Tag Archives: John W. Geary

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.

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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

The Battle of Chattanooga: Aftermath

November 26, 1863 – Major General Ulysses S. Grant’s Federal victory at Chattanooga opened Georgia to invasion and led to a command change in the Confederate Army of Tennessee.

General Braxton Bragg | Image Credit: Wikimedia.org

By this date, General Braxton Bragg’s two-month siege of Chattanooga had ended in defeat. As his Confederates fell back into northern Georgia, he reported:

“No satisfactory excuse can possibly be given for the shameful conduct of the troops… in allowing their line to be penetrated. The position was one which ought to have been held by a line of skirmishers against any assaulting column.”

But Bragg took no responsibility for erroneously detaching troops to Knoxville, issuing vague orders, and failing to anticipate the Federals’ intentions until it was too late. His retreating Confederates continued moving southeast on the 26th, past Chickamauga Station to Ringgold, 15 miles down the railroad connecting Chattanooga and the vital industrial city of Atlanta.

As Bragg continued retreating toward Dalton, he ordered Major General Patrick R. Cleburne’s division to block the Federals at Ringgold “at all hazards.” He then turned to his familiar pattern of blaming others by removing one of his two corps commanders, Major General John C. Breckinridge, from command. Bragg and Breckinridge had long been enemies, and Bragg alleged that Breckinridge had gotten so drunk after the battle that a division commander had to care for him during the retreat.

Meanwhile, Grant’s pursuit continued, with Major General Philip Sheridan’s division of Major General George H. Thomas’s army in the lead. Major General William T. Sherman’s forces advanced on Ringgold to cut supply lines and drive out any remaining Confederates, and Major General Joseph Hooker’s Federals also pushed toward Ringgold through Rossville Gap.

Hooker’s lead division under Brigadier General Peter J. Osterhaus approached Ringgold at 8 a.m. on the 27th. By that time, Cleburne’s 4,000 Confederates had entrenched themselves on Taylor’s Ridge south of town. The numerically superior Federals drove in enemy skirmishers and then tried moving around Cleburne’s right (north) flank. When that failed, Osterhaus attacked the Confederate left, but Cleburne repelled that effort as well.

Hooker brought up Brigadier General John W. Geary’s division, which made little progress until Geary committed Colonel David Ireland’s brigade against the enemy left which, according to Geary, forced the Confederates “to recoil in the zenith of (Ireland’s) audacious charge…” The Federals then brought up several guns and began pounding Cleburne’s left. The Confederate line finally wavered, and Lieutenant General William Hardee directed Cleburne to withdraw around 1 p.m.

Cleburne lost 221 men while Hooker lost 442; the Confederates also took over 100 prisoners and three stands of colors. As they fell back to rejoin Bragg’s main army, Grant halted the pursuit. Federal supplies were running low, and Grant soon turned his attention to breaking Lieutenant General James Longstreet’s Confederate siege of Knoxville in eastern Tennessee.

Bragg fell back behind Rocky Face Ridge the next day and arrived at Dalton, where he consolidated his scattered army. The troops cheered the arrival of Cleburne’s men after holding the Federals off at Ringgold. As President Jefferson Davis urged Bragg to concentrate and counterattack as soon as possible, Bragg reported:

“We hope to maintain this position, (but) should the enemy press on promptly we may have to cross the Oostenaula (River, 15 miles south). My first estimate of our disaster was not too large, and time only can restore order and morale. All possible aid should be pushed on to Resaca. I deem it due to the cause and to myself to ask for relief from command and an investigation into the causes of the defeat.”

Adjutant General Samuel Cooper responded on the 30th:

“Your dispatches of yesterday received. Your request to be relieved has been submitted to the President, who, upon your representation, directs me to notify you that you are relieved from command, which you will transfer to Lieutenant-General Hardee, the officer next in rank and now present for duty.”

Bragg immediately prepared to relinquish command of the army he had led since June 1862. During that time, he had taken the fight to the Federals by invading Kentucky, but his retreat after Perryville ended his invasion. He then lost Middle Tennessee by retreating after Stones River and Tullahoma. Bragg rebounded after giving up Chattanooga by routing the Federals at Chickamauga, but his siege of Chattanooga failed, and now his Army of Tennessee had been ousted from its home state.

For the Federals, Grant immediately looked to drive Longstreet out of eastern Tennessee. After that, he would begin planning a move into the southern heartland which included a drive on Atlanta.

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References

Angle, Paul M., A Pictorial History of the Civil War Years (New York: Doubleday, 1967), p. 140-42; CivilWarDailyGazette.com; Crocker III, H.W., The Politically Incorrect Guide to the Civil War (Washington: Regnery Publishing, 2008), p. 80-81; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 345-47; Foote, Shelby, The Civil War: A Narrative: Volume 2: Fredericksburg to Meridian (Vintage Civil War Library, Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, Kindle Edition, 2011), p. 858, 860-61, 867; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 378-80; Korn, Jerry, The Fight for Chattanooga: Chickamauga to Missionary Ridge (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 117-55; Linedecker, Clifford L. (ed.), The Civil War A to Z (Ballantine Books, 2002), p. 33-35, 65-67, 182; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 439-41; Longacre, Edward G., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 743-44; McPherson, James M., Battle Cry of Freedom: The Civil War Era (Oxford History of the United States Book 6, Oxford University Press, Kindle Edition, 1988), p. 680-81; Stanchak, John E., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 133-35, 498-99

The Battle of Wauhatchie

October 28, 1863 – News that Federals had secured Brown’s Ferry enraged General Braxton Bragg, and Lieutenant General James Longstreet planned to counter with a Confederate night assault.

Bragg, commanding the Confederate Army of Tennessee, continued his tenuous siege on the Federals in Chattanooga. However, the Federals had opened a new supply line at Brown’s Ferry. Bragg did not know about this until the morning of the 28th. Infuriated, he wrote Longstreet, commanding that sector of the army, “The loss of our position on the left is vital,” because it “involves the very existence of the enemy at Chattanooga.”

The loss of Brown’s Ferry threatened to render Bragg’s siege pointless because Federals could use the bridgehead there to ship supplies from Bridgeport to the hungry soldiers in Chattanooga. Bragg rode to Lookout Mountain to discuss the matter with Longstreet in person. When he could not find Longstreet, he looked down in the valley below and saw the Federals had indeed laid a pontoon bridge at Brown’s Ferry. Bragg’s worst fears had been realized.

Bragg finally met with Longstreet around 10 a.m., and since the men already disliked each other, a heated argument quickly ensued. Bragg blamed Longstreet for failing to defend Brown’s Ferry, while Longstreet blamed Bragg for issuing vague orders and insisting that the true Federal threat was at Bridgeport, from which the enemy could launch a flank attack.

Couriers interrupted the argument with news that the Federals were advancing through the Lookout Valley. This confused the generals, who believed the enemy would come either from Brown’s Ferry or on Longstreet’s flank, not his front. Moving to a vantage point overlooking the valley, Bragg and Longstreet could see the Federals marching toward Brown’s Ferry. Bragg ordered Longstreet to attack and then returned to his headquarters.

The Federals moving through Lookout Valley belonged to Major General Joseph Hooker, led by XI Corps. Hooker’s goal was to join forces with the troops at Brown’s Ferry. Hooker directed his rear guard, a division of XII Corps under Brigadier General John W. Geary, to halt at Wauhatchie Station, a stop on the Nashville & Chattanooga Railroad, about three miles southwest of Brown’s Ferry. Geary was to guard Hooker’s communications and the road leading west to Kelley’s Ferry.

Although Bragg expected Longstreet to attack the main Federal force assembling at Brown’s Ferry, Longstreet planned to cut off Hooker’s rear by attacking Geary’s isolated division instead. Three Confederate brigades would move from the eastern slopes of Lookout Mountain to join Brigadier General Evander M. Law’s brigade in a rare night assault at 10 p.m. The brigades belonged to Brigadier General Micah Jenkins’s division of Longstreet’s corps.

Longstreet informed Bragg around 6 p.m., “There is another column and train just in sight. I hope to be able to attack it in flank soon after dark.” Law protested the plan, arguing that “even if he (Jenkins) gained a temporary success during the night, the light of the next morning would reveal his weakness, with a force of the enemy on both sides of him, each of which would be superior in numbers to his whole force.”

Geary’s 1,500 men camped for the night near Wauhatchie. They had not yet established communications with the Federals at Brown’s Ferry. The Confederate attack was delayed until after midnight due to men getting lost in the dark. Longstreet decided to suspend the attack, but Jenkins did not receive the order until fighting had already begun.

Battle map | Image Credit: Wikidata.org

The Confederates attacked from the north and east, hoping to separate Geary’s men from Hooker’s main force. Geary was surprised, but his men quickly put out their campfires and formed a “V” shape defense line, as Geary sent a regiment west to guard Kelley’s Ferry. Heavy clouds blocked the moonlight, making muzzle flashes the only light in most places.

Hooker heard the firing and sent Howard’s XI Corps to reinforce Geary. One of Howard’s divisions, led by Major General Carl Schurz, got lost and did not see action. But when Jenkins could not prevent the rest of Howard’s corps from linking with Geary, he ordered a withdrawal to Lookout Mountain.

In this confusing battle, the Federals sustained 420 casualties (78 killed, 327 wounded, and 15 missing), while the Confederates lost 408 men (34 killed, 305 wounded, and 69 missing). Howard’s XI Corps performed well despite past defeats while part of the Army of the Potomac at Chancellorsville and Gettysburg. Hooker accused Schurz of incompetence for getting lost, but Schurz was later absolved by a court of inquiry.

Longstreet tried charging Law with poor conduct since he had opposed the attack; he also accused Jenkins’s men of lacking the aggressiveness needed for a night attack. He especially singled out Brigadier General Jerome Robertson, who commanded a brigade in Jenkins’s division. Longstreet wrote of Robertson, “This officer has been complained of so frequently for want of conduct in time of battle that I apprehend that the abandonment by his brigade of its position of the night of the 28th may have been due to his want of hearty co-operation.”

All charges against Law and Robertson were dropped due to time constraints. Longstreet pulled his men back, giving Brown’s Ferry to the Federals. Hooker’s men drove the remaining Confederates off Raccoon Mountain, and the “cracker line” from Bridgeport to Chattanooga was soon fully operational. With the Confederate siege effectively broken, a concerned President Jefferson Davis telegraphed Bragg from Richmond:

“It is reported here that the enemy are crossing at Bridgeport. If so it may give you the opportunity to beat the detachment moving up to reinforce Rosecrans as was contemplated… You will be able to anticipate him, and strike with the advantage of fighting him in detail… the period most favorable for actual operations is rapidly passing away, and the consideration of supplies presses upon you the necessity to recover as much as you can of the country before you.”

Davis (still unaware that Major General William S. Rosecrans no longer commanded the Federals) suggested that Bragg send Longstreet to Knoxville soon after. Later that day, the Federal steamboat Chattanooga left Bridgeport pulling two barges filled with 40,000 rations. The boat fought the strong current and reached Brown’s Ferry by dawn on the 30th.

Later that day, the Chattanooga reached its namesake city, and the “cracker line” was officially opened, providing hardtack, or “crackers,” to the hungry men. Major General Ulysses S. Grant, the overall Federal commander in Chattanooga, wired General-in-Chief Henry W. Halleck, “The question of supplies may now be regarded as settled. If the rebels give us one week more time I think all danger of losing territory now held by us will have passed away, and preparations may commence for offensive operations.” Grant later wrote:

“In five days from my arrival in Chattanooga the way was open to Bridgeport and, with the aid of steamers and Hooker’s teams, in a week the troops were receiving full rations. It is hard for any one not an eye-witness to realize the relief this brought. The men were soon reclothed and also well fed, an abundance of ammunition was brought up, and a cheerfulness prevailed not before enjoyed in many weeks. Neither officers nor men looked upon themselves any longer as doomed. The weak and languid appearance of the troops, so visible before, disappeared at once. I do not know what the effect was on the other side, but assume it must have been correspondingly depressing.”

But Grant was not entirely satisfied. He confided to Assistant Secretary of War Charles Dana that he disliked Hooker and wanted to remove him from command, along with Major General Henry W. Slocum heading XII Corps. Dana informed Secretary of War Edwin M. Stanton, “He would himself order Hooker and Slocum away, but hesitates because they have just been sent here by the President. Besides, I think he would rather prefer that so serious a proceeding should come from headquarters.”

Dana reported that Hooker had “behaved badly ever since his arrival,” and Slocum had sent “a very disorderly communication” complaining about serving under Hooker, whom he (Slocum) despised. Dana wrote, “Altogether Grant feels that their presence here is replete with both trouble and danger. Besides, the smallness of the two corps requires their consolidation.”

Regardless of his issues with the commanders, Grant soon began planning a counteroffensive against Bragg’s Confederates outside Chattanooga.

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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. 337; Foote, Shelby, The Civil War: A Narrative: Volume 2: Fredericksburg to Meridian (Vintage Civil War Library, Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, Kindle Edition, 2011), p. 811, 820; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 365-66; Korn, Jerry, The Fight for Chattanooga: Chickamauga to Missionary Ridge (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 91-97; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 427; 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. 676; Stanchak, John E., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 133-35, 189, 808-09