Tag Archives: Joseph Wheeler

Atlanta: Sherman’s Armies Start Moving

August 25, 1864 – Major General William T. Sherman’s Federals began a major movement to the west and south of Atlanta to cut the supply lines leading into the city and starve the Confederate Army of Tennessee into submission.

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

After failing to seize the railroad below Atlanta, Sherman, commanding the Federal armies in Georgia, admitted to his superiors that he was “too impatient for a siege.” Northern confidence that Atlanta would soon fall was replaced by southern confidence that the city would hold. A Wisconsin soldier wrote that “we make but little progress toward Atlanta, and it may be some time before we take the place.”

Sherman sought to cut the Macon & Western Railroad below Atlanta, the last supply line running into the city. But until he could develop a plan to get to that heavily guarded line, he opted to bombard the city. He wrote Major General Oliver O. Howard, commanding the Army of the Tennessee, “Let us destroy Atlanta and make it a desolation.”

The Federals emplaced siege artillery and Parrott rifles atop Bald Hill, overlooking the city, and began their barrage on the 9th. They fired an average of 5,000 rounds into Atlanta every day for the next two weeks, killing several non-combatants, including women and children. The bombardment was meant not only to destroy Atlanta, but to demoralize the citizenry.

Maj Gen Joseph Wheeler | Image Credit: CivilWarDailyGazette.com

General John Bell Hood, commanding the Confederate Army of Tennessee, had prevented Sherman from capturing Atlanta thus far, but he lacked the strength to drive the Federals off permanently. He therefore assigned Major General Joseph Wheeler to lead 4,500 cavalrymen on a raid of Sherman’s supply line, the Western & Atlantic Railroad, which stretched north into Tennessee. Hood hoped that wrecking the railroad would starve Sherman into falling back or attacking the strong Confederate defenses.

Wheeler was to ride north into Tennessee, leave half his command to operate against the railroad in that state, and return to Atlanta with his remaining men. He set out on the 10th, and over the next four days, he destroyed railroad track spanning 30 miles from Marietta to Dalton. Wheeler demanded the surrender of the Federal garrison at Dalton, but the commander refused. Federal reinforcements soon arrived, and Wheeler continued on, skirmishing with enemy pursuers along the way.

The Confederates did not cause the damage that Hood hoped; Sherman’s Federals quickly repaired the railroad and supplies continued getting to the armies as Wheeler veered off into eastern Tennessee for the rest of the month. Meanwhile, Sherman assigned Brigadier General H. Judson Kilpatrick to conduct a cavalry raid of his own, leading 4,000 troopers and horse artillery in wrecking the two remaining railroads below Atlanta.

The Macon & Western ran south of Atlanta to Macon, and it also diverged into a second (Atlanta & West Point) railroad at East Point, which ran east to Montgomery, Alabama. However, the Confederates seldom used this line. Kilpatrick’s Federals reached their first objective, Fairburn, on the 18th, and destroyed a section of the seldom-used Atlanta & West Point. At the same time, Major General John Schofield’s Army of the Ohio advanced along Utoy Creek, southwest of Atlanta. Sherman wanted Schofield to be the pivot for the rest of the Federals to swing west and cut off the city’s south side.

The next day, Kilpatrick’s force arrived at Jonesboro, a key depot on the Macon & Western Railroad. They kept the guards busy as they destroyed large amounts of supplies. The troopers then rode south along the railroad to Lovejoy’s Station. They began destroying more supplies and wrecking more track when they were suddenly confronted by Confederate infantry under Brigadier General William H. Jackson.

The two forces battled into the night, when Kilpatrick ordered a withdrawal back to Sherman’s lines. Jackson’s troops attacked the Federal rear guard and nearly surrounded the force, but Kilpatrick fought them off long enough to escape. He returned to the main Federal force two days later.

Kilpatrick reported that his men had wrecked enough of the railroads to prevent supplies from reaching Hood’s army for 10 days. Sherman hoped that this would force Hood to withdraw his starving army from Atlanta. However, the Confederates repaired the track and trains resumed their deliveries the very next day. The cavalry failed Sherman again. He later wrote, “I became more than ever convinced that cavalry could not or would not work hard enough to disable a railroad properly, and therefore resolved at once to proceed to the execution of my original plan.”

