Tag Archives: Army of the Cumberland

Georgia: From Adairsville to the Etowah

May 17, 1864 – General Joseph E. Johnston’s Confederate Army of Tennessee established positions around Adairsville after retreating southward from Resaca.

Generals W.T. Sherman and J.E. Johnston | Image Credit: Bing public domain

Following the engagement at Resaca, Johnston had fallen back south of the Oostanaula River in hopes of establishing a new defensive line at Calhoun. There was no good ground to defend, so Johnston continued withdrawing. When Johnston’s engineers informed him that they found suitable ground north of Adairsville, he ordered his army to concentrate there.

Major General William T. Sherman’s three Federal armies followed the Confederates on three parallel roads. A portion of Major General Oliver O. Howard’s IV Corps clashed with elements of Lieutenant General William Hardee’s Confederate corps about two miles north of Adairsville, but both sides pulled back before provoking a general engagement.

During this time, Johnston arrived at the proposed defense line and was disappointed to find that the ground was not as defensible as he had been led to believe. The hills on either flank were too far apart to use for artillery batteries. Johnston would have to stretch his line dangerously thin to link one hill to the other. Before he dealt another blow to army morale by ordering another withdrawal, he held a council of war with his three corps commanders that night.

Johnston noted that two roads ran south from Adairsville, and Sherman would most likely use both roads on his march. He therefore devised a plan in which Hardee’s corps would take the southern road to Kingston while Johnston led the corps of Lieutenant Generals Leonidas Polk and John Bell Hood down the southeastern road to Cassville. Johnston guessed that Sherman would send a larger part of his force to Kingston, and while Hardee diverted him there, the remaining Confederates would attack the Federal left as it moved toward Cassville.

By the morning of the 18th, Johnston had abandoned Adairsville as planned. Just as he expected, Sherman sent most of his troops–Major General James B. McPherson’s Army of the Tennessee and most of Major General George H. Thomas’s Army of the Cumberland–toward Kingston, while Major General John Schofield’s smaller Army of the Ohio and one of Thomas’s corps headed for Cassville. Federal cavalry and Brigadier General Jefferson C. Davis’s detached division moved southwest, where they destroyed the important manufacturing center of Rome.

Hardee’s corps reached Kingston and began moving east on the night of the 18th to join the other two Confederate corps at Cassville. As Johnston waited in ambush with Polk and Hood, he received messages from President Jefferson Davis expressing dissatisfaction with the withdrawals so far. Johnston’s retreat alarmed Georgia Governor Joseph E. Brown enough to order the state militia to mobilize for defense.

The next morning, Hardee’s Confederates arrived to make up Johnston’s left flank, guarding the Western & Atlantic Railroad. Polk’s corps held the center at Cassville, and Hood’s corps made up the right. Johnston directed Hood to line his men at a right angle to Polk, east of the Adairsville-Cassville road. Hardee and Polk would attack the Federals in front while Hood advanced from the east to hit the Federal left flank. Johnston issued a proclamation to the troops to boost morale:

“You have displayed the highest qualities of the soldier–firmness in combat, patience under toil. By your courage and skill you have repulsed every assault of the enemy… You will now turn and march to meet his advancing columns. Fully confiding in the conduct of the officers, the courage of the soldiers, I lead you to battle… Cheered by the success of our brothers in Virginia and beyond the Mississippi, our efforts will equal theirs. Strengthened by His support, these efforts will be crowned with the like glories.”

The proclamation served its purpose. No longer would the army fall back from the enemy. Now it would finally turn and fight. A soldier in the 1st Tennessee recalled, “The soldiers were jubilant. We were going to whip and rout the Yankees.”

The bulk of Sherman’s armies arrived at Kingston that morning, found the place empty, and then shifted east to advance on Cassville. However, the Federals took different roads than Johnston expected, and as Hood shifted his men, they came across a Federal brigade that would have been on Hood’s flank and rear had he gotten into his assigned position.

After a brief skirmish, Hood fell back and reported to Johnston what happened. Ironically, the corps commander who had urged Johnston to fight the most had withdrawn from a fight. Johnston responded by directing his army to fall back onto a wooded ridge southeast of Cassville. Calling this position “the best that I saw occupied during the war,” Johnson hoped to lure Sherman into attacking on the 20th. However, the Federals came up and enfiladed the line with artillery, opening a brief cannonade just before nightfall.

Johnston met with his corps commanders, where Polk contended that if the Federals renewed their enfilade fire, an attack would break his line within an hour. Hood agreed and declared that the army should either fall back or go on the offensive. Johnston seriously considered attacking because he did not want to retreat again, especially after issuing his proclamation earlier that day.

But in the end, Johnston decided it would be most prudent to withdraw, and he issued orders for the army to fall back another 10 miles, across the Etowah River. Johnston’s chief of staff blamed Hood for the retreat and wrote, “I could not restrain my tears when I found we could not strike.”

The Confederates muffled the axles and wheels of their wagons as they began retreating at 2 a.m. on the 20th. They moved through Cartersville and crossed the Etowah the next morning. The troops entered defensive works that had been previously built by slaves.

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References

Bailey, Ronald H., The Battles for Atlanta: Sherman Moves East (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 48, 50; Castel, Albert, Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 525; CivilWarDailyGazette.com; Davis, Jefferson, The Rise and Fall of the Confederate Government: All Volumes (Heraklion Press, Kindle Edition 2013, 1889), Loc 20791-99; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 409-11; 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 7061-71, 7080-100, 7126-46, 7168-98; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 440-42; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 503-05; Longacre, Edward G., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 305; 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. 746-47

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The Battle of Resaca

May 14, 1864 – The armies of Major General William T. Sherman and General Joseph E. Johnston clashed in northern Georgia, as Sherman still looked to slide around the Confederate flank.

By this time, Johnston’s Army of Tennessee had fallen back southward along the Western & Atlantic Railroad from Dalton to Resaca. Johnston positioned his troops on a four-mile defensive line that curved from east to southeast:

  • The right (east) flank consisted of Lieutenant General John Bell Hood’s corps.
  • The center, to Hood’s left, consisted of Lieutenant General William Hardee’s corps.
  • The left flank curving southeast consisted of Lieutenant General Leonidas Polk’s corps. Polk’s left was anchored on the Oostanaula River, where the Confederates controlled a railroad crossing and a pontoon bridge.

Sherman’s three Federal armies probed the Confederate line on the 13th to assess its strength. Major General George H. Thomas, commanding the Federal Army of the Cumberland, suggested that Sherman send Major General James B. McPherson’s Army of the Tennessee across the Oostanaula to flank Johnston’s forces.

Sherman liked the idea, but the forces he sent to cross the river on the 14th had to wait for the arrival of a pontoon bridge. During that time, McPherson’s Federals pushed Polk’s Confederates off the high ground west of Resaca to secure not only the crossing site but the railroad bridge.

Sherman next attacked the Confederate right-center with two divisions from Thomas’s army and two from Major General John Schofield’s Army of the Ohio. The Federals were stopped by heavy artillery fire and pinned in a ravine near Camp Creek. Brigadier General Henry M. Judah, commanding one of Schofield’s divisions, failed to adequately reconnoiter the ground beforehand or deploy artillery. Judah had been disciplined for poor conduct and drunkenness in the past, and Schofield finally removed him for “incompetency displayed in handling his division.”

Major General Jacob D. Cox then led one of Schofield’s divisions in an attack farther toward the Confederate right. Cox later wrote:

“Each brigade was in two lines, and the artillery was left on the hither side of the valley to cover the movement and reply to the enemy’s cannonade. The skirmish line had been advanced to the edge of the woods on the far side, and kept the lead until we approached the Confederate trenches. We passed over two or three ridges and ravines, driving back the skirmishers of the enemy, and charged the line of earthworks on the crest of a higher ridge. Our men dropped fast as we went forward, but the line was carried and the Confederates broke from the next ridge in rear, some 200 yards away.”

Battle of Resaca | Image Credit: Wikipedia.org

But with the Federals to their right pinned at Camp Creek, Cox’s men faced “a galling artillery fire, as the ridge on which we were had its shoulder bare when it came out into the valley, whose curve gave the enemy an enfilading fire upon us.” Hood’s Confederates launched a vicious counterattack along the Dalton-Resaca road. However, Thomas’s IV Corps under Major General Oliver O. Howard came up as night fell and stopped the Confederate advance.

Johnston ordered Hood to resume his assault and turn the Federal left at dawn. However, he received erroneous information that McPherson had crossed the Oostanaula near Calhoun and would soon turn the Confederate left. Johnston therefore canceled Hood’s attack and ordered his men to build a pontoon bridge upstream from Resaca. Sherman failed to recognize the importance of McPherson securing the high ground west of Resaca and did not follow up this advantage.

On the morning of the 15th, Federals on the left, reinforced by Major General Joseph Hooker’s XX Corps of Thomas’s army, advanced and clashed with Hood’s forces on the Confederate right. A ferocious battle ensued over four of Hood’s 12-pound Napoleon guns, which the Federals ultimately captured.

By this time, McPherson’s Federals were crossing the Oostanaula and turning east to threaten the railroad supply line below Johnston’s army. That night, Johnston’s Confederates crossed the Oostanaula and burned the railroad and pontoon bridges behind them. The army was across the river by dawn.

The fighting at Resaca produced 3,500 Federal casualties to the Confederates’ 2,600. Tactically, this was a Confederate victory, but Johnston’s withdrawal made this a strategic victory for Sherman. This continued the pattern of the Confederates holding firm against direct assaults but falling back when the Federals threatened their flank.

Sherman’s forces marched in heavy rain on muddy roads to Calhoun, six miles down the railroad from Resaca, where Sherman guessed that Johnston would oppose him. But before Sherman could concentrate his army, Johnston’s rear guard withdrew in the night toward Adairsville, 10 miles further down the railroad.

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References

Bailey, Ronald H., The Battles for Atlanta: Sherman Moves East (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 12, 40-45, 48; Castel, Albert, Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 525, 624; CivilWarDailyGazette.com; Davis, Jefferson, The Rise and Fall of the Confederate Government: All Volumes (Heraklion Press, Kindle Edition 2013, 1889), Loc 20772-81; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 407-09; 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 6973-93, 7061-71; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 438-40; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 501-02; 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. 744

Georgia: The Armies Gather at Resaca

May 13, 1864 – Major General William T. Sherman shifted his Federals southeast to try moving around General Joseph E. Johnston’s flank, but Johnston shifted to block them.

Generals W.T. Sherman and J.E. Johnston | Image Credit: Bing public domain

Sherman had assigned Major General James B. McPherson to lead his Army of the Tennessee around the Confederate left and capture Resaca. However, McPherson had failed to use his 23,000 troops to knock the 4,000 Confederates out of town before they were reinforced. This meant that Johnston’s communication and supply lines (and perhaps most importantly, his line of retreat) remained intact.

Although frustrated, Sherman acknowledged that McPherson had used sound judgment. He wrote McPherson, “I regret beyond measure that you did not break the railroad, however little, but I suppose it was impossible. Should he attack you, fight him to the last and I will get to you.” Sherman later told him, “Well, Mac, you missed the opportunity of your life.”

Sherman opted to go with the plan originally conceived by Major General George H. Thomas, commander of the Federal Army of the Cumberland, which entailed a much larger Federal movement around Johnston’s left flank. Sherman informed his superiors at Washington that he intended to move “between Johnston and Resaca, when we will have to fight it out.”

The Federals spent the 10th probing the Confederate defenses at Rocky Face Ridge, Buzzard’s Roost Gap, and points farther south. Unable to dislodge Johnston from such strong positions, Sherman hoped to send his entire force around the Confederate left, through Snake Creek Gap, and attack Resaca with overwhelming force. This would isolate Johnston north of the Oostanaula River.

Meanwhile, Johnston dispatched three divisions from Lieutenant General John Bell Hood’s corps to hold Resaca. They reported that McPherson had fallen back, leaving Johnston confused as to Sherman’s real intent. Johnston therefore opted to defend Dalton, Resaca, and all points in between. The Confederates had the advantage of holding the interior line, which ran 18 miles from Dalton to Resaca via the Western & Atlantic Railroad.

That night, Lieutenant General Leonidas Polk’s Confederate Army of Mississippi began arriving in bulk and taking up positions at Resaca. Polk himself arrived to take command in the area the next day. Polk’s army thereafter became known as “Polk’s Corps” of Johnston’s Army of Tennessee.

Sherman issued marching orders on the 11th. McPherson would stay put while the armies of Thomas and Major General John Schofield would swing southeast along Taylor Ridge to join McPherson’s army at Snake Creek Gap. A small Federal force would remain at Rocky Face Ridge as a diversion, consisting of IV Corps and two mounted divisions. Major General Oliver O. Howard, commanding IV Corps, was “terrified” by the idea of facing the Confederates at Rocky Face alone. However, Johnston remained purely on the defensive and did not threaten his small force.

The Federal advance was extremely slow because the troops, guns, and wagons all used just one road. This gave Johnston’s scouts time to confirm that the main Federal movement was taking place to the west, around the Confederate left. The next day, Major General Joseph Wheeler’s cavalry scouts reported that just a skeleton force remained at Rocky Face Ridge, thus proving that Sherman’s intent was to slide around the left.

Johnston ordered Lieutenant General William Hardee’s corps and the rest of Hood’s corps to fall back and join Polk at Resaca. The Confederates began evacuating Dalton on the night of the 12th. Meanwhile, Sherman’s Federals still had not fully arrived at Snake Creek Gap due to the delays that came with marching along a single road.

On the morning of the 13th, the withdrawing Confederates began arriving at Resaca, a town within a peninsula formed by the Oostanaula and Conasauga rivers. The Federals began probing through Snake Creek Gap but were stopped by Polk’s Confederates. This gave the rest of Johnston’s men time to take positions on the high ground west of town.

Johnston hoped to stay on the defensive and stretch the Federal supply lines to the point where Sherman would have to either engage in an open fight or fall back for sustenance. Sherman hoped to cut Johnston off from the Oostanaula, but by the time he was ready to advance in force, the Confederate wagon train was already crossing that river.

The Federals finally began advancing through Snake Creek Gap in force. McPherson’s army was on the right (south), with its right flank anchored on the Oostanaula, and Thomas’s army was on the left. Schofield’s army was held in reserve, east of the gap. The opposing line consisted of Polk on the left (south), Hardee in the center, and Hood on the right.

Sherman did not expect Johnston to put up a fight; he believed that Johnston just wanted to stall until his wagons got over the river. He therefore directed McPherson and Thomas to demonstrate in the Confederate front while Schofield’s Federals built bridges over the Oostanaula and crossed over to cut off the Confederate line of retreat. The action would begin the next morning.

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References

Bailey, Ronald H., The Battles for Atlanta: Sherman Moves East (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 39-41; Castel, Albert, Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 624; CivilWarDailyGazette.com; Davis, Jefferson, The Rise and Fall of the Confederate Government: All Volumes (Heraklion Press, Kindle Edition 2013, 1889), Loc 20772; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 404-06; 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 6944-74; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 435, 437-38; Hattaway, Herman, Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 500; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 498-501; Longacre, Edward G., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 700-01; 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. 744; Rutherford, Phillip R., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 169; Wert, Jeffry D., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 707

Georgia: Sherman Begins Moving

May 7, 1864 – Major General William T. Sherman’s three Federal armies began its part of the grand offensive by moving to draw the Confederate Army of Tennessee under General Joseph E. Johnston out into the open where it could be destroyed.

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

Sherman gathered his forces in northern Georgia, just south of Chattanooga, where he finalized his plans:

  • Major General John Schofield’s Army of the Ohio would advance on the Confederate positions outside Dalton from Red Clay to the north.
  • Major General George H. Thomas’s Army of the Cumberland would demonstrate against Rocky Face Ridge, northwest of Dalton, and seize Tunnel Hill on the ridge’s northwestern spur (seven miles southeast of Ringgold).
  • Major General James B. McPherson’s Army of the Tennessee would slide southward, beyond the Confederates’ left flank, and move through Snake Creek Gap.

McPherson’s was the key movement because it would put the Federals 14 miles in the Confederate rear. From there, they could cut Johnston’s supply lines and possibly trap the entire Army of Tennessee. The Federal armies had a combined total of about 98,000 officers and men.

Confederate General J.E. Johnston | Image Credit: CivilWarDailyGazette.com

Johnston had just about 60,000 troops, but they were battle tested veterans who held extremely strong positions on Rocky Face Ridge outside Dalton. The Confederates had spent the past several months strengthening these defenses, making them almost invulnerable to frontal assault.

The Confederate artillery and Major General Joseph Wheeler’s Confederate cavalry were positioned at Tunnel Hill, and the infantry held a line behind Wheeler that was hinged on Buzzard’s Roost Gap, a defile in Rocky Face Ridge. Thomas opened the campaign when his vanguard hit Tunnel Hill. The defenses proved so strong that Thomas had to commit his entire XIV Corps under Major General John M. Palmer.

As the fighting occurred at Tunnel Hill, Johnston received word that a Federal column was moving around his left, south of Buzzard’s Roost Gap. Johnston issued orders to a Confederate brigade just arriving at Resaca from Mobile to stay there and guard against a possible flanking movement. Meanwhile, Johnston shifted his forces to better defend the gaps in Rocky Face Ridge.

Palmer’s XIV Corps made no progress at Tunnel Hill until it was reinforced by Major General Oliver O. Howard’s IV Corps coming up on Palmer’s left. This compelled the Confederates to abandon Tunnel Hill; they withdrew so fast that they had no time to destroy it. The Confederates fell back to Buzzard’s Roost Gap, where they took up positions behind previously built earthworks. As the Federals pursued, they were reinforced by Major General Joseph Hooker’s XX Corps.

To the west, McPherson continued his southward slide. Johnston guessed that he might target Rome or Resaca. He was unaware that McPherson planned to move all the way down to the unguarded Snake Creek Gap, well beyond his left flank.

On the 8th, Brigadier General John Newton’s division of IV Corps probed Confederate defenses along the northern stretch of Rocky Face Ridge. Meanwhile, troops from Thomas’s IV, XIV, and XX corps advanced against Johnston’s left and seized the mouth of Buzzard’s Roost Gap.

Near day’s end, Brigadier General John W. Geary’s division of XX Corps shifted below Buzzard’s and attacked the Confederates at Dug Gap. The defenders repelled three attempts to scale the rocky walls, inflicting about 350 casualties. Farther southwest, McPherson’s Federals arrived within striking distance of Snake Creek Gap that night.

The next day, Federals from IV, XIV, and XX corps renewed their assaults on Buzzard’s Roost Gap and points farther south. They made no progress despite sustaining heavy casualties; Johnston acknowledged that their losses were “proportionate to their courage.”

Meanwhile, Wheeler’s cavalry clashed with a Federal cavalry brigade from Schofield’s army east of Rocky Face Ridge. Fighting began near Varnell’s Station, on the railroad to Dalton, and ended at Poplar Place, where Wheeler made a stand. The Confederates inflicted about 150 casualties in driving the Federals off.

Maj Gen J.B. McPherson | Image Credit: Wikipedia.org

During this time, McPherson’s Federals continued advancing along Taylor Ridge, moving through Ship’s Gap and the town of Villanow before approaching Snake Creek Gap, a three-mile-wide pass through the Horn Mountains. This led to Resaca, a strategic town in Johnston’s rear.

Johnston had inexplicably left both the gap and the path to Resaca unguarded. However, about 4,000 Confederates defended Resaca itself. These were timely reinforcements from Lieutenant General Leonidas Polk’s Confederate army in Mississippi. They were supposed to stop briefly at Resaca before reinforcing Johnston at Dalton, but instead they stayed at Resaca to face McPherson’s threat.

