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General Joseph E. Johnston's campaign in Georgia.

Some letters written by him that have never before been published.

Lieutenant-General Leonidas Polk at Cassville.

The recent appearance of Hughes' ‘Life of General Joseph E. Johnston,’ and the announcement of the placing in the hands of the printers of a ‘Life of General Leonidas Polk,’ by his son, Dr. William Polk, were the subject of a conversation recently among a few veterans of the Army of the Tennessee, and some facts were mentioned that are deemed of sufficient interest to be placed on record through the columns of your valued paper.

To those who participated in the memorable campaign from Dalton to Atlanta, under Joe Johnston, and the failure to give battle at Cassville, is a most fertile source of discussion and of regret. And this was the point of conversation on which the group of talkers lingered the longest.

The enthusiasm that swept through the army, when the announcement was made that it had reached the chosen battle-field, possessed anew the hearts of these old veterans; the cheers that went up from each command as ‘Old Joe's’ ringing battle order was read to the troops reverberated again in their ears; the embers of their deep emotions of elation and disgust that so rapidly succeeded each other on that eventful day burned afresh within them for a while.

And naturally the oft-debated question of the amount of blame attaching to General Johnston's subordinates for this failure to fight came up as of old, and the measure of it, if any, appertaining to General Polk was stated as follows by one of the group: Major Douglas West, who was adjutant-general, attended General Polk on the night of the conference, where Johnston felt compelled to forego the battle and retreat across the Etowah river. [315]

He said that, after Polk's Corps had taken the position assigned to it on the left of Hood's Corps, and in the rear of Cassville, General S. G. French, one of the division generals of the corps, sent a report to General Polk that his position was enfiladed, and that he could not hold it.

General Polk thereupon sent his inspector general, Colonel Sevier, to ascertain about it; this officer reported back that, in his opinion, General French was warranted in his apprehension.

General Polk requested Colonel Sevier to proceed to General Johnston's headquarters and place the facts before him, which this officer did. General Johnston was loath to believe in the impossibility of holding that part of the line, for, though exposed, it could be made tenable by building traverses and retiring the troops some little to the rear. He instructed Colonel Sevier to have General French build traverses; this General considered them useless, and persisted in his inability to hold his position.

Colonel Sevier reporting this back to General Polk, in the absence of Captain Walter J. Morris, engineer officer of General Polk's corps (off on some duty), the General sent Major Douglas West to the position of General French's division to have his opinion also, and to have him talk over the situation with this General. When Major West reached there, there was no firing from the enemy, and he could not form an opinion in that way. He, however, conversed with General French on the subject, and returned, reporting General French as highly wrought up about the exposure of his division. General Polk then sent Major West to General Johnston to state the result of his visit to General French's position, and General Johnston reiterated his opinion about the feasibility of holding the position with the use of traverses.

Upon reporting back the remarks of General Johnston, Major West found that Captain Morris had reached General Polk's headquarters, and the captain, in turn, was sent to French's position to make a thorough survey and report of it. He made a very thorough one, and reported the position as very exposed for the defensive, but as admirable for the offensive. General Polk, since the first report from General French, appeared much annoyed at this unexpected weakness in his line, which, from the pertinacity of General French, was growing into an obstacle to the impending battle, for which General Polk shared the enthusiasm and confidence of the troops. [316]

That evening about sunset General Hood rode up to General Polk's headquarters, with Major General French, and, at his suggestion, General Johnston was asked to meet the three Lieutenant Generals at Polk's headquarters for the purpose of consulting that night on the situation. At the appointed hour Generals Johnston, Hood and Polk met at the latter's headquarters. General Hardee was not present, he not having been found in time, after dilligent search. General Hood arrived at the rendezvous, accompanied by General French, whose division rested upon his left in the line of battle. General Polk had not asked General French, who was of his corps, to be present at headquarters for the occasion, and General Hood's action in bringing him was altogether gratuitous. Upon arriving with French, General Hood excused his action by stating that he considered the situation so vital to himself and French that he had taken the liberty to ask General French to come with him to the conference. After awaiting General Hardee's arrival for a good while, Generals Johnston, Polk, and Hood retired to the rough cabin-house, where Polk had established his headquarters, and General French and the staff officers of the different generals remained outside beyond earshot.

It was past midnight when the meeting broke up, and the Generals stepped out and called their escorts and attending staff.

General Polk immediately instructed Major West to issue orders to his division generals to move as soon as guides would be furnished them. Captain Morris was ordered to procure these immediately. General Polk communicated detailed instructions, but appeared deeply absorbed. In silence everything was carried out, and the corps had taken up the march, and moved some distance before Major West was aware that the army was in retreat. He had been by the General's side, or close in the rear of him, from the moment of the termination of the conference, and the General had not spoken about it. Thus they had ridden a good while, the Major, respecting the General's silent mood, had not thought proper to inquire about the destination of the column. An officer of General Hardee's staff, Captain Thomas H. Hunt, was the first to inform Major West that the army was retreating, because General Polk, at the conference, had insisted that he could not hold his position in the line of battle selected by Johnston. Stung by this statement, Major West denied it emphatically, and, as his informant insisted on its correctness, Major West rode up to General Polk, and asked him where the [317] column was marching to? General Polk said they were retreating to beyond the Etowah river. Major West then told him of the report that had reached him, and asked him if he was the cause of the abandonment of the intended battle at Cassville? General Polk asked who had made the statement, and, when told that it was a staff officer of General Hardee, who also had added that said impression prevailed along the column, and, Major West asking that he be authorized to deny the report, General Polk was silent for a moment, and then said to Major West: ‘To-morrow everything will be made as clear as day.’

General Polk never again spoke of this matter to the Major, although with him day and night during that long and terrible campaign, in which he lost his life at Pine mountain, on the 14th day of July, 1864. But the impression left upon his staff officers was that the failure to keep battle at Cassville was not due to any representations made by General Polk, but the objections made by Lieutenant-General Hood, the left of whose line joined French's division.

General Polk had so little confidence in the representations of the weakness of the line at the point referred to, that he did not go there in person. But for General Hood's invitation, Major-General French would not have been called to the conference, and consequently, when General Hood urged the untenability of his line, and supported it by bringing one of Polk's division commanders, French, to confirm him (although Polk's other division commanders, Loring and Walthall, offered no objection), and in the absence of Lieutenant-General Hardee, General Polk could only reply upon the report of his chief topographical engineer, Captain Morris, and Major-General French, and sustain Lieutenant-General Hood in his opinion that the line could not be held after an attack.

General Polk was too noble and patriotic to care for his personal fame, and made no effort during his life to put himself properly on record for his connection with the abandonment of the line at Cassville, for he was always ready to give battle, or to take any responsibilities of his position. He fought for his cause, not for his reputation.

Another of this group of old veterans had been of Hardee's corps on that occasion. He recounted that his battery had been assigned by ‘Old Joe’ to an important post on Hardee's line, the angle at which the left flank deflected back. Vividly he described his position—the [318] knoll upon which his guns were planted, the open fields around, that gave promise of great slaughter of the foe when he undertook to carry the point. This prospect and the pride arising from the very danger of their post, stimulated the men in their labors of entrenching, which was necessary at this end of the line of battle, where there were none of the natural advantages the troops of Polk and Hood derived from the hills on which they were posted. But all worked with an energy that arose to enthusiasm, for confidence in ‘Old Joe,’ confidence in the ‘old reliable,’ and confidence in themselves, inspired the men of this company, as it did those of the whole corps. The redoubt was nearly completed, when, about two o'clock in the morning, Captain Sid. Hardee, of General Hardee's staff, rode up and ordered the work to cease, and the battery made ready to move. This officer then stated that the intention to fight a battle there was abandoned; that Polk and Hood had insisted that they could not hold their position of the line. He added that General Hardee had objected to the retreat, and had offered to change positions with either of the other corps rather than forego giving battle.

In deep disappointment and disgust, Hardee's men moved off, blaming Polk and Hood for compelling the abandonment of a field which seemed to be pregnant with a glorious victory.

The impressions of that night had remained ineffaceable, and the unfought battle had been a deep source of regret during the war, and of deep interest since. So much so since that it had led to a correspondence between one of the officers of the company and General Johnston.

The allusion to this correspondence naturally brought about the production of the following original letters of General Johnston on this and other war matters, which are now for the first time put in print, and which will be deposited in the archives of the Louisiana Historical Association by

one of Hardee's corps.

Savannah, Ga., June 19. 1874.
Dear Sir—The only approach to criticism of General Lee by me, I believe, is that you will find on page 62, of ‘Johnston's Narrative.’

There, in defending myself against accusations of not taking Washington and conquering the United States, after the battle of Manassas, [319] I pointed to General Lee's two unsuccessful invasions as proof that 1 could not succeed in such warfare, and evidence that the Confederacy was too weak for it. Certainly, that was neither criticism nor condemnation. It was simply saying that General Lee's failures proved the weakness of the Confederacy. That where he failed, I could not be expected to succeed.

Yours truly,


Savannah, Ga., June 19, 1874.
Charles G. Johnson, Esq:
my Dear Sir—I have attempted the sketch you asked for in your friendly note of the 16th. I assure you that the evidences of your friendship are in the highest degree gratifying; for I love of all things the favorable opinion and friendly feelings of the class to which you belong—the men with whom I stood in battle.

Excuse this very rough sketch.1 It is more than thirty years since my last effort of the kind.

The part of Hardee's left thrown back, is Bate's division. I think your battery was near the angle.

In the map in the book, the ‘country road,’ east of Cassville, is omitted. It is necessary to the understanding of the intended offensive movement.

The position sketched was taken in the afternoon for defence, the attack was intended near noon—when Sherman was at Kingston, and Hardee near it. For it, Hood was to march by his right flank on the country road, east of and parallel to that to Adairsville. When his rear was opposite A, Polk was to move towards Adairsville, in order of battle, until he met the enemy, when he became engaged, Hood was to face to the left and take the Federals in flank. Before the time came to order General Polk forward, General Hood, moving towards Adairsville on the country road, upon a wild report, turned back, and formed his corps on the line marked B. This frustrated the design of attacking, and put us on the defensive.

In the discussion at night between Generals Hood, Polk and myself, the question was only of holding the position sketched. The [320] plan of attacking had been frustrated by General Hood. Our opportunity to attack was when the Federal army was divided—a part at Kingston, another part on the road from Adairsville.

To attack Sherman's concentrated army would have been inexpressibly absurd. General Hood expressed no such idea at the time. To postpone the attack from the afternoon, when the Federals were entrenching, until the next morning, when they were entrenched, would have been stupid.

Very truly yours,

Savannah, Ga., June 30, 1875.
To J A. .Chalaron, Esq., Chairman, etc.:
my Dear Sir—Your favor of the 25th and inclosures are just received. I regret very much not to have the means of contributing to your interesting object. The records of the army belonged to it, of course, and, I apprehend were lost, or greatly reduced, by the march into and out of Tennessee in the last days of 1864. All that was then saved is now in possession of Colonel Kinloch Falconer, of Holly Springs, Miss. You may remember him as assistantadjutant-general of the army. I have just written to request him to give you any information contained in his records. General Bragg's arrangement of the artillery of Tennessee was a reserve of six or eight batteries under a lieutenant-colonel, and a distribution of the remainder—a battery brigade. In the early spring of 1864, it was more completely organized into a reserve of three or four battalions, under a brigadier-general, and into regiments—one for each corps.

I wish very much that the application for service with me, made by the company March 4, 1865, had been received, for I should have had a very great pleasure ten years sooner, that of knowing that one of the truest and bravest bodies of Confederate troops with which I served in trying times, gave me the confidence it inspired in all those who ever commanded it. Nothing that I have read in the last ten years has touched my heart like the copy of that application. Such proofs of favorable opinion and friendly feeling of the best class of our countrymen is rich compensation to an old man, for the sacrifice of the results of the labors of a life-time. [321]

Begging you to assure the Fifth Company of the Washington Artillery of my remembrance of their admirable service in 1863 and 1864, in Mississippi and Georgia, and thanking you earnestly for the very agreeable terms of your letter, I am very truly yours,

Can you send me a copy of Captain Johnson's account of the capture of the Federal fort in Mill Creek Gap in the fall of 1864?

1 The diagram was given in the Picayune.

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