The Battles for Atlanta 20 July - 1 Sept. 1864
or the siege of Atlanta

Hood's 4 desperate attempts to defeat various portions of Sherman's army
.

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Maps of battles for Atlanta (USMA) -- Map of entire Atlanta campaign (source?) -- Map of Sherman chasing Hood (USMA)


Gen. Joseph Johnston in
Battles and Leaders: "I assert that had one of the other lieutenant-generals of the army (Hardee or Stewart) succeeded me, Atlanta would have been held by the Army of Tennessee."

This is actually pretty dull stuff. Hood's army was much smaller than that of Sherman, and Hood was repulsed every time he attacked a portion of Sherman's army. The continuously lopsided casualty ratios reveal the futility of Hood's efforts, reveal as well the Götterdämmerung psychosis which grips the losing side in any war. The fact that Sherman scattered his forces when he knew that Hood was going to attack in any case (in order to offer Richmond his contrast to Johnston ) makes it even duller. Foregone conclusions which the victorious commander can't mess up, no matter how unimaginative he is, are not my idea of fascinating history. Anyway, The 4 main phases were: 1) Peachtree Creek 20 July; 2) Battle of Atlanta 22 July; 3) Ezra Church 28 July; and 4) Jonesboro 31 Aug -1 Sept
. 1864.

1. After being flanked out of the positions behind the Chattahoochie, Johnston retired south of Peachtree Creek, an east to west flowing stream about three miles north of Atlanta. Sherman split his army into three columns for the assault on Atlanta with Thomas’ Army of the Cumberland moving from the north. Johnston had decided to attack Thomas, but on 17 July Davis replaced him with Hood whose direct correspondence with Davis may have had some influence on the decision. In these letters Hood represented the opinion of the major commanders of the Army of Tennessee as being unfavorable to Johnston. This was pretty much what Davis wanted to hear because Johnston and he had been feuding since the beginning of the war about a date on a piece of paper (Johnston's commission to the rank of full general). On 20 July, at about 4 PM, Hood's army (including boys and old men) attacked Thomas while his army was crossing Peachtree Creek, although by that time in the day most of it had crossed to the south of it. Hooker's troops fought very well.

The attack began along the Buckhead Road (today Peachtree Road) as the the Confederates moved up a slight rise toward the Federal position on top of a ridge which ran parallel to and south of Peachtree Creek. They were trying to exploit a two mile gap between Thomas and Schofield to the east and get around Thomas' left flank under Newton. After a moment of crisis at the beginning, during which Thomas
personally commanded the Federal artillery at Peachtree Hills, the battle was gradually joined along the line. The Confederates were everywhere repulsed, and the last confrontation took place in the evening about 1 and 1/4 miles to the west. Thomas had warned Sherman that battle was imminent on his front, but Sherman didn't believe him and was absent in Decatur anyway and, as usual, clueless. He had written to Thomas on the 19th: "The confusion resulting from my misunderstanding your position resulted from want of information." On the 20th, while the battle was in full swing, he wrote to Thomas: "From McPherson's fire, I think he is within one and a half or two miles of Atlanta. Schofield ought to be within two miles. All your troops should push hard for Atlanta, sweeping everything before them." Or maybe he had another motive - namely not concede to Thomas the honor of being the first to shake the hand of the Mayor of Atlanta. But let us be charitable and assume that he really didn't know what was going on. Due to his misapprehension of where the fighting was actually taking place, Mcpherson and Schofield were not engaged, and Sherman wasted yet another opportunity to elmininate the Army of Tennessee. If I had been the Confederate commander, I would have avoided Thomas like the plague or an immovable rock, but Hood apparently thought he could gain more glory and/or points with some girl in Richmond by defeating his former artillery instructor. The price for 3 hours of combat and hubris was high. Hood had about 19,000 troops, and Thomas had about 20,000 effectives engaged in the battle. Estimated casualties: 6,506 total (US 1,710; CS 4,796)


Map section from Atlas to accompany the Official Records, no. 2,  plate 101 (roman numerals CI)




The distance between points A (where the Confederates began the attack) and B (where the last confrontation ended at around 7 PM) is about 1 1/4 miles. The Federals occupied a ridge stretching from Clear Creek (today Pea Vine Creek) west to beyond Howell Mill Road. Collier Road runs along the foot of this ridge.
A is where the Confederates began the attack, and it petered out at B at the intersection of Howell Mill Rd. and Collier Rd. See also the marker in front of Piedmont Hospital (which indicates the Federal position at the top of the rise), and the markers in Tanyard Branch Park, about a half mile west of  Peachtree Rd. on Collier Road. It is a lovely little park, but somewhat neglected.

2. During what is called the battle of Atlanta on 22 July (improperly so, since the decisive battle for the city had already taken place), Hood again attacked in detail one of the parts of Sherman's army group, this time singling out McPherson. Hood sent Hardee with his corps (including Cleburne) on a fifteen-mile roundabout night march through thickets and woods to surprise and hit the unprotected Union left and rear, east of the city, while Cheatham was to come straight out of the city and attack from the west. Hood's dream of a dawn attack proved impractical because Hardee didn't and couldn't reach his jump-off point until noon. True to type, Sherman had sent McPherson's cavalry screen under Geraard off on another futile raid, so McPherson knew nothing of Hardee's approach. If one reads or rereads my account of the battle of Shiloh, one might reach the conclusion that Sherman didn't learn a thing during the entire war. The Confederates made several breakthroughs, but all were repulsed because of the generalship of the Union commanders who ably made use of their interior lines to move units to threatened points. The issue was finally decided by the Army of the Tennessee's artillery, supposedly unter Sherman's personal direction, which stopped Cheatham's advance, whereupon Logan led a counterattack which restored the Union line. Thirty-seven hundred causulties including McPherson, the only army commander in the Union armies to be killed in action during the Civil War, were the price of Sherman's inept dispositions. Schofield wasn't far away, but did not intervene. To excuse himself for having isolated one of his armies, he wrote in his memoirs: "I purposely allowed the Army of the Tennessee to fight this batle almost unaided because I knew that...if any assistance were rendered by either of these two armies, the Army of the Tennessee would be jealous." This is another of those Sherman utterances which leave one almost speechless. In the sandbox of his mind, where Sherman, godlike, moved units back and forth, the individual soldiers were obviously nothing more than abstractions, and disposable ones at that. Estimated casualties: 12,140 total (US 3,641 out of about 30,000 effectives; CS 8,499 out of about 37,000 effectives). Afterward Hood, who watched the whole thing with binoculars from a mile away, maintained that he had won the battle, or at the very least, had uplifted the morale of his troops.  It's a fine thing to have one's morale thus lifted. 

3. At the battle of Ezra Church on 28 July 64 the commander of the Army of the Tennesse was now Howard who had replaced McPherson. Hooker resigned when his former subordinate who, in his opinion, had helped cause the debacle at Chancellorsville, was chosen for this command intead of him. If Sherman wanted to get rid of Hooker, he could have picked no better man than Howard to replace McPherson. Howard was now ordered to cut the railroad line on the western side of Atlanta. Hood moved out of Atlanta to attack and ran into Howard's fortifications. Again the Confederate losses were heavy, although Howard failed to cut the railroad line. Estimated casualties: 3,562 total (US 562; CS 3,000)

4. At the battle of Jonesboro south of Atlanta on 31 Aug. - 1 Sept. 64 it was Hardee who, with 2 corps, attacked 4 corps under Sherman who had moved south of the city in an attempt to cut the final railroad link to the city. Howard moved directly on Jonesboro from the west, Thomas moved on it from the north, and Schofield was safely behind Thomas, further to the north. Davis attacked and broke the Confederates' fortified position in Jonesboro. Thomas proposed a plan for isolating and thus eliminating Hardee, but Sherman was more interested in destroying track and rushing back to Atlanta, which was done. Estimated casualties: 3,149 total (US 1,149; CS 2,000). Hood evacuated Atlanta on 1 Sept., and on 2 Sept. the Union Brig.-Gen. William Ward got to shake the hand of mayor James Calhoun. Sherman moved in and sent his telegram to Lincoln. Church bells rang all over the North and Lincoln's reelection was assured. Thomas summed up Jonesboro in this way:

"Federal forces occupy Atlanta, Georgia. Sherman withdraws his forces from Lovejoy's Station rather than attacking and destroying or dispersing the Army of Tennessee. He leaves Hood to mend his Army."

Those were strong words from a man as reticent as Thomas.

Note that Schofield was largely spared heavy fighting in the battles for Atlanta, and in the entire campaign for that matter. Moreover, he was so slow in getting into assigned positions on several occasions that troops from the Army of the Cumberland had to take up the slack. He was being saved for larger purposes. See my article Schofield vs. Stanley.

Battle reports:
1. Thomas US
2. Grant US
3. Sherman US
6. Hood CS plus correspondence

Other articles on these battles:

1. Thomas Van Horne's treatment of the battles for Atlanta from his "Life of GHT"

2. Excerpt from The Georgia Militia about Atlanta by Gustavus W. Smith,  Maj.-Gen. CSA 


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Thomas Van Horne's treatment of the battles for Atlanta, taken from his 1882 biography "Life of Maj. Gen. George H. Thomas"

Page 239 - HOOD SUPERSEDES JOHNSTON

The Army of the Ohio and Howard's corps of the Army of the Cumberland had previously crossed the river at points north of the railroad bridge. On the 17th, the Army of the Tennessee, on the extreme left at Roswell, crossed the river, and moved toward the Augusta railroad, east of Decatur; and Palmer's, and Hooker's corps, crossed on pontoon bridges at Paice's Ferry. During that day and the next the three armies moved forward, and in the evening of the latter, the Armies of the Tennessee and Ohio were in the vicinity of Decatur, and the Army of the Cumberland encamped on the right bank of Peach Tree Creek, between the railroad on the right and the Buckhead road. At this time the two armies on the left were several miles distant from the one on the right, and the movements ordered for the 18th had reference to their union before Atlanta.

When Johnston withdrew from the Chattahoochee River, he posted his army on the south bank of Peach Tree Creek, making that stream and the Chattahoochee, below their junction, his line, covering the direct approaches from the north. This line, however, was not to be a defensive one, but a base for offense against Sherman's armies, as they should cross the wide muddy channel of the creek. General Johnston had concluded that the National armies had been so greatly diminished in strength, that he could safely bring on a battle in open field, when circumstances were so plainly in his favor. But on the 18th he was succeeded in command by Lieutenant-General John B. Hood.

The new commander at once formed a plan to crush the Army of the Cumberland, before help could be rendered by either of the other two armies, then so far from its left. Consequently, on the evening of the 18th and on the following day, he formed a line of battle in proximity to the south bank of Peach Tree Creek, with Stewart's corps on the left, Hardee's in the centre, and Cheatham's on the right. Cheatham's corps, supported on his right by the Georgia State troops was entrenched to cover Atlanta, and at the same time prevent the transfer of reenforcements to General Thomas from the other two armies.
 
