Sherman and the Right Wing move into Millen. Sherman stays here for a day so that he can communicate with all parts of his army. Soldiers give reports of the deplorable conditions found at the abandoned Camp Lawton just north of town. Nearly the entire town is burned to the ground over the next day or so.
The Left Wing of Sherman’s army moves from the Ogeechee River at Fenn’s Bridge to Louisville and Bartow. The Right Wing Occupies Riddleville and Wrightsville. Both of the wings are getting closer to each other and will eventually merge as they close on Savannah.
The Right Wing occupies Oconee and have taken the abandoned lines of the Confederates at Ball’s Ferry. The Left Wing enters Sandersville where they clash with cavalry as the enter town and fight a running skirmish through the town square. Elements of the Left Wing move out from Sandersville and move toward Tennille and Davisboro.
The 20th Corps, part of the Sherman’s Left Wing, reached Milledgeville. They marched into town past unoccupied Confederate earthworks and were completely unopposed. Mayor R.B. DeGraffenreid surrendered the town and asked for protection from looting and destruction. Two regiments camped on the state house grounds and acted as the provost. They also raised the first U.S. Flag over the state house since the start of the war.
The Right Wing fought what is thought to be the largest battle of The March to the Sea at the Battle of Griswoldville. On the morning of the 22nd, General Hardee dispatched three brigades of Georgia Militia from Macon to August to help defend the city. Hardee was hoping that the Federal column had already passed and that the militia would be moving behind them and have a clear path to August. Weather and choked roads, along with delaying actions by Wheelers cavalry, had caused the Right Wing to slow down. The Militia were under orders to retreat if the encountered any resistance.
General P.J. Phillips was in command of the Militia, after they marched north east from Macon they met up with the 4th Brigade that had marched out the night before. They told Gen. Phillips about the skirmishing between Wheeler and the Federals. Phillips also learned that his detachment outnumbered the Federals and decided to disobey his orders and attempt to overrun the Federal position. They were to attack across open fields that were nearly 700 yards in distance and try to reach a deep ravine about 100 yards from the Federal lines. The Federals were caught off guard by the attack as it came unexpectedly, but they quickly regrouped and formed up for a fight.
The Militia, made up of old men and young boys, made a concerted, if not confused, effort to attack the Federal position. Many of the Militia had never seen combat, some fired on their own men by mistake, some even attacked in the wrong direction. The battle hardened veterans of the Federal army opened up with a withering fire from their position and the bodies of the dead and dying Militia were littering the field. Yet they still advanced, time and time again under the constant fire of the Federals. The Militia reached within 50 yards of the Federal line before they finally retreated. The Militia lost 51 men killed and 472 wounded. The Federals lost 13 men and only had 79 wounded.
The Right Wing of Sherman’s forces continue their march south and pass through Jackson, Flovilla, Worthville, and Indian Springs. General Howard’s forces camped for the night near Jackson and prepared to cross the Ocmulgee River on the following day at Planter’s Ferry in the area known as Seven Islands.
The Left Wing, accompanied by General Sherman, moves through Conyers, Covington, and Social Circle while also crossing the Alcovy River. While in Covington, the Federal Troops march through the town with their flags waving and their bands playing. They are greeted with much trepidation from the southerns, but the slaves were joyous in their arrival and began to sing, dance and pray. They crowed around General Sherman on his horse in great celebration. Sherman camped for the night by the Ulcofauhachee River about four miles east of Covington. Here, Sherman met an elderly slave and engaged him in conversation. He asked the old man to spread the word to others to not follow the army as it would hamper their movements and burden them with more mouths to feed and people to care for. He also said that the army would hire young and strong men to work for the army along the way as pioneers and some as teamsters and cooks. Sherman told the old man he would not be successful in his mission if he was encumbered by masses of freed slaves as he attempted to move through the country and fight the Confederates. The old man agreed and began to spread the word. During the March to the Sea, many freed slaves did follow the army, but not nearly as many as could have.
On this day, Confederate President Jefferson Davis, appointed General William Hardee to command all the Confederate forces in Georgia. Confederate Cavalry General Joseph Wheeler had made his Headquarters in Griffin and on the 17th, he ordered his men to place pickets on all the roads to Macon, Columbus and Augusta. Wheeler and his men were to harass and slowdown Sherman’s Army as much as possible.
On the morning of the 17th, the Federal Cavalry under the command of General Kilpatrick, moved from Hampton towards Griffin and Forsyth. The threat was really a feint to distract Wheeler, but was enough of a threat to cause Wheeler to burn the bridge over the Towaliga River and start a small firefight.
The March to the Sea began this morning. The right wing and Kilpatirck’s cavalry move southeast along the railroad towards Jonesboro. Slocum’s 20th Corps, part of the left wing, moved east toward Decatur and Stone Mountain. Sherman, along with the remainder of the left wing and the rear guard of the right wing, stayed in Atlanta. Sherman supervised the last details of loading the wagon trains and the final destruction of Atlanta. In the late afternoon of the 15th the orders were given and the torch was put to Atlanta. An enormous fire soon erupted and began to consume the city. Artillery shells and other explosives had been placed in some structures and as the fire raged, they began to explode, sending debris and shell fragments through the air in all directions. Some soldiers remarked that they could not sleep because the light from the fire was too bright. Sherman remarked to a staffer that he thought the fire could possibly be seen as far away as Griffin, nearly 40 miles away.
General Sherman and his staff moved south from Marietta, towards Atlanta. Along the way the roads were nearly impassable due to the numbers of soldiers marching south to the city. The railroad had been completely destroyed. They pulled up the rails and then made fires with the cross ties. The rails were placed onto of the fires and the rails were heated red hot and then bent or twisted into an unusable shape. Sherman and his staff crossed the Chattahoochee River on a wagon bridge near the railroad bridge that had been destroyed earlier in the day. When General Sherman reached Atlanta, he established his headquarters at the Lyons House.
By the end of the day, nearly all of Sherman’s army was in or on the outskirts of Atlanta. They had been organized into two different wings. The Left Wing and the Right Wing. The Right Wing was commanded by Major General O.O. Howard and was composed of the 15th Corps, commanded by Major General P.J. Osterhaus, and the 17th Corps, commanded by Major General F. P. Blair. The left wing was under the command of Major General H. W. Slocum and was composed of the 14th Corps, commanded by Major General Jefferson C. Davis (not to be confused with Confederate President Jefferson Davis) and the 20th Corps under the command of Brigadier General A. S. Williams. Brigadier General Judson Kilpatrick was in command of a Cavalry Division that was to operate as a separate unit operating independently and in support of the two wings.
Having sent all the sick and injured, as well as nearly all the non combatants, back north, Sherman fielded an army that consisted of 55,329 infantry, 5,063 Cavalry, 1,812 Artillery. A total of 62,204 soldiers. They carried all they needed with them and were to forage off the surrounding country side. This is such an impressive number of men and material to move in coordination with each other, on foot, horseback and by wagon. Many accounts exist of how well fed everyone was during most of the march due to the region being fairly untouched by the war until now. Some accounts report that by the end of the march in December, that their livestock was in better condition than when they started out from Atlanta.
Sherman and his staff continue on toward Atlanta. They move south from Allatoona and passed through Acworth. All but a few homes in Acworth were destroyed. Major Connolly described it as “a heap of ruins”. Many officers were unable to or perhaps unwilling to stop the destructive and plundering nature of the soldiers under their command. As Sherman and his staff approached Marietta, they passed through some of the earthworks that had been abandoned during the summer. As they traveled they were able to see large, black columns of smoke coming form Marietta. General Kilpatrick and his cavalry were in the town. Guards had been posted to prevent Arson and looting, but were not able to do so and some officers were greatly disturbed by the unauthorized burning of the town. While in Marietta, Sherman reviewed General Kilpatrick’s command. He rode past and reviewed 5000 cavalry and at the end he took up a position to watch as they all road past cheering their General. The business district of the town around the square had been burned and destroyed.
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.