Tag Archives: Joseph E. Johnston

Sherman Prepares to Move Again

July 19, 1864 – Major General William T. Sherman’s Federal armies launched their long-anticipated drive on Atlanta.

As part of Sherman’s three armies made their way across the Chattahoochee River, Sherman directed them to take a rest, “and accordingly we took a short spell.” Sherman needed not only to regroup, but to find the Confederate Army of Tennessee and assess its defenses.

Maj Gen W.T. Sherman | Image Credit: Wikispaces.com

Two days later, Sherman dispatched cavalry under Major General George Stoneman to wreck railroads and deceive the Confederates into thinking that the main Federal force would cross the Chattahoochee below Atlanta. To help with the deception:

  • Two corps from Major General James B. McPherson’s Army of the Tennessee would cross above Atlanta and attack the Georgia Railroad.
  • One of McPherson’s corps would remain to the right of Major General George H. Thomas’s Army of the Cumberland to support Stoneman.
  • Major General John Schofield’s Army of the Ohio would distract the Confederates in their front.

Sherman telegraphed Chief of Staff Henry W. Halleck on the 14th: “All is well. I have now accumulated stores at Allatoona and Marietta, both fortified and garrisoned points. Have also three places at which to cross the Chattahoochee in our possession, and only await General Stoneman’s return from a trip down the river, to cross the army in force and move on Atlanta.”

Two days later, Sherman prepared to cross the Chattahoochee as McPherson conducted an enveloping movement around the north side of Atlanta toward Decatur. The Confederates continued strengthening their defenses near the Chattahoochee, from south of Peachtree Creek to the Atlanta & Decatur Railroad. General Joseph E. Johnston, commanding the Confederate army, planned to attack when Sherman’s two flanks separated from the center.

The Federals began advancing on Atlanta on the 17th, with Sherman’s three armies moving like a wheel and crossing the Chattahoochee with Schofield’s army in the center. The Federals were now within eight miles of Atlanta. That morning, Johnston learned that the entire Federal force had crossed the river, apparently to move on Atlanta from the north and east.

Concerned that Thomas’s army may be moving too slow, Sherman wrote him, “Feel down strong to Peach Tree and see what is there. A vigorous demonstration should be made, and caution your commanders not to exhibit any of the signs of a halt or pause.” That night, Sherman learned that Schofield and McPherson had reached their objectives and would begin wrecking the Georgia Railroad at daybreak.

The next day, Sherman was discussing strategy with Thomas when a spy showed them an Atlanta newspaper reporting that Johnston had been replaced as Confederate army commander by General John Bell Hood. Sherman expressed hope that Hood, unlike Johnston, might actually come out into the open and fight, where the Federals could finally use their numerical superiority.

The Atlanta city council adjourned as the Federals approached. Meanwhile, Sherman directed Thomas to “press down from the north on Atlanta,” crossing Peachtree Creek and driving off the Confederates in the area. Schofield was to advance on Decatur (northeast of Atlanta) from the north, wrecking railroad track and telegraph wires along the way. McPherson was to advance on Decatur from the east, aiding Schofield if needed:

“Otherwise keep every man of his (McPherson’s) command at work in destroying the railroad by tearing up track, burning the ties and iron, and twisting the bars when hot. Officers should be instructed that bar simply bent may be used again, but if when red hot they are twisted out of light they cannot be used again. Pile the ties into shape for a bonfire, put the rails across, and when red hot in the middle, let a man at each end twist the bar so that its surface become spiral.”

By the 19th, two Confederate corps under Lieutenant Generals William Hardee and Alexander P. Stewart defended Peachtree Creek, north of Atlanta. Hood’s former corps, now led by Major General Benjamin F. Cheatham, guarded Atlanta to the east. The Federals began their advance, and, Sherman later wrote, “meeting such feeble resistance that I really thought the enemy intended to evacuate the place.”

Hood received word that Thomas was crossing Peachtree Creek, north of Atlanta, while the armies of Schofield and McPherson were at least two miles to Thomas’s left (east). Johnston had originally planned to attack the Federals if a portion of their force became isolated. Hood decided to adopt this strategy and attack Thomas’s isolated army before it could cross the creek and build defenses. That night, Hood gathered his commanders at his Whitehall Street headquarters in Atlanta and explained his plan:

  • Hardee and Stewart would attack Thomas’s army and drive it west, away from both Atlanta and the other two Federal armies.
  • Cheatham’s corps, along with Confederate cavalry and Georgia militia, would demonstrate against McPherson and Schofield to prevent them from helping Thomas.
  • After Hardee and Stewart defeated Thomas, they would turn right (east) to join with Cheatham in defeating McPherson and Schofield.

Hood demanded that the attacks be “bold and persistent,” and the defensive works that the Federals were building were to be seized at the “point of the bayonet.” For Hood to succeed, time was of the essence. However, instead of scheduling the attack to begin at dawn, he set it for 1 p.m. And the armies of Schofield and McPherson were not as far from Thomas as originally reported.

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References

Bailey, Ronald H., The Battles for Atlanta: Sherman Moves East (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 81, 91-92; CivilWarDailyGazette.com; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 436-37; Foote, Shelby, The Civil War: A Narrative: Volume 3: Red River to Appomattox (Vintage Civil War Library, Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, Kindle Edition, 2011), Loc 8576-618, 8808-18, 9855-85; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 469-71; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 540, 542

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Hood Replaces Johnston

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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References

Angle, Paul M., A Pictorial History of the Civil War Years (New York: Doubleday, 1967), p. 176-77; Bailey, Ronald H., The Battles for Atlanta: Sherman Moves East (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 80-81, 90; Castel, Albert, Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 565-66; CivilWarDailyGazette.com; Crocker III, H.W., The Politically Incorrect Guide to the Civil War (Washington: Regnery Publishing, 2008), p. 82-84; Davis, Jefferson, The Rise and Fall of the Confederate Government: All Volumes (Heraklion Press, Kindle Edition 2013, 1889), Loc 20826-35, 20854, 20920-29; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 437; Foote, Shelby, The Civil War: A Narrative: Volume 3: Red River to Appomattox (Vintage Civil War Library, Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, Kindle Edition, 2011), Loc 8787-840, 8852-72, 9855-85; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 470-71; Kallmann, John D., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 368-69, 400-01; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 540-41; McPherson, James M., Battle Cry of Freedom: The Civil War Era (Oxford History of the United States Book 6, Oxford University Press, Kindle Edition, 1988), p. 752-53; Ward, Geoffrey C., Burns, Ric, Burns, Ken, The Civil War (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1990), p. 324-25

Georgia: Davis Contemplates a Command Change

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

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

Confederate President Jefferson Davis | Image Credit: Wikispaces.com

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

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

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

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

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

General Braxton Bragg | Image Credit: Wikimedia.org

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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References

Bailey, Ronald H., The Battles for Atlanta: Sherman Moves East (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 76-78, 80; CivilWarDailyGazette.com; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 436; Foote, Shelby, The Civil War: A Narrative: Volume 3: Red River to Appomattox (Vintage Civil War Library, Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, Kindle Edition, 2011), Loc 8743-96; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 469; Freeman, Douglas Southall, Lee (Scribner, Kindle Edition, 2008), Loc 7787-98; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 537-38; McPherson, James M., Battle Cry of Freedom: The Civil War Era (Oxford History of the United States Book 6, Oxford University Press, Kindle Edition, 1988), p. 752; White, Howard Ray, Bloodstains, An Epic History of the Politics that Produced and Sustained the American Civil War and the Political Reconstruction that Followed (Southernbooks. Kindle Edition, 2012), Q364

Georgia: Sherman Crosses the Chattahoochee

July 8, 1864 – Leading elements of Major General William T. Sherman’s Federal forces began crossing the Chattahoochee River and getting ever closer to the vital railroad and industrial city of Atlanta.

Maj Gen W.T. Sherman | Image Credit: Wikispaces.com

General Joseph E. Johnston’s Confederate Army of Tennessee held strong defenses along the Chattahoochee, just eight miles northwest of Atlanta. President Jefferson Davis wrote Johnston that the army’s pattern of retreating made him “more apprehensive for the future.” Davis urged Johnston to hold firm on the north bank of the Chattahoochee, but he had no reinforcements to send.

Sherman, whose three Federal armies had forced Johnston to fall back southward from Marietta and Smyrna, observed the enemy positions from Vining’s Station and called them “the best line of field intrenchments I have ever seen.”

Sherman would not directly assault the Confederate defenses, having tried that and failed at Kennesaw Mountain. But neither would Sherman move against Johnston’s left flank as he had always done in the past either. Instead, Sherman would feint to the left and cross the Chattahoochee to Johnston’s right. According to Sherman’s plan:

  • Major General George H. Thomas’s Army of the Cumberland would demonstrate in the Confederates’ front, keeping them in their defenses.
  • Major General James B. McPherson’s Army of the Tennessee, supported by Major General George Stoneman’s cavalry from the Army of the Ohio, would threaten Turner’s Ferry, downriver (southwest) from Johnston’s left.
  • Major General John Schofield’s Army of the Ohio would cross the Chattahoochee at the mouth of Soap Creek, upriver (northeast) from Johnston’s right.
  • Federal cavalry would cross even farther upriver, near Roswell.

After two days of positioning and skirmishing, Sherman’s plan was ready for execution. McPherson and Stoneman began demonstrating against Turner’s Ferry on the afternoon of the 8th. Meanwhile, Schofield crossed the Chattahoochee at Pace’s Ferry, and Federal horsemen destroyed the textile factories at Roswell before crossing as well. The Federals secured high ground on Johnston’s right and began building a pontoon bridge that night.

The next morning, a group of Confederate congressmen visited Johnston and informed him that Davis expected the army to stop retreating and start fighting very soon. In fact, Davis had ordered Chief of Staff Braxton Bragg to come to Georgia and learn Johnston’s intentions. Specifically, Davis wanted to know if Johnston planned to give battle before Sherman reached Atlanta.

Johnston said to the congressmen, “You may tell Mr. Davis that it would be folly for me under the circumstances to risk a decisive engagement. My plan is to draw Sherman further and further from his base in the hope of weakening him and by cutting his army in two. That is my only hope of defeating him.”

The meeting was interrupted by news that Schofield’s army had crossed the Chattahoochee. Johnston announced that this was good news because it meant that Sherman had finally divided his army, making him vulnerable to attack. But Johnston did not attack; he instead issued orders for the army to fall back across the river to meet the new threat to its right. Thus, Johnston abandoned the last major waterway in front of Atlanta.

Sherman reported that his Federals were the “undisputed masters of north and west of the Chattahoochee.” His armies had made remarkable gains into Georgia since beginning their campaign two months before. Sherman wired Washington, “We now commence the real game for Atlanta,” which was “too important a place in the hands of the enemy to be left undisturbed, with its magazines, stores, arsenals, workshops, foundries, &c., and more especially its railroads, which converged there from the four great cardinal points.”

By Sunday the 10th, the Confederates were behind defenses at Peachtree Creek, a westward-flowing tributary of the Chattahoochee just four miles from Atlanta. Panic swept through the city as residents hurrying to evacuate caused major traffic jams on southbound trains. Georgia Governor Joseph E. Brown called for every able-bodied man in the state to take up arms. The city soon had 5,000 men between ages 16 and 55 defending Atlanta.

Meanwhile, Georgia Senator Benjamin Hill arrived at Richmond following his conference with Johnston on the 1st. Meeting with Davis in the residential office of the Executive Mansion, Hill imparted Johnston’s suggestion that Nathan Bedford Forrest or John Hunt Morgan wreak havoc on Sherman’s supply lines in Tennessee. Davis said that neither officer was available; Forrest was opposing Federals in northern Mississippi and Morgan was just coming off a failed raid.

Davis then showed Hill a dispatch from Johnston announcing that he had just withdrawn across the Chattahoochee. Hill, who had hoped to get Davis to support Johnston, now joined Davis in turning against him. Discussing a command change, Davis said he knew “how serious it was to change commanders in the presence of the enemy,” and he “would not do it if I could have any assurance that General Johnston would not surrender Atlanta without a battle.”

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References

Bailey, Ronald H., The Battles for Atlanta: Sherman Moves East (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 76-80; Castel, Albert, Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 565-66; Davis, Jefferson, The Rise and Fall of the Confederate Government: All Volumes (Heraklion Press, Kindle Edition 2013, 1889), Loc 20826; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 433-34; Foote, Shelby, The Civil War: A Narrative: Volume 3: Red River to Appomattox (Vintage Civil War Library, Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, Kindle Edition, 2011), Loc 8467-87, 8520-40, 8670-721, 8743-63; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 465-67; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 533-36; Longacre, Edward G., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 132-33, 305; McPherson, James M., Battle Cry of Freedom: The Civil War Era (Oxford History of the United States Book 6, Oxford University Press, Kindle Edition, 1988), p. 751-52

Georgia: Johnston Falls Back to the Chattahoochee

July 1, 1864 – General Joseph E. Johnston, commanding the Confederate Army of Tennessee, looked to fall back once again after Major General William T. Sherman’s three Federal armies threatened to outflank him north of Atlanta.

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

As July began, Johnston held a defensive line that included the Western & Atlantic Railroad and Kennesaw Mountain. The Confederates faced northwest, protecting the key cities of Marietta and Atlanta behind them. Sherman’s Federals were in their front, with Sherman looking to move around the Confederate left to avoid a second defeat after his sharp repulse at Kennesaw Mountain in late June.

The Confederate high command had grown increasingly dissatisfied with Johnston’s habit of retreating to avoid being outflanked. Senator Benjamin Hill of Georgia visited Johnston, his personal friend, to assess the military situation on the government’s behalf. Johnston explained that he had neither the strength to attack Sherman nor the size to prevent Sherman from wrapping his troops around the Confederate flank.

Johnston recommended assigning cavalry under Nathan Bedford Forrest or John Hunt Morgan to destroy Sherman’s supply line, which was the railroad running all the way from Georgia to Louisville, Kentucky. Johnston said that in just one day, Forrest or Morgan “could destroy the railroad to an extent that as to require two weeks or a month to repair it.”

Without supplies, Sherman would have no choice except to attack or retreat. If he attacked, Johnston was sure his army could defeat him. Hill asked Johnston about recent scouting reports stating that Sherman was trying to work his way around the Confederate flank again to cross the Chattahoochee River, the last waterway between the Federals and Atlanta. Johnston assured Hill that he could prevent Sherman from crossing the river for two months. In the meantime, Johnston would seek to block Sherman’s way to Atlanta while trying to destroy the Federals in sections.

On the Federal side, the rains ended and the roads dried enough for another movement around Johnston’s left (southern) flank. Sherman explained, “The object of the contemplated movement is to deprive the enemy of the great advantage he has in Kennesaw as a valuable watchtower from which to observe our every movement; to force him to come out of his intrenchments or move farther south.” According to Sherman’s plan:

  • Major General John Schofield’s Army of the Ohio, facing the Confederate left, would shift southward to prepare for the flanking maneuver.
  • Major General George H. Thomas’s Army of the Cumberland, facing the Confederate center, would follow Schofield out of the line.
  • Major General James B. McPherson’s Army of the Tennessee, facing the Confederate right, would move out of its line and march south behind Thomas to reinforce Schofield.

