Diary of Orrin Brown—Nov 22, 1864

Battle of Griswoldville

Diary of Orrin Brown, at the same place he was yesterday (near Monticello) on the Georgia piedmont.

Tuesday–Nov. 22nd

There is a cold N. W. Wnd blowing this morning so that it is very uncomfortable. The smok of Camp has hurt my eyes today very bad so that I can scarcely see any thing, we had Peafowl for dinner and it went of fine. We layed over today to let another division pass us.

While Slocum’s Left Wing (the Army of Georgia) moved east and south east, Howard commanded the Right Wing as the Army of the Tennessee with the XV Corps and XVII Corps, with Judson Kilpatrick’s Union Cavalry to their far Right.  They moved out of Atlanta more south by south east toward Macon.

Maj. Gen Joseph Wheeler had regrouped the Confederate Cavalry south of Atlanta as Sherman was preparing to leave the city.  He shadowed the Army of Tennessee for several days.  On the 20th, Kilpatrick briefly engaged the Confederate cavalry near Macon.  The next day, Federal Forces took the small manufacturing town of Griswoldville, east of Macon.  Early on 22 November, Wheeler drew first blood of the March to the Sea, attacking the 9th Pennsylvania at Griswoldville, only to be driven back through the town.  However, the Georgia Militia was on the march and soon engaged the experienced Federal troops.  The Rebs, mostly old men and young boys, took the brunt of the engagement, with over 1,100 Confederate casualties vs. 94 Union loses, dead, wounded and captured.

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Diary of Orrin Brown—Nov 21, 1864

Sherman's March Map (wikipedia)

Diary of Soggy Orrin Brown, On the march somewhere in Georgia.

Monday–Nov. 21st

It rained nearly all night and we got our Breakfast in the rain and it has rained nearly all day and the roads are very muddy. We went into Camp at 3 PM, it began to grow cold in the afternoon.

A common image of Sherman’s March to the Sea likens the campaign to the barbarian Vandal hordes screaming, rape and murder across the countryside.  To read my ancestor’s journal, to me at least, brings more to mind my 20-mile trek for Hiking Merit Badge, over and over and over again.  My feet hurt to think about it.  At the same time, hiking is better than dodging bullets.  While dame Georgia may have been put thru hell, the Federal Forces played Sisyphus rolling the same rock up hill each day.

Slocum and the Union Army of Georgia made up the Left Wing of Sherman’s force. Williams’ XX Corps kept the easternmost track along the railroad to Madison, Georgia, (feinting toward Augusta) then overland to Eatonton on the way to the state capital, Milledgeville.  Pvt. Brown and Davis’ XIV Corps struck off cross-country more directly from Covington towards Monticello to rendezvous at Milledgeville.  Much of this area makes up the Oconee National Forest today.  Late on the night of the 21st, the first Union Cavalry scouts entered the state capital, soon after the State legislature and governor fled by means of a taxpayer-funded excursion train.

While the route may seem arbitrary, Sherman had spent much time plotting his course.  Susan Shulten, history prof at the University of Denver, explained in a New York Times blog how the General worked with his chief topographer and the superintendent of the US Census to bring the power of data to his military purposes.  In particular, Sherman used a map of Georgia counties detailing population and agricultural production to craft a route productive enough so that his army could live off the land, while inflicting maximum damage to industry and rail roads.

Immediately after the war, Sherman made this very point. In an open letter to Congress he testified that the data maps had helped his armies to identify supply routes, “which otherwise would have been subjected to blind chance, and it may be to utter failure.” These maps of information allowed his men to cut loose from their chains of supply, for they knew where to find cultivated lands, grain and animals. As he put it bluntly, “I knew exactly where to look for food.”

A pretty good history lesson to end Geography Awareness Week.

(map by Hal Jespersen on Wikipedia.)

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Diary of Orrin Brown—Nov 20, 1864

Ruins of Atlanta - National Archives

Diary of Shoeless Orrin Brown, On the march somewhere in Georgia

Sunday–Nov. 20th

We were on the road again this morning at 6 Oclock. I sold my shoes this morning for $3, we went into Camp about 3 PM.

Over the last week, the Civil War Daily has weighed in on events leading up to and continuing thru the burning of Atlanta, and the start of the March to the sea.  On the 13th, Sherman came into Marietta, at Kennesaw Mountain outside Atlanta, where the troops had been tearing up the rail lines north.  His response to questions about burning that city concluded, he “didn’t order this, but can’t be helped. I say Jeff. Davis burnt them.”

