Sunday, December 21, 2014

Fall of Savannah

Ruins of Savannah
Upon the conclusion of his march to the sea, when he established contact with the Federal fleet, William Sherman immediately began a siege of Savannah, Georgia. The fleet brought supplies and the siege artillery necessary to capture the city. With his troops in place, he sent a message to the Confederate commander, William Hardee, on December 17th:
I have already received guns that can cast heavy and destructive shot as far as the heart of your city; also, I have for some days held and controlled every avenue by which the people and garrison of Savannah can be supplied, and I am therefore justified in demanding the surrender of the city of Savannah …. I am prepared to grant liberal terms to the inhabitants and garrison; but should I be forced to resort to assault, or the slower and surer process of starvation, I shall then feel justified in resorting to the harshest measures, and shall make little effort to restrain my army—burning to avenge the national wrong which they attach to Savannah and other large cities which have been so prominent in dragging our country into civil war.
Hardee did not take Sherman's offer of terms. Instead he abandoned the city, using an improvised pontoon bridge to cross the Savannah River on December 20th. The next day the mayor surrendered the city to Sherman, who telegraphed the president, “I beg to present you as a Christmas gift the City of Savannah, with one hundred and fifty guns and plenty of ammunition, also about twenty-five thousand bales of cotton.” Sherman's gamble, of abandoning his supply lines and heading into Georgia while Hood invaded Tennessee, had paid off. Lincoln was thankful that he had found able generals who could fight and defeat the Confederate forces. He wrote to Sherman,
Many, many thanks for your Christmas gift – the capture of Savannah. When you were leaving Atlanta for the Atlantic coast, I was anxious, if not fearful; but feeling that you were the better judge, and remembering that 'nothing risked, nothing gained' I did not interfere. Now, the undertaking being a success, the honor is all yours; for I believe none of us went farther than to acquiesce. … But what next? I suppose it will be safer if I leave Gen. Grant and yourself to decide.


Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Siege of Nashville – Day 2

Federal entrenchments
On the morning of December 16th, 150 years ago today, the Federal troops outside Nashville prepared to attack John Bell Hood's new position. It was much shorter and stronger than the previous day's, and the flanks were secured to prevent a repetition of the previous day's disaster. However, they did have critical weaknesses. On Shy's Hill, some of the highest ground on the Confederate left, the entrenchments were on the actual crest of the hill rather than the military crest, a little lower. This meant that the attacking Federals would, for a time, be hidden from Confederate shot as they charged up the hill. Thomas's plan from the previous day remained unchanged – to feint on the right and then push hard on the rebel left.

Unlike the previous day, the diversionary attack did convince Hood to shift forces away from the truly threatened point. Four brigades attacked the right around 3 pm. Most were turned back by the heavy Confederate fire, but the 13th United States Colored Troops continued to pressed forward. They charged up to the Confederate parapets before being driven back, losing a flag and 40% of their strength in the process. Cheatham, commanding the corps on the Confederate left, had to stretch his line even thinner to protect the flank and rear from Union cavalry incursions.

With this golden opportunity on the Confederate right, the Federals failed to move. John Schofield was ordered to make the attack with his corps, but he believed he was outnumbered and requested reinforcements. When these arrived, he still did nothing. With sunset not far distant, Brigadier General John McArthur decided to take matters into his own hands. He announced to his commanders that his division would attack in five minutes unless he received orders to the contrary. No orders arrived, and so his three brigades moved out toward the Confederate left on Shy's Hill. His attack was very successful. The misplacement of the entrenchments meant that the hill could be captured without much difficultly, and another brigade was so close on the heels of the Confederate skirmishers that they entered the rebel works with them. One Federal officers wrote:
It was more like a scene in a spectacular drama than a real incident in war. The hillside in front, still green, dotted with boys in blue swarming up the slope; the wavering flags; the smoke slowly rising through the leafless tree-tops and drifting across the valleys; the wonderful outburst of musketry; the ecstatic cheers; the multitude racing for life down in the valley below …. As soon as the other divisions farther to the left saw and heard the doings on their right, they did not wait for orders. Everywhere, by a common impulse, they charged the works in front, and carried them in a twinkling.

With the left crushed, much of Hood's army fell apart. Sam Watkins of the 1st Tennessee wrote:
Such a scene I never saw. The army was panic-stricken. The woods everywhere were full of running soldiers. Our officers were crying, 'Halt! Halt!' and trying to rally and re-form their broken ranks. The Federals would dash their cavalry in amongst us, and ever their cannon joined in the charge. … Wagon trains, cannon, artillery, cavalry, and infantry were all blended in inextricable confusion.
Through the night of December 16th the Confederates retreated, with part of Lee's corps still intact and serving as rearguard and repelling strikes by Union cavalry. Over the next few days the rebels pushed forward into Alabama. The Union infantry could make little pursuit due to a missing pontoon train, and two newly arrived divisions of Confederate cavalry under Nathan Bedford Forrest handled the attacks of the Federal troopers.

USCT monument at the Nashville Cemetery. Source
In this battle the Federals lost around 387 killed, 2,562 wounded, and 112 missing. The Confederate casualties are harder to pin down, but they probably lost around 2,500 killed and wounded and more than 4,500 prisoners. This battle was the deathnell of Hood's Army of the Tennessee. They had entered Tennessee with 38,000 men. When they returned to the safety of Alabama they had about 15,000 men. Much of the blame for this debacle was due to John Bell Hood, who had wasted his army in bloody frontal attacks, and had continued to press on in the invasion against vastly superior Federal forces. He resigned his command in January, and the shattered remnants of his command were integrated into other forces.

