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[330]

The Dalton-Atlanta operations.

General Joseph E. Johnston.
It is stated on page 24 of General Sherman's “Memoirs” volume II, that on the 1st of May, 1864, the strength of the three armies — of the Cumberland, of the Tennessee, and of the Ohio — with which General Sherman was about to invade Georgia, was ninety-eight thousand, seven hundred and ninety-seven men of all arms present for duty, with two hundred and fifty-four field-pieces. As the forces of the three departments furnishing these troops amounted at the time to two hundred and twenty-nine thousand, five hundred and twenty-four men present for duty (see Secretary of War's report, 1865, page 5), the strength of the invading army could have been doubled without leaving its communications insufficiently guarded. Therefore, General Sherman must have regarded the forces he assembled as ample for his object. That object was (see General Grant's letter, on page 26) “to move against Johnston's army, to break it up, and to get into the interior of the enemy's country as far as he could, inflicting all the damage he could against their war resources.” That army was in front of Dalton, of forty-two thousand, eight hundred men, of all arms, present for duty, with one hundred and fifty field-guns. Its position had not been selected, but was occupied by accident. General Bragg took it for the encampment of a night in his retreat from Missionary Ridge; but the troops remained there because it was ascertained that the pursuit had ceased. During the previous winter General Gilmer, Chief Engineer of the Confederacy, had wisely provided a strong base for this army, by the intrenchment of Atlanta, and the engineers of the [331] army constructed some field-works at Resaca for the protection of the bridges there, and three very rough country roads from Dalton to Resaca were converted into good ones. In the spring the works there were considerably enlarged.

On the 5th of May, the Federal army was in order of battle three or four miles in front of Tunnel Hill. On the 6th, it approached Tunnel Hill; on the 7th, drove our advanced guard from that place, and placed itself, in the afternoon, near and parallel to Rocky Face, its right some distance below Mill Creek gap. On pages 32, 33, 34, and 35, General Sherman describes the operations of the 8th, 9th, and 10th, except the very sharp fighting. In his report, that of the 9th is characterized as almost a battle (see page 14). In these engagements the Confederates, who were completely sheltered by intrenchments, had almost no loss; but the Federal troops, standing on open ground and in great numbers, suffered very severely. On page 34, General Sherman claims to have surprised Johnston, by McPherson's arrival before Resaca on the 9th; forgetting, apparently, that his approach was discovered on the 8th (see his report, page 14), and that the place was found well prepared for defense, being held not by “one small brigade,” as he supposed, but by a division-so intrenched as to be able to maintain itself a full day, at least. So if McPherson had attacked on the 9th, according to General Sherman's plan, Resaca could easily have been held against him until next morning, when the army, having left Dalton the night before, without the enemy's knowledge, would be ready to fall upon him from the rear, while holding his line of retreat. With twice his number on one side, and Resaca on the other, he could not have escaped. If the other course, suggested for McPherson by General Sherman, had been taken — that of “placing his whole force astride the railroad above Resaca” --Johnston must have marched against and assailed him in the same manner, with the same advantages. Either course suggested, taken by McPherson, would have compelled Johnston to attack him, and with such advantages of numbers and position as to secure his destruction. We never found it difficult to leave the presence of the Federal army at night without its knowledge. The retreat to the east, which General Sherman supposed that the Confederates would have attempted, was impossible. But even if it had been easy, they could not have hesitated to attack the Army of the Tennessee, in either of the cases supposed-opportunities for armies to fight detachments of half their strength are rarely offered in war.

General Sherman is mistaken in the opinion, appearing both in [332] his report and memoirs, that the Confederate army at Dalton was brought to the verge of ruin by his movement through Snake Creek gap. This operation had been provided against by making Resaca strong enough to hold out at least a day against twenty thousand or thirty thousand men, and by the making of roads by which the Southern troops at Dalton could reach Resaca before their antagonists. Resaca was held, instead of Snake Creek gap, because it was nearer than the latter to the main Confederate position, and much farther from the Federal main body, and could be held by a smaller body of troops. This operation could have produced no better result than that gained — the abandonment of Dalton by the Southern army. Rocky Face, instead of covering Dalton, completely covered the Federal flank march to Snake Creek gap, and, therefore, was advantageous to him (General Sherman), and not to his adversary.

