- Siege of Atlanta -- battle 22d of July -- Hardee -- General Frank Blair's letter.
The failure on the 20th, rendered urgent the most active measures, in order to save Atlanta even for a short period. Through the vigilance of General Wheeler, I received information, during the night of the 20th, of the exposed position of McPherson's left flank; it was standing out in air, near the Georgia Railroad between Decatur and Atlanta, and a large number of the enemy's wagons had been parked in and around Decatur. The roads were in good condition, and ran in the direction to enable a large body of our Army to march, under cover of darkness, around this exposed flank, and attack in rear. I determined to make all necessary preparations for a renewed assault; to attack the extreme left of the Federals in rear and flank, and endeavor to bring the entire Confederate Army into united action. Accordingly, Hardee's and Stewart's Corps resumed their former positions. Colonel Prestman, chief engineer, was instructed to examine at once the partially completed line of works toward Peach Tree creek, which General Johnston had ordered to be constructed for the defence of Atlanta, and to report, at the earliest moment, in regard to their fitness to be  occupied by Stewart's and Cheatham's Corps, together with the Georgia State troops, under General G. W. Smith. The report was received early on the morning of the 2 st, to the effect that the line established by Johnston, was not only too close to the city and located upon too low ground, but was totally inadequate for the purpose designed; that Sherman's line, which extended from the vicinity of Decatur almost to the Dalton Railroad, north of Atlanta, rendered necessary the construction of an entirely new line, and upon more elevated ground. The chief engineer was thereupon directed to prepare and stake off a new line, and to employ his entire force, in order that the troops might occupy the works soon after dark on the night of the 2ISt, and have time to aid, in strengthening their position before dawn of next morning. This task was soon executed through the skill and energy of Colonel Prestman and his assistants. Generals Stewart, Cheatham, and G. W. Smith, were instructed to order their division and brigade commanders to examine before dark the ground to be occupied by their respective troops, so as to avoid confusion, or delay, at the time of the movement. General Hardee, who commanded the largest corps, and whose troops were comparatively fresh, as they had taken but little part in the attack of the previous day, was ordered to hold his forces in readiness to move promptly at dark that night — the 2Ist. I selected Hardee for this duty, because Cheatham had, at that time, but little experience as a corps commander, and Stewart had been heavily engaged the day previous. The position of the enemy during the 21st remained, I may say, unchanged, with the exception that Schofield and McPherson had advanced slightly toward Atlanta. To transfer after dark our entire line from the immediate presence of the enemy to another line around Atlanta, and to throw Hardee, the same night, entirely to the rear and flank of McPherson — as Jackson was thrown, in a similar movement,.  at Chancellorsville and Second Manassas--and to initiate the offensive at daylight, required no small effort upon the part of the men and officers. I hoped, however, that the assault would result not only in a general battle, but in a signal victory to our arms. It was absolutely necessary these operations should be executed that same night, since a delay of even twenty-four hours would allow the enemy time to further entrench, and afford Sherman a chance to rectify, in a measure, his strange blunder in separating Thomas so far from Schofield and McPherson. Sherman evidently perceived his error, as the following extract from his Memoirs denotes: 1
There was quite a gap between Thomas and Schofield, which 1 endeavored to close by drawing two of Howard's Divisions near Schofield.I well knew he would seek to retrieve his oversight at the earliest possible moment; therefore, I determined to forestall his attempt, and to make another effort to defeat the Federal Army. No time was to be lost in taking advantage of this second unexpected opportunity to achieve victory and relieve Atlanta. I was convinced that McPherson and Schofield intended to destroy not only the Georgia Railroad, but likewise our main line of communication, the railroad to Macon. It is now evident the blow on the 20th checked the reckless manner of moving, which had so long been practiced by the enemy, without fear of molestation, during the Dalton-Atlanta campaign. The rap of warning received by Thomas, on Peach Tree creek, must have induced the Federal commander to alter his plan. He says in relation thereto: 2
