Memoirs of General W.T. Sherman


Text to Speech

and, catching my eye, he remarked sotto voce and carelessly to a

comrade, "Forage liberally on the country," quoting from my general

orders. On this occasion, as on many others that fell under my

personal observation, I reproved the man, explained that foraging

must be limited to the regular parties properly detailed, and that

all provisions thus obtained must be delivered to the regular

commissaries, to be fairly distributed to the men who kept their

ranks.

From Covington the Fourteenth Corps (Davis's), with which I was

traveling, turned to the right for Milledgeville, via Shady Dale.

General Slocum was ahead at Madison, with the Twentieth Corps,

having torn up the railroad as far as that place, and thence had

sent Geary's division on to the Oconee, to burn the bridges across

that stream, when this corps turned south by Eatonton, for

Milledgeville, the common "objective" for the first stage of the

"march." We found abundance of corn, molasses, meal, bacon, and

sweet-potatoes. We also took a good many cows and oxen, and a

large number of mules. In all these the country was quite rich,

never before having been visited by a hostile army; the recent crop

had been excellent, had been just gathered and laid by for the

winter. As a rule, we destroyed none, but kept our wagons full,

and fed our teams bountifully.

The skill and success of the men in collecting forage was one of

the features of this march. Each brigade commander had authority

to detail a company of foragers, usually about fifty men, with one

or two commissioned officers selected for their boldness and

enterprise. This party would be dispatched before daylight with a

knowledge of the intended day's march and camp; would proceed on

foot five or six miles from the route traveled by their brigade,

and then visit every plantation and farm within range. They would

usually procure a wagon or family carriage, load it with bacon,

corn-meal, turkeys, chickens, ducks, and every thing that could be

used as food or forage, and would then regain the main road,

usually in advance of their train. When this came up, they would

deliver to the brigade commissary the supplies thus gathered by the

way. Often would I pass these foraging-parties at the roadside,

waiting for their wagons to come up, and was amused at their

strange collections--mules, horses, even cattle, packed with old

saddles and loaded with hams, bacon, bags of cornmeal, and poultry

of every character and description. Although this foraging was

attended with great danger and hard work, there seemed to be a

charm about it that attracted the soldiers, and it was a privilege

to be detailed on such a party. Daily they returned mounted on all

sorts of beasts, which were at once taken from them and

appropriated to the general use; but the next day they would start

out again on foot, only to repeat the experience of the day before.

No doubt, many acts of pillage, robbery, and violence, were

committed by these parties of foragers, usually called "bummers;"

for I have since heard of jewelry taken from women, and the plunder

of articles that never reached the commissary; but these acts were

exceptional and incidental. I never heard of any cases of murder

or rape; and no army could have carried along sufficient food and

forage for a march of three hundred miles; so that foraging in some

shape was necessary. The country was sparsely settled, with no

magistrates or civil authorities who could respond to requisitions,

as is done in all the wars of Europe; so that this system of

foraging was simply indispensable to our success. By it our men

were well supplied with all the essentials of life and health,

while the wagons retained enough in case of unexpected delay, and

our animals were well fed. Indeed, when we reached Savannah, the

trains were pronounced by experts to be the finest in flesh and

appearance ever seen with any army.

Habitually each corps followed some main road, and the foragers,-

being kept out on the exposed flank, served all the military uses

of flankers. The main columns gathered, by the roads traveled,

much forage and food, chiefly meat, corn, and sweet-potatoes, and

it was the duty of each division and brigade quartermaster to fill

his wagons as fast as the contents were issued to the troops. The

wagon-trains had the right to the road always, but each wagon was

required to keep closed up, so as to leave no gaps in the column.

If for any purpose any wagon or group of wagons dropped out of

place, they had to wait for the rear. And this was always dreaded,

for each brigade commander wanted his train up at camp as soon

after reaching it with his men as possible.

I have seen much skill and industry displayed by these quarter-

masters on the march, in trying to load their wagons with corn and

fodder by the way without losing their place in column. They

would, while marching, shift the loads of wagons, so as to have six

or ten of them empty. Then, riding well ahead, they would secure

possession of certain stacks of fodder near the road, or cribs of

corn, leave some men in charge, then open fences and a road back

for a couple of miles, return to their trains, divert the empty

wagons out of column, and conduct them rapidly to their forage,

load up and regain their place in column without losing distance.