 

Page 240 - LIFE OF GENERAL GEORGE H. THOMAS

General Cheatham was directed to reconnoitre in front of his left and post his batteries so as to sweep the space between his position and the south branch of Peach Tree Creek, to separate McPherson and Schofield's forces from those of Thomas. With his other two corps –Stewart's and Hardee's -- Hood proposed to crush the Army of the Cumberland, and then to wheel his whole army upon Schofield and McPherson. It was intended that the assault upon Thomas should be so bold and persistent as to quickly overcome all resistance, and pressing him back into the pocket formed by the Chattahoochee, the railroad embankment and Peach Tree Creek, " to kill, wound or capture his entire army."

During the 19th, Howard's corps, Geary's division of the Twentieth, and Davis' division of the Fourteenth corps crossed Peach Tree Creek against positive resistance by the enemy. At night this stream divided the Army of the Cumberland, and placed it at a great disadvantage, in view of Hood's plan of operations. On this day the two armies on the left moved towards Thomas, but there was still a wide gap between the right and left wings of the combined armies.

Early on the 20th, the remaining divisions of the Army of the Cumberland crossed the creek, but much of the artillery was necessarily left on the north bank. The whole army was now on the south bank, except Stanley's division of the Fourth corps, which was in position to the left, between the north and south branches, a position strong in itself, and especially suited for the flank of an army, which was about to receive a blow intended to effect its overthrow.

As matters then stood, Thomas' army was in readiness to form line of battle, should the enemy attack, but a conflict was not then expected, since orders required an advance on Atlanta.
 
 

Page 241 - ORDERS FOR ADVANCE TO ATLANTA

( SPECIAL FIELD ORDERS NO. 39.)
HEADQUARTERS MILITARY DIVISION OF THE MISSISSIPPI. In the Field near Decatur July 19, 1864
The whole army will move on Atlanta by the most direct roads July 20th, beginning at five o'clock, A.M., as follows:
I. Major General Thomas from the direction of Buckhead, his left to connect with General Schofield's right, about two miles northeast of Atlanta, about lot l5, near the house marked as Howard and Colonel Hooker.
II. Major-General Schofield by the road leading from Dr. Powell's to Atlanta.
III. Major-General McPherson will follow one or more roads direct from Decatur to Atlanta.
Each army commander will accept battle on anything like fair terms, but if the army reach within cannon range of the city without receiving artillery or musketry fire, he will halt, form a strong line with batteries in position, and await orders. If fired on from the forts or buildings of Atlanta, no consideration will be paid to the fact that they are occupied by families, but the place will be cannonaded without the formality of a demand.
The General-in-Chief will be with the centre of the army, viz : with or near General Schofield.
By order of Major-General W. T. SHERMAN.
L. M. DAYTON, Aid-de-Camp.

Compliance with these orders as far as practicable in the morning of the 20th, did not bring Schofield's right and Thomas' left into connection. The road from Buckhead to Atlanta, and that from Dr. Powell's were too far apart to effect this conjunction of lines, so far from the city as Peach Tree Creek, since it was at least four miles from the point on the main stream where the Buckhead road crosses, to the point where the road from Dr. Powell's crosses the south branch.

In moving to the left, Stanley's and Wood's divisions marched on a road leading to Decatur, and having restored a bridge burnt by the enemy, crossed the south branch of Peach Tree Creek, three miles from the Buckhead road, so that the gap between these two divisions and Newton's
 
 

Page 242 - LIFE OF GENERAL GEORGE H. THOMAS

on that road, was little, if any, less than three miles; and if they moved to the left after reaching the south bank, the distance was more than three miles at the time of the action.

At this juncture there were nine divisions of infantry in aggregate in the Armies of the Tennessee and Ohio, in conjunction on the left, and the same number in the Army of the Cumberland. And if it was impracticable to fill the gap between the wings by the movement of one or both by the flank, and if they were not each strong enough to fight successfully the whole Confederate army, it was certainly an error to diminish the Army of the Cumberland, when it was advancing to meet a combination formed by General Hood to crush it. But by General Sherman's order, Stanley's and Wood's divisions were taken from Thomas, and marched by the flank to close on General Schofield's right, giving eleven divisions to the left wing, and leaving seven divisions with Thomas, when, for the first time in the campaign, the enemy in his full strength was to take the offensive. To place Thomas at still greater disadvantage, the general movement on Atlanta threw his left division forward in air on the Buckhead road. General Johnston had planned to take the offensive against Sherman's armies at Peach Tree Creek; and General Hood had indulged himself in the delusion that he could crush the Army of the Cumberland as a whole on the south bank of that stream. As the outcome of these projects, the blow fell on Thomas when bereft of two divisions and a secure flank. In preparation for the advance on Atlanta, General Thomas directed General Newton of the Fourth corps to move his division from the bank of the creek and ascend the hill in proximity on the south. The road led over a spur projecting towards the stream and commanding the low ground covered with trees and bushes to the left. Newton had but four pieces of artillery; but on reaching this spur, he said to Captain Goodspeed, his chief of artillery,
 
 

Page 243 - PEACH TREE CREEK

"It is well to have a reserve, put two guns here." His division then advanced to the hill with a strong skirmish line in front, which was soon arrested by the resistance of the enemy. Newton then placed Kimball's brigade on the right of the road, Blake's on the left, with two pieces of artillery between them, and held Bradley's on the road in rear. He then reported to General Thomas his impression that the situation had an " ugly look." In the meantime his troops built a rail barricade. Soon after Newton's advance, Geary's division of the Twentieth corps moved nearly abreast, taking position some distance to the right, across a depression, and also constructed a barricade. Williams' division of the same corps formed on Geary's right, in the woods, closely connecting with Johnson's division of the Fourteenth corps, while Ward's division, also of the Twentieth corps, remained on the low ground facing the depression between Newton and Geary.

Beyond the line of hills upon which these divisions had taken position was first, a depression and then, another series of hills, and upon these Hood had posted his attacking forces. He had maneuvered to hide his purpose that he might attack the Army of the Cumberland while it was constructing defenses. To this end he had withdrawn his skirmishers, and had sent men into our lines to report that the enemy was not in front in force.

But although a battle was not expected on the hills south of Peach Tree Creek, neither Thomas nor his army were surprised when it opened. A battle here had not been indicated by the manner of the required movement on Atlanta, nor by the removal of two divisions from his left after his army had crossed the stream. But under the circumstances better preparations for an action could not have been made. About 3 P. M., Hardee's central division advancing in strong lines, without skirmishers, made a furious attack upon
 
 

Page 244 - LIFE OF GENERAL GEORGE H. THOMAS

Newton in front as initial to assaults by divisions, in echelon, from right to left. Soon Geary's and Williams' divisions and Colonel Anson McCook's brigade of Johnsons division were hotly engaged. Newton was isolated for a time, the enemy bending back the right of Kimball's brigade and the left of Blake's, and Bate's division having passed round Newton's flank on the low wooded ground, and appeared far to his left and rear. The two guns left on the spur and a few soldiers from his broken skirmish line drove back this flanking force, while Ward's division advanced promptly, and drove the enemy from the depression between him and Geary. From first to last all Hood's direct attacks were repulsed. The crisis came with the re-appearance of Bate's division to the left and rear of Newton. At this juncture General Thomas rode to the bridge and ordered two batteries which had just crossed to ascend the hill, on the road, and hastening their movement by using his sword to keep the horses at a gallop, he planted these guns with the two left by Newton, on the spur. Here he sat on his horse and directed their fire. They were loaded with ordinary metal for short range and in addition with musket balls in great abundance. By his conduct and his swiftness in moving and firing his artillery his only resource he saved his flank, and defeated the enemy. Seldom has an army commander done so much, by direct act, to defeat an enemy and win a victory. And General Newton has described to the writer, the imposing appearance of General Thomas, as he sat on his horse, calm and resolute, in the rear of the guns.

Hood attributed his defeat to the failure of Hardee to attack with vigor. But the dead and wounded, thickly strewn in front of Newton's and Ward's divisions and on the flank and rear of the former, disprove this allegation. General Hood's plan, formed and put on trial in expectation of success against the entire Army of the Cumberland, utterly miscarried as against four divisions and one brigade of that army. Cheatham, posted and engaged
 
 

Page 245 - IN FRONT OF ATLANTA

entrenched to prevent the transfer of forces to Thomas from the Armies of the Ohio and the Tennessee, fought only the divisions which moved from Thomas in the opposite direction early in the day. The distance between the right of Wood's division and the left of Newton's, was at least two miles, since the former was beyond the confluence of the two branches of Peach Tree Creek, and that is nearly or quite two miles from the Buckhead road.

The issue of this battle gave proof that Thomas was right in asserting that he could whip the Confederate Army of the Tennessee with his own army. At the time of the severest fighting an orderly rode up to General Newton, stating that he had a despatch for him from General Howard. Accepting this statement as true, Newton read the message, which directed that a forward movement should be made as there were none of the enemy's troops between Peach Tree Creek and Atlanta, but did not then notice by whom it had been sent or to whom addressed. He said to the orderly: "Tell General Howard what you see here," and put the despatch in his pocket.

The next day, however, he observed that it had been sent by General Sherman to General Thomas.

Two days later Hood took the offensive against the Army of the Tennessee. His first attacks were successful, but he was again discomfited in the final issue. Early in the action General McPherson fell, and the command devolved upon Major General John A. Logan.

From the 22nd of July to the 25th of August, the combined armies operated against Atlanta. There was severe fighting during this period in offense and defense. Sherman gradually extended his entrenchments to his right, south of the city towards East Point, in hope of overlapping Hood's fortifications. But as the southern ends of the two lines of fortifications kept abreast in their southern extension, the project of gaining Atlanta in this way was finally abandoned. At times General Sherman thought of storming the enemy's fortifications; but to such a measure General Thomas was positively opposed.
 
 

Page 246 - LIFE OF GENERAL GEORGE H. THOMAS

On the 6th of August Sherman said: "Instead of going round East Point, I would prefer the enemy to weaken, so we may break through at some point, and wish you to continue to make such an effort. I will instruct Howard to do the same about the head of Utoy Creek, his right." The next day General Thomas replied: "I will keep the attention of the enemy fully occupied by threatening all along my front; but I have no hopes of breaking through his lines anywhere in my front as long as he has a respectable force to defend them. My troops are so thinned out, that it will be impossible to form an assaulting column sufficiently strong to make an attack sure."

As the alternative was, assault or turning movement, General Sherman decided to throw his armies upon the Macon railroad. On the 9th of August General Thomas rode to the Chattahoochee River to select a position for one of his corps and a cover for the surplus trains of the armies. From that day to the 24th , General Sherman postponed his flank movement for various reasons, chiefly to try the effect of cavalry raids on the communications of the enemy.

These raids were partially successful, but did not necessitate the withdrawal of the enemy from Atlanta. Finally Sherman directed the army commanders to make preparations for a general movement to the south. When this scheme was perfected, and a time suggested by Sherman to put it on trial, Thomas asked for a few days' delay to accumulate the requisite amount of forage and to rest and "shoe-up" his cavalry horses. He was unwilling to assault the strong fortifications before Atlanta, and, therefore, gave cordial support to the turning movement. His despatches in reference to the necessity of a short delay are subjoined:
 
 

Page 247 - JONESBORO

The teams of my command have only five days' forage on hand ; otherwise my command will be ready to commence the movementto-morrow. Colonel McKay tells me that in three days the whole army could be supplied with ten days' forage.

I would like to commence the movement without being hurried, and can do so by Thursday night. I think the cavalry ought to have a little rest and time to shoe up. I will be perfectly prepared by Thursday with provisions and can arrange to get forage by Sandtown the day after, if forage comes down.

On the 26th the withdrawal of the armies from position before Atlanta was begun. The Twentieth corps, Major-General H. W. Slocum, commanding, moved back to the Chattahoochee River, the Fourth corps, Major-General D. S, Stanley, commanding, and Garrard's cavalry division, covering the movement. The next day the Fourteenth corps, Brevet Major-General Jeff, C. Davis, commanding, withdrew from position.* On the 30th, the Army of the Tennessee reached the vicinity of Jonesboro', and on that day the Army of the Cumberland moved eastward from the West Point railroad to the Macon road, and thus connected with the Army of Ohio. By this time General Hood had posted two corps, Hardee's and Lee's, to attack the Army of the Tennessee and drive it across Flint River. These corps attacked Howard on the 31st, and were repulsed. Lee's corps then withdrew to Rough and Ready. The next day the two armies on the left moved towards Jonesboro'. The Fourteenth corps took position on the left of the Army of the Tennessee, or two corps of that army, the Fifteenth and Sixteenth, the Seventeenth corps and Kilpatrick's cavalry having been sent to the rear of Jonesboro'. That evening the Fourteenth corps, in presence of General Thomas and by his order, attacked Hardee's corps, posted behind entrenchments, and
 
 

Page 248 - LIFE OF GENERAL GEORGE H. THOMAS

dislodged it. It was meet that the Fourteenth corps should make the only really successful assault of the campaign, when for the last time it was to be in battle under its old commander. The enemy regarded this attack as one of extreme temerity, in view of the issue of previous assaults by either of the opposing armies. Nevertheless one thousand men, eight pieces of artillery and seven battle flags were captured in the enemy's entrenchments. Why the Army of the Tennessee did not wheel upon Hardee's flank at the time of the attack in front is not apparent.

The issue of the two actions at Jonesboro was decisive of the campaign. On the 1st of September General Hood with Stewart's corps, left Atlanta to support the remainder of his army. After the second defeat of Hardee at Jonesboro', an immense amount of war material and railroad transportation was destroyed at Atlanta, and on the following morning, September 2nd, the city was formally surrendered to Colonel Coburn, commanding the advance brigade of the Twentieth corps. On that day Sherman advanced to Lovejoy's Station, but after some hard fighting by Wood's and Kimball's divisions of the Fourth corps, he issued orders for the concentration of his armies at Atlanta.

In this campaign General Thomas approved of no movement which was a failure, he disapproved of none which was a success, and whenever his advice was rejected the outcome proved that his plan would have met with every condition of success.

* General Howard had been assigned to the command of the Army of the Tennessee soon after the death of General McPherson; General Stanley to the Fourth corps ; General Slocum to the Twentieth in room of General Hooker, relieved at his own request ; and General Davis to the Fourteenth corps in place of General Palmer, relieved in the same way.


Battles and Leaders of the Civil War, Vol. IV, Yosellof ed., 1956

Originally published in 1887 by Robert Underwood Johnson and Clarence
Clough Buell, editors of the "The Century Magazine".

[scanned, reformatted and corrected]

Page 331

excerpt from THE GEORGIA MILITIA ABOUT ATLANTA.
BY GUSTAVUS W. SMITH MAJOR-GENERAL C. S. A.

About the time that General Johnston crossed to the south of the Etowah, Governor Joseph E. Brown ordered the militia and the civil officers of the State of Georgia to assemble at Atlanta. These two classes of State officers were, by act of the Confederate Congress, exempt from conscription. Governor Brown's order was promptly obeyed, and these officers-about three thousand in number-were organized into companies, regiments, and two brigades, under the personal supervision of the Governor, by Major-General H. C. Wayne, Adjutant-General of the State. They were required to elect their own officers; and those not chosen had to take their places temporarily in the ranks. They were informed that if they were not willing to accede to this ruling, they would be deprived of their regular commissions in the State service and sent to the Confederate conscript camp. This action of Governor Brown gives a clear indication of the intense strain to which

Page 332

the States and the general government of the Confederacy were then being subjected. It will be seen later, that when General Johnston's army approached still closer to Atlanta, Governor Brown called into active service the old men of the State up to the age of fifty-five, and the boys down to sixteen years, armed in great part with flint-lock muskets, ordinary rifles, and shot-guns, and ordered them to report to me for service in the field.

Immediately after the two classes of State officers were organized, the Governor tendered their services to General Johnston, reserving the right, however, to withdraw them from the Confederate service whenever the interests of the State should require it. Their services were accepted on these terms, and General Wayne was ordered to report to General Johnston. The latter directed the larger portion of General Wayne's command to guard the crossings of the Chattahoochee River from Roswell to West Point, the. distance being nearly one hundred miles. About one thousand men were left in camp of instruction near Atlanta.

A short time after, in order that General Wayne might resume his duties as Adjutant-General of the State, much to my surprise the troops elected me to command them in the field. At that time I was busily engaged im Macon, preparing for the manufacture of iron, the iron-works at Etowah, in north Georgia, under my charge, having been destroyed by General Sherman's army a few weeks before.

I took command of the Georgia militia on the 1st of June, and began to prepare them for the field. About the middle of June General Mansfield Lovell came from Marietta to explain to me the condition of affairs near that place and General Johnston's views in reference to the special service it was proposed should be performed by that portion of my command which was in camp of instruction. It seemed that whilst Johnston's army was strongly intrenched and capable of resisting direct attack, his lines were already so extended that no troops could safely be taken from the trenches to support the cavalry on the flanks. But it was believed by General Johnston that if the small cavalry force on his left could be supported by the militia, the extension of Sherman's army on that side might be checked, and the Confederates could permanently hold position near Marietta. I told General Lovell that I did not believe the small available force of raw militia, acting as a support to the cavalry, could stop Sherman's advance if he chose to move in force around Johnston's left flank; but if I received a positive order from General Johnston to move across the Chattahoochee for the purpose indicated, the order would be obeyed to the best of my ability, without regard to my opinion of the matter. In giving that order, General Lovell, in the name of General Johnston, directed me not to allow my command to become closely engaged with superior numbers.

Fortunately for this small body of militia, there was then in Atlanta a Confederates battery of Light pieces, commanded by Captain R. W. Anderson. That battery had just been refitted For field service, and was awaiting orders to return to the front. Without other authority than my own, but with the full consent of the officers and men, I took this battery with the militia when we crossed the Chattahoochee at James's Ferry, and assumed position in the open country, within close supporting distance of our small force of cavalry, five or six miles from the left of General Johnston's intrenched position.

We played "brag" with the Federals in the open country, on that side, for eight or ten days, giving way a little when they pressed, but still holding position well out until they advanced in earnest on the 3d of July, when it became apparent that they were moving close on us in large force. Against this advance our cavalry could do but little ut of the way."

For a short time thereafter the "supporting force" was at a great disadvantage, but it was withdrawn in good order, and the line of cavalry pickets was again formed between the militia and the advancing Federal columns.

On the 4th, being farther pressed, the whole force was moved back to the crest of Nickajack ridge, about three miles north of Turner's Ferry.

At the point where the road from that ferry crosses the ridge an embrasure battery for artillery had been previously constructed, and short lines of trenches for infantry extended on each side, but not far enough to give cover to more than five hundred men. In a very short time after the troops were formed in this defensive position, the Federals, in large force, advanced against our front.

The situation of the militia on the afternoon of the 4th will be better understood by reference to the movements that had been previously made in other portions of the theater of operations. July 1st, General Sherman reported to General Halleck: "Schofield is now south of Olley's Creek....To-morrow night I propose to move McPherson from the left to the extreme right.... The movement is substantially... straight for Atlanta." One of McPherson's divisions moved on the 2d, the rest of his army followed that night, and on the 4th the armies of Schofield and McPherson were concentrated in front of the militia, four or five miles west and a little south of the position then occupied by General Johnston's army strongly intrenched at Smyrna Station, six or eight miles south of Marietta.

The affair at Smyrna Station, that day, is reported by General Sherman as follows: "We celebrate our 4th of July by a noisy but not desperate battle, to hold the enemy there till Generals McPherson and Schofield can get well into position below him, near the Chattahoochee crossings."

When I took up a defensive position on the crest of Nickajack ridge I did not know that the armies of McPherson and Schofield were in my immediate front, but it was evident that the Federal forces pressing upon the militia were in large numbers, and if they passed us they would be within easy reach of the then unoccupied strong Confederate fortifications on the north bank of the Chattahoochee River. These works had been constructed some time before, under the supervision of an

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officer of General Johnston's staff, for the protection of the crossings of the Chattahoochee, including Turner's Ferry and the railroad bridge.

I understood the situation well enough to feel certain that the Federal forces in front of the militia should be held back if possible, and not permitted to reach the unoccupied works on the banks of the Chattahoochee whilst General Johnston's army remained at Smyrna station. Making a stand on the crest of Nickajack ridge I intended to hold the position without regard to becoming closely engaged with superior numbers, and was determined to sacrifice the command, if necessary, in an earnest effort to prevent the Federals from crossing the ridge that afternoon.

Our position was strong against attack in front; but it could have been easily turned on either flank. About the middle of the afternoon the Federals approached our front, and, under cover of sharp firing of a strong skirmish-line, they made dispositions to attack in force. The firing soon became very heavy and continued so until night. No attempt was made to carry the position by assault, but they approached within good musket range, where they were held in check, principally, no doubt, by the very effective fire of Captain Anderson's battery. No effort was made against either of our flanks.

A little after nightfall I wrote to General Johnston, informed him of what had occurred, and stated that the enemy were in very large numbers and would, in all probability, attack again at daylight in such strength that my small force could not hold them back for more than a very short time. But, so long as he held his army at Smyrna Station, I should continue to resist the farther advance of the Federals, unless I received an order from him to withdraw.

Before that note was dispatched, General W. H. Jackson, the commander of the cavalry that I was supporting, and General Toombs, chief of my staff, joined me. At their earnest request I modified the note I had just written by adding: I would retire at daylight if I did not get orders during the night to hold the position as long as possible. At 1 A. M., July 5th, in reply, I received an order from General Johnston to withdraw my command at the dawn of day. When we arrived at the works on the north bank of the Chattahoochee we found them occupied by General Johnston's army.

I suppose that previously to the receipt of my note he must have known that the armies of McPherson andon the left flank and rear of his intrenched position at Smyrna Station. Be that as it may, he withdrew his army to the works on the Chattahoochee before we retired from the crest of Nickajack ridge. The militia were proud of their debut beyond the Chattahoochee; elated by the successful resistance they had made during the afternoon of July 4th; rather dissatisfied because of their being withdrawn at daylight on the 5th; but were reconciled to this when they found the main Confederate army had preceded them to the Chattahoochee.

In reference to these operations General Johnston says: (1)

"In the evening [July 4th] Major-General Smith reported that the Federal cavalry was pressing on him in such force that he would be compelled to abandon the ground he had been holding, and retire before morning to General Shoup's line of redoubts. As the position in question covered a very important route to Atlanta, and was nearer than the main body of our army to that place, the necessity of abandoning it involved the taking a new line. The three corps were accordingly brought to the intrenched position just prepared by General Shoup."

This "contribution of materials for the use of the future historian of the war between the States" (2) requires amendment. I did not report to General Johnston that the Federal cavalry was pressing me in such force that I would be compelled to abandon the ground I had been holding and retire before morning. It is true that the position in question did cover a very important route to Atlanta, and was nearer than the main body of our army to that place; but that position was pressed by the armies of McPherson and Schofield, and I held them in check until daylight of July 5th, thus enabling General Johnston to withdraw his army quietly from Smyrna Station during the night, after Sherman had held him there all day "by a noisy but not desperate battle."

If McPherson and Schofield had wiped out the small militia force opposing them on the 4th, and occupied the strong Confed covered the crossings of the Chattahoochee, General Johnston would have had no opportunity to excuse his falling back from Smyrna Station by claiming that I reported the Federal cavalry was pressing on me in such force that I would be compelled to abandon the ground I had been holding and retire before morning. General Johnston fell back from Smyrna Station to the strong works on the north bank of the Chattahoochee because his left flank was turned by the armies of MePherson and Schofield. A few days later he fell back to the south side of the Chattahoochee because his right flank was turned by the Federal army. And on the 17th of July the Confederate Government relieved him from the command of the army he had led from Dalton to the gates of Atlanta without engaging in a decisive battle.

When he relinquished command on the 18th McPherson's army was closely approaching the east side of Atlanta, on the railroad leading to Augusta. Of the four railroads centering in Atlanta, two were already in the hands of the Federals, and that leading to Macon was within easy striking distance of McPherson.

 In his "Narrative"-- speaking of what he would have done if he had not been relieved from command--General Johnston says:(3)

"I expected an opportunity to engage the enemy on terms of advantage while they were divided in crossing Peach Tree Creek... If unsuccessful, we had a safe place of refuge in our intrenched lines close at hand. Holding it we could certainly keep back the enemy ... until the State troops promised by Governor Brown were assembled. Then I intended to man

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 (1) Johnston's "Narrative," p. 345.
 (2) Johnston's "Narrative," dedication
 (3) Johnston's "Narrative," p.350.
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the works of Atlanta on the side toward Peach Tree Creek with those troops, and leisurely fall back with the Confederate troops into the town, and, when the Federal army approached, march out with the three corps against one of its flanks.... If unsuccessful, the Confederate army had a near and secure place of refuge in Atlanta, which it could hold forever, and so win the campaign of which that place was the object. The passage of Peach Tree Creek may not have given an opportunity to attack; but there is no reason to think that the second and far most promising plan might not have been executed."

In addition to the above claim, that he could have held Atlanta "forever" if he had not been relieved of command, General Johnston now says: "I assert that had one of the other lieutenant generals of the army (Hardee or Stewart) succeeded me Atlanta would have been held." It is not proposed to discuss this assertion, nor to refer to the claim made by General Johnston in his own behalf, farther than may be necessary to elucidate briefly its connection with the Georgia militia.

At the time General Johnston was relieved the militia numbered about two thousand effectives and the "troops promised by Governor Brown" were just beginning to assemble. Atlanta was not strongly fortified, and the Federal army on the east side was at the very gates of the city. In about two weeks the old men and boys called out by Governor Brown had arrived in sufficient numbers to increase the effective militia force in the trenches to five thousand. At no time did it exceed that number.

If the fortifications of Atlanta had been "impregnable," as General Johnston asserts, this would have given no assurance of his ability to prevent Sherman from turning the position, cutting off its railroad communications, and thus making it untenable for an army. It had neither provisions nor ammunition to enable it to resist a siege.

Suppose that General Johnston had not been relieved, and General Sherman had suspended his turning operations for two weeks "until the State troops promised by Governor Brown were assembled," what guarantee could be given that five thousand militia could hold Atlanta, whilst General Johnston with his army "leisurely" fell back "into the town," marched out against one of the flanks of the Federal army, and was "unsuccessful"? The Georgia militia were good fighters, but in the case supposed I do not think they could have held Atlanta as "a secure place of refuge" for Johnston's army. But if the militia had held the place whilst the three corps were "unsuccessful" on the outside Atlanta was no "secure place of refuge" for an army that could not, by hard and successful fighting, prevent the position from being turned.

On the afternoon of the 18th of July General Johnston gave up the command of the army to his successor, General John B. Hood. It will be borne in mind that General Johnston "expected an opportunity to engage the enemy on terms of advantage while they were crossing Peach Tree Creek.'' On the 19th General Hood gave orders for two corps to take position ready to attack Thomas's army on Peach Tree Creek, whilst one corps watched and guarded against the movements of the armies of McPherson and Schofield, closely approaching Atlanta on the east side. On the night of the 19th Hood gave orders to the two corps then in the neighborhood of Peach Tree Creek to attack Thomas's army in that position at 1 p.m. on the 20th. At the time named Thomas's army was engaged in crossing the creek. The armies of Schofield and McPherson were not within good supporting distance, and it is safe to say that if Hood's order for the attack at 1 P. M. had been promptly obeyed by the two corps Thomas would have met with serious disaster before the forces of Schofield or McPherson could have reached him. Owing to mismanagement of the leading corps the Confederate attack was delayed until 4 P. M., and was then made without proper concert of action. In the meantime the advance of McPherson's army on the east of Atlanta was so threatening that it became necessary late in the afternoon to detach a division of the leading corps on Peach Tree Creek and send it to hold McPherson in check. That division was sent off before it had been put in action against Thomas. The Confederate attack on the latter was repulsed.

If Hood's orders had been promptly obeyed, this attack would probably have resulted in a staggering blow to Sherman. But Thomas had safely crossed Peach Tree Creek, and was strongly established on its south side. Schofield was again in fair communication with Thomas, and McPherson was extending his fortifications south of the railroad leading to Augusta, thus threatening the railroad leading to Macon. The militia occupied the unfinished lines of Atlanta, south of the Augusta, road, closely confronted by McPherson's fortifications.

General Hood deemed it necessary that McPherson should be held back from the railroad leading to Macon. And he hoped by attacking the rear of McPherson's fortified lines to bring on a general engagement that might result in the defeat of the Federal army. On the 21st he ordered one corps to fall back at dusk and move rapidly from Peach Tree Creek, through the eastern suburb of Atlanta, pass out to the south, around McPherson's extreme left, and attack the fortified lines of the latter from the direction of Decatur. When the Federals were thus assailed in rear an attack was to be made on their front by the Confederates from the Atlanta side.

The corps that turned McPherson's left moved slowly, the attack was not made until late in the morning of the 22d, and was not then directed against the rear of the Federal lines, because the turning corps had not moved far enough in the direction of Decatur before being sent into action. When that corps became engaged General Hood ordered the corps on my left to advance from its lines around Atlanta and attack the front of the Federals. Seeing this movement on my left, I formed the militia in line of battle in the trenches, and without waiting for orders moved my command over the parapet against a strong embrasure battery in McPherson's line about one mile in front of our works. That battery had greatly annoyed

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us by its fire whilst we were engaged in completing our unfinished intrenchments. Anderson's battery accompanied this movement and took position in open ground, supported by the militia on the right and left, within about four hundred yards of the Federal lines. The effective fire of the enemy in our immediate front was soon silenced, and my command strongly desired that orders should be given for them to assault the embrasure battery. I would not permit this to be done at that time, because the firing on my right had ceased soon after the militia moved out of the lines and the Confederate troops on my left had bee driven back several hundred yards in rear of the position held by command. I considered it useless to make an isolated attack with the militia -- about two thousand men. But they were retained in the position they first assumed, and I awaited developments. About two hours later came an order from Hood to withdraw my command to the trenches.

In a letter to Governor Brown, July 23d, 1864, General Hood says: "The State troops, under General G. W. Smith, fought with great gallantry yesterday."

After the battle of the 22d of July Sherman withdrew his left from its position threatening the railroad leading to Macon, and extended his right in the direction of the railroad leading to West Point. In the meantime he pressed his lines closer to the city on the north and west.

On the 28th of July Hood fought the battle of Ezra Church, a few miles west of Atlanta, in order to prevent Sherman from seizing the West Point railroad. From that time Sherman continued to extend his right. On the 31st of August he succeeded in cutting off all railroad communications with Atlanta, and that place was consequently evacuated by Hood on the 1st of September, after he had held Sherman closely at bay for seventy-five days. It will be noticed that Sherman had succeeded in forcing Johnston back from Dalton to Atlanta in a somewhat less length of time.

My report of September 15th, 1864, says:

"A few days after the affair of the 22d of July I was ordered again to Poplar spring, (1)... but was scarcely established in camp before we had to be placed in the trenches on the left of the Marietta road, and from that time until the end of the siege we continued under close fire night and day. We had to move from one portion of the lines to another, and had our full share of all the hardest places.. The militia, although poorly armed, very few having proper equipments, more than two-thirds of them without cartridge boxes, almost without ambulances or other transportation, most of the reserves. ['state troops promised by Governor Brown'] never having been drilled at all, and the others but a few days, all performed well every service required of them during an arduous and dangerous campaign. They have been in service about one hundred days, during at least fifty of which they have been under close fire of the enemy mostly night and day....They have done good and substantial service in the cause of their country, and have established the fact that Georgia is willing and able to do something effective in her own name, besides furnishing more than her quota to the Confederate armies proper....There being; a lull in active operations, the Governor has... [temporarily] withdrawn the Georgia militia from Confederate service, and furloughed them for thirty days."

In his report Hood says: "This force rendered excellent and gallant service during the siege of Atlanta."

When again called into active service a few weeks later, the Georgia militia, although still under Hood's orders, did not form a part of his active operating army. During his Tennessee campaign the militia remained in Georgia and opposed Sherman's army in its march to Savannah.

As commander of a brigade, division, and corps, Hood had proved himself an aggressive, bold, determined, and careful fighter, perhaps a shade too sanguine, and disposed to assume that subordinates would carry instructions into effect as fully as he would have done if in their place. His high reputation as a brigade and division commander was acquired in the Army of Northern Virginia. At Gettysburg he was crippled in one arm; he lost a leg close up to the hip-joint on the field of Chickamauga. From these causes he was not physically as active as he had been in the early years of the war; but he was an excellent horseman and could ride nearly as well as most men who have two legs and two arms. It may be assumed, however, that many of the "slips" made by his subordinates whilst he commanded the army might have been corrected by him if he had then been as much "at home on horseback" as he was before he was so badly maimed. As an army commander his orders were judicious and well-timed in the operations around Atlanta; but he was compelled to evacuate that place, and the cry arose, "Atlanta was impregnable and if General Johnston had not been superseded he would have held it forever." The fall of Atlanta was discouraging to the Confederates in a degree that called for the utmost exertion on the part of the commander of that army to force the Federals to abandon that city, and, if possible, make them give up all the territory in north Georgia which had been yielded to them by General Johnston.

The backing, digging, and constant service in trenches, from Dalton to Atlanta, had very perceptibly injured the morale of the Confederate forces before General Johnston was relieved from command. The condition of that army had not been improved by the loss of Atlanta, and its practical efficiency was likely to be ruined if the policy of "backing and digging" was continued. