Origin of the Army
The history of the Army of Georgia dates to Major General William T. Sherman making his preparations for the Savannah Campaign (November 15, 1864–December 21, 1864). After occupying Atlanta on September 2, 1864, Sherman received approval from General-in-Chief of the Armies, Ulysses S. Grant, to embark upon his “March to the Sea” that would make “Georgia howl.”
On November 9, 1864, Sherman issued Special Field Orders No. 120, establishing the chain-of-command, objectives, and directives for the Savannah Campaign. Sherman divided his forces into two wings. The right-wing comprised the Army of the Tennessee, commanded by Major General Oliver O. Howard. Henry W. Slocum commanded the left-wing, which included the 14th and 20th Corps, along with part of the Army of the Cumberland’s cavalry. Informally, Slocum’s wing became known as the Army of Georgia.
For the next five weeks, the Yankees cut a swath of destruction across Georgia nearly sixty miles wide and 250 miles long. Neither wing met much resistance before reaching the outskirts of Savannah by December 10. On December 21, 1864, Savannah Mayor R. D. Arnold surrendered Savannah in exchange for a promise to protect the city’s citizens and their property. According to Sherman, “the left flank (Slocum), especially Geary’s division of the Twentieth Corps, claimed to have been the first to reach the heart of the city.”
Sherman remained in Savannah for approximately five weeks to rest and to re-provision his men. On February 1, 1865, he embarked on a campaign through the Carolinas aimed to cut off supplies and reinforcements for Robert E. Lee and the Army of Northern Virginia, which was facing off with Grant’s Army of the Potomac near Richmond, Virginia. Once again, the Army of Georgia served as the left-wing of Sherman’s army group.
Battle of Averasboro
On March 16, 1865, soldiers from the Army of Georgia attacked General Joseph Johnston’s entrenched Rebels north of Averasboro, North Carolina. Slocum’s soldiers flanked the Confederates, forcing them to withdraw to a second defensive line. The Grey Coats made a brief stand at the second line, before falling back to their third and final line of defense. Despite several Union assaults, the Confederates held their position until nightfall and withdrew to Bentonville under the cover of darkness, ending the Battle of Averasboro.
Battle of Bentonville
By mid-March, Johnston had assembled an army of perhaps 21,000 soldiers at Bentonville. On March 19, 1865, Johnston made a stand, entrenching his army at Cole’s Plantation, blocking the road to Goldsboro. Once again, the Army of Georgia was the target. That afternoon, Johnston launched an assault on the Federals, forcing them to fall back temporarily. By nightfall, Slocum’s men checked the Rebel advance, and the first day of fighting at the Battle of Bentonville ended in a stalemate. On the next day, Federal reinforcements arrived, and Slocum gradually pushed Johnston’s men back. Johnston held on until March 21, when he withdrew during the night.
A few days after the Battle of Bentonville, Sherman requested General Grant to separate Slocum’s wing (the 14th and 20th Army Corps) from the Army of the Cumberland and formally designate it as the Army of Georgia. On March 28, 1865, the War Department issued General Orders No. 51 granting Sherman’s request. Afterward, The Army of Georgia occupied Goldsborough and captured Raleigh in April. Slocum was present on April 16, 1865, when Johnston surrendered the troops under his command to Sherman near Durham, North Carolina.
Discontinuation of the Army
On May 24, 1865, Slocum led the Army of Georgia through the streets of Washington, DC, as part of the Grand Review of the Armies. One week later, on June 1, 1865, the War Department discontinued the 20th Corps. Later that summer, on August 1, the War Department discontinued the 14th Corps, thus ending the existence of the Army of Georgia.