Tag Archives: William T. Sherman

Forrest Prepares for a New Raid

October 10, 1864 – Major General Nathan Bedford Forrest’s Confederate cavalry troopers attacked Federal forces on the Tennessee River and prepared to launch a new raid on Federal supply transports in Tennessee.

Gen N.B. Forrest | Image Credit: CivilWarDailyGazette.com

Last month, Forrest and his men had tried disrupting Federal supply lines along the Tennessee River in northern Alabama and southeastern Tennessee. This was part of the Confederate effort to starve Major General William T. Sherman’s Federals into abandoning Georgia. However, a lack of ammunition and supplies forced Forrest to cut his raid short.

Forrest’s troopers reunited to attack the Tennessee & Alabama Railroad near Spring Hill, Tennessee. The Confederates then turned back south, wrecking track, destroying bridges, and capturing numerous blockhouses built to stop them along the way. They drove a Federal force out of Columbia and then continued southwest to Lawrenceburg. On the 5th, they returned to their starting point at Florence, Alabama, before finally stopping at Corinth, Mississippi.

In 13 days, Forrest’s command had inflicted about 3,360 casualties (including 2,360 captured), destroyed miles of railroad track and many blockhouses and bridges, and captured 800 horses, seven guns, some 2,000 small arms, and 50 wagons filled with much-needed supplies. The damage done to the Tennessee & Alabama Railroad would require six weeks to repair. The troopers sustained just 340 casualties (47 killed and 293 wounded).

However, Forrest did not accomplish his main goal, which was to force Sherman out of Georgia. Consequently, General Richard Taylor, commanding the Confederate Department of Alabama, Mississippi, and East Louisiana, ordered Forrest to lead 3,500 men on another raid. The new target would be Johnsonville, on the Tennessee River. This marked the terminus of the Nashville & Northwestern Railroad, which Sherman’s Federals used extensively for supplies.

Meanwhile, the Federals sent an expedition up the Tennessee River to confront Forrest’s troopers. As Federal troops debarked their transports east of Corinth at Eastport, Forrest’s men used shore batteries to attack the squadron. The Confederates disabled the transports Aurora and Kenton, sending them drifting downriver. The gunboat Undine went after the disabled transports, while the gunboat Key West covered the troops as they crowded aboard the remaining transport, the City of Peking.

Forrest’s new raid began on the 19th, when his command left Corinth and headed northwest toward Jackson, Tennessee. Nine days later, the Confederates turned northeast, crossed the Big Sandy River, and arrived at Paris Landing on the Tennessee, about 30 miles north of Johnsonville near the Kentucky state line. The troopers quickly began obstructing the river to stop Federal traffic around Forts Heiman and Henry.

After setting up artillery on either end of a five-mile length of riverbank, the Confederates captured the transport Mazeppa, which carried a load of 9,000 pairs of shoes. The Confederates then attacked the gunboat Undine and the transports Venus and Cheeseman. They captured all these vessels as well, giving Forrest a makeshift “navy” with which to attack Johnsonville in early November.

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References

Brooksher, William R. and Snider, David K., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 399; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 465, 470, 473, 477, 481-82; 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 12573-619, 12982-3002; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 504, 506, 508, 511, 515-16; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 577-78, 582, 585-86, 590-91

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Hood Looks to Draw Sherman Out of Georgia

October 9, 1864 – General John Bell Hood’s Confederates continued harassing the Federal supply lines in hopes of pulling Major General William T. Sherman’s forces out of Georgia.

Gen J.B. Hood | Image Credit: Wikipedia.org

After the Battle of Allatoona, Major General Samuel G. French’s Confederate division rejoined Hood’s Army of Tennessee stationed around Dallas, Georgia. Despite failing to seize the warehouses at Allatoona, Hood still hoped to wreak enough havoc on the Federal supply line to force Sherman into an open battle. Hood’s Confederates wrecked several miles of track on the Western & Atlantic Railroad between Atlanta and Chattanooga.

Sherman, headquartered on Kennesaw Mountain, still could not determine whether Hood intended to move north toward Chattanooga or south to try taking back Atlanta. He had left XX Corps under Major General Henry W. Slocum at Atlanta while moving the rest of his forces north along the Western & Atlantic to hunt Hood down.

On the 7th, Federal scouts reported that the Confederates in the Dallas area were gone. Sherman warned Slocum that Hood might have “gone off south” to attack him, but he concluded, “I cannot guess his movements as I could those of (former Confederate commander Joseph E.) Johnston, who was a sensible man and only did sensible things.” Sherman learned later that day that Hood was actually moving north.

After a day-long rain delay, the Federals arrived at Allatoona on the 9th. By that time, Hood’s Confederates were crossing the Coosa River and heading west toward Alabama. Hood had abandoned the plan to draw Sherman into a battle, explaining to his superiors at Richmond that the raid on the railroad had been so successful that no battle was needed. Instead, he wrote that if Sherman pursued him, “I shall move on his rear,” and if Sherman went south instead, “I shall move to the Tennessee River via La Fayette and Gadsden.”

Gen P.G.T. Beauregard | Image Credit: Wikispaces.com

Hood described his plan in greater detail to General P.G.T. Beauregard, who met with him at Cave Spring near the Alabama line on the 9th. Beauregard had recently been appointed to head the new Military Division of the West, overseeing both Hood’s army and General Richard Taylor’s in Louisiana. President Jefferson Davis hoped that Beauregard could offer some much-needed guidance for Hood. However, since he had not yet formally assumed command, this meeting was unofficial.

Hood explained that he planned to continue raiding Sherman’s supply lines, drawing him out of Atlanta and fighting him if the opportunity presented itself. If Sherman refused to come out and fight, Hood would raid the Federal lines indefinitely. Beauregard was not satisfied with this vague plan, but since he was not yet Hood’s superior, he could not reject it.

Beauregard advised that even though he was not “sufficiently well acquainted with the nature of the country,” Hood should not “carry out the first project (i.e., giving Sherman battle)” if Sherman concentrated his forces. Hood agreed, and both commanders resolved not to fight Sherman “unless with positive advantage on our side of numbers and position, or unless the safety of the army required it.”

The next day, Hood began moving his troops northeast toward Rome, on the Etowah River. Sherman responded by sending Federals to Kingston, 15 miles east of Rome. He expected Hood to head west, where Major General George H. Thomas’s Federals at Chattanooga could deal with him. But Hood instead planned to continue moving northeast to wreck the Western & Atlantic Railroad between Resaca and Dalton.

Sherman wanted nothing to do with chasing down Hood’s Confederates. He had urged Lieutenant General Ulysses S. Grant, the overall Federal commander, to let him instead head south through Georgia to the Atlantic coast. Grant (and more importantly, President Abraham Lincoln) did not want to approve such a risky plan so close to the presidential election. But Sherman persisted, writing Grant again on the 11th:

“I would infinitely prefer to make a wreck of the (rail)road and of the country from Chattanooga to Atlanta, including the latter city, send back all my wounded and worthless, and, with my effective army, move through Georgia, smashing things to the sea… Instead of being on the defensive, I would be on the offensive; instead of guess at what he means to do, he would have to guess at my plans. The difference in war would be fully 25 percent… Answer quick, as I know we will not have the telegraph long.”

While waiting for Grant’s response, Sherman began concentrating his forces at Rome and bolstering the garrison at Resaca, even though he still did not yet know that Hood was targeting both Resaca and Dalton. Grant replied the next day:

“On reflection I think better of your proposition. It will be much better to go south than to be forced to come north… If you are satisfied the trip to the sea-coast can be made, holding the line of the Tennessee firmly, you may make it, destroying all the railroad south of Dalton or Chattanooga, as you think best.”

Grant advised that if he went south, he should bring “every wagon, horse, mule, and hoof of stock, as well as the Negroes,” and take any extra arms and “put them in the hands of Negro men” to defend themselves in the hostile country. Sherman was elated to receive Grant’s approval. But before he could go south, he would have to deal with Hood.

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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. 470, 472-73; Faust, Patricia L., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 814; 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 12852-72, 12904-24; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 508; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 582; Nevin, David, Sherman’s March: Atlanta to the Sea (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 18, 27-29

The Battle of Allatoona

October 5, 1864 – Major General William T. Sherman hurriedly ordered a Federal division to stop General John Bell Hood’s Confederate Army of Tennessee from seizing important supply warehouses north of Atlanta.

Hood’s Confederates wrecked track on the Western & Atlantic Railroad, the main supply line for Sherman’s Federals in Atlanta. Sherman responded by sending the bulk of his force north to confront them. When Sherman learned that Hood was targeting the warehouses at Allatoona Pass, he ordered Brigadier General John M. Corse’s division from Rome to stop him.

Corse immediately began loading his 1,000 men on 20 railcars bound for Allatoona. The troops arrived around 1 a.m. to join Colonel John E. Tourtellotte’s 1,000-man Federal garrison already there. Corse sent the train back to collect more troops but the train derailed, leaving him with just the 2,000 men on hand.

The warehouses that Corse had to defend held over a million rations for Sherman’s army. Corse’s Federals would be outnumbered, but they were armed with repeating rifles, and they held strong fortifications on either side of the railroad. The strongest redoubt was Star Fort on the left (west) of the railroad. The main line faced north and curled southward on both flanks to defend against potential attacks from any direction.

Hood had dispatched 2,000 men under Major General Samuel French to seize Allatoona on the night of the 4th. As his Confederates approached the forts along the railroad after midnight, French reported:

“Nothing could be seen but one or two twinkling lights on the opposite heights, and nothing was heard except the occasional interchange of shots between our advanced guards and the pickets of the garrison in the valley below. All was darkness. I had no knowledge of the place, and it was important to attack at the break of day. Taking the guide and lights I placed the artillery in position on the hills south and east of the railroad.”

At daybreak, French saw that the Federal garrison at Allatoona was stronger than expected. Nevertheless, he deployed his troops in a formation that nearly surrounded the redoubts, but due to the mountainous terrain, it took them several hours to get into position. The Confederates bombarded the defenses with artillery for two hours, and then French sent a message to Corse:

“Sir: I have placed the forces under my command in such position that you are surrounded, and to avoid a needless effusion of blood, I call on you to surrender your forces at once and unconditionally. Five minutes will be allowed you to decide.”

Corse immediately responded:

“Your communication demanding surrender of my command I acknowledge receipt of, and would respectfully reply that we are prepared for the ‘needless effusion of blood’ whenever it is agreeable to you.”

French ordered an assault, which came from the west and south. The fighting quickly became intense and bloody, as the Federals desperately held against a larger force. The Star Fort seemed on the verge of collapse until Tourtellotte pulled men from the other fortifications to strengthen it. Corse sent a message via signal corps to Sherman pleading for reinforcements, and a messenger replied, “General Sherman says hold fast; we are coming.”

Fighting at Allatoona | Image Credit: Wikipedia.org

Both sides kept up a constant fire, with Corse later reporting:

“Officers labored constantly to stimulate the men to exertion, and most all that were killed or wounded in the fort met this fate while trying to get the men to expose themselves above the parapet, and nobly setting them the example. The enemy kept up a constant and intense fire, gradually closing around us and rapidly filling our little fort with dead and dying.”

The Federals expended the last of their artillery ammunition, and Corse himself was wounded. By the end of the morning, it was clear that the Federals would have to surrender. But around noon, French was informed that a large Federal force was coming to reinforce the Allatoona defenders from Acworth to the south. French later wrote:

“I did not doubt that the enemy would endeavor to get in my rear and intercept my return. He was in the morning but three hours distant, and had been signaled to repeatedly during the battle. Under these circumstances I determined to withdraw, however depressing the idea of not capturing the place after so many had fallen, and when in all probability we could force a surrender before night; yet, however desirous I was for remaining before the last work and forcing a capitulation, or carrying the work by assault, I deemed it of more importance not to permit the enemy to cut my division off from the army.”

Thus, French ordered a withdrawal, and the Federals remained in control of Allatoona. Both sides sustained a high percentage of casualties: the Federals lost 706 (142 killed, 352 wounded and 212 missing), and the Confederates lost 799 (122 killed, 443 wounded and 234 missing). Corse wrote Sherman the next day, “I am short a cheek bone and one ear, but am able to whip all hell yet.”

The press changed Sherman’s “hold fast” message to Corse to the more sensational “Hold the fort, I am coming.” This became immortalized in Chicago evangelist Philip Paul Bliss’s hymn, “Hold the Fort.” The song gave the battle a greater level of fame than other more significant conflicts in the war.

Sherman supposedly ordered Major General Jacob D. Cox’s XXIII Corps to hurriedly reinforce the Federals at Allatoona. However, Sherman did not order Cox to go there until the day after the battle, and in the order, he directed Cox to only “Have a brigade ready to go there to-morrow early.” In the meantime, Sherman ordered just a cavalry division to Allatoona, but only after the battle was over. This indicates that Sherman did not place as much significance on supporting the Allatoona garrison as originally believed.

Nevertheless, French’s Confederates did not seize the vital warehouses at Allatoona; they instead withdrew to join Hood’s main army, which was moving north toward the Tennessee line.

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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. 469; 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 12831-51; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 506; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 579-80; Longacre, Edward G., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 185-86; Nevin, David, Sherman’s March: Atlanta to the Sea (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 20-28

Georgia: Hood Attacks Sherman’s Lifeline

October 4, 1864 – General John Bell Hood directed his Confederate Army of Tennessee to attack the Federal supply lines in hopes of forcing Major General William T. Sherman to come out of Atlanta and give battle.

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

As October began, Sherman’s three Federal armies remained stationed in and around Atlanta. Hood had decided not to attack these armies directly, but instead move north and wreak havoc on their supply lines, which stretched all the way to Louisville. Hood hoped that this would lure Sherman out of Atlanta and onto open ground, where he could be defeated and driven out of Georgia.

Sherman had already detached two divisions under Major General George H. Thomas to stop Major General Nathan Bedford Forrest’s Confederate raids in middle Tennessee. Now he directed Thomas to also protect the Western & Atlantic Railroad, the main Federal supply line, between Chattanooga and Atlanta. As Hood’s Confederates approached this railroad, Sherman reported to Lieutenant General Ulysses S. Grant, the overall Federal commander:

“Hood is evidently across the Chattahoochee, below Sweetwater. If he tries to get on our (rail)road, this side of the Etowah, I shall attack him; but if he goes to the Selma & Talladega road, why will it not do to leave Tennessee to the forces which Thomas has, and the reserves soon to come to Nashville, and for me to destroy Atlanta and march across Georgia to Savannah or Charleston, breaking roads and doing irreparable damage? We cannot remain on the defensive.”

Sherman wanted to ignore Hood and move southeast to the Atlantic, but if Hood remained above Atlanta, Sherman would have to take notice. To his dismay, it was confirmed (through scouts and an ill-advised speech by President Jefferson Davis) that the Confederates would indeed remain above Atlanta and threaten his main supply line. Sherman therefore left his 12,000-man XX Corps in Atlanta and directed his remaining 55,000 Federals to move north and confront Hood.

Gen J.B. Hood | Image Credit: Wikipedia.org

As the Confederates began wrecking track on the Western & Atlantic, Hood confidently wrote his superiors at Richmond, “This will, I think, force Sherman to move on us or to move south.” He dispatched Lieutenant General Alexander P. Stewart’s corps to wipe out the Federal garrisons at Big Shanty and Acworth, “and to destroy as great a portion of the railroad in the vicinity as possible.”

Sherman, still unsure exactly where Hood would strike, dispatched a division under Brigadier General John M. Corse to defend the Federal garrison at Rome while the other Federals moved toward Marietta. Corse was to “act against Hood from Allatoona if he got on the railroad between that place and Atlanta.” Sherman also ordered Thomas to lead his two divisions toward Nashville in case Hood turned north to attack that vital Federal supply base.

On the 4th, elements of Stewart’s corps attacked the Federal garrison at Big Shanty. Stewart reported, “The small force of the enemy took refuge in the depot, which was loop-holed. After the exchange of a few shots and a small loss in killed and wounded they surrendered–some 100 or more.” Moving toward Acworth, the Confederates seized Moon’s Station, “and by 3 p.m. of the 4th the railroad was effectually torn up, the ties burned, and rails bent for a distance of 10 or 12 miles. This work, the capture of some 600 prisoners, and a few killed and wounded, was effected with a loss of not more than 12 or 15, mostly wounded.”

One of Stewart’s divisions under Major General William W. Loring advanced toward Acworth, while Hood set his sights on the Federal supply warehouses at Allatoona Pass. Meanwhile, the Federals crossed the Chattahoochee and Sherman took up headquarters on Kennesaw Mountain, where he could see the nine miles of destruction the Confederates had done. Recognizing that the Confederates were targeting Allatoona, Sherman ordered Corse’s division to hurry from Rome to defend that point.

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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. 465-67; 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 12777-87, 12820-41, 12894-904; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 504-05; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 578-79; McMurry, Richard M., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 7; Nevin, David, Sherman’s March: Atlanta to the Sea (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 19-20

Forrest Captures Athens

September 24, 1864 – Major General Nathan Bedford Forrest’s Confederate cavalry force raided Federal supply lines, including a vital depot in northern Alabama.

Gen Nathan Bedford Forrest | Image Credit: Flickr.com

After raiding Memphis in August, Forrest’s troopers went to join Confederates against a possible Federal attack at Mobile. When the Federals did not attack, Forrest led his force to northern Alabama and met with Lieutenant General Richard Taylor, the new commander of the Confederate Department of Alabama, Mississippi, and East Louisiana. It was agreed that Forrest should raid Major General William T. Sherman’s Federal supply lines in Middle Tennessee.

Forrest’s main objective was the Tennessee & Alabama Railroad, which linked to the Memphis & Charleston Railroad and fed Sherman’s Federals at Atlanta. The main depot at Athens, Alabama, was guarded by a 600-man garrison of mostly black troops. Forrest’s 3,500 Confederates crossed the Tennessee River at Florence, Alabama, and rode east toward Athens, 40 miles away.

The troopers arrived outside the town on the night of the 23rd. The next day, they opened fire on the Federals with eight guns, and Forrest sent a messenger under a flag of truce to demand an “immediate and unconditional surrender.” If the Federals accepted, the “white soldiers,” Forrest wrote, “shall be treated as prisoners of war and the negroes returned to their masters.”

The Federal commander refused. However, when he agreed to meet Forrest in person, he was shown a list of Confederate personnel that made it seem like Forrest had a force three times its actual size. Unaware of the ruse, the Federals promptly surrendered. Forrest netted 1,300 prisoners, 300 horses, two guns, two locomotives, and many supplies. They destroyed anything considered useful to the enemy.

The Confederates moved north along the railroad and attacked a Federal garrison defending the Sulphur Branch Trestle, which was 72 feet high and 300 feet long with a blockhouse on each end. The Federals initially refused to surrender but relented after being bombarded with about 800 rounds of artillery. Forrest took 973 prisoners, 300 horses, two more guns, and more supplies. His men destroyed the blockhouses and the trestle.

Forrest’s command reached the Elk River, between Athens and Pulaski, Tennessee, on the 26th. The troopers destroyed a railroad bridge and continued to Richland Creek, where they wrecked a 200-foot bridge. Most Federals in their way either fled or surrendered. But despite this success, Forrest’s ammunition was running low and his force was dwindling because he had to detach units to guard the growing number of prisoners.

Moreover, Sherman had dispatched two divisions from Atlanta under Major General George H. Thomas to hunt Forrest down. Thomas would soon be reinforced by troops from Memphis and Chattanooga, and Major General Andrew J. Smith’s Federals were on the way from Missouri as well. Sherman instructed Thomas that “the whole resources” of Kentucky, Tennessee, and Alabama must be “turned against Forrest… until he is disposed of.”

By the 27th, advance elements of these converging Federals under Brigadier General Lovell Rousseau were at Pulaski awaiting Forrest’s approach. Thomas wrote Rousseau, “Press Forrest to the death, keeping your troops well in hand and holding them to the work. I do not think that we shall ever have a better chance than this.”

As Forrest approached Pulaski, he informed Taylor, “Enemy concentrating heavily against me.” Forrest later reported:

“Six miles from Pulaski the enemy attacked my advance force and compelled them to fall back… The resistance of the enemy was most obstinate. He contested every inch of ground and grew more stubborn the nearer we approached town, but my troops drove them steadily back.

“Three miles from Pulaski he made a stand with seeming determination to yield no more ground… The engagement was becoming a general one. The enemy threw his right around for the purpose of making an enfilading fire upon my troops who had pushed far into his center.

“About this time my troops on the left advanced, and the artillery in that direction unexpectedly opened a destructive fire, which caused the enemy to make a hasty retreat. He was closely followed up and driven into town and into his fortifications.”

The Confederates finally reached Pulaski after a seven-hour fight, but the strong Federal defenses prompted Forrest to withhold an attack. The troopers instead headed north to wreck more railroad track between Pulaski and Columbia before turning to attack the Nashville & Chattanooga Railroad, 50 miles east. Forrest ended the month by skirmishing at Lynchburg and sending a detachment to wreck track at Tullahoma.

Forrest’s troopers had wreaked much havoc in northern Alabama and Tennessee, but dwindling manpower and ammunition meant that the raid would not last as long as Forrest had hoped.

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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. 459, 461, 464; 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 12511-83; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 494-95, 497, 499-501; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 567, 569-70, 574-76

Georgia: Planning Upcoming Operations

September 20, 1864 – Major General William T. Sherman wrote a long letter to Lieutenant General Ulysses S. Grant offering ideas on what the Federals should focus on next.

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

As General John Bell Hood’s Confederate Army of Tennessee continued regrouping, Federal forces herded the civilians out of Atlanta and Sherman looked to the future. He wrote Grant, “The exodus of people is progressing and matters coming into shape.” Grant allowed Sherman a few days to clear the city out, but then he wrote that it was “desirable that another campaign should be commenced… We want to keep the enemy constantly pressed to the end of the war. If we give him no peace while the war lasts, the end cannot be distant.”

Grant had hoped that Major General E.R.S. Canby, commanding the Federal Trans-Mississippi region, could send troops east to reinforce Sherman in Georgia. However, Major General Sterling Price’s Confederate incursion into Missouri prevented that. Instead, Grant proposed sending one of his staff officers to Sherman’s headquarters, “not so much to suggest operations for you as to get your views and have plans matured by the time everything can be ready.”

Sherman responded on the 20th with a long letter in which he offered his views on not only the Georgia situation but all others as well. He expressed hope that Grant would soon capture Petersburg, and he wrote that overall, “We ought to ask our country for the largest possible armies that can be raised, as so important a thing as the ‘self-existence of a great nation’ should not be left to the fickle chances of war.”

Regarding Grant’s idea of capturing the vital blockade-running seaport of Wilmington, North Carolina, Sherman wrote, “If (David G.) Farragut can get across the bar, and the move can be made quick, I suppose it will succeed.” If that happened, the fleet could then move to capture Savannah. If the Federal navy captured Savannah, Sherman stated that he “would not hesitate to cross the State of Georgia with 60,000 men, hauling some stores and depending on the country for the balance.”

Sherman wrote, “Where a million of people live my army won’t starve, but as you know, in a country like Georgia, with few roads and innumerable streams, an inferior force could so delay an army and harass it that it would not be a formidable object.” If the navy held Savannah, “I could rapidly move to Milledgeville, where there is abundance of corn and meat, and would so threaten Macon and Augusta that he would give up Macon for Augusta; then I would move to interpose between Augusta and Savannah, and force him to give me Augusta, with the only powder mills and factories remaining in the South, or let us have the Savannah River.”

According to Sherman, he could “start east and make a circuit south and back (to Atlanta), doing vast damage to the State.” This would “hold a rod over the Georgians who are not overloyal to the South.” However, Sherman also wrote, “The more I study the game the more am I convinced that it would be wrong for me to penetrate much farther into Georgia without an objective beyond.”

This “objective beyond” involved Canby being “reenforced to the maximum; that after you get Wilmington, you strike for Savannah and the (Savannah) River; that General Canby be instructed to hold the Mississippi River and send a force to get Columbus, Ga., either by the way of the Alabama or the Appalachicola, and that I keep Hood employed, and put my army in fine order for a march on Augusta, Columbia, and Charleston, to be ready as soon as Wilmington is sealed as to commence, and the city of Savannah is in our possession.” Sherman concluded:

“The possession of the Savannah River is more than fatal to the possibility of a Southern independence; they may stand the fall of Richmond, but not of all Georgia… If you can whip Lee and I can march to the Atlantic, I think Uncle Abe will give us a 20 days’ leave of absence to see the young folks.”

Grant was doubtful because he envisioned the Federal navy focusing on Wilmington, and considering that it had not been able to capture Charleston, he did not think it could capture Savannah. Also, a march of the kind that Sherman proposed had not been done since General Winfield Scott abandoned his supply base at Veracruz and moved inland to capture Mexico City 17 years earlier. Such a move was risky then and would be riskier now. The strategy discussion would continue.

Gen J.B. Hood | Image Credit: Wikipedia.org

On the Confederate side, Hood’s Confederates remained at Lovejoy’s Station, 20 miles south of Atlanta, where Hood hoped to retake the offensive. However, he was still without his main cavalry force, which had gone north in August to unsuccessfully disrupt Sherman’s supply line. This had left Hood without adequate reconnaissance at a time when he needed it most.

Led by Major General Joseph Wheeler, the cavalry ended their raid early this month in northern Alabama. Wheeler reported that his men had “averaged 25 miles a day (and) swam or forded 27 rivers.” They seized “1,000 horses and mules, 200 wagons, 600 prisoners, and 1,700 head of beef cattle” while they “captured, killed, or wounded three times the greatest effective strength it has ever been able to carry into action.”

However, Federal repair crews quickly fixed the railroad tracks that Wheeler’s men had wrecked, and Sherman experienced no supply problems. And Wheeler ended up in Alabama, where he could do little good for Hood’s army at Lovejoy’s Station. Also, Georgia Governor Joseph E. Brown granted furloughs to all state militia “to return to their homes and look for a time after other important interests.” This left Hood even more shorthanded.

But Hood resolved to go on the offensive regardless. On the 21st, he began moving his Confederates to Palmetto, 20 miles west. This put them southwest of Atlanta, where they could easily move north and destroy Sherman’s supply and communication lines. Hood explained his reasoning to his superiors at Richmond, “Sherman is weaker now than he will be in the future, and I as strong as I can expect to be.”

The move also blocked Sherman from getting to the Federal prisoner of war camp at Andersonville in southwestern Georgia. Confederate officials had long feared that the 30,000 inmates there could be freed to reinforce Sherman’s army. Those officials did not know that the prisoners were too emaciated for service. In late September, Confederate officials began transferring the Andersonville inmates to a prison in Florida to better guard against a Federal breakout attempt.

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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. 819; CivilWarDailyGazette.com; 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 10881-901, 12672-93, 12872-92; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 495; Nevin, David, Sherman’s March: Atlanta to the Sea (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 15-16, 19

The Atlanta Evacuation

September 7, 1864 – Major General William T. Sherman, commanding the Federal armies now occupying Atlanta, made the controversial decision to force all residents out of their city.

General John Bell Hood, commanding the Confederate Army of Tennessee, was on the Macon & Western Railroad, about 20 miles south of Atlanta and 15 miles south of Rough and Ready, when he received a message from Sherman:

“I have deemed it to the interest of the United States that the citizens now residing in Atlanta should remove, those who prefer it to go South and the rest North. For the latter I can provide food and transportation to point of their election in Tennessee, Kentucky, or farther north. For the former I can provide transportation by cars as far as Rough and Ready, and also wagons; but that their removal may be made with as little discomfort as possible it will be necessary for you to help the families from Rough and Ready to the cars at Lovejoy’s.”

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

Federal forces had occupied several cities in the Confederacy during the war, but this marked the first time that a Federal commander ordered all civilians out, including even those loyal to the U.S. In his memoirs, Sherman explained, “I was resolved to make Atlanta a pure military garrison or depot, with no civil population to influence military measures.”

Sherman offered to help residents (regardless of their sympathies) move their “clothing, trunks, reasonable furniture, bedding, &c., with their servants, white and black, with the proviso that no force shall be used toward the blacks one way or the other.” Unlike most other Federal occupation commanders, Sherman gave the slaves a choice: “If they want to go with their masters or mistresses they may do so, otherwise they will be set away, unless they be men, when they may be employed by our quartermaster.”

Evacuating Atlanta’s civilians would involve displacing 446 families totaling about 1,600 people, most of whom were elderly, infirmed, women or children. Most able-bodied men in these families were off either serving in the Confederate army, languishing in Federal prison camps, or killed. Forcing these people out violated Sherman’s pledge to city officials on the 2nd to respect the lives and property of noncombatants.

The next day, Sherman issued Special Field Order No. 67, declaring that “the city of Atlanta, being exclusively required for warlike purposes, will at once be evacuated by all except the armies of the United States.” Atlanta Mayor James M. Calhoun wrote Sherman explaining that turning out the sick and aged just before winter would be “appalling and heartrending.”

Sherman responded to the mayor and city council, “I give full credit to your statements of the distress that will be occasioned by it, and yet shall not revoke my order, because my orders are not designed to meet the humanities of the case, but to prepare for the future struggle.” He went on:

“You cannot qualify war in harsher terms than I will. War is cruelty and you cannot refine it; and those who brought war into our country deserve all the curses and maledictions a people can pour out… You might as well appeal against the thunder storm as against these terrible hardships of war… They are inevitable, and the only way the people of Atlanta can hope once more to live in peace and quiet at home, is to stop the war… Now you must go, and take with you your old and feeble, feed and nurse them, and build for them, in more quiet places, proper habitations to shield them against the weather until the mad passions of men cool down and allow the Union and peace once more to settle over your old homes at Atlanta.”

Sherman then issued a congratulatory order to his soldiers, praising them for capturing Atlanta and completing “the grand task which has been assigned us by our Government.” However, this order failed to note that the real grand task assigned–destroying Hood’s army–had not been achieved, as that Confederate force remained a threat in the area.

On the 9th, Hood replied to Sherman’s message: “I do not consider that I have any alternative in this matter. I therefore accept your proposition to declare a truce for two days, or such time as may be necessary to accomplish the purpose mentioned, and shall render all assistance in my power to expedite the transportation of citizens in this direction.” But then Hood vented his rage over Sherman’s punitive order:

“And now, sir, permit me to say that the unprecedented measure you propose transcends, in studied and ingenious cruelty, all acts ever before brought to my attention in the dark history of war. In the name of God and humanity, I protest, believing that you will find that you are expelling from their homes and firesides the wives and children of a brave people.”

Sherman replied that Joseph E. Johnston, Hood’s predecessor, had “very wisely and properly, removed the families all the way from Dalton down, and I see no reason why Atlanta should be excepted.” Sherman also alleged that Hood had “burned dwellings along your parapet, and I have seen today 50 houses that you have rendered uninhabitable because they stood in the way of your forts and men. You defended Atlanta on a line so close to town that every cannon shot and many musket shots from our line of investment that overshot their mark went into the habitations of women and children.” Hood angrily answered:

“I feel no other emotion than pain in reading that portion of your letter which attempts to justify your shelling of Atlanta without notice… You came into our country, with your army avowedly for the purpose of subjugating free white men, women and children, and not only intend to rule over them, but you make negroes your allies and desire to place over us an inferior race, which we have raised from barbarism to its present position, which is the highest ever attained by that race in any country in all time.

“To this my reply is, for myself, and, I believe, for all the true men, ay, and women and children in my country, we will fight you to the death. Better die a thousand deaths than submit to live under you or your Government and your negro allies.”

Sherman, who shared much of Hood’s opinion on the inferiority of blacks, argued that “not a single negro soldier left Chattanooga with this army or is with it now.” He ended his last letter, “This is the conclusion of our correspondence, which I did not begin, and terminate with satisfaction.”

The truce began on the 11th and lasted 10 days. During that time, all of Atlanta’s civilian population was exiled. The Federals prohibited wagons, so the people could only take with them what they could carry. Many were robbed of those few possessions before they reached Confederate lines. Occupation forces seized the valuables left behind.

Sherman wrote, “If the people raise a howl against my barbarity and cruelty, I will answer that war is war and not popularity-seeking.” Sherman’s policy of “total war,” which included targeting civilians and destroying cities, made him the most hated man in the South.

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References

CivilWarDailyGazette.com; Davis, Jefferson, The Rise and Fall of the Confederate Government: All Volumes (Heraklion Press, Kindle Edition 2013, 1889), Loc 20956; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 456; 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 12619-50; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 494-95; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 567-69; Nevin, David, Sherman’s March: Atlanta to the Sea (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 15; White, Howard Ray, Bloodstains, An Epic History of the Politics that Produced and Sustained the American Civil War and the Political Reconstruction that Followed (Southernbooks, Kindle Edition, 2012), Q364