On page 32, General Sherman, gives the impression that the position in front of Dalton was very strong, and he says in his report (page 73): “To strike Dalton in front was impracticable, as it was covered by an inaccessible ridge.” This ridge covered the left flank, not the front, and terminated but two miles north of the position, which was east of the mountain, in ground as fit for the maneuvres of a large army as a tactician can expect to find in the interior of the Southern country. On page 35, the General writes that the bulk of the Southern army was “found (on the 13th) inside of Resaca. ... A complete line of intrenchments was found covering the place.” The two armies were formed in front of Resaca nearly at the same time; so that the Federal army could give battle on equal terms, except as to numbers, by attacking promptly — the difference being about ten to four. The two armies intrenched that day. There was very brisk fighting all day of the 14th-greatly to our advantage, for we were assailed in our intrenchments. General Sherman was misinformed as to the taking of an important ridge by the advance of McPherson's whole line, and bloody repulses of Confederate attempts to retake it-this on the 15th; there were no such occurrences. But on the 14th, about dusk, the left of our line of skirmishers-forty or fifty men — was driven from a slight elevation in front of our left; but no attempt was made to retake it.

The first paragraph on page 36 is inaccurate. The fighting on the 15th was to our advantage (none of it at night), for we were on the defensive-behind breastworks. As to capturing a four-gun intrenched battery with its men and guns: On the morning of the 15th, General Hood advanced one, eighty or one hundred yards. Soon after its fire opened the men and horses were driven off by an [333] infantry fire from a ravine near. The Federal soldiers, who attempted to carry them off, were in like manner driven back by our musketry. So the unintrenched guns, without men, were left between the two lines until the Southern troops abandoned the position. What is said on page 36 might create the impression that the Southern army crossed the Oostenaula in consequence of the fighting described. It was because two bridges and a large body of Federal troops were discovered the afternoon of the 14th at Lay's ferry, some miles below, strongly threatening our communications by the indication of another flanking operation-covered by the river as the first had been by the ridge. To avoid this danger the Southern army crossed the Oostenaula about midnight, and moved along the railroad about seven miles. The 17th, it marched eight miles to Adairsville by eight o'clock A. M.; remained there till next morning (18th), and marched nine miles to Cassville before eleven o'clock; passed that day and the 19th there, and at one or two o'clock A. M. of the 20th marched to the Etowah, and crossed it early in the afternoon near the railroad.

On page 36 the difficulties overcome by the Federal army seem somewhat magnified, and its advantage of greatly superior numbers depreciated. The operations in question can scarcely be termed “rapid successes.” Indeed, it is not easy to see the progress made in “breaking up Johnston's army” by the advance of the Federal army sixteen miles, at the expense of five days of sharp fighting, all to the advantage of its enemy.

The circumstances referred to on pages 40 and 41 are these (related in “Johnston's narrative,” pages 321 to 324): In the morning of May 19th, the Federal army was approaching Cassville, in two bodies, one following the railroad, the other the direct wagon road. Hardee's Corps was near the former, Polk's and Hood's at Cassville. Johnston determined to attack the column on the direct road with Polk's and Hood's Corps when the other was at Kingston, three hours march to the west. Polk was to meet and attack the head of the column; Hood, marching a little in advance of him on a road on his right, was to join in the action as the enemy deployed. When the latter had marched some miles in the proper direction, he turned his corps and marched back and formed it facing to the east, about a mile east of Cassville, upon a wild report brought him, he said, by one of his aide-de-camps. Neither this information nor his action upon it was reported. As the plan depended on the distance between the two Federal columns for success, it was defeated by the loss of time produced by this erratic movement. The army was then drawn [334] up in the best position it ever occupied, in which it skirmished during the afternoon. But at night General Hood's persistent declaration that he and General Polk would not be able to hold their ground an hour, caused the withdrawal of the army.

Page 43: The broken ground south of the Etowah can nowhere be called a “ridge of mountains.” The route through it chosen by General Sherman was the least unfavorable. Page 44: The action at New Hope Church was the attack on Stewart's Division by Hooker's Corps. It began an hour and a half before sunset, and continued until dark, Stewart holding his ground. As the corps had a front equal only to that of the division, and was exposed to the musketry of five thousand infantry, and the canister of sixteen guns at short range, great execution must have been done in its ranks. Page 45: The “bloody battle” mentioned was an absurd attack on the Federal right, made without orders, by two Confederate brigades. It was quickly ended by the division commander, who drew back the troops as soon as he heard the firing, after they had lost three hundred men. But a real battle, which occurred the day before, is unnoticed — a carefully prepared attack upon our right by the Fourth Corps, supported by a division of the Fourteenth. The battle began about five o'clock P. M., and continued two hours. After the repulse of the assailants we counted about seven hundred dead within thirty yards of our line. The description of daily fighting on the same page is correct as to spirit and frequency; but as the Confederates were not permitted to leave their breastworks, the sallies and repulses were all Federal. Page 46: The Confederate army abandoned the line of New Hope Church on the 4th of June, because it was discovered that day that the Federal troops were moving by their left rear toward Allatoona, under cover of their line of intrenchments. On the same page, General Sherman claims that substantially during May he had fought over one hundred miles of most difficult country — from Chattanooga to Big Shanty. The fighting commenced at Tunnel Hill, thirty miles from Chattanooga, and he reached Big Shanty only on the 10th of June.

Page 49: “I always estimated my force at about double his; ... but I also reckoned that in the natural strength of the country, in the abundance of mountains, streams and forests, he had a fair offset to our numerical superiority.” Such being General Sherman's opinion, it is not easy to understand why he did not make his army one hundred and fifty thousand or two hundred thousand men. He knew the strength of the country, and it has been seen that, on the 5th of May, he had one hundred and thirty thousand men under his control, beside those assembled around him. Page [335] 51: It is stated that the Seventeenth Corps, lately arrived, with new regiments, and returned furloughed men, “equaled the Federal losses by battle, sickness, and by detachments,” so that the three armies still aggregated about one hundred thousand effective men. According to the table on page 136, they aggregated one hundred and twelve thousand eight hundred men. On the same page, below, it is said that the Confederates had signal stations and fresh lines of parapets on Kenesaw, Lost Mountain and Pine Mount. Kenesaw was not occupied by our (Southern) troops until the 19th, and Lost Mountain was abandoned on the 8th. Our only signal stations were on Kenesaw, as an observatory, and at headquarters. Page 53: The circumstances of General Polk's death were these: He had accompanied General Hardee and me to Pine Mount to reconnoitre. We placed ourselves in a battery near the summit, on the enemy's side. After seeing everything that interested us, we turned to leave the place. As we did so a cannon shot from a battery opposite, probably fired at a crowd of soldiers on the summit behind us, passed over us. A second came after about a minute, and a minute later, while we were walking slowly toward our horses, General Polk being on the very top of the hill, a third shot passed through the middle of his chest, from left to right. He was lifeless when I reached him in a few seconds, for we were but twenty or thirty feet apart. A brisk fire of artillery (shell) commenced soon after; there had been no volleys, and there was no signal station there.

Page 54: “We captured a good many prisoners, among them a whole infantry regiment, the Fourteenth Alabama, three hundred and twenty strong.” The occurrences of the day made this highly improbable, if not impossible — it was the 15th. On the 16th, a company of skirmishers was forgotten in a change of position, and captured. Page 55: “The Confederate intrenchment was much smaller than that described — a ditch about two feet deep, the earth thrown up on the outside, making a parapet two feet and a half high, surmounted with a head log.” We had no intrenching tools, a disadvantage for which all the mountain streams and forests of Georgia would not have compensated. Page 56: “These successive contractions of the enemy's line encouraged us and discouraged him, but were doubtless justified by strong reasons. On the 20th, Johnston's position was unusually strong;” by which his troops were greatly encouraged-indeed, made confident. Pages 59 and 60: The reports upon which General Sherman's telegram of the 23d was based, were extremely inaccurate. Johnston had not half so many miles of connected or other trenches as he. The Federal army had gained no [336] ground by fighting, unless the driving in of a few skirmishers can be called so. The Southern army was never, during this part of the campaign, driven from a position by fighting, or the fear of it; only by danger to its communications, by the extension of the strongly intrenched lines, which the enemy's greatly superior numbers enabled him to make and man. The positions gained on the 21st, near the south end of Kenesaw, and on a hill near, were outside of our position --not occupied by our line, and if at all, only by pickets, and General Sherman was deceived by reports of efforts to retake them and night attacks, which were never made by our troops. If the Confederate troops were so incessantly beaten, it is unaccountable that they were permitted to remain before Marietta four weeks, and then shifted their ground only to avoid losing their communications. The attack on Hooker and Schofield on the 22d, was made against orders by General Hood with Stevenson's Division, supported by Hindman's. It was defeated by intrenched artillery. But the troops held the ground they gained long enough to remove their dead and wounded. On the 25th, an attack like this was made on Stevenson's Division by the troops that had repulsed it 6n the 22d, and they were repelled with as heavy a loss as they had inflicted then. But this affair escapes General Sherman's notice.

Pages 60 and 61: The description of the attack on the Confederate army on the 27th of June, prepared from the 24th, and the statement of the Federal loss, contrast strangely: “About 9 A. M. of the day appointed the troops moved to the assault, and all along our lines for ten miles a furious fire of artillery and musketry was kept up. At all points the enemy met us with determined courage, and in great force. * * * By half-past 11 the assault was over, and had failed.” The statement of loss was twenty-five hundred killed and wounded. According to this, an army of Americans, inured to war, was defeated by a loss of but two and a half per cent. It is incredible. General Sherman's subordinates must have imposed upon him. It is equally incredible that another army of American veterans, as completely protected as men using arms can be, could strike but two and a half per cent. of men exposed to their muskets and cannon, in seven lines at least, in two hours and a half. The writer has seen American soldiers, not inured to war, win a field with a loss ten times greater proportionally.

Page 70: The Confederates are accused of burning their pontoon bridges after crossing the Chattahoochee. They did not commit that folly.

On the 17th, it was reported that the Federal army was on the [337] southeast bank of the Chattahoochee, from Roswell to Powers' ferry. That night General Hood was placed in command of the Southern army by telegraph. On the 18th, at his urgent request, Johnston forced the troops on the. high ground, overlooking the valley of Peachtree creek from the south, to meet the advance of the Federal forces reported that morning by General Wheeler.

General Sherman's returns, on pages 24 and 136, shows ninety-eight thousand seven hundred and ninety-seven men present for duty May 1st; one hundred and twelve thousand eight hundred and nineteen June 1st, and one hundred and six thousand and seventy July 1st. Those of the Southern army show forty-two thousand eight hundred present for duty May 1st; fifty-eight thousand five hundred and sixty-two June 6th, and fifty-three thousand two hundred and seventy five July 1st. Fourteen thousand two hundred infantry and artillery and seven thousand cavalry were received in six detachments, coming at different times-all in May. General Sherman points out these additions to our forces, but says nothing of the reinforcements he received --except the arrival of the Seventeenth Corps (nine thousand men) June 8th. His reported losses in May, corrected by General Thomas (on page 5, report of Committee on Conduct of the War, supplementary part i), and the difference between the May and June returns above, show that he received above twenty-five thousand men in May alone. According to the table on page 133, before July 18th the Federal army lost in killed and wounded about twenty-one thousand men, of whom about twenty-five hundred were killed. The Southern army lost in the same time nine thousand nine hundred and seventy-two killed and wounded, of whom one thousand two hundred and eighty-eight were killed. The Southern officers believed that the Federal losses compared with theirs about as five to one. And circumstances justify that belief.

Except on three occasions, the Southern troops fought in their intrenchments, exposing scarcely a thirtieth of their persons, while their adversaries were fully exposed on open ground. Therefore, with equal marksmanship, they would have given thirty hits for one received. According to the reports of General Sherman's subordinates, they gave but two; or, on equal ground, would have made one effective shot to the enemy's fifteen--which is incredible. The more so, because a fire so utterly ineffective could not have repulsed or checked, in seventy days of such close and continued fighting as General Sherman describes, veteran American soldiers such as his. We had, too, direct proofs of the inaccuracy of these reports. After the action of June 27th (pages 60, 61), we counted--one thousand [338] dead of the Army of the Cumberland lying before two of Hardee's divisions, very near, some against, our breastworks. The calculated proportion of wounded to killed is five to one; this would indicate a loss of six thousand there. But the officers of that army reported fifteen hundred and eighty killed, wounded, and missing (see page 223, above report)-less than two per cent. of the sixty thousand men of that army. The dead belonged to the first and second lines; and we could see seven exposed to our muskets and cannon, so that many others must have been killed. In like manner, on the 27th of May, we repelled an assault by four divisions, and counted seven hundred dead within thirty paces of our line. As five or six lines immediately behind these dead were exposed to our shot, there must have been considerable additional loss. Yet Federal officers reported but fourteen hundred as the entire loss, when it could not have been so little as four thousand. General Sherman does not allude to this action. In the engagement two days before (referred to on page 44), we had a much greater force engaged longer, and, therefore, must have inflicted a much greater loss. In the three actions, at least twenty-five hundred Federal soldiers must have been killed — as many as, according to Federal officers, were killed in all the fighting in ten weeks described by General Sherman, of which that in these three actions was not a fourth part.

The reports made to General Sherman charge his troops, indirectly, with being checked, repulsed, intimidated, by such losses as ordinary troops would have disregarded. This is incredible to those who, like the writer, have often witnessed the vigorous and persistent courage of American soldiers, the best of whom were not superior to General Sherman's. But the testimony of the ten thousand and thirty-six graves in the Union Cemetery at Marietta, of soldiers killed south of the Etowah, is conclusive. Less than two thousand of them fell in the actions about Atlanta. But at least three thousand were killed north of the Etowah, and buried at Chattanooga. As the towns and villages in the route of the Federal army were burned, there could have been no hospitals, and, therefore, few deaths by sickness south of Dalton. These proofs show that the estimate on page 357, “Johnston's narrative,” which General Sherman pronounces erroneous, is not much so, to say the least. On page 48, General Sherman claims to have taken three thousand two hundred and forty-five prisoners in May, because he had captured twelve thousand nine hundred and eighty-three in the four and a half months ending September 15th. We had no loss by capture in May, and only a little more than two hundred up to July 18th. The [339] marches and the results of the fighting in that time did not enable the enemy to make prisoners. His successes and prisoners were subsequent. On page 49, General Sherman claims that the strength of the country, by mountains, streams, and forests, gave his enemy a fair offset to his numerical superiority. Between Dalton and Atlanta, one sees but two semblances of mountains-Rocky Face, which covered the march by which he “flanked” Dalton and Kenesaw, less than two miles long. The country was no more unfavorable for the offensive than the Wilderness, or that on which Lee and McClellan fought near Richmond, or that between Amelia and Appomattox Court-Houses.

General Sherman certainly executed his plan of operations with great perseverance, skill, and resolution. But it is a question if that plan was the best. The results obtained, compared with those attainable, indicate that it was not. At Dalton, only the southern left flank was covered by Rocky Face, not its front; and an attack in front would have been on ground as favorable to the Federal army as its general could have hoped to find. With odds of near ten to four, he might well have thought the “breaking up of Johnston's army” attainable there. If defeated, Atlanta, its place of refuge, was one hundred miles off, with three rivers intervening; while the Federal army, if unsuccessful, had a secure refuge in Chattanooga, which was easily reached. At Resaca, the Federal general had a still better opportunity, for the two armies met there without intrenchments between them — the Federals having a line of retreat from their centre directly to the rear; while the Southern troops, formed near and parallel to the road to Atlanta, would have been driven from that road by defeat, and, consequently, destroyed. Battle at either place, whatever the result, would not have cost a fourth of the number of men actually lost. And success would have ended the campaign, and decided the war.

On page 39, General Sherman says: “Of course it was to my interest to bring him to battle as soon as possible.” His overwhelming numbers ought to have made it possible at any time. The flanking operations forced the Southern army back to Atlanta, but could do no more. There it was safe in intrenchments — much stronger than any it had previously occupied, and too extensive to be invested. And three railroads met there, either one capable of supplying the army. So it could have maintained itself there indefinitely, and so won the campaign with little more loss. This is no afterthought, but was expressed to General Hood when he took command. The Federal march to Jonesboroa caused, but did not compel, the [340] abandonment of Atlanta. For if the Southern troops had remained in the place, the enemy would, in a few days, have been forced to return to his railroad. And, besides, Atlanta could have been sufficiently supplied from Macon, through Augusta; but at Jonesboroa the Federal troops could not be fed. This mode of gaining Atlanta made the acquisition of no great value. For the campaign continued, and General Sherman was occupied by General Hood until late in October, when he commenced the disastrous expedition into Tennessee, which left the former without an antagonist.

Bentonville-pages 303-4-5-6: Johnston attempted to unite the three little bodies of his troops near Bentonville, on the 18th of March, to attack the head of General Sherman's left column next morning, on the Goldsboroa road. Less than two-thirds had arrived at eight A. M. of the 19th, when the Federal column appeared and deployed, intrenching lightly at the same time. The fighting that day was a vigorous attack on our left, defeated in half an hour; then a similar one on our right, repulsed in like manner. About three o'clock, all the troops being in line, the Federal army was attacked, driven from its position, and pursued a mile and a half, into an extensive thicket, which compelled the Southern troops to halt when otherwise they were not opposed. Two hours after we were slightly attacked-by a reconnoitering party, probably; it was so easily repelled. We made no other attack, but held our ground till after nightfall, to carry off our wounded. Our army remained in line nearly parallel to the Goldsboroa road, to remove the wounded to Smithfield. Its flanks were somewhat thrown back — the left only of cavalry skirmishers. Butler's cavalry was observing the right Federal column; Wheeler's arrived from Averysboroa the evening of the 19th. Mower's movement (see page 304) was made after three o'clock; for he had proceeded but a mile and a half when attacked and driven back, about half-past 4 o'clock, being then in rear of our centre where orders could not reach him. So the skirmishing mentioned on page 304 must have been very brief. Our men, being intrenched, easily drove off the enemy. In reference to “wide discrepancies,” General O. O. Howard's (right) wing fought only in this skirmish. Yet it is claimed (page 305) that its loss was but four hundred and eight, while it inflicted one of near two thousand, including wounded, on the Confederates-four times as great as that they suffered June 27th, by the assault of the whole Federal army (see page 61). It is claimed, also, on page 305, that the Southern army, which was successful in all the fighting and intrenched in most of it, lost fifty per cent. more than the Federals. These “discrepancies” cannot be charged to the Southern officers. [341]

Meetings of Sherman and Johnston, April T1th and 18th: By a not unusual error of memory, General Sherman probably attributes to Johnston language that he heard in Raleigh the following evening (see pages 349 and 351). It could not have entered the mind of the latter that any of the class to which General Sherman belongs could entertain a suspicion that Mr. Davis was accessory to assassination. The object of our meeting, expressed in a letter in his report, page 137, was to make a general armistice-“to enable the civil authorities to enter into the needful arrangements to terminate the existing war.” He said that this was impracticable, and offered such terms of surrender as were granted to the army of Northern Virginia. Johnston declined to capitulate, because the military condition in North Carolina was unlike that in Virginia, and proposed that they should agree upon preliminaries of peace, citing authorities. General Sherman assented, and in less than two hours the terms, drawn up and adopted next day, were agreed upon, except that General Sherman refused to include Mr. Davis and his Cabinet in the article (sixth) granting amnesty. This question was discussed till sunset, when they agreed to resume the subject next morning. General Breckenridge accompanied Johnston to the meeting, and Mr. Reagan put on paper the terms discussed the day before, which Johnston had given, and sent the paper after him. As soon as received, without any discussion aside, these terms were proposed to General Sherman, with the reminder that they had been almost accepted the day before. With this paper before him, General Sherman wrote rapidly that which was adopted and signed, which expressed in his language the terms discussed the day before. The terms of this convention show that there was no question of surrender, but of peace; nor of Johnston's power over other Confederate armies, for in the last paragraph both acknowledge that they had not the power, but pledge themselves to obtain it.

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