View single post by 39th Miss. Walker
 Posted: Wed Jan 16th, 2008 02:10 pm
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39th Miss. Walker
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Joined: Tue May 1st, 2007
Location: South Carolina
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Susan, Ole,
When Sherman left Savannah his pioneers were almost entirely made up of black laborers. He literally had hundreds of Pioneers doing the work. Sherman didn't like black soldiers in his units so he made them Pioneers. He also picked up hundreds of contrabands on his march to Savannah. So at least in the Carolina campaign the vast majority were black.

I referred to it as grunt work as it was physical labor, hence the term grunt work, a common phrase.

Once past Rivers Bridge the going was not as bad, the roads were for the most part much higher and dryer. Getting to Rivers Bridge however was a feat. But then again it took them over a month to get from Savannah to there.

What Sherman did was put the Pioneers out in front of the main body, protected by skirmishers and Sherman's Bummers. The regular troops followed closely behind.
Sherman also split his men into two columns and even split the two columns further, to cross some of the rivers. For instance they crossed at Rivers Bridge 17th Corp and Bufords Bridge 15th corp, while his left wing was crossing the Savannah River. After crossing they again consolidated or traveled parallel roads.

In many instances Sherman made almost no progress. The winter rains had come, the swamps and rivers were in some cases impassable, and building bridges were almost impossible. The left wing was holed up at Sisters Ferry trying to cross for weeks. Real progress wasn't made until after the battle of Rivers Bridge.

The Confederates, being out manned, and out gunned had put up a last ditch line of defense along the Salkahatchee/ Combahee River. Even they didn't count on 60,000 men being able to navigate the rivers and swamps with the flooding. They didn't count on the tenacity and hardiness of the Federal forces. Imagine being waist deep in a fast flowing swamp with sleet and freezing rain! Or having to sleep in trees to stay out of the water! The western men were something else.

When it cam time to build fortifications it wasn't only the pioneers but all available men were put to work.
Almost any time an army stopped for more than a night, and even then, they built defensive earthworks. We have found evidence of this all along the route from Savannah to Columbia.

At the same time the main body of troops were heading for Columbia Sherman sent some NY troops and the 54th Mass. towards Charleston, to keep them busy and eventually caused the evacuation of Charleston.
The 54th was to cross the Combahee by a back road and found the going impossible, so they swung around and had to cross the Combahee River at Combahee Ferry. Here they took the Confederate earthworks they found and turned them around and made them defensive for their use. They did not use "Pioneers" but used their own labor as troops, under the direction of an engineer.

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