Tag Archives: George Stoneman

The Stoneman-McCook Debacle

July 31, 1864 – Confederates from the Army of Tennessee confronted and nearly wiped out one of Major General William T. Sherman’s cavalry commands trying to wreck the railroad south of Atlanta.

The Federal cavalry had underachieved in Sherman’s campaign thus far, but he decided to give the troopers one more chance to redeem themselves. As he moved his three armies west and south of Atlanta, Sherman dispatched two cavalry columns to raid the Macon & Western Railroad, the last major supply line in and out of the city.

Maj Gen George Stoneman | Image Credit: Wikimedia.org

Major General George Stoneman from the Army of the Ohio would lead 6,500 troopers around the east side of Atlanta, and Brigadier General Edward M. McCook’s 3,500 troopers from the Army of the Cumberland would ride around the west side. The forces would meet at Lovejoy’s Station, 23 miles south of Atlanta on the Macon & Western Railroad, where they would destroy the lifeline.

Stoneman persuaded Sherman to allow him to continue south and liberate the Federal prisoners of war at Macon and Andersonville, but only after the railroad was wrecked. As the forces moved out, Stoneman disregarded the railroad and headed straight for Macon, leaving Brigadier General Kenner Garrard’s division of 2,000 horsemen to raid toward the South River.

General John Bell Hood, commanding the Confederate Army of Tennessee, assigned Major General Joseph Wheeler’s cavalry to stop the Federal raid. Wheeler’s 10,000 troopers quickly descended upon Garrard’s isolated command and routed it, forcing the Federals to retreat back north.

McCook’s Federals rode southwest and cut the Atlanta & West Point Railroad on the 28th, destroying about 1,000 Confederate wagons and plundering civilian property along the way. The troopers reached Lovejoy’s Station the next day, where they captured over 400 Confederates, burned another 500 wagons, and slaughtered nearly 800 horses and mules. The Federals began wrecking the railroad, but McCook ordered a withdrawal when Stoneman did not arrive as expected.

Maj Gen Joseph Wheeler | Image Credit: CivilWarDailyGazette.com

Wheeler’s cavalry caught up to McCook near Newnan and sent his men fleeing in retreat. The Confederates inflicted about 950 casualties while taking back most of the Confederate prisoners, 1,200 horses, and several wagons. McCook and the remnants of his scattered command escaped across the Chattahoochee River.

Meanwhile, Stoneman’s Federals reached the Ocmulgee River, opposite Macon, and began bombarding the town. A force of about 2,500 Confederates and Georgia militia repelled a half-hearted assault, and Stoneman withdrew. He soon found himself under pursuit by a detachment from Wheeler’s force. The Confederates caught up to them near Clinton, about 28 miles northeast of Macon, on the 31st.

The Federals were quickly surrounded near Sunshine Church. Two brigades escaped, but Stoneman and 700 troopers were forced to surrender. Ironically, many of Stoneman’s men were sent to the prison in Macon that they had tried to liberate. Confederates pursued and dispersed the remaining Federal troopers as they fled back to their lines.

This was one of the Federal cavalry’s greatest debacles of the war. Not only did the troopers fail to inflict any substantial damage on the Macon & Western Railroad, but nearly 2,000 of their number were killed, wounded, or taken prisoner. Sherman, who had already thought little of cavalry before approving this operation, concluded that they “could not, nor would not make a sufficient lodgement on the railroad below Atlanta…”

If Sherman was going to capture Atlanta, he would have to rely on his infantry to do it.

—–

References

Bailey, Ronald H., The Battles for Atlanta: Sherman Moves East (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 136-40; Castel, Albert, Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 721; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 440-41; 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 10191-201; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 474-79; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 546-47; Longacre, Edward G., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 405-06

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.

—–

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.”

—–

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: Sherman Sidesteps Johnston Again

June 1, 1864 – Federal cavalry seized Allatoona Pass in Major General William T. Sherman’s effort to move northeast around General Joseph E. Johnston’s right flank.

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

Near May’s end, Sherman had led his three Federal armies away from the Western & Atlantic Railroad to try moving around the left (southern) flank of Johnston’s Confederate Army of Tennessee. But after inconclusive fighting at New Hope Church, Pickett’s Mill, and Dallas, Sherman opted to swing back to the northeast and reconnect with the railroad, which transported supplies from Chattanooga.

Federal cavalry under Major General George Stoneman seized Allatoona Pass on the railroad as the Armies of the Ohio and the Cumberland shifted northeast. Major General James B. McPherson’s Army of the Tennessee finally disengaged from the Confederates in front of Dallas and began following the other two armies.

Johnston recognized the movement and reported, “Today the enemy is moving his forces from his right to his left. We are making a corresponding movement to our right.” Johnston was confident that he could win a war of attrition if he just continued inflicting casualties and pulling the Federals away from their supply base at Chattanooga.

It rained the next two days, during which the Confederates tried stopping the Army of the Ohio’s eastern shift. The Confederates attacked from behind rocks and forests, prompting Sherman to worry that he was being drawn into “a big Indian war.” The Federals used large amounts of ammunition while inflicting few casualties, but they finally pushed through and reached the railroad. The other two armies soon followed.

Advance Federal units reached Acworth, a railroad town south of Allatoona Pass, on the 3rd. Sherman told Major General George H. Thomas, commanding the Army of the Cumberland, “Joe Johnston is shrewd enough to see that we have begun such a movement, and will prepare the way.”

That night, Johnston issued orders for his army to fall back from its New Hope Church-Dallas line to previously prepared entrenchments that bisected the railroad about eight miles below Acworth. Facing north, Johnston’s men held a line that connected several mountains:

  • Lieutenant General William Hardee’s corps held the left (west) on Lost Mountain and at Gilgal Church.
  • Lieutenant General Leonidas Polk’s corps held the center from Pine Mountain to the railroad.
  • Lieutenant General John Bell Hood’s corps held the right (east) across the railroad, along the base of Brush Mountain.

Behind the Confederate center was Kennesaw Mountain, through which the railroad ran. Past Kennesaw was Marietta, and then Atlanta. Sherman reported, “Kennesaw is the key to the whole country.” He arranged his three armies on a line to match Johnston’s, with Major General John Schofield’s Army of the Ohio on the right (west), Thomas in the center, and McPherson on the left (east).

The Federals began shifting around Raccoon Creek, with McPherson along the railroad at Big Shanty, about halfway between Allatoona and Marietta. Skirmishing broke out around Pine Mountain as the Federals probed the Confederate defenses.

By the 8th, all of Sherman’s Federals had reached Acworth and were assembling to confront Johnston’s army in full force. Major General Francis P. Blair, Jr.’s Federal corps finally arrived as reinforcement, but Sherman was forced to detach more troops to go back and deal with Major General Nathan Bedford Forrest’s Confederate cavalry wreaking havoc on the Federal supply line. This caused delays in Sherman’s preparations against Johnston.

On the Confederate side, it was hoped that troops from General Edmund Kirby Smith’s Trans-Mississippi Department could be rushed east to reinforce Johnston, but this was becoming increasingly unlikely. President Jefferson Davis wrote on the 9th:

“I do not think General Smith could re-enforce General Johnston in time for the battle which must be fought for Georgia. Unless General Johnston strikes before the enemy have brought up all the re-enforcements reported to be moving, his chances will be greatly diminished for the success which seemed attainable before he retreated, and still seems to be practicable.”

The Federals continued probing forward the next few days as railroad crews opened the rail line to Big Shanty. This ensured that Sherman’s 100,000 men, most of whom had been well rested over the past week, would also be well supplied. However, there were still many obstacles to overcome, as Sherman later wrote, “The rains continued to pour, and made our developments slow and dilatory, for there were no roads, and these had to be improvised by each division for its own supply-train from the depot in Big Shanty to the camps.”

Sherman reported to Chief of Staff Henry W. Halleck on the night of the 13th:

“We have had hard and cold rains for about 10 days. A gleam of sunshine this evening give hope of a change. The roads are insufficient here, and the fields and new ground are simply impassable to wheels. As soon as possible I will study Johnston’s position on the Kennesaw and Lost Mountains, and adopt some plan to dislodge him or draw him out of his position.”

But Sherman added, “We cannot risk the heavy loss of an assault at this distance from our base.”

Meanwhile, Johnston met with his corps commanders to discuss how they could shorten their lines because the Confederates were spread too thin. As they talked, two of Thomas’s corps moved around the base of Pine Mountain, where the Confederates were most vulnerable. Hardee, concerned that this could isolate one of his divisions on the mountain, asked Johnston to reconnoiter the movements with him. That fateful reconnaissance would take place on the 14th.

—–

References

Bailey, Ronald H., The Battles for Atlanta: Sherman Moves East (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 59-61; CivilWarDailyGazette.com; Davis, Jefferson, The Rise and Fall of the Confederate Government: All Volumes (Heraklion Press, Kindle Edition 2013, 1889), Loc 20808; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 417-24; 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 7390-410, 8213-23; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 447, 450, 452; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 512-15, 517-18

Battles at Pickett’s Mill and Dallas

May 27, 1864 – Federals and Confederates continued fighting in Georgia, as Major General William T. Sherman tried turning the Confederates’ right flank.

Sherman was now convinced that General Joseph E. Johnston’s entire Confederate Army of Tennessee opposed his Federals east of Dallas. But after the fight at New Hope Church on the 25th, Sherman was also convinced that Johnston’s right (north) flank could be turned. He directed Major General Oliver O. Howard’s IV Corps, along with supporting divisions, to do the job.

Maj Gen O.O. Howard | Image Credit: Wikipedia.org

Howard led 14,000 Federals through dense woods to Pickett’s Mill, a grist mill two miles northeast of the “Hell Hole” at New Hope Church. By the time the Federals approached, Johnston had strengthened this sector of his line with Major General Patrick R. Cleburne’s division.

The Federals struggled through the brush to find the end of the Confederate line, and therefore did not get into attack positions until early evening. Both sides began exchanging fire around 6 p.m., when Howard received a message from Sherman urging him to disengage: “It is useless to look for the flank of the enemy, as he make temporary breastworks as fast as we travel.”

As Howard tried pulling back into the woods, the Confederates counterattacked and inflicted heavy losses. Howard, who was shot through the foot, later wrote:

“That opening in the forest, faint fires here and there revealing men wounded, armless, legless, or eyeless; some with heads bound up with cotton strips, some standing and walking nervously around, some sitting with bended forms, and some prone upon the earth–who can picture it? A few men, in despair, had resorted to drink for relief. The sad sounds from those in pain were mingled with the oaths of the drunken and the more heartless… That night will always be a sort of nightmare to me. I think no perdition here or hereafter can be worse.”

The Federals sustained about 1,600 casualties, while the Confederates lost no more than 500. Sherman made no mention of this defeat in his official report or his personal memoirs. He merely notified Washington, “We have had many sharp, severe encounters, but nothing decisive. Both sides duly cautious in the obscurity of the ambushed ground.”

The engagement at Pickett’s Mill prompted Johnston to try probing for weaknesses in other parts of Sherman’s line. He ordered Lieutenant General William Hardee’s corps to conduct a reconnaissance in force southeast of Dallas on the 28th. The Confederates advanced to a portion of the enemy line held by Major General James B. McPherson’s Army of the Tennessee, specifically Major General John A. Logan’s XV Corps.

Fighting began around 3:45 p.m., with the Confederates pushing the Federals out of their entrenchments. Logan rushed up to his straggling men, shouting, “Damn your regiments! Damn your officers! Forward and yell like hell!” The Federals then counterattacked and drove the Confederates off. Both sides returned to their original lines as Sherman continued trying to find a way to outflank Johnston.

Sherman had initially planned for McPherson to pull out of the line and move north to extend the Federal left flank. But this changed when Sherman learned of the fight with Hardee’s Confederates. Sherman directed McPherson to stay put, hopeful that the dense forest between the two armies would prevent Johnston from noticing a wide gap between the armies of McPherson and Major General George H. Thomas. Johnston did not notice it, and Sherman did not notice a similar gap in Johnston’s line either.

Johnston held a council of war on the night of the 28th, where it was decided that Hood would shift his corps beyond Cleburne and attack the Federal left flank while the two corps of Lieutenant Generals Leonidas Polk and Hardee held the Federals in line on the center and right. However, this attack was aborted the next day when Hood discovered a Federal division blocking his proposed line of march. Johnston ordered the Confederates to resume strengthening their defenses.

The two armies remained within striking distance of each other on the 29th, with skirmishing taking place at various points along the line. Sherman tried moving McPherson’s army to the left that night, but Confederate picket fire prevented any major movements.

The next day, Sherman resolved to try getting his forces to Allatoona Pass, on the Western & Atlantic Railroad beyond his left flank to the northeast. He hoped to use Major General Francis P. Blair, Jr.’s XVII Corps to seize the pass, but Blair still had not arrived from Vicksburg. Sherman wrote, “As Blair cannot be expected as soon as I contemplated, I must use the cavalry to secure Allatoona Pass.”

Having a notoriously low opinion of cavalry, Sherman reluctantly tasked Major General George Stoneman and Brigadier General Kenner Garrard to lead their troopers in seizing the objective. He instructed them:

“If you find the road occupied, attack the cavalry with cavalry and the infantry with dismounted men, and force your way into and through the pass along the railroad till you secure some commanding position… Do not be deterred by appearances, but act boldly and promptly; the success of our movement depends on our having Allatoona Pass.”

During the night of the 30th, McPherson’s Federals successfully fell back from their entrenchments and closed the gap with Thomas’s army. Major General John Schofield’s Army of the Ohio held the Federal left and launched diversionary attacks to prevent the Confederates from discovering McPherson’s shift. As May ended, Sherman was ready to shift his massive force northeast, around Johnston’s flank once more, to reconnect with the railroad and resume his drive on Atlanta.

—–

References

Bailey, Ronald H., The Battles for Atlanta: Sherman Moves East (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 53-56, 59; Castel, Albert, Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 525; CivilWarDailyGazette.com; Davis, Jefferson, The Rise and Fall of the Confederate Government: All Volumes (Heraklion Press, Kindle Edition 2013, 1889), Loc 20808; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 414-17; 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 7302-32; 7342-71; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 445-46; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 509-12

Armies Begin Stirring in Northern Virginia

May 31, 1863 – Major General Joseph Hooker replaced his cavalry commander, Confederates raided his depot, and General Robert E. Lee sought to hurry his planned northern invasion.

Gen R.E. Lee and Maj Gen J. Hooker | Image Credit: Wikimedia.org

With the Federal Army of the Potomac back at Falmouth following the Chancellorsville debacle, Major General George Stoneman, commanding the Cavalry Corps, requested a sick leave. Hooker, who believed that Stoneman’s failed raid in April and early May had contributed to the defeat, quickly granted his request.

Hooker replaced Stoneman with Brigadier General Alfred Pleasonton, a self-promoter who claimed that his cavalry division had saved the Federal army from destruction during the Confederate flank attack on May 2. Pleasonton took command of three divisions and a reserve brigade. He ordered each trooper to carry on horseback only “his arms, the rations of forage and subsistence ordered, one blanket besides the saddle blanket, and that under the saddle, and an overcoat.”

Pleasonton reported to Hooker that while the Cavalry Corps had numbered “upward of 12,000 men and horses” two months ago, it was now down to less than 5,000 and “not fitted to take the field.” He added, “In taking this command, I cannot do myself such an injustice as to remain silent as to the unsatisfactory condition in which I find this corps.” Even so, Pleasonton would “use every exertion to bring it to a state of efficiency at the earliest possible moment.”

Pleasonton’s gloomy report prompted Hooker to use his cavalry sparingly, thus limiting his ability to reconnoiter the Confederate army. However, when scouts reported Confederate activity between Culpeper and Warrenton, possibly led by prominent partisan John S. Mosby, Hooker made it clear to Pleasonton that “no labor be spared to ascertain the true object of the movement. At all events, they have no business on this side of the (Rappahannock) river.”

Pleasonton sent Brigadier General John Buford with a division and the reserve brigade to investigate the activity. Pleasonton directed,

“On arriving at Bealton, should you find yourself with sufficient force, you will drive the enemy out of his camp near Culpeper and across the Rapidan, destroying the bridge at that point. The advance of the enemy’s cavalry in the vicinity of Warrenton may have for its object to conceal a movement in force up the (Shenandoah) Valley.”

Major General George G. Meade’s V Corps joined the troopers in patrolling the upper Rappahannock.

Rumors soon spread that Major General Jeb Stuart’s Confederate cavalry was at Culpeper, and Mosby’s partisan rangers were at Warrenton. This raised Federal concerns about a possible cavalry raid on Washington. However, it was learned that Mosby had just a small force between Falmouth and Washington, while Stuart remained south of the Rappahannock.

Nevertheless, General Julius Stahel, commanding Federals at Fairfax Court House, warned Major General Samuel P. Heintzelman, commanding the Washington defenses, “It is the current conversation and belief that Stuart is to be this (east) side of the Blue Ridge within a week. All the events and circumstances indicate such to be the fact.”

On the night of the 29th, with Federal commanders addressing rumors of Stuart’s impending advance, Mosby met with his partisans and planned a raid on the Orange & Alexandria Railroad. They planned to ride to Greenwich, northeast of Warrenton, and then attack the Federal supply depot at Catlett’s Station.

The next morning, the Confederates cut telegraph lines, took out a section of railroad track, and waited for the next supply train to approach. The train quickly halted, and Mosby’s men used a howitzer to scatter the Federal guards detraining to assess the threat. The Confederates looted the 11 cars, taking “morning papers, several bags with the United States mail, boxes of oranges and candy, leather for boots, and nearly every one got a fresh shad.”

Mosby used the howitzer to destroy the train’s engine, and his partisans rode off before Pleasonton’s cavalry could arrive. The Confederates turned and fired their cannon into the lead Federal unit in pursuit and then charged, sending the Federals fleeing. However, more Federals soon came up and threatened Mosby’s right. Mosby later reported to Stuart, “Though overpowered by numbers, many of the enemy were made to bite the dust.” His partisans scattered and fled, leaving the howitzer behind. Both sides suffered about a dozen casualties each.

By month’s end, Hooker received information from his chief of intelligence that “the Confederate army is under marching orders” and would probably “move forward upon or above our right flank.” Meanwhile, Lee heard rumors that Hooker may advance against him again. The prospect of another costly battle south of the Rappahannock River made Lee even more anxious to start moving toward Pennsylvania.

—–

References

CivilWarDailyGazette.com; Clark, Champ, Gettysburg: The Confederate High Tide (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 16; Freeman, Douglas Southall, Lee (Scribner, Kindle Edition, 2008), Loc 5684

The Chancellorsville Aftermath: Lincoln Visits Hooker

May 7, 1863 – President Abraham Lincoln and General-in-Chief Henry W. Halleck arrived at Aquia Creek to meet with Major General Joseph Hooker regarding the Army of the Potomac’s latest defeat.

The president had arranged for a steamer to take him to Hooker’s headquarters after learning the extent of the Federal defeat at Chancellorsville. Lincoln and Halleck debarked on the morning of the 7th and took a special train to Falmouth, where they met with Hooker to discuss current and future operations.

Abraham Lincoln and Joseph Hooker | Image Credit: Wikimedia.org

Lincoln expressed relief to find that the “troops are none the worse for the campaign,” as evidenced by generally high morale and few desertions. He also said he was “agreeably surprised with the situation.” Lincoln did not assign blame for the defeat, but, knowing the indignation the defeat would cause throughout the North, he urged Hooker to begin a new offensive as soon as possible.

The meeting lasted just a few hours, after which Lincoln and Halleck left for Washington. As he left, Lincoln handed Hooker a letter:

“If possible I would be very glad of another movement early enough to give us some benefit from the fact of the enemies communications being broken, but neither for this reason or any other, do I wish anything done in desperation or rashness. If you have (a plan), prosecute it without interference from me. If you have not, please inform me, so that I, incompetent as I may be, can try and assist in the formation of some plan for the army.”

Lincoln told newspaper reporters at Falmouth that he was returning to Washington with “his confidence in Gen. Hooker and his army unshaken.” When a correspondent asked him if he would remove Hooker from command, Lincoln said that because he had stuck with George B. McClellan “a number of times, he saw no reason why he should not try General Hooker twice.”

Hooker responded the same day, writing:

“If in the first effort we failed, it was not for want of strength or conduct of the small number of troops actually engaged, but from a cause which could not be foreseen (i.e., the Confederate flank attack on May 2), and could not be provided against. As to the best time for renewing our advance upon the enemy, I can only decide after an opportunity has been afforded to learn the feeling of the troops. I have decided in my own mind the plan to be adopted in our next effort, if it should be your wish to have one made. It will be one in which the operations of all the corps… will be within my personal supervision.”

As the Federals returned to their old camps at Falmouth and resumed the daily routines of army life, northern newspapers spread blame among nearly everybody for the Chancellorsville debacle. Hooker reported that his present force totaled 136,704 officers and men, but many problems within the army delayed his plans to start another offensive.

From the White House, Lincoln responded with skepticism that Hooker could launch another offensive so quickly. He wrote that he would allow Hooker to stay put for now but would not object to Hooker putting the army in motion once more.

Lincoln then shifted focus to another concern: Hooker’s attitude. This bothered the president because it reflected a “cool, clear, and satisfied” air that refused to acknowledge responsibility for failure or willingness to learn from mistakes. Lincoln guessed that this attitude led to many of Hooker’s subordinates no longer wanting to serve under him.

Major General Darius N. Couch, Hooker’s second-in-command, was so disgusted by Hooker’s performance at Chancellorsville that he demanded to be transferred out of the army, away from Hooker. He joined with Major General Henry W. Slocum to urge Lincoln to replace Hooker with Major General George G. Meade. Major General John F. Reynolds had met with Lincoln at the White House and also recommended that Meade take Hooker’s place.

When Meade learned this, he told Lincoln he had no ambition to command the army, but he joined with Major General John Sedgwick in quietly expressing dissatisfaction with Hooker’s leadership. Only three of Hooker’s corps commanders–Major Generals Oliver O. Howard, George Stoneman, and Daniel Sickles–supported Hooker, but Hooker alienated Stoneman and Howard by asserting that they were the most responsible for the defeat.

Lincoln warned Hooker that “some of your corps and Division Commanders are not giving you their entire confidence.” This brought back memories of Hooker blatantly undermining Ambrose E. Burnside five months ago when Burnside commanded the army. Rather than fire back, Hooker left it up to Lincoln to decide what to do about it.

Lincoln rejected the calls to remove Hooker, saying that he was “not disposed to throw away a gun because it missed fire once,” but instead “would pick the lock and try it again.” But he did approve Couch’s transfer, with Major General Winfield Scott Hancock taking over Couch’s II Corps. Major General Alfred Pleasonton also took over for Stoneman as cavalry corps commander.

Lincoln then met with Halleck and Secretary of War Edwin M. Stanton to discuss Hooker’s fate. They agreed that the atmosphere was too politically charged to remove Hooker at this time, but if Hooker submitted his resignation some time in the future, they would accept.

—–

References

CivilWarDailyGazette.com; Clark, Champ, Gettysburg: The Confederate High Tide (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 14-16, 34; Davis, Jefferson, The Rise and Fall of the Confederate Government: All Volumes (Heraklion Press, Kindle Edition 2013, 1889), Loc 18962; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 282-84; Donald, David Herbert, Lincoln (Simon & Schuster, Kindle Edition, 2011), Loc 9275, 9318; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 300; Goodwin, Doris Kearns, Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln (New York: Simon and Schuster, 2005), p. 520-21; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 350, 353, 356-57