Recollections of the Great March
Part 1 - March to the Sea
Like others who had active
service in the late war for the Union can not keep quiet I am prone story
I followed the old flag from Oct. 61 till the surrender, and was a target for Rebel bullets in campaigns of both Grant and Sherman, serving as private in the 12th Wis. Inf'y.
Of the part which I have in the struggles of our arms, chiefly favor the capture of Vicksburg and Atlanta. I am proud; but the experiences which I love best to recall are those which came to me in the march through Georgia and the Carolinas under Sherman.
So my story now is about the "Great march"; and presented, I will say, somewhat in diary form relating parts acted, some of the leading features and incidents of the march that were visible to me, and some of my impressions at the time.
That event so wonderful and glories seems now like a dream. I shall never forget that bright November morning of '64 that saw us finally on our way toward the sea, and how my heart beat with proud emotion at the thought of having a part in an undertaking whose unfoldings and results were to be, I was sure, starting and grand. And perhaps at his day it is only true to say that it was a blow that laid open the vitals of the Confederacy, tore out its vicera and it arteries, and so hastened its death as our previous operations in Ga. Had not done, important as they were, down to and including the fall of the Gate City itself - the "impregnable" Atlanta.
We had just abandoned our pursuit of Hood's army in its northward flight to invade Tenn., and returned to our railroad line leading to Atlanta. The preparations then begun and going on of some days were sufficient evidence to us of the rank and file that something momentous was to transpire, and soon there were intonations of its character. "A gigantic raid", we said, "such as men never heard of. The 14th, 20th, 15th and 17th corps and Kilpatrick's cavalry all to take part. Let old Hood go. There's a Yankee trick pending he's not though of". I was even so. The adroit genius of Sherman had planned a movement not thought of by the Rebel chief, and looking to a sweep, grandeur and destructions never before paralleled.
The 12th day of Nov., all things were ready and the orders to move given. My regiment which was near Marietta, and belonged, I will say, to the 3rd Div., 17th Corps, broke camp at noon, and began destroying the railroad along with other troops. The operation was simple, and performed rapidly with the grim humor and alacrity of devils. At it we worked all the afternoon, piling the tiles, upon them, laying the rails, setting the fires: and then when the rails were sufficiently heated, twisting them around trees and posts to tell in after days to the Reb passer-by the tale of Yankee perversity. Far away, also, to the north, even to Kingston, the good work went on, while in the village a special detail of men leveled warehouses and other buildings of possible value to the enemy; and then, when the night came on, to see those thousand fires, the lurid heavens, and, in the background, the somber Kenesaw sitting as if in sack-cloth and ashes for the desolations and calamities being visited upon that beautiful land and its stiff-necked people - it was grand.
Our situations was now a new one with features of interest more than ordinary, and while to really alarming, made us thoughtful. In the midst of a hostile country with no communications the fortunes of war might yet turn against us. Adrift mariner-like on the sea of adventure should we reach a port? But loose from our base to find another hundreds of miles away - could we do it?
We talked it over, too, that night partly in this fashion:
"What's that you say, Ed? - Port?" waggishly asked a soldier lighting his pipe.
"I'll show you some port in a few days when I go foraging;" and another said
"Visions of the smoke house! Why, we'll have our base right along with us. We're going to stop in this country a while - visit along;" and thus the repartee continues, a disturbed sleeper finally growling out:
"See h'yer, you fellow! Leave them arguments to old Billy. Dry up and go to sleep, you fools!"
A week's marching put us far below Atlanta whose mills, foundries and workshops had also been burned by Gen. Sherman's order. Our course was S. E. - each corps going on a road by itself and within easy supporting distance of the others, while upon the extreme right moved the cavalry screening the columns from view by the enemy who threatened that flank. Trains and batteries were kept well closed up, and the infantry much of the time march outside the road through the woods and fields.
As before implied, we were to live off the country chiefly, and so we foraged as we marched. It was rare indeed, that a man came into camp without something eatable, - a chicken, turkey, pig or choice ham; possibly some eggs, flour or sweet potatoes; or perchance such luxury as white biscuit which some good old colored auntie had made for him, butter, jell or honey added. The successful forage was usually proud beyond comparison, and a taunting salutation was to him the highest compliment. Accordingly if waiting by the road with his plunder for his company to came up, as often the case, the soldiers passing would guile him:
"What a thief! Say, you there! What regiment do you belong to?"
"Thief!" is the scornful reply; "thief - mebbe [sic] you don't like the looks of this we show - mebbe [sic] you don't."
We generally took what we found, including substance for the teams, and any surplus of the latter we destroyed.
To deprive the people thus was hard and cruel, just as it seems, but war is always such, and the measure was a military necessity. We were down in that country periling life, health, all not from choice. Their rebellion had compelled our presence, and we purposed to help crush it, though by the effort they should be stripped entire, - be the sacrifice of blood and treasure what it might to either party.
Sometimes, however, were met with amusing protests. I recall this case: A sturdy dame stood in her yard one day, as we were passing by, feeding her chickens; and keeping upon us the while a sharp eye. It suddenly occurred to me of our patriots that they needed something in her line, and so they made a break toward, saying:
"Come on, boys, now is our chance." Now that woman's wits did not desert her. Dropping her dish, yet uttering no cry, she shook her fists at the would-be deprecators in such vigorous Hibernian style as to lead them to scud back to their company; and the regiment gave her cheer upon cheer. Not a man of the command molested her, and she was mistress of the situation. In such an emergency pretended Unionism would have failed.
Once the protest was on a serio-comic [sic] character. A foraging party was at a farm house, ransacking as usual and scrambling especially for sweets, when a swarm of bees attacked the men. One chap, I remember, minus a hat and besmeared with sorghum and honey, had to give up all earthly pleasures and flee for his life. Right and left he slapped, clutching at his head and blowing like a porpoise, to the great merriment of the onlookers white folks and darkies of the place included.
Nov. 22nd, the day that our Cavalry and the 15th Corps brigade in the feint on Macon so roughly handled the Ga. State Militia, our corps entered Gordon on the G. Central R. R. From this pint our business was mainly destroying railroad. This road was not constructed like others, the rail being spiked to long stringers of pine resting on ties of like material, and so more difficult to tear up. The work, however, was very expeditiously and systematically performed, usually in this way: First, at some designated place on one side a rail and its bed timber were removed; then the men, each at the end of a tie, and in parties of 50 or more, would one after the other begin raising the rack, till by the operation the higher or upright portion was detached from the rest and fell in a mass. Shone thereby released would then pass on to new positions and repeat the work, while behind all followed the fires kinking and distorting the rails; and all this at the rate of 8 or 10 miles per day. Enjoyable work, too; and including that done by the other corps on the same and branch roads it can readily be seen that by the time we arrived at Savannah the railroad system of Ga. Was pretty well used up.
There was on day of that march that is memorable to me as a day of trials with a mule. A squad of us - a dozen in all - had returned to camp on morning from picket to find that we were to act for the day as rearguard; also to ride along some mules and horses and turn them over at night at Brg. Head Quarters. The pick of the animals had been made before my appearance, and I was pointed to a mule, the only animal left. Now a mule and a soldier are boon companions; and I approached the said mule with the feeling that my happiness for that day was assured. He was a slab-sided, ungainly looking old fellow, with a head much larger that it would have been, but he had eyes and ears of more that ordinary intelligence, and a grief-like expression that seemed to say "Try me, sir, try me." Well, enemy companions were leaving and there was no time to lose, so I strapped on my blanket, threw my knapsack and another one buckled to it over his shoulders, and with the aid of a friendly stump mounted him. I was never so lifted in my feeling as I was from that moment. He struck out at once at an astonishingly fast gait, and so turned my head that I fancied I was some gallant knight or Union staff officer. I soon overhauled the boys and reined up my steed with a dignified air, passing a little beyond, for he seemed to want to show off. The result was the boy's eyes grew big with surprise, and my mule would have changed hands had a swap whit me been possible. That mule just seemed to know what those fellows had thought of him, and now had shown them their mistake. But that mule had other revelations of himself to make to me.
Our road some of the way lay along by the R. R. track where our troops were marching; and by and by we came to where there was a long trestle bridge over an expanse of mud and water of depth uncertain. A lengthy detour appeared undesirable, so two by two we rod in and were near the center, when to our disgust the animals could not get their feet out of the mud fast enough, and we very mother's son of us, save one, was thrown off. What a plight and what a time! The animals plunged, splashed and threw the mud; we soldiers cudgeled and shouted; and that crowd of hundreds on the bridge yelled and gibed in joy complete for it was s scene rivaling any circus that ever exhibited. Look at it farther: One man is down under his nag wiggling like an eel to get free; the others faring little better; and those wretches on the bridge shouting:
"Ah, you bummers! Now you're fixed. Ha, ha, ha, Stick in dar [sic] Long Ears," and one splits his sides by calling out sounding thus:
"Mark Twain! For and a half! Six feet! No bottom!" for if there was anything that a private afoot hated it was a private riding.
Any swearing? Yes, "forwards, backwards and every way." But needless. I don't think if was any worse in Flanders. Had Uncle Toby himself been by, he might have said again, "But nothing like this."
My own Pegasus had lain down declining to stir, perhaps waiting for me to swear at him; but if so, he erred, for with the basting I gave him, he started. No, I didn't swear at him, but I did think when I led him out to terra firma and he set up one of his infernal brays that he was an old reprobate.
As for myself, in such horrid condition was I, that I disrobed and went into the washing business. The other boys went on. The streaks and colors on my person - well, I looked like a painted savage. The operation so delayed me that I did not catch up again. In fact, darkness came on, and I was picking my way along, now by the light of the burning ties, and now by the stars, when that mule coming on to some corduroy in sheer trickery pitched one over him nearly breaking my leg. I then led him to camp which was near by, turning him over, though not as I wanted to turn him; and I never after rode a mule.
The boys had goose for supper, - mighty tough goose, too; and I fell to sleep that night our of humor with animals four footed and two footed, and with dreams like to that of Peter.
We arrived Dec. 2and at Millen Junction finding the prison pen there empty. Still no enemy in our front to speak of contested our progress, so we continued the destruction of railroad, mills and other property.
All the corps were now pushing straight for Savannah through a swampy, marshy country, and in a week's time were closing in upon the city, the 14th and 20th Corps, or Left Wing, advancing down the Savannah, the others swinging around to the Gulf R. R. Our rations now were chiefly rice found on the plantains. The first step was to try to open a provision line to our fleet. Fort McAllister, a heavily armed fort on the Ogeechee, stood opposed, but towered sundown on the 13th was handsomely carried by Hazen's 2nd Div., 15th Corps.
The Rebel works around the city were found protected by flooded rice fields, and the few causeways leading through them covered by heavy guns. The Rebel Gen. Hardee would not surrender so were siege and completed investment were decided upon; but on the night of the 20th, before our preparations were complete, the Rebels withdrew across the Savannah into S. Carolina, and we entered the city next day.
Such, in part, from my standpoint was the March to the Sea. No great battles - strategy had succeeded without them; and while the results to or arms were of highest importance, the glory was quite as great as if could have been, attained through bloodshed.
Part 2 - March through the Carolinas
I t was now the turn of
S. Carolina to be scourged. How the reckoning should be - whether by sound
thrashing in battle or by laying waste her domain or both - there was little
care, so she received her deserts; but it was supposed that the operations
of our forces would be much like those just ended, whose efficiency stood
proved. This, along with the bitter memory of the part acted by that state
as leader in the Rebellion, was to many a solders in Sherman's army equivalent
to a commission to make his presence felt doubly, if possible, after coming
upon her soil.
The heavy rains and flooded condition of the low lands along the Savannah delayed the general movement somewhat, especially the Left Wing in laying its pontoons. The Right Wing was more fortunate having mostly proceeded by steamer to Beaufort on Port Royal Island.
Jan. 13th '65, the pontoons being down, the 17th corps crossed over to the main land; and in the afternoon of the day following my brigade struck the Johnnies driving them back to Pocotaligo on the Charleston R. R. On the skirmish link which was supported by the 45h Ill. Were my company and a company of the 45th Ill. Pursuing them rapidly, but not specially excited until just at night fall, when a little game was played upon us not quite to our liking, and strongly suggestive of those "hospitable graves' of which we used to hear so much from that part of Rebeldom in the early days of the war. It was in this way; In the retreat, the Rebels had finally set fire to some grass; so that when we rushed through it and thus came into view, they opened upon us sharply with musketry from some unseen works across the road, by which we lost some men including our commanding officer, Lt. Clark, who fell dead from his horse. Not stopping we pushed on down a slope into an old corn lot skirted by a small flooded rice field; and then the rascals from a fort on the opposite side raked us with grape and canister. At this juncture, a further advance being impracticable, we threw ourselves flat by orders between the big corn rows. This and the darkness saved us; but the Rebs seemed to think we were coming, and for some minutes kept up the firing, saying to their gunners, "Shoot lower, shoot lower." It was a trying place to be in even then, for we thought if we lay there in silence a while, they would think we were all killed or gone, and so cease firing. At every discharge we would try to squeeze into the ground, and some of us had our clothing cut and knapsacks torn off; and besides we were terribly chilled. When the firing stopped, the saucy Rebels built up fires and began cooking their suppers in plain view of us during which or shortly after, not deeming it wise to disturb them, we slipped away unobserved. It was a small affair, of course, by the side of some of the engagements in which we had been, but for a skirmish in which the advantages were mainly on the other side, hot enough. We accepted the joke, and they had some good guns, had no fault to find at all with the way in which they loaded or handled them, but gracious - we got more than even afterward. In the morning they had gone, having to leave to us, however, some of those troublesome guns.
A fortnight then passed waiting for the Left Wing to come up, though broken by an occasional feint on the Rebel line across the Salkahatchie to confirm the Rebels in their impression that Charleston was our objective.
The time to strike was at hand. Advancing up the stream Mower's and Smith's divisions, 17th Corps, charged through a terrible swamp at two different points in water ice-cold and waist-deep and drove the enemy pell mell. A day or two after the whole army was on the Augusta R. R. at its old trick of twisting rails. On we pressed, the 15th Corps blanking the Rebel position at the S. Edisto by moonlight, the 17th Corps encountering the Rebels again the next day on the N. Edisto at Orangeburg. Here again was another exciting wading of a mile on the enemy's let flank - this time by our 3rd Div., Gen. Force, - by which we entered the two, the 12th Reg't having the van and planting the Stars and Stripes on the Court House A train of cars loading with troops barely escaped capture, while quite a number of the enemy fell into our hands.
The Left Wing was getting in its work as well - nothing could stop our boys; in fact, so like an avalanche was our movement, clearly now upon Columbia and not upon Charleston nor Augusta, that the Rebels did nothing but harass our columns a little at the river crossings, and then take to their heels.
Shame on this boastful "last ditch" chivalry of S. Carolina, thought we, - first in arms for treason and recession, and now yielding up their capital and their state to the invader without one respectable battle. Didn't want to fight them. No. Would rather bang away as upon Sumpter. We would hear from them later, when "we get them right where we want them"; that is, up in N. Carolina, when "our lion will roar."
On the 14th Feb. the pontoons were down over the Saluda and the broad rivers at a point a little above the city, so that the 15th Corps crossed over and occupied the city. The 17th Corps followed after dusk and built its bivouac fires outside the suburbs. Meanwhile, the wind had risen and a big fire broken out in the business part of the city. The sight suggested fun, so we largely rushed off to the city, no orders restraining; and it was amusing how many of us not so inclined at first and wanting to sleep were bewitched and took of after the others on a dead run, as the following relation of a little altercation which took place in on of the companies at the time shows:
"What are you setting the kettle off for, Homer?" demanded a voice of one peering out from under a blanket.
"I'm going to town," was the reply.
"No you're not. You keep on boiling that turkey. He's nowhere near done. I had a hard time getting him - had my shins whacked awfully by another fellow in the operation. Now you just stay and cook him."
"No, I'm going," suiting the action to the word with a quick step.
"You provoking bummer! Then I'll go, too"; and away they ran, and were soon lost in the throng. What cared they for turkey then:
Big time in front of them
Big time to right of them
Big time to left of them
Beckoned and billowed.
It was a wild time for
the Right Wing of Sherman's army. Any description of the scenes must of
course be imperfect; but to from even a tolerable idea of them, it must
be borne in mind that when our troops first entered the place, they found
burning in the streets a large amount of cotton which had been put there
and fired by Wade Hampton's order; that the fire not put out, as supposed,
revived with the wind and darted to buildings till beyond control; and
that then came the entrance of these thousands of unrestrained soldiers
from all the divisions, when whiskey, pillage and fire, along with shell
stored in buildings to which the fire had reached, vied with each other
in mischief. Truly pandemonium seemed loose. So sketch a little:
Near the fire and around some barrels of liquor broken open stood a group of hilarious soldiers.
"Roll a barrel to camp boys," cried one, "we can drink every drop; and away one of them started rolling a barrel along the middle of a street, camp distant at least a mile.
"Hey, what do you think of Sherman's raiders now?" to which, of course, the dismayed citizens addressed did not answer. Conduct, it is true, not the most creditable to our soldiery, but natural under the circumstances, and due, as well as the fire and other outbreaking evils of the night, to one exciting cause - the idiocy of Wade Hampton.
