78TH REGIMENT O.V.V.I.,
ITS “MUSTER-IN” TO ITS “MUSTER-OUT”;
ITS ORGANIZATION, MARCHES, CAMPAIGNS,
BATTLES AND SKIRMISHES
By Rev. Thomas M. Stevenson.
Chaplain of the Regiment
What follows is an excerpt from the chapter covering the regiment’s experiences at the end of the March to the Sea when they went through Savannah and the Carolinas. If you would like to see a complete online version of this regimental history, which critics have called one of the best regimentals,” please click here or on the photo of Gen. W. Tecumseh Sherman above. This complete online regimental history has been made available to this web site by Thomas J. Joyce of Long Beach, Calif. We are deeply indebted to his generosity in making this material available in such a convenient form and for his meticulous attention to every small detail to make this electronic version match the original just as closely as possible. Mr. Joyce and the webmaster are considering converting his work to a PDF and making this available on a CD-ROM for a fee of about $40.00 (to be used to support this site). If you are interested, or even think you might be, please email the webmaster and if there’s a big enough response, we will move forward on this project.
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The day of retribution has now come to South Carolina. She is now and will in a few days receive a raking, and a sweeping scourge will pass over her that is frightful to contemplate.
The Seventeenth Corps left Pocotaligo on January 30th, and met with no opposition until reaching Saltkihatchie river, where the enemy had an impregnable position and defended by heavy works. Nearly all rivers here are inaccessible, and can only be approached by a series of bridges and corduroy roads, probably a mile before we can reach the main stream; at the above river the men waded into these swamps and back water, and skirmished with the enemy. One Division crossed between the works and flanked them, while another Division charged in front. Here quite a number of prisoners were taken. In this fight the Second Brigade, under Colonel Wiles, engaged the enemy upon its right flank, and that night encamped at the fires the rebels had built near Barker’s mill. Next day the Brigade moved to the enemy’s left flank, while the First Division engaged the front, the Fourth crossed the river.
The next place of any consequence was the Edisto river. The Second Brigade of the Third Division being in front, engaged the enemy’s works across the river. Here one of Company K, Seventh-Eighth Ohio, was severely wounded. Next morning the Third Division moved down the river one mile and a half from Orangeburg, crossed the river, the main stream, on pontoons, and waded a swamp three hundred yards wide, and from three to five deep. The enemy ascertaining that we were crossing, fled. Captain Roberts, with his foragers, was the first to cross, and skirmished with one whole cavalry regiment, driving them rapidly before him. Orangeburg was a beautiful town of about two thousand five hundred inhabitants, but the effect of war here marred its beauty and laid its fine mansions in ashes. Here is located the Charleston Orphan Asylum, removed from that city at the commencement of the bombardment. Early in the morning I with several paid a visit to the institutions; we entered the dining room where were about two hundred and ninety children seated around tables eating breakfast, which was chiefly mush and molasses. All were dressed clean and neat. We remained until school opened, which was under the care of Miss A. K. Irwin, a most estimable and Christian lady from New York, who was the first to establish a union school system in the State. She has eight assistants.
The opening exercises were impressive and very interesting. I have never seen a finer exhibition of discipline, nor better music and singing. I noticed the tears start in the eyes of some soldiers present. What a contrast this sweet and beautiful scene with the terrible realities of war and its sad results, an exhibition of which could be seen from every window of the Asylum. At that moment fine houses were wrapped in flames; on the streets were to be seen little children gathered around a few coals of fire left by some soldiers; also women and fine looking young ladies sitting weeping and guarding a few things saved from their burning houses, and where to direct their steps for a temporary resting place they knew not, and not a morsel of food could be obtained this side of thirty miles on either extreme.
The railroad was destroyed and all other means of transportation removed by our army. These poor saddened hearts, we could do little for them to lift the burden of sorrow now pressing so heavily upon them, but bid them look up to Him who was a refuge in time of trouble, and whose ears were open to the cries of the needy. That morning the Corps moved on toward Columbia, destroying the railroad on its way. All unoccupied buildings were burnt; many fine mansions, the abodes of wealth, grandeur and happiness, were deserted by their occupants, and stood lonely, inviting the hand of some plundering soldier to apply the torch. On the 16th the Corps encamped on the bank of the Congaree, opposite Columbia, which gave rise to heavy skirmishing. They left all their heavy works on this side of the river. The city presented a beautiful appearance. The next day the rebels evacuated the place, having burned all the bridges. That afternoon and night the Fifteenth and Seventeenth Corps crossed and occupied the city. There was concentrated much of the wealth of the State; the stores and much of the costly furniture of Charleston were brought here for security. The people conducted themselves with becoming demeanor, and treated the soldiers with much courtesy and respect; but very imprudently, yet meant in kindness, set out their wines and liquors to them.