Major General Grenville M. Dodge’s XVI Corps led McPherson’s army through the gap. As Dodge’s Federals advanced, a Confederate mounted brigade formed a line of battle and began firing into them. Dodge responded by deploying Brigadier General John Corse’s division. Corse reported:

“In this formation, the enemy’s cavalry was received, checked, and repulsed, as it dashed forward, driving the 9th Illinois Mounted Infantry before it, and almost at the same moment the 66th Illinois Volunteers, without knapsacks, rushed forward as skirmishers, driving the enemy like sheep before them, in the direction of Resaca.”

McPherson directed Dodge to continue forward until he reached the Rome-Resaca crossroads, about a mile west of Resaca, and then wait for reinforcements. Dodge exceeded orders by moving past the crossroads and seizing Bald Hill, about three-quarters of a mile west of Resaca. McPherson rode up and inspected Dodge’s positions before ordering him to send scouts north to find a way to seize the railroad.

McPherson reported that his men were within striking distance of Resaca without any substantial opposition. When Sherman read the message, he smacked the table and hollered, “I’ve got Joe Johnston dead!” He later wrote:

“I got a short note from McPherson… and we all felt jubilant. I renewed orders to Thomas and Schofield to be ready for the instant pursuit of what I expected to be a broken and disordered army, forced to retreat by roads to the east of Resaca, which were known to be very rough and impracticable.”

However, Federal scouts found the railroad blocked by Confederate cavalry. Dodge held Bald Hill with a division and deployed another to the left, which advanced toward Resaca from the northwest. Dodge reported, “The enemy, observing the movement, opened a heavy fire from his batteries upon the column, and also, together with rapid musketry, upon the left of the Second Division, doing, however, but little execution.”

Although Dodge held his ground, McPherson was told that Confederate resistance was mounting both to Dodge’s left and right. As the Confederates took positions on the high ground just outside Resaca, McPherson ordered Dodge to abandon Bald Hill and fall back to Snake Creek Gap. McPherson did not know that he outnumbered this small enemy force by nearly six-to-one.

As Dodge complied, McPherson informed Sherman that the Federals could not seize the railroad, nor could they hold Bald Hill in the face of the growing Confederate presence in the area. McPherson also expressed concern that Johnston’s main force could fall back from Dalton and land on his left, and Dodge’s men were running out of provisions. Sherman responded:

“You now have your 23,000 men, and General Hooker is in close support, so that you can hold all of Jos. Johnston’s army in check should he abandon Dalton. He cannot afford to abandon Dalton, for he had fixed it up on purpose to receive us, and he observes that we are close at hand, waiting for him to quit. He cannot afford a detachment strong enough to fight you, as his army will not admit of it. Strengthen your position; fight anything that comes; and threaten the safety of the railroad all the time.”

Sherman considered McPherson his protégé (and potential successor), but he was clearly disappointed that McPherson did not use his 23,000 men to knock the 4,000 Confederates out of Resaca before Johnston disengaged from Thomas and Schofield and slid south to reinforce that vital town. Sherman later wrote, “Such an opportunity does not occur twice in a single life, but at the critical moment McPherson seems to have been a little timid.”

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References

Bailey, Ronald H., The Battles for Atlanta: Sherman Moves East (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 11, 32-38; CivilWarDailyGazette.com; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 402-03; 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 6799-819, 6828-48, 6857-67; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 431-34; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 495-97; Longacre, Edward G., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 700-01; 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. 744

The Georgia Campaign: Final Preparations

May 3, 1864 – Major General William T. Sherman assembled three Federal armies to confront General Joseph E. Johnston’s Confederate Army of Tennessee in northern Georgia.

Sherman, commanding the Military Division of the Mississippi, awaited the unification of his three major armies:

  • Major General James B. McPherson’s Army of the Tennessee moved east from Alabama; the force totaled 24,465 troops.
  • Major General George H. Thomas’s Army of the Cumberland assembled at Ringgold, Georgia, on the Western & Atlantic Railroad; the force totaled 60,733 troops.
  • Major General John Schofield’s Army of the Ohio moved southwest from Knoxville along the East Tennessee & Georgia Railroad; the force totaled 13,559 troops.

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

When combined, these armies would comprise Sherman’s left (McPherson), center (Thomas), and right (Schofield). The force would total over 98,000 men with 250 heavy guns. It would be supplied by the single railroad line running from Louisville to Nashville, and then on to Chattanooga and points south. Sherman’s mission was to destroy Johnston’s army, currently stationed at Dalton, and then capture the vital industrial city of Atlanta.

Johnston’s Army of Tennessee consisted of just 40,000 infantrymen in two corps (seven divisions) under Lieutenant Generals William Hardee and John Bell Hood. Major General Joseph Wheeler led 8,500 cavalrymen, but only about a quarter of them were equipped for combat. Johnston also had 114 guns. Because many Confederates were ill-equipped, ill-fed, and ill-clothed, Johnston could not confront Sherman in open battle and therefore hoped to hold the Federals off long enough for the northern public to grow tired of the stalemate and demand an end to the war.

Confederate General J.E. Johnston | Image Credit: CivilWarDailyGazette.com

Johnston informed his superiors at Richmond, “Our scouts report re-enforcements to the enemy continually arrive, and preparations to advance, including repair of railroad from Cleveland to Red Clay.” He then directed Wheeler “to try to ascertain the truth of the reported activity and movements of trains from Chattanooga to Ringgold.”

The mountainous terrain of northern Georgia heavily favored defenders over attackers. Sherman’s Federals would have to traverse three major ridges to get to Johnston at Dalton. However, Sherman could bypass the ridges on either side and swing around to Johnston’s rear. As such, Johnston considered abandoning Dalton, but the Confederate high command warned him against demoralizing the army any further after its defeat at Chattanooga last November.

Richmond officials devoted most of their attention to the Federal Army of the Potomac’s impending advance in northern Virginia. Because the Federals had never launched two massive offensives simultaneously before, officials did not expect Sherman to move too aggressively until the Virginia operations were decided. Therefore, they placed less emphasis on Johnston.

Meanwhile, Sherman developed his strategy:

  • Thomas would move south from Ringgold and threaten Dalton from the west
  • Schofield would move from Red Clay and threaten Dalton from the north
  • McPherson would move south on Thomas’s right to cut Johnston’s supply lines between Resaca and Atlanta

Sherman reported to Lieutenant General Ulysses S. Grant, the overall commander headquartered in Virginia, that the Federals would start moving by the 5th. Then, “Next move will be battle.”

Schofield’s Army of the Ohio–consisting of just XXIII Corps and a cavalry division–arrived at Cleveland, Georgia, on the 3rd. These Federals were now just 30 miles from either Chattanooga or Dalton. Schofield’s men marched southward along the railroad to Red Clay, which would place them on Johnston’s right (east) flank. Skirmishing occurred around Red Clay.

Meanwhile, McPherson’s Army of the Tennessee moved to Lee & Gordon’s Mill on Johnston’s left (west). According to Sherman, McPherson would be “my whiplash” skirting around the Confederate flank to Resaca. Skirmishing occurred near Chickamauga Creek, site of last September’s major battle. Johnston informed Richmond that Sherman was massing his troops for a major offensive.

Sherman finalized his preparations on the 5th and moved down from Chattanooga to ride with Thomas’s Army of the Cumberland in the Federal center. Confederate scouts reported that the Federals had reached Ringgold, about 15 miles north of Dalton. Skirmishing broke out at Varnell’s Station.

Johnston called on Chief of Staff Braxton Bragg to reinforce him with Confederates from Lieutenant General Leonidas Polk’s Department of Alabama, Mississippi and East Louisiana: “I urge you to send (Polk’s troops) at once to Rome, and put them at my disposal till the enemy can be met.” Polk was ordered to bring his Army of the Southwest and “any other available force at your command” to augment Johnston’s force. Polk led 10,000 infantry and 4,000 cavalry east from Mississippi, leaving Major General Stephen D. Lee in command of what was left of that department.

North of Dalton, the Confederates awaited the Federal approach from atop Rocky Face Ridge, a formidable eminence 500 feet high. Although outnumbered, Johnston held excellent defensive positions and expected to stop Sherman here. This would soon develop into the most important campaign ever undertaken in the Western Theater.

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References

Angle, Paul M., A Pictorial History of the Civil War Years (New York: Doubleday, 1967), p. 171-72; Bailey, Ronald H., The Battles for Atlanta: Sherman Moves East (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 31; CivilWarDailyGazette.com; Crocker III, H.W., The Politically Incorrect Guide to the Civil War (Washington: Regnery Publishing, 2008), p. 82-84; Davis, Jefferson, The Rise and Fall of the Confederate Government: All Volumes (Heraklion Press, Kindle Edition 2013, 1889), Loc 20745-54, 20772; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 399; 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 6789-99, 6838-48; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 428; Linedecker, Clifford L. (ed.), The Civil War A to Z (Ballantine Books, 2002), p. 23-24; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 492; Longacre, Edward G., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 700-01; 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. 744; Smith, Dean E., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 707

The Dalton Demonstration

February 24, 1864 – Skirmishing intensified in northern Georgia, as Major General John M. Palmer sought to unite his Federals at Rocky Face Ridge and drive the Confederates out of Dalton.

Four Federal divisions from Major General George H. Thomas’s Army of the Cumberland moved out on the 22nd toward General Joseph E. Johnston’s Confederate Army of Tennessee at Dalton. The operation consisted of Palmer’s XIV Corps moving southeast from Chattanooga, and Brigadier General Charles Cruft’s division of IV Corps moving southwest from Cleveland.

Maj Gen J.M. Palmer | Image Credit: Wikipedia.org

Palmer’s mission was to determine Johnston’s strength and prevent him from reinforcing the Confederate forces in either Alabama or eastern Tennessee. The Federal high command hoped that Palmer could push the Confederates away from their formidable positions at both Dalton and Rocky Face Ridge (a steep eminence west of Dalton). This would enable the Federals to “get possession of the place and hold it as a step toward a spring campaign.”

Palmer’s Federals marched through Ringgold Gap and approached the plains near Dalton, Rocky Face Ridge, and Tunnel Hill (a northwestern spur of Rocky Face). Skirmishing occurred with Confederate cavalry, who reported to Johnston that a general enemy advance was underway. False rumors soon spread among the Confederates that Thomas’s entire 60,000-man army was approaching, while Johnston had just 20,000 troops to stop them.

The next day, Johnston directed Major General Thomas C. Hindman to lead two divisions in forming defenses at Dalton, Tunnel Hill, and the gap in Rocky Face Ridge. As Palmer’s Federals advanced, they clashed with Hindman’s men at Catoosa Station and Tunnel Hill. The fighting soon intensified, and Palmer brought up reinforcements that threatened Hindman’s flanks. The Confederates fell back to higher, stronger positions on Tunnel Hill.

Johnston notified President Jefferson Davis of the action, and Davis allowed Johnston to recall Lieutenant General William Hardee’s corps, which had been sent to reinforce Lieutenant General Leonidas Polk’s army in Alabama. Polk no longer needed Hardee’s men now that Major General William T. Sherman’s Federal Army of the Tennessee was returning to Vicksburg after decimating Meridian. Davis warned Johnston that “the demonstration in your front is probably a mask.”

Meanwhile, Cruft’s Federals continued pushing south along the railroad until Confederates defending the east side of Rocky Face Ridge stopped them about three miles east of Dalton. Johnston had rushed two divisions there to prevent Cruft from coming up behind the Confederates facing Palmer to the west.

Colonel William Grose, commanding Cruft’s lead brigade, reported, “I don’t believe there is much force of the enemy in our front, but too much for our small force. I am of the impression that double our force could have gained the railroad and held it. The enemy used no artillery. We fired five rounds.” Grose opted to wait until the rest of Cruft’s division came up to join him the next day.

To the west, two of Palmer’s divisions under Brigadier Generals Richard W. Johnson and Jefferson C. Davis advanced on Tunnel Hill, which was defended by Major General Alexander P. Stewart’s Confederate division. Johnson’s Federals provided artillery cover while Davis’s men scaled the hill’s northern slope and drove the Confederate outposts from the summit. Davis reported:

“The enemy’s skirmishers yielded with little resistance. From these hills the enemy’s position was easily reconnoitered, and from the fire of his artillery the position of two strongly posted field batteries was plainly discovered.”

The Confederates withdrew southeast to a defile in Rocky Face Ridge called Buzzard Roost Gap, where they joined the main Confederate defense line. The Federals stopped for the night, but Palmer planned to advance in full force next morning. According to Davis, “It was thought this movement would turn the enemy’s position at Buzzard Roost and enable our forces (Palmer’s and Cruft’s) to unite south of Rocky Face Ridge.” From there, Palmer hoped to drive Johnston’s army out of Dalton and secure the railroad from there to Chattanooga.

Palmer directed Cruft to “push the column toward Dalton and attack any force that might be met.” The next day, Cruft, facing two divisions to his one, opted to wait for reinforcements. The Confederates sent their skirmishers forward, hoping to seize the initiative. Palmer came up with Brigadier General Absalom Baird’s division on Cruft’s right. The Federals finally advanced to attack the north side of Rocky Face Ridge around 11:30 a.m. According to Cruft:

“The lines were pressed steadily on for somewhat over a mile. At this point the enemy occupied a steep wooded ridge in our front in considerable force. It was successfully carried by the Second and Third Brigades without breaking step, the enemy falling back to a ridge beyond. Upon obtaining the crest of the first ridge and commencing the descent the brigade of direction was halted about 1 p.m. by command of Major-General Palmer and the line adjusted thereto.”

Palmer directed an attack by his right, which was easily repulsed. Both sides spent the rest of the day trading artillery fire. On the west side of the ridge, Davis heard firing around 3 p.m. and sought to relieve pressure on Cruft by attacking the Confederates holding Buzzard Roost Gap. Davis reported that his skirmishers were “warmly engaged, the enemy resisting their strong points with great vigor.”

As Davis’s Federals approached the Confederate rifle pits, they were met by fire in their front and artillery fire on their flanks. Davis was forced to order a withdrawal. On the other side of the ridge, Palmer ordered Cruft and Baird to fall back to north of Tunnel Hill.

By the 27th, Thomas, who had been too ill to personally command this expedition, arrived on the scene and directed the Federals to fall back to Chattanooga. The Federals suffered 345 casualties in this operation (43 killed, 267 wounded, and 35 missing or captured), while the Confederates lost 140. The Federals learned that Johnston’s defenses were too strong to confront head-on, especially at Rocky Face Ridge.

