Tag Archives: Army of the Cumberland

Nashville: Both Armies Immobilized

December 11, 1864 – Major General George H. Thomas faced increasing pressure from his Federal superiors to attack the Confederate Army of Tennessee south of Nashville, but a bitter cold front prevented that.

The harsh winter storm continued raging throughout the 10th, as Thomas’s Federal Army of the Cumberland and General John Bell Hood’s Confederate army continued glowering at each other from frozen trenches. According to Major General Jacob D. Cox, commanding XXIII Corps in Thomas’s army:

“During the time of the ice blockade, the slopes in front of the lines were a continuous glare of ice, so that movements away from the roads and broken paths could be made only with the greatest difficulty and at a snail’s pace. Men and horses were seen falling whenever they attempted to move across country. A man slipping on the hillside had no choice but to sit down and slide to the bottom, and groups of men in the forts and lines found constant entertainment watching these mishaps… maneuverers were out of the question for nearly a week.”

The freezing weather caused severe hardships among the troops, especially the Confederates, who lacked adequate clothing or shelter for such conditions. Hood wrote his superior, General P.G.T. Beauregard, requesting blankets and 10,000 new uniforms. Hood explained, “The weather is severe, the ground covered with snow, and the men stand much in need of them.”

On the Federal side, Thomas had fallen into disfavor among his superiors for refusing to attack until all his forces were ready. Lieutenant General Ulysses S. Grant, the overall Federal commander, had threatened to remove Thomas from command if he did not attack soon, but the storm gave Thomas a brief reprieve. He met with his officers at his St. Cloud Hotel headquarters in Nashville and resolved to attack Hood’s Confederates as soon as the ice melted.

Maj Gen G.H. Thomas | Image Credit: Harper’s Weekly, 17 Dec 1864, Vol. VIII, No. 416

This did not satisfy Grant, who feared that Hood would swing around Thomas’s army and head north into Kentucky or possibly even Ohio. Grant wrote Thomas on the 11th, “If you delay attack longer, the mortifying spectacle will be witnessed of a rebel army moving for the Ohio River, and you will be forced to act, accepting such weather as you find… Delay no longer for weather or reinforcements.”

Thomas responded the next day:

“I will obey the order as promptly as possible, however much I may regret it, as the attack will have to be made under every disadvantage. The whole country is covered with a perfect sheet of ice and sleet, and it is with difficulty the troops are able to move about on level ground.”

By the 13th, Grant finally had enough. He ordered Major General John A. Logan to replace Thomas as army commander. Logan, who was stationed in Washington at the time, was to head to Louisville by rail. If Thomas attacked Hood by the time Logan got there, Thomas would retain his command. If not, Logan was to continue on to Nashville and take over. Earlier in the year, Thomas had lobbied against Logan taking command of the Army of the Tennessee because he had been a politician, not a military officer, before the war. Ironically, Logan was poised to replace the man who opposed him.

Fortunately for Thomas, the temperatures rose and the ice melted on the 14th. He called his officers back to the St. Cloud Hotel at 3 p.m. and announced that they would attack the Confederates the next morning. The troops would wake to reveille at 4 a.m., with the assault starting two hours later, “or as soon thereafter as practicable.” According to Thomas’s plan:

  • Cox’s XXIII Corps, under Major General John Schofield’s overall command, would feint against the Confederate right (east) flank.
  • Major General Andrew J. Smith’s XVI Corps would assemble on the Hardin pike and “make a vigorous assault on the enemy’s left.”
  • Brigadier General Thomas J. Wood’s IV Corps would advance on Smith’s left along the Hillsborough pike to Montgomery Hill.
  • XXIII Corps and all remaining Federal forces would hold Smith’s and Wood’s lines as their men advanced.

To prepare for the assault, seven Federal gunboats steamed down the Cumberland River to destroy Major General Nathan Bedford Forrest’s Confederates batteries, which threatened Thomas’s left. The gunboats pinned the Confederate gunners down while Federal cavalry swept up from behind and captured their guns.

Thomas issued final orders for next morning’s attack and informed Chief of Staff Henry W. Halleck at 8 p.m., “The ice having melted away to-day, the enemy will be attacked to-morrow morning. Much as I regret the apparent delay in attacking the enemy, it could not have been done before with any reasonable hope of success.”

