Tag Archives: James B. McPherson

The Battle of Kolb’s Farm

June 22, 1864 – As Major General William T. Sherman continued advancing through Georgia, Confederates on General Joseph E. Johnston’s left flank attacked a portion of Sherman’s force near Marietta, Georgia.

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

By this time, Johnston had arranged his Army of Tennessee in a semicircular line with his right north of Marietta, his center running southwest through Kennesaw Mountain, and his left curving to south of Marietta. On the left flank, Lieutenant General John Bell Hood deployed his corps near a plantation called Kolb’s Farm, about four miles southwest of Marietta.

The constant rains of the past three weeks gave way to warm sunshine on the 22nd. Sherman directed Major General Joseph Hooker’s XX Corps of Major General George H. Thomas’s Army of the Cumberland to move southeast to flank the Confederate left and cut the Western & Atlantic Railroad below Marietta. Hooker’s right flank was to be supported by Major General John Schofield’s Army of the Ohio.

As the Federals approached, Hood issued orders to attack without consulting Johnston. Confederate skirmishers taken prisoner confirmed that an attack would come, so the Federals were ready. About 11,000 Confederates struggled to advance across swampy ground, with about 14,000 Federals and 40 guns waiting for them. The attack began after 5 p.m.

Major General Carter L. Stevenson’s Confederate division advanced from the woods south of the Powder Springs Road to the open fields of Kolb’s Farm. They were met by Federal artillery and small arms fire, which enfiladed their line and pinned them down until they could retreat after dark. Major General Thomas C. Hindman’s division north of Powder Springs Road struggled to advance across swampy terrain and was easily repelled by artillery alone.

Battlefield map | Image Credit: Civil War Preservation Trust

Hood sustained 1,000 casualties, 870 of which came from Stevenson’s division. The Federals lost less than 300 men. Hooker reported to Sherman, “We have repulsed two heavy attacks and feel confident, our only apprehension being our extreme right flank. Three entire corps are in front of us.” This implied that Schofield was not covering Hooker’s right as ordered, even though Schofield was. Sherman admonished Hooker for exaggerating the danger and warned him that “such things must not occur again.”

Sherman continued his flanking effort the next day, as the weather continued improving. He reported to Chief of Staff Henry W. Halleck:

“We continue to press forward on the principle of an advance against fortified positions. The whole country is one vast fort, and Johnston must have at least 50 miles of connected trenches, with abatis and finished batteries. We gain ground daily, fighting all the time. Our lines are now in close contact and the fighting incessant, with a good deal of artillery. As fast as we gain one position, the enemy has another already.”

Despite the Federal success at Kolb’s Farm, Hood’s Confederates prevented the Federals from getting any closer to either Marietta or Atlanta. Sherman had extended his lines as far as they could possibly reach, and he could not penetrate Johnston’s left or right. He met with his army commanders on the 24th and later wrote:

“We all agreed that we could not with prudence stretch out any more, and therefore there was no alternative but to attack ‘fortified lines,’ a thing carefully avoided up to that time. I reasoned, if we could make a breach anywhere near the rebel centre, and thrust in a strong head of column, that with the one moiety of our army we could hold in check the corresponding wing of the enemy, and with the other sweep in flank and overwhelm the other half.”

Sherman issued a special field order for his commanders to “make full reconnaissances and preparations to attack the enemy in force on the 27th instant, at 8 a.m. precisely… All commanders will maintain reserve and secrecy even from their staff officers.” For the first time in the campaign, Sherman would “feign on both flanks and assault the center. It may cost us dear but in results would surpass an attempt to pass around.”

The Federals were to make preliminary feints to draw Johnston’s attention from the concentrated attack:

  • Major General James B. McPherson’s Army of the Tennessee would demonstrate against Major General William W. Loring’s Confederate corps (formerly Leonidas Polk’s) north of Marietta.
  • Schofield’s army would extend its right to Olley’s Creek while demonstrating against Hood’s Confederates southwest of Marietta.
  • Thomas’s army, supported by part of Major General John A. Logan’s XVI Corps from McPherson’s army, would launch the main attack against Lieutenant General William Hardee’s corps on Kennesaw Mountain.

Schofield began extending his right on the 26th, crossing Olley’s Creek with only Confederate cavalry putting up a token resistance. Although this indicated that Johnston’s left flank was weak enough to attack, Sherman was still determined to launch his main attack against the Confederate center. Sherman wrote his wife:

“My lines are 10 miles long, and every change necessitates a large amount of work. Still we are now all ready and I must attack direct or turn the position. Both will be attended with loss and difficulty, but one or the other must be attempted.”

—–

References

Bailey, Ronald H., The Battles for Atlanta: Sherman Moves East (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 63-66; CivilWarDailyGazette.com; Davis, Jefferson, The Rise and Fall of the Confederate Government: All Volumes (Heraklion Press, Kindle Edition 2013, 1889), Loc 20817; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 429-30; 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 8245-66, 8277-319, 8324-28; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 460-62; Linedecker, Clifford L. (ed.), The Civil War A to Z (Ballantine Books, 2002), p. 157; Longacre, Edward G., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 305, 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

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

The Battle of New Hope Church

May 25, 1864 – Major General William T. Sherman’s Federals and General Joseph E. Johnston’s Confederates clashed northeast of Dallas, Georgia, as Sherman tried maneuvering around Johnston’s flank.

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

By the morning of the 25th, two corps of Johnston’s Army of Tennessee–Lieutenant General Leonidas Polk’s and Lieutenant General William Hardee’s–held a line centered on New Hope Church, located at a crossroads about four miles northeast of Dallas. Polk’s troops were on the road leading east to Marietta, and Hardee’s men lined up at Polk’s left. Johnston’s third corps under Lieutenant General John Bell Hood came up on Polk’s right.

Sherman, commanding the three Federal armies marching toward Dallas, expected Johnston to fall back to Marietta, on the Western & Atlantic Railroad. He did not expect Johnston to block him at New Hope Church. Sherman was told that Confederates were east of Dallas, but he thought they were just part of a small force there to stall his advance.

The Federals approached Dallas from the north after marching through dense forest for two days. Brigadier General John W. Geary’s division of XX Corps led the advance, five miles ahead of the rest of the armies. Geary’s men began exchanging fire with Hood’s troops around 10 a.m., and Geary soon learned that the entire Confederate army was in the area. He informed his corps commander, Major General Joseph Hooker, who hurried his other two divisions under Major Generals Alpheus Williams and Daniel Butterfield in Geary’s support.

Battlefield around New Hope Church | Image Credit: Wikipedia.org

Geary established defenses while awaiting reinforcements. Hood would not attack because he believed the rest of Sherman’s force would be arriving soon. The two sides faced each other until late afternoon, when Sherman finally directed Major General George H. Thomas, commanding the Army of the Cumberland over Hooker, “Let Williams go in anywhere as soon as he gets up. I don’t see what they are waiting for in front now. There haven’t been 20 rebels there today.”

Hooker arranged his three divisions in line of battle and sent them forward after 4 p.m. The Federals advanced through heavy brush, which the Confederates behind their fortifications used to their advantage as they fired into the attackers. Visibility through the woods around New Hope Church was so poor and fighting was so intense that Federals called the area the “Hell Hole.”

Hooker’s men began running out of ammunition, and a heavy thunderstorm began around 7 p.m. that rendered much of the gunpowder useless. Hooker ordered a withdrawal around sundown, having sustained 1,665 casualties. Hood lost about half that total, with Major General Alexander P. Stewart’s division having done most of the fighting.

As the rest of the Federals came up during the night, Sherman still did not believe that Johnston’s whole army was at New Hope Church. He admonished Hooker for waiting so long to attack, believing that Geary alone could have broken through the Confederate line that morning. But Hood had been there all day, and considering he had repulsed Hooker’s entire corps, he might have destroyed Geary’s lone division.

Sherman wrote Major General James B. McPherson, commanding the Army of the Tennessee, “I don’t believe there is anything more than Hood’s corps (at New Hope), but still Johnston may have his whole army, and we should act on that hypothesis.” The Federals therefore came up and formed a line parallel to Johnston’s and began building defenses of their own. This campaign, which had been dominated thus far by maneuvering, would now focus more upon fortifications.

As dawn rose on the 26th, the Federals and Confederates were entrenched on a muddy six-mile front. Sherman ordered a series of probes to gauge Johnston’s strength:

  • McPherson’s army cautiously moved east from Dallas toward New Hope Church.
  • Major General John Schofield’s Army of the Ohio scouted Hardee’s defenses on the Confederate left
  • Thomas’s army opposed Hood on the right (northeast).

After sporadic skirmishing all along the line, Sherman decided to try turning the Confederate right.

—–

References

Bailey, Ronald H., The Battles for Atlanta: Sherman Moves East (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 16, 50-53; Castel, Albert, Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 525; CivilWarDailyGazette.com; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 413-14; 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 7274-7284, 7293-322; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 444-45; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 508-09; 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. 747

Georgia: From Adairsville to the Etowah

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

—–

References

Bailey, Ronald H., The Battles for Atlanta: Sherman Moves East (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 48, 50; Castel, Albert, Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 525; CivilWarDailyGazette.com; Davis, Jefferson, The Rise and Fall of the Confederate Government: All Volumes (Heraklion Press, Kindle Edition 2013, 1889), Loc 20791-99; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 409-11; Foote, Shelby, The Civil War: A Narrative: Volume 3: Red River to Appomattox (Vintage Civil War Library, Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, Kindle Edition, 2011), Loc 7061-71, 7080-100, 7126-46, 7168-98; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 440-42; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 503-05; Longacre, Edward G., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 305; McPherson, James M., Battle Cry of Freedom: The Civil War Era (Oxford History of the United States Book 6, Oxford University Press, Kindle Edition, 1988), p. 746-47

The Battle of Resaca

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Battle of Resaca | Image Credit: Wikipedia.org

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

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

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

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

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

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

—–

References

Bailey, Ronald H., The Battles for Atlanta: Sherman Moves East (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 12, 40-45, 48; Castel, Albert, Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 525, 624; CivilWarDailyGazette.com; Davis, Jefferson, The Rise and Fall of the Confederate Government: All Volumes (Heraklion Press, Kindle Edition 2013, 1889), Loc 20772-81; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 407-09; Foote, Shelby, The Civil War: A Narrative: Volume 3: Red River to Appomattox (Vintage Civil War Library, Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, Kindle Edition, 2011), Loc 6973-93, 7061-71; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 438-40; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 501-02; McPherson, James M., Battle Cry of Freedom: The Civil War Era (Oxford History of the United States Book 6, Oxford University Press, Kindle Edition, 1988), p. 744

Georgia: The Armies Gather at Resaca

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

—–

References

Bailey, Ronald H., The Battles for Atlanta: Sherman Moves East (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 39-41; Castel, Albert, Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 624; CivilWarDailyGazette.com; Davis, Jefferson, The Rise and Fall of the Confederate Government: All Volumes (Heraklion Press, Kindle Edition 2013, 1889), Loc 20772; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 404-06; Foote, Shelby, The Civil War: A Narrative: Volume 3: Red River to Appomattox (Vintage Civil War Library, Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, Kindle Edition, 2011), Loc 6944-74; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 435, 437-38; Hattaway, Herman, Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 500; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 498-501; Longacre, Edward G., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 700-01; McPherson, James M., Battle Cry of Freedom: The Civil War Era (Oxford History of the United States Book 6, Oxford University Press, Kindle Edition, 1988), p. 744; Rutherford, Phillip R., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 169; Wert, Jeffry D., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 707