James Laughlin Orr was born 31 October 1838 in Evansville, Indiana.
He was the son of Samuel Orr and Martha
Lowry. His parents immigrated from Ireland in 1834. The family lived
for a while in Pittsburgh and then came to Evansville in 1835.
Traditions of his boyhood are few as he seldom talked of himself. He was
a famous skater, going for miles on the frozen canal. At the age of 14 he
was sent to Belfast for a year. His school books with the commendation of
teachers and monthly marks are still preserved and bear witness to the
severe classical course and the diligence of the young boy. His letters
tell of visits with his grandmother and aunts and uncles.
He also lived with a German family in Evansville for a year. In those
days a knowledge of German was necessary for business in Evansville, which
was largely settled with Germans. He went into his father's heavy hardware
business on his return from Ireland at 15 years, having no further
schooling, but educating himself all his life by diligent reading of books
He remained in business until the beginning of the Civil War, when he
promptly responded to the call to the colors. He was commissioned a first
lieutenant of the 42nd Indiana Regiment on 7 September 1861. He was
commissioned a captain on 2 July 1863. On 12 July 1865 he commissioned a
major by brevet for efficient and meritorious service in the U.S. Army.
These commissions are in possession of the family.
He went through the whole of the Civil War in the Quartermaster's
Department, and was with Sherman in his famous march to the sea through the
enemy country. He was also at the siege and surrender of Vicksburg. His
children could never get him to tell of his army experience, but he left
a brief diary of his experiences on the march to the
sea which is attached.
His service is mentioned in the "Official Army Register of the
Volunteer Force of the United States Army for the Years 1861 - 1865,"
Part VI, page 96.
Soon after his discharge from the army he married Kate Howes, an
Evansville girl then living in Memphis. This marriage took place on 31
October 1865. He and his wife had six children, three of whom died in
infancy. She died of "consumption" at the untimely age of 47 on 13
September 1887, leaving her husband and their three children who were then
still in their teens. He pursued a successful business career in
Evansville, until retiring in 1913, and died 4 February 1919.
My grandfather, James Laughlin Orr, was born October 31, 1838 in
Evansville. Soon after, his father built and moved the family into a
two-story brick residence on the southeast corner of Second and Vine
Streets, across from what is now the postoffice. The house was tree-shaded,
enclosed by a picket fence upheld by large sandstone gateposts, and there
was a wooden entrance stoop and a lattice summer kitchen, typical of houses
of the pre-Civil War period. The neighborhood of Second and Vine was an
attractive place to live at that time and many old families trace their
origin to nearby houses. The last remaining structure from this period was
taken down a year or two ago immediately after the Evansville museum moved
to its present location in Sunset Park.
In 1852 James Orr accompanied his father, Samuel Orr, who was returning
to Ireland to visit relatives in the old country. They traveled mostly by
rail to Milwaukee, by lake steamer from there to Buffalo and from Buffalo by
Erie Canal and railroad to New York City where they took ship to Belfast.
The boy of fourteen years was left behind by his father with relatives to go
to school in northern Ireland. Later he returned and entered his father's
iron business until with the outbreak of the war he enlisted in the
U.S. Army. By 1864 he was a captain in the Quartermaster Service, assigned
to the trains of the Second Division, XIV Corps, U.S.A.
The Civil War diary was a part of a trunkful of army papers presented
to the Evansville museum by my aunt, Mrs. George S. Clifford. It occupied
some 12 to 15 pages of a ledger book in which were listed the various issues
of quartermaster supplies with receipts therefor, and division strength
tabulations. It starts with the army on November 12 at Cartersville,
Georgia a few days before Sherman started his famous march. It ends with
the fall of Ft. McAllister and the capture of Savannah, December 16,
The rest of the ledger book is taken up with lists of supplies issued
by Captain Orr to various army units with the signed receipts of the
officers commanding the units involved. It is fascinating to turn the pages
and read the varieties of food supplies that were available, together with
the packaging methods in vogue at the time. The entries begin in November
1864 and end in late March 1865. They cover the period during which the
army marched across Georgia, up through South Carolina and across North
To create the setting for the events described in the diary, reference
should be made to a map on which the route from Cartersville to Savannah can
easily be traced. Even a modern highway map can be used. For while some
place names have disappeared in the last 100 years, enough remain to pin
point the route. After the capture of Atlanta on September 1864,
Confederate General Hood started for Tennessee by way of Florence, Alabama
in an effort to distract Sherman from the over-all course of strategy that
had been agreed upon between him and General Grant who was then in
Virginia. Sherman divided his forces and sent Schofield's army and Thomas's
army north from Atlanta under the command of General Thomas to deal with
Hood. He, himself, turned his back on his regular lines of supply, cut loose
from his base, and prepared to march from Atlanta to the sea -- one of the
boldest and most imaginative strokes of the Civil War or any other war for
For the march, Major General William T. Sherman's army consisted of
60,000 infantry and 5500 cavalry. The infantry were organized into two
wings, the right wing commanded by Major General O. O. Howard contained the
XVII Corps and the XV Corps. The left wing commanded by Major General Henry
W. Slocum was composed of the XX Corps and the XIV Corps. The XX Corps was
a relatively new organization made up of the veteran soldiers from the old
XI and XII Corps who were combined into one unit and brought west after
Gettysburg. The XIV Corps commanded by Brevet Major General Jefferson
C. Davis was composed of three divisions. The second division commanded by
Brigadier General Morgan was the one in which my grandfather served. The
cavalry division was composed of two brigades and was commanded by Brigadier
General Judson Kilpatrick.
During the major part of the march, Sherman and his headquarters moved
with the XIV Corps, and General Slocum moved with the XX Corps. Since it is
natural that the descriptions of the march should coincide largely with the
activities of the commanding general, it is easy to identify many place names
and events mentioned in the diary from other historical descriptions of the
march. The General Foster referred
to in the last paragraph of the diary was Major General Foster who served as
the departmental commander for land forces on the south Atlantic coast.
After his discharge in the early Summer of 1865 with the rank of
Major, James L. Orr returned to Evansville. We can well imagine what were
his activities in the next few months, because on 31 October 1865 he was
married to Kate Ann Howes, daughter of Lewis
Howes, a wholesale grocer of Evansville and Memphis, Tennessee. He was
active all his life in G.A.R., memorials, parades, and meetings. He died in
February 1919 at the age of 80.
This day about 11 o'clock the last train north on the Georgia R. R.
left for Chattanooga and R. R. connection with U. S. was thus severed. The
telegraph operator took out his instruments & left early in the a.m. At 12
Gen. Sherman arrived -- hitched on his pocket instrument & probably that may
be the last link binding us to the north. We are now adrift for a great
raid. But whither? Quien sabe? Fair.
Nov. 13 Sunday
The Division moved at 6 a.m. across the Etowah River and began the
work of destroying the railroad. About 7 miles was assigned as our task.
The work was thoroughly performed -- ties torn up, placed in piles with the
rails on them and fired. Army of the Tenn. near Marietta and 20th Corps at
Atlanta. Iron twisted and bent. On this Sabbath day forty five miles of
railroad from Cartersville to Atlanta was entirely destroyed. Bridge over
Chattahoochie burned. Camped at Acworth. Cartersville, Cassville, Acworth
burned all buildings of value to the enemy. Fair.
Nov. 14 Monday
Division moved at 6 a.m. to march as far as possible, expect to camp
at Chattahoochie River. I left it at big shanty and pushed forward to
Atlanta. Glad to get back to my own ranch -- absent 42 days. Fair.
Nov. 15 Tuesday
Troops came in about 2 p.m. Loaded on train this morning. Many
buildings had been already destroyed. Today the work of destruction
recommenced and all the business part of the city burned. R.R. depot
completely demolished. To bring it down a ram was extemporized by fitting a
bar of railroad iron to a frame and thus knocking out corner and lower
portion of the building until the whole came down with a crash. Frequent
explosions during the conflagration probably shells thrown by the Yanks,
which had penetrated building without bursting. Fair.
Nov. 16 Wednesday
Ordered to move at 11 a.m. Delayed by trains. Marched at 12:30.
Through Decatur to a dark camp. Marched 10 miles. Fair.
Nov. 17 Thursday
Marched at 7 a.m. Through Lithonia to Conyers Station on line of
Augusta R.R. Our troops destroyed 3 miles of the road. Camped at Conyers.
Marched 20 miles. Fair.
Nov. 18 Friday
Marched at 6 a.m. At Covington went again to work on the railroad.
Destroyed 4 miles. Other troops also at it. Crossed Yellow River and
camped on one of its tributaries. Marched 15 miles. Fair.
Nov. 19 Saturday
Moved at 6 a.m. Passing 1st Div. obtained the advance. Marched 19
Nov. 20 Sunday
Marched at 6 a.m. Camped at 4 p.m. at Eatonton Factory on Little
River. Factory burned. Ran the mill all night. Got 120 bush. meal. Rain.