On one occasion I remember to have seen ten or a dozen wagons thus

loaded with corn from two or three full cribs, almost without

halting. These cribs were built of logs, and roofed. The

train-guard, by a lever, had raised the whole side of the crib a

foot or two; the wagons drove close alongside, and the men in the

cribs, lying on their backs, kicked out a wagon-load of corn in the

time I have taken to describe it.

In a well-ordered and well-disciplined army, these things might be

deemed irregular, but I am convinced that the ingenuity of these

younger officers accomplished many things far better than I could

have ordered, and the marches were thus made, and the distances

were accomplished, in the most admirable way. Habitually we

started from camp at the earliest break of dawn, and usually

reached camp soon after noon. The marches varied from ten to

fifteen miles a day, though sometimes on extreme flanks it was

necessary to make as much as twenty, but the rate of travel was

regulated by the wagons; and, considering the nature of the roads,

fifteen miles per day was deemed the limit.

The pontoon-trains were in like manner distributed in about equal

proportions to the four corps, giving each a section of about nine

hundred feet. The pontoons were of the skeleton pattern, with

cotton-canvas covers, each boat, with its proportion of balks and

cheeses, constituting a load for one wagon. By uniting two such

sections together, we could make a bridge of eighteen hundred feet,

enough for any river we had to traverse; but habitually the leading

brigade would, out of the abundant timber, improvise a bridge

before the pontoon-train could come up, unless in the cases of

rivers of considerable magnitude, such as the Ocmulgee, Oconee,

Ogeechee, Savannah, etc.

On the 20th of November I was still with the Fourteenth Corps, near

Eatonton Factory, waiting to hear of the Twentieth Corps; and on

the 21st we camped near the house of a man named Mann; the next

day, about 4 p.m., General Davis had halted his head of column on a

wooded ridge, overlooking an extensive slope of cultivated country,

about ten miles short of Milledgeville, and was deploying his

troops for camp when I got up. There was a high, raw wind blowing,

and I asked him why he had chosen so cold and bleak a position. He

explained that he had accomplished his full distance for the day,

and had there an abundance of wood and water. He explained further

that his advance-guard was a mile or so ahead; so I rode on, asking

him to let his rear division, as it came up, move some distance

ahead into the depression or valley beyond. Riding on some

distance to the border of a plantation, I turned out of the main

road into a cluster of wild-plum bushes, that broke the force of

the cold November wind, dismounted, and instructed the staff to

pick out the place for our camp.

The afternoon was unusually raw and cold. My orderly was at hand

with his invariable saddle-bags, which contained a change of

under-clothing, my maps, a flask of whiskey, and bunch of cigars.

Taking a drink and lighting a cigar, I walked to a row of

negro-huts close by, entered one and found a soldier or two warming

themselves by a wood-fire. I took their place by the fire,

intending to wait there till our wagons had got up, and a camp made

for the night. I was talking to the old negro woman, when some one

came and explained to me that, if I would come farther down the

road, I could find a better place. So I started on foot, and found

on the main road a good double-hewed-log house, in one room of

which Colonel Poe, Dr. Moore, and others, had started a fire. I

sent back orders to the "plum-bushes" to bring our horses and

saddles up to this house, and an orderly to conduct our headquarter

wagons to the same place. In looking around the room, I saw a

small box, like a candle-box, marked "Howell Cobb," and, on

inquiring of a negro, found that we were at the plantation of

General Howell Cobb, of Georgia, one of the leading rebels of the

South, then a general in the Southern army, and who had been

Secretary of the United States Treasury in Mr. Buchanan's time. Of

course, we confiscated his property, and found it rich in corn,

beans, pea-nuts, and sorghum-molasses. Extensive fields were all

round the house; I sent word back to General David to explain whose

plantation it was, and instructed him to spare nothing. That night

huge bonfires consumed the fence-rails, kept our soldiers warm, and

the teamsters and men, as well as the slaves, carried off an

immense quantity of corn and provisions of all sorts.

In due season the headquarter wagons came up, and we got supper.

After supper I sat on a chair astride, with my back to a good fire,

musing, and became conscious that an old negro, with a tallow-

candle in his hand, was scanning my face closely. I inquired,

"What do you want, old man!" He answered, "Dey say you is Massa

Sherman." I answered that such was the case, and inquired what he

wanted. He only wanted to look at me, and kept muttering, "Dis

nigger can't sleep dis night." I asked him why he trembled so, and

he said that he wanted to be sure that we were in fact "Yankees,"

for on a former occasion some rebel cavalry had put on light-blue

overcoats, personating Yankee troops, and many of the negroes were

deceived thereby, himself among the number had shown them sympathy,

and had in consequence been unmercifully beaten therefor. This

time he wanted to be certain before committing himself; so I told

him to go out on the porch, from which he could see the whole

horizon lit up with camp-fires, and he could then judge whether he

had ever seen any thing like it before. The old man became

convinced that the "Yankees" had come at last, about whom he had

been dreaming all his life; and some of the staff officers gave him

a strong drink of whiskey, which set his tongue going. Lieutenant

Spelling, who commanded my escort, was a Georgian, and recognized

in this old negro a favorite slave of his uncle, who resided about

six miles off; but the old slave did not at first recognize his

young master in our uniform. One of my staff-officers asked him

what had become of his young master, George. He did not know, only

that he had gone off to the war, and he supposed him killed, as a

matter of course. His attention was then drawn to Spelling's face,

when he fell on his knees and thanked God that he had found his

young master alive and along with the Yankees. Spelling inquired

all about his uncle and the family, asked my permission to go and

pay his uncle a visit, which I granted, of course, and the next

morning he described to me his visit. The uncle was not cordial,

by any means, to find his nephew in the ranks of the host that was

desolating the land, and Spelling came back, having exchanged his

tired horse for a fresher one out of his uncle's stables,

explaining that surely some of the "bummers" would have got the

horse had he not.

The next morning, November 23d, we rode into Milledgeville, the

capital of the State, whither the Twentieth Corps had preceded us;

and during that day the left wing was all united, in and around

Milledgeville. From the inhabitants we learned that some of

Kilpatrick's cavalry had preceded us by a couple of days, and that

all of the right wing was at and near Gordon, twelve miles off,

viz., the place where the branch railroad came to Milledgeville

from the Mason & Savannah road. The first stage of the journey

was, therefore, complete, and absolutely successful.

General Howard soon reported by letter the operations of his right

wing, which, on leaving Atlanta, had substantially followed the two

roads toward Mason, by Jonesboro' and McDonough, and reached the

Ocmulgee at Planters' Factory, which they crossed, by the aid of

the pontoon-train, during the 18th and 19th of November. Thence,

with the Seventeenth Corps (General Blair's) he (General Howard)

had marched via Monticello toward Gordon, having dispatched

Kilpatrick's cavalry, supported by the Fifteenth Corps

(Osterhaus's), to feign on Mason. Kilpatrick met the enemy's

cavalry about four miles out of Mason, and drove them rapidly back

into the bridge-defenses held by infantry. Kilpatrick charged

these, got inside the parapet, but could not hold it, and retired

to his infantry supports, near Griswold Station. The Fifteenth

Corps tore up the railroad-track eastward from Griswold, leaving

Charles R. Wood's division behind as a rear-guard-one brigade of

which was intrenched across the road, with some of Kilpatrick's

cavalry on the flanks. On the 22d of November General G. W. Smith,

with a division of troops, came out of Mason, attacked this brigade

(Walcutt's) in position, and was handsomely repulsed and driven

back into Mason. This brigade was in part armed with Spencer

repeating-rifles, and its fire was so rapid that General Smith

insists to this day that he encountered a whole division; but he is

mistaken; he was beaten by one brigade (Walcutt's), and made no

further effort to molest our operations from that direction.

General Walcutt was wounded in the leg, and had to ride the rest of

the distance to Savannah in a carriage.

Therefore, by the 23d, I was in Milledgeville with the left wing,

and was in full communication with the right wing at Gordon. The

people of Milledgeville remained at home, except the Governor

(Brown), the State officers, and Legislature, who had ignominiously

fled, in the utmost disorder and confusion; standing not on the

order of their going, but going at once--some by rail, some by

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