- Reply to General Johnston -- handling of troops -- Lee and Jackson school versus the Johnston school — Johnston's plan to hold Atlanta “forever.”
General Johnston makes the following arraignment : 1
General Hood asserts in his published report, that the Army had become demoralized when he was appointed to command it, and ascribes his invariable defeats partly to that cause. The allegation is disproved by the record of the admirable conduct of those troops on every occasion in which that General sent them to battle — and inevitable disaster. Their courage and discipline were unsubdued by the slaughter to which they were recklessly offered in the four attacks on the Federal Army near Atlanta, as they proved in the useless butchery at Franklin. He also states, 2 “It is a calumny to say that the Army of Tennessee was dispirited or broken down.” It had never before been in finer condition — the men in a high state of discipline and full of confidence from uniform success in their engagements with the enemy.At the date of my transfer to the West, I, still under the influence of the teaching of Lee, Jackson, and Longstreet, could not but recognize a marked difference, after the crossing of the Chattahoochee river, between the troops of the Army of Tennessee and those of Virginia. My long experience and service with the latter, who formed, their limited numbers notwithstanding, one of the most powerful as well as renowned  Armies the world has produced, enabled me also to discover a marked difference in the spirit and morale of General Johnston's Army when south of the Chattahoochee, and when lying at Dalton, full of hope and anxious for battle. The cause of this difference is simple, and easily understood by those who have had a practical demonstration of the superiority of the Lee and Jackson manner of handling troops over the Joe Johnston mode of warfare. The one school elevates and inspirits, whilst the other depresses, paralyzes, and, in time, brings destruction. The effect of these respective schools is alike upon almost all men; otherwise some ground might exist for the assertion that the men of Lee's Army were of a superior class to those under Johnston. Not so, indeed. The personnel of the two Armies was originally of the same. element, and there is no reason why our Army at Dalton, handled according to the Lee and Jackson school, should not have been made to equal its counterpart in Virginia. Although it may be argued that the Army of Tennessee had been dispirited, or demoralized, previous to its reorganization by General Johnston in the Spring of ‘64, it is nevertheless certain that, at the time of the first appearance of the Federals in its front at Dalton, it possessed the capability to be rendered the equal of the best troops in the Confederacy. In this assertion, I am confident I shall be upheld by the intelligent officers and men of that Army. I regret to find it necessary to discuss this purely military question, since I have as warm personal friends in the Western as in the Virginia Army, and would be pained to know that aught from my pen had given umbrage to any Confederate, who performed his duty faithfully unto the end. I reiterate that the personnel of the two Armies was originally the same; that the troops at Dalton were capable of having been made the equal of those in Virginia. Therefore, I see not that two brothers--one having served in Lee's, and the other in Johnston's Army — have cause ofjealousy, if one has accomplished somewhat more than the other; whereas had the two been  under the same commander, they would have proved soldiers of equal merit With these premises, I shall proceed to show in brief the cause of difference between these brother-soldiers of opposite schools. General Lee never made use of entrenchments, except for the purpose of holding a part of his line with a small force, whilst he assailed the enemy with the main body of his Army — as, for instance, around Richmond at the time of the battle of Gaines's Mills — and save en dernier resort, as at Spottsylvania, to and around Petersburg, toward the close of the war. He well knew that the constant use of breastworks would teach his soldiers to look and depend upon such protection as an indispensable source of strength; would imperil that spirit of devil-me-care independence and self-reliance which was one of their secret sources of power, and would, finally, impair the morale of his Army. A soldier cannot fight for a period of one or two months constantly behind breastworks, with the training that he is equal to four or five of the enemy by reason of the security of his position, and then be expected to engage in pitched battle and prove as intrepid and impetuous as his brother who has been taught to rely solely upon his own valor. The latter, when ordered to charge and drive the enemy, will — or endeavor to — run over any obstacle he may encounter in his front; the former, on account of his undue appreciation of breastworks and distinct remembrance of the inculcations of his commanding officer, will be constantly on the look-out for such defences. His imagination will grow vivid under bullets and bombshells, and a brush-heap will so magnify itself in dimension as to induce him to believe that he is stopped by a wall ten feet high and a mile in length. The consequence of his troubled imagination is that, if too proud to run, he will lie down, incur almost equal disgrace, and prove himself nigh worthless in a pitched battle. A somewhat similar result is to be observed in engagements, in the open field, with the red men of the forest. Those who are familiar with their mode of warfare well know that, whenever  they are attacked away from such shelter as trees and boulders, they at once become confused, and scatter in all directions. I concede that five hundred, in the open field, would overpower one hundred men, howsoever well trained; but two hundred and fifty properly trained soldiers should always prove the equal of five hundred Indians, mainly because of the difference in the manner of handling forces, practiced by the respective combatants. On the one hand, shelter is invariably sought in time of battle; on the other, reliance is placed upon boldness and valor. In accordance with the same principle, a cavalryman proper cannot be trained to fight, one day, mounted, the next, dismounted, and then be expected to charge with the impetuosity of one who has been educated in the belief that it is an easy matter to ride over infantry and artillery, and drive them from the field. He who fights alternately mounted and dismounted, can never become an excellent soldier of either infantry or cavalry proper. Moreover, the highest perfection in the education of troops, well drilled and disciplined, can only be attained through continued appeals to their pride, and through incitement to make known their prowess by the substantial test of guns and colors, captured upon the field of battle. Soldiers thus educated will ever prove a terror to the foe. The continued use of breastworks during a campaign, renders troops timid in pitched battle; and the employment of such defences is judicious and profitable alone when resorted to at the proper time. They should be used not unto excess, and only in such instances as I have already mentioned, and in such as I shall hereafter specify. The result of training soldiers to rely upon their own courage, we behold in the achievements of Lee's troops. Long will live the memory of their heroic attempt to scale the rugged heights of Gettysburg; of their gallant charge over the breastworks at Gaines's Mills, and again over the abatis and strong entrenchments at Chancellorsville; of the many deeds of equal daring, which history will immortalize.  I shall consider, for a moment, the manner in which General Lee handled his troops. After the battle of Sharpsburg, or Antietam, McClellan followed him south of the Potomac; instead of forming line of battle, and throwing up entrenchments upon every suitable hill he could find, from Maryland to the Rapidan, for the purpose of skirmishing, and delaying the enemy — which work he properly left to the cavalry — he threw his colors to the breeze, and, with martial music, marched to the line of Gordonsville and Fredericksburg. A few months later, when the Federals appeared in his front, he marshaled his forces, which, refreshed by their long rest, were anxious for battle; he at once attacked, defeated the enemy, and pursued him to the Potomac. He thus drove back, successively, Pope, Burnside, and Hooker. After the battle of Gettysburg, Meade likewise followed Lee south of the Potomac. Again, he marched to the line of the Rapidan, as in the first instance, leaving his cavalry to observe and check the advance of the enemy. General Grant subsequently appeared in his front, with a large and well-equipped Army. Although our great chieftain had only about forty-five thousand (45,ooo) effective men wherewith to oppose him, he, true to his past history, attacked instantly — having cut roads through the Wilderness, in order to get at the enemy — and so fierce was his assault that it almost made the very stones of the earth cry out. History will relate how nigh he was, in this instance, unto the achievement of victory; so nigh, indeed, that Mr. Lincoln, if I remember correctly, remarked in a speech in the course of which he referred to this desperate onslaught, that Grant had been jostled, not driven back; and that any one of the men he had sent previously to the command of the Army of the Potomac, would have been back on the north side of the Rappahannock. Thus it will be seen that General Lee made use of entrenchments only en dernier resort, as around Petersburg, or in order to hold one portion of his line with a small force whilst he attacked with the main body; also that when he found it  necessary to retreat, or fall back from an advanced position, he marched his Army to the line he intended to defend, instead of constantly fighting, skirmishing, avoiding a general engagement, and taking up position, day after day, to be abandoned under cover of darkness. General Johnston not only made uniform use of entrenchments, but retreated and fought at the same time — an error which Lee carefully eschewed, and one which should always be avoided, since the long continuance of such policy will prove the inevitable ruin of any army. Napier, one of the highest authorities on war, says: “It is unquestionable that a retreating army should fight as little as possible.” Such was, however, the mistake committed by General Johnston. If he did not intend to risk a battle in the mountain fastnesses between Dalton and the Chattahoochee, but preferred to decide the fate of Georgia, the centre of the Confederacy, upon the flat plains around Atlanta, he should have left the cavalry in his rear to check the advance of the enemy; have marched his Army direct to the latter point, without firing a musket; and there have awaited Sherman's advance, when he should have made his attack. By the pursuance of this policy, he would have been able to engage Sherman with over seventy thousand (70,000) effective men, instead of fifty thousand (50,000) he claims to have had after crossing the Chattahoochee river. In lieu thereof, a course was pursued which entailed a loss of twenty-five thousand (25,000) men, without a single general battle having been fought, and which seriously demoralized the next to the largest and proudest Army assembled in the South. When I state the Army was demoralized, I desire, at the same time, to except not only men who performed individual acts of remarkable devotion and courage, but also brigades and divisions, which, in prowess and discipline, would compare with the best troops in any army; unfortunately, however, the efforts of one such brigade or division were paralyzed by others so thoroughly effected by their training in the  Johnston school as to render them of but little service in a pitched battle. A policy similar to that of my predecessor can be persisted in till desertions will take place by the thousands. The longer an army retreats, entrenches, and fights at the same time, the more numerous the desertions, and the more thorough the demoralization. As I have already mentioned, Lee handled his troops upon a directly opposite basis. They were always taught to work out the best means to get at the enemy, in order to cripple or destroy him, in lieu of ever seeking the best means to get away from him. Therefore the Lee and. Jackson school is the opposite of the Joe Johnston school, and one will always elevate and inspirit, whilst the other will depress and paralyze. The statement of Lieutenant Generals Hardee and Stewart, to the effect that the Confederate Army, after crossing the Chattahoochee, had as much spirit and confidence as it possessed at Dalton, is erroneous. Whilst I have a proper regard for the opinions of these officers who spoke, I believe, in all sincerity, I cannot but consider that their impressions were formed from their own standpoint, without having actual knowledge of the high state of perfection obtained by the troops in the Virginia Army, under the training and mode of handling of General Lee. In the course of daily life our thoughts and convictions generally receive their impress from our surroundings; and, if we confine our experiences to any one sphere of life, without contact with the various spheres around us, we lose that power of comparison by which we are enabled to form correct judgments of things and men. These officers formed their decision from but one standpoint, which was the Army of Tennessee, and they comprehended not fully the spirit of heroism which pervaded the Army led by our great chieftain to victory after victory. Therefore they were partial judges when came into question the comparative spiritlessness of the Western Army, as it slowly retreated a distance  of one hundred miles, without a single glorious victory to inscribe upon its banners. If requisite, I could bring forth abundant evidence from officers of that Army that the continuous retreat from Dalton to the plains of Georgia, produced a demoralizing effect. General Frank Blair, whose corps was engaged in the battle around Atlanta on the 22d of July, 1864, when my friend and classmate, General McPherson, was killed, states in a letter to a prominent officer of the Army of Tennessee, that the Confederate troops, on that day, did not fight with the spirit they should have displayed. It was, nevertheless, reported to me, at the time of this engagement, that they had fought with gallantry, and I so telegraphed to the authorities at Richmond. The truth is, no troops handled as these had been from Dalton to Atlanta could have attacked with extraordinary vigor, and I do assert that fifty thousand men of the Lee and Jackson school will always prove equal to eighty thousand (80,000) of the Johnston school; moreover, that the small Army I commanded at Franklin was equal to that which was turned over to me at Atlanta, although it numbered only about one-half in effective strength, for the simple reason that a forward march of about one hundred and eighty miles, together with a different mode of handling it, had contributed to the improvement of its morale and the restoration of its pristine spirit. These conclusions I have reached after a long and careful consideration of the subject. It has been my fortune to serve, during the war, in every grade from that of First Lieutenant to that of Commander-in-Chief. Having, therefore, been under fire with both small and large bodies of men, and having carefully observed the effect of such fire upon troops with and without breastworks, the principles which I have endeavored to elucidate will, in my opinion, stand the test of time. In January, 1874, I addressed the following communication to Lieutenant General Stephen D. Lee, who served a long period in Virginia, and subsequently in the Army of Tennessee: 
 I received the subjoined in reply:
This officer enjoyed a fair opportunity to note the effect of long continued use of entrenchments upon an army. He served with distinction until the close of the war, and displayed superior ability as a corps commander whilst in the Army of Tennessee. A forcible example of the difference in the mode of handling troops — as illustrated by General Lee, and those generals who constantly resort to the use of fortifications — is afforded in the recent war between France and Prussia, and also in that between Turkey and Russia. One hundred and fifty thousand of Louis Napoleon's Army, under Bazaine, shut themselves up in the stronghold of Metz; allowed a much larger number of Germans to surround them; to construct works almost as formidable as their own, and quietly await their surrender for want of provisions. The Turks committed a similar blunder at Plevna, in allowing a fine army to be entrapped and the remainder of their forces to become demoralized by the natural effect of this gross error, in lieu of holding their troops well in hand, taking some general line upon which to retard and cripple the enemy as much as possible, and, finally, beat him, if not in a general pitched battle, in detail; the only chance of success for the weaker power grappling with its strong enemy. Had  General Lee pursued the plan of the French or of the Turks, he would have entrenched himself at an early day of the war — say at Winchester; have allowed the Federals to surround him with five times his numbers; to constr.uct breastworks, finally, to compel him to surrender, and thus bring demoralization to his countrymen, in addition to the loss of their cause. The “reckless” attacks around Atlanta — so designated by General Johnston--enabled us to hold that city forty-six days, whereas, he abandoned in sixty-six days one hundred miles of territory, and demoralized the Army. It is a significant fact that General Sherman dedicates only thirty-eight pages to an account of the rapidity with which he dislodged Johnston from one position after another in the mountains from Dalton to Atlanta, and devotes that number to an explanation of the necessary operations of his Army, in order to force me to abandon the one untenable position of Atlanta. General Johnston says:3
General Hartsuff, General Schofield's Inspector General, told me, in the succeeding Spring, that the valor and discipline of our troops at Franklin, won the highest admiration in the Federal Army.The valor displayed at Franklin, and which deservedly won the admiration of the Federals, was caused by the handling of the troops in a directly opposite manner to that of General Johnston, together with the advance movement previously inaugurated, and the mortification experienced after the unfortunate failure the day before at Spring Hill. Inasmuch as General Johnston never inaugurated a forward movement, nor sought out the enemy, but invariably retreated in their front, he is not able to comprehend the origin of the gallantry so conspicuous on that field. He, therefore, errs as egregiously in the supposition that his continued retreat from Dalton to Atlanta and incessant entrenching gave rise to the courage displayed, at Franklin, as in his endeavor to find a parallel to  his campaign in that of Lee against Grant, from the Rappahannock to Petersburg: they in truth are the opposite of one another. General Johnston states,4 “In transferring the command to General Hood I explained my plans to him.” He may have said somewhat to me in regard to his plans — if, indeed, he had at any time resolved upon the defence of Atlanta — but I have no recollection thereof; possibly, from the fact that I was thoroughly engrossed by the grave responsibilities unexpectedly thrust upon me at that critical moment At all events, we are now informed, through his Narrative, that he had two plans, and that, if the first had failed, the second would, at least, have secured to the Confederacy Atlanta “forever.” Thus would have been wrought our independence, and the Southern people have been spared the sorrow and degradation to which they were so long subjected. If General Johnston be correct in his assertion that no reason exists why Atlanta should not have been held “forever,” a heavy responsibility rests upon the Confederate authorities who relieved him of the command of the Army of Tennessee. Heavier still is the responsibility assumed by them, when they refused to dismiss General Lee from the command of the Army of Northern Virginia, and to re-assign General Johnston to that position, after his recovery from a wound received at the battle of Seven Pines. He states, in addition,5 that his “Army had a place of refuge in Atlanta, too strong to be taken by assault, and too extensive to be invested.” According to his theory, Richmond, which was larger than Atlanta, should also have been too extensive to be invested; and its defences, which I am certain any council of competent officers would pronounce more tenable than those of its sister city, should also have been too strong to be carried by assault. It follows, therefore, that if General Johnston could have held Atlanta “forever,”  most assuredly would he have held Richmond “forever,” and have given us that freedom for which the great Lee struggled so gloriously, but in vain. Again, if this General felt it within his power to hold Atlanta “forever,” unpardonable is the offence he committed, in refusing to answer definitely, when interrogated by the President who was anxious to ascertain whether or not he intended to defend Atlanta. In view of the abandonment of one hundred miles of territory into the very heart of the country, it was but natural the Government should have made such inquiry; and who, with any degree of justice, can question the right of the authorities, at Richmond, to have sought, nay demanded, a positive answer from one of their subordinate officers? Had General Lee been placed in the same position, how long would he have hesitated to answer most fully and satisfactorily the President's inquiry on the 16th of July? If General Johnston had, at that time, informed President Davis that he could see no reason why Atlanta should not be held “forever,” he would have been retained in command. I know this to be true; moreover, the correspondence I have already published, clearly indicates this fact. Lastly, if his declaration in regard to the tenability of Atlanta be grounded upon sound principles, who of my countrymen will forgive him for having deserted me under the peculiar trials of the hour, instead of aiding me by his counsels to accomplish the great end, at the sacrifice of every personal consideration, and in the spirit of a true patriot. These are, indeed, grave questions, and afford matter for serious reflection to every Southerner, especially since General Johnston claims, by asserting his ability to have held Atlanta “forever,” the power to have saved the Confederacy from the disaster and ruin which followed. As already stated, the order relieving him from the command of the Army was received upon the 17th of July, at 11 p. m., he, unwilling to await the dawn of day, promulgated the order that night to the troops, and by dark, the next evening, he was journeying  towards Macon with all speed possible. Had he remained with the Army, at my urgent solicitation, he would undoubtedly, have gained the credit of saving Atlanta, in the event of success; in case of failure, his friends could, as they have already done, have taken measures to protect his reputation by asserting that I had not altogether followed his counsels. The responsibility of non-success would have rested upon me, whilst he had nothing to lose, and all to gain. He was, however, in so great haste to leave the scene of action that I have almost been inclined to think he was rejoiced at having been relieved from the duty of holding Atlanta “forever,” and thus insuring the independence of his people. It now devolves upon me, in order to vindicate myself, as well as the Confederate Government, and to exonerate my predecessor from the charge of apparent insensibility to the fate of Atlanta and his country, to show that some doubt actually exists of his ability to have held Atlanta “forever.” First, I will consider the evidence to be presented against his intention, at any time, to fight for this city, and then demonstrate the insufficiency of his power to make good an assertion which, after an interim of nigh ten years, is, for the first time, published to the world. It was generally believed, before the Army abandoned Dalton, that General Johnston would make a stand at that point; throughout his correspondence with the Government, during the Winter and Spring of 1864, and in which he urges all available troops to be sent immediately to his command, one is led to suppose that he actually intended to fight at that stronghold. In his letter to President Davis, dated January 2d, 1 864, he speaks thus :6 “I can see no other mode of taking the offensive here than to beat the enemy when he advances, and then move forward.” In response to General Bragg's letter of March 12th, proffering fully eighty thousand (80,000) men, as an inducement to assume the offensive, and to which  letter I have already referred, General Johnston dispatched the following telegram:7
Your letter by Colonel Sale received. Grant is at Nashville. Where Grant is we must expect the great Federal effort. We ought, therefore, to be prepared to beat him here “--at Dalton. In his written reply to the same, he says:8” We cannot estimate the time he (the enemy) will require for preparation, and should, consequently, put ourselves in condition for successful resistance as soon as possible by assembling here the troops you enumerate. “Again,9” I would have the troops assemble here without delay, to repel Grant's attack and then make our own.It is hereby evident that as long as General Johnston endeavored to obtain the transfer, to his own command, of Longstreet's Corps in Virginia, and of Polk's Army in Mississippi, he spoke continually of fighting at Dalton; when, however, Sherman appeared at Tunnel Hill, in front of Rockyfaced Ridge, and he was given an Army of over seventy thousand (70,000) available troops — as I have demonstrated — he decided to retreat. What followed at Resaca? Retreat. New Hope Church? Retreat. Cassville? Retreat. Kennesaw Mountain? Retreat. Would we have fought at Atlanta after our inglorious campaign, the abandonment of the mountain fastnesses, and the foreshadowed intention of our commander to fall back to Macon? I shall now glance at his two plans for the defence of Atlanta, one of which was to insure the security of that city “forever.” By his first plan, he hoped to attack the enemy as they crossed Peach Tree creek. Within thirty-six hours, almost before he had time to select quarters in Macon after his departure on the evening of the 18th of July, General Thomas was crossing Peach Tree creek, whilst McPherson and Schofield were moving to destroy the railroad to Augusta. General Johnston evidently had little faith in this plan, since he was unwilling to await thirty-six hours to test its feasibility.  By his second, and, “far more promising plan,” as he designates it, he intended to man the works of Atlanta, on the side towards Peach Tree creek, with the Georgia State troops; and. upon the approach of the enemy, to attack with the three corps of the Army in conjunction with the cavalry. When the advance sheets of Johnston's Narrative appeared before the public, I read with amazement the account of this extraordinary project, and, forthwith, addressed the following letter to Major General Gustavus W. Smith, who commanded the Georgia State troops previous to General Johnston's removal, and during the siege of Atlanta:
I was unwilling to harbor a suspicion that Governor Brown would have furnished for the defence of the State, and of our common cause, a larger number of troops to General Johnston than to myself; neither could I perceive in what manner the impossibilities, suggested by this General, were to be accomplished by the Georgia militia. General Gustavus W. Smith is a soldier, as well as an engineer, of eminent ability, and his opinion is entitled to much weight in a discussion of this character. The side towards Peach Tree creek embraced about the entire front of General Sherman's Army. I, therefore, found it necessary to place not only the Georgia State troops on that side, but also two corps of the Army, whilst I made the attack of the 22d of July with a single corps and the cavalry. I very much regret General Johnston's inability to have remained, and enlightened me in regard to the means to hold Sherman's one hundred and six thousand (106,000) at bay with five  thousand (5000) militia, whilst I attacked one of the enemy's flanks with the entire Army of Tennessee. If this feat could have been achieved, great results might have ensued. In view of General Johnston's now avowed intention to have made a stand at Atlanta, it would certainly have been more judicious to have marched direct to the line he had resolved to defendas General Lee marched out of Maryland and Pennsylvania to the Rapidan; to have thus reserved the twenty-five thousand (25,000) effective men and nineteen thousand (19,000) muskets, lost on our retreat through Georgia, and have used these trained soldiers and good muskets on the side towards Peach Tree creek, instead of General Gustavus W. Smith's five thousand militia, many of whom were armed with flint lock muskets, and were devoid even of cartridge boxes. Surely this plan would seem to have been more feasible, and certainly more promising. If Sherman had not a sufficient force to form a cordon of troops round the city, he was able to accomplish his object by equally effective means. The size of Atlanta in no manner hindered the destruction of our railway line of communications which, in the exhausted condition of our resources the last year of the war, we were no wise competent to re-establish when great damage had been committed. We had neither the material nor the force to repair them. If General Johnston considered Atlanta so especially adapted to his purposes, inasmuch as it was too extensive to be invested and too strong to be carried by assault, I am at a loss to divine the reason why he did not take a radius equal to that of Atlanta, and describe a circle from a given centre, within the mountains of Georgia; throw up entrenchments, and declare to the world the impregnability of his position and his intention to hold it “forever.” Trees of the forest would certainly have been of as much or more service to him than buildings proved to me in Atlanta, or to General Lee in Petersburg, and Richmond.  No more decided advantage was to be derived from the junction of railways, at Atlanta, than was afforded at Kingston, or any other point on the railway line below Dalton, because of our poverty in resources towards the close of hostilities and consequent inability to reconstruct at the same time two or three roads when seriously damaged.