During the night (2Ist), I had full reports from all parts of our line, most of which was partially entrenched as against a sally, and finding that McPherson was stretching out too much on his left flank, I wrote him a note early in the morning not to extend so much by his left; for  we had not troops enough to completely invest the place, and I intended to destroy utterly all parts of the Augusta Railroad to the east of Atlanta, then to withdraw from the left flank and add to the right.Thus was situated the Federal Army at the close of night, on the 2Ist: it was but partiallyentrenched; Schofield and McPherson were still separated from Thomas, and at such distance as to compel them to make a detour of about twelve miles, in order to reach the latter in time of need. The Confederate Army occupied the same position, at dark, as prior to the attack of the 20th. The new line around the city, however, had been chosen; each corps commander fully advised of the ground assigned to him, and the special duty devolving upon iim; working parties had been detailed in advance from the corps of Stewart and Cheatham, and from the Georgia State troops; rations and ammunition had been issued, and Hardee's Corps instructed to be in readiness to move at a moment's warning. The demonstrations of the enemy upon our right, and which threatened to destroy the Macon Railroad--our main line for receiving supplies — rendered it imperative that I should check, immediately, his operations in that direction; otherwise Atlanta was doomed to fall at a very early day. Although the attack of the 20th had caused Sherman to pause and reflect, I do not think he would have desisted extending his left toward our main line of communication, had not the events occurred which I am about to narrate. As already stated, every preparation had been carefully made during the day of the 21st. I had summoned, moreover, to my headquarters the three corps commanders, Hardee, Stewart, and Cheatham, together with Major General Wheeler, commanding cavalry corps, and Major General G. W. Smith, commanding Georgia State troops. The following minute instructions were given in the presence of all assembled, in order that each might understand not only his own duty, but likewise that of his brother corps commanders; by this  means I hoped each officer would know what support to expect from his neighbor, in the hour of battle. Stewart, Cheatham, and G. W. Smith, were ordered to occupy soon after dark the positions assigned them in the new line round the city, and to entrench as thoroughly as possible. General Shoupe, chief of artillery, was ordered to mass artillery on our right. General Hardee was directed to put his corps in motion soon after dusk; to move south on the McDonough road, across Entrenchment creek at Cobb's Mills, and to completely turn the left of McPherson's Army and attack at daylight, or as soon thereafter as possible. He was furnished guides from Wheeler's cavalry, who were familiar with the various roads in that direction; was given clear and positive orders to detach his corps, to swing away from the main body of the Army, and to march entirely around and to the rear of McPherson's left flank, even if he was forced to go to or beyond Decatur, which is only about six miles from Atlanta. 3 Major General Wheeler was ordered to move on Hardee's right with all the cavalry at his disposal, and to attack with Hardee at daylight. General Cheatham, who was in line of battle on the right and around the city, was instructed to take up the movement from his right as soon as Hardee succeeded in forcing back, or throwing into confusion, the Federal left, and to assist in driving the enemy down and back upon Peach Tree creek, from right to left. General G. W. Smith would, thereupon, join in the attack. General Stewart, posted on the left, was instructed not only to occupy and keep a strict watch upon Thomas, in order to prevent him from giving aid to Schofield and McPherson, but to engage the enemy the instant the movement became general, i. e., as soon as Hardee and Cheatham succeeded in driving the Federals down Peach Tree creek and near his right. Though the movement assigned General Hardee, on this occasion, was a very simple one, it is,  as I have remarked in my reply to General Johnston, rare to find one out of ten brave division commanders, who is capable of swinging away from the main army and attacking in rear as Jackson did at Second Manassas and Chancellorsville. The march, however, in this instance, was so short-Decatur being only six miles from Atlanta, and our cavalry had so often passed back and forth over the roads, day and night, in bringing dispatches from Wheeler to Army headquarters, and consequently were so thoroughly familiar with the different routes, that I considered Hardee's move one merely within the lines of our cavalry; that no special quality, such as Jackson possessed, was required; that he had simply to follow the guides furnished him to Decatur, and attack as ordered. Thus orders were given to attack from right to left, and to press the Federal Army down and against the deep and muddy stream in their rear. These orders were carefully explained again and again, till each officer present gave assurance that he fully comprehended his duties. The following extract will disclose the situation and surmises of the enemy on the morning of the battle: 4
