Dalton to Jonesboro: The Atlanta Campaign
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. Leeıs 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 Democratı who nonetheless agreed with the copperheadsı 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 meansı 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.ı Literal years of seeing the words ³Atlanta Depot² 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 earthı policy would horrify and subdue the populace, who might otherwise engage his forces in guerilla warfare or other harassing actions.
WIth Grantıs 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. Polkıs 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.
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 Johnstonıs 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 Johnstonıs 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 ³good ground² 17 miles south, just north and west of Resaca. In addition, he orders preparation of a series of ³military roads² 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 Shermanıs forces were on the march towards him, Johnston sets CSA Lieutenant General John Bell Hoodıs 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 refusedı southward over Hamilton Mountain to the direct north of Dalton. Hardeeıs 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. Thoması 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. Schofieldıs 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 McPhersonıs 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 Howardıs 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, McPhersonıs 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 daysı 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 McPhersonıs 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 retreatı that Johnston specializes in and utilizes what resources he has to their maximum.
Examination of this terrain shows the two weaknesses in Johnstonıs 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 tightı 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.
Johnstonıs plan, to defend the river and rail line from heavily fortified positions, was clear but Shermanıs 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. Judahıs 2nd (USA Major General John M. Schofieldıs XXIII Army Corps) and USA Brigadier General Absalom Bairdıs 3rd (Palmerıs XIV Army Corps) involved in a three corps strength attack on the afternoon of May 14 on the bendı 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 Hoodıs 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. Sweeneyıs 2nd Division (of USA Major General Grenville M. Dodgeıs XVI Army Corps) has crossed the Oostanaula River a few miles south at Layıs 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 Hardeeıs Army Corps with most of the supply wagons and ambulances straight through Adairsville to Kingston, 15 miles down the main road, while sending Hoodıs and Polkıs 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. Cheathamıs Division is placed across the road about three miles north of Adairsville. Hood and Polk are ordered to march rapidly and ³tightly², 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.
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 McPhersonıs Army of the Tennessee wide to the Union right, Thoması Army of the Cumberland marching straight down the railway, and Schofieldıs 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 Cheathamıs 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 Hookerıs XX and Schofieldıs 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 Garrardıs 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. Frenchıs Division. Johnstonıs 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 evidenceı 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 Hoodıs 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 Scholfieldıs Corps was walking into the trap, a small unit of Union cavalry led by USA Brigadier General Edward M. McCook stumbles into Hoodıs 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 Polkıs 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 Hoodıs 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 Johnstonıs 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 Wheelersı 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 Pickettıs Mill.
New Hope Church
The New Hope Battlefield area is a rapidly growing suburb today, and very few of the original landmarks remain. From U.S. 41 south of Emerson, take the Dallas-Acworth Road heading west (some maps mark this as Georgia Highway 381, but we did not find any such street markers on the route). About seven miles down this road (and two miles past the small brown sign pointing to Pickettıs Mill Battlefield Historic Site) you will suddenly come across the large brick New Hope Baptist Church on your left; turn into the parking lot where you will find two sets of markers. On the north side of the church, next to the road, is the original small WPA and new standard Georgia Historical Commission markers. On the south side of the church, in a small grove of trees, is the larger Atlanta Campaign Pavilion. Across Bobo Road stands the ³old² New Hope Baptist Church, built after the war and featuring a small memorial park behind it. Next to the memorial is the solitary grave of CSA Lieutenant Colonel John Herrod of Company G, 33rd Mississippi Infantry Regiment.
Across the Dallas-Acworth Highway is a large graveyard with a small part-stone building directly adjacent. This building is on the site of the wartime New Hope Church, and this graveyard is where CSA Brigadier General Marcellus A. Stovallıs Georgia Brigade was located during the fight. The men refused to dig in, taking heavy casualties as a result. Several individual and mass graves of unknown Confederate dead appear among the period and modern markers. Rumor has it that some of the period markers in this graveyard still bear scars from the battle, but we were not able to locate any damaged in such a way. There are no amenities of any sort at this location, the nearest gas and food is in Dallas just to the southwest.
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. Stevensonıs Division sets up on the right, CSA Major General Thomas C. Hindmanıs Division in the slightly higher ground on the left, and CSA Major General Alexander P. Stewartıs 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 Hookerıs 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. Gearyıs 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. Stovallıs Georgia Brigade is positioned on an open hilltop in the midst of the churchıs graveyard and is unable or unwilling to dig in at all, but CSA Brigadier General Henry D. Claytonıs and CSA Brigadier General Alpheus Bakerıs 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 Oliverıs Eufaula Alabama Battery and CSA Captain Charles E. Fennerıs 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 ³There havenıt been twenty rebels there today² 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 Gearyıs 2nd Division, with USA Major General Daniel Butterfieldıs 3rd Division to his left and USA Brigadier General Alpheus S. Williamıs 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 Stewartıs 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, Williamıs 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. Williamıs 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. Stewartıs 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. Hookerıs 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 ³between 300 and 400² as reported by Stewart. One bitter Union infantryman remarks that Hooker has send them into a ³hell hole²; the name sticks as a common reference to the brutal fight there and at Pickettıs 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 Hoodıs line, covering the probable Union line of attack. To the far right of the newly extended Confederate line is one of Johnstonıs best, CSA Major General Patrick R. Cleburneıs Division, taking up position on a hilltop overlooking Pickettıs 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., ³I am now turning the enemyıs right flank, I think.² 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 Cleburneıs 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, ³to get rations.² That particular brigadeıs 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.
Howardıs leading brigade, commanded by USA Brigadier General William B. Hazenıs 2nd Brigade (of USA Brigadier General Thomas J. Woodıs 3rd Division, Howardıs 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 Kellyıs and CSA Brigadier General William Humeıs Cavalry Divisions, who they mistake as unentrenched infantry. Steadily overpowering the cavalrymen, Hazenıs 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. Granburyıs Texas Brigade suddenly appears in view and begins pouring a galling fire into the face of the onrushing Union line.
Hazenıs 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. Keyıs Arkansas Battery), and from two more regiments rushing in to support Granbury, CSA Colonel George Baucumıs 8th/19th Arkansas Consolidated Regiment to his left and CSA Brigadier General Mark P. Lowreyıs 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. Gibsonıs 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, Gibsonıs 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 Kneflerıs 3rd, is sent in about 6:30 p.m. in order to cover Gibsonıs 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 ³clear his front.² 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 ³skedaddled² or ³retreated in good order, with no pursuit [by the Texans] even being attempted,² 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 forgetsı 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 Pickettıs 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 Johnstonıs 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 ³Lost Mountain² and ³First Kennesaw² 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 ³Cheatham Hill.² This strong, compact six mile long ³Kennesaw² or ³Second Kennesaw² 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. Stanleyıs 1st Division (Howardsıs IV Army Corps) manage to wrest control of the small outpost. In a rather bizarre move, later that evening, one brigade is withdrawn when itıs 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 ³friendly fire² casualties, until the hill is left in Confederate control once again.
The Fight at Kolbıs Farm
Impatient as ever, Sherman sees that his probing actions are gaining nothing, so once again he returns to his classic flanking moves. Hookerıs XX and Schofieldıs 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. Johnstonıs near supernatural ability to readı Shermanıs intentions comes to his aid once again; through a pounding thunderstorm on the night of June 21 Hoodıs 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. Hindmanıs Division into the north and Stevensonıs 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 Stevensonıs 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 ³three entire corps are in front of us,² Johnstonıs entire force strength at that time. Sherman was not amused by this report, and it didnıt 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 McPhersonıs 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 ³about 250.²
Thomas chooses to concentrate his attack against a salient in the Confederate line nearly three miles south of Pigeon Hill, later famous as the ³Dead Angle.² Believing that one mighty push will drive out the heavily entrenched Confederates of Cheathamıs and Cleburneıs Divisions, he decided on the little used heavy infantry formations. The five attacking brigades (from the Union right to left: USA Colonel John G. Mitchellıs 2nd and USA Colonel Daniel McCookıs 3rd, both of Davisı 2nd Division, XIV Corps; USA Brigadier General Charles G. Harkerıs 3rd, USA Brigadier General George D. Wagnerıs 2nd and USA Brigadier General Nathan Kimballıs 1st, all of USA Brigadier General John Newtonıs 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, ³they seemed to melt away or sink into the earth, to rise not more.²
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 moved²ıwhatever 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 ³high-private² with the 1st/27th Tennessee Infantry Regiment (³The Maury Grays²) at the Dead Angle, described his feelings when the last Union attack of the day was finally repulsed:
³I 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.²
The only gain of the entire dayıs action, ironically, was Schofieldıs diversionaryı attack to the south, which managed to get between Johnstonıs 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 ³one or two more such assaults would use up this army.² Sherman finally relented and reported in a cable to Washington that night that his attack had failed and that he had suffered ³about 3,000 casualties.² 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, Johnstonıs 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 entire Chattahoochee River Line area is now built-up suburbia and paved over by malls and large highways. Many parts of the main avenue of approach, from the northwest, are now industrial or in urban decay. To put it delicately, this is not the sort of area you would like to spend a lot of time after dark in. There have been some efforts to set up a River Line Parkı and preserve some of the works near Nickajack Creek, but as of this writing we are unsure what stage these projects are in. Oakdale Road between Bankhead Highway and South Cobb Drive, just outside the Perimeter (Interstate 285) runs roughly alongside Johnstonıs positions.
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 ³private army,² 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 ³glorious war,² 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 citizenıs 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 ³biled² 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 Shermanıs 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 Palmerıs 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 ³fiercely assault² 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. Palmerıs 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 Lineıs redoubts, he calls off the attack, stating later that it represented ³the best line of field entrenchments I have ever seen.² Impressed with the fighting resistance of ³Joe Brownıs Pets,² 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 wonıt result in losing most of his army in the muddy water.
Garrardıs 2nd Division Cavalry (of USA Brigadier General Washington Elliottıs Cavalry Corps, Schofieldıs 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 Stonemanıs Cavalry Division ranging as far south as Sandtown, McPhersonıs Corps feinting to the right and Thoması Corps keeping the pressure on the river line, Schofields Corps is quickly moved up river on July 8 to find the best crossing site.
Roswell is a small but productive mill town, making uniforms, blankets and other textile goods for the Confederacy. Even as word of approaching Union troops arrives and townspeople start to leave in a panic, work continues in the mill. Ownership of the property is hastily laid on the shoulders of one Theophilus Roche, a French citizen and relatively recent employee of the mill, by the wealthy and prominent Barrington King family, now headed at high speed away from the town. As the lead scouts of Garrardıs cavalry approach, Roche orders that the Confederate national flag be hauled down and replaced with the French tricolors.
Details on what happened next are poorly documented, but it is very clear that this attempt to claim foreign ownership of what is clearly a Confederate-supporting mill fails to impress the Union officers on scene. Claiming they are acting on direct orders straight from Sherman (a point somewhat in dispute), the mostly women and children employees of the mill are arrested as traitors and sent under guard of a cavalry attachment to Marietta, while the mill and associated buildings are burned to the ground. Underscoring what must have been a horribly frightening and humiliating action for the women, several sources quote the Union cavalrymen escorts commenting on the ³fine good looks² of the Roswell women, as pointedly different from the ³fearfully homely² women they had seen elsewhere in northern Georgia. Once at Marietta, these women and children are grouped with other evacuees from the destroyed mill town of New Manchester and placed on north-bound trains, ending up in Ohio and Indiana. Some records claim these women were placed in northern prison camps in those states, while other records claim that they were ³dumped out by the side of the [railroad] tracks,² while still other records indicate that northern families ended up taking in most or all of them.
Around the Roswell area today, there is a popular local story that these women ³disappeared,² presumably never to be heard from again. The truth is that some died of typhus and other infectious diseases during or shortly after the evacuation (not an unusual event at all during the war), some found other work and even families in the North and had no good reason to return, while King himself reported in an 1865 letter that some of his mill hands had already returned. The fact that Sherman was seen as nothing more and nothing less than a demon no doubt led to the rise of the ³missing women of Roswell² myth.
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 Cameronıs 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. Boydıs 3rd (Kentucky) Brigade (the same brigade that had ³withdrawn for rations² at Pickettıs 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 Shermanıs 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. Shermanıs greatest fear at this point is that Johnston will receive reinforcements by rail from Leeıs 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, ³I was always anxious with Johnston at my front.² 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 Johnstonıs removal was ³like the successful gambler, flushed with continual winnings, who staked his all and lost. It was like the end of the Southern Confederacy.²
Advance to Peachtree Creek
The day after Hood took command, Union infantrymen of Palmerıs XIV Army Corps advanced through heavy resistance by Wheelerıs Cavalry to the northern banks of Peachtree Creek, near Howell Mill Road. At just about the same time, Garradıs Cavalry supported by McPhersonıs infantry reached the Georgia Railroad and captured the railroad depot at Stone Mountain, 15 miles east of Atlanta. On July 19, three brigades of Palmerıs XIV Army Corps forced a crossing of Peachtree Creek towards Mooreıs Mill, followed by other crossings under fire by elements of Howardıs IV Army Corps near Peachtree Road and Hookerıs 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.
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, ³Pile 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.²
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. Loringıs Division (Stewartıs Corps) steps off, almost immediately encountering Union infantry and mistakingly initiating battle action in the center of the line. CSA Major General William B. Bateıs Division of Hardeeıs Corps, ordered to begin the general assault on the extreme right of the Confederate lines, doesnıt 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. Scottıs Brigade (Stewartı 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. Joneıs 33rd New Jersey Infantry Regiment (Gearyıs 2nd Division, Hookerıs XX Army Corps), as well as a four gun artillery battery. Scottıs 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. Hoodıs 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. Riceıs 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. McPhersonıs 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. Blairıs XVII Army Corps have engaged Wheelerıs 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. Leggettıs 3rd Division and USA Brigadier General Giles A. Smithıs 4th Division against Cleburneıs Division, who has replaced the decimated cavalrymen. Cleburneıs 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 menıs heroics, the hilltop is renamed Leggettıs 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 Stewartıs Corps and the Georgia Militia to the strongly fortified positions in the outer ring of defenses around Atlanta, he orders Hardeeıs 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 Blairıs Corps lines before moving north into the line of battle. Cleburneıs Division withdraws with some difficulty from the Leggettıs Hill action and joins Hardeeıs march. At the same time, two divisions of Wheelerıs 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 itıs 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 ³spades is trumps² 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 Cleburneıs Division is equally unimpressed, deathly worried that ³the loss of another nightıs rest was a heavy tax upon their powers of endurance.² 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. Dodgeıs XVI Army Corps was ordered in to Blairıs left, facing southeast, and entrenching as had become the norm. At McPhersonıs urging, Blairıs men heavily entrenched and blocked lanes of approach before them.
By the morning of July 22, Hardeeıs 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 Cleburneıs and CSA Brigadier General George E. Maneyıs Divisions to begin deploying to the left when they reached Bouldercrest Road (now Drive), while Bateıs and CSA Major General William H. T. Walkerıs 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, Walkerıs and Bateıs 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 ³traitors² 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
Walkerıs 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 Sweeneyıs 2nd Division (Dodgeıs 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. Blodgettıs 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, Cleburneıs and Maneyıs Divisions launch their attack to the left of the ongoing fight, straight into the bendı of the Union Line held by Giles Smithıs 4th Division (Blairıs XVII Army Corps). This attack is much more successful, driving the Union line all the way north to Leggettıs Hill and capturing an entire infantry regiment (USA Lieutenant Colonel Addison H. Sanderıs 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 Sweeneyıs 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 Smithıs 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 Beardıs 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 McPhersonıs lungs, killing him instantly.
Hood finally realizes that the Union left flank is engaged, not the rear as planned, and orders Cheathamıs Corps out of the east Atlanta defense line and in to assault the entrenched Union main line. At the same time, Maneyıs Division is ordered to break off and move to Cleburneıs left, where they can support Cheathamıs attack. Maneyıs Division starts their assault at about 3:30 p.m. Cheathamıs Corps moves out one-half hour later, possibly due to a confusion over orders. Once again Leggettıs 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 Lightburnıs 2nd Brigade (USA Brigadier General Morgan L. Smithıs 2nd Division, Loganıs XV Army Corps). CSA Brigadier General Arthur M. Manigaultıs Brigade (of Cheathamıs Corps) leads the assault, pushing through the railroad cut (near the present day Inman Park MARTA Station), capturing the infamous DeGressı 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 Loganıs strong counterattack, the Confederates are soon forced back into their original positions, at a heavy loss.
Wheelerıs 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 McPhersonıs Army of the Tennessee, and immediately begins moving out to the west along the northern arc of Atlantaıs defenses. The targets this time are the last two open railroads leading into the besieged city, the Macon & Western and the Atlanta & West Point. 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 Stewartıs 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 Howardıs Corps had already reached the crossroads, was aware of Hoodıs intent and was entrenching before Leeıs 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. Brownıs and CSA Major General Henry D. Claytonıs Divisions led the column line of march. Within a mile or so, Brown encounters elements of CSA Brigadier William H. Jacksonıs Cavalry Division, who informs him of the entrenched Yankee lines ahead. Lee makes a very poor decision, and orders Brownıs and Claytonıs men to move straight ahead and assault without wasting time waiting for additional support to come up on line.
Brownıs Division hastily forms in line of battle directly opposite three and part of a fourth Union brigades of Morgan Smithıs 2nd Division (Loganıs XV Army Corps) and move forward about 12:30 PM. Claytonıs Division lags a bit behind, moving through thick forest over to Brownıs 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 canıt 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. Brantleyıs 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 ³no mortal could stand,² as put by USA Colonel Hugo Wangelin (3rd Brigade Commander, Smithıs 1st Division, Loganıs Corps).
Stewartıs Corps fares no better on their attempt. Leading the way is CSA Major General Edward C. Walthallıs 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 predecessorıs. 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.
The ³Great Raid²
Following the battle at Ezra Church, Sherman turns to his cavalry corps to try and cut Hoodıs supply line. On July 27, McCookıs 1st Division Cavalry with about 3,500 horsemen moves around the western flank of Atlantaıs defenses, bound for Lovejoy Station about 25 miles south of the city. Later that same day, Garrardıs 2nd Division Cavalry and Stonemanıs 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 didnıt have to wait long for word of his ³great cavalry raid.² On July 30, McCookıs Division was thoroughly routed near Newnan by two cavalry brigades under Wheelerıs personal command, assisted by several infantry units. McCookıs retreat north has been aptly described as ³pathetic,² 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 McCookıs sorrow. The Union commander was finally reduced to calling his commanders together and ordering them to scatter in an ³every man for himself² 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, Stonemanıs 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 Maconıs 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 ³great raid² was not only a spectacular Confederate victory, so many cavalry horses were captured that an entire infantry brigade (CSA Brigadier General Joseph H. Lewisı 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, ³On the whole the cavalry raid is not deemed a success.²
Sherman grows more and more frustrated with his inability to pound or starve Hoodıs 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, Schofieldıs XXIII and Palmerıs 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 Bateıs Division of Hardeeıs Corps reinforced by a two-gun artillery battery, a brigade of the Georgia Militia and CSA Brigadier General Lawrence S. Rossı 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 ³I regard the loss of time this afternoon as equal to the loss of 2,000 men.²), USA Brigadier General Jacob D. Coxıs 3rd Division (Schofieldıs 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 Shermanıs 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 ³a noisy but not bloody battle.²
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 itıs 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 Georgiaıs chief military engineer, CSA Captain Lemuel P. Grant, using slave labor from nearby plantations, the fortress city was ³too strong to assault and too extensive to invest,² according to Shermanıs own Chief of Engineers, USA Captain Orlando M. Poe. Sherman decides to bombard the city into submission.
On August 1, Sherman had ordered Schofieldıs 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, ³and make the inside of Atlanta too hot to be endured.² That day alone over 5,000 shells slam into the cityıs 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. Thoması entire Army of the Cumberland and Howardıs 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 Stewartıs Corps and Smithıs 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 Hardeeıs and Leeıs 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 ³as soon as you can get your troops up.²
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, Schofieldıs Army of the Ohio reinforced by USA Major General David S. Stanleyıs 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 Leeıs 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 Leeıs 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. Carlinıs 1st Division (USA Brevet Major General Jefferson C. Davisı 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 Hardeeıs 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. Stewartıs Corps and Smithıs Militia begin marching out around 5:00 PM, with rear guard Frenchıs 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,
³So Atlanta is ours, and fairly won.²
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 Hoodıs 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 ³of military value² 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 itıs surrounding factories and railroads, the war is, for all practical purposes, over.
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