Tag Archives: Oliver O. Howard

Georgia: Johnston Falls Back to the Chattahoochee

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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References

Bailey, Ronald H., The Battles for Atlanta: Sherman Moves East (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 76; Castel, Albert, Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 565-66; CivilWarDailyGazette.com; Davis, Jefferson, The Rise and Fall of the Confederate Government: All Volumes (Heraklion Press, Kindle Edition 2013, 1889), Loc 20817-26; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 432; Foote, Shelby, The Civil War: A Narrative: Volume 3: Red River to Appomattox (Vintage Civil War Library, Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, Kindle Edition, 2011), Loc 8425-77, 8649-69; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 463-65; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 531-33; Longacre, Edward G., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 132-33, 786-87; McPherson, James M., Battle Cry of Freedom: The Civil War Era (Oxford History of the United States Book 6, Oxford University Press, Kindle Edition, 1988), p. 751

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Battles at Pickett’s Mill and Dallas

May 27, 1864 – Federals and Confederates continued fighting in Georgia, as Major General William T. Sherman tried turning the Confederates’ right flank.

Sherman was now convinced that General Joseph E. Johnston’s entire Confederate Army of Tennessee opposed his Federals east of Dallas. But after the fight at New Hope Church on the 25th, Sherman was also convinced that Johnston’s right (north) flank could be turned. He directed Major General Oliver O. Howard’s IV Corps, along with supporting divisions, to do the job.

Maj Gen O.O. Howard | Image Credit: Wikipedia.org

Howard led 14,000 Federals through dense woods to Pickett’s Mill, a grist mill two miles northeast of the “Hell Hole” at New Hope Church. By the time the Federals approached, Johnston had strengthened this sector of his line with Major General Patrick R. Cleburne’s division.

The Federals struggled through the brush to find the end of the Confederate line, and therefore did not get into attack positions until early evening. Both sides began exchanging fire around 6 p.m., when Howard received a message from Sherman urging him to disengage: “It is useless to look for the flank of the enemy, as he make temporary breastworks as fast as we travel.”

As Howard tried pulling back into the woods, the Confederates counterattacked and inflicted heavy losses. Howard, who was shot through the foot, later wrote:

“That opening in the forest, faint fires here and there revealing men wounded, armless, legless, or eyeless; some with heads bound up with cotton strips, some standing and walking nervously around, some sitting with bended forms, and some prone upon the earth–who can picture it? A few men, in despair, had resorted to drink for relief. The sad sounds from those in pain were mingled with the oaths of the drunken and the more heartless… That night will always be a sort of nightmare to me. I think no perdition here or hereafter can be worse.”

The Federals sustained about 1,600 casualties, while the Confederates lost no more than 500. Sherman made no mention of this defeat in his official report or his personal memoirs. He merely notified Washington, “We have had many sharp, severe encounters, but nothing decisive. Both sides duly cautious in the obscurity of the ambushed ground.”

The engagement at Pickett’s Mill prompted Johnston to try probing for weaknesses in other parts of Sherman’s line. He ordered Lieutenant General William Hardee’s corps to conduct a reconnaissance in force southeast of Dallas on the 28th. The Confederates advanced to a portion of the enemy line held by Major General James B. McPherson’s Army of the Tennessee, specifically Major General John A. Logan’s XV Corps.

Fighting began around 3:45 p.m., with the Confederates pushing the Federals out of their entrenchments. Logan rushed up to his straggling men, shouting, “Damn your regiments! Damn your officers! Forward and yell like hell!” The Federals then counterattacked and drove the Confederates off. Both sides returned to their original lines as Sherman continued trying to find a way to outflank Johnston.

Sherman had initially planned for McPherson to pull out of the line and move north to extend the Federal left flank. But this changed when Sherman learned of the fight with Hardee’s Confederates. Sherman directed McPherson to stay put, hopeful that the dense forest between the two armies would prevent Johnston from noticing a wide gap between the armies of McPherson and Major General George H. Thomas. Johnston did not notice it, and Sherman did not notice a similar gap in Johnston’s line either.

Johnston held a council of war on the night of the 28th, where it was decided that Hood would shift his corps beyond Cleburne and attack the Federal left flank while the two corps of Lieutenant Generals Leonidas Polk and Hardee held the Federals in line on the center and right. However, this attack was aborted the next day when Hood discovered a Federal division blocking his proposed line of march. Johnston ordered the Confederates to resume strengthening their defenses.

The two armies remained within striking distance of each other on the 29th, with skirmishing taking place at various points along the line. Sherman tried moving McPherson’s army to the left that night, but Confederate picket fire prevented any major movements.

The next day, Sherman resolved to try getting his forces to Allatoona Pass, on the Western & Atlantic Railroad beyond his left flank to the northeast. He hoped to use Major General Francis P. Blair, Jr.’s XVII Corps to seize the pass, but Blair still had not arrived from Vicksburg. Sherman wrote, “As Blair cannot be expected as soon as I contemplated, I must use the cavalry to secure Allatoona Pass.”

Having a notoriously low opinion of cavalry, Sherman reluctantly tasked Major General George Stoneman and Brigadier General Kenner Garrard to lead their troopers in seizing the objective. He instructed them:

“If you find the road occupied, attack the cavalry with cavalry and the infantry with dismounted men, and force your way into and through the pass along the railroad till you secure some commanding position… Do not be deterred by appearances, but act boldly and promptly; the success of our movement depends on our having Allatoona Pass.”

During the night of the 30th, McPherson’s Federals successfully fell back from their entrenchments and closed the gap with Thomas’s army. Major General John Schofield’s Army of the Ohio held the Federal left and launched diversionary attacks to prevent the Confederates from discovering McPherson’s shift. As May ended, Sherman was ready to shift his massive force northeast, around Johnston’s flank once more, to reconnect with the railroad and resume his drive on Atlanta.

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References

Bailey, Ronald H., The Battles for Atlanta: Sherman Moves East (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 53-56, 59; 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 20808; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 414-17; 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 7302-32; 7342-71; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 445-46; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 509-12

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

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.”

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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 Battle of Wauhatchie

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Battle map | Image Credit: Wikidata.org

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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References

CivilWarDailyGazette.com; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 337; Foote, Shelby, The Civil War: A Narrative: Volume 2: Fredericksburg to Meridian (Vintage Civil War Library, Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, Kindle Edition, 2011), p. 811, 820; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 365-66; Korn, Jerry, The Fight for Chattanooga: Chickamauga to Missionary Ridge (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 91-97; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 427; McPherson, James M., Battle Cry of Freedom: The Civil War Era (Oxford History of the United States Book 6, Oxford University Press, Kindle Edition, 1988), p. 676; Stanchak, John E., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 133-35, 189, 808-09