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Chapter 18:

Before closing these pages, I request the privilege of correcting a false impression which has gained ground in my regard, and which is, I may say, the outcome of inimical statements of certain writers who have followed in the wake of Pollard and Johnston.

General Sherman gives color to their charge of rashness as a commander, in the following passage:

I did not suppose that General Hood, though rash, would venture to attack fortified places like Allatoona, Resaca, Decatur and Nashville; but he did so, and in so doing, played into our hands perfectly.1

And yet from other portions of his Memoirs it will be seen that I did not attack either Resaca, Decatur, or Nashville. My official report will also show that Major General French assaulted Allatoona, whilst under discretionary orders. Thus, in none of these instances is General Sherman correct.

Touching this same accusation of rashness, put forth by my opponents, I shall merely state that the confidence reposed in me upon so many occasions, and during a service of three years, by Generals Lee, Jackson, and Longstreet, in addition to the letters of these distinguished commanders, expressive [313] of satisfaction with my course, is a sufficient refutation of the charge.

The above allegation is not more erroneous than the following inference is illogical. Van Horne, in his History of the Army of the Cumberland, speaks in commendation of my movement to the rear of Sherman, after the fall of Atlanta, but regards the circumstance as unfortunate for the Confederacy that Johnston was not summoned to Palmetto at the beginning of the new campaign, in order to insure its successful issue. The writer must assuredly have been ignorant of the antecedents of this General when he formed this conclusion; it seems, indeed, preposterous to suppose that General Johnston would have inaugurated a similar movement with thirty-five thousand (35,000) men, when he had just retreated from the same territory with an Army of seventy thousand (70,000) and when he had declined to make, with an effective force of over eighty thousand (80,000), the same campaign from Dalton the preceding Spring.

Now, since I have been charged with rashness, and even recklessness, by General Johnston and his adherents, I may be allowed, in addition to answering this severe arraignment, to at least question his right to be considered one of our lead ing Generals.

It has been asserted that he pursued the Fabian policy in his campaign from Dalton to Atlanta. It is, indeed, to be regretted that he did not follow in the footsteps of the renowned Roman by holding on to the mountains of Georgia. In the long course of years, during which Fabius Maximus commanded at intervals the Roman Legions, he could never be induced to quit the mountainous regions, and accept the gage of battle with Hannibal upon the plains. Neither the taunts nor stratagems of his enemy, nor the contempt and ridicule of his own people, could make him depart from his resolution, and abandon the heights. The people finally grew so dissatisfied under his policy that he was required to share the command of the Army with Minucius. During the long and [314] eventful period embraced in the second Punic war, which lasted eighteen years, different commanders sallied forth and delivered battle; but Fabius continued to adhere strictly to his plan of warfare, and stubbornly refused to encounter his antagonist in the plains. His colleague, Minucius, an imprudent and even rash General, dashed down from the heights with one-half of the Army, engaged Hannibal, and was only spared utter destruction by the timely aid of Fabius. Varro marched out, fought the Carthagenians near Cannaee, was defeated, and left forty thousand Romans upon the field. Marcellus, a more fortunate General, gained important advantages over the enemy; but, as history tells us, Fabius permitted no allurement of his foe, nor outcry of his countrymen, to induce him to descend from the mountains.

His policy was, seemingly, as fixed and unchangeable as the sun in the eternal heavens. Plutarch relates that in order “to secure himself against the enemy's horse, he took care to encamp above them on high and mountainous places. When they sat still, he did the same; when they were in motion, he showed himself upon the heights, at such a distance as not to be obliged to fight against his inclination, and yet near enough to keep them in perpetual alarm, as if, amidst his arts to gain time, he intended every moment to give them. battle. These dilatory proceedings exposed him to contempt among the Romans in general, and even in his own Army. * * * Thus the soldiers were brought to despise Fabius, and by way of derision to call him the pedagogue of Hannibal, while they extolled Minucius as a great man and one that acted up to the dignity of Rome. This led Minucius to give a freer scope to his arrogance and pride, and to ridicule the Dictator for encamping constantly upon the mountains ‘as if he did it on purpose that his men might more clearly behold Italy laid waste with fire and sword.’ And he asked the friends of Fabius ‘whether he intended to take his Army up into heaven, as if he had bid adieu to the world below, or whether he would screen himself from the enemy with clouds and fogs?’ [315] When the Dictator's friends brought him an account of these aspersions, and exhorted him to wipe them off by risking a battle: ‘In that case,’ said he, ‘I should be of a more dastardly spirit than they represent me, if through fear of insults and reproaches, I should depart from my own resolution.’ ”

Therefore when General Johnston retreated from the mountain-fastnesses, crossed the Chattahoochee river, and moved out upon the plains of Georgia, he bid adieu forever to even a shadow of right to the claim of having pursued the policy so persistently carried out by Fabius Maximus. Had he clung to the mountains and refused to surrender them to General Sherman, vast indeed might have been the results achieved, and far greater his title to distinction. Although Fabius succeeded in wasting in a great measure the strength of his adversary, it however required the boldness and the genius of Scipio to finally defeat Hannibal, and place Carthage beneath the heel of the proud Roman.

General Johnston not only signally failed in the Fabian policy, but, unfortunately, declined to act the part of Scipio Africanus, at Dalton, in the early Spring of 1864.

History records the deeds of this famed warrior who, whilst the Carthagenians were still warring in Italy, aroused the Roman pride, gathered together his legions, moved to the rear of the enemy, transferred the war into Africa, forced the recall of Hannibal, routed his Army in battle, placed Carthage at his feet, and brought security and prosperity to his countrymen. Arnold, in his History of Rome, gives a lengthy and interesting description of this bold and brilliant move, and of the victories which followed. Plutarch condenses the whole into these few words: “After Scipio was gone over into Africa, an account was soon brought to Rome of his glorious and wonderful achievements. This account was followed by rich spoils which confirmed it. A Numidian king was taken prisoner; two camps were burned and destroyed, and in them a vast number of men, arms and horses; and the Carthagenians sent orders to Hannibal to quit his fruitless hopes in Italy, and [316] return home to defend his own country. * * Soon after, Scipio defeated Hannibal in a pitched battle, pulled down the pride of Carthage, and trod it under foot. This afforded the Romans a pleasure beyond all their hopes, and restored a firmness to their empire, which had been shaken by so many tempests.”

Since General Johnston failed to practice the art of war in accordance with the principles either of Fabius Maximus or of Scipio Africanus, and since he fought not a single general battle during the entire war of Secession, what just claim has he to generalship? A man may be learned in anatomy, and perfect in the theory of surgery; he may be able to thoroughly describe the manner in which the most difficult operation should be performed, but may never have possessed sufficient nerve to undertake even one operation in which serious risk was involved, and thus give life to his theories by practical work. Who would employ a surgeon who had never used the knife? Furthermore, who could, under the circumstances, declare him with reason an eminent man in his profession? Ruskin can, probably, better describe a painting than any artist of ancient or modern times. His gorgeous descriptions attracted the attention of the world to the wonderful genius of Turner; but who would venture to assert that he himself was a great painter, when he has perhaps never used the brush? Thus it is as it should be: no man is justly entitled to be considered a great General, unless he has won his spurs. Had General Johnston possessed the requisite spirit and boldness to seize the various chances for victory, which were offered him, he never would have allowed General Sherman to push him back one hundred miles in sixty-six days, from one mountain stronghold to another, down into the very heart of the Confederacy.

1 Sherman's Memoirs, vol. II, page 167.

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