The Coming Storm on Savannah
The columns of federal blue had left Atlanta in their rear at first light, as Major General Joseph Wheeler reported the afternoon of November 15, 1864 to General John Bell Hood, Richmond, Virginia and all field and departmental commands concerned with this massive column of Yankees leaving a heavy trail of dust to the southeast. It had been expected for some time and word had been fired up the chain to expedite a defensive to block this three army corps advance. The objective had yet to be understood; both Macon and Augusta lay in the path of this mounting dust storm from the cavalry's perspective at Jonesboro.
Richmond was been advised the following day by General Pierre Gustave Toutant Beauregard, to hold in readiness all available forces from both North and South Carolina either for the defense of Augusta or in crossing the Savannah River to link up with the Georgia Militia. It was imperative to do all that could be done to prevent these forces from getting to the Atlantic coast and linking up with the federal fleet.
The news grew progressively worse for the Confederates as new information had been received that the Union 14th Army Corps had joined the grand spectacle, making it clear to cavalry and soldier alike that a force of roughly sixty thousand men was coming their way.
Several miles to the south of General Wheeler's cavalry stood the Georgia Militia forces under Major General Gustavus Woodson Smith near Griffin, he with the strong belief that Macon required his defense to provision the forces gathered in the state. Communication had been terribly slow between the cavalry and militia, as Smith moved his force to Forsyth in an effort pivot and move rapidly should the federal columns divert and change directions.
Major General Howell Cobb commanding the defenses at Macon; wrote to the President in Richmond convinced that his area was the target. Appalled in the universal destruction they were making out of Georgia. He requested that all available garrisons of Charleston, Savannah and Wilmington be sent to him at once. Every possible indication lead this officer to believe nothing otherwise. Robert Toombs agreed. In spite of his resignation from Confederate military service a year before, all of Georgia's sons needed to come to her aid at that hour. He called on Governor Joseph Brown to send Macon all that he could spare; if nothing could be done; Macon would have to be given up.
On November 17, 1864, General Samuel Cooper extended Lieutenant General William J. Hardee's command to stretch from Charleston, South Carolina to all in Georgia south of the Chattahoochee River. Richmond was now convinced that Macon was the federal objective and ordered Hardee to rapidly repair to the scene of active operations taking with him what garrisons could be spared, hospital convalescents, reserve, militia and volunteers.
Seventy two hours after the federal departure from Atlanta, President Jefferson Davis communicated with Major General Howell Cobb to employ every available man, including negroes to obstruct the roads by every practical means. He offered to services of Colonel George W. Rains at the Augusta arsenal as a source in obtaining pressure sensitive shells that are designed to explode with the slightest pressure; thus mining the roads in an effort to hamper the advancing army's progress.
General William Hardee arrived at Macon on the 19th, reporting to the adjutant general's office that one column of federal soldiers had been marching towards Augusta, and the hastily gathered information lead all to believe that General Sherman's march had intended that city as their objective. As the march continued the force grew larger. By November 19th, the volume of federal troops marching towards the coast consisted of five army corps; the 14th, 15th, 16th, 17th and 20th.
The scramble to ascertain the objective of the invading army remained a guessing game to all forces gathered within the state. The cavalry under Joseph Wheeler was ordered to attack the columns at Clinton on the morning of November 20th, only to learn by doing so that no tangible information could be gathered to enlighten the rebels of their intent. Another two days past and the best guess from high command was that in passing Macon, it was only believed that the target area was Augusta, and all available combatants were sent onto that city. Both Major General Smith's Georgia militia and a part of Howell Cobb's force moved for Augusta via the Central railroad.
The federal march had taken them right into Sandersville towards the final week of November, placing themselves in such a position that they could commence a forced march on either Augusta or Savannah; having left those wishing to prepare for a defensive completely off balance and second guessing. It had been a frustrating eleven days, but sending Wheeler's cavalry in towards the federal concentration ought to have given them what the Confederates had been seeking all that time; tangible information.
On day twelve, a message had been received in Augusta from the Secretary of War, James A. Seddon by General Braxton Bragg stating the department's wishes to place him in overall command of forces against the movements of the enemy. It had not been a command that the officer had expected, but at the same time could not turn down.
Sherman threw superior forces upon the Georgia militia at Grahamville on the 30th, yet in spite of it, Major General Smith held on and impressed upon Charleston to send forward all that it had to spare. It had taken the Confederates two solid weeks to understand the intentions of this vast federal movement. Major General John G. Foster was now knocking on the back door of Savannah, having engaged at Honey Hill. By the time the guess work had ended the Georgia seaport was close to being invested.
The siege had last but three weeks. Order had gone out from the command of Lieutenant General Hardee on December 19, 1864 to evacuate the forces to the left bank of the Savannah River, no more could be done as the columns of federal blue had reached their Atlantic objective and the armies under Major General William T. Sherman placed themselves in a golden position to turn north into the Carolinas. The march had been entirely masked from the knowledge of those scrambling to thwart its onward progress. The sun was going down on the South and it seemed that nothing was left to stop it.
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