One of the closest calls to total disaster happened in December of 1864 with the arrival of sixty-two thousand Union troops and Gen. Wm T. Sherman, “Uncle Billy” as his boys called him. This fifty-three-day heart-pounding, nail-biting, hair-raising horror story of her onion-skin-thin bare survival centers on the central question: who saved Savannah, really?
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Who Really Saved Savannah?
The Surprising Paradox
By Jack C. Wray
Trafford PublishingCopyright © 2015 Jack C. Wray
All rights reserved.
Sherman's Georgia Campaign
In early May 1864, Union general William T. Sherman and sixty-two thousand troops began the Atlanta Campaign to take the city. By early July, the Confederate forces were backed up against the outskirts of Atlanta. With Confederate supply lines fully severed, Confederate general John Bell Hood pulled his troops out of Atlanta on September 1, destroying supply depots as he left to prevent them from falling into Union hands. He also set fire to eighty-one loaded ammunition cars, which led to a huge destructive fire watched by hundreds.
The next day, September 2, Mayor James Calhoun met a captain on the staff of Union general Henry W. Slocum and surrendered the city, asking for "protection to noncombatants and private property." Sherman sent a telegram to Lincoln on September 3, which reads, "Atlanta is ours, and fairly won." He then established his headquarters there on September 7 and stayed for over two months.
On November 15, Sherman left the remainder of Atlanta in smoke and ashes, burning everything left for Confederates to salvage, and set out on his Georgia campaign in what was called his infamous March to the Sea.
It is important to pause before proceeding to look at that title, March to the Sea. Those were not just four nebulously chosen words randomly pulled out of the sky, forming a nice-sounding phrase. No! Those four words were very carefully chosen with a purpose.
To get at their importance, it is necessary to go back through your knowledge of American history and rewind to pre-Sherman Atlanta, say, around early spring 1864. Then you have to delete from your brain everything you know about Southern history, the way you hit the Delete key on your computer. You are now at the time when Sherman has not yet arrived in Atlanta. The city is calm for the moment.
Now picture yourself talking to your next-door neighbor along these lines: "Wouldn't it be nice to take a trip this summer and go to the beach or the sea or the ocean and have a nice, leisure vacation walking the beach?" And you continue dreaming with your neighbor for a while. Now just thinking about such a hypothetical conversation, answer this question. Relative to Atlanta way up in the northwest corner of the face of Georgia, where is the sea? Back then, you would realize the sea is the whole eastern sea coast, all the way from Nova Scotia to Key West, Florida. Now relative to Atlanta, the sea with respect to Georgia is Savannah, Richmond Hill, Darien, Brunswick, and Kingsland, all the way to St. Marys on the Florida line — one hundred miles of Georgia coast.
Now what have you done? You have discovered that the four words "March to the Sea" do not disclose a destination. Those words are a military strategy! Only five people knew the destination: Lincoln, who signed off on the atrocities about to happen; secretary of war Edwin Stanton, who also signed off on the atrocities about to happen; Union general Ulysses Grant, who signed off on the atrocities and encouraged Sherman to proceed with his plan in spite of his caution; and two Union generals heading the sixty-two thousand Union soldiers — Gen. Otis Oliver Howard and Major Gen. Henry Slocum. Even the sixty-two thousand soldiers did not know the destination! They just followed orders.
Why was this done? To keep their approach from point-to-point from being ambushed by Confederate troops, of which there were not that many in the first place!
Furthermore, Sherman split the sixty-two thousand soldiers into two fingers, which would be approximately thirty-one thousand each marching randomly in some unknown direction — one slightly southeast and the other east-southeast assuming a fork-like formation. That created further confusion down the road among locals, who were wondering what in the world was going on and why were those troops doing this?
Now you would expect the thirty-one thousand soldiers to march single or double file in order to move quickly, wouldn't you? No! They marched side by side, each finger approximately twenty miles wide (some say thirty miles), a total of forty- or sixty-mile-wide swath across the face of Georgia, from which we got the scorched-earth policy and the scar across the face of Georgia. Sherman ordered General Howard and Major General Slocum to burn the fields, crops, shanties, plantations, homes, barns, livestock alive, and all the food his troops could not eat or pillage.
Furthermore, the troops took food from little children, stripped them naked, and left them out in the cold November-December weather.
Now who did that hurt? Civilians! Not the Confederate troops. There were very few and none nearby. These atrocities were some of the milder doses of three and a half years of war crimes designed to bring Confederates to their knees and beg for an end: in Sherman's words, "to make Georgia howl." It was designed to break the Southern resolve for and devotion to the Southern Cause. As we will see later, it did not succeed.
Understanding this is critically important because most historians omit such atrocities. What caused such a violent outbreak of crimes against civilians? In chapter 1 of his book, "War Crimes Against Southern Civilians," Walter Cisco answers this concern:
In the midst of his 1863 invasion of the United States, Gen. Robert E. Lee issued a proclamation to his men. After suffering for two years innumerable depredations by their enemies, some Southerners, soldiers and civilians, thought at last the time had come for retaliation. Lee would have none of that. He reminded his troops that "the duties exacted of us by civilization and Christianity are not less obligatory in the country of the enemy than in our own."
The injunction of Lee seems forgotten today but reminds us of how much has been lost in our understanding of history. Continuing on, Cisco says,
Through the centuries, by common consent within what used to be called Christendom, there arose a code of civilized warfare. Though other issues are covered by the term, and despite lapses, it came to be understood that war would be confined to combatants ... which protected enemy civilians' rights as a human being during wartime.
Yet warring against noncombatants came to be the stated policy and deliberate practice of the United States in its subjugation of the Confederacy. Shelling and burning of cities, systematic destruction of entire districts, mass arrests, forced expulsions, wholesale plundering of personal property, even murder all became routine. The development of Federal policy during the war is difficult to neatly categorize. Abraham Lincoln, the commander in chief with a reputation as micromanager, well knew what was going on and approved. Commanders seemed always inclined to turn a blind eye to their soldiers' proclivity for theft and violence against the defenseless. And though the attitude of Federal authorities in waging war on Southern civilians became increasingly harsh over time, there was from the beginning a widespread conviction that the crushing of secession justified the severest of measures. Malice, not charity, is the theme most often. But the kind of warfare practiced by the Federal military during 1861-65 turned America — and arguably the whole world — back to a darker age.
Th[e] principle — of people having the right to freely choose their own destiny — was utterly repugnant to Lincoln. In waging war on civilians he returned to the barbarism of the past, but he also dealt a blow to limited, constitutional government from which America has yet to recover. That all Americans are less free today, and live in a more dangerous world, are among his legacies.
Now consider this: the Confederacy burn only one city, and the number burned by the Union cannot be numbered. Robert E. Lee did not sink to barbarian warfare; rather, he held on to higher principles of civil warfare.
With this 250-mile march complete in just twenty-five days, Sherman arrives about seven miles outside the city.CHAPTER 2
Arrival outside Savannah: Hardee's Daunting Gray Stop Sign
On December 10, 1864, Sherman and his army bottleneck about seven miles west of Savannah in the vicinity of Dean Forest Road today. He and the sixty-two thousand troops immediately run into a "gray stop sign." He is stopped dead in his tracks.
The topography outside the city was different from today. Back then, Savannah sat in the middle of marshes, alligator-infested swamps, and wetlands, which provided ample acreage for rice plantations. It was impossible for wagons, cannon, horses, and soldiers to wade through the wet terrain. Beyond the seven miles going west, the topography began to rise to dry, fertile soil to support cotton plantations across the rest of the state.
Inside the city of only 22,400, Confederate general William Hardee, our hero for the moment, had ten thousand Confederate troops under his command. It was his duty to protect the civilians and the city. He positioned two thousand five hundred troops along the boardwalk of the Savannah River to prevent a potential crossing of the river by Union troops from Carolina, thereby closing the front door to Savannah. On the west, Hardee positioned the other seven thousand five hundred troops along the Central of Georgia and Atlantic and Gulf Railroad beds and the two or three dirt roads entering Savannah, closing the west-side door. The railroads and dirt roads were elevated sufficiently to allow traffic moving into the city. General Hardee did a brilliant job of designing a military strategy to protect Savannah.
Therefore, Sherman is strangled outside with no possibility of marching into the city. He immediately orders an officer to get a surrender from Savannah now. And providentially, Sherman leaves! Here begins the ten-day harrowing story of Savannah's bare survival of the Union. The map below shows the west side of Savannah when Sherman arrived.CHAPTER 3
Capture of Fort McAllister
Having ordered an officer to get a surrender from Savannah immediately, Sherman leaves the west side door of the city with Gen. William Hazen, Gen. O. O. Howard, and four thousand soldiers heading southeast to the mouth of the Ogeechee River at the Atlantic Ocean, where Fort McAllister defended the south side of Savannah from Union naval invasions. The Ogeechee offered a backdoor route for supplies into the city. It took Sherman three days to go about nineteen miles by roads today, which would have been shorter then since troops could cut through a more direct path to Fort McAllister.
Why three full days? Considering he traveled 250 miles from Atlanta to Savannah in twenty-five days (ten miles each day), this march to Fort McAllister took three days wading through swamps and marshes to find enough solid ground to travel.
On December 13, he approaches Fort McAllister and watches, from a distant rice-mill roof two miles away, General Hazen and General Howard lead the troops into fighting position. Fort McAllister had only 230 Confederate troops defending the mouth of the river. General Hazen took out Fort McAllister in just fifteen minutes! And once again, Sherman still did not come back to Savannah, providentially! (Note the theme of this ten-day ordeal — providential grace.)CHAPTER 4
Sherman in Carolina with Gen. John Foster
On December 14, Sherman boarded a ship and hugged the Savannah coast, sailing north to Carolina (Hilton Head area today) to meet with Gen. John G. Foster. While Savannah is protected momentarily by General Hardee, General Foster is involved across the river with forty-two thousand Union troops in skirmishes, of which we have the upper hand for the moment. Foster is not under Sherman's command; he is Sherman's counterpart in Carolina.
Sherman's purpose to meet with Foster is to get him to place Union troops along the Savannah River on the Carolina side to prevent a possible evacuation of the city across the river into Carolina, trapping Confederate troops and civilians inside the city with the west door shut by Hardee's troops, the north door shut with Union troops, the east door shut with Fort Pulaski seized by the Union Navy in 1862, and now the south door shut at Fort McAllister. Savannah is trapped inside a sealed coffin.
However, Foster cannot and will not help. He is tied up with skirmishes in Carolina with Confederate troops who, for the moment, have the upper hand. Due to heavy Union losses, Foster, himself wounded in the leg, does not have any reserves to offer Sherman. And having no loyalty to Sherman, he will not help. He has his hands full with Confederates who are holding their own.
Sherman is furiously frustrated with no help from Foster and now has learned that there is no surrender from Savannah. It's been seven days since he ordered an officer to squeeze a surrender out of Savannah. Double the frustration, double the fury! Things are not going Sherman's way, providentially.
The situation in Savannah is even more desperate: sixty-two thousand troops on the west side and forty-two thousand troops across the river. Savannah is outnumbered over four and a half to one, and Hardee is outnumbered over ten to one.CHAPTER 5
Hardee's Brazen Bluff
Sherman is still in Carolina now on day 7 of the ten-day standoff (December 10-20). Frustrated with Foster and learning that Savannah has not surrendered, Sherman writes a letter to General Hardee.
You have doubtless observed from your station at Rosedew, that sea-going vessels now come through Ossabaw Sound and up the Ogeechee to the rear of my army, giving me abundant supplies of all kinds, and more especially heavy ordnance necessary for the reduction of Savannah. I have already received guns that can cast heavy and destructive shot as far as the heart of your city; also, I have for some days held and controlled every avenue by which the people and garrison of Savannah can be supplied; and I am therefore justified in demanding the surrender of the city of Savannah, and its dependent forts, and shall wait a reasonable time your answer, before opening with heavy ordnance. Should you entertain the proposition, I am prepared to grant liberal terms to the inhabitants and garrison; but should I be forced to resort to assault, or the slower and surer process of starvation, I shall then feel justified in resorting to the harshest measures, and shall make little effort to restrain my army — burning to avenge the national wrong which they attach to Savannah and other large cities which have been so prominent in dragging our country into civil war. I inclose (sic) you a copy of General Hood's demand for the surrender of the town of Resaca, to be used by you for what it is worth.
I have the honor to be your obedient servant,
W. T. Sherman,
General Hardee receives the letter and immediately responds by darlingly calling Sherman's bluff against all the odds.
I have to acknowledge the receipt of a communication from you of this date, in which you demand "the surrender of Savannah and its dependent forts," on the ground that you "have received guns that can cast heavy and destructive shot into the heart of the city," and for the further reason that you "have, for some days, held and controlled every avenue by which the people and garrison can be supplied." You add that, should you be "forced to resort to assault, or to the slower and surer process of starvation, you will then feel justified in resorting to the harshest measures, and will make little effort to restrain your army," etc., etc. The position of your forces (a half-mile beyond the outer line for the land-defense of Savannah) is, at the nearest point, at least four miles from the heart of the city. That and the interior line are both intact.
Your statement that you have, for some days, held and controlled every avenue by which the people and garrison can be supplied, is incorrect. I am in free and constant communication with my department.
Your demand for the surrender of Savannah and its dependent forts is refused.
With respect to the threats conveyed in the closing paragraphs of your letter (of what may be expected in case your demand is not complied with), I have to say that I have hitherto conducted the military operations intrusted (sic) to my direction in strict accordance with the rules of civilized warfare, and I should deeply regret the adoption of any course by you that may force me to deviate from them in future. I have the honor to be, very respectfully, your obedient servant,
W. J. Hardee,
Lieutenant General 4
However, at this moment, it appears Sherman may not have known what the tone was on this side of the river. General Hardee and his troops know it's all over (surrounded on the South, West, and North ten-to-one odds!). Mayor Richard Arnold and the city aldermen know it's all over. The civilians know it's all over. The city has run out of possibilities. If Sherman knows the tone and temperament of the city, it will be unnecessary to threaten Hardee. A surrender will come without a threat.
Excerpted from Who Really Saved Savannah? by Jack C. Wray. Copyright © 2015 Jack C. Wray. Excerpted by permission of Trafford Publishing.
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Table of Contents
ContentsPreface —, 1,
Acknowledgments —, 5,
One — Sherman's Georgia Campaign, 7,
Two — Arrival outside Savannah: Hardee's Daunting Gray Stop Sign, 15,
Three — Capture of Fort McAllister, 19,
Four — Sherman in Carolina with Gen. John Foster, 21,
Five — Hardee's Brazen Bluff, 23,
Six — Evacuation of Confederate Troops, 27,
Seven — Mayor Arnold's Meeting and Letter, 29,
Eight — Mayor Arnold and Gen. John Geary, 33,
Nine — Charles Green's Brilliant Business Decision, 37,
Ten — Sherman in Savannah, 41,
Epilogue —, 45,
Images —, 47,