Tag Archives: John M. Palmer

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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Georgia: Sherman Begins Moving

May 7, 1864 – Major General William T. Sherman’s three Federal armies began its part of the grand offensive by moving to draw the Confederate Army of Tennessee under General Joseph E. Johnston out into the open where it could be destroyed.

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

Sherman gathered his forces in northern Georgia, just south of Chattanooga, where he finalized his plans:

  • Major General John Schofield’s Army of the Ohio would advance on the Confederate positions outside Dalton from Red Clay to the north.
  • Major General George H. Thomas’s Army of the Cumberland would demonstrate against Rocky Face Ridge, northwest of Dalton, and seize Tunnel Hill on the ridge’s northwestern spur (seven miles southeast of Ringgold).
  • Major General James B. McPherson’s Army of the Tennessee would slide southward, beyond the Confederates’ left flank, and move through Snake Creek Gap.

McPherson’s was the key movement because it would put the Federals 14 miles in the Confederate rear. From there, they could cut Johnston’s supply lines and possibly trap the entire Army of Tennessee. The Federal armies had a combined total of about 98,000 officers and men.

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

Johnston had just about 60,000 troops, but they were battle tested veterans who held extremely strong positions on Rocky Face Ridge outside Dalton. The Confederates had spent the past several months strengthening these defenses, making them almost invulnerable to frontal assault.

The Confederate artillery and Major General Joseph Wheeler’s Confederate cavalry were positioned at Tunnel Hill, and the infantry held a line behind Wheeler that was hinged on Buzzard’s Roost Gap, a defile in Rocky Face Ridge. Thomas opened the campaign when his vanguard hit Tunnel Hill. The defenses proved so strong that Thomas had to commit his entire XIV Corps under Major General John M. Palmer.

As the fighting occurred at Tunnel Hill, Johnston received word that a Federal column was moving around his left, south of Buzzard’s Roost Gap. Johnston issued orders to a Confederate brigade just arriving at Resaca from Mobile to stay there and guard against a possible flanking movement. Meanwhile, Johnston shifted his forces to better defend the gaps in Rocky Face Ridge.

Palmer’s XIV Corps made no progress at Tunnel Hill until it was reinforced by Major General Oliver O. Howard’s IV Corps coming up on Palmer’s left. This compelled the Confederates to abandon Tunnel Hill; they withdrew so fast that they had no time to destroy it. The Confederates fell back to Buzzard’s Roost Gap, where they took up positions behind previously built earthworks. As the Federals pursued, they were reinforced by Major General Joseph Hooker’s XX Corps.

To the west, McPherson continued his southward slide. Johnston guessed that he might target Rome or Resaca. He was unaware that McPherson planned to move all the way down to the unguarded Snake Creek Gap, well beyond his left flank.

On the 8th, Brigadier General John Newton’s division of IV Corps probed Confederate defenses along the northern stretch of Rocky Face Ridge. Meanwhile, troops from Thomas’s IV, XIV, and XX corps advanced against Johnston’s left and seized the mouth of Buzzard’s Roost Gap.

Near day’s end, Brigadier General John W. Geary’s division of XX Corps shifted below Buzzard’s and attacked the Confederates at Dug Gap. The defenders repelled three attempts to scale the rocky walls, inflicting about 350 casualties. Farther southwest, McPherson’s Federals arrived within striking distance of Snake Creek Gap that night.

The next day, Federals from IV, XIV, and XX corps renewed their assaults on Buzzard’s Roost Gap and points farther south. They made no progress despite sustaining heavy casualties; Johnston acknowledged that their losses were “proportionate to their courage.”

Meanwhile, Wheeler’s cavalry clashed with a Federal cavalry brigade from Schofield’s army east of Rocky Face Ridge. Fighting began near Varnell’s Station, on the railroad to Dalton, and ended at Poplar Place, where Wheeler made a stand. The Confederates inflicted about 150 casualties in driving the Federals off.

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

During this time, McPherson’s Federals continued advancing along Taylor Ridge, moving through Ship’s Gap and the town of Villanow before approaching Snake Creek Gap, a three-mile-wide pass through the Horn Mountains. This led to Resaca, a strategic town in Johnston’s rear.

Johnston had inexplicably left both the gap and the path to Resaca unguarded. However, about 4,000 Confederates defended Resaca itself. These were timely reinforcements from Lieutenant General Leonidas Polk’s Confederate army in Mississippi. They were supposed to stop briefly at Resaca before reinforcing Johnston at Dalton, but instead they stayed at Resaca to face McPherson’s threat.

