previous next

Chapter 5:

Before I relate the embarrassing circumstances under which I assumed command of the Army of Tennessee, I shall state certain facts connected with my transfer from the Virginia to the Western Army early in February, 1864, and reply to statements of General Johnston, in reference to operations near Resaca, Cassville, and New Hope Church.

The War Department had been anxious that an offensive campaign into Tennessee and Kentucky be initiated in the early Spring of 1864, and made a proposition to General Johnston to reinforce him with Polk's troops, then in Mississippi, and Longstreet's Corps, in East Tennessee. Johnston, at the appointed time, was expected to move forward and form a junction with these troops. The President and General Bragg, and also General Lee, were desirous that the offensive be assumed, and an attempt be made to drive the Federals to the Ohio river, before a large Army could be concentrated to move against us. The following1 extract from a letter of General Bragg to General Johnston, dated March 12th, 1864, [90] will show the number of men proffered the latter, if he would carry out the expressed wishes of the authorities at Richmond:

It is needless, General, for me to impress upon you the great importance, not to say necessity, of reclaiming the provision country of Tennessee and Kentucky; and from my knowledge of the country and people, I believe that other great advantages may accrue especially in obtaining men to fill your ranks.

The following forces, it is believed, will be available, if nothing should occur to divert them, viz.:

It is proposed to hold the reinforcements ready, and to put them in motion just as soon as you may be able to use them. To throw them to the front now, would only impede the accumulation of supplies necessary for your march.

I here give the subjoined extract from a letter of General Bragg, addressed to me at the close of the war:

near Lowndesboroa, Alabama, 17th December, 1865.
my Dear General :-In addition to the Army of Tennessee, then at Dalton, the General commanding there was offered, for an offensive campaign, Polk's Corps from Mississippi and Alabama, Longstreet's Corps from East Tennessee, and a sufficient number from Beauregard's command in South Carolina and Georgia, to make up seventy-five thousand (75,000) effective infantry. The cavalry with these commands would have numbered at least ten thousand (10,000), and the artillery six thousand (6000)-Total, ninety-one thousand (91,000). Besides the effective, so reported, there were not less than fifteen thousand (15,000) able. bodied men bearing arms, but reported on extra duty. such as clerks, cooks, mechanics, laborers, teamsters, etc.,--one-half of whom, at least, [91] could at any time be placed in battle without impairing the efficiency of the Army. * * To furnish the means, all other Armies were, for the time being, to be subordinated to the Army of Tennessee. Even General Lee, with the Army of Virginia, was to give up Longstreet's Corps, and remain on the defensive.

Yours truly,

The President had thus agreed to afford General Johnston every facility in his power for the execution of the proposed plan of operations; and it was with the understanding we were to enter upon an active campaign that I consented to leave the Army of Northern Virginia, with which I had served since the outbreak of the war.

On the evening of my arrival at Dalton, on or about the 4th of February, I repaired to General Johnston's headquarters, and reported to him for duty. During our interview, in his room alone, he informed me that General Thomas was moving forward, and he thought it might be best for us to fall back and take up some position in rear of Dalton. I at once told him that I knew nothing of the situation or of the object of General Thomas's move from Ringgold, but that we could, at least, hold our position a sufficient length of time to cornpel the enemy to develop his plan. The Federals, in a few days, fell back to Ringgold, having merely made a feint, in order to cover some movement then being made in Mississippi.

This was my introduction to the Army of Tennessee; albeit not calculated to inspire or encourage military ardor,--since it was proposed to retreat even before the enemy became in earnest — I nevertheless laid before General Johnston the plan to join Polk's Army and Longstreet's Corps on the march into Tennessee, gave him assurance that the authorities in Richmond would afford him every assistance, and informed him, moreover, that General Lee favored the projected campaign.

General Johnston immediately took the ground that he did not very well know the country through which it was proposed to pass to the rear of the enemy; that there were difficulties to be encountered, etc., etc.; he desired Polk's and [92] Longstreet's forces to join him at Dalton, where, this large Army being concentrated, he considered he should be left to decide and act for the best; in other words, be left to move forward, stand his ground or retreat, as might seem most expedient.

To this demand, General Lee was unwilling to accede; he was reluctant to give up Longstreet's Corps, unless for the purpose of active work and dealing hard blows, in the performance of which task it had already so often distinguished itself. The War Department objected to the withdrawal of Polk's Army from Mississippi, until active operations were to commence, as by such a movement one of the best regions of country for supplies would be abandoned to the enemy. Thus matters stood until the 7th of March, when, still anxious for the offensive, I wrote to President Davis, suggesting that Polk join us at Dalton, and we move forward to make a junction with Longstreet.

I will here incidentally remark that the following is the only correspondence I remember ever to have had with the authorities at Richmond, while occupying a subordinate position, and its object was the furtherance of General Johnston's wishes:

Dalton, Georgia, March 7th, 1864.
To His Excellency, President Jefferson Davis.
I have delayed writing to you so as to allow myself time to see the condition of this Army. On my arrival, I found the enemy threatening our position. I was, however, delighted to find our troops anxious for battle. He, the enemy, withdrew after taking a look, and is now resting with his advance at Ringgold.

I am exceedingly anxious, as I expressed to you before leaving Richmond, to have this Army strengthened, so as to enable us to move to the rear of the enemy and with a certainty of success. An addition of ten or fifteen thousand (10,000 or 15,000) men will allow us to advance. We can do so anyhow by uniting with Longstreet.

But so much depends upon the success of our arms on this line, that I thoroughly appreciate the importance of collecting together all the forces we possibly can, in order to destroy the Army under General Grant. We should march to the front as soon as possible, so as not to [93] allow the enemy to concentrate, and advance upon us. The addition of a few horses for our artillery will place this Army in fine condition. It is well clothed, well fed, the transportation is excellent and in the greatest possible quantity required.

I feel that a move from this position, in sufficient force, will relieve our entire country. The troops under Generals Polk and Loring having united with the forces here, and a junction being made with General Longstreet, will give us an Army of sixty or seventy thousand (60,000 or 70,000) men, which I think should be sufficient to defeat and destroy all the Federals on this side of the Ohio river.

I sincerely hope and trust that this opportunity may be given to drive the enemy beyond the limits of the Confederacy. I never before felt that we had it so thoroughly within our power. He, the enemy, is at present weak, and we are strong. His Armies are far within our country, and the roads open to his rear, where we have a vast quantity of supplies.

Our position in Virginia can be securely held by our brave troops under General Lee, which will allow us to march in force from our centre, the vital point of every nation.

You find, Mr. President, that I speak with my whole heart, as I do upon all things in which I am so deeply interested. God knows I have the interest of my country at heart, and I feel in speaking to you that I am so doing to one who thoroughly appreciates and understands my feeling.

I am eager for us to take the initiative, but fear we will not be able to do so unless our Army is increased.

Believe me, with great respect, your friend and obedient servant.

The same difficulty here arose as before mentioned: un-willingness upon the part of the authorities at Richmond t.) order Polk from Mississippi, and reluctance on the part cf General Lee to give up Longstreet, before it was positively ascertained that active operations were to commence. As to the time of such active operations, General Johnston would not specify. So stood this important matter in abeyance, until the 13th of April when I addressed General Bragg the following letter: [94]


Dalton, Georgia, April 13th, 1864.
my Dear General.
I received your letter, and am sorry to inform you that I have done all in my power to induce General Johnston to accept the proposition you made to move forward. He will not consent, as he desires the troops to be sent here, and it be left to him as to what use should be made of them. I regret this exceedingly, as my heart was fixed upon going to the front, and regaining Tennessee and Kentucky. I have also had a long talk with General Hardee. Whilst he finds many difficulties in the way of our advancing, he is at the same time ready and willing to do anything that is thought best for our general good. He has written a long letter to the President, which will explain his views.

When we are to be in better condition to drive the enemy from our country, I am not able to comprehend. To regain Tennessee would be of more value to us than half a dozen victories in Virginia.

I received a letter from General R. E. Lee yesterday, and he says, “you can assist me by giving me more troops or driving the enemy in your front to the Ohio river. If the latter is to be done, it should be executed at once.” * * *

Since McPherson's Corps has moved up from the lower Mississippi to join the Army of the Potomac or that of the Cumberland, would it not be well for General Polk's troops to unite with this Army, as we should then be in a condition to reinforce General Lee, in case it should be necessary?

Yours truly,

It will be seen that I was still urgent for an offensive campaign, and even counselled that Polk be ordered to Dalton, in the hope that we would finally advance, and join Longstreet in Tennessee. At the same time, I was not unmindful of the great danger of leaving Mississippi open to the enemy, before being able, by unmistakable preparations for a forward move, to attract the undivided attention of the Federals in the West. Unfortunately, however, assumed difficulties set forth by General Johnston prevented the execution of, in my opinion, one of the most important campaigns projected during the war; and one fact is certain, whatever may be said contrariwise, President Davis offered every possible inducement [95] towards its execution, and had, in regard to the wisdom of the proposed operations, the support of General Robt. E. Lee.

I cannot name one of Lee's Lieutenant Generals who would not have met this proposition from the War Department with that spirit of co-operation which is so essential in time of war. Moreover, any officer possessed of even a part of that heroic self-reliance so characteristic of Lee and Jackson, would not only have gladly accepted the ninety-one thousand (91,000) men, but, having secured a competent Quarter Master, would soon have found the necessary transportation; would have sent a dispatch to Richmond that he was moving forward, and, God willing, would take from the enemy all else needed to equip the army. Such might have been the result, instead of unremitting demands, upon the part of General Johnston, for an outfit equal to that of United States troops, visions of insuperable difficulties, and vacillations unending.

I am now convinced that even the concentration of Polk's Army and Longstreet's Corps, at Dalton, would in no manner have altered the ensuing campaign. If I had had a conception of the operations from Dalton to Atlanta, naught but the most peremptory orders could have induced me to have left General Lee.

General Johnston, in reference to the operations around Resaca, makes the following remarks:2

Major General Stevenson had early in the day, and with Lieutenant General Hood's approval, assumed the position from which he had been recalled the night before. Here he was directed by the Lieutenant General to place a field battery in a position some eighty yards in front of his line of infantry. Before the necessary arrangements begun for its protection were completed, he was directed by General Hood to open its fire. This was no sooner done, than so impetuous an attack was made upon it that the guns could not be drawn back to the main line of the division. After a very sharp contest, the enemy was driven beyond the battery by the well directed fire of Brown's and Reynolds's brigades, but found shelter in a ravine not far from it. From this position their musketry commanded the position of the battery equally as well [96] as that of the Confederate infantry, so that neither could remove the guns, and they were left between the two armies until night.

He asserts,3 “ no material was lost by us in this campaign but the four field pieces exposed and abandoned at Resaca by General Hood.”

I was anxious to occupy a commanding position in my front before the enemy obtained possession thereof. Stevenson's Division, of my corps, as well as the Federals, were moving rapidly towards this point. A battery was placed in position in order to check the enemy, and allow my troops time to reach the ground, the object of contention. Whilst these four guns accomplished the desired aim, the concentrated fire of a number of Federal batteries forced the gunners to withdraw, and leave them between the lines of the two armies, which were very close together at that point. They were finally abandoned on the night of our retreat from Resaca, simply from the fact that I found upon consultation with Colonel Beckham, my chief of artillery, and Major General Stevenson, one of my division commanders, that I had more guns than were required for the number of men in my command; and, as the order to retreat had been given, it was deemed better to yield them to the enemy than to sacrifice one or two hundred men in reclaiming them. I think my action, in this instance, will meet not only the approval of the military, but also of the civilized world.

The whole matter was laid before General Johnston, and the guns were abandoned with his concurrence; at least such is my recollection. Moreover, I am informed by Captain Sweat that these guns belonged to his command, and that they were four old iron pieces, not worth the sacrifice of the life of even one man.

The following letter from General Johnston's chief of ordnance, Colonel Oladowski, is at variance with the statement that “no material was lost by us in the campaign but the four field pieces, exposed and abandoned at Resaca by General Hood:” [97]

Mobile, 29th May, 1874.
General B. Bragg.
General:-I answered your telegram day before yesterday; hasten to-day to answer your letter, received this morning. I read attentively General Johnston's Narrative, and it seems to me he tried to vindicate himself at the cost of others. His statement of losses is based upon report of his Medical Director. I wonder how a doctor could know about deserters, stragglers, prisoners, etc. I am extremely disappointed.

I cannot positively state the reduction of his Army from Dalton to Atlanta, but I believe it was about nineteen thousand (19,000) muskets. * * * * As to the deficiency of ammunition, it is a romance. I left full supplies on hand at the time General Hood took command. * * *

Very respectfully, your obedient servant,

The above is in answer to a letter written at my request by General Bragg. It is impossible that we should have lost twenty-five thousand (25,000) men from Dalton to Atlanta, and,at the same time, no material save four field pieces. After the muskets of the killed and wounded were gathered and turned into the Ordnance Department, nineteen thousand (19,000) is about the proportion that might be expected to have been lost through stragglers, deserters, and prisoners, during such a campaign.

Colonel Oladowski will be remembered by many soldiers of the Army of Tennessee, not only as a gentleman of high character, but also as an officer who was faithful and exact in the performance of his duty.

I regret to find it necessary to notice this small affair, upon which General Johnston seems to lay so great stress, whereas he might, in his Narrative, have furnished the future historian with important matter, had he given an account of the miraculous escape of his Army at Resaca, when, under cover of darkness, we marched over bridges commanded by the enemy's guns, and were thus extricated from the pocket, or, I may say, cul de sac, in which he had placed us, with two deep and ugly streams, the Connasauga and Oostenaula, in our immediate rear. [98]

Of this historical fact there is no mention whatever in General Johnston's book; and I shall always believe the attack of Stevenson's and Stewart's Divisions, therein described (page 311), together with our return to our original position on the following day, saved us from utter destruction by creating the impression upon the Federals that the contest was to be renewed the next morning. They were thus lulled into quiet during that eventful night of our deliverance. It was upon this occasion General Polk remarked to an officer of high rank, now residing in New Orleans, that our escape seemed almost a miracle.

In regard to operations around Cassville, General Johnston states :4

Next morning (19th of May), when Brigadier General Jackson's report showed that the head of the Federal column following the railroad was near Kingston, Lieutenant General Hood was directed to move with his corps to a country road about a mile to the east of that from Adairsville, and parallel to it, and to march northward on that road, right in front. Polk's Corps, as then formed, was to advance to meet and engage the enemy approaching from Adairsville, and it was expected that Hood's would be in position to fall upon the left flank of these troops as soon as Polk attacked them in front. An order was read to each regiment, announcing that we were about to give battle to the enemy.

When General Hood's column had moved two or three miles, that officer received a report from a member of his staff, to the effect that the enemy was approaching on the Canton road, and in rear of the right of the position from which he had just marched. Instead of transmitting his report to me, and moving on in obedience to his orders, he fell back to that road and formed his corps across it, facing to our right and rear, towards Canton, without informing me of this strange departure from the instructions he had received.

I heard of this erratic movement after it had caused such a loss of time as to make the attack intended impracticable; for its success depended on accuracy in timing it. The intention was therefore abandoned.

This is, indeed, a grave charge on which I am arraigned, and, if sustainable, I should have been deprived of my command [99] at the time. An officer of high grade who would prove so incompetent as to fail to initiate a battle ordered and planned by his Commander-in-Chief, is worthy of the severest censure. I will, however, give a simple statement of the facts.

The three Corps Commanders, especially General Polk and myself, urged General Johnston, soon after our arrival at Cassville, to turn back and attack Sherman at Adairsville, as we had information of a portion of his Army having been sent to cross the Etowah, in order to threaten our communications south of that river. The opportunity was the more favorable, because of an open country and good roads, which would have enabled the Army to move rapidly and force the Federals, whilst divided in their forces, to accept a pitched battle, with rivers in their rear. This he declined to do, as stated in my official report; in no part of his Narrative, however, can be found the slightest allusion to this matter.

On the following day, Howard's Corps having been reported on the Ironton road (the country road referred to), I asked his authorization to march my command across an open field, and attack this detachment of the enemy, in case the report was correct. He consented.

I received no orders for battle as related by General Johnston, nor were the Corps Commanders brought together and given explicit instructions, verbal or written, as is usual and necessary upon the eve of a general engagement, although he had published, soon after our arrival at Cassville, a general order to the effect that he intended to fight. I was merely granted the privilege of doing what I had requested; the assertion, therefore, of General Johnston, that I had been ordered to move to the country road and be in readiness to attack in flank when Polk engaged the enemy in front, is as erroneous as it is inexplicable.

