February 13, 1865 (Monday)
The race was now on. Sherman’s Federals were almost certainly moving upon Columbia, and P.G.T. Beauregard was doing everything possible to concentrate any troops he could find before that city.
General Carter Stevenson, whose Confederates had been ousted out of Orangeburg the day previous, was falling back to Columbia rather than Charleston to the east. Additionally, Beauregard wanted even more. He had tried to pull troops from Wilmington, along the coast, but their fear of a coming attack prevented any from being available. “No force can be spared from this department for the purpose indicated,” came General Robert Hoke’s reply.
And then he ordered D.H. Hill, defending the more westerly Augusta, to send either Alexander Stewart or Benjamin Cheatham’s corps – it did not matter which – “as soon as practicable.” But to Hill, intent on saving Augusta from an enemy that seemed more and more disinterested in attacking, deemed it “impracticable.” There were two Federal divisions encamped about thirty miles east. There were reports from prisoners that more would be coming along soon.
Besides, Stewart’s Corps was yet to arrive, Beauregard wouldn’t leave him without veteran infantry. However, once Stewart had arrived, Hill believed that something could be done, and admitted that there didn’t seem to be much indication that the enemy was actually moving on Augusta.
Without waiting for Hill’s reply, Beauregard restated his order. “The order has been given,” replied Hill to Beauregard, “and Cheatham will move at once with five days’ rations.” General Jo Wheeler, commanding the cavalry around Augusta, was likewise ordered to Columbia, having just left that morning.
But there were delays, especially when it came to the railroads. This was hardly surprising, but Beauregard needed to find out why. For that purpose, D.H. Hill dispatched two Assistant Inspector-Generals “to inquire into the causes at this point in delays of the transportation of troops.” They were to “ascertain where the blame rests,” and to “inquire into the capacity of the Georgia Railroad for the transportation of troops, and probe thoroughly its operations to ascertain if it be to blame, and, if to blame, whether from inefficiency, carelessness, or indisposition to aid the public service.”
There was also fallout. Prior to his resignation, John Bell Hood had actually furloughed 2,500 men from Stewart’s Corps. It would be nearly impossible to get them back, but those who returned were being sent forward.
And to make matters worse, Charleston seemed about to be attacked once more by Federals along the coast. A report from just south of the city stated “that there are twelve vessels of different kinds on the bay.” The fortunate news was that the bay was too shallow to permit them from coming too close to the shore. Even more fortune appeared in the form of a gale that prevented even the small crafts from landing.
William Hardee, in command of Charleston, including Fort Sumter, had been ordered by Beauregard to be ready to abandon both. It was not a question of if, but of when, and Beauregard even ordered him to send to Columbia his artillery. In essence, the evacuation was to have begun days ago. As with seemingly everything else, there was delay.
Late in the evening, Beauregard cleared the tracks to Charleston – he had to have taken a large looping detour – and somehow would arrive by dawn the next morning.1
- Sources: Official Records, Series 1, Vol. 47, Part 2, p1167, 1171, 1172-3; The Military Operations of General Beauregard by Alfred Roman; The Siege of Charleston by E. Milby Burton; Sherman’s March Through the Carolinas by John G. Barrett. [↩]