Tag Archives: Leonidas Polk

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: Sherman Sidesteps Johnston Again

June 1, 1864 – Federal cavalry seized Allatoona Pass in Major General William T. Sherman’s effort to move northeast around General Joseph E. Johnston’s right flank.

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

Near May’s end, Sherman had led his three Federal armies away from the Western & Atlantic Railroad to try moving around the left (southern) flank of Johnston’s Confederate Army of Tennessee. But after inconclusive fighting at New Hope Church, Pickett’s Mill, and Dallas, Sherman opted to swing back to the northeast and reconnect with the railroad, which transported supplies from Chattanooga.

Federal cavalry under Major General George Stoneman seized Allatoona Pass on the railroad as the Armies of the Ohio and the Cumberland shifted northeast. Major General James B. McPherson’s Army of the Tennessee finally disengaged from the Confederates in front of Dallas and began following the other two armies.

Johnston recognized the movement and reported, “Today the enemy is moving his forces from his right to his left. We are making a corresponding movement to our right.” Johnston was confident that he could win a war of attrition if he just continued inflicting casualties and pulling the Federals away from their supply base at Chattanooga.

It rained the next two days, during which the Confederates tried stopping the Army of the Ohio’s eastern shift. The Confederates attacked from behind rocks and forests, prompting Sherman to worry that he was being drawn into “a big Indian war.” The Federals used large amounts of ammunition while inflicting few casualties, but they finally pushed through and reached the railroad. The other two armies soon followed.

Advance Federal units reached Acworth, a railroad town south of Allatoona Pass, on the 3rd. Sherman told Major General George H. Thomas, commanding the Army of the Cumberland, “Joe Johnston is shrewd enough to see that we have begun such a movement, and will prepare the way.”

That night, Johnston issued orders for his army to fall back from its New Hope Church-Dallas line to previously prepared entrenchments that bisected the railroad about eight miles below Acworth. Facing north, Johnston’s men held a line that connected several mountains:

  • Lieutenant General William Hardee’s corps held the left (west) on Lost Mountain and at Gilgal Church.
  • Lieutenant General Leonidas Polk’s corps held the center from Pine Mountain to the railroad.
  • Lieutenant General John Bell Hood’s corps held the right (east) across the railroad, along the base of Brush Mountain.

Behind the Confederate center was Kennesaw Mountain, through which the railroad ran. Past Kennesaw was Marietta, and then Atlanta. Sherman reported, “Kennesaw is the key to the whole country.” He arranged his three armies on a line to match Johnston’s, with Major General John Schofield’s Army of the Ohio on the right (west), Thomas in the center, and McPherson on the left (east).

The Federals began shifting around Raccoon Creek, with McPherson along the railroad at Big Shanty, about halfway between Allatoona and Marietta. Skirmishing broke out around Pine Mountain as the Federals probed the Confederate defenses.

By the 8th, all of Sherman’s Federals had reached Acworth and were assembling to confront Johnston’s army in full force. Major General Francis P. Blair, Jr.’s Federal corps finally arrived as reinforcement, but Sherman was forced to detach more troops to go back and deal with Major General Nathan Bedford Forrest’s Confederate cavalry wreaking havoc on the Federal supply line. This caused delays in Sherman’s preparations against Johnston.

On the Confederate side, it was hoped that troops from General Edmund Kirby Smith’s Trans-Mississippi Department could be rushed east to reinforce Johnston, but this was becoming increasingly unlikely. President Jefferson Davis wrote on the 9th:

“I do not think General Smith could re-enforce General Johnston in time for the battle which must be fought for Georgia. Unless General Johnston strikes before the enemy have brought up all the re-enforcements reported to be moving, his chances will be greatly diminished for the success which seemed attainable before he retreated, and still seems to be practicable.”

The Federals continued probing forward the next few days as railroad crews opened the rail line to Big Shanty. This ensured that Sherman’s 100,000 men, most of whom had been well rested over the past week, would also be well supplied. However, there were still many obstacles to overcome, as Sherman later wrote, “The rains continued to pour, and made our developments slow and dilatory, for there were no roads, and these had to be improvised by each division for its own supply-train from the depot in Big Shanty to the camps.”

Sherman reported to Chief of Staff Henry W. Halleck on the night of the 13th:

“We have had hard and cold rains for about 10 days. A gleam of sunshine this evening give hope of a change. The roads are insufficient here, and the fields and new ground are simply impassable to wheels. As soon as possible I will study Johnston’s position on the Kennesaw and Lost Mountains, and adopt some plan to dislodge him or draw him out of his position.”

But Sherman added, “We cannot risk the heavy loss of an assault at this distance from our base.”

Meanwhile, Johnston met with his corps commanders to discuss how they could shorten their lines because the Confederates were spread too thin. As they talked, two of Thomas’s corps moved around the base of Pine Mountain, where the Confederates were most vulnerable. Hardee, concerned that this could isolate one of his divisions on the mountain, asked Johnston to reconnoiter the movements with him. That fateful reconnaissance would take place on the 14th.

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References

Bailey, Ronald H., The Battles for Atlanta: Sherman Moves East (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 59-61; CivilWarDailyGazette.com; Davis, Jefferson, The Rise and Fall of the Confederate Government: All Volumes (Heraklion Press, Kindle Edition 2013, 1889), Loc 20808; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 417-24; 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 7390-410, 8213-23; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 447, 450, 452; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 512-15, 517-18

The Battle of New Hope Church

May 25, 1864 – Major General William T. Sherman’s Federals and General Joseph E. Johnston’s Confederates clashed northeast of Dallas, Georgia, as Sherman tried maneuvering around Johnston’s flank.

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

By the morning of the 25th, two corps of Johnston’s Army of Tennessee–Lieutenant General Leonidas Polk’s and Lieutenant General William Hardee’s–held a line centered on New Hope Church, located at a crossroads about four miles northeast of Dallas. Polk’s troops were on the road leading east to Marietta, and Hardee’s men lined up at Polk’s left. Johnston’s third corps under Lieutenant General John Bell Hood came up on Polk’s right.

Sherman, commanding the three Federal armies marching toward Dallas, expected Johnston to fall back to Marietta, on the Western & Atlantic Railroad. He did not expect Johnston to block him at New Hope Church. Sherman was told that Confederates were east of Dallas, but he thought they were just part of a small force there to stall his advance.

The Federals approached Dallas from the north after marching through dense forest for two days. Brigadier General John W. Geary’s division of XX Corps led the advance, five miles ahead of the rest of the armies. Geary’s men began exchanging fire with Hood’s troops around 10 a.m., and Geary soon learned that the entire Confederate army was in the area. He informed his corps commander, Major General Joseph Hooker, who hurried his other two divisions under Major Generals Alpheus Williams and Daniel Butterfield in Geary’s support.

Battlefield around New Hope Church | Image Credit: Wikipedia.org

Geary established defenses while awaiting reinforcements. Hood would not attack because he believed the rest of Sherman’s force would be arriving soon. The two sides faced each other until late afternoon, when Sherman finally directed Major General George H. Thomas, commanding the Army of the Cumberland over Hooker, “Let Williams go in anywhere as soon as he gets up. I don’t see what they are waiting for in front now. There haven’t been 20 rebels there today.”

Hooker arranged his three divisions in line of battle and sent them forward after 4 p.m. The Federals advanced through heavy brush, which the Confederates behind their fortifications used to their advantage as they fired into the attackers. Visibility through the woods around New Hope Church was so poor and fighting was so intense that Federals called the area the “Hell Hole.”

Hooker’s men began running out of ammunition, and a heavy thunderstorm began around 7 p.m. that rendered much of the gunpowder useless. Hooker ordered a withdrawal around sundown, having sustained 1,665 casualties. Hood lost about half that total, with Major General Alexander P. Stewart’s division having done most of the fighting.

As the rest of the Federals came up during the night, Sherman still did not believe that Johnston’s whole army was at New Hope Church. He admonished Hooker for waiting so long to attack, believing that Geary alone could have broken through the Confederate line that morning. But Hood had been there all day, and considering he had repulsed Hooker’s entire corps, he might have destroyed Geary’s lone division.

Sherman wrote Major General James B. McPherson, commanding the Army of the Tennessee, “I don’t believe there is anything more than Hood’s corps (at New Hope), but still Johnston may have his whole army, and we should act on that hypothesis.” The Federals therefore came up and formed a line parallel to Johnston’s and began building defenses of their own. This campaign, which had been dominated thus far by maneuvering, would now focus more upon fortifications.

As dawn rose on the 26th, the Federals and Confederates were entrenched on a muddy six-mile front. Sherman ordered a series of probes to gauge Johnston’s strength:

  • McPherson’s army cautiously moved east from Dallas toward New Hope Church.
  • Major General John Schofield’s Army of the Ohio scouted Hardee’s defenses on the Confederate left
  • Thomas’s army opposed Hood on the right (northeast).

After sporadic skirmishing all along the line, Sherman decided to try turning the Confederate right.

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References

Bailey, Ronald H., The Battles for Atlanta: Sherman Moves East (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 16, 50-53; Castel, Albert, Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 525; CivilWarDailyGazette.com; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 413-14; Foote, Shelby, The Civil War: A Narrative: Volume 3: Red River to Appomattox (Vintage Civil War Library, Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, Kindle Edition, 2011), Loc 7274-7284, 7293-322; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 444-45; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 508-09; McPherson, James M., Battle Cry of Freedom: The Civil War Era (Oxford History of the United States Book 6, Oxford University Press, Kindle Edition, 1988), p. 747

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

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.

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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

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.

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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.

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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