General William T. Sherman’s Report on The March to the Sea and Capture of Savannah
On November 15th, 1864, Major General William T. Sherman began one of the more famous–or infamous depending on one’s point of view–chapters of the Civil War when his roughly 60,000 man army left Atlanta, Georgia, and marched southeast towards Savannah and the Atlantic Ocean. Rather than rely on lengthy and tenuous supply lines, Sherman ordered his army to “forage liberally on the country” and essentially supply themselves by taking food, horses, and anything else needed from the farms and towns along the way.
Sherman divided his army into two wings that marched roughly parallel to each other. The Army of the Tennessee under Major General Oliver O. Howard was the Right Wing and consisted of the 15th and 17th Corps. The Left Wing was the Army of Georgia, consisting of the 14th and 20th Corps and under the command of Major General Henry W. Slocum. A separate cavalry division under Brigadier General Judson Kilpatrick operated in support of both infantry wings. The Federals took or destroyed anything of military value in and around Atlanta and sent non combatants including sick and wounded soldiers north before setting out on the march.
Though not unopposed, Sherman faced relatively light resistance along the way, mostly from Georgia militia and some cavalry under General Joseph Wheeler. Sherman reached the Savannah area on December 10th; the city was defended by a 10,000 man force under Lieutenant General William Hardee. On December 13th, a Union division stormed Fort McAllister on the Ogeechee River, capturing it in a 15 minute battle. The army linked up with U.S. Navy supply and warships off the Georgia coast, and prepared to lay siege to Savannah. With his situation impossible, Hardee abandoned the city to Sherman and December 20th; the mayor of Savannah surrendered the city the next day. Sherman telegraphed President Abraham Lincoln with the news, saying he offered the city as a Christmas present to him. The March to the Sea was over, but early in 1865, Sherman would employ similar tactics as he marched north through the Carolinas.
Here is Sherman’s Official Report on the march from Atlanta to the sea:
HDQRS. MILITARY DIVISION OF THE MISSISSIPPI,
In the Field, Savannah, Ga., January 1, 1865.
On the 12th of November my army stood detached and cut off from all communication with the rear. It was composed of four corps–the Fifteenth and Seventeenth, constituting the Right Wing, under Maj. Gen. O. O. Howard; the Fourteenth and Twentieth Corps, constituting the Left Wing, under Maj. Gen. H. W. Slocum–of an aggregate strength of 60,000 infantry; one cavalry division, in aggregate strength 5,500, under Brig. Gen. Judson Kilpatrick, and the artillery, reduced to the minimum, one gun per 1,000 men.
The whole force was moved rapidly and grouped about Atlanta on the 14th of November. In the meantime Capt. O. M. Poe had thoroughly destroyed Atlanta, save its mere dwelling-houses and churches, and the Right Wing, with General Kilpatrick’s cavalry, was put in motion in the direction of Jonesborough and McDonough, with orders to make a strong feint on Macon, to cross the Ocmulgee about Planters’ Mills, and rendezvous in the neighborhood of Gordon in seven days, exclusive of the day of march. On the same day General Slocum moved with the Twentieth Corps by Decatur and Stone Mountain, with orders to tear up the railroad from Social Circle to Madison, to burn the large and important railroad bridge across the Oconee, east of Madison, and turn south and reach Milledgeville on the seventh day, exclusive of the day of march. In person I left Atlanta on the 16th, in company with the Fourteenth Corps (Bvt. Maj. Gen. Jeff. C. Davis), by Lithonia, Covington, and Shady Dale, directly on Milledgeville. All the troops were provided with good wagon trains, loaded with ammunition and supplies, approximating twenty days’ bread, forty days’ sugar and coffee, a double allowance of salt for forty days, and beef-cattle equal to forty days’ Supplies. The wagons were also supplied with about three days’ forage, in grain. All were instructed, by a judicious system of foraging, to maintain this order of things as long as possible, living chiefly, if not solely, upon the country, which I knew to abound in corn, sweet potatoes, and meats.
