The “Right Wing” Marches through Jasper County
—March to the Sea Heritage Trail —
Hillsboro (originally spelled Hillsborough), named for pioneer settler Isaac Hill, is one of the oldest communities in central Georgia. It is the birthplace of Benjamin
Harvey Hill, a United States and later Confederate States Senator. The "Hillsborough Academy" attended by B. H. Hill was succeeded by the school building that bears his name.
The "Right Wing" of Union Major General William T. Sherman's army struggled through rain and muddy roads to cross the Ocmulgee River at Planter's Factory (Seven Islands) from Friday through Sunday, November 18 through 20, 1864. After successfully crossing the river it advanced on Hillsboro. The Right Wing was commanded by Major General Oliver O. Howard, including the nearly 16,000 men of the 15th Corps led by Major General Peter J. Osterhaus. Brigadier General H. Judson Kilpatrick's 5,000-man cavalry division accompanied Howard's Right Wing.
The almost 12,000 men in Brigadier General Francis P. Blair's 17th Corps marched east from Planter's Factory on Saturday, November 19th before camping that night, a few miles north of Hillsboro. Kilpatrick's cavalry division rode directly from Planter's Factory to Clinton on the same day. Meanwhile, three divisions of General Osterhaus's 15th Corps camped in or near Hillsboro on the 19th, including General Howard. The remaining division
of the 15th Corps camped close-by on the 20th and followed the other three divisions to Clinton.
In Hillsboro, one group of Federal soldiers "drove off cows, sheep, and hogs...took every bushel of corn and fodder, oats and wheat"
and burned the outbuildings on Mrs. Louise Reese Cornwell's farm. When General Howard and his staff stopped for tea, she prepared what food she had left, but thought how ironic that while Howard "sat at the table and asked God's blessing, the sky was red from the flames of burning houses."
Staff officers performed "many pretty pieces and sang several pretty songs"
on Cornwell's piano, and Howard posted a guard for protection of their hostess. The previous summer, Mrs. Cornwell had aided wounded Federal cavalrymen following the Battle of Sunshine Church. In November at least one officer knew of her earlier kindness and thanked her as he passed.
One soldier who had a pleasant experience in Hillsboro was Captain Charles W. Wills of the 103rd Illinois Infantry Regiment. He wrote to his sister, "By the kindness of Mrs. Elizabeth Celia Pye, I occupy a feather bed to-night. It is the first house I have been in for the last three months. She understood from the Rebels that we burned all houses and she took her things out and hid them in the woods...The foragers found
them and brought them in to her. Had an excellent
supper with the boys. This is level, fine country, and has been well cultivated."
For Captain Wills and other Federal soldiers their march continued south from Hillsboro toward Sunshine Church, a landmark destined for destruction.
Bottom left: Hillsboro Methodist Church and the three-room Academy attended by B.H. Hill
Map: The "March to the Sea" through Jasper County
(Lloyd's Topographical Map of Georgia, 1864)
Portraits: Benjamin Harvey Hill (Photo by Matthew Brady)
Union Major General Oliver O. Howard (photo by Matthew Brady)
Union Captain Charles W. Wills (after his promotion to Lieutenant Colonel)
Background watermark: Wm. Knabe & Co., "Gold Medal Pianos" advertisement, 1864