Above all else, Sherman urged, “All movements must be vigorous and rapid.” The Federals would stage a series of diversions to prevent the Confederates from learning their true intention. However, the Confederates discovered the movement almost as soon as it began on the 2nd.

Anticipating that Sherman would try this (though perhaps not so soon), Johnston had arranged for slaves to build defenses on a ridge along the Western & Atlantic Railroad at Smyrna, southeast of Marietta. The Confederates began moving out that night, abandoning the line they had held so strongly for nearly two weeks.

Sherman learned of the Confederate movement that night and, fearing an attack, ordered the part of McPherson’s army that had not started moving yet to stay put. It was not discovered until a few hours later that Johnston was retreating. Sherman wrote in his memoirs:

“By the earliest of dawn of the 3rd of July, I was up at a large spy-glass mounted on a tripod… I directed the glass on Kennesaw, and saw some of our pickets crawling up the hill cautiously; soon they stood upon the very top, and I could plainly see their movements as they ran along the crest just abandoned by the enemy. In a minute I roused my staff, and started them off with orders in every direction for a pursuit by every possible road, hoping to catch Johnston in the confusion of retreat, especially at the crossing of the Chattahoochee River.”

Sherman directed Thomas to pursue the Confederates. When probing Federals found them stopped outside Smyrna, Sherman told Thomas that night, “The more I reflect the more I know Johnston’s halt is to save time to cross his material and men. No general, such as he, would invite battle with the Chattahoochee behind him…Press with vehemence at any cost of life and material…” Meanwhile, McPherson’s Federals continued extending their right around Johnston’s left, moving closer to the Chattahoochee.

On the 4th, Major General Oliver O. Howard’s IV Corps in Thomas’s army advanced and skirmished with Confederates from Lieutenant General William Hardee’s corps north and west of Smyrna. When Howard reported that Confederate resistance was unexpectedly strong, Sherman replied, “You are mistaken, there is no force in your front.”

Howard launched a frontal attack, led by Major General David S. Stanley’s division. The Federals captured some of the forward rifle pits, but they were then forced to fall back under what Stanley called “the severest and most continued cannonade the rebels had ever used upon us.” Such strong Confederate resistance surprised Sherman because it indicated that Johnston intended to make a stand north of the Chattahoochee.

The Federals moving against Johnston’s left had better success. McPherson’s XVI Corps under Major General Grenville M. Dodge crossed Nickajack Creek and pushed back Lieutenant General John Bell Hood’s Confederates before Hood was reinforced by cavalry and state militia. The Federals fell back until they were augmented by more of McPherson’s men and Schofield’s cavalry. They counterattacked and secured positions a mile past Nickajack. This put the Federal right closer to the Chattahoochee than the Confederate left, thus ensuring that Johnston would have to fall back yet again.

Later that day, Johnston’s Confederates began withdrawing to a line six miles south of Smyrna astride the railroad on the north bank of the Chattahoochee. Slaves had been building defenses there since late June. Johnston directed the men to build pontoon bridges in case of another retreat. They were now just eight miles from Atlanta. Sherman’s Federals approached this new line of fortifications the next day.

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References

Bailey, Ronald H., The Battles for Atlanta: Sherman Moves East (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 76; Castel, Albert, Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 565-66; CivilWarDailyGazette.com; Davis, Jefferson, The Rise and Fall of the Confederate Government: All Volumes (Heraklion Press, Kindle Edition 2013, 1889), Loc 20817-26; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 432; 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 8425-77, 8649-69; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 463-65; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 531-33; Longacre, Edward G., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 132-33, 786-87; McPherson, James M., Battle Cry of Freedom: The Civil War Era (Oxford History of the United States Book 6, Oxford University Press, Kindle Edition, 1988), p. 751

The Battle of Kennesaw Mountain

June 27, 1864 – Major General William T. Sherman’s Federals assaulted Confederates heavily defended on an eminence 15 miles north of Atlanta.

Sherman had resolved to directly attack the Confederate line anchored on Kennesaw Mountain. General Joseph E. Johnston, commanding the Confederate Army of Tennessee, had strengthened his flanks to prevent them from being turned, so Sherman felt he had no choice but to try breaking through his center.

The 27th began hot and humid, with temperatures quickly reaching 100 degrees. At 8 a.m., 200 Federal guns opened on the Confederate lines, and Confederate gunners responded. A witness wrote, “Kennesaw smoked and blazed with fire, a volcano as grand as Etna.”

Sketch of firing on Kennesaw Mountain | Image Credit: CivilWarDailyGazette.com

A half-hour later, about 5,000 Federals from Major General James B. McPherson’s Army of the Tennessee began advancing toward Little Kennesaw and Pigeon Hill, which were held by the Confederate corps led by Major General William W. Loring (formerly under Leonidas Polk). McPherson hoped to break the enemy defenses and isolate Loring to the northeast. About 5,000 entrenched Confederates awaited the Federals’ approach.

As the Federals scaled the steep ridges, Confederate artillerists fired down into them. When their guns could not be depressed any lower, the Confederates rolled rocks and other impediments down the hill. The Federals reached the forward rifle pits, with many using their rifles as clubs, but they could not reach the main line. The fight raged for two hours before the Federals were ordered to fall back.

About two miles south, 9,000 Federals began advancing across a mile-wide front at 9 a.m. They belonged to Major General George H. Thomas’s Army of the Cumberland. Facing them were two divisions of Lieutenant General William Hardee’s corps under Major Generals Patrick R. Cleburne and Benjamin F. Cheatham.

The Federals marched in columns to apply maximum power against specific points on the line, thereby increasing their chances for a breakthrough. However, this left them vulnerable to artillery, which cut swaths into the formations. The Confederate defenders noted the Federals’ bravery, with one recalling, “They seemed to walk up and take death as coolly as if they were automatic or wooden men.”

Only a few Federals managed to reach the Confederate lines, including Colonel Daniel McCook, who was killed after shouting, “Surrender, you traitors!” He was the fourth of 15 “Fighting McCooks” to die in combat. Vicious hand-to-hand fighting ensued, and this area of the field became known as the “Dead Angle.”

Thomas issued orders around 10:45 for the Federals to fall back, but those pinned down by enemy fire had to wait until nightfall. Sherman wrote Thomas at 1:30, “Do you think you can carry any part of the enemy’s line today?… I will order the assault if you think you can succeed at any point.” Thomas replied, “We have already lost heavily today without gaining any material advantage. One or two more such assaults would use up this army.”

Johnston, not yet aware of the extent of his victory, wired Richmond, “The enemy advanced upon our whole line to-day. Their loss is supposed to be great; ours known to be small.” But the Confederates were not in good shape, despite their victory. One soldier recalled:

“I never saw so many broken down and exhausted men in my life. I was as sick as a horse, and as wet with blood and sweat as I could be, and many of our men were vomiting with excessive fatigue, over-exhaustion, and sunstroke; our tongues were parched and cracked for water, and our faces blackened with powder and smoke, and our dead and wounded were piled indiscriminately in the trenches.”

The Federals sustained 2,051 casualties (1,999 killed or wounded and 52 missing), while the Confederates lost 442 (270 killed or wounded and 172 missing). These numbers were small compared to the terrible battles in Virginia, but they were the greatest losses in this campaign thus far. Sherman came under severe criticism for this failed attack, but he wrote in his report:

“I perceived that the enemy and our officers had settled down into a conviction that I would not assault fortified lines. All looked to me to outflank. An army to be efficient, must not settle down to a single mode of offence, but must be prepared to execute any plan which promises success. I wanted, therefore, for the moral effect, to make a successful assault against the enemy behind his breastworks, and resolved to attempt it at that point where success would give the largest fruits of victory.”

This was Johnston’s greatest tactical victory of the campaign. However, Sherman turned this into a strategic victory for the Federals when Major General John Schofield’s Army of the Ohio extended its right flank beyond Johnston’s left. This allowed Sherman to turn Johnston’s flank once more, even though it would force the Federals to detach themselves from their supply line on the Western & Atlantic Railroad.

That night, Sherman wrote Thomas, “Are you willing to risk (a) move on Fulton, cutting loose from the railroad?” Thomas responded that such a move was risky, but, “I think it decidedly better than butting against breastworks 12 feet thick and strongly abatised.”

Sherman later wrote, “Satisfied of the bloody cost of attacking intrenched lines, I at once thought of moving the whole army to the railroad at a point about 10 miles below Marietta, or to the Chattahoochee River itself…” Kennesaw Mountain proved to be Sherman’s last large-scale frontal attack of the war.

Two days later, Federals and Confederates agreed upon a seven-hour truce to bury the dead and alleviate the overwhelming stench around Kennesaw Mountain. Confederates helped Federals drag bodies, using bayonets as grappling hooks, into deep trenches. The opposing soldiers fraternized, and some Federals impressed by General Cheatham’s leadership at the Dead Angle asked for his autograph.

Meanwhile, Sherman wrote to his wife, “I begin to regard the death and mangling of a couple of thousand men as a small affair, a kind of morning dash. It may be well that we become hardened… The worst of the war is not yet begun.”

Johnston soon learned that Sherman was trying to flank him again. But he was confident that Sherman would eventually overextend his supply line, leaving him isolated in enemy territory. This did not satisfy Johnston’s superiors, who were growing more impatient with his retreats. When Johnston told Richmond that he could not take the offensive without more men, General Braxton Bragg, advisor to President Jefferson Davis, expressed frustration:

“Every available man, subject to my control, has been sent to General Johnston, and he had retained several commands deemed absolutely necessary elsewhere, after receiving orders to move them. No doubt he is outnumbered by the enemy, as we are everywhere, but the disparity is much less than it has ever been between those two armies.”

Since this campaign began, Sherman lost nearly 17,000 men while Johnston lost just over 14,000. This represented 14 percent of Sherman’s total force and 25 percent of Johnston’s. Contrary to Johnston’s boasts that Federal supplies would soon run out, Sherman still had enough men to guard the supply line all the way back to Chattanooga.

As June ended, Georgia Governor Joseph E. Brown issued a third call for state militia to oppose Sherman’s drive on Atlanta. President Davis informed Brown that he had sent Johnston “all available reinforcements, detaching troops even from points that remain exposed to the enemy.” Davis did not know what else he could do.

Brown then turned to Senator Benjamin Hill, a personal friend of Davis’s. Brown asked Hill to write the president and ask him to send more troops to Johnston. Hill replied, “Time is too precious and letters are inadequate,” and announced that he would consult with Johnston and then travel to Richmond in person.

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References

Angle, Paul M., A Pictorial History of the Civil War Years (New York: Doubleday, 1967), p. 175-76; Bailey, Ronald H., The Battles for Atlanta: Sherman Moves East (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 18, 66-67, 75; Catton, Bruce, The American Heritage Picture History of the Civil War (New York: American Heritage Publishing Co., 1960), p. 481; CivilWarDailyGazette.com; Crocker III, H.W., The Politically Incorrect Guide to the Civil War (Washington: Regnery Publishing, 2008), p. 82-84; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 430; 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 8328-48, 8371-424, 8638-58; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 462; Linedecker, Clifford L. (ed.), The Civil War A to Z (Ballantine Books, 2002), p. 23-24, 155-56; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 529-30; Longacre, Edward G., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 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

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.”

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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