not have interposed any serious obstacle to the advance of his main body, as long as his left wing was used as a strong arm thrust out in advance, ready to encounter any force which might attempt to bar the way. While Kilpatrick demonstrated savagely upon Augusta, Sherman marched rapidly on Millen, reaching it on the 2d December.

He had already penetrated and devastated the richest portion of Georgia, and was now on the line of the pine forests that sloped to the sea. For a hundred miles he had left behind him a wreck of railroads and a desolated country; he had consumed the fat of the land, and he had strewn [612] every mile of his march with the evidences of savage warfare. His army had been permitted to do whatever crime could compass and cruelty invent. A Northern correspondent, who travelled with the army, thus relates its prowess in pillage and all provinces of cowardly violence: “Such little freaks as taking the last chicken, the last pound of meal, the last bit of bacon, and the only remaining scraggy cow, from a poor woman and her flock of children, black or white not considered, came under the order of legitimate business. Even crockery, bed-covering, or cloths, were fair spoils. As for plate, or jewelry, or watches, these were things rebels had no use for. Men with pockets plethoric with silver and gold coin; soldiers sinking under the weight of plate and fine bedding materials; lean mules and horses, with the richest trappings of Brussels carpets, and hangings of fine chenille; negro wenches, particularly good-looking ones, decked in satin and silks, and sporting diamond ornaments; officers with sparkling rings, that would set Tiffany in raptures-gave colour to the stories of hanging up or fleshing an ‘ old cuss,’ to make him shell out. A planter's house was overrun in a jiffy; boxes, drawers, and escritoires were ransacked with a laudable zeal, and emptied of their contents. If the spoils were ample, the depredators were satisfied, and went off in peace; if not, everything was torn and destroyed, and most likely the owner was tickled with sharp bayonets into a confession where he had his treasures hid. If he escaped, and was hiding in a thicket, this was prima facie evidence that he was a skulking rebel; and most likely some ruffian, in his zeal to get rid of such vipers, gave him a dose of lead, which cured him of his Secesh tendencies. Sorghum barrels were knocked open, bee-hives rifled, while their angry swarms rushed frantically about. Indeed, I have seen a soldier knock a planter down because a bee stung him. Should the house be deserted, the furniture is smashed in pieces, music is pounded out of four hundred dollar pianos with the ends of muskets. Mirrors were wonderfully multiplied, and rich cushions and carpets carried off to adorn teams and war-steeds. After all was cleared out, most likely some set of stragglers wanted to enjoy a good fire, and set the house, debris of furniture, and all the surroundings, in a blaze. This is the way Sherman's army lived on the country.”

The sum of these villanies has passed into Northern history as a weight of martial glory. But the day will yet come when the hero of such a story, instead of enjoying as now the plaudits of ferocious and cowardly mobs, will obtain the execrations of civilized mankind. The facility of his progress was no achievement of genius to illuminate a record of villany It is clear enough, when it is known that there was nothing to oppose him. march but some hasty levies of regular troops, and clans of scattered militia. It is melancholy to look over the map of this march, a region of swamp and thicket, and observe that in no portion of it could a field be [613] found adequate to the display of ten thousand men, and reflect how small a Confederate force, put between Sherman and the sea, might have disputed his march, exacted a bloody toll at every defile, and brought him to grief and disaster. But there was no such force. The general story of the march is that the Confederates had no partisan fighting as in days past; that their levies of regular troops did not make their appearance in season for a concentration of strength at any one point; that Hardee, having a command of not more than ten thousand men, remained to cover Savannah; that the clans of militia and small detachments of Wheeler's cavalry were utterly unable to cope with the enemy, and were rather calculated to provoke his enterprise than to impede his march; and that the consequence was that the sum of opposition to Sherman's march was little more than a series of small skirmishes, without result on either side.

On the 2d December Sherman's army pivoted upon Millen, swung slowly round from its eastern course, and swept down in six parallel columns, by as many different roads, towards Savannah. About ten mites from the city his left wing struck the Charleston Railroad, and encountered some Confederate skirmishers, which indicated for the first time the presence of Hardee's army. Sherman's right wing was now thrown forward; his army closed gradually and steadily in upon Savannah; and on the 10th December it lay in line of battle, confronting the outer works about five miles distant from the city. His first task was to open communication with Dahlgren's fleet, which lay in Ossabaw Sound, and he therefore determined to capture Fort McAllister, at the mouth of the Ogeechee, which enters the ocean but a few miles south of the Savannah.

