February 15, 1865 (Wednesday)
The day previous, General P.G.T. Beauregard arrived in Charleston. With William Hardee, the general commanding the city and Fort Sumter, he formulated the plan to evacuate both. “The holding of Charleston,” wrote Beauregard in his orders detailing the evacuation, “is now reduced to only a question of a few days. Its loss does not jeopardize the safety of the State of South Carolina, but the loss of its garrison would greatly contribute to that end.”
With that accomplished, and the troops in relative preparedness, Beauregard once more cleared the tracks to Columbia, arriving first in Florence, west of Charleston. There, he telegraphed General Robert E. Lee, explaining that the city that started the war was to be abandoned almost immediately. The forces would then be concentrated at Chesterville, north of Columbia.
Being along a working railroad meant for Beauregard that he was also along the lines of a working telegraph system. This allowed him to keep in close contact with both Hardee and Lee as he made his way back to Columbia to oversee what was undoubtedly about to be a retreat.
“Generals Stevenson and Hampton report from Columbia enemy has appeared in their front and driven their pickets across Congaree, at railroad bridge near Kingsville,” he wired to Lee. “They consider movement on Columbia serious.”
In that light, the evacuation of Charleston had to be enacted with great haste. “Commence immediately movement as arranged,” he wrote to Hardee, “and if practicable, average twenty miles a day.”
As a reply, General Hardee sent Beauregard a letter written by President Jefferson Davis urging the salvation of Charleston and its harbor “for future use, and save us the pain of seeing it pass into the hands of the enemy.” Ultimately Davis would leave it up to Beauregard and Hardee, but his vote was cast for yet again saving a city despite the loss of troops.
After reading the President’s message, Beauregard shot back: “I have far from sufficient force to hold the enemy in check in the field… Hence I see no good reason for deviating from the plan already decided upon; on the contrary, I urge its immediate execution.”
When Beauregard arrived back in Columbia that afternoon, he again wired Lee, telling him that all four of Sherman’s corps were “moving on this place, two of them pressing our troops back on south side to within about four miles of the river.” He complained that Benjamin Cheatham’s corps from the Army of Tennessee had yet to arrive, but vowed to hold the city as long as practicable. He also wanted Hardee to send him a million rounds of ammunition and 2,500 rounds for the artillery.
Beauregard also sent messages toward Augusta, from where Cheatham’s corps, as well as Alexander Stewart’s were coming, though the latter could muster but 1,000. Cheatham had left that morning, and what was left of Stewart’s would follow shortly. “The whole command is in a bad condition,” came the message from Augusta.
To the troops guarding Colubmia, under the command of General Carter Stevenson, he wished for them to hold the south side of the river as long as they could “without endangering safety of the troops.” When they had to fall back upon Columbia itself, they were to destroy the bridge to buy themselves time to “construct works on this side to keep enemy’s batteries as far from city as possible.” Coulumbia, ordered Beauregard, “must then be held as long as circumstances will permit to give time to our re-enforcements to arrive.”1
- Sources: Official Records, Series 1, Vol. 47, Part 2, p 1181, 1193, 1194, 1197-1198; The Military Operations of General Beauregard by Alfred Roman; Sherman’s March Through the Carolinas by John G. Barrett. [↩]