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Chapter 39:


Some two weeks after the explosion of the Federal mine and the attempted capture of Petersburg, the enemy, with a view, no doubt, to divert public attention from the inglorious results of ‘that miserable affair,’ as General Grant is reported to have called it, resorted again to divers operations, within and outside of the limits of his lines of intrenchment.

General Hancock, with his own corps, to which were added the 10th and all of Gregg's cavalry, was charged with the first expedition. This movement was intended to create a diversion on the north bank of the James River, but it proved to be another sore disappointment to the enemy, and General. Hancock, on the 20th of August, about eight or ten days after his departure, was ordered back to his former position at Petersburg, having sustained a loss of more than 1500 men.1

Meanwhile, and before General Hancock's return, an expedition, aimed at the Weldon Railroad, was undertaken by General Warren. It led to several sharp actions between the [272] contending forces, where much vigor and stubbornness were exhibited on both sides, resulting, however, in the final retention of the road by the Federals. Their loss amounted to not less than 4455 killed, wounded, and missing.2 This shows what a strong effort General Lee had made to dislodge the enemy from the Weldon road. Unfortunately, and owing to the impossibility of sending additional reinforcements, he failed in his purpose. He would not and could not afford to sacrifice more lives for the possession of a line of communication which, though of great advantage to us, was not indispensable, for we still held the Danville route, by which Richmond as well as the army could be provisioned.3 [273]

Very shortly after this affair, whereby the enemy had gained the possession of a road but lost many lives, General Hancock was met and defeated, at or near Reams's Station, by a Confederate force under Generals A. P. Hill and Hampton. Their hardwon success was conceded by the enemy, though since that time it has been a matter of surprise that General Hancock was not immediately reinforced from General Warren's position, or that the troops sent to relieve him were marched by the longer of the two roads leading to him. The Federal loss was reckoned at 2400, killed, wounded, and missing, out of about 8000 men.7 Our own loss was severe also, though we have no means now at hand, of ascertaining the exact figures.

Since the battle of Drury's Bluff (May 16th) General Beauregard, the first general commissioned by the Confederate Government, had been in command of only two divisions, numbering together less than 10,000 men of all arms; and from and after the arrival of General Lee at Petersburg (June 18th) he had held a subordinate position, very similar but really inferior to that of a corps commander, whose force generally consisted of three divisions of about 5000 men each. His army (so-called) occupied nearly all the new lines he had established on the night of the 17th of June, from the Appomattox to the old lines where these crossed the Jerusalem plank road. They measured a length of over two miles, and, although commanded by some of the enemy's works in front, had been made quite secure by artificial means.

It is not to be wondered at that such a position had become irksome to General Beauregard. It was all the more so because a very important movement against Washington, through the Shenandoah Valley, had been set on foot and confided to an officer who was gallant and meritorious, but whose rank in the Confederate army was lower than that held by General Beauregard, and whose merit and experience as a strategist had not been tested. [274]

General Beauregard, though not openly cast aside, had been placed in an unworthy position, and was wasting his powers upon work that, under the guidance of General Lee, almost any subordinate general could have performed. The fact that Early, a lieutenant-general, and not General Beauregard, was selected for the campaign referred to above, proves how deeply rooted was the prejudice prevailing against Beauregard at Richmond.

That General Early did his utmost to carry out the operation intrusted to him no one will for a moment doubt, and those who know him well, and appreciate his devotion to the cause he was serving, would certainly be the last to cast even a shadow of censure upon him; but it is none the less true that to retrieve the failing fortunes of the South at that juncture something more than devotion, earnestness, and gallantry was required on the part of the leader of this all-important expedition. He should have had experience in handling separate, independent commands; rapidity of conception and execution; the power to shape and control events; the unwavering confidence in success which ever forces a like confidence upon an army; the capacity and habit, as it were, of assuming responsibilities; the prestige of acknowledged ability. These traits were pre-eminent in General Beauregard, who was available at that time, and whose presence at Petersburg could certainly have been dispensed with after General Lee's arrival.

Early in the month of September General Beauregard had determined to ask for a change of command, when General Whiting expressed a desire that he should reinspect his defensive works at Wilmington and the mouth of Cape Fear River. With General Lee's consent he complied with this request, returning to Petersburg about the middle of the month. A few days later he was informed by General Lee that there was a probability of his being ordered to the command of the Army of Northwestern Georgia, then under General Hood. Though somewhat surprised at such an announcement—for he remembered what answer the President, two years before, had given to the Congressional delegation asking for his return to the Army of Tennessee 8—he nevertheless prepared and forwarded to General Lee the following memorandum: [275]

near Petersburg, Va., September 19th, 1864.
Being strongly impressed with the responsibility of that position (the command of the Army of Northwestern Georgia), I am fearful of not being equal to the present emergency; but, being anxious to do all in my power to serve the cause, I will obey with alacrity any order of the War Department which may put me in command of that army. With a view, however, to increase my usefulness as far as practicable, I hope I will be authorized to take with me such members of my general staff as I may consider indispensable to success, to wit: 1. Chief of Staff and First Assistant. 2. Quartermaster. 3. Medical Director. 4. Inspector. 5. Chief-Engineer. 6. Commissary, if required, as well as such other members of my general staff as I may find necessary when I shall have assumed command.

This was readily assented to by General Lee, who assured him that his request would undoubtedly be granted by the War Department.

Shortly afterwards (on or about the 23d of September) General Beauregard was ordered by the President to repair to Charleston, and, while awaiting further orders there, to inquire into the difficulty existing between General Sam. Jones, commanding the Department, and General R. S. Ripley, commanding the First Military District, of South Carolina.9 Before leaving Petersburg he took an affectionate farewell of General Lee and of his staff, and also of such officers of his own military family as were not to accompany him to his new field of action.

General Beauregard reached Charleston on the 25th of September, and immediately informed the President of the fact. The latter was then at Macon, Ga., the headquarters of General Howell Cobb, and on his way to confer with General Hood, at Palmetto, Ga. He instructed General Beauregard to meet him at Augusta, where he expected to be, on the 2d of October, before returning to Richmond.

Meanwhile, General Beauregard entered on the duties assigned to him at Charleston. He discovered a change for the worse, in the condition of the defences, since his departure for Weldon, N. C., about seven months before. The system of signals and telegraphs that he had established along the coast of South Carolina, Georgia, and Florida, by which to gather news of the movements of the enemy and his fleets, had fallen into complete neglect. The [276] parapets of Fort Sumter, formed partly of the debris and ruins of its former magnificent walls and casemates, had crumbled down, and were being gradually washed away by the rains and the waves of the sea, thus rendering parts of the parade visible to the sentries in the rigging of the enemy's blockaders. The want of harmony existing between the Commander of the Department and the Chief of the First Military District was evident; and General Beauregard soon perceived that the former could not control the restless and insubordinate spirit of the latter, who required a firm hand to keep him within bounds. The investigation of the difficulties between these two officers revealed facts which confirmed General Beauregard in this opinion. He therefore came to the conclusion that the sooner General Ripley was sent to the field the better it would be for the service. Hence, on the 27th, he forwarded the following telegram to President Davis, who was then at General Hood's headquarters:

Charleston, S. C., Sept. 27th, 1864.
To President Jeff. Davis, General Hood's Headquarters, Ga.:
Matters here are very unsatisfactory, requiring prompt action on the part of Government. This State should be one district, under a Major-General, and the whole Department under a Lieutenant-General or General. I will telegraph changes required soon.

Operator will repeat same message to General R. E. Lee, at Petersburg, Va., and to Hon. J. A. Seddon, Secretary of War, at Richmond.

Official. H. W. Fielden, A. A. G.

On the 2d of October, in accordance with his instructions, General Beauregard repaired to Augusta, and the next day had a long conference with the President, who had also arrived there during the night. The General gave him a long and detailed account of his investigation at Charleston, repeating and minutely explaining the important suggestions contained in the foregoing telegram. He thereupon earnestly recommended that Colonel D. B. Harris, who had been so efficient an aid to him, during his long defence of Charleston, should be made a majorgeneral, and assigned to the command of the new District of South Carolina. Mr. Davis would only promote him to a brigadier-generalship, giving him the command of the First Subdistrict of South Carolina—in other words, of the City of Charleston and its Harbor. General Beauregard was desirous that the President should make the promotion at once; but he preferred [277] delaying it until his return to Richmond. Meanwhile, Colonel Harris was attacked by the yellow fever, then prevailing at Charleston, and died of it on the 10th of October, before hearing of his well-deserved promotion. In him the Confederacy lost a brave and efficient officer. As a division or even a corps commander lie would have had few superiors. General Beauregard had repeatedly recommended him for promotion; but it was with some difficulty that he had obtained for him the rank of major after the Shiloh campaign, and of colonel after nearly two years of distinguished services at Charleston. General Harris was a graduate of West Point, before General Beauregard entered that institution. he had resigned shortly after joining the army, and, at the opening of the war took service in the Confederacy. He was captain of engineers at the battle of Manassas, and, after serving for some time with General Cocke, joined General Beauregard, and remained with him until his untimely death. All who knew Colonel Harris admired and respected him. Not only was he an able and experienced Engineer, but his coolness under fire, and the determined though simple and modest manner in which he performed his duties, no matter under what circumstances, had endeared him to the scarred veterans—officers and men—among whom he had served. His favorite and characteristic motto—one he constantly used, and to which he was faithful to the last-was: ‘The path of duty, the safest of all.’

The President, without directly assenting to General Beauregard's suggestions as to the Department of South Carolina, Georgia, and Florida, adopted most of them; and Lieutenant-General W. J. Hardee was accordingly assigned to that command, vice Major-General Sam. Jones, who took charge of the Military District of South Carolina; while Major-General Howell Cobb was placed over the Military District of Georgia. Florida had also been put under the command of a major-general (J. Patton Anderson), immediately after the battle of Olustee, or Ocean Pond.

Having gone over and concluded these different matters with General Beauregard, the President entered into an interesting and minute account of his recent visit to General Hood's headquarters, at Palmetto, Ga. He praised highly the new Commander of the Army of Tennessee, predicting that he would carry out a different policy from that of General Joseph E. Johnston, who would have retreated ere long—said Mr. Davis—to the very [278] Gulf of Mexico, should Sherman have followed him that far south. He spoke with high praise of the plan of operations of General Hood, who was on his march to flank General Sherman, then at Atlanta, and cut his line of communication with Middle Tennessee. He was also to destroy the railroad and bridges, from Atlanta to Chattanooga, in as many places as possible, giving battle only when the chances should be favorable to him. General Beauregard readily approved of this movement, which was perfectly feasible, was according to the principles of war, and would, if carried out, compel Sherman to turn back, to protect his line of communication and force a battle with Hood, who, having the choice of position, in a mountainous country, might inflict on his adversary such heavy losses as would prevent his farther advance into Georgia, or make his retreat to Dalton—or even to the vicinity of Chattanooga—a military necessity. A change of base in war, when practicable—which is not often the case—is always attended with great results;10 for one of the cardinal principles of tactics is, ‘to operate on the communications of your enemy, without exposing your own,’ which General Hood could well do on this occasion, as he could readily establish his new lines of communication via the Selma, Jacksonville, and Rome Railroad, then built to Blue Mountain, ten or twelve miles from Jacksonville, where could soon be established his new depot of immediate supplies.

The President, having ascertained that General Beauregard favored this expected movement, determined to place him in command of what was to be the Military Division of the West, embracing the two Departments under Generals Hood and Taylor, and he informed General Beauregard of his decision to that effect. General Hood's Department consisted of Tennessee and such part of Western and Northern Georgia as was not included in General Hardee's command; General Taylor's consisted of Alabama, Mississippi, and Eastern Louisiana. A command composed of nearly five States--that is to say, covering more than one-third of the territorial extent of the Confederacy—was now offered to General [279] Beauregard. Had he consulted his own interests, or taken thought of his personal fame, he would have declined the heavy responsibility about to be imposed upon him; for he knew that, important as his command was in territorial extent, he would be without troops directly under him, with very scanty resources to count upon, and—far worse than all—with a marked feeling of discouragement and distrust growing among the people. He knew, furthermore, that he was not superseding General Hood, or in any way depriving him of his command, but that he was merely sent to him as an adviser. In proof of this we quote from President Davis's letter to General Hood, dated September 28th, from Opelika, Ala.:

* * *It seems to me best that I should confer with General Beauregard, and, if quite acceptable to him, place him in command of the Department embracing your army and that of General R. Taylor, so as to secure the fullest co-operation of the troops, without relieving either of you of the responsibilities and powers of your special commands, except in so far as would be due to the superior rank and the above assignment of General Beauregard. He will necessarily, if present with either army, command in person. Before final action there will be time for you to communicate with me, and I shall be glad to have your views.11

Very respectfully and truly yours,

General Beauregard accepted, nevertheless, the trust reposed in him, under the condition, however, that he should be able to rely on the support of the War Department. The President promised him its cordial co-operation, and desired that he should go at once to confer with Generals Hood and Taylor. He left that night.

Another topic was discussed during the Augusta conference. The President spoke of his troubles with Governor Brown, of Georgia, who, he said, did not give the Government a cordial support, and was ever disposed to throw petty obstacles in the way of procuring recruits, conscripts, and even supplies of provisions and manufactured goods. General Cobb, he also asserted, was very much embarrassed in his work, as commander of his military district, by the want of harmony, so perceptible in his official relations with Governor Brown. While in command of the Department of South Carolina, Georgia, and Florida, General Beauregard had always been on very friendly terms with Governor Brown. [280] He offered to call on the latter while on his way to General Hood's headquarters, and to do all in his power towards accomplishing what the President desired. It was so agreed. Mr. Davis left that evening for Richmond, and the next morning (October 4th) General Beauregard began his prearranged journey, arriving the same day at Milledgeville, where he was most kindly received by Governor Brown. The latter granted all that was asked of him, and offered General Beauregard his most cordial support. A few days afterwards, the following telegram was forwarded from Opelika, Ala., to Mr. Davis:

Opelika, Ala., Oct. 7th, 1864.
To President Davis, Richmond:
I have arranged, satisfactorily, matters between Governor Brown and General Cobb relating to exempts and State militia. Am now en route for Hood's front.

From Milledgeville, General Beauregard had to travel via Macon, Columbus, Opelika, and Newnan, to get to General Hood's headquarters, as the latter had already left Palmetto to operate against the railroad from Atlanta to Marietta. The Opelika and Atlanta Railroad, from Fairburn to the latter place, was in the possession of the Federals, and Newnan was as near as General Beauregard could get with safety, as he had no escort with which to repel any hostile force he might meet on his way. He had stopped at Macon for a day to confer with General Cobb, whom he found, as ever, zealous and energetic, and who heard with joy how ‘oil had been poured on the troubled waters’ surrounding Governor Brown.

From Macon, fearing that Colonel Harris, whose illness had been reported to him, might not recover, General Beauregard telegraphed General Hardee, recommending General Custis Lee, Colonel William Butler, or Colonel Alfred Rhett, as Commander of the First Subdistrict of South Carolina, in case of Colonel Harris's death. But, in the end, neither General Hardee nor General Jones removed the commander of that subdistrict. General Hardee was one of the finest corps commanders in the Confederate service; but, determined and intrepid as he was on the battlefield, he, like General Sam. Jones, was given to hesitation and procrastination when dealing with matters of importance in administration. [281]

General Beauregard reached Newnan on the 7th of October, and left immediately, on horseback, for Cave Spring, about seventy miles distant, where he arrived on the evening of the 9th. There at last he had a conference with General Hood, who confirmed what President Davis had already said of his plan of operations. General Beauregard now came to the conclusion that the movement had been rather hastily undertaken, and without proper provisions being first made for the change of base. It was evident to him that the matter had not been sufficiently considered in its details, and that a great deal had been left to future determination, and even to luck. It was easy to discover in the details of the plan evidences of the fact that General Hood and Mr. Davis were not accustomed to command armies in the field, especially armies like ours, for the management of which much had to be foreseen, and much prepared or created.

Sadly impressed with what he had seen and heard, during his conference with General Hood, General Beauregard resolved to repair at once to Jacksonville, about thirty miles southwest of Cave Spring, and about twelve miles from the terminus of the Selma and Rome road. He was there on the 11th, and immediately telegraphed General Taylor to come to him without delay. General Beauregard had not yet assumed command, and had determined not to do so until he had seen and freely conferred with both of his Department Commanders.

Meanwhile, he directed supplies of all kinds to be sent to Jacksonville, as a new depot of distribution, and made a personal examination of the approaches to the place, with a view to erect there all necessary works for its protection. He ordered, in General Hood's name, that the Selma Railroad should be rapidly completed, from its terminus, Blue Mountain, to Jacksonville; and local officers found there, and still on sick leave, were appointed to fill, temporarily, all indispensable positions, not only at Jacksonville, but also along the new line of operations, so as to expedite the transfer of supplies for General Hood's army.12

On the 12th of October, three days after his conference with General Hood, he addressed a communication to General Cooper, giving a minute account of his interview at Cave Spring, stating [282] what General Hood had done and what he proposed doing. The following passage of this document is submitted: 13

‘Not being sufficiently well acquainted with the nature of the country referred to, and not having yet assumed command of my new Department, I advised General Hood not to carryout his first project’ (crossing to the north side of the Coosa River, twelve miles below Rome, which was occupied by one division of the enemy, and then crossing the Oostanawla), unless confident of being able to recross the Oostanawla above Rome, before General Sherman could concentrate superior forces against him, or could endanger his communications. He readily consented to this suggestion.

It was also determined that, as a success was necessary to keep up the present buoyant spirit of the Army of Tennessee, a battle should not be fought unless with positive advantage on our side of numbers and position, or unless the safety of the army required it.

Under these circumstances, being still unprovided with a staff, baggage, and horses (which were left in Virginia when I was ordered to Charleston), and wishing to confer, before assuming command, with Lieutenant-General R. Taylor, relative to the condition of his Department and his ability to cooperate with General Hood in the present campaign; being desirous, moreover, of arranging matters necessarily connected with the change of base from Jonesboroa, Georgia, to Jacksonville, Alabama, I repaired to this place (Jacksonville) for the object stated, hoping to be able to return to the front in time for a battle, should one occur; but, to be certain of doing so, I instructed General Hood to keep me advised of the movements of the enemy. I expect, nevertheless, to rejoin him in a few days. * * *

I remain, Sir, very respectfully, your obedient servant,

On the same day, October 12th, General Hood demanded the unconditional surrender of Resaca, which was refused; and, not wishing to lose time or sacrifice his men, he passed on, to continue breaking up the railroad. This he did successfully, as appears by the following message:

nine miles South of Lafayette, Ga., Oct. 15th, 1864.
General G. T. Beauregard:
The army struck the communication of the enemy, about a mile above Resaca, on the 12th instant, completely destroying the railroad, including the block-houses from that point to within a short distance of Tunnel Hill, and about four miles of the Cleveland Railroad, capturing Dalton and all intermediate garrisons, with their stores and equipments, and about one thousand prisoners.

The main body of Sherman's army seems to be moving towards Dalton.

1 Swinton, ‘Army of the Potomac,’ p. 532.;

2 Swinton, ‘Army of the Potomac,’ p. 535.

3 It was during this attempt to regain the use of the Weldon road that, on the 21st of August, General Hagood, of South Carolina, distinguished himself in a personal encounter with a Federal officer.

Owing to inaccurate reports of his scouts General A. P. Hill, who commanded the Confederate forces against Warren's expedition, mistook the exact position of the enemy's line on the left, and, through General Mahone, who labored under the same error, Hagood's brigade was ordered to press the rear and flank of the Federals. He was to be supported by five brigades of Mahone's division, supposed to be already in front. The brigade drove the skirmishers from their rifle-pits, but found itself in presence of ‘a strongly intrenched line, crowded with men and artillery, extending right and left as far as could be seen.’3 The five brigades of General Mahone were not there. General Hagood saw at once how perilous a strait he was in, and used his utmost endeavors to halt his command; but the men, ‘intent on carrying the position before them, neither heard nor heeded his voice,’4 and had actually reached the parapets of the works before they understood what overwhelming disaster threatened them. The situation was nearly desperate, all the more that a flanking column had now been sent behind the brigade, with the evident purpose of cutting off its retreat. At this moment a Federal officer, Captain Daly, of General Cutler's staff, boldly rode forward and seized a regimental flag of the brigade. Seeing this, General Hagood, then on foot, came up as fast as he could, and, calling upon his men to fall back, demanded the immediate return of the colors. Upon the officer's refusal to comply—there being no time for parley—General Hagood shot him through the body, and ‘as he reeled from the saddle upon one side sprang into it from the other, Orderly Stoney seizing the flag from his falling hands.’5 Instantly facing about, the South Carolina brigade, under the lead of its intrepid commander, charged and easily dispersed the Federal line in its rear, and, regardless of the severe fire poured upon it from the enemy's works, made good its retreat, though with heavy loss, to the shelter of the valley.

General Beauregard spoke in high terms of the coolness and daring of General Hagood upon this occasion, and strongly recommended him for promotion — which he most assuredly deserved.

4 General Hagood's Memoirs. See Appendix.

5 Ibid.

6 Ibid

7 Swinton's ‘Army of the Potomac,’ p. 538.

8 See volume i., p. 418.

9 See General Beauregard's letter, in Appendix.

10 ‘Although it is a maxim never to abandon your line of communication, yet to change that line is one of the most skilful manoeuvres of the art of war, where circumstances authorize it. It is in such a case that a commander should be bold to strike great blows, and manoeuvre on his enemy's flank. Victory is then in his hand.’-Napoleon, at St. Helena.

11 ‘Advance and Retreat,’ p. 255.

12 See letters to General Hood, and to others, in Appendix.

13 The whole of the letter will be found in Appendix.

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