The Life of General Robert E. Lee
G. Mercer Adam


AFTER the flight and repulse of the Confederates at Allatoona, we have seen that, menaced by Sherman’s pursuing army, Hood withdrew his command first into Northern Alabama, and after a junction with a small force under Beauregard crossed into Tennessee. The area of effective fighting left to the Confederacy was now fast narrowing; while the operations of Sherman, Thomas, and other Federal commanders in the Southern tier of states from the Gulf and the Mississippi northward and eastward also narrowed the area of support, in men and supplies, to what remained of the Southern fighting force in Virginia, in the region of the James. Not a little of the result of this was due to the success of Sherman in capturing Atlanta and undertaking his renowned “march to the sea.” Other disasters were yet to befall the South, in Tennessee, in Schofield’s defeat of Hood at Franklin, and the wiping out of his command by Thomas at Nashville; in North Carolina, in the repulse of Hardee’s corps of Johnston’s command by Sherman at Averysboro; in the fall of Fort Fisher and the capture and occupation of Wilmington; and in the victory of Sherman over Johnston at Bentonville; besides the burning, in South Carolina, of Columbia, and the enforced evacuation of Charleston. Of these disasters, we shall give a brief running account, to enable the reader to follow the military history of the closing months of the Confederacy, and so prepare him for the collapse of the Southern cause in Lee’s defeat by Sheridan at Five Forks, Va., his retreat from Petersburg, and the final end of the Civil War in the surrender at Appomattox.

After the occupation of Atlanta and the fight at Allatoona, when Sherman saw that the Confederate cause in Georgia and the South was an empty shell, that General began to realize that his purpose of founding a Federal base of supplies and action on the seaboard at Savannah was a safe and practical one, he at once prepared to set forth on his now historic “march to the sea,” having previously gained General Grant’s consent to the undertaking of the project. Divesting himself, in the middle of November (1864), of all military impediments, and disencumbering his command of all sick, disabled, and weak men, as well as of all hangers-on and stragglers, Sherman set forth on his expedition with an army of 60,000 efficient and intelligent men, his objective point being the port of Savannah, Georgia. At the outset, the gallant leader had not intimated to his army the object of their march, the General Orders simply and curtly stating to his command that “it is sufficient for you to know that it involves a departure from our present base (Atlanta,) and a long, difficult march to a new one.” As the army was expected to live on the country they were to pass through, the force was to be burdened by no supply-train, each brigade furnishing its own company to procure forage and supplies for the general need. The men were cautioned against entering private dwellings or committing trespass; while no property was to be destroyed or people by the way molested, where the troops were not interfered with on the march. The only encumbrances permitted were the necessary ammunition wagons and ambulances, and one wagon for food and fodder for each regiment. The separate columns were to begin their march each day at seven o’clock, after breakfast, and were expected to make fifteen miles progress each day. Only the railroads were to be destroyed by the way, such at least as were used for transporting men and supplies to the various sections of the Southern army in the North. In the march, which occupied twenty-seven days to reach Savannah, no serious opposition was encountered, though many attempts were made to harass the command and impede its progress. Supplies along the line of march were abundant, so that the army reached the coast with its men and horses in the best possible condition. Besides General Sherman in the chief command, there were with him, in charge of the two wings of the army, Generals Howard and Slocum, the former commanding the right wing, composed of the 15th and 17th corps, and the latter the left wing, consisting of the 14th and 20th corps; while General Kilpatrick was in command of the cavalry. As the expedition came to Milledgeville, where the Georgia legislature was then in session, that body passed an Act to levy the population of the state en masse; this, however, had no effect on the fear-stricken people of the town, who fled from it, with the governor, state officers, and city magistrates, on the entrance into it of the Union general, his aides, and bodyguard, to take up their night’s quarters in the executive mansion.

With the exception of some brushes with the Georgia State troops on the way, and occasional rearguard fights between Kilpatrick’s and Wheeler’s cavalry commands, no other impeding incidents occurred until the expedition reached the Ogeechee River, which was stormed and speedily taken by Hazen’s division, and communication was at once opened with the Union Admiral (Dahlgren) and General Foster, in command at Port Royal. By the 17th of December, the force reached the defenses of Savannah, when Sherman summoned the Confederate commander, Gen. Hardee, to surrender. The response was the flight, on the night of the 20th, of the entire Confederate garrison of the city, when the gallant raider and his elated command entered it to enjoy a well-earned rest. Two days later, General Sherman telegraphed President Lincoln at Washington: “I beg to present you, as a Christmas gift, the city of Savannah, with 150 heavy guns and abundance of ammunition, together with about 25,000 bales of cotton!”

Resting at Savannah for over a month, the January rains preventing his moving from the place earlier, Sherman set out on February 1st on his northward march with his army. The return march, which was a more arduous one than that of the advance to the coast, owing to the swampy condition of the country after the season’s heavy rains, took Sherman designedly by way of the Carolinas, so that he might more effectively menace General Lee’s communications with the region. With his columns headed in the direction of Columbia, S.C., Sherman, on the 17th of February, entered that capital of the State without opposition, its small cavalry garrison having abandoned the place on the approach of the Federal troops. Before withdrawing, the Confederates had massed the city’s treasure of cotton and set fire to it, the blazing pile, fanned by a prevailing high wind, doing much damage to the city, in spite of the efforts of the Federals to quench the fire and save public property. When the troops succeeded in suppressing the flames, the onward march was resumed, but not before the city’s arsenals and railway plant were, by Sherman’s orders, destroyed, though all “harmless private property” was respected and saved from destruction. The menace of Sherman’s presence in the State had its effect at this period upon the seaport of Charleston, and led to its evacuation by the Confederates, after a lengthened siege and heavy bombardment by the Federals.

For a time after the march north-eastward was resumed, no opposition was met with, for Beauregard’s cavalry command, then in the State, had withdrawn to Charlotte, N.C.; while the new force, under J. E. Johnston (who had been reappointed to command in the region), had not yet been reached. Sherman’s course now lay in the direction of Fayetteville, whence it was his design to make for the important railroad center of Goldsboro, N.C., due north from Wilmington. At Fayetteville, his force was joined by 10,000 men of Thomas’s army under Schofield, who had just taken Wilmington, following up Terry’s capture of Fort Fisher (Jan. 13, 1865), which cost the South a loss of 2,500 men in the attack on and storming of the citadel. On the way to Goldsboro, the Federal raiding columns had some sharp fighting with Hardee’s division of Confederate cavalry, which attempted to check Sherman’s advance, aided by a force of 10,000 infantry; while Johnston’s army (now about 40,000 strong), was within comparative reach in the vicinity of Bentonsville.

On the 15th of March, Hardee gave Sherman battle at Averysboro, N.C., on Cape Fear river, forty miles south of Raleigh. Here Hardee had entrenched his command, to oppose Sherman and to allow Johnston time to concentrate his forces, which he was then doing at Smithfield, so as to make an obstinate stand against the advancing column of Federal raiders. The affair at Averysboro lasted all day, and was a sanguinary one (Sherman losing 600 in killed and wounded); and at nightfall—the Confederates withdrew behind their interior lines of defense. In the morning, the Federals found that the enemy had silently retired from the place, and had fallen back to Smithfield, all save a few men, who became Sherman’s prisoners. The expedition then pursued its way towards Goldsboro: but at Bentonville, within seventeen miles from that center, the left wing of the army, under General Slocum, encountered Johnston’s command on the morning of the 19th, Johnston here being tempted to attack a portion of the advance expeditionary force before the bulk of it reached the spot. Slocum, taken by surprise, at first fell back; but, rallying, he made a stout stand and sheltered his force behind hastily thrown up rifle-pits, Kilpatrick’s cavalry enabling him effectively to do so. As Johnston failed to dislodge the Federals from their defensive line, and, fearing the approach of Sherman’s other columns, he, too, began to fortify his position, meantime making several forceful attacks upon the foe. On the morning of the 21st, Sherman’s right wing came upon the scene, and the day was spent in pressing Johnston hard on three sides of his position and close up to his works. As the day’s fighting had cost him heavy losses, Johnston deemed it more tactical to retreat from the place, which he did over night, withdrawing to Smithfield and Raleigh. The Confederate losses at Bentonsville were heavy, amounting to close upon 2,000 in killed and wounded, besides 670 taken prisoners. The Federal loss was upward of 1,650, in killed, wounded, and missing. Early on the 22nd inst., Sherman’s columns moved on to Goldsboro, whither Schofield’s command had preceded them from Fayetteville, and after that general had occupied Wilmington (Feb. 22), and fought the battle of Kinston, N.C. (March 8–10). Here, at Goldsboro, practically ended Sherman’s great march, though we find him later (April 13) at Raleigh, and towards the end of that month, after Lee’s surrender at Appomattox, it was Sherman who received the surrender of General J. E. Johnston’s army, on the terms accorded to Lee by General Grant. A month later, Sherman reached Washington, where he was received with great éclat, and where, after a grand review of his army, the latter was disbanded; while he himself was given command of the Military Division of the Mississippi, and subsequently that of Missouri, with the rank of lieutenant-general.

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