Memoirs of General W.T. Sherman

Text to Speech

am confirmed in the belief that the route to which he refers (the

Union Plank-road on the South Carolina shore) is inadequate to feed

his army and the people of Savannah, and General Foster assures me

that he has his force on that very road, near the head of Broad

River, so that cars no longer run between Charleston and Savannah.

We hold this end of the Charleston Railroad, and have destroyed it

from the three-mile post back to the bridge (about twelve miles).

In anticipation of leaving this country, I am continuing the

destruction of their railroads, and at this moment have two

divisions and the cavalry at work breaking up the Gulf Railroad

from the Ogeechee to the Altamaha; so that, even if I do not take

Savannah, I will leave it in a bad way. But I still hope that

events will give me time to take Savannah, even if I have to

assault with some loss. I am satisfied that, unless we take it,

the gunboats never will, for they can make no impression upon the

batteries which guard every approach from the sea. I have a faint

belief that, when Colonel Babcock reaches you, you will delay

operations long enough to enable me to succeed here. With Savannah

in our possession, at some future time if not now, we can punish

South Carolina as she deserves, and as thousands of the people in

Georgia hoped we would do. I do sincerely believe that the whole

United States, North and South, would rejoice to have this army

turned loose on South Carolina, to devastate that State in the

manner we have done in Georgia, and it would have a direst and

immediate bearing on your campaign in Virginia.

I have the honor to be your obedient servant,

W. T. SHERMAN, Major-General United States Army.

As soon as the army had reached Savannah, and had opened

communication with the fleet, I endeavored to ascertain what had

transpired in Tennessee since our departure. We received our

letters and files of newspapers, which contained full accounts of

all the events there up to about the 1st of December. As before

described, General Hood had three full corps of infantry--S. D.

Lee's, A. P. Stewart's, and Cheatham's, at Florence, Alabama--with

Forrest's corps of cavalry, numbering in the aggregate about forty-

five thousand men. General Thomas was in Nashville, Tennessee,

quietly engaged in reorganizing his army out of the somewhat broken

forces at his disposal. He had posted his only two regular corps,

the Fourth and Twenty-third, under the general command of Major-

General J. M. Sohofield, at Pulaski, directly in front of

Florence, with the three brigades of cavalry (Hatch, Croxton, and

Capron), commanded by Major-General Wilson, watching closely for

Hood's initiative.

This force aggregated about thirty thousand men, was therefore

inferior to the enemy; and General Schofield was instructed, in

case the enemy made a general advance, to fall back slowly toward

Nashville, fighting, till he should be reenforced by General Thomas

in person. Hood's movement was probably hurried by reason of my

advance into Georgia; for on the 17th his infantry columns marched

from Florence in the direction of Waynesboro', turning, Schofield's

position at Pulaski. The latter at once sent his trains to the

rear, and on the 21st fell back to Columbia, Tennessee. General

Hood followed up this movement, skirmished lightly with Schofield

at Columbia, began the passage of Duck River, below the town, and

Cheatham's corps reached the vicinity of Spring Hill, whither

General Schofield had sent General Stanley, with two of his

divisions, to cover the movement of his trains. During the night

of November 29th General Schofield passed Spring Hill with his

trains and army, and took post at Franklin, on the south aide of

Harpeth River. General Hood now attaches serious blame to General

Cheatham for not attacking General Schofield in flank while in

motion at Spring Hill, for he was bivouacked within eight hundred

yards of the road at the time of the passage of our army. General

Schofield reached Franklin on the morning of November 30th, and

posted his army in front of the town, where some

rifle-intrenchments had been constructed in advance. He had the

two corps of Stanley and Cox (Fourth and Twenty-third), with

Wilson's cavalry on his flanks, and sent his trains behind the


General Hood closed upon him the same day, and assaulted his

position with vehemence, at one time breaking the line and wounding

General Stanley seriously; but our men were veterans, cool and

determined, and fought magnificently. The rebel officers led their

men in person to the several persistent assaults, continuing the

battle far into the night, when they drew off, beaten and


Their loss was very severe, especially in general officers; among

them Generals Cleburn and Adams, division commanders. Hood's loss

on that day was afterward ascertained to be (Thomas's report):

Buried on the field, seventeen hundred and fifty; left in hospital

at Franklin, thirty-eight hundred; and seven hundred and two

prisoners captured and held: aggregate, six thousand two hundred

and fifty-two. General Schofields lose, reported officially, was

one hundred and eighty-nine killed, one thousand and thirty-three

wounded, and eleven hundred and four prisoners or missing:

aggregate, twenty-three hundred and twenty-six. The next day

General Schofield crossed the Harpeth without trouble, and fell

back to the defenses of Nashville.

Meantime General Thomas had organized the employees of the

Quartermaster's Department into a corps, commanded by the chief-

quartermaster, General J. Z. Donaldson, and placed them in the

fortifications of Nashville, under the general direction of

Major-General Z. B. Tower, now of the United States Engineers. He

had also received the two veteran divisions of the Sixteenth Corps,

under General A. J. Smith, long absent and long expected; and he

had drawn from Chattanooga and Decatur (Alabama) the divisions of

Steedman and of R. S. Granger. These, with General Schofields army

and about ten thousand good cavalry, under General J. H. Wilson,

constituted a strong army, capable not only of defending Nashville,

but of beating Hood in the open field. Yet Thomas remained inside

of Nashville, seemingly passive, until General Hood had closed upon

him and had entrenched his position.

General Thomas had furthermore held fast to the railroad leading

from Nashville to Chattanooga, leaving strong guards at its

principal points, as at Murfreesboro', Deckerd, Stevenson,

Bridgeport, Whitesides, and Chattanooga. At Murfreesboro' the

division of Rousseau was reenforced and strengthened up to about

eight thousand men.

At that time the weather was cold and sleety, the ground was

covered with ice and snow, and both parties for a time rested on

the defensive. Those matters stood at Nashville, while we were

closing down on Savannah, in the early part of December, 1864; and

the country, as well as General Grant, was alarmed at the seeming

passive conduct of General Thomas; and General Grant at one time

considered the situation so dangerous that he thought of going to

Nashville in person, but General John A. Logan, happening to be at

City Point, was sent out to supersede General Thomas; luckily for

the latter, he acted in time, gained a magnificent victory, and

thus escaped so terrible a fate.

On the 18th of December, at my camp by the side of the plank-road,

eight miles back of Savannah, I received General Hardee's letter

declining to surrender, when nothing remained but to assault. The

ground was difficult, and, as all former assaults had proved so

bloody, I concluded to make one more effort to completely surround

Savannah on all aides, so as further to excite Hardee's fears, and,

in case of success, to capture the whole of his army. We had

already completely invested the place on the north, west, and

south, but there remained to the enemy, on the east, the use of the

old dike or plank-road leading into South Carolina, and I knew that

Hardee would have a pontoon-bridge across the river. On examining

my maps, I thought that the division of John P. Hatch, belonging to

General Fosters command, might be moved from its then position at

Broad River, by water, down to Bluffton, from which it could reach

this plank-road, fortify and hold it--at some risk, of course,

because Hardee could avail himself of his central position to fall

on this detachment with his whole army. I did not want to make a

mistake like "Ball's Bluff" at that period of the war; so, taking

one or two of my personal staff, I rode back to Grog's Bridge,

leaving with Generals Howard and Slocun: orders to make all

possible preparations, but not to attack, during my two or three

days' absence; and there I took a boat for Wassaw Sound, whence

Admiral Dahlgren conveyed me in his own boat (the Harvest Moon) to

Hilton Head, where I represented the matter to General Foster, and

he promptly agreed to give his personal attention to it. During

the night of the 20th we started back, the wind blowing strong,

Admiral Dahlgren ordered the pilot of the Harvest Moon to run into

Tybee, and to work his way through to Wassaw Sound and the Ogeechee

River by the Romney Marshes. We were caught by a low tide and

stuck in the mud. After laboring some time, the admiral ordered

out his barge; in it we pulled through this intricate and shallow

channel, and toward evening of December 21st we discovered, coming

toward us, a tug, called the Red Legs, belonging to the Quarter-

master's Department, with a staff-officer on board, bearing letters

from Colonel Dayton to myself and the admiral, reporting that the

city of Savannah had been found evacuated on the morning of

December 21st, and was then in our possession. General Hardee had

crossed the Savannah River by a pontoon-bridge, carrying off his

men and light artillery, blowing up his iron-clads and navy-yard,

but leaving for us all the heavy guns, stores, cotton, railway-

cars, steamboats, and an immense amount of public and private

property. Admiral Dahlgren concluded to go toward a vessel (the

Sonoma) of his blockading fleet, which lay at anchor near Beaulieu,

and I transferred to the Red Legs, and hastened up the Ogeechee

River to Grog's Bridge, whence I rode to my camp that same night.

I there learned that, early on the morning of December 21st, the

skirmishers had detected the absence of the enemy, and had occupied

his lines simultaneously along their whole extent; but the left

flank (Slocum), especially Geary's division of the Twentieth Corps,

claimed to have been the first to reach the heart of the city.

Generals Slocum and Howard moved their headquarters at once into

the city, leaving the bulk of their troops in camps outside. On

the morning of December 22d I followed with my own headquarters,

and rode down Bull Street to the custom-house, from the roof of

which we had an extensive view over the city, the river, and the

vast extent of marsh and rice-fields on the South Carolina side.

The navy-yard, and the wreck of the iron-clad ram Savannah, were

still smouldering, but all else looked quiet enough. Turning back,

we rode to the Pulaski Hotel, which I had known in years long gone,

and found it kept by a Vermont man with a lame leg, who used to be

a clerk in the St. Louis Hotel, New Orleans, and I inquired about

the capacity of his hotel for headquarters. He was very anxious to

have us for boarders, but I soon explained to him that we had a

full mess equipment along, and that we were not in the habit of

paying board; that one wing of the building would suffice for our

use, while I would allow him to keep an hotel for the accommodation

of officers and gentlemen in the remainder. I then dispatched an

officer to look around for a livery-stable that could accommodate

our horses, and, while waiting there, an English gentleman, Mr.

Charles Green, came and said that he had a fine house completely

furnished, for which he had no use, and offered it as headquarters.

He explained, moreover, that General Howard had informed him, the

day before, that I would want his house for headquarters. At first

I felt strongly disinclined to make use of any private dwelling,

lest complaints should arise of damage and lose of furniture, and

so expressed myself to Mr. Green; but, after riding about the city,

and finding his house so spacious, so convenient, with large yard

and stabling, I accepted his offer, and occupied that house during

our stay in Savannah. He only reserved for himself the use of a

couple of rooms above the dining-room, and we had all else, and a

most excellent house it was in all respects.

I was disappointed that Hardee had escaped with his army, but on

the whole we had reason to be content with the substantial fruits

of victory. The Savannah River was found to be badly obstructed by

torpedoes, and by log piers stretched across the channel below the

city, which piers were filled with the cobble stones that formerly

paved the streets. Admiral Dahlgren was extremely active, visited

me repeatedly in the city, while his fleet still watched

Charleston, and all the avenues, for the blockade-runners that

infested the coast, which were notoriously owned and managed by

Englishmen, who used the island of New Providence (Nassau) as a

sort of entrepot. One of these small blockade-runners came into

Savannah after we were in full possession, and the master did not

discover his mistake till he came ashore to visit the custom-house.

Of coarse his vessel fell a prize to the navy. A heavy force was

at once set to work to remove the torpedoes and obstructions in the

main channel of the river, and, from that time forth, Savannah

became the great depot of supply for the troops operating in that


Meantime, on the 15th and 16th of December, were fought, in front

of Nashville, the great battles in which General Thomas so nobly

fulfilled his promise to ruin Hood, the details of which are fully

given in his own official reports, long-since published. Rumors of

these great victories reached us at Savannah by piecemeal, but his

official report came on the 24th of December, with a letter from

General Grant, giving in general terms the events up to the 18th,

and I wrote at once through my chief of staff, General Webster, to

General Thomas, complimenting him in the highest terms. His

brilliant victory at Nashville was necessary to mine at Savannah to

make a complete whole, and this fact was perfectly comprehended by

Mr. Lincoln, who recognized it fully in his personal letter of

December 26th, hereinbefore quoted at length, and which is also

claimed at the time, in my Special Field Order No. 6, of January 8,

1865, here given:

(Special Field Order No. 6.)



The general commanding announces to the troops composing the

Military Division of the Mississippi that he has received from the

President of the United States, and from Lieutenant-General Grant,

letters conveying their high sense and appreciation of the campaign

just closed, resulting in the capture of Savannah and the defeat of

Hood's army in Tennessee.

In order that all may understand the importance of events, it is

proper to revert to the situation of affairs in September last. We

held Atlanta, a city of little value to us, but so important to the

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