1864 December 18: “We have made something of a march,—300 miles—and made a big hole in the Confederacy”
Edwin Levings, with Company A of the 12th Wisconsin Infantry, describes Sherman’s March to the Sea. The campaign was designed by Union Generals Ulysses S. Grant and William T. Sherman to be similar to Grant’s innovative and successful Vicksburg Campaign and Sherman’s Meridian Campaign. Sherman’s armies reduced their need for traditional supply lines by “living off the land” after consuming the rations they brought with them. Foragers provided food seized from local farms for the Army while they destroyed the railroads and the manufacturing and agricultural infrastructure of Georgia.
The original letter is in the Edwin D. Papers (River Falls Mss BO), in the University Archives and Area Research Center at the University of Wisconsin-River Falls.
Before Savannah, Ga. —
Dec 18th 1864.
Ever Dear Parents;
At last I can write to you, and as usual, of our continued welfare; and this is the best news I have for you. Thanks to the Kind Providence that has guarded our steps.
Now my snow-white sheet, companion in my toils for many a weary mile, be the bearer of glad tidings to far-off friends, and may your Journey be as prosperous, and your welcome as merry, as fortune and friendship can make them.
Yes ! to tell you of our health & safety is a pleasure for your anxiety to hear from us must be great, and your pleasure will be enhanced when I come to relate where we have been, and what we have seen and done.
But before proceeding to my narration I will acknowledge the receipt by yesterday’s mail — the first since our arrival here — of 4 letters from you postmarked respectively Nov. 1, 7, 11, 21st and I need not tell you we were most happy to peruse them.
As you are aware, we have made something of a march,—300 miles—and made a big hole in the Confederacy. Will not the North rejoice when it realizes the effect of this great movement ? It can not do it now, for no more terrible blow has been dealt the South than that what has just been given it in Ga.
I have not time to make any thing but a simple statement or outline of the trip, but will ere long give you a minute sketch of what I saw, and of what was done.
Now get a good war map if you can and follow me. — We left the Gate City in flames on the 15 ult. & arrived before Savannah on the 10th inst. all right. The army, — 4 Corps, 14th, 18th, 17th & 20th — marched in two columns. The 17th struck the R. R. at Gordon, between Macon & Milledgeville, & 170 miles from Savannah. The towns we passed through after leaving Atlanta are McDonough, Jackson, Monticello, Hillsboro, Gordon, McIntyre, Toomsboro, Oconee, Tenille [sic], Burton, Herndon, in fact nearly all the stations on the R.R. between Gordon & Savannah. The 17th Corp[s] had the R.R. all the way & did most of the work of destruction on it. We burned nearly all the stations & tore up & burned the track all the way to Savannah. The road can never be rebuilt during the war. The destruction was immense.
I have said nothing of what the other Corps did. The 15th, on our right made a feint on Macon. The 14th & 20 went to Milledgeville. Kilpatrick [Judson Kilpatrick] & his Cav. made a feint movement on Augusta whipping old Wheeter [Joseph Wheeler] hansomely [sic]. We lived off the country almost entirely. We had only 12 days rations hardtack issued to us while on the way & full rations. We took every thing we could lay our hands upon, & I will say never since I have been a soldier did we fare better, lived like princes in the eating line, flour meal, rice, fresh port, chickens, grese [sic], turkeys, honey, fresh beef, sweet potatoes, pumpkins, turnips, sugar & molasses being plenty. But we took all & there is not enough left along the line of our march to save the people from starvation. They must go elsewhere or suffer with hunger. [paragraph break added]
We crossed the Ocmulgee River on pontoons, the Oconee River 6 miles below the R.R. bridge, & the Ogeechee River at Burton. Marched from 5 to 20 miles a day — lay over one day. The country all fine, though of poor soil, is one of the most fertile in the South, & many a wealthy old rebel have we ruined, taking every thing ! [T]housands of negroes came with us & are now being turned to valuable account. We came up before Savannah, took a position, but owing to the almost impassible swamps moved around near the Gulf R.R. leading South. We are there now, about 7 miles from Savannah, & 6 from the R.R. bridge on the Ogeechee River. When we came here no communications were open. Fort McAllister, on the Ogeechee & 9 miles below the bridge had to be taken. It was taken by a portion of the 4 Div. 17 Corps & some of the 15th Corps in less than 20 minutes. Gunboats attracted attention & there the Infy. charged capturing the entire garrison & armaments. Our cracker line is now open.
No rations drawn yet, but will be in a day or two. We have eaten up every thing around here. Our food now is Rice, of which there are thousands bushels in the country, & coffee & beef, nothing else, save now and then a potato or little meat. [paragraph break added]
Dale¹ came through with Kilpatrick’s Cavalry. He came down to Atlanta just before we left with 4 or 500 dollars worth gold pens — sold them all in one day, got cut off & had to come through with. He is with us now — a wild trick of his, you see. [paragraph break added]
We are on the South side of the city 7 miles distant, rebels are opposite entrenched on the other side of a big rice field covered with 4 or 5 ft. water. No fighting, nothing but picket firing & artillery duels. Are waiting the arrival of supplies of all kinds for a siege. Best authority places the rebels at 15,000. Many citizens with all their goods are inside & can not get out. They are completely hemmed in on all sides. Pardon such a letter, I have no business to send such a letter but the mail goes out soon & I know you would be glad to get even a scratch of my pen. Are both well. Will both write fully next time. So Good by[e]. Yours affectionately, Edwin D. Levings. Write via N. Y. Army of the Georgia.
Were paid off at Atlanta, & have got $360 to send you, which we will do as soon as an express office opens.
1. Wilber P. Dale, from River Falls. He had mustered out of the 12th Wisconsin on October 28, 1864, when his term expired.