HEADQUARTER MILITARY DIVISION OF THE MISSISSIPPI, In the Field, Savannah, GA.,
General J. D. WEBSTER, Nashville, Tenn.:
Major Dickson arrived last night, bringing your letter of the 10th of December, for which I am very much obliged, as it gives me a clear and distinct view of the situation of affairs at Nashville up to that date. I have also from the War Department a copy of General Thomas’ dispatch, giving account of the attack on Hood on the 15th, which was successful, but not complete. I await further accounts with anxiety, as Thomas’ complete success is necessary to vindicate my plans for his campaign; and I have no doubt that my calculations that Thomas had in hand (including A. J. Smith’s troops) a force large enough to whip Hood in a fair fight was correct. I approve of Thomas’ allowing Hood to come north far enough to enable him to concentrate his own men, though I would have preferred that Hood should have been checked about Columbia. Still, if Thomas followed up his success of the 15th and gave Hood a good whaling, and is at this moment following him closely, the whole campaign in my division will be even more perfect than the Atlanta campaign; for at this end of the line I have realized all I had reason to hope for, except in the release of our prisoners, which was simply an impossibility. I know you all must await with deep anxiety the full details of the movements of my immediately command, and in time I will give them with full official minutia; and, in order that you may answer all inquiries, I will now endeavor to give you a brief outline.
On the 10th of November I was at Kingston, and having sent to Thomas at Nashville the Fourth and Twenty-third Corps, learned that A. J. Smith had reached Paducah with his two divisions; and, having also learned from General Thomas that he felt perfectly able to contend with Hood, then lying about Florence and Tuscumbia, I gave the final signal to begin the work. Corse, at Rome, burned the bridges and all property that could be used by an enemy to our disadvantage and marched to Kingston.
On the 12th we moved to Allatoona, leaving the railroad north of the Etowah untouched, on the theory that in a very short while it would be to our interest to reoccupy the country as far as the Etowah. On the 13th, 14th, and 15th we broke up the railroad from the Etowah to Atlanta, and by the night of the 15th, the whole army was in or around Atlanta, ready for the forward movement. Marietta, Cassville, and Atlanta are destroyed in all respect, save some dwelling houses, and cannot be used to our prejudice for three years.
On the 16th all our columns were in motion. Howard, with the Fifteenth and Seventeenth Corps, moved southeast, by Jonesborough and McDonough, in the direction of Forsyth, crossing the Ocmulgee at Planters’ Mills, or the Seven Islands; thence by Clinton to Gordon the first objective point. He met with no opposition whatever, and reached it on the seventh day, the one appointed. In the meantime Kilpatrick, leaving Atlanta when Howard did, swept round by Griffin and Forsyth, and made a feint on Macon, at that point driving the rebels inside their works and recapturing two rifled guns, with equipments complete, taken by them from Stoneman last summer. He then came up with Howard at Gordon, covering his rear. Howard broke up the railroad a short distance west of Gordon (ten or fifteen miles); and while doing this posted Walcutt’s brigade at Griswoldville, on the railroad, with a regiment of cavalry on either flank. The enemy sent out three brigades from Macon and attacked this force on the 22nd of November, but were repulsed and severely punished. We buried 300 of their dead and the total rebel loss is stated at over 1,000, while our loss was less than 100 killed, wounded, and missing.
The Left Wing, under Slocum, moved out from Atlanta to Decatur and along the Georgia railroad, destroying it as far as Madison, also destroying the important railroad bridge over Oconee River, east of that, and turned down to Milledgeville, the Twentieth Corps via Easton, the Fourteenth Corps via Shady Dale and Eatonton Factory, the two columns reaching Milledgeville by the 22d, also the appointed time, without resistance or impediment. I burned the penitentiary the railroad buildings and the arsenal; the State House and Governor’s mansion I left unharmed. On the 24th the Left Wing crossed the Oconee and burned the bridge at Milledgeville, moving thence to Sandersville, six or eight miles west of which the Twentieth Corps was delayed three or four hours to rebuild the bridges across Buffalo Creek, destroyed to impede us.
