Hood Leaves Georgia

October 17, 1864 – General John Bell Hood led his Confederate Army of Tennessee in a desperate attempt to pull the Federals out of Georgia while trying to regain Tennessee and Kentucky for the Confederacy.

Confederate General J.B. Hood | Image Credit: Flickr.com

Up to this time, Hood had directed his men to attack Major General William T. Sherman’s main Federal supply line, the Western & Atlantic Railroad, between Atlanta and Chattanooga. The Confederates moved east toward Resaca, hoping to force the Federals out of their defenses and into an open fight. But by the 12th, Sherman was still unsure of Hood’s location and intentions.

One of Hood’s corps under Lieutenant General Stephen D. Lee descended on the lightly guarded Federal garrison at Resaca that day. The garrison commander, Colonel Clark R. Wever, deployed skirmishers to hold off the Confederates long enough to bring up some reinforcements, giving him about 1,200 men. But he was still hopelessly outnumbered.

Lee delivered a message to Wever through the lines on Hood’s behalf:

“Sir: I demand an immediate and unconditional surrender of the post and garrison under your command, and should this be acceded to, all white officers and soldiers will be paroled within a few days. If the place is carried by assault no prisoners will be taken.”

Wever replied, “Your communication of this date just received. In reply I have to state that I am somewhat surprised at the concluding paragraph, to the effect that ‘If this place is carried by assault no prisoners will be taken.’ In my opinion I can hold this post; if you want it come and take it.”

Hood had instructed Lee to attack the Resaca garrison only if he was sure that he could capture it “with small loss of life.” Lee opted not to attack, later reporting:

“The commanding officer refused to surrender, as he could have easily escaped from the forts with his forces, and crossed the Oostanaula river; I did not deem it prudent to assault the works, which were strong and well manned, believing that our loss would have been severe.”

Although the Confederates did not capture the Federal garrison, they succeeded in compelling all nearby Federals to concentrate there. This left the railroad to the north open for destruction. Hood’s men worked their way up the railroad, seizing Tunnel Hill along the way before arriving in front of the Federal garrison at Dalton on the 13th.

The Federal commander at Dalton, Colonel Lewis Johnson, was given the same surrender ultimatum as Wever. But for Johnson, the situation was more dangerous because not only was his garrison much smaller than Wever’s, but it was manned by black troops who would most likely be either killed or sent into slavery if captured. Johnson replied, “I cannot surrender the troops under my command, whatever the consequences may be.”

Skirmishing ensued as two Confederate corps came up to surround the fort. Johnson met with Hood and, after vainly protesting against Hood’s threat of no quarter, reported, “I surrendered the command as prisoners of war between 3 and 4 p.m. under conditions that the men were to be treated humanely, officers and white soldiers to be paroled, officers to retain their swords and such private property as they could carry.” Hood told Johnson that the black troops would be enslaved, despite Johnson’s protests and threats of Federal retaliation. Johnson wrote:

“Although assured by General Hood in person that the terms of the agreement should be strictly observed, my men, especially the colored soldiers, were immediately robbed and abused in a terrible manner. The treatment of the officers of my regiment exceeded anything in brutality I have ever witnessed, and a General Bate distinguished himself especially by meanness and beastly conduct.”

Some of the black troops were murdered, while the rest were sent into slavery, regardless of whether they had been slaves before joining the Federal army.

Meanwhile, the bulk of Sherman’s forces moved northeast from Rome to confront Hood. They reached Resaca on the 14th and then turned north toward Dalton. Major General Oliver O. Howard’s Army of the Tennessee was on the Federal left (west) while Major General David S. Stanley’s Army of the Cumberland was on the right. Major General Jacob D. Cox’s XXIII Corps from the Army of the Ohio was in reserve.

Howard intended to move through Snake Creek Gap on the 15th and turn Hood’s right. However, as Howard reported, “The enemy’s force was so small that a simple threat upon his right flank as if to turn it caused him to abandon the position and run over the ridge and through the gap.” The Federals pursued, slowed by felled trees in their path, until nightfall.

The Confederates fell back to La Fayette. Hood had succeeded in pulling Sherman out of Atlanta, but now two Federal forces opposed him from opposite directions: Sherman’s to the south and Major General George H. Thomas’s to the north. If Hood was going to fight Sherman as he told his superiors he would do, he needed to do it before Sherman and Thomas joined forces.

Hood called a council of war with his top commanders, who shocked him by voicing opposition to fighting a major battle. Hood contended that his “forward movement of 100 miles,” had given the troops “confidence, enthusiasm, and hope of victory.” Regardless, the “opinion was unanimous that although the army was much improved in spirit, it was not in a condition to risk battle against the numbers reported.”

The Confederates would not fight, but they could not stay where they were either. Therefore, Hood “conceived the plan of marching into Tennessee with a hope to establish our line eventually in Kentucky, and determined to make the campaign which followed, unless withheld by General (P.G.T.) Beauregard (his immediate superior) or the authorities at Richmond.” Hood hoped that this would force Sherman to leave Georgia and chase him down.

The Army of Tennessee moved west toward Gaylesville, across the Alabama state line. From there, Hood looked to establish a supply base at Gadsden before heading north into Tennessee. Hood did not know that Sherman had already received permission to destroy the railroad (which Hood did for him), halt the pursuit, and turn south for the Atlantic coast.

—–

References

CivilWarDailyGazette.com; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 475-76; 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 12862-72, 12925-35; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 509-10; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 584; Nevin, David, Sherman’s March: Atlanta to the Sea (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 29-32

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