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: Lemuel Grant

Captain Lemuel P. Grant, Courtesy Atlanta Preservation Center

Captain Lemuel P. Grant, Courtesy Atlanta Preservation Center

Lemuel P. Grant, a Maine native, who toiled on the Philadelphia and Reading Railroad as a teenager, moved to Georgia to gain employment in the burgeoning railroad industry. He first worked as a construction engineer on the Georgia Railroad, before his promotion to chief engineer on the Atlanta & La Grange Railroad – later renamed the Atlanta & West Point. When the clouds of war began rolling across the horizon, Grant served as president of the Southern Pacific Railroad of Texas, before resigning to receive a commission as a captain in the Confederate Engineer Department.

With the fall of Vicksburg on July 4, 1863, Confederate officials increasing concern over the safety of Atlanta prompted action; Colonel Jeremy Gilmer, head of the Confederate Engineer Bureau, turned to Grant. Gilmer addressed his letter of July 16, 1863 to Grant, asking him to “…examine carefully with a view to a proper system of defense, the approaches to, and vicinity of Atlanta.” The engineer chief offered instruction for defending the city, suggesting the occupation of “…the favorable points in the circuit around the place (far enough from the town to prevent the enemy from coming within bombarding distance), by suitable detached works.”[1]

Grant map of Atlanta Defenses, Lemuel P. Grant papers, MSS 100, Kenan Research Center at the Atlanta History Center.

Grant map of Atlanta Defenses, Lemuel P. Grant papers, MSS 100, Kenan Research Center at the Atlanta History Center.

After surveying the grounds around the city, Grant dispatched Gilmer in early August. “The question of defensive works around Atlanta is somewhat embarrassing. To make them effective will require a cordon of enclosed works within supporting distance of each other. The line will be between 10 and 12 miles…the points which must be occupied will be, perhaps, 12 to 15 in number, involving an expenditure second only to the defense of Richmond.”[2]

Work on the line of earthworks continued throughout the summer and fall, allowing Grant, on November 1, 1863, to enter his office in the Lynch Building at the corner of Whitehall and Alabama Streets, and update Gilmer on his progress. “The defenses of Atlanta consist of redoubts and rifle pits…generally intended for five guns each. The contour of the eminences…is such…redoubts seemed to me to be the most economical plan. Of these, we have 17…4 unfinished…length of the line… 7 ½ miles, averaging 1 ¼ miles from the center of the city.[3]

Gilmer visited Atlanta in December, inspected Grant’s work, gave his stamp of approval on the system of defenses, and authorized additional funding to augment the series of earthworks and fortifications. In March 1864, General Joseph E. Johnston left his winter headquarters in Dalton to examine Grant’s design. Informed via dispatch of Johnston’s planned visit, Gant agreed to guide the Army of Tennessee’s chieftain on a tour of the various fortifications.

Once the Atlanta Campaign began, and the armies drew closer to Atlanta, Johnston sent Lieutenant Colonel S.W. Presstman to assist Grant in extending the line of fortifications, especially in the northwestern quadrant of the city. The additional earthworks stretched the works to 12 miles in length, and enabled Johnston to assert, “We, if beaten, had a place of refuge in Atlanta too strong to be assaulted and too extensive to be invested.”[4]

Indeed, Grant executed his assignment very well! Captain Orlando Poe, Major General William T. Sherman’s engineer officer, reported on reconnaissance of the Confederate works after the July 22, 1864 Battle of Atlanta, noting, “…it was decided that no attempt at assault should be made upon that part of the enemy’s line which we could see.”[5]


Federal troops at Fort Walker after the fall of Atlanta, Orlando Poe Collection, Special Collections, USMA Library

With the loss of his last railroad supply line after the Battle of Jonesboro, General John Bell Hood evacuated Atlanta. Grant continued to serve out the war, assisting in establishing defense systems in Augusta and other locales during Sherman’s March to the Sea. After the war, he returned to Atlanta, where he served in several elected positions, and as the head of the Atlanta and West Point Railroad, before his death on January 11, 1893.

The Columbus Enquirer, reported on his passing in their January 12 edition, noting Grant had, “…in every way possible worked for Atlanta’s prosperity.” The marker at his grave site carries Grant’s final wish for “…Grant Park to be his monument.” However, perhaps an equally fitting tribute rests inside his beloved park. Fort Walker – named in memory of Major General W.H.T. Walker, killed during the Battle of Atlanta – represents one of the last, and best-preserved examples of Grant’s efforts to defend Atlanta.