Marched 15 miles in advance.
Nov. 21 Monday
Marched at 6 a.m. down west bank of Little River on Milledgeville
Road. Much rain, roads bad. Trains delayed and troops make the march with
difficulty. Marched 12 miles in advance. Rain nearly all day. Issued 3
days coffee, sugar and salt. Men are foraging for potatoes, chickens, hogs,
etc. and having abundance of every thing.
Nov. 22 Tuesday
In camp on Cedar Creek 16 miles from Milledgeville. 3rd and 1st
Divisions passed by us. 2nd Division will have the rear tomorrow. Weather
changed during the night. Heavy frost this morning, and today cold and
windy but no rain.
Nov. 23 Wednesday
Marched at 6 a.m. soon struck rear of 1st Div. train and were delayed
by it all day. Weather cold but clear. Camped 1 1/2 miles west of
Milledgeville, which is our possession without opposition. Marched 14
Nov. 24 Thursday
Marched at 10 a.m. following 1st Division. Through Milledgeville
which is a meanly built town of perhaps 2000 inhabitants. No importance
whatever except as State capitol, State house is on a fine site, large
ordinary looking building, slate color stucco. Penitentiary and arsenal
burned by us. Camped about 8 miles east of Milledgeville. Marched 10
Nov. 25 Friday
Marched at 6 a.m. passed 1st Division in advance. Rebs burned bridge
over Buffalo Creek, narrow but deep stream in a swamp. Had to throw over a
pontoon bridge. Delay. Marched 13 miles. Fair.
Nov. 26 Saturday
Moved at 6 a.m. in advance. Found enemy's cavalry near
Sandersville. Some skirmishing. We lost one killed and two wounded. Camped
at noon on the south east side of town. March 10 miles. Fair. Saw Spanish
Nov. 27, Sunday
2nd and 3rd Div. moved at daylight on the Louisville Road. All the
trains of the corps protected by the 1st Division ordered to Davisboro.
Owing to delayed march of 1st Division head of the train did not move till
about 1 o'clock. Order was as follows: 1st Div. corps, hdqtrs. & artillery,
ammunition, pontoons, 3rd Div., 2nd Div. cavalry trains. I went with
trains. 2nd Div. train reached camp about 7 1/2 p.m. Moved 8 miles. Fair.
Nov. 28 Monday
Ordered to move at daylight. Uncertainty about the road delayed us.
Our train was on the road about 9 a.m. Went through Davisboro found troops
there destroying the railroad. Camped on Ogeechee River. March 14 miles.
Nov. 29 Tuesday
At our crossing of the Ogeechee there is an extensive swamp, through
which a causeway had been thrown up to afford passage for the water of a
freshet, seven openings were left in the causeway spanned by bridges. The
rebels had burned all of these making, with the one over the river, eight
bridges destroyed within 3/4 of a mile. A road was made by corduroying the
swamp with rail and debris of the bridges, to pass trains. Moved about 3
miles to Louisville and there parked trains. Our troops camped at
Louisville last night. Holtum missing. Fair.
Nov. 30 Wednesday
The corps in camp about Louisville. No movement. Holtum brought in
December 1, Thursday
2nd Div. with trains of corps hdqtrs. 3rd Div. and our own arrived
at noon on the Milledgeville Road. 3rd Div. to our right supporting
cavalry, 1st Div. on another road, towards R.R. I believe. March 10 miles.
Dec. 2 Friday
Moved at 6 a.m. on Millen Road. 1st Div. joined us on a road
intersecting ours from the right and took the advance. Camp on Buckhead
Creek. March 12 miles. Fair.
Dec. 3 Saturday
Moved at 7 a.m. 1st Div. in advance. 20th Corps being on our front,
had to take another road. Swamp bridges burned. Pontoons put down. Camped
1 1/2 miles from Lumpkin Station. March 10 miles. Fair.
Moved at 5 1/2 a.m. Passed 1st Div. destroying Georgia R.R. near
Lumpkin. Through Habersham. March 15 miles. Fair.
Dec. 5 Monday
Moved at 6 1/2 a.m. on road towards Savannah River. Passed near
Jacksonboro, a mile south of it. 2nd Div. train in rear. All in camp by 8
p.m. Marched past three days through fine forests, crossing many small
swamps, requiring corduroy and causing delay. 1st Div. behind us. Camp on
Buck Creek, 6 miles from S.C. March 16 miles. Fair.
Dec. 6 Tuesday
Moved at 6 1/2 a.m. on the "River Road" to Savannah 2nd Div. train
again in the rear. March 18 miles. Fair. Obstructions in the road by
felling trees across it. Saw sugar cane growing.
Dec. 7 Wednesday
Head of column moved at 6 1/2 a.m. 2nd Div. train again in the rear.
No opposition by the enemy except obstructions in the road and destroying
bridges. Camp near Ebenezer Creek 26 1/2 miles from Savannah. Saw a
butterfly today. March 16 miles. Fair. Disposition of the 14th Corps past
three days has been as follows: 2nd Div. with trains of 2nd and 3rd Div. and
corps ordnance and reserve artillery (19th Ind. Battery.) A brigade
marching with trains of each division and one with corps trains. 1st Div.
with its trains: 3rd Div. without transportation. Kilpatrick's cavalry.
Thus reversing the usual order and advancing backwards, trains being in
front and troops in the rear.
Dec. 8 Thursday
Troops moved about 3 miles clearing obstruction and pontooning big
and little Ebenezer Creeks. Rebels having destroyed the bridges. Tonight
everything will be placed between the two streams and tomorrow got into
shape, south of both. Rebel gunboat threw 3 or 4 shells from the Savannah
River to the road on which our trains were moving, by way of defiance and
steamed down the river. No opposition on hand. Shower last night. Fair.
Dec. 9 Friday
Troops moved about 7 a.m. 2nd and 1st Div. in advance of trains of
corps. Small force of the enemy was encountered. They used artillery.
Lieut. Coe was killed by a 12 pd. Shell. March 7 miles. Fair. Camp on
Dr. Cuyler's plantation.
Dec. 10 Saturday
Enemy retired at dark last night. Troops moved at 7 a.m. About 10
miles from Savannah struck the column of 20th Corps moving in on Springfield
Road which intersected ours. Having reached the junction first, they took
the advance and the 14th Corps went into camp with some disgust. March 5
Dec. 11 Sunday
Troops moved at 6 1/2 a.m. and went into position on the right of the
20th Corps. Trains following. Ordered to the rear of the corps by a swamp
road. Had to corduroy it. Head of 1st Div. train stopped halfway over and
remained till morning. Other trains parked near main road. Ours on a rice
plantation near the river. 4 miles. Fair.
Train moved from Louisville Road to Milledgeville Road and parked 5
miles from Savannah. No move of our troops. 4 miles. Fair.
In camp. Fair. Visited rice plantation of Mr. Potter. 20th Corps
running the mill. Threshing and beating rice. Saw this operation for the
first time. Watered my horse in Savannah River. Yesterday two gunboats and
a transport or tender attempted to pass our batteries on the
river. Transport disabled and captured.
Wednesday Dec. 14
In camp. Fair. 2nd Div. 15th Corps yesterday assaulted and captured
Fort McAllister, on the Ogechee River, with its garrison and armament.
Communication opened with the fleet.
Dec. 15 Thursday
In camp. Fair.
Dec. 16 Friday
Train ordered to King's Bridge for supplies. Started at 5 a.m. and
parked at the bridge 9 o'clock. Nothing arrived yet. Two boats came
bringing mail and Gen. Foster.
Scarecely water enough in Ogeechee for the boats. They will have to be
lightened. Saw tide coming in and going out. Fair.
On a separate sheet of paper inserted into
the ledger is a very brief account of the army's march north from Savannah
across South Carolina and into North Carolina between February 8 and March
Right wing started from Beaufort up west bank of Edisto
River. Up Savannah to Sister's Crossing. Left Sister's February 8 --
struck Charleston and Augusta R.R., destroyed 30 miles to Aiken -- 16 from
Augusta. Cross Congaree-Saluda-Broad to point north of Columbia, through
Winnsboro destroying many miles of road from Columbia to Charlotte and
threatening Charlotte sufficiently to keep rebels in doubt as to whether we
were going that direction. Turned east and moved on to Great Pedee passing
to the north of Cheraw. Crossed 8 miles from Cheraw. Army of the
Tenn. occupied Cheraw -- said to have found many wealthy families there from
Charleston fled for safety from the Yanks. Then quit Fayetteville on Cape
Fear River to which point came a boat from Wilmington with very small amount
of supplies. Moved on towards Goldsboro, left wing making a demonstration
toward Raleigh and in swinging round to Goldsboro had pretty sharp fight on
the 19th (of March) a few miles west of Goldsboro. Right wing coming up to
support. Johnston wisely decided to leave -- he took to Raleigh. Whole
army then ordered to concentrate at Goldsboro where we now are.