Ebenezer Creek happened on December 9, 1864. General Sherman was already towards the end of his March to the Sea, and was only twenty miles from his final destination of Savannah, Georgia. Slaves followed Sherman's army throughout his march from Atlanta despite the fact that Sherman's army could not support a large following. One of the reasons for this following was the exchange of food for slaves for their servitude with the Union Army, which included cooking and manual labor. Due to the increasing scarcity of food, Sherman urged the freed men to stay behind. Many freed slaves turned around. However, on this particular day, an estimated 670 freed men, women and children were on the march with Sherman's army and were stranded.
Jefferson C. Davis of XIV Corps made the decision to abandon the following. Davis' units crossed the pontoons first, leaving the freed men on the other side. Then the order was given, and Davis' last regiment, the 58th Indiana, blocked the former slaves from getting on the pontoon. Davis tricked the former slaves into thinking that their being held back at first was for their own safety, making them think that they would be safe in the back in case a fight should happen in front. It was under these pretenses that the line was cut and the pontoon made it to the other side of the icy water about thirty to forty yards away.
It was at this moment that cavalrymen of Major General Joseph Wheeler of the Confederates came to the side of the creek where the slaves had been abandoned. Many dived into the river trying to swim across and drowned, while others were shot in a brief attack. Davis' men left as soon as Major General Wheeler's men were in sight. After the initial attack, Confederate cavalrymen left to find another way around the river; they later came back to capture those who were left behind.
Many blamed the incident on Davis, but General Sherman stated in his memoirs that Davis was just being a soldier. But at the same time General Sherman and other soldiers admitted Davis' hostility and his apparent racism to the former slaves. The Tragedy at Ebenezer Creek would remain synonymous with Davis' actions.