[1] Jeremy Gilmer to L.P. Grant, July 16, 1863, Lemuel P. Grant Papers, Kenan Research Center at the Atlanta History Center.

[2] Allen P. Julian, “Atlanta’s Defenses,” Civil War Times Illustrated, 1964, 24.

[3] Ibid.

[4] U.S. War Department, The War of the Rebellion Official Records of the Union and Confederate Armies, reprint 1899 ed. Series I 38, pt. 3 (Harrisburg, PA: National Historical Society, 1971), 619.

[5] O.R., 38, pt. 1, 132.


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

15 Unforgettable Military Attractions in Georgia

Veterans Wall of Honor in McDonough

Veterans Wall of Honor in McDonough

  1. Fort Stewart Military Museum in Hinesville is the largest military post east of the Mississippi. Inside the museum, Liberty County’s military heritage is showcased in ever-changing exhibits featuring objects from WW11, Desert Storm, and present-day military activities.
  2. Currahee Military Museum in historic downtown Toccoa’s restored train depot, is home to the WWII history of approximately 17,000 soldiers that trained at Camp Toccoa to become paratroopers.
  3. American Legion Military Museum and Post Cafe in Trenton features artifacts dating from the Revolutionary War through the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, with special emphasis on personal displays of local residents during World War II, Korea and Vietnam.
  4. Chickamauga National Military Park in Fort Oglethorpe was the first major Civil War battlefield set aside as a memorial to the soldiers who fought there. Take a self-guided tour of the 5,200-acre battlefield and hear an audio tape tell of the three-day conflict that claimed 34,000 Union and Confederate casualties.
  5. Korea Monument at American Legion Post 201

    Korea Monument at American Legion Post 201

    Walk of Memories Alpharetta American Legion Post 201 in Alpharetta pays tribute through a walkway composed of more than 7,000 bricks, to all Georgians who served in the military and died.

  6. U.S. Army Signal Corps Museum in Augusta is a permanent historical and educational institution, providing training and education to soldiers, military dependents and the general public on all aspects of the history of the Signal Corps, the development of Fort Gordon and vicinity, and the U.S. Army.
  7. The Veterans Wall of Honor in McDonough is an 80-foot-long granite monument that sits on a 2 ½ acre hilltop site in the historic Heritage Park. The wall honors all veterans, living and deceased, for their service and sacrifices to secure our freedom.
  8. The Heritage Park Veterans Museum in McDonough tells a story – from the array of uniforms, some of which date back to World War I, to the rations, equipment and supplies – all of it is displayed to give the public a true sense of the life of a soldier.
  9. Gwinnett's Fallen Heroes Memorial

    Gwinnett’s Fallen Heroes Memorial

    Gwinnett’s Fallen Heroes Memorial in Lawrenceville pays tribute to all Gwinnett residents who died in the line of duty in military or public safety service.From native Americans “who were the first to love this land,” to the most recent casualties, the memorial honors about 700 individuals, organized by categories of service.

  10. 6th Cavalry Museum in Fort Oglethorpe preserves the rich military history of the “Fighting Sixth” Cavalry, stationed at The Post at Fort Oglethorpe 1919 – 1942. The museum houses artifacts, uniforms, weapons, accouterments, photos, a Patton Tank and authentic WWII vehicles.
  11. Andersonville National Historic Site in Andersonville pays tribute to all American prisoners of war. The park has three features: the National Prisoner of War Museum, the site of the Andersonville prison, and the Andersonville National Cemetery.
  12. The Drummer Boy Civil War Museum in Andersonville is home to Civil War uniforms, guns, flags,revolvers, carbines, muskets and Civil War swords.
  13. National Infantry Museum in Columbus

    National Infantry Museum in Columbus

    National Infantry Museum & Soldier Center in Columbus salutes soldiers in a 190,000-square-foot facility nestled where Columbus meets Fort Benning. It is the only museum in the country dedicated to the American Infantryman and preserves one of the greatest collections of military artifacts.

  14. Kingsland Veterans Memorial Park in Kingsland  stands as a reminder to all Americans that we will never forget the brave men and women who have serve, and are currently serving, in all branches of the United States Armed Forces.  The Memorial Park pays tribute to the American servicemen and women who have fought and lost their lives in service for the protections of our freedom.
  15. National Museum of the Mighty Eighth Air Force in Pooler is dedicated to preserving the history and stories of the Eighth Air Force. Hear the unforgettable stories of bravery, experience a bomber mission and briefing, and see the ongoing restoration of the World War II B-17 Flying Fortress “City of Savannah” inside the Museum’s Combat Gallery.

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: