Review In Brief: “Among the Best Men the South Could Boast”: The Fall of Fort McAllister December 13, 1864

“Among the Best Men the South Could Boast”: The Fall of Fort McAllister, December 13, 1864. Gary Livingston. Cooperstown, NY: Caisson Press, 1997.
156 pp. 5 maps, numerous illustrations.

The end of Sherman’s March to the Sea has not received much attention in Civil War literature. Gary Livingston seeks in somewhat uneven fashion to partially rectify that lack of coverage. “Among the Best Men the South Could Boast” covers the brief 15 minute storming of Fort McAllister, a sand earthwork that covered the Ogeechee River and Savannah from attacks by sea. The Fort was entirely successful in this role for most of the war, defeating no less than three attacks by Union monitors in the process. However, when Sherman’s Army approached from its landward side, the fall of the fort was inevitable.

By December 1864, Fort McAllister had a garrison of around 167 men from the Emmett Rifles, Clinch’s Georgia Light Artillery, and Companies D and E of the 1st Regiment of Georgia Reserves. Sherman brought over 60,000 men in four veteran Corps, as unfair a fight as was possible. To further stack the odds, Fort McAllister was on the south bank of the Ogeechee, cut off from the other defenders of Savannah. Sherman needed to capture the fort in order to establish a connection with the Union South Atlantic Blockading Squadron under Admiral John Dahlgren. Sherman’s men had been living off the land over the past month, but a static siege of Savannah would require a supply source along the Atlantic. The Ogeechee was that source. In the short “battle” that followed, the men of Hazen’s Division, XV Corps (Sherman’s old division) braved a field of Confederate torpedoes (land mines) planted around the fort and stormed it, opening the needed supply route. Savannah was evacuated on December 21, and Sherman had the city shortly thereafter.

I had several issues with the book. First and most disturbing, the editing was nonexistent. The author or someone masquerading as an editor seemed to love apostrophes. I counted numerous instances of the incorrect use of possessives, and it was more than annoying. There were far too many spelling issues as well. The use of the term “sic” to denote errors in the writing of soldiers was almost comical considering all of the errors missed in the writing and editing process. Second, the illustrations seemed to be simply copied whole from another source, and several pictures are duplicates. One wonders why they would be included twice. The maps were actually pretty decent, but they were gleaned from other sources as well. I suspect it was simply a happy accident that they turned out that way. I was also a little concerned with the incredibly small bibliography, though this is in part due to the extremely narrow focus of the book.

With the negatives out of the way, let’s talk about some of the positives, as there are some. First, I know of no other work that concentrates on this action, and no really good coverage of the siege of Savannah as a whole. The relative obscurity of the siege and its position between the March to the Sea and the Battle of Bentonville accounts for much of this, I would assume. Livingston, despite the numerous errors of spelling and punctuation, does deliver an interesting and informative account of the fall of Fort McAllister. He dedicates 156 pages partly to a battle that lasted only 15 minutes, but he also covers the history of the fort throughout the war, including pretty good descriptions of the monitor attacks earlier in the war. Livingston also provides interesting commentary regarding Sherman’s anger at the use of torpedoes in front of Fort McAllister.

Livingston’s book suffers from some major flaws, but fortunately they aren’t fatal. There is still a wealth of information to be gleaned from “Among the Best Men the South Could Boast”. I managed to read this one in one sitting, and it was an interesting an informative read. Sherman needed the fort to clear the way for supplies, and this cleared the way for the fall of Savannah and Sherman’s march through the Carolinas. Livingston is also the author of a book on the Battle of Griswoldville during Sherman’s March to the Sea. Those readers interested in coastal operations, the history of Savannah, and obscure battles of the war will want to own this book.

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