previous next

Chapter 9:

After General Johnston's abandonment of the mountains of Georgia, his inconsistency in maintaining that Atlanta was a position “too strong to be carried by assault,” must indeed strike with surprise not only military men, but civilians of intelligence. From the earliest periods of history mountain fastnesses have proved, by actual test, the most secure strongholds to every people determined upon obstinate resistance. General Lee asserted shortly before the close of the war that he could continue the struggle twenty years longer, if hostilities were transferred to the mountain regions of the Confederacy. Numerous instances are adducible to attest the fact that prolongation of war is ofttimes to be attributed to such protection from Nature. To cite an example from a neighboring island, how long, I venture to inquire, would the Cubans have held out against the Spanish Government, if their territory had been devoid of mountains, and had stretched forth to the sea in one vast plain like the country from Atlanta?

But when the Confederate commander, with seventy thousand available men, surrendered the Thermopylae of the South [151] without risking a general battle, it is hardly reasonable to suppose that he would have made a final stand upon the plains of Georgia.

According to the following extract from an official telegram, even General Sherman was in doubt as to whether or not Johnston would fight for Atlanta:1

headquarters Military Division of the Mississippi, in the field, at San House, Peach Tree road, five miles N. E. Of Buckhead, Ga., July 18, 1864:
* * It is hard to realize that Johnston will give up Atlanta without a fight, but it may be so. Let us develop the truth.

W. T. Sherman, Major General Commanding.

My predecessor had evidently another scheme in reserve. General Forrest was required, with five thousand (5000) cavalry in Tennessee, to destroy Sherman's communications with Nashville,--at least, in so far as to hinder Sherman from receiving sufficient supplies for the maintenance of his Army. General Wheeler's cavalry force numbered over ten thousand (10,000,), and was composed of as brave men as those under the command of Forrest. If this force, with the exception of a small detachment to protect the flanks of the Army, was unable to break the Federal line of communications, I cannot conceive in what manner General Forrest was expected to accomplish this object with only five thousand (5000) menespecially, when Sherman had a large force of cavalry attached to his own Army, as well as another large body of this arm in Tennessee; had erected block houses at every important bridge and culvert, and had stationed infantry at fixed points along the entire line between Nashville and Atlanta, forming, it might be said, a chain of sentinels. The Federals had at their disposal locomotives of great power, and a sufficient number of cars to move, within a few hours, a corps of infantry to any one threatened point. Their vast resources enabled [152] them also to rebuild the railroad almost as fast as Forrest could have destroyed it. General Johnston, therefore, errs in the supposition that five thousand cavalry, under these circumstances, could have so effectually destroyed Sherman's communications as to compel him to retreat. The impossibility of the success of this plan, however, will be clearly established when I give an account of the inability, during the siege of Atlanta, of Forrest's cavalry together with about five thousand under Wheeler to accomplish this important object.

I am, therefore, reluctant to believe that General Johnston possessed any more definite idea of defending Atlanta than he had of defending Dalton, or any other position from that point to Atlanta. He brings forward the presence of his family in this city, as evidence of his intention to make a stand; and affirms that the entrenchments thrown up, together with the moving forward of heavy artillery, support his testimony. Unfortunately, in view of his history in the past, the evidence is not conclusive. He threw up various lines of works during his campaign, and, successively, abandoned them; moreover, whatever heavy artillery had been ordered to the front could, if the necessity had arisen, have been placed upon cars, and been removed to the rear. In regard to the first plea, I am unable to discover why his family could not retreat as well as the Army.

A General who, at New Hope Church, informed his corps commanders that he considered Macon, one hundred miles beyond Atlanta, the point to fall back upon, would hardly have resisted the temptation to carry out his suggestion, when to retreat was, with him, if not a fixed principle, certainly an inveterate habit.

Aside from any other evidence, the following extract from a letter received from General M. C. Butler,2 now United States Senator, is sufficient to prove that General Johnston had no hope or idea of holding Atlanta. [153]

Edgefield, S. C., July 18th, 1874.
* * * * * * I was with General Johnston when he arranged the terms of surrender with Sherman. Generals Hampton and Wheeler being away at the time, I commanded the cavalry of Johnston's Army and accompanied him with an escort to the last interview with Sherman, and on our return to camp he told me that he had had no confidence in the success of our cause for two years. * * * *

As stated, if this General could have held Atlanta forever, he likewise would have held Richmond “forever.”

In this connection I will,--in defence of General Lee, make known an historical fact of singular interest, and of which I have but recently been apprised; it is true the matter was hinted about at the date of the occurrence, but I now, for the first time, receive the information from the highest authority.

About the 26th of April, 1874, I met, in Mobile, the Honorable C. M. Conrad, of Louisiana. We were each en route to New Orleans, and in the freedom of friendly conversation, we discussed without restraint the subject of the late war. General Johnston's book was referred to, when Mr. Conrad remarked that Mr. McFarland, of Richmond, Virginia, a volunteer aid on the staff of General Johnston at the time of his retreat from Yorktown — had informed him, during the war, that General Johnston said to him (Mr. McFarland), on the retreat from Yorktown, that he (Johnston) expected or intended to give up Richmond. Mr. McFarland expostulated and protested; finally expressed to the Commanding General the hope that he would change his mind. I at once observed to Mr. Conrad that this fact was truly an important link in the history of that period, and, if no objection existed upon his part, I might on some occasion refer to the incident. He replied, “Well, it is a matter of history,” or words to that effect.

The above is almost verbatim the statement of Mr. Conrad to me, in Mobile. When we remember the high character of the late Mr. McFarland, a banker of Richmond, a citizen who was not only beloved and respected in Virginia, but well known to all the prominent men of the South as a gentleman of honor [154] and unimpeachable integrity, and when we consider the name, the position, and the career of the Honorable C. M. Conrad, the testimony becomes irrefutable.

Richmond would have been abandoned by General Johnston at the outset of the struggle, had he been afforded the opportunity; in other words, had he not, in consequence of his disability, been replaced by General Lee, who retained, to the end, command of the Army of Northern Virginia.

Shortly after my return to New Orleans I resolved to obtain from Mr. Conrad a written statement of this important fact. He had, however, left for Washington. Thereupon I addressed him the following letter:

my Dear Sir:--I called at your office this morning to ask that you give me a memorandum of the statement of Mr. McFarland to you, in regard to General Johnston's giving up the city of Richmond at the time of his retreat from Yorktown. Since Mr. McFarland was, at this time, a volunteer aid of General Johnston, and was so well and so favorably known throughout Virginia, and by our prominent men of the South, any statement of his to one of your prominence in the public affairs of this country, makes a very important link in history — in fact becomes of great historical value. If — no objection on your part, I would be much pleased to have you give me, in brief, what you stated to me on this subject, in Mobile, about the 26th ultimo.

Respectfully and truly yours,

I received in answer the following:

Washington, D. C., June 13th, 1874.
Dear General :--On my return a few days ago from a visit to West Virginia, I found your letter and telegram. Upon reflection, I have determined that I cannot with propriety comply with your request.

In the first place, although the conversation between Mr. McFarland and myself, of which you ask me to give you a statement, was not professedly confidential, it might, from its nature, be considered impliedly so, as it related to a communication which was confidentially made by General Johnston to him, and which he would, probably, not have divulged to any one but an intimate friend. It was perhaps indiscreet [155] in me to have repeated the remark at all; but to give publicity to it, and that for a purpose unfriendly to General Johnston, would, in my view, be unjust both to General Johnston and to Mr. McFarland, as the latter is no longer alive to explain it, if necessary to maintain his statement.

I will add that I have long known and esteemed General Johnston and his family. In his quarrel with Mr. Davis (which you are aware commenced long before the events which gave rise to the controversy between him and yourself), he had my sympathy and support. Under these circumstances for me to volunteer a statement not for the purpose of vindicating your military reputation, but for the purpose of assailing him in a matter with which you were in no manner concerned, would, I think, give just cause of complaint to him and his friends. I am sure that on considering the matter you will come to the same conclusion.

Very truly yours,

I subjoin my reply:

Dear Sir:--I received a few days ago your letter of the 13th ult., which was forwarded from New Orleans. Its consequent delay in reaching me will in part account for my tardiness in replying.

Whilst I fully appreciate your unwillingness to comply with my request, I cannot agree in forming with you the conclusion that I should remain silent upon this important matter of history. I have, with your consent granted at the time of our conversation in Mobile, already mentioned to a number of our common friends, the fact of General Johnston's intention to abandon Richmond, after his retreat from Yorktown, as expressed to Mr. McFarland; and one of our friends, after listening with great interest to my assertion, and being informed that I had requested of you a written statement of the fact, remarked: “ If Charles M. Conrad told you this, he will give it to you in writing.”

Moreover, I am not only indirectly but, I may say, directly concerned in this matter, from the fact that I have publicly stated that General Johnston foreshadowed to his corps commanders at New Hope Church, his intention to retreat to Macon, Georgia, during his campaign of ‘64 from Dalton. I am the only living witness of this historic truth; therefore, Mr. McFarland's testimony, through one of your prominence and character, becomes of great relative value to me.

When I again have the leisure to continue my reply to the many unwarranted statements contained in General Johnston's book, I may find it necessary to bring forth also this important truth.

I am yours truly,


When I recall the different events with which the military career of General Johnston is connected, it is difficult to believe that he ever had any other fixed plan than that of retreat. Possibly the following paragraph in reference to a light engagement of General Hardee, on the I5th of March, I865, near Averysboroa, North Carolina, may indicate the nature of his expectations, after a surrender of Richmond, Atlanta, etc., etc., and a final retreat to the seashore, the last point of resistance: “That report, if correct, proves that the soldiers of General Sherman's Army had been demoralized by their course of life on the Southern plantations. Those soldiers, when fighting between Dalton and Atlanta, could not have been driven back repeatedly by a fourth of their number, with a loss so utterly insignificant.” Was it General Johnston's policy to retreat till he had demoralized the enemy, and demoralized them by their course of life on Southern plantations? An easy victory even at such cost would, indeed, have been dearly bought.

I do not wish to be understood as, in any manner, questioning the courage of this General. He would have led men into action as gallantly as any soldier. But leading men into action is one thing, and ordering an Army into battle is another. To issue an order of great moment and simply to obey instructions, involve such different measures of responsibility that a distinct degree of moral courage is requisite to fulfil either duty. General Johnston has defended himself by charging me with recklessness, and exposure of my troops to “useless butchery.” I may, therefore, be pardoned if I point out what I consider his main defects — the reason, in fact, why his name is not coupled with a single glorious victory in the annals of our four years struggle, since it is, most assuredly, not because of lack of personal courage. It becomes necessary to express myself somewhat explicitly, in order that no misapprehension be engendered.

Caution and boldness are the two predominant qualities which characterize all soldiers of merit — I mean the caution and boldness tempered by wisdom, which such men as Napoleon [157] I., Lee, Stonewall Jackson, Von Moltke, and Sir Garnet Wolseley have exhibited in so high a degree. These soldiers have shown themselves gifted with that intuition of the true warrior which rendered them bold in strategy, rapid in movement, and determined in battle. Observation has taught me that a commander may acquire sufficient caution by receiving hard blows, but he cannot acquire boldness. It is a gift from Heaven. A soldier whose quality of caution far exceeds that of boldness, can never be eminent in war. He cannot overcome nature, and experience that self-confidence requisite to order an Army into battle. If from pride or wounded vanity he make the venture, after long awaiting a more and more favorable opportunity, he will, as a rule, strike at the most unpropitious moment. Herein lies the deficiency of General Johnston. He is a man of courage and ability, and a fine organizer of an Army for the field; but he lacks the bold genius of Lee, and, consequently, will rarely, if ever, see sufficient chances in his favor — especially at the right time — to induce him to risk battle. Seven Pines is, I think, the only battle he attempted to inaugurate during the war, although it may be said that he commanded more men than any other Confederate officer. In this instance he had received information that a small body of the enemy had crossed the Chickahominy; he attempted to crush it with his entire force, and, even then, failed. He invariably throws up entrenchments, fortifies his line, and there remains in deliberation upon the best means to defeat the enemy without risking a general engagement, when, suddenly, he finds himself outflanked, and issues the usual order for retreat.

The same defect — want of decision and self-reliance — exhibits itself eminently in the lower grades of rank in an army. Among ten brave division commanders who, under orders, would lead their troops anywhere and everywhere, seldom will be found one who, in a position to act upon his own responsibility, will attack at a favorable moment, especially when detached and ordered to the rear of the enemy. If the [158] inquiry be made of any enterprising, self-reliant division commander who has participated in many engagements, as to how often his request has been granted when, heavily engaged with superior numbers, he has called upon his neighboring division commander (whose troops were lying inactive) to furnish him the assistance of a brigade, he will reply that rarely has succor been afforded, even in the most critical moment of battle. His neighbor, albeit a man who knows not fear, was generally unwilling to act and give the necessary support without orders from his superior officer, because of his over-development of caution and his deficiency in boldness — the counterbalancing quality.

Again, few men are endowed with the capacity to execute such moves as those of Stonewall Jackson, at Second Manassas, and at Chancellorsville, for the reason that, whilst en route to the rear of the enemy, the appearance of a light squad of their cavalry will cause a majority of officers to halt, form line, reconnoitre, and thus lose time and the opportunity. Jackson's wagon train was attacked by Federal cavalry whilst he was marching to the rear and flank of Hooker, at Chancellorsville; he wisely paid little attention thereto, and moved boldly on towards the main object, and achieved a signal victory.

I shall allow to pass unnoticed, in this reply several statements of General Johnston which, although equally erroneous and illiberal in spirit, are too trivial to demand my attention. I shall, therefore, end this unpleasant discussion with a brief reference to his unpardonable conduct towards me, after he again assumed command in North Carolina. He was not unmindful that he had again been restored to power. This new acquisition of authority, he determined should be felt by those who had ventured to oppose his policy, and contradict his statements. Accordingly, as I was en route for the Trans-Mississippi Department, under orders to bring to the support of General Lee all the troops that would follow me, I received, at Chester, South Carolina, the following telegram: [159]

After reading your report, as submitted, I informed General Cooper, by telegraph, that I should prefer charges against you as soon as I have leisure to do so, and desired him to give you the information.

I replied as follows:

Your telegram of this date received, informing me that you intended, as soon as you had leisure, to prefer charges against me. I am under orders for the Trans-Mississippi Department. I shall inquire of General Cooper whether I am to await my trial or proceed as ordered. I will be ready to meet any charges you may prefer.

On the following day I applied to the War Department for a Court of Inquiry.

I have the honor to request that a Court of Inquiry be assembled at the earliest practicable moment to investigate and report upon the facts and statements contained in my official report of the operations of the Army of the Tennessee.

J. B. Hood, Lieutenant General.

I received the following in reply:

Proceed to Texas as heretofore ordered.

S. Cooper, A. I. G.

A Court of Inquiry cannot be convened in your case at present. You will proceed to Texas as heretofore ordered.

S. Cooper, A. I. G.


Had I been granted a Court of Inquiry at that date, I would have produced stronger testimony than I have given, even at this late period, in relation to the points in controversy between General Johnston and myself.

This attempt to summons me before a Court Martial was his final effort, during the war, to asperse the character of a brother officer who had always been true to duty, but whose unpardonable crime was having been appointed to supersede him in the command of the Army of Tennessee.

1 Van Horne, 11 Army C., vol. II, page 121.

2 1879

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 People (automatically extracted)
hide Dates (automatically extracted)
hide Display Preferences
Greek Display:
Arabic Display:
View by Default:
Browse Bar: