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Chapter 8:

General Johnston makes the following arraignment : 1
General Hood asserts in his published report, that the Army had become demoralized when he was appointed to command it, and ascribes his invariable defeats partly to that cause. The allegation is disproved by the record of the admirable conduct of those troops on every occasion in which that General sent them to battle — and inevitable disaster. Their courage and discipline were unsubdued by the slaughter to which they were recklessly offered in the four attacks on the Federal Army near Atlanta, as they proved in the useless butchery at Franklin. He also states, 2 “It is a calumny to say that the Army of Tennessee was dispirited or broken down.” It had never before been in finer condition — the men in a high state of discipline and full of confidence from uniform success in their engagements with the enemy.

At the date of my transfer to the West, I, still under the influence of the teaching of Lee, Jackson, and Longstreet, could not but recognize a marked difference, after the crossing of the Chattahoochee river, between the troops of the Army of Tennessee and those of Virginia. My long experience and service with the latter, who formed, their limited numbers notwithstanding, one of the most powerful as well as renowned [130] Armies the world has produced, enabled me also to discover a marked difference in the spirit and morale of General Johnston's Army when south of the Chattahoochee, and when lying at Dalton, full of hope and anxious for battle. The cause of this difference is simple, and easily understood by those who have had a practical demonstration of the superiority of the Lee and Jackson manner of handling troops over the Joe Johnston mode of warfare. The one school elevates and inspirits, whilst the other depresses, paralyzes, and, in time, brings destruction. The effect of these respective schools is alike upon almost all men; otherwise some ground might exist for the assertion that the men of Lee's Army were of a superior class to those under Johnston. Not so, indeed. The personnel of the two Armies was originally of the same. element, and there is no reason why our Army at Dalton, handled according to the Lee and Jackson school, should not have been made to equal its counterpart in Virginia. Although it may be argued that the Army of Tennessee had been dispirited, or demoralized, previous to its reorganization by General Johnston in the Spring of ‘64, it is nevertheless certain that, at the time of the first appearance of the Federals in its front at Dalton, it possessed the capability to be rendered the equal of the best troops in the Confederacy. In this assertion, I am confident I shall be upheld by the intelligent officers and men of that Army.

I regret to find it necessary to discuss this purely military question, since I have as warm personal friends in the Western as in the Virginia Army, and would be pained to know that aught from my pen had given umbrage to any Confederate, who performed his duty faithfully unto the end. I reiterate that the personnel of the two Armies was originally the same; that the troops at Dalton were capable of having been made the equal of those in Virginia. Therefore, I see not that two brothers--one having served in Lee's, and the other in Johnston's Army — have cause ofjealousy, if one has accomplished somewhat more than the other; whereas had the two been [131] under the same commander, they would have proved soldiers of equal merit With these premises, I shall proceed to show in brief the cause of difference between these brother-soldiers of opposite schools.

General Lee never made use of entrenchments, except for the purpose of holding a part of his line with a small force, whilst he assailed the enemy with the main body of his Army — as, for instance, around Richmond at the time of the battle of Gaines's Mills — and save en dernier resort, as at Spottsylvania, to and around Petersburg, toward the close of the war. He well knew that the constant use of breastworks would teach his soldiers to look and depend upon such protection as an indispensable source of strength; would imperil that spirit of devil-me-care independence and self-reliance which was one of their secret sources of power, and would, finally, impair the morale of his Army. A soldier cannot fight for a period of one or two months constantly behind breastworks, with the training that he is equal to four or five of the enemy by reason of the security of his position, and then be expected to engage in pitched battle and prove as intrepid and impetuous as his brother who has been taught to rely solely upon his own valor. The latter, when ordered to charge and drive the enemy, will — or endeavor to — run over any obstacle he may encounter in his front; the former, on account of his undue appreciation of breastworks and distinct remembrance of the inculcations of his commanding officer, will be constantly on the look-out for such defences. His imagination will grow vivid under bullets and bombshells, and a brush-heap will so magnify itself in dimension as to induce him to believe that he is stopped by a wall ten feet high and a mile in length. The consequence of his troubled imagination is that, if too proud to run, he will lie down, incur almost equal disgrace, and prove himself nigh worthless in a pitched battle.

A somewhat similar result is to be observed in engagements, in the open field, with the red men of the forest. Those who are familiar with their mode of warfare well know that, whenever [132] they are attacked away from such shelter as trees and boulders, they at once become confused, and scatter in all directions. I concede that five hundred, in the open field, would overpower one hundred men, howsoever well trained; but two hundred and fifty properly trained soldiers should always prove the equal of five hundred Indians, mainly because of the difference in the manner of handling forces, practiced by the respective combatants. On the one hand, shelter is invariably sought in time of battle; on the other, reliance is placed upon boldness and valor.

In accordance with the same principle, a cavalryman proper cannot be trained to fight, one day, mounted, the next, dismounted, and then be expected to charge with the impetuosity of one who has been educated in the belief that it is an easy matter to ride over infantry and artillery, and drive them from the field. He who fights alternately mounted and dismounted, can never become an excellent soldier of either infantry or cavalry proper. Moreover, the highest perfection in the education of troops, well drilled and disciplined, can only be attained through continued appeals to their pride, and through incitement to make known their prowess by the substantial test of guns and colors, captured upon the field of battle. Soldiers thus educated will ever prove a terror to the foe. The continued use of breastworks during a campaign, renders troops timid in pitched battle; and the employment of such defences is judicious and profitable alone when resorted to at the proper time. They should be used not unto excess, and only in such instances as I have already mentioned, and in such as I shall hereafter specify. The result of training soldiers to rely upon their own courage, we behold in the achievements of Lee's troops. Long will live the memory of their heroic attempt to scale the rugged heights of Gettysburg; of their gallant charge over the breastworks at Gaines's Mills, and again over the abatis and strong entrenchments at Chancellorsville; of the many deeds of equal daring, which history will immortalize. [133]

I shall consider, for a moment, the manner in which General Lee handled his troops. After the battle of Sharpsburg, or Antietam, McClellan followed him south of the Potomac; instead of forming line of battle, and throwing up entrenchments upon every suitable hill he could find, from Maryland to the Rapidan, for the purpose of skirmishing, and delaying the enemy — which work he properly left to the cavalry — he threw his colors to the breeze, and, with martial music, marched to the line of Gordonsville and Fredericksburg. A few months later, when the Federals appeared in his front, he marshaled his forces, which, refreshed by their long rest, were anxious for battle; he at once attacked, defeated the enemy, and pursued him to the Potomac. He thus drove back, successively, Pope, Burnside, and Hooker.

After the battle of Gettysburg, Meade likewise followed Lee south of the Potomac. Again, he marched to the line of the Rapidan, as in the first instance, leaving his cavalry to observe and check the advance of the enemy. General Grant subsequently appeared in his front, with a large and well-equipped Army. Although our great chieftain had only about forty-five thousand (45,ooo) effective men wherewith to oppose him, he, true to his past history, attacked instantly — having cut roads through the Wilderness, in order to get at the enemy — and so fierce was his assault that it almost made the very stones of the earth cry out. History will relate how nigh he was, in this instance, unto the achievement of victory; so nigh, indeed, that Mr. Lincoln, if I remember correctly, remarked in a speech in the course of which he referred to this desperate onslaught, that Grant had been jostled, not driven back; and that any one of the men he had sent previously to the command of the Army of the Potomac, would have been back on the north side of the Rappahannock.

Thus it will be seen that General Lee made use of entrenchments only en dernier resort, as around Petersburg, or in order to hold one portion of his line with a small force whilst he attacked with the main body; also that when he found it [134] necessary to retreat, or fall back from an advanced position, he marched his Army to the line he intended to defend, instead of constantly fighting, skirmishing, avoiding a general engagement, and taking up position, day after day, to be abandoned under cover of darkness. General Johnston not only made uniform use of entrenchments, but retreated and fought at the same time — an error which Lee carefully eschewed, and one which should always be avoided, since the long continuance of such policy will prove the inevitable ruin of any army. Napier, one of the highest authorities on war, says: “It is unquestionable that a retreating army should fight as little as possible.” Such was, however, the mistake committed by General Johnston. If he did not intend to risk a battle in the mountain fastnesses between Dalton and the Chattahoochee, but preferred to decide the fate of Georgia, the centre of the Confederacy, upon the flat plains around Atlanta, he should have left the cavalry in his rear to check the advance of the enemy; have marched his Army direct to the latter point, without firing a musket; and there have awaited Sherman's advance, when he should have made his attack. By the pursuance of this policy, he would have been able to engage Sherman with over seventy thousand (70,000) effective men, instead of fifty thousand (50,000) he claims to have had after crossing the Chattahoochee river. In lieu thereof, a course was pursued which entailed a loss of twenty-five thousand (25,000) men, without a single general battle having been fought, and which seriously demoralized the next to the largest and proudest Army assembled in the South.

When I state the Army was demoralized, I desire, at the same time, to except not only men who performed individual acts of remarkable devotion and courage, but also brigades and divisions, which, in prowess and discipline, would compare with the best troops in any army; unfortunately, however, the efforts of one such brigade or division were paralyzed by others so thoroughly effected by their training in the [135] Johnston school as to render them of but little service in a pitched battle.

A policy similar to that of my predecessor can be persisted in till desertions will take place by the thousands. The longer an army retreats, entrenches, and fights at the same time, the more numerous the desertions, and the more thorough the demoralization. As I have already mentioned, Lee handled his troops upon a directly opposite basis. They were always taught to work out the best means to get at the enemy, in order to cripple or destroy him, in lieu of ever seeking the best means to get away from him. Therefore the Lee and. Jackson school is the opposite of the Joe Johnston school, and one will always elevate and inspirit, whilst the other will depress and paralyze.

The statement of Lieutenant Generals Hardee and Stewart, to the effect that the Confederate Army, after crossing the Chattahoochee, had as much spirit and confidence as it possessed at Dalton, is erroneous. Whilst I have a proper regard for the opinions of these officers who spoke, I believe, in all sincerity, I cannot but consider that their impressions were formed from their own standpoint, without having actual knowledge of the high state of perfection obtained by the troops in the Virginia Army, under the training and mode of handling of General Lee. In the course of daily life our thoughts and convictions generally receive their impress from our surroundings; and, if we confine our experiences to any one sphere of life, without contact with the various spheres around us, we lose that power of comparison by which we are enabled to form correct judgments of things and men. These officers formed their decision from but one standpoint, which was the Army of Tennessee, and they comprehended not fully the spirit of heroism which pervaded the Army led by our great chieftain to victory after victory. Therefore they were partial judges when came into question the comparative spiritlessness of the Western Army, as it slowly retreated a distance [136] of one hundred miles, without a single glorious victory to inscribe upon its banners.

If requisite, I could bring forth abundant evidence from officers of that Army that the continuous retreat from Dalton to the plains of Georgia, produced a demoralizing effect. General Frank Blair, whose corps was engaged in the battle around Atlanta on the 22d of July, 1864, when my friend and classmate, General McPherson, was killed, states in a letter to a prominent officer of the Army of Tennessee, that the Confederate troops, on that day, did not fight with the spirit they should have displayed. It was, nevertheless, reported to me, at the time of this engagement, that they had fought with gallantry, and I so telegraphed to the authorities at Richmond. The truth is, no troops handled as these had been from Dalton to Atlanta could have attacked with extraordinary vigor, and I do assert that fifty thousand men of the Lee and Jackson school will always prove equal to eighty thousand (80,000) of the Johnston school; moreover, that the small Army I commanded at Franklin was equal to that which was turned over to me at Atlanta, although it numbered only about one-half in effective strength, for the simple reason that a forward march of about one hundred and eighty miles, together with a different mode of handling it, had contributed to the improvement of its morale and the restoration of its pristine spirit. These conclusions I have reached after a long and careful consideration of the subject. It has been my fortune to serve, during the war, in every grade from that of First Lieutenant to that of Commander-in-Chief. Having, therefore, been under fire with both small and large bodies of men, and having carefully observed the effect of such fire upon troops with and without breastworks, the principles which I have endeavored to elucidate will, in my opinion, stand the test of time.

In January, 1874, I addressed the following communication to Lieutenant General Stephen D. Lee, who served a long period in Virginia, and subsequently in the Army of Tennessee: [137]

New Orleans, January 17th, 1874.
General:--Your position during the late war, and experience throughout different campaigns in Virginia, doubtless enabled you to observe, and form an opinion of the general effect of entrenchments upon an army. Since the close of the revolution I have conversed with many officers of the Army of Northern Virginia upon this subject, and have been informed that when General Lee was forced, as a dernier resort, to use breastworks around Petersburg, it had a depressing effect even upon the stern veterans who made up that grand old Army; that it could easily be discerned when the troops were called upon to leave the trenches, and again give battle in the open field. During three years service in the Virginia Army, as regimental, brigade, and division commander, under the orders of Generals Lee, Jackson, and Longstreet, I was never required to throw up even temporary breastworks for the protection of my troops. The battles of Gaines's Mills, Second lyIanassas, Fredericksburg, Sharpsburg, Chancellorsville, and Gettysburg, were all fought by the Confederates without the aid of such defences. The officers and soldiers, who served in the Virginia Army, know of the great self-reliance and spirit of invincibility which pervaded its ranks, and how correct the appreciation of General Lee, when he said, “There were never such men in an army before; they will go anywhere, and do anything if properly led.” Those who come after us will seek the cause of the extraordinary results accomplished by the Army of Northern Virginia in comparison with other Arfties of the South. The personnel of all the Confederate Armies being about the same, the question must arise, and will be discussed, as to whether there was not something in the handling of the troops or in the strategy and tactics, adopted and carried out by the distinguished leaders of Virginia, which produced soldiers equal to twice the number of the enemy.

I of course admit the necessity of fortifications for the protection of certain harbors, depots, and important centres, which should, however, never be allowed to become pitfalls for large bodies, but be well provisioned, and garrisoned only by a sufficient number of men to stand a siege, if requisite; and whilst I also admit the necessity of entrenchments under such circumstances of constraint as those which induced General Lee finally to resort to them, my own experience has taught me that the continued use thereof, by an army has a demoralizing influence.

An army cannot at one time fight behind breastworks, with the practical demonstration that its position renders it equal to three times the strength of the foe, and, at another time, when occurs a favorable opportunity of attack, forget its own experience in the use of entrenchments, and charge the enemy's works, and force him to fly from the field, as was so often the case in Virginia.

Hoping soon to have your valued opinion upon this subject,

I am truly yours,


I received the subjoined in reply:

Brookeville, Mississippi, January 26th, 1874.
to General J. B. Hood.
General:--In your favor of the 17th inst., you ask my opinion of the “general effect of entrenchments upon an Army.” My experience during the recent war was nearly equally divided in serving with and without entrenchments.

My service with the Army of North Virginia ended after the battle of Sharpsburg--then in the campaigns in Mississippi, involving the fall of Vicksburg--again in the campaign in Georgia, involving the fall of Atlanta, and also the last campaign into Tennessee. Entrenchments were generally used in my service in the West. They were not used in Virginia up to the time I was transferred West. I am free to say that I consider it a great misfortune to any army to have to resort to entrenchments; its morale is necessarily impaired from their constant use.

Troops once sheltered from fire behind works, never feel comfortable unless in them. The security of entrenchments is a constant subject of discussion by troops who use them. It is a matter of education. They are taught that one man equals five or six of the enemy. This they remember when called upon to attack entrenchments of the enemy, about which they are necessarily timid. Troops in works, engaged the first time, are always bolder than afterwards — stand erect and deliver their fire with precision as they were used to in the open field; after a few engagements, the thought of constant security is always with them, and their object is to be always covered by the works, while under fire.

An army, accustomed to entrenchments, has its efficiency impaired as a whole, from the fact that in nearly every division one or two brigades consider it hazardous in the extreme to attack entrenchments; herce, in the attack hesitate, and hesitancy in attacking works is certain defeat. A bold and defiant attack on works, though attended with great loss when successful, generally drives troops from the works before reaching themwhich shows that boldness in attack and nearness make a sudden change in the ideas of the troops behind the works, they being discouraged, and disappointed in not seeing the enemy easily and certainly driven back.

A general who resorts to entrenchments, when there is any chance of success in engaging in the open field, commits a great error. Entrenchments are sometimes necessary for the safety of an army, encountering greatly superior numbers to gain time, or to save an army defeated by superior numbers. When these occasions are plainly visible to the army, I do not see that its efficiency is necessarily impaired, when encountering the enemy again in the open field; but the habitual use of entrenchment certainly impairs the boldness of attack in any army. [139]

To attack entrenchments, give me troops who have never served behind them. Good troops, in line of battle, before using entrenchments, feel as secure without works as with them. As an instance, recall your division, at Sharpsburg, when attacked by more than five times its number in an open field, or again your brigade at Gaines's Mills, when it carried the works of the enemy.

I would not be understood as arguing against the use of entrenchments when the occasion is plain for their use; but certainly against an army habitually using them; for the latter use of them destroys a plan of campaign, and there is no campaign; and the generals are besieging, or resisting a siege in fact, and with casualties from day to day soon equivalent to the loss in a general engagement.

I am yours, truly,

This officer enjoyed a fair opportunity to note the effect of long continued use of entrenchments upon an army. He served with distinction until the close of the war, and displayed superior ability as a corps commander whilst in the Army of Tennessee.

A forcible example of the difference in the mode of handling troops — as illustrated by General Lee, and those generals who constantly resort to the use of fortifications — is afforded in the recent war between France and Prussia, and also in that between Turkey and Russia. One hundred and fifty thousand of Louis Napoleon's Army, under Bazaine, shut themselves up in the stronghold of Metz; allowed a much larger number of Germans to surround them; to construct works almost as formidable as their own, and quietly await their surrender for want of provisions.

The Turks committed a similar blunder at Plevna, in allowing a fine army to be entrapped and the remainder of their forces to become demoralized by the natural effect of this gross error, in lieu of holding their troops well in hand, taking some general line upon which to retard and cripple the enemy as much as possible, and, finally, beat him, if not in a general pitched battle, in detail; the only chance of success for the weaker power grappling with its strong enemy. Had [140] General Lee pursued the plan of the French or of the Turks, he would have entrenched himself at an early day of the war — say at Winchester; have allowed the Federals to surround him with five times his numbers; to constr.uct breastworks, finally, to compel him to surrender, and thus bring demoralization to his countrymen, in addition to the loss of their cause.

The “reckless” attacks around Atlanta — so designated by General Johnston--enabled us to hold that city forty-six days, whereas, he abandoned in sixty-six days one hundred miles of territory, and demoralized the Army.

It is a significant fact that General Sherman dedicates only thirty-eight pages to an account of the rapidity with which he dislodged Johnston from one position after another in the mountains from Dalton to Atlanta, and devotes that number to an explanation of the necessary operations of his Army, in order to force me to abandon the one untenable position of Atlanta.

General Johnston says:3

General Hartsuff, General Schofield's Inspector General, told me, in the succeeding Spring, that the valor and discipline of our troops at Franklin, won the highest admiration in the Federal Army.

The valor displayed at Franklin, and which deservedly won the admiration of the Federals, was caused by the handling of the troops in a directly opposite manner to that of General Johnston, together with the advance movement previously inaugurated, and the mortification experienced after the unfortunate failure the day before at Spring Hill. Inasmuch as General Johnston never inaugurated a forward movement, nor sought out the enemy, but invariably retreated in their front, he is not able to comprehend the origin of the gallantry so conspicuous on that field. He, therefore, errs as egregiously in the supposition that his continued retreat from Dalton to Atlanta and incessant entrenching gave rise to the courage displayed, at Franklin, as in his endeavor to find a parallel to [141] his campaign in that of Lee against Grant, from the Rappahannock to Petersburg: they in truth are the opposite of one another.

General Johnston states,4 “In transferring the command to General Hood I explained my plans to him.” He may have said somewhat to me in regard to his plans — if, indeed, he had at any time resolved upon the defence of Atlanta — but I have no recollection thereof; possibly, from the fact that I was thoroughly engrossed by the grave responsibilities unexpectedly thrust upon me at that critical moment At all events, we are now informed, through his Narrative, that he had two plans, and that, if the first had failed, the second would, at least, have secured to the Confederacy Atlanta “forever.”

Thus would have been wrought our independence, and the Southern people have been spared the sorrow and degradation to which they were so long subjected. If General Johnston be correct in his assertion that no reason exists why Atlanta should not have been held “forever,” a heavy responsibility rests upon the Confederate authorities who relieved him of the command of the Army of Tennessee.

Heavier still is the responsibility assumed by them, when they refused to dismiss General Lee from the command of the Army of Northern Virginia, and to re-assign General Johnston to that position, after his recovery from a wound received at the battle of Seven Pines.

He states, in addition,5 that his “Army had a place of refuge in Atlanta, too strong to be taken by assault, and too extensive to be invested.” According to his theory, Richmond, which was larger than Atlanta, should also have been too extensive to be invested; and its defences, which I am certain any council of competent officers would pronounce more tenable than those of its sister city, should also have been too strong to be carried by assault. It follows, therefore, that if General Johnston could have held Atlanta “forever,” [142] most assuredly would he have held Richmond “forever,” and have given us that freedom for which the great Lee struggled so gloriously, but in vain. Again, if this General felt it within his power to hold Atlanta “forever,” unpardonable is the offence he committed, in refusing to answer definitely, when interrogated by the President who was anxious to ascertain whether or not he intended to defend Atlanta. In view of the abandonment of one hundred miles of territory into the very heart of the country, it was but natural the Government should have made such inquiry; and who, with any degree of justice, can question the right of the authorities, at Richmond, to have sought, nay demanded, a positive answer from one of their subordinate officers? Had General Lee been placed in the same position, how long would he have hesitated to answer most fully and satisfactorily the President's inquiry on the 16th of July?

If General Johnston had, at that time, informed President Davis that he could see no reason why Atlanta should not be held “forever,” he would have been retained in command. I know this to be true; moreover, the correspondence I have already published, clearly indicates this fact. Lastly, if his declaration in regard to the tenability of Atlanta be grounded upon sound principles, who of my countrymen will forgive him for having deserted me under the peculiar trials of the hour, instead of aiding me by his counsels to accomplish the great end, at the sacrifice of every personal consideration, and in the spirit of a true patriot.

These are, indeed, grave questions, and afford matter for serious reflection to every Southerner, especially since General Johnston claims, by asserting his ability to have held Atlanta “forever,” the power to have saved the Confederacy from the disaster and ruin which followed. As already stated, the order relieving him from the command of the Army was received upon the 17th of July, at 11 p. m., he, unwilling to await the dawn of day, promulgated the order that night to the troops, and by dark, the next evening, he was journeying [143] towards Macon with all speed possible. Had he remained with the Army, at my urgent solicitation, he would undoubtedly, have gained the credit of saving Atlanta, in the event of success; in case of failure, his friends could, as they have already done, have taken measures to protect his reputation by asserting that I had not altogether followed his counsels. The responsibility of non-success would have rested upon me, whilst he had nothing to lose, and all to gain. He was, however, in so great haste to leave the scene of action that I have almost been inclined to think he was rejoiced at having been relieved from the duty of holding Atlanta “forever,” and thus insuring the independence of his people.

It now devolves upon me, in order to vindicate myself, as well as the Confederate Government, and to exonerate my predecessor from the charge of apparent insensibility to the fate of Atlanta and his country, to show that some doubt actually exists of his ability to have held Atlanta “forever.”

First, I will consider the evidence to be presented against his intention, at any time, to fight for this city, and then demonstrate the insufficiency of his power to make good an assertion which, after an interim of nigh ten years, is, for the first time, published to the world.

It was generally believed, before the Army abandoned Dalton, that General Johnston would make a stand at that point; throughout his correspondence with the Government, during the Winter and Spring of 1864, and in which he urges all available troops to be sent immediately to his command, one is led to suppose that he actually intended to fight at that stronghold. In his letter to President Davis, dated January 2d, 1 864, he speaks thus :6 “I can see no other mode of taking the offensive here than to beat the enemy when he advances, and then move forward.” In response to General Bragg's letter of March 12th, proffering fully eighty thousand (80,000) men, as an inducement to assume the offensive, and to which [144] letter I have already referred, General Johnston dispatched the following telegram:7

Your letter by Colonel Sale received. Grant is at Nashville. Where Grant is we must expect the great Federal effort. We ought, therefore, to be prepared to beat him here “--at Dalton. In his written reply to the same, he says:8” We cannot estimate the time he (the enemy) will require for preparation, and should, consequently, put ourselves in condition for successful resistance as soon as possible by assembling here the troops you enumerate. “Again,9” I would have the troops assemble here without delay, to repel Grant's attack and then make our own.

It is hereby evident that as long as General Johnston endeavored to obtain the transfer, to his own command, of Longstreet's Corps in Virginia, and of Polk's Army in Mississippi, he spoke continually of fighting at Dalton; when, however, Sherman appeared at Tunnel Hill, in front of Rockyfaced Ridge, and he was given an Army of over seventy thousand (70,000) available troops — as I have demonstrated — he decided to retreat. What followed at Resaca? Retreat. New Hope Church? Retreat. Cassville? Retreat. Kennesaw Mountain? Retreat. Would we have fought at Atlanta after our inglorious campaign, the abandonment of the mountain fastnesses, and the foreshadowed intention of our commander to fall back to Macon?

I shall now glance at his two plans for the defence of Atlanta, one of which was to insure the security of that city “forever.” By his first plan, he hoped to attack the enemy as they crossed Peach Tree creek. Within thirty-six hours, almost before he had time to select quarters in Macon after his departure on the evening of the 18th of July, General Thomas was crossing Peach Tree creek, whilst McPherson and Schofield were moving to destroy the railroad to Augusta. General Johnston evidently had little faith in this plan, since he was unwilling to await thirty-six hours to test its feasibility. [145]

By his second, and, “far more promising plan,” as he designates it, he intended to man the works of Atlanta, on the side towards Peach Tree creek, with the Georgia State troops; and. upon the approach of the enemy, to attack with the three corps of the Army in conjunction with the cavalry.

When the advance sheets of Johnston's Narrative appeared before the public, I read with amazement the account of this extraordinary project, and, forthwith, addressed the following letter to Major General Gustavus W. Smith, who commanded the Georgia State troops previous to General Johnston's removal, and during the siege of Atlanta:

General:--Having occasion to refer to your official report of the operations of the Georgia Militia around Atlanta, I find you were assigned the command of these troops the 1st of June, 1864; that you relieved General Wayne, who had been placed under, and subject to, the orders of General Johnston; that you had, at the time you crossed the Chattahoochee and marched to the support of General Johnston, about three thousand (3000) effective men; that when you recrossed the river and reported to me for duty in the trenches around Atlanta, you had about two thousand (2000) effective muskets. You also state that Governor Brown called out the reserves; that the largest number of effective men in your command, at any one time during the siege, did not exceed five thousand (5000); that they were poorly equipped, more than two-thirds of them having no cartridge boxes; that most of the reserves had never been drilled and the others but a few days, etc., etc.

Your relations with the Governor of Georgia, at this time, were such as to enable you to form a correct opinion as to whether or not Governor Brown furnished me, for the defence of Atlanta, as many State troops as he could or would have furnished General Johnston, had the latter remained in command. The Governor gave me to understand that he had sent forward all the militia he could enroll, and I have no reason to doubt his assertion.

Your large experience as a soldier, moreover, enables you to form an estimate as to the ability of five thousand (5000) militia to have occupied the trenches in front of the enemy, and have held Atlanta against General Sherman's Army of over one hundred thousand (100,000) effective men, and thereby to have rendered free the three corps, which constituted the whole Army of Tennessee, and have allowed them to [146] operate on the outside against either flank of the enemy. My reason for requesting your military opinion upon this subject is that in General Jos. E. Johnston's forthcoming book appears the following statement:10

“In transferring the command to General Hood I explained my plans to him. First, I expected an opportunity to engage the enemy on terms of advantage while they were divided in crossing Peach Tree creek, trusting to General Wheeler's vigilance for the necessary information. If successful, the great divergence of the Federal line of retreat from the direct route available to us would enable us to secure decisive results; if unsuccessful, we had a safe place of refuge in our entrenched lines close at hand. Holding it, we could certainly keep back the enemy, as at New Hope Church and in front of Marietta, until the State troops promised by Governor Brown were assembled. Then, I intended to man the works of Atlanta on the side toward Peach Tree creek with those troops, and leisurely fall back with the Confederate troops into the town, and, when the Federal Army approached, march out with the three corps against one of its flanks. If we were successful, the enemy would be driven against the Chattahoochee where there are no fords, or to the east, away from their communications, as the attack might fall on their right or left. If unsuccessful, the Confederate Army had a near and secure place of refuge in Atlanta, which it could hold forever, and so win the campaign, of which that place was the object. The passage of Peach Tree creek may not have given an opportunity to attack; but there is no reason to think that the second and far most promising plan might not have been executed.”

Whilst I acknowledge with pleasure the gallant conduct and efficient service of the Georgia State troops in the defence of Atlanta, I cannot conceive how they could have been expected to accomplish all that General Johnston seems to have anticipated, i. e., man so long a line of breastworks as that on the side of Peach Tree creek, which embraced the front of General Sherman's entire Army; and when, as you will remember, within three days after General Johnston relinquished the command, the enemy's left was across the Augusta Railroad, southeast of the town, and moving rapidly southwest to destroy the railroad to Macon.

Your views upon this important subject, I should be pleased to have at your earliest convenience.

Yours truly,


General:--Your letter of the 17th inst. is received. In answer to your first inquiry I have to say that, in my opinion, you were furnished with all the State forces that the Governor of Georgia, could by the use of extraordinary powers bring to assist in the defence of Atlanta.

Your second question calls for my opinion “as to the ability of five thousand (5000) militia to have occupied the trenches in front of the enemy and have held Atlanta against General Sherman's Army of over one hundred thousand (I00,000) effective men, and thereby to have rendered free the three corps, which constituted the whole Army of Tennessee, and have allowed them to operate on the outside against either flank of the enemy.”

Atlanta would, in all probability, have been taken by the enemy within twenty-four hours after its defence was entrusted to the Georgia militia, because in number this force was entirely inadequate, under the circumstances.

Very truly yours,

I was unwilling to harbor a suspicion that Governor Brown would have furnished for the defence of the State, and of our common cause, a larger number of troops to General Johnston than to myself; neither could I perceive in what manner the impossibilities, suggested by this General, were to be accomplished by the Georgia militia. General Gustavus W. Smith is a soldier, as well as an engineer, of eminent ability, and his opinion is entitled to much weight in a discussion of this character.

The side towards Peach Tree creek embraced about the entire front of General Sherman's Army. I, therefore, found it necessary to place not only the Georgia State troops on that side, but also two corps of the Army, whilst I made the attack of the 22d of July with a single corps and the cavalry. I very much regret General Johnston's inability to have remained, and enlightened me in regard to the means to hold Sherman's one hundred and six thousand (106,000) at bay with five [148] thousand (5000) militia, whilst I attacked one of the enemy's flanks with the entire Army of Tennessee. If this feat could have been achieved, great results might have ensued. In view of General Johnston's now avowed intention to have made a stand at Atlanta, it would certainly have been more judicious to have marched direct to the line he had resolved to defendas General Lee marched out of Maryland and Pennsylvania to the Rapidan; to have thus reserved the twenty-five thousand (25,000) effective men and nineteen thousand (19,000) muskets, lost on our retreat through Georgia, and have used these trained soldiers and good muskets on the side towards Peach Tree creek, instead of General Gustavus W. Smith's five thousand militia, many of whom were armed with flint lock muskets, and were devoid even of cartridge boxes. Surely this plan would seem to have been more feasible, and certainly more promising.

If Sherman had not a sufficient force to form a cordon of troops round the city, he was able to accomplish his object by equally effective means. The size of Atlanta in no manner hindered the destruction of our railway line of communications which, in the exhausted condition of our resources the last year of the war, we were no wise competent to re-establish when great damage had been committed. We had neither the material nor the force to repair them.

If General Johnston considered Atlanta so especially adapted to his purposes, inasmuch as it was too extensive to be invested and too strong to be carried by assault, I am at a loss to divine the reason why he did not take a radius equal to that of Atlanta, and describe a circle from a given centre, within the mountains of Georgia; throw up entrenchments, and declare to the world the impregnability of his position and his intention to hold it “forever.” Trees of the forest would certainly have been of as much or more service to him than buildings proved to me in Atlanta, or to General Lee in Petersburg, and Richmond. [149]

No more decided advantage was to be derived from the junction of railways, at Atlanta, than was afforded at Kingston, or any other point on the railway line below Dalton, because of our poverty in resources towards the close of hostilities and consequent inability to reconstruct at the same time two or three roads when seriously damaged.

1 Johnston's Narrative, page 365.

2 Johnston's Narrative, page 349.

3 Johnston's Narrative, page 365.

4 Johnston's Narrative, page 350.

5 Johnston's Narrative, page 358.

6 Johnston's Narrative, page 275.

7 Johnston's Narrative, page 294.

8 Johnston's Narrative, page 295.

9 Johnston's Narrative, page 296.

10 Johnston's Narrative, pages 350, 351.

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