Diary of Orrin Brown—Nov 25, 1864

Joseph Wheeler (c.1862-1865)

Diary of Orrin Brown, Between Milledgeville and Sandersville, Georgia

Friday–Nov. 25th

We were on the road again this morning at 6 Oclock and marched very slow till 10.30 AM, then they put us right through till noon, we had a heavy frost this morning and it is cool and cloudy today. Wheelers Reb Cavalry atacted our foragers today we lost 9 killed and one wounded, 5 of the killed was out of our Regt. We haulted one hour for dinner and did not move again till 9 PM then we fell into line and marched about 3 miles the most of the way though a muddy swamp went into camp at 1 Oclock AM.

While certainly stung by the sacking of the state capital, Gen. Joe Wheeler wasn’t close to giving up.  He and his cavalry prevented the Union right wing from crossing the river at Ball’s Ferry the night of the 24th, then engaged the converging Union armies at Sandersville on the 25th and the 26th, before falling back as Kilpatrick’s Union Cavalry crossed from right to left and started raiding toward Augusta.  Apparently Wheeler didn’t make much of an impression among Federal troops moving through the “piney woods” and swamps below the piedmont.  Maj. James Connolly, who supervised the burning of the toll bridge, later that day wrote in his diary:

We are now going toward the Ogeechee, and citizens tell us we will find very poor country all the way from the Oconee to the Ogeechee… Where can all the rebels be?  Here we are riding rough shod over Georgia and nobody dares to fire a shot at us.  We burn their houses, barns, fences, cotton and everything else, yet none of the Southern braves show themselves to punish us for our vandalism.  Perhaps they are preparing a trap to catch us all, but I don’t think we will go into their trap, if we can find any way to go around it.



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Diary of Orrin Brown—Nov 24, 1864

1864 Bridge Piers on the Oconee River (R.Edling)

Diary of Orrin Brown, East of Milledgeville, Georgia

Thursday–Nov. 24th

We find a heavy frost this morning but the sky is clear. We left camp at 10 AM and marched through the city in good order, went into camp 5 or 6 miles East of Millageville, there was one man died out of our Company today. The weather is getting warmer again.

A toll bridge spanned the Oconee River, about 350 yards wide, at Milledgeville.  After the last Union forces crossed the bridge, it was put to the torch.  James Bonner wrote in The Journal of Southern History (“Sherman at Milledgeville in 1864, 22:3 1956):

It is difficult to justify the destruction of the bridge in view of Sherman’s leniency toward other Milledgeville property, for there was no effective force of Confederates not he west side of the river which might make use of the bridge to pursue the Federal army.  Yet, when the last of the invading units had crossed the bridge, on November 25, the structure was promptly destroyed.  In an effort to save the bridge, its operator, James Simpson, tried to assure the division inspector of the Fourteenth Corps that he had “allers bin for the Union” and still was, and that he was also a Mason.  Apparently, however, the made a serious error of judgment when he told the officer that he was born in Milledgeville and had never lived more than five miles from the bridge in all the forty years of his life.



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Diary of Orrin Brown—Nov 23, 1864

Old Georgia State Capitol

Diary of Orrin Brown, Outside of Milledgeville, Georgia

Wednesday–Nov. 23rd

We received orders last night to march at 6 Oclock this morning. It is so cold this morning that the roads are froze so as to hold up the waggons. We marched about an hour, then haulted an hour built fires of rails to keep warm, we went into camp about 4 PM one mile west of Millageville, It is a little warmer tonight.

Milledgeville was established in 1804 as a new town to serve as state capital of Georgia, named after one-time Congressman and then-serving governor, John Milledge.  The planned city, it is said, looked to elements of both Savannah, Georgia, and Washington, DC, in its layout and design.  The area surveyed was located on the Fall Line (where the coastal plain meets the piedmont), which had recently been ceded by the Creek tribe.  In addition to cotton plantations, a penitentiary and and asylum added to the city’s antebellum allure.

On Tuesday, the 22nd, Gen. Sherman had left the XIV Corps and ridden forward to the leading edge of the XX Crops, and stayed the night in the plantation house of Confederate Gen. Howell Cobb (which was subsequently fully destroyed).  Late that afternoon, advance columns entered Milledgeville, as James Bonner wrote in The Journal of Southern History (“Sherman at Milledgeville in 1864″, 22:3 1956):

With flags unfurled, the band at the head of the column playing the “Battle Hymn of the Republic” and other martial airs, the division marched by the Statehouse and went into camp on the east side of the Oconee River.

Union troops occupied the city on 23 November 1864.  They burned the railroad depot and military supplies, but not the Capitol building nor textile mills and the iron works.  No private homes were destroyed, other than two plantation houses whose owners had incited resistance to the Federal troops, and the home of the state treasurer, although looting was widespread.  Sherman slept in the Governor’s Mansion the night of the 23rd, but found all of the furniture, even the beds, vacated with the fleeing residents.  A city of 2,500 in 1860, Milledgeville lost the state capital to Atlanta in 1868, during Reconstruction.  There were 18,382 residents counted in 2010.  The historic Old State Capitol building remains as a museum on the Georgia Military College campus in the center of town.



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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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