Slippery Foothold on Savannah
An expedition was launched on Monday November 28, 1864 by an assorted collection of combatants put together in the Department of the South by Major General John G. Foster, for the purpose of gaining a foothold above Savannah, Georgia. Embarked upon steamers, 5,500 volunteer soldiers, USCT's, Sailors and Marines, set sail for Boyd's Neck on the Broad River with instructions to cut the Charleston and Savannah Railroad.
The operation got snagged early on, as the winter weather created a thick fog along the river causing some ships to run aground while others navigated up the Chechesse River, miles away from the landing point. The steamer Canonicus, carrying engineers had been one delayed in her arrival, not landing until 2:00 pm that afternoon. The disembarkation of the artillery in particular depended on the quick construction of a landing, and Brigadier General John Porter Hatch, placed in command of the landing force, had to wait.
The Naval Brigade under Commander George H. Preble was the first to arrive, with an artillery battalion under Lieutenant Commander Edmund O. Matthews, followed by a battalion of Naval infantry under Lieutenant James O'Kane, as well as five hundred Marines lead by First Lieutenant George G. Stoddard.
Hatch decided to push forward with what he had and sent Commander Preble to feel out the enemy. The immediate move left the Navy to detail sailors in pulling their own artillery, as the commander of the expeditionary force waited for the remainder of his command to land, no draft animals were then available for their use.
This small force accompanied by a small detachment of cavalry was pushed out, but ran into resistance by Georgia militia troops commanded by Major General Gustavus W. Smith. Gaining ground, the Naval Brigade pushed the rebels past a narrow cross road in the direction of Bee's Creek. The brigade under Brigadier General Edward E. Potter landed and followed up on the Navy's initial success, only to discover that Preble and his sailors pushed out a road in a direction undesirable to orders. Directed back to the crossroads, the sailors dragging their cannon behind; stood down for the remainder of the day, and waited to return to the assault force on the morning of the 30th.
The federals merited initial success on Wednesday morning pushing back the rebel artillery, but their march was down a narrow and wooded road. The advance of General Potter's brigade came into the open, the 127th New York Infantry in front as skirmishers, supported by the 25th Ohio, 144th and 157th New York Infantries witnessed the rebel retreat into more formidable works strung out along Honey Hill. The base of which was marshy and hard to maneuver foot soldiers; the fields in front set afire to impede the advance.
Colonel Alfred S. Hartwell's 2nd brigade came in behind Potter carrying with him the 54th and 55th Massachusetts Infantries as well as the 30th, 32nd, 35th and 102nd USCT's. All but the 102nd USCT's mostly in reserve this day were sent forward to support Potter's 1st Brigade partaking in a couple desperate assaults but gaining no advantage against the entrenched Confederates.
Although, Hatch's division eventually outnumbered the rebel resistance by odds of 4 to 1, the nature of the ground, the brush fires, and defensive position selected caused the advance to grind to a halt. Common sense dictated an orderly withdrawal.
Seven hundred forty six soldiers, sailors and marines were added to the casualty list during the precursor to capture Savannah, Georgia all but lost to the memory of America as events in Tennessee this same Wednesday would dwarf the significance of Honey Hill to historical obscurity.
Editors Note: Mr.Moran is a feature writer on the US-Civilwar.com writers staff. He may be contacted with your questions, ideas and requests at firstname.lastname@example.org