General Hardee has had his forces quietly construct a pontoon bridge across the Savannah River. They constructed it out any boat or pretty much any floating object they could use. On top of the boats, boards were placed to make a road. They then placed straw and hay on top of the bridge to dampen the noise of travelers. On the night of Dec. 20th, Confederate forces withdrew from Savannah and crossed the pontoon bridge into South Carolina.
Dec. 17th, General Hardee, commander of the Confederate forces in Savannah, sends a request to Confederate President Jeff Davis for reinforcements from Lee’s Army in Virgina, but receives word that Lee can not spare any troops. General Sherman, knowing he has the upper hand, sends a request for Hardee’s surrender, but it is rejected by Hardee and the siege continues.
Dec. 13th, Federal forces overwhelm the garrison at Fort McAllister after a spirited fight the fort is captured. Sherman watched the assault from a rice mill across the river. With the Ogeechee River open, supplies begin to flow in to the army. Sherman has a 1000′ long wharf built at King’s Bridge on the Ogeechee River. This area is now a park with a boat ramp where the Hwy. 17 crosses the Ogeechee River.
Dec. 12th, Kilpatrick is dispatched with his cavalry to locate an assault route to Fort McAllister. Fort McAllister protects the mouth of the Ogeechee River and must be taken in order for Sherman to begin supplying his army. After locating a route and informing Sherman, Kilpatrick rides to Midway and makes his headquarters at the Midway Church and then sends forces to Sunbury in an attempt to contact the Federal Fleet.
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.
General Hardee is now well aware of the Sherman’s intent to move on Savannah and has placed his command between Sherman and Savannah. The Right and Left Wings are both moving in a south easterly direction using the main roads into Savannah. On the 5th, Sherman, traveling with the 17th Corps reaches the Ogeechee Church in what is now Oliver. He took possession of a private home for his headquarters and remained here for several days to coordinate the movements of his command. They were now within 50 miles of Savannah.
On the morning of the 4th, Kilpatrick’s Cavalry supported by two Brigades of Infantry marched on Waynesboro. Their objective was to capture the town and burn all the bridges over Brier Creek. As they approached the town they encountered General Wheeler’s skirmishers and drove them in toward the main line of works. Being out numbered by the Federals who were advancing rapidly on their position and were about to over run them, the Confederates fell back to another line of prepared work in the streets of Waynesboro. As Wheeler was again about to be overrun by a larger force, he ordered his Texans and Tennesseans to charge, thus delaying the Federals long enough for Wheeler to move his forces to block the Augusta road should Kilpatrick turn that way. After quickly taking control of the town, the Federals burned the bridges over Brier Creek and set fire to the town. The towns people were able to suppress many of the fires saving a great deal of the town.
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.