Sherman’s original plan involved shifting six of his seven corps around to the southwest to permanently cut the railroads and force Hood to either evacuate the city or give battle. This was risky because the Federals would be separated from their communication and supply lines, but Sherman preferred this to attacking the strong Confederate fortifications ringing the city. Sherman notified his superiors, “I will be all ready, and will commence the movement around Atlanta by the south, tomorrow night, and for some time you will hear little of us.”

The movement began on the night of the 25th, as troops of Major General George H. Thomas’s Army of the Cumberland left their trenches. IV and XIV corps began the circuitous movement, while XX Corps stayed back to guard the railroad bridge over the Chattahoochee River. Thomas would pivot on Schofield’s army, which consisted of XXIII Corps, below Utoy Creek.

The next morning, the Federal artillery bombardment stopped, and Confederates reported that the trenches north of Atlanta were empty. Hood believed that Wheeler had forced Sherman to fall back across the Chattahoochee. Residents even planned victory celebrations for that night. However, Wheeler’s men were in Tennessee, unable to inform Hood of the real reason why the Federals abandoned their northern trenches.

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References

Bailey, Ronald H., The Battles for Atlanta: Sherman Moves East (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 139, 141, 143; Castel, Albert, Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 404-05, 819; Catton, Bruce, The American Heritage Picture History of the Civil War (New York: American Heritage Publishing Co., 1960), p. 517; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 446-48, 450; 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 10287-97, 10870-91, 10902-22; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 484-86, 488-90; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 554, 556-58, 560; Longacre, Edward G., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 450; 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. 755

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The Stoneman-McCook Debacle

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

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

Maj Gen George Stoneman | Image Credit: Wikimedia.org

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

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

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

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

Maj Gen Joseph Wheeler | Image Credit: CivilWarDailyGazette.com

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

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

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

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

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

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References

Bailey, Ronald H., The Battles for Atlanta: Sherman Moves East (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 136-40; Castel, Albert, Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 721; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 440-41; Foote, Shelby, The Civil War: A Narrative: Volume 3: Red River to Appomattox (Vintage Civil War Library, Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, Kindle Edition, 2011), Loc 10191-201; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 474-79; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 546-47; Longacre, Edward G., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 405-06

Atlanta: The Federal Wheel Starts Turning

July 27, 1864 – Major General William T. Sherman prepared to move his three armies around the west and south of Atlanta to try wresting that city from General John Bell Hood’s Confederate Army of Tennessee.

The Confederate attacks of the 20th and 22nd failed to destroy parts of Sherman’s Federal command, but they succeeded in keeping Sherman from reaching Atlanta from the north or east. Following the costly fight on the 22nd, both sides remained stationary in front of each other while their respective commanders pondered their next move.

Federal engineers completed construction on a bridge over the Chattahoochee River on the 25th. The 90-foot-high bridge spanned 760 feet and was built in just five days. This enabled the delivery of supplies to a base behind Major General George H. Thomas’s Army of the Cumberland on Peachtree Creek, north of Atlanta.

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

As Sherman developed a plan to get to Atlanta, he wrote his wife Ellen, “We have Atlanta close aboard, as the sailors say, but it is a hard nut to handle. These fellows fight like Devils and Indians combined, and it calls for all my cunning and strength.” President Abraham Lincoln wrote Sherman offering his “profoundest thanks to you and your whole Army for the present campaign so far.”

Sherman’s chief engineer, Captain Orlando Poe, concluded that the Confederate defenses on Atlanta’s perimeter were “too strong to assault and too extensive to invest.” Thus, Sherman decided to create a “circle of desolation” around the city. This would involve bombarding Atlanta and cutting off its four railroads, thereby starving it into submission.

The Federals already controlled the Western & Atlantic Railroad, which supplied them from Chattanooga. They had done extensive damage to the Georgia Railroad running east to Augusta, and the Atlanta & West Point running southwest into Alabama. Only the Macon & Western, running southeast to the Atlantic Coast, remained to supply the soldiers and civilians in Atlanta.

Laying partial siege to Atlanta, Sherman planned to shift his armies from north and east of the city to west and south in a counterclockwise movement. His objective was the intersection of the Atlanta & West Point and Macon & Western railroads at East Point, southwest of Atlanta.

The Federal armies were arranged in a rough semicircle, with Thomas’s army north of Atlanta, Major General John Schofield’s Army of the Ohio to Thomas’s left (northeast), and Major General John A. Logan’s Army of the Tennessee to Schofield’s left (east). Sherman intended to shift Logan’s army to Thomas’s right, so that the semicircle ran from north to west.

Before Sherman began, he had to choose a permanent commander for the Army of the Tennessee. Logan had temporarily taken command after Major General James B. McPherson was killed on the 22nd. Many officers and men wanted to keep Logan, but Thomas protested that Logan was not a professional soldier. The ranking corps commander was Major General Joseph Hooker, but Sherman detested him. He therefore chose Major General Oliver O. Howard as the new commander.

Hooker protested being passed over by the officer he blamed for his disastrous defeat at Chancellorsville in May 1863. He submitted his resignation, calling the decision “an insult to my rank and services.” Thomas, Hooker’s corps commander, “approved and heartily recommended” that Sherman accept Hooker’s resignation, and Sherman quickly complied. Sherman’s decision caused resentment among supporters of both Hooker and Logan.

Major General Alpheus Williams temporarily replaced Hooker in command of Thomas’s XX Corps. Ironically, Hooker’s permanent replacement was Major General Henry W. Slocum, who had despised Hooker ever since Chancellorsville. Williams held command until Slocum arrived from Vicksburg. Howard was replaced in command of Thomas’s IV Corps by Major General David S. Stanley.

Once Howard’s army shifted to the right, Schofield’s and Thomas’s would follow suit, moving along the Chattahoochee River toward East Point. Sherman also dispatched two Federal cavalry forces to harass the Confederate flanks and attack the Macon & Western Railroad from both the east and west.

Meanwhile, Hood remained poised to attack when the opportunity presented itself. Apprised of the Federal moves, he dispatched Major General Joseph Wheeler’s cavalry to stop the Federal troopers. He then assigned two of his corps under Lieutenant Generals Alexander P. Stewart and Stephen D. Lee (newly arrived from Mississippi to take over from Major General Benjamin F. Cheatham) to stop the Federals from threatening the railroads southwest of Atlanta.

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References

Bailey, Ronald H., The Battles for Atlanta: Sherman Moves East (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 132-33; Castel, Albert, Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 250-51; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 439-40; 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 10108-118, 10129-70; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 474-76; Kallmann, John D., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 369-70; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 545-47; Pritchard, Russ A., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 746-47

The Battle of Atlanta

July 22, 1864 – General John Bell Hood’s Confederates hoped to destroy a portion of Major General William T. Sherman’s Federal force by attacking the army east of Atlanta.

In keeping with his strategy at Peachtree Creek, Hood, commanding the Army of Tennessee, sought to isolate and destroy one of Sherman’s three armies approaching the vital industrial and transportation center of Atlanta. Hood’s target was Major General James B. McPherson’s Army of the Tennessee, which held a north-south line less than three miles east of the city. According to Hood’s plan:

  • Lieutenant General William Hardee’s corps would conduct a 15-mile night march around McPherson’s left (southern) flank and attack from the south and east.
  • Major General Joseph Wheeler’s cavalry would ride past Hardee’s corps to the Federal supply depot at Decatur in McPherson’s rear.
  • Major General Benjamin F. Cheatham’s corps would attack McPherson’s right and center from the west.

Hood expected Hardee’s Confederates to attack at dawn, but they were exhausted from the night march and could not be brought up into attack formation until afternoon. During the delay, McPherson sensed that the Confederates might threaten his left and persuaded Sherman to allow him to bring up Major General Grenville M. Dodge’s XVI Corps from Decatur to reinforce his flank.

Dodge positioned his troops facing south, refusing the rest of McPherson’s line facing west. The Confederates attacked south of the Georgia Railroad, between Decatur and Atlanta, where Dodge’s Federals were waiting. The Confederates seemed surprised to see the enemy facing them, and they were repulsed. William Strong of McPherson’s staff recalled:

“They showed great steadiness, closed up the gaps, and preserved their alignments; but the iron and leaden hail that was fairly poured upon them was too much for flesh and blood to stand, and before reaching the centre of the open fields, the columns were broken up and thrown into great confusion.”

