Tag Archives: Atlanta Campaign

The Battle of Utoy Creek

August 6, 1864 – Federal cavalrymen straggled back to their lines after a failed raid, and Major General William T. Sherman tried moving around the Confederates at Atlanta to cut their railroad line.

When most of Major General George Stoneman’s Federal cavalry was captured during operations outside Atlanta in late July, two brigades under Colonels Horace Capron and Silas Adams escaped. The two commands were initially separated, but they rejoined near Rutledge Station on the 1st and began moving to seize the river town of Athens. Meanwhile, a Confederate cavalry detachment under Colonel William C.P. Breckinridge pursued them.

Adams’s Federals demonstrated at Athens while Capron tried crossing the Oconee River farther above the town. When a guide misled him, Capron instead headed northeast to rejoin Sherman’s main Federal force. Capron gave his men and horses two hours of rest on the night of the 2nd, after riding 56 miles in one day.

Breckinridge’s Confederates attacked Capron’s camp just before dawn, scattering the Federals and the fugitive slaves they had collected during their expedition. Capron reported that the Confederates were “driving and scattering everything before them. Every effort was made by the officers to rally the men and check the enemy’s charge, but… a stampede now took place.”

Some Federals escaped using a bridge over Mulberry Creek, but the bridge collapsed and many men and horses drowned. The Confederates captured about 250 troopers, but Capron was among those who escaped. Sherman learned of these cavalry debacles from a Richmond newspaper. When survivors confirmed the story, Sherman offered this understatement to his superiors: “On the whole, the cavalry raid is not deemed a success.”

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

Sherman turned back to his infantry and artillery to capture Atlanta. Federal gunners began bombarding the city while Major General John Schofield’s Army of the Ohio, reinforced by Major General John M. Palmer’s XIV Corps, began moving from northeast of Atlanta toward Utoy Creek to the southwest, around Major General Oliver O. Howard’s Army of the Tennessee. This was another one of Sherman’s efforts to cut the railroad connecting Atlanta to East Point.

The Federals crossed Utoy Creek on the 4th but could not dislodge Lieutenant General Stephen D. Lee’s Confederates from their fortifications. The next day, Schofield intended to try again but was delayed due to a command dispute with Palmer. Palmer believed that he outranked Schofield, and he resigned when Sherman backed Schofield. Palmer was later replaced as head of XIV Corps by Major General Jefferson C. Davis.

The delay allowed Major General William B. Bate’s Confederate division to strengthen the defenses and extend them southward to prevent a flanking maneuver. The Federals attacked on the 6th, but the delay proved fatal as they were unable to break the enemy line and reach the railroad. Schofield lost 306 men killed or wounded before disengaging in heavy rain. The Confederates lost less than 10.

Schofield extended his right flank along the Sandtown Road on the 7th, but the Confederates fell back to new defenses on a ridge near the railroad to meet them. Sherman notified Chief of Staff Henry W. Halleck, “I do not deem it prudent to extend any more to the right, but will push forward daily by parallels, and make the inside of Atlanta too hot to be endured.”

Schofield’s Federals remained entrenched southwest of Atlanta while the guns bombarded the troops and civilians in the city.

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References

Bailey, Ronald H., The Battles for Atlanta: Sherman Moves East (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 138-39; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 442, 444; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 479-83; 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 10266-76; Linedecker, Clifford L. (ed.), The Civil War A to Z (Ballantine Books, 2002), p. 257; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 552-53; Longacre, Edward G., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 405-06

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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

The Battle of Atlanta

July 22, 1864 – General John Bell Hood’s Confederates hoped to destroy a portion of Major General William T. Sherman’s Federal force by attacking the army east of Atlanta.

In keeping with his strategy at Peachtree Creek, Hood, commanding the Army of Tennessee, sought to isolate and destroy one of Sherman’s three armies approaching the vital industrial and transportation center of Atlanta. Hood’s target was Major General James B. McPherson’s Army of the Tennessee, which held a north-south line less than three miles east of the city. According to Hood’s plan:

  • Lieutenant General William Hardee’s corps would conduct a 15-mile night march around McPherson’s left (southern) flank and attack from the south and east.
  • Major General Joseph Wheeler’s cavalry would ride past Hardee’s corps to the Federal supply depot at Decatur in McPherson’s rear.
  • Major General Benjamin F. Cheatham’s corps would attack McPherson’s right and center from the west.

