I left Covington with General Davis and the Fourteenth Corps. We turned to the right for Milledgeville, via Shady Dale. General Slocum is ahead at Madison, with the Twentieth Corps, tearing up the railroad as far as that place, and sending Geary’s division on to the Oconee, to burn the bridges across that stream.
We find abundance of corn, molasses, meal, bacon, and sweet-potatoes. We take a good many cows and oxen, and a large number of mules. The country is quite rich, never before having been visited by a hostile army. The recent crop is excellent, just gathered and laid by for the winter. As a rule, we destroy none, but keep our wagons full, and feed our teams bountifully.
The skill and success of the men in collecting forage is exemplary. Each brigade commander has 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 is dispatched before daylight with a knowledge of the intended day’s march and camp. They proceed on foot five or six miles from the route traveled by their brigade, and then visit every plantation and farm within range. They 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 then regain the main road, usually in advance of their train. When the trains come up, they deliver to the brigade commissary the supplies thus gathered by the way.
I pass these foraging-parties at the roadside, waiting for their wagons to come up, and am 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. This foraging is attended with great danger and hard work, but there seems to be a charm about it that attracts the soldiers who consider it a privilege to be detailed on such a party.
They return mounted on all sorts of beasts, which are at once taken from them and appropriated to the general use. The next day they start out again on foot, only to repeat the experience of the day before. The country is sparsely settled, with no magistrates or civil authorities who can respond to requisitions, as is done in all the wars of Europe; so that this system of foraging is simply indispensable to our success. Our men are well supplied with all the essentials of life and health, while the wagons retain enough in case of unexpected delay, and our animals are well fed.