- 19 Jan 2023 12:58
January 19, Thursday
Sherman’s plan moving north from Savannah is to keep the enemy confused about where he is headed. As they did through Georgia, his troops will march in two columns. His left wing—the XIV and XX Corps, led by the hard-bitten Major General Henry W. Slocum (currently bogged down thanks to the heavy rains)—will travel northwest to threaten Augusta. The devout but soldierly Major General Oliver O. Howard will take the right wing, consisting of XV Corps and XVII Corps, northeast toward Charleston. But the Federals’ real objective is Columbia, the capital of South Carolina, 130 miles due north of Savannah. Sherman’s men feel much more vindictive toward South Carolina than they had toward Georgia. To the army, South Carolina is the birthplace of the rebellion.
As Sherman is about to move, the rains arrive. The area is inundated, and there are days when even Sherman wonders if the pessimists have been right about his chances of making a winter march through the Carolinas. The downpour that coincides with Sherman’s planned departure is the heaviest in twenty years, and the roads on the South Carolina side of the Savannah River—the first of several major rivers to be crossed between Savannah and Goldsborough—are said to be “navigable in boats.” For almost two weeks, the left wing is stopped in its tracks. The experience of one regiment from New York is typical. First, its soldiers have to move their camp back from the rising river to avoid being drowned. Then, on the 28th, the men march several miles to a river crossing, find the bridge washed out, return to camp, go back and attempt to make a new bridge, have to give up and camp again not far from where they began. The next day, they try a different crossing—a causeway that runs through a swamp, with a bridged creek running through it. They fight off a brief attack by Confederate cavalry, then go on to examine the causeway only to find it covered with water in many places, the only guide over the flooded road the posts and railing on each side of the causeway. When they reach the creek they find the bridge gone, whereupon they are ordered back to their starting point.
President Davis, Generals Hardee and Beauregard try urgently to scrape together an army that can stop Sherman. The nearest Confederate force north of Savannah comprises 8,000 men under General Hardee at Port Royal Sound, South Carolina. Hardee also has a 3,000-man division of state militia defending Charleston. Farther up the coast, General Braxton Bragg, recently dispatched from Richmond, commands a force of about 6,500 at Wilmington. General D.H. Hill, headquartered at Augusta, blocks Sherman’s inland route with three divisions of General Wheeler’s roving cavalry and about 1,400 Georgia militia, who are prohibited by law from leaving their home state. Beauregard hopes to augment this inadequate force with troops from the Army of Tennessee, which is licking its wounds at Tupelo, Mississippi. Of the 40,000 tough veterans that Hood had led into battle at Nashville, fewer than half remain. Hood himself, broken in spirit, has been relieved of command at his own request. Still, this is the most potent Confederate force in the field other than the Army of Northern Virginia, and 11,000 of its men are ordered east by rail to Augusta. In addition, General Lee reluctantly parts with the redoubtable Wade Hampton—now promoted to lieutenant general—sending him to his native South Carolina with a division of his cavalry under Major General Matthew C. Butler. Even if Beauregard can assemble every available soldier in the region, however, he will have fewer than 30,000 men. Sherman, once Schofield joins him, will command more than 70,000.
A skirmish occurs at Corinth, Mississippi; and there is a Federal reconnaissance around Myrtle Sound, North Carolina; Federal scouting from Donaldsonville, Louisiana; and a four-day Union expedition from Memphis, Tennessee, to Marion, Arkansas.
General Lee rather reluctantly tells President Davis he will “undertake any service to which you think proper to assign me,” but he feels, if named General-in-Chief, “I must state that with the addition of the immediate command of this army I do not think I could accomplish any good.” He adds, “If I had the ability I would not have the time.” However, pressure continues on Davis to appoint Lee.
President Lincoln has a more personal problem—or his wife does, which comes to the same thing. Their son Robert, just out of college, wants to enter the army despite strenuous objections by his mother, who has grown sick with fear of what might happen to him there. As a result, Lincoln has worked out a compromise that might satisfy them both, depending on Grant’s response to a proposal made to him: “Please read and answer this letter as though I was not President, but only a friend. My son, now in his twenty-second year, having graduated from Harvard, wishes to see something of the war before it ends. I do not wish to put him in the ranks, nor yet to give him a commission to which those who have already served long are better entitled, and better qualified to hold. Could he, without embarrassment to you or detriment to the service, go into your military family with some nominal rank, I, and not the public, furnishing his necessary means? If no, say so without the least hesitation, because I am as anxious, and as deeply interested that you shall not be encumbered, as you can be yourself.” Grant replies that he will be glad to have the young man on his staff as an assistant adjutant, his rank to be that of captain and his pay to come from the government, not his father. Lincoln is glad to have the difficult matter settled, but it comes hard for him that he has had to settle it this way, knowing as he does that he has drafted into the shot-torn ranks of the nation’s armies hundreds of thousands of other sons whose mothers love and fear for them as much as Mary Lincoln does for hers.
Necessity is the plea for every infringement of human freedom. It is the argument of tyrants; it is the creed of slaves.