This section takes a look at the land battles in the Western Theater. While there were a staggering number of armed clashes during the war as a whole, most were relatively small affairs, which, while maiming and killing large numbers of soldiers, did little to affect the course of the war either way. To be precise, according to Dyer's Compendium, there were 10,455 military actions during the Civil War broken down into the following categories:
Although there were approximately 5,000 distinctly separate clashes in this theater, in the interest of time, we will have to skip looking at one or two of them! Tonight, I would like to take a look at just eight campaigns that decided the fate of the South: the 1st and 2nd Corinth Campaigns, Grant's 1863 Louisiana-Mississippi Campaign, Sherman's Atlanta and Georgia Campaigns, Hood's 1864 Tennessee Campaign, and Sherman's 1865 Carolinas Campaign. In addition, I think it would be worth the time spent to take a look at how the combat phase of the war began, and we'll finish the evening by taking a look at two Union cavalry raids and briefly look at the guerilla and irregular operations in the southern Appalachians.
As discussed in the first part of this series, tensions were running so high by 1860 that the election of Abraham Lincoln was reason enough for South Carolina politicians to start calling for secession, literally within hours of the vote. A "session convention" was called for in short order, meeting on December 18, and unanimously passing an "Ordinance of Session" on December 20. The two day delay in passing this measure was not due to any real opposition to the document, but was necessary so that each of the 169 delegates could stand up in turn and bombastically grandstand about the "Yankee outrages."
Minutes after the signing, the Charleston Mercury published a special edition proclaiming the new independence of South Carolina, and expressing the hope that it's Southern brethren would soon follow. The same thought occupied the Northern politicians, and Union military officials moved quickly to protect forts and installations around the Southern coastline.
Garrison commanders in Florida and South Carolina reacted swiftly to the War Department order (to protect their posts as best as possible, preferably without igniting a shooting war), gathering up their men in the strongest and easiest to defend of their forts, and preparing for what could be a long siege. In Charleston, US Major (later Major General) Robert Anderson abandoned the low-walled Fort Moultrie on Sullivan Island and moved his small command to still-unfinished Fort Sumter, in the middle of the cold night of December 26. Once inside Fort Sumter, Anderson was faced with a serious tactical situation; only 48 guns had been mounted in the 140 gun positions, and 27 of these guns were mounted en barbette atop the upper ramparts, where their crews would be exposed to hostile fire. In addition, he only had 84 officers and men to run the post, and was responsible for housing and feeding another 43 civilian workers still attempting to complete construction of the fort. On the positive side, he had enough rations and supplies to last over four months, even if he was not able to be resupplied.
The Opening Shots of the War
As the first months of 1861 wound away, Anderson and his men worked to mount what guns they could, and waited for their masters in Washington to figure out how to get them all out of this mess. While talks were going on between both sides, the USS Star of the West tried to slip into the harbor and resupply the garrison. As the Union supply ship sailed past the Confederate batteries on Morris Island on January 9, batteries manned by cadets from the nearby Citadel college opened fire. Moments later, two shots slammed into the ship's wooden hulls, prompting the captain to do an immediate about-face and head for safety. Some historians regard this as the true opening act of the military phase of the war.
Little happened for the next three months, until early April. Anderson's garrison was running dangerously low on rations, the U.S. government seemed to befuddled by the continued declarations of secession by the Southern states, seven in all by this time (in chronological order: South Carolina, Mississippi, Florida, Alabama, Georgia, Louisiana and Texas). Newly appointed commander of Confederate forces in Charleston, CSA Brigadier General (later full General) Pierre Gustave Toutant Beauregard, knew that Anderson's situation was growing critical, and with the full blessing of the new Confederate government, decided to take advantage of it. He also knew that a heavily armed U.S. Navy squadron was enroute with supplies for the fort, to blast its way in if necessary, and he would have to act quickly.
On April 11, 1861, Beauregard sent Anderson, his friend and old artillery instructor at West Point, a formal request for surrender of his post. Anderson replied politely, asking if he could wait until April 15 to surrender. Beauregard knew that the Navy ships were due to arrive on the 14th, and in turn refused. He further sent word to Anderson that he would fire on the fort if not surrendered by midnight. At 3:30 AM on April 12, Beauregard sent one last message to Anderson, stating that he intended to open fire in exactly one hour. Anderson then ordered his men down into the deepest and best-protected casements.
At 4:30 AM, CSA Captain George S. James yanked the lanyard of a 10-inch mortar mounted in Fort Johnson on James Island, sending an 88-pound shell arcing high over the dark harbor for 20 long seconds, then finally exploding with a bright flash and dull roar in the middle of the fort's parade ground, a perfect shot. This was the signal that every Confederate artilleryman around the harbor had been waiting weeks for. Within minutes, 30 guns and 17 heavy mortars opening fire as well, aiming at the darkened target only 1800s to 2,100 yards away.
Anderson kept his men in the casements until dawn, then allowed them to man their guns under strict orders not to man those on the upper, exposed parapets. USA Captain Abner Doubleday took the honor of yanking the lanyard to fire the first return shot. As each gun facing towards the Confederate-held fortifications came on line and began a disciplined return fire, USA Sergeant John Carmody snuck upstairs under heavy incoming fire and loaded up and fired a few of the barbette guns. As the fort had not be given a full load-out of ammunition before the secession crisis hit, and had not been resupplied since, Anderson's guns soon burned up what was left in the magazines. By late afternoon, only six smaller caliber guns were able to keep up a steady fire.
Beauregard kept up a pounding fire for 34 straight hours, seriously damaging the fort's three-story outer wall, and raking the upper gundeck with hot shot and shrapnel. Finally, after over 4,000 well-aimed rounds had slammed into his post, Anderson signaled his surrender, at 1:30 PM on April 13.
It is almost beyond belief that not a single man on either side had been seriously wounded or killed in the day and a half exchange of heavy and very accurate artillery fire; even more incredibly, the subsequent single Union casualty occurred as Anderson's gun crews were firing a last salute before leaving their post. Fort Sumter now belonged to the State of South Carolina.
By the way, most histories of the war claim that the famed secessionist Edmund Ruffin (shown here in the uniform of the Palmetto Guards, a Charleston militia) fired the "first shot" of the war, as he later widely claimed to have. There is no documented evidence that he was even there that night, while the invited guest of honor to fire the first shot, Congressman Roger Adkinson Pryor, declined to do so at the last moment (he later stated that he just couldn't bring himself to fire the shot that would start a war, though he had frequently agitated for exactly that).
First Corinth Campaign: Shiloh
The Confederate Situation
In early 1862, after the decisive Confederate losses in Kentucky and upper Tennessee, CSA General Albert Sidney Johnston pulled his forces together in northern Mississippi, and along with CSA General Pierre Gustave Toutant Beauregard began plans for a campaign to retake the lost territory. Johnston's newly organized CSA Army of Mississippi, based in the important rail center of Corinth, Mississippi, steadily built up through March of 1862. CSA Major General Leonidas Polk, CSA Brigadier General (and former USA Vice-President) John C. Breckinridge and CSA Major General William J. Hardee brought the remnants of their Corps down from Kentucky, CSA Major General Braxton Bragg brought most of his Corps north from Pensacola, Florida and CSA Brigadier General Daniel Ruggles's Division marched east from New Orleans. Other commands scattered around the deep South detached individual regiments and brigades, which arrived in the northern Mississippi town all through the last two weeks of March. By April 1, Johnston had a roughly organized, ill-trained and mostly inexperienced force of about 45,000 officers and men under his command.
The Union Situation
In Mid-March, 1862, Union forces started moving south under the overall command of USA Major General Henry Wager Halleck, with two missions: take control of and repair roads through middle Tennessee, and clear the area of any Confederate force they encountered. Once all his forces were concentrated at Savannah, Halleck intended to move further south, into Mississippi, and destroy the rail junctions in Corinth, Jackson, Humbolt and Iuka. To accomplish this mission, Halleck had two grand armies: USA Major General Ulysses Simpson Grant's Army of the Tennessee and USA Major General Don Carlos Buell's Army of the Ohio, with a combined total of just under 63,000 men on the march south.
Halleck, a pre-war lawyer from San Francisco, was not exactly the shining star of that already dubious bunch of Union general staff; Secretary of the Navy Gideon Welles publicly stated he "originates nothing, anticipates nothing. . . . takes no responsibility, plans nothing, suggests nothing, is good for nothing." And this was considered mild in comparison to what some others thought of him!
A heavy reconnaissance force under USA Brigadier General Charles Ferguson Smith (promoted one week later to Major General) arrived in Savannah on March 13, charged by Halleck to seize and hold or at least cut the Memphis & Charleston Railroad at Corinth without engaging with Confederate forces rumored to be gathering in the area. USA Brigadier General William Tecumseh Sherman arrived from Kentucky the next day, and Smith promptly sent him off towards Eastport, Mississippi, to see if he could cut the railroad there. As he sailed south on the Tennessee River aboard USA Lieutenant William Gwin's gunboat, Tyler, Gwin pointed out the location of their earlier skirmish with the Confederate artillery battery. Alarmed at the close presence of the enemy to his intended target, Sherman sent word back to Smith that this location should be occupied in force as soon as possible. Smith agreed and immediately dispatched USA Brigadier General Stephen Hurlbut's Division to occupy the small bluff, Pittsburg Landing, about three miles northeast of a tiny settlement called Shiloh Church.
Sherman soon returned from his reconnaissance, finding the Confederates were present in force at his intended target, and joined Hurlbut at Pittsburg Landing. Scouting the area, he reported back to Smith that the area was "important," and easily defended by a relatively small force, although the ground provided a good encampment space for several thousand troops. The few settlers at the landing had fled with the arrival of Union gunboats, and the only 'locals' remaining were small-plot farmers scattered about the county. The small Methodist meeting-house, Shiloh Church, was described as a rude one-room log cabin, "which would make a good corncrib for an Illinois farmer." Sherman urged Smith to relocate the majority of forces to this small landing; the northernmost road link to their intended target of Corinth, Mississippi.
Grant arrived on March 17 to take over direct command of the Tennessee River operation from Smith, setting up his headquarters in the Cherry Mansion on Main Street. He soon ordered his (roughly) 35,000 force to deploy on the west side of the river, save a small garrison in Savannah, with five divisions to join with Sherman at Pittsburg Landing, and USA Brigadier General Lewis "Lew" Wallace's 2nd Division to occupy Crump's Landing, six miles north of Sherman's position.
Another major Union army, USA Major General Don Carlos Buell's Army of the Ohio, was on the way south from Nashville with another 30,000 men (both this figure and Grant's total command size are wildly disparate in differing accounts). Grant planned to rest his men and wait for Buells arrival before starting his operation against Corinth. Although he was aware that the Confederates were present in force just 20 miles away, he believed that they would simply entrench around Corinth and have to be forced out. An attack on Pittsburg Landing was, quite literally, the last thing he expected the Confederates to do.
It took well over a week to transport all the Union forces south to the new position, and the divisions moved inland and encamped in a loose semicircle south of the landing and across the Corinth Road as they arrived. By March 19th, all six divisions were in place and comfortably making camp.
The Confederate Advance
Johnston was well aware of Grant's presence to the north of his headquarters, and received a message on April 2 that Buell's force was nearby as well. Still waiting in Corinth for the last of his assigned forces to arrive, Johnston decided that he would have to go ahead and attack the gathering Union force before Buell's addition could make it stronger. His orders were simple, march north and engage the enemy between his encampments and the river, turning their left flank and forcing them away from their line of retreat until they were forced to surrender.
Beauregard planned out the tactical details of the coming attack, and issued orders to move out on the morning of April 3. Confederate units scattered across upper Mississippi and lower Tennessee were to converge by April 4 on Mickey's Farmhouse, eight miles south of Pittsburg Landing, where final preparations for the attack would begin. Hardee's and Bragg's Corps would march north from Corinth, along with one division of Polk's Corps, along the parallel Bark and Pittsburg Landing Roads. Breckinridge's Corps moved north from Burnsville and Polk's other division (Cheatham's) would move southeast from Purdy, Tennessee, to join at the rendezvous farm.
The march took much longer than Beauregard had planned, due to poor preparation and a steady rain that turned the dirt roads into mud quagmires. It was late in the evening of April 5 before everyone was in position at the junction of Corinth and Bark Roads, with Hardee's Corps arrayed in the front only 1/2 mile from the Union picket line. Union cavalry patrols had engaged with forward elements of each column on both April 4 and 5, leading Beauregard to ask Johnston to call off the attack. He stated that his carefully scheduled attack plan was now "disrupted," and that with the cavalry attacks, surely all aspects of surprise were long gone. Johnston was adamant about continuing the attack, telling Beauregard, Polk and Bragg, "Gentlemen, we shall attack at daylight to-morrow." Moments later, he remarked to one of his staff officers, "I would fight them if they were a million. They can present no greater front between these two creeks than we can, and the more men they crowd in there, the worse we can make it for them."
The Night of April 5
All through the dark, damp night, Confederate soldiers lay in the woods, listening to Union bands playing patriotic tunes just yards away. Union soldiers had listened to them advancing into position all evening, and had sent a slew of frantic messages up the chain of command warning of their presence. Amazingly, all these warning were ignored by Grant's staff, who believed they amounted to nothing more than reconnaissance patrols. Grant was still firmly convinced that Johnston's men were continuing to entrench heavily at Corinth, and was only concerned with how difficult it was going to be to "root them out."
To top off the Union army's lack of combat preparedness, Halleck had ordered Grant not to be pulled into a fight that would distract him from his goal of taking Corinth, and Grant followed suit by ordering no patrolling of his own forces, for fear they might engage the enemy "patrols" and create a general battle. His brigade commanders furthest south were growing increasingly nervous, passing on report after report to headquarters that their men were spotting more and more Confederate cavalry, infantry and even artillery. Their frantic requests for reinforcement, or even for permission to mount their own scouting missions were denied, their division commanders only reiterating Grant's orders.
Finally, as darkness fell on April 5, Peabody decided it would be better to beg forgiveness if he was wrong than to ask permission again, and gave orders for a combat patrol to go out as early as possible the next morning. At 3 AM, USA Major James Powell led his 25th Missouri and the 12th Michigan Infantry Regiments, with a total of 250 men, out into the predawn blackness, heading south towards the Corinth Road. They had marched southwesterly down a narrow farm lane only about 1/4 mile before running into Confederate cavalry vedettes. Both sides exchanged fire briefly before the cavalry suddenly withdrew. It was just before 5 AM. Powell deployed his men into a line-abreast skirmish line and continued southeast, towards Fraley's field.
The First Day, April 6, 1862: The Battle Begins
Powell's men moved into the cotton field, and soon came under fire from CSA Major Aaron B. Hardcastle's 3rd Mississippi Battalion, who had observed them enter the field and waited until they closed within 90 yards to fire. The Union soldiers hit the ground and returned a heavy volume of fire. This exchange of fire lasted until 6:30 AM, both sides suffering moderate casualties, until Powell saw Hardcastle's men suddenly disengage and move back into the woods. Believing they were retreating, Powell had ordered his men up and was preparing to move out again, when to his horror a mile-wide mass of Confederate soldiers suddenly appeared at the woodline before him, 9,000 men of Hardee's Corps on the way north.
The Confederate force was fully up and moving, their surprise attack only slightly tripped up by Powell's tiny force. Behind Hardee was Bragg's Corps, also in a near mile-wide line of battle, followed by Polk's Corps in route-march formation (columns of brigades) on the Corinth Road. In the rear, and also in columns of brigades, was Breckinridge's Reserve Corps. The whole formation was a "T" shaped box, almost a mile wide and more than two miles long, all moving forward slowly towards the Union encampments.
Before he was killed and his small patrol force scattered, Powell managed to get word back to Peabody about the general attack. Peabody immediately moved his brigade south to try and aid Powell. Hardee was having a tough time moving his large force north, the Union patrol and skirmishers delaying his general movement and the terrain not conducive to moving such a heavy mass of troops and equipment. As the two forces moved towards each other, Prentiss rode up to Peabody, and began berating him for sending out the patrol, and "bringing this battle on." After a few minutes of argument, Peabody set his men up in line of battle near his original encampment, while Prentiss set his force up on the left, making ready to engage the oncoming Confederates.
The time was now 7 AM, and the sun was dawning on what looked like a beautiful, cloudless day.
Hardee's Corps had broken up into the individual brigades, which spread out to engage the Union encampments in a near two-mile front. At Spain Field on the Eastern Corinth Road, CSA Brigadier General Adley H. Gladden's Brigade burst out of the woodline directly across from Prentiss' line, the field itself swept with heavy artillery fire from both sides. A galling fire came from the Union line that staggered the Confederates. Only able to stand for a few minutes, the brigade broke and retreated to the woodline, dragging with them mortally wounded Gladden, who died later that same day.
Over on the left, about the same time, CSA Brigadier General Sterling A.M. Wood's Brigade hit Peabody's right flank, pushing the Union infantry out of their line and back. Johnston, no longer able to stand being out of the line of fire, turned over operations in the rear to Beauregard and rushed forward to lead the battle from the front. Arriving just in time to see Wood's success and Gladden's repulse, he ordered all four brigades now up on the line to fix bayonets and assault the Union line at the double-quick. 9,800 men ran screaming forward into the Union lines.
As his command withered under the assault, Peabody rode forward to rally his men, and was hit four times by rifle fire as he rode down the line. Finally, in front of his own tent, watching the butternut-clad ranks closing in on him from two sides, Peabody is shot from his saddle, dying instantly. His command completely crumbles, followed shortly by Prentiss' own men. Even as William Wallace's and Hurlbut's Brigades move south to reinforce them, most of the Union infantry has had enough of this fight, and retreat at the run towards Pittsburg Landing.
As the Union men break and run, the victorious Confederate infantry race into their just abandoned encampment, then abandon the fight while they fall over the piles of fresh food and good equipment. Exhortations of their officers do no good, as the brigades and regiments dissolve into a rabble pillaging the camps. Beauregard and Johnston take several precious minutes getting the men back under control and reorganized to renew their attack, while the Union line stops it's headlong retreat and falls in to new positions for defense.
Johnston orders up Bragg's Corps into the growing battle, splitting his five brigades between the left and right of Hardee's men, and ordering him to take command of the assault on the right flank. On the right, CSA Brigadier General John K. Jackson's and CSA Brigadier General James R. Chalmer's Brigades join the rout of Prentiss briefly, while on the left CSA Colonel Preston Pond's and CSA Brigadier General Patton Anderson's Brigades join CSA Brigadier General Patrick Ronayne Cleburne's Brigade, which was steadily advancing on Sherman's position at Shiloh Church. CSA Colonel Randall L. Gibson's Brigade continues straight due northeast, in between the two major assaults now ongoing, headed to try and break the Union center and turn Sherman's left flank. In an attempt to bring the bring the strongest force on his right flank, and force the Ohio general's division away from the river, Johnston brings up Polk's Corps, and sends his four brigades into the line alongside Bragg. Hardee is instructed to take direct command of the left flank, and hammer hard on Sherman's position.
The Second Union Line
By 9 AM, 13 Confederate brigades are fully engaged along a nearly three mile front, and steadily pushing back Union forces all along. Sherman is soon reinforced by McClernand's Division, while newly arriving Hurlbut, William Wallace and McArthur join in a hastily organized line along with what is left of Prentiss' Brigade to Sherman's left over to the Hamburg-Savannah Road. Wallace was particularly well positioned along a narrow wagon trace, hardly even a road, well concealed in an oak forest atop a low ridgeline with a good field of fire before him across the open Duncan field, a place in the center of Grant's defense line today referred to as the Sunken Road.
Sherman, wounded in the hand during his stand around the church, was forced to retreat at 10 AM when a heavy attack by five Confederate brigades breaks through to his left and threatens to envelope his position. Alongside Sherman, McClernand's Division has already set up a defensive perimeter within the confines of their own camp, extending the line east to the southern border of Duncan field, directly across from William Wallace's position.
Grant had heard the cannon fire from Savannah, nearly 10 miles to the north, and had hastily traveled south via his headquarters steamship, the Tigress. Before leaving, he orders Lew Wallace to march south to the growing battle, and for newly arrived USA Brigadier General William "Bull Nelson's 4th Division of Buell's Army of the Ohio to travel down the east bank of the Tennessee River to where they could be transported across to Pittsburg Landing. Arriving about 9 AM only to find the landing choked with fleeing Union soldiers, Grant saddles his horse painfully (he had been injured in a fall several days earlier, and could only walk with the aide of crutches), and rode south to assess the situation. Sherman met him in the woods just north of his new position, just north of the Hamburg-Purdy Road, and assures him that he can hold this new line. Grant is satisfied and returns to the landing after riding down his left flank.
Attack on the Second Union Line
The Union lines are seriously disrupted and unstable, but the Confederates are having their own problems. The massive, three mile long front now has broken down into a series of uncoordinated attacks, due to the thickly wooded and hilly terrain, and Johnston is no longer able to control the entire line. The three corps commanders and Johnston decide to break up overall command into a series of sector commands; Johnston controls the right from Prentiss' camp, Bragg takes the right-center at the Eastern Corinth Road, Polk takes the left-center at the Corinth Road and Shiloh Church, while Hardee moves west to Owl Creek and takes control of the left flank.
A little after 10:30 AM, just after grant finishes his visit with Sherman, Polk initiates a gigantic attack on Sherman's and McClernand's positions with 10 reinforced brigades, over 2/3 of the entire Confederate force on the field.The Union lines reeled under the massive attack and soon broke, falling back almost 3/4 of a mile to Jones field. Ironically, this attack produced the exact opposite of what Johnston wanted; driving the Union line back, but the right flank rather than the left, and moving it towards Pittsburg Landing.
The Hornets' Nest
At the same time, a smaller attack on the Union left flank by Chalmer's and Jackson's Brigades slams into McArthur's and Stuart's Brigades, wounding both Union commanders and forcing them to retreat. By 11 AM a strong Union line is forming, centered on William Wallace's and Prentiss' position hidden along the Sunken Road. Several Confederate attacks on this position are thrown back with heavy losses before Bragg realizes what a strong force is concentrated there. As Gibson's Brigade attacks through a dense thicket just east of Duncan field towards the Sunken Road, Union artillery firing cannister and infantry rifle fire rake through the brush. The bullets and cannister balls ripping the leaves apart remind the Confederate infantrymen of a swarm of angry hornets, and name the place the Hornet's Nest.
To the left (west) of the Hornet's Nest, Bragg once again displays his irritated impatience, and orders attack after attack across Duncan's field on the well-positioned Union line, each one being broken and thrown back in turn. To add to his problem, Sherman and McClernand managed to regroup their scattered forces and counterattack Hardee's and Polk's forces, briefly regaining their own camps. To reestablish his gains, Beauregard throws his last reserves in the lines, which stops the Union counterattack. A fierce battle rages between the two armies in Woolf field, near the Water Oaks Pond just north of the Corinth road for just under two hours before the Union troops are once again thrown back to Jones field.
The Peach Orchard
On the right of the Hornets' Nest, multiple attacks against Hurlbut and McArthur had been repulsed with heavy losses, until at last some of the Confederate soldiers refused to mount another assault. Riding forward about 2 PM, Johnston announced that he would get them going, and told the battered force that he would personally lead the next attack. Riding down the line of infantry, he tapped on their bayonets and said, These must do the work. Men, they are stubborn, we're going to have to use the bayonet." He then turned, and with a shouted command for them to follow him, he headed towards the Union left flank. The line of infantry rose with a scream, and four brigades followed Johnston into battle.
At this same time, Stuart's Brigade, directly in front of where Johnston was headed, had nearly completely run out of ammunition, and Stuart ordered a retreat. With Johnston's men sweeping forward, both Hurlbut's and McArthur's flanks were exposed and caved in. Both Union brigades retreated north to the upper end of Bell's field, near a small peach orchard. Returning a heavy volume of fire on the advancing Confederate force, newly opened peach blossoms fell like snow on the ground as bullets and shot sprayed through the trees.
As Johnston watched the battle unfolding a little after 2:30 PM from across the Hamburg-Savannah Road, at the southeast corner of Bell's field, a bullet ripped through his right leg just below the knee. Probably fired by own of his own men (the ball came in from the rear), the wound amazingly went almost unnoticed by Johnston. Years earlier, Johnston had been struck in the same leg during a duel, which damaged the nerves and possibly numbed the leg to the point that he couldn't feel a gun shot wound. Minutes later he tumbled from his horse, caught by his aide, Tennessee Governor Isham Green Harris, and was laid to rest under a nearby tree. Harris frantically tore open his uniform looking for a significant wound, but dismissed the leg wound as minor. Unfortunately, the leg wound had opened up a major artery, and Johnston bled to death within minutes.
Beauregard Assumes Command
At about 3 PM Beauregard found out that Johnston is dead, and took over command of all the Confederate forces in the field. Responding to the growing sounds of battle around the Hornet's Nest, he ordered most of his left flank to shift over to the right to reinforce the attack there. By doing so he committed two major mistakes. First, his assault that threw back Sherman's counterattack had been highly successful, pushing the Union right flank far back across the north end of Jones field and on across the Tilghman Branch, and seriously decimating their ranks. A follow-up attack could well have split the Union ranks, sending Sherman and McClernand north and west away from Pittsburg Landing, precisely as Beauregard had originally planned.
Second, the growing battle on his right flank was due to a continued hammering at a relatively small Union force well positioned at the Sunken Road forest area, but isolated from retreat, resupply or reinforcement. Bypassing this position would have undoubtedly resulted in a surrender of the entire command by nightfall, and possibly led to a successful capture of the steamboat landing itself. Instead, not only did Beauregard order a continued hammering at the isolated Union position, but the shift of units from other isolated fights on the battlefield relieved pressure on other Union units, which were then able to withdraw and reestablish a line along the Hamburg-Savannah and Corinth-Pittsburg Roads, protecting Pittsburg Landing as a landing place for Buell's rapidly approaching command.
The lack of control Beauregard, or any other high commander had over the spread-out Confederate forces became painfully obvious in the fight around the Hornet's Nest; even if Beauregard had not ordered a concentration of forces there, it most likely would have occurred anyway. Individual regiments and brigades that were not already engaged elsewhere, and that had rookie or undisciplined commanders started following what Shiloh Park Ranger Stacy D. Allen called the "make yourself useful policy," drifting over towards the sound of battle without specific orders to do (or even not to do) so.
With news of the death of Johnston, Bragg shifted over and took direct control of the Confederate right. Hurlbut had established a new line on the north end of the Peach Orchard just before Johnston's death (which was what he was observing when shot), and despite having an unsupported left flank, was making things hot for the assaulting Confederates. Just behind his position was a small, shallow pond that had the only fresh water available on this part of the battlefield. Wounded and parched infantrymen and horses alike crawled over to it's shores to get a cool drink, many were too badly wounded to raise their heads once in the pond and drowned in the foot-deep water. Dozens of blue-clad infantry piled up in heaps of the dead and dying all around the water, their wounds dripped and dissolved into the damp ground, staining the pond a deep crimson. When Confederates advanced past the ghastly scene, someone remarked what a "bloody pond" it was; the name stuck.
About 4 PM, Hurlbut's line finally caved in under the intense Confederate fire, and he retreated up the Hamburg-Savannah Road. Jackson's and Chalmers' Brigades, now supported by Clanton's Alabama Cavalry Regiment, rush through the hole left by Stuart's and McArthur's collapse, and begin advancing north to the east flank of the Hornet's nest. About the same time, the seventh direct assault against the Hornet's Nest was hurled back, bleeding and battered troops of Florida, Louisiana and Texas pulling back to try and reestablish their ranks.
The Surrender of the Hornet's Nest
CSA Brigadier General Daniel Ruggles had seen enough. Gathering up as many artillery batteries and individual gun crews as he and his staff could locate, by 4:30 PM he had 53 guns parked axle to axle on the west border of Duncan field, 400 to 500 yards directly across open ground from Wallace's and Prentiss' position in the Hornet's Nest. This was the largest assembly of artillery ever seen at that time in the Western Hemisphere arrayed against a single target. Given the order to fire, the entire line of artillery opened up with a thunderous roar. Ruggles had ordered a mixed load of shot, shell and cannister fired as rapidly as possible. For nearly 1/2 hour the artillery kept up a fire that averaged three shots per second going into the Union position.
When at last the murderous fire lifted, another Confederate assault charged the Union lines led by Wood, this time sweeping all around both flanks and meeting at the junction of the Hamburg-Savannah and Corinth Roads north of the Hornet's Nest. As the assault came down upon them, both Wallace and Prentiss' ordered a retreat, trying to break out of their position before surrounded. While leading an Iowa brigade north to the Corinth Road, Wallace was struck on the head, dying minutes later. With the death of Wallace and the impossibility of his situation painfully obvious, Prentiss finally surrendered what was left of the two brigades a little after 5:30 PM; himself and 2,250 men, the largest surrender to that date in the war.
Grant's Last Line of Defense
While the remainder of his forces were slowly dissolving away to the west and south, Grant hurriedly brought up as much artillery and as many men as he could scrape together to guard the critically important landing. By the time the last survivors of the Hornet's Nest surrendered, Grant had about 70 cannon and 20,000 infantrymen in line for defense. His 1 1/4 mile long last-ditch defense line started at Dill Branch on the left flank, where it entered the Tennessee River just south of the landing, ran due west to the Hamburg-Savannah Road, then turned north along the road to just north of Perry's field. The majority of artillery was placed just below the crest of the low, rolling hills above the landing, obviously intended to be used for point defense should an evacuation prove necessary.
As the last artillery batteries were pulling into position, the vanguard of Buell's Army of the Ohio finally appeared across the river from the landing. Hastily transported across the river, Nelson's Division has to force their way through several thousand Union soldiers desperately trying to flee the battlefield. As they fell into place, a last Confederate charge was coming up the hill at them.
