December 3, 1864 (Saturday)
On the 3d of December I entered Millen with the Seventeenth Corps (General Frank P. Blair), and there paused one day, to communicate with all parts of the army. General Howard was south of the Ogeechee River, with the Fifteenth Corps, opposite Scarboro. General Slocum was at Buckhead Church, four miles north of Millen, with the Twentieth Corps. The Fourteenth (General Davis) was at Lumpkin’s Station, on the Augusta road, about ten miles north of Millen, and the cavalry division was within easy support of this wing. Thus the whole army was in good position and in good condition.
We had largely subsisted on the country; our wagons were full of forage and provisions; but, as we approached the sea-coast, the country became more sandy and barren, and food became more scarce; still, with little or no loss, we had traveled two-thirds of our distance, and I concluded to push on for Savannah.
At Millen I learned that General Bragg was in Augusta, and that General Wade Hampton had been ordered there from Richmond, to organize a large cavalry force with which to resist our progress. General Hardee was ahead, between us and Savannah, with McLaw’s division, and other irregular troops, that could not, I felt assured, exceed ten thousand men. I caused the fine depot at Millen to be destroyed, and other damage done, and then resumed the march directly on Savannah, by the four main roads.
While Sherman marched his way across central Georgia, Braxton Bragg had a change of service. For eight months, he had been Jefferson Davis’ military advisor in Richmond, but in the middle of October, he had been assigned to Wilmington, North Carolina, in an attempt to save the city from the Federal Navy. Wilmington was basically the only port left open to the Confederacy.
Wilmington wasn’t exactly next door to Atlanta, even before Sherman started his march to the sea, his command was increased, taking over the entire district. In the middle of November, it was decided that both Bragg and William Hardee, commanding in Charleston, South Carolina, should support each other in case either was attacked.
But when Sherman’s intentions became clear, Bragg was ordered to Augusta, Georgia. By the 27th of November, not only was he on the scene, but was, with Richmond’s blessing, in command of everything. Bragg, however, was no optimist. “In assuming it,” wrote Bragg of the position, “I must candidly express my belief that no practicable combinations of my available men can avert disaster.”
Though Sherman marched toward the sea, nobody in gray knew which towns he would hit. It wasn’t until this date when Bragg finally understood that Augusta would be spared. “A strong force of the enemy’s cavalry and infantry advanced from Louisville, and encamped last night six miles from Waynesborough,” wrote Bragg of Judson Kilpatricks’ ride. “They turned off this morning toward Savannah. Our cavalry is pressing on the rear, and all available means are being thrown to their front by rail.”
Meanwhile, back in Millen, some of Sherman’s troops visited the former prisoner of war camp north of the town. There, they found an empty stockade filled with makeshift shacks and holes dug into the ground. There was a spring, and good water, but there they also found unburied bodies of dead Federal soldiers. The town itself suffered, as the hotel and depot were burned.
The rest was hardly that, and soon Sherman’s columns were on the move once more. The Right Wing, consisting of the Fifteenth and Seventeenth Corps, marched southeast, along the southern bank of the Ogeechee River, south of Millen. The Twentieth Corps of the Left Wing, made their way through Millen, destroying “five miles of track,” while two divisions of the Fourteenth Corps moved north of the town, arriving along the railroad running from Augusta to Millen. The remaining division, along with Kilpatrick’s cavalry, arrived at the rails as well, and “thoroughly destroyed several miles of railroad track.”
Apart from Joseph Wheeler’s cavalry, which was much closer to Kilpatrick’s than even Kilpatrick knew, the only Rebels within any reasonable distance to Sherman’s force was a small sliver of a mixed bag of 5,000 men. They had retreated from the Scarboro area prior to Sherman’s columns drawing near. Now, they were near Oliver, along the railroad to Savannah.
Sherman would continue to march, each day drawing closer to the sea.1
- Sources: Official Records, Series 1, Vol. 44, p41, 408, 630, 901, 925; Memoirs by William Tecumseh Sherman; Southern Storm by Noah Andre Trudeau; Braxton Bragg and Confederate Defeat by Judith Lee Hallock. [↩]