Memoirs of General W.T. Sherman

Text to Speech

fellow understood his danger, the ball (a thirty-two-pound round

shot) struck the ground, and rose in its first ricochet, caught the

negro under the right jaw, and literally carried away his head,

scattering blood and brains about. A soldier close by spread an

overcoat over the body, and we all concluded to get out of that

railroad-cut. Meantime, General Mower's division of the Seventeenth

Corps had crossed the canal to the right of the Louisville

road, and had found the line of parapet continuous; so at Savannah

we had again run up against the old familiar parapet, with its deep

ditches, canals, and bayous, full of water; and it looked as though

another siege was inevitable. I accordingly made a camp or bivouac

near the Louisville road, about five miles from Savannah, and

proceeded to invest the place closely, pushing forward

reconnoissances at every available point.

As soon as it was demonstrated that Savannah was well fortified,

with a good garrison, commanded by General William J. Hardee, a

competent soldier, I saw that the first step was to open

communication with our fleet, supposed to be waiting for us with

supplies and clothing in Ossabaw Sound.

General Howard had, some nights previously, sent one of his best

scouts, Captain Duncan, with two men, in a canoe, to drift past

Fort McAllister, and to convey to the fleet a knowledge of our

approach. General Kilpatrick's cavalry had also been transferred

to the south bank of the Ogeechee, with orders to open

communication with the fleet. Leaving orders with General Slocum

to press the siege, I instructed General Howard to send a division

with all his engineers to Grog's Bridge, fourteen and a half miles

southwest from Savannah, to rebuild it. On the evening of the 12th

I rode over myself, and spent the night at Mr. King's house, where

I found General Howard, with General Hazen's division of the

Fifteenth Corps. His engineers were hard at work on the bridge,

which they finished that night, and at sunrise Hazen's division

passed over. I gave General Hazen, in person, his orders to march

rapidly down the right bank of the Ogeechee, and without hesitation

to assault and carry Fort McAllister by storm. I knew it to be

strong in heavy artillery, as against an approach from the sea, but

believed it open and weak to the rear. I explained to General

Hazen, fully, that on his action depended the safety of the whole

army, and the success of the campaign. Kilpatrick had already felt

the fort, and had gone farther down the coast to Kilkenny Bluff, or

St. Catharine's Sound, where, on the same day, he had communication

with a vessel belonging to the blockading fleet; but, at the time,

I was not aware of this fact, and trusted entirely to General Hazen

and his division of infantry, the Second of the Fifteenth Corps,

the same old division which I had commanded at Shiloh and

Vicksburg, in which I felt a special pride and confidence.

Having seen General Hazen fairly off, accompanied by General

Howard, I rode with my staff down the left bank of the Ogeechee,

ten miles to the rice-plantation of a Mr. Cheevea, where General

Howard had established a signal-station to overlook the lower

river, and to watch for any vessel of the blockading squadron,

which the negroes reported to be expecting us, because they nightly

sent up rockets, and daily dispatched a steamboat up the Ogeechee

as near to Fort McAllister as it was safe.

On reaching the rice-mill at Cheevea's, I found a guard and a

couple of twenty-pound Parrott gone, of De Gres's battery, which

fired an occasional shot toward Fort McAllister, plainly seen over

the salt-marsh, about three miles distant. Fort McAllister had the

rebel flag flying, and occasionally sent a heavy shot back across

the marsh to where we were, but otherwise every thing about the

place looked as peaceable and quiet as on the Sabbath.

The signal-officer had built a platform on the ridge-pole of

the rice-mill. Leaving our horses behind the stacks of rice-straw,

we all got on the roof of a shed attached to the mill, wherefrom I

could communicate with the signal-officer above, and at the same

time look out toward Ossabaw Sound, and across the Ogeechee River

at Fort McAllister. About 2 p.m. we observed signs of commotion

in the fort, and noticed one or two guns fired inland, and some

musket-skirmishing in the woods close by.

This betokened the approach of Hazen's division, which had been

anxiously expected, and soon thereafter the signal-officer

discovered about three miles above the fort a signal-flag, with

which he conversed, and found it to belong to General Hazen, who

was preparing to assault the fort, and wanted to know if I were

there. On being assured of this fact, and that I expected the fort

to be carried before night, I received by signal the assurance of

General Hazen that he was making his preparations, and would soon

attempt the assault. The sun was rapidly declining, and I was

dreadfully impatient. At that very moment some one discovered a

faint cloud of smoke, and an object gliding, as it were, along the

horizon above the tops of the sedge toward the sea, which little by

little grew till it was pronounced to be the smoke-stack of a

steamer coming up the river. "It must be one of our squadron!"

Soon the flag of the United States was plainly visible, and our

attention was divided between this approaching steamer and the

expected assault. When the sun was about an hour high, another

signal-message came from General Hazen that he was all ready, and I

replied to go ahead, as a friendly steamer was approaching from

below. Soon we made out a group of officers on the deck of this

vessel, signaling with a flag, "Who are you!" The answer went back

promptly, "General Sherman." Then followed the question, "Is Fort

McAllister taken?" "Not yet, but it will be in a minute!" Almost

at that instant of time, we saw Hazen's troops come out of the dark

fringe of woods that encompassed the fort, the lines dressed as on

parade, with colors flying, and moving forward with a quick, steady

pace. Fort McAllister was then all alive, its big guns belching

forth dense clouds of smoke, which soon enveloped our assaulting

lines. One color went down, but was up in a moment. On the lines

advanced, faintly seen in the white, sulphurous smoke; there was a

pause, a cessation of fire; the smoke cleared away, and the

parapets were blue with our men, who fired their muskets in the

air, and shouted so that we actually heard them, or felt that we

did. Fort McAllister was taken, and the good news was instantly

sent by the signal-officer to our navy friends on the approaching

gunboat, for a point of timber had shut out Fort McAllister from

their view, and they had not seen the action at all, but must have

heard the cannonading.

During the progress of the assault, our little group on Cheeves's

mill hardly breathed; but no sooner did we see our flags on the

parapet than I exclaimed, in the language of the poor negro at

Cobb's plantation, "This nigger will have no sleep this night!"

I was resolved to communicate with our fleet that night, which

happened to be a beautiful moonlight one. At the wharf belonging

to Cheeves's mill was a small skiff, that had been used by our men

in fishing or in gathering oysters. I was there in a minute,

called for a volunteer crew, when several young officers, Nichols

and Merritt among the number; said they were good oarsmen, and

volunteered to pull the boat down to Fort McAllister. General

Howard asked to accompany me; so we took seats in the stern of the

boat, and our crew of officers pulled out with a will. The tide

was setting in strong, and they had a hard pull, for, though the

distance was but three miles in an air-line, the river was so

crooked that the actual distance was fully six miles. On the way

down we passed the wreck of a steamer which had been sunk some

years before, during a naval attack on Fort McAllister.

Night had fairly set in when we discovered a soldier on the beach.

I hailed him, and inquired if he knew where General Hazen was. He

answered that the general was at the house of the overseer of the

plantation (McAllister's), and that he could guide me to it. We

accordingly landed, tied our boat to a driftlog, and followed our

guide through bushes to a frame-house, standing in a grove of

live-oaks, near a row of negro quarters.

General Hazen was there with his staff, in the act of getting

supper; he invited us to join them, which we accepted promptly, for

we were really very hungry. Of course, I congratulated Hazen most

heartily on his brilliant success, and praised its execution very

highly, as it deserved, and he explained to me more in detail the

exact results. The fort was an inclosed work, and its land-front

was in the nature of a bastion and curtains, with good parapet,

ditch, fraise, and chevaux-de-frise, made out of the large branches

of live-oaks. Luckily, the rebels had left the larger and unwieldy

trunks on the ground, which served as a good cover for the

skirmish-line, which crept behind these logs, and from them kept

the artillerists from loading and firing their guns accurately.

The assault had been made by three parties in line, one from below,

one from above the fort, and the third directly in rear, along the

capital. All were simultaneous, and had to pass a good abatis and

line of torpedoes, which actually killed more of the assailants

than the heavy guns of the fort, which generally overshot the mark.

Hazen's entire loss was reported, killed and wounded, ninety-two.

Each party reached the parapet about the same time, and the

garrison inside, of about two hundred and fifty men (about fifty of

them killed or wounded), were in his power. The commanding

officer, Major Anderson, was at that moment a prisoner, and

General Hazen invited him in to take supper with us, which he did.

