Diary of Orrin Brown, just across Ebenezer Creek, near Springfield, Georgia
We are now in Camp 27 miles from Savannah, we had orders to march at 6 1/2 AM marched about 10 rods haulted, about faced and marched back to camp to await farther orders, we left camp again about noon passed through about a mile of swamps, crossed the Ebenesar Creek, marched about a mile, haulted and layed there till 4 PM fell in again marched 7 miles and went into camp about 5 PM, had just time to pitch our tents and get supper when we had orders to strike tents, we packed up and marched back 3 miles and went into camp at 11 PM spread down our blankets and went to bed without pitching tents, I saw 62 Rebbel prisoners today that was taken last Sunday. The day has been very warm and pleasant. Read 5 Chapt. in Testament.
Ebenezer Creek was the site of a great tragedy on Sherman’s March to the Sea. As the campaign freed slaves from the plantations along the route, thousands followed the infantry columns. Union leadership had been concerned about this from the start, with limited supplies in the low country and the need to move and maneuver through hostile territory. When Union Maj. James A. Connolly of Illinois burnt the toll bridge at Milledgeville, some freedmen were left behind. Many of the entourage were working on the front lines as Pioneers to clear obstacles left by Rebels to block the roads. No difference, at icy Ebenezer Creek, with Confederate cavalry harassing their rear guard, Union Gen. Jeff C. Davis lost his temper. Wiki says:
Over 600 freed slaves were anxious to cross with them, but Davis ordered his provost marshal to prevent this. The freedmen were told that they would be able to cross after a Confederate force in front had been dispersed. In reality, no such force existed. As the last Union soldiers reached the eastern bank on the morning of December 9, Davis’s engineers abruptly cut the bridge loose and drew it up onto the shore.
On realizing their plight, a panic set in amongst the freedmen, who knew that Confederate cavalry were nearby. They “hesitated briefly, impacted by a surge of pressure from the rear, then stampeded with a rush into the icy water, old and young alike, men and women and children, swimmers and non-swimmers, determined not to be left behind.” In the uncontrolled, terrified crush, many quickly drowned. On the eastern bank, some of Davis’s soldiers made an effort to help those that they could reach, wading into the water as far as they dared.
When Wheeler’s horseman arrived, those who had not crossed, or drowned in the attempt, numbering about 5,000 mostly women, children and elderly, were abandoned and enslaved again. Afterwards, some Union soldiers (including Maj. Connolly) filed complaints with Washington about “General Reb”, leading to widespread condemnation yet to no avail. A sad day indeed.