November 22, 1864 (Tuesday)
For a time now, the weather had carried with it the expected November chill. But on the morning of this date, even that seemed warm and comforting as the mercury plummeted and the winds howled against the Federals marching in Sherman’s Left Wing.
Under the helm of General Henry Slocum, they had wound their way from Atlanta, and were just now nearing Georgia’s capital, Milledgeville. The Left, as the Right, was divided into two corps – the Fourteenth and Twentieth. They had never really moved in a cohesive unit as one had left the city a day later than the other.
Around 4pm, William Tecumseh Sherman had ridden forward, leaving the lagging Fourteenth Corps, and coming upon the lead of the Twentieth. Jefferson C. Davis, unfortunately named, but usually a fine commander, had placed the encampment of his lead division in what seemed to Sherman an odd location.
“There was a high, raw wind blowing,” recalled Sherman in his memoirs, “and I asked him why he had chosen to cold and bleak a position. He explained that he had accomplished his full distance for the day, and had there an abundance of wood and water.”
Davis told Sherman that his advance guard was still farther ahead, and the general continued on, riding to the next plantation, and searched for his own place to encamp. Sherman continues:
The afternoon was unusually raw and cold. My orderly was at hand with his invariable saddle-bags, which contained a change of under-clothing, my maps, a flask of whiskey, and bunch of cigars. Taking a drink and lighting a cigar, I walked to a row of negro-huts close by, entered one and found a soldier or two warming themselves by a wood-fire. I took their place by the fire, intending to wait there till our wagons had got up, and a camp made for the night. I was talking to the old negro woman, when some one came and explained to me that, if I would come farther down the road, I could find a better place. So I started on foot, and found on the main road a good double-hewed-log house, in one room of which Colonel Poe, Dr. Moore, and others, had started a fire.
I sent back orders to the “plum-bushes” [a line of bushes that served as wind-breakers where he had stopped earlier] to bring our horses and saddles up to this house, and an orderly to conduct our headquarter wagons to the same place. In looking around the room, I saw a small box, like a candle-box, marked “Howell Cobb,” and, on inquiring of a negro, found that we were at the plantation of General Howell Cobb, of Georgia, one of the leading rebels of the South, then a general in the Southern army, and who had been Secretary of the United States Treasury in Mr. Buchanan’s time. Of course, we confiscated his property, and found it rich in corn, beans, pea-nuts, and sorghum-molasses.
Extensive fields were all round the house; I sent word back to General Davis to explain whose plantation it was, and instructed him to spare nothing. That night huge bonfires consumed-the fence-rails, kept our soldiers warm, and the teamsters and men, as well as the slaves, carried off an immense quantity of corn and provisions of all sorts.
In due season the headquarter wagons came up, and we got supper. After supper I sat on a chair astride, with my back to a good fire, musing, and became conscious that an old negro, with a tallow-candle in his hand, was scanning my face closely. I inquired, “What do you want, old man?” He answered, “Dey say you is Massa Sherman.” I answered that such was the case, and inquired what he wanted. He only wanted to look at me, and kept muttering, “Dis nigger can’t sleep dis night.” I asked him why he trembled so, and he said that he wanted to be sure that we were in fact “Yankees,” for on a former occasion some rebel cavalry had put on light-blue overcoats, personating Yankee troops, and many of the negroes were deceived thereby, himself among the number—had shown them sympathy, and had in consequence been unmercifully beaten therefor.
This time he wanted to be certain before committing himself; so I told him to go out on the porch, from which he could see the whole horizon lit up with camp-fires, and he could then judge whether he had ever seen any thing like it before. The old man became convinced that the “Yankees” had come at last, about whom he had been dreaming all his life; and some of the staff-officers gave him a strong drink of whiskey, which set his tongue going.
While Sherman burned Cobb’s plantation, two regiments of his men were making their way to Milledgeville proper. General Slocum had selected Col. William Hawley to lead his own 3rd Wisconsin, as well as the 107th New York. He entered the town that afternoon.
“Immediately proceeded to establish patrols in the streets,” he wrote in his report, “and detailed suitable guards for the public buildings, including the State House, two arsenals, one depot, one magazine for powder and ammunition, and other buildings containing cotton, salt, and other contraband property.”
So quickly did Hawley destroy whatever he found that he could not keep an accurate list of what was consumed – “in my opinion, [it] would have required at least a week to obtain” such a list. Nevertheless, he was able to recall some of the items:
“One powder magazine, blown up; railroad depot and surrounding buildings, burned; two thousand three hundred muskets, smooth bore, calibre sixty-nine, burned; three hundred sets accoutrements, burned; ten thousand rounds ammunition, calibre sixty-nine, burned; five thousand lances, burned; one thousand five hundred cutlasses, burned; fifteen boxes United States standard weights and measures, burned; sixteen hogsheads salt, thrown into the river; one hundred and seventy boxes fixed ammunition, and two hundred kegs powder. Turned over all that was valuable to Major Reynolds, and threw the balance into the river. About one thousand five hundred pounds tobacco were distributed among the troops. A large quantity of cotton – say one thousand eight hundred bales – was disposed of by General Sherman, manner not made known to me. One large three-story building in the square, near the State House, was burned, together with a large number of miscellaneous articles, as parts of harnesses and saddles, a repairshop, with all the necessary tools for repairing all kinds of materials, etc.”
All this, before Sherman even stepped foot into the town, which he would do the following day. “The next morning, November 23d, we rode into Milledgeville,” continued Sherman in his memoirs, “the capital of the State, whither the Twentieth Corps had preceded us; and during that day the left wing was all united, in and around Milledgeville. From the inhabitants we learned that some of Kilpatrick’s cavalry had preceded us by a couple of days, and that all of the right wing was at and near Gordon, twelve miles off, viz., the place where the branch railroad came to Milledgeville from the Macon & Savannah road. The first stage of the journey was, therefore, complete, and absolutely successful.”1
- Sources: Official Records, Series 1, Vol. 44, p156, 248; Memoirs by William Tecumseh Sherman; “Operations at Middedgeville, Ga” report by Col. Hawley, appearing in Rebellion Record, Vol 9; Southern Storm by Noah Andre Trudeau. [↩]