- Find letter of instruction from Secretary of War at Dalton. -- my reply. -- letter from the President. -- mine in reply. -- condition of the army. -- General Hardee ordered to Mississippi to repel General Sherman's advance. -- movements of the enemy in our front. -- dispositions to meet them. -- General Hardee and his troops return to Dalton. -- correspondence with General Bragg. -- effective strength of the army of Tennessee. -- advance of General Sherman.
I found in Dalton a part of the instructions promised me by the President in his telegram of the 18th of December, in the following letter from the Secretary of War, Mr. Seddon, dated the 20th:
Although unable at the time to discover the Honorable Secretary's object in addressing such a letter to one thought competent, apparently, to the second military position in importance in the Confederacy, or to find in it much that was instructive, I replied immediately, and gravely.
On the 31st I received the following letter from the President, dated 23d. Like that of the Secretary of War, it was ostensibly intended for my instruction.
I was unable then, as now, to imagine any military object for which this letter could have been written, especially by one whose time was supposed to be devoted to the most important concerns of government. The President could not have thought that I was to be taught the moral and material condition of the army around me by him, from the observations of his aide-de-camp, who had never seen military service, instead of learning them by my own. Nor could he have believed that the army  which he so described was competent to recover “the territory from which it had been driven.” He had visited it some two months before, and seen that it could make no forward movement for the purpose then, when the opposing Federal army had not been increased by the corps of twenty thousand veterans, led from Mississippi by Sherman; nor ours weakened by the withdrawal from it of Longstreet's corps,1 and its losses at Missionary Ridge. Those losses must have been severe, for such troops are not easily driven from strong and intrenched positions; still less, easily routed. As I had much better means of information on the subjects of this paper than its author, it could not have been written for my instruction. The two high executive officers expressed in their letters very different opinions of the effect of its recent defeat, upon the army. The Secretary of War expressed plainly his consciousness of the great losses it had suffered in men, morale, and material. The President, on the contrary, regarded “the effective condition” of the army as “a matter of much congratulation.” And, to give a distinct idea of its strength, he asserted that “the morning report exhibited an effective total that, added to the two brigades last sent from Mississippi,2 and the cavalry sent back by Longstreet,3 would furnish a force exceeding in number that actually engaged in any battle, on the Confederate side, during the present war.” To disprove this assertion, it is not necessary to  go back to the previous years of the war, and the greatest of the Confederate armies-those directed by General Lee against McClellan and Pope. It is enough to refer to the recent history of this very army — the remnant of that which fought at Chickamauga and Missionary Ridge. On the first of those occasions a number more than double the “effective total” in question must have been led into battle, for it lost eighteen thousand men then.4 At least seven thousand were killed, wounded, dispersed, or taken at Missionary Ridge, and in the retreat thence to Dalton, and fifteen thousand five hundred5 had been sent from it in Longstreet's corps, and Ector's and McNair's brigades. On the other land, “the two last brigades sent from Mississippi” had an effective total of three thousand, and four thousand of the fugitives of Missionary Ridge had rejoined their regiments at Dalton. According to these figures, forty thousand men had been lost, and seven thousand gained by this army. So that its “effective total” scarcely exceeded half the number that fought on the Confederate side at Chickamauga. Cavalry is not included in the foregoing figures. The number of troops of that arm had been reduced also, and, as Martin's division fought at Chickamauga, its presence at Dalton would not have affected the above statement materially, for hard service had told so severely upon its horses that much less than half were effective.  Heavy rains, which were prevailing at the time of my arrival at Dalton, and the consequent deep mud, prevented the immediate bringing out of the troops for inspection, to ascertain their condition. In replying to the President's letter on the 2d of January, I endeavored to avoid erring on the unfavorable side of the case. Fuller information, soon obtained by personal observation, showed that the statements in it relating to the clothing of the troops, and the condition of the horses and mules of the army, were much .too favorable. That reply was as follows;
I supposed, from the information given me by the ranking general officers, that Dalton had not been selected by General Bragg for its value as a defensive position, but that the retreat from Missionary Ridge had ceased at that point, because it was ascertained there that the pursuit had been abandoned by the Federal army. Each division, consequently, was occupying the position it had taken for the encampment of a night, and on it had constructed huts for its winter quarters. These divisions formed two corps: one commanded by Lieutenant-General Hardee, composed of Cheatham's, Breckenridge's, Cleburne's, and Walker's divisions; the other, commanded by Major-General Hindman, was composed of his own, Stevenson's, and Stewart's divisions. Major-General Wheeler, with such of his cavalry as was fittest for active service, amounting to about sixteen hundred, was at the village of Tunnel Hill, on the railroad, seven miles from Dalton, in the direction of Ringgold; his pickets on Taylor's Ridge, in front, and on the left, but extending to the right beyond the Cleveland road. Cleburne's division occupied the crest of Tunnel Hill, on both sides of the wagon-road from Dalton to Ringgold. Stewart's division had one brigade in front of, one in, and two immediately in rear of Mill-Creek Gap. Breckenridge was between the Gap and Dalton; Hindman's,  two miles southwest of Dalton, except a brigade on the Cleveland road; Stevenson's, near Hindman's; Walker's, three miles east of Dalton; and Cheatham's, near and to the south of Walker's. The Federal army in our front — that by which ours had been driven from Missionary Ridge to Dalton — was estimated by our principal officers, who had been confronting it for almost two years, at eighty thousand men, exclusive of cavalry. This was undoubtedly an over-estimate.6 These troops occupied Chattanooga, Bridgeport, and Stevenson. Besides them, the Ninth and Twenty-third Corps, twenty-five or thirty thousand, were at Knoxville. Longstreet's corps and Martin's cavalry division of the Army of Tennessee were in observation of these troops, forty miles from them, toward Virginia.7 The position of Dalton had little to recommend it as a defensive one. It had neither intrinsic strength nor strategic advantage. It neither fully covered its own communications nor threatened those of the enemy. The railroad from Atlanta to Chattanooga passes through Rocky-Faced Ridge by Mill-Creek Gap, three miles and a half beyond Dalton, but very obliquely, the course of the road being about thirty degrees west of north, and that of the ridge about five degrees east of north. As it terminates but three miles north of the gap, it offers little obstacle to the advance of a superior force  from Ringgold to Dalton. Between Mill-Creek and Snake-Creek Gaps, this ridge protects the road to Atlanta on the west, but at the same time covers any direct approach from Chattanooga to Resaca or Calhoun-points on the route from Dalton to Atlanta-or flank movement in that direction, by an army in front of Mill-Creek Gap. These considerations would have induced me to draw the troops back to the vicinity of Calhoun, to free our left flank from exposure, but for the earnestness with which the President and Secretary of War, in their letters of instructions, wrote of early assumption of offensive operations and apprehension of the bad effect of a retrograde movement upon the spirit of the Southern people. An active campaign of six months, half of it in the rugged region between Chattanooga and Dalton, had so much reduced the condition of the horses of the cavalry and artillery, as well as of the mules of the wagon-trains, that most of them were unfit for active service. The rest they had been allowed at Dalton had not improved their condition materially; for, from want of good fuel, the railroad-trains had not been able to bring up full supplies of forage. This continued until near the end of January, when the management of the railroad had been greatly improved by the intervention of Governor Brown, and a better system introduced in the manner of forwarding military supplies. This scarcity of food made it necessary to send almost half of the artillery-horses and all the mules not required for camp-service to the valley of the Etowah, where long forage could be found, and the  sources of supply of grain were nearer. In that connection, I find, in a letter to the President dated January 15th, this passage: “Since my arrival, very little long forage has been received, and nothing like full rations of corn — that weevil-eaten. The officer commanding the artillery of a division that I inspected to-day reported that his horses had had but thirteen pounds each, of very bad corn, in the last three days.” In the course of the inspection made as soon as practicable, I found the condition of the army much less satisfactory than it had appeared to the President on the 23d of December. There was a great deficiency of blankets; and it was painful to see the number of bare feet in every regiment. In the letter quoted in the last paragraph, the President was informed that two of the four brigades inspected by me that day were not in condition to march, for want of shoes. There was a deficiency, in the infantry, of six thousand small-arms. The artillery-horses were generally still so feeble from long, hard service and scarcity of forage, that it would have been impossible to manoeuvre our batteries in action, or to march with them at any ordinary rate on ordinary roads. It was long before they could draw the guns through fields. Early in February, when the supply of forage had become regular, and the face of the country almost dry, after the review of a corps, the teams of the Napoleon guns were unable to draw them up a trifling hill, over which the road to their stables passed. On the 15th and 16th, Quarles's and Baldwin's brigades, “the last two sent from Mississippi,” returned  to that department in obedience to orders from the Secretary of War. At the same time Governor Brown transferred two regiments of State troops to the army. They were placed as guards for the protection of the railroad-bridges between Dalton and Atlanta. Intrenchments for this object were then in course of construction, under the direction of the chief-engineer of the army, Brigadier-General Leadbetter. To supply the great want of effective cavalry, Brigadier-General Roddy was ordered to join the army with his brigade, except one regiment, which he was instructed to leave near Tuscumbia. Soon after his arrival, however, I was directed by the Secretary of War to send him back to his former position. I was taught in this way that my authority over that brigade was ostensible only. About one-third of the brigade, under Colonel Hannon, was retained by me, and served with the army in the campaign of that year. The time of winter was employed mainly in improving the discipline and instruction of the troops, and attention to their comfort. Before the end of April, more than five thousand absentees had been brought back to their regiments. The establishment of a system which allowed furloughs to all the men in turn, it was thought, contributed greatly to this result. Military operations were confined generally to skirmishing between little scouting-parties of cavalry of our army with pickets of the other. On the 28th of January, however, a strong body of infantry, advancing from Ringgold, drove in our cavalry outposts and approached Tunnel Hill, closely enough to  see that it was still occupied. It then returned, as if the object of the expedition had been accomplished. On the 11th of February, intelligence was received from Lieutenant-General Polk that General Sherman was leading an army of thirty-five thousand infantry and artillery eastwardly from Vicksburg, had crossed Pearl River at Jackson, and was moving along the railroad toward Meridian. Mobile was assumed to be the object of this expedition. Orders by telegraph were received on the same day from the President, directing me to aid Lieutenant-General Polk, either by sending him reenforcements or by joining him myself “with what force I could.” The President urged that the enemy should be met before he had established a new base to which supplies and reinforcements might be sent by sea. I replied on the same day, and suggested that it would be impossible for troops from Dalton to meet this Federal army before it reached the Gulf, and therefore asked instructions in that view of the case. This dispatch did not reach the.President's hands, and on the 13th he asked me by telegraph what I could do toward striking at the enemy while in motion, and before he had established a new base. I replied that such an expedition would require two-thirds of the Army of Tennessee and would involve the abandonment of “that line.” On the 16th I was instructed to “detach for temporary service, unless immediately threatened, enough infantry to enable Lieutenant-General Polk to beat the detachment which the enemy had thrown so far into the interior of our country.” My reply,  on the same day, was to the effect that such a detachment, either marching or transported by railroad, would be too late for the object. On the 17th the President directed me, by telegraph, to dispatch Lieutenant-General Hardee to Mississippi with Cheatham's, Cleburne's, and Walker's divisions of his corps, with instructions to unite with Lieutenant-General Polk as soon as possible. This order was obeyed as promptly as our means of transportation permitted. The Federal commanders in Tennessee seem to have anticipated such a detachment, and to have exaggerated its strength; for, on the 14th, General Grant, who, the day before, had instructed Major-General Thomas to move to Knoxville with all the troops that could be spared from Chattanooga, “to cooperate with the Army of the Ohio in driving Longstreet from East Tennessee,” countermanded that order, and directed a movement to the immediate front instead, “to gain possession of Dalton, and as far south of that as possible.” 8 On the 22d, intelligence was received from Lieutenant-General Polk's headquarters, at Demopolis, that Sherman's invading column, after passing Meridian, which it destroyed, had turned, and was marching back toward Vicksburg; and Lieutenant-General Hardee's corps, of which only the leading troops had reached that place, were about to return. At night our scouts reported that the Federal army, in marching order, had advanced from Chattanooga to Ringgold that day, and that a large body of infantry and  artillery, accompanied by Long's9 brigade of cavalry, had, at the same time, marched from Cleveland to Red Clay. To meet these movements, Stewart's and Breckenridge's divisions were posted in the eastern outlet of Mill-Creek Gap, Hindman's in reserve near, and Stevenson's in front of Dalton, on the Cleveland road. This was on the morning of the 23d. The two bodies of Federal troops united in front of Ringgold in the afternoon, and, advancing upon the Confederate cavalry, drove it from the village of Tunnel Hill to Cleburne's abandoned camp. After being annoyed by the fire of General Wheeler's artillery from this commanding position, near night, the Federal army drew back three or four miles, and encamped. On the 24th the Federal army advanced in three columns, the centre one directed against the Confederate cavalry. The horse-artillery, by its accurate fire, checked this column until those of the right and left had advanced so far as, by threatening their flanks, to compel General Wheeler's troops to retire. They were led through the gap, and placed in observation in Crow Valley (that lying east of Rocky-Face Ridge), two miles to the north. The Federal army encamped in the valley immediately west of the pass. In the morning of the 25th the Federal skirmishers engaged those of the two divisions in the pass, and desultory firing was maintained during the day.  Later, Major-General Wheeler reported that two strong columns had passed around the mountain and were moving down Crow Valley toward us, one following the base of the mountain, and the other the parallel ridge to the east of it. The first was formed by a division and six regiments under General Crufts; the other was General Baird's division. Major-General Hindman was directed to meet this demonstration with Stevenson's division and Clayton's brigade of Stewart's. He chose the best position for this purpose, and disposed his troops in it skillfully: Clayton's and Reynold's brigades on a detached hill near the base of the mountain and in the intermediate pass, and Stevenson's three other brigades (Brown's, Pettus's, and Cummings's) on the opposite height to the east. The skirmishers soon became engaged on both sides of the valley, and the enemy halted. The skirmishing continued, however, with more or less spirit, until near night. Late in the afternoon a sharp attack was made upon Hindman's left, falling principally upon Clayton's brigade, but, after a brisk engagement of half an hour, the assailants were repulsed. The other Federal division retired at the same time, having engaged Stevenson, only with its skirmishers and artillery. In Mill-Creek Gap one threat of serious assault was made by a body of troops which entered it on the north side of the stream, and advanced against Stewart's division; they met, however, the fire of a battery in their front and musketry from the hill above, which drove them back in confusion. When I returned to Dalton after nightfall, it was reported to me that the guard posted in Dug Gap had  been driven from it by a regiment of Federal mounted infantry, and without resistance. Fortunately, Granberry's “Texas” brigade, the foremost of the returning troops of Hardee's corps, had just arrived at the railroad-station and was leaving the train. He was directed to march by the Villanow road, which passes through the Dug Gap, to the foot of the mountain, to bivouac there, and at dawn next morning to recover the position. That gallant officer executed these instructions with the intelligent courage he always exhibited in presence of the enemy. The appearance of a part of his brigade on the crest of the mountain, at a point commanding the Gap, and that of another in front at the same time, dislodged the Federal troops before sunrise, and they abandoned the ground with a precipitation that amused the Texans greatly. It was ascertained soon after that the Federal army had retired during the night. In his report of these operations, dated March 10, 1864, General Thomas wrote: “Being convinced that the rebel army at Dalton largely outnumbered the strength of the four divisions I had opposed to it, and the movement against Johnston being a complete success, inasmuch as it caused the recalling of the reinforcements sent to oppose General Sherman's expedition against Meridian, I concluded to withdraw my troops to the position they occupied before the reconnaissance.” When writing this passage the general had forgotten, apparently, a previous one, in which he stated that this expedition was made by General Grant's order, and for the purpose of occupying Dalton, “and as far south of that as  possible.” In relation to that object, for which the expedition was ordered, it certainly was not “a success,” “complete” or partial. And as to any relation between General Thomas's operations near Mill-Creek Gap, and General Sherman's “against Meridian,” the latter was abandoned on the 20th, and the retrograde movement to Vicksburg began on the 21st. In consequence of this, Hardee's troops ( “the reinforcements” referred to above), only the foremost of which had reached the Tombigbee, were recalled by the President on the 23d, before General Thomas's designs had been discovered. It is incredible that the skirmishing about Mill-Creek Gap on the 25th and 26th of February could have been intended to “cause the recalling” of Hardee's troops, for they had been on their way back two or three days; or for the relief of Sherman, who was four or five days march on his return to Vicksburg, while Lieutenant-General Polk's troops were on the Tombigbee. As to being outnumbered, the Federal army had four divisions and six regiments-probably at least seventeen brigades; it encountered seven Confederate brigades on the 25th, and eleven on the 26th.