Foraging Outside Savannah
When last we checked in on the Ridge Brothers of the Fifth Connecticut Infantry, their regiment had just marched into Atlanta at the head of Sherman’s column. One hundred fifty years ago this evening, December 22, the regiment was preparing to move out of their camp near Springfield, Georgia, and march the final distance into Savannah. Some of the regiment’s soldiers, though, had spent an exhausting day collecting forage for the brigade’s animals:
Thursday, 22d. Wagon train loaded and we have orders to march to Savannah to-night.
About this time Quartermaster [Edward K.] Carley organized a foraging expedition which proved quite a success. From the time the army arrived in the swamp section of Georgia, forage for the animals was exceedingly scarce, and they consequently became in very poor condition. All the vessels that arrived at the port of Savannah, for some time after its capture, were loaded down with supplies for the men and the animals were neglected. It was a two or three days’ trip back into the grain-growing sections of the State, and no train moving so far would have been safe without a very large guard. Carley concluded to make an expedition inland by water for the purpose of procuring sheaf rice for the animals of our brigade. He secured somewhere an old barge capable of conveying many tons, and an immense row boat like a whale boat, with oars and locks for several rowers. The whale boat was to be the motive power of the expedition and take the barge in tow if necessary. Lieutenant H. D. Redfield of Company B was also with the expedition. Details of from two to three from each company made up the party to about thirty in number. As the fleet was to move early, most of the detail went on board the evening before and made a jolly night of it. Long before dayliglit, when the tide commenced making up the river strong, we untied the barge and let her go. In this way we made fifteen or sixteen miles of our journey up the river by the force of the current, and then taking to our oars we continued to pull along rapidly, as the tide had not yet turned, till we came where the flats of the river bottom were covered with stacks of sheaf rice, and pulling into a creek, all hands ordered to fall to work lively for several hours and bring in the sheaves to the water’s edge, so they could be readily flung oil the barge at accessible points.
Before going to work the party were deployed and advanced a mile or more across the country, to make sure that there were no guerrillas about who might crawl near and surprise any of the party.
There being no signs of enemies in the vicinity, a couple of videttes were left out and the residue returned and set about loading the boat in good earnest, with the assistance of all the colored population of the vicinity. Long before night we had her loaded down to the water’s edge and hauled out into the current of the river, which was making down again, and with the main body of the party started homeward.
Sergeant H. M. Gibbs, with the party who were to come by the row boat, remained behind, by order of Quartermaster Carley, to examine some mills and dwelling houses on the plantation, to see if any kind of forage for man or beast could be found there. Nothing of any value was found in any of them, and Gibbs met with a painful accident in making the examination, making it necessary to lug him from the plantation houses and buildings all the way (a mile or more) back to the river.
These houses were all set up on posts, so as to be some five or six feet from the ground. The steps leading up to these were temporary and entirely unreliable, and as Gibbs came out of one of the houses after searching and stepped down to the first or upper step, which in that instance was a short, round log, it rolled under him, precipitating him to the ground in such a manner that the toes of his left foot were turned back out of place and up- rooted. His foot was useless for the time being, and he was lugged back to the boat on the guns of his comrades ; and it was not till nightfall that all were safely on board again.
After pulling steadily at the oars by turns for half the night, the expedition arrived in camp, and was voted quite a feather in the cap of the quartermaster, for when the next move was made his stock was found in better condition than any in the division.
Image: Plantation workers carrying rice, South Carolina, c. 1895.