Combat outside Atlanta | Image Credit: SouthernSpaces.org

The Federals counterattacked and drove the Confederates back. However, McPherson soon discovered a gap between Dodge’s corps and Major General Francis P. Blair, Jr.’s XVII Corps to Dodge’s right (facing west). Confederates under Major General Patrick R. Cleburne surged forward to exploit the gap as McPherson called for troops to close it.

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

McPherson inadvertently rode up to Confederate skirmishers, and a captain demanded his surrender. The captain later wrote, “He checked his horse slightly, raised his hat as politely as if he was saluting a lady, wheeled his horse’s head directly to the right and dashed off to the rear in a full gallop.” The skirmishers killed him with a bullet near his heart. Federals repulsed the skirmishers and recovered McPherson’s body, which they loaded into an ambulance and sent to Sherman’s headquarters. The Army of the Tennessee’s command temporarily passed to Major General John A. “Blackjack” Logan.

Federals rushed forward to plug the gap between XVII and XVI corps, holding firm against Cleburne’s assaults. To the west, Cheatham’s Confederates attacked the Federals at Bald Hill and other points around 3 p.m. The Confederates penetrated the line of XV corps near the Georgia Railroad, but Logan rallied the troops by yelling, “McPherson and revenge, boys! McPherson and revenge!” The Federals eventually drove the Confederates back.

Farther east, Federals were driven out of Decatur by Wheeler’s troopers, but the Federals saved all the army’s ordnance before withdrawing. Wheeler’s position became untenable when he learned that Hardee had not broken the Federal left, and he ordered a withdrawal. With no breakthroughs anywhere along the battle lines, Hood finally ordered his men to fall back.

The Federals suffered 3,722 casualties (430 killed, 1,559 wounded, and 1,733 missing) out of over 30,000 effectives. Sherman wept over the loss of McPherson, whom Sherman believed was his most talented subordinate. He had McPherson’s body wrapped in a U.S. flag and conveyed to Marietta for interment.

The Confederates lost 7,000 to 10,000 from roughly 40,000 men. Cleburne’s division lost 40 percent of its strength, including 30 of its 60 highest-ranking officers. In five days as army commander, Hood had launched two attacks that not only failed to dislodge Sherman, but they cost more lives than former commander Joseph E. Johnston had lost in over two months. Hood again blamed Hardee for the defeat, even though Hood was not present during the fighting, just as he was not present during the Battle of Peachtree Creek two days before.

Despite such devastating losses, the Confederates still held Atlanta. They fell back to defenses around the city, and Sherman began planning to place Atlanta under siege.

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References

Angle, Paul M., A Pictorial History of the Civil War Years (New York: Doubleday, 1967), p. 177; Bailey, Ronald H., The Battles for Atlanta: Sherman Moves East (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 100-14; Castel, Albert, Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 466; Catton, Bruce, The American Heritage Picture History of the Civil War (New York: American Heritage Publishing Co., 1960), p. 516, 525-26; 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. 439; 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 9960-70, 10043-74, 10096-116; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 473; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 543-44; 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. 754; Pritchard, Russ A., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 746-47; Ward, Geoffrey C., Burns, Ric, Burns, Ken, The Civil War (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1990), p. 327

Atlanta: Federals Capture Bald Hill

July 21, 1864 – Following the Battle of Peachtree Creek, Federal forces seized an important ridge east of Atlanta.

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

General John Bell Hood, commanding the Confederate Army of Tennessee, held his positions north and east of Atlanta after the Battle of Peachtree Creek. His two corps under Lieutenant Generals Alexander P. Stewart and William Hardee faced the Federals on the creek to the north, while Major General Benjamin F. Cheatham’s corps faced the Federals to the northeast and east.

The Federals to the east consisted of Major General James B. McPherson’s Army of the Tennessee. They had advanced to within three miles of Atlanta, but were stopped the previous day by Confederates under Major General Patrick R. Cleburne defending Bald Hill, a treeless ridge southwest of McPherson’s left flank. Whoever held this eminence had a clear view of Atlanta below.

Major General William T. Sherman, the overall Federal commander, wrote McPherson on the morning of the 21st, “I was in hopes you could have made a closer approach to Atlanta, as I was satisfied you had a less force and more inferior works than will be revealed by daylight, if, as I suppose, Hood proposes to hold Atlanta to the death.”

Sherman directed McPherson to advance so “your artillery can reach the town easily.” Sherman added, “In case he retreats it will be toward Macon, whither all the advance stores have been sent, and most of the provisions. I want him pursued vigorously for a couple of days.”

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

McPherson had ordered Major General Francis P. Blair, Jr.’s XVII Corps to take Bald Hill. The task devolved upon Blair’s 4th Division, led by Brigadier General Mortimer D. Leggett. The order had arrived too late to act on the 20th, so Leggett prepared to launch an attack the next morning.

Federal guns opened on the Confederate defenses at dawn, causing substantial damage. Confederate Brigadier General James A. Smith reported that the bombardment was “committing dreadful havoc in the ranks. I have never before witnessed such accurate and destructive cannonading.” This barrage helped McPherson’s infantry to attack the otherwise impregnable positions atop the hill.

Confederate artillery initially held the Federals off, but then they fixed bayonets and resumed their advance. The Federals reached the top of Bald Hill, which was desperately held by Cleburne’s infantry and cavalry under Major General Joseph Wheeler. Vicious hand-to-hand combat ensued, which Cleburne later called “the bitterest fighting” of his life. The Confederates were finally driven off, and Bald Hill later became known as Leggett’s Hill.

McPherson quickly began placing artillery on the ridge, enabling the Federals to fire into Atlanta below. Hood shifted reinforcements from his left to his right, while McPherson slowly extended his line southward, beyond the Confederate right. A standoff ensued, with Confederates holding a curved line that faced Major General George H. Thomas’s Army of the Cumberland to the north, Major General John Schofield’s Army of the Ohio to the northeast, and McPherson’s to the east. Atlanta was just two miles behind the Confederates.

Wheeler’s cavalry shifted right to match the extending Federal line. As the Confederates moved, Cleburne noted that McPherson’s left flank was “in the air,” and therefore vulnerable to an attack. This led Hood to develop a daring gamble based on “Stonewall” Jackson’s march around the Federal flank at Chancellorsville. At a council of war that night, Hood explained his plan:

  • Stewart and Cheatham would remain behind defenses facing Thomas to the east and Schofield to the northeast.
  • Hardee would pull out of his positions between Stewart and Cheatham and move southeast, beyond Cheatham’s right and around McPherson’s vulnerable left.

This would require Hardee’s Confederates to make a 15-mile night march to Decatur, the Federals’ supply depot east of Atlanta. Then, once the troops were in place, they would attack McPherson’s flank and rear, pushing him back into Schofield and Thomas along Peachtree Creek, away from Atlanta. All commanders agreed, and the attack was to begin at dawn.

However, Hardee soon informed Hood that the men could not make 15 miles in the dark of night. Hood agreed to revise the plan so that Hardee’s men positioned themselves below McPherson’s left, not around it. The Confederates would then attack from the south instead of the east.

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References

Bailey, Ronald H., The Battles for Atlanta: Sherman Moves East (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 95-97; Catton, Bruce, The American Heritage Picture History of the Civil War (New York: American Heritage Publishing Co., 1960), p. 523; CivilWarDailyGazette.com; Davis, Jefferson, The Rise and Fall of the Confederate Government: All Volumes (Heraklion Press, Kindle Edition 2013, 1889), Loc 20929-38; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 439; 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 9922-53; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 472-73; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 543; Longacre, Edward G., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 433; 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. 753-54

Georgia: Johnston Compacts His Line

June 14, 1864 – Federal forces killed a prominent Confederate commander, General Joseph E. Johnston contracted his Confederate line, and Major General William T. Sherman tried moving southeast around Johnston’s left.

By this time, Johnston’s Confederate Army of Tennessee had formed a line facing north, with the left on Lost Mountain, the center bisecting the Western & Atlantic Railroad (in front of Kennesaw Mountain), and the right at Brush Mountain, north of Marietta. Sherman was trying to find a way for his Federals to move around these formidable defenses, and a portion of Major General George H. Thomas’s Federal Army of the Cumberland was working its way around Pine Mountain.

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

Johnston and two of his corps commanders, Lieutenant Generals William Hardee and Leonidas Polk, personally scaled the crest of Pine Mountain to see the three Federal armies on the plain 300 feet below. Johnston informed Hardee that his troops were overextended and must withdraw to meet the Federal threat coming around the mountain.

The commanders stood atop an artillery redoubt to get a better view. Aides warned them that the enemy Parrott rifles a half-mile way had been routinely hitting the area with fire. According to Sherman:

“When abreast of Pine Mountain, I noticed a rebel battery on its crest, with a continuous line of fresh rifle-trench about half-way down the hill. Our skirmishers were at the time engaged in the woods about the base of this hill between the lines, and I estimated the distance to the battery on the crest at about eight hundred yards. Near it, in plain view, stood a group of the enemy, evidently observing us with glasses.”

Sherman told gunners at a nearby Federal battery, “How saucy they are! Make ‘em take cover.”

Confederate General Leonidas Polk | Image Credit: Wikipedia.org

A solid shot exploded near the Confederate commanders, prompting them to move for cover. Polk, bringing up the rear, was instantly killed when a second shot tore through his body. Both Johnston and Hardee mourned the loss of their friend; Hardee told Johnston, “General, this has been a dear visit. We have lost a brave man, whose death leaves a vacancy not easily filled.”

Polk was not considered a great general, but he was one of the most beloved among the officers and men as the “fighting Bishop.” That night, Johnston announced Polk’s death to the troops:

“In this distinguished leader, we have lost the most courteous of gentlemen, the most gallant of soldiers. The Christian patriot soldier has neither lived nor died in vain. His example is before you; his mantle rests with you.”

That afternoon, Federal signalmen intercepted a Confederate wigwag message: “Send an ambulance for General Polk’s body.” They forwarded this news to Sherman. The next day, Thomas’s Federals continued moving around Pine Mountain, toward Kennesaw Mountain. Sherman reported to Washington, “We killed Bishop Polk yesterday, and have made good progress today.”

The Confederates responded by pulling back their left to stronger defenses along Mud Creek. Frustrated, Sherman wrote Chief of Staff Henry W. Halleck, “I am now inclined to feign on both flanks and assault the center. It may cost us dear, but in results would surpass any attempt to pass around.” After a few more days of skirmishing and repositioning, Johnston had formed a new semicircular defensive line:

  • Lieutenant General John Bell Hood’s corps held the right, north of Marietta along the Western & Atlantic Railroad
  • Polk’s corps, now commanded by Major General William W. Loring, held the center, which ran southwest through Kennesaw Mountain
  • Hardee’s corps held the left, which curved southeast and ended south of Marietta

This five-mile line was Johnston’s strongest since the campaign began in May. Sherman continued to try flanking maneuvers, sending Federals around Hardee’s left to try reaching the railroad south of Marietta. Johnston responded by shifting Hood’s corps from the right to Hardee’s left and filling his right with Major General Joseph Wheeler’s cavalry. Wheeler’s Confederates harassed Sherman’s left flank, manned by Major General James B. McPherson’s Army of the Tennessee.

By the 21st, Hood held the area around Kolb’s Farm, southwest of Marietta. Major General John Schofield’s Army of the Ohio, supported by Major General Joseph Hooker, began probing the Confederate lines there, which would trigger a fight 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. 61-63; Bearss, Edwin C., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 590; CivilWarDailyGazette.com; Davis, Jefferson, The Rise and Fall of the Confederate Government: All Volumes (Heraklion Press, Kindle Edition 2013, 1889), Loc 20808-17; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 425-29; 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 7449-88, 8213-23; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 455-59; Hattaway, Herman, Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 500; 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. 521-25

Georgia: Confederates Hold Allatoona

May 21, 1864 – General Joseph E. Johnston strengthened his Confederate positions near Allatoona but was still unaware of Major General William T. Sherman’s intentions.

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

In the two weeks since Sherman’s three Federal armies began advancing into northern Georgia, they pushed Johnston’s Army of Tennessee back halfway to Atlanta, and each side sustained about 5,000 casualties. Johnston’s method of moving behind defenses and then retreating when the Federals outflanked him became a routine that caused dismay and concern at Richmond. And after his last retreat from Cassville, Johnston no longer had the full confidence of his army.

The Confederates fell back to Cartersville on the Etowah River, where they gathered behind pre-built defenses. As Sherman’s Federals began moving out of Cassville to find out where Johnston went, the Confederates withdrew across the Etowah, destroying the 620-foot railroad bridge after crossing. They continued south until they reached Allatoona Pass, where the railroad crossed the Allatoona Mountains.

Johnston directed his men to build strong fortifications in the mountain gap along the railroad. He established a new supply base at Marietta, about halfway between the Etowah and Chattahoochee rivers, just past Kennesaw Mountain. Beyond that was Atlanta.

Sherman advanced on Cartersville, where he hoped to catch Johnston and give battle before the Confederates could cross the Etowah. But by the time the Federals arrived, the Confederates were already gone. Sherman halted as Federal workers repaired the railroad from Resaca to Kingston, allowing him “to replenish and fit up” his men. Other workers started building a new bridge over the Etowah, which they completed in just six days.

The Confederates remained in their defenses the next day, with Johnston reporting to President Jefferson Davis, “In the last six days the enemy has pressed us back to this point, 32 miles… (but) I have earnestly sought an opportunity to strike.” However, every time Sherman extended his right, Johnston had to withdraw, and “by fortifying the moment he halted,” Sherman “made an assault upon his superior forces too hazardous.”

For the second time, Georgia Governor Joseph E. Brown issued orders for the state militia to mobilize for defense. At Washington, President Abraham Lincoln requested that the governors of western states send 100-day soldiers to “sustain Gen. Sherman’s lengthening lines…”

As the Federals resupplied, Sherman learned that Johnston had entrenched his army at Allatoona Pass. Having surveyed that area 20 years ago, Sherman knew that a frontal assault would surely fail. He therefore decided to swing his armies around Johnston’s left and descend on Dallas, a wooded hamlet about 15 miles southwest of Allatoona (i.e., beyond Johnston’s flank). This was risky because it involved detaching the armies from the railroad supply line. Sherman issued orders for the men to carry 20 days’ rations for the move.

At Dallas, the Federals would threaten both Marietta and the Confederate left flank. This would force Johnston to either fall back once more or give battle on ground of Sherman’s choosing. The Federals could then return east and reconnect with the railroad. Sherman reported that his men were crossing the Etowah, “the Rubicon of Georgia… We are now all in motion like a vast hive of bees, and expect to swarm along the Chattahoochee in five days.”

Sherman rode with Major General George H. Thomas’s Army of the Cumberland, which comprised the Federal center. Sherman later wrote, “We crossed the Etowah by several bridges and fords, and took as many roads as possible, keeping up communication by cross-roads, or by courier through the woods.”

Not long after the Federals began moving, Confederate scouts observed them moving west of Johnston’s army and identified the roads they were using. They relayed this information to Johnston, who dispatched two corps under Lieutenant Generals Leonidas Polk and William Hardee to block the Federals at Dallas. The Confederates had a longer march, but their force was smaller and they carried less gear. Johnston’s other corps under Lieutenant General John Bell Hood remained at Allatoona until Johnston could confirm that Sherman was indeed targeting Dallas.

Moving toward Dallas brought Johnston dangerously close to Atlanta, but he had the advantage of shortening his supply lines, while Sherman’s were lengthening. Major General Joseph Wheeler’s Confederate cavalry attacked Federal wagon trains in Sherman’s rear at Burnt Hickory.

Sherman discounted reports that the Confederates were on their way to Dallas; he believed that Johnston would stay near the railroad and instead fall back to Marietta, 20 miles east. But the Confederates under Polk and Hardee were within four miles east of Dallas by the night of the 24th, and a confrontation loomed for 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. 14-15, 50; Castel, Albert, Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 525; CivilWarDailyGazette.com; Davis, Jefferson, The Rise and Fall of the Confederate Government: All Volumes (Heraklion Press, Kindle Edition 2013, 1889), Loc 20799; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 412; 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 7208-18, 7227-37, 7247-67; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 443-44; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 505-08; Longacre, Edward G., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 305; McPherson, James M., Battle Cry of Freedom: The Civil War Era (Oxford History of the United States Book 6, Oxford University Press, Kindle Edition, 1988), p. 746-47