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Chapter 6:

When the preceding chapter was written, setting forth my most positive denial of General Johnston's statements in regard to that which he avers to have been said by General Polk and myself, at Polk's headquarters, during this important council; and when I charged General Johnston with the suppression of the most important part of the recommendations made to him by each of us, I was under the impression that only Johnston, Polk and I were present in the room during the discussion. Fortunately, however, the complete vindication of my assertion has arisen from a source I little expected. In addition to the strong evidence adduced by the letters of General Shoupe and Doctor Polk, I am favored with the subjoined full and explanatory letter from a gentleman of no less position than that of chief engineer of a corps d'armee, and who was present, in the room, during the council of war held by Johnston, Polk, and myself, with map and measurement of angles of the position in question:

New York, June 25th, 1874.
Dr. W. M. Polk, 288 Fifth Avenue, New York.
Dear Sir:--In reply to your note of the 2oth inst., asking me to give you my recollection of the circumstances in regard to the retreat of the [111] Confederate Armies from Cassville, Georgia, to the south side of the Etowah river, I will state the facts as connected with myself, as follows:

At the time when the Confederate Armies of Tennessee and Mississippi, under the command of General J. E. Johnston, and the Federal Army under General Sherman, were manoeuvring in the neighborhood of Cassville, I had nearly completed my journey from Demopolis, Alabama, to that town to join Lieutenant General Polk, commanding the Army of Mississippi, who was with General Johnston in that vicinity. I had crossed the country in company with a part of that command. I arrived at Cassville railway station about half-past 3 or four o'clock in the afternoon of the i9th of May, 1864, and met Colonel Gale, of our staff, who informed me that the Lieutenant General desired to see me as soon as I arrived. I passed on without delay to his headquarters, about half a mile east of the railway station, and met General Polk at the door of the cabin used for headquarter purposes. I entered immediately, and he placed a skeleton map before me, giving the surrounding country, and pointed out the positions of the Confederate forces, and the known and supposed locations of the Federals, giving such additional information as to enable me to fully understand the actual condition of affairs. This was done rapidly. He then requested me to go at once and examine the extreme right of his line, as he considered it untenable for defence.

1st. He desired me to form an opinion if, by constructing a rifle pit, his line could be held against such an attack as might be reasonably expected in the morning.

2d. To carefully examine that part of the line enfiladed, to see if it was possible to construct traverses to enable him to hold the position on the defensive.

3d. To examine the ground immediately in his front in reference to advancing, and to note in reference the positions then occupied by the Federal batteries in front and to the right of Lieutenant General Hood's line.

4th. If those batteries to the front and right of Hood's line could be taken by a special movement. These explanations, noting them down, and getting a tracing of the skeleton map, required about thirty minutes, and I started for that part of the line in question; General Polk impressing upon me the necessity of reaching that part of the line as soon as possible, as I would only have about two hours of daylight to make the examinations. Furnishing me with a fresh horse, one of his own, and the necessary guides from his escort, I reached the ground in fifteen minutes. I was instructed to return as soon after dark as possible, for, [112] if necessary, an invitation would be sent to General Johnston to come to his (Lieutenant General Polk's) headquarters. Lieutenant General Hood, I think, was with General Polk when I left. Arriving upon the line of battle, I found Major General French's Division, Army of Mississippi, located on the extreme right of that Army, and occupying the part of the line in question. To his right was the line of Lieutenant General Hood's Corps, Army of Tennessee, forming the extreme right of the Confederate infantry forces. The crest of the ridge occupied by French's Division was about one hundred and forty feet above the plain, or valley, in which the town of Cassville is located. This ridge is cut across by a ravine of about fifty feet deep, its sides rising from its bottom, on either side, at about 30 degrees. The location of this ravine on French's line was five or six hundred feet to the left of his extreme right. To the left of this ravine, for twelve or fifteen hundred feet, the crest of the ridge was entirely open, as was to the rear for eight hundred or one thousand feet. There were a few scattered trees of stunted growth in and about the ravine. The remaining portion of General French's line to the left and to the rear was timbered, as also to the front for seven or eight hundred feet, increasing in depth towards the left. The ground to the front of the left half of his line descended about one hundred and forty feet for half a mile, continuing on to Cassville about one and a quarter miles to the northwest of his left. The ground in front of the right half of his line descended about a hundred feet on the left, and eighty feet on the right for a distance of half a mile on the left, and a quarter of a mile on the extreme right. Then ascending to eighty feet on the left, and a hundred on the right to a ridge opposite, and due north.

This opposing ridge passed on a line about 23 degrees south of west, forming an angle with General Polk's line of defence of about 25 degrees, and forming something less of an angle with Lieutenant General Hood's line. This opposite ridge was occupied by the enemy, their left resting on a point about a mile and a quarter northeast on a prolongation of General Polk's line, and from half a mile to threequarters of a mile in front of Lieutenant General Hood's, and passing on to the westward at a distance of about half a mile to one and a quarter miles north of General Polk, and in front of his extreme right. The line occupied by the enemy on the opposite ridge was from twenty to forty feet higher than the position of General Hood's line, and from forty to sixty feet higher than General Polk's. The batteries of the enemy were posted on the most prominent and available points along their ridge, extending for a mile from their extreme left towards their right, reaching a point to the north and front of General Polk's extreme right, [113] and directly in front of the ravine and open part of French's line. The batteries enfiladed and cross fired upon the entire open crest from 45 degrees to 60 degrees, and with a plunging fire of from twenty to sixty feet and sweeping through the ravine, and across the rear of the ridge to a distance of about a thousand feet. This rear fire being still more plunging than that on the crest.

There was no cover for the men within a reasonable distance to the crest, for from the extreme positions of the left batteries of the enemy, it would not be necessary for them to cease firing during the attack until their infantry had reached a line very close to the crest of the ridge occupied by General Polk's command.

The extreme left, or eastern batteries of the enemy, necessarily enfiladed a considerable portion of General Hood's line.

Having made these examinations and noted them down, I formed the following opinions:

1st. That the right of the line occupied by Lieutenant General Polk's command could not be held, as it then was, nor could it be held by constructing a rifle pit along the crest.

2d. That traverses would be of no avail either for the rifle pits upon the crest or as a covered way to the rear, as such traverses would cover nearly the entire surface.

3d. That it was extremely hazardous for Lieutenant General Polk to advance his line to make an attack upon the enemy while their batteries held the positions they then occupied.

4th. As to forming any opinion as to the taking of these left batteries of the enemy by a special flank movement, this I could not do, as I was unable to examine to the right of Lieutenant General Hood's line, as it had grown dark. But judging from the stream, as located on the skeleton map, there must have been a very narrow ridge to approach the enemy upon their left.

At the time I arrived about the centre of General Polk's right where the open crest of the ridge commenced, I found a very heavy enfilading and cross fire going on from the enemy's batteries. There were but a few sentinels remaining upon the crest, the main body of men, intended to occupy this part of the line, were compelled to withdraw to the right and left at the foot of the ridge, out of sight, but not out of range of the enemy's batteries.

I found that Major General French had one or two batteries in position upon the part the line near the ravine, and while they were coming into their positions, and before the guns could be unlimbered, from one [114] to two horses from each piece were killed. On my return over this part of the line, about dark, the fire from the enemy had nearly ceased.

Having completed the reconnoissance, I returned to Lieutenant General Polk's headquarters, just after dark.

I placed before him my sketches and notes, and explained to him substantially these facts. General Polk sent at once to ask General Johnston to come to his headquarters. Lieutenant General Hood was already with General Polk. General Johnston arrived about 9 o'clock. I remained in the cabin during the conversation as to holding the position then occupied or advancing or retiring the Armies to the south of the Etowah river, about seven or eight miles to our rear.

Lieutenant General Polk expressed himself convinced that he could not hold his line against attack, and that Major General French, who occupied that part of his line in question, was of the same opinion as was his (General Polk's) engineer officer (myself), who had examined the position and reported that traverses would be of no avail. Lieutenant General Hood stated that he was also convinced that neither he nor General Polk could hold their lines for an hour against such an attack as they might certainly expect in the morning-these Generals both advocating to the Commanding General to take the offensive and advance on the enemy from these lines. In reference to this proposed forward movement, General Johnston's attention was particularly called to the advantages of taking possession of the positions occupied by the batteries of the enemy on their extreme left, either by a special flank movement or by prompt action at the time when the Confederate lines would be advanced. Lieutenant General Polk expressed himself entirely willing and ready to co-operate with General Hood to accomplish this object. After some moments of silence, General Johnston decided to withdraw the Armies to the south of the Etowah. Soon after this, Lieutenant General Hardee arrived. General Johnston informed him of this decision to cross the river, stating that Generals Polk and Hood had informed him that they could not hold their lines. Lieutenant General Hood then re-stated the reasons, and said that General Polk could not hold his line an hour. Nor could he, Hood, hold his two hours if attacked in the morning. Lieutenant General Polk again explained .the facts as existed in reference to his line, and stated his willingness to assume the offensive at any time, then or in the morning, rather than to await the attack of the enemy in his (Polk's) present position. Upon these points Lieutenant Generals Polk and Hood entirely agreed, urging the offensive rather than await the enemy.

Lieutenant General Hardee made but few, if any, remarks that I heard. After a few moments General Johnston gave the orders for the armies to move to the south side of the Etowah. Lieutenant General [115] Polk called to his A. A. General to issue orders to his Division Commanders. This was about 10.30 or I o'clock.

The orders to Major General Loring, Army of Mississippi, were given me to deliver; also one to him to order to report to me an officer with three hundred (300) men to occupy the exposed part of Major General French's line, as soon as his command was withdrawn.

I was instructed by General Polk to place this detail along that part of the line, and keep up such fires as would indicate the presence of the withdrawn command, and to cut timber and drive stakes to indicate that works were being thrown up, and to remain there until daylight and observe the movements of the enemy before leaving. I went at once to General Loring's headquarters on the left of the Cassville road, saw that General, and delivered the orders; obtained the officer and detail, and arrived at General French's line about half-past 11 o'clock, and found that command ready to move; by twelve o'clock (midnight), they had withdrawn and the detail was posted with a few men out in front. It was a calm, clear starlight night, and the position of the enemy upon the opposite ridge was clearly seen, without their fires which could be traced along their line, and the cutting of timber could be distinctly heard and located. In addition to the enemy's location upon the crest of the ridge, and passing there or just in front of the town of Cassville and on to the southwest, there were also strong indications of an advance line upon the plane nearer to the foot of the ridge occupied by us, and their chopping and driving rails was very distinct, and their voices occasionally could be heard.

The work of the detail was kept up through the night. At daylight I instructed the officer to assemble his men to the rear. During this time of preparing to leave the line, I closely observed the enemy and his positions through a very strong field glass. I found that many of their batteries along the ridge had been advanced, and their principal and somewhat entrenched line appeared to leave the ridge at a point about a mile east of Cassville, and passing to the southwest fully a half-a-mile in front of their lines of the previous afternoon. It appeared that the enemy had been aware of the movement of the Confederate Armies, and their line advanced during the night, was now vacated and there were trains and artillery moving to the west upon the Kingston road, and solid bodies of infantry were moving in the same direction.

The detail having been assembled, I placed them upon a by-road to Cassville Station on the main road to Cartersville. I instructed the officer to proceed to the south side of the Etowah river by way of the Cartersville bridge, and to report back to his Division Commander. I passed on to cross the river at the same point, arriving there about half-past [116] past ten o'clock, and found the Army of the Mississippi nearly over to the south side, which was completed by noon.

Very truly yours,

Walter J. Morris, Late Captain Engineer Corps, C. S. A Chief Engineer, Army of Mississippi
N. B.--Enclosed herewith you will find a map made by me from my notes taken at the time of reconnoissance. 1

Yours, etc.,

W. J. M.

1 Map of Cassville, page 113.

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W. M. Polk (29)
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