Finely attired ladies and children stood huddled over trucks and bundles on the pavements and pleading for vehicles to remove their property to places of safety. It was pitiable. Scenes, too, most unlike were visible; as, soldiers at points fighting the fire along with citizens; others cutting the hose of some fire engine that citizens were using, and a few scattering fire-brands.
"This is the place, boys," said the latter, "where that first secession act was passed - let's give it h--l."
The fact was, though none of there acts were authorized nor contemplated by Sherman and his generals who strove for their suppression, nor perhaps hardly dreamed of by most of those engaged in them, the incitements were to many and too strong with some to think of going by that hot-bed of State Sovereignty and Secession as if going to church. There, if anywhere, they reasoned, was the place to make such dogmas odious - correct judgement unquestionably, while true also that the punishment was no more than deserved. But soldierly propriety did not all depart. Many a soldier rightly regarded it most fun to keep sober and did nothing worse than bear away some memento of the place, or eatable, usually the latter, nor, in fact, was kindness to the homeless, helpless women and children altogether wanting - no loss tot he hearts of the doers.
Such, briefly, was that night in Columbia; but before morning, be it said, the fire and the other evils, through the effective measures taken, were suppressed, and most of the residents saved.
Our next business was twisting rails on the Charlotte R. R. as far north as Winnsboro.
As we passed through this place with our battle-torn flags flung to the breeze, and bands playing, groups of the "white trash" element, so prevalent in the South, were spectators. Their imbecile, lifeless looks and manifest shiftlessness, so much more strongly marked than we had seen them in that class elsewhere, excited in us disgust; but the cause was evident - slavery. A sad comment. I thought, on the baleful influence to that institution reaching down through many generations and showing plainly that the conditions of that people was even worse than that of the enslaved negro. No schools, so no intelligence nor energy, and bit tools for the purposes of the Slave Power. Owning no slaves, yet of the class of which thousands were perforce in every Rebel division, and whose ideas of what the South was fighting for is fairly shown in a little conversation that occurred between a Union officer and a Rebel private;
"Do you people own any slaves?" asked the officer.
"No sir," was the reply.
"Well then what are you fighting for?"
"We're fighting to make old Abe respect the Constitution."
No sense, seemingly, of their degradation and its cause; nor that that cause had "stabbed itself to death" and was going, else they would have rejoiced in the fact as did the colored people, and for the brighter day drawing. More helpless by far than they, degraded should they labor, they thought, and "will starve" they whined when our foragers pricked them a little, "[Black Slang] all gwine [sic] long with you us and nobody to make a crap."
We were moving eastward. Going where? We hardly asked. The Rebels were more concerned on that point than we. Our leader was moving the men on the chess board, and in his skill we had fullest confidence.
"Gen. Sherman is the man,
He makes the Rebels waltz, sir!
And leads his men through all the South,
Just like a dose of salts, sir!"
Thus one of the boys had
it in the chorus of a song. Like the figures in the kaleidoscope the incidents
of this march were ever changing. One morning, when east of the Wateree,
the boys of my regiment were all sown at the heels. We had turned out in
the pelting rain - it had rained all the day before - to retrace our way
some eight miles to bring up the Pioneer train which was fast in the mud.
Arrived at the spot we were suddenly put in nicest humor by an incident
which I now describe:
Lying down in harness, motionless and with eyes partly closed was a wheel mule, and by all appearances saying "I'm done for" and I "shuffle off this mortal coil." The harness was pulled off, still he lay as before.
"Shoot him," said a fellow stepping up with his gun.
"No, don't shoot him - knock him in the head," ordered the colonel; and a teamster, with an axe advanced and dealt him a crushing blow, as supposed, between the eyes. Had the ground leaped up before us then we should not have been more surprised than at the result. That mule sprang up instanter, [sic] ran off by the road-side and began eating grass. Such shouting was rarely heard. Of courser that play-off mule was hitched up forthwith.
Swiftly our columns moved on to Cheraw on the Great Peedee, then to Fayetteville on the Cape Fear, capturing at each place every cannon and military stores in great quantities. The bad luck of the Johnnies was making them disheartened.
[Story ends here. Last page is missing]
AUTHOR Levings, Edwin D.
TITLE Papers, 1857-1866, 1880.
LOCATION This collection is owned by the State Historical Society of
Wisconsin. Archives Division. 816 State Street, Madison, Wis. 53706.
This collection is at the University of Wisconsin-River Falls Area
Research Center, River Falls, Wis. 54022.
CALL NO. River Falls Mss BO