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Chapter 16:

Before the beginning of the Atlanta campaign, several affairs, in which the army of Tennessee was successful, helped to revive the spirits of the troops. Probably the principal event which cheered them and nerved their hearts to renewed efforts was the appointment of Joseph E. Johnston as their commander. Under his leadership they hoped for great results. Their hardships were great; but from boyhood they had read and heard of the trials endured and bravely borne by the patriots of the revolution, and though poorly clad and scantily fed they bore their privations with brave hearts and hoped for better things. The exhaustion of the country was evidenced during the winter of 1863-64 in the deprivations of the soldiers. There was a great deficiency in blankets, and many were without shoes. The horses also, though sent to the valley of the Etowah to graze and be fed, remained so feeble from lack of forage that early in February teams of the Napoleon guns were unable to draw them up a trifling hill. Under Johnston's management there was soon great improvement in the commissariat. Men and animals began to fare better. The winter of 1863-64 was mainly devoted to discipline and instruction of the troops. Intrenchment was industriously continued for protection of the railroad bridges back to Atlanta, as well as about that city. Military [297] operations otherwise consisted in little more than skirmishes of scouting parties.

On January 28, 1864, however, a considerable Federal force, under General Palmer, advanced from Ringgold in reconnoissance and drove in the cavalry outposts before Tunnel Hill, but retired as soon as it was discovered that that position was still held by Cleburne. On the 17th of February, on account of Sherman's Meridian expedition, the divisions of Cheatham, Cleburne and Walker, under General Hardee, were forwarded to Mississippi to assist Gen. Leonidas Polk, but they were soon recalled, Sherman having retreated from Meridian to Vicksburg.

Commencing a campaign in earnest, Grant directed Thomas to utilize his well-prepared army of the Cumberland by gaining possession of Dalton and as far south of that as possible. In compliance with this order, Johnson's and Baird's divisions, of Palmer's corps, occupied Ringgold on the 22d of February, and Cruft's division went to Red Clay on the railroad to Cleveland, Tenn. Davis' division reinforced Palmer at Ringgold. Long's brigade of cavalry advanced toward Dalton. The whole Federal strength in this movement was twelve brigades of infantry, one of cavalry, and several batteries. To meet them Johnston posted Stewart's and Breckinridge's divisions before Mill Creek gap, northeast of Dalton, and Stevenson north of Dalton. On February 24th, Palmer advanced in three columns, the center directed against Wheeler's cavalry. As Thomas reported, the center ‘met with a fire at long range from a battery of Parrott guns, the enemy's practice being excellent and succeeding in checking the column.’ But the flanking columns advanced and compelled Wheeler to retire, and the Federals encamped that night in the valley immediately before the pass called Buzzard Roost, through which the railroad passes. On the next day two Federal divisions held the position at Buzzard Roost, and two others, with the cavalry, were sent around by the north to make an attack in the rear [298] of the pass in Crow valley. Major-General Hindman met this flank movement very skillfully, posting Clayton's brigade of Stewart's division, and Reynolds' brigade, near the base of the mountain, and Brown's, Pettus' and Cumming's brigades on the opposite heights to the east, and maintained a brisk skirmish with the enemy all day. Late in the afternoon a sharp attack was made upon Clayton, which was repulsed. During the greater part of the day the Thirty-ninth Georgia was exposed to a lively fire of shells, which failed to move them. Cumming's brigade suffered a loss of 1 killed and 25 wounded.

Meanwhile a serious attack was made at the gap against Stovall's brigade. His skirmishers fell back until the enemy was in range of the artillery on the ridge, which opened, and in co-operation with the Forty-second Georgia, Col. R. J. Henderson commanding, made a vigorous charge, which drove back the enemy's line in great confusion. The Federals left 30 dead on the field and 15 prisoners. The Forty-second lost i man killed and 14 wounded. Colonel Curtiss, of the Forty-first Georgia, was severely wounded.

The Thirty-ninth Indiana held a pass six miles south which threatened the Confederate position, and Granbury's Texas brigade, the first of Hardee's to return from the trip toward Meridian, was sent to drive them out at dawn of the 26th. Granbury executed this movement skillfully and promptly, and the enemy hastily retired.

Palmer's forces withdrew during the night of the 26th and were pursued to Ringgold by Wheeler. The Confederate strength in this creditable affair was seven brigades on the 25th and eleven on the 26th. The Federal loss was reported at 43 killed, 267 wounded, 35 missing. The Confederate loss was about 270 killed and wounded.

On March 5th, General Wheeler with 600 men passed through Nickajack gap and attacked an Indiana cavalry regiment at Leet's tanyard, contemplating its capture, [299] but the Federals escaped, leaving their camp, wagons and stores, and a number of prisoners in Wheeler's care.

In reply to an inquiry from General Johnston he was informed by General Bragg, now acting as military adviser with office at Richmond, that he was desired to have everything in readiness for a forward movement at the earliest practicable moment, but a definite increase of his army, which Johnston requested, was not promised.

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