Chapter 33: battle of Smyrna camp ground; crossing the Chattahoochee; General Johnston relieved from commandUntil they reached Kenesaw, Johnston's and Sherman's men alike had been working along, by swingings and twistings, it is true, but yet mainly and gradually gaining ground toward the southeast. Between the point where the railroad from Marietta crosses the Chattahoochee and Howell's Ferry five miles below, is that singular stream, the Nickajack. It runs north, then east, then stopping a mile from the great river, it turns south and gradually approaches the Chattahoochee. The Nickajack thus, by the help of a traverse brook flowing directly east and passing into the Chattahoochee far above us, almost completes a square about three miles on a side. Ruff's Mills were on the Nickajack near the northwest corner of this remarkable square. As the banks of the river and all the creeks near here are very high, that Nickajack square afforded the Confederate commander unusual advantage for an extensive bridgehead against us. Letting his left rest above the mouth of the Nickajack, Johnston had his forts and trenches made bending around behind that creek. He extended these works to the right, northward beyond the Nickajack square, across the railroad and as far as Power's Ferry, near Vining's  Railway Station. His outer lines, considerably away from the river, were also intrenched in the Nickajack square, having that winding creek and Ruff's Mills for protection. News brought us from scouts declared that from 1,000 to 1,200 slaves had been there employed. On June 29th Sherman had everything clearly mapped out. He was heaping up stores to enable him to cut loose from his railroad. He now aimed to get upon that railroad somewhere below Marietta by turning around Schofield as a door around a free hinge. In a telegram sent to Halleck, at Washington, the last day of June, Sherman showed what he was doing: To-morrow night I propose to move McPherson from the left to the extreme right .... This will bring my right within three miles of the Chattahoochee and about five of the railroad (at the place where the railroad crossed the river]. By this movement I think I can force Johnston to move his army down from Kenesaw to defend his railroad crossing and the Chattahoochee. . . . Johnston may come out of his intrenchments and attack Thomas, which is what I want, for Thomas is well intrenched parallel with the enemy south of Kenesaw. The proposed march was only to proceed “down the Sandtown straight for Atlanta.” On July 1st, from Sherman's “Signal Hill,” he had issued a set of general orders, which, germinating ever since, at last came out:
King's division of Palmer's corps was designated to go off northward to puzzle the Confederate Kenesaw watchers, and with Garrard's cavalry to take the place of all McPherson's army. The next morning by 4 A. M. McPherson drew out one division (that of Morgan L. Smith) and marched it trains and troops, back  of us all, and on down river to Schofield, whom he was to aid and support till the remainder of his corps should arrive. Something delayed King all that day, but the night of July 2d King was on hand, and McPherson was about to pull out the remainder of his troops from their lines, when Harrow, one of his division commanders, reported that when he tried to withdraw, the enemy advanced in column and were forming in line of battle near his picket line. Sherman, watching this news by the wires, ordered Harrow to stay where he was, and in fact, all of Me-Pherson's men still there, to delay; and announced that all of us would do what we could during the night to get at the facts. But he said: “We must not attempt any night movement with large forces, because confusion would result, but must be prepared at break of day to act according to the very best information we can gather during the night.”That Friday night was a feverish one on our lines, and, I doubt not, a troubled one on the Confederate side; for until after twelve midnight, I had kept on pressing skirmishers as near their wary foes as could be done, and here and there throwing a shell, but nothing definite could be found out, so many skirmishers did the Confederates keep in our front-nothing sure till about 2.45 A. M. of July 3d. The enemy then had gone, and Stanley's skirmishers were in their works! At three o'clock similar reports came from Wood and Newton. Immediately my corps was assembled. At 5 A. M. it was light enough to move, without danger of running upon other troops. Stanley's division, full of excitement, the front covered by a good skirmish line, pushed  on toward Marietta. Soon after this, my column, having made three miles, was at the Academy just south of the city, and found the enterprising Hooker already there. Hooker was crossing the column at an angle and obstructing it. This shows somewhat the confusion that arose as divisions and corps, apparently on their own motion, were each moving for Marietta, striving to get there first. McPherson was not long delayed, for he drew out from Johnston's front that very night of July 2d, leaving Garrard's dismounted cavalry in his place; he moved on down behind Thomas, “stretching to the Nickajack.” But Logan's Fifteenth Corps delayed and passed through Marietta after the retreat. Doubtless, Johnston, who had suspected just such a movement when Cox first appeared across Olley's Creek, was sure of it when, after the failures of the 27th, Sherman kept his cavalry and infantry creeping on and on down the Sandtown road, till Stoneman, on the lead, had actually touched the Chattahoochee River; and we had already in the morning of July 2d Morgan L. Smith's division as far down as the Nickajack square in conjunction with Schofield. Sherman's quickening orders, given under the inspiration of what he had discovered on the sides of Kenesaw, and what he hoped for, came to me through Thomas. Sherman and some members of his staff rode as rapidly as they could past the marching troops which filled the roads into Marietta. There he found my skirmishers, some of Palmer's, and certain forerunners of Hooker's corps, coming in at once from four directions. All, for the time, seemed absorbed in taking in the sights about the little city, of which  they had heard so much during the preceding fortnight, and of which they had here and there distant glimpses; now they were actually there It was, in fact, coming out of the woods and desert places into the brightness of civilization. The very few people who remained were frightened. Their eyes were troubled and often their lips trembled and their cheeks grew pale as they spoke to these hearty Yankees, who, counting their capture another victory, were somewhat saucy and buoyant. It was at this time that Sherman, with mind intent on the retreat of Johnston, who really was a night ahead, rode into the center of the city and dismounted. I had halted my head of column till Thomas could stop Hooker's cross march and let me take the road down river. It was precious time to lose; but it took half an hour for Thomas's staff to bring matters into some order, and another half hour was lost by me in their marching King's division back to Palmer athwart my path. At last we were ready to advance. I had the left, Hooker and McPherson the right, as we went. At a short distance below Marietta I came upon the Confederate rear guard to the left of the railway. Leaving the right to Palmer, I began the usual method of pressing forward, now making direct attacks against the enemy's temporary barricades; now flanking their positions on their right or left, and making a run for some choice grove or knoll that, when taken, would hasten our progress. It was 3 P. M. when we passed the Dow Station. Not far below — from Marietta some six miles, near the Smyrna camp ground-we came upon the Confederate works; first, their little detached pits, sometimes  a hole dug deep enough for protection and only large enough for a single man, and sometimes large enough for five or six. Here the skirmishing became more and more obstinate. I called a halt and carefully reconnoitered. Confederate main works, stronger than usual, in a very advantageous position, were discovered. At 3.30 of that day I caused Stanley to deploy lines well supported just behind his own skirmishers, and put the other two divisions of my corps in column ready to face to the left in case of need. We had since daylight captured many prisoners, probably a thousand, and a few negroes had come in. Johnston's army, the most of these newcomers asserted, was at that very time behind those formidable works. Garrard, with his cavalry, had advanced as fast as he could down the Chattahoochee and turned off from my left flank eastward on a river ferry road; then pushed on, skirmishing till he came to a ridge defended strongly by Confederate infantry. He picketed what he took to be the Pace's Ferry roads, connecting his outer line with mine, all within plain sight of the Confederate outposts. On my right, King's division, also connecting with mine, was close up to the Confederate skirmishers, and intrenched. The previous movements of Schofield had forestalled and prevented any contact with the enemy by Hooker, or even by Blair and Dodge, till they had passed beyond him. They picked up a few stragglers. Dodge (of McPherson's army), this Saturday, July 3d, did a good work; he marched down to a place near Ruff's Mills and went into camp near the Nickajack square, while sending forward one division to intrench  close by Nickajack stream, and having that division send over two regiments to fortify the crossroads beyond the mills and hold the high ground. He arrived too late to attempt anything beyond securing his camp for the night and an opening for a clear advance on the morrow. There were thick woods all around him, but after dark, large fires starting up in his front revealed the position of the Confederate forces behind their newly occupied intrenchments. Sherman was impatient over the general confusion and, after a short, worrisome stay in Marietta, pushed on with his escort three miles down the railroad. He established there his headquarters. General Sherman instilled into us some of his energy in the following words to Thomas:
