Civil War Wednesday: Blackshear

State historic marker at site, photo courtesy of the author

State historic marker at site, photo courtesy of the author

“After leaving the cars we were marched off into the pine woods, by the side of a considerable stream, and told that this was to be our camp.”[1] This Federal prisoner wrote of his new home in Pierce County, Georgia – Camp Blackshear. Major General William T. Sherman’s force continued to advance across the interior of Georgia on their way to Savannah, and Confederate officials realized they must relocate the prisoners held at Millen’s Camp Lawton before advance elements of Sherman’s troops arrived. On November 22, 1864, prisoners at Lawton began boarding trains bound for alternate holding facilities; eventually, 5,000 men traveled westward on the Atlantic and Gulf Railroad.

Colonel Henry Forno, the commander at Lawton, received orders to ready a new prison site in Blackshear. Pierce County, located in the southeastern part of the state, not far from the Florida line, seemed a logical location. The proximity to the railroad, and the remoteness of the region, should prevent Sherman’s forces from liberating any prisoners held there. At least one prisoner concurred with Forno’s choice, noting in his diary, “Blackshear is an out of the way place, and shouldn’t think the Yankee army would ever find us here.”[2]


Prisoner medal from Ralph Orr Bates, Billy and Dick: From Andersonville Prison to the White House

Many period sources indicate the holding area at Blackshear lacked stockades like the prisoners had left behind, first at Andersonville, and later at Camp Lawton. Penciling an entry into his diary shortly after arriving in Blackshear, Sergeant John Ransom with the 9th Michigan Cavalry wrote of the grounds surrounding him and the other prisoners, “There is no wall or anything around us here, only guards. Encamped right in the open air.”[3] Offering a different perspective, another prisoner indicated the area “…was completely commanded by military earthworks, with mounted cannon, and was guarded by seven hundred Confederate soldiers.”[4] Regardless of the actual condition of the prison, soon after arriving, Forno began making preparations for another facility in Thomasville, while relocating some of the prisoners from Blackshear to Savannah.

Guards from the Second and Fourth Regiments in the Georgia Reserves continued to keep watch over the 2,500 prisoners remaining at Blackshear, looking on as the Federals constructed shanties to protect themselves from the elements. After Sherman captured Savannah on December 21, 1864, and later began his Carolinas Campaign, the prisoners at Blackshear found themselves on the move once again. Some returned to Andersonville, and others went to Thomasville, Millen, or Florence, South Carolina.[5]

Blackshear prison site, photo courtesy of the author

Blackshear prison site, photo courtesy of the author

Given the horrible environments found in many overcrowded prisons during the Civil War – both North and South – an observation from a soldier in the 4th Vermont Infantry tells of better conditions in Pierce County. “Blackshear has always seemed like an oasis in the memory of those perilous times. Here we were removed from all apparent danger and the guards were more humane.”[6] Today, the Pierce County Historical and Genealogical Society works to protect, preserve, and interpret this site. Visit to learn more!

[1] John McElroy, Andersonville, a Story of Rebel Military Prisons (1879; repr., No. Scituate, MA: Digital Scanning, 1999), 32.

[2] John L. Ransom, Andersonville Diary; Escape, and List of Dead, with Name, Company, Regiment, Date of Death and Number of Grave in Cemetery, google books ed. (Auburn, NY: John Ransom, 1881), 131.

[3] Ibid.

[4] Ralph Orr Bates, Billy and Dick: From Andersonville Prison to the White House, google books ed. (Santa Cruz, CA: Sentinel Publishing Company, 1910), 24.

[5] John W. Guss, The American Civil War in Blackshear, Georgia: The Story of a Prison Camp, brochure. (Blackshear, GA: Pierce County Historical Society, 1998).

[6] Francis J. Hosmer, A Glimpse of Andersonville and Other Writings, google books ed. (Springfield, MA: Loring & Axtell, 1896), 47.

MikeMichael K. Shaffer is a Civil War historian, author, newspaper columnist, and lecturer. He can be contacted at:

Civil War Wednesday: Georgia’s Old Reliable

Lieutenant General William Hardee, Library of Congress, LC-USZC4-7972

Lieutenant General William Hardee, Library of Congress, LC-USZC4-7972

Lieutenant General William J. Hardee, born in Savannah in 1815, graduated from the United States Military Academy, served in the Mexican-American War, and authored a book on military tactics, which both sides consulted during the American Civil War. His manuscript – Rifle and Light Infantry Tactics for the Exercise and Maneuvers of Troops When Acting as Light Infantry or Riflemen – usually referred to as Hardee’s Tactics – provided basic training for young officers eager to learn the art of war.

Hardee served as commandant at West Point until shortly before his native Georgia seceded in 1861. He cast his lot with the Confederacy, and for most of the war he fought in the western theater, where he participated in the battles of Shiloh, Perryville, Murfreesboro, and Chattanooga.[1] After the failure of General Braxton Bragg to take Chattanooga, President Jefferson Davis accepted his friend’s resignation and offered command of the Army of Tennessee to Hardee, who declined the position. Davis turned once again to his nemesis, General Joseph E. Johnston. During the Atlanta Campaign, Hardee led one of the army’s three corps, and performed satisfactorily in most engagements prior to the fall of Atlanta. When Davis removed Johnston, and replaced him with General John Bell Hood on July 17, 1864, Hardee felt somewhat slighted, despite the fact he had previously refused to take command of the Army of Tennessee. He and Hood never got along, and Hood blamed Hardee for several losses in the struggle to maintain Atlanta. During the final action of the campaign at Jonesboro, Hardee performed well, given the circumstances, yet again found himself on the receiving end of Hood’s blame game.

Requesting a transfer away from Hood, Hardee received the assignment to head the Department of South Carolina, Georgia, and Florida. During Major General William T. Sherman’s March to the Sea in November and December 1864, Hardee joined with other Confederate officers in the attempt to slow the advancing Federals. Operating from his headquarters in Savannah, Hardee garnered all available men to guard the outer and inner defense systems surrounding the city. On December 15 – five days after Sherman’s forces arrived at the doorstep of Savannah – Hardee dispatched Davis with his assessment of the situation. “Unless assured that force sufficient to keep open my communications can be sent me, I shall be compelled to evacuate Savannah.”[2] Two days later, Hardee received a reply from Davis, which set the plans for evacuation in motion. Davis, eager to protect a Confederate army in the field amid a dwindling supply of soldiers, instructed Hardee to maintain a vigilant observation of the Federal troop movements, while making “…the dispositions needful for the preservation of your army.”[3] On December 20, Hardee and his troops began evacuating Savannah, crossing hastily constructed pontoon bridges onto South Carolina soil.

For the balance of the war, Hardee attempted to slow Sherman’s progress during the Carolinas Campaign, and joined with Johnston in the last major battle in the western theater at Bentonville, North Carolina, where Hardee lost a son during the fighting. Moving to his wife’s plantation in Alabama after the war, Hardee served as president of the Selma and Meridian Railroad. Ill health prompted a visit to a sulphur spring in West Virginia, and during the journey, he died in Wytheville, Virginia, on November 6, 1873. ‘Old Reliable’ – a nickname his soldiers bestowed upon him during the war – rests in the Live Oak Cemetery in Selma, Alabama.[4] William J. Hardee proved a capable officer, one who sought to protect his native state against great odds.

[1] Ezra J. Warner, Generals in Gray; Lives of the Confederate Commanders (Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1987), 124–25.

[2] U.S. War Department, The War of the Rebellion Official Records of the Union and Confederate Armies, reprint 1899 ed. Series I 44 (Harrisburg, PA: National Historical Society, 1971), 960.

[3] Ibid., 964.

[4] Michael R. Hall and Spencer C. Tucker, “William J. Hardee,” World at War: Understanding Conflict and Society, ABC-Clio, (accessed December 1, 2014).