Hood expected Hardee’s Confederates to attack at dawn, but they were exhausted from the night march and could not be brought up into attack formation until afternoon. During the delay, McPherson sensed that the Confederates might threaten his left and persuaded Sherman to allow him to bring up Major General Grenville M. Dodge’s XVI Corps from Decatur to reinforce his flank.

Dodge positioned his troops facing south, refusing the rest of McPherson’s line facing west. The Confederates attacked south of the Georgia Railroad, between Decatur and Atlanta, where Dodge’s Federals were waiting. The Confederates seemed surprised to see the enemy facing them, and they were repulsed. William Strong of McPherson’s staff recalled:

“They showed great steadiness, closed up the gaps, and preserved their alignments; but the iron and leaden hail that was fairly poured upon them was too much for flesh and blood to stand, and before reaching the centre of the open fields, the columns were broken up and thrown into great confusion.”

Combat outside Atlanta | Image Credit: SouthernSpaces.org

The Federals counterattacked and drove the Confederates back. However, McPherson soon discovered a gap between Dodge’s corps and Major General Francis P. Blair, Jr.’s XVII Corps to Dodge’s right (facing west). Confederates under Major General Patrick R. Cleburne surged forward to exploit the gap as McPherson called for troops to close it.

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

McPherson inadvertently rode up to Confederate skirmishers, and a captain demanded his surrender. The captain later wrote, “He checked his horse slightly, raised his hat as politely as if he was saluting a lady, wheeled his horse’s head directly to the right and dashed off to the rear in a full gallop.” The skirmishers killed him with a bullet near his heart. Federals repulsed the skirmishers and recovered McPherson’s body, which they loaded into an ambulance and sent to Sherman’s headquarters. The Army of the Tennessee’s command temporarily passed to Major General John A. “Blackjack” Logan.

Federals rushed forward to plug the gap between XVII and XVI corps, holding firm against Cleburne’s assaults. To the west, Cheatham’s Confederates attacked the Federals at Bald Hill and other points around 3 p.m. The Confederates penetrated the line of XV corps near the Georgia Railroad, but Logan rallied the troops by yelling, “McPherson and revenge, boys! McPherson and revenge!” The Federals eventually drove the Confederates back.

Farther east, Federals were driven out of Decatur by Wheeler’s troopers, but the Federals saved all the army’s ordnance before withdrawing. Wheeler’s position became untenable when he learned that Hardee had not broken the Federal left, and he ordered a withdrawal. With no breakthroughs anywhere along the battle lines, Hood finally ordered his men to fall back.

The Federals suffered 3,722 casualties (430 killed, 1,559 wounded, and 1,733 missing) out of over 30,000 effectives. Sherman wept over the loss of McPherson, whom Sherman believed was his most talented subordinate. He had McPherson’s body wrapped in a U.S. flag and conveyed to Marietta for interment.

The Confederates lost 7,000 to 10,000 from roughly 40,000 men. Cleburne’s division lost 40 percent of its strength, including 30 of its 60 highest-ranking officers. In five days as army commander, Hood had launched two attacks that not only failed to dislodge Sherman, but they cost more lives than former commander Joseph E. Johnston had lost in over two months. Hood again blamed Hardee for the defeat, even though Hood was not present during the fighting, just as he was not present during the Battle of Peachtree Creek two days before.

Despite such devastating losses, the Confederates still held Atlanta. They fell back to defenses around the city, and Sherman began planning to place Atlanta under siege.

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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. 100-14; Castel, Albert, Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 466; Catton, Bruce, The American Heritage Picture History of the Civil War (New York: American Heritage Publishing Co., 1960), p. 516, 525-26; 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. 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 9960-70, 10043-74, 10096-116; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 473; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 543-44; 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. 754; Pritchard, Russ A., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 746-47; Ward, Geoffrey C., Burns, Ric, Burns, Ken, The Civil War (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1990), p. 327

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

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

Hood Replaces Johnston

July 17, 1864 – President Jefferson Davis gambled by replacing General Joseph E. Johnston as commander of the Confederate Army of Tennessee with the untried Lieutenant General John Bell Hood.

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

Since the Georgia campaign began in early May, Johnston had relinquished Dalton, Resaca, Adairsville, Allatoona, Kingston, Rome, Kennesaw Mountain, and the Chattahoochee River. His Confederates were now within three miles of Atlanta, and he offered no specific plan on how (or if) he intended to put up a fight before Major General William T. Sherman’s Federals descended upon this vital industrial and transportation center.

Davis had sent his top military advisor, General Braxton Bragg, to inspect Johnston’s army and provide a recommendation regarding the command. Bragg reported that Johnston did not seem willing to defend Atlanta and recommended his youngest corps commander, Hood, to replace him.

His patience nearly exhausted, Davis telegraphed Johnston on the 16th: “… I wish to hear from you as to present situation, and your plan of operations so specifically as will enable me to anticipate events.” Johnston vaguely responded:

“As the enemy has double our numbers we must be on the defensive. My plan of operations must, therefore, depend upon that of the enemy. It is mainly to watch for an opportunity to fight to advantage. We are trying to put Atlanta in condition to be held for a day or two by the Georgia militia, that army movements may be freer and wider.”

Johnston’s message directly conflicted with Bragg’s report, which (erroneously) concluded that the opposing armies were roughly the same size. Davis and Johnston had resented each other for three years, ever since Johnston accused Davis of passing him over in the order of ranking among the top Confederate generals. Also, Johnston’s close relationship with Davis’s political opponents did not go unnoticed.

Davis had been deeply disturbed when Johnston gave up Vicksburg without a fight, and now he saw the same pattern emerging with Atlanta. To Johnston, maintaining the strength and morale of the army was worth more than risking a destructive battle over a city or landmark. This fundamental disagreement between Davis and Johnston had finally come to a head.

A courier delivered a message to Johnston on the night of the 17th, as he discussed fortifying Atlanta with his chief engineer. The message came from Davis via Adjutant General Samuel Cooper:

“Lieutenant General J.B. Hood has been commissioned to the temporary rank of General under the late law of Congress. I am directed by the Secretary of War to inform you that as you have failed to arrest the advance of the enemy to the vicinity of Atlanta, far in the interior of Georgia, and express no confidence that you can defeat or repel him, you are hereby relieved from the command of the Army and Department of Tennessee, which you will immediately turn over to General Hood.”

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

Hood received a message notifying him that he now commanded the Army of Tennessee at 11 p.m. He also received a message from Secretary of War James A. Seddon:

“You are charged with a great trust. You will, I know, test to the utmost your capacities to discharge it. Be wary no less than bold. It may yet be practicable to cut the communication of the enemy or find or make an opportunity of equal encounter whether he moves east or west. God be with you.”

When he received these messages, Hood shared them with Lieutenant General Alexander P. Stewart, one of the army’s corps commanders. The two generals traveled to Johnston’s headquarters in the early morning, where Hood pleaded with Johnston, “Pocket that dispatch, leave me in command of my corps and fight the battle for Atlanta.” Johnston refused to stay on.

Hood and Stewart then joined with the other corps commander, Lieutenant General William Hardee, to send a joint wire to Davis asking him to suspend his order “until the fate of Atlanta is decided.” Davis replied, “The order has been executed, and I cannot suspend it without making the case worse than it was before the order was issued.”

Johnston had been deeply beloved by the army, and when news spread of his removal, many officers and men gathered at his headquarters to bid “Old Joe” farewell. Johnston removed his hat, and his troops did the same as they passed. Some men wept; others broke ranks to shake his hand. Johnston went to Macon, leaving behind a farewell address:

“I cannot leave this noble army without expressing my admiration of the high military qualities it has displayed… The enemy has never attacked but to be repulsed and severely punished… No longer your leader, I will still watch your career, and will rejoice in your victories. To one and all I offer assurances of my friendship, and bid an affectionate farewell.”

Johnston had a less sentimental response to Davis’s order removing him from command:

“Your dispatch of yesterday received and obeyed. Sherman’s army is much stronger compared with that of Tennessee than Grant’s compared with that of Northern Virginia. Yet the enemy has been compelled to advance much more slowly to the vicinity of Atlanta than to that of Richmond and Petersburg, and has penetrated deeper into Virginia than into Georgia. Confident language by a military commander is not usually regarded as evidence of competency.”

The Army of Tennessee now belonged to John Bell Hood, a talented officer who had lost the use of an arm at Gettysburg and a leg at Chickamauga. According to the Richmond Whig, Hood was “young, dashing, and lucky, the army and the people all have confidence in his ability and inclination to fight, and will look to him to drive back Sherman and save Atlanta.”

Hood was known as an aggressive fighter, as the Richmond Examiner opined that Hood’s “appointment has but one meaning, and that is to give battle to the foe.” However, this could play right into the Federals’ hands since Sherman had hoped to draw the Confederates out into an open fight ever since the campaign began. Many fellow officers believed Hood was not yet ready to command an entire army. Nevertheless, he now had 48,750 effectives to keep the Federals out of Atlanta.

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References

Angle, Paul M., A Pictorial History of the Civil War Years (New York: Doubleday, 1967), p. 176-77; Bailey, Ronald H., The Battles for Atlanta: Sherman Moves East (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 80-81, 90; Castel, Albert, Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 565-66; 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 20826-35, 20854, 20920-29; 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 8787-840, 8852-72, 9855-85; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 470-71; Kallmann, John D., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 368-69, 400-01; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 540-41; 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. 752-53; Ward, Geoffrey C., Burns, Ric, Burns, Ken, The Civil War (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1990), p. 324-25

Georgia: Davis Contemplates a Command Change

July 12, 1864 – President Jefferson Davis grew exceedingly impatient with General Joseph E. Johnston’s constant retreats and began considering replacing him as commander of the Confederate Army of Tennessee.

Johnston withdrew his Confederates southeastward, across the Chattahoochee River, to a line in front of Peachtree Creek. They were now just three miles from Atlanta, a city second in its value to the Confederacy only to Richmond. As they constructed defenses, Johnston telegraphed the War Department, “I strongly recommend the distribution of the U.S. prisoners, now at Andersonville, immediately.”

Confederate President Jefferson Davis | Image Credit: Wikispaces.com

This message alarmed Davis because Andersonville prison camp was near Americus, over 100 miles south of Atlanta. Davis interpreted this to mean that Johnston would abandon Atlanta without a fight, something the president found unacceptable. Davis began strongly considering removing Johnston as commander, but the list of generals who could replace him was short.

One possible candidate was Lieutenant General John Bell Hood, who currently commanded a corps in Johnston’s army. Davis sought advice from General Robert E. Lee at Petersburg: “Genl. Johnston has failed and there are strong indications that he will abandon Atlanta… It seems necessary to relieve him at once. Who should succeed him? What think you of Hood for the position?”

Lee responded in cipher: “I regret the fact stated. It is a bad time to relieve the commander of an army situated as that of Tenne. We may lose Atlanta and the army too. Hood is a bold fighter. I am doubtful as to other qualities necessary.”

In a follow-up message, Lee wrote, “It is a grievous thing. Still if necessary it ought to be done. I know nothing of the necessity. I had hoped that Johnston was strong enough to deliver battle…” Expanding on his assessment of Hood, Lee stated, “Hood is a good fighter, very industrious on the battlefield, careless off, and I have had no opportunity of judging his action, when the whole responsibility rested upon him. I have a very high opinion of his gallantry, earnestness and zeal.”