This Federal demonstration on Dalton did not serve its original purpose of keeping Johnston from sending reinforcements to Polk, as Sherman’s campaign was already over. It merely compelled Johnston to recall Hardee’s corps and prepare for the overall Federal offensive sure to come in spring.

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References

CivilWarDailyGazette.com; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 376-79; Foote, Shelby, The Civil War: A Narrative: Volume 2: Fredericksburg to Meridian (Vintage Civil War Library, Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, Kindle Edition, 2011), p. 935; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 401-03; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 468; Longacre, Edward G., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 765

The Proposed Dalton Demonstration

February 12, 1864 – Major General Ulysses S. Grant asked Major General George H. Thomas, commanding the Federal Army of the Cumberland, to feign an attack on Dalton to divert Confederate attention from the Federal offensive in Mississippi.

Grant, heading the Military Division of the Mississippi, commanded three armies between the Alleghenies and the Mississippi River:

  • Major General John Schofield’s Army of the Ohio faced Lieutenant General James Longstreet’s Confederate corps near Knoxville in eastern Tennessee
  • Thomas’s army at Chattanooga faced General Joseph E. Johnston’s Army of Tennessee at Dalton in northern Georgia
  • Major General William T. Sherman’s Army of the Tennessee faced Lieutenant General Leonidas Polk’s Army of Mississippi outside Meridian

Sherman was in the process of laying waste to central Mississippi while closing in on the last Confederate-controlled railroad center in the state. Grant wanted to support Sherman’s effort by having Thomas prevent Johnston from helping Polk. Grant also wanted Schofield to drive Longstreet out of eastern Tennessee, but he needed Thomas to send troops to support that mission as well.

Major General John G. Foster, who had just been replaced as Army of the Ohio commander by Schofield, traveled to Nashville to confer with Grant about the eastern Tennessee situation. Foster convinced Grant that Longstreet would not threaten Schofield, prompting Grant to announce that “no movement will be made against Longstreet at present.”

Major General George H. Thomas | Image Credit: Histmag.org

This allowed Thomas to devote his full attention to Johnston at Dalton. Grant asked Thomas on the 12th, “Should you not be required to go into East Tennessee, could you not make a formidable reconnaissance toward Dalton, and, if successful in driving the enemy out, occupy that place and complete the railroad up to it this winter?” Thomas responded that if he had one more division, “an advance on Dalton would be successful.”

Grant reported to General-in-Chief Henry W. Halleck that he had decided not to send Thomas’s Federals to support Schofield because “if we move against Longstreet with an overwhelming force he will simply fall back toward Virginia until he can be re-enforced or take up an impregnable position.” Instead, “Now that our men are ready for an advance, I have directed it to be made on Dalton, and hope to get possession of that place and hold it as a step toward a spring campaign.”

When Thomas still had not moved after five days, Grant reiterated his instructions: “Make your contemplated move as soon as possible.” Thomas replied, “I have had more obstacles to overcome than I had anticipated. I find it absolutely necessary to take artillery, for which I must have horses. I cannot say positively what day I shall start, but certainly by Monday (the 22nd).”

On the 18th, Thomas followed up his reply from the previous day: “I regret to be obliged to report that I do not think I shall be able to take the field, the cold and damp weather having brought on an attack of neuralgia, from which I suffer intensely.” Thomas assigned Major General John M. Palmer, commanding XIV Corps, to lead the demonstration.

Palmer would lead the three divisions from his own corps, plus a division from IV Corps under Brigadier General Charles Cruft, which was 30 miles east of Chattanooga. Palmer’s corps would advance from the northwest toward Dalton while Cruft advanced from the northeast. Palmer directed Cruft to move out on the 22nd, writing him the day before:

“I had supposed that you had received detailed orders for your movements tomorrow… From the lateness of the evening at which I received my own orders, I am not able to give precise directions for further operations, but can only suggest that I hope everything will be done to make the reconnaissance effective.”

Despite the vagueness of the instructions, Palmer and Cruft were to somehow join forces before they reached Dalton, about 35 miles south of Chattanooga. The Federals would move out the next day.

Meanwhile, Johnston continued his new routine of inspections, drills, and rest in the Army of Tennessee while awaiting Federal action. As Sherman’s Federals destroyed Meridian, Johnston resisted calls from Richmond to send reinforcements to Polk. Finally, President Jefferson Davis ordered Johnston to dispatch Lieutenant General William Hardee’s corps. Johnston reluctantly complied.

Hardee’s Confederates began arriving at Montgomery, Alabama, on the 19th, where they learned that Sherman had left Meridian. They did not yet know that Sherman was returning to Vicksburg; they feared he might continue east into Alabama. One of Hardee’s divisions linked with Polk’s army at Demopolis on the 21st. With the Federals poised to advance on Dalton the next day, this left Johnston dangerously vulnerable.

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References

CivilWarDailyGazette.com; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 369; Foote, Shelby, The Civil War: A Narrative: Volume 2: Fredericksburg to Meridian (Vintage Civil War Library, Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, Kindle Edition, 2011), p. 935