Fort McAllister was a large enclosure, with wide parapets, a deep ditch and thickly-planted palisades. There were twenty-one guns, large and small, in the fort, all mounted en barbette. It had resisted two or three bombardments of the enemy's iron-clads; and it appears that Gen. Hardee had overlooked the possibility of a land attack, and had neglected to strengthen the garrison. Anyhow the Confederate commander was not up to the quick decision of Sherman, who, instead of building entrenchments and rifle-pits, resolved to take the fort by assault. A whole division was ordered for the work, on the evening of the 30th December. The fort was commanded by Major Anderson; and its garrison, at the time of attack, was less than two hundred men. The fact that its guns were mounted en barbette exposed the gunners to the deadly aim of sharpshooters; and as the division of the enemy's troops commanded by Gen. Hazen advanced to the assault, it was found that the artillery of the fort did but little execution upon them. The Federals went easily over the parapet; but the little Confederate garrison, although desperately outnumbered, fought to the last. Many of these devoted men disdained quarter, and were bayoneted at their posts. Capt. Clinch, who commanded [614] the artillery, refused to surrender until he was disabled by three sabre and two gun-shot wounds, and faint from loss of blood.

When Sherman saw the Federal flag raised upon Fort McAllister, he seized a slip of paper, and telegraphed to Washington: “I regard Savannah as already gained.” The possession of the fort opened Ossabaw Sound, effected communication with Dahlgren's fleet, and indeed made the capture of Savannah, where Hardee appeared to be shut up with ten or twelve thousand men, but a question of time. But it was Sherman's hope to capture Hardee's army with the city; and movements were made to close up all avenues of escape, Sherman's army stretching from the Savannah to the Ogeechee River, while Foster's troops covered the railroad to Charleston. It was intended to place a division to operate with Foster by way of Broad River; but while Sherman's flank movement was in process of operation, Hardee outwitted him, and on the night following the enemy's demand for the surrender of the city, the Confederates had evacuated it, and were on the Carolina shore.

The evacuation was a complete surprise to Sherman. On the night of the 28th December, Hardee opened a fierce bombardment, expending his ammunition without stint. After dark, he threw his men on rafts and steamboats across the river to the South Carolina shore. The night was dark, with a fierce gust of wind deadening the sounds of the wagons and the tramp of the troops. As morning broke, the attention of the enemy was excited at last by unusual sounds, and his pickets were advanced on the extreme left of the line. Meeting no opposition, they pushed still further, crawled through the abatis, floundered through dikes and ditches, scaled the first line of works, and found it deserted. All the ordnance stores and supplies which Hardee could not transport, had been destroyed before the evacuation; he had burned the ship-yard and sunk two ironclads; but all the rest of the uninjured city fell into the hands of the enemy.

Sherman announced his success in a characteristic despatch. He wrote to President Lincoln : “I beg to present you, as a Christmas gift, the city of Savannah, with one hundred and fifty heavy guns and plenty of ammunition, and also about twenty-five thousand bales of cotton.” And thus ended the story of the march to the sea. In his official report of his achievements, Gen. Sherman wrote: “We have consumed the corn and fodder in the region of country thirty miles on either side of a line from Atlanta to Savannah, as also the sweet potatoes, cattle, hogs, sheep, and poultry, and have carried away more than ten thousand horses and mules, as well as a countless number of their slaves. I estimate the damage done to the State of Georgia and its military resources at one hundred millions of dollars; at least twenty millions of which has inured to our advantage, and the remainder is simple waste and destruction.” [615]

The North exhibited its characteristic measure of greatness by taking Sherman's “march from the mountains to the seas” as the greatest military exploit of modern times. It fitted the Northern idea of magnitude. It was, of course, “the Great March,” as everything the North admired, from a patent-machine to an army, was “the great.” But it is difficult for a sober historian to find in the easy marches of Sherman through Georgia, any great military merit, or to discover in the excessively vulgar character of this commander any of the elements of the hero. Where there is nothing to oppose an army, the mere accomplishment of distances is no great wonder or glory. From the time Sherman left Gaylesville to the day he encountered the lines around Savannah, he never had a thousand men on his front to dispute his advance; he had nothing to threaten his rear beyond a .few bodies of Confederate horse; he moved through a country so full of supplies that his own commissariat was scarcely taxed to subsist his army; he himself telegraphed to Washington: “Our march was most agreeable,” and compared it to “a pleasure-trip.” And yet this pleasant excursion the North insisted upon amplifying as a great military exploit, to be compared with Napoleon's march to Moscow, and other splendid adventures of invasion, while the chief excursionist was raised to the dignity of a hero.

Sherman is an example of the reputation achieved in the North by intrepid charlatanism and self-assertion. He had elements of Northern popularity outside of the severe circle of military accomplishments. His swagger was almost irresistible; he wrote slang phrases in his official despatches; his style was a flash Fourth-of-July tangled oratory, that never fails to bring down the applause of a Northern mob. It is the office of history to reduce the reputations of the gazette. The man who is now known in Northern newspapers as a hero of the war and luminary of the military age will scarcely be known in future and just history, further than as the man who depopulated and destroyed Atlanta, essayed a new code of cruelty in war, marched so many miles, achieved much bad notoriety, and ended with a professional fame mediocre and insignificant, holding a place no longer conspicuous in the permanent records of the time.

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