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Diary of Orrin Brown—Nov 19, 1864

 

Burning Atlanta - Library of Congress

Diary of Orrin Brown, southeast of Covington, Georgia

Saturday–Nov. 19th

We were on the road again at 6 AM. It rained nearly all night, the day has been cloudy and quite muddy. We went into camp aboout 6 PM.

It sounds like a quiet day for a long 12-hour march. Elsewhere more drama was recorded in the XIV Corps.  This from from the diary of Capt. James Royal Ladd, 113th Ohio:

“Nov. 19th. Marched at 6 a.m. Our Regt. in advance of the Corps. Went out with foraging party.  Left the main road.  We had proceeded about 1 mile when two men of the party were accidentally shot, or rather carelessly by their comrades while shooting chickens.  Sent back to road and procured surgeon and ambulance.  Passed on two miles farther and came to a splendid plantation where the boys got all the forage they wished, consisting of meal, flour, potatoes, pork, chickens, turkeys, honey …… We also took from this place several head of horse and mules which served to convey our forage to camp.  We also obtained a large quantity of molasses, which is one of their chief products, often finding several barrels at a single plantation.  Gen (Joseph E.) Brown, after the fall of Atlanta, ordered the State Militia to be relieved in order that they could come home and secure their crops and more especially the molasses crop.  Well, they secured it and we have eaten a good portion of it for them.  Sweet potatoes are in great abundance and on this campaign we have found them already dug, which is very convenient; it saves time in procuring them.”


They say the victors write history.  It’s a reminder that there is usually two or more sides of any story and its good to be skeptical of official accounts.  However, even these 150 years later it often seems which side of history a Civil War writer is on depends on the geography of their antecedents.  Yankees (like me) write Northern accounts.  Sons of Confederates tend to favor Southern accounts.  Not that this is unique to this conflict—I wouldn’t expect a good Englishman to gush on Bonnie Prince Charlie, nor a good Scot to honor Edward Longshanks—yet I’m continually surprised how people can look at the same historical record and read out such different accounts.  I guess that’s the “social” in social science.

Author Phil Leigh wrote last week in the New York Times’ Disunion column questioning just who is to blame (credit?) for burning Atlanta:

The spectacular burning scene in “Gone With the Wind” mistakenly portrays the principal inferno as happening when the Confederates left the city on Sept. 1. It’s true that the rebels demolished parts of the city as they left; once Sherman gained control of all the railroads leading out of Atlanta, Confederate Gen. John Bell Hood had no choice but to try to save his army and evacuate with as many supplies as possible, and destroy what he had to leave behind.

The destruction of Antebellum Atlanta was essentially three-stage.  First, the Union army shelled the city during the five-week siege, but accounts indicate it accomplished more psychological than physical damage.  It wasn’t until Sherman cut the railroad supply lines that the city did yield.

Then as noted, Hood did destroy what he considered strategic facilities on his exit from the city.  Most notably this included an 81-car munitions train parked next to the Atlanta Rolling Mill, which young Pvt. Brown toured later in ruins.  As the front ebbed and flowed during the entire war, both the Confederates and Federal forces took turns tearing up and laying back down rail lines between Atlanta and Chattanooga.  It only made sense that Hood would decline to leave an advantage to Sherman, but it also indicated his despair of ever regaining the city for the Southern cause.  It seems entirely likely he would put the torch to the place.

Finally, Sherman and his Union troops completed the task of urban renewal in bulk.  The typical histories do credit Hood with not leaving much behind for Sherman to fire.  Leigh notes that much of this destruction was unauthorized, and unappreciated.  My reading of Pvt. Brown’s journal confirms that assessment, and I also read a sense of inevitability in the city’s demise.  Elsewhere, the New York Times‘ assessment follows this more balanced approach.

We can agree to disagree.  While the victor writes the history, the critics lay the blame.

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Diary of Orrin Brown—Nov 18, 1864

Newton County 2050

Diary of Orrin Brown, East of Covington, Georgia

Friday–Nov. 18th

We were routed out this morning at 4.30 and on the road again at 6 Oclock there is 4 detailed out of our Company today as foragers. Our Regt. is detailed as train guards today. We passed through the town of Covington about 2 PM and went into Camp at 5 PM. I sold my overcoat for $5 today.

I’ve never been to Covington, Georgia, but this year I had the chance to learn more about Newton County and the Covington area.  The Small Town and Rural Planning (STaR) Division gave the community the Vernon Deines Award for an Outstanding Small Town or Rural Plan for their Newton County 2050 Plan at the American Planning Association’s National Planning Conference in Atlanta.

Newton County has experienced rapid growth, expanding by 0ver 60% from 2000-2010 (the 7th fastest growing county in the US at the time).  This plan was a cooperative effort of the Center for Community Preservation and Planning (founded in 2002) and a local Leadership Collaborative of elected and appointed staff and officials.  The plan is based on four guiding principles—Protect clean water, Create communities, Create interconnected corridors, and Coordinate public investment.  They are currently focusing on implementation, including coordinating zoning ordinances, creating intergovernmental agreements and crafting a comprehensive transportation plan.  It’s a fairly unique cooperative approach that could be a model for other regions, rural or urban.

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Diary of Orrin Brown—Nov 17, 1864

Georgia Railroad Sign

Diary of Orrin Brown, on the road between Lithonia and Covington, Georgia.

Thursday–Nov. 17th

We were on the road again this morning at 7 Oclock, marched 2 or 3 miles, stacked our arms and sit down to rest about 15 minutes. Here I got some Persimmons the first I ever saw & they were exelent. We fell in and marched abour 2 miles and set down to rest again. The Artilery passed through the town of Athelia while it was burning. Here one of our men was shot by a Citizen and badly wounded in the face. We stoped twice this afternoon to tear up Railroad track, got into camp about 7.30 PM tired and hungry and nothing for supper for our rations have run out, spread our Blankets down without pitching our tent and layed down to rest.

Sherman divided his army in two for his March to the Sea.  Maj. Gen. Oliver O. Howard commanded the Army of Tennessee on the right wing, with Maj. Gen. Peter J. Osterhaus’ XV Corps, and Maj. Gen. Frank Blair’s XVII Corps.  The left wing was Maj. Gen. Henry W. Slocum’s Army of Georgia, with Brig. Gen. Alpheus S. Williams’ XX Corps and Brig. Gen. Jeff C. Davis and our own XIV Corps.  Brig. Gen. Judson Kilpatrick’s cavalry division operated in support.

It would have been Howard’s wing (XV Corps and XVII Corps) that marched south through Gone With the Wind’s “Tara”, near Jonesboro.  Sherman rode with Slocum’s wing.  The XX Corps took the northern (far left), feinting toward Augusta along the railroad to Madison, Georgia.  Pvt. Brown’s XIV Corps left the railroad at Covington and struck out southeast toward the State Capital of Milledgeville.

I have no idea where (or what) Athelia might be. I’m guessing it’s Lithonia, in DeKalb County, on the Georgia Railroad 18 miles from Decatur and the same distance to Covington.

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Diary of Orrin Brown—Nov 16, 1864

Stephen Decatur, Jr.

Diary of Orrin Brown, outside Decatur, Georgia

Wednesday–Nov. 16th

Received orders to march at 11 AM to make an extensive rade through Ga. our destination supposed to be Savannah. We marched about 14 miles passing through the town of Decatur about 4 PM and went into Camp about 7 PM. Cooked our supper pitched our tents and went to bed to rest our weary legs.

Today, Decatur is a modest suburb of Atlanta.  The crossroads town had been set for the original terminal of the Western & Atlantic Railroad, but rejected the prospect of sprawl and in 1870, only 400 people called it home. I’m not surprised that Orrin spelled the name of the town correctly, since there’s a village of Decatur near his home in Michigan. Both were named after Commodore Stephen Decatur, a hero of the War of 1812.


 

Thanks again for following along with the Diary of Pvt. Orrin Brown as he makes his way with Sherman’s March to the Sea.  We’re a long way from home, with a long way to go.

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Diary of Orrin Brown—Nov 15, 1864

14th Michigan Infantry Flag

Diary of Orrin Brown, Atlanta, Georgia

Tuesday–Nov. 15th

Our forces blowed up & burned all public Buildings in Atlanta today. They finished taring up the Rail Road to Chattanooga today. There has a large number of troops came in today and with them came our Regt. I was assigned to Co. E 14th Mich. Inft. under Capt. Earnest. Lieutenant Kelley having command of the Company at present. We drew our tents and other clothing then went back to our old tent to stay over night. The day has been warm and pleasant.

Finally, Pvt. Orrin Brown found the 14th Regiment.  Now, who was Capt. Earnest?  It might have been Caspar Ernst;  the NPS database has him in Company F & S (Battle Unit Note – E), rank in First Lieutenant, rank out Major.  Asking about a Kelley in the Civil War, you might as well ask for Smith.  Henry K. Kelley, Company A, did rank in Third Sergeant and rank out Second Lieutenant, although Patrick Kelley, Company C, B and E, ranked in Private and ranked out as Captain.

This is an instance where the ease of the interwebs lets us down.  I’m certain if I went to a sufficiently stocked library, I could look up the rosters of the 14th Regiment, Michigan Infantry, and run my fingers down the rolls of the 3,167 men served.  Due to my current remote location outside the Great Lakes State, and my impatience in blogging rather than writing a research tome, the question remains unanswered for now.


 

This week’s 150th anniversary of the start of Sherman’s march to the sea (yes, they will get on with it soon) has brought out some pointed commentary on the General’s Total War tactics.

Megan Kate Nelson wrote in the New York Times’ Disunion column of mixed feelings of the troops for the seemingly “uncivilized” conduct of the Siege of Atlanta, and rumors of the coming March. She writes of Union Lt. Col. Charles Fessenden Morse, a Harvard-trained architect and engineer, who had been charged with much of the preparation for destruction of what the Confederate army hadn’t destroyed on their way out of town. On the evening of 15 November, he sat on a roof and watched the city burn:

It was a “magnificent and awful spectacle,” he wrote later to his brother Robert. “For miles around the country was as light as day, … the flames shooting up for hundreds of feet into the air.” Earlier, over the roar and crackle of the flames, Morse had heard the 33rd Massachusetts band serenade Gen. William Tecumseh Sherman, who ordered the city torched. “It was like fiddling over the burning of Rome.” The next morning, nothing was left of the city “except its churches the city hall and the private dwellings. You could hardly find a vestige of the once splendid R.R. depots, warehouses, &c. It was melancholy,” Morse lamented, “but it was war, prosecuted in deadly earnest.”

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Comments Closing

Friends and Readers, I’m going to have to close comments here on the blog.  While the Spam Filter does a fine job filtering spam, we’re just getting hammered and it’s interfering with WordPress server ops.  Please drop me a line with any comments, though.  Twitter works great.

JC

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Diary of Orrin Brown—Nov 14, 1864

The Civil War, November 1864

Diary of Orrin Brown, Atlanta, Georgia

Monday–Nov. 14th

We went to work today and build a fireplace & chimney to tent. The day has been warm and pleasant.

The first half of November 1864 was a time of watching and waiting.  In the north, Grant and Lee had mostly settled into winter quarters.  West of the Mississippi, minor skirmishes continued but nothing much new took place.  Then the second shoe dropped in Tennessee and Georgia.

Forrest’s audacious calvary attack, early in November, on the Union supply depot at Johnsonville, Tennessee, presaged the Confederacy’s plans to divert Sherman from his Georgia campaign, but Sherman felt confident that Thomas could deal with the situation from Nashville.  And Hood did his part leaving the initiative, waiting for three weeks at Tuscumbia, Alabama, for Forrest’s cavalry.  On 13 November, Hood moved his headquarters across the Tennessee River to Florence, Alabama, with two corp and the army’s supply train crossing on 14-15 November.  Hood started marching north on the 21st in three columns with Forrest’s cavalry screening their movements.  Union cavalry were outmatched and had difficulty tracking the Confederate troops.  Forrest met Maj Gen James H. Wilson’s calvary at Columbia, Tennessee, and skirmished for several days, 24-28 November, while the Confederate corps marched north.  On the 28th, after Forrest skirted the town to the southeast, Maj Gen John Schofield withdrew his XXIII Corp and Maj Gen David S. Stanley’s IV Corp north to Franklin.  The next day, 12,000 Confederate troops engaged 7,000 Federal troops at Spring Hill, Tennessee, to no avail due to miscommunication and missed opportunities no the part of the Southern Command. This permitted Schofield’s retreat and retrenchment up the road at Franklin, Tennessee, on 30 November.  52,000 men were arrayed, evenly split by each army, yet at the end of the day lay 6,2252 Confederate casualties vs. just 2,326 for the Union troops.  Over the midnight hour, Schofield began to move his infantry again further north to Nashville, denying Hood the opportunity to engage in open country.  That the Federals did do, later in December after they had healed up and Hood had drawn down his supplies.

And of course, in Georgia, well, we’re following that campaign in real time (+150 years).

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