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References

Angle, Paul M., A Pictorial History of the Civil War Years (New York: Doubleday, 1967), p. 186; CivilWarDailyGazette.com; Crocker III, H.W., The Politically Incorrect Guide to the Civil War (Washington: Regnery Publishing, 2008), p. 127-28; Davis, Jefferson, The Rise and Fall of the Confederate Government: All Volumes (Heraklion Press, Kindle Edition 2013, 1889), Loc 21161; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 500, 502-03; 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 14236-56, 14348-88, 14425-35; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 531-33; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 609-10; Nevin, David, Sherman’s March: Atlanta to the Sea (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 125-26

Nashville: The Standoff Continues

December 8, 1864 – The Federal and Confederate armies south of Nashville continued their standoff, as neither of the opposing commanders was quite ready for battle yet.

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

Major General George H. Thomas, commanding the Federal Army of the Cumberland, held a 10-mile defense line below Nashville. The line formed a rough semicircle, with both flanks anchored on the Cumberland River. The Federals faced General John Bell Hood’s Confederate Army of Tennessee two miles to the south. The Confederates held a weak line just four miles long.

Both Thomas and Hood planned to attack each other, but both needed time to fully prepare for battle. Hood needed more men from the scattered Confederate commands in the Western Theater, and Thomas needed to strengthen his cavalry, led by Brigadier General James H. Wilson, to confront Hood’s formidable horsemen under Major General Nathan Bedford Forrest.

Thomas, whose army doubled the size of Hood’s and was much better equipped, was under intense pressure to attack the Confederates before they could be reinforced. Thomas knew his superiors looked upon him with suspicion because he was a Virginian, even though he remained loyal to the U.S. after Virginia joined the Confederacy. Regardless, he would not attack until all his resources were available and all details were worked out.

Hood was not faring much better. A brutal cold front swept through Tennessee on the night of the 8th, making life miserable for the ill-clad Confederates. Captain Sam Foster recalled:

“We are suffering more for shoes than anything else, and there is no chance to get new ones. At Brigade Head Quarters there has been established a Shoe Shop, not to make shoes, for there is no leather, but they take an old worn out pair of shoes and sew Moccasins over them of green cow hide with the hair side in. The shoe is put on and kept there, and as the hide dries it draws closer and closer to the old shoe.”

A rash of desertions prompted Hood to have his officers conduct “regular and frequent roll calls…” But this did little to solve the problem, and soon Hood’s demoralized army fell below 24,000 men.

By the morning of the 9th, heavy sleet and snow had formed a solid sheet of ice over the prospective battlefield between the Federal and Confederate armies. Major General Jacob D. Cox, commanding XXIII Corps in Thomas’s army, wrote:

“The weather, which had been good for a week, suddenly changed. A freezing storm of snow and sleet covered the ground, and for two or three days the alternations of rain and frost made the hills about Nashville slopes of slippery ice, on which movement was impracticable.”

Thomas, who had finally planned to launch his long-awaited assault on the 10th, now had to postpone due to the freeze. Unaware of this, Chief of Staff Henry W. Halleck and Lieutenant General Ulysses S. Grant still believed that Thomas was refusing to move because Wilson’s cavalry was not ready. Halleck wrote, “General Grant expresses much dissatisfaction at your delay in attacking the enemy. If you wait till General Wilson mounts all his cavalry, you will wait till doomsday, for the waste equals the supply.”

Thomas replied at 2 p.m. on the 9th. He expressed regret about Grant’s “dissatisfaction at my delay in attacking the enemy. I feel conscious that I have done everything in my power… If he should order me to be relieved I will submit without a murmur. A terrible storm of freezing rain has come on since daylight, which will render an attack impossible until it breaks.” Thomas then wrote Grant:

“I had nearly completed my preparations to attack the enemy tomorrow morning, but a terrible storm of freezing rain has come on today, which will make it impossible for our men to fight to any advantage. I am, therefore, compelled to wait for the storm to break and make the attempt immediately after. Major General Halleck informs me that you are very much dissatisfied with my delay in attacking. I can only say I have done all in my power to prepare, and if you should deem it necessary to relieve me I shall submit without a murmur.”

By the time Grant received this message, he had already decided to replace Thomas. He telegraphed Washington, “Please telegraph order relieving him at once and placing Schofield in command.” Both Secretary of War Edwin M. Stanton and President Abraham Lincoln approved the order replacing Thomas with Major General John Schofield, commanding the eastern sector of Thomas’s line.

Meanwhile, Thomas held a council of war with his top officers and told them that if the army did not attack soon, he would most likely be replaced. But the officers agreed that an effective attack could not be made until the ground thawed.

During this time, Grant received Thomas’s explanation for the delay and decided to suspend the order removing him from command. Grant explained his decision to his superiors, stating, “I am very unwilling to do injustice to an officer who has done as much good service as General Thomas has, and will, therefore, suspend the order relieving him until it is seen whether he will do anything.” Grant wrote Thomas at 7:30 p.m.:

“I have as much confidence in your conducting a battle rightly as I have in any other officer, but it has seemed to me that you have been slow, and I have had no explanation of affairs to convince me otherwise… I telegraphed to suspend the order relieving you until we should hear further. I hope most sincerely that there will be no necessity for repeating the order, and that the facts will show that you have been right all the time.”

Thus, Thomas was temporarily reprieved. But he still could not give battle to Hood’s suffering Confederate army until the weather improved.

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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. 500; 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 14236-46, 14260-70, 14318-38, 14348-58; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 530-31; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 607-08; Nevin, David, Sherman’s March: Atlanta to the Sea (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 123

Nashville: Hood Weakens as Thomas Prepares

December 5, 1864 – General John Bell Hood further weakened his Confederate Army of Tennessee by detaching a force to capture Murfreesboro. Meanwhile, Major General George H. Thomas continued preparing to attack Hood south of Nashville.

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

Hood’s Confederates sat behind defenses about two miles below Nashville. They faced Thomas’s Federal Army of the Cumberland, reinforced by Major General Andrew J. Smith’s XVI Corps from the Army of the Tennessee, and Major General John Schofield’s XXIII Corps from the Army of the Ohio. Thomas had over 50,000 troops on a 10-mile line. Hood could barely muster 24,000 men along four miles.

Hood requested reinforcements from the Trans-Mississippi Department. He also asked for Major General John C. Breckinridge’s 3,000-man division at Wytheville, Virginia, to take on the Federals at Knoxville. He then weakened his already depleted army even further by dispatching Major General Nathan Bedford Forrest to capture the Federal garrison at Murfreesboro, 30 miles southeast. Forrest’s command included two cavalry divisions under Brigadier Generals Abraham Buford and William H. Jackson, and an infantry division under Major General William Bate. Forrest reported:

“On the morning of the 5th, I moved, as ordered, toward Murfreesborough. At La Vergne I formed a junction with Major-General Bate, who had been ordered to report to me with his division for the purpose of operating against Murfreesborough. I ordered Brigadier-General Jackson to send a brigade across to the Wilkinson pike, and moving on both pikes the enemy was driven into his works at Murfreesborough. After ordering General Buford to picket from the Nashville and Murfreesborough to the Lebanon pikes on the left, and Jackson to picket on the right to the Salem pike, I encamped for the night.”

The next day, Federal gunboats steamed down the Cumberland River to attack Forrest’s shore batteries at Bell’s Mill. The U.S.S. Neosho exchanged fire from 20 to 30 yards, sustaining over 100 hits but eventually driving the Confederates off. Federal Quartermaster John Ditzenback earned the Congressional Medal of Honor for braving the fire to reattach the U.S. flag to the Neosho’s mast after it was shot down.

Gen N.B. Forrest | Image Credit: CivilWarDailyGazette.com

On the 7th, Forrest approached Murfreesboro and discovered that the Federal garrison was much stronger than expected. He planned for the infantry to hold the Federals in place while the cavalry swept around and attacked from the rear. However, according to Forrest, the infantry “from some cause which I cannot explain, made a shameful retreat, losing two pieces of artillery.”

The cavalry finally came up to halt the Federal advance, but Forrest lost about 200 prisoners and 14 guns in the engagement. Before he could renew the effort to capture Murfreesboro, Hood recalled the infantry to Nashville in preparation for battle against Thomas.

Hoping to gather as many men as possible before taking Thomas on, Hood wrote to the Confederate commander at Corinth, Mississippi, “Send forward at once all men belonging to this army in proper detachments, with officers to preserve discipline and prevent straggling on the march.” Hood then wrote Thomas asking for an informal prisoner exchange. But Thomas replied, “I have to state that, although I have had quite a large number of prisoners from your army, they have all been sent North, and consequently are now beyond my control.”

