A narrative of service with the Third Wisconsin Infantry/The march to the sea

The March to the Sea

On October 29 came the first through trains from Chattanooga, after the movement of Hood to the North. On the same day came orders to reduce baggage and prepare for marching. Soon, rumors were spreading about the camp that we were to start on a fifty days' campaign, without communications. On November 4 we were ready to move. I wrote numerous letters of good-bye to friends at home, telling them that they would hear from me next at Charleston or Savannah. I hoped that it would be Charleston, for I wanted the people of South Carolina who started the war to feel its effects and to reap their share of the horrors.

On November 5 we started out and marched three miles from town. The next day, however, we returned in order to wait until the Army of the Tennessee might be paid off. This gave us a chance to vote in the Presidential election, which we had come very near missing. Our Regiment gave Lincoln 304 votes and McClellan 21. For another full week we remained in Atlanta, our Regiment being occupied the entire time in tearing up railroad tracks and destroying everything of value in the city. By the time we were ready to leave, Atlanta was worth little more to the Confederates than any other piece of ground of similar size. On November 15 we started out in earnest on the now famous "March to the Sea." Our last view of Atlanta, the prize for which we had so long struggled, was a column of dense smoke from its burning buildings; we had destroyed everything in town except the churches and private residences.

Our expedition numbered about 50,000 men, under the command of Sherman. Thomas's army remained behind to look after Hood. We took with us only about twenty days rations, for the country through which we passed was expected to furnish the remainder of our needs. The army proceeded in two columns—the right wing under Howard making for Macon; the left under Slocum making for Augusta. Each corps, also, took a different route in order to be able to subsist more easily on the country.

Our Corps proceeded along the Augusta railroad, which we destroyed as we went along by burning the ties and twisting the heated rails. Parts of the country were poor and furnished little forage. Other portions, however, compensated by giving us an abundance of sweet potatoes and pork, with occasional lots of corn meal, flour, and sorghum, and, for the first arrivals on the plantation, chickens and turkeys. On our route we found plenty of good horses and mules, and all the forage that we could carry off. Occasionally, also the enterprising forager would capture some apple-jack or corn whiskey.

At Madison we turned and took the road to Milledgeville, the capital of Georgia. Geary's Division, however, followed up the railroad to the Oconee River, and destroyed the Oconee bridge. We entered Milledgeville on the 22nd without opposition, and camped in the state-house yard. During our stay, our Regiment and the One Hundred Seventh New York guarded the city. I took up my quarters with an acquaintance of one of my Wisconsin friends, and saw to it that his house and family were not molested. He had several hundred bales of cotton stored near town, which Sherman had consented to have bonded; but some zealous officer or officious "bummer," had set fire to it before it could be saved.

Upon our approach to Milledgeville, Governor Brown of Georgia, had released all of the convicts in the State Prison at that place. In celebration of their freedom, their first act was to destroy the old prison. Our first work was to destroy the Milledgeville arsenal, in which was stored a large quantity of Confederate arms and ammunition. We carried out and threw into the river, all of the ammunition in the magazine, and burned up all of the arms and equipment. Besides several thousand stands of good arms, there were a lot of old-fashioned rifles and shot-guns, and thousands of pikes and bowie knives that had been manufactured by the State for the militia, with which to repel Yankees. In the state-house were millions of dollars of Georgia State money, in bills of all denominations and to these the men helped themselves without limit. All of the cotton in the vicinity that could be burned without endangering good buildings, was destroyed, and that which was stored in the city was bonded not to be turned over to the Confederate Government, or used for its benefit. I was sent out with a detachment of men to search the stores for tobacco, and found enough to load several wagons, which kept the army supplied with that article until we reached Savannah.

From Milledgeville we marched eastward toward Sandersville, through a very poor country. At Buffalo Creek, a swampy stream about eight miles from Sandersville, we found that the seven bridges crossing it had been burned—the negroes told us that this had been done by the people of Sandersville. We were delayed about three hours in repairing the bridges, so did not arrive at Sandersville until the next morning. For the last two days we had been on slim rations, and Sandersville was well supplied. Of course there was a general rush for eatables, and the town was soon raided. The citizens hurried to Sherman to make complaint and get protection.

He turned on them and asked, "Which of you was it who set fire to those bridges yesterday?" They all denied having done it, but admitted that it had been done by citizens of the town. "Well," said he, "those that make war must take the consequences," which was all the consolation they got. Later, we found the man who fired the bridges; he was promptly arrested and his property burned.

As we entered Sandersville we had a sharp skirmish with Wheeler's Confederate Cavalry, in which two of them were killed. Our Indians seemed to think it was not exactly right to leave the dead bodies with their scalps on. They soon fell into the civilized custom of making war, however, and did not afterward express any desire to take scalps.

From Sandersville we turned south until we reached the Georgia Central Railroad at Tennille Station. We burned the railway buildings there, and proceeded along the line, tearing it up as we went along.

On November 28 we passed near the home of the Honorable Herschel V. Johnson.[1] By prodding into the ground with their ramrods, some of our foragers found there a lot of more or less valuable papers and letters, which had for safe-keeping been buried in his cabbage patch. Some of the letters from his son, who was an officer on Hood's staff, afforded us much amusement. Our mess forager found here, also, a stock of flour that lasted until we reached Savannah.

Thus far, we had almost always found sufficient provisions along the line of march to feed the command fairly well. Now, however, we were obliged to send out strong parties of foragers for long distances on our flanks, to search the country in order to get enough to eat. Wherever we went we destroyed everything that might be of value to the enemy. On the 29th, near Bostwick, we burned up millions of feet of bridge timber, all got out and framed for bridges, that the Confederates expected to build when the Yankees were

driven out. I noticed that some of the timbers were marked Strawberry Plains and Chattanooga Creek.

On December 3 our column crossed the Millen & Augusta Railroad near Millen, and destroyed as much of it as we could. We were now in a level, sandy country, thickly covered with pine timber, and plantations were few and scattered. On the 4th we heard cannonading in the distance, which was said by citizens to be at Charleston, South Carolina, seventy miles away. On the 7th we found our road for a distance obstructed with felled timber, which, however, so little delayed the march that those in the rear would not have known of it. On the 8th, after passing Springfield, the trains and pack-mules were left behind, with the Third Division as a guard, while the First and Second Divisions pushed on rapidly toward Savannah.

  1. H. V. Johnson was born in Burke County, Georgia, in 1812. He served his State as Federal Senator from 1848 to 1849, and as Governor from 1853 to 1857. In 1860 he was nominated for the Vice-Presidency on the ticket of Stephen A. Douglas. He opposed to the last the secession of Georgia, but ultimately cast his lot with his State, and was elected to the Confederate Senate. After the war he was active in securing the restoration of Georgia to her political rights in the Union. In 1866 he was again chosen to the Federal Senate, but was unable to serve under the reconstruction acts of Congress. He died in Jefferson County, Georgia, in 1880.