KING’S BRIDGE, Near Savannah, Georgia 8 a. m.
I have your report, or note, of last night 8 p.m., and think you can make good use of that boat. Don’t attempt too much, for a failure of any kind will lead to a reaction; but if the people of Savannah discover us gaining little by little, but surely, it will have a strong effect. The bridge here is now done and is a considerable affair, and Hazen is passing over. I think Fort McAllister, too, will be found a strong work, and, therefore, depend on another point which is being examined. Forage, &c., is more plentiful over here, but still it is limited. I cannot imagine what the fleet is about; they may be off on some special errand, or may be expecting us elsewhere. I will go to a point where I can see all the Ogeechee country and Ossabaw Sound. I will be home tonight, or in the course of the night.
W. T. SHERMAN, Major-General
This morning the Second Division of the Fifteenth Corps, under command of Brigadier-General Hazen, crossed the bridge to the west bank of the Ogeechee and marched down with orders to carry by assault Fort McAllister, a strong inclosed redoubt, manned by two companies of artillery and three of infantry, in all about 200 men, and mounting twenty-three guns in barbette and one mortar. 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 guns, 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.
Dayton sent the news to Slocum:
HEADQUARTERS MILITARY DIVISION OF THE MISSISSIPPI, In the Field, December 13, 1864.
Major General H. W. SLOCUM, Commanding, &c.:
DEAR GENERAL: Take a good big drink, a long breath, and then yell like the devil. The fort was carried at 4:30 p. m., the assault lasting but fifteen minutes. The general signaled from this side to the fleet and got answers, and vessels were seen coming up the sound when Colonel Ewing left.
I am, General, yours, &c.,
L. M. DAYTON, Aide-de-Camp
I am resolved to communicate with our fleet tonight, which happens 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 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. One of these notes, addressed to the Secretary of War, was 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.:
Today, 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 ahead. 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 rails, and consumed stores and provisions that were essential to Lee’s and Hood’s armies.
The quick work made with McAllister, the opening of communication with our fleet, and our consequent independence as to supplies, dissipate all their boasted threats to head us off and starve the army.
I regard Savannah as already gained. Yours truly,
W.T. SHERMAN, Major-General
I wrote the same to General Halleck with this addition:
I am writing on board a dispatch-boat, down Ossabaw, at midnight, and have to go back, to where I left my horse, eight miles up, in a rowboat, and thence fifteen miles over to our lines by daylight, so that I hope this will be accepted as an excuse for this informal letter; but I know you are anxious to hear of our safety and good condition. Full and detailed reports of the events of the past month will be prepared at a more leisure moment, and in the meantime I can only say that I hope by Christmas to be in possession of Savannah, and by the new year to be ready to resume our journey to Raleigh. The whole army is crazy to be turned loose in Carolina; and with the experience of the past thirty days judge that a month’s sojourn in South Carolina would make her less bellicose.
The editors in Georgia profess to be indignant at the horrible barbarities of Sherman’s army, but I know the people don’t want our visit repeated. We have utterly destroyed over 200 miles of railroad, and consumed stores and provisions that were essential to Lee’s and Hood’s armies. A similar destruction of roads and resources hence to Raleigh would compel General Lee to come out of his entrenched camp.
I hope General Thomas has held Hood. My last accounts are of the fight at Franklin, but rebel papers state that Decatur, Ala., has been evacuated. This I regret, though it is not essential to the future. If Hood is making any real progress I would not hesitate to march hence, after taking Savannah, for Montgomery, which would bring him out of Tennessee; but it seems to me that winter is a bad time for him. I will try and see Admiral Dahlgren and General Foster before demanding the surrender of Savannah, which I do not propose to make till my batteries are able to open.
The quick work made with McAllister, the opening of communication with our fleet, and consequent independence for supplies, dissipated all their boasted threats to head me off and starve the army. The efforts thus far have been puerile, and I regard Savannah as already gained.