In accordance with his authorization, I put my troops in motion. After riding some distance in advance, I found the country road in possession of our own dismounted cavalry, and turned to meet the head of my column, then pushing [100] forward, when, suddenly, in an open space adjoining the Canton road, appeared a line of the enemy advancing upon our flank, and in rear of the position we had just left. This line opened both an artillery and musketry fire upon my troops, who were marching by flank across the same open range. General Hindman was ordered to throw out from his division a line of skirmishers to develop the enemy approaching from this so unexpected direction, and suffered a loss of several men killed and wounded.

About this juncture General Mackall, Chief of General Johnston's staff, rode up in great haste, and said in a most excited manner that General Johnston desired I should not separate myself too far from General Polk. I called his attention to the enemy, in sight, advancing in the open field, and told him I had been in person to the Ironton road; had found it in possession of our cavalry, and could, therefore, at any moment, easily form on the right of Polk. His reply was “Very well,” or words to that effect,

Polk had not moved from the position in which I had left him, as I had his right in full view; and, surely, if General Johnston had intended that I should have been in position to attack in flank when Polk engaged the enemy in front, Polk would already have been moving forward, or I would have been ordered by Mackall to remain on the country road till he (Polk) advanced and engaged the enemy. I was within two hundred yards of the Ironton, or country road, when General Mackall overtook me.

In an appended note,5 General Johnston affirms, in regard to the appearance of the enemy on the Canton road, “the report upon which General Hood acted was manifestly untrue.”

If General Johnston be right, I am not only to blame for not fighting in accordance to instructions (which were never given), but also for allowing myself to be deceived by an imaginary line of the enemy advancing from an unexpected direction, in an open field, and firing upon my troops about [101] four or five hundred yards distant. On the other hand, if my report be true, it was my duty, upon the appearance of the enemy in line of battle, accompanied by artillery, and moving upon our flank and rear, not only to report the same to my commander, but to halt, and force the enemy to develop his strength and object, even if I had been given orders by General Johnston to deliver battle, which orders, I reiterate, were never issued to me, for, be it remembered, I had merely been authorized to carry out my own suggestion.

The following letters from Major J. E. Austin, one of the most gallant and efficient officers of the Army of Tennessee, and from the Honorable Taylor Beattie, of the State of Louisiana, both gentlemen of honor and prominent position, show whether or not the report I made to General Johnston was “manifestly untrue.”

New Orleans, May 26th, 1874.
My Dear General:--In the disposition of the Army under General Joseph E. Johnston, at Cassville, Georgia, as he states, for attack, I commanded the extreme right of the skirmish line in front of your corps. In your movement to the north, across the open field, on that day, I covered your front and right, and my command was left to observe the enemy when a part of your corps was thrown across the Canton road. The enemy were in force in my front, with artillery and infantry, and developing toward our right. About an hour and a half before nightfall the enemy broke through the skirmish line of an Alabama brigade posted to my left, and moved rapidly in rear of my main line, which was threatened in front. My reserve was, consequently, disposed to meet this movement in the rear, and encountered and repulsed the enemy in a short and severe engagement on and near the Canton road; but gathering reinforcements, he moved further to the rear, until I was completely isolated and cut off from your corps.

To extricate my command, I had to move to the right, fighting all the while in front and rear, until darkness put an end to hostilities. By making a detour of eight or nine miles in the night over a country devoid of road, I was enabled to rejoin your corps, massed in column about two o'clock in the night, and just in time for my wearied men to participate in the retreat across the Etowah, which was shortly after begun.

From my observations, I am forced to believe that General Johnston makes an error in his book in discrediting the presence of the enemy on [102] your right, while you were moving to the north, across the large open field, to get in position. If my memory serves me, your extreme right flank was not covered by cavalry at all, as is not only usual but most essential in a movement such as you were making, and you must have had to rely for information of the enemy in that quarter from your staff and escort.

