Category Archives: Georgia

Georgia: Planning Upcoming Operations

September 20, 1864 – Major General William T. Sherman wrote a long letter to Lieutenant General Ulysses S. Grant offering ideas on what the Federals should focus on next.

Maj Gen W.T. Sherman | Image Credit: CivilWarDailyGazette.com

As General John Bell Hood’s Confederate Army of Tennessee continued regrouping, Federal forces herded the civilians out of Atlanta and Sherman looked to the future. He wrote Grant, “The exodus of people is progressing and matters coming into shape.” Grant allowed Sherman a few days to clear the city out, but then he wrote that it was “desirable that another campaign should be commenced… We want to keep the enemy constantly pressed to the end of the war. If we give him no peace while the war lasts, the end cannot be distant.”

Grant had hoped that Major General E.R.S. Canby, commanding the Federal Trans-Mississippi region, could send troops east to reinforce Sherman in Georgia. However, Major General Sterling Price’s Confederate incursion into Missouri prevented that. Instead, Grant proposed sending one of his staff officers to Sherman’s headquarters, “not so much to suggest operations for you as to get your views and have plans matured by the time everything can be ready.”

Sherman responded on the 20th with a long letter in which he offered his views on not only the Georgia situation but all others as well. He expressed hope that Grant would soon capture Petersburg, and he wrote that overall, “We ought to ask our country for the largest possible armies that can be raised, as so important a thing as the ‘self-existence of a great nation’ should not be left to the fickle chances of war.”

Regarding Grant’s idea of capturing the vital blockade-running seaport of Wilmington, North Carolina, Sherman wrote, “If (David G.) Farragut can get across the bar, and the move can be made quick, I suppose it will succeed.” If that happened, the fleet could then move to capture Savannah. If the Federal navy captured Savannah, Sherman stated that he “would not hesitate to cross the State of Georgia with 60,000 men, hauling some stores and depending on the country for the balance.”

Sherman wrote, “Where a million of people live my army won’t starve, but as you know, in a country like Georgia, with few roads and innumerable streams, an inferior force could so delay an army and harass it that it would not be a formidable object.” If the navy held Savannah, “I could rapidly move to Milledgeville, where there is abundance of corn and meat, and would so threaten Macon and Augusta that he would give up Macon for Augusta; then I would move to interpose between Augusta and Savannah, and force him to give me Augusta, with the only powder mills and factories remaining in the South, or let us have the Savannah River.”

According to Sherman, he could “start east and make a circuit south and back (to Atlanta), doing vast damage to the State.” This would “hold a rod over the Georgians who are not overloyal to the South.” However, Sherman also wrote, “The more I study the game the more am I convinced that it would be wrong for me to penetrate much farther into Georgia without an objective beyond.”

This “objective beyond” involved Canby being “reenforced to the maximum; that after you get Wilmington, you strike for Savannah and the (Savannah) River; that General Canby be instructed to hold the Mississippi River and send a force to get Columbus, Ga., either by the way of the Alabama or the Appalachicola, and that I keep Hood employed, and put my army in fine order for a march on Augusta, Columbia, and Charleston, to be ready as soon as Wilmington is sealed as to commence, and the city of Savannah is in our possession.” Sherman concluded:

“The possession of the Savannah River is more than fatal to the possibility of a Southern independence; they may stand the fall of Richmond, but not of all Georgia… If you can whip Lee and I can march to the Atlantic, I think Uncle Abe will give us a 20 days’ leave of absence to see the young folks.”

Grant was doubtful because he envisioned the Federal navy focusing on Wilmington, and considering that it had not been able to capture Charleston, he did not think it could capture Savannah. Also, a march of the kind that Sherman proposed had not been done since General Winfield Scott abandoned his supply base at Veracruz and moved inland to capture Mexico City 17 years earlier. Such a move was risky then and would be riskier now. The strategy discussion would continue.

Gen J.B. Hood | Image Credit: Wikipedia.org

On the Confederate side, Hood’s Confederates remained at Lovejoy’s Station, 20 miles south of Atlanta, where Hood hoped to retake the offensive. However, he was still without his main cavalry force, which had gone north in August to unsuccessfully disrupt Sherman’s supply line. This had left Hood without adequate reconnaissance at a time when he needed it most.

Led by Major General Joseph Wheeler, the cavalry ended their raid early this month in northern Alabama. Wheeler reported that his men had “averaged 25 miles a day (and) swam or forded 27 rivers.” They seized “1,000 horses and mules, 200 wagons, 600 prisoners, and 1,700 head of beef cattle” while they “captured, killed, or wounded three times the greatest effective strength it has ever been able to carry into action.”

However, Federal repair crews quickly fixed the railroad tracks that Wheeler’s men had wrecked, and Sherman experienced no supply problems. And Wheeler ended up in Alabama, where he could do little good for Hood’s army at Lovejoy’s Station. Also, Georgia Governor Joseph E. Brown granted furloughs to all state militia “to return to their homes and look for a time after other important interests.” This left Hood even more shorthanded.

But Hood resolved to go on the offensive regardless. On the 21st, he began moving his Confederates to Palmetto, 20 miles west. This put them southwest of Atlanta, where they could easily move north and destroy Sherman’s supply and communication lines. Hood explained his reasoning to his superiors at Richmond, “Sherman is weaker now than he will be in the future, and I as strong as I can expect to be.”

The move also blocked Sherman from getting to the Federal prisoner of war camp at Andersonville in southwestern Georgia. Confederate officials had long feared that the 30,000 inmates there could be freed to reinforce Sherman’s army. Those officials did not know that the prisoners were too emaciated for service. In late September, Confederate officials began transferring the Andersonville inmates to a prison in Florida to better guard against a Federal breakout attempt.

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References

Castel, Albert, Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 819; CivilWarDailyGazette.com; 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 10881-901, 12672-93, 12872-92; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 495; Nevin, David, Sherman’s March: Atlanta to the Sea (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 15-16, 19

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The Atlanta Evacuation

September 7, 1864 – Major General William T. Sherman, commanding the Federal armies now occupying Atlanta, made the controversial decision to force all residents out of their city.

General John Bell Hood, commanding the Confederate Army of Tennessee, was on the Macon & Western Railroad, about 20 miles south of Atlanta and 15 miles south of Rough and Ready, when he received a message from Sherman:

“I have deemed it to the interest of the United States that the citizens now residing in Atlanta should remove, those who prefer it to go South and the rest North. For the latter I can provide food and transportation to point of their election in Tennessee, Kentucky, or farther north. For the former I can provide transportation by cars as far as Rough and Ready, and also wagons; but that their removal may be made with as little discomfort as possible it will be necessary for you to help the families from Rough and Ready to the cars at Lovejoy’s.”

Federal Maj Gen W.T. Sherman | Image Credit: collaborationnation.wikispaces.com

Federal forces had occupied several cities in the Confederacy during the war, but this marked the first time that a Federal commander ordered all civilians out, including even those loyal to the U.S. In his memoirs, Sherman explained, “I was resolved to make Atlanta a pure military garrison or depot, with no civil population to influence military measures.”

Sherman offered to help residents (regardless of their sympathies) move their “clothing, trunks, reasonable furniture, bedding, &c., with their servants, white and black, with the proviso that no force shall be used toward the blacks one way or the other.” Unlike most other Federal occupation commanders, Sherman gave the slaves a choice: “If they want to go with their masters or mistresses they may do so, otherwise they will be set away, unless they be men, when they may be employed by our quartermaster.”

Evacuating Atlanta’s civilians would involve displacing 446 families totaling about 1,600 people, most of whom were elderly, infirmed, women or children. Most able-bodied men in these families were off either serving in the Confederate army, languishing in Federal prison camps, or killed. Forcing these people out violated Sherman’s pledge to city officials on the 2nd to respect the lives and property of noncombatants.

The next day, Sherman issued Special Field Order No. 67, declaring that “the city of Atlanta, being exclusively required for warlike purposes, will at once be evacuated by all except the armies of the United States.” Atlanta Mayor James M. Calhoun wrote Sherman explaining that turning out the sick and aged just before winter would be “appalling and heartrending.”

Sherman responded to the mayor and city council, “I give full credit to your statements of the distress that will be occasioned by it, and yet shall not revoke my order, because my orders are not designed to meet the humanities of the case, but to prepare for the future struggle.” He went on:

“You cannot qualify war in harsher terms than I will. War is cruelty and you cannot refine it; and those who brought war into our country deserve all the curses and maledictions a people can pour out… You might as well appeal against the thunder storm as against these terrible hardships of war… They are inevitable, and the only way the people of Atlanta can hope once more to live in peace and quiet at home, is to stop the war… Now you must go, and take with you your old and feeble, feed and nurse them, and build for them, in more quiet places, proper habitations to shield them against the weather until the mad passions of men cool down and allow the Union and peace once more to settle over your old homes at Atlanta.”

Sherman then issued a congratulatory order to his soldiers, praising them for capturing Atlanta and completing “the grand task which has been assigned us by our Government.” However, this order failed to note that the real grand task assigned–destroying Hood’s army–had not been achieved, as that Confederate force remained a threat in the area.

On the 9th, Hood replied to Sherman’s message: “I do not consider that I have any alternative in this matter. I therefore accept your proposition to declare a truce for two days, or such time as may be necessary to accomplish the purpose mentioned, and shall render all assistance in my power to expedite the transportation of citizens in this direction.” But then Hood vented his rage over Sherman’s punitive order:

“And now, sir, permit me to say that the unprecedented measure you propose transcends, in studied and ingenious cruelty, all acts ever before brought to my attention in the dark history of war. In the name of God and humanity, I protest, believing that you will find that you are expelling from their homes and firesides the wives and children of a brave people.”

Sherman replied that Joseph E. Johnston, Hood’s predecessor, had “very wisely and properly, removed the families all the way from Dalton down, and I see no reason why Atlanta should be excepted.” Sherman also alleged that Hood had “burned dwellings along your parapet, and I have seen today 50 houses that you have rendered uninhabitable because they stood in the way of your forts and men. You defended Atlanta on a line so close to town that every cannon shot and many musket shots from our line of investment that overshot their mark went into the habitations of women and children.” Hood angrily answered:

“I feel no other emotion than pain in reading that portion of your letter which attempts to justify your shelling of Atlanta without notice… You came into our country, with your army avowedly for the purpose of subjugating free white men, women and children, and not only intend to rule over them, but you make negroes your allies and desire to place over us an inferior race, which we have raised from barbarism to its present position, which is the highest ever attained by that race in any country in all time.

“To this my reply is, for myself, and, I believe, for all the true men, ay, and women and children in my country, we will fight you to the death. Better die a thousand deaths than submit to live under you or your Government and your negro allies.”

Sherman, who shared much of Hood’s opinion on the inferiority of blacks, argued that “not a single negro soldier left Chattanooga with this army or is with it now.” He ended his last letter, “This is the conclusion of our correspondence, which I did not begin, and terminate with satisfaction.”

The truce began on the 11th and lasted 10 days. During that time, all of Atlanta’s civilian population was exiled. The Federals prohibited wagons, so the people could only take with them what they could carry. Many were robbed of those few possessions before they reached Confederate lines. Occupation forces seized the valuables left behind.

Sherman wrote, “If the people raise a howl against my barbarity and cruelty, I will answer that war is war and not popularity-seeking.” Sherman’s policy of “total war,” which included targeting civilians and destroying cities, made him the most hated man in the South.

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References

CivilWarDailyGazette.com; Davis, Jefferson, The Rise and Fall of the Confederate Government: All Volumes (Heraklion Press, Kindle Edition 2013, 1889), Loc 20956; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 456; 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 12619-50; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 494-95; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 567-69; Nevin, David, Sherman’s March: Atlanta to the Sea (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 15; White, Howard Ray, Bloodstains, An Epic History of the Politics that Produced and Sustained the American Civil War and the Political Reconstruction that Followed (Southernbooks, Kindle Edition, 2012), Q364

 

The Fall of Atlanta: Aftermath

September 5, 1864 – Major General William T. Sherman’s three Federal armies regrouped after capturing Atlanta, allowing General John Bell Hood’s Confederate Army of Tennessee to escape.

Sherman and staff outside Atlanta | Image Credit: Wikipedia.org

Elements of Sherman’s armies continued probing the enemy positions at Lovejoy’s Station, southeast of Atlanta on the Macon & Western Railroad. After some feeble skirmishing, Sherman recalled his troops to Atlanta, leaving Hood’s army demoralized but not destroyed. Sherman arrayed his armies:

  • Major General George H. Thomas’s Army of the Cumberland held Atlanta itself.
  • Major General Oliver O. Howard’s Army of the Tennessee held the railroad junction at East Point, southwest of Atlanta.
  • Major General John Schofield’s Army of the Ohio held Decatur, east of Atlanta.

Sherman distributed Special Field Order No. 64 to his troops: “The army having accomplished its undertaking in the complete reduction and occupation of Atlanta will occupy the place and the country near it until a new campaign is planned in concert with the other grand armies of the United States.” Sherman’s official mission was to destroy Hood’s army, but he instead opted to give his men “a period of repose” after they had moved nearly 130 miles through the rugged Georgia mountains.

Gen J.B. Hood | Image Credit: Wikipedia.org

For the Confederates, Hood delivered his official report on the past days’ activity to his superiors at Richmond:

“On the evening of the 30th the enemy made a lodgment across Flint River, near Jonesborough. We attacked them on the evening of the 31st with two corps, failing to dislodge them. This made it necessary to abandon Atlanta, which was done on the night of September 1. Our loss on the evening of the 31st was so small that it is evident that our effort was not a vigorous one. On the evening of September 1 General (William) Hardee’s corps, in position at Jonesborough, was assaulted by a superior force of the enemy, and being outflanked was forced to withdraw during the night to this point, with the loss of 8 pieces of artillery.”

Hood blamed the loss of Atlanta on Hardee because his two corps did not launch an all-out attack on the 31st, when he outnumbered the Federal force opposing him. Hardee countered by reporting:

“The fate of Atlanta was sealed from the moment when General Hood allowed an enemy superior in numbers to pass unmolested around his flank and plant himself firmly upon his only line of railroad. If, after the enemy reached Jonesborough, General Hood had attacked him with his whole army instead of with a part of it, he could not reasonably have expected to drive from that position an army before which his own had been for four months retiring in the open field.”