Learn more about the Civil War in Kennesaw State University’s latest course, 1864-1865: The Conflict Draws to an End. Learn more and/or register for the class here.

imageMichael K. Shaffer is a Civil War historian, author, newspaper columnist, and lecturer. He can be contacted at:

Civil War Wednesday: Sherman’s March to the Sea

Major General William T. Sherman, Library of Congress LC-DIG-cwpb-06583

Major General William T. Sherman, Library of Congress LC-DIG-cwpb-06583

Major General William T. Sherman began making final preparations for his advance through Georgia after he received approval from Lieutenant General U.S. Grant in early November. Sherman, working from his headquarters in Kingston, issued Special Field Orders No. 120; this plan dictated the composition of his forces during the march, and also specified instructions regarding the destruction of all things considered of military value. Splitting his 62,000 soldiers into two wings, Sherman named Major General Henry Slocum to command the left wing, or the Army of Georgia. Major General Oliver O. Howard would lead the right wing; this force carried the Army of the Tennessee banner during the campaign.

In offering instructions on the gathering of supplies during the campaign, Sherman noted, “The army will forage liberally on the country during the march.”[1] This phrase provided enough latitude for the Federal soldiers to take liberties, especially when operating out of the direct view of their commanding officers.

Preparing to “…make the march, and make Georgia howl,” Sherman’s troops began destroying the rails of the Western and Atlantic Railroad and cutting the telegraph lines running along the tracks.[2] Since he planned to break from his line of supply – the railroad – during the invasion, Sherman no longer needed to protect this vital lifeline for his army. Although the special order issued in Kingston granted only the army corps commanders the permission to order the destruction of certain structures, unchecked troops went beyond torching buildings possessing military value. Brigadier General Judson Kilpatrick’s cavalrymen set fire to the square in Marietta, leaving smoke and flames in their wake as they rode into Atlanta.

Major General Joe Wheeler, Library of Congress LC-DIG-cwpb-05988

Major General Joe Wheeler, Library of Congress LC-DIG-cwpb-05988

On November 14, troops destroyed Atlanta’s railroad depot, along with several other buildings. As the lead elements began marching out of the city the following day, Sherman observed what they left in their wake. “Behind us lay Atlanta, smouldering [sic] and in ruins, the black smoke rising high in air, and hanging like a pall over the ruined city.”[3] General John Bell Hood, having taken the Army of Tennessee into her namesake state, left only the cavalry force of Major General Joe Wheeler to impede Sherman’s advance. Wheeler, with a force of 3,000 horsemen harassed the Federals at every opportunity. The only major infantry battle of the campaign took place on November 22 outside Griswoldville, when Brigadier General Pleasant Philips ordered his 2,400 men – mostly local militia troops – to charge the fortified position of Brigadier General Charles Walcutt’s Federals. Despite fielding superior numbers, the Southern troops met with defeat as they bravely charged the high ground. Many of Walcutt’s men wielded repeating rifles, and this firepower, coupled with artillery support, proved too much for Philips’s force.

Sherman kept Confederate officials guessing as to his intended target. President Jefferson Davis, along with others in Richmond, took action to send various officers to Georgia in an attempt to safeguard her valuable military assets. Macon, home to a Confederate armory, arsenal, and laboratory, seemed a sure target as the right wing approached. Except for a feint from Kilpatrick’s force, which resulted in skirmishing outside the city, the infantry force continued their southeastern trek.

Arriving in the state capital of Milledgeville on November 22, members of Slocum’s left wing conducted a mock session of the Georgia legislature in the capitol building, while others destroyed irreplaceable books and documents housed in the state library. Sherman’s wings continued their advance on Savannah, where Lieutenant General William Hardee had responsibility for safeguarding the city. When the Federals neared the outer defenses of Savannah on December 10, Sherman began making preparations to open a conduit to the U.S. Navy vessels awaiting nearby with food and other matériel. Only one obstacle stood in Sherman’s way – Fort McAllister.

Some 200 men under the command of Major George Anderson garrisoned the earthen fortification. To take the fort, Brigadier General William Hazen, with nine regiments in support, received the charge. Most of Fort McAllister’s artillery faced the seaward approach, and when Hazen’s men began their advance shortly after 4:00 p.m. on December 13, a few cannon, whose gunners fired from an exposed position offered resistance. Land mines buried along the various land approaches to the fort slowed the advancing Federals and produced several casualties. After 15 minutes of hard fighting, Sherman had his prize. Opening a supply line for his soldiers allowed him to focus his attention on the capture of Savannah. Hardee, along with General P.G.T. Beauregard – the officer in charge of the entire theater of operations – continued to seek advice from Richmond on holding Savannah. On December 17, President Davis dispatched Hardee with a final decision. “Close observation will…enable you to know when the enemy shall send from your front any considerable force, that you may then provide for the safety of your communications and make the dispositions needful for the preservation of your army.”[4]

Heeding the instructions from Richmond, during the evening of December 20, Hardee began evacuating Savannah. His men crossed hastily constructed pontoon bridges of makeshift variety, and stepped onto South Carolina soil. Sherman entered the city on December 22 and sent his famous dispatch to President Abraham Lincoln. “I beg to present you, as a Christmas gift, the city of Savannah, with 150 heavy guns and plenty of ammunition, and also about 25,000 bales of cotton.”[5] After marching for almost 300 miles through the interior of Georgia, and creating a 60 mile-wide swath of destruction, Sherman and his troops would quarter in Savannah for one month before beginning their next campaign, which would take them through the Carolinas.

[1] U.S. Government, The War of the Rebellion Official Records of the Union and Confederate Armies, vol. 39 of pt.3 (Harrisburg, PA: National Historical Society, 1985), 713. Hereafter referred to as O.R.

[2] Ibid., 162.

[3] William Tecumseh Sherman, Memoirs of General W.T. Sherman (New York: Penguin Books, 2000), 544.

[4] O.R., 44, 964.

[5] Ibid., 783.

imageMichael K. Shaffer is a Civil War historian, author, newspaper columnist, and lecturer. He can be contacted at:

Civil War Wednesday: The Fall of Atlanta

Destroyed box cars in Atlanta, Library of Congress, LC-DIG-ppmsca-33492

Destroyed box cars in Atlanta, Library of Congress, LC-DIG-ppmsca-33492

One hundred fifty years ago this week, Major General William T. Sherman turned his three armies to the southwest, and began maneuvering around besieged Atlanta, in an attempt to cut the remaining railroads supplying the Confederate forces protecting the city. General John Bell Hood, head of the Army of Tennessee, upon learning the Federal troops had vacated their positions opposite the vast series of earthworks and fortifications surrounding Atlanta, believed Major General Joseph Wheeler’s raid into northwest Georgia had accomplished the mission of severing Sherman’s supply line out of Chattanooga. Although Wheeler and his horsemen inflicted some damage to the Western & Atlantic Railroad, Northern repair crews soon had the rails restored, and supplies flowed to Sherman’s 100,000 troops.

Scouting parties soon reported to Hood the presence of Federal forces near Rough and Ready, with elements also approaching Jonesboro. Hood ordered Lieutenant Generals William Hardee and S.D. Lee to move, posthaste, toward the area. Hardee arrived first, reaching Jonesboro on August 30. At 1:00 p.m. on the day of his arrival, he received a dispatch from Brigadier General Francis Shoup, Hood’s chief of staff, indicating the commanding general “…does not think the necessity will arise to send more troops to Jonesborough to-day.”[1] Before sunset on the day, the Confederates reversed their thoughts regarding a pending attack, and full preparations for battle began.

The plan of attack for the Confederates dictated Lee and Hardee would coordinate their attempted repulse of the approaching Federals, with Major General Patrick Cleburne launching the assault. Upon hearing the sound of Cleburne engaging, Lee would strike the left of the Federal position, while Hardee hit the right. Light skirmishing broke out on the morning of August 31, and Lee, mistaking the sounds for Cleburne’s full advance, initiated his attack. Lee’s soldiers, forced to fall back, could not support a breakthrough Cleburne’s men later achieved. Day one drew to a close with Lee suffering the majority of the Confederate casualties. Major General Oliver O. Howard sent the following report to Sherman: “The enemy attacked us in three distinct points, and were each time handsomely repulsed.”[2]

Fearing an attack upon Atlanta from another direction, Hood ordered Lee to make his way back to the city during the evening of August 31. When the battle renewed at Jonesboro on September 1, Hardee, severely outnumbered, had no chance to hold-off the bulk of Sherman’s armies. Two days of fighting resulted in 2,000 Confederate dead, wounded, and missing; the Northern forces lost 1,149 men. The defeat at Jonesboro, coupled with the severing of the final rail lines running into the city, left Hood no choice but to abandon Atlanta on the evening of September 1, 1864. He ordered the destruction of over 80 box cars – some loaded with munitions – and five locomotives, which the Confederates could not extricate. The resultant blast leveled nearby buildings, while the noise alarmed civilians for miles in all directions.

The fall of the city weakened Southern morale and increased the resolve among many in the North to continue the war effort. None received this news with greater elation than President Abraham Lincoln. He issued an order of thanks to Sherman and his armies, and called for the nation to observe a day of “Thanksgiving and Prayer” on September 10. Perhaps more than most, Lincoln had occasion for giving thanks, as his reelection hopes, spiraling downward before the capture of Atlanta, met a complete reversal after news of Sherman’s victory spread. Lincoln’s Secretary of the Navy, Gideon Wells, pointedly addressed the political implications from the fall of Atlanta in his diary entry of September 9. “The success of Sherman at Atlanta…has very much discomposed the opposition. They had planned for a great and onward demonstration for their candidate [George B. McClellan] and platform, but our naval and army successes have embarrassed them exceedingly.”[3] Six small words from Sherman, “…Atlanta is ours, and fairly won,” transformed Northern military and political fortunes in 1864.[4]

shafferMichael K. Shaffer is a Civil War historian, author, newspaper columnist, and lecturer. He can be contacted at:

[1] U.S. War Department, The War of the Rebellion Official Records of the Union and Confederate Armies, reprint 1899 ed. Series I 38, pt. 5 (Harrisburg, PA: National Historical Society, 1971), 1000.

[2] Ibid., 727.

[3] Gideon Wells, Diary of Gideon Wells, Secretary of the Navy under Lincoln and Johnson (1911; repr., Lexington, KY: Filiquarian Publishing, 2011), 2:140.

[4]O.R., 38, pt. 5, 777.

Civil War Wednesday: The Plight of the Mill Workers

New Manchester Mill ruins, photo courtesy of author

New Manchester Mill ruins, photo courtesy of author

Hoping to replicate the success of Roswell King, who founded the Roswell Manufacturing Company in the town bearing his name, Colonel James Rogers and former Georgia Governor Charles McDonald built another mill, this one alongside Sweetwater Creek in Campbell County (today’s Douglas County). Roswell King assisted them in the design and construction, and the new mill began operations in 1849. The mill turned out thread, cloth and yarn of fine quality under the direction of Rogers and McDonald. In 1860, Colonel Arnoldus Brumby and William Russell assumed the reasonability of daily operations, as McDonald’s health declined.[1]

Fighting and maneuvering during the Atlanta Campaign eventually brought the threat of Federal forces to the region, and the mill operators, both in Roswell and in Sweetwater, grew increasingly concerned over the safety of their operations. The owner in Roswell took drastic action when he made a Frenchman, Theophile Roché, a part owner. Perhaps they believed a foreign-born operator might claim neutrality and save the mill. When the Federal horse soldiers of Brigadier General Kenner Garrard rode into Roswell on July 6, a French flag flew above the mill. The ruse to convince the invading soldiers of the mill’s neutrality failed, and Northern flames soon blazed. When Major General William T. Sherman learned of the flag incident, he instructed Garrard, “Should you, under the impulse of anger…hang the wrench, I approve the act beforehand.” In the same dispatch, Sherman instructed Garrard to, “…arrest all people, male and female, connected with those factories, no matter what the clamor, and let them foot it, under guard, to Marietta, whence I will send them by cars to the North. The poor women will make a howl.” [2] Garrard managed to provide wagons to carry the 400 or so men, women, and children arrested for treason into Marietta.

Before turning his sights toward the New Manchester Mill, Sherman wired Major General Henry Halleck in Washington explaining how the entire region “…was devoted to manufactories,” and he vowed to “…destroy every one of them.”[3]  Sherman’s observation proved astute, as the mills in Roswell produced sheeting, tent cloth, and wool for Confederate uniforms; many soldiers went into battle wearing ‘Roswell Grey’. Sherman made good on his promise when Federal cavalry approached their next target along Sweetwater Creek. This mill also provided cloth to support the Confederacy, so on July 9, three days after the destruction in Roswell, the Federal torch ignited again, when Major Haviland Thompkins ordered the burning of the New Manchester Mill.

Thompkins placed each of the mill workers under arrest, but did not charge them with treason; only the mill employees in Roswell faced this fate. The officer gave each worker 15 minutes to gather their belongings, before ordering some 200 men, women, and children to begin their journey to Marietta. Unlike the 400 or more refugees from Roswell who rode in wagons, the workers from Sweetwater made the trip on foot. Regardless of their mode of transportation, all eventually found their way to the grounds of the Georgia Military Institute in Marietta, where they awaited northbound trains (some lingered for over three weeks), which would take them through Chattanooga, on to Nashville, and then their final destination – Louisville, Kentucky. A Federal soldier charged with guarding the refugees in waiting observed, especially of the women, “Some of them are tough and it’s a hard job to keep them straight and to keep the men away from them. General Sherman says he would rather try to guard the whole Confederate Army, and I guess he is right about that.”[4]

Reaching the rail terminus in Louisville, the men quartered in the city’s military prison, while the women and children received housing in a newly opened hospital, where members of the Louisville Refugee Commission provided care. The citizens of Louisville, ill-equipped to handle the influx of the refugees, wanted the people sent elsewhere. Sherman intervened and issued orders to “…have them sent across the Ohio River and turned loose to earn a living where they won’t do us any harm.”[5] Over time, the mill workers ferried to the opposite bank of the river, and many took residence in various Indiana locales. Several of the Sweetwater families settled down in Perry County, where some eventually found employment in the Cannelton Cotton Mill after the war. Years later, roughly half of the New Manchester refugees made their way back to Georgia, but returned to a town forever lost to history.[6]

Today, the Georgia Department of Natural Resources manages the Sweetwater Creek State Park in Douglas County. Pay this scenic area a visit, walk the grounds where the mill workers lived and worked, and recall their 1864 struggles!

[1] Mary Deborah Petite, The Women Will Howl: The Union Army Capture of Roswell and New Manchester, Georgia, and the Forced Relocation of Mill Workers (Jefferson, N.C.: McFarland, 2008), passim. A great source for those wanting to learn more about the arrest of the workers in both Roswell and Sweetwater.

[2] U.S. War Department, The War of the Rebellion Official Records of the Union and Confederate Armies, reprint 1899 ed. Series I 38, pt. 5 (Harrisburg, PA: National Historical Society, 1971), 76.

[3] Ibid., 73.

[4] Theodore F. Upson, With Sherman to the Sea; The Civil War Letters, Diaries & Reminiscences of Theodore F. Upson, ed. Oscar O. Winther (1958; repr., Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1977), 119.

[5] U.S. War Department, The War of the Rebellion Official Records of the Union and Confederate Armies, 92.

[6] Petite, The Women Will Howl: The Union Army Capture of Roswell and New Manchester, Georgia, and the Forced Relocation of Mill Workers, passim.

shafferMichael K. Shaffer is a Civil War historian, author, newspaper columnist, and lecturer. He can be contacted at: