On the 12th of November the railroad and telegraph communications with the rear were broken, and the army stood detached from all friends, dependent in its own resources and supplies. The strength of the army, as officially reported shows an aggregate of fifty-five thousand three hundred and twenty-nine infantry, five thousand and sixty-three cavalry, and eighteen hundred and twelve artillery-in all, sixty-two thousand two hundred and four officers and men.
The most extraordinary efforts had been made to purge this army of non-combatants and of sick men so that all on this exhibit may be assumed to have been able-bodied, experienced soldiers, well armed, well equipped, and provided, as far as human foresight permitted, with all the essentials of life, strength, and vigorous action. .
The two general orders made for this march appear to me, even at this late day, so clear, emphatic, and well digested, that no account of that historic event is perfect without them and, tho they called for great sacrifice and labor on the part of the officers and men, I insist that these orders were obeyed as well as any similar orders ever were, by an army operating wholly in an enemy's country, and dispersed, as we neccsarily were, during the subsequent period of nearly six months. The wagon-trains were divided equally between the four corps, so that each had about eight hundred wagons, and these usually on the march occupied five miles or more of road.
The march from Atlanta began on the morning of November 15th, the right wing and cavalry following the railroad southeast toward Jonesboro, and General Slocum with the Twentieth Corps leading off to the east by Decatur and Stone Mountain, toward Madison. These were divergent lines, designed to threaten both con and Augusta at the same fime, so as to prevent a concentration at our intended destination, or "objective," Milledgevilla, the capital of Georgia, distant southeast about one hundred miles.
About 7 A. M. of November 16th we rode out of Atlanta by the Decatur road, filled by the marching troops and wagons of the Fourteenth Corps; and reaching the bill, just outside of the old rebel works, we naturally paused to look back upon the scenes of our past battles. We stood upon the very ground whereon was fought the bloody battle of July 22d, and could see the copse of woo where McPherson fell. Behind us lay Atlanta, smoldering and in ruins, the black smoke rising high in air, and banging like a pall over the ruined city. Away off in the distance, on the McDonough road, was the rear of Howard's column, the gun-barrels glistening in the sun, the white-topped wagons stretching away to the south and right be fore us the Fourteenth Corps, marching steadily and rapidly, with a cheery look and swinging pace, that made light of the thousand miles that lay between us and Richmond. Some band, by accident struck up the anthem of "John Brown's soul goes marching on"; the men caught up the strain, and never before or since have I heard the chorus of "Glory, glory, hallelujah!" done with more spirit, or in better harmony of time and place.
The first night out we camped by the roadside near Lithonia. The whole horizon was lurid with the bonfires of rail-ties, and groups of men all night were carrying the heated rails to the nearest trees, and bending them around the trunks. Colonel Poe had provided tools for ripping up the rails and twisting them when hot; but the best and easiest way is the one of heating the middle of the iron rails on bonfires made of the cross-ties, and then winding them around a telegraph pole or the trunk of some convenient sapling. I attached some importance to this destruction of the railroad, gave it my own personal attention, and made reiterated orders to others on the subject.
We found abundance of corn, molasses, meal, bacon, and sweet potatoes. We also took a good many cows and oxen, and a large number of mules. In all these the country was quite rich, never before having been visited by a hostile army; the recent crop had been excellent, had been just gathered and laid by for the winter. As a rule, we destroyed none, but kept our wagons full, and fed our teams bountifully.
The skill and success of the men in collecting forage was one of the features of this march. Each brigade commander had authority to detail a company of foragers, usually about fifty men, with one or two commissioned officers selected for their boldness and enterprise. This party would be dispatched before daylight with a knowledge of the intended day's march and camp; would proceed on foot five or six miles from the route traveled by their brigade, and then visit every plantation and farm within range. They would usually procure a wagon or family carriage, load it with bacon, corn-meal, turkeys, chickens, ducks, and everything that could be used as food or forage, and would then regain the main road, usually in advance of their train. When this came up, they would deliver to the brigade commissary the supplies thus gathered by the way.
Often would I pass these foraging-parties at the roadside, waiting for their wagons to come up, and was amused at their strange collections-mules, horses, even cattle, packed with old saddles and loaded with hams, bacon, bags of corn-meal, and poultry of every character and description. Although this foraging was attended with great danger and hard work, there seemed to be a charm about it that attracted the soldiers, and it was a privilege to be detailed on such a party. Daily they returned mounted on all sorts of beasts, which were at once taken from them and appropriated to the general use; but the next day they would start out again on foot, only to repeat the experience of the day before.
No doubt, many acts of pillage, robbery, and violence were committed by these parties of foragers, usually called "bummers"; for I have since heard of jewelry taken from women, and the plunder of articles that ever reached the commissary; hut these acts were exceptional and incidental. No army could have carried along sufficient food and forage for a march of three hundred miles; so that foraging in some shape was necessary. By it our men were well supplied with all the essentials of life and health, while the wagons retained enough iii case of unexpected delay, and our animals were well fed. Indeed, when we reached Savannah, the trains were pronounced by experts to be the finest in flesh and appearance ever seen with any army. .
November 23d, we rode into Milledgeville, the capital of the State, whither the Twentieth Corps had preceded us; and during that day the left wing was all united, in and around Milledgeville. The first stage of the journey was, therefore, complete, and absolutely successful.
I was in Milledgeville with the left wing, and was in full communication with the right wing at Gordon. The people of Milledgeville remained at home, except the Governor (Brown), the State officers, and Legislature, who had ignominiously fled, in the utmost disorder and confusion. .
Meantime orders were made for the total destruction of the arsenal and its contents, and of such public buildings as could he easily converted to hostile uses. Meantime the right wing continued its movement along the railroad toward Savannah, tearing up the track and destroying its iron. Kilpatrick's cavalry was brought into Milledgeville, and crossed the Ocean by the bridge near the town; and on the 23d I made the general bout this time the Kearsarge sent one and then, tardily, another boat.
Accompanying you will find lists of the killed and wounded, and of those who were picked up by the Deerhound. The remainder there is reason to hope were picked up by the enemy and by a couple French pilot-boats, which were also fortunately ear the scene of action. At the end of the engagement it was discovered by those of our officers who went alongside the enemy's ship with the wounded that her midship section on both sides was thoroughly iron-coated, this having been done with chains constructed for the purpose, placed perpendicularly from the rail to the water's edge, the whole covered over by a thin outer planking, which gave no indication of the armor beneath. This planking had been ripped off in every direction by our shot and shell, the chain broken and dented in many places, and forced partially into the ship's side.
My officers and men behaved steadily and gallantly, and though they have lost their ship they have not lost honor. Where all behaved so well it would be invidious to particularize; but I can not deny myself the pleasure of saying that Mr. Kell, my first lieutenant, deserves great credit for the condition in which the ship went into action, with regard to her battery, magazine, and shell-rooms; also that he rendered me great assistance by his coolness and judgment.
The enemy was heavier than myself, both in ship, battery, and crew; hut I did not know until the action was over that she was also ironclad. Our total loss in killed and wounded is 30, to wit, 9 killed and 21 wounded.