Fifteen Miles South of Lancaster, South Carolina
The Catawba River is swollen by rains and delays our progress.
HDQRS. MILITARY DIVISION OF THE MISSISSIPPI, In the Field, One mile North of Warrenton’s, Fifteen South of Lancaster, February 24, 1865
Major-General HOWARD, Commanding Right Wing:
Jeff. Davis is not yet across, and the roads are so very bad that I think it will take him all day and tomorrow to get well over and up on high ground. The Twentieth Corps is here. We can see the Seventeenth passing eastward, about one mile south. Davis is ordered to take roads that will bring him into the direct road from Lancaster to Chesterfield, and the Twentieth will move by Hanging Rock, and thence by roads to the south of Davis. Unless the rains cease we will have a hard time.
Don’t push too fast, but gather as much food as you can en route. I think you could send into Camden with safety, but there is no object. When you get to Lynch’s Creek you might pass the Ninth Illinois across and push them toward Florence with orders to break two or three bridges about Timmonsville and then rejoin you at Cheraw. I don’t believe there is any cavalry of the enemy down there, and ours might pick up some good horses. The only object would be to prevent the shipment by cars of the garrison of Charleston to Fayetteville or Wilmington to oppose us. If at the time you suppose all of the Charleston garrison is east of Florence the expedition would not be advisable.
I believe Foster is in possession of Charleston, because of the general belief to that effect and the reports of the negroes you sent me. I have also just released a prisoner captured yesterday by the Twentieth Corps, who was a bright Lad sixteen years old, son of Richard Bacon, who was at West Point with me, and whom I knew well at Charleston. This boy left Charleston last Thursday at 12 m., at which time he says our troops had been shelling the city for twenty-four hours from James Island. He was a hospital attendant and was sent along with the sick from the hospitals to Florence, thence to be conveyed to the hospital at Cheraw. He said the orders for evacuation had been published, and the garrisons were to be rendezvoused along the Florence road at Porcher’s and Bonneau’s. He said they were removing the powder and ammunition, but would leave the heavy guns. The gun-boats were to be blown up. He says the first orders were to go to Columbia, but these were changed. If you can possibly employ a negro to go through to Charleston, make a cipher dispatch telling our general position and destination and an order of liberal payment. I think you will have good roads, and that there is no danger in our spreading out this side of Cheraw, thence to Fayetteville roads favor us as also from Fayetteville to our destination. At both Cheraw and Fayetteville are bridges that we can secure by holding the towns responsible. We find no enemy hereabouts, and suppose them all to be about Charlotte and Salisbury. Kilpatrick must now be at Lancaster; he crossed last night and was off this morning.
W. T. SHERMAN, Major-General, Commanding.
I reached my present camp at daylight. My last brigade, Colonel Jordan’s, will not get into camp before 9 a.m. This road is horrible. If the Fourteenth Corps intends to move on it the greater part will have to be corduroyed as far as Camp Creek. I did not get to the bridge last night till 10:30 p.m. General Williams must have known that I was to have the bridge at 7 p.m., when he ordered General Geary (who had already gone into camp) forward at 6 p.m.
I am sorry to trouble you with such matters, but I know of no other way of preventing a similar occurrence in the future. Yesterday five of my people, detailed to forage for my wounded in ambulances with twentieth Corps were arrested by a provost-marshal of that corps and strapped to a tree and there kept till the corps marched by, with inscriptions on their breasts “House-breakers. ” I do not recognize General Williams’s right to punish my people or disgrace them. I can and will do all the punishment myself. If I liked, I could retaliate every hour. Stragglers and foraging parties of the Twentieth Corps were here yesterday, eight miles from their command, committing acts most disgraceful. This house was pillaged at 10 a.m. yesterday by men of the Twentieth Army Corps. General Williams will have all he can do to maintain discipline in his own command. I have allowed foragers from the Left Wing to pass through my lines, and even assisted them.
Yesterday a detail sent out by Major Dunbar, my quartermaster, captured ten mules and four horses for his wagon train. An officer of the Twentieth Army Corps arrested them and took mules and horses away. I shall now allow no foraging parties to pass through or out of my lines, and I shall dismount and seize all horses ridden by infantrymen who enter my column. This I shall continue to do, unless otherwise ordered by you or until my people are treated with that respect and courtesy, I feel their conduct and services demand.
I also most respectfully call your attention to the fact that foraging parties and stragglers form Twentieth Army Corps burned sufficient forage on this road to have fed my entire command. I had occasion to mention this same fact to General Slocum some days since. I shall rest here till 1 p.m., when I will move slowly forward, as I feel confident that General Davis can move but a short distance today. Hampton is at Lancaster and a small portion of Wheeler’s cavalry. The country is rich and full of forage. Until the rain is over, unless the road are better than this one, our progress must be very slow.
Private Charles Wright, Ninth Ohio Volunteer Cavalry, General Atkins’ headquarters, came in last evening from scout near Feasterville, below and west of Chesterville. He reports having found twenty-one of our infantrymen in a ravine, about eighty rods from the main and about tree miles from Feasterville, with their throats cut and stripped of their clothing. The evidence that the enemy had resolved upon murdering our men is fast accumulating. Another report that has just come in that a soldier belonging to the Ninety-second Illinois Mounted Infantry was found hung to the limb of a tree near the roadside. I shall retaliate as far as my own people are concerned, as you have directed. Major-General Hampton is now at Lancaster. I can forward for you any communication to or through him to any higher rebel authorities you may desire regarding the facts mentioned.
I sent a message to Confederate General Wade Hampton:
HDQRS. MILITARY DIVISION OF THE MISSISSIPPI, In the Field, February 24, 1865.
Lieutenant General WADE HAMPTON, Commanding Cavalry Forces, C. S. Army:
It is officially reported to me that our foraging parties are murdered after capture and labeled “Death to all foragers.” One instance of a lieutenant and seven men near Chesterville, and another of twenty “near a ravine eighty rods from the main road” about three miles from Chesterville. I have ordered a similar number of prisoners in our hands to be disposed of in like manner. I hold about 1,000 prisoners captured in various ways, and can stand it as long as you; but I hardly think these murders are committed with your knowledge, and would suggest that you give notice to the people at large that every life taken by them simply results in the death of one of your Confederates. Of course you cannot question my right to “forage on the country.” It is a war right as old as history. The manner of exercising it varies with circumstances, and if the civil authorities will supply my requisitions I will forbid all foraging. But I find no civil authorities who can respond to calls for forage or provisions, therefore must collect directly of the people. I have no doubt this is the occasion of much misbehavior on the part of our men, but I cannot permit an enemy to judge or punish with wholesale murder. Personally I regret the bitter feelings engendered by this war, but they were to be expected. I simply allege that those who struck the first blow and made war inevitable ought not, in fairness, to reproach us for the natural consequences. I merely assert our war right to forage and my resolve to protect my foragers to the extent of life for life.
I am, with respect, your obedient servant,
W. T. SHERMAN, Major-General, U. S. Army
The Eighth Indiana Cavalry went to the Abbeville Railroad and destroyed all bridges from Black Buck Creek to Broad River. They struck the railroad at Black Creek bridge, and burned, it being a trestle-work of about 120 yards in length. They burned a grist-mill and two warehouses, which contained 1,500 bushels of shelled corn in sacks and 100 bushels of wheat, 75 sacks of flour, 19 barrels of molasses, 6 bales of cotton, 10 bales of hay, and a lot of tools, such as axes, saws, picks, shovels, &c. A guard of some 25 rebels at the mill, were driven over Broad River at the ford close by. They were prevented form recrossing and extinguishing the fire at the mill and railroad bridge. The cavalry went to the railroad bridge across Broad River and found about 300 yards of it already consumed, having been fired by a foraging party of the evening before.
I sent a message in cipher to Charleston:
General FOSTER, Charleston:
We have broken railroad from Midway to Aiken, from Orangeburg to the Santee, and from Columbia to Winnsborough. No fighting of any importance; enemy retreats northward. We are south of Lancaster and east of the Catawba, moving for Cheraw, Fayetteville, and Goldsborough. Roads are bad, but we find forage and supplies. We hear Charleston is abandoned. Push operations in North Carolina, and at any cost break the railroad below Goldsborough from New Berne.
W. T. SHERMAN, Major-General