The more I reflect, the more I know, Johnston's halt is to save time to cross his material and men. No general, such as he, would invite battle with the Chattahoochee behind him. I have ordered McPherson and Schofield to cross the Nickajack at any cost, and work night and day to get the enemy started in confusion toward his bridges. I know you appreciate the situation. We will never have such a chance again, and I want you to impress on Hooker, Howard, and Palmer the importance of the most intense energy, of attack to-night and in the morning, and to press with vehemence, at any cost of life or material.Sherman was sending McPherson with Stoneman's cavalry ahead down by the Nickajack to the Chattahoochee far below Johnston's forces. Garrard had now gone back two miles above the Roswell factories to occupy the attention of the enemy's cavalry there, and clear the way for future operations in that direction. My own corps (the Fourth)  had already worked its way up to the intrenchments on the Smyrna camp-meeting grounds. Early Sunday morning Sherman himself made me a Fourth of July call. His mind was impatient because he had done so little. He did not believe that any regular works were in our front, and desired to have the troops which were north of Ruff's Mills so occupy the attention of the Confederates as to prevent their accumulation of force in front of McPherson and Stoneman. He and I were walking about from point to point in a thin grove of tall trees near a farmhouse, where were Stanley's headquarters. “Howard,” Sherman remarked, “what are you waiting fort Why don't you go ahead?” I answered: “The enemy is strongly intrenched yonder in the edge of a thick wood; we have come upon his skirmish line.” “ Nonsense, Howard, he is laughing at you. You ought to move straight ahead. Johnston's main force must be across the river.” “ You shall see, general,” I rejoined. I sent for Stanley, who held my leading division, and gave him instructions:
General, double your skirmish line and press forward!The men sprang out, passing between the Confederate rifle pits. They took nearly all the occupants as prisoners of war. Our soldiers had hardly passed these outer defenses when they met, straight in their faces, an unceasing fire from a set of works that had been hitherto but dimly seen, running along in the edge of the thick wood. In a few moments several batteries opened slowly from unexpected points, sending their shot and shell  crosswise against our lines. Many of these shells appeared to be aimed at the very place where Sherman, Stanley, and myself, with officers gathered around us, had formed a showy group. In fact, the officers were obliged to cover themselves by trees as well as they could. Our men on Stanley's front did as skirmishers are always instructed to do; those who had not fallen gave themselves protection by using detached Confederate rifle pits, or, where that was not practicable, they dropped on their faces, then by rushes they took advantage of every ridge or depression of the ground. The main part of the skirmish charge had been across an extensive wheat field, with an ascending slope. Meanwhile, Sherman himself passed from tree to tree toward the rear. It was not ten minutes after the enemy's lines had opened fire before Sherman saw plainly that for some reason Johnston had stopped on our side of the river; and he remarked as he rode away, “Howard, you were right.” Following out the instructions already given, all my divisions, after coming up and extending the line, had seized continuous rifle pits; and we soon made works of our own along the enemy's front. The other corps of Thomas's army did the same thing. These operations often gave rise to so much fighting that at times it was as brisk and noisy as a regular engagement. In this strange manner on Sunday morning did our countrymen on opposite sides of intrenched lines, by the use of loaded rifles and shotted cannon, celebrate the Fourth of July. At daybreak this bright morning Dodge followed up his leading brigade. His whole force went over the creek, and part of it was deployed into line; he  covered his front by a skirmish exhibit much stronger than usual, then all moved briskly forward. Dodge stirred up quite as brisk a contest in Nickajack square as we did near Smyrna camp ground. He ran into Stevenson's division, but could not go beyond the first line of detached rifle pits. “The order was gradually executed, the outworks taken, and some fifty prisoners captured.” Stoneman now held our side of the river to Sandtown. The position of the Confederate army was in two lines running across the Atlanta Railroad at right angles near where the railroad bent off toward the river. Loring's corps was on the right and Hardee's on the left of that road. Hood's stretched off toward the extreme left, where was G. W. Smith with his Georgia troops supporting General Jackson's cavalry. Wheeler's cavalry division watched the extreme right. Hood was made uneasy by McPherson's works. “The enemy,” he wrote, “is turning my left and my forces are insufficient to defeat this design or hold him in check.” Johnston instantly on this report dispatched (Cheatham's) division. That, however, was not enough. In the evening of that same Fourth of July G. W. Smith declared that the Yankee cavalry was pressing him with such force that he would have to abandon the ground he had been holding and retire before morning to General Shoup's line of redoubts. As soon as Johnston received this ominous dispatch, which, as he said, threatened an important route to Atlanta and one that was nearer to that city than his main body, he instantly declared “the necessity of abandoning the position and of taking a new line” ; and so before the morning he drew back from  the outer lines to the inner lines of the bridgehead, sending his cavalry and some artillery to the south bank of the Chattahoochee. From all quarters as early as 4.30 A. M. the morning of the 5th, we found the strong outer works in our immediate front empty. A Confederate officer, who had been a pupil of mine when I was an instructor in mathematics at West Point, left a note upon a forked stick in the abandoned trenches addressed to me, saying: “Howard, why didn't you come on and take my works! I was all prepared for you. I am ashamed of you.” One of the officers who picked it up brought the note to me. It was plain enough after our experience at Kenesaw why I did not charge over my pupil's lines. But now from all parts of the front we rushed forward with the hope of overtaking some portion of the retreating army, but we were again too late. I did take, however, about 100 prisoners of war. At 10 A. M. we reached Vining's Station on the railroad, and soon after pushed off to the left into the wagon road that leads to Pace's Ferry. Now from that station we came upon Wheeler's cavalry dismounted and skirmishing from behind barricades. Our infantry skirmishers soon cleared the way and drove this cavalry back. So closely were they followed that they did not have time to destroy their pontoon bridge across the river, but we could not save the bridge, because a few Confederates, at the risk of their lives, stayed back and cut it loose from the north side so that the current quickly caused it to swing to the other shore. Thus we had possession of every part of the Chattahoochee below the Nickajack, and also from Pace's Ferry northward to Roswell's factories.  Colonel Frank T. Sherman for some reason was riding leisurely across the opening, when suddenly he came upon the Confederate skirmish line and was captured. He could hardly realize where he was when he saw the rifles aimed at him, and heard a clear-cut command to surrender. As his name was Sherman the rumor ran through the Confederate army that the terrible “Tecumseh” had been captured. Colonel Sherman, an active, intelligent, and healthy man, full of energy, had aided me greatly during this trying campaign. No officer could have been more missed or regretted at our headquarters than he. Our picket line was completed, but this did not relieve us from the chagrin caused by the loss which slight care might have prevented. In the minds of the readers of a military campaign wonderment often arises why there are so many delays. Our people at home and the authorities at Washington, at the time of which we write, were always impatient at such delays, and could not account for the waste of so many precious days behind the Chattahoochee. “Hadn't Joe Johnston cooped himself up there at the railroad crossing? Why not now be bold and strike below him for Atlanta, already in plain sight, and for Johnston's lines of supplies” We who belonged to Thomas pushed up a few miles against those inner lines; the Confederate cavalry had crossed the river and taken on the other high bank fine positions for their cannon-cannon to be well supported by mounted and dismounted men. Every crossing within reach was diligently watched by our foes, and every possible effort put forth to prevent our attempted passage of the river; Colonel Jackson and his active cavalry were working below  the Confederate army, and Wheeler above the Marietta and Atlanta railway crossing of the Chattahoochee, to and beyond the Roswell factories; besides, Forrest, the Confederate cavalry leader, was worrying the posts far behind us, guarding our single line of supply. Sherman attended to that matter in a most effectual manner by appointing a district command with its headquarters at Chattanooga, and putting (Steedman) with detailed instructions, at the head of it. He had given him additional troops and adequate authority to combine his men and give blow for blow. Believing that this annoyance could be even better removed by imitating Forrest's raids, Sherman sent out General Rousseau from the Tennessee border far down into Alabama, to swing around, destroy railroads as far south as Talladega and Opelika; and then, if possible, to return to him near Atlanta. Rousseau started from Decatur, Ala., July 9th. This remarkable raid was successful. His cavalry made a lodgment upon the Southern Railroad west of Opelika and destroyed some twenty miles of it. He defeated every Confederate troop sent against him with a loss of but twelve killed and thirty wounded; and he brought back a large number of captured mules and horses. Rousseau astonished the inhabitants everywhere by his unexpected visit, and did not join us, after his consummate raid, until July 23d. To make our connections complete, two railway breaks, a long one above Marietta and one shorter below, near Vining's Station, had to be repaired. During July 6th the first gap was announced as restored, and the second was in progress. Thomas had found it impracticable to cross the river in face of the fortified points on his front or left.  The water, which had risen from the recent rains, was now too high for fording. Sherman saw, however, that the water was slowly falling and that in a short time all the fords would be practicable; so that, by .and by, something more than cavalry with its artillery would be required by the Confederate general over there to keep us back. On Tuesday, July 6th, in a dispatch, Sherman indicated briefly what he was then meditating:
All the regular crossing places are covered by forts; but we shall cross in due time, and instead of attacking Atlanta direct, or any of its forts, I propose to make a circuit, destroying all its railroads.After the rain and mud beyond Kenesaw, we were now having fair weather-at times a little too hot for comfort or safety; but the region afforded us high ground and the army had no prevailing sickness. Sherman did not delay all his operations. Something important was going on all the time. Sherman by July 8th had determined to make his first crossing near the Roswell factories; he ordered Garrard's cavalry division to go there. As soon as Garrard could charge into the place he drove out the detachment of Wheeler's cavalry and destroyed the factories. The Confederate guard had rushed over the Chattahoochee bridge, and succeeded in destroying it. McPherson was to go up there, ford the river, and clear the way for a bridgehead and repair the bridge. Who could build a trestle bridge like his general, G. M. Dodge, who was not only a superb commander of men in battle, but was already an eminent practical engineer? Garrard crossed at 6 A. M. with little loss, and Newton, of my corps, followed him during the morning;  the ford by this time had become practicable. The men were not long in putting up a strong work for a bridgehead, and so the upper crossing was secured. Meanwhile, something else even more important had been done. As soon as Schofield had been crowded out by Johnston contracting his lines from the “outer” to the “inner” protection of his railroad over the Chattahoochee, Sherman brought Schofield's corps back near to Thomas's left and rear, and located him at Smyrna camp ground, near where I fought on the Fourth of July. Sherman set him to reconnoitering for a convenient river crossing somewhere near Thomas. He discovered a practicable ford just above the mouth of Soap Creek. There was but a small picket of the enemy's cavalry opposite, and a single section of artillery. The whole work of preparation and approach was done so well that the enemy suspected no movement there until Schofield's men about 3 P. M. July 8th were making their way over by ford and by detached pontoon boats. I had sent the pontoons with Colonel Buell and his regiment, and had, in order to aid him, already made a display of force below Schofield, in front of Pace's Ferry. My demonstration began about sundown the night before with a completeness of preparation that attracted the attention of the Confederate watchmen opposite. While there was yet light enough we opened all our artillery that was near and practiced until we got the range; then we ceased till a fixed time in the night, when all sleepers were startled by an alarming cannonade that continued for half an hour. Meanwhile, our officers had detachments in secure places  near the river's bank and were moving about and giving commands. This was a ruse I General T. J. Wood's entire division was kept under arms during the whole demonstration, and at hand during the night, ready for any work that might come. A mere ruset No, not exactly, for we would have gladly made a crossing there had not the enemy been too strong at that point; but we wanted to draw more and more of the preventing foe to our neighborhood. At 6 A. M. of July 8th I had taken a regiment with me and gone some five miles northward to find the right of Schofield's command and to protect his bridge across a broad creek, called Rottenwood, that separated him from us. Newton, on the morning of the 9th waited for Dodge to replace him at the Roswell village and let him return to me. Johnston, not far from Atlanta, with his three corps, now passed behind Peach Tree Creek, whose direction in its flow is northwest; so that his army faced substantially to the northeast, covering mainly all approaches to Atlanta, which lay between the Marietta and the Augusta roadways. Johnston showed consummate generalship when he took Peach Tree Creek instead of the Chattahoochee as a line of defense. Johnston, full of hope and courage, located his splendidly disciplined and veteran troops as follows: Stewart, succeeding Polk, on the left touching the Chattahoochee; Hood on the right from Clear Creek around to some point near the Augusta Railroad; and Hardee holding the center. Hood's right was strengthened by General G. W. Smith with his Georgia  troops. Wheeler with his cavalry watched the front and right, and Jackson the left. Just as Johnston had put everything in capital shape to repulse us if possible, he received, on July 17th, a startling telegram from Richmond. It announced his failure to arrest Sherman's progress; complained that he expressed no confidence of success in repelling Sherman, and ordered him to turn over his army to Hood. It is plain that Hood himself was taken unawares, and naturally felt unprepared for so large a contract as that now imposed. Johnston says:
At Hood's earnest request I continued to give orders until sunset.And further: “In transferring the command to General Hood, I explained my plans to him.” We will not delay upon these plans, for Hood tried to carry them out. The difference was not in the plans, but in the execution. Johnston was cautious, wary, flexible, full of expedients; Hood was incautious, blunt, strong-willed, and fearless of Sherman's strategy. He was not the general to execute any plan but his own; and then he ought not to have had a Sherman or a Thomas for an opponent. By the 14th Sherman wanted Stoneman back from the crossing below us of the Chattahoochee, at least as far as Sandtown, so as to let all of Blair's division go up and join. McPherson at the Roswell factories. Schofield's bridge was over Phillip's Ferry. Power's Ferry was also bridged by a pontoon, and later by another, a rough pier log structure, which Stanley made to the island, and Newton finally finished to the east shore. Over Phillip's and Power's ferries my divisions crossed, and, staying there, put trenches on  Schofield's right; Newton, after his return from Roswell, soon went over to strengthen the line; Wood later moved down east of the river, sweeping away the Confederate cavalry detachment and pickets, till Pace's Ferry (near Vining's Station and Palmer's front) was uncovered; then Palmer's pontoon bridge was laid there in safety. We had an occasional reconnoissance by the redoubtable Wheeler, which stirred up all hands. About this time Sherman relieved all suspense in the langour of hot weather by ordering us forward and then said:
A week's work after crossing the Chattahoochee should determine the first object aimed at; viz., the possession of the Atlanta and Augusta road east of Decatur, Ga., or of Atlanta itself.Having the same Fourth Corps under Thomas I was already near the middle of our concave line: Palmer the rightmost, Hooker next, and I next, then Schofield, then McPherson. Stoneman was back by the night of July 16th, so that we were all in active march the morning of the 17th. By July 19th, army, corps, and division commanders had pretty well fulfilled Sherman's preliminary orders, having made what he denominated his “general right wheel.” Thomas, after much skirmishing and driving back first cavalry and then infantry, had secured three crossings of the Peach Tree Creek. One lodgment over the creek was in front of Palmer, on the right of the army, below Howell's Mills; two in front of me, one near the mouth of Clear Creek, the other over a north fork of the Peach Tree Creek where the road via Decatur to Atlanta passes. Stanley saved a part of the bridge from Confederate flames and immediately rebuilt it.  Sherman was now with Schofield. The night of the 9th the latter with his Army of the Ohio was at the Peyton farms, and had already made good a crossing of the south fork of the Peach Tree Creek. McPherson, having to make twice the march of Thomas's center, had gone on too rapidly for Hood's calculations. He had already in long gaps broken the railroad to Augusta, and was so swiftly approaching Atlanta from the east that Hood had to stretch his lines farther around the great city to the east and south, thus thinning his lines before Thomas. As my orders appeared a little confusing, I rode back at daylight of the 20th to General Thomas near Buckhead, where he had slept the night before. Here he instructed me to take my two divisions, Stanley's and Wood's, to the left two miles off from Newton, leaving Newton where he was, on the direct Atlanta wagon road. This, creating a broad, uncovered space along my front, was done owing to the nature of the country — rough and woody with much thick underbrush-but particularly to fulfill Sherman's express orders to keep connection with Schofield. “ We must not mind the gap between your two divisions. We must act independently,” said Thomas, with almost a smile. Fortunately for me, Thomas was to be near Newton's troops during the tough conflict at Peach Tree Creek, which was to burst upon us that day. His clear head and indomitable heart never were so cool and unconquerable as in desperate straits.