Meanwhile, Thomas’s superiors were growing increasingly impatient with his refusal to attack Hood. Lieutenant General Ulysses S. Grant, the overall Federal commander, wanted Thomas to attack immediately, but Thomas argued that he needed to wait until Brigadier General James H. Wilson’s cavalry was strong enough to match Forrest’s. Grant feared that Forrest might lead Hood’s army in a swing around Thomas into Kentucky and possibly even Ohio. He wrote Thomas on the 5th:

“Is there not danger of Forrest moving down the Cumberland to where he can cross it? It seems to me whilst you should be getting up your cavalry as rapidly as possible to look after Forrest, Hood should be attacked where he is. Time strengthens him, in all probability, as much as it does you.”

Thomas responded:

“If I can perfect my arrangements, I shall move against the advanced position of the enemy on the 7th instant. If an expedition could be started from Memphis against the Mobile and Ohio Railroad, and thus cut off Hood’s means of supply, he will run the risk of losing his whole army, if I am successful in pushing him back.”

The next day, Grant ordered Thomas, “Attack Hood at once, and wait no longer for a remount of your cavalry. There is great danger of delay resulting in a campaign back to the Ohio River.” Thomas answered, “I will make the necessary dispositions and attack Hood at once, agreeably to your order, though I believe it will be hazardous with the small force of cavalry now at my service.”

This response annoyed Secretary of War Edwin M. Stanton, who wrote Grant on the 7th, “Thomas seems unwilling to attack because it is hazardous, as if all war was anything but hazardous. If he waits for Wilson to get ready, Gabriel will be blowing his last horn.”

Grant replied that if Thomas did not attack immediately, “I would recommend superseding him by Schofield, leaving Thomas subordinate.” Grant explained further in a message to Chief of Staff Henry W. Halleck: “There is no better man to repel an attack than Thomas, but I fear he is too cautious to ever take the initiative,” However, Grant wrote, “If Thomas has not struck yet, he ought to be ordered to hand over his command to Schofield.”

Halleck replied that if Grant wanted Thomas gone, “give the order. No one here will, I think, interfere.” But then Halleck added, “The responsibility, however, will be yours, as no one here, so far as I am informed, wishes General Thomas’ removal.” This gave Grant pause, and he wrote, “I would not say relieve him until I hear further from him.”

This impasse, as well as Hood’s weak siege of Thomas’s army, would continue as temperatures around Nashville plummeted to below freezing.

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References

Catton, Bruce, The American Heritage Picture History of the Civil War (New York: American Heritage Publishing Co., 1960), p. 556; CivilWarDailyGazette.com; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 498-500; 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 14236-46, 14260-70, 14318-28, 14348-58; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 529-30; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 606-08; Nevin, David, Sherman’s March: Atlanta to the Sea (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 123, 125-26; Stanchak, John E., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 285-86

Opposing Armies Gather Outside Nashville

December 1, 1864 – Following the Battle of Franklin, the Federals fell back to Nashville as planned, and General John Bell Hood’s demoralized Confederate Army of Tennessee followed.

Major General John Schofield, commanding the Federal Army of the Ohio at Franklin, proceeded with his original plan to withdraw to Nashville, 18 miles north, and join forces with Major General George H. Thomas’s Army of the Cumberland. Thomas, the overall commander, was getting supplies from the Cumberland River, and Major General Andrew J. Smith’s 13,000-man XVI Corps was on its way from Missouri to reinforce him.

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

Thomas forced a semicircular defensive line south of Nashville, with both flanks on the Cumberland. Schofield’s seven-mile train began arriving in Nashville on the morning of the 1st, and his XXIII Corps took up the eastern sector of Thomas’s line. The rest of the line was manned by Brigadier General Thomas J. Wood’s IV Corps until Smith’s corps arrived. Thomas also had support from the gunboats U.S.S. Neosho and Carondelet. Having been under Federal military occupation since early 1862, Nashville was one of the most heavily fortified cities in the Western Hemisphere.

Thomas preferred to stay put and let Hood’s Confederates attack him, at least until he could get Brigadier General James H. Wilson’s cavalry in fighting shape. Thomas telegraphed Chief of Staff Henry W. Halleck, “I have two ironclads here, with several gunboats, and Commander Fitch assures me that Hood can neither cross the Cumberland or blockade it. I therefore think it best to wait here until Wilson can equip all his cavalry.”

Hood reported to Richmond that he had won a great victory at Franklin, but it soon became apparent that he had shattered his army. He sustained more losses than “Pickett’s Charge” at Gettysburg, and those who survived were badly disheartened. Nevertheless, Hood tended to his dead and wounded on the morning of the 1st and issued orders to pursue Schofield to the gates of Nashville.

Hood had no more than 24,000 men to take on Thomas, who would have about 53,000 once they all arrived. Hood could either try to lay siege to Thomas’s superior army, or he could bypass it altogether by moving north around Nashville into Kentucky, and then possibly even to Ohio. Hood chose the former.

The Confederates positioned themselves on the Brentwood Hills south of Nashville. Lieutenant General Alexander P. Stewart’s corps held the left (west) flank, Lieutenant General Stephen D. Lee’s corps held the center, and Major General Benjamin F. Cheatham’s corps held the right. Major General Nathan Bedford Forrest’s cavalry monitored both flanks. The Confederates also began building defenses to guard against attacks from Knoxville, Murfreesboro, or Chattanooga.

Hood could stretch his line no more than four miles, while Thomas’s stretched 10 miles. Moreover, Thomas’s Federals held all eight roads leading into Nashville from the south. But if Hood retreated now, he risked pushing his already demoralized army to the brink of mutiny. Hood therefore hoped to bide his time and wait for reinforcements from the Trans-Mississippi. To his benefit, Thomas was not quite ready to fight; this made Federal officials in Washington nervous.

President Abraham Lincoln feared that Hood might skirt around Thomas and raid the North, mimicking Jubal Early’s raid on Washington in July. This prompted Secretary of War Edwin M. Stanton to write Lieutenant General Ulysses S. Grant, the overall Federal commander, “The President feels solicitous about the disposition of General Thomas to lay in fortifications for an indefinite period. This looks like the McClellan and Rosecrans strategy of do nothing and let the rebels raid the country. The President wishes you to consider the matter.”

Grant quickly wired Thomas: “If Hood is permitted to remain quietly about Nashville, you will lose all the road back to Chattanooga, and possibly have to abandon the line of the Tennessee. Should he attack you it is all well, but if he does not you should attack him before he fortifies.”

Grant sent another message urging Thomas to “move out of Nashville with all your army and force the enemy to retire or fight upon ground of your own choosing.” Grant wrote that after the Battle of Franklin, “we should have taken the offensive against the enemy where he was.” But Grant warned Thomas, “You will now suffer incalculable injury upon your railroads if Hood is not speedily disposed of. Put forth, therefore, every possible exertion to attain this end. Should you get him to retreating, give him no peace.”

Thomas replied that with the arrival of Schofield and A.J. Smith, he now had “infantry enough to assume the offensive, if I had more cavalry, and will take the field anyhow as soon as the remainder of General McCook’s division of cavalry reaches here, which I hope it will do in two or three days.” Thomas explained that he needed more cavalry to match Forrest’s “at least 12,000” horsemen, though Forrest really only had about 6,000. Thomas planned to attack Hood in four days, adding, “I earnestly hope, however, that in a few more days I shall be able to give him a fight.”

Thomas shared a report with Halleck stating that Hood’s army was strongest southwest of Nashville. He wrote, “That would be by far the most advantageous position he could take for us, as his line of communication would be more exposed with him in that position than in any other.” Thomas calmed fears that Hood might bypass him and raid the North, stating, “The iron-clads and gun-boats are so disposed as to prevent Hood from crossing the (Cumberland) river…”

Meanwhile, Hood dispatched Forrest’s cavalry to probe Thomas’s line for weaknesses and raid Federal shipping on the Cumberland. The Confederates captured the troop transports Magnet, Prairie State, and Prima Donna near Bell’s Mill. In retaliation, a squadron of Federal gunboats steamed down the river, shelled the Confederate shore batteries into submission, and reclaimed the transports and prisoners.

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References

Catton, Bruce, The American Heritage Picture History of the Civil War (New York: American Heritage Publishing Co., 1960), p. 553; CivilWarDailyGazette.com; Davis, Jefferson, The Rise and Fall of the Confederate Government: All Volumes (Heraklion Press, Kindle Edition 2013, 1889), Loc 21161-71; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 496-97; 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 13348-58, 14288-98; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 527-29; Linedecker, Clifford L. (ed.), The Civil War A to Z (Ballantine Books, 2002), p. 190-91; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 604-05; 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. 812; McPherson, James M., War on the Waters: The Union and Confederate Navies, 1861-1865 (Littlefield History of the Civil War Era, The University of North Carolina Press, Kindle Edition, 2012), p. 221; Nevin, David, Sherman’s March: Atlanta to the Sea (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 20, 22, 120-21, 123; Stanchak, John E., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 284-86

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

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