In the morning (22d) we found the strong line of parapet, “Peach Tree line,” to the front of Schofield and Thomas, abandoned, and our lines were advanced rapidly close up to Atlanta. For some moments I supposed the enemy intended to evacuate, and in person was on horseback at the head of Schofield's troops, who had advanced in front of the Howard House to some open ground, from which we could plainly see the whole rebel line of parapets, and I saw their men dragging up from the intervening valley, by the distillery, trees and saplings for abatis. Our skirmishers found the enemy down in this valley, and we could see the rebel main line strongly manned, with guns in position at intervals. Schofield was dressing forward his lines, and I could hear Thomas further to the right engaged, when General McPherson and his staff rode up. We went back to the Howard House, a double frame building with a porch, and sat on the steps, discussing the chances of battle, and of Hood's general character. McPherson had also been of the same class at West Point with Hood, Schofield, and Sheridan. We agreed that we  ought to be unusually cautious and prepared at all times for sallies and for hard fighting, because Hood, though not deemed much of a scholar, or of great mental capacity, was undoubtedly a brave, determined, and rash man; and the change of commanders at that particular crisis argued the displeasure of the Confederate Government with the cautious but prudent conduct of General Joe Johnston.At dawn on the morning of the 22d Cheatham, Stewart, and G. W. Smith, had, by alternating working parties during the night previous, not only strongly fortified their respective positions, but had kept their men comparatively fresh for action, and were in readiness to act as soon as the battle was initiated by Hardee who was supposed to be at that moment in rear of the adversary's flank. I took my position at daybreak near Cheatham's right, whence I could observe the left of the enemy's entrenchments which seemed to be thrown back a short distance on their extreme left. After awaiting nearly the entire morning, I heard, about ten or eleven o'clock, skirmishing going on directly opposite the left of the enemy, which was in front of Cheatham's right and Shoupe's artillery. A considerable time had elapsed when I discovered, with astonishment and bitter disappointment, a line of battle composed of one of Hardee's divisions advancing directly against the entrenched flank of the enemy. I at once perceived that Hardee had not only failed to turn McPherson's left, according to positive orders, but had thrown his men against the enemy's breastworks, thereby occasioning unnecessary loss to us, and rendering doubtful the great result desired. In lieu of completely turning the Federal left and taking the entrenched line of the enemy in reverse, he attacked the retired wing of their flank, having his own left almost within gunshot of our main line around the city. I then began to fear that his disregard of the fixed rule in war that one danger in rear is more to be feared than ten in front — in other words, that one thousand men in rear are equal to ten thousand in front — would cause us much embarrassment, and place his corps at great disadvantage, not-withstanding  he had held success within easy grasp. It had rested in his power to rout McPherson's Army by simply moving a little further to the right, and attacking in rear and flank instead of assaulting an entrenched flank. I hoped, nevertheless, this blunder would be remedied, at least, in part, by the extreme right of his line lapping round, during the attack, to the rear of McPherson. I anxiously awaited tidings from the scene of action while listening attentively to what seemed a spirited engagement upon that part of the field. The following extract testifies to the uneasiness which Sherman experienced at the possibility of an attack upon his rear and flank : 5
Although the sound of musketry grew in volume, I was not so much disturbed by it as by the sound of artillery back toward Decatur.This alarming sound proceeded from the guns of the gallant Wheeler, in the direction of Decatur, whence I hoped, momentarily, to hear a continuous roar of musketry, accompanied by the genuine Confederate shout from Hardee's entire Corps, as it advanced and drove the enemy down Peach Tree creek between our general line of battle and that formidable stream. Although the troops of Hardee fought, seemingly, with determination and spirit, there were indications that the desired end was not being accomplished. The roar of musketry occurring only at intervals strengthened this impression, and a staff officer was dispatched to General Hardee to know the actual result. During the early afternoon I received information that the attack had been, in part, successful, but had been checked in consequence of our troops coming in contact with different lines of entrenchments, several of which they had carried and held. Fearing a concentration of the enemy upon Hardee, I commanded General Cheatham, about 3 p. m., to move forward with his corps, and attack the position in his front, so as  to, at least, create a division. The order was promptly and well executed, and our troops succeeded in taking possession of the enemy's defences in that part of the field. A heavy enfilade fire, however, forced Cheatham to abandon the works he had captured. Major General G. W. Smith, perceiving that Cheatham had moved out on his left, and having thoroughly comprehended all the orders relative to the battle, moved gallantly forward with his State troops in support of Cheatham's attack, but was eventually forced to retire on account of superiority of numbers in his front. The militia, under his leadership, acted with distinction on this occasion, and Georgia has reason to congratulate herself that her troops were under the command of a soldier of the ability and skill of General G. W. Smith. Hardee bore off as trophies eight guns and thirteen stands of colors, and, having rectified his line, remained in the presence of the enemy. Cheatham captured five guns and five or six stands of colors. Notwithstanding the non-fulfilment of the brilliant result anticipated, the partial success of fhat day was productive of much benefit to the Army. It greatly improved the morale of the troops, infused new life and fresh hopes, arrested desertions, which had hitherto been numerous, defeated the movement of McPherson and Schofield upon our communications, in that direction, and demonstrated to the foe our determination to abandon no more territory without, at least, a manful effort to retain it. I cannot refrain from mentioning the noble and gallant old hero, Major General W. H. S. Walker, who fell at the head of his division whilst bravely leading it into battle on the 22d of July. He was an officer of the old Army, had served with great distinction in the Mexican war, and was generally beloved by officers and men. On the night of the 2 i st, shortly before joining in Hardee's line of march with his troops, he rode by my headquarters, called me aside, and, with characteristic frankness, expressed his appreciation of the grave  responsibilities attached to the position in which I had been placed; assured me that he full well understood the condition of the Army, after our protracted retreat from Dalton, and wished me to know, before he entered into battle, that he was with me in heart and purpose, and intended to abide by me through all emergencies. During the early afternoon of the ensuing day, I received the painful intelligence of his death; and I am certain that those officers and men who came within the sphere of his genial presence, will unite in the verdict that no truer or braver man ever fell upon the field of battle. In connection with this sad event, I will record also the death of my classmate and friend in boyhood, General McPherson, which occurred the same day, and the announcement of which caused me sincere sorrow. Although in the same class, I was several years his junior, and, unlike him, was more wedded to boyish sports than to books. Often, when we were cadets, have I left barracks at night to participate in some merry-making, and early the following morning have had recourse to him to help me over the difficult portions of my studies for the day. Since we had graduated in June, 1853, and had each been ordered off on duty in different directions, it had not been our fortune to meet. Neither the lapse of years, nor the difference of sentiment which led us to range ourselves on opposite sides in the late war, had lessened my friendship; indeed the attachment, formed in early youth, was strengthened by my admiration and gratitude for his conduct toward our people in the vicinity of Vicksburg. His considerate and kind treatment of them stood in bright contrast to the course pursued by many Federal officers; and his acts were ever characterized by those gentlemanly qualities which distinguished him as a boy. No soldier fell in the enemy's ranks, whose loss caused me equal regret. It became apparent almost immediately after the battle of the 22d that Sherman would make an attack upon our left, in order to destroy the Macon Railroad; and, from that moment, I may say, began the siege of Atlanta. The battles of the  20th and 22d checked the enemy's reckless manner of moving, and illustrated effectually to Sherman the danger of stretching out his line in such a manner as to form extensive gaps between his Corps, or Armies, as he admits he did at Rockyface Ridge and New Hope Church, and, as I have no doubt, he did many times with impunity, when driving us before him through the mountain fastnesses of Georgia. My failure on the 20th, and 22d, to bring about a general pitched battle arose from the unfortunate policy pursued from Dalton to Atlanta, and which had wrought such demoralization amid rank and file as to render the men unreliable in battle. I cannot give a more forcible, though homely, exemplification of the morale of the troops, at that period, than by comparing the Army to a team which has been allowed to balk at every hill: one portion will make strenuous efforts to advance, whilst the other will refuse to move and thus paralyze the exertions of the first. Moreover, it will work faultlessly one day, and stall the next. No reliance can be placed upon it at any stated time. Thus it was with the Armywhen ordered into a general engagement: one corps struggled nobly, whilst the neighboring corps frustrated its efforts by simple inactivity; and whilst the entire Army might fight desperately one day, it would fail in action the following day. Stewart's gallant attack on the 20th was neutralized by Hardee's inertness on the right; and the failure in the battle of the 22d is to be attributed also to the effect of the “timid defensive” policy upon this officer, who, although a brave and gallant soldier, neglected to obey orders, and swing away, totally independent of the main body of the Army. General Sherman acknowledges the correctness of my position in regard to constant retreat and use of breastworks. He remarks, in reference to the battle of Shiloh : 6
We did not fortify our camps against an attack, because we had no orders to do so, and because such a course would have made our raw men timid. When at Kennesaw Mountain, he ordered General Howard to use freely his artillery, saying: 7
I explained to him that we must keep up the morale of a bold offensive, that he must use his artillery, force the enemy to remain on the timid defensive.Again, whilst still at Kennesaw, he says: 8
On the 19th June the rebel Army again fell back on its flanks, to such extent that for a time I supposed it had retreated to the Chattahoochee river. * * * These successive contractions of the enemy's line encouraged us and discouraged him.Sherman possessed sufficient judgment and soldiership to discern that the causes which improved his Army, impaired that of his antagonist; and his ground regarding the bold offensive policy in opposition to the “timid defensive,” together with his acknowledgment of the effect of breastworks upon raw troops, clearly proves that he did not favor the handling of troops according to the Joe Johnston school. Lieutenant General S. D. Lee, who served a long period under General Lee, in Virginia, and who was assigned to the command of a corps around Atlanta shortly after I assumed the direction of the Army, remarks in his official report of the offensive operations commencing at Palmetto, Georgia, September 29th, I864, with reference to the morale of the troops during the operations around Atlanta:
It was my observation and belief that the majority of the officers and men were so impressed with the idea of their inability to carry even temporary breastworks that, when orders were given to attack and there was a probability of encountering works, they regarded it as reckless in the extreme. Being impressed with these convictions, they did not generally move to the attack with that spirit which nearly always ensures success. Whenever the enemy changed his position, temporary works could be improvised in less than two hours, and he could never be caught without them.  In making these observations, it is due to many gallant officers and commands to state that there were noticeable exceptions; but the feeling was so general that anything like a general attack was paralyzed by it. The Army having constantly yielded to the flank movements of the enemy, which he could make with but little difficulty, by reason of his vastly superior numbers, and having failed in the offensive movements prior to the fall of Atlanta, its efficiency for further retarding the progress of the enemy was much impaired; and, besides, the advantages in the topography of the country, south of Atlanta, were much more favorable to the enemy for the movements of his superior numbers than the rough and mountainous country already yielded to him.Lieutenant General Lee's large experience in Virginia qualified him to form a correct opinion upon this subject; it should also be borne in mind that he assumed command of his Corps around Atlanta, on the 25th of July, immediately after the battles of the 20th and 22d, which had already, in a degree, improved the morale of the Army, and which had the subsequent effect of arresting desertions almost entirely throughout the siege. Notwithstanding my endeavors to explain satisfactorily to myself my inability to procure co-operative action upon the 20th, and 22d, I remained somewhat perplexed upon the subject — especially in regard to the failure, on the 20th, of the best troops of the Army, Hardee's Corps. Shortly after the beginning of the siege, Major General Cleburne, commanding a division in that corps, called at my headquarters. The occurrences of the hour were discussed, and, finally, the two late battles in which he had been a participant. Much was said pro and con, relative to the condition of the Army and the causes of failure in the above referred to engagements. I then unfolded to him the plans of action, together with the peremptory orders to halt at nothing on our side of Peach Tree creek. Cleburne seemed surprised, and thereupon informed me that as his Division was about to move forward to the attack, on the 20th, General Hardee rode along the line, and, in the presence  of those around him, cautioned him to be on the lookout for breastworks. I can recall no reply on my part at the time, save, perhaps, some expression of astonishment. I could say nothing, even to so worthy a subordinate. He left me to infer, however, from subsequent remarks, that his Division would have taken quite a different action on the 2oth, had it not been for the forewarning of his corps commander. I give the above narrative of facts with a full knowledge of my accountableness to the same Ruler before whom those two gallant soldiers have been summoned; and, as I avowed at the beginning of my task, would not have undertaken to write of these unpleasant subjects, were it not for the seeming perpetuation of injustice and misrepresentation in the guise of truth and history. It is but reasonable to deduce from this unfortunate observation to Cleburne that General Hardee gave a similar warning to other officers. At all events, those who are able to realize the baneful effect of such a remark from the commander of a corps d'armee, upon the eve of conflict, know that his words were almost equivalent to an order to take no active part in the battle. From the hour one of the main sources of our trouble was thus accidentally made known to me, I recognized that my power, upon any occasion, to deal quick and heavy blows to the enemy, would be greatly hampered, unless I could procure the relief of this officer and the appointment of one better qualified for the actual emergencies. Whilst General Hardee had, perhaps, no superior as a corps commander during retreat in presence of an enemy, or in defensive operations, he was wanting in that boldness requisite for offensive warfare. This his defect, high may be found in officers of undoubted courage and of every rank, was aggravated by the protracted “timid defensive” policy under my predecessor, and to this misfortune I attributed his non-observance of orders. Long and gallant service had, however, endeared him to his troops, and, because  of further demoralization which I feared might ensue in the event of his removal, I decided to retain him in command. Moreover, President Davis held in high appreciation his ability as a corps commander. Lee, Stewart, and G. W. Smith were very open in the expression of their opinion, in regard to his conduct which they imported to a less charitable notice than I was willing to concede. Their opinion of the consequences of his non-fulfilment of orders is recorded in the following extract from the official report of Major General G. W. Smith:
If they (the corps commanders) are not unanimous, there is but one, if any, who dissents from the opinion expressed above, viz: Sherman would have been beaten had your orders been obeyed on the 20th of July, 22d of July, and 31st of August. 9About the Autumn of 1874, I met in St. Louis General Frank Blair, with whom I conversed at length upon military events of the past; and, reverting to the battle of the 22d, I informed him that my instructions to Hardee had been to completely turn McPherson's left, even if he was forced to march to Decatur. He at once remarked that if the move had been accomplished, it would have resulted in the rout of that portion of Sherman's Army; even under the circumstances, the attack nigh proved fatal to the Federal arms. The following extract from a letter of General Blair to Major J. E. Austin, of New Orleans, who served with great distinction in the Tennessee Army from the beginning to the close of the war, will be read with interest, as the writer commanded a corps in McPherson's Army, during the battle of the 22d of July. This letter was in response to one from Major Austin in relation to different events connected with the Georgia campaign, and touching the two battles under discussion:
General Blair was mistaken in pronouncing the attack disastrous, since, as I have stated, it greatly improved the morale of the Army, and arrested desertion. In connection with the battle of the 20th, it also enabled us to hold possession of Atlanta a prolonged period. He erred likewise in attributing the lack of spirit in Hardee's troops to fatigue from the march of the night previous. Decatur is but six miles from Atlanta, and the detour required to be made was but slight. Beside, those troops had been allowed almost absolute rest the entire day of the 2 Ist. Stonewall Jackson made a hard march, in order to turn Pope at Second Manassas, and again to come up in time at Antietam, or Sharpsburg; as also at Chancellorsville, in order to fall upon Hooker's flank and rear. Longstreet likewise made hard marches, prior to the battles of Second Manassas and Gettysburg. The men were often required, under Lee, to perform this kind of service an entire day and night, with only a halt of two hours for sleep, in addition to the ordinary rests allowed on a march; and were then expected to fight two or three consecutive days. Indeed, in movements of this character, it is rare that a decided advantage is gained over an enemy, without the endurance of great fatigue and privation on the part of the troops. Neither Johnston's nor Sherman's Armies ever experienced the weariness and hardship to which Lee and Jackson frequently subjected their troops — the fruits of which, brought to perfection by their transcendent genius, won for them a fulness of glory and renown, shared by no other soldier of the war.  I am as thoroughly convinced at present as at the hour these events transpired, that had these same forces, at my disposal in these battles, been previously handled according to the Lee and Jackson school, they would have routed the Federal Army, and, in all probability have so profited by Sherman's blunders as to have altered signally the issue of these operations.