Memoirs of General W.T. Sherman


Text to Speech

field. To resist or delay our progress north, General Wheeler had

his division of cavalry (reduced to the size of a brigade by his

hard and persistent fighting ever since the beginning of the

Atlanta campaign), and General Wade Hampton had been dispatched

from the Army of Virginia to his native State of South Carolina,

with a great flourish of trumpets, and extraordinary powers to

raise men, money, and horses, with which "to stay the progress of

the invader," and "to punish us for our insolent attempt to invade

the glorious State of South Carolina!" He was supposed at the time

to have, at and near Columbia, two small divisions of cavalry

commanded by himself and General Butler.

Of course, I had a species of contempt for these scattered and

inconsiderable forces, knew that they could hardly delay us an

hour; and the only serious question that occurred to me was, would

General Lee sit down in Richmond (besieged by General Grant), and

permit us, almost unopposed, to pass through the States of South

and North Carolina, cutting off and consuming the very supplies on

which he depended to feed his army in Virginia, or would he make an

effort to escape from General Grant, and endeavor to catch us

inland somewhere between Columbia and Raleigh? I knew full well at

the time that the broken fragments of Hood's army (which had

escaped from Tennessee) were being hurried rapidly across Georgia,

by Augusta, to make junction in my front; estimating them at the

maximum twenty-five thousand men, and Hardee's, Wheeler's, and

Hampton's forces at fifteen thousand, made forty thousand; which,

if handled with spirit and energy, would constitute a formidable

force, and might make the passage of such rivers as the Santee and

Cape Fear a difficult undertaking. Therefore, I took all possible

precautions, and arranged with Admiral Dahlgren and General Foster

to watch our progress inland by all the means possible, and to

provide for us points of security along the coast; as, at Bull's

Bay, Georgetown, and the mouth of Cape Fear River. Still, it was

extremely desirable in one march to reach Goldsboro' in the State

of North Carolina (distant four hundred and twenty-five miles), a

point of great convenience for ulterior operations, by reason of

the two railroads which meet there, coming from the seacoast at

Wilmington and Newbern. Before leaving Savannah I had sent to

Newbern Colonel W. W. Wright, of the Engineers, with orders to look

to these railroads, to collect rolling-stock, and to have the roads

repaired out as far as possible in six weeks--the time estimated as

necessary for us to march that distance.

The question of supplies remained still the one of vital

importance, and I reasoned that we might safely rely on the country

for a considerable quantity of forage and provisions, and that, if

the worst came to the worst, we could live several months on the

mules and horses of our trains. Nevertheless, time was equally

material, and the moment I heard that General Slocum had finished

his pontoon-bridge at Sister's Ferry, and that Kilpatrick's cavalry

was over the river, I gave the general orders to march, and

instructed all the columns to aim for the South Carolina Railroad

to the west of Branchville, about Blackville and Midway.

The right wing moved up the Salkiehatchie, the Seventeenth Corps on

the right, with orders on reaching Rivers's Bridge to cross over,

and the Fifteenth Corps by Hickory Hill to Beaufort's Bridge.

Kilpatrick was instructed to march by way of Barnwell; Corse's

division and the Twentieth Corps to take such roads as would bring

them into communication with the Fifteenth Corps about Beaufort's

Bridge. All these columns started promptly on the 1st of February.

We encountered Wheeler's cavalry, which had obstructed the road by

felling trees, but our men picked these up and threw them aside, so

that this obstruction hardly delayed us an hour. In person I

accompanied the Fifteenth Corps (General Logan) by McPhersonville

and Hickory Hill, and kept couriers going to and fro to General

Slocum with instructions to hurry as much as possible, so as to

make a junction of the whole army on the South Carolina Railroad

about Blackville.

I spent the night of February 1st at Hickory Hill Post-Office, and

that of the 2d at Duck Branch Post-Office, thirty-one miles out

from Pocotaligo. On the 3d the Seventeenth Corps was opposite

Rivers's Bridge, and the Fifteenth approached Beaufort's Bridge.

The Salkiehatchie was still over its banks, and presented a most

formidable obstacle. The enemy appeared in some force on the

opposite bank, had cut away all the bridges which spanned the many

deep channels of the swollen river, and the only available passage

seemed to be along the narrow causeways which constituted the

common roads. At Rivers's Bridge Generals Mower and Giles A.

Smith led, their heads of column through this swamp, the water up

to their shoulders, crossed over to the pine-land, turned upon the

rebel brigade which defended the passage, and routed it in utter

disorder. It was in this attack that General Wager Swayne lost his

leg, and he had to be conveyed back to Pocotaligo. Still, the loss

of life was very small, in proportion to the advantages gained, for

the enemy at once abandoned the whole line of the Salkiehatchie,

and the Fifteenth Corps passed over at Beaufort's Bridge, without

opposition.

On the 5th of February I was at Beaufort's Bridge, by which time

General A. S. Williams had got up with five brigades' of the

Twentieth Corps; I also heard of General Kilpatrick's being abreast

of us, at Barnwell, and then gave orders for the march straight for

the railroad at Midway. I still remained with the Fifteenth Corps,

which, on the 6th of February, was five miles from Bamberg. As a

matter of course, I expected severe resistance at this railroad,

for its loss would sever all the communications of the enemy in

Charleston with those in Augusta.

Early on the 7th, in the midst of a rain-storm, we reached the

railroad; almost unopposed, striking it at several points. General

Howard told me a good story concerning this, which will bear

repeating: He was with the Seventeenth Corps, marching straight for

Midway, and when about five miles distant he began to deploy the

leading division, so as to be ready for battle. Sitting on his

horse by the road-side, while the deployment was making, he saw a

man coming down the road, riding as hard as he could, and as he

approached he recognized him as one of his own "foragers," mounted

on a white horse, with a rope bridle and a blanket for saddle. As

he came near he called out, "Hurry up, general; we have got the

railroad!" So, while we, the generals, were proceeding

deliberately to prepare for a serious battle, a parcel of our

foragers, in search of plunder, had got ahead and actually captured

the South Carolina Railroad, a line of vital importance to the

rebel Government.

As soon as we struck the railroad, details of men were set to work

to tear up the rails, to burn the ties and twist the bars. This

was a most important railroad, and I proposed to destroy it

completely for fifty miles, partly to prevent a possibility of its

restoration and partly to utilize the time necessary for General

Slocum to get up.

The country thereabouts was very poor, but the inhabitants mostly

remained at home. Indeed, they knew not where to go. The enemy's

cavalry had retreated before us, but his infantry was reported in

some strength at Branchville, on the farther side of the Edisto;

yet on the appearance of a mere squad of our men they burned their

own bridges the very thing I wanted, for we had no use for them,

and they had.

We all remained strung along this railroad till the 9th of

February--the Seventeenth Corps on the right, then the Fifteenth,

Twentieth, and cavalry, at Blackville. General Slocum reached

Blackville that day, with Geary's division of the Twentieth Corps,

and reported the Fourteenth Corps (General Jeff. C. Davis's) to be

following by way of Barnwell. On the 10th I rode up to Blackville,

where I conferred with Generals Slocum and Kilpatrick, became

satisfied that the whole army would be ready within a day, and

accordingly made orders for the next movement north to Columbia,

the right wing to strike Orangeburg en route. Kilpatrick was

ordered to demonstrate strongly toward Aiken, to keep up the

delusion that we might turn to Augusta; but he was notified that

Columbia was the next objective, and that he should cover the left

flank against Wheeler, who hung around it. I wanted to reach

Columbia before any part of Hood's army could possibly get there.

Some of them were reported as having reached Augusta, under the

command of General Dick Taylor.

Having sufficiently damaged the railroad, and effected the junction

of the entire army, the general march was resumed on the 11th, each

corps crossing the South Edisto by separate bridges, with orders to

pause on the road leading from Orangeberg to Augusta, till it was

certain that the Seventeenth Corps had got possession of

Orangeburg. This place was simply important as its occupation

would sever the communications between Charleston and Columbia.

All the heads of column reached this road, known as the Edgefield

road, during the 12th, and the Seventeenth Corps turned to the

right, against Orangeburg. When I reached the head of column

opposite Orangeburg, I found Giles A. Smith's division halted, with

a battery unlimbered, exchanging shots with a party on the opposite

side of the Edisto. He reported that the bridge was gone, and that

the river was deep and impassable. I then directed General Blair

to send a strong division below the town, some four or five miles,

to effect a crossing there. He laid his pontoon-bridge, but the

bottom on the other side was overflowed, and the men had to wade

through it, in places as deep as their waists. I was with this

division at the time, on foot, trying to pick my way across the

overflowed bottom; but, as soon as the head of column reached the

sand-hills, I knew that the enemy would not long remain in

Orangeburg, and accordingly returned to my horse, on the west bank,

and rode rapidly up to where I had left Giles A. Smith. I found

him in possession of the broken bridge, abreast of the town, which

he was repairing, and I was among the first to cross over and enter

the town. By and before the time either Force's or Giles A.

Smith's skirmishers entered the place, several stores were on fire,

and I am sure that some of the towns-people told me that a Jew

merchant had set fire to his own cotton and store, and from this

the fire had spread. This, however, was soon put out, and the

Seventeenth Corps (General Blair) occupied the place during that

night. I remember to have visited a large hospital, on the hill

near the railroad depot, which was occupied by the orphan children

who had been removed from the asylum in Charleston. We gave them

protection, and, I think, some provisions. The railroad and depot

were destroyed by order, and no doubt a good deal of cotton was

burned, for we all regarded cotton as hostile property, a thing to

be destroyed. General Blair was ordered to break up this railroad,

forward to the point where it crossed the Santee, and then to turn

for Columbia. On the morning of the 13th I again joined the

Fifteenth Corps, which crossed the North Edisto by Snilling's

Bridge, and moved straight for Columbia, around the head of Caw-Caw

Swamp. Orders were sent to all the columns to turn for Columbia,

where it was supposed the enemy had concentrated all the men they

could from Charleston, Augusta, and even from Virginia. That night

I was with the Fifteenth Corps, twenty-one miles from Columbia,

where my aide, Colonel Audenried, picked up a rebel officer on the

road, who, supposing him to be of the same service with himself,

answered all his questions frankly, and revealed the truth that

there was nothing in Columbia except Hampton's cavalry. The fact

was, that General Hardee, in Charleston, took it for granted that

we were after Charleston; the rebel troops in Augusta supposed they

were "our objective;" so they abandoned poor Columbia to the care

of Hampton's cavalry, which was confused by the rumors that poured

in on it, so that both Beauregard and Wade Hampton, who were in

Columbia, seem to have lost their heads.

On the 14th the head of the Fifteenth Corps, Charles R. Woods's

division, approached the Little Congaree, a broad, deep stream,

tributary to the Main Congaree; six or eight miles below Columbia.

On the opposite side of this stream was a newly-constructed fort,

and on our side--a wide extent of old cottonfields, which, had been

overflowed, and was covered with a deep slime. General Woods had

deployed his leading brigade, which was skirmishing forward, but he

reported that the bridge was gone, and that a considerable force of

the enemy was on the other side. I directed General Howard or

Logan to send a brigade by a circuit to the left, to see if this

stream could not be crossed higher up, but at the same time knew

that General Slocum's route world bring him to Colombia behind this

stream, and that his approach would uncover it. Therefore, there

was no need of exposing much life. The brigade, however, found

means to cross the Little Congaree, and thus uncovered the passage

by the main road, so that General Woods's skirmishers at once

passed over, and a party was set to work to repair the bridge,

which occupied less than an hour, when I passed over with my whole

staff. I found the new fort unfinished and unoccupied, but from

its parapet could see over some old fields bounded to the north and

west by hills skirted with timber. There was a plantation to our

left, about half a mile, and on the edge of the timber was drawn up

a force of rebel cavalry of about a regiment, which advanced, and

charged upon some, of our foragers, who were plundering the

plantation; my aide, Colonel Audenried, who had ridden forward,

came back somewhat hurt and bruised, for, observing this charge of

cavalry, he had turned for us, and his horse fell with him in

attempting to leap a ditch. General Woods's skirmish-line met this

charge of cavalry, and drove it back into the woods and beyond. We

remained on that ground during the night of the 15th, and I camped

on the nearest dry ground behind the Little Congaree, where on the

next morning were made the written' orders for the government of

the troops while occupying Columbia. These are dated February 16,

1865, in these words:

General Howard will cross the Saluda and Broad Rivers as near their

mouths as possible, occupy Columbia, destroy the public buildings,

railroad property, manufacturing and machine shops; but will spare

libraries, asylums, and private dwellings. He will then move to

Winnsboro', destroying en route utterly that section of the

railroad. He will also cause all bridges, trestles, water-tanks,

and depots on the railroad back to the Wateree to be burned,

switches broken, and such other destruction as he can find time to

accomplish consistent with proper celerity.

These instructions were embraced in General Order No. 26, which

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