Tag Archives: Army of the Cumberland

The Battle of Jonesboro

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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References

Bailey, Ronald H., The Battles for Atlanta: Sherman Moves East (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 144-47; Castel, Albert, Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 404-05; CivilWarDailyGazette.com; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 451; Foote, Shelby, The Civil War: A Narrative: Volume 3: Red River to Appomattox (Vintage Civil War Library, Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, Kindle Edition, 2011), Loc 11010-41, 11072-82; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 492; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 563-64; McPherson, James M., Battle Cry of Freedom: The Civil War Era (Oxford History of the United States Book 6, Oxford University Press, Kindle Edition, 1988), p. 774; Ward, Geoffrey C., Burns, Ric, Burns, Ken, The Civil War (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1990), p. 325-26

Atlanta: Federals Approach Jonesboro

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

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

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

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

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

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

Hood reported on the 27th:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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References

Bailey, Ronald H., The Battles for Atlanta: Sherman Moves East (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 141-44; Castel, Albert, Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 404-05; CivilWarDailyGazette.com; Davis, Jefferson, The Rise and Fall of the Confederate Government: All Volumes (Heraklion Press, Kindle Edition 2013, 1889), Loc 20938, 20947; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 450-51; Foote, Shelby, The Civil War: A Narrative: Volume 3: Red River to Appomattox (Vintage Civil War Library, Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, Kindle Edition, 2011), Loc 10923-67, 10979-99; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 491-92; Linedecker, Clifford L. (ed.), The Civil War A to Z (Ballantine Books, 2002), p. 22-23; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 560-63; McPherson, James M., Battle Cry of Freedom: The Civil War Era (Oxford History of the United States Book 6, Oxford University Press, Kindle Edition, 1988), p. 774

Atlanta: Sherman’s Armies Start Moving

August 25, 1864 – Major General William T. Sherman’s Federals began a major movement to the west and south of Atlanta to cut the supply lines leading into the city and starve the Confederate Army of Tennessee into submission.

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

After failing to seize the railroad below Atlanta, Sherman, commanding the Federal armies in Georgia, admitted to his superiors that he was “too impatient for a siege.” Northern confidence that Atlanta would soon fall was replaced by southern confidence that the city would hold. A Wisconsin soldier wrote that “we make but little progress toward Atlanta, and it may be some time before we take the place.”

Sherman sought to cut the Macon & Western Railroad below Atlanta, the last supply line running into the city. But until he could develop a plan to get to that heavily guarded line, he opted to bombard the city. He wrote Major General Oliver O. Howard, commanding the Army of the Tennessee, “Let us destroy Atlanta and make it a desolation.”

The Federals emplaced siege artillery and Parrott rifles atop Bald Hill, overlooking the city, and began their barrage on the 9th. They fired an average of 5,000 rounds into Atlanta every day for the next two weeks, killing several non-combatants, including women and children. The bombardment was meant not only to destroy Atlanta, but to demoralize the citizenry.

Maj Gen Joseph Wheeler | Image Credit: CivilWarDailyGazette.com

General John Bell Hood, commanding the Confederate Army of Tennessee, had prevented Sherman from capturing Atlanta thus far, but he lacked the strength to drive the Federals off permanently. He therefore assigned Major General Joseph Wheeler to lead 4,500 cavalrymen on a raid of Sherman’s supply line, the Western & Atlantic Railroad, which stretched north into Tennessee. Hood hoped that wrecking the railroad would starve Sherman into falling back or attacking the strong Confederate defenses.

Wheeler was to ride north into Tennessee, leave half his command to operate against the railroad in that state, and return to Atlanta with his remaining men. He set out on the 10th, and over the next four days, he destroyed railroad track spanning 30 miles from Marietta to Dalton. Wheeler demanded the surrender of the Federal garrison at Dalton, but the commander refused. Federal reinforcements soon arrived, and Wheeler continued on, skirmishing with enemy pursuers along the way.

The Confederates did not cause the damage that Hood hoped; Sherman’s Federals quickly repaired the railroad and supplies continued getting to the armies as Wheeler veered off into eastern Tennessee for the rest of the month. Meanwhile, Sherman assigned Brigadier General H. Judson Kilpatrick to conduct a cavalry raid of his own, leading 4,000 troopers and horse artillery in wrecking the two remaining railroads below Atlanta.

The Macon & Western ran south of Atlanta to Macon, and it also diverged into a second (Atlanta & West Point) railroad at East Point, which ran east to Montgomery, Alabama. However, the Confederates seldom used this line. Kilpatrick’s Federals reached their first objective, Fairburn, on the 18th, and destroyed a section of the seldom-used Atlanta & West Point. At the same time, Major General John Schofield’s Army of the Ohio advanced along Utoy Creek, southwest of Atlanta. Sherman wanted Schofield to be the pivot for the rest of the Federals to swing west and cut off the city’s south side.

The next day, Kilpatrick’s force arrived at Jonesboro, a key depot on the Macon & Western Railroad. They kept the guards busy as they destroyed large amounts of supplies. The troopers then rode south along the railroad to Lovejoy’s Station. They began destroying more supplies and wrecking more track when they were suddenly confronted by Confederate infantry under Brigadier General William H. Jackson.

The two forces battled into the night, when Kilpatrick ordered a withdrawal back to Sherman’s lines. Jackson’s troops attacked the Federal rear guard and nearly surrounded the force, but Kilpatrick fought them off long enough to escape. He returned to the main Federal force two days later.

Kilpatrick reported that his men had wrecked enough of the railroads to prevent supplies from reaching Hood’s army for 10 days. Sherman hoped that this would force Hood to withdraw his starving army from Atlanta. However, the Confederates repaired the track and trains resumed their deliveries the very next day. The cavalry failed Sherman again. He later wrote, “I became more than ever convinced that cavalry could not or would not work hard enough to disable a railroad properly, and therefore resolved at once to proceed to the execution of my original plan.”

Sherman’s original plan involved shifting six of his seven corps around to the southwest to permanently cut the railroads and force Hood to either evacuate the city or give battle. This was risky because the Federals would be separated from their communication and supply lines, but Sherman preferred this to attacking the strong Confederate fortifications ringing the city. Sherman notified his superiors, “I will be all ready, and will commence the movement around Atlanta by the south, tomorrow night, and for some time you will hear little of us.”

The movement began on the night of the 25th, as troops of Major General George H. Thomas’s Army of the Cumberland left their trenches. IV and XIV corps began the circuitous movement, while XX Corps stayed back to guard the railroad bridge over the Chattahoochee River. Thomas would pivot on Schofield’s army, which consisted of XXIII Corps, below Utoy Creek.

The next morning, the Federal artillery bombardment stopped, and Confederates reported that the trenches north of Atlanta were empty. Hood believed that Wheeler had forced Sherman to fall back across the Chattahoochee. Residents even planned victory celebrations for that night. However, Wheeler’s men were in Tennessee, unable to inform Hood of the real reason why the Federals abandoned their northern trenches.

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References

Bailey, Ronald H., The Battles for Atlanta: Sherman Moves East (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 139, 141, 143; Castel, Albert, Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 404-05, 819; Catton, Bruce, The American Heritage Picture History of the Civil War (New York: American Heritage Publishing Co., 1960), p. 517; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 446-48, 450; 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 10287-97, 10870-91, 10902-22; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 484-86, 488-90; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 554, 556-58, 560; Longacre, Edward G., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 450; 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. 755

Atlanta: The Federal Wheel Starts Turning

July 27, 1864 – Major General William T. Sherman prepared to move his three armies around the west and south of Atlanta to try wresting that city from General John Bell Hood’s Confederate Army of Tennessee.

The Confederate attacks of the 20th and 22nd failed to destroy parts of Sherman’s Federal command, but they succeeded in keeping Sherman from reaching Atlanta from the north or east. Following the costly fight on the 22nd, both sides remained stationary in front of each other while their respective commanders pondered their next move.

Federal engineers completed construction on a bridge over the Chattahoochee River on the 25th. The 90-foot-high bridge spanned 760 feet and was built in just five days. This enabled the delivery of supplies to a base behind Major General George H. Thomas’s Army of the Cumberland on Peachtree Creek, north of Atlanta.

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

As Sherman developed a plan to get to Atlanta, he wrote his wife Ellen, “We have Atlanta close aboard, as the sailors say, but it is a hard nut to handle. These fellows fight like Devils and Indians combined, and it calls for all my cunning and strength.” President Abraham Lincoln wrote Sherman offering his “profoundest thanks to you and your whole Army for the present campaign so far.”

Sherman’s chief engineer, Captain Orlando Poe, concluded that the Confederate defenses on Atlanta’s perimeter were “too strong to assault and too extensive to invest.” Thus, Sherman decided to create a “circle of desolation” around the city. This would involve bombarding Atlanta and cutting off its four railroads, thereby starving it into submission.

The Federals already controlled the Western & Atlantic Railroad, which supplied them from Chattanooga. They had done extensive damage to the Georgia Railroad running east to Augusta, and the Atlanta & West Point running southwest into Alabama. Only the Macon & Western, running southeast to the Atlantic Coast, remained to supply the soldiers and civilians in Atlanta.

Laying partial siege to Atlanta, Sherman planned to shift his armies from north and east of the city to west and south in a counterclockwise movement. His objective was the intersection of the Atlanta & West Point and Macon & Western railroads at East Point, southwest of Atlanta.

The Federal armies were arranged in a rough semicircle, with Thomas’s army north of Atlanta, Major General John Schofield’s Army of the Ohio to Thomas’s left (northeast), and Major General John A. Logan’s Army of the Tennessee to Schofield’s left (east). Sherman intended to shift Logan’s army to Thomas’s right, so that the semicircle ran from north to west.

Before Sherman began, he had to choose a permanent commander for the Army of the Tennessee. Logan had temporarily taken command after Major General James B. McPherson was killed on the 22nd. Many officers and men wanted to keep Logan, but Thomas protested that Logan was not a professional soldier. The ranking corps commander was Major General Joseph Hooker, but Sherman detested him. He therefore chose Major General Oliver O. Howard as the new commander.

Hooker protested being passed over by the officer he blamed for his disastrous defeat at Chancellorsville in May 1863. He submitted his resignation, calling the decision “an insult to my rank and services.” Thomas, Hooker’s corps commander, “approved and heartily recommended” that Sherman accept Hooker’s resignation, and Sherman quickly complied. Sherman’s decision caused resentment among supporters of both Hooker and Logan.

Major General Alpheus Williams temporarily replaced Hooker in command of Thomas’s XX Corps. Ironically, Hooker’s permanent replacement was Major General Henry W. Slocum, who had despised Hooker ever since Chancellorsville. Williams held command until Slocum arrived from Vicksburg. Howard was replaced in command of Thomas’s IV Corps by Major General David S. Stanley.

Once Howard’s army shifted to the right, Schofield’s and Thomas’s would follow suit, moving along the Chattahoochee River toward East Point. Sherman also dispatched two Federal cavalry forces to harass the Confederate flanks and attack the Macon & Western Railroad from both the east and west.

Meanwhile, Hood remained poised to attack when the opportunity presented itself. Apprised of the Federal moves, he dispatched Major General Joseph Wheeler’s cavalry to stop the Federal troopers. He then assigned two of his corps under Lieutenant Generals Alexander P. Stewart and Stephen D. Lee (newly arrived from Mississippi to take over from Major General Benjamin F. Cheatham) to stop the Federals from threatening the railroads southwest of Atlanta.

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References

Bailey, Ronald H., The Battles for Atlanta: Sherman Moves East (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 132-33; Castel, Albert, Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 250-51; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 439-40; 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 10108-118, 10129-70; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 474-76; Kallmann, John D., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 369-70; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 545-47; Pritchard, Russ A., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 746-47

Atlanta: Federals Capture Bald Hill

July 21, 1864 – Following the Battle of Peachtree Creek, Federal forces seized an important ridge east of Atlanta.

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

General John Bell Hood, commanding the Confederate Army of Tennessee, held his positions north and east of Atlanta after the Battle of Peachtree Creek. His two corps under Lieutenant Generals Alexander P. Stewart and William Hardee faced the Federals on the creek to the north, while Major General Benjamin F. Cheatham’s corps faced the Federals to the northeast and east.

The Federals to the east consisted of Major General James B. McPherson’s Army of the Tennessee. They had advanced to within three miles of Atlanta, but were stopped the previous day by Confederates under Major General Patrick R. Cleburne defending Bald Hill, a treeless ridge southwest of McPherson’s left flank. Whoever held this eminence had a clear view of Atlanta below.

Major General William T. Sherman, the overall Federal commander, wrote McPherson on the morning of the 21st, “I was in hopes you could have made a closer approach to Atlanta, as I was satisfied you had a less force and more inferior works than will be revealed by daylight, if, as I suppose, Hood proposes to hold Atlanta to the death.”

Sherman directed McPherson to advance so “your artillery can reach the town easily.” Sherman added, “In case he retreats it will be toward Macon, whither all the advance stores have been sent, and most of the provisions. I want him pursued vigorously for a couple of days.”

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

McPherson had ordered Major General Francis P. Blair, Jr.’s XVII Corps to take Bald Hill. The task devolved upon Blair’s 4th Division, led by Brigadier General Mortimer D. Leggett. The order had arrived too late to act on the 20th, so Leggett prepared to launch an attack the next morning.

Federal guns opened on the Confederate defenses at dawn, causing substantial damage. Confederate Brigadier General James A. Smith reported that the bombardment was “committing dreadful havoc in the ranks. I have never before witnessed such accurate and destructive cannonading.” This barrage helped McPherson’s infantry to attack the otherwise impregnable positions atop the hill.

Confederate artillery initially held the Federals off, but then they fixed bayonets and resumed their advance. The Federals reached the top of Bald Hill, which was desperately held by Cleburne’s infantry and cavalry under Major General Joseph Wheeler. Vicious hand-to-hand combat ensued, which Cleburne later called “the bitterest fighting” of his life. The Confederates were finally driven off, and Bald Hill later became known as Leggett’s Hill.

McPherson quickly began placing artillery on the ridge, enabling the Federals to fire into Atlanta below. Hood shifted reinforcements from his left to his right, while McPherson slowly extended his line southward, beyond the Confederate right. A standoff ensued, with Confederates holding a curved line that faced Major General George H. Thomas’s Army of the Cumberland to the north, Major General John Schofield’s Army of the Ohio to the northeast, and McPherson’s to the east. Atlanta was just two miles behind the Confederates.

Wheeler’s cavalry shifted right to match the extending Federal line. As the Confederates moved, Cleburne noted that McPherson’s left flank was “in the air,” and therefore vulnerable to an attack. This led Hood to develop a daring gamble based on “Stonewall” Jackson’s march around the Federal flank at Chancellorsville. At a council of war that night, Hood explained his plan:

  • Stewart and Cheatham would remain behind defenses facing Thomas to the east and Schofield to the northeast.
  • Hardee would pull out of his positions between Stewart and Cheatham and move southeast, beyond Cheatham’s right and around McPherson’s vulnerable left.

This would require Hardee’s Confederates to make a 15-mile night march to Decatur, the Federals’ supply depot east of Atlanta. Then, once the troops were in place, they would attack McPherson’s flank and rear, pushing him back into Schofield and Thomas along Peachtree Creek, away from Atlanta. All commanders agreed, and the attack was to begin at dawn.

However, Hardee soon informed Hood that the men could not make 15 miles in the dark of night. Hood agreed to revise the plan so that Hardee’s men positioned themselves below McPherson’s left, not around it. The Confederates would then attack from the south instead of the east.

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References

Bailey, Ronald H., The Battles for Atlanta: Sherman Moves East (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 95-97; Catton, Bruce, The American Heritage Picture History of the Civil War (New York: American Heritage Publishing Co., 1960), p. 523; CivilWarDailyGazette.com; Davis, Jefferson, The Rise and Fall of the Confederate Government: All Volumes (Heraklion Press, Kindle Edition 2013, 1889), Loc 20929-38; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 439; 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 9922-53; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 472-73; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 543; Longacre, Edward G., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 433; 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. 753-54

The Battle of Peachtree Creek

July 20, 1864 – Two days after taking command of the Confederate Army of Tennessee, General John Bell Hood attacked a portion of Major General William T. Sherman’s Federal forces north of Atlanta.

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

Hood had devised a plan to prevent Sherman’s three armies from approaching the vital industrial and transportation center of Atlanta. According to Hood’s plan:

  • The two corps of Lieutenant Generals William Hardee and Alexander P. Stewart would attack Major General George H. Thomas’s Army of the Cumberland as it crossed Peachtree Creek north of Atlanta.
  • The corps of Major General Benjamin F. Cheatham, along with cavalry and Georgia militia, would keep Thomas isolated by holding off Major General John Schofield’s Army of the Ohio and Major General James B. McPherson’s Army of the Tennessee, east of Thomas near Decatur.

Hood positioned Stewart’s corps on the left (west) and Hardee’s on the right. These two corps faced north, while Cheatham’s corps on Hardee’s right faced east to guard against Schofield and McPherson. Hood planned to drive Thomas west, away from both Atlanta and the other two armies, where he would be trapped by the Chattahoochee at his back and forced to surrender. The Confederates could then turn their full attention to Schofield and McPherson.

The attack on Thomas was scheduled to begin at 1 p.m., a rather late start for a surprise attack. Hood had ordered Hardee to keep his right linked with Cheatham’s left. However, Cheatham shifted his forces eastward when he received word that Federals were advancing from that area. Hardee extended his lines to reach Cheatham’s left, which delayed the assault.

Throughout the morning of the 20th, Thomas’s Federals continued crossing Peachtree Creek and building defensive fortifications on the south bank. By the time the Confederates finally attacked at 4 p.m., nearly all of Thomas’s army was across the creek and behind defenses. But the enemy assault surprised them nonetheless as they scrambled to hold their ground.

Peachtree Creek battle map | Image Credit: TheClio.com

The Confederate attacks were not properly coordinated. On the Confederate right, Hardee did not commit his entire corps; those who were deployed made little progress while sustaining heavy losses. On the Confederate left, Stewart forced several Federal units to retreat and captured a battery. However, a Federal counterattack pushed him back.

Meanwhile, McPherson’s Federals began advancing from Decatur. Cheatham held McPherson less than three miles from Atlanta, as the Federal guns began firing on both Cheatham’s men and the civilians in Atlanta behind them. Hood, who remained at his headquarters four miles behind the front, received an exaggerated report that the Federals were threatening to overrun Cheatham.

Back at Peachtree Creek, Hardee was preparing to commit Major General Patrick R. Cleburne’s division against Thomas when he received orders from Hood to send Cleburne to reinforce Cheatham. Cleburne’s Confederates took positions on Bald Hill, a treeless ridge southwest of McPherson’s left flank, which consisted of Major General Francis P. Blair, Jr.’s XVII Corps.

Cleburne’s men enfiladed Blair’s left, wounding Brigadier General Walter Q. Gresham, commanding a division in Blair’s corps. McPherson directed Blair to take Bald Hill, which Blair assigned to Brigadier General Mortimer D. Leggett’s division. Since it was near nightfall when Leggett received the order, he prepared to attack the next morning.

Cleburne’s stand kept McPherson at bay, but it ended any hopes the Confederates had of breaking Thomas’s army at Peachtree Creek. Hood ordered a suspension in the fighting at 7 p.m. The Confederates fell back, and Thomas’s line held. This was the bloodiest battle of the campaign thus far. The Federals suffered 1,779 casualties out of about 20,000 effectives, while the Confederates lost about 4,796 from roughly 20,000.

The delay in attacking proved fatal, as the Federals had already mostly crossed Peachtree Creek and entrenched themselves, thereby holding off the Confederate attacks. Hood erred in continuing the assaults, despite their futility. And Hardee’s failure to commit his entire corps at once was also a contributing factor, along with the transfer of Cleburne’s crack division to Cheatham.

In failing to drive Sherman away from Atlanta, Hood blamed Hardee for the delays and for a lack of aggression. While Joseph E. Johnston had worked to preserve Confederate manpower, Hood suffered tremendous casualties that could not be replaced. Sherman’s Federals now controlled nearly half of Atlanta’s outer perimeter.

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References

Angle, Paul M., A Pictorial History of the Civil War Years (New York: Doubleday, 1967), p. 177; Bailey, Ronald H., The Battles for Atlanta: Sherman Moves East (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 92-95; Castel, Albert, Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 565-66; Catton, Bruce, The American Heritage Picture History of the Civil War (New York: American Heritage Publishing Co., 1960), p. 516; 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 20929; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 437; 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 9897-932; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 471-72; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 542-43; Longacre, Edward G., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 433; 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. 753; Ward, Geoffrey C., Burns, Ric, Burns, Ken, The Civil War (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1990), p. 327-28

Sherman Prepares to Move Again

July 19, 1864 – Major General William T. Sherman’s Federal armies launched their long-anticipated drive on Atlanta.

As part of Sherman’s three armies made their way across the Chattahoochee River, Sherman directed them to take a rest, “and accordingly we took a short spell.” Sherman needed not only to regroup, but to find the Confederate Army of Tennessee and assess its defenses.

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

Two days later, Sherman dispatched cavalry under Major General George Stoneman to wreck railroads and deceive the Confederates into thinking that the main Federal force would cross the Chattahoochee below Atlanta. To help with the deception:

  • Two corps from Major General James B. McPherson’s Army of the Tennessee would cross above Atlanta and attack the Georgia Railroad.
  • One of McPherson’s corps would remain to the right of Major General George H. Thomas’s Army of the Cumberland to support Stoneman.
  • Major General John Schofield’s Army of the Ohio would distract the Confederates in their front.

Sherman telegraphed Chief of Staff Henry W. Halleck on the 14th: “All is well. I have now accumulated stores at Allatoona and Marietta, both fortified and garrisoned points. Have also three places at which to cross the Chattahoochee in our possession, and only await General Stoneman’s return from a trip down the river, to cross the army in force and move on Atlanta.”

Two days later, Sherman prepared to cross the Chattahoochee as McPherson conducted an enveloping movement around the north side of Atlanta toward Decatur. The Confederates continued strengthening their defenses near the Chattahoochee, from south of Peachtree Creek to the Atlanta & Decatur Railroad. General Joseph E. Johnston, commanding the Confederate army, planned to attack when Sherman’s two flanks separated from the center.

The Federals began advancing on Atlanta on the 17th, with Sherman’s three armies moving like a wheel and crossing the Chattahoochee with Schofield’s army in the center. The Federals were now within eight miles of Atlanta. That morning, Johnston learned that the entire Federal force had crossed the river, apparently to move on Atlanta from the north and east.

Concerned that Thomas’s army may be moving too slow, Sherman wrote him, “Feel down strong to Peach Tree and see what is there. A vigorous demonstration should be made, and caution your commanders not to exhibit any of the signs of a halt or pause.” That night, Sherman learned that Schofield and McPherson had reached their objectives and would begin wrecking the Georgia Railroad at daybreak.

The next day, Sherman was discussing strategy with Thomas when a spy showed them an Atlanta newspaper reporting that Johnston had been replaced as Confederate army commander by General John Bell Hood. Sherman expressed hope that Hood, unlike Johnston, might actually come out into the open and fight, where the Federals could finally use their numerical superiority.

The Atlanta city council adjourned as the Federals approached. Meanwhile, Sherman directed Thomas to “press down from the north on Atlanta,” crossing Peachtree Creek and driving off the Confederates in the area. Schofield was to advance on Decatur (northeast of Atlanta) from the north, wrecking railroad track and telegraph wires along the way. McPherson was to advance on Decatur from the east, aiding Schofield if needed:

“Otherwise keep every man of his (McPherson’s) command at work in destroying the railroad by tearing up track, burning the ties and iron, and twisting the bars when hot. Officers should be instructed that bar simply bent may be used again, but if when red hot they are twisted out of light they cannot be used again. Pile the ties into shape for a bonfire, put the rails across, and when red hot in the middle, let a man at each end twist the bar so that its surface become spiral.”

By the 19th, two Confederate corps under Lieutenant Generals William Hardee and Alexander P. Stewart defended Peachtree Creek, north of Atlanta. Hood’s former corps, now led by Major General Benjamin F. Cheatham, guarded Atlanta to the east. The Federals began their advance, and, Sherman later wrote, “meeting such feeble resistance that I really thought the enemy intended to evacuate the place.”

Hood received word that Thomas was crossing Peachtree Creek, north of Atlanta, while the armies of Schofield and McPherson were at least two miles to Thomas’s left (east). Johnston had originally planned to attack the Federals if a portion of their force became isolated. Hood decided to adopt this strategy and attack Thomas’s isolated army before it could cross the creek and build defenses. That night, Hood gathered his commanders at his Whitehall Street headquarters in Atlanta and explained his plan:

  • Hardee and Stewart would attack Thomas’s army and drive it west, away from both Atlanta and the other two Federal armies.
  • Cheatham’s corps, along with Confederate cavalry and Georgia militia, would demonstrate against McPherson and Schofield to prevent them from helping Thomas.
  • After Hardee and Stewart defeated Thomas, they would turn right (east) to join with Cheatham in defeating McPherson and Schofield.

Hood demanded that the attacks be “bold and persistent,” and the defensive works that the Federals were building were to be seized at the “point of the bayonet.” For Hood to succeed, time was of the essence. However, instead of scheduling the attack to begin at dawn, he set it for 1 p.m. And the armies of Schofield and McPherson were not as far from Thomas as originally reported.

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References

Bailey, Ronald H., The Battles for Atlanta: Sherman Moves East (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 81, 91-92; CivilWarDailyGazette.com; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 436-37; 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 8576-618, 8808-18, 9855-85; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 469-71; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 540, 542

Georgia: Sherman Crosses the Chattahoochee

July 8, 1864 – Leading elements of Major General William T. Sherman’s Federal forces began crossing the Chattahoochee River and getting ever closer to the vital railroad and industrial city of Atlanta.

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

General Joseph E. Johnston’s Confederate Army of Tennessee held strong defenses along the Chattahoochee, just eight miles northwest of Atlanta. President Jefferson Davis wrote Johnston that the army’s pattern of retreating made him “more apprehensive for the future.” Davis urged Johnston to hold firm on the north bank of the Chattahoochee, but he had no reinforcements to send.

Sherman, whose three Federal armies had forced Johnston to fall back southward from Marietta and Smyrna, observed the enemy positions from Vining’s Station and called them “the best line of field intrenchments I have ever seen.”

Sherman would not directly assault the Confederate defenses, having tried that and failed at Kennesaw Mountain. But neither would Sherman move against Johnston’s left flank as he had always done in the past either. Instead, Sherman would feint to the left and cross the Chattahoochee to Johnston’s right. According to Sherman’s plan:

  • Major General George H. Thomas’s Army of the Cumberland would demonstrate in the Confederates’ front, keeping them in their defenses.
  • Major General James B. McPherson’s Army of the Tennessee, supported by Major General George Stoneman’s cavalry from the Army of the Ohio, would threaten Turner’s Ferry, downriver (southwest) from Johnston’s left.
  • Major General John Schofield’s Army of the Ohio would cross the Chattahoochee at the mouth of Soap Creek, upriver (northeast) from Johnston’s right.
  • Federal cavalry would cross even farther upriver, near Roswell.

After two days of positioning and skirmishing, Sherman’s plan was ready for execution. McPherson and Stoneman began demonstrating against Turner’s Ferry on the afternoon of the 8th. Meanwhile, Schofield crossed the Chattahoochee at Pace’s Ferry, and Federal horsemen destroyed the textile factories at Roswell before crossing as well. The Federals secured high ground on Johnston’s right and began building a pontoon bridge that night.