Turning back to Sherman, Hood warned that “the enemy will not content himself with Atlanta, but will continue offensive movements.” For this reason, he wanted to take the fight to Sherman as soon as possible. But without reinforcements, he decided “to draw Sherman back into the mountains, then beat him in battle, and at least regain our lost territory.”

On the 6th, Hood reported that Sherman’s troops had fallen back into Atlanta. Regarding his own forces, Hood wrote, “I am making, and shall still make, every possible effort to gather the absentees of this army. Shoes and clothing are much needed.” He still looked to take the offensive, requesting reinforcements from Lieutenant General Richard Taylor in Louisiana and asking that the Federal prisoners at Andersonville be relocated before Sherman liberated them. He also continued voicing resentment at the fall of Atlanta:

“According to all human calculations we should have saved Atlanta had the officers and men of the army done what was expected of them. It has been God’s will for it to be otherwise. I am of good heart and feel that we shall yet succeed. The army is much in need of a little rest.”

For the future, Hood wrote, “After removing the prisoners from Andersonville, I think we should, as soon as practicable, place our army upon the communications of the enemy, drawing our supplies from the West Point and Montgomery Railroad. Looking to this, I shall at once proceed to strongly fortify Macon.”

Hood looked to resupply his army at Macon, 80 miles southeast of Atlanta, and then swing west to move around Sherman into Alabama or even Chattanooga. He refused to acknowledge that his men were demoralized, or that the loss of Atlanta meant a shortage of food and munitions for his army.

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References

Bailey, Ronald H., The Battles for Atlanta: Sherman Moves East (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 154-55; CivilWarDailyGazette.com; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 453; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 565-66; Nevin, David, Sherman’s March: Atlanta to the Sea (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 14

The Fall of Atlanta

September 3, 1864 – Major General William T. Sherman received official confirmation that his Federals had captured the vital industrial and railroad city of Atlanta.

Federal Maj Gen W.T. Sherman | Image Credit: collaborationnation.wikispaces.com

The fires and explosions caused by Confederates evacuating from Atlanta continued into the early morning of the 2nd. Sherman, the overall Federal commander, ordered his forces south of town to renew their attack on Lieutenant General William Hardee’s isolated Confederate corps on the Macon & Western Railroad. However, the Federals learned that Hardee had withdrawn southeastward, linking with the rest of General John Bell Hood’s Army of Tennessee at Lovejoy’s Station.

Major General John Schofield, commanding the Federal Army of the Ohio, informed Sherman at 10:25 a.m. that a black resident had just reported that the Confederates were leaving Atlanta “in great confusion and disorder.” Sherman initially doubted the report, opting instead to confront the Confederates at Lovejoy’s.

During this time, Major General Henry W. Slocum, commanding the lone Federal corps still north of Atlanta, directed part of his force to enter the city after hearing the explosions throughout the morning. Mayor James M. Calhoun consulted with city officials before they rode out under white flags to confer with the advancing Federals.

Calhoun met the lead division commander and declared, “Sir, the fortunes of war have placed the city of Atlanta in your hands. As mayor of the city I ask protection for noncombatants and private property.” Calhoun and the Atlanta delegation surrendered the city at 11 a.m.

The Federal commander passed the word back to Slocum and then led his troops into the city. They skirmished with Confederate stragglers, many of whom were drunk. Federal troops raised the U.S. flag over City Hall. Slocum entered Atlanta around 2 p.m. and telegraphed Washington, “General Sherman has taken Atlanta. The Twentieth Corps occupies the city.”

Slocum informed Sherman that Hood had retreated down the McDonough Road, east of the railroad, toward Macon. However, communications between Slocum and Sherman at Lovejoy’s were temporarily cut off, so Sherman was still unaware that Atlanta had fallen.

Lieutenant General Ulysses S. Grant, the overall Federal commander, replied to Slocum, “While you are cut off from communication with General Sherman, telegraph your situation daily to General (Henry W.) Halleck.” Sherman wrote Slocum that he was “very anxious to know the particulars of the capture of Atlanta… as we have rumors to the effect that you now occupy the city.”

The Federals below Atlanta probed the Confederate positions at Lovejoy’s but were strongly repulsed. Sherman notified Major General Oliver O. Howard, commanding the Federal Army of the Tennessee, “I do not wish to waste lives by an assault.”

He then informed Major General George H. Thomas, commanding the Army of the Cumberland, “Until we hear from Atlanta the exact truth, I do not care about your pushing your men against breastworks.” He urged Thomas to “destroy the railroad well up to your lines. As soon as I know positively that our troops are in Atlanta I will determine what to do.” At 11:30 that night, Sherman wrote Schofield, “Nothing positive from Atlanta, and that bothers me.”

Sherman finally received confirmation after midnight. He wired Halleck at 6 a.m. on the 3rd: “Atlanta is ours, and fairly won. I shall not push much farther in this raid, but in a day or so will move to Atlanta and give my men some rest.”

News of Atlanta’s capture sparked joyous celebrations throughout the North, along with 100-gun salutes in Washington and dozens of other cities. Grant ordered a 100-gun salute fired into the Confederate trenches under siege at Petersburg. Grant wrote to Sherman:

“I feel you have accomplished the most gigantic undertaking given to any general in this war, and with a skill and ability that will be acknowledged in history as not surpassed, if not unequalled. It gives me as much pleasure to record this in your favor as it would in favor of any living man, myself included.”

The New York Times exalted:

“Atlanta is ours. The foundries, furnaces, rolling-mills, machine-shops, laboratories and railroad repair-shops; the factories of cannon and small arms; of powder, cartridges and percussion caps; of gun carriages, wagons, ambulances, harnesses, shoes and clothing, which have been accumulated at Atlanta, are ours now.”

President Abraham Lincoln jubilantly issued a Proclamation of Thanksgiving and Prayer to be observed on Sunday the 5th for “the signal success that Divine Providence has recently vouchsafed to the operations of the United States fleet and army in the harbor of Mobile and in the reduction of Ft. Powell, Ft. Gaines, and Ft. Morgan… and the glorious achievements of the Army under Major General Sherman… resulting in the capture… of Atlanta.”

Taking Atlanta strengthened the Federal fighting spirit and immediately shifted momentum in the upcoming presidential election to Lincoln. Secretary of State William H. Seward predicted that Sherman and Rear Admiral David G. Farragut would defeat the Democrats, who had just met at their national convention in Chicago, by declaring that “Sherman and Farragut have knocked the bottom out of the Chicago platform.”

Conversely, the loss of Atlanta demoralized the South, and crucial industrial resources in the heart of Confederate territory were permanently lost. This virtually sealed the Confederacy’s fate. An editorial in the Richmond Enquirer stated that the disastrous loss of Atlanta came “in the very nick of time when a victory alone could save the party of Lincoln from irretrievable ruin… It will obscure the prospect of peace, late so bright. It will also diffuse gloom over the South.”

However, Sherman had not yet succeeded in his primary mission, which was to destroy the Army of Tennessee. The Federals continued probing Hood’s positions at Lovejoy’s Station but otherwise allowed the Confederates to regroup and concentrate.

Sherman’s four-month campaign had included nonstop maneuvering and fighting, during which the Federals had suffered nearly 35,000 casualties. This number was light due to Sherman’s expert flanking maneuvers. The Confederates lost roughly the same amount, but their losses were irreplaceable, and the Army of Tennessee was no longer an effective fighting force. Nevertheless, Hood resolved to fight on.

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References

Angle, Paul M., A Pictorial History of the Civil War Years (New York: Doubleday, 1967), p. 179-80; Bailey, Ronald H., The Battles for Atlanta: Sherman Moves East (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 147-48, 151-54; CivilWarDailyGazette.com; Crocker III, H.W., The Politically Incorrect Guide to the Civil War (Washington: Regnery Publishing, 2008), p. 83-84; Davis, Jefferson, The Rise and Fall of the Confederate Government: All Volumes (Heraklion Press, Kindle Edition 2013, 1889), Loc 20956; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 453; Donald, David Herbert, Lincoln (Simon & Schuster, Kindle Edition, 2011), Loc 11313; Foote, Shelby, The Civil War: A Narrative: Volume 3: Red River to Appomattox (Vintage Civil War Library, Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, Kindle Edition, 2011), Kindle Locations 11072-124, 11585-95; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 493; Goodwin, Doris Kearns, Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln (New York: Simon and Schuster, 2005), p. 654-55; Linedecker, Clifford L. (ed.), The Civil War A to Z (Ballantine Books, 2002), p. 22-23; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 564-66; Longacre, Edward G., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 29-30; McPherson, James M., Battle Cry of Freedom: The Civil War Era (Oxford History of the United States Book 6, Oxford University Press, Kindle Edition, 1988), p. 774; Nevin, David, Sherman’s March: Atlanta to the Sea (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 14; Ward, Geoffrey C., Burns, Ric, Burns, Ken, The Civil War (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1990), p. 329

The Battle of Jonesboro: Day Two

September 1, 1864 – After the heavy fighting the previous day, just one Confederate corps was left to face six Federal corps at Jonesboro, south of Atlanta on the Macon & Western Railroad.

General John Bell Hood, commanding the Confederate Army of Tennessee, feared that Major General William T. Sherman’s Federals were about to attack Atlanta. He therefore recalled Lieutenant General Stephen D. Lee’s corps from Jonesboro, about 10 miles south of the city. This left just Lieutenant General William Hardee’s corps still at Jonesboro to face six of Sherman’s seven corps.

The Confederates had outnumbered the Federals the previous day, but now the advantage was reversed. Hardee wrote to President Jefferson Davis, “Last night Lee’s corps was ordered back to Atlanta by General Hood. I recommended that he should evacuate Atlanta while it was practicable. He will be compelled to contract his lines, and the enemy has force enough to invest him. My instructions are to protect Macon.”

Davis, unaware that Hardee faced nearly Sherman’s entire force, responded, “If you can beat the detachment in front of you, and then march to join Hood, entire success might be hoped to result from the division which the enemy have made of his force.”

Hardee’s 13,000 exhausted men held defenses in front of the vital Macon & Western Railroad. There was a salient in the line, formed by Hardee’s right (north) division, which curled to the east. Two Confederate brigades held the apex of the salient.

Sherman did not realize that only Hardee’s men remained in his front until around 3 p.m. He then ordered XIV Corps to attack the salient, not waiting for IV Corps to come up in possible support. The Federals were to seize the railroad, which was the last Confederate supply line in and out of Atlanta. Rather than attack Hood in the city, Sherman intended to starve him out.

Battle map | Image Credit: CivilWarDailyGazette.com

Various delays prevented the Federals from advancing until around 5 p.m. The Confederates initially held firm, but then XV Corps came up to the right of XIV, and the Federals attacked both flanks and the salient at the same time. They decimated the two brigades, penetrated the line, and took hundreds of prisoners. IV Corps finally came up on the Federal left.

Combat at Jonesboro | Image Credit: Clio.com

Hardee rushed reinforcements to plug the gap in the line, and they held until sundown. This gave him enough time to withdraw the rest of his corps to Lovejoy’s Station, seven miles south. Had Sherman used his full strength, he might have destroyed Hardee’s corps. Nevertheless, the Federals seized the railroad, leaving Atlanta virtually defenseless.

Hood ordered his army to evacuate Atlanta. He initially planned to move north and attack Sherman’s supply line at Marietta, but then he opted to move south to Macon. This would keep his army between Sherman and the 30,000 Federal prisoners of war at Andersonville. Hood feared that these prisoners could be freed to join Sherman’s army, unaware that they were in no condition to give Sherman any help.

Lieutenant General Alexander P. Stewart’s corps led the movement, heading south to link with Hardee at Lovejoy’s. Lee’s corps, still at Rough and Ready en route back to Atlanta, reversed course and followed Stewart. The Federals sustained about 1,450 casualties in the two days of fighting around Jonesboro, while Confederate losses were not officially reported. According to Hood:

“On the night of the 1st of September we withdrew from Atlanta. A train of ordnance stores and some railroad stock had to be destroyed in consequence of the gross neglect of the chief quartermaster to obey the specific instructions given him touching their removal. He had ample time and means, and nothing whatever ought to have been lost.”

Major General Samuel French reported:

“There is confusion in the city, and some of the soldiers in the town are drunk. Common sense is wanted. The five heavy guns that I had ordered to be spiked by the rear guard at 11 p.m. were burned by order of the chief of ordnance at 5 p.m., a proclamation to the enemy in my front that we were evacuating the place. As soon as I started to leave the works some of Hood’s officers fired the ordnance trains. This should have been done the last of all, when the rear guard or pickets were withdrawn. Who would extinguish an ordnance train of bursting shells? So lighted by the glare of fires, flashes of powder, and bursting shells, I slowly left Atlanta, and at daylight on the morning of the 2nd we were not five miles out of the city.”

After midnight, Confederate cavalry comprising the rear guard burned supplies that could not be evacuated, including seven locomotives, 81 railcars, 13 siege guns, and numerous shells. The fires raged for hours and sparked massive explosions that could be heard at Sherman’s headquarters about 15 miles away.

Hood’s Army of Tennessee moved southward, slipping past the Federals on the railroad. Hood had been given command of the army for the specific purpose of saving Atlanta, but he had been unable to do so despite sustaining tens of thousands of casualties. Now this vital industrial and railroad center was lost to the Confederacy.

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References

Angle, Paul M., A Pictorial History of the Civil War Years (New York: Doubleday, 1967), p. 179-80; Bailey, Ronald H., The Battles for Atlanta: Sherman Moves East (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 147-48, 151-52; Castel, Albert, Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 404-05; CivilWarDailyGazette.com; Davis, Jefferson, The Rise and Fall of the Confederate Government: All Volumes (Heraklion Press, Kindle Edition 2013, 1889), Loc 20947; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 452; 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 11031-72; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 492-93; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 564-65; Longacre, Edward G., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 29-30; McPherson, James M., Battle Cry of Freedom: The Civil War Era (Oxford History of the United States Book 6, Oxford University Press, Kindle Edition, 1988), p. 774

The Battle of Jonesboro

August 31, 1864 – Federal and Confederate forces clashed south of Atlanta as the Federals sought to cut the last Confederate supply line into the city.

Major General William T. Sherman’s three Federal armies shifted from north to south of Atlanta to cut the Macon & Western Railroad:

  • Major General John Schofield’s Army of the Ohio targeted Rough and Ready, about five miles south of Atlanta.
  • Major General Oliver O. Howard’s Army of the Tennessee targeted Jonesboro, another five miles down the line.
  • Major General George H. Thomas’s Army of the Cumberland targeted the area between Schofield and Howard.

    Confederate Lieut Gen William Hardee | Image Credit: Flickr.com

General John Bell Hood, commanding the Confederate Army of Tennessee defending Atlanta, thought that Sherman had divided his army into two equal parts, with one staying north of the city and the other moving south. Hood therefore sent two of his three corps to Jonesboro, with Lieutenant General William Hardee in overall command. The force totaled about 24,000 men who were exhausted from marching all night. And none of the Confederates, including Hood, knew that they would be facing six of Sherman’s seven corps.

Howard’s Federals moved east toward Jonesboro, and the two leading corps entrenched themselves on high ground before the Confederates could get there:

  • Major General John A. Logan’s XV Corps faced the railroad to the east.
  • Major General Thomas Ransom’s XVI Corps formed a right angle to Logan’s men and faced south.
  • Brigadier General H. Judson Kilpatrick’s cavalry extended the Federal line to Ransom’s right. The combined force of Logan, Ransom, and Kilpatrick numbered about 17,000 men.

Hardee was delayed in getting his men into line. His own corps, now led by Major General Patrick R. Cleburne, held the Confederate left (south) at Lovejoy’s Station, and Lieutenant General Stephen D. Lee’s corps held the right (north) outside Jonesboro. Hardee planned for Cleburne to move north and make the major attack on Ransom while Lee launched a secondary attack against Logan.

Cleburne’s Confederates began moving north as planned, but they unexpectedly ran into Kilpatrick’s dismounted cavalry troopers. The lead Confederate division under Brigadier General Mark Lowrey turned west to face Kilpatrick’s force. According to Lowrey:

“About 3:30 p.m. the division moved forward in good order, and soon encountered the enemy in an open field, strongly posted behind breast-works, with four pieces of artillery. From prisoners taken the force was ascertained to have been cavalry dismounted, under command of the Federal General Kirkpatrick. Both artillery and small-arms opened vigorously on my lines, but after a short contest the enemy fled in confusion, and were pursued by my command with great impetuosity.”

The Confederates drove the Federals back across the Flint River but were stopped by Howard’s reserve XVII Corps. Meanwhile, Lee ordered his men to advance, unaware that Cleburne had engaged Kilpatrick, not Ransom. With their flank unprotected, Lee’s Confederates were sharply repulsed by Logan’s Federals. Hardee wanted to renew the assault, but Lee informed him that his corps could not do so. Lee suffered 1,300 of the 1,725 total Confederate casualties, while the Federals lost just 179 men.

Hardee reported, “It now became necessary for me to act on the defensive, and I ordered Cleburne to make no further attempt upon the enemy’s works. It is proper to state that the enemy were strongly intrenched and had one flank resting on the Flint River and both well protected.”

At 3 p.m., Major General Jacob D. Cox, commanding a division within Schofield’s army, seized the Macon & Western Railroad line about a mile below Rough and Ready. The Federals drove the Confederates away from the area and forced a supply train heading into Atlanta to go back to Macon. The last Confederate supply line into Atlanta was cut.

When Hood learned that the Federals were on the railroad line, he feared that they were targeting Atlanta. As such, he ordered Lee’s corps to return to Jonesboro at 6 p.m. This left Hardee hopelessly shorthanded. Hood later called the Confederate assault a “disgraceful effort” because it was not the all-out attack that he hoped it would be.

North of Atlanta, Sherman had kept Major General Henry W. Slocum’s XX Corps from Thomas’s army to hold the bridge over the Chattahoochee River. Now that Hood was scrambling to meet the threat to the south, Sherman told Thomas to have Slocum “feel forward toward Atlanta, as boldly as he can. Assure him that we will fully occupy the attention of the rebel army outside of Atlanta.”

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References

Bailey, Ronald H., The Battles for Atlanta: Sherman Moves East (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 144-47; Castel, Albert, Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 404-05; CivilWarDailyGazette.com; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 451; 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 11010-41, 11072-82; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 492; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 563-64; McPherson, James M., Battle Cry of Freedom: The Civil War Era (Oxford History of the United States Book 6, Oxford University Press, Kindle Edition, 1988), p. 774; Ward, Geoffrey C., Burns, Ric, Burns, Ken, The Civil War (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1990), p. 325-26

Atlanta: Federals Approach Jonesboro

August 30, 1864 – Major General William T. Sherman’s three Federal armies worked their way to the west and south of Atlanta, threatening the key town of Jonesboro on the Macon & Western Railroad.

Maj Gen W.T. Sherman | Image Credit: Wikispaces.com

Sherman’s Federals continued moving around Atlanta to avoid directly attacking General John Bell Hood’s Confederate Army of Tennessee. Sherman hoped to use his force “against the communications of Atlanta, instead of against its entrenchments.” His main targets were the two railroads supplying Hood’s men in the city. The Federals were to cross the Atlanta & West Point Railroad below East Point and capture the Macon & Western at Rough and Ready and Jonesboro.

Major General George H. Thomas’s Army of the Cumberland moved out on the 25th, and the Army of the Tennessee under Major General Oliver O. Howard began moving the next day. The Confederates did not discover that Thomas was gone until it was too late, but they spotted Howard’s troops. Howard wrote, “The enemy seemed aware of our withdrawing during its progress and opened on us with artillery and considerable skirmish-firing, but, providentially, we had but one casualty, one poor fellow losing his leg by a round shot.”

Meanwhile, Major General John Schofield’s Army of the Ohio demonstrated against the Confederate defenses at Utoy Creek, west of East Point. Thomas’s army moved past Schofield’s right and stopped at Camp Creek, southwest of Atlanta. Howard’s army continued past Thomas’s right flank.

Hood initially believed that Major General Joseph Wheeler’s Confederate cavalry raid was forcing Sherman to withdraw. One of Hood’s corps commanders, Lieutenant General Alexander P. Stewart, learned that the Federals were on the move but could not tell whether they were withdrawing; he reported that “thus far their whereabouts (have) not been ascertained.”

Hood reported on the 27th:

“Last night the enemy continued to change their position by their left and center. They have drawn back so that their left is now on the Chattahoochee at the railroad bridge; their right is unchanged, and they appear to be moving troops in that direction. They have no troops nearer than four miles of Atlanta.”

However, by that time the Federals were beyond the Confederate defenses below Atlanta, where they began their arc to the southeast. Confederate scouts soon reported that the Federals were operating near the railroad divergence at East Point, and, “They are constructing works rapidly.” To prevent Sherman from cutting the line, Hood dispatched Lieutenant General William Hardee’s corps to defend East Point, unaware that Sherman intended to move below that depot on his way east to Rough and Ready and Jonesboro.

Thomas advanced to Red Oak, down the Atlanta & West Point line from East Point, on the 28th. Howard’s army advanced further down the line to Fairburn. The Federals spent that day and the 29th wrecking the track, even though that railroad was seldom used by the Confederates. Sherman recalled how the men destroyed the railroad:

“The track was heaved up in sections the length of a regiment, then separated rail by rail; bonfires were made of the ties and of fence rails on which the rails were heated, carried to trees or telegraph poles, wrapped around and left to cool.”

These became known as “Sherman’s neckties,” or “Sherman’s hairpins.” The railroad was wrecked for six miles. Federals filled the railroad cuts with trees, brush, and live ammunition shells that would explode if any Confederates tried repairing the line.

The Federals began their eastward advance on the 30th. Schofield held the left (north) flank, moving toward Rough and Ready. Thomas held the center, moving between Rough and Ready and Jonesboro. Howard held the right flank, moving directly toward Jonesboro. Sherman rode with Thomas and told him, “I have Atlanta as certainly as if it were in my hand!”

Hardee reported that the Federals were moving east, and only then did Hood realize Sherman’s true objective. Hood held a council of war that night, where he announced that he thought Sherman had left part of his army north of Atlanta while sending the rest south. As such, he would keep Stewart’s corps in Atlanta’s defenses while he sent the corps of Hardee and Lieutenant General Stephen D. Lee to Jonesboro, with Hardee in overall command.

Hood directed Hardee, “Your corps will move to Jonesborough tonight. Put it in motion at once if necessary to protect the railroad.” He issued similar orders to Lee, with instructions for both to “attack the enemy, and drive him, if possible, across Flint River.”

As the day ended, Howard’s army had crossed the Flint River and was within two miles of Jonesboro. Thomas’s army was within six miles, having not yet crossed the Flint. Schofield’s army was within striking distance of Rough and Ready. Hardee’s Confederates began moving to Jonesboro, hoping to get there and launch their assault on the Federals while they were supposedly separated.

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References

Bailey, Ronald H., The Battles for Atlanta: Sherman Moves East (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 141-44; Castel, Albert, Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 404-05; CivilWarDailyGazette.com; Davis, Jefferson, The Rise and Fall of the Confederate Government: All Volumes (Heraklion Press, Kindle Edition 2013, 1889), Loc 20938, 20947; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 450-51; 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 10923-67, 10979-99; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 491-92; Linedecker, Clifford L. (ed.), The Civil War A to Z (Ballantine Books, 2002), p. 22-23; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 560-63; McPherson, James M., Battle Cry of Freedom: The Civil War Era (Oxford History of the United States Book 6, Oxford University Press, Kindle Edition, 1988), p. 774