Major General Grenville M. Dodge’s XVI Corps led McPherson’s army through the gap. As Dodge’s Federals advanced, a Confederate mounted brigade formed a line of battle and began firing into them. Dodge responded by deploying Brigadier General John Corse’s division. Corse reported:

“In this formation, the enemy’s cavalry was received, checked, and repulsed, as it dashed forward, driving the 9th Illinois Mounted Infantry before it, and almost at the same moment the 66th Illinois Volunteers, without knapsacks, rushed forward as skirmishers, driving the enemy like sheep before them, in the direction of Resaca.”

McPherson directed Dodge to continue forward until he reached the Rome-Resaca crossroads, about a mile west of Resaca, and then wait for reinforcements. Dodge exceeded orders by moving past the crossroads and seizing Bald Hill, about three-quarters of a mile west of Resaca. McPherson rode up and inspected Dodge’s positions before ordering him to send scouts north to find a way to seize the railroad.

McPherson reported that his men were within striking distance of Resaca without any substantial opposition. When Sherman read the message, he smacked the table and hollered, “I’ve got Joe Johnston dead!” He later wrote:

“I got a short note from McPherson… and we all felt jubilant. I renewed orders to Thomas and Schofield to be ready for the instant pursuit of what I expected to be a broken and disordered army, forced to retreat by roads to the east of Resaca, which were known to be very rough and impracticable.”

However, Federal scouts found the railroad blocked by Confederate cavalry. Dodge held Bald Hill with a division and deployed another to the left, which advanced toward Resaca from the northwest. Dodge reported, “The enemy, observing the movement, opened a heavy fire from his batteries upon the column, and also, together with rapid musketry, upon the left of the Second Division, doing, however, but little execution.”

Although Dodge held his ground, McPherson was told that Confederate resistance was mounting both to Dodge’s left and right. As the Confederates took positions on the high ground just outside Resaca, McPherson ordered Dodge to abandon Bald Hill and fall back to Snake Creek Gap. McPherson did not know that he outnumbered this small enemy force by nearly six-to-one.

As Dodge complied, McPherson informed Sherman that the Federals could not seize the railroad, nor could they hold Bald Hill in the face of the growing Confederate presence in the area. McPherson also expressed concern that Johnston’s main force could fall back from Dalton and land on his left, and Dodge’s men were running out of provisions. Sherman responded:

“You now have your 23,000 men, and General Hooker is in close support, so that you can hold all of Jos. Johnston’s army in check should he abandon Dalton. He cannot afford to abandon Dalton, for he had fixed it up on purpose to receive us, and he observes that we are close at hand, waiting for him to quit. He cannot afford a detachment strong enough to fight you, as his army will not admit of it. Strengthen your position; fight anything that comes; and threaten the safety of the railroad all the time.”

Sherman considered McPherson his protégé (and potential successor), but he was clearly disappointed that McPherson did not use his 23,000 men to knock the 4,000 Confederates out of Resaca before Johnston disengaged from Thomas and Schofield and slid south to reinforce that vital town. Sherman later wrote, “Such an opportunity does not occur twice in a single life, but at the critical moment McPherson seems to have been a little timid.”

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References

Bailey, Ronald H., The Battles for Atlanta: Sherman Moves East (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 11, 32-38; CivilWarDailyGazette.com; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 402-03; Foote, Shelby, The Civil War: A Narrative: Volume 3: Red River to Appomattox (Vintage Civil War Library, Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, Kindle Edition, 2011), Loc 6799-819, 6828-48, 6857-67; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 431-34; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 495-97; 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

The Dalton Demonstration

February 24, 1864 – Skirmishing intensified in northern Georgia, as Major General John M. Palmer sought to unite his Federals at Rocky Face Ridge and drive the Confederates out of Dalton.

Four Federal divisions from Major General George H. Thomas’s Army of the Cumberland moved out on the 22nd toward General Joseph E. Johnston’s Confederate Army of Tennessee at Dalton. The operation consisted of Palmer’s XIV Corps moving southeast from Chattanooga, and Brigadier General Charles Cruft’s division of IV Corps moving southwest from Cleveland.

Maj Gen J.M. Palmer | Image Credit: Wikipedia.org

Palmer’s mission was to determine Johnston’s strength and prevent him from reinforcing the Confederate forces in either Alabama or eastern Tennessee. The Federal high command hoped that Palmer could push the Confederates away from their formidable positions at both Dalton and Rocky Face Ridge (a steep eminence west of Dalton). This would enable the Federals to “get possession of the place and hold it as a step toward a spring campaign.”

Palmer’s Federals marched through Ringgold Gap and approached the plains near Dalton, Rocky Face Ridge, and Tunnel Hill (a northwestern spur of Rocky Face). Skirmishing occurred with Confederate cavalry, who reported to Johnston that a general enemy advance was underway. False rumors soon spread among the Confederates that Thomas’s entire 60,000-man army was approaching, while Johnston had just 20,000 troops to stop them.

The next day, Johnston directed Major General Thomas C. Hindman to lead two divisions in forming defenses at Dalton, Tunnel Hill, and the gap in Rocky Face Ridge. As Palmer’s Federals advanced, they clashed with Hindman’s men at Catoosa Station and Tunnel Hill. The fighting soon intensified, and Palmer brought up reinforcements that threatened Hindman’s flanks. The Confederates fell back to higher, stronger positions on Tunnel Hill.

Johnston notified President Jefferson Davis of the action, and Davis allowed Johnston to recall Lieutenant General William Hardee’s corps, which had been sent to reinforce Lieutenant General Leonidas Polk’s army in Alabama. Polk no longer needed Hardee’s men now that Major General William T. Sherman’s Federal Army of the Tennessee was returning to Vicksburg after decimating Meridian. Davis warned Johnston that “the demonstration in your front is probably a mask.”

Meanwhile, Cruft’s Federals continued pushing south along the railroad until Confederates defending the east side of Rocky Face Ridge stopped them about three miles east of Dalton. Johnston had rushed two divisions there to prevent Cruft from coming up behind the Confederates facing Palmer to the west.

Colonel William Grose, commanding Cruft’s lead brigade, reported, “I don’t believe there is much force of the enemy in our front, but too much for our small force. I am of the impression that double our force could have gained the railroad and held it. The enemy used no artillery. We fired five rounds.” Grose opted to wait until the rest of Cruft’s division came up to join him the next day.

To the west, two of Palmer’s divisions under Brigadier Generals Richard W. Johnson and Jefferson C. Davis advanced on Tunnel Hill, which was defended by Major General Alexander P. Stewart’s Confederate division. Johnson’s Federals provided artillery cover while Davis’s men scaled the hill’s northern slope and drove the Confederate outposts from the summit. Davis reported:

“The enemy’s skirmishers yielded with little resistance. From these hills the enemy’s position was easily reconnoitered, and from the fire of his artillery the position of two strongly posted field batteries was plainly discovered.”

The Confederates withdrew southeast to a defile in Rocky Face Ridge called Buzzard Roost Gap, where they joined the main Confederate defense line. The Federals stopped for the night, but Palmer planned to advance in full force next morning. According to Davis, “It was thought this movement would turn the enemy’s position at Buzzard Roost and enable our forces (Palmer’s and Cruft’s) to unite south of Rocky Face Ridge.” From there, Palmer hoped to drive Johnston’s army out of Dalton and secure the railroad from there to Chattanooga.

Palmer directed Cruft to “push the column toward Dalton and attack any force that might be met.” The next day, Cruft, facing two divisions to his one, opted to wait for reinforcements. The Confederates sent their skirmishers forward, hoping to seize the initiative. Palmer came up with Brigadier General Absalom Baird’s division on Cruft’s right. The Federals finally advanced to attack the north side of Rocky Face Ridge around 11:30 a.m. According to Cruft:

“The lines were pressed steadily on for somewhat over a mile. At this point the enemy occupied a steep wooded ridge in our front in considerable force. It was successfully carried by the Second and Third Brigades without breaking step, the enemy falling back to a ridge beyond. Upon obtaining the crest of the first ridge and commencing the descent the brigade of direction was halted about 1 p.m. by command of Major-General Palmer and the line adjusted thereto.”

Palmer directed an attack by his right, which was easily repulsed. Both sides spent the rest of the day trading artillery fire. On the west side of the ridge, Davis heard firing around 3 p.m. and sought to relieve pressure on Cruft by attacking the Confederates holding Buzzard Roost Gap. Davis reported that his skirmishers were “warmly engaged, the enemy resisting their strong points with great vigor.”

As Davis’s Federals approached the Confederate rifle pits, they were met by fire in their front and artillery fire on their flanks. Davis was forced to order a withdrawal. On the other side of the ridge, Palmer ordered Cruft and Baird to fall back to north of Tunnel Hill.

By the 27th, Thomas, who had been too ill to personally command this expedition, arrived on the scene and directed the Federals to fall back to Chattanooga. The Federals suffered 345 casualties in this operation (43 killed, 267 wounded, and 35 missing or captured), while the Confederates lost 140. The Federals learned that Johnston’s defenses were too strong to confront head-on, especially at Rocky Face Ridge.

This Federal demonstration on Dalton did not serve its original purpose of keeping Johnston from sending reinforcements to Polk, as Sherman’s campaign was already over. It merely compelled Johnston to recall Hardee’s corps and prepare for the overall Federal offensive sure to come in spring.

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References

CivilWarDailyGazette.com; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 376-79; Foote, Shelby, The Civil War: A Narrative: Volume 2: Fredericksburg to Meridian (Vintage Civil War Library, Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, Kindle Edition, 2011), p. 935; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 401-03; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 468; Longacre, Edward G., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 765

The Proposed Dalton Demonstration

February 12, 1864 – Major General Ulysses S. Grant asked Major General George H. Thomas, commanding the Federal Army of the Cumberland, to feign an attack on Dalton to divert Confederate attention from the Federal offensive in Mississippi.

Grant, heading the Military Division of the Mississippi, commanded three armies between the Alleghenies and the Mississippi River:

  • Major General John Schofield’s Army of the Ohio faced Lieutenant General James Longstreet’s Confederate corps near Knoxville in eastern Tennessee
  • Thomas’s army at Chattanooga faced General Joseph E. Johnston’s Army of Tennessee at Dalton in northern Georgia
  • Major General William T. Sherman’s Army of the Tennessee faced Lieutenant General Leonidas Polk’s Army of Mississippi outside Meridian

Sherman was in the process of laying waste to central Mississippi while closing in on the last Confederate-controlled railroad center in the state. Grant wanted to support Sherman’s effort by having Thomas prevent Johnston from helping Polk. Grant also wanted Schofield to drive Longstreet out of eastern Tennessee, but he needed Thomas to send troops to support that mission as well.

Major General John G. Foster, who had just been replaced as Army of the Ohio commander by Schofield, traveled to Nashville to confer with Grant about the eastern Tennessee situation. Foster convinced Grant that Longstreet would not threaten Schofield, prompting Grant to announce that “no movement will be made against Longstreet at present.”

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

This allowed Thomas to devote his full attention to Johnston at Dalton. Grant asked Thomas on the 12th, “Should you not be required to go into East Tennessee, could you not make a formidable reconnaissance toward Dalton, and, if successful in driving the enemy out, occupy that place and complete the railroad up to it this winter?” Thomas responded that if he had one more division, “an advance on Dalton would be successful.”

Grant reported to General-in-Chief Henry W. Halleck that he had decided not to send Thomas’s Federals to support Schofield because “if we move against Longstreet with an overwhelming force he will simply fall back toward Virginia until he can be re-enforced or take up an impregnable position.” Instead, “Now that our men are ready for an advance, I have directed it to be made on Dalton, and hope to get possession of that place and hold it as a step toward a spring campaign.”

When Thomas still had not moved after five days, Grant reiterated his instructions: “Make your contemplated move as soon as possible.” Thomas replied, “I have had more obstacles to overcome than I had anticipated. I find it absolutely necessary to take artillery, for which I must have horses. I cannot say positively what day I shall start, but certainly by Monday (the 22nd).”

On the 18th, Thomas followed up his reply from the previous day: “I regret to be obliged to report that I do not think I shall be able to take the field, the cold and damp weather having brought on an attack of neuralgia, from which I suffer intensely.” Thomas assigned Major General John M. Palmer, commanding XIV Corps, to lead the demonstration.

Palmer would lead the three divisions from his own corps, plus a division from IV Corps under Brigadier General Charles Cruft, which was 30 miles east of Chattanooga. Palmer’s corps would advance from the northwest toward Dalton while Cruft advanced from the northeast. Palmer directed Cruft to move out on the 22nd, writing him the day before:

“I had supposed that you had received detailed orders for your movements tomorrow… From the lateness of the evening at which I received my own orders, I am not able to give precise directions for further operations, but can only suggest that I hope everything will be done to make the reconnaissance effective.”

Despite the vagueness of the instructions, Palmer and Cruft were to somehow join forces before they reached Dalton, about 35 miles south of Chattanooga. The Federals would move out the next day.

Meanwhile, Johnston continued his new routine of inspections, drills, and rest in the Army of Tennessee while awaiting Federal action. As Sherman’s Federals destroyed Meridian, Johnston resisted calls from Richmond to send reinforcements to Polk. Finally, President Jefferson Davis ordered Johnston to dispatch Lieutenant General William Hardee’s corps. Johnston reluctantly complied.

Hardee’s Confederates began arriving at Montgomery, Alabama, on the 19th, where they learned that Sherman had left Meridian. They did not yet know that Sherman was returning to Vicksburg; they feared he might continue east into Alabama. One of Hardee’s divisions linked with Polk’s army at Demopolis on the 21st. With the Federals poised to advance on Dalton the next day, this left Johnston dangerously vulnerable.

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References

CivilWarDailyGazette.com; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 369; Foote, Shelby, The Civil War: A Narrative: Volume 2: Fredericksburg to Meridian (Vintage Civil War Library, Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, Kindle Edition, 2011), p. 935