February 3, 1865: Crossing the Salkehatchie

Weaver's Brigade crossingthe Salkehatchie
Weaver’s [Wever’s?] Brigade Crossing the Salkehatchie

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Slocum’s wing was still trying to get across the Savannah River, while Howard’s wing, already north of the Savannah, needed to cross the Salkehatchie. The crossing at Rivers’ Bridge was defended by 1200 well -entrenched Confederates under Gen. McLaws, and even with significant numerical superiority, Blair’s XVII corps would have faced heavy losses attacking it frontally. Blair looked for a way to flank the position, which the rebels did not expect, since it was surrounded by “impassable” swamps. He sent two divisions (Mower’s and Legget’s) through the swamps, crossing numerous streams and wading through flooded forests, while Giles’ division crossed below the rebel position as a diversion. The rebels were flanked and withdrew with relatively minor losses on both sides.

The engineering feats accomplished in this action and its aftermath aroused the admiration of Joe Johnston.


In Hardee’s presence, Johnston, referring to those things which make the characteristics of a great army, spoke of the ancient armies, and of the manner in which they had both fought and worked; how Csesar’s army was as celebrated for its marches and entrenchments as for its glorious fighting upon the fields of battle.

In Hardee’s presence he said: “Hardee here telegraphed me from Charleston that I need be under no apprehension that Sherman would pass Salkehatchie swamps. The Salkehatchie was impassable.”

And Hardee smiled assent; but [Johnston] said, “When I learned that Sherman’s army was marching through the Salkehatchie swamps, making its own corduroy road at the rate of a dozen miles a day or more, and bringing its artillery and wagons with it, I made up my mind that there had been no such army in existence since the days of Julius Caesar.”

–Speech of [Ohio?] Governor [Jacob D.?] Cox at the 14th annual meeting of the Society of the Army of the Tennessee, held at Cincinnati, OH, April 6th and 7th, 1881.

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HDQRS. DEPARTMENT AND ARMY OF THE TENNESSEE,
River’s Bridge, February 3, 1865.
Major General J. G. FOSTER,
Commanding Department of the South:

GENERAL: I send you some seventy or eighty wounded. We carried this evening the works in our front at this place, and have effected a lodgment on the other bank of the Salkehatchie. The work was done by two divisions of General Blair’s corps. I think the enemy’s position at this brigade the strongest I ever saw. Mower and his men have shown indomitable energy as well as confident gallantry. Giles A.
Smith also led his division across the swamp and the river at another place, creating a diversion that enabled Mower to succeed without the enemy being re-enforced. Please do what you can for our poor fellows.

Very truly, yours,
O. O. HOWARD,
Major-General.

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HDQRS. DEPARTMENT AND ARMY OF THE TENNESSEE,
Rivers’ Bridge, S. C., February 3, 1865.
Major-General SHERMAN,
Commanding Mil. Div. of the Mississippi:

GENERAL: Major-General Mower, under General Blair’s direction, after most extraordinary exertion, opening two parallel roads, laying foot bridges a mile and half in extent, crossing sixteen streams, succeeded in turning the position of the enemy with two brigades, while he made a strong demonstration on their direct front. He carried the position, taking a few prisoners. Meanwhile General Giles A. Smith crossed the swamp and the Salkehatchie two miles south of this point, creating a diversion and preventing the forces at Broxton’s Bridge from coming up.

I visited the field this evening immediately after Mower had carried the works. It is the strongest position I ever saw in my life, and I think was defended by about 2,000 men. Some eight regimental flags, accompanying troops in motion below Giles Smith, moving down the river, where seen by our men just before dark. I took them to be re-enforcements cut off by General Smith’s movement.

Buford’s Bridge is reported destroyed, and was abandoned about the time Rivers’ Bridge was carried, so that the movement of to-day has given us the line of the Salkehatchie, and as the people of Barnwell District have taken all their provisions over this river we probably shall not suffer. General Blair has found sufficient forage thus far. I have concluded to send back my empty wagons under a small escort, and have them return to us following General Logan’s column.

It is a great pity the Left Wing is not so posted as to enable us to push at once for the railroad. It is twenty-two miles from here to Midway. I will spend the time till you say go ahead in preparing the bridges at this point and at Buford’s Crossing. General Mower’s loss, the doctor says, is 10 or 12 killed and at least 70 wounded. I shall send back all the wounded I can with the returned trains.

Respectfully,
O. O. HOWARD,
Major-General.

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HEADQUARTERS SEVENTEENTH ARMY CORPS,
In the Field, S. C., February 5, 1865.
Captain A.m. VAN DYKE,
Asst. Adjt. General, Dept. and Army of the Tennessee:

CAPTAIN: I have the honor to report the following as the casualties in this command on the 2nd and 3rd instant, all of which are in the First Division: One officer and 17 enlisted men killed; 3 officers and 103 men wounded. General Mower estimates the losses of the enemy at about 200. There were 16 of their dead on the field and a hospital with 17 wounded found in rear of their position. The number of prisoners taken is 10, and of deserters 17.

Very respectfully, your obedient servant,
FRANK P. BLAIR, JR.,
Major-General.

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