Dec. 8th – Dec. 10th, the Left Wing marches toward Savannah passing through Springfield and Ebenezer. All the while meeting more resistance. The Right Wing begins to push elements to the East through Pooler and also faces increased resistance.
The Ebenezer Creek Incident: On the 9th of December 1864, the Federal 14th Corps was being hounded by Confederate Cavalry. When they reached the creek they found the bridge had been burned and the engineers were brought up to build pontoon bridges. The 14th Corps had been followed along their march through Georgia by a growing number of freed slaves, some historians estimate that there were nearly 5,000 former slaves following the 14th Corps. The Federals had asked the freed slaves not to follow the army as they did not have the resources to support their growing numbers. In a tactical decision, Brig. Gen. Jefferson Davis(not the Confederate President of the same name), ordered the pontoon bridge to be taken up before the refugees crossed. He was being pressed by the Confederate Cavalry and in order to save his troops, he stranded the refugees across the rain swollen Ebenezer Creek. As the Confederates closed in, many of the former slaves were in a panic and attempted to swim across the creek. Few made it across and hundreds died trying to cross the swift moving water. Many were recaptured by the Confederates as they reached the creek. Upon reaching Savannah later in December, there was an official investigation of the incident and General Davis was not reprimanded or punished in anyway. Some historians speculate that the move was planned as a way to rid the 14th Corps of the refugees as they were slowing their advance. General Sherman supported Generals Davis’s decision as the right thing to do from a military standpoint. (I was unable to photograph the location as the land was in the process of changing hands and is now set aside to become a public park sometime in the future.)
Dec. 10th, General Sherman arrives on the outskirts of Savannah’s defenses and begins to plan for siege operations. Sherman begins to lay siege to the defenses of Savannah and artillery exchanges become a frequent occurrence. In order to keep up a siege, Sherman know he will need supplies and must make contact with the Federal Navy just off the coast.
The Left Wing has reached the Ogeechee River and begins to cross at Fenn’s Bridge. A series of sharp cavalry battles ensue in the area of Waynesboro when Sherman feints toward Augusta. The Left Wing also provides support for Kilpatrick as he operates and clashes with Wheeler between Millen and Waynesboro.
General Sherman and his staff departed from Kingston on the morning of the 12th and began their journey to Atlanta. They reached Cartersville around noon where they sat on a porch at the telegraph operators office to rest. Sherman received a dispatch from General Thomas in Nashville. Sherman replied with “Dispatch received-all right”. As Sherman ended his message the telegraph line linking him to Chattanooga and the remainder of the Federal Army, was cut. Sherman and his forces were now cut off and on their own until they reached the coast. Just below Cartersville they stopped to watched the last trains cross the bridge over the Etowah River, and then crossed the river and continued south. They traveled about 20 miles for the day and camped near Allatoona.
The Federal troops in the outpost there had been protecting and garrisoning locations throughout North Georgia, were ordered to march toward Atlanta as quickly as possible and to destroy the railroad and make the country “untenable” for the enemy. Bridges, mills, homes, barns, and other buildings were burned and food as well as livestock were taken. What they could not carry, they destroyed.
General Sherman sent word via telegraph to General Corse, who was in command of the garrison at Rome. Corse, who had distinguished himself in early October at the Battle of Allatoona Pass, was to begin destroying anything in Rome that had or could have military value to the Confederates. The most important items of military value were the Noble Foundry and the Rail Road. The Foundry was destroyed with explosive charges and the remainder of the majority of the city was put to the torch. While many buildings were not designated as being of military value, some were set on fire by over zealous soldiers and others burned because of their proximity to military targets. By morning there were very few buildings still standing. The ones that survived were isolated from the main part of town that burned. The Federals destroyed two train depots and a warehouse as well as a livery stable still containing horses. As Corse and his men moved south to rendezvous with the remainder of Sherman’s Army, they began to destroy the railroad.
In Atlanta, Sherman’s Chief Engineer, Capt. Orlando Poe, was busy at work destroying anything of military value and was focusing much attention on the railroad and its related facilities. Poe had built a battering ram with an iron bar that was just over 21 feet long and suspended from a ten foot tall wooden suspension system. This was used to destroy the round house and depot. Some buildings were also rigged with explosives to be set off upon their departure. In five days, as the Federals leave Atlanta, it will be nothing more that a smoldering ruin.
After playing cat and mouse with General Hood in North Georgia during October, General Sherman stopped the chase and established his headquarters in Kingston Ga. From here, he was in a position to lash out at Hood if he reentered North Georgia, and he could also direct and finalize the logistical components of his March to the Sea.
Sherman had ordered the removal of all civilians in Atlanta and had also directed that all military personnel not going on the March to the Sea, should return to Chattanooga and other parts north. Civilians not wanting to travel north, were transported to Rough and Ready where they were transferred through to the Confederate lines. Sherman also ordered all the excess equipment and unnecessary war material to be sent back to the Federal lines in the north and that anything that could be of any possible military value to the Confederates was to be rendered useless and destroyed. Once the last train had left Atlanta, the railroad was to be destroyed as well as the telegraph lines. This would completely cut off General Sherman from any support until he reached the coast and could be resupplied by the Federal Navy.
After the Battle of Allatoona Pass, Hood continued to move his army to the north and west of Atlanta. He threatened the Federal supply line in several locations, but did not do any real lasting damage. He was pursed for a short while by Sherman and his army, but as the Confederates moved farther west into Alabama, Sherman held his position along the railroad and upon receiving orders to proceed with his plan to March to the Sea, he began making preparations. He established a headquarters in Kingston and directed all the activities in preparation for the March. He ordered all the non essential personnel and equipment in Atlanta to be sent back to Chattanooga and had rations and ammunition stockpiled in Atlanta for their departure in early November.
With the Confederate army gone and ensuing occupation of the Federal Army, Mayor Calhoun and a group of prominent citizens rode out of the city under a white flag of truce. Prior to leaving they debated as to whether or not they should arm themselves, the decide wisely to go unarmed. They ride out the Mason-Turner Ferry Road, now called Donald Lee Hollowell Parkway, where they pass through the defensive perimeter and go by the Ponder house. They encounter a mounted patrol of Federals whom they engage in conversation. Calhoun informs the Colonel that he would like to surrender the city to General Sherman, the Colonel states that Sherman is at Jonesboro and has Calhoun write a note to his commanding officer General Ward, surrendering the city. Calhoun wrote the note and the Colonel and two other officers sign it affirming its validity. The note reads as follows:
Brigadier General Ward,
Comdg. Third Division, Twentieth Corps
Sir: The fortune of war has placed Atlanta in your hands. As mayor of the city I ask protection to non-combatants and private property.
James M. Calhoun,
Mayor of Atlanta
By noon Federal units have reached City Hall and hoisted their colors over the city. Around 2:00pm, General Slocum enters the city and establishes his headquarters at the Trout House. He sends a telegram to the Secretary of War in Washington. The first line is “General Sherman has taken Atlanta”.
Demoralized, Hood’s troops continue their march to Love Joy’s Station to link up with Hardee. The loss of Atlanta is a crushing blow to the Confederacy. For Lincoln, it is a great political achievement that helps secure his spot for another term as President.
With S.D. Lee’s Corps having been sent back to Atlanta, Hardee was left to defend Jonesboro and the railroad with only his single Corps. to defend against the entire Federal Army of the Tennessee. Grossly outnumbered, Hardee deployed is Corps across the line that he had previously occupied with two Corps. Carter’s Division formed the Confederate left, Brown’s Division was placed in the center and Cleburne’s Division placed on the right and formed a salient angle with a refuse at the Warren house to the railroad. The brigade at the very extreme end of the right flank was commanded by States R. Gist. He ordered his men to go out ahead of the line and cut, bend over, and entangle as many trees as possible to try and even the odds with as much “abatis” as possible. This would later prove to be a very wise decision that prevented the Federal IV Corps under Stanley’s command from being able to reach the Confederate flank and turn it.
The attack by the Federals began at 4:00pm. Logan’s XV Corps attacked the Confederates from the west and Davis’s XIV Corps attacked the Salient in the Confederate line from the north west. Stanley’s IV Corps attempted to attack from the north by moving south along the railroad, but was unable to penetrate the abatis of Gist Brigade. Davis’s XIV Corps assaulted and overran the Salient in the Confederate line. This portion of the line was held by Govan’s Arkansas Brigade and Lewis’ Kentucky Orphan Brigade. They were overrun so rapidly that General Govan himself was captured along with 600 men and 8 cannons. Cleburne ordered Magevney’s Brigade to fill the gap and reform the line. They were able to do so and held off the remainder of the Federal assault.
After darkness fell, Hardee ordered a retreat of all his forces. They fell back six miles south to Love Joy’s Station where they entrenched. He sent a dispatch to Hood detailing that Jonesboro had fallen and that the railroad was in Sherman’s hands.
Having lost his supply lines, Hood has no choice but to evacuate Atlanta and attempt to reunite the remainder of his army at Love Joy’s Station. He orders A.P. Stewart’s Corps and the Georgia Militia in the defenses of Atlanta to evacuate the city. S.D. Lee’s Corps, which has marched all night toward Atlanta, after having fought a battle the previous day, is turned around only a mile or so from the city and has to march southward toward Love Joy’s Station. With the railroad destroyed, Hood orders the Cavalry to act as a rearguard and when the Army is out of the city, they are to set fire to and blow up the munitions train at the rolling mill. The rolling mill was at the present day location of Decatur and Boulevard. The explosions last for hours and can be heard all they way to Jonesboro.
After learning of the impending attack on Jonesboro and the railroad by the Federals, Hood dispatched Hardee’s Corps and S.D. Lee’s Corps to Jonesboro to protect the railroad.
By mid afternoon, both Hardee’s Corps and S.D. Lee’s Corps were in place at Jonesboro. Hardee deployed with his corps to the left and as he was in overall command of the operations, Cleburne was commanding the corps. Cleburne deployed with Lowery’s Division to the left and Brown’s Division to the Right. He held Maney’s Division in reserve. S.D. Lee’s Corps was deployed to the right of the Confederate line. Stevenson’s Division was on his left adjacent to Hardee’s right and Clayton was on the far right of the Confederate line. Stovall’s and Higley’s Brigades were held in reserve and were later moved forward to the left of S.D. Lee’s lines.
Hardee’s plan was to have Cleburne advance and wheel to their right(north) and attack the Federal right flank. Once they were engaged and the Federals shifted troops to protect the flank, their center would be weakened and then S.D. Lee’s Corp’s would initiate a full frontal assault on the Federal Lines.
Howard deployed his Federals on high ground between the Flint River and Jonesboro. He placed Logan’s XV Corps on the Federal left where they were facing the railroad and the town of Jonesboro. Ransom’s XVI Corps was deployed to the Federal right in a “refuse” in the line connected with Logan’s right and turned back west toward the Flint River and across it. Blair’s XVII Corps was held in reserve.
At 3:00pm Hardee ordered the attack to begin. As the advance began, Lowery’s Division made contact with Kilpatricks Federal Cavalry and was able to push them back rapidly across the Flint River. Lowery’s Division was moving so fast that they were not able to maintain contact with Brown’s Division. Brown’s Division struggled to advance through swampy terrain and a deep ravine. As they were unsupported on their left, Brown’s Division suffered heavy losses from the entrenched Federals on the high ground above the ravine.
S.D. Lee, who had only been in command of a Corps for about a month, ordered an all out assault at the first sounds of rifle fire from Cleburne. His inexperience caused him to attack too quickly and before the Federals could shift troops to the flank that was under attack. So, when Lee’s Corp attacked, they engaged the fully fortified and full strength lines of Logan’s Corps. Lee’s Corps over ran the Federal skirmishers, but were repeatedly repulsed by the Federal main line. Lee suffered heavy losses.
While the Battle of Jonesboro ensued. Schofield’s XXIII Corps and Stanley’s IV Corps reached the Western and Atlantic railroad south of Rough and Ready. After a short skirmish with some Confederate Cavalry, they began destroying the railroad.
Hood, still not convinced that this was the main attack and thinking it was only a diversion, was anticipating an attack on Atlanta. Without knowing the status of the battle in Jonesboro. Hood orders S.D. Lee’s Corps back to Atlanta thinking he is going to be attacked. Around midnight, Lee’s Corps, beaten, crippled, and worn out begins the long march back to Atlanta.
The Federal Army, having reached the West Point railroad at Red Oak and Fairburn on the previous day, spend the 29th destroying 12.5 miles of track stretching as far south as Palmetto. They burned the ties and lay the track across them to heat them and then bend them around trees. They fill the railroad cuts with trees, rocks, dirt, and in some cases they rig up artillery shells in the debris to explode if material is moved. There is also a great deal of looting and pillaging of the local populace. Livestock and food stuffs are taken along with anything the looters deem useful. Some things are destroyed just for fun. On the night of the 29th, Sherman issues marching orders for the next day. In the morning they will begin moving toward Jonesboro.