Just outside of Sandersville, on the 26th, Wheeler, with 2,000 cavalry, attempted resistance; but a single line of infantry skirmishers drove him at double-quick into and through Sandersonville. From this point the Fourteenth Corps went direct to Louisville, crossing the Ogeechee there, above their intended point of defense, without opposition; while the Twentieth Corps followed and destroyed the Central railroad from Tennille (or Station 13) to and across the Ogeechee at Station 10. Kilpatrick, with his division of cavalry, came up to Milledgeville from Gordon on the 24th, and at once started out and around our left flank in the direction of Sparta, Gibson, and Sylvan Grove, with instructions to cut he railroad leading to Augusta at or near Waynesborough, and thence, if our prisoners were still at Millen, to make a dash to release them, and, returning, to join Davis at Louisville. He did cut the railroad at Waynesborough, partially burning the railroad bridge over Brier Creek (four miles north of that), but learned that our prisoners had already been removed from Millen, and returned to Louisville, joining the Fourteenth Corps there as ordered. During this march Wheeler hung around and attacked him in flank and rear, and gave him some trouble but no real injury.
From Gordon Howard followed the Central railroad, crossing the river at Oconee bridge, thence to Irwin’s Cross-Roads, destroying the railroad to Tennille (No. 13), including nearly three miles of trestle-work on both sides of and over the Oconee, some of it eighteen to twenty feet on both sides of and over the Oconee, some of it eighteen to twenty feet high. The attempt to resist at this crossing collapsed when the Left Wing reached Sandersville and amounted to nothing; hence Howard marched in two columns parallel to and south of the railroad, Blair’s (Seventeenth) corps turning north and crossing the Oconee, without opposition, at Barton (or Station 91/2).
Hardee had announced at Tennille the day before I was there his purpose to dispute our passage at No. 10; but the movement on Louisville turned the line of the Ogeechee, and he at once fell back down the railroad and river. The next day, December 3, the Seventeenth Corps entered Millen without opposition. At this point, Millen, which was no town, but an important railroad center, the very handsome depot, railroad hotel, and three or four large storehouses were burned. From Louisville the Fourteenth Corps moved on an outer line eastward across the railroad between Millen and Augusta by Sharpe’s, about where Brier Creek turns eastward to the Savannah River, and Buck Head Post-Office to the Savannah River, at Halley’s Ferry; thence down along or near the right bank of the Savannah to the Charleston railroad opposite Monteith. The Twentieth Corps at the same time followed a nearly parallel route next west of this, through Birdville and Sylvania, down to Springfield and Monteith.
The Seventeenth Corps worked down along the Central railroad all the way from Station 9 1/2 to the outskirts of this city, while the Fifteenth Corps remained on and marched down the west bank of the Ogeechee until opposite Eden (or Station No. 2). The complete destruction of the Central railroad was continued by the Seventeenth Corps after leaving Sandersville, as far as Station 4 1/2. I traveled with the Seventeenth Corps but from that point to Savannah, so confined was I of taking the city, I allowed the railroad to remain undisturbed, with the view of using it to that distance ourselves.
Kilpatrick left Louisville with instructions to cover the rear of the columns moving down the peninsula, and also, if he got an opportunity, to attack and punish Wheeler, who had falsely claimed to have whipped and driven him back on his former expedition to Waynesborough. On the 4th of December Kilpatrick attacked Wheeler’s whole force, amounting, as we know, to over 6,000 men, with five guns, at Thomas’ Station, on the railroad, four miles south of Waynesborough, and well, broke his center, and drove him back in confusion through and beyond Waynesborough and across Brier Creek, four miles north of it, again and completely burned the railroad bridge across Brier Creek, and then returned leisurely to Alexander, and down the peninsula, covering our rear. It was evident that the only point on the peninsula between Ogeechee and Savannah Rivers where the rebels could attempt to make a stand was at its narrowest point-from Ogeechee Church (or Station 4 1/2) on the railroad to Sister’s Ferry on the Savannah River, some twelve miles across. Here the railroad crosses the Little Ogeechee Creek, on whose east bank were thrown up some earthworks, commanding the bridge over the creek, and they had also at considerable labor built more substantial works across the railroad. But, on the morning of December 5, when the skirmishers of the Seventeenth Corps, advanced to cross the creek, they found the works deserted save by a few pickets, who fled at one volley.
The movement of the Fifteenth Corps, down the west side of the Ogeechee, already below this point, had left the rebels at Ogeechee Church no alternative but to run or be cut off in rear. From this point there was not further opposition until within twelve or fourteen miles of Savannah, save ineffectual attempts to delay us by felling trees where our road crossed creeks or swamps; but in no case did the obstructions cause serious delay. The Seventeenth Corps losing but thirty minutes in all waiting for their removal, and the Fourteenth Corps, having the most creeks, &c., to cross, and being most annoyed in this way, making, nevertheless, sixty miles in three days; the Fifteenth Corps, on the west side of Ogeechee, met no opposition or difficulty.
