Tag Archives: Leonidas Polk

Georgia: From Adairsville to the Etowah

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

—–

References

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

Advertisements

The Battle of Resaca

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Battle of Resaca | Image Credit: Wikipedia.org

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

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

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

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

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

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

—–

References

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

Georgia: The Armies Gather at Resaca

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

—–

References

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

Georgia: Sherman Begins Moving

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

—–

References

Bailey, Ronald H., The Battles for Atlanta: Sherman Moves East (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 11, 32-38; CivilWarDailyGazette.com; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 402-03; Foote, Shelby, The Civil War: A Narrative: Volume 3: Red River to Appomattox (Vintage Civil War Library, Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, Kindle Edition, 2011), Loc 6799-819, 6828-48, 6857-67; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 431-34; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 495-97; Longacre, Edward G., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 700-01; McPherson, James M., Battle Cry of Freedom: The Civil War Era (Oxford History of the United States Book 6, Oxford University Press, Kindle Edition, 1988), p. 744

The Georgia Campaign: Final Preparations

May 3, 1864 – Major General William T. Sherman assembled three Federal armies to confront General Joseph E. Johnston’s Confederate Army of Tennessee in northern Georgia.

Sherman, commanding the Military Division of the Mississippi, awaited the unification of his three major armies:

  • Major General James B. McPherson’s Army of the Tennessee moved east from Alabama; the force totaled 24,465 troops.
  • Major General George H. Thomas’s Army of the Cumberland assembled at Ringgold, Georgia, on the Western & Atlantic Railroad; the force totaled 60,733 troops.
  • Major General John Schofield’s Army of the Ohio moved southwest from Knoxville along the East Tennessee & Georgia Railroad; the force totaled 13,559 troops.

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

When combined, these armies would comprise Sherman’s left (McPherson), center (Thomas), and right (Schofield). The force would total over 98,000 men with 250 heavy guns. It would be supplied by the single railroad line running from Louisville to Nashville, and then on to Chattanooga and points south. Sherman’s mission was to destroy Johnston’s army, currently stationed at Dalton, and then capture the vital industrial city of Atlanta.

Johnston’s Army of Tennessee consisted of just 40,000 infantrymen in two corps (seven divisions) under Lieutenant Generals William Hardee and John Bell Hood. Major General Joseph Wheeler led 8,500 cavalrymen, but only about a quarter of them were equipped for combat. Johnston also had 114 guns. Because many Confederates were ill-equipped, ill-fed, and ill-clothed, Johnston could not confront Sherman in open battle and therefore hoped to hold the Federals off long enough for the northern public to grow tired of the stalemate and demand an end to the war.

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

Johnston informed his superiors at Richmond, “Our scouts report re-enforcements to the enemy continually arrive, and preparations to advance, including repair of railroad from Cleveland to Red Clay.” He then directed Wheeler “to try to ascertain the truth of the reported activity and movements of trains from Chattanooga to Ringgold.”

The mountainous terrain of northern Georgia heavily favored defenders over attackers. Sherman’s Federals would have to traverse three major ridges to get to Johnston at Dalton. However, Sherman could bypass the ridges on either side and swing around to Johnston’s rear. As such, Johnston considered abandoning Dalton, but the Confederate high command warned him against demoralizing the army any further after its defeat at Chattanooga last November.

Richmond officials devoted most of their attention to the Federal Army of the Potomac’s impending advance in northern Virginia. Because the Federals had never launched two massive offensives simultaneously before, officials did not expect Sherman to move too aggressively until the Virginia operations were decided. Therefore, they placed less emphasis on Johnston.

Meanwhile, Sherman developed his strategy:

  • Thomas would move south from Ringgold and threaten Dalton from the west
  • Schofield would move from Red Clay and threaten Dalton from the north
  • McPherson would move south on Thomas’s right to cut Johnston’s supply lines between Resaca and Atlanta

Sherman reported to Lieutenant General Ulysses S. Grant, the overall commander headquartered in Virginia, that the Federals would start moving by the 5th. Then, “Next move will be battle.”

Schofield’s Army of the Ohio–consisting of just XXIII Corps and a cavalry division–arrived at Cleveland, Georgia, on the 3rd. These Federals were now just 30 miles from either Chattanooga or Dalton. Schofield’s men marched southward along the railroad to Red Clay, which would place them on Johnston’s right (east) flank. Skirmishing occurred around Red Clay.

Meanwhile, McPherson’s Army of the Tennessee moved to Lee & Gordon’s Mill on Johnston’s left (west). According to Sherman, McPherson would be “my whiplash” skirting around the Confederate flank to Resaca. Skirmishing occurred near Chickamauga Creek, site of last September’s major battle. Johnston informed Richmond that Sherman was massing his troops for a major offensive.

Sherman finalized his preparations on the 5th and moved down from Chattanooga to ride with Thomas’s Army of the Cumberland in the Federal center. Confederate scouts reported that the Federals had reached Ringgold, about 15 miles north of Dalton. Skirmishing broke out at Varnell’s Station.

Johnston called on Chief of Staff Braxton Bragg to reinforce him with Confederates from Lieutenant General Leonidas Polk’s Department of Alabama, Mississippi and East Louisiana: “I urge you to send (Polk’s troops) at once to Rome, and put them at my disposal till the enemy can be met.” Polk was ordered to bring his Army of the Southwest and “any other available force at your command” to augment Johnston’s force. Polk led 10,000 infantry and 4,000 cavalry east from Mississippi, leaving Major General Stephen D. Lee in command of what was left of that department.

North of Dalton, the Confederates awaited the Federal approach from atop Rocky Face Ridge, a formidable eminence 500 feet high. Although outnumbered, Johnston held excellent defensive positions and expected to stop Sherman here. This would soon develop into the most important campaign ever undertaken in the Western Theater.

—–

References

Angle, Paul M., A Pictorial History of the Civil War Years (New York: Doubleday, 1967), p. 171-72; Bailey, Ronald H., The Battles for Atlanta: Sherman Moves East (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 31; 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 20745-54, 20772; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 399; 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 6789-99, 6838-48; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 428; Linedecker, Clifford L. (ed.), The Civil War A to Z (Ballantine Books, 2002), p. 23-24; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 492; Longacre, Edward G., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 700-01; McPherson, James M., Battle Cry of Freedom: The Civil War Era (Oxford History of the United States Book 6, Oxford University Press, Kindle Edition, 1988), p. 744; Smith, Dean E., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 707

The Fall of Meridian

February 14, 1864 – Major General William T. Sherman’s Federal Army of the Tennessee completed its destructive march through central Mississippi by arriving at the last Confederate-controlled railroad center in the state.

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

As the Federals resumed their eastward march on the 14th, Sherman issued orders to his commanders on what their men should do once they reached Meridian:

“The destruction of the railroads intersecting at Meridian is of great importance, and should be done most effectually. Every tie and rail of iron for many miles in each direction should be absolutely destroyed or injured, and every bridge and culvert completely destroyed… The troops should be impressed with the importance of this work, and also that time is material, and therefore it should be begun at once and prosecuted with all the energy possible. The destruction of the buildings must be deferred until the last moment, when a special detail will be made for that purpose.”

Lieutenant General Leonidas Polk, commanding the Confederate Army of Mississippi, had ordered his troops to abandon Meridian, but before they left, they dumped felled trees on the roads to slow the Federal advance. They also destroyed the bridges over Tallahatta Creek and the Oktibbeha River. Federal engineers and laborers rebuilt the bridge over the Tallahatta that morning. Then, as Sherman reported:

“At the Tallahatta, 20 miles from Meridian, we found the road obstructed with fallen timber, and satisfied the enemy was trying to save time to cover the removal of railroad property from Meridian, I dropped our trains with good escorts and pushed on over all obstructions straight for the Oktibbeha, where we found the bridge burning.”

Colonel Edward Winslow’s Federal cavalry led the advance across the Oktibbeha, where they pushed the small Confederate rear guard through Meridian. A Federal infantry division led by Brigadier General Andrew J. Smith came up, with Winslow and Smith arguing over whether the cavalry or the infantry should be the first to enter the town. Winslow won, telling Smith, “I believe this cavalry would charge the Gates of Hell if I tell them,” and leading his troopers into Meridian. Smith’s infantry followed, as a soldier named John Ritland recalled:

“Again we marched on with the firm resolution in our hearts to do or die; and again we were halted, this time to receive orders not to fire a shot, meanwhile, continuing our interminable marching, as if there was no end. Almost unaware we found ourselves marching through a deserted town with here and there some negroes reported, but not a sign of the enemy. Upon asking where they might be, the negroes reported, ‘They’re all gone. They began going yesterday. Some went last night, and the rest this morning.’ They had divided and their destinations were Mobile and Richmond. We occupied the city without a shot.”

Sherman entered the town that night. The next morning, he issued a proclamation to his troops, congratulating them for–

“… their most successful accomplishment of one of the great problems of the war. Meridian, the great railway center of the Southwest, is now in our possession, and by industry and hard work can be rendered useless to the enemy and deprive him of the chief source of supply to his armies. Secrecy in plan and rapidity of execution accomplish the best results in war, and the general commanding assures all, by following their leaders fearlessly and with confidence, they will in time reap the reward so dear to us all–a peace that will never again be disturbed in our country by a discontented minority.”

The Confederates fell back to the east side of the Tombigbee River. Polk’s ultimate destination was Demopolis, Alabama, while he moved about $12 million worth of supplies to Selma and Mobile. His cavalry, led by Major General Stephen D. Lee, did its best to harass Sherman’s Federals but could do little in the face of such overwhelming numbers.

The next day, the Federals began destroying the town in earnest, wrecking railroad tracks, locomotives, factories, sawmills, machine shops, public buildings, and private homes, while the Confederates were powerless to save the civilians from such devastation. Sherman reported on the 20th: “For five days 10,000 men worked hard and with a will in that work of destruction… Meridian, with its depots, store-houses, arsenals, hospitals, offices, hotels and cantonments no longer exists.”

In the 11-day, 140-mile campaign from Vicksburg to Meridian, the Federals obliterated 115 miles of railroad track, 61 bridges, and 20 locomotives in pursuit of Sherman’s goal to ensure that the Mississippi railroads could not function for the rest of the war.

Sherman informed General-in-Chief Henry W. Halleck that his troops had taken “some 500 prisoners, a good many refugee families, and about 10 miles of negroes,” while inflicting so much damage that it was “simply impossible for the enemy to risk anything but light cavalry this side of Pearl River…” He also wrote:

“My movement to Meridian stampeded all Alabama. Polk retreated across Tombigbee and left me to smash things at pleasure, and I think it is well done… We broke absolutely and effectually a full hundred miles of railroad… and made a swath of desolation 50 miles broad across the State of Mississippi which the present generation will not forget.”

—–

References

CivilWarDailyGazette.com; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 374; Foote, Shelby, The Civil War: A Narrative: Volume 2: Fredericksburg to Meridian (Vintage Civil War Library, Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, Kindle Edition, 2011), p. 925-26, 934; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 397-98; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 464; Stanchak, John E., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 488

Meridian: Federals Continue Moving East

February 11, 1864 – Federal cavalry finally began moving out of Tennessee to support Major General William T. Sherman’s Federals moving east through central Mississippi.

Brig Gen W.S. Smith | Image Credit: Wikipedia.org

Brigadier General William Sooy Smith moved his Federal horsemen out of Collierville, Tennessee, to strike into Mississippi. Smith’s mission was to wreak havoc on the Mobile & Ohio Railroad, defeat Major General Nathan Bedford Forrest’s Confederate cavalry, and link with Sherman’s Army of the Tennessee headed for Meridian. Smith had 7,000 troopers, 20 guns, and a train of supply and ambulance wagons.

As Smith’s Federals moved south toward Pontotoc, their advance was hindered by winter rain and mud, along with the swamps of northern Mississippi. Forrest was informed of the Federal approach and prepared his 2,500 troopers. He responded to his superiors warning that Smith might target the railroad: “Am preparing to meet that move as best I can.” Forrest estimated the enemy force to consist of “about 10,000 cavalry and mounted infantry.”

Meanwhile, Sherman’s 27,000 Federals continued their methodical eastward advance toward Meridian, the last Confederate-controlled railroad center in Mississippi. Opposing them was Lieutenant General Leonidas Polk’s 10,000-man Army of Mississippi, which had fallen back until it was outside Meridian. Polk still believed that Sherman’s ultimate target was not Meridian but the vital port city of Mobile, Alabama.

Advised of the threat that Sherman posed, President Jefferson Davis contacted General Joseph E. Johnston, commanding the Confederate Army of Tennessee at Dalton, Georgia:

“Keep in communication with General Polk, and do what you can to assist him, either by sending him re-enforcements or joining him with what force you can. If possible the enemy should be met before he reaches the Gulf and establishes a base to which supplies and re-enforcements may be sent by sea.”

There was little that Johnston could do because he was being held in check by the Federal Army of the Cumberland around Chattanooga. He wired Polk, “I have no doubt that your cavalry, under its active commanders, will make the march to Mobile impossible to the enemy with such wagon trains as they must require.” But neither Johnston nor Polk knew that the Federals were mostly living off the land and therefore had few wagons to slow their march.

News that Sherman had stopped at Decatur on the night of the 11th contradicted Polk’s assumption that the Federals were headed to Mobile. Polk wrote Major General William W. Loring, one of his division commanders, “If this is true, then Sherman must be looking to move on Meridian and make a junction with the cavalry force (of Smith) moving on the Mobile and Ohio Railroad.” Polk had directed his other division under Major General Samuel G. French to go to Mobile, but now he ordered those troops to wait at Meridian.

Major General Stephen D. Lee’s Confederate cavalry was supposed to try harassing Sherman’s flanks while keeping between the Federals and Polk’s Confederates. Lee reported, “I have burned all bridges, which I find retard their advancing very much.” Freezing temperatures also slowed the Federal advance. But none of this stopped the troops from laying waste to the railroad depot at Lake Station, which included destroying two locomotives, 35 railcars, over a mile of track, and all nearby factories, sawmills, and machine shops.

Back in northern Mississippi, W.S. Smith’s Federal troopers drove off 600 Mississippi militia on the 12th and continued southward. The Federals burned cotton and corn, and destroyed track on the Mobile & Ohio Railroad along the way. About 1,000 local slaves joined Smith’s cavalry on their journey.

Meanwhile, Sherman continued east, encountering light resistance along the way, before stopping on the night of the 12th about 30 miles west of Meridian. Confederate cavalry raided the small Federal wagon train near the cabin that served as Sherman’s headquarters and nearly captured the Federal commander before infantry rushed up to drive the raiders off.

Polk sent a message to Davis and Johnston: “He (Sherman) is to-night near Decatur, I am near Meridian. My cavalry under Lee has skirmished with him in front, flank and rear from the Big Black, and, Lee reports, with little effect. He moves very compactly… I see nothing left me but to fall back on Alabama and take advantage of events.”

The Federal advance resumed on the morning of the 13th. Loring, whose Confederates were stationed just west of Meridian, informed Polk, “I have examined carefully the position in front, and I do not regard any of them as tenable with the force under my command. Will you please inform me as soon as you are able to move, so that I may know what to do in any emergency.” Polk responded:

“I am inclined to doubt the correctness of the report as to the near approach of the enemy to-night, yet I see no reason why you may not act upon it. As I understand the matter, the enemy has to pass across Oktibbeha River at the place where there is a long bridge now prepared to be burned. The burning of the bridge ought to retard his progress at least a day.”

By day’s end, Sherman’s Federals reached Tallahatta Creek, about 20 miles from Meridian. Many of the troops expected to fight a major battle for the town the next day, but Polk had other ideas.

—–

References

CivilWarDailyGazette.com; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 373; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 397; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 463; Stanchak, John E., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 488, 702