October 9, 1864 – General John Bell Hood’s Confederates continued harassing the Federal supply lines in hopes of pulling Major General William T. Sherman’s forces out of Georgia.
After the Battle of Allatoona, Major General Samuel G. French’s Confederate division rejoined Hood’s Army of Tennessee stationed around Dallas, Georgia. Despite failing to seize the warehouses at Allatoona, Hood still hoped to wreak enough havoc on the Federal supply line to force Sherman into an open battle. Hood’s Confederates wrecked several miles of track on the Western & Atlantic Railroad between Atlanta and Chattanooga.
Sherman, headquartered on Kennesaw Mountain, still could not determine whether Hood intended to move north toward Chattanooga or south to try taking back Atlanta. He had left XX Corps under Major General Henry W. Slocum at Atlanta while moving the rest of his forces north along the Western & Atlantic to hunt Hood down.
On the 7th, Federal scouts reported that the Confederates in the Dallas area were gone. Sherman warned Slocum that Hood might have “gone off south” to attack him, but he concluded, “I cannot guess his movements as I could those of (former Confederate commander Joseph E.) Johnston, who was a sensible man and only did sensible things.” Sherman learned later that day that Hood was actually moving north.
After a day-long rain delay, the Federals arrived at Allatoona on the 9th. By that time, Hood’s Confederates were crossing the Coosa River and heading west toward Alabama. Hood had abandoned the plan to draw Sherman into a battle, explaining to his superiors at Richmond that the raid on the railroad had been so successful that no battle was needed. Instead, he wrote that if Sherman pursued him, “I shall move on his rear,” and if Sherman went south instead, “I shall move to the Tennessee River via La Fayette and Gadsden.”
Hood described his plan in greater detail to General P.G.T. Beauregard, who met with him at Cave Spring near the Alabama line on the 9th. Beauregard had recently been appointed to head the new Military Division of the West, overseeing both Hood’s army and General Richard Taylor’s in Louisiana. President Jefferson Davis hoped that Beauregard could offer some much-needed guidance for Hood. However, since he had not yet formally assumed command, this meeting was unofficial.
Hood explained that he planned to continue raiding Sherman’s supply lines, drawing him out of Atlanta and fighting him if the opportunity presented itself. If Sherman refused to come out and fight, Hood would raid the Federal lines indefinitely. Beauregard was not satisfied with this vague plan, but since he was not yet Hood’s superior, he could not reject it.
Beauregard advised that even though he was not “sufficiently well acquainted with the nature of the country,” Hood should not “carry out the first project (i.e., giving Sherman battle)” if Sherman concentrated his forces. Hood agreed, and both commanders resolved not to fight Sherman “unless with positive advantage on our side of numbers and position, or unless the safety of the army required it.”
The next day, Hood began moving his troops northeast toward Rome, on the Etowah River. Sherman responded by sending Federals to Kingston, 15 miles east of Rome. He expected Hood to head west, where Major General George H. Thomas’s Federals at Chattanooga could deal with him. But Hood instead planned to continue moving northeast to wreck the Western & Atlantic Railroad between Resaca and Dalton.
Sherman wanted nothing to do with chasing down Hood’s Confederates. He had urged Lieutenant General Ulysses S. Grant, the overall Federal commander, to let him instead head south through Georgia to the Atlantic coast. Grant (and more importantly, President Abraham Lincoln) did not want to approve such a risky plan so close to the presidential election. But Sherman persisted, writing Grant again on the 11th:
“I would infinitely prefer to make a wreck of the (rail)road and of the country from Chattanooga to Atlanta, including the latter city, send back all my wounded and worthless, and, with my effective army, move through Georgia, smashing things to the sea… Instead of being on the defensive, I would be on the offensive; instead of guess at what he means to do, he would have to guess at my plans. The difference in war would be fully 25 percent… Answer quick, as I know we will not have the telegraph long.”
While waiting for Grant’s response, Sherman began concentrating his forces at Rome and bolstering the garrison at Resaca, even though he still did not yet know that Hood was targeting both Resaca and Dalton. Grant replied the next day:
“On reflection I think better of your proposition. It will be much better to go south than to be forced to come north… If you are satisfied the trip to the sea-coast can be made, holding the line of the Tennessee firmly, you may make it, destroying all the railroad south of Dalton or Chattanooga, as you think best.”
Grant advised that if he went south, he should bring “every wagon, horse, mule, and hoof of stock, as well as the Negroes,” and take any extra arms and “put them in the hands of Negro men” to defend themselves in the hostile country. Sherman was elated to receive Grant’s approval. But before he could go south, he would have to deal with Hood.
CivilWarDailyGazette.com; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 470, 472-73; Faust, Patricia L., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 814; Foote, Shelby, The Civil War: A Narrative: Volume 3: Red River to Appomattox (Vintage Civil War Library, Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, Kindle Edition, 2011), Loc 12852-72, 12904-24; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 508; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 582; Nevin, David, Sherman’s March: Atlanta to the Sea (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 18, 27-29