Up to this time General Hazen did not know that a gunboat was in

the river below the fort; for it was shut off from sight by a point

of timber, and I was determined to board her that night, at

whatever risk or cost, as I wanted some news of what was going on

in the outer world. Accordingly, after supper, we all walked down

to the fort, nearly a mile from the house where we had been,

entered Fort McAllister, held by a regiment of Hazen's troops, and

the sentinel cautioned us to be very careful, as the ground outside

the fort was full of torpedoes. Indeed, while we were there, a

torpedo exploded, tearing to pieces a poor fellow who was hunting

for a dead comrade. Inside the fort lay the dead as they had

fallen, and they could hardly be distinguished from their living

comrades, sleeping soundly side by side in the pale moonlight. In

the river, close by the fort, was a good yawl tied to a stake, but

the tide was high, and it required some time to get it in to the

bank; the commanding officer, whose name I cannot recall, manned

the boat with a good crew of his men, and, with General Howard, I

entered, and pulled down-stream, regardless of the warnings all

about the torpedoes.

The night was unusually bright, and we expected to find the gunboat

within a mile or so; but, after pulling down the river fully three

miles, and not seeing the gunboat, I began to think she had turned

and gone back to the sound; but we kept on, following the bends of

the river, and about six miles below McAllister we saw her light,

and soon were hailed by the vessel at anchor. Pulling alongside,

we announced ourselves, and were received with great warmth and

enthusiasm on deck by half a dozen naval officers, among them

Captain Williamson, United States Navy. She proved to be the

Dandelion, a tender of the regular gunboat Flag, posted at the

mouth of the Ogeechee. All sorts of questions were made and

answered, and we learned that Captain Duncan had safely reached the

squadron, had communicated the good news of our approach, and they

had been expecting us for some days. They explained that Admiral

Dahlgren commanded the South-Atlantic Squadron, which was then

engaged in blockading the coast from Charleston south, and was on

his flag-ship, the Harvest Moon, lying in Wassaw Sound; that

General J. G. Foster was in command of the Department of the South,

with his headquarters at Hilton Head; and that several ships loaded

with stores for the army were lying in Tybee Roads and in Port

Royal Sound. From these officers I also learned that General Grant

was still besieging Petersburg and Richmond, and that matters and

things generally remained pretty much the same as when we had left

Atlanta. All thoughts seemed to have been turned to us in Georgia,

cut off from all communication with our friends; and the rebel

papers had reported us to be harassed, defeated, starving, and

fleeing for safety to the coast. I then asked for pen and paper,

and wrote several hasty notes to General Foster, Admiral Dahlgren,

General Grant, and the Secretary of War, giving in general terms

the actual state of affairs, the fact of the capture of Fort

McAllister, and of my desire that means should be taken to

establish a line of supply from the vessels in port up the Ogeechee

to the rear of the army. As a sample, I give one of these notes,

addressed to the Secretary of War, intended for publication to

relieve the anxiety of our friends at the North generally:

ON BOARD DANDELION, OSSABAW SOUND, December 13, 1864--11.50 p.m.

To Hon. E. M. STANTON, Secretary of War, Washington, D. C.:

To-day, at 6 p. m., General Hazen's division of the Fifteenth Corps

carried Fort McAllister by assault, capturing its entire garrison

and stores. This opened to us Ossabaw Sound, and I pushed down to

this gunboat to communicate with the fleet. Before opening

communication we had completely destroyed all the railroads leading

into Savannah, and invested the city. The left of the army is on

the Savannah River three miles above the city, and the right on the

Ogeechee, at King's Bridge. The army is in splendid order, and

equal to any thing. The weather has been fine, and supplies were

abundant. Our march was most agreeable, and we were not at all

molested by guerrillas.

We reached Savannah three days ago, but, owing to Fort McAllister,

could not communicate; but, now that we have McAllister, we can go


We have already captured two boats on the Savannah river and

prevented their gunboats from coming down.

I estimate the population of Savannah at twenty-five thousand, and

the garrison at fifteen thousand. General Hardee commands.

We have not lost a wagon on the trip; but have gathered a large

supply of negroes, mules, horses, etc., and our teams are in far

better condition than when we started.

My first duty will be to clear the army of surplus negroes, mules,

and horses. We have utterly destroyed over two hundred miles of

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