THE FALL OF SAVANNAH

Stiles/Akin

Sergeant Major
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Atlanta, Georgia
#1
THE FALL OF SAVANNAH
20 December 1864
General Sherman arrived at Port Royal at 8:00 AM. After breakfast and a casual inspection of the post, he and Foster sat down for a serious discussion.

Foster agreed to "give his personal attention" to cutting the vital Confederate communication link. Sherman offered more men and equipment sever the "Union Causeway at Hardeeville. These discussions kept Sherman at Port Royal all day. While Sherman was docking at Port Royal, Savannah's evacuation had begun. Long lines of military supply wagons lumbered over the floating bridge to safety. Occasionally a civilian carriage, for those lucky or wealthy enough to obtain a passport would cross the bridge.

Very few of the local townspeople left initially. Most hoped for unknown reasons, that their city would somehow be spared. Soldiers in the defenses had been issued rat tail files used to spike artillery pieces. This is done by blocking or greatly widening a hole drilled in each barrel used to insert the blasting cap that ignites the gunpowder, rendering the cannon useless. All of the light, portable artillery would be evacuated.

The larger caliber guns would stay and eventually be spiked. Ammunition restrictions for these batteries were lifted. Heavy cannonading began all throughout the line on both sides. Southern Officers began to receive official orders to destroy all immovable Confederate equipment and prepare lighter equipment for evacuation out of the city. One Commander that did not have enough horses to take everything decided to first load bedding and provisions to be given the soldiers families inside the city. At least their women and children would have something to eat and a shield from the cold ground if the invaders forced them to flee. For Colonel Carmen and his men in South Carolina, it was a very difficult day.

Confederate resistance was now stronger than any they had seen since leaving Atlanta. A Rebel gunboat reached them and began to shell their toehold on Carolina soil using massive shells and firing in almost every direction. Only the lowering tide forced the ship to retreat.

For Carmen's men, what began as "a grand adventure" was now, anything but. However, those troops and their Commander had little understanding of the impact they were having in the broader scale of this siege. A now frantic Colonel Carmen sent off multiple dispatches for reinforcements, receiving no reply. He was convinced that his earlier zeal would be the cause of their destruction. Carmen did receive reports that something in Savannah might be happening. From his lines, Carmen could see wagons exiting the city in great numbers. Carmen climbed into the loft of a barn and witnessed the exodus himself. Inside the city, a crowd of women gathered at the city's main arsenal with pails because they were told there were provisions inside. Until convinced otherwise, this group intended in taking the arsenal by force.

The daughters of an artillery commander helped their father hand out hoarded clothes and blankets to his men. Signal Corps Officers began burning dispatches. The question inside the city was what would be the fate of the women and children as the memory of Atlanta weighed heavily on their minds. Some Confederate soldiers, "sick of war and the rebel cause" began to defect into Federal lines. Deserters told Federal officers that the mood inside the city leaned toward surrender to avoid the fate suffered by Atlanta. General Geary confirmed that a pontoon bridge had been built and that an evacuation of the city had begun.

General Sherman began his journey back from Port Royal at 5 PM. Weather conditions worsened causing the return trip to be rougher and longer. As darkness fell inside the city, light artillery was withdrawn from the defenses and quietly rolled across the bridge to safety in Hardeeville. The City's Alderman met with Mayor Richard D. Arnold at the City Exchange Building on Bay Street where they were officially told of the Army's evacuation. The Alderman now knew that the safety of the city and its citizens was now solely in their hands. An officer had given them a copy of Sherman's surrender demand, so they knew full well, Sherman's intentions.

The Mayor and Alderman decided to form a small delegation, headed by Mayor Arnold out into Federal lines to surrender the city. For the Blue coated soldiers, this was not a time of euphoria. They now realized that they might soon assault headlong through waist-deep water, the defenses of Savannah. Many would not survive the next 24 hours. Soldiers now clumsily drilled with ladders built to scale the Confederate works in front of them knowing that their officers were serious in their preparation which controlled their fate. A Wisconsin soldier wrote, "When we came to think how the Confederates could sweep the surface of the water with their cannons and that those only slightly wounded must surely drown in their helplessness, the prospect of such a large charge was not pleasing to us at all. I could not go to sleep for a long time after that."

Hardee ordered that from 8 to 10:00 PM, troops in the various river forts would spike their guns, dump ammunition into the water and evacuate. No fires were to be made to alert the Federals of the withdrawal. The Southern section of the line, General Wrights 4,000 troops were to spike their guns and evacuate leaving a small screening force in place until 10:30 PM. One of Wrights soldiers later wrote, "I have no words to picture the gloomy bitterness that filled my breast on that dreary march through water mud and darkness."

The city council meeting heard from Savannah River Squadron Captain Josiah Tattnall. Angry voices arose when he informed them of his plan to burn unfinished vessels in the shipyard. The council members worried of the flames destroying nearby homes. Tattnall agreed to, if the alderman could supply the men, they would destroy the ships without burning them.

As they debated the point, fires were being set by retreating Army troops. Three aldermen set off to organize a bucket brigade to extinguish the flames. In Savannah, the provost details were heavily outnumbered by looters in the downtown district. Men women and children began to smash windows and doors of shops taking anything and everything they could get their hands on.

Some of the Confederate river batteries began to empty all of their ordinances into the Federal lines. General Hardee and his staff departed Savannah on the steamer ship Swan at 9:00 PM. A small detachment of his staff stayed in the city to supervise the evacuation of the skirmish lines across the bridge. The sick and wounded were left inside the city.

At 10:00 PM, General McLaws 4,000 troops holding the crucial center of the line, started their evacuation. One soldier wrote later that "Our campfires were left burning and our entire army marched into Savannah. I will never forget the event." When the hour for Bakers North Carolina troops to depart, the band launched into a rousing rendition of "Dixie". Yankee pickets shouted from their posts "Played out! Played Out! "One of McLaws men later wrote "The route into the city "lined by great live oaks with their long festoons of waving moss and vines which swing backward and forward, in the pale moonlight and seemed to be ghosts of out departed hopes."

Sherman's trip aboard the Harvest Moon was delayed greatly by the same wind and would keep him from arriving in the Savannah area until dawn. The weather being of no great consequence, causing his travel delay, Sherman wrongly believed there would be not any dramatic action on either side for at least 24 hours. General Smith was to take a northern sector, the final piece of the city's defense and begin his 2,500 troops moved out of the line and into the city starting at 11:00 PM. Guns would be spiked at midnight and skirmishes would leave an hour later. A native Georgian wrote "desperate to think that after 4 years of service, I have to leave my native state to the mercy of a ruthless enemy."

As armies entered the city and intertwined with one another, the scene in the city noted by a soldier "as we passed through the city, guns were firing in every direction, doors were being knocked down, women and children were screaming and the devil to pay generally." Another wrote, "The night was exceedingly dark and everywhere seemed to move without system or direction.
In the city, as we passed through, men were discharging their firearms and making the night hideous with their oaths and blasphemies; horsemen galloped about apparently without object and women going hither and thither. On the roadside and along the pontoons, all night, men and horses were strewn in confusion some struggling in mud and water; others are worn down with fatigue, and perhaps sick at heart and in body resting or sleeping."

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