Tag Archives: William T. Sherman

Forrest Raids Memphis

August 21, 1864 – Major General Nathan Bedford Forrest led his Confederate cavalry on a daring raid while Federal forces were out trying to hunt him down.

After the Battle of Tupelo in July, the Federals had regrouped and renewed their efforts to destroy Forrest’s command, which threatened Federal supply lines in Tennessee and northern Mississippi. Major General Cadwallader C. Washburn, the new Federal department commander at Memphis, announced that Major General Andrew J. Smith’s new Federal force would “whip the combined force of the enemy this side of Georgia and east of the Mississippi.”

Washburn informed his superior, Major General William T. Sherman, that Smith would renew his hunt for Forrest “as soon as possible… Forrest’s forces were near Okolona a week since. (Brigadier General James R.) Chalmers in command. Forrest not been able to resume command by reason of wound in fight with Smith (last month). I have a report today that he died of lockjaw some days ago.” The report was wrong.

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

Smith led about 18,000 Federals on another expedition in search of Forrest in early August. They entered northern Mississippi and crossed the Tallahatchie River, and Brigadier General Benjamin H. Grierson’s Federal cavalry seized Oxford, an important town on the Mississippi Central Railroad. Forrest directed Chalmers to “contest every inch of ground” as he led a division to oppose Grierson at Oxford.

Grierson fell back to Smith’s main force, which was building a bridge across the Tallahatchie. Rain delayed their operations for a week, during which time Forrest assembled a Confederate force at Oxford. While Chalmers held Smith off with 3,000 men, Forrest planned to lead 2,000 troopers north to raid the Federal headquarters at Memphis.

Forrest knew that Sherman had ordered Washburn to assign most of his men to Smith’s expedition, which meant that the Memphis garrison was weak. Forrest did not intend to capture Memphis, but rather he sought to capture the Federal commanders there, free imprisoned Confederates, and relieve Federal pressure in northern Mississippi.

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

Forrest did not tell his men that they were going to Memphis, but as they crossed the Tallahatchie on the 19th, rumors quickly spread that Memphis was their objective. They stopped the next evening at Hernando, just 25 miles from the city. Forrest resumed the advance around midnight, relying on the element of surprise. He stopped at 3 a.m. to deliver final instructions, and the Confederates used the dense fog to gallop into Memphis just before dawn.

The raiders failed to free the prisoners at Irving Block Prison. They also did not capture any of the Federal commanders. Major General Stephen A. Hurlbut, the former Memphis commander, was not there; Brigadier General R.P. Buckland held Fort Pickering; and Washburn escaped in his night clothes to join Buckland. Forrest did take Washburn’s uniform, but he later returned it.

Forrest ordered a withdrawal at 9 a.m., and the Confederates fell back along the same route they had taken north. They cut telegraph wires while seizing 500 prisoners and a large amount of horses and supplies. Hurlbut, who had been criticized for failing to stop Forrest, later said, “There it goes again! They superseded me with Washburn because I could not keep Forrest out of West Tennessee, and Washburn cannot keep him out of his own bedroom!”

The Confederates did not achieve their first two objectives, but they did achieve the third: Smith ordered his Federals to withdraw from northern Mississippi when he learned of Forrest’s raid. The troops vindictively destroyed Oxford before leaving; a reporter noted, “Where once stood a handsome little country town now only remain the blackened skeletons of houses, and smouldering ruins.”

Rumors that Forrest would return to Memphis caused a citywide panic. Washburn responded by strengthening the garrison at Fort Pickering and arranging for the navy to send him gunboats. Although the rumors proved false, Washburn’s inspector general later said, “The whole town was stampeded” in “the most disgraceful affair I have ever seen.”

Sherman tried putting a positive spin on this Federal embarrassment, telegraphing Washburn, “If you get the chance, send word to Forrest that I admire his dash but not his judgment. The oftener he runs his head against Memphis the better.” However, Forrest remained at large, where he could disrupt Sherman’s supply lines into Georgia and keep Federal forces in Tennessee and Mississippi on high alert.

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References

Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 449; 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 10745-55, 10766-870; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 480, 485, 489; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 558-59

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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 Stoneman-McCook Debacle

July 31, 1864 – Confederates from the Army of Tennessee confronted and nearly wiped out one of Major General William T. Sherman’s cavalry commands trying to wreck the railroad south of Atlanta.

The Federal cavalry had underachieved in Sherman’s campaign thus far, but he decided to give the troopers one more chance to redeem themselves. As he moved his three armies west and south of Atlanta, Sherman dispatched two cavalry columns to raid the Macon & Western Railroad, the last major supply line in and out of the city.

Maj Gen George Stoneman | Image Credit: Wikimedia.org

Major General George Stoneman from the Army of the Ohio would lead 6,500 troopers around the east side of Atlanta, and Brigadier General Edward M. McCook’s 3,500 troopers from the Army of the Cumberland would ride around the west side. The forces would meet at Lovejoy’s Station, 23 miles south of Atlanta on the Macon & Western Railroad, where they would destroy the lifeline.

Stoneman persuaded Sherman to allow him to continue south and liberate the Federal prisoners of war at Macon and Andersonville, but only after the railroad was wrecked. As the forces moved out, Stoneman disregarded the railroad and headed straight for Macon, leaving Brigadier General Kenner Garrard’s division of 2,000 horsemen to raid toward the South River.

General John Bell Hood, commanding the Confederate Army of Tennessee, assigned Major General Joseph Wheeler’s cavalry to stop the Federal raid. Wheeler’s 10,000 troopers quickly descended upon Garrard’s isolated command and routed it, forcing the Federals to retreat back north.

McCook’s Federals rode southwest and cut the Atlanta & West Point Railroad on the 28th, destroying about 1,000 Confederate wagons and plundering civilian property along the way. The troopers reached Lovejoy’s Station the next day, where they captured over 400 Confederates, burned another 500 wagons, and slaughtered nearly 800 horses and mules. The Federals began wrecking the railroad, but McCook ordered a withdrawal when Stoneman did not arrive as expected.

Maj Gen Joseph Wheeler | Image Credit: CivilWarDailyGazette.com

Wheeler’s cavalry caught up to McCook near Newnan and sent his men fleeing in retreat. The Confederates inflicted about 950 casualties while taking back most of the Confederate prisoners, 1,200 horses, and several wagons. McCook and the remnants of his scattered command escaped across the Chattahoochee River.

Meanwhile, Stoneman’s Federals reached the Ocmulgee River, opposite Macon, and began bombarding the town. A force of about 2,500 Confederates and Georgia militia repelled a half-hearted assault, and Stoneman withdrew. He soon found himself under pursuit by a detachment from Wheeler’s force. The Confederates caught up to them near Clinton, about 28 miles northeast of Macon, on the 31st.

The Federals were quickly surrounded near Sunshine Church. Two brigades escaped, but Stoneman and 700 troopers were forced to surrender. Ironically, many of Stoneman’s men were sent to the prison in Macon that they had tried to liberate. Confederates pursued and dispersed the remaining Federal troopers as they fled back to their lines.

This was one of the Federal cavalry’s greatest debacles of the war. Not only did the troopers fail to inflict any substantial damage on the Macon & Western Railroad, but nearly 2,000 of their number were killed, wounded, or taken prisoner. Sherman, who had already thought little of cavalry before approving this operation, concluded that they “could not, nor would not make a sufficient lodgement on the railroad below Atlanta…”

If Sherman was going to capture Atlanta, he would have to rely on his infantry to do it.

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References

Bailey, Ronald H., The Battles for Atlanta: Sherman Moves East (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 136-40; Castel, Albert, Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 721; 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 10191-201; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 474-79; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 546-47; 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 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