“...fortune of war...”
—March to the Sea Heritage Trail —
Ways Station (now Richmond Hill), Station No. 1-1/2 on the Savannah, Albany and Gulf Railroad, was built on land belonging to William J. Way. He was the first station master and co-owner of Silk Hope rice plantation. Construction of the rail line began in Savannah in 1856 and continued southwest. Ways Station was a transfer point for rice, cotton and other products from area plantations. After the Confederacy constructed Fort McAllister on the Ogeechee River in 1861 Ways Station also became the terminal for troops and materials transported to the fort. The rail line was renamed the Atlantic & Gulf Railroad in 1863.
The area now known as J. F. Gregory Park was part of Silk Hope Plantation. It helped Georgia become the second highest producer of rice in 1860. Rice dikes, fields and some of the original lock mechanisms can still be seen in the northern portion of the park. Rice production diminished after the Civil War.
On Friday December 9, 1864 Union Brigadier General William B. Hazen's division of the 15th Corps in Major General William T. Sherman's army crossed the Canoochee River six miles northwest of Ways Station. Their aim was to destroy the railroad, A train traveling southwest from Savannah soon passed-by. Realizing he had entered Federal, lines the engineer attempted to back-up. But an alert officer drove
a wagon onto the tracks behind the train and shot its mules, causing a derailment.
The train carried some 25 passengers fleeing Savannah, including Richard R. Cuyler, president of the Central Railroad of Georgia. Cuyler's name was recognized because his brother, Colonel John M. Cuyler, was a distinguished Federal army surgeon General Sherman authorized Richard Cuyler's release but his valuable possessions were destroyed. Major Henry Hitchcock of Sherman's staff wrote in his diary that Cuyler "takes the terrible destruction of his R.R. very philosophically—'fortune of war'—recognizing its destruction as legitimate and necessary for our purpose."
More Federal soldiers soon arrived in Ways Station. Brigadier General H. Judson Kilpatrick's cavalry division passed through on December 12th with orders to scour Fort McAllister and to make contact with the Federal navy just off the coast. Colonel Smith D. Atkins made his brigade headquarters at Ways Station while General Kilpatrick proceeded with his other brigade plus two regiments before returning on December 15th. General Hazen's infantry division camped near King's Bridge over the Ogeechee River following their earlier capture of Ways Station. They marched through town again on December 13th en route to their attack on Fort McAllister the same day.
On Friday, December 16th, General
Sherman ordered the destruction of approximately 40 miles of the Atlantic & Gulf Railroad from the Ogeechee River southwest to the Altamaha River. This work was accomplished by General Hazen's division destroying the line from the Ogeechee River to McIntosh Station in Liberty County and Major General Joseph Mower's division of the 17th Corps continuing to the Altamaha River.
Background: Savannah Ga. and Vicinity, in December 1864
Top middle: Atlantic & Gulf Railroad locomotive "Satilla" built in 1858; active both during & after the Civil War
Bottom middle: Richard R. Cuyler, President Central Railroad of Georgia
Top right: Union Brigadier General William B. Hazen
Bottom right: Map of the Atlantic & Gulf Railroad through Ways Station and its connecting rail lines