Beauregard Offers Little Hope in Stopping Sherman

February 2, 1865 (Thursday)

Sherman's troops crossing the Salkehatchie.
Sherman’s troops crossing the Salkehatchie.

P.G.T. Beauregard had been doing everything in his power to move the remains of the Army of the Tennessee from norther Mississippi to Georgia. This would take time. The men were in rags and the railroads were basically useless. Ahead of them all, he arrived in Augusta on the day previous. He had arranged to meet with General William Hardee, who commanded out of Charleston.

Along with D.H. Hill, they attempted to figure out a way to somehow stop Sherman’s now-advancing troops. To that end, they met at Green’s Cut Station, south of Augusta. They started the meeting by taking an account of the number of men they had under their commands. Hardee would soon have 14,500 in and around Charleston, once all of his cavalry from Virginia arrived. Hill had around 12,500, but when the Army of Tennessee finally arrived, it would add roughly 10,000. With Joseph Wheeler’s cavalry, which added 6,700 additional troops, Beauregard’s entire available force would amount to around 33,500. That was about half of what Sherman’s Federals could field.

For a time, Beauregard had wanted to concentrate at Branchville to give battle. Curiously, this was very near to where Sherman wished to concentrate his own forces, though the Rebels had no way of knowing such things. However, due to the weakness of their present force, which was on this date only 23,000 or so, they thought it an incredibly bad idea to even offer battle.

Word had reached Beauregard and Hardee that Peace Commissioners were en route to meet with Lincoln. “During the pending negotiations for peace,” explained Beauregard the following day, “it was thought of the highest importance to hold Charleston and Augusta as long as it was humanly possible.” Besides, Sherman’s forces, they believed, could reach Branchville before their own forces.

With that in mind, they decided on some sort of plan, believing that Sherman was probably headed for Charleston. The Combahee River flowed between the Federals and Charleston. This, they concluded, must be held. Already, it was manned by two divisions under Lafayette McLaws. If this line was broken, then Sherman’s object was clearly Charleston or Columbia. Hardee then would slowly retreat, falling back in the direction of the city while General Wheeler’s Cavalry divide itself, with the main segment falling back toward Columbia, where they would await reinforcements. The remainder would retreat toward Augusta.

If Charleston, as they suspected, was targeted and Hardee’s line on the Combahee fail, he was not to remain for long in that city. “Whenever it should be come evident that a longer defense was impracticable,” came the orders, “General Hardee should abandon the place, removing all valuable stores, and hasten to form a junction in front of Columbia with the forces of General Beauregard, who would have to cover Columbia, and take up the Congaree as a line of defense.”

Today's very approximate map.
Today’s very approximate map.

The Congaree Rive twisted its way north toward Columbia, and the Federals would have to cross it to enter. Beauregard believed that Sherman would first hit Charleston and then move on Columbia. When he did, Beauregard’s forces would be joined by Hardee’s.

As for Augusta, the troops now held a line twenty-five miles south of the city, at Green’s Cut Station. They were to move closer to Augusta and establish a formidable line of defense. It was obvious that Beauregard was wagering that Sherman would strike for Charleston, and soon, Hill would even have a brigade stripped from his in order to cover Branchville.

Through the use of Wheeler’s scouts, Beauregard was soon able to deduce Sherman’s objective. In a letter written to Jefferson Davis the following day, he affirmed: “Sherman is now apparently moving on Branchville.” This likely meant that the Federals had no designs upon either Augusta or Charleston. And though it was a central location between the two, there was little hope that the Confederates could concentrate there before Sherman’s arrival.

The letter to Davis was one of despondency. There were no where near enough troops. To cover Branchville with S.D. Lee’s Corps from the Army of Tennessee, they had only 4,000 men. Six thousand more were expected by the 10th from that same army, but they would arrive understaffed and exhausted. “Concentration of Hardee’s forces and mine cannot, therefore, take place south of Columbia.”

If Sherman could be turned back at Columbia, both Augusta and Charleston would be saved. But for this, Beauregard would need more men.

“I respectfully urge the vital importance of concentrating at Columbia such forces as can be sent from North Carolina and Virginia. Ten or twelve thousand additional men would insure the defeat of Sherman….”1

  1. Sources: P.G.T. Beauregard by T. Harry Williams; The Military Operations of General Beauregard by Alfred Roman. []
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