A Classic Military Maneuver
—March to the Sea Heritage Trail —
When an army crosses a large stream it is vulnerable to attack. Commanders often reduce this hazard by crossing at multiple locations, decreasing congestion and expediting the movement. When possible each crossing occurs within close supporting distance of other units. The "Left Wing" of Union Major General William T. Sherman's army, commanded by Major General Henry W Slocum, faced such a situation in late November 1864 as it neared the Ogeechee River during its march to the sea. The Left Wing consisted of the 14th and 20th Corps, totaling about 28,000 soldiers plus thousands of horses mules and a large herd of cattle. The maneuver required coordination, skill and a bit of luck to safely cross the Ogeechee River against the threat of attack from Confederate cavalry.
The Left Wing crossed the Ogeechee River at three different locations. On Monday, November 28th, Union Brigadier General William T. Ward's division of the 20th Corps left Davisborough followed by the 14th Corps division of Brigadier General William P. Carlin. They were protecting the Left Wing's supply train of more than 1,200 wagons. Their advance guard, led by the 33rd Indiana Infantry Regiment, approached the west bank of the river at noon. They were briefly fired on by some of Confederate Major General Joseph Wheeler's Cavalry located on the east bank. Wheeler's
men had burned the main bridge plus even smaller bridges used to cross the lowlands area on the river's east side.
Lieutenant Colonel Joseph Moore's 58th Indiana Infantry, a regiment of bridge builders, arrived at the river's west bank at 1:00 pm. They erected a 110-foot-long pontoon bridge. One soldier later recalled, "[Pontoon bridges] were perfect marvels of stability and steadiness. ..[They] seemed as safe and secure as mother earth, and the army walked on them with the same serene confidence as if they were."
Colonel Moore also put engineers to work cutting a new "corduroy" log road through 3/4 mile of swamp. They finished by dark so Ward's and Carlin's divisions could cross. By the end of the following day, November 29th, all Federal troops and wagons except the 33rd Indiana were across the river and moving toward Louisville. The Indianans crossed on the 30th, removed the bridge and marched on to Louisville.
While the divisions of Generals Ward and Carlin crossed the Ogeechee River near Louisville, two other divisions in the 14th Corps crossed on November 27th northwest of Louisville at Fenn's Bridge. The other two divisions in the 20th Corps, after destroying portions of the Central Railroad near Bartow (indicated on the map as Spier's, No. 11), crossed the river on the 30th about 2-1/2 miles south of Louisville. All Left Wing divisions converged
on Louisville. The delay in moving wagons and livestock across the river while individuals and small groups of soldiers crossed on their own and entered Louisville without officers spelled trouble for the town.
Top left: Crossing the Ogeechee River (Harper's Weekly)
Middle left: Regimental Flag of the 33rd Indiana Infantry
Bottom left: "Corduroying" a road involved the laying of logs side-by-side to allow movement over wet, muddy or swampy areas.
Top middle: Union Sergeant Gilbert Armstrong, Company E. 58th Indiana Infantry Regiment, He is carrying a rare Henry (16-shot) repeating rifle
Bottom right map: Approximate routes of the "March to the Sea" through middle Georgia in November 1864
(adopted from the Atlas to Accompany the Official Records of the Union and Confederate Armies)
Background watermark: "Corduroying" a road