previous next


Chapter 29: battle of Resaca and the Oostanaula

The partial discomfiture of Judah's enterprising men early on May 14, 1864, brought to them one of my divisions (Newton's).

Newton steadily breasted the Confederates, driving them back and causing them heavy losses, and his men, counting out a few stragglers, kept their lines perfectly and behaved like old soldiers. Newton showed here his wonted tenacity. He secured all the ground he could gain by a steady advance, and, stopping from time to time, returned fire for fire, until the fierce artillery and rifle fusillade on both sides diminished to a fitful skirmish. Palmer's corps was doing similar work to my right.

Farther toward the left, over the rough ground east of Camp Creek, and amid the underbrush and scattered chestnut trees, I beheld my third division in line. Thomas J. Wood commanded it; covered by a complete skirmish front, every man and officer was in his place. He waited, or he advanced cautiously, so as to support Newton.

I came forward and was with him as his men advanced into place. The movement was like a dress parade. I observed Wood's men with interest. How remarkably different the conduct of his veteran soldiers compared with new troops I They were not, perhaps, [514] braver, but they were less given to excitements, and knew always what was coming and what to do.

I remember, when suddenly the enemy's skirmish fire began, Wood's main lines immediately halted and lay prone upon the ground. They returned the fire, but never too rapidly.

When Wood was completely ready, he caused a quick advance, drove back the enemy's skirmishers, and seized the detached rifle pits, capturing a few prisoners. Every Confederate not killed, wounded, or captured ran at once to his breastworks proper, and for a short time the fire of artillery and infantry from his main line was brisk and destructive enough. At last, Wood, by planting and covering his own batteries with epaulements, and by intrenching and barricading his men, was able to give back blow for blow.

Stanley's division of my corps came up by my instructions on Sherman's extreme left. His men and batteries were well located, as well as could be done with the whole left flank in air. Stanley endeavored, by his reserve brigade, and by his artillery carefully posted behind his lines, through its chief, Captain Simonson, to so reinforce his left as to make up for want of any natural obstacle. Though he protected the railway and the main Dalton wagon road, yet there was a long stretch of rough ground between Stanley's left and the Oostanaula; the bend of the river was so great that an entire corps, thrust in, could hardly have filled the opening.

Stanley had the same lively advance as the others, and was well up and in position before 3 P. M. of this day, May 14th. My secretary, Joseph A. Sladen (then a private of the Thirty-third Massachusetts Infantry, [515] afterwards my aid-de-camp and by my side in campaign and battle for twenty-three years) voluntarily did such distinguished service that day that he was awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor. The coolness and courage of his example and, as he told me, equally energetic work of my brother, Lieutenant Colonel C. H. Howard, inspired panic-stricken troops to turn and repel fierce assaults. Johnson was quick to detect anything so tempting as a “flank in air,” and so he directed Hood to send heavy columns against and beyond my left flank.

The front attack was handsomely met and the batteries well used, but Stanley, finding the turning force too great for him, sent word to me, then near Wood, that the enemy was rapidly turning his left.

Knowing the situation exactly, I took with me Colonel Morgan of the Fourteenth Infantry (colored troops), who was temporarily on my staff, and galloped to Thomas, fortunately at the time but a few hundred yards off. I explained to him the alarming condition of things on my left, and begged for immediate reinforcement.

Thomas (Sherman being present) directed Hooker at once to send me a division, and with no delay Hooker detached from his Twentieth Corps the veteran division of A. S. Williams. Colonel Morgan, acting for me, guided them as fast as foot troops could speed straight to Stanley's flank. The division came when most needed.

Deployed at double time at right angles to Stanley's line, instantly with the batteries Williams opened a terrific, resistless fire. The hostile advance was checked, the tide turned, and the Confederates were swept back and driven within their intrenchments. [516] Our losses were great. In my corps that day 400 men were put hors de combat.

Next morning very early I reported for joint work to Hooker, my senior in rank. At his headquarters I learned what points of Johnston's line he intended to assail and I had him carefully describe to me the manner in which he would form his troops, and agreed with him how best to give him my prompt support.

At last, after some more irksome delays, everything was in readiness. Hooker's corps was drawn up in column of brigades — that is, each brigade in line, and one following another with no great intervals between them. My support was placed, at call, on his right and left. I was so to breast the enemy along my whole front that they could not detach brigades or regiments against Hooker; and, further, as Hooker gained ground, I had so arranged as to follow up his movement and aid him to seize and hold whatever he should capture. Besides all this, I had a clear reserve, which was kept ready for him in case of disaster or other extraordinary need. The ground in our front was very rough, appearing to our observation like detached stony knolls more or less covered with trees.

The noise of musketry and cannon and shouting and the attending excitement increased as the forces neared each other. Hooker appeared to gain ground for some time. His men went on by rushes rather than by steady movement. Two or three sets of skirmish trenches were captured before Butterfield's leading brigade had run upon a strong Confederate lunette.

After desperate fighting, the enemy, behind cover, would break Hooker's men back, only to try again. Finally, the latter seeing a covered position close by, a rush was made for it. Butterfield, aided by Geary, [517] secured it. So near to the guns and beneath a crest were the men that they by their fire almost paralyzed their use against our advance lines. These guns, however, at intervals did bloody work, using canister and shells against brigades farther off.

During this advance of Hooker, which, we confess, was not very successful and attended with loss, the Twenty-third Corps, or a good part of it, was brought over to aid Hooker and me at any instant when Hooker should make a break through the enemy's main line.

It is said one regiment, the Seventieth Indiana, sprang from a thicket upon the lunette and, as they came on, the Confederate artillerists blazed away without checking our men. They entered the embrasures; they shot the gunners.

In this effort Ward was badly wounded. Colonel Benjamin Harrison immediately took his place and gallantly continued the work.

The fire from intrenchments behind the lunette became severe, being delivered in volley after volley; too severe to render it proper to remain there; so that Harrison, getting ready to make another vigorous advance, drew back his line a few yards under cover of the lunette hill.

Here a color bearer by the name of Hess, One Hundred and Twenty-ninth Illinois, chagrined to hear the shrill, triumphant cry of the Confederates, at once unfurled his flag, swinging it toward them in defiance. He instantly fell, but other hands grasped the flag, and it came back only to return and wave from the very spot where its former bearer fell.

In the most determined way those four guns were now defended by the blue and gray, costing many lives; but there they stayed hereafter in the middle [518] space, unused by either party, till dark. The Confederates then made a bold charge to retake them, but our men promptly and successfully repelled the charge. Finally, the picks and spades were brought up by our soldiers, and our defenders dug their way to the guns. At last these costly trophies were permanently brought into our possession. The Confederate commander names this as an advanced battery of Hood's, put out beyond his front, on the morning of May 15, 80 or 100 yards.

We now know that Hood, in front of Hooker, had been constantly reinforced by Hardee and Polk, and that just as Hooker started his column Hood had pushed out his attacking lines, so that the first shock beyond the Confederate trenches was severe, each side having taken the offensive.

Finally, Hovey led a movement at double-quick, and encountered a dreadful fire, but succeeded in routing the Confederates' obstinate attacking column and driving it to its own cover; I was watching and my corps bore its part. Artillery and musketry had been kept active all along my front and strong demonstrations with double-skirmish lines were made for my center and right. We succeeded at least in keeping the Confederates from seizing any point on my ground. Brigadier General Willich was severely wounded in this engagement; Harker and Opdycke of Newton's division were also wounded, but able to remain on the field.

Sherman's aggregate loss in the whole battle of Resaca was between 4,000 and 5,000. Nearly 2,000 were so slightly injured that they were on duty again within a month. By referring again to the comments of the Confederate commander in his reports, we see that [519] the cause of his retreat is not ascribed to the persistent fighting which I have described. He says:

It was because two (new) bridges and a large body of Federal troops were discovered the afternoon of the 14th at Lay's Ferry, some miles below, strongly threatening our communications, indicating another flanking operation, covered by the river as the first had been by the ridge.

By instructions from Sherman, McPherson had early sent a division of the Sixteenth Corps, commanded by the one-armed General Sweeny, to Lay's Ferry. He was to make a lodgment on the other bank of the Oostanaula and protect the engineering officer, Captain Reese, while the latter laid his pontoon bridge.

Sweeny found some force there which he dislodged; but, getting a report, which then seemed to him very probable, that the Confederates were crossing above him and would cut him off from our army, he withdrew and retired at least a mile and a half from the river; but the next day, the 15th of May, he made another attempt to bridge the Oostanaula, which was more successful. This time Sweeny had, after crossing, a serious engagement with a division which the Confederate commander had detached against him. In this Sweeny lost 250 men killed and wounded. Nevertheless, Sweeny, using his intrenching tools, established his bridgehead on the left bank of the Oostanaula, drove off the opposing Confederate force and opened the way for our cavalry to operate upon Johnston's communications.

We were up bright and early on the morning of the 16th. The sunlight gave a strange appearance to the smoke and fog among the tree tops. During our deep sleep between midnight and dawn a change had been [520] wrought. Not a cannon, not a rifle, not a carbine was over beyond our front there to give defiant shots. The tireless Newton was on the qui vive and, the first to move, his skirmishers soon bounded over the parapets of Hood to find them empty.

When my report at Resaca, that Newton occupied the abandoned trenches at dawn of May 16th, reached Sherman, he instantly ordered pursuit. One division of our cavalry, under Garrard, was scouting off toward Rome, Ga., so now the infantry division of General Jeff. C. Davis was hurried down the Oostanaula Valley, keeping on the right bank of the river, to support the cavalry, and, if possible, seize Rome and hold it.

Two bridges were already in good order at Lay's Ferry. Sweeny's division, as we have previously seen, was across the river, so that at once McPherson began his movement and pushed on southward, endeavoring to overtake the retreating foe. A few miles out, not far from Calhoun, McPherson's skirmishers encountered the Confederates, and a sharp skirmish speedily followed.

Johnston did not long delay in his front and yet he was there a sufficient length of time to cause McPherson to develop his lines, go into position, and get ready for action. The expected affair did not come off, for Johnston had other points demanding his attention.

The next morning, finding the enemy gone, McPherson continued his movement down the river road to a point-McGuire's Crossroads — which is about due west of Adairsville, and eleven miles distant.

Meanwhile, Thomas, with my corps and the Fourteenth, took up a direct pursuit. The railroad bridge over the Oostanaula had been partly burned, but a [521] rough floating bridge was quickly made from the timbers at hand.

My corps led in this pursuit; we also, just after McPherson's skirmish, began to exchange shots with Johnston's rear guard; we made during the 16th but slow progress.

General Stewart's Confederate division constituted Johnston's rear guard, which we were closely following. The severe skirmish of the evening was a brief one between Stanley's division and Johnston's line at Calhoun.

Early the next day (the 17th) our column, passing the enemy's empty works at Calhoun, continued the march; Newton's division, starting at half-past 5, was followed by Stanley's. Newton took the Adairsville wagon road, while Wood, a little farther to the right, came up abreast along the railroad. I was near Newton. Our progress was continually interrupted.

As we neared Adairsville the resistance increased. Wood, sent by me across the railway, kept extending his skirmish line and strengthening it till it abutted against the enemy's main line west of Adairsville. Newton, under my immediate direction, east of Wood, did the same, deploying farther and farther to the left and doubling his advance line.

It was four o'clock in the afternoon when Newton's men, rushing into a grove of trees, brought on from the Confederates a heavy fire. It was a little later than this when Sherman came riding up with his staff and escort and, joining me, led off to the highest ground. There he was observing with his field glass till he drew the fire of a battery.

The skirmishing on both sides had grown into brisk and rapid firing just as I was approaching Sherman, [522] Newton and his staff with me. Our group, so large, attracted attention. A hostile battery of several guns was quickly turned upon us. The shells began to burst over our heads at our right and left. One of them disabled the horse of Colonel Morgan, my senior aid, another that of Colonel Fullerton, my adjutant general; Newton's aid, Captain Jackson, was wounded; two orderlies' horses were disabled, and still another horse belonging to the headquarters' cavalry was crippled. One piece of a shell in the air slightly wounded Captain Bliss, also of Newton's staff, carrying away the insignia of rank from his shoulder.

It was evident, as there was fighting along the front of two divisions — which had been increased and reenforced — that the Confederates were making a strong stand here at Adairsville; so we prepared for battle and I made haste to bring up my reserves for a decided assault. However equipped and supplied, it always required time to get an attacking column in readiness for action. Quite promptly the columns were in motion; but as soon as the vigorous movement was inaugurated, Thomas, then by my side, said to me that it was too near night for me to take the offensive. He advised me further to simply do what was needed to hold my position, and postpone, if possible, any general engagement till daylight the next morning.

One battery of artillery, however, drew another into action. Our batteries one after another were quickly brought up, and fired with their usual spirit and vigor. The sun went down upon this noisy, unusual, and bloody conflict, where probably both parties, could they have had their way, were really disposed to wait till the morning.

It was nine o'clock at night, and very dark, before [523] we could entirely disengage. Then the rattling musketry with an occasional boom of cannon continued further into the night, then gradually diminished to a fitful and irregular fire.

The losses in my corps resulting from this combat at Adairsville were at least 200 killed and wounded.

During the night the Fourteenth Corps came within close support, and McPherson moved from McGuire's so much toward Adairsville as to connect with Thomas's right flank. But there was no general action; the next morning at dawn (May 18th), I found that Johnston had made another clean retreat. The reason for it we will find by taking the map and following the movement of Sherman's left column. This column was Schofield's, reenforced by Hooker's corps. Sherman had sent Hooker to follow Schofield over the ferries that ran across the branches of the Oostanaula above me, because our new bridge at Resaca had not sufficient capacity for all, and probably, furthermore, to give greater strength to his flanking force.

The left column, setting out at the same hour with me, was obliged to make a wide detour eastward and to cross two rivers instead of one, to wit, the Connasauga and the Coosawattee. Schofield laid his bridges at Fite's and Field's crossings. The cavalry. forded the rivers, these made two columns coming up beyond my left. Johnston heard during the night, by reports from his active cavalry scouts, that Hooker and Schofield were beyond his right and aiming for Cassville, thus threatening the Allatoona Bridge, which was to be his main crossing of the Etowah. He knew, too, that McPherson, as we noticed, had already turned his position on the other flank, and was resting between McGuire's Crossroads and Adairsville, and he [524] also had tidings that a division of cavalry, supported by infantry, was much farther west in the immediate vicinity of Rome, and that this column was likely to carry the weak forts there by assault, and so swoop up his foundries and important mills. Surely things were not favorable for a long delay at Adairsville. Unless the Confederate commander was prepared to take the immediate offensive against Thomas in the morning, his army would be before many hours hemmed in on every side. No wonder he drew off before such a day had dawned.

Judging by Confederate accounts, I am inclined to think that there was no complete report of losses on the part of the enemy. Johnston intimates that, as they fought mainly behind breastworks at Resaea, the loss of the Confederates, compared with ours, was not large. One who was present remarks: “A regiment was captured by Howard, and a few vagabond pickets were picked up in various places.” Another declares that, besides the wounded, “prisoners (Confederate) at the hour I write, 9 A. M., May 16th, are being brought in by hundreds.” On the 18th we were busy destroying the Georgia State Arsenal at Adairsville; we visited the wounded that the Confederates had the night before left behind, and picked up a few weary stragglers in gray coats.

All this show of success gave us increased courage and hope. It should be noticed that our Colonel Wright, repairing the railways, was putting down new bridges with incredible rapidity. When we were back at Dalton his trains with bread, provender, and ammunition were already in that little town. By May 16th, early in the morning, while skirmishing was still going on with the rear guard of Johnston, across [525] the Oostanaula, the scream of our locomotive's whistle was heard behind us at Resaca. The telegraph, too, was never much delayed. Major Van Dusen repaired the old broken line, and kept us constantly in communication with our depots and with Washington, and at Adairsville we received word from our commissaries at Resaca that there was at that subdepot, at our call, abundance of coffee, hard bread, and bacon.

Here, we notice, from Tunnel Hill to Adairsville, Sherman, in less than ten days, had experienced pretty hard fighting, but he had also overcome extraordinary natural obstacles which, according to writers in the Southern press, had been relied upon as impregnable against any enemy's approach, supported and defended as they were by the brave army of Joe Johnston behind them-obstacles such as Tunnel Hill, Taylor's Ridge, Snake Creek Gap, and the Oostanaula with its tributaries. True, the Confederate army was not yet much reduced in numbers, yet the spirit of the men, though not broken, was unfavorably affected by Johnston's constant retreats.

General Johnston was becoming every day more and more conservative and cautious. He continued to stand on the defensive; while under Sherman our more numerous men were pressing against his front, and moving to the right and left of his army with Napoleonic boldness.

Thus far we had experienced hardly a check, as, like heavy waves, these forces were rolling on toward the sea.

That morning, near Adairsville, in a little nook to the right of the road, while we were marching toward Kingston, we caught sight of a group of young ladies [526] standing on the green; they appeared somewhat nervous and excited on our approach.

In a courteous manner I accosted the one who had most self-possession, and who had stepped out in front of her companions:

Young lady, can you tell me whose residence this is

She answered curtly: “It belongs to Captain Howard.”

“Ah, Captain Howard! That is my name. My name is Howard. Perhaps we are connections.”

She replied sharply: “We have no relations whatever north, sir!”

I then asked: “Is Captain Howard at home”

She replied: “No.”

“Where is he?”

Captain Howard is with the Confederate army, where he ought to be.”

“Ah, indeed, I am sorry l where is that army?”

“I don't know anything about the Confederate movements. I told you, sir, that I had no relations North.”

“ Well, then, the blood of all the Howards does not flow in your veins.”

At this time, turning to a staff officer, and within hearing of the group of young ladies, I remarked, as the sound of skirmishing reached our ears: “That house will make an excellent field hospital.”

The speaker and her companions were frightened at this unexpected reply and ran to the house and appeared shortly after on the upper porch. Before we had left the premises, a middle-aged lady came hastily toward me, and besought me not to take her house for a hospital. I replied that I had been treated rather [527] cavalierly by the young people, and that my courtesy met only with rebuff.

“Oh, sir,” she said, “you must not mind those girls. They talk flippantly”

Fortunately for the family, there was nothing but a slight skirmish in their neighborhood, and the lovely house and other buildings near at hand, so prettily ensconced beyond the green in the grove of trees, were not used for the dreaded army purpose.

I have since found that this Georgia family remembered my visit, and had spoken highly of me, probably more highly than I deserved.

I have lately pleasantly met them at Atlanta. Prejudice has given way to time and change.

After leaving this place we proceeded to Kingston, where General Sherman had already established his headquarters, and where they were to remain during the few days' rest after Johnston's Confederate forces had crossed the Etowah.

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 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 16th (3)
May 15th (2)
May 14th, 1864 AD (1)
May 18th (1)
May 14th (1)
18th (1)
hide Display Preferences
Greek Display:
Arabic Display:
View by Default:
Browse Bar: