previous next


Chapter 28: Atlanta campaign; battle of Dalton; Resaca begun

Of the respective commanders of the armies which were to operate in advance of Chattanooga, namely, of the Cumberland, the Tennessee, and the Ohio, Sherman was fortunate in his lieutenants. He writes:

In Generals Thomas, McPherson, and Schofield I had three generals of education and experience, admirably qualified for the work before us.

Each has made a history of his own and I need not here dwell on their respective merits as men, or as commanders of armies, except that each possessed special qualities of mind and of character which fitted him in the highest degree for the work then in contemplation.

Certain subordinate changes affected me personally. On April 5, 1864, with two or three officers, I rode from my camp in Lookout Valley to Chattanooga, some eight or ten miles, and visited General Thomas. He explained that the order was already prepared for consolidating the Eleventh and Twelfth Corps into one body to form the new Twentieth, of which Hooker was to have command. Slocum was in Vicksburg, Miss., to control operations in that quarter, and I was to go to the Fourth Corps to enable Gordon Granger to take advantage of a leave of absence. [500]

I was to gain under these new orders a fine corps, 20,000 strong, composed mainly of Western men. It had three divisions. Two commanders, Stanley and T. J. Wood, then present for duty, were men of large experience. A little later General John Newton, who will be recalled for his work at Gettysburg, and in other engagements, both in the East and West, an officer well known to every soldier, came to me at Cleveland, East Tennessee, and was assigned to the remaining division which General Wagner had been temporarily commanding.

I set out promptly for the new command, taking with me my personal staff. The Fourth Corps was much scattered, as I found on my arrival at headquarters in Loudon, April 10th. The first division (Stanley's) Thomas had kept near him. All through the winter it was on outpost duty along his direct eastern front, east of Chattanooga-two brigades being at Blue Springs and one at Ottowah; the third division (Wood's) had remained, after the Knoxville campaign, in the department of the Ohio, near to Knoxville.

Loudon was not far from the mouth of the Little Tennessee. Troops were held there to keep up communication between the two departments of Thomas and Schofield.

After the briefest visit to Loudon and assumption of command, I speedily moved the headquarters of this Fourth Corps to Cleveland, East Tennessee, fifty miles below. My first duty immediately undertaken was to concentrate the corps in that vicinity, inspect the different brigades, and ascertain their needs as to transportation, clothing, and other supplies. Part of the command, under General Wood, had been during the winter marching and camping, skirmishing and [501] fighting in the country part of East Tennessee, so that, as one may well imagine, the regiments coming from that quarter were short of everything essential to a campaign. Supplies were wanting and their animals were weak and thin.

May 3, 1864, Schofield having come down from Knoxville to complete what became Sherman's grand army, had, with his Army of the Ohio, already arrived at Cleveland. With us the preceding month had been a busy one. For both officers and men the discouragements of the past were over. Now, new life was infused through the whole body. Something was doing. Large forces were seen rapidly coming together, and it was evident to every soldier that important work was to be undertaken. On Sundays the churches were filled with soldiers. Members of the Christian Commission had been permitted to visit our camp and were still with us. Among them was D. L. Moody, the Evangelist, a noble soul, so well known to the country for his sympathy and friendship for men. His words of hope and encouragement then spoken to multitudes of soldiers were never forgotten.

I wrote from East Tennessee a few words: “I have a very pleasant place for headquarters, just in the outskirts of Cleveland. The house belonged to the company which owned the copper mill.” Again: “We are drawing near another trial of arms, perhaps more terrific than ever. But, on the eve of an active campaign and battles, I am not in any degree depressed .... When it can be done, there is a quiet happiness in being able to say, think, and feel, ‘ Not what I will, but what Thou wilt!’ . . . We are hoping that this campaign will end the war!”

With our left well covered by Ed. McCook's [502] cavalry, our Fourth Corps, at last together, emerging from Cleveland, commenced to move in two columns; the left passed through Red Clay and the other farther west by Salem Church. The morning of May 4th found us at Catoosa Springs. These springs were on the left of General Thomas's army lines. His whole front looked eastward toward Tunnel Hill. Tunnel Hill, Ga., was between the Northern and Southern armies, the dividing ridge; it was the outpost of Johnston's advanced troops, which faced toward Chattanooga. The bulk of his force was behind, at the village of Dalton, covered by artificial works northward and eastward, and by the mountain range of Rocky Face Ridge toward the west. The famous defile through this abrupt mountain was called Buzzard's Roost Gap. From Rocky Face to Tunnel Hill, which is a parallel range of heights, the Chattanooga Railroad crosses a narrow valley, passes beneath the hill by a tunnel and stretches on toward Chattanooga.

The Confederate official returns for April 30, 1864, gave Johnston's total force as 52,992, and when Polk's corps had joined a little later at Resaca his total was raised to 71,235.

Sherman, in his Memoirs, aggregates the Army of the Cumberland 60,773; the Army of the Tennessee, in the field, 24,465; the Army of the Ohio, 13,559; making a grand total of 98,797 officers and men, with 54 cannon.

As Johnston's artillerymen were about the same in number as Sherman's, probably Johnston's artillery, in its guns, numbered not less than Sherman's.

The Army of the Cumberland delayed in the vicinity of Catoosa Springs till May 7th, to enable McPherson, with the Army of the Tennessee, to get around [503] from Northern Alabama into position in Sugar Valley to the south of us and to bring down Schofield from East Tennessee to the east of us. He was located near Red Clay; that is, near Johnston's direct northern front. It will be seen that the Chattanooga (Western and Atlantic) Railroad, which passes through Tunnel Hill, Buzzard's Roost, and then on to Dalton, where it meets another branch coming from the north, through Red Clay, constituted our line of supply and communication. Thomas had early advised Sherman that, in his judgment, McPherson and Schofield should make a strong demonstration directly against the enemy's position at Dalton, while he himself with the Army of the Cumberland should pass through the Snake Creek Gap and fall upon Johnston's communications.

Thomas felt confident, if his plan were adopted, that a speedy and decisive victory would result. I believe that he, as events have proved, was right; but Sherman then thought and declared that the risk to his own communications was too great to admit of his throwing his main body so quickly upon the enemy's rear, and he then feared to attempt this by a detour of twenty miles.

Later in the campaign Sherman's practical judgment induced him to risk even more than that when he sent whole armies upon the enemy's lines of communication and supply; but at this time Sherman chose McPherson's small but stalwart force for that twenty miles forward and flanking operation.

The morning of May 7th my corps left camp at Catoosa Springs to perform its part in these operations. It led off, due east, along the Alabama road till it came into the neighborhood of a Mr. Lee's house.

Here, under my observation, a partial unfolding of [504] my troops took place; quite a long front appeared-Stanley's division on the right, Newton's on the left, and Wood's in reserve. First, a few cracks of hostile rifles, then an exciting skirmish on both sides set in, but there was no halting. Steadily our men pressed forward, driving back first the Southern cavalry pickets and outer lines till, awakening opposition more and more, about nine o'clock our foe crowned Tunnel Hill with considerable force and fired briskly upon our advance. The same angry reception was given to the Fourteenth Corps, coming up simultaneously southward beyond our right. Then I saw that the Confederate artillery had only cavalry supports, so that immediately I ordered a charge along our lines. Our troops promptly sprang forward and carried the “crowned hill.”

Now, from Tunnel Hill we had Rocky Face in plain view. It was a continuous craggy ridge at least 500 feet high, very narrow on top, but having in places a perpendicular face almost as abrupt as the Palisades of the Hudson; the eastern steeps, favorable to Johnston's ascent and defense, were more gradual.

Through Buzzard's Roost Gap, which cuts in two the Rocky Face, there were both a railway and a wagon road, also a small stream of water.

This the Confederates had so dammed up as to present a formidable obstacle. They had further so arranged their batteries and their infantry intrenchments as to completely sweep every hollow and pathway in that formidable defile.

Thomas, however, as he always did, pushed us forward with steadiness and vigor-Fourteenth Corps in the center, Fourth and Twentieth on the left and right. Meanwhile McPherson was steadily winding his way [505] through Snake Creek Gap toward Resaca, and Schofield constantly pressing his heavy skirmish lines from Red Clay toward Dalton, to unveil from that northern side Johnston's half-concealed intrenchments.

A couple of miles away to my right, southward, on May 9th, the Twentieth Corps, under Hooker, had hard fighting indeed. Fifty men were killed and a large number wounded. My personal friend, Lieutenant Colonel McIlvain, Sixty-fourth Ohio, was killed here. Every regimental commander in this hard struggle was wounded. The Fourteenth Corps also, under Palmer, nearer to us, had its own brisk work.

From this command, the Sixty-sixth Illinois kept working forward by the side of the dangerous gap, drawing fire, and driving in the enemy's outer lines. The soldiers finally obtained shelter, without being able to get farther forward, within speaking distance of their foes. One enterprising corporal made a bargain with some Confederates who were throwing heavy bowlders from above, that if they would refrain from their bothersome work, he would read to them the President's famous amnesty proclamation. He did so, and comparative quiet was kept during this strange entertainment.

On May 8th General Newton, with my second division, had managed, after working up some two miles north of the gap, to push a small force up the slope, and then, taking the defenders by a rush drove them along southward on the ridge until he had succeeded in capturing from the Confederates at least one-third of the ridge. Here he established a signal station. He next tried, but in vain, to seize and capture a Confederate signal party, which he deemed too actively talking by the busy use of their flags. [506]

Stanley and Wood, on Newton's right, stretched out their own lines to some extent, and gave Newton all the support they could in that difficult ground near the west palisades of the ridge. During the night his men dragged up the steeps two pieces of artillery, and by their help gained another 100 yards of the hotly disputed crest.

On May 9th another experiment was tried. Under instructions I sent Stanley's division for a reconnoissance into that horrid gap of Buzzard's Roost, until it had drawn from the enemy a strong artillery fire, which redoubled the echoes and roarings of the valleys and caused to be opened the well-known incessant rattle of long lines of musketry.

It was while making preparations for this fearful reconnoissance that a group of officers were standing around me, among them General Stanley and Colonel (then Captain) G. C. Kniffin, of his staff. The enemy's riflemen were, we thought, beyond range; but one of them, noticing our party, fired into the group. His eccentric bullet made three holes through the back of my coat, but without wounding me, and then passed through Kniffin's hat, and finally struck a tree close at hand. The group of observers speedily changed their position.

McPherson, now near Resaca, was not so successful as Sherman had hoped. Though there were but two Confederate brigades at that town, the nature of the ground was, for McPherson, unpropitious in the extreme. The abrupt ravines, the tangled and thick wood, and the complete artificial works, recently renewed, which covered the approaches to Resaca, made McPherson unusually cautious, so that the first day, after an unsuccessful effort to strike the railroad, [507] Johnston's main artery, he fell back to a defensive line near the mouth of the gap and there intrenched his front.

Just as soon as Sherman had received this news, he altered his plan and sent his main army, except Stoneman's cavalry division and my corps, by the same route. General Stoneman, with his force, had just arrived from Kentucky.

With this comparatively small force I kept up on the old ground a lively and aggressive work during Thomas's and Schofield's southward march with perhaps even more persistency than before; yet probably the withdrawal of Schofield from Red Clay by Sherman, and the replacement of his skirmishers by cavalry, together with the report that McPherson was so near to his communications, made the always wary and watchful Confederate general suspicious that something in the enemy's camp — that is, in my part of it — was going wrong for him.

Therefore, on the 12th he pushed a sizable force out northward toward Stoneman, and made a strong reconnoissance, which, like a handsome parade, I beheld from Newton's Ridge and which in the ravines and thickets and uncertain light was magnified to large proportions in the lively vision of our soldiers beholding it.

At first some of our officers feared that Johnston, letting his communications go, would attempt a battle, so as to crush my Fourth Corps. But soon the tide turned, and the tentative force retired within the Confederate intrenchments.

Under cover of the night ensuing, Joe Johnston, as he did many times thereafter, made one of his handsome retreats; no man could make retreats from the [508] front of an active, watchful enemy with better success than he. At daylight of the 13th I pressed my moving forces with all speed after the foe as boldly as possible, but was delayed all day by the enemy's active rear guard, the roughness of the country affording that guard successive shelters. It took time to dislodge the fearless hinderers, yet I did finally before dark of the same night succeed in forming substantial junction with Sherman, who, in person, having hastened on the day before, was at that time near McPherson on ground to the west of Resaca. Meanwhile, Johnston, with his main body, was obstructing, by his peculiar asperities, the roads to that town and getting ready for the next day's battle.

To show the costliness of such operations, in my corps alone there were already in the little combats about 300 wounded. My march following Johnston had been rapid and full of excitement. My mind had been bent upon the situation, watching against any sudden change; sending scouts to the right and left; getting reports from the cavalry in front, or beating up the woods and thickets that might conceal an ambuscade. After my arrival in the evening came the arrangement of the men upon the new ground; then the essential reports and orders for the next day; then followed the welcome dinner that our enterprising mess purveyor and skillful cook had promptly prepared. Here around the mess chest used for a table my staff sat with me and spent a pleasant hour chatting, and leisurely eating the meal, discussing events of the past day and the hopes of the morrow.

Of the movement at Resaca Joseph E. Johnston says: “The two armies” (Sherman and his own) “were formed in front of Resaca nearly at the same [509] time, so that the federal army could give battle on equal terms, except as to numbers, by attacking promptly, the difference being about 10 to 4.”

There is evidently a great mistake in this statement. In all Confederate writings this claim of disparity of numbers is noticeable and difficult to be accounted for. General Polk had arrived and the Confederate army at this place was admitted by Hood to have been about 75,000. Sherman's force was at first, as we have seen, 98,797; then, diminished by a thousand casualties at Rocky Face and vicinity and increased by Stoneman's cavalry, which did not exceed 4,000, we had a new aggregate of about 101,797. It is difficult to understand how Johnston can make it anywhere near 10 to 4, or even 2 to 1, against him! It is well, however, to remember what we have before frequently noticed, that our opponents used the word “effectives,” counting the actual number of men carrying rifles and carbines, plus the enlisted artillerymen actually with their guns; whereas our officers counted in all present for duty, officers and men, no matter how multitudinous and varied the details might be. It is plain, however we come to estimates, that the disparity between the actual armies was not very great at the battle of Resaca. We could not possibly put into line of battle, counting actual fighting elements, more than four men to Johnston's three.

On May 14, 1864, Polk, with the new corps, had already come up.

As always in this campaign, this Confederate army was promptly marched into position, and without delay intrenched. On the other hand, our forces approaching Resaca through the gap on the one side and from Dalton on the other, had to work slowly and carefully [510] to feel for the enemy's pickets and for each other in that blind, rough, broken, wild, tangled, unknown region.

It was near twelve o'clock of May 14th before we had formed solid junction with each other, and, after that, the lines had to be changed while we worried forward. Sometimes long gaps between brigades troubled the division commanders, and sometimes an astonishing overlapping of forces displaced regiments as they advanced.

The 14th, then, was mainly spent by Sherman in placing McPherson on our right, near the Oostanaula, Schofield next, and Thomas on the left. My corps reached the railroad and formed Sherman's left, and was faced against the strong position of Hood. As the Connasauga beyond Hood bent off far to the east, it was quite impossible for my left regiments to reach that river, so that, after examining the ground, I was again forced to have the left of my line “in the air.” But Stanley's excellent division stationed there, by refusing (drawing back) its left brigade and nicely posting its artillery, formed as good an artificial obstacle against Hood as was possible.

Sherman had instructed McPherson after his arrival from Snake Creek Gap, and just before the remainder of the army joined him, to work toward his right and forward, and make an effort to seize Johnston's railroad line near Resaca. To this end, during May 14th, several lively demonstrations were made by McPherson to carry out Sherman's wishes.

The importance of McPherson's capture of some heights, situated between Camp Creek and the Oostanaula, cannot be doubted, for that high ground manned with our guns spoiled all Confederate transit [511] by the railway and the wagon road bridges, and caused the Confederates to lay a new bridge of boats farther up the river.

General Schofield with his “Army of the Ohio,” consisting of but one corps, the Twenty-third, fought near the center of our line.

It was worse and worse for Schofield (Judah's division) as he pressed forward. By the help of my troops, Cox's division was enabled to hold its ground. His soldiers acted as did McPherson's later at Atlanta: aligned themselves on the outside of their enemy's trenches and sheltered their front by making small trenches till help came. I remember well that swinging movement, for I was on a good knoll for observation. It was the first time that my attention had been especially called to that handsome, gallant young officer and able man, Jacob D. Cox. He was following his troops, and appeared full of spirit and energy as he rode past the group of officers who were with me. I was watching the movement so as to find where his lines would finally rest in order to support his left. This part of our work was exciting, for the air was already full of bursting shells and other hissing missiles of death. It was much like the first Bull Run, where my brigade was detained for several hours within hearing of the battlefield. I experienced the same feeling again here at Resaca while beholding from my high ground Cox's and Wood's divisions going so rapidly forward into battle. The noise was deafening; the missiles carried the idea of extreme danger to all within range, and the air appeared for the time as if doubly heated.

The effect was like that of a startling panorama of which one forms a part. There was a sense of danger, [512] deep and strong, relieved by a magnificent spectacle and the excitement of the contest. Such moments afford unusual glimpses of an extraordinary mental world, which leave impressions of interest and memory not easily explained.

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)
Sort dates alphabetically, as they appear on the page, by frequency
Click on a date to search for it in this document.
May 14th (2)
May 9th (2)
May 7th (2)
May 14th, 1864 AD (1)
May 3rd, 1864 AD (1)
April 30th, 1864 AD (1)
April 5th, 1864 AD (1)
May 8th (1)
May 4th (1)
April 10th (1)
7th (1)
hide Display Preferences
Greek Display:
Arabic Display:
View by Default:
Browse Bar: