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Chapter 37: Battle of Lovejoy's Station and capture of Atlanta

Hood now, doubtless with intense reluctance, evacuated Atlanta, and swinging around to the east by the way of McDonough, succeeded by the help of S. D. Lee's corps in forming junction with Hardee at Lovejoy, the point to which Hardee had retired during the night of September 1st. Slocum, commanding the Twentieth Corps at the Chattahoochee bridge, hearing the explosions occasioned by Hood's attempted destruction of his depots and loaded trains, suspected what was going on; and so marched out to take possession of the city. During the night Sherman had heard the series of explosions in the far distance. He questioned an inhabitant about them, who declared that they were the same as in the previous battles to which he had listened.

Sherman, at first, feared that Slocum had approached the city, and perhaps was having an engagement with Hood's rear guard.

The morning of September 2d our combined forces followed Hardee's movement as far as Lovejoy's Station. We had just reached that place when Sherman received a note from Slocum, headed “Atlanta.” Hood had gone, having destroyed his depots, trains, and such supplies as he could not carry off. The quantities of ammunition stored there, of course, [42] occasioned the heaviest explosions. He had hardly evacuated the city before Slocum marched in.

The first dispatch to Washington was from Slocum, September 2d, as follows:

General Sherman has taken Atlanta. The Twentieth Corps occupies the city. The main army is on the Macon road, near East Point. A battle was fought near that point, in which General Sherman was successful. Particulars not known.

This was followed by a dispatch the next day from Sherman to Halleck. Here is an extract:

Hood, at Atlanta, finding me on his road, the only one that could supply him, and between him and a considerable part of his army, blew up his magazines in Atlanta and left in the nighttime, when the Twentieth Corps, General Slocum, took possession of the place. So Atlanta is ours and fairly won.

To which President Lincoln replied:

The National thanks are rendered by the President to Major General W. T. Sherman and the gallant officers and soldiers of his command before Atlanta, for the distinguished ability and perseverance displayed in the campaign in Georgia, which, under Divine power, has resulted in the capture of Atlanta.

We came upon Hardee's skirmishers, where he was waiting for us, near Lovejoy's; the approaches to his position were exceedingly difficult; yet, as rapidly as possible, my command was extended into line, the Fifteenth Corps on the left, the Seventeenth on the right, while the Sixteenth was held in reserve.

By strengthening our skirmish line and pressing it along from right to left Hardee's gave back, until by our sudden dash a favorable height of great importance to us was seized and firmly held. And then by [43] the usual processes our main lines were moved nearer and nearer to the Confederate works, which, strange to say, were as well constructed and as strong as if the Confederates had had a week to prepare them.

It was between three and four in the afternoon when I was ready to move forward to the assault. At that hour I received orders from Sherman not to take the offensive, but wait where I was for the present.

General Thomas had also moved one corps forward from Jonesboro (Stanley's). He marched along the east side of the railroad. He had left Davis's corps at Jonesboro to gather up the captured property, and to care for the wounded and bury the dead. Stanley struck the enemy's lines about midday, and he had the same difficulty in developing the lines, in making his approaches to the enemy's works, that I had had; so that it was near dark when he was ready to make an attack. Thomas, probably not aware of my orders, pushed his troops well forward and had a lively combat.

About half an hour later one of Stanley's divisions made an endeavor to carry the enemy's works but did not succeed.

After this partial attack, a little later in the day, Schofield's army came up to support the left of Thomas.. The effort resulted in about 100 prisoners, several of whom were commissioned officers.

Now we notice that from this time on, the two armies were facing each other, and each commander had full purpose to do nothing which would bring on a general action, though, as we were very near together, we had each day upon the skirmish line many men wounded and some killed. We thus watched each other and skirmished for four days. [44]

This is all there was of the affair at Lovejoy's Station, and indeed the time had come for a rest and recruitment of the troops. Our armies remained there until the morning of September 7th. Sherman says: “After due reflection I resolved not to attempt at this time a further pursuit of Hood's army, but slowly and deliberately to move back and occupy Atlanta, enjoy a short period of rest, and think awhile over the next step required in the progress of events.” The Army of the Cumberland led the return. It was, after the march, grouped in and about Atlanta. With the Army of the Tennessee I followed, and took up a defensive camp at East Point, between six and seven miles south of Atlanta; while the Army of the Ohio covered our eastern approaches by camping near Decatur.

The campaign had already been a long and costly one since its beginning, May 6th, at Tunnel Hill, near Dalton. According to the reports which Sherman gathered, the aggregate loss up to that time to the Confederates was nearly 35,000 men, but he remembered that his own aggregate was not much less, being in the neighborhood of 35,000. His command had been for the most part under fire for 113 days, including three days rest at the Etowah.

In my letters home I wrote:

Atlanta is a handsome place, with wide streets, and houses much scattered. I have my army to refit and reorganize.

General Sherman asked me lately if I wanted a brigadiership in the regular army; he said I must try for one. I told him no, but if it were offered me for my services, if they were deemed of sufficient importance to warrant it, I should consider it a high compliment, but I should not ask for it.


In order to present an evidence of the feeling after Sherman's taking Atlanta in New England, I will introduce a few impressions from a letter of my uncle Ensign Otis, Esq., of Leeds, Maine, as follows:

My Dear Nephew:
We have much solicitude for you, General Sherman, and that part of his army with him. Great interest is manifested by the whole community....

The result of the election, the tone of the public press, and the satisfied demeanor of almost the entire people have inspired me with a confidence in our Government and institutions which I never before had. Surely our chastening has not been in vain. Is not the time of our deliverance at hand? Gratitude and humility, in view of our Nation, seem to be manifested.

We are sending our vegetables to the Second Maine Cavalry. Some of the boys are at home on a furlough. Warren (Colonel E. W. Woodman) is commander of the regiment. Our boy who went in the Thirtieth Maine (the writer, being an old veteran of 1812, sent a substitute) writes often. He has been uniformly well, and keeps us posted in all that concerns that regiment in Sheridan's army. Our prayers, our love, and affection are for you and Charles (then Lieutenant Colonel C. H. Howard).

Then from mine:

Just before this I had received news of the death of my stepfather, Colonel Gilmore, at Leeds, Maine, whom I greatly esteemed and loved. Thinking of him at this time, I put down a thought concerning George H. Thomas.

General Thomas's characteristics are much like those of my father. While I was under his command he placed confidence in me, and never changed it. Quiet, manly, almost stern in his deportment, an honest man, I trusted him. .. . I am all the while hoping that peace is not far distant. There is a great Union sentiment in Georgia, but every mouth has been [46] shut for a long time by a fearful tyranny. I believe Grant will accomplish his part of the operation of the campaign before winter. If he succeeds, matters will put on a different complexion. At present it is hard for me to anticipate where I shall be or what I shall do. ...

If Sherman makes a fall and winter campaign, I shall doubtless command one of the columns under him.

I also wrote of my neighborhood:

I have now three little visitors-Flora Niles, a pretty little lady, one year smaller than our Grace; Spurgeon Sylvey and Jerome Sylvey, two boys, twins, six years old. They are children of people who were born in the North. Flora talks very freely and prettily, and is a nice little lady. We encamped on one of her father's farms near Jonesboro, and brought him, the mother, and Flora to this place in an ambulance. We gave them empty wagons in which to bring their goods and chattels. He and his wife were from New Hampshire originally. General Sherman is banishing all the people from Atlanta, north or south, as they may elect.

In this private correspondence, which freshens one's recollection, I find that my corps commanders, Blair and Logan, during this rest, had been granted a leave. In fact, Logan did not return to us till we reached Savannah, but Blair was able to join me. One of my divisions, General Corse's, was sent back to Rome upon the reports of the work of the Confederate cavalry in Tennessee under Forrest.

Another division, General John E. Smith's, of Logan's corps, had its headquarters back at Cartersville, Smith commanding. About this time (September 29th), also, Thomas went to Chattanooga and as far as Nashville, while (October 3d) Schofield found his [47] way, first to Knoxville, to attend to some official matters there, and thence to Chattanooga.

All these personal movements naturally affected me, as I was inclined to be homesick during every lengthy period of rest. I went to Atlanta toward the latter part of the month of September and had a good talk with Sherman. He would not listen to my going either on inspection duty to other parts of my department, nor to my making a brief visit to any point away from Atlanta. “No, Howard,” he said, “we don't know what the enemy now any day may undertake.” In fact, he had already had information that Hood was changing the position of his army from the vicinity of Lovejoy's Station westward to a position somewhere near Blue Mountain, Hood's headquarters to be at Palmetto Station, on the West Point Railroad.

Arriving at that road, the Confederate army took position with the left touching the Chattahoochee River, and covering the West Point road, where it remained several days to allow the accumulation of supplies at “Blue Mountain,” and secure a sufficiency with which to continue this movement. The precise situation of this “Blue Mountain” is not clear, but probably it was a railway station in Alabama on Hood's flank after he had reached his new position.

The cavalry raider, General Wheeler, had been sent early in September to go north of the Tennessee to do what he could to cut off Sherman's supplies and destroy his communications; so General Hood recalled him.

That chassez of the Confederate army to the left to touch the Chattahoochee was unique. A Confederate cavalry division beyond that river seems to have given some uneasiness in both commands on account [48] of a truce entered into between Hood and Sherman; but the truce was interpreted by Hood to be local, and to apply only to the roads leading in the vicinity of the Rough and Ready Station.

The truce was established between the two armies with a view to exchange prisoners and to render it easier for the people of Atlanta to go southward through the double lines without interruption. Sherman called it a neutral camp at Rough and Ready Station, where he sent Colonel Willard Warner, of his staff, with a guard of 100 men, and Hood sent there also Major Wm. Clare, inspector general, from his staff with 100 Confederates. It was remarkable how friendly the two detachments came to be to each other, and doubtless they were sorry when the time came for them to return to posts of active hostility.

President Davis's visit to Hood's army was an interesting event. General Sherman detected his presence in Georgia, and telegraphed the news to Washington as early as September 25th. The Confederate record at Hood's headquarters reads:

President Davis, accompanied by two of his aids-de-camp, arrived at these headquarters at about 3 P. M., September 26th. The President and General Hood, with their respective staffs, rode out to the front to-day, and were enthusiastically received by the troops. At 8 P. M. the President was surrounded by the Twentieth Louisiana, and being called upon he delivered a short and spirited speech.

The assemblage manifested by their loud and continued cheers that they would support him. General Hood was called upon and delivered a short address to the point. Speeches were made by General Howell Cobb and Governor Harris. September 27th the President and suite left at 6 P. M. for Montgomery. September 28th, by the order of President Davis, Lieutenant [49] General Hardee was relieved of duty in this army and department and assigned to the Department of South Carolina and Florida.

Perhaps the interval of hard campaigning and continuous fighting was never more acceptable and enjoyable than during our sojourn about Atlanta. Supplies came in to refresh our men. We enjoyed most having the immense mail bags come forward. We could now have time to read our letters and reply to them. There was joy, great joy, throughout the land, and, of course, its influence found its way through the mail to every tent.

But we must remember that in war the mourning is close to the rejoicing. So many had been killed, many more disabled for life, and others patiently enduring their suffering till time and good nursing should bring them to health again. Those in the hospitals were not forgotten by the Christian and Sanitary Commissions. At this time those who had already recovered from their wounds, or who had been prisoners and exchanged, or who came to the field for the first time as recruits, joined my army at East Point.

Sherman personally had the hardest time. He was determined to turn Atlanta into “a purely military garrison or depot, with no civil population to influence military measures.” This determination met with strenuous opposition. Sherman's single expression, which he telegraphed to Halleck, gives a good idea of the state of things in the captured city just then:

If the people raise a howl against my barbarity and cruelty, I will answer that war is war, and not popularity seeking. If they want peace, they and their relatives must stop the war. [50]

It was at this time that the remarkable, pungent, incisive correspondence was carried on between Sherman and Hood. That correspondence showed Sherman master of the rules of war and of the laws of nations. His course undoubtedly caused great hardship, but probably in the end was the best for all concerned. I refer to his action in sending away from Atlanta the bulk of the residents, giving them the option to go north or south, according as “their interests or feelings dictated.”

Sherman also had trouble to keep army traders within bounds; such vast numbers desired to come to the front with their wares. The single line of railroad, now 140 miles longer than at the beginning of the campaign, had to be defended against too many superfluities. We said: “Necessities first, then comforts!” but nothing simply to gratify the eager desire of trading men to make money was allowed to come over the lines.

One day a courteous gentleman gave Sherman a superb box of cigars, and to each army commander he presented something, my share being some table furniture.

Sherman was greatly pleased and expressed his gratitude in unusual terms. “You could not have pleased me more,” he said. Two days afterwards the same gentleman visited Sherman again at his Atlanta home and asked for a permit to bring sutler's stores from Nashville to the front. Several officers were present. Sherman then displayed the terrible anger that was in him. “Leave, sirl leave at once, you scoundrel! Would you bribe me?” he said. The trader did not wait for a blow but rushed out in hot haste. Thus Sherman delivered [51] himself and the other commanders from temptation.

But what, of course, taxed his mind most was the next step to be taken. He corresponded voluminously with Grant and Halleck; he consulted freely with his corps and army commanders; he reorganized his forces with a view to efficiency. But his main plan for subsequent operations was early formed in his own mind; yet it took him some time to work out the details. This plan covered all that may be now condensed into one expression-“the march from Atlanta to the sea.”

When his plan was finally settled, Thomas was to go back to Nashville; Schofield and Stanley with the Fourth and Twenty-third Corps to follow him. Besides these Thomas was to have control of all forces which he might need in my department (of the Tennessee), the Department of the Cumberland and the Ohio-all not immediately with Sherman.

I consolidated the troops then with me into two corps-Blair's of three divisions and Logan's of four divisions — for Sherman's right wing, still called the Army of the Tennessee. All the rest of my men on the Mississippi constituted the new Sixteenth Corps --to remain subject to Thomas's call. Slocum took two corps, Davis's (the Fourteenth) and Williams's (the Twentieth), and Sherman designated this force “the Army of Georgia.” This was Sherman's left wing. Kilpatrick drew out from all our cavalry a body of 5,000 horse for the march. I had 33,000 men, Slocum 30,000, and Kilpatrick 5,000-total, 68,--000. This was substantially Sherman's field force for the great march.

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