Monday, December 15, 2014

Siege of Nashville – Day 1

After his bloody defeat at Franklin and the retreat of the Union, John Bell Hood continued to press forward into Tennessee. He arrived at Nashville on December 2nd. He had only 30,000 men to George Thomas's 55,000. Too weak to attempt an assault, Hood settled into four miles of defensive positions, hoping that Thomas would attack him. He detached several brigades and sent them on diversions to try to lure Thomas out of the city. But Thomas, the “Rock of Chickamauga,” was not fooled, and would not attack until he was ready. Although Sherman was content for the rebels to busy themselves in Tennessee while he marched through Georgia, this did not sit well with Lincoln. The president remarked, “This seems like the McClellan and Rosecrans strategy of do nothing and let the rebels raid the country.” Grant urged Thomas to attack, and was just about to remove him from command when he finally did.

Attack on the Confederate Redoubts
The attack began on December 15th. The Confederate forces were too weak to completely invest Nashville. Instead of anchoring their flanks on either side of the river, Hood had to leave his flanks relatively exposed. Thomas planned to make a diversion on the Confederate right while the rest of the army struck their left. Wilson's cavalry moved on the far end of the wheeling Union forces, driving away Confederate outposts and ending up nearly in their rear. Federal infantry began attacking the southern redoubts at 2:30 pm. Some of the rebels put up a good defense, but at the end of the day the Union troops held all five of the redoubts covering the Confederate flank. With his position compromised, Hood fell back about a mile to a new and stronger line, where the fighting would resume on the morrow.


Saturday, December 13, 2014

Battle of Fort McAllister

March to the Sea
As Sherman's army marched across Georgia, through November and December, destroying southern property along the way, they encountered only very feeble resistance. All the Confederate troops in arms were needed where they were stationed, and they could not be spared to resist this invasion. Several thousand Confederate cavalry under Joseph Wheeler did harass the Federal's march, but they could not hope to defeat the entire column. The Georgia militia tried to make a stand, but the small force, many of whom were young boys or old men, were easily defeated by Sherman's veterans.

The Union troops approached Savannah, their destination on December 10. A Union fleet under Admiral John Dahlgren floated just off the town with supplies for the army, but the town and its fortifications were still in Confederate hands. Sherman deployed his men to surrounded the town's works. He decided to attack Fort McAllister. He believed his infantry could capture it, and then they would have access to the Ogeechee River, which led to the sea.

Fort McAllister
On December 13, 150 years ago today, 4,000 Federals, William Hazen's division, which happened to be Sherman's old command, advanced toward the fort, held by only 230 Confederates. Sherman, who watched the attack, later wrote:
[W]e saw Hazen's troops come out of the dark fringe of woods that encompassed the fort, their lines dressed as on parade, with colors flying, and moving forward with a quick, steady pace. Fort McAllister was then all alive, its big guns belching forth dense clouds of smoke, which soon enveloped our assaulting lines. One color went down, but was up in a moment. On the lines advanced, faintly seen in the white, sulfurous smoke; there was a pace, a cessation of fire; the smoke cleared away, and the parapets were blue with our men.... Fort McAllister was taken....
The assault had taken only 15 minutes. The army met ships from the fleet, and the March to the Sea was officially over. Sherman's men turned without delay to their next task – the siege of Savannah.

Union troops in Fort McAllister

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Battle of Franklin

While Sherman's army was on its infamous march to the sea, the Confederate army under Hood which had been driven out of Atlanta was not idle. Hood led his men North, hoping to cut Sherman's supply line with the aid of Nathan Bedford Forrest's cavalry, forcing him to turn North to chase the Confederates. At first Sherman's movements were hampered by troops that he positioned to watch for Hood. But finally he decided to head off south, leaving the army of George Thomas to cope with Hood. Hood's hope was that by moving into Tennessee he would force Sherman to turn back from his march across Georgia to pursue him.

The Confederates marched quickly, trying to destroy separate Union corps before they could unite. On November 29th, Hood sent two corps to flank John Scofield's two infantry corps. The rebels were able to reach a position from which they had a great opportunity to strike the Yankees, but through mistakes of the Confederate command the attack was never made. That night Schofield moved 12 miles north to Franklin, Tennessee. The Confederates followed the next day, and found the Federals in an entrenched position. The aggressive John Bell Hood was determined to destroyed the Federals before they made it to the even stronger works of Nashville, so he ordered a frontal attack to be made that evening. Some of his generals expressed worry at the formidable works, but they were determined to capture them. As the famed Patrick Cleburne said, "[I]f we are to die, let us die like men."

On the evening of November 30, Hood's 20,000 men charged across two miles of open ground against the prepared Federal works. They first smashed two advance Federal brigades, and in the center of the line around the Carter House, they broke through the main line. Federals quickly counterattacked, and after hours of hand to hand fighting contained the Confederate foothold, and finally regained their lines. The Confederate attack was eventually beaten back all along the line. This charge has been called by many the Pickett's Charge of the West, but in many ways it far exceeded it. The gallant Confederates at Franklin were attacking earthworks. They suffered 6,000 casualties, many more than Pickett, including Cleburne and eleven other generals. Although the Federal army retreated the next day, the Confederate Army of the Tennessee was crushed.