1865: Unidentified “Sallie” to Cousin Abby

When General William T. Sherman’s army captured Savannah, Georgia, on December 21, 1864, he was able to connect with Union naval forces operating on the south Atlantic coast and receive the supplies his army desperately needed after marching through Georgia. Resupplied, and following a month’s rest, Sherman then turned north through the Carolinas to link with General Ulysses S. Grant’s army in Virginia.

The Savannah River was still blocked by obstacles and obstructions placed by the Confederates to keep the Union Navy away from Savannah. While engineers cleared those obstructions, the Navy used the Wilmington River, south of the Savannah River as a route of supply and transport.

This letter was written by a woman named “Sallie” (possibly “Lallie” or “Lollie”)—the wife of the owner, agent, or captain of a civilian merchant vessel commissioned to deliver hay to Savannah needed to feed thousands of cavalry horses and supply mules in Sherman’s army. On its return trip, the cargo ship was commissioned by the government to load some of the 31,000 bales of cotton captured at Savannah to transport to a prize court in New York. With cotton prices at more than $1.60 per pound in 1865, and each bale weighing approximately 500 pounds, Savannah cotton was worth more than $25 million.

Sallie refers to her traveling companion—most likely her husband—as “Sam.” There were as many as 35 schooners contracted by the government to load cotton in Savannah in January and early February 1865. Curiously, one of the vessels was named “Lottie” which might also have been the author’s name if she failed to cross her “t’s.” The Lottie unloaded her cargo of cotton at Staten Island on 18 February 1865, according to an article appearing in the New York Times on the 19th.

Unidentified author’s letter with drawing by Waud of Wilmington River south of Savannah, Ga.


Wilmington River, Georgia
January 14, 1865

My dear Abby,

I will commence a letter to you this morning to tell you of our whereabouts and have it ready to send when an opportunity offers. I sent one to Mother from Port Royal the next day after we arrived there. We were taken in tow by a steamer last Thursday & brought round here, up the Wassaw Sound. It is a new way of reaching Savannah. We were ordered to Thunderbolt and are now within a mile of that place where the steamer left us aground. We floated again at high tide & came off in deep water. Are now waiting further orders or a boat to take us up. We shall no doubt go to Savannah & load with cotton after discharging the hay at this place.

The Savannah river is so full of obstructions that all the steamboats pass up this way. The river is very narrow in some places and the Rebs never thought of the Yankees making use of it for large sized ships as they have done. Sam has been up at Thunderbolt several times. The place is full of soldiers, horses & army stores. There are a great number of steamers employed transporting them as rapidly as possible to Beaufort. There are also a great many guns and an immense sight of ammunition captured at this place. It is about four miles from Savannah and Sam went off this morning with the intention of going there if he could find any conveyance as the Quartermaster is there from whom he is to receive his orders. I sent off my first letter to the girls by him so it will be sometime before they hear from us unless through you. I hope we may get letters from you before long & that you will continue to write to Port Royal. They may reach us in time.

It will be a week tomorrow since we arrived. Government people move slowly. It is all the better for us, however, for by this delay, the worst of the season may be over before we go North—especially if we load with cotton.

I should like to know how you & Mother are getting along and if you take Mary rides, & if you have much snow &c. &c. It is about as cold here now as May at home. A little fire is necessary all the time. I went on shore yesterday and a nice walk in the woods. We had such rough weather on the passage, I did not make any of my mince meat into pies till we got here. Now we are having them & they are a real treat. We have plenty of apples yet & vegetables. We can get nothing here—not even a sweet potato.

16th Monday at noon, reached Thunderbolt and a curious looking place it is. We have hauled in along side the bank where we are to discharge 600 bales of hay and then Sam has orders to report to Savannah. The bank and as far as you can see around is filled with soldiers, their arms stacked, and camp fires burning. A number of them have been detailed to help take out the hay upon which they are about commencing. They are constantly embarking for Beaufort in steamers but it takes a long time to move so many men. ¹ This must have been a pretty place before the war but it’s desolating effects show here as everywhere. I am glad that we are not to remain long as it would not be at all desirable. The soldiers are mostly Western men & a ship is quite a curiosity to them. The poor fellows are anxious to buy apples, can peaches, crackers, & all such niceties. Unfortunately we have none & dispose of only enough for our own use.

Has Josephine got over her cold & cough? And how is Aunt Johnson? I should like much to hear. Is Mrs. Allen still with Mary and has she been over to see you yet? Does Georgie receive her “Young Folks” and does she like it? Does Mary Lou come to see you often? I hope she does as well as all the rest of the girls. She & Lilly will soon be thinking of their Spring Term, I suppose. And where is May Hall going? Give much love to Lydia, Mrs. Hall, Margaret, Mary C., & don’t forget Miss Parlin nor any of the good people. Do you hear often from the Philadelphians?

I shall write again from Savannah hoping in the mean time to hear from you.

Not a word of war news or any other do we hear. Hoping you & Martha & Uncle William are all well & getting along nicely. I will say goodbye. Sam sends love to you all. From your affectionate coz, — Sallie

Drawing of the Thunderbolt Battery on the Wilmington River south of Savannah

¹ As Sherman turned toward the Carolinas, he had the 15th and 17th Army Corps under General O. O. Howard transported to Beaufort, South Carolina, by vessels that departed from Thunderbolt. Although Beaufort was fewer than forty miles north of Savannah by land, the lack of shallow-draft steamers meant that it took more than a week to transport the 17th Army Corps. Many of these western soldiers had never traveled on the ocean, and many endured sea-sickness on the short voyage. Meanwhile, General Judson Kilpatrick’s cavalry, followed by the 20th and 14th Corps crossed the Savannah River into South Carolina. Sherman himself left Savannah by steamer on January 21, stopped briefly at Hilton Head, then journeyed on to Beaufort, arriving there on January 23. Two days later, he rejoined his army at Pocotaligo, South Carolina, and remained there until the first of February, when Sherman’s army of 60,000 men began their march north.

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