December 22, 1864 (Thursday)
His Excellency President Lincoln:
I beg to present you, as a Christmas gift, the city of Savannah, with 150 heavy guns and plenty of ammunition, and also about 25,000 bales of cotton.
W.T. Sherman, Major-General
At dawn the previous day, the Federal troops nearly surrounding Savannah discovered that the Rebels before them in defense of the city were not longer before them. Through the night of the 20th, they had escaped. A pontoon bridge had been laid across the Savannah River, and William Hardee had marched his small army north toward Charleston.
It was the skirmishers who first noticed that their Southern counterparts had gone. Curiously and cautiously, they probed forward and discovered the works unmanned. Starting with the left flank of Sherman’s army, the troops wandered forward and into the city.
Both Generals Henry Slocum and Oliver Otis Howard, each commanding a wing in Sherman’s force, moved their headquarters into the city, though most of their troops remained in their old camps. Sherman, on this date, would follow suit.
“On the morning of December 22nd, I followed with my own headquarters, and rode down Bull Street to the custom-house, from the roof of which we had an extensive view over the city, the river, and the vast extent of marsh and rice-fields on the South Carolina side. The navy-yard, and the wreck of the iron-clad Savannah, were still smoldering, but all else looked quiet enough.”
Sherman took up residence a vacant house owned by an Englishman. It was “a fine house completely furnished,” and though he later said that he “felt strongly disinclined to make use of any private dwelling,” after taking a look at it, he saw that it was perfect for his needs.
Not surprisingly, many of Savannah’s slaves took this opportunity to slip away from their masters. Almost every household that held slaves was, on this day, left without as their former property sought freedom.
“When the morning light of the 22nd of December, 1864, broke in upon us,” read a history of Savannah’s First Colored Baptist Church, “the streets of our city were thronged in every part with the victorious army of liberty; every tramp, look, command, and military movement told us that they had come for our deliverance, and were able to secure it to us, and the cry went around the city from house to house among our race of people, ‘Glory be to God, we are free!'”1
- Sources: Official Records, Series 1, Vol. 44, p13, 783; Memoirs by William Tecumseh Sherman; Marching with Sherman by Henry Hitchcock; The First Colored Baptist Church in North America: Constituted at Savannah by James M. Simms. [↩]