Georgia Locals and Convalescents Arise to Meet Sherman’s Invasion

November 19, 1864 (Saturday)

Howell Cobb!
Howell Cobb!

While Hood whiled away the days along the Tennessee River, the rest of the Confederacy was doing all they could to throw something – anything – at the advancing Federal army under William Tecumseh Sherman.

The day previous, President Jefferson Davis wrote to General Howell Cobb, commanding infantry in Macon, Georgia, along Sherman’s path. Cobb was to “endeavor to get out every man who can render any service, even for a short period of time, and employ negroes in obstructing roads by every practical means.” Whether Davis meant that Cobb was to employ “negroes” by every practical means or that they were obstruct the roads by every practical means wasn’t clear.

Davis trusted that since Hood refused to send Cobb reinforcements, that William Hardee, commanding in Charleston, South Carolina, and Richard Taylor, out of Selma, Alabama would be able to pitch in.

Growing darker, Davis brought up Col. Gabriel Rains, who could furnish Cobb “with shells prepared to explode by pressure, and these will be effective to check an advance.” He was referencing land mines, a device which Rains came up with during the 1840s, but perfected in more recent years.

P.G.T. Beauregard, who was now on his way to Macon, ordered for Cobb “a large supply of Rains’ subterra shells, with competent person to employ them.”

Beauregard had hoped that either he or General Taylor might arrive in Macon before Sherman, so that either might take command in the field. As it was looking, due to the condition of the railroads, neither would make it in time. And so he “respectfully urge[d]” William Hardee to hurry himself to Georgia.

As Davis had encouraged Cobb to rally the people of Georgia, Beauregard was of the same notion.

Arise for the defense of your native soil! Rally round your patriotic Governor and gallant soldiers! Obstruct and destroy all roads in Sherman’s front, flank, and rear, and his army will soon starve in your midst! Be confident and resolute! Trust in an overruling Providence, and success will crown your efforts. I hasten to join you in defense of your homes and firesides.

Today's incredibly huge and very approximate map. Enjoy!
Today’s incredibly huge and very approximate map. Enjoy!

Turning to help wherever he could find it, Davis asked Robert E. Lee for his opinion on what to do next. Lee, on this date, replied. “I know of no troops within reach of Sherman except those in Georgia,” he began. “All roads, bridges, provisions, &c., within Sherman’s reach should be destroyed. The population must turn out.” Lee predicted that Savannah was Sherman’s object, and advised that William Hardee should lead the troops.

Of course, all this was already being done, but it must have been nice to have a consensus that they were doing all they could – apart from actually ordering Hood’s army to dog Sherman.

Hardee was more than willing to help, of course, and had arrived in Macon on this day, but “there is a great scarcity of arms in Georgia and South Carolina to meet the enemy,” he warned Richomnd. The news was not good.

Sherman was marching in two columns, and Hardee was certain that they would merge and march upon Augusta, apparently bypassing both Macon and the capital at Milledgeville. Making it even worse, Hardee overestimated Sherman’s numbers, believing him to have five, rather than four, corps.

William Hardee wrote the book and made the hat. He'll save Georgia for sure!
William Hardee wrote the book and made the hat. He’ll save Georgia for sure!

It’s an understandable mistake. Hardee had much on his mind. Though Augusta was the obvious choice, he had to think even larger. Since there was really no way to stop Sherman from taking Augusta, it was clear that Sherman would keep going. Savannah, as Lee said, would be next. “What defense have you to protect Savannah from land attack?,” asked Hardee of Lafayette McLaws, who was now in command of the city. “Have no defenses but an inundation, which is not complete and does not cover the crossing of the Charleston railroad over the Savannah River,” came McLaws’ reply. Bad news indeed – and Hardee warned him to “be prepared to press negroes if you need them” for labor.

As the day went on, the situation didn’t exactly appear brighter. Word came in that 2,000 “locals and convalescents” had formed a brigade of sorts at Augusta, and that the railroad crossing on the Oconee River, east of Macon, was held, though only by around 200.

Meanwhile, Sherman’s men marched on. The cavalry had indeed reached Clinton, while the Right Wing passed through Hillsboro and would arrive in Clinton, west of Milledgeville, the day following. The Left Wing itself was marching in two columns. A portion was spread between Eatonton and Madison, northeast of Milledgeville, while the other was not far off.

The Federals were clearly nearing Milledgeville, and so Governor Brown thought it best that he and his family move to his plantation in southern Georgia. With the capital abandoned, General Hardee turned his attention to the Federal cavalry. That night, he and Wheeler, his cavalry commander, met in Macon. The next day, they decided, Wheeler was to attack the Yankees at Clinton.1

  1. Sources: Official Records, Series 1, Vol. 44, p 27, 33, 865-866, 869, 870, 871; Southern Storm by Noah Andre Trudeau. []
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