The citizens little thought their beautiful city would next morning be a mass of smoking ruins. There were many things conspiring for the destruction of the city. In the afternoon a furious storm of wind arose and blew continuously with the violence of a hurricane till late at night. All the encampments caught fire and drove the men from the woods. The rebels put fire to cotton and to their commissary, which soon communicated the flames to adjacent buildings. Soon others were set on fire, the wind carrying the flames with unconquerable rapidity. Escaped prisoners and drunken soldiers soon began to apply the torch all over the city, and by midnight it was an ocean of flames. Six regiments were quickly sent to aid the citizens and guard every house, and soldiers from all regiments worked faithfully in rescuing people from burning houses and carrying the sick to safe places.
One of the Seventy-Eighth entered a burning building, and carried in his arms a considerable distance a woman, and with her a child three days old. Many such incidents occurred. One poor mother, in her confusion and terror, forgot her children, who were asleep up stairs. The fire spread so rapidly that almost immediately all entrance was cut off. The frantic mother called to her children from the street, and the screams of the children and calls to mother could be distinctly heard. In a few minutes the flames, in their mad rage, seemed to draw the building from its foundation, and it was consumed with almost the rapidity of an explosion; here and there could be seen persons jumping from the second stories. The faithfulness of the guard saved many from perishing. We have heard of the sacking and burning of cities, but to be a spectator to it beggars all description. It is grand, sublime and terrible. The next morning when riding through the ruins of the city, all was quiet and still as death; broken furniture and charred fragments covered the streets, and burnt walls stood black, shattered and lonely. I could not restrain the dropping tear of pain and regret. In the parks and in the suburbs of the city, women were sitting and guarding a few things saved and carried there by the arm of some kind hearted soldier. Major Mills, of the Seventy-Eighth, carried upon his horse women and children outside the burning part of the city, until nearly morning.
The next day soldiers seemed not cheerful; their hearts went back in sympathy with the suffering people. All condemned and regretted the city had been burnt, but whom to blame they scarcely knew. It was burnt in a mysterious manner. Some how it was burnt, none could tell, and no one intended or thought of such a thing the evening before. Thus the city where the first ordinance of secession was passed had received a retribution severe, if not righteous; terrible, if not just.
The Corps moved on the next morning, destroying the railroad, and arrived at Winnsboro, February 22d. The other column, the left wing, arrived at the place the previous evening. The town is situated in a beautiful, rich country, and is the home of wealthy planters and South Carolina bloods, a people in this State at enmity with all, and in sympathy only with the nobles in Europe, hating all democratic institutions. This town is a place of some celebrity, almost every house presents an imposing appearance. The women exhibit less timidity than in some other places; they and the children were dressed in their best style, and some with a show of much wealth. They were free and bold to express their opinions, and advocated the most intense secession. Here we may observe that the women from Columbia northward are much better educated, more intelligent, and appear to have more of the sprightliness, activity and brightness of the Northern girls; their complexions are not so much affected by the low flats and swamps of the South. The women of the South, in general, have a haughtier air, a more commanding appearance than Northern women. The Southern lady has deeper and stronger feelings; the Northern more sensitive and refined, more timid and modest.
The Corps halted here but a few hours, and turned eastward toward the Wateree, which they crossed on the 23d. The Seventy-Eighth Ohio some days was in the rear, whose duty it is to guard the train. This night was the most disagreeable of the campaign. The regiment stood the whole night upon the river bank, under a heavy cold rain, and in mud from three inches to no bottom. It did not get the train all over until morning, having only a few minutes to halt and then move on with the train, the other Divisions having considerably the advance, by having good roads.
The next morning the teams of the Third Division were all mud bound. Colonel Wiles stretched his Brigade along the road of two or three miles of teams, making new roads and corduroying old ones. That day the Brigade made ten miles of roads and brought the teams up thirteen miles.
