Sherman Issues Orders to March into South Carolina

January 19, 1865 (Thursday)

William Tecumseh Sherman had wished to begin his march north through the Carolinas in mid-January, but only if the weather cooperated. In preparation of such a tramp, he began soon after he arrived to disperse the four corps of his army.

General Sherman
General Sherman

Through the early portions of the month, a division from the Twentieth Corps had moved itself across the Savannah River, entering into South Carolina. They eventually settled in Hardeeville, about ten miles northeast of the city.

The entire Seventeenth Corps, helmed by Frances Blair, Jr., was loaded onto transport ships and ferried to Beaufort, forty miles north. After some time, they continued on to Pocotaligo, fifteen miles farther. John Logan’s Fifteenth Corps was following behind – some by water, others by land. These two corps made up the Right Wing, under Oliver Otis Howard.

Sherman’s Left Wing, still commanded by Henry Slocum, was still mostly in Savannah, save for the division in Hardeeville. Both the 14th Corps, under Jefferson C. Davis, as well as Alpheus William’s Twentieth Corps, were ordered to be ready to move shortly.

General Slocum had, on January 18th, turned over the care of the city to General Foster, commanding the Department of the South, in preparation. It was garrisoned by troops from the Nineteenth Corps, pulled from Grant’s lines around Richmond.

Today's very very approximate map.
Today’s very very approximate map.

Sherman’s first orders for the march came on this date. Howard’s Right Wing was to gather before Pocotaligo and Coosawatchie, five miles south along the railroad. The Left Wing, under Slocum, was to march out from Savannah toward Robertsville, now occupied by a portion of Judson Kilpatrick’s Cavalry. Once there, they were to fan out east, in the direction of Coosawatchie.

To Howard, who was already on the tracks, Sherman ordered: “Break up railroad at leisure and either send away the iron or disable it absolutely.” He was to “accumulate food and forage at Pocotaligo and establish a depot at Hilton Head.” Howard had no problem following the order, but wished for Blair to first move the railroad cars up to Pocotaligo “and there pile them up for future use.” If he wasn’t able to obtain the cars, “you will please go on and destroy the road as indicated in the order.”

As for the Left Wing, still in Savannah, General Davis was to move north through Springfield, keeping the river on his right, and cross it near Sister’s Ferry. In the meanwhile, the Fifteenth Corps under Williams would cross at Savannah and concentrate at Purysburg.

This was not going to be a rapid march. While Sherman had already mostly left Savannah, he understood that even this initial movement might take a week or more. The weather certainly saw to this, and many of the supply wagons had to be left behind. In the coming days, a storm would set in that would leave stranded much of the Left Wing for nearly a week. It wouldn’t be until February when things would begin moving in earnest.

But this slow start also had a sobering effect on the Rebels. This fit well Sherman’s design. The Southern commanders were unsure exactly where Sherman was headed. Most thought Charleston, though others believed Augusta. Sherman did nothing to quell their suspicions.

In his memoirs he recalled: “Of course, I gave out with some ostentation, especially among the rebels, that we were going to Charleston or Augusta; but I had long before made up my mind to waste no time on either, further than to play off on their fears, thus to retain for their protection a force of the enemy which would otherwise concentrate in our front, and make the passage of some of the great rivers that crossed our route more difficult and bloody.”1

  1. Sources: Official Records, Series 1, Vol. 47, Part 2, p81, 90-92; Memoirs by William Tecumseh Sherman; Sherman’s March Through the Carolinas by John G. Barrett. []
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