Near Savannah, January 2, 1865.
Without going much into detail, I will give you a general idea of our last campaign as we saw it. The minor experiences I shall leave till I come home some time, to amuse you with.
The 15th of November, the whole corps left Atlanta at seven A. M.; previous to that time all heavy buildings had been battered down with rails, tracks torn up, etc., so that everything was ready for the torch. The Fourteenth Corps and our post command was not to move until the 16th. As soon as the city was pretty clear of trains the fires were set. It is impossible for you to imagine, or for me to describe, the magnificent spectacle which this city in flames presented, especially after dark. We sat up on top of our house for hours watching it. For miles around, the country was as light as day. The business portion of Atlanta, embracing perhaps twenty acres, covered with large storehouses and public buildings, situated in the highest part of the city, was all on fire at one time, the flames shooting up for hundreds of feet into the air. In one of the depots was a quantity of old rebel shells and other ammunition; the constant explosion of these heightened the effect. Coming from the sublime to the ridiculous, in the midst of this grand display the Thirty-third Massachusetts band went up and serenaded General Sherman; it was like fiddling over the burning of Rome! While the conflagration was going on, we kept large patrols out to protect the dwellings and other private property of the few citizens remaining in the city; this was effectually done.
On the morning of the 16th, nothing was left of Atlanta except its churches, the City Hall and private dwellings. You could hardly find a vestige of the splendid railroad depots, warehouses, etc. It was melancholy, but it was war prosecuted in deadly earnest. The last of the Fourteenth Corps did not get off till about half-past four P. M. We followed after, being the last United States troops to leave Atlanta. That night we marched eleven miles, going into camp four miles beyond Decatur.
From this time until the 22d, we marched as rear guard of the Fourteenth Corps, crossing the Yellow, Alcofauhachee and Little Rivers, passing through Conyers, Covington and Shadyvale, and arriving at Eatonton Factory on the 21st. Here we left the Fourteenth Corps and followed the track of the Twentieth, which was on the road leading from Madison through Eatonton to Milledgeville.
On the 22d, we passed through Eatonton, and came up with the rear of the Twentieth Corps at Little River, which we crossed on pontoons.
On the 23d, we marched into Milledgeville, joining our division across the Oconee River. The capital of Georgia is a very one-horse place, with a few good public buildings including the Capitol, which is quite handsome. Here, for the first time since leaving Atlanta, we got into camp before dark, and therefore had a little rest, which was much needed. We had averaged getting up at half-past four A. M., and into camp at eight P. M., which, with an intermediate march of fifteen miles, made a pretty good day's work. Two hours are none too many to allow for getting supper and pitching shelters.
At six A. M., on the 24th, we were off again; it being Thanksgiving day, our excellent cook had provided us with a cold roast turkey for lunch at our noon halt, and at night, after getting into camp near Hebron, he served us with turkeys and chickens, sweet potatoes and honey, in a style which did honor to his New England bringing up.
The 25th, we crossed Buffalo Creek, after some delay, the bridge having been destroyed by Wheeler's cavalry, which skirmished with our advance.
On the 26th, Wheeler had the impudence to try and stop our corps. Our brigade, being in advance, was deployed against him. We drove them on almost a double-quick march for six miles into the town of Sandersville; the Fourteenth Corps' advance, coming in from the north, struck their flank and they scattered, leaving their killed and wounded in the streets. Our whole loss was not more than six. That night we struck the railroad at Tennill; we destroyed several miles of it before going into camp.
The 27th, we marched to Davisboro, a pretty little place, rich in sweet potatoes and forage for our animals.
The 28th and 29th, our division destroyed the railroad from Davisboro to Ogeechee River. The army way of “repairing” railroads is this: the regiments of a brigade are scattered along for a mile, arms are stacked, and the men “fall in” on one side of the track. At a given signal, they take hold of the rail, tie, or whatever is in front of them; the order, “Heave,” is then given, which means lift, and lift together; at this, the whole length of railroad begins to move, and the movement is kept up until the whole thing goes over with a smash. The ties are then collected and piled up; across each pile three or four rails are laid; the whole is then set on fire; the heat makes the rails red hot in the middle, and their own weight then bends them almost double. In many cases each rail was twisted besides being bent.
November 30th, we crossed the Ogeechee.
December 1st and 2d, we were rear guard; the roads were bad, and we didn't get into camp before eleven or twelve P. M.
December 3rd, we halted within a quarter of a mile of the pen where our prisoners were kept, near Millen. I rode over and looked at it. No description I have ever seen was bad enough for the reality. Situated in the centre of a moist, dismal swamp, without a tree inside the stockade for shelter: you can imagine what the place must have been in this climate in August. There wasn't a sign of a tent in the whole enclosure; nothing but holes dug in the ground and built up with sod, for our men to live in. Eight bodies, unburied, were found in these huts; they were of men probably too sick to be moved, who were left to die alone and uncared for. Every one who visited this place came away with a feeling of hardness toward the Southern Confederacy he had never felt before.
The marches of the 4th, 5th, 6th and 7th brought us to Springfield, twenty-seven miles from Savannah. The country is generally poor and swampy, the roads bad. On the 8th, the corps trains were left in the rear, guarded by the Third Division, the First and Second going along unencumbered. We had to cut our way through the trees which were felled across the road by the rebels.
On the 9th, we encountered a redoubt on the road, fifteen miles from Savannah; this was soon carried with a small loss, our brigade flanking the position.
On the 10th, the army formed line of battle for the first time since leaving Atlanta, six miles from Savannah, fronting the rebel works. The rest of the story you know. Altogether, the campaign was brilliant and successful; in many respects it was a fatiguing one, but to make up for the hard work the men generally had an abundant supply of sweet potatoes, fresh beef and pork. Since the 10th, and up to the present time, rations for men and officers have been very short, but they are now improving.
We are threatened with another campaign immediately; I imagine it will be a move towards Columbia, threatening Augusta and Charleston.
There was no mistake made in the amount of force left with Thomas, as the result has shown. The rebellion has one front only now, — that is in Virginia, and we are going to break that in before next summer.
Savannah is a very pretty, old-fashioned city, regularly laid out, with handsome houses, etc. The officers on duty here are having fine times, even better than ours at Atlanta. Sherman reviewed the whole army, a corps at a time, last week. Considering the ragged and barefooted state of the men, they looked well.
SOURCE: Charles Fessenden Morse, Letters Written During the Civil War, 1861-1865, p. 201-5