January 26, 1865 (Thursday)
With William Tecumseh Sherman’s massive army still lumbering north from Savannah, the Confederates were trying to pull troops from anywhere they could. Local militias had been consolidated in Charleston and Augusta, and reserves from other states had been fed into the lines. The regular troops, however, were few and far between.
Though there certainly weren’t men enough to go around, many who were in Sherman’s path were unwilling to join with the main army. D.H. Hill, commanding at Augusta, complained to Hardee about a curious problem now developing.
“Major Macon, of the tithe department, reports that stragglers from the cavalry, local cavalry companies, and recruiting came for broken-down horses are absorbing very largely the tithes of the State,” Hill began. This tithing was actually a tax which had previously yielded the Confederates much in food and supplies. Major Macon was basically a tax collector for the Quartermaster of the Confederate army.
Hill knew that he could not fight Sherman, but entrusted his cavalry to play upon lines of supply and generally slow down the pace of the Federals. And while stragglers were keeping food for themselves, the shape of the horses were deplorable.
Hill continued: “He tells me that sixty men are at Warrenton, with their horses, claiming to belong to Brigadier-General Williams’ staff. These recruiting camps are real nuisances. I saw one where they had been two months, and there had been no improvement among their horses. I never saw such a set of scare-crows. Citizens told me the men straggled over the country and for days the horses were neither fed nor watered.
“What we need is efficient cavalry, not immense bands of plunderers scattered over the country. Nine-tenths of the so-called cavalry never see and cannot be induced to see and armed Yankee. They are hundreds of miles off plundering and professing to organize. If we are ever started into submission it will be through these fellows.”
Though he was probably speaking hyperbolically, Hill seemed to worry more about defeat from within than from without. And since their horses were in no real shape to be in the cavalry, Hill had a seemingly good idea.
“What I wish to propose is the getting together of this organized or semi-organized mob and putting them into infantry service. Major Macon tells me that he is getting nothing from Central Georgia, as there is a large command under a man named Glenn at or near Athans consuming the tithe. I don’t know who Glenn is, his rank, antecedents, or nature of his command. Ought not the attention of the Secretary of War be called to this great evil, and to the necessity of disbanding or changing into infantry this omnivorous mob before they bring a famine upon the fighting men of the army?”
But Hardee has problems of his own, and Richmond was not making any of this easy. To combat against the Federals near Wilmington, North Carolina, a regiment of North Carolina veterans was ordered back to defend their state. General William Hardee, commanding in Charleston, pleaded with Secretary of War James Seddon to rescind the order. “They are almost the only regular troops holding line of the Combahee,” he wrote, “the remainder, Reserves, are much dissatisfied at being detained out of their own States.”
Neither Hill nor Hardee were optimistic about their chances at either Augusta or Charleston. The next day, Hill wrote to General Albert Iverson, commanding his cavalry, begging him to stand his ground. “I cannot use too strong language in urging upon you the importance of delaying the enemy by fighting them,” he wrote. “If you but draw a line of battle every mile you will compel him to do the same, and thus give us time, which is everything to our success.
“I once hear General Jackson say that with one regiment he would engage to keep any force marching on one road from advancing more than five miles per day. If you divide your command and hold each road you can check the Yankees until our forces come up. Augusta depends upon this delay.”
Augusta also (and mostly) depended upon Sherman’s next move. At the moment, he seemed to be lurching toward Augusta.1
- Sources: Official Records, Series 1, Vol. 47, Part 2, p1045-1046, 1047-1048. [↩]