On 10 December, Union General William Tecumseh Sherman reached Savannah after carving a 40 mile wide swath through Southeast Georgia. Sherman declared Savannah a “Christmas present” for President Lincoln.
Prelude to the March to the Sea
The decision to march through Georgia free from Union supply lines was a stroke of genius. Confederate General John Bell Hood, after the defeat at Atlanta, tried to draw Sherman back north by cutting his communications and heading for middle Tennessee. Sherman was undeterred and set his mind on the sea and “making Georgia howl.” Sherman sent Major General George H. Thomas to face Hood in Tennessee. Hood was playing his last card in hopes of drawing Sherman north and defeating him, recruiting new troops in northern Tennessee and Kentucky, and finally heading east over the mountains to help Lee in Richmond. It was not to be, as Thomas defeated Hood decisively at the Battle of Nashville.
Sherman Reaches Savannah
Meanwhile, Sherman continued to ravage Georgia. With a width of forty miles and sometimes wider, Sherman’s forces marched from Atlanta to Savannah. Sherman’s troops were so spread out at times that he instructed his far flung commanders to burn a few barns to indicate their positions. The destruction had Sherman’s desired effect of making the people of the Confederacy, especially the fatigued troops think twice about continuing the cause. Desertion rates of Confederate forces increased heavily, especially in Georgia, with the fall of Atlanta and the march to the sea. Once on the coast, Sherman took Fort McAllister then sieged Savannah. It did not take long as the Confederate forces broke the lines to escape.
By February 1865, Richmond was under siege, Sherman was heading north, and Schofield was moving in from Fort Fisher. If you are into the USA Civil War, check out Shotgun’s Civil War Home.
Sherman Reaches Savannah Motorcycle Ride
For a nice long ride that follows the general path, take the GA SR-16 East from I-75 (between Atlanta and Macon) to Eatonton. At Eatonton, go South on US-441 to Milledgeville. At Milledgeville, take GA SR-24 East through Waynesboro to US-301, turn right on US-301 and go to Sylvania. At Sylvania, take GA SR-21 in to North Savannah.
Map Credit: By Otis Ashmore and Charles Olmstead [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
An enduring idea the British had about the American colonists during the Revolutionary War was that many of them were actually loyal to the Crown. The British had spent considerable effort trying to round up these Loyalists and get them in the fight. After several years of being disappointed by the lack of Loyalist fervor in the North, the British became sure that there were more Loyalists to be found in the backwoods of North Carolina, South Carolina and Georgia. In early 1779, a Loyalist named James Boyd was dispatched by the British with a open Colonel commission from Savannah to recruit more Loyalists in the Georgia interior. He had done this and even fought a few skirmishes with Patriots when he arrived at the Battle of Kettle Creek, in Wilkes County, Georgia on 14 February 1779. His 600 men set up camp on the creek and many of them set off to forage for food.
Colonel Andrew Pickens was a patriot commander in the area and he had heard of Boyd’s expedition. Pickens decided to tail Boyd and put a Georgia whupping on him for stirring up the area. Pickens had with him Colonel John Dooly, Lieutenant Colonel Elijah Clarke and 340 Patriots.
The Battle of Kettle Creek
Pickens caught up with Boyd at Kettle Creek and planned to surprise the camp. Pickens took a little over half the force and went straight at the camp. Dooly and Clarke each took half of the rest and went around the swampy ground on either side of the camp. Pickens’s men, however, were spotted by Boyd’s pickets. Boyd was able to get his men behind rocks and trees and fend off Pickens for several hours. Things were looking pretty grim for Pickens, because Dooly and Clarke were delayed in the swamps. Boyd must have been feeling confident that he could see off this group of traitors. He was confident right up to the point that a musket ball got him. Seeing their leader fall put the panic in the Loyalists and they all ran for their camp. About this time, Dooly and Clarke emerged from the swamps and converged on the camp from opposite sides. The rout was now on and the battle swung wildly in favor of the Patriots.
Although a small battle of volunteers in the backwoods of Georgia, the battle of Kettle Creek was important. It disabused the British of the notion that the backwoods of Georgia could be held for the Crown. It effectively ended the Loyalist cause in Georgia.
Battle of Kettle Creek Motorcycle Ride Recommendation
Try this ride through some of East Georgia’s best country and end up at the Kettle Creek Battleground Memorial.
In mid May 1864, General William Tecumseh Sherman was picking his way down North Georgia. His counterpart, General Joseph E. Johnston had just reluctantly retreated from Cassville, Georgia to the Allatoona Gorge in the hopes of luring Sherman into a tight killing zone. Johnston’s only worry was that the position at Allatoona was too good. Unbeknownst to Johnston, Sherman knew the position was too strong to attack head on. Sherman had spent a lot of time in the area as a young officer and had spent much time around the Etowah Indian burial mounds nearby. Sherman decided to swing west and go directly after the strategic crossroads around Dallas, Georgia.
After a few days rest, the Union forces moved south. General Joseph Hooker was in the van of the middle column and began a pursuit of a small band of Confederate cavalry which was acting as a screen for Johnston’s forces to the south. “Fighting Joe” Hooker lived up to his name and went fast and hard at the Confederates under General John Bell Hood. Hooker had hoped to catch the Rebels off guard and press home and advantage. Hood had other ideas. Taking his cue from his cavalry screen, Hood had begun entrenchments and selecting defensive positions. The first of Hooker’s assaults led by Brigadier General John W. Geary was thrown back when it encountered an undetected enfilade Confederate position which hit them hard. Hooker persisted with two more Divisions and the battle was enjoined.
Hood’s middle was held by Major General Alexander P. Stewart’s Division and they bore the brunt of Hooker’s onslaught for several hours in the afternoon. The battle raged with such ferocity that Johnston became worried that Stewart might relinquish the position. Stewart, a Tennessean, held firm even though some of Hooker’s men got close. With a fierce thunderstorm brewing and setting in, Hooker made one last throw of the dice and pulled Geary out of reserve through dense wood to push through a perceived advantage. Stewart’s artillery which had been so effective now opened up with even more canister rounds and caused the veteran Geary to claim that it was the hottest he had experienced with his command. The Union forces were praised for the courage and coolness, but the day was no to be theirs. With the drenching from the rain and the gloom of the stormy evening setting in, the Union forces settled down in their positions and awaited daylight. The battle has been called New Hope Church, but the soldiers knew it by “Hell’s Hole.”
The next day would bring probing for weakness all along the line, two days later, the fighting would continue near Pickett’s Mill.
Next time you are buzzing down I-75 from Chattanooga to Atlanta, jump off at Cartersville for a great little circular ride that takes in Allatoona Lake, The New Hope and Pickett’s Mill Battlefields and a couple of mountainous switchback roads near Dallas, Georgia.