I am, General, very truly yours,

J. E. Austin, Major commanding Austin's Battalion Sharp Shooters.

Parish of assumption, March 29th, I874.
General J. B. Hood.
Dear Sir: I remember very well the occurrences at Cass Station, or Cassville, during the campaign of 1864. During that campaign I kept a diary, which I have just examined to refresh my memory. At the risk of being somewhat tedious, I will state all I know of that affair. Your corps being in the rear of the Army, entered Cassville about 12 m., on the I8th of May, 1864. Yourself and staff (on which I was active as volunteer aid) came in last and found the Army massed by brigades in front of Cassville,--that is, between that town and the approaching enemy. So we remained all night. Next morning I first heard of the celebrated battle order of General Johnston. I refer to that order in which it was announced that our retreat was ended, and that, if the enemy continued his advance, battle would then and there be given him. I thought it strange, if such were the determination, that the Army had not been placed in line of battle the evening before, when they would, at least, have been more comfortable. After our breakfast we rode to General Johnston's headquarters, where you remained some half hour or more. We then rode to General Hindman's Division, which was immediately placed in motion to take up its position in line of battle, as I supposed.

As we marched across an open valley towards the range of hills which I understood to be the line to be occupied by our forces, you being in front with General Hindman and I just behind, one of the soldiers called my attention to a dark line off to our right, saying they were Yankees. I called your attention to the fact, but you said it could not be so, but must be our cavalry, if it was a body of men. Falling back, the same soldier (to whom I had said I thought the dark line was a fence or hedge), said that they were throwing out skirmishers in our direction, and I at once called your attention to that fact. You halted the division, and ordered General Hindman to send out a body of skirmishers to find out who they were. In a few minutes a sharp skirmish was in progress, and several of our men were wounded and killed in your immediate proximity. I recollect very distinctly that five men were hit at one time [103] by the fragments of a shell, which exploded not more than twenty-five yards from where you were sitting on horseback.

About this time General Mackall, chief of staff to General Johnston, rode up, apparently much excited, and spoke with you. Of course, I cannot say what took place, but soon after,--indeed, at once, and in his presence,--our direction was changed, and we proceeded to take up a line of battle on the range of hills immediately in rear of Cassville.

There we remained all day, the enemy erecting batteries in front and in flank of us, and enfilading our line. This fire of the enemy's artillery was harassing in the extreme, as it seemed to come from all directions except our immediate rear, and we made little or no reply. Late that evening you took us (your staff) from the left of your corps to the extreme right (which was also the right of the Army) and back. I shall long remember that ride as one of the most disagreeable it has ever been my fortune to take, being, as we were, continually under a heavy cross-fire of artillery. As soon as the ride was over, you proceeded to headquarters of the Army, and on your return you notified us that we would retreat at midnight across the Etowah, and gave us the necessary orders.

It was afterwards said in the Army, indeed, I am not certain that a report by General Johnston was not published to that effect, that the retreat was ordered because you and General Polk had declined to fight — or rather had given an opinion adverse to battle. I can say, after four years experience of war, that I am satisfied that no soldiers in the world could have held the line then occupied by your corps during the next day, unless the enemy had been very remiss in taking advantage of his position.

I have heard that General Johnston, in his history of the war, says you were mistaken about the enemy being immediately on your flank on May i9th, 1864. He was misinformed by whomsoever gave him this idea, for, as I have said, several of our men wete killed and wounded by this raking fire in your immediate proximity, and before our Army was in line of battle.

Very truly yours,

Taylor Beattie, Late Colonel C. S. A.

The foregoing statements prove the report characterized by General Johnston as “manifestly untrue,” to be manifestly true. Five thousand witnesses, moreover, could be produced to testify to the truth of my assertion. It would, indeed, seem strange that, after battling three long years with the same enemy, wearing the same uniform, and bearing the same [104] colors, I should be so grossly deceived as to make a false report, especially when I had a full view of this same enemy in an open field, within a distance of four to five hundred yards.6

I did not fall back, and form across the Canton road, as General Johnston states; his chief of staff overtook me too soon to allow this movement; in accord with General Mackall's instructions, I marched back to join Polk's right, which had remained in the same position I had left it. Whilst Major Austin was still engaged with this same enemy on the Canton road, and my corps was nearing the line occupied by General Polk on the ridge in front of Cassville, orders were issued for the Army to fall back to the ridge in rear of the town.

This position was commanded by the ridge we were about to abandon, and a greater portion thereof was exposed to an enfilade fire of the enemy's artillery. General F. A. Shoupe, General Johnston's chief of artillery, advised the Confederate commander of this fact before the Army was ordered to occupy that line, as I stated in my official report. General Johnston does not, if I remember correctly, refer to General Shoupe's monition in his own official report, which he has failed to publish in his Narrative, although the latter purports to be his contribution for the use of the future historian; this report should be one of the most important records of his military career, for the omission of which, however, he apologizes by stating that it had been published by the Confederate Government.

In reference to the position established on the ridge in rear of the town, this General writes:7

The Federal artillery, commenced firing upon Hood's and Polk's troops soon after they were formed, and continued to cannonade until [105] night. Brigadier General Shoupe, chief of artillery, had pointed out to me what he thought a weak point near General Polk's right, a space of a hundred and fifty or two hundred yards, which, in his opinion, might be enfiladed by artillery placed on a hill more than a mile off, beyond the front of our right-so far, it seemed to me, as to make the danger trifling. Still, he was requested to instruct the officer commanding there to guard against such a chance by the construction of traverses, and to impress upon him that no attack of infantry could be combined with a fire of distant artillery, and that his infantry might safely occupy some ravine in rear of this position during any such fire of artillery.

It will be seen that the artillery of the enemy opened upon Polk's and my troops soon after they were formed; that according to the above statement, General Shoupe pointed out only a small portion of our line which might be enfiladed by artillery; also that General Shoupe was requested to instruct the officer there commanding to guard against this evil by the construction of traverses. The truth is, General Shoupe reported to General Johnston that a large portion of the ridge he proposed to occupy in rear of Cassville, would be enfiladed by the Federal artillery; in other words, that the position of the line subsequently occupied by Polk and myself would be so enfiladed. This is in substance what I stated in my official report; and this statement was written by General Shoupe himself, at present the Reverend Dr. Shoupe, of Sewanee, Tennessee. The subjoined letter is confirmatory of my assertion:

Sewanee, Tennessee, June 3d, 1874.
Dear General:--With regard to the point you mention, I have a very distinct recollection. I pointed out the fact to General Johnston that his line would be enfiladed before the troops were posted, and suggested a change of position to obviate the trouble.

The General replied that the troops could not hope to be always sheltered from fire, and that they must make the best of it by traversing.

As soon as the enemy got into position, my fears were fully verified. The line, at that point, fell back from the crest of the ridge, but was poorly sheltered even upon the slope. I should say that there was as much as a quarter of a mile badly exposed to the enemy's fire.

General Polk was present at the time the conversation between [106] General Johnston and myself took place, and strongly supported my objections.

I am indeed sorry to have my name mixed up in the difference between General Johnston and yourself, but I do not see that I can decline to reply to such questions as you please to ask.

With high regard, I am, &c.,

The memory of General Johnston must assuredly have become very treacherous to have forgotten, not only the remonstrances of General Shoupe, but the earnest opposition of General Polk; and, moreover, to have reduced the distance of a quarter of a mile to one hundred and fifty or two hundred yards. (See Map.)

General Johnston must have placed but little reliance upon traverses in this position, since, if I am not mistaken, he made no mention of them in his official report.

At all events, traverses could not, in this instance, have proved a sufficient protection to the troops.

After our lines had been enfiladed for one or two hours before sunset, as General Shoupe had pre-admonished General Johnston, Polk and I decided, upon consultation, to see the Commanding General and apprise him of our real condition; to state also that, whilst our position was as good as we could desire to move forward from and engage the enemy in pitched battle, the line we held was. unsuited for. defence; and if he did not intend to assume the offensive the next morning, we would advise him to change his position. This is the sum and substance of our suggestion, or recommendation, to the Commander of that Army, viz.: that if he did not intend to fight a pitched battle, we would advise him to change our position for one better suited for defence.

This suggestion would seem to be in unison with the spirit of our urgent recommendation only the day previous to turn upon Sherman, and give him general battle at Adairsville, and but poorly harmonizes with the following : 8 [107]

On reaching my tent soon after dark, I found an invitation to meet the Lieutenant Generals at General Polk's quarters. General Hood was with him, but not General Hardee. The two officers, General Hood taking the lead, expressed the opinion very positively that neither of their corps would be able to hold its position next day; because, they said, a part of each was enfiladed by Federal artillery. The part of General Polk's Corps referred to was that of which I had conversed with Brigadier General Shoupe. On that account they urged me to abandon the ground immediately, and cross the Etowah.

I have already stated that the corps commanders, especially Polk and myself, urged Johnston only the day previous to march back and attack Sherman at Adairsville; that his own chief of artillery reported the position Polk and I occupied as unsuited for a defence, before our retreat from the ridge in front of the town; I have proved that the enemy appeared on the Canton road, according to my report — which report General Johnston declared to be “manifestly untrue.” Now since Polk and I most earnestly urged Johnston, only the day previous, to move forward and attack Sherman, does it not seem strange that we should be insisting on retreat the following night? Admitting, however, for the sake of argument, that Johnston intended to fight when in position on the untenable ridge in rear of Cassville, this intention could only have been based upon the vain hope that Sherman would march across the valley, and through the town to attack his entrenchments. The Federals would never have made an assault from this direction, as the country toward Canton was open, and favorable to an attack upon our right flank. Humanity itself should have prompted this way of approach, in order to spare the women and children of the town. Again, even in the event Polk and I had consented to subject our troops to a heavy enfilading fire of artillery, may I not ask — especially as a part of Sherman's Army, I think Schofield's Corps, was then reported to be moving across the Etowah to threaten our communications south of this stream, and a similar movement had dislodged us already from Dalton and Resaca, and in fact dislodged us from every position between Dalton and Atlanta — how [108] long is it supposed we would have remained at Cassville? I leave the answer to every fair minded man.

This is the history of the much talked of affair at Cassville, in connection with which it is affirmed that Johnston wished to fight, but Polk and I were not inclined to do so. 9

General Johnston, as evidence that without any proviso we advised him to retreat, quotes a statement to that effect of General Hardee and his chief of staff, neither of whom were present during our long discussion. If I did remark after the interview had closed, and Johnston had decided to cross the Etowah, that, if attacked, Polk would not be able to hold his line three-quarters of an hour, nor I mine two hours, the remark could have had but a distant bearing upon the question. A single observation could not have unfolded all which occurred during this prolonged meeting.

If General Polk were to rise up from his grave, he would be astounded at the suppression of the most important part of the testimony in relation to these facts, by which, during a period of ten years, the impression has been sustained that we are both to blame for not permitting General Johnston to fight, when he was so desirous to deliver battle. With the foregoing statement, I do at this day and hour, in the name of [109] truth, honor and justice, in the name of the departed soul of the Christian and noble Polk, and in the presence of my Creator, most solemnly deny that General Polk or I recommended General Johnston, at Cassville, to retreat when he intended to give battle; and affirm that the recommendation made by us to change his position, was throughout the discussion coupled with the proviso: If he did not intend to force a pitched battle.

1 Johnston's Narrative, page 292.

2 Johnston's Narrative, page 313.

3 Johnston's Narrative, page 351.

4 Johnston's Narrative, page 321.

5 Johnston's Narrative, page 321.

6 Since the foregoing was penned, General Carson, of the Federal Army, who is now engaged in writing an account of General Hooker's operations, informs me that it was a portion of General Butterfield's command which appeared on the Canton road, and fired into my column.

7 Johnston's Narrative, page 323.

8 Johnston's Narrative, pages 323, 324.

9 The following letter from Dr. A. M. Polk, son of General Polk, at that time aide-de-camp to his father, sustains the truthfulness of this representation of facts:

New York, June 17th, 1874.
Dear General:--I have just read your correction of General Johnston's statements in regard to my father's connection with the “ Cassville affair.”

Pray accept our sincere thanks, not only for the correction, but also for the manner in which it is expressed. He was killed so soon after, he left no written statement of the matter; but from conversations I held with him I know his position to have been just as you state it: not willing to stand there and wait for the enemy to attack us, but more than willing to take the initiative in bringing on a general engagement.

With much respect,

I am most truly yours,

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 United States License.

An XML version of this text is available for download, with the additional restriction that you offer Perseus any modifications you make. Perseus provides credit for all accepted changes, storing new additions in a versioning system.

hide Display Preferences
Greek Display:
Arabic Display:
View by Default:
Browse Bar: