Foraging For Sherman's ArmyOften Dangerous and Exciting Work Done by Fearless Men.
EDITOR NATIONAL TRIBUNE: Any old soldier who served three or four years will call to mind that he felt more secure from danger when with the main body of the army than when on any detached service. When on picket-guard a mile or more from camp, or on the skirmish-line in advance of the line-of-battle, or with a detail of foragers when on the march, he felt that his life was in greater peril than when in the ranks with his company and regiment. The love of adventure, however, made it desirable for the more reckless.
The day after Sherman's army left Atlanta on the march to the sea, the Colonel's Orderly came to my quarters in the early morning and informed me that I had been detailed to take command of a brigade foraging party of 50 men, and that I should turn over the command of my company to my First Lieutenant.
I felt that it would be a position attended with great risk of being captured by the enemy, and a chance between Andersonville Prison and death, as there was an intense hatred of foragers; but I did not hesitate to accept it, as any officer should who cared for his reputation and "sand."
The men of my command were selected with a view to their daring and fearlessness, and every one of them was the true blue. Of the four corps marching in parallel columns, about 10 to 15 miles apart, the Fifteenth, to which I belonged, was on the right flank, and therefore more exposed to the rebel cavalry that raided on our flanks.
In order to procure the needed supplies for our brigade, such as cattle, hogs, sheep, mules, and horses and also bacon, sweet potatoes, chickens, turkeys, geese, etc., the foragers had to strike off on by-roads leading to plantations, and sometimes found themselves five or six miles from the marching column. Small squads would frequently be sent to houses away from the road across the fields, so that in the course of the day the foraging party would be reduced to half the number it started out with in the morning.
Before many days all the detail was mounted on mules and horses, with a scant supply of saddles and bridles, and when they joined the column at night, loaded with what they had foraged during the day, and driving horses and cattle and sheep, and sometimes with a carriage or two well loaded, it was an amusing sight. But they were always welcomed by the Quartermaster, and when dealt out to the boys, the sweet potatoes, fowls and hams were highly appreciated, the officers also coming in for a share of the spoils.
Sometimes we would reach a plantation just at night, and so far away that we could not reach the column, and would have to bivouac and place men on guard to avoid surprise and possible capture. It was risky, but fortunately the enemy never found out our exposed situation at night. When near Macon, Ga., they came very near surprising us when taking dinner at a plantation only about a quarter of a mile from where our wagon-train was passing, but the woman who was cooking the dinner, and who professed to be a good friend of the Union cause, made an unguarded remark that led us to suspect that the rebel cavalry were not far away. So we made short work of our dinner, and hastened to the other side of the moving wagon-train.
They came pell-mell, making a dash at the train, discharging their carbines; but with the help of the train-guard and the teamsters, and sheltered by the wagons, we soon drove them away, suffering little harm; but they took one of our men, who tarried too long at his dinner. We never heard from him afterward, and very likely he was killed. Another man who was with him made his escape and joined us. When Gen. Sherman learned that the rebels killed all the foragers whom they captured, he informed the rebel Generals that he would have as many rebel prisoners in our hands shot as they killed foragers, and that had the desired effect.
When foraging in the Carolinas near the Revolutionary battlefield of Camden, we had the curiosity to see the old battlefield, and took a road that we learned led to it. We had not followed it over a mile when we met a negro who recognized us as Union soldiers. Approaching me he excitedly exclaimed:
"Marse Cap'n, yo'uns go two miles furder on dis road an' you go right inter de rebel camp."
It is needless to say that we took another road, as our negro friend directed, and kept a sharp lookout behind us until we joined the column.
When near Cheraw, S.C., we discovered a freight-car standing on the track, loaded with ammunition that the rebels had run out of Cheraw to prevent it falling into our hands. We blew up the car, causing a terrible explosion, that soon made our scattered foragers rally on the main body. We expected to reach Cheraw that night, but came to a creek where the bridge had been destroyed, so were compelled to bivouc on a peninsula formed by a bend of the creek. Placing a guard at the neck of it, we slept soundly, feeling pretty secure, and the next morning followed the creek to a ford and joined the column in camp at Cheraw about noon, and reported the explosion to Gen. Logan.
When near Bentonville I was directed by Gen. Logan to aim for Elliotsville with my foragers, and told that the corps would probably reach there that night. About noon, however, the battle of Bentonville commenced, and the Fifteenth Corps changed its direction and went to Bentonville.
Not being aware of this move we went on to Elliotsville and remained there that night. Thinking the corps would arrive there that day, I concluded to forage further on, and near night we met Gen. Terry's army coming up from Wilmington, and my forage party was the first of Sherman's army to meet them. We turned back the next morning and stopped that night at Elliotsville, and from a Union man residing there heard the first news of the battle of Bentonville, and that our corps was there.
We reached there the second day from Elliotsville, being absent from the column three and a-half days. We soon went into camp at Goldsboro, and that ended my foraging, and I was glad to return to my company.
R.W. BURT, CAPTAIN, CO.H, 76th OHIO, Peoria, Ill.
From:The National Tribune, November 3, 1898
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