My first object was, of course, to place my army in the very heart of Georgia, interposing between Macon and Augusta, and obliging the enemy to divide his forces to defend not only those points, but Millen, Savannah, and Charleston. All my calculations were fully realized. During the 22d [20th] General Kilpatrick made a good feint on Macon, driving the enemy within his intrenchments, and then drew back to Griswoldville, where Walcutt’s brigade of infantry joined him to cover that flank, whilst Howard’s trains were closing up, and his men scattered, breaking up railroads. The enemy came out of Macon [22d] and attacked Walcutt in position, but was so roughly handled that he never repeated the experiment. On the eighth day after leaving Atlanta (namely, on the 23d [22d]) General Slocum occupied Milledgeville and the important bridge across the Oconee there, and Generals Howard and Kilpatrick were in and about Gordon.
General Howard was then ordered to move eastward, destroying the railroad thoroughly in his progress as far as Tennille Station, opposite Sandersville, and General Slocum to move to Sandersville by two roads. General Kilpatrick was ordered to Milledgeville, and thence move rapidly eastward, to break the railroad which leads from Millen to Augusta, then to turn upon Millen and rescue our prisoners of war supposed to be confined at that place. I accompanied the Twentieth Corps from Milledgeville to Sandersville, approaching which place, on the 25th, we found the bridges across Buffalo Creek burned, which delayed us three hours. The next day we entered Sandersville, skirmishing with Wheeler’s cavalry, which offered little opposition to the advance of the Twentieth and Fourteenth Corps, entering the place almost at the same moment.
General Slocum was then ordered to tear up and destroy the Georgia Central Railroad, from Station 13 (Tennille) to Station 10, near the crossing of Ogeechee–one of his corps substantially following the railroad, the other by way of Louisville, in support of Kilpatrick’s cavalry In person I shifted to the Right Wing, and accompanied the Seventeenth Corps (General Blair) on the south of the railroad, till abreast of Station 94 (Barton), General Howard, in person, with the Fifteenth Corps, keeping farther to the right, and about one day’s march ahead, ready to turn against the flank of any enemy who should oppose our progress. At Barton I learned that Kilpatrick’s cavalry had reached the Augusta railroad about Waynesborough, where he ascertained that our prisoners had been removed from Millen, and therefore the purpose of rescuing them, upon which we had set our hearts, was an impossibility. But as Wheeler’s cavalry had hung around him, and as he had retired to Louisville to meet our infantry, in pursuance of my instructions not to risk battle unless at great advantage, I ordered him to leave his wagons and all incumbrances with the Left Wing, and moving in the direction of Augusta, if Wheeler gave him the opportunity, to indulge him with all the fighting he wanted. General Kilpatrick, supported by Baird’s division of infantry of the Fourteenth Corps, again moved in the direction of Waynesborough, and encountering Wheeler in the neighborhood of Thomas’ Station, attacked him in position, driving him from three successive lines of barricades handsomely through Waynesborough and across Brier Creek, the bridges over which he burned; and then, with Baird’s division, rejoined the Left Wing, which in the meantime had been marching by easy stages of ten miles a day in the direction of Lumpkin’s Station and Jacksonborough. The Seventeenth Corps took up the destruction of the railroad at the Ogeechee, near Station 10, and continued it to Millen, the enemy offering little or no opposition, although preparations had seemingly been made at Millen.
On the 3d of December the Seventeenth Corps, which I accompanied, was at Millen; the Fifteenth Corps (General Howard) was south of the Ogeechee, opposite Station 7 (Scarborough); the Twentieth Corps (General Slocum) on the Augusta railroad, about four miles north of Millen, near Buck Head Church, and the Fourteenth Corps (General Jeff. C. Davis) in the neighborhood of Lumpkin’s Station, on the Augusta railroad. All were ordered to march in the direction of Savannah–the Fifteenth Corps to continue south of the Ogeechee, the Seventeenth to destroy the railroad as far as Ogeechee Church–and four days were allowed to reach the line from Ogeechee Church to the neighborhood of Halley’s Ferry, on the Savannah River. All the columns reached their destinations on time, and continued to march on their several roads–General Davis following the Savannah River road; General Slocum the middle road, by way of Springfield; General Blair the railroad, and General Howard still south and west of the Ogeechee, with orders to cross to the east bank opposite Eden Station, or Station No. 2.
As we approached Savannah the country became more marshy and difficult, and more obstructions were met in the way of felled trees, where the roads crossed the creek, swamps, or narrow causeways; but our pioneer companies were well organized, and removed these obstructions in an incredibly short time. No opposition from the enemy worth speaking of was encountered until the heads of columns were within fifteen miles of Savannah, where all the roads leading to the city were obstructed more or less by felled timber, with earth-works and artillery. But these were easily turned and the enemy driven away, so that by the 10th of December the enemy was driven within his lines at Savannah. These followed substantially a swampy creek which empties into the Savannah River about three miles above the city, across to the head of a corresponding stream which empties into the Little Ogeechee. These streams were singularly favorable to the enemy as a cover, being very marshy, and bordered by rice fields, which were flooded either by the tide water or by inland ponds, the gates to which were controlled and covered by his heavy artillery. The only approaches to the city were by five narrow causeways–namely, the two railroads, and the Augusta, the Louisville, and the Ogeechee dirt roads–all of which were commanded by heavy ordnance, too strong for us to fight with our light field-guns. To assault an enemy of unknown strength at such a disadvantage appeared to me unwise, especially as I had so successfully brought my army, almost unscathed, so great a distance, and could surely attain the same result by the operation of time. I therefore instructed my army commanders to closely invest the city from the north and west, and to reconnoiter well the ground in their fronts, respectively, whilst I gave my personal attention to opening communications with our fleet, which I knew was waiting for us in Tybee, Wassaw, and Ossabaw Sounds.
In approaching Savannah General Slocum struck the Charleston railroad near the bridge, and occupied the river-bank as his left flank, where he had captured two of the enemy’s river boats, and had prevented two others (gun-boats) from coming down the river to communicate with the city; while General Howard, by his right flank, had broken the Gulf railroad at Fleming’s and Way’s Stations, and occupied the railroad itself down to the Little Ogeechee, near Station 1; so that no supplies could reach Savannah by any of its accustomed channels. We, on the contrary, possessed large herds of cattle, which we had brought along or gathered in the country, and our wagons still contained a reasonable amount of breadstuffs and other necessaries, and the fine rice crops of the Savannah and Ogeechee Rivers furnished to our men and animals a large amount of rice and rice straw. We also held the country to the south and west of the Ogeechee as foraging ground. Still, communication with the fleet was of vital importance; and I directed General Kilpatrick to cross the Ogeechee by a pontoon bridge, to reconnoiter Fort McAllister, and to proceed to Saint Catherine’s Sound, in the direction of Sunbery or Kilkenny Bluff, and open communication with the fleet. General Howard had previously, by my direction, sent one of his best scouts down the Ogeechee in a canoe for a like purpose. But more than this was necessary. We wanted the vessels and their contents; and the Ogeechee River, a navigable stream, close to the rear of our camps, was the proper avenue of supply.
The enemy had burned the road bridge across the Ogeechee, just below the mouth of the Cannouchee, known as King’s Bridge. This was reconstructed in an incredibly short time, in the most substantial manner, by the Fifty-eighth Indiana (Colonel Buell), under the direction of Captain Reese, of the Engineer Corps, and on the morning of the 13th of December the Second Division of the Fifteenth Corps, under command of Brigadier-General Hazen, crossed the bridge to the west bank of the Ogeechee and marched down with orders to carry by assault Fort McAllister, a strong inclosed redoubt, manned by two companies of artillery and three of infantry, in all about 200 men, and mounting twenty-three guns in barbette and one mortar. General Hazen reached the vicinity of Fort McAllister about I p.m., deployed his division about the place, with both flanks resting upon the river, posted his skirmishers judiciously behind the trunks of trees, whose branches had been used for abatis, and about 5 p.m. assaulted the place with nine regiments at three points, all of them successfully. I witnessed the assault from a rice mill on the opposite bank of the river, and can bear testimony to the handsome manner in which it was accomplished.
Up to this time we had not communicated with our fleet. From the signal station at:the rice mill our officers had looked for two days over the rice fields and salt marsh in the direction of Ossabaw Sound, but could see nothing of it. But while watching the preparations for the assault on Fort McAllister we discovered in the distance what seemed to be the smoke-stack of a steamer, which became more and more distinct, until about the very moment of the assault she was plainly visible below the fort, and our signal was answered. As soon as I saw our colors fairly planted upon the walls of McAllister, in company with General Howard I went in a small boat down to the fort and met General Hazen, who had not yet communicated with the gun-boat below, as it was shut out to him by a point of timber. Determined to communicate that night, I got another small boat and a crew and pulled down the river till I found the tug Dandelion, Captain Williamson, U.S. Navy, who informed me that Captain Duncan, who had been sent by General Howard, had succeeded in reaching Admiral Dahlgren and General Foster, and that he was expecting them hourly in Ossabaw Sound. After making communications to those officers, and a short communication to the War Department, I returned to Fort McAllister that night, and before daylight was overtaken by Major Strong, of General Foster’s staff, advising me that General Foster had arrived in the Ogeechee, near Fort McAllister, and was very anxious to meet me on board his boat. I accordingly returned with him, and met General Foster on board the steamer Nemaha; and after consultation determined to proceed with him down the sound in hopes to meet Admiral Dahlgren. But we did not meet him until we reached Wassaw Sound, about noon. I there went on board the admiral’s flag-ship, the Harvest Moon, after having arranged with General Foster to send us from Hilton Head some siege ordnance and some boats suitable for navigating the Ogee-chee River. Admiral Dahlgren very kindly furnished me with all the data concerning his fleet and the numerous forts that guarded the inland channels between the sea and Savannah. I explained to him how completely Savannah was invested at all points, save only the plank road on the South Carolina shore, known as the Union Causeway, which I thought I could reach from my left flank across the Savannah River. I explained to him that if he would simply engage the attention of the forts along Wilmington Channel, at Beaulieu and Rosedew, I thought I could carry the defenses of Savannah by assault as soon as the heavy ordnance arrived from Hilton Head. On the 15th the admiral carried me back to Fort McAllister, whence I returned to our lines in the rear of Savannah.
Having received and carefully considered all the reports of division commanders, I determined to assault the lines of the enemy as soon as my heavy ordnance came from Port Royal, first making a formal demand for surrender. On the 17th, a number of 30-pounder Parrott guns having reached King’s Bridge, I proceeded in person to the headquarters of Major-General Slocum, on the Augusta road, and dispatched thence into Savannah, by flag of truce, a formal demand for the surrender of the place; and on the following day received an answer from General Hardee refusing to surrender.
In the meantime further reconnaissances from our left flank had demonstrated that it was impracticable or unwise to push any considerable force across the Savannah River, for the enemy held the river opposite the city with iron-clad gun-boats, and could destroy any pontoons laid down by us between Hutchinson’s Island and the South Carolina shore, which would isolate any force sent over from that flank. I therefore ordered General Slocum to get into position the siege guns, and make all the preparations necessary to assault, and to report to me the earliest moment when he could be ready, whilst I should proceed rapidly round by the right, and make arrangements to occupy the Union Causeway from the direction of Port Royal. General Foster had already established a division of troops on the peninsula or neck between the Coosawhatchie and Tullifinny Rivers, at the head of Broad River, from which position he could reach the railroad with his artillery. I went to Port Royal in person, and made arrangements to re-enforce that command by one or more divisions, under a proper officer, to assault and-carry the railroad, and thence turn toward Savannah until it occupied the causeway in question. I went on board the admiral’s flag-ship, the Harvest Moon, which put to sea the night of the 20th. But the wind was high, and increased during the night, so that the pilot judged Ossabaw Bar impassable, and ran into Tybee, whence we proceeded through the inland channels into Wassaw Sound, and thence through Romney Marsh. But the ebb tide caught the Harvest Moon and she was unable to make the passage. Admiral Dahlgren took me in his barge, and pulling in the direction of Vernon River we met the army tug Red Legs, bearing a message from my adjutant, Captain Dayton, of that morning, the 21st, to the effect that our troops were in possession of the enemy’s lines, and were advancing without opposition into Savannah, the enemy having evacuated the place during the previous night.
Admiral Dahlgren proceeded up the Vernon River in his barge, while I transferred to the tug, in which I proceeded to Fort McAllister, and thence to the rice mill, and on the morning of the 22d rode into the city of Savannah, already occupied by our troops.
I was very much disappointed that Hardee had escaped with his garrison, and had to content myself with the material fruits of victory without the cost of life which would have attended a general assault. The substantial results will be more clearly set forth in the tabular statements of heavy ordnance and other public property acquired. And it will suffice here to state that the important city of Savannah, with its valuable harbor and river, was the chief object of the campaign. With it we acquire all the forts and heavy ordnance in its vicinity, with large stores of ammunition, shot and shells, cotton, rice, and other valuable products of the country. We also gain locomotives and cars, which, though of little use to us in the present condition of the railroads, are a serious loss to the enemy; as well as four steam-boats gained, and the loss to the enemy of the iron-clad Savannah, one ram, and three transports, blown up or burned by them the night before.
Formal demand having been made for the surrender, and having been refused, I contend that everything within the line of intrenchments belongs to the United States, and I shall not hesitate to use it, if necessary, for public purposes. But inasmuch as the inhabitants generally have manifested a friendly disposition, I shall disturb them as little as possible consistently with the military rights of present and future military commanders, without remitting in the least our just rights as captors.
After having made the necessary orders for the disposition of the troops in and about Savannah, I ordered Capt. O. M. Poe, chief engineer, to make a thorough examination of the enemy’s works in and about Savannah, with a view to making it conform to our future uses. New lines of defenses will be built, embracing the city proper; Forts Jackson, Thunderbolt, and Pulaski retained, with slight modifications in their armament and rear defenses; all the rest of the enemy’s forts will be dismantled and destroyed, and their heavy ordnance transferred to Hilton Head, where it can be more easily guarded. Our base of supplies will be established in Savannah as soon as the very difficult obstructions placed in the river can be partially removed. These obstructions at present offer a very serious impediment to the commerce of Savannah, consisting of crib-work of logs and timber heavily bolted together, and filled with the cobble stones which formerly paved the streets of Savannah. All the channels below the city were found more or less filled with torpedoes, which have been removed by order of Admiral Dahlgren. So that Savannah already fulfills the important part it was designed in our plans for the future.
In thus sketching the course of events connected with this campaign, I have purposely passed lightly over the march from Atlanta to the seashore, because it was made in four or more columns, sometimes at a distance of fifteen or twenty miles from each other, and it was impossible for me to attend but one. Therefore, I have left it to the army and corps commanders to describe in their own language the events which attended the march of their respective columns. These reports are herewith submitted, and I beg to refer to them for further details. I would merely sum up the advantages which I conceive have accrued to us by this march.
Our former labors in North Georgia had demonstrated the truth that no large army, carrying with it the necessary stores and baggage, can overtake and capture an inferior force of the enemy in his own country. Therefore no alternative was left me but the one I adopted–namely, to divide my forces, and with the one part act offensively against the enemy’s resources, while with the other I should act defensively, and invite the enemy to attack, risking the chances of battle. In this conclusion I have been singularly sustained by the results. General Hood, who, as I have heretofore described, had moved to the westward near Tuscumbia, with a view to decoy me away from Georgia, finding himself mistaken, was forced to choose either to pursue me, or to act offensively against the other part left in Tennessee. He adopted the latter course; and General Thomas has wisely and well fulfilled his part of the grand scheme in drawing Hood well up into Tennessee until he could concentrate all his own troops and then turn upon Hood, as he has done, and destroy or fatally cripple his army. That part of my army is so far removed from me that I leave, with perfect confidence, its management and history to General Thomas.
I was thereby left with a well-appointed army to sever the enemy’s only remaining railroad communications eastward and westward, for over 100 miles–namely, the Georgia State Railroad, which is broken Up from Fairburn Station to Madison and the Oconee, and the Central Railroad, from Gordon clear to Savannah, with numerous breaks on the latter road from Gordon to Eatonton and from Millen to Augusta, and the Savannah Gulf Railroad. We have also 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 10,000 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 $100,000,000; at least, $20,000,000 of which has inured to our advantage, and the remainder is simple waste and destruction. This may seem a hard species of warfare, but it brings the sad realities of war home to those who have been directly or indirectly instrumental in involving us in its attendant calamities.
The campaign has also placed this branch of my army in a position from which other great military results may be attempted, besides leaving in Tennessee and North Alabama a force which is amply sufficient to meet all the chances of war in that region of our country.
Since the capture of Atlanta my staff is unchanged, save that General Barry, chief of artillery, has been absent, sick, since our leaving Kingston. Surgeon Moore, U.S. Army, is chief medical director, in place of Surgeon Kittoe, relieved to resume his proper duties as a medical inspector. Major Hitchcock, assistant adjutant-general, has also been added to my staff, and has been of great assistance in the field and office. Captain Dayton still remains as my adjutant-general. All have, as formerly, fulfilled their parts to my entire satisfaction.
In the body of my army I feel a just pride. Generals Howard and Slocum are gentlemen of singular capacity and intelligence, thorough soldiers and patriots, working day and night, not for themselves, but for their country and their men. General Kilpatrick, who commanded the cavalry of this army, has handled it with spirit and dash to my entire satisfaction, and kept a superior force of the enemy’s cavalry from even approaching our infantry columns or wagon trains. His report is full and graphic. All the division and brigade commanders merit my personal and official thanks, and I shall spare no efforts to secure them commissions equal to the rank they have exercised so well. As to the rank and file, they seem so full of confidence in themselves that I doubt if they want a compliment from me; but I must do them the justice to say that whether called on to fight, to march, to wade streams, to make roads, clear out obstructions, build bridges, make corduroy, or tear up railroads, they have done it with alacrity and a degree of cheerfulness unsurpassed. A little loose in foraging, they “did some things they ought not to have done,” yet, on the whole, they have supplied the wants of the army with as little violence as could be expected, and as little loss as I calculated. Some of these foraging parties had encounters with the enemy which would in ordinary times rank as respectable battles. The behavior of our troops in Savannah has been so manly, so quiet, so perfect, that I take it as the best evidence of discipline and true courage. Never was a hostile city, filled with women and children, occupied by a large army with less disorder, or more system, order, and good government. The same general and generous spirit of confidence and good feeling pervades the army which it has ever afforded me especial pleasure to report on former occasions.
I avail myself of this occasion to express my heartfelt thanks to Admiral Dahlgren and the officers and men of his fleet, as also to General Foster and his command, for the hearty welcome given us on our arrival at the coast, and for their ready and prompt co-operation in all measures tending to the result accomplished.
I send herewith a map of the country through which we have passed; reports from General Howard, General Slocum, and General Kilpatrick, and their subordinates, respectively, with the usual lists of captured property, killed, wounded, and missing, prisoners of war taken and rescued; as also copies of all papers illustrating the campaign.
All of which is respectfully submitted, by your obedient servant,
W. T. SHERMAN,
Maj. Gen. H. W. HALLECK,
Chief of Staff, Washington City, D. C.
Memoirs of General W.T. Sherman (Library of America)
By William T. Sherman
Official Records of the Union and Confederate Armies in the War of the Rebellion. Series I, Volume XLIV.