Tag Archives: Stephen D. Lee

The Battle of Jonesboro: Day Two

September 1, 1864 – After the heavy fighting the previous day, just one Confederate corps was left to face six Federal corps at Jonesboro, south of Atlanta on the Macon & Western Railroad.

General John Bell Hood, commanding the Confederate Army of Tennessee, feared that Major General William T. Sherman’s Federals were about to attack Atlanta. He therefore recalled Lieutenant General Stephen D. Lee’s corps from Jonesboro, about 10 miles south of the city. This left just Lieutenant General William Hardee’s corps still at Jonesboro to face six of Sherman’s seven corps.

The Confederates had outnumbered the Federals the previous day, but now the advantage was reversed. Hardee wrote to President Jefferson Davis, “Last night Lee’s corps was ordered back to Atlanta by General Hood. I recommended that he should evacuate Atlanta while it was practicable. He will be compelled to contract his lines, and the enemy has force enough to invest him. My instructions are to protect Macon.”

Davis, unaware that Hardee faced nearly Sherman’s entire force, responded, “If you can beat the detachment in front of you, and then march to join Hood, entire success might be hoped to result from the division which the enemy have made of his force.”

Hardee’s 13,000 exhausted men held defenses in front of the vital Macon & Western Railroad. There was a salient in the line, formed by Hardee’s right (north) division, which curled to the east. Two Confederate brigades held the apex of the salient.

Sherman did not realize that only Hardee’s men remained in his front until around 3 p.m. He then ordered XIV Corps to attack the salient, not waiting for IV Corps to come up in possible support. The Federals were to seize the railroad, which was the last Confederate supply line in and out of Atlanta. Rather than attack Hood in the city, Sherman intended to starve him out.

Battle map | Image Credit: CivilWarDailyGazette.com

Various delays prevented the Federals from advancing until around 5 p.m. The Confederates initially held firm, but then XV Corps came up to the right of XIV, and the Federals attacked both flanks and the salient at the same time. They decimated the two brigades, penetrated the line, and took hundreds of prisoners. IV Corps finally came up on the Federal left.

Combat at Jonesboro | Image Credit: Clio.com

Hardee rushed reinforcements to plug the gap in the line, and they held until sundown. This gave him enough time to withdraw the rest of his corps to Lovejoy’s Station, seven miles south. Had Sherman used his full strength, he might have destroyed Hardee’s corps. Nevertheless, the Federals seized the railroad, leaving Atlanta virtually defenseless.

Hood ordered his army to evacuate Atlanta. He initially planned to move north and attack Sherman’s supply line at Marietta, but then he opted to move south to Macon. This would keep his army between Sherman and the 30,000 Federal prisoners of war at Andersonville. Hood feared that these prisoners could be freed to join Sherman’s army, unaware that they were in no condition to give Sherman any help.

Lieutenant General Alexander P. Stewart’s corps led the movement, heading south to link with Hardee at Lovejoy’s. Lee’s corps, still at Rough and Ready en route back to Atlanta, reversed course and followed Stewart. The Federals sustained about 1,450 casualties in the two days of fighting around Jonesboro, while Confederate losses were not officially reported. According to Hood:

“On the night of the 1st of September we withdrew from Atlanta. A train of ordnance stores and some railroad stock had to be destroyed in consequence of the gross neglect of the chief quartermaster to obey the specific instructions given him touching their removal. He had ample time and means, and nothing whatever ought to have been lost.”

Major General Samuel French reported:

“There is confusion in the city, and some of the soldiers in the town are drunk. Common sense is wanted. The five heavy guns that I had ordered to be spiked by the rear guard at 11 p.m. were burned by order of the chief of ordnance at 5 p.m., a proclamation to the enemy in my front that we were evacuating the place. As soon as I started to leave the works some of Hood’s officers fired the ordnance trains. This should have been done the last of all, when the rear guard or pickets were withdrawn. Who would extinguish an ordnance train of bursting shells? So lighted by the glare of fires, flashes of powder, and bursting shells, I slowly left Atlanta, and at daylight on the morning of the 2nd we were not five miles out of the city.”

After midnight, Confederate cavalry comprising the rear guard burned supplies that could not be evacuated, including seven locomotives, 81 railcars, 13 siege guns, and numerous shells. The fires raged for hours and sparked massive explosions that could be heard at Sherman’s headquarters about 15 miles away.

Hood’s Army of Tennessee moved southward, slipping past the Federals on the railroad. Hood had been given command of the army for the specific purpose of saving Atlanta, but he had been unable to do so despite sustaining tens of thousands of casualties. Now this vital industrial and railroad center was lost to the Confederacy.

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References

Angle, Paul M., A Pictorial History of the Civil War Years (New York: Doubleday, 1967), p. 179-80; Bailey, Ronald H., The Battles for Atlanta: Sherman Moves East (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 147-48, 151-52; Castel, Albert, Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 404-05; CivilWarDailyGazette.com; Davis, Jefferson, The Rise and Fall of the Confederate Government: All Volumes (Heraklion Press, Kindle Edition 2013, 1889), Loc 20947; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 452; 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 11031-72; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 492-93; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 564-65; Longacre, Edward G., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 29-30; 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

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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

Atlanta: Federals Approach Jonesboro

August 30, 1864 – Major General William T. Sherman’s three Federal armies worked their way to the west and south of Atlanta, threatening the key town of Jonesboro on the Macon & Western Railroad.

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

Sherman’s Federals continued moving around Atlanta to avoid directly attacking General John Bell Hood’s Confederate Army of Tennessee. Sherman hoped to use his force “against the communications of Atlanta, instead of against its entrenchments.” His main targets were the two railroads supplying Hood’s men in the city. The Federals were to cross the Atlanta & West Point Railroad below East Point and capture the Macon & Western at Rough and Ready and Jonesboro.

Major General George H. Thomas’s Army of the Cumberland moved out on the 25th, and the Army of the Tennessee under Major General Oliver O. Howard began moving the next day. The Confederates did not discover that Thomas was gone until it was too late, but they spotted Howard’s troops. Howard wrote, “The enemy seemed aware of our withdrawing during its progress and opened on us with artillery and considerable skirmish-firing, but, providentially, we had but one casualty, one poor fellow losing his leg by a round shot.”

Meanwhile, Major General John Schofield’s Army of the Ohio demonstrated against the Confederate defenses at Utoy Creek, west of East Point. Thomas’s army moved past Schofield’s right and stopped at Camp Creek, southwest of Atlanta. Howard’s army continued past Thomas’s right flank.

Hood initially believed that Major General Joseph Wheeler’s Confederate cavalry raid was forcing Sherman to withdraw. One of Hood’s corps commanders, Lieutenant General Alexander P. Stewart, learned that the Federals were on the move but could not tell whether they were withdrawing; he reported that “thus far their whereabouts (have) not been ascertained.”

Hood reported on the 27th:

“Last night the enemy continued to change their position by their left and center. They have drawn back so that their left is now on the Chattahoochee at the railroad bridge; their right is unchanged, and they appear to be moving troops in that direction. They have no troops nearer than four miles of Atlanta.”

However, by that time the Federals were beyond the Confederate defenses below Atlanta, where they began their arc to the southeast. Confederate scouts soon reported that the Federals were operating near the railroad divergence at East Point, and, “They are constructing works rapidly.” To prevent Sherman from cutting the line, Hood dispatched Lieutenant General William Hardee’s corps to defend East Point, unaware that Sherman intended to move below that depot on his way east to Rough and Ready and Jonesboro.

Thomas advanced to Red Oak, down the Atlanta & West Point line from East Point, on the 28th. Howard’s army advanced further down the line to Fairburn. The Federals spent that day and the 29th wrecking the track, even though that railroad was seldom used by the Confederates. Sherman recalled how the men destroyed the railroad:

“The track was heaved up in sections the length of a regiment, then separated rail by rail; bonfires were made of the ties and of fence rails on which the rails were heated, carried to trees or telegraph poles, wrapped around and left to cool.”

These became known as “Sherman’s neckties,” or “Sherman’s hairpins.” The railroad was wrecked for six miles. Federals filled the railroad cuts with trees, brush, and live ammunition shells that would explode if any Confederates tried repairing the line.

The Federals began their eastward advance on the 30th. Schofield held the left (north) flank, moving toward Rough and Ready. Thomas held the center, moving between Rough and Ready and Jonesboro. Howard held the right flank, moving directly toward Jonesboro. Sherman rode with Thomas and told him, “I have Atlanta as certainly as if it were in my hand!”

Hardee reported that the Federals were moving east, and only then did Hood realize Sherman’s true objective. Hood held a council of war that night, where he announced that he thought Sherman had left part of his army north of Atlanta while sending the rest south. As such, he would keep Stewart’s corps in Atlanta’s defenses while he sent the corps of Hardee and Lieutenant General Stephen D. Lee to Jonesboro, with Hardee in overall command.

Hood directed Hardee, “Your corps will move to Jonesborough tonight. Put it in motion at once if necessary to protect the railroad.” He issued similar orders to Lee, with instructions for both to “attack the enemy, and drive him, if possible, across Flint River.”

As the day ended, Howard’s army had crossed the Flint River and was within two miles of Jonesboro. Thomas’s army was within six miles, having not yet crossed the Flint. Schofield’s army was within striking distance of Rough and Ready. Hardee’s Confederates began moving to Jonesboro, hoping to get there and launch their assault on the Federals while they were supposedly separated.

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References

Bailey, Ronald H., The Battles for Atlanta: Sherman Moves East (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 141-44; Castel, Albert, Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 404-05; CivilWarDailyGazette.com; Davis, Jefferson, The Rise and Fall of the Confederate Government: All Volumes (Heraklion Press, Kindle Edition 2013, 1889), Loc 20938, 20947; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 450-51; 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 10923-67, 10979-99; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 491-92; Linedecker, Clifford L. (ed.), The Civil War A to Z (Ballantine Books, 2002), p. 22-23; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 560-63; 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

The Battle of Utoy Creek

August 6, 1864 – Federal cavalrymen straggled back to their lines after a failed raid, and Major General William T. Sherman tried moving around the Confederates at Atlanta to cut their railroad line.

When most of Major General George Stoneman’s Federal cavalry was captured during operations outside Atlanta in late July, two brigades under Colonels Horace Capron and Silas Adams escaped. The two commands were initially separated, but they rejoined near Rutledge Station on the 1st and began moving to seize the river town of Athens. Meanwhile, a Confederate cavalry detachment under Colonel William C.P. Breckinridge pursued them.

Adams’s Federals demonstrated at Athens while Capron tried crossing the Oconee River farther above the town. When a guide misled him, Capron instead headed northeast to rejoin Sherman’s main Federal force. Capron gave his men and horses two hours of rest on the night of the 2nd, after riding 56 miles in one day.

Breckinridge’s Confederates attacked Capron’s camp just before dawn, scattering the Federals and the fugitive slaves they had collected during their expedition. Capron reported that the Confederates were “driving and scattering everything before them. Every effort was made by the officers to rally the men and check the enemy’s charge, but… a stampede now took place.”

Some Federals escaped using a bridge over Mulberry Creek, but the bridge collapsed and many men and horses drowned. The Confederates captured about 250 troopers, but Capron was among those who escaped. Sherman learned of these cavalry debacles from a Richmond newspaper. When survivors confirmed the story, Sherman offered this understatement to his superiors: “On the whole, the cavalry raid is not deemed a success.”

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

Sherman turned back to his infantry and artillery to capture Atlanta. Federal gunners began bombarding the city while Major General John Schofield’s Army of the Ohio, reinforced by Major General John M. Palmer’s XIV Corps, began moving from northeast of Atlanta toward Utoy Creek to the southwest, around Major General Oliver O. Howard’s Army of the Tennessee. This was another one of Sherman’s efforts to cut the railroad connecting Atlanta to East Point.

The Federals crossed Utoy Creek on the 4th but could not dislodge Lieutenant General Stephen D. Lee’s Confederates from their fortifications. The next day, Schofield intended to try again but was delayed due to a command dispute with Palmer. Palmer believed that he outranked Schofield, and he resigned when Sherman backed Schofield. Palmer was later replaced as head of XIV Corps by Major General Jefferson C. Davis.

The delay allowed Major General William B. Bate’s Confederate division to strengthen the defenses and extend them southward to prevent a flanking maneuver. The Federals attacked on the 6th, but the delay proved fatal as they were unable to break the enemy line and reach the railroad. Schofield lost 306 men killed or wounded before disengaging in heavy rain. The Confederates lost less than 10.

Schofield extended his right flank along the Sandtown Road on the 7th, but the Confederates fell back to new defenses on a ridge near the railroad to meet them. Sherman notified Chief of Staff Henry W. Halleck, “I do not deem it prudent to extend any more to the right, but will push forward daily by parallels, and make the inside of Atlanta too hot to be endured.”

Schofield’s Federals remained entrenched southwest of Atlanta while the guns bombarded the troops and civilians in the city.

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References

Bailey, Ronald H., The Battles for Atlanta: Sherman Moves East (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 138-39; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 442, 444; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 479-83; 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 10266-76; Linedecker, Clifford L. (ed.), The Civil War A to Z (Ballantine Books, 2002), p. 257; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 552-53; Longacre, Edward G., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 405-06

The Battle of Ezra Church

July 28, 1864 – General John Bell Hood’s Confederate Army of Tennessee looked to attack one of Major General William T. Sherman’s Federal armies while in motion and isolated from the rest of Sherman’s command.

The Federal Army of the Tennessee, led by Major General Oliver O. Howard, had been holding a line east of Atlanta. Sherman directed the force to shift to the west and south, to the other side of the Armies of the Ohio and the Cumberland. Howard’s ultimate objective was the intersection of two railroads (the Atlanta & West Point and the Macon & Western) at East Point.

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

Hood learned of Howard’s movement and developed a plan to ambush his army while it was in motion and isolated from the rest of Sherman’s Federals. Hood selected the crossroads at Ezra Church, west of Atlanta, to launch his surprise assault. Lieutenant General Stephen D. Lee’s corps was posted behind breastworks near the crossroads, facing north.

Sherman did not expect Hood to react to Howard’s movement so quickly, but Howard, who had been Hood’s classmate at West Point, knew better. As his Federals approached the Ezra Church crossroads, they were ordered to quickly build makeshift defenses, just before Lee launched his attack.

The Confederates assailed what they thought to be Howard’s vulnerable right flank, only to find it strongly defended by Major General John A. Logan’s XV Corps. Logan positioned his Federals at a right angle to the rest of Howard’s line to better defend against the assaults.

Ezra Church battle map | Image Credit: CivilWarDailyGazette.com

The Federals repelled three charges, inflicting heavy casualties in the process. Lieutenant General Alexander P. Stewart’s Confederate corps then came up on Lee’s left and tried turning the Federal right to no avail. Both Stewart and Major General William W. Loring, commanding a division under Stewart, were wounded. Howard feared that he would soon be outnumbered and called for reinforcements, but the Confederates disengaged before they arrived.

Had Sherman counterattacked the Confederate left, he could have destroyed the force and left Hood with just one last corps to defend Atlanta. However, Sherman did not recognize this opportunity due to an erroneous map.

Like the battles at Peachtree Creek and outside Atlanta, the Confederates sustained heavy losses that they could not replace. Hood lost as many as 5,000 men (and an estimated 18,000 since taking command), while Howard lost just 562. Hood’s other corps commander, Lieutenant General William Hardee, later said, “No action of the campaign probably did so much to demoralize and dishearten the troops engaged in it.”

Another desperate Confederate assault on an isolated Federal army had failed, but Hood at least prevented Howard’s Federals from reaching the Atlanta & West Point Railroad for now. Having lost up to a third of his army, Hood could now only act on the defensive, and he ordered his troops to withdraw to the fortifications outside Atlanta. From these defenses, the Confederates temporarily stopped Sherman’s drive down the west side of the city.

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References

Bailey, Ronald H., The Battles for Atlanta: Sherman Moves East (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 133-36; Castel, Albert, Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 250-51; Catton, Bruce, The American Heritage Picture History of the Civil War (New York: American Heritage Publishing Co., 1960), p. 516, 526; 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. 440-41; Foote, Shelby, The Civil War: A Narrative: Volume 3: Red River to Appomattox (Vintage Civil War Library, Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, Kindle Edition, 2011), Loc 10244-54; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 476; Linedecker, Clifford L (ed.), The Civil War A to Z (Ballantine Books, 2002), p. 98-99; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 547; 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. 754-55; Ward, Geoffrey C., Burns, Ric, Burns, Ken, The Civil War (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1990), p. 327

Atlanta: The Federal Wheel Starts Turning

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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References

Bailey, Ronald H., The Battles for Atlanta: Sherman Moves East (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 132-33; Castel, Albert, Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 250-51; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 439-40; Foote, Shelby, The Civil War: A Narrative: Volume 3: Red River to Appomattox (Vintage Civil War Library, Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, Kindle Edition, 2011), Loc 10108-118, 10129-70; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 474-76; Kallmann, John D., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 369-70; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 545-47; Pritchard, Russ A., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 746-47

The Battle of Tupelo

July 14, 1864 – Federal forces held off an assault from Major General Nathan Bedford Forrest’s Confederate cavalry, but Forrest remained a major threat in the region.

As July began, Forrest’s troopers continued disrupting Federal lines of supply and communication in northern Mississippi and western Tennessee. Major General William T. Sherman, the overall Federal commander in the Western Theater, directed Major General Cadwallader C. Washburn, commanding at Memphis, “to make up a force and go out and follow Forrest to the death, if it costs 10,000 lives and breaks the Treasury.”

Gen A.J. Smith | Image Credit: Wikipedia.org

Washburn assigned Major General Andrew J. Smith to lead this latest expedition. It was hoped that Smith would have more success than Brigadier General Samuel D. Sturgis did in June. Smith’s command consisted of 14,200 men that included a black infantry brigade, a cavalry division under Brigadier General Benjamin H. Grierson, and six guns.

Smith was to “pursue Forrest on foot, devastating the land over which he passed or may pass, and make him and the people of Tennessee and Mississippi realize that, although (he is) a bold, daring, and successful leader, he will bring ruin and misery on any country where he may pause or tarry. If we do not punish Forrest and the people now, the whole effect of our past conquests will be lost.”

The Federals left La Grange, Tennessee, on the 5th and moved south into Mississippi, clashing with Forrest at Ripley two days later. After driving the Confederates off, Smith directed his men to burn the town courthouse, along with many churches and private homes. The Federals continued leaving destruction in their wake as they crossed the Tallahatchie River and swept through New Albany.

Gen Nathan Bedford Forrest | Image Credit: Flickr.com

Smith’s men reached Pontotoc on the 11th, where they met increased resistance. Meanwhile, Forrest gathered a force of about 6,000 Confederates at Okolona to the south. Major General Stephen D. Lee, commanding the Confederate Department of Alabama, Mississippi, and East Louisiana, had ordered Forrest not to provoke a battle until Lee could bring up reinforcements, so Forrest waited at Okolona in hopes of luring Smith into an ambush.

Lee had received word that Federal forces were going to move east from New Orleans to attack Mobile. He therefore planned to hurry 2,000 Confederates to reinforce Forrest, and then once Smith was defeated, Lee would send these troops to defend Mobile.

Meanwhile, Smith thwarted Forrest’s ambush by turning instead toward Tupelo, 15 miles east on the Mobile & Ohio Railroad. Grierson’s cavalry rode ahead of the main Federal body to wreck railroad tracks north and south of the town. The Federals repelled harassing attacks on their flanks and rear before stopping on the night of the 13th on a low ridge at Harrisonburg, two miles west of Tupelo.

Earlier on the 13th, Lee arrived at Okolona with his reinforcements to join with Forrest. Lee took command of the combined force of 8,000 men and led it in pursuit of Smith. The Confederates arrived opposite the Federal positions at Harrisonburg that night. Forrest said to Lee:

“The enemy have a strong position, have thrown up defensive works and are vastly our superior in numbers and it will not do for us to attack them under such conditions. One thing is certain, the enemy cannot remain long where he is. He must come out, and when he does, all I ask or wish is to be turned loose with my command. I will be on all sides of him, attacking day and night. He shall not cook a meal or have a night’s sleep, and I will wear his army to a frazzle before he gets out of the country.”

Gen S.D. Lee | Image Credit: Wikipedia.org

Lee rejected this plan because it would take too long, and he needed to hurry his troops to Mobile. Lee instead opted to launch an all-out assault on the numerically superior enemy force in the morning. An erroneous report from a Confederate scout stating that the Federals were preparing to retreat further emboldened Lee to attack.

On the morning of the 14th, Lee had trouble getting his men into line, which caused delays. The Confederates finally advanced at 7 a.m., but the attacks were disjointed and piecemeal, and the Federals easily beat them back with concentrated artillery and small arms fire. The Confederates never got within 30 yards of the enemy line.

Lee ordered a halt to the attack after two hours. Both sides continued skirmishing, and the Federals burned several buildings in the town that night. In a rare victory over Forrest, the Federals sustained 674 casualties (77 killed, 559 wounded and 38 missing), while the Confederates lost 1,347 men (210 killed, 1,116 wounded, and 41 missing). Forrest was among the wounded, shot in the foot. Rumors spreading among the Federals that Forrest was dead were quickly dispelled.

Smith could have counterattacked the next day and destroyed the Confederate force, but he learned that his men had just one day’s rations left because most of the food had spoiled in the heat, and he was short on ammunition. He therefore followed up his tactical victory by withdrawing east through Tupelo. Lee directed Forrest to pursue the Federals.

Forrest’s Confederates chased Smith back into Tennessee but were repeatedly thwarted by his rear guard. The Federals returned to La Grange on the 20th, where they boarded trains to Memphis. Smith reported to Washburn the next day, “I bring back everything in good order, nothing lost.”

Smith kept Forrest away from Sherman’s supply line on the Nashville & Chattanooga Railroad, but he did not destroy Forrest’s command as ordered. Sherman wrote that Smith should “pursue and continue to follow Forrest. He must keep after him till recalled… It is of vital importance that Forrest does not go to Tennessee.” Smith immediately began preparing for another campaign.

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References

Castel, Albert, Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 765-66; Catton, Bruce, The American Heritage Picture History of the Civil War (New York: American Heritage Publishing Co., 1960), p. 516; CivilWarDailyGazette.com; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 433, 436-37, 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 10672-755; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 465, 467-70, 472; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 534-35, 537-40, 544-45; 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. 748; Schultz, Fred L., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 694