Tag Archives: Patrick R. Cleburne

The Battle of Franklin

November 30, 1864 – General John Bell Hood directed his Confederate Army of Tennessee to make a desperate frontal assault on strong Federal defenses south of Nashville.

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

On the morning of the 30th, Hood’s army was camped east of the turnpike leading north to Franklin and Nashville. Hood hoped to move west at daybreak and seize the road, which would isolate Major General John Schofield’s Federal Army of the Ohio from the main Federal army and supply base at Nashville. However, Schofield had already passed the Confederates during the night.

Hood was enraged upon learning that Schofield had escaped. He accused one of his corps commanders, Major General Benjamin F. Cheatham, of squandering “the best move in my career as a soldier.” Hood even blamed the former army commander, General Joseph E. Johnston, for instilling a defensive frame of mind in the troops. Hood resolved that the only way to break the army of this mindset was to throw it into battle.

Schofield had hoped to continue up the turnpike, cross the Harpeth River at Franklin, and then move on to join Major General George H. Thomas’s Federal Army of the Cumberland at Nashville. But the two bridges needed repairing, and Hood’s Confederates were closing in fast. One bridge was repaired by mid-morning, enabling the 800-wagon supply train and some of the troops to cross. Schofield positioned the remaining 20,000 men behind defenses south of Franklin to meet the Confederate advance. The Federal line curved from their left (east) on the Tennessee & Alabama Railroad to their right on the Harpeth.

Hood arrived in front of the Federal line around 2 p.m. and quickly decided to launch a frontal assault, saying, “We will make the fight.” He hoped to drive the Federals into the river and destroy them before they could reach Nashville. Several army officers protested this decision, including Cheatham and Major General Nathan Bedford Forrest. But the protests only confirmed Hood’s belief that the army had grown timid.

Seeing the Federal wagon train crossing the Harpeth in the distance, Hood knew that the rest of Schofield’s army would soon follow. If he was going to stop Schofield from reaching Nashville, it would have to be now. But only two of Hood’s three corps were on hand, and his artillery was too far in the rear to support the assault. Hood therefore positioned Cheatham’s corps on the left to oppose the Federal center and Lieutenant General Alexander P. Stewart’s corps on the right (east). Forrest’s cavalry would move farther east, cross the Harpeth, and try getting into the Federal rear.

One Confederate brigade commander, Brigadier General Otho F. Strahl, assured his troops that the fight “would be short but desperate.” Schofield’s superior defenses more than made up for Hood’s slight numerical advantage. Nevertheless, the 18 Confederate brigades formed a wide line of battle and advanced at 4 p.m.

Two advance Federal brigades put up a fight as long as they could before falling back to Schofield’s main line. The Federals in the main line waited for their comrades to pass before opening a terrible fire on the approaching Confederates. The volley killed Major General Patrick R. Cleburne, one of Hood’s best division commanders. Another division commander, Major General John C. Brown, was also killed, as was Strahl, who fell after ordering his men to “keep on firing” and passing loaded rifles to the troops on the front line.

Despite the heavy losses, the Confederates pushed forward and engaged in vicious hand-to-hand fighting before driving the Federals out of their defenses in the center. But Federal reinforcements soon arrived, and Brigadier General Emerson Opdycke ordered them to make a stand at the Carter House, where they stopped any further Confederate progress.

To the east, Hood’s troops could not penetrate the Federal works due to the rising ground and railroad. The Confederates were pummeled by the Federals’ repeating rifles and artillery from Fort Granger across the river. Farther east, Forrest’s troopers crossed the Harpeth and clashed with the Federal cavalry led by Brigadier General James H. Wilson. Forrest eventually fell back after running out of ammunition.

Combat at Franklin | Image Credit: Wikimedia.org

Fighting continued sporadically until around 9 p.m., when the Confederates disengaged. Schofield ordered his Federals to withdraw across the Harpeth at 11 p.m. Some subordinates, including Major General Jacob D. Cox, urged Schofield to stay and counterattack Hood’s weakened army, but Schofield opted to follow the original plan and join the main army at Nashville as if this fight never happened.

Hood claimed victory because Schofield retreated, but Schofield was going to fall back anyway. Hood’s claim seemed even hollower when the shocking casualty list was released. The Confederates lost 6,252 men (1,750 killed, 3,800 wounded, and 702 missing) out of about 27,000 engaged. Six generals were killed in action, including Cleburne (the “Stonewall” Jackson of the West), Strahl, John C. Brown, John Adams, John C. Carter, H.R. Granbury and S.R. (States Rights) Gist. Another six were wounded, and at least 54 regimental commanders were killed or wounded. These were among the heaviest losses that any Confederate army sustained in any battle of the war. In contrast, the Federals sustained 2,326 casualties (189 killed, 1,033 wounded, and 1,104 missing) out of about 25,000 effectives.

The Army of Tennessee demonstrated its courage at Franklin, but at a “fearful loss and no results.” This battle effectively destroyed the once-proud army’s fighting capabilities. Unwilling to accept this, Hood ordered his devastated and demoralized men to pursue Schofield’s Federals to Nashville, 18 miles north.

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References

Angle, Paul M., A Pictorial History of the Civil War Years (New York: Doubleday, 1967), p. 185-86; Catton, Bruce, The American Heritage Picture History of the Civil War (New York: American Heritage Publishing Co., 1960), p. 553; CivilWarDailyGazette.com; Cochran, Michael T., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 725; Davis, Jefferson, The Rise and Fall of the Confederate Government: All Volumes (Heraklion Press, Kindle Edition 2013, 1889), Loc 21134, 21152-61; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 494-95; 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 13879-89; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 526-27; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 598-604; McMurry, Richard M., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 710; 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. 811-12; Nevin, David, Sherman’s March: Atlanta to the Sea (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 89-120; Stanchak, John E., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 284-86; Ward, Geoffrey C., Burns, Ric, Burns, Ken, The Civil War (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1990), p. 344-45

Tennessee: The Spring Hill Affair

November 28, 1864 – General John Bell Hood’s Confederate Army of Tennessee stood poised to attack the Federal Army of the Ohio at Columbia, Tennessee. But miscommunication led to an enormous missed opportunity for the Confederates.

By the morning of the 28th, Major General John Schofield’s Federals had fallen back north, across the Duck River, putting that waterway between themselves and Hood’s Confederates to the south. Hood still looked to attack, while Schofield hoped to avoid a confrontation before he could join Major General George H. Thomas’s Federal Army of the Cumberland at Nashville.

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

Hood looked to block Schofield from linking with Thomas by sending most of his army across the Duck River east of Columbia. This force would then move northwest around Schofield’s flank, ending up between Schofield and Thomas. Hood patterned this movement after Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson’s flanking maneuver at the Battle of Chancellorsville, and Hood hoped to match “the grand results achieved by the immortal Jackson.” Hood dispatched Major General Nathan Bedford Forrest’s cavalry and two infantry divisions eastward to find suitable fords across the river.

Confederate gunners launched a diversionary bombardment south of Columbia while Forrest’s cavalry crossed at various fords east of town. The river was so high that some men and horses had to swim across. The Confederates clashed with leading elements of Federal cavalry under Colonel Horace Capron, who reported, “My force sent across the Duck River has been driven back to this side by a heavy force, and I am now engaging him across the river.”

Lieutenant Colonel Stephen W. Presstman, the chief Confederate engineer, oversaw the construction of a pontoon bridge for the infantry to cross. Seeing cavalry and infantry moving beyond his left flank, Capron reported, “There is a heavy force of infantry, cavalry, and artillery pressing us; too strong for us; they are moving up on our left. I will hold them, if possible.”

The Federal cavalry soon discovered that there were too many fords east of Columbia to defend. Schofield notified Major General George H. Thomas, the Federal commander at Nashville, “I do not think we can prevent the crossing of even the enemy’s cavalry, because the places are so numerous. I think the best we can do is to hold the crossings near us and watch the distant ones.”

That night, Thomas told Schofield that if the Confederates outflanked him to the east, “you will necessarily have to make preparations to take up a new position at Franklin, behind Harpeth (River), immediately, if it becomes necessary to fall back.”

Forrest’s Confederates finally drove Capron’s forces off and seized Rally Hill, about 13 miles northeast of Columbia. There they secured the fords so the rest of Hood’s army could cross the Duck River. The troops would cross about three miles above Columbia at dawn on the 29th.

Brigadier General James H. Wilson, commanding the Federal cavalry, learned of Hood’s plan from a captured Confederate. He immediately notified Schofield, “I think it very clear that they are aiming for Franklin, and that you ought to get to Spring Hill by 10 a.m. I’ll keep on this road and hold the enemy all I can… Get back to Franklin without delay, leaving a small force to detain the enemy.”

Spring Hill was a crossroads hamlet on the turnpike leading north to Franklin and Nashville. If Hood could get there before Schofield, he could cut Schofield off from the Nashville supply base. Before dawn, Major General Benjamin F. Cheatham’s Confederate corps crossed the Duck River, followed by the corps of Lieutenant General Alexander P. Stewart. Hood’s third corps under Lieutenant General Stephen D. Lee remained south of Columbia as a diversion.

Schofield received the messages from Wilson and began pulling his Federals back toward Spring Hill, led by Major General David S. Stanley’s IV Corps. Forrest’s Confederates advanced toward Spring Hill and engaged a small defense force before Stanley’s men could arrive and secure both the village and the turnpike for the rest of Schofield’s men.

Major General Patrick R. Cleburne’s Confederate division joined the assault around 3 p.m. Stanley reported, “Up to this time, it was thought that we had only cavalry to contend with, but a general officer and his staff, at whom we sent some complimentary shells, were seen reconnoitering our position, and very soon afterward General Bradley was assailed by a force which the men said fought too well to be any dismounted cavalry.”

The Confederate attack was bogged down by miscommunication, with some troops advancing and others refusing. Hood did not send any reinforcements to break Stanley’s defenses, which held firm. Around this time, Schofield realized that Lee’s Confederates south of Columbia were merely a diversion, and he hurriedly withdrew all his Federals north along the turnpike to Spring Hill and Franklin, 12 miles beyond.

Hood erroneously believed that his Confederates had seized the turnpike. His officers, knowing otherwise, were shocked when Hood ordered them to bivouac for the night rather than continue moving. As the Confederates settled into their camps, the Federals passed them on the turnpike, just 600 yards away, and made their way through Spring Hill unmolested.

This inexplicable failure to stop Schofield’s escape prompted charges and countercharges of dereliction of duty among the Confederate high command. In his official report, Hood wrote, “Major-General Cheatham was ordered to attack the enemy at once vigorously and get possession of the pike, and, although these orders were frequently and earnestly repeated, he made but a feeble and partial attack, failing to reach the point indicated.” But Hood, who had sustained serious wounds in prior battles, may have been too overwhelmed by pain and exhaustion to know exactly what was happening.

Called the “Spring Hill Affair,” this became one of the most controversial non-combat events of the war. And one of Hood’s greatest opportunities to isolate and destroy Schofield’s Federal army was forever lost.

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References

Catton, Bruce, The American Heritage Picture History of the Civil War (New York: American Heritage Publishing Co., 1960), p. 552; CivilWarDailyGazette.com; Davis, Jefferson, The Rise and Fall of the Confederate Government: All Volumes (Heraklion Press, Kindle Edition 2013, 1889), Loc 21115-25; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 493-94; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 525; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 601-03; McMurry, Richard M., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 710; 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. 811; Nevin, David, Sherman’s March: Atlanta to the Sea (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 88-89, 91-93; Stanchak, John E., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 285-86

The Battle of Jonesboro

August 31, 1864 – Federal and Confederate forces clashed south of Atlanta as the Federals sought to cut the last Confederate supply line into the city.

Major General William T. Sherman’s three Federal armies shifted from north to south of Atlanta to cut the Macon & Western Railroad:

  • Major General John Schofield’s Army of the Ohio targeted Rough and Ready, about five miles south of Atlanta.
  • Major General Oliver O. Howard’s Army of the Tennessee targeted Jonesboro, another five miles down the line.
  • Major General George H. Thomas’s Army of the Cumberland targeted the area between Schofield and Howard.

    Confederate Lieut Gen William Hardee | Image Credit: Flickr.com

General John Bell Hood, commanding the Confederate Army of Tennessee defending Atlanta, thought that Sherman had divided his army into two equal parts, with one staying north of the city and the other moving south. Hood therefore sent two of his three corps to Jonesboro, with Lieutenant General William Hardee in overall command. The force totaled about 24,000 men who were exhausted from marching all night. And none of the Confederates, including Hood, knew that they would be facing six of Sherman’s seven corps.

Howard’s Federals moved east toward Jonesboro, and the two leading corps entrenched themselves on high ground before the Confederates could get there:

  • Major General John A. Logan’s XV Corps faced the railroad to the east.
  • Major General Thomas Ransom’s XVI Corps formed a right angle to Logan’s men and faced south.
  • Brigadier General H. Judson Kilpatrick’s cavalry extended the Federal line to Ransom’s right. The combined force of Logan, Ransom, and Kilpatrick numbered about 17,000 men.

Hardee was delayed in getting his men into line. His own corps, now led by Major General Patrick R. Cleburne, held the Confederate left (south) at Lovejoy’s Station, and Lieutenant General Stephen D. Lee’s corps held the right (north) outside Jonesboro. Hardee planned for Cleburne to move north and make the major attack on Ransom while Lee launched a secondary attack against Logan.

Cleburne’s Confederates began moving north as planned, but they unexpectedly ran into Kilpatrick’s dismounted cavalry troopers. The lead Confederate division under Brigadier General Mark Lowrey turned west to face Kilpatrick’s force. According to Lowrey:

“About 3:30 p.m. the division moved forward in good order, and soon encountered the enemy in an open field, strongly posted behind breast-works, with four pieces of artillery. From prisoners taken the force was ascertained to have been cavalry dismounted, under command of the Federal General Kirkpatrick. Both artillery and small-arms opened vigorously on my lines, but after a short contest the enemy fled in confusion, and were pursued by my command with great impetuosity.”

The Confederates drove the Federals back across the Flint River but were stopped by Howard’s reserve XVII Corps. Meanwhile, Lee ordered his men to advance, unaware that Cleburne had engaged Kilpatrick, not Ransom. With their flank unprotected, Lee’s Confederates were sharply repulsed by Logan’s Federals. Hardee wanted to renew the assault, but Lee informed him that his corps could not do so. Lee suffered 1,300 of the 1,725 total Confederate casualties, while the Federals lost just 179 men.

Hardee reported, “It now became necessary for me to act on the defensive, and I ordered Cleburne to make no further attempt upon the enemy’s works. It is proper to state that the enemy were strongly intrenched and had one flank resting on the Flint River and both well protected.”

At 3 p.m., Major General Jacob D. Cox, commanding a division within Schofield’s army, seized the Macon & Western Railroad line about a mile below Rough and Ready. The Federals drove the Confederates away from the area and forced a supply train heading into Atlanta to go back to Macon. The last Confederate supply line into Atlanta was cut.

When Hood learned that the Federals were on the railroad line, he feared that they were targeting Atlanta. As such, he ordered Lee’s corps to return to Jonesboro at 6 p.m. This left Hardee hopelessly shorthanded. Hood later called the Confederate assault a “disgraceful effort” because it was not the all-out attack that he hoped it would be.

North of Atlanta, Sherman had kept Major General Henry W. Slocum’s XX Corps from Thomas’s army to hold the bridge over the Chattahoochee River. Now that Hood was scrambling to meet the threat to the south, Sherman told Thomas to have Slocum “feel forward toward Atlanta, as boldly as he can. Assure him that we will fully occupy the attention of the rebel army outside of Atlanta.”

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References

Bailey, Ronald H., The Battles for Atlanta: Sherman Moves East (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 144-47; Castel, Albert, Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 404-05; CivilWarDailyGazette.com; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 451; 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 11010-41, 11072-82; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 492; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 563-64; 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. 774; Ward, Geoffrey C., Burns, Ric, Burns, Ken, The Civil War (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1990), p. 325-26

The Battle of Atlanta

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

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

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

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

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

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

Combat outside Atlanta | Image Credit: SouthernSpaces.org

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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References

Angle, Paul M., A Pictorial History of the Civil War Years (New York: Doubleday, 1967), p. 177; Bailey, Ronald H., The Battles for Atlanta: Sherman Moves East (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 100-14; Castel, Albert, Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 466; Catton, Bruce, The American Heritage Picture History of the Civil War (New York: American Heritage Publishing Co., 1960), p. 516, 525-26; CivilWarDailyGazette.com; Crocker III, H.W., The Politically Incorrect Guide to the Civil War (Washington: Regnery Publishing, 2008), p. 82-84; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 439; Foote, Shelby, The Civil War: A Narrative: Volume 3: Red River to Appomattox (Vintage Civil War Library, Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, Kindle Edition, 2011), Loc 9960-70, 10043-74, 10096-116; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 473; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 543-44; McPherson, James M., Battle Cry of Freedom: The Civil War Era (Oxford History of the United States Book 6, Oxford University Press, Kindle Edition, 1988), p. 754; Pritchard, Russ A., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 746-47; Ward, Geoffrey C., Burns, Ric, Burns, Ken, The Civil War (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1990), p. 327

Atlanta: Federals Capture Bald Hill

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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References

Bailey, Ronald H., The Battles for Atlanta: Sherman Moves East (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 95-97; Catton, Bruce, The American Heritage Picture History of the Civil War (New York: American Heritage Publishing Co., 1960), p. 523; CivilWarDailyGazette.com; Davis, Jefferson, The Rise and Fall of the Confederate Government: All Volumes (Heraklion Press, Kindle Edition 2013, 1889), Loc 20929-38; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 439; Foote, Shelby, The Civil War: A Narrative: Volume 3: Red River to Appomattox (Vintage Civil War Library, Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, Kindle Edition, 2011), Loc 9922-53; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 472-73; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 543; Longacre, Edward G., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 433; McPherson, James M., Battle Cry of Freedom: The Civil War Era (Oxford History of the United States Book 6, Oxford University Press, Kindle Edition, 1988), p. 753-54

The Battle of Peachtree Creek

July 20, 1864 – Two days after taking command of the Confederate Army of Tennessee, General John Bell Hood attacked a portion of Major General William T. Sherman’s Federal forces north of Atlanta.

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

Hood had devised a plan to prevent Sherman’s three armies from approaching the vital industrial and transportation center of Atlanta. According to Hood’s plan:

  • The two corps of Lieutenant Generals William Hardee and Alexander P. Stewart would attack Major General George H. Thomas’s Army of the Cumberland as it crossed Peachtree Creek north of Atlanta.
  • The corps of Major General Benjamin F. Cheatham, along with cavalry and Georgia militia, would keep Thomas isolated by holding off Major General John Schofield’s Army of the Ohio and Major General James B. McPherson’s Army of the Tennessee, east of Thomas near Decatur.

Hood positioned Stewart’s corps on the left (west) and Hardee’s on the right. These two corps faced north, while Cheatham’s corps on Hardee’s right faced east to guard against Schofield and McPherson. Hood planned to drive Thomas west, away from both Atlanta and the other two armies, where he would be trapped by the Chattahoochee at his back and forced to surrender. The Confederates could then turn their full attention to Schofield and McPherson.

The attack on Thomas was scheduled to begin at 1 p.m., a rather late start for a surprise attack. Hood had ordered Hardee to keep his right linked with Cheatham’s left. However, Cheatham shifted his forces eastward when he received word that Federals were advancing from that area. Hardee extended his lines to reach Cheatham’s left, which delayed the assault.

Throughout the morning of the 20th, Thomas’s Federals continued crossing Peachtree Creek and building defensive fortifications on the south bank. By the time the Confederates finally attacked at 4 p.m., nearly all of Thomas’s army was across the creek and behind defenses. But the enemy assault surprised them nonetheless as they scrambled to hold their ground.

Peachtree Creek battle map | Image Credit: TheClio.com

The Confederate attacks were not properly coordinated. On the Confederate right, Hardee did not commit his entire corps; those who were deployed made little progress while sustaining heavy losses. On the Confederate left, Stewart forced several Federal units to retreat and captured a battery. However, a Federal counterattack pushed him back.

Meanwhile, McPherson’s Federals began advancing from Decatur. Cheatham held McPherson less than three miles from Atlanta, as the Federal guns began firing on both Cheatham’s men and the civilians in Atlanta behind them. Hood, who remained at his headquarters four miles behind the front, received an exaggerated report that the Federals were threatening to overrun Cheatham.

Back at Peachtree Creek, Hardee was preparing to commit Major General Patrick R. Cleburne’s division against Thomas when he received orders from Hood to send Cleburne to reinforce Cheatham. Cleburne’s Confederates took positions on Bald Hill, a treeless ridge southwest of McPherson’s left flank, which consisted of Major General Francis P. Blair, Jr.’s XVII Corps.

Cleburne’s men enfiladed Blair’s left, wounding Brigadier General Walter Q. Gresham, commanding a division in Blair’s corps. McPherson directed Blair to take Bald Hill, which Blair assigned to Brigadier General Mortimer D. Leggett’s division. Since it was near nightfall when Leggett received the order, he prepared to attack the next morning.

Cleburne’s stand kept McPherson at bay, but it ended any hopes the Confederates had of breaking Thomas’s army at Peachtree Creek. Hood ordered a suspension in the fighting at 7 p.m. The Confederates fell back, and Thomas’s line held. This was the bloodiest battle of the campaign thus far. The Federals suffered 1,779 casualties out of about 20,000 effectives, while the Confederates lost about 4,796 from roughly 20,000.

The delay in attacking proved fatal, as the Federals had already mostly crossed Peachtree Creek and entrenched themselves, thereby holding off the Confederate attacks. Hood erred in continuing the assaults, despite their futility. And Hardee’s failure to commit his entire corps at once was also a contributing factor, along with the transfer of Cleburne’s crack division to Cheatham.

In failing to drive Sherman away from Atlanta, Hood blamed Hardee for the delays and for a lack of aggression. While Joseph E. Johnston had worked to preserve Confederate manpower, Hood suffered tremendous casualties that could not be replaced. Sherman’s Federals now controlled nearly half of Atlanta’s outer perimeter.

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References

Angle, Paul M., A Pictorial History of the Civil War Years (New York: Doubleday, 1967), p. 177; Bailey, Ronald H., The Battles for Atlanta: Sherman Moves East (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 92-95; Castel, Albert, Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 565-66; Catton, Bruce, The American Heritage Picture History of the Civil War (New York: American Heritage Publishing Co., 1960), p. 516; CivilWarDailyGazette.com; Crocker III, H.W., The Politically Incorrect Guide to the Civil War (Washington: Regnery Publishing, 2008), p. 82-84; Davis, Jefferson, The Rise and Fall of the Confederate Government: All Volumes (Heraklion Press, Kindle Edition 2013, 1889), Loc 20929; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 437; Foote, Shelby, The Civil War: A Narrative: Volume 3: Red River to Appomattox (Vintage Civil War Library, Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, Kindle Edition, 2011), Loc 9897-932; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 471-72; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 542-43; Longacre, Edward G., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 433; McPherson, James M., Battle Cry of Freedom: The Civil War Era (Oxford History of the United States Book 6, Oxford University Press, Kindle Edition, 1988), p. 753; Ward, Geoffrey C., Burns, Ric, Burns, Ken, The Civil War (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1990), p. 327-28

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