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.