The next morning, a group of Confederate congressmen visited Johnston and informed him that Davis expected the army to stop retreating and start fighting very soon. In fact, Davis had ordered Chief of Staff Braxton Bragg to come to Georgia and learn Johnston’s intentions. Specifically, Davis wanted to know if Johnston planned to give battle before Sherman reached Atlanta.

Johnston said to the congressmen, “You may tell Mr. Davis that it would be folly for me under the circumstances to risk a decisive engagement. My plan is to draw Sherman further and further from his base in the hope of weakening him and by cutting his army in two. That is my only hope of defeating him.”

The meeting was interrupted by news that Schofield’s army had crossed the Chattahoochee. Johnston announced that this was good news because it meant that Sherman had finally divided his army, making him vulnerable to attack. But Johnston did not attack; he instead issued orders for the army to fall back across the river to meet the new threat to its right. Thus, Johnston abandoned the last major waterway in front of Atlanta.

Sherman reported that his Federals were the “undisputed masters of north and west of the Chattahoochee.” His armies had made remarkable gains into Georgia since beginning their campaign two months before. Sherman wired Washington, “We now commence the real game for Atlanta,” which was “too important a place in the hands of the enemy to be left undisturbed, with its magazines, stores, arsenals, workshops, foundries, &c., and more especially its railroads, which converged there from the four great cardinal points.”

By Sunday the 10th, the Confederates were behind defenses at Peachtree Creek, a westward-flowing tributary of the Chattahoochee just four miles from Atlanta. Panic swept through the city as residents hurrying to evacuate caused major traffic jams on southbound trains. Georgia Governor Joseph E. Brown called for every able-bodied man in the state to take up arms. The city soon had 5,000 men between ages 16 and 55 defending Atlanta.

Meanwhile, Georgia Senator Benjamin Hill arrived at Richmond following his conference with Johnston on the 1st. Meeting with Davis in the residential office of the Executive Mansion, Hill imparted Johnston’s suggestion that Nathan Bedford Forrest or John Hunt Morgan wreak havoc on Sherman’s supply lines in Tennessee. Davis said that neither officer was available; Forrest was opposing Federals in northern Mississippi and Morgan was just coming off a failed raid.

Davis then showed Hill a dispatch from Johnston announcing that he had just withdrawn across the Chattahoochee. Hill, who had hoped to get Davis to support Johnston, now joined Davis in turning against him. Discussing a command change, Davis said he knew “how serious it was to change commanders in the presence of the enemy,” and he “would not do it if I could have any assurance that General Johnston would not surrender Atlanta without a battle.”

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References

Bailey, Ronald H., The Battles for Atlanta: Sherman Moves East (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 76-80; Castel, Albert, Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 565-66; Davis, Jefferson, The Rise and Fall of the Confederate Government: All Volumes (Heraklion Press, Kindle Edition 2013, 1889), Loc 20826; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 433-34; 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 8467-87, 8520-40, 8670-721, 8743-63; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 465-67; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 533-36; Longacre, Edward G., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 132-33, 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. 751-52

Georgia: Johnston Falls Back to the Chattahoochee

July 1, 1864 – General Joseph E. Johnston, commanding the Confederate Army of Tennessee, looked to fall back once again after Major General William T. Sherman’s three Federal armies threatened to outflank him north of Atlanta.

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

As July began, Johnston held a defensive line that included the Western & Atlantic Railroad and Kennesaw Mountain. The Confederates faced northwest, protecting the key cities of Marietta and Atlanta behind them. Sherman’s Federals were in their front, with Sherman looking to move around the Confederate left to avoid a second defeat after his sharp repulse at Kennesaw Mountain in late June.

The Confederate high command had grown increasingly dissatisfied with Johnston’s habit of retreating to avoid being outflanked. Senator Benjamin Hill of Georgia visited Johnston, his personal friend, to assess the military situation on the government’s behalf. Johnston explained that he had neither the strength to attack Sherman nor the size to prevent Sherman from wrapping his troops around the Confederate flank.

Johnston recommended assigning cavalry under Nathan Bedford Forrest or John Hunt Morgan to destroy Sherman’s supply line, which was the railroad running all the way from Georgia to Louisville, Kentucky. Johnston said that in just one day, Forrest or Morgan “could destroy the railroad to an extent that as to require two weeks or a month to repair it.”

Without supplies, Sherman would have no choice except to attack or retreat. If he attacked, Johnston was sure his army could defeat him. Hill asked Johnston about recent scouting reports stating that Sherman was trying to work his way around the Confederate flank again to cross the Chattahoochee River, the last waterway between the Federals and Atlanta. Johnston assured Hill that he could prevent Sherman from crossing the river for two months. In the meantime, Johnston would seek to block Sherman’s way to Atlanta while trying to destroy the Federals in sections.

On the Federal side, the rains ended and the roads dried enough for another movement around Johnston’s left (southern) flank. Sherman explained, “The object of the contemplated movement is to deprive the enemy of the great advantage he has in Kennesaw as a valuable watchtower from which to observe our every movement; to force him to come out of his intrenchments or move farther south.” According to Sherman’s plan:

  • Major General John Schofield’s Army of the Ohio, facing the Confederate left, would shift southward to prepare for the flanking maneuver.
  • Major General George H. Thomas’s Army of the Cumberland, facing the Confederate center, would follow Schofield out of the line.
  • Major General James B. McPherson’s Army of the Tennessee, facing the Confederate right, would move out of its line and march south behind Thomas to reinforce Schofield.

Above all else, Sherman urged, “All movements must be vigorous and rapid.” The Federals would stage a series of diversions to prevent the Confederates from learning their true intention. However, the Confederates discovered the movement almost as soon as it began on the 2nd.

Anticipating that Sherman would try this (though perhaps not so soon), Johnston had arranged for slaves to build defenses on a ridge along the Western & Atlantic Railroad at Smyrna, southeast of Marietta. The Confederates began moving out that night, abandoning the line they had held so strongly for nearly two weeks.

Sherman learned of the Confederate movement that night and, fearing an attack, ordered the part of McPherson’s army that had not started moving yet to stay put. It was not discovered until a few hours later that Johnston was retreating. Sherman wrote in his memoirs:

“By the earliest of dawn of the 3rd of July, I was up at a large spy-glass mounted on a tripod… I directed the glass on Kennesaw, and saw some of our pickets crawling up the hill cautiously; soon they stood upon the very top, and I could plainly see their movements as they ran along the crest just abandoned by the enemy. In a minute I roused my staff, and started them off with orders in every direction for a pursuit by every possible road, hoping to catch Johnston in the confusion of retreat, especially at the crossing of the Chattahoochee River.”

Sherman directed Thomas to pursue the Confederates. When probing Federals found them stopped outside Smyrna, Sherman told Thomas that night, “The more I reflect the more I know Johnston’s halt is to save time to cross his material and men. No general, such as he, would invite battle with the Chattahoochee behind him…Press with vehemence at any cost of life and material…” Meanwhile, McPherson’s Federals continued extending their right around Johnston’s left, moving closer to the Chattahoochee.

On the 4th, Major General Oliver O. Howard’s IV Corps in Thomas’s army advanced and skirmished with Confederates from Lieutenant General William Hardee’s corps north and west of Smyrna. When Howard reported that Confederate resistance was unexpectedly strong, Sherman replied, “You are mistaken, there is no force in your front.”

Howard launched a frontal attack, led by Major General David S. Stanley’s division. The Federals captured some of the forward rifle pits, but they were then forced to fall back under what Stanley called “the severest and most continued cannonade the rebels had ever used upon us.” Such strong Confederate resistance surprised Sherman because it indicated that Johnston intended to make a stand north of the Chattahoochee.

The Federals moving against Johnston’s left had better success. McPherson’s XVI Corps under Major General Grenville M. Dodge crossed Nickajack Creek and pushed back Lieutenant General John Bell Hood’s Confederates before Hood was reinforced by cavalry and state militia. The Federals fell back until they were augmented by more of McPherson’s men and Schofield’s cavalry. They counterattacked and secured positions a mile past Nickajack. This put the Federal right closer to the Chattahoochee than the Confederate left, thus ensuring that Johnston would have to fall back yet again.

Later that day, Johnston’s Confederates began withdrawing to a line six miles south of Smyrna astride the railroad on the north bank of the Chattahoochee. Slaves had been building defenses there since late June. Johnston directed the men to build pontoon bridges in case of another retreat. They were now just eight miles from Atlanta. Sherman’s Federals approached this new line of fortifications the next day.

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References

Bailey, Ronald H., The Battles for Atlanta: Sherman Moves East (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 76; Castel, Albert, Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 565-66; CivilWarDailyGazette.com; Davis, Jefferson, The Rise and Fall of the Confederate Government: All Volumes (Heraklion Press, Kindle Edition 2013, 1889), Loc 20817-26; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 432; 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 8425-77, 8649-69; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 463-65; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 531-33; Longacre, Edward G., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 132-33, 786-87; 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. 751

The Battle of Kennesaw Mountain

June 27, 1864 – Major General William T. Sherman’s Federals assaulted Confederates heavily defended on an eminence 15 miles north of Atlanta.

Sherman had resolved to directly attack the Confederate line anchored on Kennesaw Mountain. General Joseph E. Johnston, commanding the Confederate Army of Tennessee, had strengthened his flanks to prevent them from being turned, so Sherman felt he had no choice but to try breaking through his center.

The 27th began hot and humid, with temperatures quickly reaching 100 degrees. At 8 a.m., 200 Federal guns opened on the Confederate lines, and Confederate gunners responded. A witness wrote, “Kennesaw smoked and blazed with fire, a volcano as grand as Etna.”

Sketch of firing on Kennesaw Mountain | Image Credit: CivilWarDailyGazette.com

A half-hour later, about 5,000 Federals from Major General James B. McPherson’s Army of the Tennessee began advancing toward Little Kennesaw and Pigeon Hill, which were held by the Confederate corps led by Major General William W. Loring (formerly under Leonidas Polk). McPherson hoped to break the enemy defenses and isolate Loring to the northeast. About 5,000 entrenched Confederates awaited the Federals’ approach.

As the Federals scaled the steep ridges, Confederate artillerists fired down into them. When their guns could not be depressed any lower, the Confederates rolled rocks and other impediments down the hill. The Federals reached the forward rifle pits, with many using their rifles as clubs, but they could not reach the main line. The fight raged for two hours before the Federals were ordered to fall back.

About two miles south, 9,000 Federals began advancing across a mile-wide front at 9 a.m. They belonged to Major General George H. Thomas’s Army of the Cumberland. Facing them were two divisions of Lieutenant General William Hardee’s corps under Major Generals Patrick R. Cleburne and Benjamin F. Cheatham.

The Federals marched in columns to apply maximum power against specific points on the line, thereby increasing their chances for a breakthrough. However, this left them vulnerable to artillery, which cut swaths into the formations. The Confederate defenders noted the Federals’ bravery, with one recalling, “They seemed to walk up and take death as coolly as if they were automatic or wooden men.”

Only a few Federals managed to reach the Confederate lines, including Colonel Daniel McCook, who was killed after shouting, “Surrender, you traitors!” He was the fourth of 15 “Fighting McCooks” to die in combat. Vicious hand-to-hand fighting ensued, and this area of the field became known as the “Dead Angle.”

Thomas issued orders around 10:45 for the Federals to fall back, but those pinned down by enemy fire had to wait until nightfall. Sherman wrote Thomas at 1:30, “Do you think you can carry any part of the enemy’s line today?… I will order the assault if you think you can succeed at any point.” Thomas replied, “We have already lost heavily today without gaining any material advantage. One or two more such assaults would use up this army.”

Johnston, not yet aware of the extent of his victory, wired Richmond, “The enemy advanced upon our whole line to-day. Their loss is supposed to be great; ours known to be small.” But the Confederates were not in good shape, despite their victory. One soldier recalled:

“I never saw so many broken down and exhausted men in my life. I was as sick as a horse, and as wet with blood and sweat as I could be, and many of our men were vomiting with excessive fatigue, over-exhaustion, and sunstroke; our tongues were parched and cracked for water, and our faces blackened with powder and smoke, and our dead and wounded were piled indiscriminately in the trenches.”

The Federals sustained 2,051 casualties (1,999 killed or wounded and 52 missing), while the Confederates lost 442 (270 killed or wounded and 172 missing). These numbers were small compared to the terrible battles in Virginia, but they were the greatest losses in this campaign thus far. Sherman came under severe criticism for this failed attack, but he wrote in his report:

“I perceived that the enemy and our officers had settled down into a conviction that I would not assault fortified lines. All looked to me to outflank. An army to be efficient, must not settle down to a single mode of offence, but must be prepared to execute any plan which promises success. I wanted, therefore, for the moral effect, to make a successful assault against the enemy behind his breastworks, and resolved to attempt it at that point where success would give the largest fruits of victory.”

This was Johnston’s greatest tactical victory of the campaign. However, Sherman turned this into a strategic victory for the Federals when Major General John Schofield’s Army of the Ohio extended its right flank beyond Johnston’s left. This allowed Sherman to turn Johnston’s flank once more, even though it would force the Federals to detach themselves from their supply line on the Western & Atlantic Railroad.

That night, Sherman wrote Thomas, “Are you willing to risk (a) move on Fulton, cutting loose from the railroad?” Thomas responded that such a move was risky, but, “I think it decidedly better than butting against breastworks 12 feet thick and strongly abatised.”

Sherman later wrote, “Satisfied of the bloody cost of attacking intrenched lines, I at once thought of moving the whole army to the railroad at a point about 10 miles below Marietta, or to the Chattahoochee River itself…” Kennesaw Mountain proved to be Sherman’s last large-scale frontal attack of the war.

Two days later, Federals and Confederates agreed upon a seven-hour truce to bury the dead and alleviate the overwhelming stench around Kennesaw Mountain. Confederates helped Federals drag bodies, using bayonets as grappling hooks, into deep trenches. The opposing soldiers fraternized, and some Federals impressed by General Cheatham’s leadership at the Dead Angle asked for his autograph.

Meanwhile, Sherman wrote to his wife, “I begin to regard the death and mangling of a couple of thousand men as a small affair, a kind of morning dash. It may be well that we become hardened… The worst of the war is not yet begun.”

Johnston soon learned that Sherman was trying to flank him again. But he was confident that Sherman would eventually overextend his supply line, leaving him isolated in enemy territory. This did not satisfy Johnston’s superiors, who were growing more impatient with his retreats. When Johnston told Richmond that he could not take the offensive without more men, General Braxton Bragg, advisor to President Jefferson Davis, expressed frustration:

“Every available man, subject to my control, has been sent to General Johnston, and he had retained several commands deemed absolutely necessary elsewhere, after receiving orders to move them. No doubt he is outnumbered by the enemy, as we are everywhere, but the disparity is much less than it has ever been between those two armies.”

Since this campaign began, Sherman lost nearly 17,000 men while Johnston lost just over 14,000. This represented 14 percent of Sherman’s total force and 25 percent of Johnston’s. Contrary to Johnston’s boasts that Federal supplies would soon run out, Sherman still had enough men to guard the supply line all the way back to Chattanooga.

As June ended, Georgia Governor Joseph E. Brown issued a third call for state militia to oppose Sherman’s drive on Atlanta. President Davis informed Brown that he had sent Johnston “all available reinforcements, detaching troops even from points that remain exposed to the enemy.” Davis did not know what else he could do.

Brown then turned to Senator Benjamin Hill, a personal friend of Davis’s. Brown asked Hill to write the president and ask him to send more troops to Johnston. Hill replied, “Time is too precious and letters are inadequate,” and announced that he would consult with Johnston and then travel to Richmond in person.

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References

Angle, Paul M., A Pictorial History of the Civil War Years (New York: Doubleday, 1967), p. 175-76; Bailey, Ronald H., The Battles for Atlanta: Sherman Moves East (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 18, 66-67, 75; Catton, Bruce, The American Heritage Picture History of the Civil War (New York: American Heritage Publishing Co., 1960), p. 481; CivilWarDailyGazette.com; Crocker III, H.W., The Politically Incorrect Guide to the Civil War (Washington: Regnery Publishing, 2008), p. 82-84; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 430; 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 8328-48, 8371-424, 8638-58; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 462; Linedecker, Clifford L. (ed.), The Civil War A to Z (Ballantine Books, 2002), p. 23-24, 155-56; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 529-30; Longacre, Edward G., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 413; 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. 749