The Last Charge of April 6
About 6 PM, Jackson's and Chalmer's Brigades moved through the Dill Branch ravine, aiming straight at the hill above Pittsburg Landing. The mass of Union artillery opened fire on them, joined by the gunboats Lexington and Tyler with their 8-inch guns. As these two brigades struggled through the flooded branch and rugged ravine, the remnants of Anderson's, Stephens', and Wood's Brigades joined in the attack without coordination, a mere 8,000 Confederates attacking without artillery support uphill and across rugged terrain into a strongly fortified Union position manned by at least 10,000 infantry, studded with nearly 40 artillery pieces and with reinforcements hustling down the road to join in.
Within minutes the Confederate assault petered out, the butternut clad infantry slipping away in squads and companies to find safer shelter as the early spring sun set on the horizon. Only Chalmer's and Jackson's infantrymen managed to briefly get within rifle range of the Union line, and most of them were out of ammunition by that point, intent on closing and using the bayonet.
At 6 PM Beauregard sent word to all his commanders to suspend the attack for the night, and pull back to the captured Union encampments. One by one, guns fell silent as the Confederates moved out of range. Units were in serious disarray on both sides, and the long night would be needed just to restore some semblance of order. Some Confederate units had not slept more than naps in two days, and most had not eaten since the day before. Although warned that Buell was nearby, Beauregard disregarded the threat and decided along with Bragg, Polk and Hardee that the best plan was to rest and wait until daylight to get the army back into proper organization to renew the assault. All felt that the only task remaining was to sweep up Grant's line and force him to retire north, a task that should not take more than a few hours.
Losses on both sides were very high in the day-long battle, with both sides suffering near identical casualties, losing almost 8,500 dead, wounded and missing. The critical factor in these losses, however, was that Grant had reinforcements on they way, while Beauregard was on his own, without hope of relief.
The Night of April 6-7, 1862
About 6 PM, just as fighting was ending for the day, Lew Wallace's Division finally arrived on the battlefield. Only six miles away when sent for at 11 AM, a march that should have taken about two hours had taken over seven. Grant was livid, but mistakes in navigation had simply tied up the men all day, wandering around muddy country roads north of the battlefield while trying to find the right one to lead him to Sherman's support. Grant used Lew Wallace's tardiness later as an excuse to blame away some of the Union army's disaster of April 6, but if he had shown up on time where he was headed, his division would have entered the brunt of the fighting around Shiloh Church, and most likely routed as Sherman and McClernand had been. Lew Wallace, the future author of Ben Hur, lived with this series of mistakes all the rest of his life, dying with the thought on his mind that his errors may have killed Union soldiers.
As the two battered armys settled down for a fitful rest, clouds gathered and a heavy, cold rain started to fall shortly after 10 PM. Grant, wandered around his headquarters, reluctant to go inside, as the building had been converted to a hospital, and the shrieking wounded and charnel-house atmosphere was simply unendurable. Sherman, wounded again in the shoulder during the afternoon, finally found him under a large oak tree, holding a lantern and smoking one of his ever-present cigars. "Well, Grant, we've had the devil's own day, haven't we?" remarked the fiery Ohioan. Grant, far from demoralized, replied simply, "Yes. Lick 'em tomorrow, though."
Grant ordered the gunboats stationed in the Tennessee River to keep up a steady bombardment all night, but their shells burst mainly among the Union wounded still left out in the killing fields. The Confederates had pulled back to the former Union encampments, and were comfortably housed in their enemies tents while they feasted on the abundant supplies. Cleburne, sitting in a tent and watching the shells burst around the bodies of the Union dead and wounded, remarked that "History records few instances of more reckless inhumanity than this."
As the night wore on, Buell's Army of the Ohio traveled south from Savannah and crossed over into Grant's line; by 8 AM on April 7 over 13,000 fresh, well-equipped troops stood ready to renew the fight. Beauregard had no reinforcements to bring up, but remained optimistic. Upon hearing a false report that Buell's force was actually moving on Decatur, Alabama, he fired off a report to Richmond that he had "won a complete victory" that day, and would finish off grant's force in the morning.
As morning approached, Grant had about 45,000 men ready for an assault on the Confederate positions, most of them well-rested and spoiling for a fight, while Beauregard could only field about 28,000 (some accounts say 20,000) tired men not yet reformed into their brigades or resupplied.
6 AM, April 7, 1862
Just before dawn on Monday morning, April 7, 1862, Grant ordered his combined armies to move out. Buell's fresh troops moved near due south, towards Hardee's and Breckinridge's lines, while Grant's resupplied and reinforced army moved southwest in two lines of battle towards Bragg's and Polk's lines. Led by heavy artillery fire from the massed Union guns, the sudden dawn attack caught their Confederate opponents completely by surprise, turning the tables from the day before.
No organization existed, the Confederate infantry had simply dropped in place the night before at whatever camp was handy, and few had bothered to resupply their depleted cartridge boxes from the piles of captured Union ammunition boxes scattered literally everywhere; most likely believed that, if Grant were smart, he would leave the field during the night rather than suffer another "lickin' ".
To top off Beauregard's problems, Polk had withdrawn his corps nearly four miles to the south, to the site of his previous nights encampment, and it took nearly two hours after the Union initial attack to locate him and get his corps moving. Once in the line, none of the four corps commanders actually commanded his entire corps, the units intermingled and confusingly arrayed in the haste to mount a defense.
The Confederate Defense
With great effort, the four Confederate corps commanders managed to form a meandering defense line in the face of the Union attack, roughly running northwest to southeast from the Jones field across Duncan field just south of the Hornet's Nest to just about the place of Johnston's death the day before, on the Hamburg-Savannah Road. They managed to hold this line under great pressure until about 11 AM, when a general pullback in order was called. The line moved back intact about 1/2 mile on the left and extended another 1/2 mile on the right to counter increased pressure from Buell's forces on their right flank.
By noon the Confederate line had again pulled back under pressure to a line centered on Shiloh Church. Union units all along the line kept up a steady artillery and infantry fire; Grant's plan was to simply roll south using his fresh troops to grind up the tired Confederate infantry. The plan worked quite well, several counterattacks by Hardee, Breckinridge and Bragg were absorbed and thrown back with heavy casualties.
The Confederate Retreat
By 1 PM it was obvious to Beauregard that, not only were they not going to be able to win this battle, he was in danger of being swept in pieces from the field. He hesitated for nearly an hour, however, before finally passing orders down the line for his commands to break contact and retreat to Corinth. Several artillery batteries positioned at Shiloh Church, along with CSA Colonel Winfield S. Statham's and CSA Colonel Robert P. Trabue's Brigades of Breckinridge's Corps to act as a heavy rear guard.
Cavalrymen were ordered to hastily destroy all the Union equipment and supplies that the retreating infantry weren't able to carry off with them. As the piles of broken tents and wagons blazed into the stormy afternoon, Breckinridge broke off contact and withdrew in good order at the rear of the long Confederate column. As he moved south about 5 PM, Grant's exhausted infantry was simply too tired to follow. Breckinridge stopped for the night and redeployed at the intersection of Bark and Corinth Roads. No Union force challenged their rest, and at dawn he again moved out south into Corinth.
Grant had won a magnificent victory, but at a heavy price. Of his 65,000 man combined army (with Buell's), 1,754 were killed, 8,408 wounded and 2,885 captured or missing in action; a fifth of his whole command. The tattered remnants of his proud regiments were too shot up and exhausted after two solid days of combat to pursue the retreating Confederates, who made it back into Mississippi without resistance.
Beauregard suffered worse; in addition to losing the beloved army commander Albert Sidney Johnston, he reported losses of 1,728 killed, 8,012 wounded, and 959 missing or captured. This loss of 10,699 soldiers constituted nearly a fourth of all the men he had helped bring into the campaign. Once back into Corinth, he ordered the town prepared for defense against an attack by Grant, and set about turning nearly the entire small community into one vast hospital for his thousands of wounded.
Second Corinth Campaign
Even before Johnston ordered the army out to Shiloh work was underway to fortify Corinth. First begun as a series of simple breastworks on the north and east side of town, after Beauregard brought the army back to town on April 8, 1862, work began in ernest to expand and improve the line. Work was complicated by the fact that hospitals, churches and ordinary homes were filled to overflowing with Confederate wounded, as many as 8,000 by several accounts. CSA Major General Earl Van Dorn's Army of the West had finally arrived from Arkansas, along with a division under CSA Brigadier (later Major) General Sterling "Pap" Price, joining CSA General Braxton Bragg's Army of the Mississippi fresh back from Shiloh to give Beauregard nearly 66,000 combat troops in the small city.
Halleck moved his great army very slowly south, starting out on April 29 and taking nearly a month to move the 20 miles to the outskirts of Corinth. His nearly 130,000 man army was composed of USA Brigadier (later Lieutenant) General Ulysses Simpson Grant's Army of the Tennessee, USA Major General Don Carlos Buell's Army of the Ohio, and USA Major General John Pope's Army of the Mississippi, the very combined Union force that had so worried Johnston.
Johnston had only had to worry about Grant's army the first day at Shiloh, and his successor Beauregard had been pushed off the field of battle when Buell's army showed up the next day. As the three great Union armies slowly moved into an encompassing siege position around the city, it was obvious that there was no way the smaller Confederate force could win in open battle, and to stay would be a slow starvation after the supply lines were cut. Beauregard decided to evacuate his forces while he still had the chance, and hopefully work his armies into a position where the could take out the superior Union forces piecemeal.
On May 29 most of the sick and wounded, along with most of the available supplies were moved down the Mobile & Ohio Railroad line south to Tupelo, while regimental and brigade commanders shuffled their commands around the city to give the Union force the idea that they were about to try a breakout attack. "Quaker guns" (logs painted black) replaced the artillery in their redoubts, buglers blew their calls in deserted camps while the infantry quietly slipped out the unguarded "back door," following the trains to Tupelo. During the night what was left of the cavalry slipped out just as quietly, leaving startled Union pickets to see only a deserted line of earthworks and redoubts guarded an equally deserted town when the dawn broke. Some historians state that this withdrawal was the beginning of the end for the western Confederacy, as it left the Union army in a strong position with a large force deep into the Southern lines of communication.
The Battle of Corinth: Act 2
In late 1862, after a series of small battles and skirmishes which drove the larger Confederate armies out of the area, Grant moved north to Jackson, Tennessee, with most of his army, leaving the beloved but inept USA Major General William Starke "Old Rosy" Rosecrans with only four divisions to garrison the town and protect the northern Mississippi supply lines. CSA Major General Earl Van Dorn knew that Corinth was a key town for either side to control, and with most of the Union armies now gone, determined to attack it. On the first of October the 22,000 men of the combined Confederate armies in Mississippi moved north out from their base near Ripley, 22 miles southwest of Corinth, in an attempt to take the fortified town from the northwest and by surprise.
By the very next day, the element of surprise was lost when the Confederate infantry skirmished with Union cavalry scouts at the Hatchie River Bridge, on the outskirts of Corinth. Alarmed, Rosecrans' concentrated his forces in the strong north and west fortification positions and waited for Van Dorn to assault his powerful position. Van Dorn rested his men for the night of October 2 near Chewalla, Tennessee, less than 8 miles from Corinth.
On the early morning of October 3, CSA Major General Mansfield Lovell's, CSA Brigadier General Dabney H. Maury's and CSA Brigadier General Louis Hebert's Divisions burst out of the woods and stormed the northwesternmost line of outer defenses, easily driving in the Union pickets and advancing through the line of works with few casualties. As they dressed ranks again in preparation for assaulting the city's inner defenses, three small earthquakes shook the ground under them, frightening the men and shattering their confidence. Van Dorn ordered an hours halt, to give the men time to eat, drink and rest before what he assumed would be a final assault. This delay only granted Rosecrans the time he needed to strengthen his line of inner defenses.
About noon Van Dorn ordered the men up and in line of battle again, but repeated assaults the rest of the afternoon failed to crack the Union line. At dusk, Van Dorn gain ordered a halt to the battle, and plans were made with his division commanders for the next morning's assault. Hebert was to lead the attack by a strong assault on the Union right, followed in close order by Maury in the center and Lovell hitting the Union left flank. A predawn heavy artillery barrage was planned to help screen the infantry movements into line and reduce the Union defenses.
At 4 AM the Confederate artillery batteries opened up to "soften" the Union fortifications for the assaulting infantry, but were soon silenced by very effective Union counterbattery fire. Just before he was to move out on assault, Hebert suddenly fell ill and was replaced by CSA Brigadier General Martin E Green, who wasted a precious hour trying to get reorganized. Maury had started his assault in the meantime, allowing Rosecrans to concentrate his artillery fire and troop strength on his small part of the assault line. For some unknown reason, Lovell never ordered his men to attack.
When Green's men finally came into line, the two Confederate division succeeded in blowing through the Union defenses and into the city itself. At the height of the battle, several brigades managed to fight their way to the rail crossroads in the center of town, while CSA Colonel William P. Rogers led his 2nd Texas Infantry Regiments up and over the ramparts of Battery Robinett, the last line of Rosecrans' defenses. However, since Lovell had failed to support the attack, Union troops from the south side of the city were able to move forward and hit the Confederates on their flank, violently breaking up the attack. Rogers was killed and his force shattered before they could consolidate their gain. Within two hours the Confederates were forced to withdraw from the city, and Rosecrans once again had full control of his lines. Van Dorn once again was forced to order a general retreat, which, once again, Rosecrans was unable to pursue, possibly out of fear of becoming lost yet once more.
For such a relatively short fight, casualties were staggeringly high on both sides. Rosecrans reported that he had lost 315 killed and 1,812 wounded, with another 232 missing or captured (out of 21,147 engaged) during the two day battle, while Van Dorn reported a loss of 1,423 killed and 5,692 wounded, and another 2,268 missing and presumed captured (out of his approximately 22,000 strong command). Corinth remained either occupied or under Union control for the rest of the war, and no Confederate army tried again to retake it.
Grant's Mississippi and Louisiana Campaigns
Vicksburg: Sealing the Fate of the Confederacy
Background to the Battle
The Vicksburg Campaign was an unusually long and costly operation for both sides. From the earliest assault attempts in December 1862 to the final surrender on July 4, 1863, only the horrible siege at Petersburg, Virginia, from June 1864 to May 1865 was longer or more destructive in lives to both soldiers and civilians. As the best defensive ground of any port between Memphis and the Gulf Coast, Vicksburg was an obvious target which the Union commanders wasted little time in attacking.
Grant had been given the task of completely clearing the Mississippi of any Confederate threat when he assumed command of the newly formed USA Department of Tennessee on October 16, 1862. Under his command were some 43,000 men, reinforced to about 75,000 as the campaign wore on. Two days earlier CSA Lieutenant General John Clifford Pemberton had assumed command of the CSA Department of Mississippi and East Louisiana, which for all practical purposes simply meant the area immediately surrounding Vicksburg. The number of men he commanded has been the subject of countless debates since the war; while probably numbering in the 40,000 range, Grant claimed he faced well over 60,000, while Pemberton himself stated he had only 28,000.
With his victory at the Battle of Shiloh and the fall of Corinth, Mississippi assuring his dominance over western Confederate armies, Grant immediately set about moving against Vicksburg, which he considered one of the most vital target in the entire western theater. He split his command into two great columns; led by USA Major General William Tecumseh Sherman, the westernmost column was to move south with 32,000 men on transport barges down the Mississippi River from Memphis to directly attack Vicksburg. To keep Confederate forces divided and unable to concentrate on the city's defense, Grant personally led 40,000 men south overland along the Mississippi Central Railroad tracks from Grand Junction, Tennessee, 35 miles west of Corinth.
Grant moved south on November 26, 1862, slowly moving his large force through northern Mississippi. Passing through Holly Springs and Oxford, he established forward supply bases in both towns and left small garrisons to guard against expected Confederate raids. His major problem during the march south was that his supply lines back to Columbus, Kentucky, were growing longer and more vulnerable. On December 20, just as the vanguard of Grant's column was approaching the small town of Granada, a 3,500 man Confederate cavalry force under CSA General Major General Earl Van Dorn captured and destroyed his supply base at Holly Springs. At about the same time, another cavalry force under CSA Brigadier General Nathan Bedford Forrest stormed through western Tennessee and southern Kentucky, destroying more than 60 miles if the critical railroad lines supplying the Union overland campaign. Grant was forced to call off his part of the attack and move northwest into Memphis.
The same day Grant lost his base at Holy Springs, Sherman and his men boarded a naval flotilla in Memphis and cast off towards Vicksburg. The infantrymen were loaded onto 59 transport ships and barges, escorted by seven gunboats. A message about Grant's defeat reached Sherman the next day, but he decided to continue on, risking that his strong surprise assault might be enough to carry the coming battle. On Christmas Eve the Union flotilla arrived at Milliken's Bend, Louisiana, just north of Vicksburg, and prepared to start disembarking the troops.
The Assault on Chickasaw Bluff
The Union troops disembarked starting on the late afternoon of December 26, and by the next day were pushing inland towards Vicksburg, led by USA Colonel John F. DeCourcy's 3rd Brigade (3rd Division). As the blue-clad infantry advanced slowly on the road past Mrs. Anne E. Lake's house, they came under heavy fire from advance Confederate pickets posted in the nearby woods. This advance to contact ended after a brief but heavy firefight; DeCourcy pulled his men back to camp and the pickets retired within the Confederate line. Other probing and advance to contact actions took place over the next two days, while Sherman tried to figure out where was Pemberton's weakest spot.
Finding no part of the Confederate line was notably weaker than any other, Sherman decided to try a massive head-on assault. At 7:30 AM on December 29, his artillery opened a heavy fire on Pemberton's line, answered quickly by counter-battery fire from massed Confederate guns on the bluff above them. About 11 AM, Union infantry officers ordered their men into line of battle; USA Brigadier General Frank Blair's Brigade on the left, DeCourcy's and USA Brigadier General John M. Thayer's Brigades in the center and USA Brigadier General Andrew Jackson Smith leading both the 1st and 2nd Division's on the right, all arrayed to strike the Confederate line at about the same time.
Under heavy and accurate rifle fire as soon as they exited the woods, DeCourcy's and Blair's Brigades stormed across the bayou and managed to push through the entangling defenses and take the first line of rifle pits. Soon joined by the 4th Iowa Regiment of Thayer's Brigade (the only one to make it across the open fields), the Union infantrymen attempted to keep their assault moving and push back through the layers of defensive entrenchments, but were soon stopped by murderous rifle and artillery fire. As they started to pull back and retreat to their encampment, CSA General Stephen Dill Lee ordered his men forward in a counterattack. The 17th and 26th Louisiana Infantry Regiments surged forward, overrunning the hapless Union infantry, and soon returned with their prize: 21 officers, 311 enlisted men and 4 regimental battle flags.
This scene was repeated all down the line. Although Smith's two divisions managed to make it literally within spitting distance of the Confederate lines on the right, they were not able to carry the works even after five assault attempts. As darkness fell, the Union troops abandoned what little gains they had made and returned to their encampments. That night, during a drenching and chilling cold rainstorm, Sherman made plans to assault again the next day, this time aimed at taking the artillery emplacements atop the bluff, but finally canceled the attack after deciding that it would be too costly an attempt. Another planned attack, this time against Confederate fortifications on nearby Snyder's Bluff on New Year's Day, was canceled when a thick fog prevented easy movement.
Late on the afternoon of January 1, 1863, Sherman ordered his men back about the transport ships and barges, and set sail down the Yazoo River to it's mouth on the Mississippi. The next day he was placed under the command of USA Major General John A. McClernand, who decided to carry the battle away from Vicksburg for the time being. Sherman's report of the battle, and his failure, is a model of terseness: "I reached Vicksburg at the time appointed, landed, assaulted and failed." His failure cost the lives of 208 dead, 1005 wounded, and 563 captured or missing. Despite the personal responsibility he seemed to take in his report for the failed assault, in letter and his postwar memoirs, he blamed a lack of fighting spirit in his own infantry for the failure, most notably DeCourcy's Brigade, which had ironically advanced the furthest into the Confederate entrenchments. Pemberton reported a loss of 63 killed, 134 wounded and 10 missing after the battle.
Attempts to Bypass Vicksburg
Grant waited a few weeks building up his army before attempting to reduce Vicksburg again. His major tactical problem, underscored by Sherman's failure, was that the town was built on a steep bluff footed by swamps and the Yazoo and Mississippi Rivers, making any assault from the east, north or south a near suicidal venture. The only approach that might possibly work is from the east, along the spine of ridges that arced nearly 200 miles above and below the town. This favorable approach had it's own set of problems, most notably, how to get his troops in position atop the eastern bluffs. To add to all these problems, the winter rains that year had been unusually heavy, increasing the flooding problems and widening the rivers.
Grant's problems can be illustrated by the near-desperate attempt he had his engineers make, digging a 1 1/2 mile long canal across one of the peninsulas below Vicksburg, known locally as De Soto Point, which would hopefully allow his troop and supply ships to bypass the powerful artillery batteries and land unmolested south of the city. Now known as Grant's Canal, work continued through March of 1863, when early Spring flooding destroyed some of the works and covered the peninsula, and the Confederate defenders moved some of their artillery batteries to cover both ends of the canal.
Meanwhile, USA Major General James Birdseye McPherson was attempting to bring his XVII Corps in to reinforce Grant and hit the city from the south by cutting and blasting a passage through the labyrinth of swamps and small rivers from Lake Providence, 75 miles north of Vicksburg, to a point in the Mississippi some 200 miles south of the city. A 400 mile long route was mapped and partially prepared before the entire project was scrapped as unworkable.
A third attempt to gain the eastern bluffs was mounted by blasting through a natural levee at Yazoo Pass, 320 miles north of Vicksburg, and plotting a waterborne route south to the city. Before they could make much progress, CSA Major General William W. Loring's Division rushed north to stop the Union raid. About 90 miles north of Vicksburg, the Confederate troops hastily built an earthwork and cotton bale post (dubbed "Fort Pemberton"), and engaged the onrushing Union gunboats on March 11. The Union infantry could find no way to assault the fort in the swampy terrain, and this expedition soon turned away in defeat. Less than a week later a fourth and last attempt to sail through the bayous north of the city, known as Steele's Bayou Expedition, ended in both defeat and the near capture of all the Union gunboats.
The Battle of Grand Gulf
With every attempt to bypass the Vicksburg defenses proving unsuccessful, Grant decided to take the head-on approach. McClernand had just been placed under Grant's overall command, and he was ordered to have his command build a road to move down the western bank of the Mississippi River to a forward base directly across from the Confederate outpost at Grand Gulf, 60 miles south of Vicksburg. Planning to try an amphibious assault under fire against the Confederate fortifications, Grant also directed McClernand to have his gunboats and troop transports run past the Vicksburg Mississippi River batteries and meet up with his Army of the Tennessee at a point ironically named Hard Times. On the night of April 16, 1863, eight gunboats and three transports set sail downriver under the direct command of USA Commodore WIlliam David Porter, each specially prepared to meet the expected hot Confederate fire. The port (left) side of each ship, which would face the Confederate batteries, was piled high with cotton and hay bales, along with small coal scows and supply barges lashed to each side of the ships.
Just before midnight the small flotilla approached Confederate outposts just north of Vicksburg, which promptly raised the alarm. Artillery crews raced in to man their guns, and within minutes a furious firefight broke out along the river. Porter reported later that every one of his ships were hit in the exchange, some multiple times, but stated that his own broadsides into the town could not help but do great damage to the city, as they were firing at near point-blank range. One sailor reported that they were so close that falling bricks from buildings struck by the Union cannon could clearly be heard.
Despite the heavy and accurate Confederate fire, only one transport was sunk, and the other ships limped down to join the infantry at Hard Times. Another flotilla ran the same gauntlet on the night of April 22, six transports towing 12 supply barges, but this time Confederate gunners managed to sink one transport and six of the barges.
Grant had planned to use the transports and barges to bring 10,000 infantrymen across the Mississippi to a landing point at Grand Gulf, at the mouth of the Big Black RIver. Porter's gunboats opened fire on the Confederate fortifications at Grand Gulf on April 29, but failed to inflict any serious damage or silence their guns after nearly six hours of continuous bombardment. To add to his problems, return fire from Confederate gunners inflicted serious damage to the Union gunboat fleet. Grant reconsidered his plan, and decided to move his men downriver to a "cooler" landing zone. The next day, in the largest amphibious operation mounted by an American Army until World War II, Grant crossed the river and landed at Bruinsburg with 24,000 troops and 60 cannon. After months of campaigning, Grant at last had a toehold on the east side of the river close to VIcksburg.
The Battle of Port Gibson
While Grant was crossing the river downstream, Sherman had mounted a strong demonstration against Haine's Bluff, while USA Colonel R H Grierson moved his cavalry south out of Tennessee and mounted another demonstration against the railroad lines between Meridian and Jackson, before turning south towards Baton Rouge. Grant's men began moving north almost as soon as they reached dry land, aiming for the town of Port Gibson. By late in the afternoon of April 30, over 17,000 Union troops were ashore and moving out rapidly, with several thousand more still enroute across the river..
Two Confederate brigades had already marched south from Grand Gulf to oppose the Union assault, CSA Brigadier General Edward D. Tracy's and CSA Brigadier General Martin E. Green's, which by nightfall were astride the Bruinsburg and Rodney Roads directly in the path of the Union advance. Starting about midnight the advanced skirmishers of the Union column met up with the Confederate pickets, and a lively firefight broke out. The firing died down about 3 AM, but picked up again with vigor about the first light of dawn (about 5:30 AM).
The Confederate lines held well until about 10 AM, when Green's Brigade was pushed back up the road about 1 1/2 miles by a heavy Union assault. There, they were reinforced by two other brigades hastily dispatched from Grand Gulf, CSA Brigadier General William E. Baldwin's and CSA Brigadier General Francis M. Cockrell's, which helped shore up a strong line along the Rodney Road.Tracy's men managed to hold up well in their position on the right, despite losing Tracy himself, killed early in the fighting. Although several vicious counterattacks were mounted that managed some limited success, the Union assault was simply overwhelming, and all the Confederate commanders began retiring from the field about 5:30 PM.
The day-long battle cost Grant 131 killed, 719 wounded and 25 missing or captured, while the Confederate commanders reported a loss of 60 killed, 340 wounded and 387 missing or captured. Accounts vary, but the total Confederate force in the field amounted to about 8,000, while Grant had an estimated 23,000 engaged in the fight by late afternoon. Confused by the Union attacks towards Vicksburg seemingly coming from all directions, Pemberton ordered Grand Gulf evacuated and all the troops to move within the defenses of Vicksburg, instead of confronting and attacking Grant's bridgehead.
The Battle of Raymond
Rather than directly move in and seize Grand Gulf, Grant decided to move northeast and cut the Southern Railroad lines between Jackson and Vicksburg, Pemberton's only remaining line of communications, supply and retreat. Similar to Sherman's later march through Georgia, Grant set his forces in a three-corps abreast formation, with McClernand's XIII Corps on the left, Sherman's XV Corps in the middle and McPherson's XVII Corps on the right. Grant planned to move nearly directly northeast toward Jackson, then turn right and cut the rail line somewhere east of the small settlement of Edwards. On May 7 the three corps moved out, a total of 45,000 Union soldiers moving deep into the very heart of the Confederacy and dangerously far from their own base of supplies.
Pemberton guessed correctly what Grant was up to, and sent word to his garrison in Jackson to move out and confront the Union advance, while he moved part of his own force in Vicksburg out to strike the Union line from the west. CSA Brigadier General John Gregg moved his 3,000 man brigade out of Jackson promptly, arriving in Raymond on May 11 and setting up pickets along the west and south roads into the town. For artillery support Gregg could boast a single battery, the three guns of CSA Captain Hiram Bledsoe's Missouri Battery.
At dawn on May 12 Gregg's pickets sent word in that the Union vanguard was approaching their position along the Utica Road (today known as Mississippi Highway 18). The Confederate commander hastily deployed his men to strike what he thought would be the right flank of a small Union force, along both the Utica and Gallatin Roads, and placed the Missouri Battery atop a small hill commanding the bridge crossing Fourteenmile Creek. As the first regiments of McPherson's column moved into the small valley of Fourteenmile Creek, Gregg ordered volley fire into their flank.
The sudden burst of fire shattered the front Union ranks, and Gregg ordered his men to keep up a hot fire. After about two hours of volleys, Gregg order up his Tennessee and Texans in line of assault, planning to roll up the Union line and finish up the day. As the Confederates advanced into the dry creekbed and through the easternmost Union formations, they ran smack into the newly reorganized division led by USA Major General John A. Logan, who was leading his men into battle with "the shriek of an eagle." By 1:30 PM, with Union regiments and brigades piling onto the field, Gregg finally realized that he was facing a full Union corps and started ordering his units to pull back. The battle had become a confused swirling of Union and Confederate units nearly invisible to their commanders in the thick, choking dust, and it took most of the rest of the afternoon for both commanders to get a complete grasp of their own positions and issue appropriate orders.
Gregg attempted to break contact and retreat, but McPherson's troops kept a running battle going until they reached Raymond itself. The Confederates hurried past townspeople who were preparing a 'victory' picnic for them, before stopping for the night at Snake Creek. McPherson's men broke off the pursuit in Raymond, where the Union troops helped themselves to the picnic dinner. The next morning Gregg moved his brigade back into Jackson, reporting a loss of 73 killed, 252 wounded and 190 missing or captured. McPherson reported to Grant that he had faced a force "about 6,000 strong" but emerged victorious, at the cost of 68 killed, 341 wounded and 37 missing or captured.
The Battle of Jackson
Surprised at the strong show of force so far east of Vicksburg, Grant decided that he would have to take Jackson before he could safely turn back west towards "Fortress Vicksburg." On May 13 he ordered his army forward once again, McPherson north from Raymond along the Clinton Road, Sherman northeast through Raymond towards Mississippi Springs, and McClernand's Corps arrayed in a defensive line from Raymond to Clinton, to guard against any more unpleasant surprises. The same day, Department of Tennessee and Mississippi Commander CSA General Joseph Eggleston Johnston arrived in Jackson by train, to assume overall command of Vicksburg's defense. With Grant's army nearly knocking on Jackson's door, Johnston ordered an immediate evacuation of the city towards the north, with Gregg's Brigade and parts of two other brigades remaining as long as possible to mount a rear-guard action. After a heavy rainfall the morning of May 14 briefly delayed their attack, Sherman's and McPherson's Corps charged the weak Confederate defenses with bayonets fixed starting about 11 AM, driving the Confederate defenders back after a bitter hand-to-hand struggle, and capturing the outer defenses of the city without much loss.
Although strong Confederate artillery emplacements delayed the Union advance in the center, Sherman sent part of his command around the right flank and north along the railroad line into the heart of the city. With his left flank breached, Gregg ordered his brigades to move out of the city along the Canton Road to the north, while Union troops invested the city right behind them. By 3 PM the Stars and Stripes was being hoisted again over the state capital building. The few hours of combat resulted in about 300 Union killed, wounded and missing, and an estimated 850 Confederate casualties.
With Grant's army between him and Vicksburg, Johnston believed that he had arrived to late to do any real good, but sent a series of messages to Pemberton urging him to march out of Vicksburg and join the 6,000 troops he had moved north out of Jackson in a great battle to destroy Grant's force. Pemberton, a great believer in the use of fixed fortifications, was extremely reluctant to enter a campaign of movement and maneuver, and made it very clear that he wished to remain in his line along the Big Black River, but finally agreed to move out. In a clear act of disobedience of orders, instead of moving to join Johnston, Pemberton decided on his own to strike against Grant's line of communication back to Grand Gulf, now occupied and a major supply center for the Union Army.
On May 15 Pemberton initially moved his 23,000 men southeast to near Edward's Station, effectively moving further away from Johnston and placing Grant's army between the two commands. Unknown to either Confederate commander, Grant's men had intercepted the series of orders and communications between them, and the Union commander was maneuvering his own forces to exploit the confusion. Johnston issued another order on May 16 to Pemberton to move northeast and join him, which for some reason he decided to obey, but by this time Grant was ready to strike.
The Battle of Champion Hill
As Pemberton moved northeast early on the morning of May 16 along the Ratliff Road just south of Champion Hill, his three division strung out along the road for nearly three miles, a courier brought word that a large Union contingent was bearing down upon him from the Jackson Road, to the northeast. Pemberton immediately halted his march and arrayed in line of battle to protect the high ground of Champion Hill itself, as well as the crossroads leading to Edwards and Vicksburg. CSA Major General William Wing Loring's Division covered the Raymond Road to the south, the right flank of Pemberton's line; CSA Brigadier (soon after Major) General John S. Bowen's Division deployed along the Ratliff Road to Loring's left; and CSA Major General Carter Littlepage Stevenson's Division covered the left flank and the crest of the small knob of Champion Hill.
Just before noon USA Brigadier General Alvin P. Hovey's and Logan's Divisions of McPherson's Corps attacked along the Jackson road against Stevenson's positions atop Champion Hill. Stevenson's men were soon forced off the crest under heavy fire, but Bowen's Division shifted north and succeeded in regaining the hill. Grant ordered his artillery massed and directed all fire on the hilltop Confederate positions, quickly followed by renewed infantry assaults. About 1 PM Stevenson's and Bowen's men were forced to retreat under the crushing Union assault, escaping south along Baker's Creek to the Raymond Road before turning west towards Vicksburg.
CSA Brigadier General Lloyd Tilghman's Brigade was ordered to act as a rear guard, to cover the escape "at all costs." Joined by Loring's men, they put up a fierce resistance but were cut off by massive artillery fire and forced to move further south and east, eventually circling around north and meeting up with Johnston near Jackson. Tilghman himself was killed during the rear guard action.
Pemberton led his army's retreat west through Edwards before taking up a defensive position at the Big Black River for the night, while McClernand's Corps moving in from the south entered and occupied Edwards about 8 PM. Grant reported losses of 410 killed, 1,844 wounded and 187 missing or captured, while Pemberton suffered casualties amounting to 381 killed, 1,018 wounded and 2,441 missing or captured, but the real damage was the decisive defeat of the Confederate forces. Pemberton would eventually limp back into VIcksburg minus Loring's Division, which never returned to his command, but Grant had succeeded in isolating Vicksburg to an island outpost completely cut off from any hope of resupply or reinforcement.
Big Black River Bridges
Pemberton was unaware that Loring was not following him back into Vicksburg, instead cut off and circling around to the south and east to join up with Johnston at Jackson. Instead of immediately moving all his forces back within Vicksburg's formidable defense, he ordered Bowen's Division reinforced by CSA Brigadier General John Vaughn's Brigade to hold a defensive perimeter around the bridges over the Big Black River, in the hopes that Loring would soon show up and have a safe passage over the river. On the morning of May 17, with the rest of Pemberton's troops marching the 12 miles west to Vicksburg, McClernand's XIII Corps rapidly swept forward and engaged Bowen's small command.
Bowen had established a seemingly tight line of battle, well anchored on the river on the left and a waist-deep swampy area on the right, with 18 artillery pieces arrayed along the line to sweep a wide area of fire that any Union assault would have to march through. Even before McClernand's Corps was fully arrayed for battle, USA Brigadier General Michael Lawler saw an opportunity to gain a quick victory, and ordered his brigade to fix bayonets and hit the center of the Confederate line. In a hand-to-hand combat that lasted less than three minutes, Vaughn's Brigade broke under the fierce assault and ran for the bridges, followed quickly by the rest of Bowen's command, as more and more Union infantry brigades fixed bayonets and followed Lawler's lead.
Many of the retreating Confederates drowned while attempting to cross the river, forced into the water by Pemberton's chief engineer, CSA Major Sam Lockett, who had set fire to the bridges to keep them out of Grant's hands. There is no known surviving record of Confederate dead and wounded in the brief battle, but Grant reported capturing over 1,700 prisoners and all 18 artillery pieces, while suffering a total of 279 dead, wounded and missing out of his own commands.
Burning the bridges slowed Grant's advance less than a single day. His engineer threw up three bridges across the river by the morning of May 18, and the great Union army quickly crossed and moved out towards Vicksburg.
Shortly after the fall of New Orleans in the Spring of 1862, USA Flag Officer (soon afterwards Rear Admiral) David Glasgow Farragut sailed his West Gulf Blockading Squadron north along the Mississippi River and captured Baton Rouge and Natchez without resistance. Joined just outside Vicksburg on July 1, 1862, by USA Flag Officer Charles Henry Davis' Western Flotilla, sailing south along the Mississippi after capturing Memphis and reducing the Confederate rivers fleet to a shattered remnant, the two powerful gunboat fleets had managed to take control of nearly the entire river for the Union after only a few months of campaigning. Now, the only thing that stood in the way of complete and free Union transit of the river was a few artillery batteries stationed high on a bluff next to the river in the small but very important port town of Vicksburg.
Farragut's fleet had passed by Vicksburg several times, starting in late May, and had exchanged fire with the rapidly growing city defenses to no real effect. Before Davis' arrival, his own mortarboats and sloops had kept a steady bombardment of the town, irregularly at first, but growing in intensity as both sides brought more guns into action. After three weeks of numbing and near continuous fire, and after the intense heat and disease had rended all but 800 of his 3,000 sailors unfit for duty, Farragut called off the operation and sailed south, while Davis returned his fleet to Memphis. Farragut reported that Vicksburg could only be successfully reduced by a combined army and naval force attacking from land and water simultaneously.
Even before the first Union assaults on the town, Department of the West commander CSA General Pierre Gustave Toutant Beauregard had prepared a plan of defense for the town after the defeat at Shiloh, and sent engineer CSA Captain D. B. Harris south from Fort Pillow to oversee the initial construction of a series of fortifications. CSA Major (later Major General) Martin Luther Smith soon arrived from constructing the defenses of New Orleans to take over building the VIcksburg defenses, and ended up commanding troops during the siege from behind his own line of fortifications.
In September of 1862, following Farraguts failed attempts, this line of fortifications was extended to the inland side of Vicksburg, neatly surrounding the town with a powerful, near unassailable and continuous line of forts, infantry positions and artillery emplacements. Within a few months the defense line ran from Fort Hill on the north side of town along the curving ridges some nine miles south to South Fort, then back north along the river for some 4 1/2 additional miles. The defensive line mounted about 115 heavy guns, with another 31 mounted in batteries alongside the river.
The only approaches into the city through the surrounding ridges were six roads and one railroad track that ran across natural bridges over rather steep ravines. To guard these natural avenues of attack, Harris' engineers had constructed nine well constructed and powerful forts, some with walls nearly 20 feet thick. Each one of these forts was surrounded by a maze of interconnected and interlocking rifle pits, artillery batteries and communications trenches. In front of this line was a deep and wide ditch and all the trees were cut down for quite some distance in front of the line to provide a clear filed of fire, making any direct assault a suicidal venture at best. The town was now a massive fortified redoubt, nearly impregnable to reduction by weapons of the day, that could either prove a safe haven for it's Confederate defenders or a deadly trap, depending entirely on what Grant choose to do.
First Assaults on Vicksburg
Grant believed he had Pemberton's 31,000 men demoralized and not fully prepared to make much of a fight after his two week-long running battle from Port Gibson to the Big Black River, and wanted to storm the Vicksburg defenses before they could recover. On May 19, with 50,000 men under his command, but only 20,000 in position to strike, he ordered an immediate assault on the town.
Sherman's XV Corps was the only command in position to strike, and about 2 PM he ordered a general attack. Moving against the northeastern corner of the Vicksburg line, his men attempted to storm and reduce the powerful fort called Stockade Redan. Advancing under heavy and accurate Confederate fire, part of one regiment (the 13th U.S. Infantry) got close in enough to place their colors on the exterior sloping wall before being thrown back with heavy losses. This was the only 'gain' Sherman managed before withdrawing; McPherson's XVII and McClernand's XIII Corps made some demonstrations against other parts of the line, but neither did any better than Sherman, who lost nearly 1,000 casualties to no gain.
Three days later Grant ordered another assault attempt, this time preceded by a four hour long artillery barrage against the Confederate line followed by a 45,000 man attack against a three mile front. Portions of all three corps managed to make it to the base of the Confederate defenses, but only one regiment penetrated the line. An Iowa regiment of McClernand's corps led by two sergeants shot their way into the Railroad Redoubt through a hole made by their artillery, and in a fierce firefight managed to kill or drive out the Confederate defenders. Before this regiment could be reinforced and the breach in the wall exploited, men of CSA Colonel Thomas N. Waul's Texas Legion counterattacked and regained the fort. No other Union gain was made before the entire assault line was once against thrown back with heavy losses.
Pemberton had even managed to rest many of his combat troops even during these assaults, using only about 18,000 of his men in the defense, while inflicting a total of 3,200 Union casualties. Pemberton's own casualties in these assaults is not recorded, but were undoubtedly much less severe than Grant's. With his powerful assault forces turned aside without much difficulty, Grant changed his plans and settled in for a long siege of the fortified town, something Johnston had already warned Pemberton would be inevitable and disastrous if he pulled his forces back into the city as planned.
Grant officially began his siege operation on May 25, and with the exception of two isolated events, made no further attempts to take Vicksburg by force. With all lines of supply, communications or reinforcement successfully cut, rant directed his engineers and infantry to begin construction of a series of siege trenches, designed to gradually grow nearer and nearer the Confederate positions. He had no intention of simply allowing VIcksburg to starve itself out, at least initially, but planned to try digging a series of mines (or tunnels) under the massive fortifications, pack them full of explosives, and literally blast his way through the walls into the city.
While the infantry was busy digging their way through MIssissippi, Grant's artillery and Porter's naval flotilla set about making life miserable within the town. While the city had suffered sporadic shelling from Union gunboats on the river ever since the first days of the campaign, nearly constant incoming fire began soon after Pemberton brought his army inside the defenses, and did not cease until the final surrender some 47 days later. It did not take long for Vicksburg's citizens to move out of their homes and into caves dug deep into the sides of the hills. It also did not take long to figure out when they could safely venture out to try and find food and water; 8 AM, noon and 8 PM, when the artillerymen would cease firing to eat their meals. Grant continuously built up his siege artillery force, by the end of June he had 220 guns of various sizes engaged around the city.
Within a relatively short time the siege made life nearly untenable for civilians and soldiers alike within the city. Food supplies had not been abundant when the campaign began, and when all supply routes were cut, what few items were still available commanded premium prices. Flour sold for as high as $1,000 per barrel, molasses for $10 per gallon, spoiled bacon for $5 a pound and what little cornmeal remained went for $140 per bushel. Beef, coffee, sugar, bread, and even horse or mule meat was nearly nonexistent. For a while a bread made of ground peas was available, for a price, but soon even this disgusting fare was gone. Some accounts even claim that the rat population of the city nearly disappeared by the middle of June, but this is undoubtedly an apocryphal tale. The truth, however, is just as stark; by late June the average soldier ration consisted of one biscuit, four ounces of usually rotted bacon, peas and sometimes a little rice each day, less than half of the normal combat ration.
One odd shortage that reared it's head in June was that of cartridge bags for Pemberton's remaining heavy guns. These bags were made of flannel and held a measured charge of gunpowder, and not a single bolt of the cloth could be found anywhere in town. The soldiers were being asked to give up their outer shirts for the cause, when the ladies of the town found out and immediately volunteered their petticoats. A newspaperman in town later remarked that every outgoing shell from the city's 10-inch Columbiads was powered by these women's underwear.
Sherman Gets Impatient
Only two days after the siege operation began, Sherman displayed his usual impatience and requested help from Porter's naval flotilla to reduce the fortifications before him. The gunboat Cincinnati was reinforced with heavy logs and bales of cotton along her ironclad sides, then moved downriver to directly confront the river batteries below Fort Hill, clearing the way for the infantry to move in.
The Cincinnati's captain, USA Lieutenant George M. Bache, brought her downriver on May 27 and turned close to shore on the north end of town to prepare to open a broadside fire on the Confederate batteries. However, before his own guns could open fire, the swift river current caught his boat and spun it around, forcing Bache to unmask his stern batteries in order to maintain control. This was the weakest and least armored section of the ironclad, and the Confederate gunners took full advantage. From atop Fort Hill and from the multiple batteries along the river, rains of 8- and 10-inch fire raked the Union gunboat, soon smashing through her stern and shooting away her steering gear. Within minutes the huge gunboat was an uncontrollable mess of smashed gundecks and wounded and dying men.
Bache attempted to run his boat aground on the far side of the river, to allow his crew to escape safely, but the boat was too badly damaged to stay afloat that long. The Cincinnati went down in three fathoms of water, taking 40 of her men with her, her colors still flying from the blasted stump of a flagpole where they had been nailed during the brief but vicious battle.
From the very start of the siege, Grant had planned to try and blast his way through the Confederate defenses by using mines, and by late June the first were ready to go. A tunnel had been dug under the 3rd Louisiana Redoubt, near the center of the arcing Confederate line, and filled with over a ton of gunpowder. On June 25 the mine was ready, and Grant ordered every gun he had to open fire all along the Vicksburg line, to prevent Pemberton from shifting his forces around. At 3 PM the powder was fired, and with a deafening roar the entire top of the hill was blown off, opening a crater 50 feet in diameter and 12 feet deep. WIth nearly 150 heavy guns and every infantry unit along the line supporting, two regiments led by USA Brigadier General Mortimer D. Legget charged into the breach, only to discover that the Confederates had discovered their mining attempt and moved back to a second fortified position.
From there, the Louisiana troops directed near point-blank volleys of shot and cannister into the Union infantry ranks, whose survivors were then soon joined in hand-to-hand combat by the 6th Missouri Infantry Regiment. The Illinois infantrymen attempted to stay in the crater, throwing up a hasty was in front of them and forming in a double line of battle to keep up a continuous volley fire of their own. The Louisiana defenders responded by throwing hand-grenades down into the crater, which Legget later said did fearful damage to his surviving infantry. The firing died down after the Union infantry managed to pull back slightly and build a parapet across the crater for their own protection. Grant reported a loss of 30 men, but this is not thought to be accurate; his true loss in the short action was most likely between 300 and 400 killed or wounded. Pemberton reported a loss of 90 dead and wounded.
The next morning Pemberton's men exploded two mines of their own on the north side of the line, near where Sherman's troops were working on a mine near the Stockade Redoubt. No-one was killed, but the Union mining operation there was destroyed. Another mine was started that day under the new position of the 3rd Louisiana Redan, and fired off on July 1. This time a large number of Confederate defenders were killed or wounded in the explosion, which completely destroyed the large redoubt and blasted a hole 50 feet wide and 20 feet deep in the parapet walls. CSA Colonel Francis Marion Cockrell led his Missouri regiment immediately forward to seal the breach, although himself wounded by the explosion. Under extremely heavy artillery and rifle fire the breach was gradually filled in and reinforced, although at a cost of over 100 infantrymen during the six hour long operation. Grant never ordered an infantry attack forward to exploit this breach.
With mining operations continuing all along the Vicksburg line, Grant decided to hold his forces in place until all was ready, then fire all at once and assault in one huge wave over the line. By July 2 the siege trenches were so close to the Confederate positions that the defenders would only have time for one volley before the Union infantry would be on top of them. The only crimp in this plan was a possible attempt to relieve Vicksburg from Grant's rear.
Johnston had returned to Jackson after Grant's departure, and had spent the intervening weeks building up his forces. In addition to the men he had pulled out of the capital in the face of the Union assault, he now commanded Loring's Division, joining him after being cut off from Pemberton after the Battle of Champion Hill, as well as every militia unit, local defense command, home guard or individual able man that could be scraped together from all around Mississippi. Johnston had appealed to both Bragg in Georgia and Davis in Richmond for more troops and supplies, but the building Chickamauga campaign in north Georgia had taken up every spare man and all the available supplies. In Jackson he had nearly 30,000 troops, but the vast majority were "green" troops totally untrained and ignorant of battle, with a curious collection of shotguns, muskets and old rifles.
Despite the odds, Johnston was determined to do what he could, and sent a message to Pemberton that he was on the way and would attempt to break through Grant's siege line, probably on July 7. Grant had intercepted this message, and promptly shifted his forces around to face Johnston, whom he feared far more than Pemberton, and requested immediate reinforcements from any command in the west. Several thousand men arrived from the Trans-Mississippi Theater and from Union armies in Tennessee by later June, and sent Sherman to take control of the growing threat from the east.
In the end, Johnston never did anything with the army he had raised, remaining in Jackson until June 28, then hesitantly moving west. On July 4, still not in contact with Sherman's line at the Big Black River, he learned of Pemberton's surrender and immediately returned his army to Jackson.
July 4, 1863: The End
By early July nearly half of Pemberton's men were unfit to fight, suffering from malaria, dysentery, gangrene and a host of other illnesses, and the rest capable of holding on but weakened by the severe food shortage. Nearly every building in the city had been hit by the ceaseless artillery fire, and most were reduced to blasted hulks. Snipers fired at any man who dared poke his head out of his trench or above the parapet of his redoubt, civilians were now living full time in dug-out caves, many with ventilation so poor that candles wouldn't stay lit. The stench from blasted-apart horses and mules filled the air, and everyone was approaching complete exhaustion from the strain of the prolonged siege.
Pemberton knew that Grant was about to make a move against him, and undoubtedly knew that his men probably wouldn't be able to stop it. Multiple communications begging Johnston to attack went unanswered or came back with replies saying the Jackson garrison needed more time to organize. In answer to his predicament, a letter appeared in his headquarters on June 28, signed "Many Soldiers," praising his own inspired leadership but asking that he surrender. The letter went on to threaten a general mutiny if he did not. On July 1 Pemberton circulated a letter among his top commanders asking if their troops would be able to fight their way out of the siege, which came back with a decided negative answer. On July 2 he called a conference of all his officers and point-blank asked if they thought he should surrender the city. Only two disagreed, but could offer no other feasible plan.
At 10 AM on July 3, 1863, white flags of truce were raised all along the Vicksburg line, and for the first time in weeks the guns fell silent. After some difficulty in discussing the terms of surrender, with Pemberton showing some late-stage theatrics and Grant calmly insisting upon unconditional surrender, a deal was finally struck late in the day. Confederate soldiers would surrender their weapons but would not enter prison camps, instead being paroled out as soon as rolls could be made out. Grant wanted to avoid the expense and logistical nightmare of feeding and transporting 30,000 prisoners, and Pemberton was quite acceptable to the offer, undoubtedly knowing that most of the men would soon return to the army anyway.
At 10 Am on July 4, 1863, the day after the great Union victory at Gettysburg, Pemberton ordered each of his division in turn to get out of their trenches, form up, and march under their own colors to the surrender point. Union regiments stood alongside the road watching silently as their beaten opponents passed, offering in a soldiers way a salute to the gallant defenders of Vicksburg.
With the Confederates stacking arms and tenderly laying down their colors, USA Major General John Alexander Logan led his 3rd Division into the town to occupy it, and soon one of his regimental flags and the Stars and Stripes were raised over the Courthouse. The long campaign was at last over, and the end of the Confederacy in the West had begun.
Both sides suffered terribly in the long campaign to capture Vicksburg and ultimately the Mississippi RIver. There are fairly complete records for Grant's losses; 1,514 killed, 7,395 wounded and 453 captured or missing. Confederate records are very spotty on this period, but during the siege operation alone Pemberton lost a reported 1,260 killed, 3,572 wounded and 4,227 missing or captured. Union records indicate that a total of 29,491 surrendered on July 4, but this figure includes all the civilians left in town as well as the remnants of the Confederate defenders.
The War in Georgia
Background of the Campaign
In the early spring of 1864, after three years of increasingly bitter fighting throughout the Southern states, USA Major General William Tecumseh Sherman saw that Georgia, and Atlanta specifically, held the key to bringing the war to an end. There is a military axiom that states that while amateurs study strategy, generals study logistics as the crucial element of battle. CSA General Robert E. Lee's forces in Virginia, the main focus of the war to that point, were able to hold the Union forces away from Richmond largely as a result of the supplies that flowed steadily up from the transportation and logistical center of Atlanta.
To complicate the picture, Union President Abraham Lincoln was looking forward to a fierce presidential campaign against the former commander of the Union Army of the Potomac, USA Lieutenant General George B. McClellan, a 'War Democrat' who nonetheless agreed with the 'copperheads' and Peace Democrats who saw the war as unwinnable and endless. There was a real possibility that if Sherman became bogged down in the same sort of stalemated combat that USA Lieutenant General Ulysses S. Grant faced in Virginia, the northern Democrats who had pledged to end the war by peaceful means could very well take the White House that fall. 'Peaceful means' meant armistice and in reality a Confederate victory.
The Union Commander
Sherman was a very modern general, not given to paroling prisoners or other gentlemanly considerations. He held a burning, very personal antipathy towards Georgia which meshed well with his ideas about 'total war.' Literal years of seeing the words "Atlanta Depot" stenciled on the sides of captured supply wagons and containers convinced him that the small city represented just as much a threat to his army as any military force. In his mind, the road to and from Atlanta needed not only to be taken, but laid to waste so that it could never again be used against the Union. An added benefit was that this 'scorched earth' policy would horrify and subdue the populace, who might otherwise engage his forces in guerilla warfare or other harassing actions.
With Grant's blessings Sherman set about building an overwhelming force from his headquarters in Chattanooga. Other Union commands were asked to supply what men they could spare, and by late April, 1864, three grand armies with over 98,000 men stood ready to invade Georgia. A steady stream of reinforcements brought this force to over 112,000 by June.
The Confederate Commander
To oppose him stood CSA General Joseph Eggleston Johnston with but a single grand army of just two corps strength, numbering just under 50,000 men. Reinforcements from Alabama, including CSA Major General Leonidas K. Polk's entire corps and other commands not then under direct siege bolstered his total strength to three corps with just under 65,000 men by late June.
Johnston faced a very serious situation. His own combatant forces would be forced to protect the railroads leading to and from Atlanta, and keep their own supply lines intact, while being both undermanned and underequipped. One key factor lay in their favor; Johnston was a master of defensive strategy, rarely overwhelmingly successful in the advance but almost supernatural in his ability to know the exact moment to withdraw, just at the point where fierce resistance to the usual superior numbers had delayed or disrupted his enemys plans the most while keeping his own forces as intact as possible. Very unusual for a combat commander, he was also a humanist who deeply cared about his men and sought to minimize casualties even at the advantage of the enemy.
Johnston had one other serious disadvantage, the enmity of Confederate President Jefferson Davis, who blamed him for the loss of Vicksburg the previous summer and all too readily listened to whomever had a complaint about his tactics.
Both commanders were highly experienced, experts in their own ultimate strategies, well versed in the latest military tactics developed over the previous three years, and very highly motivated to accomplish the goals that had been handed them. This was the campaign of the grand masters, unfolding almost like a dance, with each grand army moving in both apposition and concordance, swirling together in battle, only to separate intact and move with both purpose and grace to the next stage. Ironically, or perhaps not, after the war Sherman and Johnston became the best of friends.
The Opening Battles
A casual examination of a map make it appear that Dalton was very nearly a natural fortress, but Sherman was no casual observer. He had explored most of this area while on detached duty in Marietta in 1844 (and not coincidently unsuccessfully courting a certain Miss Cecilia Stovall of Etowah Heights near Altoona at the time), and had the remarkable ability to recall the lay of the land in great detail. He saw that Johnston's army could be trapped before the rocky ridge that was then their refuge if his own forces could get into the nice and level open ground between them and Atlanta. To this end, he sends two of his armies to distract Johnston by a strong direct assault at the northernmost gap, Mill Creek, while his third army slips through the southernmost gap, Snake Creek, and cuts off Johnston's retreat route at Resaca.
Johnston similarly was not a casual observer; anticipating Sherman to merely feint towards Dalton and then break south to try and cut his army off from the rail line to Atlanta, he orders preparation of defensive works on "good ground" 17 miles south, just north and west of Resaca. In addition, he orders preparation of a series of "military roads" between the two positions, so he could rapidly shuttle his troops into the prepared positions when Sherman made his move.
On May 8, 1864, having received notice from his cavalry scouts that Sherman's forces were on the march towards him, Johnston sets CSA Lieutenant General John Bell Hood's Army Corps in position to the north of Dalton, with his men arranged on top of the ridgeline and across Crow Valley to Pickett Top and 'refused' southward over Hamilton Mountain to the direct north of Dalton. Hardee's Army Corps takes up position to his left, just to the west of the city and directly on top of the impressive ridgeline. The Confederate line here snakes along roughly five miles of hill and valley, forming an almost fishhook shape, with Rock Face Ridge as the shank and Dalton just below the point. A detached division guards the railway just to the northeast of Dalton, and a smaller detachment takes up post above Dug Gap, 2 miles below the city.
Sherman Moves Out
USA Major General George H. Thomas' Army of the Cumberland moves down the railway from Ringgold on May 8 and takes up position just to the west of Mill Creek Gap, while USA Major General John M. Schofield's Army of the Ohio moves in from the north and takes up position across Crow Valley. Aided by these highly visible movements and the screening ridgeline between them and the Confederate positions, USA Major General James Birdseye McPherson's Army of the Tennessee quickly marches south through Snake Creek Gap.
Later that same day, two relatively small initial diversionary attacks are mounted by the Union troops; against the very strong Confederate position just south of Mill Creek Gap and against the weaker position at Dug Gap. The attack at Mill Creek nearly turns into a full force battle, with part of Howard's IV Army Corps actually making it to the top of the northern end of the ridgeline, before being violently repulsed . Both attacks are ultimately unsuccessful, though the attack at Dug Gap degenerates at one point into literal hand-to-hand combat, actually a comparatively rare event during the war, and featured the Confederates rolling large boulders down the steep mountainside towards the onrushing Union force.
Early in the morning of May 9, McPherson's men emerge from the gap and march quickly towards Resaca, but the sight of Confederate cavalry and infantry troops in the area along with the well-prepared roads give him pause. Afraid that he will be caught in the open ground and unsure just how strong a force he is facing at that moment (actually less than one division of infantry and a few cavalry), McPherson becomes unusually cautious and elects to withdraw and entrench at the mouth of Snake Creek Gap. Sherman considers this act to be one of the major mistakes of the campaign; if McPherson had gone ahead and moved into Resaca at that time, Johnston would have been caught off guard and surrounded, and the campaign might well have been over for all practical purposes.
At the same time McPherson makes his move, Thomas and Schofield both launch strong attacks on the Confederate line, reinforcing the previous days' assault directly against Mill Creek Gap, and down the eastern slope of Rocky Face Ridge in Crow Valley. Multiple assaults over the next three days are successfully repulsed, leading Sherman to order a gradual withdrawal of forces from the fight, to follow McPherson's route down to Resaca. Johnston fully expects this move; by the afternoon of May 11, while the battle is still fully underway, he begins ordering his units to also gradually break off and march to their prepared positions outside Resaca. By midnight on the 12th, nearly all his army has broken off contact and moved south, staying intact as fighting units and taking all their supplies with them. It is this sort of 'fighting retreat' that Johnston specializes in and utilizes what resources he has to their maximum.
Examination of this terrain shows the two weaknesses in Johnston's defensive position; first, his lines were stretched between the Union lines and the Oostanaula river, making a hasty withdrawal nearly impossible. Second, the rail line he had to defend lay nearly underfoot and all along the Confederate line, again limiting his chances for tactical maneuver. To his advantage was a 'tight' line of battle, with his forces in close proximity and the two flanks well placed directly on the banks of the river.
Sherman placed his forces in a semicircle anchored by the river on the right and curving around to face the northernmost Confederates directly. His position had little direct advantage over the Confederate line, but was built up quickly by units traveling through Snake Creek Gap from the Dalton area.
Johnston's plan, to defend the river and rail line from heavily fortified positions, was clear but Sherman's intent was less so. Starting early on the afternoon of May 13, uncoordinated and seemingly random attacks are made against the Confederate left, right, center, and the right again on the morning of the 15th. Most of these assaults are slowed and their lines broken up by the incredibly rough terrain immediately before the Confederate lines. Two divisions, USA Brigadier General Henry M. Judah's 2nd (USA Major General John M. Schofield's XXIII Army Corps) and USA Brigadier General Absalom Baird's 3rd (Palmer's XIV Army Corps) involved in a three corps strength attack on the afternoon of May 14 on the 'bend' of the Confederate line are nearly annihilated by coordinated artillery and long range rifle fire before they can even get their men together through the muck, losing more than 600 in a few minutes time. Judah was subsequently kicked out of the army four days later for his alleged incompetence during the battle.
The Union assaults are ultimately unsuccessful in much more than getting quite a few of their own men killed, and fail to push back the Confederate line at all. Several divisions of Hood's Army Corps step out on the late afternoon of May 15 to counterattack on the Union left, but are withdrawn after Johnston learns of the only real Union success of the battle. USA Brigadier General Thomas W. Sweeney's 2nd Division (of USA Major General Grenville M. Dodge's XVI Army Corps) has crossed the Oostanaula River a few miles south at Lay's Ferry, and is now threatening to cut the rail line and the Confederate line of retreat. Within hours Johnston evacuates his forces intact across the river and marches south towards Cassville, destroying all the bridges as soon as his forces makes it across them. The last, the railroad bridge just below Resaca, is set afire at 3:30 a.m.
The Retreat to the Etowah
Johnston, ever the wily strategist, comes up with a unique plan while pulling back from Resaca on the night of May 15; send Hardee's Army Corps with most of the supply wagons and ambulances straight through Adairsville to Kingston, 15 miles down the main road, while sending Hood's and Polk's Army Corps down a little used route to the small town of Cassville, just 10 miles away. To give Hardee a little more time to ensure the safety of the supply train, CSA Major General Ben F. Cheatham's Division is placed across the road about three miles north of Adairsville. Hood and Polk are ordered to march rapidly and "tightly", to give the appearance that only a small force had passed down their path, and to be ready to launch a sudden counterattack when the unsuspecting Union forces appear.
The area of these actions today is a rapidly growing suburb of Marietta and Atlanta, and landmarks are getting harder to find. Most of both Kingston and Adairsville were burned during the war, and just about all that remains are scattered markers and monuments. One of the five Atlanta Campaign Pavilions is supposed to be at Cassville, but we were unable to find it. At last report most of it's markers had been stolen and the stone wall was in bad repair.
Cassville itself is a little hard to find, but worth the effort to see graphic evidence of the destruction to civilians and their property this campaign caused. Look for the Cassville Road, a small two lane road going to the east off U.S. 41 about nine mile south of Adairsville and two miles north of the U.S. Highway 411 intersection. The square burned by Sherman as retaliation for guerilla operations after the battle was never rebuilt, and the empty lot is commemorated by a large stone marker. About one-half mile south of the square location is the St. James A.M.E. Church, known at the time as the Cassville Presbyterian Church, which was one of only three buildings in the town to be spared Sherman's wrath.
Sherman followed Johnston southwards, delayed by the long river crossings necessary for his large force, and by an almost comical spat between USA Major Generals Joseph Hooker and Schofield over which one had the right of way on the narrow roads. The Union forces had not paused to regroup after taking the Resaca battleground, and headed south with McPherson's Army of the Tennessee wide to the Union right, Thomas' Army of the Cumberland marching straight down the railway, and Schofield's Army of the Ohio (also known as and consisting only of the XXIII Army Corps) wide to the left. Expecting Johnston to make a stand at Adairsville, he ordered his widely separated columns to close together just north of the small crossroads town. The large Union force arrived in Adairsville after a brief but spirited skirmish with Cheatham's Division on the morning of May 18.
Sherman was apparently deceived by the Confederate diversionary tactic. Eager to engage Johnston before the Confederate force reached a good defensive ground south of the Etowah River, he hastily pushed all his units except Hooker's XX and Schofield's XXIII Army Corps down the single road to Kingston. These two corps were ordered down the road to Cassville, to protect the flank of the main Union column.
Just to the west of the main Union line of advance, a single infantry division commanded by USA Brigadier General Jefferson C. Davis (the 2nd Division, XIV Army Corps) and supported by USA Brigadier General Kenner Garrard's 2nd Cavalry Division marched in and captured the important industrial center of Rome on May 18 after a one day battle with CSA Major General Samuel G. French's Division. Johnston's willingness to give up Rome without much of a fight, and in effect most of northwest Georgia and northeastern Alabama in order to preserve his fighting force would later be used as 'evidence' of his alleged incompetence.
At Cassville, Johnston orders Polk to set his corps across the road about one-half mile northeast of the town square, with Hood's corps positioned about one mile east and parallel to the road, so as to hit the Union flank as they approach. On the morning of May 19, just as Scholfield's Corps was walking into the trap, a small unit of Union cavalry led by USA Brigadier General Edward M. McCook stumbles into Hood's troops from the east, and a brief skirmish erupts. Fearful that McCook is supported by infantry columns, Hood suddenly and against orders pulls back from his ambush position to reposition facing east, to gain support from Polk's right. Johnston soon feels that the chance for surprise is lost, and orders both corps to a low range of hills southeast of the town before a full force battle can develop.
Hood defends his over-reaction to the end of his life, insisting that he had infantry to his rear, and that he would have been unable to launch his attack on the main column of Union troops on the Cassville road. Surprisingly enough, he was partly correct; close behind McCook were two brigades of Union infantry supported by a single battery of horse artillery wandering around lost, looking for a road leading into the east side of Cassville when they ran into the rear column of Hood's Corps.
On the Confederate left, Hardee puts up a stiff resistance against the massed Union forces near Kingston, but shortly after the Cassville disaster, and at the urging of Hood and Polk, Johnston orders all forces to disengage and withdraw south of the Etowah River, into the Altoona Mountains. He finally halts about 11 miles southeast of Cassville and sets up a strong defensive position around the railroad gap at Altoona Pass, just northwest of the small town of Acworth. As usual, Johnston orders the railroad bridge across the Etowah burned as they retreat. Sherman moves in and occupies Cassville and Kingston, giving his men a few days to rest while he studies the ground ahead.
Approach to Dallas
Sherman had ridden the area around Altoona extensively as a young officer assigned to Marietta, and he knew the potential for making the gap into a natural fortress. Changing his usual frontal assault tactics, he abandons his line of march straight down the railroad and moves westward, towards the small town of Dallas. It is not clear whether he was trying to pull Johnston behind him into more open terrain (doubtful) or whether he was trying to take a more western approach into Atlanta. The real danger for Sherman was that by abandoning the railroad he was lengthening his own supply column, making it more vulnerable to a rear attack by Johnston's troops and cavalry.
Ordered up and out by buglers on the morning of May 22, the three grand Union armies move out of camp at Cassville and Kingston in their usual three columns. Thomas and Schofield move nearly due south while McPherson swings far to the right, in order to eventually turn and approach Dallas from due west. The huge columns of massed Union infantry in a front nearly 20 miles wide are hard to conceal, and the move west is soon discovered by scouts from CSA Major General Joseph Wheelers' Cavalry Corps. By the afternoon of May 23, Johnston orders Hardee to a good defensive ground just east of Dallas and Polk to a tiny crossroads nearby called New Hope (some maps label it New Hope Church). Hood remains entrenched at Altoona Gap overnight, then is ordered to New Hope when Johnston realizes that all the Union forces were headed towards Dallas. On his arrival, Polk shifts his men slightly to the west, tying in with Hardee and forming a strong defensive line nearly four miles long from directly south of Dallas to one mile east of New Hope, in the vicinity of a small community called Pickett's Mill.
The Battle of New Hope Church
Hood settles into line just before the forward Union skirmishers and scouts come into view. CSA Major General Carter L. Stevenson's Division sets up on the right, CSA Major General Thomas C. Hindman's Division in the slightly higher ground on the left, and CSA Major General Alexander P. Stewart's Division deploys directly in front of the small log New Hope Church in the center. Just before 10:00 a.m. on May 25, Confederate skirmishers about a mile in front of their own lines encounter the forward elements of Hooker's XX Army Corps rapidly marching towards New Hope. They attempt to burn a bridge over Pumpkinvine Creek to set up a delaying action, but are quickly overrun by USA Brigadier General John W. Geary's 2nd Division.
Warned that action is imminent, Stewart deploys his men in line astride the crossroads, ordering them to dig in as rapidly as possible. Stovall's Georgia Brigade is positioned on an open hilltop in the midst of the church's graveyard and is unable or unwilling to dig in at all, but CSA Brigadier General Henry D. Clayton's and CSA Brigadier General Alpheus Baker's Alabama Brigades in the center and right of the line throw up hasty but strong works of felled trees and earthen embankments. Sixteen guns from CSA Captain McDonald Oliver's Eufaula Alabama Battery and CSA Captain Charles E. Fenner's Louisiana Battery are massed within Stewarts roughly one-half mile front.
Sherman orders Hooker to push through what he believes is a small force and march directly to Dallas, remarking that "There haven't been twenty rebels there today" to the front of him. Just before 4:00 p.m. a severe thunderstorm starts to blow in over the battleground. Marching steadily on through the mounting wind and pounding thunder comes Geary's 2nd Division, with USA Major General Daniel Butterfield's 3rd Division to his left and USA Brigadier General Alpheus S. William's 1st Division on his right, all spread across a one-half mile front in column formation and bearing down directly on the massed Confederate front of Stewart's Division. The natural earth and timber works, combined with the very thick underbrush, serve to conceal the strength of the Confederate line from the Union attackers.
Just after 5:00 p.m., as Gearys skirmishers drive back Hoods, Union buglers sound out the call to go forward double-quick. Stumbling and falling through the thick brush and unable to see what lies ahead, the men from Ohio, Pennsylvania and New York hope to brush straight through what they believe is a weak line of Confederate militiamen and detached infantry brigades. Just as the monsoon force rains begin, William's men break out of the thickest part of the woods and rush straight for the Confederate line.
Stewart had wisely ordered the artillery to load with double-canister, and positioned his 4,000 men nearly shoulder to shoulder on a very tight front, anticipating quite accurately that Hooker would be packed in heavy infantry formations on his approach. As lighting crackled all around and sheets of rain poured down, the shouting mass of over 16,000 blue-coated infantry burst into sight less than one hundred feet in front of his lines. Immediately the Confederate line opens up and disappears again in a thick cloud of bluish gray rifle and cannon smoke. William's men take the brunt of the concentrated fire, losing most of his more than 800 casualties in the first ten minutes of battle.
For over three hours this one sided slaughter goes on, into the dark and stormy evening. Geary, Butterfield and Williams all order assault after assault, trying to break through what is increasingly obvious the main Confederate army line, only to be thrown back each time by murderous artillery and rifle fire. Stewart's Confederate forces starts running out of ammunition, the 60 round per man standard issue being depleted in as little as 30 minutes in some cases. Stewart brings his reserve forces in line primarily for their ammunition supply, and runners search the wounded and dead for any extra cartridges. Hooker finally admits defeat about 7:30 p.m., pulling his men back a short distance to dig in for the night, while Rebel yells and cat-calls greet their retreat.
Throughout the long night, as Union men dig in with shovels, bayonets, tin cups or bare hands, sporadic rifle and artillery fire breaks out, but no further assaults by either side are mounted. Hooker's command loses more than 1600 men in the short fight (most references back this figure up, but one source claims less than 700), while Confederate losses amount to "between 300 and 400" as reported by Stewart. One bitter Union infantryman remarks that Hooker has send them into a "hell hole"; the name sticks as a common reference to the brutal fight there and at Pickett's Mill.
After the pasting he received at New Hope Church, Sherman returns to his standard tactic of rapid flanking maneuver, and orders three divisions under the direct command of Howard to the far left in an attempt to turn the Confederate right. Johnston soon learns of the flanking attempt and orders two divisions to shift to the right of Hood's line, covering the probable Union line of attack. To the far right of the newly extended Confederate line is one of Johnston's best, CSA Major General Patrick R. Cleburne's Division, taking up position on a hilltop overlooking Pickett's Mill.
The Battle of Pickett's Mill
Although his scouts report fresh earthworks and Howard himself rides forward and observes gray-uniformed troops reinforcing them on the hill before them, the Union commander is somehow convinced that he has reached the flank or rear of the Confederate line of battle, and possibly believes that only a small picket outpost is entrenching. His uncertainty is obvious in a message sent about 3:30 p.m., "I am now turning the enemy's right flank, I think." Just after noon on May 27, Howard brings his three divisions in line of attack on a hilltop just north of the small mill community, again forming the men into the same narrow, deep heavy infantry formations that had failed so miserably two days earlier at New Hope Church.
At this point, the Confederate line curves to the east following the ridgeline atop a low rounded hill overlooking a steep, densely overgrown ravine. As the battle unfolded, two brigades of Cleburne's force were shifted to the far right of the line, refusing at right angles to the line so as to prevent any possibility of being flanked.
At 4:30 p.m. the Union line steps off into the thick, entangling underbrush, or at least most of them. There are very serious communication and land navigation problems, and one brigade ends up marching completely away from the growing sounds of battle, "to get rations." That particular brigade's commander, USA Brigadier General Nathaniel McLean of Kentucky, was a political enemy of Howard and on this day chose a particularly poor way of demonstrating his contempt.
Howard's leading brigade, commanded by USA Brigadier General William B. Hazen's 2nd Brigade (of USA Brigadier General Thomas J. Wood's 3rd Division, Howard's IV Army Corps), easily drives away the Confederate pickets and moves into the ravine. The growth is so thick that the colors must be encased to prevent them from being torn to pieces, and Hazen is forced to resort to his compass to stay moving in the right direction. Emerging suddenly in an open field, his troops first encounter a weak skirmish line of about a thousand dismounted cavalrymen from CSA Brigadier General John Kelly's and CSA Brigadier General William Hume's Cavalry Divisions, who they mistake as unentrenched infantry. Steadily overpowering the cavalrymen, Hazen's men rush cheering across the open ground upwards to what they think is an undefended rocky ridgeline. Just before gaining the heights, CSA Brigadier General Hiram M. Granbury's Texas Brigade suddenly appears in view and begins pouring a galling fire into the face of the onrushing Union line.
Hazen's men keep up the pressure, although suffering appalling casualties from a two-gun battery to their right at the point of the ravine (part of CSA Captain Thomas J. Key's Arkansas Battery), and from two more regiments rushing in to support Granbury, CSA Colonel George Baucum's 8th/19th Arkansas Consolidated Regiment to his left and CSA Brigadier General Mark P. Lowrey's Alabama-Mississippi Brigade to his right. Hazen manages to stay in the fight for about 50 minutes before being forced to withdraw, leaving his over 500 wounded and dead in place in the open ravine.
As Hazen withdraws, USA Colonel William H. Gibson's 1st Brigade advances over nearly the same ground and meets the same fate. Far from hitting a weakened Confederate line, as 3rd Division commander USA Brigadier General Thomas J. Wood had hoped, Gibson's men advance as far as the Confederate line itself before being thrown violently back. Roughly an hour of combat results in nothing more than an additional 687 Union casualties. Another brigade, USA Colonel Frederick Knefler's 3rd, is sent in about 6:30 p.m. in order to cover Gibson's retreat and to recover as many wounded as possible. They too are subjected to intense, nearly point-blank fire from the Confederate positions as soon as they enter the entangled ravine, and withdraw in short order.
The major assaults end by 7:00 p.m., but occasional firefights erupt until 10:00 p.m., when Granbury is ordered to "clear his front." The Texans fix bayonets and with wild Rebel yells, charge forward into the darkened ravine, killing or capturing many of the remaining Union troops. The remaining Union troops either "skedaddled" or "retreated in good order, with no pursuit [by the Texans] even being attempted," depending on whose account you read. Both sides encamp in place for the night after the firing dies down about 11:00 p.m., their attention still fixed on the body strewn battleground eerily lit up by dead pine trees set afire during the hot exchange.
Total Union losses for the days action totaled 1,689 killed, wounded, captured or missing, while Cleburne reported only 398 killed or wounded. This failed action so upsets Sherman that he apparently completely 'forgets' it in both his official report and his postwar memoirs.
The following day, May 28, 1864, Sherman finally decides that this westward flanking movement was getting him nowhere quick. Short on rations, his lines stretched nearly to the breaking point trying to hold the entire five mile line of battle from south of Dallas to northeast of Pickett's Mill, as well as the lines of communication necessary to protect their supply line back to the railroad north of Altoona. He orders a gradual shifting motion of the line back east towards Kennesaw and Marietta, and sends his cavalry to capture Altoona Gap itself. Johnston soon learns of this movement and orders an attack on the Union right, straight towards Dallas itself, but is repulsed with no positive effects on the Union movement, and at the cost of over 600 casualties.
The Kennesaw Line
By the first of June Sherman had begun massing his armies at Big Shanty (now called Kennesaw) and made preparations to strike straight for the Chattahoochee River. In between stood the twin peaks of Kennesaw Mountain and Johnston's entire combat force. Johnston initially arranged his 65,000 troops in a thin, ten mile long line of battle that stretched from Brushy Mountain on the east to Lost Mountain on the west, about three miles northwest of Kennesaw Mountain itself. This line was known as both the "Lost Mountain" and "First Kennesaw" Line.
The Kennesaw Line
In the late morning of June 14, 1864, Johnston accompanied by Hardee, Polk and several other general officers climb to the crest of Pine Mountain, in the rough center of the line. While observing the Union positions as related to their own lines, they are spotted by a Union artillery battery posted less than a half-mile away, which immediately opens fire. The first round scatters the distinguished crowd; poor old, fat and slow CSA General Leonidas K. Polk, the Louisiana Episcopalian bishop, is struck directly in the chest by the second Parrott shot and dies instantly.
After heavy attacks on June 14, 15 and 17, Johnston realizes his men are spread much too thin, and withdraws quietly during the pitch black night and heavy rains of June 18 two miles to the southeast. There he heavily entrenches from the railroad to the right, up across Kennesaw Mountain, Little Kennesaw Mountain and Pigeon Hill, and left over a low ridge later know as "Cheatham Hill." This strong, compact six mile long "Kennesaw" or "Second Kennesaw" Line is reinforced by artillery batteries placed on the heights, and cavalry placed on both flanks. One Union officer notes that the natural barricade of the mountain seem purposefully made to stop any attacking army. The sides facing the Union troops are steep and boulder-strewn, and most of the rest is covered with thick scrubbrush. Confederate engineers clear the peaks of trees and brush to serve as signal and artillery stations. The main entrenchments are dug at the proper military crests, with a series of screening entrenchments and rifle pits before them at the mountain base.
Cannon are hauled by hand up the steep slopes, a hundred men per gun pulling, tugging and cursing all the way. Eventually, two 4-gun batteries are established on Pigeon Hill, one 4-gun battery on the north end of Big Kennesaw (nearest U.S. 41), another nearly on the peak and nine guns atop Little Kennesaw. Before they even are completely emplaced, firing erupted between them and newly arriving Union batteries.
As soon as each of his Union forces moves up into position, Sherman orders constant probing and skirmish actions, trying to keep the pressure on until a weakness is revealed. One spot in the Kennesaw Line, a small hilltop called Bald Knob, lay just outside the main Confederate defensive position between Pigeon and Cheatham Hills, held by a Kentucky unit of the famed Orphan Brigade. After repeated assaults throughout much of the morning and early afternoon of June 20, two brigades of USA Major General David S. Stanley's 1st Division (Howards's IV Army Corps) manage to wrest control of the small outpost. In a rather bizarre move, later that evening, one brigade is withdrawn when it's commander thinks that a relieving force has arrived. The Kentuckians quickly realize what has happened and move back into their old positions, just as the Union troops realize their mistake and hasten back to the same spot. Just as the Union men jump down into the trenches, the Kentuckians pop up and began shooting at point-blank range. A few minutes of swirling, confused carnage resulted in possibly more than one instance of "friendly fire" casualties, until the hill is left in Confederate control once again.
The Fight at Kolb's Farm
Impatient as ever, Sherman sees that his probing actions are gaining nothing, so once again he returns to his classic flanking moves. Hooker's XX and Schofield's XXIII Army Corps are both sent on a sweeping movement to the south of the Kennesaw line, to attempt to gain Marietta and cut off the Confederate line of retreat. Johnston's near supernatural ability to 'read' Sherman's intentions comes to his aid once again; through a pounding thunderstorm on the night of June 21 Hood's entire corps marches from the far right of the line to the far left, consolidating and entrenching across the path of the approaching Union troops on Powder Springs Road.
As the Union troops probe and advance down that road on the afternoon of June 22, Hood suddenly decides to abandon his fairly strong defensive position, and risk it all on a full force assault. Hindman's Division into the north and Stevenson's Division on the left suddenly burst out of the thick woods into an open plain near the Kolb farm, straight into the massed fire of over 40 Union artillery pieces. The attack gains nothing, falling apart nearly before coming within rifle range of the hastily dug Union lines. The shattered remnants of Stevenson's Division attempt to take refuge in a shallow creekbed, where they are continuously raked by artillery fire until able to pull back after dark.
This attack further strained relations between Hood and Johnston, which had not been very healthy to begin with. Johnston issued a sharp reprimand for attacking without orders, which Hood responded to with yet another letter to Jefferson Davis complaining about the strategy being used. Strangely, reprimands were issued on the Union side as well, for Hooker had reported that during the short battle that "three entire corps are in front of us," Johnston's entire force strength at that time. Sherman was not amused by this report, and it didn't help that they got along no better than their Confederate counterparts.
Action on the Mountain
With his probing actions indecisive and his flanking maneuver halted at Kolb Farm, Sherman chooses yet another tactic. Tiring of the constant way Johnston slipped out of his flanking attacks, and possibly hoping to destroy the Confederate Army of Tennessee in one huge battle, he issues the order for a direct assault on the entrenchments of the Kennesaw line itself, to begin at 8:00 a.m. on June 27. McPherson is ordered to attack the southern side of the mountain, Thomas is ordered to attack south of the Dallas road in support of McPherson, and Schofield is directed to feint south of the Kolb Farm area as a diversion.
At 9:00 a.m. on the hot morning of the 27th, three brigades of McPherson's Corps step off up onto the steep slopes of Pigeon Hill, straight into the rocky fortifications. Surprisingly, some make it far enough up the hill through increasingly heavy fire to engage in hand-to-hand combat atop the entrenchments, before being forced back under heavy artillery fire. Union losses in this futile attack were over 850, with Confederate described as "about 250."
Thomas chooses to concentrate his attack against a salient in the Confederate line nearly three miles south of Pigeon Hill, later famous as the "Dead Angle." Believing that one mighty push will drive out the heavily entrenched Confederates of Cheatham's and Cleburne's Divisions, he decided on the little used heavy infantry formations. The five attacking brigades (from the Union right to left: USA Colonel John G. Mitchell's 2nd and USA Colonel Daniel McCook's 3rd, both of Davis' 2nd Division, XIV Corps; USA Brigadier General Charles G. Harker's 3rd, USA Brigadier General George D. Wagner's 2nd and USA Brigadier General Nathan Kimball's 1st, all of USA Brigadier General John Newton's 2nd Division, IV Corps) each spread out across a 200 yard front (1,500 to 2,000 yards was more normal), with about ten yards between each brigade. The overwhelming fire from the Confederate line proved so intense that the ten yard interval gradually closed until all five brigades ended up attacking as a single mass 12 ranks deep. An absolute slaughter ensued as every artillery piece and rifle within range concentrated on the 1,000 yard front line. One Confederate observer atop Kennesaw Mountain mentioned that as the massed Union troops approached the entrenchments, "they seemed to melt away or sink into the earth, to rise not more."
With so much fire coming within such a confined area, soon the dead leaves and underbrush were set afire, threatening to burn alive the wounded. Just to the right of the salient, CSA Colonel William H. Martin of the 1st/15th Arkansas Regiments ran to the top of a breastwork, and waving a white flag shouted that he was proposing a cease fire while the fire was put out and the wounded moved. In what was surely a bizarre scene, Union and Confederates laid down their arms and worked side by side for a few minutes. Several reports mention that the Confederates 'moved"'whatever Union guns and ammunition they could get ahold of as well. With the fire out and the wounded safely moved, both sides returned to their weapons, and the slaughter renewed.
By nightfall, most Union units had been completely thrown back, those few left under some protection of the hilly terrain would stay within rock-throwing distance for the next six days and keep up a constant sniping harassment. CSA Private Sam Watkins, a self-described "high-private" with the 1st/27th Tennessee Infantry Regiment ("The Maury Grays") at the Dead Angle, described his feelings when the last Union attack of the day was finally repulsed:
I never saw so many broken-down and exhausted men in my life. I was as sick as a horse, and as wet with blood and sweat as I could be, and many of our men were vomiting with excessive fatigue, over-exhaustion and sunstroke; our tongues were parched and cracked for water, and our faces blackened with powder and smoke, and our dead and wounded were piled indiscriminately in the trenches. There was not a single man in the company who was not wounded or had holes shot through his hat and clothing.
The only gain of the entire day's action, ironically, was Schofield's 'diversionary' attack to the south, which managed to get between Johnston's line and the Chattahoochee River while the Confederate forces were distracted by the main attack. Sherman was enraged over the failure to break the Confederate lines, however, and seriously contemplated ordering further attacks the next day. Thomas brought him back to reality by informing him that "one or two more such assaults would use up this army." Sherman finally relented and reported in a cable to Washington that night that his attack had failed and that he had suffered "about 3,000 casualties." Several reports dispute this figure, placing it closer to 7,000 or even 7,500, and Confederate losses for the day were placed at just under 1,000. Included in this number were Harker and McCook, both killed in the assault on the Dead Angle, along with the death or wounding of 9 other Union brigade and regimental commanders at this small place.
The Chattahoochee River Line
After his stunning defeat at Kennesaw Mountain, Sherman required over a week just to regroup and resupply his demoralized soldiers. On July 1, he abandoned for good his frontal assault tactics on entrenchments and plans another flanking maneuver to the south and east, to try once again to bypass Johnston and gain Marietta. Once again, Johnston's scouts observed the huge army getting under way before any real progress could be made. With no real natural defensive barrier to help stop the numerically superior Union army, Johnston decides to abandon Marietta and fall back across the wide, shallow Chattahoochee River, burning or destroying whatever supplies and equipment Sherman might find useful along the way.
The Georgia Militia Enters the Fighting
By the afternoon of July 2, Johnston set up a new line of defense at the small town of Smyrna, just northwest of the Chattahoochee, while his main body crossed to the south bank. This line collapsed in less than a day of heavy skirmishing with forward elements of the Union line, and by the next afternoon Johnston pulled back to his last line of entrenchments north of the river.
Georgia Governor Joseph E. Brown had repeatedly offered both his militia and his own "private army," the Georgia State Line, to Johnston for front line service. Accepting them in May, just after the New Hope Church battle, both units had proven capable fighters in the line, although very unpolished. Sam Watkins gave a vivid description of their arrival:
By way of grim jest, and a fitting burlesque to tragic scenes, or, rather, to the thing called "glorious war," old Joe Brown, then Governor of Georgia, sent in his militia. It was the richest picture of an army I ever saw...Every one was dressed in citizen's clothes, and the very best they had at that time. A few had double-barreled shot-guns, but the majority had umbrellas and walking sticks, and nearly every one had on a duster, a flat-bosomed "biled" shirt, and a plug hat; and to make the thing more ridiculous, the dwarf and the giant were marching side by side; the knock-kneed by the side of the bow-legged; the driven-in by the side of the drawn-out; the pale and sallow dyspeptic, who looked like Alex. Stephens, and who seemed to have just been taken out of a chimney that smoked very badly, and whose diet was goobers and sweet potatoes, was placed beside the three hundred-pounder, who was dressed up to kill...
After failing to hold the line at nearby Smyrna, Johnston was desperate to get his forces intact across the Chattahoochee, into the northern fringes of Atlanta, and escape the overpowering Union frontal assault. He orders the few thousand men of the Georgia Militia under General Gustavus Smith to dig in on his left at hastily constructed trenchlines just below Smyrna, on the north bank of the Chattahoochee, near the small Nickajack Creek. This near suicidal and expendable position directly confronted the full corps strength vanguard of Sherman's army. With the Union forces bearing down rapidly, the 1st Regiment of the Georgia State Line under CSA Colonel Edward M. Galt is sent in to reinforce the line on July 4. Relieving the Militia at the forward primary fighting positions, the State Line troopers have barely gotten into place before forward elements of Palmer's XIV Army Corps begin their assault.
Palmer soon reports fierce resistance in this line, but Sherman is convinced that it represents a token rear guard action while Johnston retreats across the river. Believing the line can be easily brushed aside, he orders Palmer to "fiercely assault" the line with everything he has, nearly 20,000 men at that point. The total combat effective manpower available to the State Line by this time is about 300, with the 2-4,000 Georgia Militia acting as reserves (most were not quite fit for even that duty) and one 4-gun battery of artillery for support. Palmer's men assault and skirmish with the troopers all through the day of July 5 without result, until Sherman personally comes up to reconnoiter.
Upon seeing the strength of the State Line's redoubts, he calls off the attack, stating later that it represented "the best line of field entrenchments I have ever seen." Impressed with the fighting resistance of "Joe Brown's Pets," and worried that to continue the frontal attack would result in another disaster like Kennesaw Mountain, Sherman instead sends part of his army far to the left, to cross the river at an unguarded site.
Finding nearly all the ferries and pontoon bridges out due to the high water caused by weeks of heavy rains, and what bridges remaining either heavily defended or burned, Sherman is running out of options to find a crossing that won't result in losing most of his army in the muddy water.
Garrard's 2nd Division Cavalry (of USA Brigadier General Washington Elliott's Cavalry Corps, Schofield's XXIII Army Corps) is sent about 15 miles to the north and quickly captures the small town of Roswell, overlooking the Chattahoochee River. He finds the bridge there burned, but finds several spots nearby where the river may be safely forded. He is ordered to keep watch for Confederate movements and to stay concealed until the main force can arrive. With USA Major General George Stoneman's Cavalry Division ranging as far south as Sandtown, McPherson's Corps feinting to the right and Thomas' Corps keeping the pressure on the river line, Schofields Corps is quickly moved up river on July 8 to find the best crossing site.
In the early afternoon of July 9, finding a 300 yard wide, relatively shallow spot over a submerged fish dam near Sope Creek (Soap Creek on some maps), USA Colonel Daniel Cameron's 103rd Ohio Infantry swam across to establish a beachhead. Encountering no opposition, Schofield then orders a crossing in force at 3:30 that afternoon. Led by a combat amphibious assault by the 12th Kentucky Regiment under USA Lieutenant Colonel Laurence H. Rousseau, part of USA Colonel Robert K. Boyd's 3rd (Kentucky) Brigade (the same brigade that had "withdrawn for rations" at Pickett's Mill), the crossing was an outstanding success. The only Confederates in the area were part of a small picket outpost, who only got off a single volley before running away.
Sherman Crosses the Chattahoochee
By nightfall the entire division was across, and with the news of Union on the south bank, Johnston decides his only recourse is to once again retreat. Abandoning the river line to Sherman, Johnston pulls his forces back south of Peachtree Creek, on the very doorstep of Atlanta itself. In a little over 60 days the hardened Rebel force has been forced back from no less than eight strongly prepared defensive lines by Sherman's flanking movements, and has been forced to surrender all of northern Georgia.
Without further resistance to his river crossing, Sherman pauses only long enough to rebuild pontoon and railroad bridges before striking south again. On July 11, McPherson is sent eastward towards Decatur and Stone Mountain, with orders to cut the railway between Atlanta and Augusta. Sherman's greatest fear at this point is that Johnston will receive reinforcements by rail from Lee's Army of Northern Virginia. Thomas is sent south towards Peachtree Creek, with Schofield marching just to his right headed toward Buckhead.
Johnston carefully notes the Union approach, and plans to wait until close contact is established, then attack the gap between Thomas and Schofield before they are deployed for the fight. Before he can carry out this attack, Jefferson Davis carries out one of the worst decisions made during the war and fires Johnston. Late in the afternoon of July 17, Hood is promoted to General and given command of the entire Army of Tennessee. Just 33 years old and considered a hot headed divisional level commander out of his league as high as the corps level, the move delighted no one more than Sherman. In his postwar memoirs he mentions, "I was always anxious with Johnston at my front." He knows Hood is rash and prone to ordering ill-timed and poorly planned movements, and is anxious for him to do so before Atlanta. It would be much better to destroy the Confederate forces in the field and then easily take the vital transportation and supply center than to be forced to assault heavily fortified defenses.
Least happy of all were the Confederate soldiers, who had loved Johnston for his humane treatment of them, and feared Hood would kill them all off in ill-considered battles. Sam Watkins said Johnston's removal was "like the successful gambler, flushed with continual winnings, who staked his all and lost. It was like the end of the Southern Confederacy."
Advance to Peachtree Creek
The day after Hood took command, Union infantrymen of Palmer's XIV Army Corps advanced through heavy resistance by Wheeler's Cavalry to the northern banks of Peachtree Creek, near Howell Mill Road. At just about the same time, Garrad's Cavalry supported by McPherson's infantry reached the Georgia Railroad and captured the railroad depot at Stone Mountain, 15 miles east of Atlanta. On July 19, three brigades of Palmer's XIV Army Corps forced a crossing of Peachtree Creek towards Moore's Mill, followed by other crossings under fire by elements of Howard's IV Army Corps near Peachtree Road and Hooker's XX Army Corps near Collier Road. By nightfall the Union forces formed a solid line of bluecoated infantry on the south banks of Peachtree Creek itself, facing due south towards the Confederate line arranged atop low hills about one-half mile away.
The Battle of Peachtree Creek
Pleased with the progress of his subordinates, Sherman ordered Thomas to cross Peachtree Creek and engage Hood, Schofield to capture Decatur and McPherson to advance towards Atlanta, tearing up the railroad tracks along the way. Obsessed with detail, Sherman sent word on exactly how he wanted the tracks torn up, "Pile the ties into shape for a bonfire, put the rails across and when red hot in the middle, let a man at each end twist the bar so that its surface becomes spiral."
Hood had a reputation as a battlefield brawler, and he wasted little time going on the offensive. A general attack was ordered at about 1:00 p.m. on July 20, intended to drive the dug-in Union infantry back across the creek and as far as the banks of the Chattahoochee River. Before the attack could commence, Hood ordered the entire line to shift a little under one mile to the east, to protect his right flank from counterattack. Despite the fact that this movement threw the whole line into disarray and caused a general confusion as to exactly where they were to advance, he ordered the attack to begin at 4:00 p.m.
At about 2:45 p.m., CSA Major General William W. Loring's Division (Stewart's Corps) steps off, almost immediately encountering Union infantry and mistakingly initiating battle action in the center of the line. CSA Major General William B. Bate's Division of Hardee's Corps, ordered to begin the general assault on the extreme right of the Confederate lines, doesn't actually move out until nearly one-half hour later. The rest of the two-mile long line follow in piecemeal, advancing more in small groups and masses rather than well-formed lines, as a result of the uneven terrain and thick underbrush.
The only real success of the entire assault is made by CSA Brigadier General Thomas M. Scott's Brigade (Stewart' Corps) of mostly Alabama troops, who advance through the Tanyard Branch and Collier Road vicinity, attack, drive off and capture the flag of USA Colonel Patrick H. Jone's 33rd New Jersey Infantry Regiment (Geary's 2nd Division, Hooker's XX Army Corps), as well as a four gun artillery battery. Scott's men are soon forced to withdraw, as no other unit is able to break through to support them on either flank.
No other unit made even that modest of a success, and the entire attack was over with and all units back in their original positions by 6:00 that evening. The well positioned Union forces had handed the advancing Confederates quite a mauling. Although the numbers engaged were fairly even, 21,450 Union to 18,450 Confederate, casualties were much more one sided, 1,780 Union to 4,800 Confederate. Hood's first outing as an army commander was a unqualified disaster.
To add insult to injury, shortly before noon of July 20th, four 20-pounder Parrott rifles of USA Captain Francis DeGress are set up and and soon begin firing the first of thousands of artillery shells into the Gate City itself. The first shell exploded at the intersection of Ivy and East Ellis Streets, killing a young girl who had been walking with her parents past Frank P. Rice's lumber dealership on the northwest corner. Shelling will continue for several weeks at the rate of one round every 15 minutes, more as a harassment and reminder of the siege conditions than as a real destruction attempt. The DeGress Battery itself will soon be the very object and center of fighting for the city.
The Battle of Atlanta
Before the fighting even dies down at Peachtree Creek, Sherman is massing his forces for the next assault. McPherson's three corps are set in motion down the Georgia Railroad to attack Atlanta from the east, while Thomas and Schofield are ordered to close up and keep as much pressure on the Confederates as possible. By late in the day on July 20, forward elements of USA Major General Frank P. Blair's XVII Army Corps have engaged Wheeler's dismounted cavalry on a small hilltop two miles to the east of Atlanta. Heavy combat erupts as the two lines collide, until the Southern cavalrymen are overwhelmed and withdraw about midnight.
Realizing the tactical importance of the small hill, in the early morning of July 21 Blair sends in USA Brigadier General Mortimer D. Leggett's 3rd Division and USA Brigadier General Giles A. Smith's 4th Division against Cleburne's Division, who has replaced the decimated cavalrymen. Cleburne's men have spent the night reinforcing the hilltop position, but are unable to stop the Union assault. The Confederates withdraw slightly, then spend most of the rest of the day attempting to retake the hill. While the battle rages on, Blair orders up his artillery and sets the guns into newly reversed entrenchments, bringing Atlanta itself within good artillery range for the first time. In honor of his men's heroics, the hilltop is renamed Leggett's Hill, which the area still bears on some maps today.
The Night March Through Atlanta
Hood has no intention of pursuing the same sort of well-planned out, plodding and slow retreat defense that Johnston utilized, and thinks he sees an opportunity for offensive action against McPherson. Withdrawing Stewart's Corps and the Georgia Militia to the strongly fortified positions in the outer ring of defenses around Atlanta, he orders Hardee's Corps on an all-night forced march. Moving due south down Peachtree Street through the middle of town (and panicking the civilians, who believe their entire army is deserting them), they swing eastward towards Decatur, attempting to get behind Blair's Corps lines before moving north into the line of battle. Cleburne's Division withdraws with some difficulty from the Leggett's Hill action and joins Hardee's march. At the same time, two divisions of Wheeler's Cavalry are sent around the Union left flank, to attempt a strike at their supply wagons in Decatur.
To the lowly infantryman, this brilliant plan must have lost some of it's luster. Having been in action off and on for over two months, they pull back time after time only to spend hours in back breaking labor digging in and reinforcing when they arrived at new positions, for "spades is trumps" as the men said. Then, after doing this again and again without adequate rest and dwindling supplies, they are ordered up on line of battle and into the assault on July 20, then only to be violently thrown back with heavy losses. Within hours once more the order is given to withdraw and now to go immediately into a all night march. Without a doubt this was nearly more than the poorly supplied, hungry and thirsty men could endure.
CSA Brigadier General Daniel C. Govan of Cleburne's Division is equally unimpressed, deathly worried that "the loss of another night's rest was a heavy tax upon their powers of endurance." Hundreds of soldiers simply plop down on the side of the road, unable to go any further, until at last a two hour rest is called. Hood intended for the attack to begin a daylight, but it is becoming apparent that any possible attack could be launched no earlier than noon.
Unknown to the Confederates, McPherson was worried that they would attempt this exact movement, and ordered his lines extended and turned to the south. Dodge's XVI Army Corps was ordered in to Blair's left, facing southeast, and entrenching as had become the norm. At McPherson's urging, Blair's men heavily entrenched and blocked lanes of approach before them.
By the morning of July 22, Hardee's men had trudged down the McDonough Road south of Atlanta, and then turned to the northeast on the Fayetteville Road towards Decatur. Still trying to make up time lost on the rest stops, Hardee ordered Cleburne's and CSA Brigadier General George E. Maney's Divisions to begin deploying to the left when they reached Bouldercrest Road (now Drive), while Bate's and CSA Major General William H. T. Walker's Divisions continued on up the road before turning left on what is today called Wilkinson Drive. Both of these moves into line were short of their original goals.
Presently running into a large mill pond their guides had repeatedly warned them about, Walker's and Bate's Divisions wander around through the thick forest for nearly an hour trying to sort themselves out and get into line of battle. As Walker roundly curses their guides, grumbling that they must be "traitors" to allow him to get himself in such a fix, he raises his field glasses to try and figure out his next move. A nearby Union picket spots Walker and kills him with a single well-aimed shot.
Fighting in East Atlanta
Walker's place is taken over by CSA Brigadier General Hugh W. Mercer, and the planned dawn attack commences after more confusion and shifting troops at about 12:15 p.m. On advancing to the planned line of departure near the present day intersection of Memorial Drive and Clay Street, the Confederates discover to their horror that, far from being in the Union rear, they are advancing straight into a heavily invested front line position. Pressing forward under intense fire from Sweeney's 2nd Division (Dodge's XVI Army Corps), they are nearly immediately raked by fire from two well sited artillery positions, one six-gun Napoleon battery (USA Lieutenant Andrew T. Blodgett's 1st Missouri Light Battery) and one six gun three-inch ordinance rifle battery (USA Captain Jerome M. Burrows 14th Ohio Light Battery, noted as being replaced in command by USA Lieutenant Seith M. Laird in a few accounts).
About 30 minutes later, Cleburne's and Maney's Divisions launch their attack to the left of the ongoing fight, straight into the 'bend' of the Union Line held by Giles Smith's 4th Division (Blair's XVII Army Corps). This attack is much more successful, driving the Union line all the way north to Leggett's Hill and capturing an entire infantry regiment (USA Lieutenant Colonel Addison H. Sander's 16th Iowa) and eight artillery pieces.
McPherson had been eating lunch with his staff and corps commanders less than a mile away when he heard the sudden crash of artillery fire. He hastily mounts his horse and rides south with a small group of officers to check on the situation, pausing atop a nearby hill. From there he can see that Sweeney's Division is holding up well, but he can not see the situation on the other end of the line. Striking out immediately for the spot between the two Confederate assaults, he realizes that his line is not continuous in that area, and quickly orders up more troops to fill the gap. Riding through the unmanned gap towards Giles Smith's position, his party suddenly bursts out of the heavy forest into a clearing, coming face to face with the advancing 5th Confederate Regiment (CSA Captain Richard Beard's Tennessee). The Confederates call on him to surrender, but in an attempt to escape, he wheels his horse around, raises his hat in salute, and gallops off towards the treeline. A single shot fired by CSA Corporal Robert F. Coleman tears through McPherson's lungs, killing him instantly.
Hood finally realizes that the Union left flank is engaged, not the rear as planned, and orders Cheatham's Corps out of the east Atlanta defense line and in to assault the entrenched Union main line. At the same time, Maney's Division is ordered to break off and move to Cleburne's left, where they can support Cheatham's attack. Maney's Division starts their assault at about 3:30 p.m. Cheatham's Corps moves out one-half hour later, possibly due to a confusion over orders. Once again Leggett's Hill is in the center of much of the action, but the repeated Confederate assaults fail to regain control of it.
The general assault finds a weak spot at the position held by USA Brigadier General Joseph Lightburn's 2nd Brigade (USA Brigadier General Morgan L. Smith's 2nd Division, Logan's XV Army Corps). CSA Brigadier General Arthur M. Manigault's Brigade (of Cheatham's Corps) leads the assault, pushing through the railroad cut (near the present day Inman Park MARTA Station), capturing the infamous DeGress' 1st Illinois Light Battery H, consisting of four 20-pounder Parrott rifles that had been cutting them to pieces for hours, then turning left and scattering four Ohio regiments (the 47th, 54th, 37th and 53rd, in turn). More Confederate units pour through the opening, capturing another two gun artillery battery, and forcing a total of four Union brigades to retreat from a now nearly half-mile wide break-through.
Sherman, observing from his headquarters in the Augustus Hurt House about three-fourths of a mile to the northwest, orders Schofield to mass all his artillery (20 guns) at the Confederate breach, and Logan to collect up eight brigades to fill in the breech. Between the massed artillery and Logan's strong counterattack, the Confederates are soon forced back into their original positions, at a heavy loss.
Wheeler's cavalry strike at Decatur meets with more success, driving back two regiments of infantry and capturing 225 prisoners and an artillery piece, but is ordered back to the west to support Hardee before he can capture or destroy the Union supply train, his main goal.
The day was another unqualified disaster for the Confederate Army of Tennessee. Total casualties ran over 5,000 (Sherman claimed over 8,000, but this was no doubt exaggerated) for no gain other than 12 briefly captured artillery pieces, that could not even be withdrawn in the retreat, as all the caisson horses had been killed in the action. The Union Army of the Tennessee fared little better, giving up no territory but losing 3,722 killed wounded or missing.
Four days after the indecisive Battle of Atlanta, on July 26, USA Major General Oliver O. Howard takes over McPherson's Army of the Tennessee, and immediately begins moving out to the west along the northern arc of Atlanta's defenses. The targets this time are the last two open railroads leading into the besieged city, the Macon & Western and the Atlanta & West Point.
The Battle of Ezra Church
Hood soon learns of the Union movement and decides, once again, that this will be a good opportunity to launch an offensive action. He sends his old corps, now under command of CSA Lieutenant General Stephen D. Lee, along with Stewart's Corps, west down Lick Skillet Road (now Gordon Road) to confront Howard at the small crossroads where Ezra Methodist Church stands, before the Union troops can reach the vital railway.
This was in itself not a bad plan, the only problem being that Howard's Corps had already reached the crossroads, was aware of Hood's intent and was entrenching before Lee's Corps ever left the city. Lee did not know this when his corps marched out of the Atlanta defenses about 10:00 AM on July 28. CSA Brigadier General John C. Brown's and CSA Major General Henry D. Clayton's Divisions led the column line of march. Within a mile or so, Brown encounters elements of CSA Brigadier William H. Jackson's Cavalry Division, who informs him of the entrenched Yankee lines ahead. Lee makes a very poor decision, and orders Brown's and Clayton's men to move straight ahead and assault without wasting time waiting for additional support to come up on line.
Brown's Division hastily forms in line of battle directly opposite three and part of a fourth Union brigades of Morgan Smith's 2nd Division (Logan's XV Army Corps) and move forward about 12:30 PM. Clayton's Division lags a bit behind, moving through thick forest over to Brown's right flank, and forms up and moves forward about 10 minutes later, also into parts or all of four Union brigades. Both Confederate divisions are assaulting uphill into a barricaded, entrenched line of heavily supplied infantry (the Union troops had been issued 100 round per man before the battle, about 40 percent more than usual), and are being thrown into the headlong fight piecemeal as they arrived on scene. To top off the list of problems, the forest in this area is so thick that the assaulting Confederates can't see the Union entrenchment until they are nearly on top of them.
Only one unit manages to break through the Union barricade, CSA Colonel William F. Brantley's Mississippi Brigade over on the extreme left of the Confederate line of assault, but it is soon pushed back by a strong counterattack before they can invest the trenchlines. The rest of the Confederate line melts away under rifle fire so intense that "no mortal could stand," as put by USA Colonel Hugo Wangelin (3rd Brigade Commander, Smith's 1st Division, Logan's Corps).
Stewart's Corps fares no better on their attempt. Leading the way is CSA Major General Edward C. Walthall's Division moving at the quick step over the same ground Brown had charged through. Stumbling over the dead and wounded Confederates in the thick forest, his line is repulsed in quick order, and his dead and wounded now lay side by side with their predecessor's. Sporadic skirmishing and sniper fire continue until dark, when the Confederates withdrew back into the Atlanta defenses, carrying as many wounded as the exhausted men were able to drag behind them.
For the third straight time in less than 10 days, Hood had wrecked a significant part of his once hardened and capable army by sending them against superior forces who were well-entrenched and better supplied. Total casualty figures for the brief attack are very difficult to accurately assess, as few Confederate records exist, but somewhere between 2,500 and 5,000 were killed, wounded or missing, to the Union loss of about 600.
Both sides gain and lose something as a result of the 10 day, 3 battle campaign around the Atlanta defenses. Sherman fails to take the city proper, but does inflict serious damage on the Confederate Army of Tennessee. Hood fails to cripple or even drive back any of the three Union grand armies before him, but he does manage to hold both the city and two of the four railroads supplying it.
Sherman grows more and more frustrated with his inability to pound or starve Hood's troops out of the city, and orders yet another attack on the remaining railroad tracks to try and force the Confederates out in the open where they can be destroyed once and for all. On August 4, Schofield's XXIII and Palmer's XIV Army Corps are ordered to swing around to the southwest and strike towards the two remaining railroad tracks near East Point. Another squabble between officers delays the movement for nearly two full days, this time being between Palmer and Schofield over whom is the senior officer.
Hood gets word on August 5 of the Union movement, and orders a new line of emplacements built along the Sandtown Road (now called Cascade Road) and manned by Bate's Division of Hardee's Corps reinforced by a two-gun artillery battery, a brigade of the Georgia Militia and CSA Brigadier General Lawrence S. Ross' Texas Cavalry Brigade.
At dawn on August 6, after Sherman harshly reprimanded Palmer for his attitude and the delay it caused (he later stated that "I regard the loss of time this afternoon as equal to the loss of 2,000 men."), USA Brigadier General Jacob D. Cox's 3rd Division (Schofield's XXIII Army Corps) advances with a 2,500 man front against the now heavily entrenched Confederate left. This attack gets within 30 yards of the Confederate line before being broken up with severe loss and thrown back. Several other multi-brigade assaults are attempted with the same result, and nearly 400 casualties.
In the midst of all this action, still upset over his argument with Schofield and stinging from Sherman's rebuke, USA Major General John M. Palmer tenders his resignation and quits his command. USA Brigadier General Richard W. Johnson hastily takes over command and orders an immediate assault on the right of the Confederate line. They are no more successful, suffering 200 more casualties for no gain. Total Confederate losses for the day are about 200, included those captured in their forward skirmish positions in the early part of the battle. Sherman tersely describes the action as "a noisy but not bloody battle."
Frustrated with his inability to cut the rail lines, Sherman ponders his next move. A direct assault on the Atlanta fortifications is completely out of the question. Two and in some places three interlocking rings of artillery batteries and infantry parapets surround the city a little over a mile out from it's center, reinforced by as many as four rows of abatis and long lines of chevaux-de-frise, and manned with the tired, hungry and undersupplied but highly experienced Confederate Army of Tennessee. Planned and constructed by Georgia's chief military engineer, CSA Captain Lemuel P. Grant, using slave labor from nearby plantations, the fortress city was "too strong to assault and too extensive to invest," according to Sherman's own Chief of Engineers, USA Captain Orlando M. Poe. Sherman decides to bombard the city into submission.
On August 1, Sherman had ordered Schofield's artillery to increase their rate of fire, and after the disaster at Utoy Creek, he sends for large artillery guns and plenty of ammunition. Two 30-pounder Parrott rifles are brought in from Chattanooga, specifically for building destruction, and eight huge 4.5 inch siege guns are brought in and mounted by August 8. On August 9, Sherman orders every battery within range to open fire, "and make the inside of Atlanta too hot to be endured." That day alone over 5,000 shells slam into the city's heart.
Sherman keeps the intense bombardment up for over two weeks, gradually wearing away the strength and endurance of the hollow-eyed soldiers within the city fortifications. Then, suddenly, on August 25 all the guns fall silent. Hood hopes for a moment that Sherman has given up and is withdrawing, but his hopes are dashed when word comes of yet another Union flanking attempt. Thomas' entire Army of the Cumberland and Howard's Army of the Tennessee move around the the right of Atlanta, and sweep down on the Atlanta & West Point Railroad nine miles southwest of East Point. Hood cannot hope to muster any sort of force to stop them, but pulls nearly his entire army out of Atlanta to try and protect the last remaining railway, leaving Stewart's Corps and Smith's Georgia Militia to hold the city lines.
The Final Battle for Atlanta
Realizing that Sherman intended to strike at Jonesboro and cut the railway, after dark on August 30 Hood orders Hardee's and Lee's Corps to move hastily to defend the small town. Encountering Union pickets about 3:00 AM and not wanting to risk a night battle, the two Confederate corps move slightly to the east, not arriving in line at Jonesboro until just after noon on the 31st. Hood was almost frantic to defend his railroad, sending Hardee message after message to attack "as soon as you can get your troops up."
At 3:00 that afternoon, the order comes; fix bayonets, up and at 'em, and drive the Yankees from their trenches. The two corps wide Confederate assault advancing through open fields and concentrated artillery cannister fire into the Union fortified positions never made it closer than 60 yards away at any point before withdrawing. Losses were staggeringly one-sided, at least 1,700 Confederates versus a mere 179 Union killed or wounded.
At the same time, Schofield's Army of the Ohio reinforced by USA Major General David S. Stanley's IV Army Corps move around the southern Atlanta defenses and strike the Macon & Western Railroad near Rough & Ready (now called Mountain View). Quickly overwhelming the small dismounted cavalry unit stationed there, the Union troops quickly rip up the tracks and move north towards East Point.
At 6:00 that evening, Hood orders Lee's Corps back north to help defend Atlanta against the new attack, leaving Hardee alone in Jonesboro facing three full Union corps. At midnight, Hardee sends a message by courier to Hood (the telegraph wire having been cut about 2:00 PM) advising that the attack had failed and Atlanta should be abandoned. Through the rest of the long hot night his forces shift around to cover the gaps left by Lee's departure, and dig in as best they can. All know their real job is to hold the main Union armies long enough for Hood to get the rest of their forces out of Atlanta.
The last Union attack begins at 4:00 PM on September 1, led by two brigades of USA Brigadier General William P. Carlin's 1st Division (USA Brevet Major General Jefferson C. Davis' XIV Army Corps) and quickly followed by brigade after brigade, division after division, until all three corps are engaged in the assault. Amazingly, although one side of his line caves in and 865 prisoners and two full batteries of artillery are captured, Hardee manages to hold until the attack ends after nightfall. About midnight, he withdraws his three remaining divisions south to Lovejoy Station, leaving behind about 1,400 dead and wounded. The Union force fares little better, losing a total of 1,272, but at last taking and cutting the last railway they have sought for so long.
On the morning of September 1, having received Hardee's dreadful message, Hood at long last orders the evacuation of the doomed city. With the railway cut, it will be impossible to take much in the way of supplies with them, so warehouses are ordered opened up for the civilians. Stewart's Corps and Smith's Militia begin marching out around 5:00 PM, with rear guard French's divisional pickets withdrawing about 11:00 PM. Sappers and engineers hastily prepare the abandoned military supplies for destruction. Around midnight a thunderous roar announces the end of a large ammunition train Hood was unable to withdraw. Sherman hears the blast 15 miles away in his headquarters at Jonesboro, and knows he now has the city.
The End of the Atlanta Campaign
On September 3, 1864, Sherman telegraphed USA Major General Henry W. Halleck in Washington,
"So Atlanta is ours, and fairly won."
Hood manages to slip away with his forces more or less intact, what remains of them, after blowing up his large ammunition train and abandoning warehouses full of supplies. No complete records exist, but somewhere close to 30,000 tired, starving and ill-equipped troops are left to carry out Hood's desperate plan to strike at the Union rear. Well over 81,000 troops are still available to Sherman, who decides not to follow and finish off the badly mauled Confederate force, but to simply rest and resupply within the fortifications of Atlanta.
Between Dalton and the gates of Atlanta lie the graves of 4,423 Union and 3,044 Confederate soldiers. 22,822 Union and 18,952 Confederates were wounded during the four month campaign, and a total of 17,335 on both sides were captured or simply disappeared.
Sherman rests until mid November, then leaving one corps behind to garrison the city and guard against the still roaming northwards Confederate Army of Tennessee, he divides his forces into two great columns and begins his advance to Savannah and the sea. Almost as a parting gift to the vanquished rebels, he orders every building "of military value" to be put to the torch; his troops broadly interpreted this order, burning all but about 500 of the 5,000 or so buildings left standing after the long campaign.
Both side know that, with the fall of Atlanta and it's surrounding factories and railroads, the war is, for all practical purposes, over.
The March to the Sea
Sherman's 'Georgia Campaign,' another name given for his famed 'March to the Sea,' can be viewed as simply an extension of his Atlanta Campaign, which began in the northwestern mountains in May, 1864. His original goal of cutting the critical transportation and manufacturing center of Atlanta off from the rest of the Confederacy having been met by early September, Sherman pondered what to do next. One of his earliest thoughts was to strike southwest towards LaGrange and West Point, while Union forces stationed in Mobile and Pensacola marched north to meet him, opening the Chattahoochee and Apalachicola rivers to Union control.
Another considered then rejected plan was to strike towards the state capital at Milledgeville, then turn on Macon, Augusta, and "sweep the whole State of Georgia," but concern over the still undefeated CSA Army of Tennessee just outside Atlanta gave him serious pause. His primary concern was that his supply line snaked through a relatively narrow defended corridor over 100 miles to the north in Chattanooga, and from there another 130 miles north to the main Union base at Nashville. Both the Confederate Army of Tennessee under CSA Major General John Bell Hood and CSA Major General Joseph Wheeler's Cavalry Corps up in Tennessee threatened to cut off this supply route at any given time.
Researching population and agricultural records for every county in Georgia, Sherman finally concluded that his 60,000 plus men could live off the land for a short time, giving opportunity to join a Union army somewhere along the Atlantic coast. Under great pressure to send his army south to rescue Union prisoners at the notorious Camp Sumter prisoner of war camp near Andersonville, Georgia, Sherman admitted that going down the Flint River to accomplish this would probably be the safest course of action. However, he had objectives other than simple safe military maneuver.
By October 1, Sherman finally made up his mind where to go next. Ordering USA Major General George H. Thomas back to Chattanooga with two corps to defend Tennessee, he began stripping down his remaining army to a hand-picked fighting force of 55,255 infantry, 4,588 cavalry and 1,759 artillerymen with 68 guns organized into four army corps. Writing a series of letters to his friend and commander, Lieutenant General Ulysses S. Grant, back in Washington, he outlined his planned offensive, "Until we can repopulate Georgia (with Unionists), it is useless for us to occupy it; but the utter destruction of its roads, houses, and people will cripple their military resources...I can make this march and make Georgia howl." He further advised that he was sending his wounded and unfit soldiers back up to Tennessee, "and with my effective army, move through Georgia, smashing things to the sea."
Sherman's only real worry was that the few good roads and frequent stream and river crossing in southern Georgia could allow the remains of Hood's army and small bands of Georgia militia and home guards to delay his advance to an unhealthy degree. Unwittingly, Hood himself helped relieve some of this concern, with a renewed offensive against Sherman's rear, enroute to his own ill-fated Tennessee Campaign.
The Burning of Atlanta
Planning to begin his march out of Atlanta southwards on November 16, Sherman issued orders that anything of military value in the city be destroyed before they departed. Giving the task over to his Chief of Engineers, USA Captain Orlando M. Poe, Sherman intended to render useless anything even remotely related to manufacturing, transportation or communications. Poe took this order and applied it quite liberally, without any objection from Sherman. Starting on the afternoon of November 11, block after block was set afire, the contents being pillaged and looted beforehand by large gangs of drunken Union soldiers and sober Southern citizens alike.
Above Atlanta, Sherman gave orders that anything of "military value" be destroyed by his troops gathering for the march south. Rome, Acworth and Marietta were all consigned to the torch, and soon little was visible of the once pretty small towns but heaps of smoldering ruins and lonely chimneys standing like pickets.
To conduct his destruction more efficiently, Poe had devised a new machine, consisting of a 21-foot long iron bar, swinging on chains from a 10-foot high wooden scaffold. With a gang of soldiers to move and swing it, it was a devilishly clever way to knock down whatever struck his fancy. The railroad roundhouse, factories, warehouses, residences and masonry buildings of all description were soon reduced to piles of rubble. Under other buildings Union soldiers piled stack of mattresses, oil-soaked wagon parts, broken fence rails and just about anything else that would burn. Atop everything they piled artillery shot and shells abandoned by Hood's retreating army. In a touch of irony, sentries were then posted to prevent "unauthorized" acts of arson.
Finally ready to move out, Sherman ordered Poe to start the fires late on the afternoon of November 15. Within a few minutes the "authorized" fires had been set, at first confined to factories and warehouses containing Hood's abandoned supplies. An early evening wind soon built up the fires, and spraying sparks and burning cinders in every direction, the fires spread like, well, wildfire. Pleased by the sight of the soon out-of-control fires raging through the city, Sherman was moved to remark only that he supposed the flames could be visible from Griffin, about 45 miles to the south.
As a sort of explanation to his staff, who were starting to view the wanton destruction with unease, Sherman remarked,
"This city has done more and contributed more to carry on and sustain the war than any other, save perhaps Richmond. We have been fighting Atlanta all the time, in the past; have been capturing guns wagons, etc. etc., marked Atlanta and made here, all the time; and now since they have been doing so much to destroy us and our Government we have to destroy them, at least enough to prevent any more of that."
As the huge fire built and built, block after block literally exploded into flame, the thick smoke choking the Union soldiers who clapped and danced with glee among the ruins, barely waiting until the flames died down to start their looting and drunken revelry once again. What initially escaped the "authorized" fires did not escape these undisciplined wretches away from their officers, who helped spread the flames by burning homes and businesses to cover up their crimes. In the midst of the chaotic riot, the 33rd Massachusetts Regimental Band stood, calmly and righteously playing, "John Brown's Soul Goes Marching On." USA Major George Ward Nichols, Sherman's aide-de-camp, remarked without a hint of sarcasm that he had "never heard that noble anthem when it was so grand, so solemn, so inspiring."
Other Union soldiers and officers viewed the destruction differently, remarking that the burning and looting of private property was not necessary, and a "disgraceful piece of business." Another summed up the view more widely held by their Confederate opponents, "We hardly deserve success."
As the flames died down overnight, dawn on November 16 revealed that over 4,100 of the 4,500 buildings in town had been leveled by the flames and rioting Union troops, including every single business. Sherman mounted his horse, Sam, and slowly led his men out of the ruined city, bound for Savannah and the Atlantic ocean.
"The wild adventure of a crazy fool"
With the "business" in Atlanta taken care of, his men up and ready and prospects of an easy adventure before them, Sherman orders the march out of the city to begin. The 60,598 Union soldiers were deployed in two huge columns, sometimes called 'wings.' On the morning of November 15, USA Brigadier General Alpheus Williams' XX Corps headed off to the due east through Decatur, headed toward Augusta, USA General Peter Osterhaus' XV Corps and USA General Frank Blair's XVII Corps formed the right column under overall command of USA Major General Oliver O. Howard, and moved southward toward Macon. Early on the morning of November 16, USA Major General Jefferson C. Davis' XIV Corps moved out behind Williams' Corps. The two pronged attack was designed to fool Confederate defenders into thinking that Augusta and Macon were the targets of the separate wings, and force them to divide their already inadequate forces, while the two columns would then swing south and east and converge on the Georgia capital of Milledgeville.
To oppose the Union juggernaut was a pitiful handful of mostly irregular troops; CSA Major General Gustavus W. Smith's (Combined) Georgia Militia, the battered remnants of the Georgia State Line- freshly arrived after leaving the march north with Hood's army, a few 'home guard' and hastily organized local militia groups, and the remnants of CSA Major General Joseph Wheeler's Cavalry Corps. All told, less than 8,000 men were available to try and stop Sherman, most of whom had never fired a rifle in combat before.
About 7 AM on the morning of November 16, Sherman rode his horse slowly out of the bombarded, burned out hulk of a once thriving city along with the vanguard of his XIV Corps, down the dirt road leading towards Decatur and Stone Mountain. Stopping briefly, he turned to take another look at the scene of his greatest triumph and some of his greatest sorrows. From his vantage point he could barely make out the copse of trees where his close and beloved friend, USA Major General James Birdseye McPherson, had been shot and killed on July 22. Setting his battered hat back on his head, and unwrapping another cigar to chew on along the way, he sets his horse to a walk and leaves the city without uttering a word to anyone. In his memoirs, he remarked,
"Then we turned our horses' heads to the east; Atlanta was soon lost behind the screen of trees, and became a thing of the past. Around it clings many a though of desperate battle of hope and fear, that now seem like the memory of a dream...There was a 'devil-may-care' feeling pervading officers and men, that made me feel the full load of responsibility, for success would be expected as a matter of course, whereas, should we fail, this march would be adjudged the wild adventure of a crazy fool."
Marching Through Georgia
Both columns moved out of Atlanta, proceeding initially almost due east and south separately, with almost no opposition. Following Sherman's orders to the letter and spirit, nearly everything of any value that they encountered was confiscated or burned, and assigned work gangs destroyed most of the railroad tracks. The rails were lifted and the crossties pulled out from under them, piled high and set afire, then the rail were held over the burning ties until they were glowing red hot, then twisted and bent into unusable pretzel shapes called "Sherman's bow-ties."
The only Confederate opposition to the first part of the march was scattered elements of Wheeler's cavalry, in a series of small to moderate size skirmishes between Rough and Ready (10 miles north of Jonesboro; now called Mountain View) and East Macon.
Almost without opposition the two huge columns moved through central Georgia, their flankers, skirmishers and foraging parties creating a nearly 60 mile wide path of destruction as they went. Slocum's left wing moved like a blue buzzsaw through Stone Mountain, Lithonia, Conyers, Social Circle and Madison before encountering any resistance to speak of. At Buckhead (a small town, not the Atlanta suburb), Confederate sharpshooters caused a relative handful of casualties before being driven off; Sherman ordered the town totally burned to the ground in reprisal.
Howard's right wing had moved more in a southeasterly direction, hoping to give the impression that Macon was their destination. Moving through McDonough and Locust Grove, Howard ordered a turn more to the east at Indian Springs, to close in tighter with the left wing and head more directly to Milledgeville. By November 20, the closest flanks of both wings were within 10 miles of each other, and just a days march from the Georgia capital.
East of Macon
From the start of the march, USA Brigadier General Judson Kilpatrick's 3rd Cavalry Division had ridden to the far right of Howard's massed columns, ordered to travel south as close to Macon as he dared, tearing up the railroad tracks as he went, and then to close up again near Milledgeville. On November 20, he had a brief skirmish with Wheeler's cavalry just east of Macon, quickly driving the Confederates back into the line of entrenchments surrounding the city.
The next day, a single regiment, USA Captain Frederick S. Ladd's 9th Michigan, was sent to assault the small industrial town of Griswoldville, 10 miles east of Macon. Moving in without resistance, the cavalrymen soon destroyed most of the buildings in town, including the railroad station, a pistol factory and a candle and soap factory. As they mopped up, USA Colonel Eli H. Murrays's 1st Brigade settled in for the night about two miles to the east.
The Capital City
As the right wing set up just to their south, Slocum's left wing made ready to enter the Georgia capital. By November 19, it became obvious that the capital was Sherman's real target, and pandemonium erupted. The Georgia Legislature was then in session, and upon hearing of the danger, promptly sprang into action. A law was quickly passed requiring every physically able male citizen to join in the armed resistance to the Union invasion, exempting only themselves and sitting judges from the noble sacrifice. Turning to issues of a more immediate nature, they then authorized expenditure of $3,000 in public funds to hire a train to carry themselves, their families, their furniture and their baggage to safety.
Georgia Governor Joseph Emerson Brown acted in an equally heroic manner. Stripping the Governor's Mansion of everything that wasn't nailed down (and a few things that were), he fled Milledgeville at a high rate of speed. Not far behind was the trainload of politicians from the legislature, who left with a scant more dignity, actually pausing long enough to announce they were heading "for the front" before setting off in the opposite direction.
Civilians were equally panicked, but most lacked access to tax money to use to flee the city. A.C. Cooper, a local resident who had left Atlanta on Sherman's approach in July, later wrote about the effect of Sherman on the horizon:
"Reports varied; one would be that the enemy would be upon us ere long, as a few bluecoats had been seen in the distance,and we women were advised to pack up and flee, but there was blank silence when we asked, "Where shall we flee?"...Hurry, scurry, run here, run there, run everywhere. Women cried and prayed, babies yelled...dogs howled and yelped, mules brayed."
Late in the night of November 21 the first Union cavalry scouts entered the city, followed the next afternoon by the vanguard of the Union left wing, both without encountering the slightest act of resistance. Moving down Greene Street, officer of the XX Corps ordered the men into parade march, and with the bands playing selections of northern patriotic tunes, made their way to the steps of the Capital building. With the bands sarcastically playing 'Dixie," a large U.S. flag was raised on the buildings tall flagpole.
As their men fanned out to see what they could steal in the city, officers amused themselves by occupying the recently deserted seats in the state legislature. In a high spirited debate, the issue of secession was once again banded about, and promptly voted down. Sherman, who rode into town the next day, said that he "enjoyed the joke."
As Sherman's officer were amusing themselves playing politician in the legislative chambers, things were a bit more subdued just to the south. At dawn on November 22, Wheeler's cavalry suddenly struck Murray's encampment. A short but furious fight ensued, ending when reinforcements from USA Colonel Charles C. Walcutt's 2nd Brigade rushed to Murrays aid. Together they pushed the Confederate cavalrymen back through the burned-out town of Griswoldville, before breaking contact and returning to their original positions, where they heavily entrenched atop a small, wooded ridge.
The previous day CSA Lieutenant General William J. Hardee, commander of the Confederate forces facing Sherman, had become aware that the Union forces were bypassing his location at Macon, and made the assumption that they were heading towards the critical supply and manufacturing depot at Augusta. A hastily assembled force was pieced together around CSA Major General Gustavus Woodson Smith's four regiments of the Georgia Militia and ordered to move out post haste to protect the river city.
Besides the four brigades of Georgia Militia, the small task force contained CSA Major Ferdinand W.C. Cook's Athens and Augusta Local Defense Battalions; CSA Captain Ruel W. Anderson's four gun Light Artillery Battery; and the decimated ranks of the combined two regiments of the Georgia State Line under CSA Lieutenant Colonel Beverly D. Evans. With the exception of the State Line, which had been in near continuous combat since May 29, the overwhelming majority of the command were the archetypical 'old men and boys,' this force representing the literal bottom of the barrel for reinforcements.
By Hardee's direction, CSA Colonel James N. Willis' 1st Brigade, Georgia Militia, along with Cook's command left early on the morning of November 22 bound for Augusta via the road to Griswoldville, to be followed later that same day by the remaining commands. Hardee left at the same time for Savannah, to help prepare it's defenses, and Smith elected to remain in Macon to do administrative chores, leaving command of the task force to the senior officer present, CSA Brigadier General Pleasant J. Philips. As they left Macon, quite a few in the ranks remarked about how much Philips had been seen drinking that morning.
As Philip's command moved out, Howard's entire right wing was also on the move, swinging a little more to the south and heading straight towards Griswoldville.
Philips left Macon with the main part of his command and marched steadily on, arriving just outside Griswoldville just after noon. There he found Cook's defense battalions drawn up into a defensive perimeter, having spotted the well-entrenched Union lines just up the road.
Despite his explicit orders from both Hardee and Smith not to do so, Philips ordered preparations for an attack. Arranging his men perpendicular to the railroad tracks on the east side of town, CSA Brigadier General Charles D. Anderson's 3rd Brigade, Georgia Militia, was placed on the left, just north of the tracks. CSA Brigadier General Henry K. McKay's 4th Brigade was placed on Andersons right, just south of the tracks, and Philip's own 2nd Brigade (now commanded by CSA Colonel James N. Mann) moved in reserve to the rear of McKay. Evan's State Line troopers moved forward in the very center as skirmishers, and Cook's small battalions took the extreme right of the line. Captain Anderson's battery set up just north of the tracks near the center of the line.
Facing Philip's small command was Walcutt's strong 2nd Brigade, 1st Division, XV Corps, consisting of no less than seven reduced-strength Infantry regiments (the 12th, 97th and 100th Indiana, 40th and 103rd Illinois, 6th Iowa and 46th Ohio), two cavalry regiments (5th Kentucky and 9th Pennsylvania), and Captain Albert Arndt's Battery B, 1st Michigan Artillery. In all, about 4,000 mostly ill-trained and poorly equipped Georgia troops faced about 3,000 well armed, well entrenched and combat hardened veteran Union troops.
About 2:30 PM Philips ordered an all-out assault, and the ragged force began moving smartly across the open field towards the Union entrenchments. USA Major Asias Willison of the 103rd Illinois wrote in his after-action report what happened next:
"As soon as they came within range of our muskets, a most terrific fire was poured into their ranks, doing fearful execution...still they moved forward, and came within 45 yards of our works. Here they attempted to reform their line, but so destructive was the fire that they were compelled to retire."
While most of Philips' militiamen were being blown apart behind them, the State Line charged up the slope towards the Union position, only to be thrown back to the wooded base. The State Line charged several more times, meeting the same result, until Evans was seriously wounded and all retired from the field.
Most of the militiamen never got closer than 50 yards to the Union position, but bravely held their ground and returned fire until dusk. Philips' ordered a retreat off the field then, and the shattered ranks limped slowly back into Macon. Left behind were 51 killed, 422 wounded and nine missing. The Union lines were never in any real danger of being breached, but losses amounted to 13 killed, 79 wounded and two missing in the brief fight. Walcutt himself was among the wounded, and had to be carried off the field during the engagement, replaced by USA Colonel Robert F. Catterson.
Sherman Drives On
With the pitiful remnants of Philips' command safely back inside Macon's defense by 2 AM on November 23, there was literally nothing standing between Sherman and any path he might choose to take next. That morning he issued new orders for all four corps to march east, the southern wing to head straight down the Georgia Central Railroad tracks towards Millen, while the northern wing and attached cavalry were to follow roads on the north side of the tracks. Their target was Camp Lawton, sometimes called Magnolia Springs, to rescue the estimated 11,000 Union prisoners recently brought there from Andersonville.
Early on the morning of November 24 the grand march resumed. Strangely, Milledgeville was left relatively intact, although all the government buildings, libraries and some churches were ransacked and desecrated, and once again anything of value went along with the blue-suits.
Confederate resistance to this part of the march was nearly non-existent, and what did show up was grossly outnumbered. A good example is the defense of the Oconee River bridge near Oconee, where a force of exactly 186 men, the remnants of three separate commands, stood ready to keep Sherman from crossing. Even with nearly 1,000 cavalrymen from Wheeler's command backing them up, over 30,000 Union soldiers moved like a blue tidal wave down the road to crush them. Fortunately, cooler heads prevailed, and the tiny command was withdrawn before it made contact.
Sherman still today has a reputation as a thief and firebug in certain parts of Georgia, and this section of the grand march is where it was earned. All along 'authorized' foraging parties had scoured the countryside, collecting food for both soldiers and animals, and "jes' a lil'" booty for themselves while they were at it. With military opposition nearly non-existent, and no doubt with the blessings of many veteran officers, roving gangs of "bummers" roomed the countryside, casually stealing or destroying whatever caught their fancy. A 40 mile wide path between Milledgeville and Millen was stripped down nearly to the roots, one traveler who crossed this area shortly after Sherman's passing remarked that they saw everything down to and including fence posts either taken or burned.
The destruction the Union troops were creating started to disturb many Union officers, although Sherman himself wasn't among them. His attitude was that the Georgians had 'forced' him to sponsor such actions by virtue of their secession, and that he only regretted that he 'had' to do such acts. The situation deteriorated so much at one point that even Sherman's blindly admiring aide, USA Major Henry Hitchcock, noted in his memoirs that "I am bound to say I think Sherman lacking in enforcing discipline."
Blair's XVII Corps arrived in Millen completely without resistance on December 1. USA Brigadier General Judson Kilpatrick's 3rd Cavalry Division, moving rapidly to the north on Sherman's personal order, arrived at the site of Camp Lawton on November 27, after a fierce resistance by Wheeler's cavalry, only to discover that the Union prisoners had been moved again, this time to a rude camp near Blackshear, near Waycross in deep southeast Georgia.
Sherman entered Millen on December 3 with the rest of his army. Deeply angered that he had been unable to rescue the POWs, he issued orders to march directly on Savannah beginning the next morning, and took out his wrath on the small town as they left. In a classic understatement, he mentioned in his memoirs, "I caused the fine depot of Millen to be destroyed, and other damage done..."
The Last of the March
Leaving Millen on the morning of December 4, all four corps marched directly towards Savannah and arrived nearly unmolested on the outskirts of the city between December 10 and 12. Along the way, two separate Confederate defenses were mounted, with what remained of the Georgia Militia and the Georgia State Line supplemented by Wheeler's cavalry and some local defense forces, both on both occasions their commanders elected to withdraw in the face of such overwhelming Union opposition.
Savannah's defenses were formable, stretching over 13 miles from the Savannah River to the Little Ogeechee River, and manned by a little under 10,000 men, the bare remnants of every militia and state defense force that could be scraped together. In addition, over 50 artillery pieces with a fair supply of ammunition sat in the ring of strong earthwork fortifications.
Sherman had a serious problem by this time, his supplies of food and clothing were running critically low, and there was nothing much in the surrounding salt marshes and swamps that he could send foraging parties out for. He desperately needed to make contact with the Union Navy lying just off the coast, but the two possible river approaches were both guarded by powerful Confederate fortifications. Needing the supply line open and opened fast, he personally ordered USA Brigadier General William Babcock Hazen to take his 2nd Division (XV Corps) down to the Ogeechee River 14 miles below Savannah, assault and take the Confederate fort there, and open the river to the Union Navy.
Fort McAllister, on Genesis Point guarding the entrance to the Ogeechee River, had been designed by Major John McCrady, Chief Engineer for the State of Georgia, in the late spring of 1861. Ordinarily, a massive masonry fort like Ft. Pulaski or Jackson east of Savannah would be desirable, but these were both time, money and manpower intensive projects, none of which he had available.
Instead he settled on a star-shaped, four gun emplacement earthwork fort with walls 20 feet tall and 17 feet thick, originally intended to be equipped with four 32-pounder smoothbore cannons. The walls originally only faced the river, and a large earthen 'bombproof' stood behind the gun emplacements, to serve as a hospital. On June 7, 1861, the DeKalb Rifles, Company A, 1st Georgia Infantry Regiment under CSA Lieutenant Alfred L. Hartridge was sent in to build and man the structure.
Having an infantry company build and man an artillery post strikes one as an odd move, but the relative few trained cannoneers were needed at posts where actual combat was expected. At backwater posts like Ft. McAllister, infantry companies were customarily sent in to while away the war years.
Hartridge's men did a very good job, clearing away the thick forest for a mile behind the fort site, to provide clear lanes of fire, and almost immediately setting about building up and improving the design.
Ft. McAllister in Combat
By the time of Sherman's arrival, the earthwork fort had both been tripled in size and assaulted without success some seven separate times by Union gunboats. The DeKalb Rifles had long since departed for hotter action to the north, and a new commander had taken over, CSA Major George W. Anderson. The garrison now consisted of about 230 men of the Emmet Rifles and the Georgia Reserves, along with real artillerymen of CSA Captain Nicholas B. Clinch's Georgia Light Artillery Battery.
The post by this time looked quite different, having been expanded into a five sided fort 650 feet long and 750 feet wide, with a dry ditch studded with sharpened stake abatis surrounding it. More and heavier artillery had been brought in; two 32-pounder rifled guns, three 10-inch Columbiads, and three 8-inch Columbiads guarded the river approaches. To guard against expected infantry attacks, a rear wall slightly smaller than the front wall had been built and 12 field artillery pieces mounted atop it. To complete the armament, a 10-inch Tredegar Seacoast Mortar was mounted just outside the main defense walls.
The reluctant decision to make the post an earthwork arrangement proved most fortuitous. Ft. Pulaski, a few miles to the north and long regarded as a impregnable guardian of the northern approaches to Savannah, had been breached by heavy rifled cannon fire on April 11, 1862, and surrendered after a mere 30 hours of shelling. With that single action, the thousand year era of the heavy masonry fort came to an end. The earth walls of Ft. McAllister were nearly impervious to incoming fire, however, the walls either deflecting or 'swallowing up' the Union artillery fire. Even if a shell buried deep in the earth before exploding, repairing the crater was a simple matter of shoveling a few wheelbarrel loads of dirt back in it.
Sherman's choice of the West Point graduates division to assault the Confederate fort was not a random one; not only had Hazen proven to be a capable and brave battlefield commander, but the 2nd Division was the same that Sherman himself had commanded at Vicksburg and Shiloh, one in which he "felt a special pride and confidence." Hazen was ordered to take the fort as soon as possible, and he left the morning of December 13, marching rapidly down the old Hardwicke road (now Ga. 144).
Shortly after noon, Hazen reached the causeway leading out to the fort, and promptly captured the lone Confederate sentry posted there, CSA Private Thomas Mills. After his capture, Mills revealed that his unit had placed 'torpedoes', or buried shells that exploded when stepped on, all along the soft sand causeway. Hazen ordered his men to immediately search for and dig up the land mines, delaying his approach to the fort.
By the time the road was made safe and the rest of his command came into line, it was after 4:30 PM. Leaving nine regiments behind as reserves, Hazen moved the other nine regiments forward until they were arrayed in a semi-circle around the isolated post, but no closer than 600 yards out. Confederate guns opened up, but with little effect. Union skirmishers ran forward, closing to within 200 yards of the fort, and began a damaging fire on the gunners. One of the forts major weaknesses was the fact that all the guns were mounted 'en barbette', or up on the top of the ramparts, leaving the gunners exposed to rifle fire.
The Battle for Ft. McAllister
Sherman, watching the action from atop a rice mill across the river, was nearly beside himself with impatience. As the afternoon wore on and dusk approached, he had a signal sent over to Hazen, "You must carry the fort by assault to-night, if possible." A few minutes later a reply came back, "I am ready and will assault at once!" At 4:45 PM Hazen ordered a general assault to begin.
As the Union infantry sprang to the feet and began moving towards the fort at the double-quick, a furious rain of fire came from both sides. Moving up close to the ramparts, the Union men had almost entered the outer defense bands when huge explosions rocked the earth; more 'torpedoes' had been buried all around the fort in the soft sand, making them nearly impossible to spot. Forcing their way forward despite the deadly mines and deafening cannon fire to their front, the 47th Ohio quickly gained the west wall and began running down it, looking for an opening to enter the fort. At the far northwestern corner they discovered that the line of abatis stopped above the high-tide mark (it was then low-tide), and they quickly ran through the opening and up onto the ramparts.
Almost at the same moment the 70th Ohio and 111th Illinois regiments pushed through the tangle of fixed defenses and appeared atop the ramparts nearby, and the fight quickly escalated into a vicious hand to hand brawl. The Confederate garrison refused to surrender, even in the face of such overwhelming odds. As each artillery position was overrun, the cannoneers continued to resist with ramrods swung as clubs and even just their fists, until bayoneted or beaten to the ground by the swarming blue masses. Each bomb-proof emplacement had to be taken individually, and the fight ended only when every last Confederate was killed, wounded or beaten into submission. Hazen stated in his after-action report, "...the line moved on without checking, over, under and through abatis, ditches, palisading and parapet, fighting the garrison through the fort to their bombproofs, from which they still fought and only succumbed as each man was individually overpowered."
Although the whole action took only 15 minutes to complete, the fight was somewhat more than the Union soldiers had expected. The resistance of Clinch was typical:
"When [Clinch was] summoned to surrender by a Federal captain [USA Captain Stephen F. Grimes of the 48th Illinois], [he] responded by dealing a severe blow to the head with his sabre. (Captain Clinch had previously received two gun shot wounds in the arm). Immediately a hand to hand fight ensued. Federal privates came to the assistance of their fellow officer, but the fearless Clinch continued the unequal contest until he fell bleeding from eleven wounds (three sabre wounds, six bayonet wounds, and two gun shot wounds), from which, after severe and protracted suffering, he has barely recovered. His conduct was so conspicuous, and his cool bravery so much admired, as to elicit the praise of the enemy and even of General Sherman himself."
Anderson had to know that his position had no hope of reinforcement from Hardee's troops inside Savannah, nor did he have any real chance of stopping Hazen's men from taking his post. However, in the archaic Southern fashion, he stood his ground and resisted until their was no-one left standing. In his after-action report he noted, "The fort was never surrendered. It was captured by overwhelming numbers."
With the fall of Ft. McAllister, the March to the Sea for all practical purposes ended. By 5 PM Sherman was able to signal the route was clear to a Navy steamer already coming up the river with badly needed supplies. Losses were high for such a short fight, with Hazen losing 24 killed and 110 wounded, and Anderson losing 17 killed, 31 wounded and all the rest made prisoner.
As soon as news reached Hardee of the fall of Ft. McAllister, he knew that holding onto Savannah would be futile, and began making preparations to evacuate his army into South Carolina. His engineers immediately set about making a series of pontoon bridges from the foot of West broad Street across the series of tidal rivers to Hardeville on the South Carolina border. This escape route ran along the narrow top of Huger's Causeway (roughly the route that U.S. Highway 17 follows today). Thick layers of rice straw was put over the wooden planks of the bridges, to deaden the sound of wagon and gun carriage wheels. All was ready by December 19, and everyone impatiently awaited Hardee's order to leave.
Meanwhile, back on the siege line, Union gunners had kept up a steady drumbeat of fire on the city since setting up on December 10. Sherman's engineers built a series of large, well fortified gun emplacements for the large siege cannon they expected to receive via the Navy in short order, and most began settling in for what was expected to be another long stand.
On December 17, Sherman sent a rather harsh note across to Hardee demanding his immediate surrender, warning that he had plenty of large guns and ammunition, and that unless quarter was given he would "make little effort to restrain my army burning to avenge the great national wrong they attach to Savannah and other large cities which have been so prominent in dragging our country into civil war."
Hardee, obviously bidding for a little more time, replied the next morning that he refused to surrender, and made threats that if Sherman carried out his threats to ignore the conventions of war and carry out unrestrained rape and pillage, then he would "deeply regret the adoption of any course by you that may force me to deviate from them in the future." For the time, this was a rather crude and uncivilized exchange of threats, and both not only knew it, neither was actually fully prepared to back them up.
To cover up his planned movement, Hardee requested what help was available from the Confederate Navy, and sent three regiments of infantry to reinforce Wheeler's cavalry up on the line. Late on the afternoon of December 20, the Confederate ironclad Savannah steamed upriver a bit and began lobbing shells at the Union positions. As darkness fell, every heavy artillery position began shooting up what was left of their ammunition supply, heavy shells raining down with some accuracy on the Union positions for over two hours.
While the shot, shell and cannister rounds kept the Union troops heads down, Hardee began his retreat out of the city. All the field guns that could be moved left first, while work gangs set the remaining boats afire at their moorings. When the big guns ammunition ran out, their crews spiked the barrels and watered down the remaining gunpowder in the magazines. CSA MAjor General Ambrose R. Wright's Division was the first to leave, about 8 PM, followed by CSA Major General Lafayette McLaw's Division two hours later, and Smith's Georgia Militia at 11 PM.
Acting as the rear guard, the Georgia State Line, now under command of CSA Colonel James D. Wilson, stayed in their skirmish line, and along with Wheeler's cavalry, kept up a steady fire towards the Union lines. When a signal rocket flared up about 1 AM, both commands gradually ceased fire and one company at a time left the trenches and quickly moved across the bridges into South Carolina. The bridges were then sunk in place or cut loose from their moorings by engineers, the last link setting adrift at 5:40 AM on December 21.
Union Troops Enter the City
When all firing ceased about 3 AM, forward skirmishers of a dozen different Union regiments cautiously moved forward and dropped into the newly abandoned Confederate positions. Sending word back of their discovery, a general advance was soon ordered, and Sherman's 'bummers' began moving east into the city itself. The advance was led by USA Brigadier General John W. Geary's 2nd Division (XX Corps). About 4:30 AM, as the last of Hardee's men were filtering across the river to the north, USA Colonel Henry A. Barnum of the 3rd Brigade, Geary's Division, encountered Savannah Mayor Richard D. Arnold near the intersection of Louisville and Augusta Roads. There the mayor handed the Union colonel a formal letter of surrender of the city, addressed to Sherman:
"Savannah, Dec. 21, 1864
Maj. Gen. W.T. Sherman, Commanding U.S. Forces near Savannah:
Sir: The city of Savannah was last night evacuated by Confederate military and is now defenseless. As chief magistrate of the city I respectfully request your protection of the lives and private property of the citizens and of our women and children. Trusting that this appeal to your generosity and humanity may favorably influence your action, I have the honor to be, your obedient servant,
Mayor of Savannah"
Barnum's men continued into the city, where as the rosy light of dawn appeared over the horizon, the Stars and Stripes were once again raised over the U.S. Customs house. Two brigades moved on east to take the newly abandoned post at old Fort Jackson. As they entered and raised the national banner on the ramparts, the Savannah, retreating downriver nearby, lobbed a few shells their way. Union batteries returned fire, but these last shots of the campaign had no real effect on either side.
Sherman had been at Hilton Head Island nearby, conferring with Navy officers on the next plan of action, and did not return to the city until late on the night of December 21. Making his headquarters in the large, comfortable Green-Meldrin House at Madison Square (still existent), he sends a telegram from the parlor to President Lincoln the next day:
"Savannah, Ga., Dec. 22, 1864
His Excellency President Lincoln,
I beg to present to you, as a Christmas gift, the city of Savannah, with 150 heavy guns and plenty of ammunition, and also about 25,000 bales of cotton.
Central Tennessee Campaigns
Nashville and Franklin: Destruction of the Confederate Armies in Tennessee
In a short list of all the bone-headed maneuvers during all of the Civil War, CSA General John Bell Hood's invasion of Tennessee in late 1864 without a doubt ranks at or near the very top. Possibly influenced by his reported use of large doses of laudanum, as a pain reliever for his serious injuries from Gettysburg and Chickamauga, Hood concocted this plan after being thoroughly trounced by USA Major General William T. Sherman's three grand armies around Atlanta in the late summer of 1864.
Maintaining to his death that the only way to defeat Sherman was to draw him into battle on terrain of his own choosing (possibly true), Hood decided to take what was left of his Army of Tennessee and march north out of the Atlanta area, "forcing" Sherman to follow and then defeating him by parts as the Union armies marched after him.
Hood Moves North
With three corps in his command, commanded by CSA Major General Benjamin Franklin "Frank" Cheatham, CSA Lieutenant General Stephen Dill Lee and CSA Major General Alexander Peter Stewart, a cavalry corps commanded by CSA Major General Joseph "Fighting Joe" Wheeler and a separate cavalry division commanded by CSA Brigadier General William Hicks "Red" Jackson, Hood moved out off his last Atlanta base of Lovejoy on September 18, swinging wide around the western flank of the Atlanta defenses, and headed north. Sherman had anticipated Hood would do exactly this maneuver, and had already sent USA Brigadier General George Henry Thomas (the "Rock of Chickamauga") with three infantry divisions back to Chattanooga to prepare.
Hood moved relatively slowly, crossing the Chattahoochee River near Campbellton on October 1, he continued north for two days, finally encamping near Hiram. Stewart was ordered to move east and attack and cut the Western & Atlantic Railroad line at Big Shanty (now Kennesaw), Acworth and Allatoona.
The Attack at Allatoona Pass
Stewart's men surprised and captured about 170 Union troops at Big Shanty on October 4, then quickly moved north and captured a larger garrison at Acworth. Flushed with these easy successes, Hood personally ordered CSA Major General Samuel G. French to take his division on up the tracks and capture and destroy the bridge and railroad cut at Allatoona Pass. Hood was under the impression that the pass was only lightly held, as the two previous rail stops had been. However, Sherman had made the tiny settlement on the south side of the deep railway cut into a central base of logistical operations, had it heavily fortified and ordered another division under USA Brigadier General John M. Corse forward to garrison it. On both peaks over the 90 foot deep railroad cut heavily reinforced emplacements had been built. The westernmost set of peak defenses was dubbed the Star Fort, because of the arrangement of railroad ties surrounding it.
French divided his force and approached Allatoona from the north, west and south. Once all were in position, he rather arrogantly sent Core a terse message,
"Sir: I have the forces under my command in such positions that you are now surrounded, and, to avoid a needless effusion of blood, I call upon you to surrender your forces at once, and unconditionally. Five minutes will be allowed for you to decide. Should you accede to this, you will be treated in the most honorable manner as prisoners of war."
Corse was somewhat less than impressed. 15 minutes later he replies, "Your communication demanding surrender of my command, I acknowledge receipt of, and respectfully reply, that we are prepared for the 'needless effusion of blood' whenever it is agreeable with you."
French wasted no time, sending CSA Brigadier General Francis M. Cockrell's Missouri Brigade and CSA Brigadier General William H. Young's (Ector's) Brigade assaulting from the west. Both pushed through the first line of defenses, then the second, then through a third line of defense, all the while fighting hand-to-hand with clubbed rifles and bayonets. Advancing to within a few feet of the Star Fort, the fighting rapidly intensified, with the Confederate advance finally being stopped before it could overrun the fort. Finally, with warnings coming from outposts that a Union force had been spotted moving rapidly towards the battle area, French disengaged and marched his depleted force west to rejoin Hood.
All through the day long battle, a Union signal post at Kennesaw Mountain sent a message to Corse, "General Sherman says hold fast; we are coming." This message, which popularized the expression, "hold the fort," was nothing more than a moral booster, for Sherman did not order any additional infantry to the area until the next day, and none arrived until two days later. The forces spotted by the Confederate side were apparently just cavalry on a scouting mission.
Casualties in the brief, little remembered battle were exceptionally high, with Corse reporting 706 dead and wounded, and French reporting 706 (including 70 officers), about 30 percent of either sides total force. Young himself was wounded just outside the fort and captured shortly afterwards. Corse reported that he, too, had been wounded in a message to Sherman, "I am short a cheek bone and an ear but am able to lick all hell yet!" When Sherman came up later, he was unimpressed with the severity of his wounds, "Corse, they came damn near missing you, didn't they?"
The Armies Advance in Opposite Directions
Following the decisive loss at Allatoona Pass, Hood elected to continue north, moving west around rome through Cedartown, Cave Springs and Coosaville, while Sherman moved north after him with a force of 40,000 men (55,000 in some accounts), a partial vindication of Hood's audacious plan. Wheeler's cavalry joined the campaign at this point, screening his movement from Sherman's force, while Jackson's cavalry stayed below Rome near the Coosa RIver. Attacks at Resaca on October 12 and 13 were failures, but Lee's and Cheatham's corps were able to capture the railroad north of Resaca the next day. In one of the only real successes in north Georgia, the 2,000 man Union garrison at Dalton was forced to surrender, but with Sherman hot on his heels, Hood was unable to hold the city.
Hood moved west again, towards northwestern Georgia near the Alabama state line, setting up a line of battle near LaFayette on October 15. Hood's strategy here is uncertain, as he was moving away from the mountainous terrain he had claimed would be to his advantage. There are mountains here, and rugged ones in place, but this was the same area that Sherman had already demonstrated an ability to operate in. The northeastern mountains were not specified in Hood's plans, but were his most likely original destination. If his plan was to keep Sherman bottled up in northern Georgia, it both succeeded and failed.
When Hood slipped away after the Union troops deployed for battle at Lafayette on October 17, Sherman remarked that Hood's tactics were "inexplicable by any common-sense theory...I could not guess his movements as I could those of Johnston." After a total of three weeks of chasing the now fast-moving CSA Army of Tennessee, Sherman ordered his forces to return to Atlanta and prepare for a march to the south.
Warned by Grant that Hood was taking his army north into Tennessee and threatened his supply lines, Sherman remarked, "No single force can catch Hood, and I am convinced that the best results will follow from our defeating Jeff Davis' cherished plan of making me leave Georgia by maneuvering."
At the same time, Davis was begging Hood "not to abandon Georgia to Sherman but defeat him in detail before marching into Tennessee." Hood replied back that it was his intent to "draw out Sherman where he can be dealt with north of Atlanta." In his postwar memoirs, Hood clung to this unrealistic stance and hopes of defeating both Sherman and Thomas' powerful force in Tennessee:
"I conceived the plan of marching into Tennessee...to move upon Thomas and Schofield and capture their army before it could reach Nashville and afterward march northeast, past the Cumberland River in that position I could threaten Cincinnati from Kentucky and Tennessee...if blessed with a victory (over Sherman coming north after him), to send reinforcements to Lee, in Virginia, or to march through gaps in the Cumberland Mountains and attack Grant in the rear."
It was whispered by not a few members of the CSA Army of Tennessee that Hood was half-mad from his injuries, shot in the arm at Gettysburg and having a leg shot off at Chickamauga the year before. Widely viewed as a gallant fighter, in the sense that a lot of his men got killed by his tactics, his leadership did not impress those under him. CSA Private Sam Watkins said, "As a soldier, he was brave, good, noble and gallant, and fought with the ferociousness of the wounded tiger, and with the everlasting grit of the bull-dog; but as a general he was a failure in every particular."
Hood continued his march north, and Sherman, upon hearing the news, couldn't have been happier. "If he will go to the Ohio River, I will give him rations." He sent Thomas USA Major General John M. Schofield's Army of the Ohio, consisting of USA Major General David F. Stanley's IV and USA Brigadier General Jacob B. Cox's XXIII Corps, to defend Tennessee and turned his attention on his March to the Sea.
Hood in Alabama
The CSA Army of Tennessee reached Decatur, Alabama, on October 26, where he met CSA General Pierre Gustave Toutant Beauregard, commander of the Division of the West. Beauregard approved Hood's plan to invade Tennessee, but made him give up Wheeler's cavalry, which was sorely needed in the coming campaign against Sherman in south Georgia. In exchange, CSA Major General Nathan Bedford Forrest's Cavalry Corps was moving down from eastern Tennessee to provide coverage.
While he waited for Forrest to arrive, Hood moved his force west, retaking and fortifying Florence, Alabama, and Corinth, Mississippi, and repairing the railroad line between the cities to shuttle his supplies as needed. Forrest took nearly three weeks to arrive, finally appearing on November 17.
To counter Hood's move west, Thomas sent Stanley's Corps reinforced with one division from Cox's Corps to Pulaski, Tennessee, directly astride the Nashville and Decatur Railroad that he expected Hood to advance on. On November 14 Schofield arrived in Pulaski to establish his headquarters and detail the defense against Hood's army. At that time Schofield commanded an army of 25,000 infantry and 5,000 cavalry, while Thomas had another 40,000 troops scattered between Nashville and north Georgia, nearly all relatively fresh and well-supplied. With Forrest's arrival, Hood had about 33,000 infantry and 6,000 cavalrymen, all tired, battle-weary and poorly supplied.
Hood Marches North
On November 19, Hood at long last moved out on his great campaign, led by Forrest's cavalry and Lee's Corps. Rather than following the railroad as Schofield expected, Hood moved along three parallel roads to the west of that small town, heading towards Columbia 31 miles to the north. The weather was wretched, a cold rain mixed with snow and sleet turning the muddy roads to ice, which cut and burned the bare feet of most of the tattered infantrymen.
Schofield recognized the danger of his flank being turned, and hustled all but one brigade of his army to Columbia, arriving and fortifying the bridges over the Duck River by November 24. Hood's army closed in on the town on the morning of November 26. That night he outlined yet another strategy to his three corps commanders. He told them that Nashville is an "open city" and a ripe prize to be easily taken. To do so, they must move fast towards the capital city, bypassing what Union forces they can, and overwhelming those they cannot.
Once again, it is difficult to see just what Hood's overall intent was. Originally moving north to draw Sherman out of Atlanta, he succeeded but then runs into Alabama rather than finding suitable terrain to fight from. Once in Alabama, he ignores Davis' pleas not to abandon Georgia completely and convinces Beauregard that he can defeat Thomas' forces in Tennessee piecemeal, recover the state for the Confederacy, then either help reinforce Robert E. Lee's army in Virginia or invade Ohio. To do either he must eliminate any Union threat from his own base of support by defeating Thomas, or at the very least forcing him to retire from Tennessee. Yet, when literally given the opportunity to challenge parts of the Union armys with a superior force, at Pulaski and now at Columbia, he chooses to outflank them and continue north.
Realizing early on that Hood had no intent on a direct assault at Columbia, and possibly was going to try and envelope him to the north, Schofield sends Stanley's Corps reinforced with additional infantry and artillery to the smaller city. The Union corps arrives at Spring Hill about 2 PM.
Hood had sent Forrest to the north to bypass the Union defenses north of Columbia, and they arrived at Spring Hill at nearly the same time Stanley did. Both sides skirmish to no real gain on either side until just before dark. Lee's Corps had stayed outside Columbia to 'make a racket' while Hood moved Cheatham's and Stewart's Corps around to the east to Davis Ford on the Duck RIver, crossing through pastures, woods and creeks before remerging on the Rally Hill (Franklin) Turnpike towards Spring Hill just at dark on November 29, neatly flanking Schofield in the maneuver.
Arriving just at dark, part of Cheatham's Corps comes up and helps push the Union force back into town. Stanley manages to hold the town and the road to Columbia open. Hood's army is exhausted by the rough marching and combat action, however, and nearly immediately lays down in the mud on either side of the road to catch some badly needed sleep.
As the Confederate infantry sleep, Schofield slips out of Columbia and passes through a mere 200 yard-wide gap between the two Southern corps without being detected, making it to Spring Hill without incident. When Hood finds out, a huge fight between him and Cheatham erupts, where he blames Cheatham for the escape and requests Richmond send a replacement, while Cheatham complains he had not been specifically ordered to take and cut the road. While the rest of the Southern generals join in the fun and argue through the night, Schofield and the rest of his corps move out of Spring Hill and on towards Franklin, reaching the outer defenses by dawn on November 30. Once there, Schofield discovered he was not going to be able to move his men and heavy supply trains into the city until his engineers rebuilt the bridges and fords destroyed by Forrest's raids. He ordered his men to hastily throw up earthwork defenses on the south edge of town in case Hood was following too closely. He planned on withdrawing back across the river after dark, and then move on up to Nashville during the night
Hood was indeed following closely. After withdrawing his request for Cheathams replacement and making a few last rude comments, he got his army moving north again, chasing after Schofield. The vanguard of the Southern force arrived atop a low range of hills just south of Franklin just before 3 PM, and Hood immediately gave orders to attack the Union lines they could clearly see being constructed. The three corps commanders were incredulous. Dusk was only a bit over two hours away, the army was still in column road march formation with parts of it still hours away, and the Union troops clearly had a superior and fortified position well protected by artillery batteries.
This is when Hood threw another one of his fits. He had habitually considered anyone who disagreed with him as an enemy, and was loath to change any plan he had created, even in the face of overwhelming evidence that it was a poor one. In addition, he had often remarked since taking command that the men and officers loyal to former Army of Tennessee commander Johnston were "soft" and too prone to retreating in the face of the enemy. He insisted that they were to march right down there and take those works, even at the cost of their own lives, almost as a punishment for daring to disagree with him.
The Battle of Franklin
After 3 PM, the two Confederate corps present started forming in line of battle, Cheatham's Corps on the left, Stewart's Corps on the right. At the same time, the bridge and ford work had been completed, and Schofield was getting ready to pull his forces back north across the river. At 3:30 PM the signal trumpets blew, and a mass of butternut clad infantry charged across the open ground toward the Union emplacements. CSA Major General John Calvin Brown's and CSA Major General Patrick Ronayne Cleburne's Divisions briefly overran USA Brigadier General George B. Wagner's Division, which was left out on the pike road south of the main defense belt in an ill-thought out move.
Mounting a strong counter-attack, USA Colonel Emerson Opdyke's 1st Brigade (Wagner's Division), who had been the rear guard all day and was taking a well-deserved rest at the river, leapt back over the defense wall and charged Cleburne's men. A furious fight erupted with point-blank shots and hand to hand combat all along the line. One of his officers, USA Major Arthur MacArthur, father of the WWII hero Douglas MacArthur, managed to slash one Confederate regiment's color bearer with his sword and take the prize, even though shot three times in the process.
All along the rest of the line individual regiments and brigades reached the second Union line of defense, but none were able to pierce it. The field behind them now raked by constant cannister and shot from the Union batteries, there was no place left to retreat, either. Both sides stood just yards apart for hours, pouring musket and artillery fire into each other's ranks, without either side giving way.
The slaughter finally stopped about 9 PM, well after dark, when gun by gun, the firing slowly petered out. Surviving Confederate regiments literally crawled back across the dead-strewn field to the safety of their original positions. Schofield promptly abandoned the field, leaving his dead and wounded behind, and immediately marched back to Nashville, arriving about noon on December 1.
Hood's casualties were almost unreal. Of the 26,000 he had sent in battle, 5,550 were dead or wounded, with another 702 missing. 32 regimental and brigade battle flags had been taken. No less than 54 regimental commanders were killed, wounded, or missing. The worst loss was that of six generals; Cleburne, CSA Brigadier General John Adams, CSA Brigadier General Otho French Strahl, CSA Brigadier General States Rights Gist, CSA Brigadier General John Carpenter Carter and CSA Brigadier General Hiram Bronson Granbury. Of the other six generals on the battlefield, one had been captured and only two were left unwounded and fit for service.
Schofield's casualties, although heavy, were still lighter than Hood's. Of the 28,000 men he had on the line that afternoon, 1,222 were killed or wounded, while 1,104 were captured or missing.
The March to Nashville
Hood's army was in no shape to fight anymore, after the beating at Franklin, but nothing would deter Hood from his determination to take the Tennessee capital back. Schofield's forces had quit the field at Franklin immediately after the battle, and Hood followed suit. Ordering his men up and at 'em, the depleted CSA Army of Tennessee stood outside the defenses of Nashville by December 2.
Once again, we face the question of what Hood was planning to do. He admitted himself after the war that he knew his army was too depleted to assault the Nashville emplacements, and that Schofield was well placed, well supplied and had reinforcements on the way. It takes nearly a suspension of believe to follow his plan (as outlined in his post-war memoirs, Advance and Retreat); wait outside for Thomas' combined army to come out and attack his own fortifications, and hope that promised reinforcements (which probably did not even exist) of his own could manage to travel from Texas in time to help him.
Thomas', on the other hand, was quite comfortable and in no mood to hurry into a fight. USA Major General Andrew Jackson Smith arrived with his three divisions of XVI Corps by the time Schofield came in from Franklin, and USA Major General James Blair Steedman brought up a division of 5,200 men detached from Sherman's command the next day. By December 4, Thomas had a total of 49,773 men under his command, some of whom were well rested and had not seen combat recently, while Hood could muster (on paper) only 23,207, tired, cold and demoralized troops. This figure did not take into consideration the large number of desertions of battle-hardened veterans the CSA Army of Tennessee was beginning to experience.
The Battle of Nashville
Under growing pressure from Grant to go into action, Thomas made preparations to decisively defeat the weaker Confederate army and gain "such a splendid and decisive victory as to hush censure for all time." Finally, at 6 AM on the foggy morning of December 15, his army moved out. Thomas planned to hit both of Hood's flanks with a coordinating attack that would destroy his lines of battle in a matter of minutes. Thomas had no desire to simply push Hood away from Nashville, he was determined to destroy that Confederate army once and for all.
Steedman started the attack at 8 AM on Hood's right, the coordinated plan falling apart immediately due to the poor weather and bad roads. Two hours later Smith's Corps hit Hood's left flank, followed by Wood and Schofield over the next few hours. Hood was steadily pushed back, but his lines held fast and pulled together to form a tight,straight line of battle. By nightfall, Hood had been pushed back about a mile, where he formed a new line of battle that stretched between Shy's Hill and Overton Hill.
At dawn on December 17, Thomas' forces started probing the new Confederate line for weakness. At 3 PM a strong attack was made against the defense atop Overton Hill, followed 1/2 hour later by initial actions against Shy's Hill. By 4 PM the attack on Hood's right had been repulsed with heavy losses, but the attack on Shy's Hill succeeded in routing the Confederate defenders, and effectively bringing the battle to an end.
The Confederate Army of Tennessee was at long last broken. All semblance of order broke down as many soldiers either ran for the rear or allowed themselves to be taken prisoner. Many more simply dropped their rifles and returned home, too defeated to fight any more. Hood pulled what was left south out of Nashville and marched through a brutal winter landscape all the way back down to Tupelo, Mississippi. Once there, Hood quietly asked to be relieved of command, on Friday, January 13, 1865.
Hood insisted that his losses were "very small," but he was not the sort to admit defeat or desertion of his own men. Various sources give wildly disparate figures, but a rough guess is that Hood lost about 1,500 killed and wounded in the battle, with another 4,500 captured. He lost a grand total of nearly 20,000 men in the whole, failed campaign. Thomas reported losses of 387 killed, 2,562 wounded and 112 missing in the battle.
Even after this shattering defeat, the end of this great army was not yet at hand. Reorganizing yet again, the Army of Tennessee was reunited with their beloved commander, CSA General Joseph Eggleston Johnston, and moved back east to confront Sherman once again, this time in his march through the Carolinas.
The Carolinas Campaign
The End for Charleston
After the fall of Savannah in December, 1864, Sherman wasted little time in turning his attention northward. Entering South Carolina with 63,000 man arranged in four great columns in late January, 1865, almost no Confederate force was available to stand up against him. A single division under CSA Major General Lafayette McLaws did their best at the Salkehatchie River Bridge east of Allendale, but all they managed to do was hold up one Union Corps for a single day, at the cost of 170 men killed or wounded.
As Sherman's "bummers" ravaged through the middle of the state, CSA Lieutenant General William Joseph Hardee, now in command of forces around Charleston, determined that he would have to immediately evacuate his troops or risk having them cut off and trapped between Sherman and the Union Navy. On the night of February 17, 1865, with the bulk of Union forces still several days away burning Columbia, Hardee ordered Fort Sumter abandoned, and marched out of the city heading for Cherhaw to support CSA General Joseph Eggleston Johnston's Army of Tennessee, now in North Carolina and preparing for last-ditch defenses.
Sherman never moved towards Charleston, instead moving his grand army slowly northeast towards North Carolina, meeting almost no resistance along the way. Charleston's mayor surrendered the city a few days later to a handful of Union officers who had ridden up from Beaufort. The "grand affair," which had started out with so much grand talk and excitement less than four years before, came to a quiet end.
Sherman had stormed through South Carolina without any real resistance, and by the first of March was approaching Cherhaw, up near the North Carolina border. After evacuating Charleston, also without a fight, Beauregard had directed CSA Lieutenant General WIlliam Joseph Hardee to take his corps (with two divisions and 8,000 men) to Cherhaw and delay Sherman's advance while everyone else got into some kind of order. Johnston determined that he should concentrate his forces near Fayetteville in order to best strike at Sherman's flank, no matter if he went south towards Goldsboro or north towards Raleigh.
Schofield and Sherman agreed that they should link up their respective commands at Goldsboro before moving on Raleigh to cut the main Confederate supply line there; Johnston determined to strike hard at Shermans column and was maneuvering his forces to hit before that linkup could be produced.
Hardee wisely pulled his infantry steadily back from Sherman's advance, leaving most of the fighting up to CSA Major General Joseph Wheeler's Cavalry Corps, who kept a running battle up with Sherman's cavalry chief, USA Brigadier General Judson Kilpatrick, most of the way to Fayetteville. Sherman's infantry moved steadily forward, reaching Fayetteville on March 12. There he rested his troops for three days before starting out again.
The Battle of Averasborough
As he had in Georgia and South Carolina, Sherman had arranged his force of four corps into two great columns covering a 60 mile front; on the left was the XIV and the XX Corps, collectively referred to as the Army of Georgia under USA Major General Henry Warner Slocum. On the right was the XVII and XV Corps under one-armed USA Major General Oliver Otis Howard, collectively referred to as the Army of the Tennessee. On March 15 the great Union army marched out of Fayetteville northeast towards Goldsboro and an expected linkup with Schofields army.
Hardee had pulled back to a strong defensive position near the tiny settlement of Averasborough, on the Raleigh Road, atop a ridgeline between a swamp and the Cape Fear River. On the afternoon of March 15, not long after leaving Fayetteville, Kilpatrick's Cavalry Corps, attached to Slocum's Corps, ran into the line of Confederate defenses, and immediately tried to ram their way through them. Hardee's men held fast, forcing Kilpatrick to withdraw and request infantry support. Slocum deployed his men during the night, and at dawn on March 16 assaulted Hardee's line.
Hardee's only task was to delay the Union force, and he did an outstanding job here. Alternately pulling back and counterattacking, Hardee's less than 6,000 men forced Slocum to deploy his entire XX Corps and then order up the XIV Corps for reinforcements late in the afternoon. By nightfall, well over 25,000 Union soldiers were engaged or deployed for battle, while Sherman's lines were starting to become unstrung, just as Johnston had hoped. Rather than turn and support Slocum's fight, for some unknown reason, Howard's right wing kept moving forward, separating the two armies by more than a day's march by the morning of March 17.
As darkness fell, Hardee broke contact and moved his small force rapidly back towards Johnston's line outside Goldsboro, no doubt pleased that his actions had delayed the Union left wing by at least two days. About 600 Union soldiers were killed or wounded, while Hardee reported a loss of about 450.
The Battle of Bentonville, Day One, March 19, 1865
Unknown to both Sherman and Slocum, Johnston was massing his available forces just 20 miles north, just outside the tiny village of Bentonville, and hidden in the woods on the north side of the Goldsboro Road. Howard's right wing was advancing down the New Goldsboro Road about four miles to the southeast, and was well on down the road by the time Slocum got his troops reorganized and on the road again. Sherman was convinced that Johnston, the defensive genius, was entrenching around Raleigh at that very moment. With Hardee's Corps, still advancing up the road from Averasborough, the Confederate commander could muster about 21,000 men, as opposed to the 30,000 in Slocum's command alone.
As USA Brigadier General William Passmore Carlin's 1st Division, the lead elements of Slocum's XIV Corps moved up the Goldsboro Road early on the morning of March 19, his skirmishers started engaging what they thought were local militia. Instead, they were running straight into Hoke's newly reinforced command arrayed across the road, fresh up from the battles around Wilmington. Slocum ordered an envelopement movement to his left, which instead had his men running straight into the middle of Johnston's main line of battle.
As the battle started unfolding, CSA Major General Lafayette McLaw's Division, the vanguard of Hardee's command, finally arrived. Johnston, responding to panicked requests for reinforcements from Bragg, sent the road-march weary soldiers over to the far left of his lines to join Hoke, arriving only to see the Union troops retreating in disarray. Johnston's tactical plan had been to stop and break up the Union column, then spring a strong attack into their flank from his wooded position on their flank as soon as possible. Thanks to Bragg's continued ineptness as a battlefield commander, the chance to do this with McLaw's troops was lost.
While the rest of Hardee's command moved into position and Johnston prepared to attack, Slocum had his men hastily dig in, and sent word for his XX Corps to move up as soon as possible. The Union commander also sent word to Sherman that he had found Johnston's army, and requested Howard's army be moved north into the rapidly growing battle.
Just before 3 PM, with all his forces now in place and ready, Johnston gave the order to start what became the last major Confederate offensive of the war. Led by Hardee, Johnston's combined force swept out of the woods and thundered down on Carlin's serious outnumbered division. In minutes the Union line fell apart, and Johnston's screaming men ran down the road towards the next Union division coming into the line, USA Brigadier General James Dada Morgan's 2nd Division.
Morgan had ordered his men to quickly construct a log breastwork soon after encountering Hoke's men, and this hastily built barricade broke up the Confederate assault. Under heavy fire, Hardee's men hit the ground and returned fire, while Hoke was ordered out of his trenchline into the assault. Soon, every reserve Johnston could muster was thrown into the fight, while Slocum's XX Corps made it into the line in time to withstand the assault. As darkness fell, Johnston ordered his men to break contact and pull back to a strong defensive position near Mill Creek, while Sherman order Howard's entire Army of the Tennessee north into battle.
The Battle of Bentonville, Day Two and Three, March 20-21, 1865
Very little fighting occurred during the day of March 20, with Johnston strengthening his position around Mill Creek and Howards two corps moving into the line of battle. As day dawned on March 21, both armies stood static in their defensive lines, with Johnston trying to keep his force intact, and Sherman simply wondering when his Confederate opponent would withdraw and allow him to proceed to his rendezvous with Terry and Cox at Goldsboro.
By the middle of the afternoon, hot-headed USA Major General Joseph Anthony Mower grew impatient and ordered his division to advance, totally without orders from either Slocum or Sherman. Moving west along a narrow path along Mill Creek, Mower's men blew past pickets set up in the rear of Johnston's line, and soon advanced to within 600 feet of Johnston's headquarters. Commanding a hastily assembled counterattack, Hardee personally led a Texas cavalry unit into Mower's left flank, followed in short order by cavalry and infantry attacks on every flank of the Union command. Mower was soon forced out of the Confederate lines with heavy losses, but managed to inflict the ultimate blow to Hardee. CSA Private Willie Hardee, his son, was a member of the very Texas cavalry brigade the general led into battle, and was mortally wounded in the heavy exchange of fire.
Johnston had enough, and during the night of March 21 pulled the remnants of his command out of the line and headed back towards Raleigh. The ill-conceived stance had cost him 2,606 men killed wounded, captured or missing, while Sherman's forces suffered the loss of 1,646. The only objective Johnston managed was the delay of Sherman's march for a few days, while nearly destroying his own army in the attempt. With hindsight, it is clear that, even if Johnston had managed the unlikely result of totally destroying Slocum's Army of Georgia, he would have still faced the 30,000 plus strong Army of the Tennessee shortly thereafter.
Sherman rather half-heartedly moved on to Goldsboro, where he met up with Terry's and Cox's commands newly arrived from the coast, then moved north to take the abandoned city of Raleigh. There, he received word on April 16 that Johnston wanted to discuss surrender terms. The two generals met at Bennett Place between Durham and Hillsbourough, where very generous terms were offered to the courtly Confederate general after two days of talks. Both generals had just learned of Lincoln's assassination on April 14, which no doubt added some haste to their efforts to end the fighting.
Grant traveled south to tell his old friend Sherman that these terms were not acceptable to the new administration in Washington, and that he would have to insist the Confederates accept the same terms offered to and accepted by Lee on April 9. Jefferson Davis, newly arrived in Goldsboro in flight from the Union armies, rudely ordered his political enemy to break away from Sherman's armies and join him in flight to the south. Johnston quietly ignored him, and as Davis continued his escape attempt southwards, met again with Sherman to discuss the surrender. After agreeing to the new, harsher terms, Johnston surrendered his once-great army on April 26, 1865.
Action in Northern Florida
The populated areas of 1861 Florida was concentrated in the northern reaches, as were nearly all the ports and railroads. Ironically, the second largest city was Key West, with a population of 2,832 (including 591 slaves), but it was isolated from the mainland by the lack of connecting roads or railroads.
The railroad network was still in the process of building up across the state when war broke out, as a result, no line connected Pensacola (the largest city) with the eastern portions, nor did any line connect eastern Florida with Georgia or Alabama. Forts originally built by the Spanish or by the U.S. government starting in the 1840s guarded the approaches to the most critical approaches at Pensacola, Fernandina, St. Augustine and the Keys. Both sides recognized that besides these major approaches, the capital at Tallahassee, the railroad crossroad town of Baldwin, and the river towns of Jacksonville, New Smyrna, St. Marks, Appalachicola, Cedar Key and Tampa all were strategic locations to the control of the state.
The largest battle in Florida began as nothing more than yet another occupation of Jacksonville, the fourth in half as many years. In overall command was General Truman A. Seymour, charged with securing the small port town once again, then moving westward into the interior area between the St. Johns and Suwanee Rivers with four goals in mind. First, to cut the railroads and stop the northward flow of food and supplies to the Confederate Army of Tennessee, several hundred miles north in Georgia. Second, to capture valuable store of cotton, turpentine and lumber for the Union army's own use, third, to 'free' and recruit blacks for the increasing numbers of 'colored' regiments. Lastly, and possibly least important, Seymour was to "inaugurate measures for the speedy restoration of Florida to her allegiance."
The Invasion of Northeast Florida
With some advance preparation by the Union garrison already at Fernandina, and with some difficulty passing through the sandbar choked entrance to the St. Johns River, troop transports guarded by gunboats started upriver at daybreak on February 7, 1864. Seymour had under his command a force of about 7,000 men organized into ten infantry regiments, one cavalry battalion and three artillery batteries. One of the infantry regiments present was the famed all-black 54th Massachusetts, of Battery Wagner (the movie "Glory") fame.
The movement of Union troops towards the northeast Florida coast had not gone unnoticed by the Confederates, who quickly began scouting for a suitable place to mount a proper defense. In command of the Department of East Florida was Brigadier General Joseph Finegan, with a mere 1,200 men at his disposal, all widely scattered in small groups across the interior portions of the state from Fernandina to Tampa. Alerted to the danger, Department of South Carolina, Georgia and Florida General P.G.T. Beauregard (who had replaced Lee) immediately send word to Finegan that help was on the way, to hold the Union forces at bay as best he could, and to "prevent capture of slaves."
Meanwhile, the Union flotilla proceeded up the St. Johns, pausing only long enough to engage and pursue a small number of Confederate pickets just below Commodore's Point, less than two miles from the wharves of Jacksonville itself.
With little resistance, the flotilla of Union transports tied up to the Jacksonville docks about 3:40 PM on the afternoon of February 7, and the troops began offloading immediately. There was very little to secure in town, as three previous Union invasions and departures over the past two years had reduced most of the houses and shops to unreconstructed rubble. Nearly 3,000 people had lived in town in 1860, when Seymour arrived on the Maple Leaf, there was less than 200 remaining, almost all women and children who assured the invaders that they were "Union."
By nightfall Seymour's troops had full command of Jacksonville, digging in for the night in existing defensive position on the west side of the city and he passed on orders for them to prepare to move rapidly towards the inland rail junction at Baldwin at dawn. For some unknown reason this dawn assault did not take place, instead after an uneventful night the men moved out in three columns about 3 PM on February 8, their objective being the South Prong of the St. Mary's River about 35 miles due west.
The Move West
Instead of a quick raiding party, the deliberate movement was the result of changed orders. Instead of a quick attempt to seize and cut the railroads, Seymour apparently desired a somewhat deeper and more thorough disruption of the Confederate held territory, tearing up what rails they could, destroying stockpiles of supplies, and reconnoitering the Confederate positions and emplacements. The troops were still only supposed to march about 35 miles inland, but there was no order or suggestion to avoid contact with any Confederate forces.
The three Union columns consisted of USA Colonel W.B. Barton's Brigade (47th, 48th and 115th New York Infantry Regiments) marching straight up the Lake City-Jacksonville Road (roughly following the route of present-day U.S. Highway 90, paralleling I10), USA Colonel Guy V. Henry's Mounted Brigade (40th Massachusetts Mounted Infantry, the Independent Battalion of Massachusetts Cavalry, Langdon's Light Artillery Battery, Elder's Horse Artillery Battery and a section of Jame's Rhode Island Artillery Battery) on a parallel road to his left, and USA Colonel J.R. Hawley's Brigade (7th Connecticut and 7th New Hampshire Infantry Regiments, and the 8th U.S. Colored Troops) on another road to the right. These three roads converged about three miles from Jacksonville, and Seymour expected Confederate opposition before that point.
Instead of contact, the men marched on through the growing darkness before stopping for the night at the road junction. Henry's mounted troops continued down the road before finally encountering an abandoned picket outpost about five miles down the road. Easing through the woods, the Union men quietly came upon a small manned outpost and seized it with a rapid assault. Quickly remounting and riding on for another ten minutes, they soon came upon a major Confederate outpost known as Camp Finegan.
Observing about 200 heavily armed Confederate defenders waiting in the camp (CSA Lieutenant Colonel Abner McCormick's 2nd Florida Cavalry), Henry elects to bypass the camp and travel another four miles west to attack a reported artillery camp at Twelve Mile Station. Finding the camp manned but unguarded and the Confederates in the process of cooking and eating, Henry ordered a sudden, loud assault. Most of the artillerymen took off for the surrounding woods at the first notes of the Union bugles. The Confederates lost 18 men and 45 horses and mules, but the hardest blow was the loss of five critically needed artillery pieces.
Meanwhile, the Union infantry columns abandoned their plans for encamping at the road junction, and began moving west through the thick, dark woods. Encountering Camp Finegan, they begin moving through the thick forest to surround the camp before assaulting. Although they quietly captured all the Confederate pickets, something warned the men inside, and the Confederates deserted the camp before the Union attack could be mounted. After briefly searching the surrounding woods the next morning for deserters, the Union infantrymen moved out towards Baldwin, 15 miles to the west.
Henry's men left Twelve Mile Station at 4 AM on February 9, riding the ten miles in to Baldwin and tearing up the rail tracks as they went. Baldwin itself was taken without resistance by 7 AM, and in just this short time most of Seymour's objectives had been met. General Quincy A. Gillmore, in overall command of the operation and now in Jacksonville, ordered more regiments forward for support and directed Seymour to continue inland. Henry ordered his men to move out once again on the morning of February 10.
Riding west of Baldwin and capturing occasional stocks of food and supplies along the way, no resistance was met until the bridge over the South Prong of the St. Mary's RIver at a place known as Barber's Ford. There, the bridge had been burned and the 2nd Florida Cavalry waited in ambush. The lead Union pickets were gunned down as they approached the burned out bridge, but the Confederates melted away with the loss of only four men as the Union Independent Battalion charged their position. Union losses were set at 17 dead and wounded.
Seymour received additional orders from Gillmore that same day directing him to push his forces as far west as the Suwanee River, and advising that additional infantry support was headed his way. At the same time, Finegan in Lake City was hurriedly concentrating all his forces to meet the Union invasion force.
Moving out from Barber's Ford about 1 PM on February 11, Henry's mounted force soon entered Sanderson, only to find three large warehouses full of supplies set afire only 15 minutes beforehand by the last departing Confederate train. After a short rest, the mounted troops continued westward through the night, arriving three miles east of Lake City by midmorning.
Slowly advancing through a thick morning fog, Henry's troops suddenly encountered Confederate infantry already drawn up in line of battle. Due to the thickness of the fog and the noise discipline exercised by both sides, neither saw each other until they were well less than 100 yards apart, and both sides then immediately opened fire. The 1st Georgia Regulars, under the command of CSA Lieutenant John Porter Fort, withstood the initial Union assault led by the 40th Massachusetts and the Independent Battalion, and soon forced the Union line into retreat. With food and ammunition running short, and the main body of infantry support more than 30 miles to their rear, Henry decided to retreat all the way back to Sanderson before halting.
For 10 days after ordering his forces to retreat back to the relative safety of Sanderson and Barber's Ford, Seymour marked time slowly reinforcing his garrison and limiting his offensive actions to a single raid on Gainesville and another to the Georgia-Florida border area. Finegan wasted no time building his small force up, sending every available unit from western and southern Florida into his line east of Lake City, and appealing to Confederate authorities for more infantry and artillery.
By the afternoon of February 19, Seymour had consolidated a force of eight infantry regiments, one mounted infantry regiment, three batteries of artillery and a cavalry battalion, numbering just over 5,400 men and 16 artillery pieces. Swinging once again into the offensive, he ordered his men west along the Jacksonville-Lake City Road, with the intention of confronting the Confederate forces at Lake City, driving through them, and destroying the railroad bridge over the Suwanee River.
Finegan remained at his headquarters in Lake City, placing command of the Confederate force on CSA Colonel Alfred H. Colquitt. He had moved his main body of troops a few miles east of Lake City to a tiny settlement named Olustee Station. By nightfall on the 19th he had collected some 8 full infantry regiments, parts of two other infantry battalions, 4 artillery batteries and two calvary regiments, numbering about 5,200 men. Committed to holding a line of defense at Olustee Station, he ordered his men to construct a line of hasty emplacements, and prepared to meet the expected Union assault.
Colquitt soon choose a good ground to make a stand; with a large lake to his left and a dense swamp just to the right, the railroad tracks and adjoining road ran through a narrow patch of high ground that would be mush easier to defend than the usual flat, wide open terrain of northern Florida. Ironically, although both sides were nearly evenly matched, both commanders believed they were facing a superior force, and neither ordered their cavalry force forward to scout the opposing army.
Learning about the Confederate position at Olustee during the night of February 19, Seymour hastily gave orders for his force to march out and confront it in the morning. Leaving Sanderson and Barber's Ford about 7 AM in road march formation, once again the mounted forces under Henry rapidly pulled ahead of the main body of infantry. There was apparently little or no concern about encountering a major Confederate force anytime soon, as neither flankers or skirmishers were deployed, no order to load and prepare the artillery for action was given, and most of the infantrymen had not yet loaded their guns or otherwise prepared for imminent action. The Union cavalry casually rode down the road at a trot, expecting to simply scatter whatever enemy force they chanced upon, as they had been doing for weeks.
Encountering a small group of Confederate pickets, Henry's men returned their fire until they broke for the rear. Feeling a bit more prudent, Henry decided to wait a bit until the infantry could catch up with him. About 2 PM the vanguard of the Union infantry arrived, led by the 7th Connecticut Infantry, and were immediately ordered up front to probe for the main Confederate line. With the Confederate force still coming into line, and Union infantry rapidly marching up the road, contact was not long in coming.
As the 7th Connecticut advanced slowly forward deployed as skirmishers, they came under increasingly heavier but still sporadic fire from Confederate skirmishers still falling back. Seymour ordered a "reconnaissance by fire" from one of the cannon just arriving on the field, and the repose was swift. As the line of Union infantry broke out of the pine woods into the railroad track clearing, they discovered a line of heavy entrenchments manned by no less than four full infantry regiments (the 6th, 8th, 19th and 64th Georgia Infantry). Soon under fire from three directions, Seymour ordered the Connecticut men to fall back a few yards to a cleared area next to a small pond.
Within a few minutes, five other Union infantry regiments rushed up into line of battle (the 7th New Hampshire, 8th U.S. Colored Troops, and the 47th, 48th and 115th New York), while the four Georgia regiments moved out of their entrenchments and deployed into a three-quarter mile line of battle directly facing the field.
Under intense fire from the Confederate line, one by one the Union infantry retreated further to the rear, with one notable exception. Well drilled for dress parade but totally untrained for combat, the 8th Colored Troops were rushed into line of battle with still unloaded rifles, then deployed and attempted to load and make ready while under intense and accurate fire from the Georgia line. At first the Troops wavered and hesitated, threatening to break and run, but soon they loaded up and began to return a steady if inaccurate fire. Refusing to be pushed back, the Troops ended up losing over 300 of the 550 man command in the withering Confederate fire.
As the fighting intensified, more units rushed in on both sides. Three more Georgia regiments (the 1st, 23rd and 32nd Georgia Infantry) deepened and extended the Confederate line while the 6th Florida Infantry Battalion dressed the right of the line, slightly overlapping the Union line and enabling them to pour a galling fire on their flank. As the men came into line, Colquit ordered a general advance on the weakened Union position. As the attack mounted, two more Union infantry regiments (the 54th Massachusetts and the 1st (U.S.) North Carolina Colored) rushed into the growing battle at the double-quick.
As the two lines of battle slammed together, a near impenetrable volume of fire erupted from the Georgians. Between bullets and mixed grape and cannister shot from the handful of Confederate cannon newly arriving on the field, the 115th New York lost 296 officers and men dead, wounded or missing in action. To their far left, the newly baptised by fire 8th Colored Troops had three successive regimental flag bearers shot down, while the fourth lost an arm in the intense fire but held on to the flagstaff and carried it off the field.
Despite the arrival of the two fresh black regiments, the Union line could hold only a few more minutes. By 2:30 PM their line was in full retreat, with the 54th Massachusetts and 1st North Carolina Colored remaining slowly pulling back, still dressed in ranks, and keeping up a steady fire to protect their fleeing comrades. The Confederate line surged ahead, fully intending to stay close on the heels of Seymour's broken command, By 3 PM their own charge ended, not by Union resistance, but by lack of ammunition for rifles and cannon.
Resupplying from the filled ammunition pouches of the Union dead and some supplies newly moved up by rail, the Confederate line managed to shortly resume pursuit, completely chasing the Union units off the field by dusk. By Sunday night, the shattered remnants of all the Union regiments were in or near Jacksonville, having burned both supplies and bridges behind them, while the Confederates seemed contented just to ransack the abandoned Union equipment rather than engage in any serious pursuit.
Cavalry Raids Across Alabama and Georgia
Following the battle at Ezra Church, Sherman turns to his cavalry corps to try and cut Hood's supply line. On July 27, McCook's 1st Division Cavalry with about 3,500 horsemen moves around the western flank of Atlanta's defenses, bound for Lovejoy Station about 25 miles south of the city. Later that same day, Garrard's 2nd Division Cavalry and Stoneman's Cavalry Division move around the eastern line of defense with about 5,000 horsemen towards the same destination. The plan is to tear up the last remaining railroads supplying Atlanta along with their accompanying telegraph lines, then proceed to the Macon and Andersonville prisoner of war camps to release the over 30,000 Union prisoners.
Sherman didn't have to wait long for word of his "great cavalry raid." On July 30, McCook's Division was thoroughly routed near Newnan by two cavalry brigades under Wheeler's personal command, assisted by several infantry units. McCook's retreat north has been aptly described as "pathetic," poorly planned, poorly executed, and managing to both lose most of the prisoners they had captured and being led by other prisoners into ambush after ambush. The fact that the Union cavalrymen would actually ask their Confederate prisoners to act as guides seems almost beyond comprehension, but it did indeed happen, to McCook's sorrow. The Union commander was finally reduced to calling his commanders together and ordering them to scatter in an "every man for himself" headlong flight back toward the Union lines. McCook and about 1200 men, the remnants of 10 cavalry regiments and artillery batteries, finally made it back to Marietta six days later.
The next day, Stoneman's entire force was captured, killed or scattered at Sunshine Church just north of Macon. Stoneman not only failed to liberate the Union prisoners at Macon and Andersonville, he suffered the ignobility of joining their ranks at Macon's Camp Oglethorpe. Garrard never even left the Atlanta area, skirmishing with a detachment of Wheelers around Flat Rock, 15 miles southeast of Decatur, until pulling back to the main Union line on July 29.
The "great raid" was not only a spectacular Confederate victory, so many cavalry horses were captured that an entire infantry brigade (CSA Brigadier General Joseph H. Lewis' Kentucky Orphan) was able to be mounted later in the fall. Sherman, noted for his extravagant prose in victory, was somewhat more terse in defeat, "On the whole the cavalry raid is not deemed a success."
One witness to the end of this "great raid," Pvt. John A. Chapman, Co. D, 19th South Carolina Infantry, commented: "At Macon we saw Stoneman and his raiders, who had recently been captured and were then about to take the train for Charleston. They were an insolent looking set of fellows, and their appearance, deportment, and general manner inspired this writer with no worse feeling than a very natural and laudable desire to kick them."
Union Raid into Central Alabama
Although the Union controlled most of northern Alabama by the second year of the war, they were not able to mount an offensive deep into the state until the strong Confederate garrisons in Mobile was eliminated. It was not until the last two months of the war, with Mobile safely under Union control and most of the other Alabama garrisons killed, captured or scattered, that a raid deep into the state aimed at eliminating the strong arsenal at Selma, and as many other manufacturing facilities and supply warehouses that could be safely captured or reduced. To this end, USA Major General James Harrison Wilson gathered more than 14,000 cavalrymen in extreme northwestern Alabama, just east of Corinth, Mississippi, in the early spring of 1865, preparing to mount a massive raid through the industrial heartland of Alabama and Georgia.
Wilson's Raid to Selma, as it was originally known, ended up as the largest single operation of it's kind during the war, and one of the most successful, but to be perfectly blunt, it could not have succeeded at any objective if Confederate resistance was not collapsing everywhere just as it kicked off. The only combat forces available to resist during this 28-day raid were three seriously decimated brigades of CSA Brigadier General Nathan Bedford Forrest's cavalry command, along with small remnants from CSA Brigadier General James Ronald Chalmer's Mississippi and CSA Brigadier General William Hicks "Red" Jackson's Tennessee Cavalry Divisions, and a small detachment from CSA Brigadier General Philip Dale Roddy's Alabama Cavalry Brigade. In a few places this pitiful force was joined by local militia, but at no point did Wilson face a force stronger than 5,000 Confederates. Forrest claimed that he had a total force available of some 12,000 men in early March, but it is much more likely that he had somewhere around half that number actually still sticking around.
Wilson's Raid Sets Off
Wilson's force concentrated at Eastport, Alabama, just across the border from northeastern Mississippi, and left on it's great raid on March 22. With only scattered resistance from bands of Forrest's cavalry and small groups of infantry they moved quickly in three columns southeast through the state, aiming straight for Selma. Forrest attempted to make a stand just north of Plantersville, 18 miles north of Selma, with a hastily assembled force of about 2,000 cavalrymen and militia. On the morning of April 2, Wilson's vanguard on the Randolph-Plantersville Road (now Alabama Highways 139 and 22), the 72nd Indiana Mounted Infantry, encountered rail barricades set up by Roddey's Cavalry across the road. The Union force immediately attacked, forcing most of the Confederate cavalrymen to abandon their positions and fall back, while the rest covered their retreat. Wilson ordered his men to keep the pressure on, and a sort of "leap-frog" running battle soon ensued, the Confederates continued to fall back but keeping up a hot fire as they did (this is a tactic known as a "fighting retreat").
Forrest had deployed the rest of his small force about a mile behind Roddey's position, and the Union force finally ran into his main line about 4 PM. Believing they could just blow through Forrest's thin line, the men of the 17th Indiana Mounted Infantry charged, led by USA Captain Frank White. Wilson had described White as a "berserker of the Norseman breed," and the captain did his best to live up to that description. Charging into the line, into the very teeth of Forrest's only battery of artillery, a vicious hand-to-hand combat broke out with the for-once superior numbers of Confederate infantry. Forrest himself joined in the fray, soon wounded by a saber blow from USA Captain James D. Taylor, but killed his assailant moments later with his pistol. White and his men were soon hurled back with significant losses.
Wilson ordered another attack to begin at once, this time with a brigade-wide front of dismounted cavalry and infantry, well supported by a heavy attack on the right of the Confederate. That part of Forrest's line was held by the untrained and untried Alabama State Troops under CSA Brigadier General Daniel Weisiger Adams. The militiamen soon caved in under the brutal attack, exposing Forrest's whole line, and within a few minutes forcing him to pull his command south into Selma. Although a relatively short affair, one Union soldier called the fight, "a right smart little skirmish."
The Battle of Selma
A five mile long series of earthworks and redoubts had been established in a semicircle around Selma, anchored on both ends to the Alabama River that flows across the south side of town. The most likely avenue of attack was from the north, the very direction Wilson was coming from, and the strongest parts of the line were here. In front of the trenchline ran a parapet six to eight feet tall, eight feet thick at the base and with a five foot deep by five foot wide ditch in front. While the fortifications were formidable, the garrison manning them was not. By the time Wilson closed in, Forrest's command was so small that he had to space them nearly ten feet apart to cover the entire line (the standard was something more like elbow distance apart, ideally). Again, an exact figure as to the strength of this force is impossible to ascertain, but somewhere between four and eight thousand men manned the line, a bad mixture of hardened veterans of the Army of Tennessee alongside civilian preachers hastily "recruited" from the city churches.
The battle at Selma was almost anticlimactic from the start. Wilson's men moved south quickly on the morning of April 2, and by 3 PM they were just outside the city defenses and moving in line ready to assault. A little after 4 PM one of WIlson's divisions (USA Brigadier General Eli Long's 2nd Cavalry) stormed the northwestern ramparts astride the Summerfield Road, clearing the formidable obstacle in one great charge. The Confederate defenders put up a mighty defense during the assault ã as Long and his staff rode forward, one was killed by a sharpshooter and four wounded, including Long himself, who was shot in the head. USA Major General Emory Upton's 4th Cavalry Division had launched into the northeastern ramparts at nearly the same time, easily pushing over the parapet and encountering less resistance than Long suffered. As darkness fell, all Confederate resistance in the city broke, leaving Wilson his prize.
Wilson rested briefly in the small Alabama town, then gathered his force and headed east, towards his fateful rendezvous with the Confederate president himself.
Guerilla and Irregular Warfare in the Mountains
Southern Appalachia may have been harder hit by the Civil War than any other section of the country. On the one hand, Southern Mountain counties were deeply split politically over secession, and local populations divided their loyalties between the Union and the Confederacy. On the other hand, this region lay geographically at the heart of the Civil War. Both armies moved repeatedly up and down the valleys of Virginia and Tennessee. In addition, both armies targeted numerous sites within the region as strategic occupancy points because they were located on major rivers, were railroad junctures, or were the sites of important resources such as the national rifle works, saltworks, mineral springs, or mines. By the end of the War, eighty Appalachian counties had been devastated by major battles or campaigns or had been overwhelmed by the establishment of military facilities (see Map 6.1). For example, one Warm Springs, Virginia ex-slave recalled that, "Morgan and he men make de Springs headquarters most de war, till de Yankees come marchin' through toward de last part." Because both sides struggled to control the rifle works and arsenal, Harper's Ferry was little more than a ghost town by the end of 1861, its businesses, buildings, homes, and bridges in a shambles. Every major Appalachian town (especially Knoxville, Chattanooga, Staunton, Winchester, and Rome) was caught in the grips of continuing warfare; and the disruption of trade connections caused shortages and prevented the export of regional commodities to the coast.
The "official" battles between the two armies probably brought less devastation and destruction to most mountain counties than did the frequent and continuing raids and assaults by guerillas, partisans and robber bands. As if the Tennessee mountaineers did not suffer enough from the presence of regular armies, that region was also a center for guerilla operations. Before the arrival of Burnside's army in 1863 it was the Unionists who had operated in clandestine bands and plundered Confederate sympathizers. By the summer of 1864, however, the situation was reversed, and the pro-Union majority was under attack. . . . Another development that meant hardship for mountaineers on both sides was the appearance of independent or robber bands that preyed on Unionists and Confederates alike. . . . As in eastern Tennessee, the mountain population of eastern Kentucky and the Union counties of northwestern West Virginia was plagued by a large number of Confederate guerilla groups. Because both areas were under Union control from the beginning of the war, the loyal population had to endure such attacks for nearly four years. . . . Much the same pattern was found in West Virginia. . . . The most effective means of control were occasional expeditions by regular federal forces, which often captured or dispersed the most troublesome guerilla groups. . . . Even more difficult were the raids of organized bands of Confederate troops. . . . As a result, West Virginia mountain Unionists were destitute and living in constant fear.
Partisan fighting engulfed every part of east Tennessee and most of east Kentucky. In 1861, an east Kentucky Unionist requested the aid of federal troops because more than a thousand Confederate partisans were plaguing a three-county area. Unless the Yankees "order[ed] a force of mounted men. . . to clear out the region," he feared that most of east Kentucky would "be infested and plundered all fall and winter." Subsequently, several local Unionists were murdered and public buildings burned. Indeed, there were repeated raids on the farms and homes of federal supporters throughout the war, and Unionists frequently retaliated by destroying the lives and property of Rebel sympathizers. Though tucked in the rugged terrain of the Great Smoky Mountains, the Unionist Cades Cove community was repeatedly raided by marauding bands of Rebel western North Carolina guerillas. Confederate conscriptors estimated that more than 8,000 deserters, draft dodgers, and Union sympathizers were hiding in the mountains of Jackson County, Alabama and southeastern Tennessee. By early 1863, the mix of Confederate deserters, Unionist guerillas, outlaws, and home guards proved incendiary in northern Georgia. According to Sarris, "These deserters form[ed] armed bands for self-protection, subsist[ed] on the countryside, and def[ied] the efforts of state militias and regular troops to compel their return." Because it was the location of a U.S. Mint office, Lumpkin County was "particularly hard hit, torn by bloody internal struggle as draft dodgers, deserters, and Unionists waged a running battle with Confederate troops, local militia, and secessionist civilians."
After forced conscriptions became more frequent in 1863, full-scale partisan conflict developed in southwestern Virginia and western North Carolina. To try to entice volunteers, local authorities doubled the Confederate bounty of fifty dollars. When such strategies failed, militia officers filled their quotas by using compulsory drafts. In February, 1862, a Confederate general notified the company commander in Lenoir, North Carolina, that his county would be used to set the example for the entire region. "The law requires that each County of the State shall contribute its proportion of men for the war," he warned, "and those counties deficient will be drafted until its quota has been made up. The draft will be made in Caldwell Co. at an early date." The journal of one western Carolinian demonstrates the growing resentment. After the conscription of ten men in March 1862, the Unionist minister lamented: "There are but few men in this country that ever witnessed a draft before, as this is the first since the War of 1812, and there were but few drafted then." The minister's view is supported by the diary of one of Wilkes County's small planters. "Hard country ours," the Confederate sympathizer wrote in May 1861, "only 96 Volunteers & not much hope for more. hope a draft will come and make them go." In August 1862, he added that "Conscripts of Wilkes refuse to go & talk of resistance; they will get themselves into a bad box." Shortly after this entry, the Confederacy exempted from military service those slaveholders who held more than twenty slaves. Three years into the war, farms and communities in the area had endured intense partisan conflicts and repeated retaliatory assaults. To try to "keep down raids" on the town by Unionist guerillas, "about 600 at Wilkesboro Composed of the home guards from the adjoining Counties" organized "to catch [Confederate] deserters." The small planter "fear[ed] they w[ould] do but little good & may make matters worse." According to Gordon McKinney:
Dissatisfaction with the war began as early as 1862 in the mountains of western North Carolina. . . . The major source of dissatisfaction was the Confederate government's successive conscription acts that blatantly discriminated against the poor and nonslaveowning farmers. . . . The course of events in southwestern Virginia was somewhat the same as that in North Carolina, but never developed as completely. By July 1862 there was widespread opposition to the Confederate draft in the southwestern counties, and heavy-handed enforcement by military authorities greatly upset the local population. . . . Guerilla bands roamed unmolested and the civilian population there, as elsewhere in the mountains of the Upper South, suffered as food became scarce.
With their husbands and sons away serving one side or the other, mountain women faced threats of physical assaults, home burnings, food shortages, and health crises. To elude Confederate guerillas, one western Carolina woman braved the rugged Transylvania County terrain with her mother, two sisters, and eight children. "I would get out of heart sometimes," she wrote, "and almost wish I had not started." She persisted, "being in dread of [her] life, they knowing that [her] husband was with the Yankees." A northern Georgia woman met a different fate. Arrested by Union soldiers for "harboring Rebels," the McConnell women were removed from their small Chattooga County plantation to spend ten months in the federal military prison at Nashville. The mistress of a small plantation at Black Walnut, Virginia, was pregnant, left only with the aid of a slave midwife and her young daughter. In the midst of a raid, "a doctor in the Yankee lines" delivered her baby. Not all women waited helplessly. One group of western Carolina females raided Confederate farms. A Haywood County woman led a Rebel detachment into a Yankee ambush. Fifty Yancey County women looted a government warehouse and stole sixty barrels of grain.
Major battles and campaigns, the presence of military forces who foraged the countryside for provisions, and repeated guerilla raids meant treacherous daily living conditions for the region's civilian households. In a four-county area around Chattanooga, Confederate General Longstreet reported "farms destroyed and foraged and subsistence consumed" to the point that the survival of the citizenry was in doubt. Similarly, a Union officer reported that many of the people of that area were "absolutely starving." One loyal east Tennessee slaveholder complained that "the Union Army is more destructive to Union men than the rebel army ever was. Our fences are burned, our horses taken, our people are stripped in many instances of the very vestiges of subsistence, our means to make a crop next year are being rapidly destroyed." A family letter from a small plantation in northern Georgia poignantly depicts the living conditions faced by these households that lay in the path of continuing partisan conflict. After their few slaves were conscripted, the husband plowed while a teenage son and two daughters hoed. His wife and younger daughters now "tend[ed] the house, chickens and garden affairs." His wife and her girls had "not had time to make cloth" because they were "working out" to replace the brother who was "gone to the war." Clearly their lifestyle had changed dramatically, for he added that "we have pretty much lost sight of indoor affairs in our efforts to keep from starving." Poor nonslaveholding whites fared no better. In the Shenandoah Valley, Union soldiers pillaged the property of white tenants and croppers whose shacks were sprinkled in between the small plantations. In one instance, the raiders "cut up the furniture, tore every stitch of clothing. . .destroyed all his garden, leaving him nothing but the roof and the walls."
The town of Winchester changed hands several times during the war. After the Confederates reoccupied the town in 1862, Cornelia McDonald described how the presence of the Rebel troops brought hardship to civilians. "A regiment of infantry and one of artillery is here," she wrote. "Every day there are more depredations, and less left us to furnish food. Besides that the injuries done to the property are great and will take thousands of dollars to repair." Food shortages were not, however, the greatest calamity that accompanied the presence of great numbers of soldiers. After the death of her infant and the illness of her other children, Cornelia worried because "the place ha[d] been made so unhealthy by the nearness of the camps." It was "a weary, weary life" for this wife of a small planter who, for the first time in her life, faced "anxiety about food for the morrow." On one occasion the desperate woman assaulted a hungry soldier. "A man had opened the stove and taken out the pan of nice light brown rusks, and was running out with them. A fit of heroism seized me and I darted after him, and just as he reached the porch steps, I caught him by the collar of his great coat, and held him tight till the hot pan burnt his hands and he was forced to drop it." Things got only worse after the Union army reoccupied the area and confiscated much of her house for a field hospital. "The reins are being tightened over us every day, " she commented. "We can buy only the barest necessaries of life. . . . I sit every day and see this lovely place converted into a wagon yard. . . . Soldiers stalk in and out of the house, at their pleasure." Cornelia did finally implement a food trading arrangement. At night a Yankee soldier would arrive at a side door, bearing a "kettle and bundle." After removing the coffee, sugar, and bacon, she filled his pot with flour. "It [wa]s the only chance to get anything to eat." Ironically this woman who owned slaves and who routinely expressed her resentment at doing "unusual household tasks" that she had once shifted to black women, prayed that God would relieve them of the current Union officers and bring them instead "virtuous rulers, those that oppress not the helpless."
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