Howard: The Last March Among Friends
KID WONGSRICHANALAI, STAFF WRITER
Oliver Howard had certainly come a long way by 1864.
From a young student at Bowdoin and then at West Point, he had grown as
a man and as a believer in the Creator of all things.
When the Civil War began, he was a colonel. Now, four
years later, he was a major general in command of one of the nation's
most venerable veteran armies.
At the Battle of Jonesboro, south of Atlanta, Howard
held his own against repeated assaults by Confederate General William
Hardee's troops-consequently, Howard had tutored Hardee's daughters when
they were both at West Point, which was one of many coincidental meetings
between old comrades in the War for the Union.
What Howard didn't know was that the Battle of Jonesboro
opened Atlanta to Federal occupation and was to be the last major battle
for Howard in this Civil War.
After taking Atlanta, William Tecumseh Sherman, the
overall commander of all troops in the west, prepared plans for a march
to the sea at Savannah.
While the Confederate army he had faced under Confederate
fighter John Bell Hood was still in the area and making its way towards
the Tennessee border, Sherman seemed not to care. He had detached a considerable
number of troops back to Tennessee to meet Hood.
"If he will go to the Ohio River, I will give him rations.
My business is down south," Sherman commented. True to his word, he did
not glance back at Hood after he had chased him unsuccessfully for a number
Sherman's March to the Sea has long been one of the
greatest of Civil War legends. A "swath of destruction" sixty miles wide
and three hundred miles long is a part of almost every history book.
The march would eventually cause millions of dollars
worth of damage, but the effect of marching a fully equipped army through
the barrens of Georgia, right in the Confederate backyard was instrumental
in hastening the end of the War.
Sherman had promised to make Georgia "howl" and this
he did with great pleasure.
Meanwhile Oliver Howard was homesick. He had not been
home since the beginning of 1864, and now it was November. But Sherman
would not let him go. As commander of the Army of the Tennessee, Howard
needed to be around since he controlled the hardest hitters in Sherman's
Whatever his objections, Howard was soon not thinking
of the winters of Maine as Sherman moved his men out of Atlanta on November
15. Atlanta was blown to bits as the Federals left, preventing the rebels
from salvaging anything that could be used to further the rebellion cause.
The march was in two columns; on the right, moving down
the Macon & Western railroad, ripping track as he went, Howard and the
Army of the Tennessee made good time.
On the left, Henry W. Slocum's Army of Georgia did likewise
to everything that was in their path. Both wings feinted at numerous towns
along the way, in an attempt to confuse the rebels as to their position
Still, the sixty thousand-man army had little to fear
from the rebels since there were none in the area, aside from a few cavalry
"This is probably the most gigantic pleasure excursion
ever planned," a soldier wrote, and in a sense, he was right. The men
were in excellent spirits. They raided farms and ate all they could find:
sweet potatoes, chickens, cows, ducks.
What they could not eat, they left for dead. Houses,
fields, cotton gins were burnt along the way. So vast were Sherman's armies
that the major commanders had little to do with any fighting that occurred.
Outside Macon, Howard's one brigade rear guard mowed
down charging rebels, only to find out that the attackers had been old
men and children. Horrified at this cruel face of war, the men did not
know that this was only one of the few atrocities committed on the march.
For a month, the men marched across Georgia, doing their
worst but keeping their energy for the chance they knew they would have
to wreck much more damage on South Carolina, the home of succession.
Meanwhile, the buffet continued. As the men approached
Savannah and the coast on December 9, they began to consume oysters alongside
their usual diet of rich forage.
Howard was glad to see Savannah. On the march, he had
been unable to control his rowdy veterans who pillaged and plundered without
caring for his instructions. Now, with an enemy force to their front,
the men could at last return to their role as soldiers.
As it turned out, Savannah was not a hard town to crack.
First, however, Sherman needed supplies from the Union supply ships out
in the Atlantic. The only obstacle was a rebel fort-Fort McAllister.
Howard sent one division to deal with the problem, and
within a matter of hours, the fort was in Union hands, and supplies began
to pour in.
On December 21, Savannah was abandoned, and Sherman
quickly wired President Lincoln that he was presenting the town to him
as a Christmas present.
And what a present it was. Sherman had done what his
critics thought was impossible; he had marched sixty thousand men three
hundred miles through enemy territory with a casualty list of a mere 809
But his plans had suddenly been enlarged. Outside Petersburg,
Virginia, Grant was still deadlocked with Confederate General Robert E.
Lee. Now, Grant wanted his old friend Sherman to bring his men up the
coast to meet him for one final showdown battle with Lee in Virginia.
Sherman was more than willing to comply. "We can punish
South Carolina as she deserves," he said.
He set out on February 1, 1865, the final year of the
War. His destination this time was Goldsboro, North Carolina, 400 or so
miles from Savannah. His march would be conducted in the usual pattern-Howard
on the right, Slocum on the left.
In late January, Sherman had sent Howard's men by boat
to Beaufort, South Carolina, fifty miles from Savannah. From there, Howard
marched on the railroad town of Pocotaligo, where he outflanked and drove
rebel defenders from their fortifications.
The result of this late January shift was to confuse
the rebels as to Sherman's objective. Howard, the rebels reasoned, was
heading for Charleston while Slocum was headed for Augusta. In point of
fact, the conversion point was Columbia, South Carolina's capital.
It was during this time of planning and preparing troops
that Howard had the chance to visit the Sea Islands, laying between Savannah
and Charleston. These Islands had been under Union control since 1861
when naval forces had forced the Confederates to evacuate this part of
Southern plantation owners also left, leaving their
slaves and lands open to confiscation. Ever since then, the "Port Royal
Experiment" had been underway. This project entailed giving confiscated
lands to former slaves and teaching them how to cultivate them.
Northerners also opened schools, and soon a flourishing
community of successful Freedmen was blooming. This "experiment" was conducted
in hopes that its results would pave the way for post-war treatment of
Howard was impressed with this setup and took great
joy in visiting some Freedmen's schools. He would, later in the year when
he was the Commissioner for the Freedmen's Bureau, look back at the Sea
Islands and use them as a blue print for his plans of reconstructing the
(However, he later found that the plan was impractical
on a national scale.)
Meanwhile, the War was still on. As the armies began
to move, the men found out that the backlands of Georgia and South Carolina
were not as welcoming as the rolling hills and farms of middle Georgia.
Swamps, flooded rivers, forests, and empty fields blocked Sherman's path.
But the Union commander had planned for such troubles.
His detail crews went ahead and cut down forests, made roads, and spanned
pontoon bridges across swollen rivers. The effect of this superb marching
force was an amazingly swift march through territory which had been deemed
impossible to pass.
Confederate General Joseph Johnston, who had faced Sherman
in Georgia and now awaited him in South Carolina, amazed at Sherman's
movements, compared his opponent's army to that of Julius Caesar's.
Still, no matter the rainfall and the muddy roads, or
the hot days, the troops were in high spirits. On the way, they burnt
forests and sent miles of trees into smoldering smoky graves. Bright days
were turned into night as smoke filled the skies.
The troops had taught Georgia a lesson, and now they
intended to destroy South Carolina. Having spared Savannah from the torch,
they had been promised a free hand in the crippling of South Carolina.
"Here is where treason began, and by God here is where
it shall end," many soldiers said.
The savage energy in the men was horrifying even to
"I almost tremble for her [South Carolina's] fate, but
feel that she deserves all that seems in store for her," the Federal commander
In mid-February, Howard's leading elements came within
sight of Columbia.
To Be Continued…
Next Time: Victory for the North.
1. Carpenter, John A. Sword and Olive Branch: Oliver
Otis Howard. Fordham University Press, New York. 1999
2. Foote, Shelby. The Civil War: A Narrative.
Volume Three, Red River to Appomattox. Vintage Books, Random House Inc.
3. McFeely, William S. Yankee Stepfather: General
O.O. Howard and the Freedmen. Yale University Press, New Haven and
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