Unable to fully endorse Hood as a replacement for Johnston, Lee suggested considering another corps commander in Johnston’s army: “General (William) Hardee has more experience in managing an army. May God give you wisdom to decide in this momentous matter.” Davis replied, “It is a sad alternative, but the case seems hopeless in present hands. The means are surely adequate if properly employed, especially the cavalry is ample.”

General Braxton Bragg | Image Credit: Wikimedia.org

While Davis and Lee exchanged messages, Chief of Staff Braxton Bragg was on his way from Richmond to personally inspect Johnston’s army on Davis’s behalf. Choosing Bragg for this mission was unfortunate because he was almost universally disliked by nearly every officer and man in the Army of Tennessee, including Johnston. This would make it difficult for Bragg to gather information and render an objective opinion.

Bragg arrived on the 13th and sent a troubling initial assessment to the president: “Our army all south of the Chattahoochee, and indications seem to favor an entire evacuation of this place.” After a few more hours of investigating, Bragg wrote, “Our army is sadly depleted, and now reports 10,000 less than the return of 10th June. I find but little encouraging.”

Bragg met with Hood, who offered his opinion of what had happened so far, his ideas on how best to take the offensive, and his assessment of Johnston’s leadership. Bragg also met with Johnston, assuring the commander that the meetings were unofficial. The men worked together in “ascertaining the position of his army, its condition and strength, and in obtaining from him such information as he could give in regard to the enemy.” Bragg reported:

“I have made General Johnston two visits, and been received courteously and kindly. He has not sought my advice, and it was not volunteered. I cannot learn that he has any more plan for the future than he has had in the past. It is expected that he will await the enemy on a line some three miles from here, and the impression prevails that he is now more inclined to fight. The enemy is very cautious, and intrenches immediately on taking a new position. His force, like our own, is greatly reduced by the hard campaign. His infantry now very little over 60,000. The morale of our army is still reported good.”

In another message, Bragg wrote that it seemed Johnston would continue doing what he had done the past two months, which was to “await the enemy’s approach and be governed, as heretofore, by the development in our front.” Bragg reported that in Atlanta, “All valuable stores and machinery have been removed, and most of the citizens able to go have left with their effects… Position, numbers, and morale are now with the enemy.”

Speculating on the corps commanders as possible replacements for Johnston, Bragg could not recommend Hardee, possibly due to personal differences. Bragg wrote that Hardee “generally favored the retiring policy” of Johnston. Hardee would simply “perpetuate the past and present policy which he (Johnston) has advised and now sustains.” Lieutenant General Alexander P. Stewart had recently replaced the beloved Leonidas Polk and was considered too inexperienced for army command. Only Hood remained.

Bragg argued that the only way to keep the Federals out of Atlanta was to take the offensive. He and Hood “agree in this opinion and look for success. We should drive the enemy from this side of the river, follow him down by an attack in flank, and force him to battle, at the same time throwing our cavalry on his communications.”

Bragg asserted that Hood had “been in favor of giving battle” since the campaign began without mentioning that Hood had urged Johnston not to attack on at least one occasion. In a letter, Hood complained that the army had “failed to give battle many miles north of our present position.” Bragg wrote:

“I do not believe the second in rank (Hardee) has the confidence of the army. If any change is made, Lieutenant-General Hood would give unlimited satisfaction, and my estimate of him, always high, has been raised by his conduct in this campaign. Do not understand me as proposing him as a man of genius, or a great general, but as far better in the present emergency than any one we have available.”

Hood persuaded Bragg to back him, even though Davis had already placed him at the top of the short list of replacements for Johnston. Bragg’s endorsement only reinforced what Davis may have already decided.

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References

Bailey, Ronald H., The Battles for Atlanta: Sherman Moves East (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 76-78, 80; CivilWarDailyGazette.com; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 436; 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 8743-96; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 469; Freeman, Douglas Southall, Lee (Scribner, Kindle Edition, 2008), Loc 7787-98; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 537-38; 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. 752; White, Howard Ray, Bloodstains, An Epic History of the Politics that Produced and Sustained the American Civil War and the Political Reconstruction that Followed (Southernbooks. Kindle Edition, 2012), Q364