On the 3d of March we encamped twelve miles from Cheraw. It rained nearly all the time since leaving Winnsboro. The 3d we remained in camp, and on that day the First Brigade of the Third Division had a very unpleasant duty to perform – the execution of a rebel prisoner, in retaliation for the murder of one of their foragers. This was done in compliance with an order from General Sherman, issued to protect our foragers. The man was chosen by lot, which fell upon a good old grey haired man, the father of nine children, and a subject of the cruel system of conscription. The act was one of the terrible necessities of war, but it had better not be done, and I am certain will fail in the object intended.
On the 4th of March the Seventeenth Corps entered Cheraw, on the Pedee river, where the enemy had made extensive preparations for a strong resistance, but were driven from all their works by our skirmishers. This Corps had nine killed and a few wounded, nearly all of whom belonged to the Twenty-Seventh Ohio. The enemy in their retreat succeeded in burning the bridge. There were captured twenty-seven pieces of artillery, many small arms, and several tons of powder. Much had been shipped from Wilmington and Charleston, to this place for safety.
The town is a pleasant but ancient one, spread over sufficient territory for ten times the population. There are many evidences of wealth in this place, and of former greatness, but the war is making shipwreck of all these once flourishing places. On the same day, Captain Roberts with his foragers, captured Society Hill, sixteen miles from Cheraw, one of the most aristocratic and beautiful places in the State.
On the 5th the Corps, taking again the advance, crossed the Pedee, and moved on toward Fayetteville, North Carolina, which place it reached March 11th. The foragers of the Seventeenth Corps, as usual, entered the town several hours in advance, and had some considerable skirmishing with the enemy. Of the Third Division two were killed and some wounded. Here some of the boys of the Seventy-Eighth had hand-to-hand combats with the enemy. Our foragers soon being reinforced by others coming up, held the town. This town is one of the shabbiest I have seen on the campaign. Aside from the United States Arsenal established years ago by Congress at this place, there are few important buildings in the place. The arsenal was destroyed, and all its fine buildings torn down by order of General Sherman. We have never before seen as many poor looking women in one place. They thronged the street in crowds, begging something to eat from our soldiers; they had every appearance of want and starvation. From this place three steamboats, captured from the rebels, were sent loaded with refugees and contrabands, to Wilmington. The army remaining here but one day, moved on toward Goldsboro, where the campaign will terminate.
The enemy under General Johnston began to make heavy demonstrations upon the left wing of the army near the Neuse river, opposite Smithfield. The Army of the Tennessee changed its direction and moved up the Neuse river, and on the 21st met the enemy’s skirmishers, which were driven back to their works and our lines established with the left wing. Here we skirmished with the enemy successfully, the Seventy-Eighth having two wounded severely. That night the enemy evacuated his works and retreated across the river. They had charged our lines frequently the previous evening, but in every instance were repulsed with heavy loss. The army then moved down the river and arrived at Goldsboro on the 24th. Thus one of the most stupendous and arduous, and damaging campaigns of the war ended. The Seventy-Eighth Regiment traveled in all five hundred and three miles. The rains, the mud, the enemy and the many rivers crossed did not impede the army’s march a day. The regiment under the efficient energy and activity of Captain C. M. Roberts had abundance of provision. The regiment sat down to a sumptuous supper every night. Nearly one half the men were without shoes the last few days of the campaign, and as many were dressed in rebel clothing. Our foragers taking advantage of this, tried the pluck of some of General Terry’s men who had marched through from Wilmington. Two boys captured a picket post of five, and again captured two orderlies of General Terry’s headquarters and paroled them. I cannot stay to give your readers a recital of the many laughable events of the campaign, and especially on the part of the foragers.
The total casualties of the Seventy-Eighth from the time it left Pocotaligo to the 24th, are thirteen. Company A, Milton Turner and Reese Getwood, wounded; James Gawd, missing. Company B, John T. Moore, killed while foraging; A. J. Mills, taken prisoner. Company C, Levi Gould, taken prisoner. Company D, George O. Watterberry, died of disease. Company H, Jeremiah McBride, died of disease. Company K, T. H. Thompson, killed by lightning; Washington Bruce, Joshua Dyer and Joel Ward, severely wounded. Colonel J. C. Robinson and Major Mills have led the regiment with good acceptance and general satisfaction. They have proved themselves efficient officers and commanders. Under their command the regiment has won honors, and waded streams, swamps and mud, by night and day, sometimes marching the whole night through a pouring rain without a murmur.
All the officers have done nobly. They were always first to plunge into the water, and lead in all places of discouragements and difficulties.
respectfully, T. M. S.
Chaplain Seventy-Eighth Regiment O. V. V. I.
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