On the 7th of December our four heads of column were nearly on an east and west line-General Howard’s headquarters being at Eden (or Station 2), nineteen miles from Savannah, on the railroad; the Seventeenth Corps two miles east of that; and the Twentieth and Fourteenth nearly as far down. At this point (Eden) Howard crossed part of the Fifteenth Corps to east bank of the Ogeechee, with which Corse pushed down along the river, crossed the canal, and had a smart little encounter at a cross-roads east of the mouth of the Cannouchee, capturing one piece of artillery and driving back the rebels to the Little Ogeechee River, northeast of Station 1, on the Gulf railroad, where he brought up against the outer defense of the city in that direction. Meanwhile the remainder of the Fifteenth Corps, still west of the Ogeechee River, moved down toward the Gulf railroad on two roads, feinted to cross the Cannouchee near its mouth, crossed it higher up, and cut the Gulf railroad at Way’s Station and another point west of that. The Gulf road was also cut east of the Ogeechee, at or near Station 1, and a train of cars captured, on which was taken Mr. R. R. Cuyler, president of the Georgia Central Railroad, whom I treated kindly, and sent on his way to Macon; and between the several breaks of this railroad, as above, three locomotives and sundry cars were caught. The division of the Fifteenth Corps west of the Ogeechee River then crossed it at or near Fort Argyle (abandoned), and supported the other division already along the Little Ogeechee.
The Seventeenth Corps on the 9th of December pushed on down the main (or Louisville dirt) road, on the upper (east) and north side of the Central railroad, and, driving back with a line of skirmishers some artillery stationed on the causeway, through a swamp between Station 2 and Station 1 (or Pooler), camped that night at the latter point. We lost two or three men, wounded by the explosion of two torpedoes buried in the road, before entering the swamp; seven were dug up by prisoners we held.
On the 10th of December the Seventeenth Corps advanced to a point five miles from the city, and developed, in part, the rebel defenses in that quarter. On our left the Twentieth and Fourteenth Corps had continued to advance as rapidly as the swamps and narrow roads would permit; and by the 11th of December all the army corps were close up to the rebel outer line from the Savannah to the Little Ogeechee River: the Twentieth Corps on our extreme left, on the river-bank, and crossing the Charleston railroad three miles from the city; the Fourteenth Corps on its right, to the canal; the Seventeenth and Fifteenth forming our right; the whole an irregular line some fifteen miles long.
The next day or two was occupied in tracing the rebel line, irregular and re-entrant in correspondence with the extensive swamps lying all round the rear of the city, crossed only by narrow causeways commanded by batteries of heavy guns. During this time a river boat was brought to on her way up, run aground, and burned by our infantry; and we captured a tender to two gun-boats which attempted to pass Winegar’s battery (3-inch rifled guns) on the river-bank, but were driven back up the river, leaving their tender (a New York Harbor tug) in our hands almost uninjured.
On Monday, 12th instant, I went over to our right and ordered for next day the assault by Hazen’s division, of Fifteenth Corps, on Fort McAllister, the obstacle to our communication with the fleet in Ossabaw Sound. You will have already received, no doubt, through the papers an account of this very gallant and handsome affair, which lasted just fifteen minutes from the time the signal to charge was given till the old flag waver over the fort which has so long defied attack by sea. Our total loss was 11 killed, 80 wounded, largely caused by the torpedoes buried thickly the line of abatis. I witnessed the assault from a rice mill on the river, about three miles distant across the salt marshes, through which the troops marched ten miles around to reach the fort before attacking it, and immediately went down in a boat to the fort the same evening, thence on down to the fleet, where I met Admiral Dahlgren and General Foster. After arranging with them for bringing supplies from Hilton Head, especially bread and forage, which were beginning to be needed, and also for 30-pounder Parrotts to bombard the city, I returned on the 15th to my camp. That night Colonel Babcock arrived with dispatches of importance from General Grant bearing upon my plans here. The length of my lines (nearly fifteenth miles) and the nature of the soil, even on the causeways made through the swamps, made necessary a large amount of corduroying to pass my trains to and from the depot of supplies which I directed General Easton to establish at King’s Bridge (over the Ogeechee), which the continued development of the rebel lines occupied last week.
On the 17th I sent in to General Hardee, by flag of truce, on our left, a summons to surrender, the 30-ponder Parrotts ordered from Hilton Head having arrived at King’s Bridge, to which, on the 18th, he returned a refusal. I had now for some days held the three railroads leading out of Savannah, and all other avenues of approach west of the Savannah River, the only other avenue being the Union Causeway, an old wagon road running from the east bank of the Savannah River from the city up toward Hardeeville. To attempt to close this by extending our left across the river would have involved the risk of isolating the troops across a deep river too wide for my pontoon train, and upon which the rebels had two gun-boats (one iron-clad) at the city wharf, with boats to throw their whole force across against them. I determined rather to close this avenue from my right flank; and on the 19th again went down to the fleet and up with the admiral to Port Royal, where, on the 20th, I arranged with General Foster and the admiral for immediately bringing round a sufficient force from the Ogeechee to unite with General Foster’s troops, then lying at the head of Broad River for this purpose.
High winds and rough Weather delayed my return from Port Royal, and before I had reached Fort McAllister, on the way back, a message met me from General Howard that Hardee had evacuated the city in haste, and our troops had marched in without resistance that morning, the 21st. Two days more and the garrison would have been hemmed in completely; as it is, the campaign ends with the capture of this important city and numerous dependent forts, including, as reported to me, 25,000 bales of cotton, at least 150 guns, many of them 10-inch, immense ordnance stores, 13 locomotives, 190 cars, a pontoon train boats, &c., and a population of about 20,000, including any quantity of negroes. We have also captured three more boats, one of them a wooden gun-boat, the rebels having blown up their iron-clad Savannah, just below the city, on the night of the 21st.
The Savannah River, though obstructed for the present to large vessels, is open for those drawing six or seven feet, and will, as soon as possible, be cleared for large vessels, thus opening the way for our gun-boats almost, if not quite, to Augusta, and insuring the permanent subdivision of the Confederacy by this line, with a new base for operations against Lee’s rear.
I forbore to destroy the Georgia Railroad below Station 4 1/2 (say, forty-five miles from Savannah) on my way down, with a view to use the road ourselves that far after taking the city. After receiving General Grant’s dispatches, however, it appeared not impossible that this army might be ordered to the James River by sea, without giving time to insure the fall of Savannah, and I therefore destroyed the railroad for fifteen miles back from the city. The whole number of miles of railroad I have destroyed is about 265-about 60 miles on the Georgia road, from Atlanta to Madison, and 140 miles on the Georgia Central Railroad, from a point, say, ten miles west of Gordon to Savannah, as above, and about 50 miles out from Savannah on the Gulf railroad, and about 15 miles on the Charleston railroad. It would be some time before Jeff. Davis could restore the communications so rudely interrupted, across the heart of his empire, even if we had no objections to make.
You may have shared the concern on our account which the newspapers and our friends on the coast tell us was felt in the States; you know by this time that any such anxieties were groundless. The Weather through our march was perfect, only two days of rain from Atlanta to the outskirts of Savannah; the roads in fine order; forage, pigs, poultry, and sweet potatoes first rate, and abundant; and the men and animals in better order when they reached here than when they started.
As to the “lion” in our path, we never met him. The affair at Griswoldville, where one brigade of infantry was engaged, and Kilpatrick’s punishment of Wheeler, were the only things on the march like a fight.
The city is perfectly quiet ever since we came in. The first thing our troops had to do was to stop the riots and plundering which the lower classes began as soon as Hardee’s rear crossed the river. The white people here are the worst whipped and subjugated you ever saw, and the negroes are having their “jubilee” and calling in crowds to see “Mr. Sherman. ”
December 24.: I have just received a letter from General Grant, giving a detail of General Thomas’ operations up to the 18th, and I am gratified beyond measure at the result. Show this letter to General Thomas, and tell him to consider it addressed to him, as I have not time to write more now. I want General Thomas to follow Hood to and beyond the Tennessee, and not to hesitate to go on as far as Columbus, Miss., or Selma, Ala., as I know that he will have no trouble whatever in subsisting his army anywhere below Sand Mountain and along the Black Warrior. In the poorest part of Georgia I found no trouble in subsisting my army and animals, some of my corps not issuing but one day’s bread from Atlanta to Savannah. Keep me fully advised by telegraph, via New York, of the situation of affairs in Tennessee. I will be here probably for ten days longer, and in communication for a longer time.
I am, very truly, yours,
W. T. SHERMAN, Major-General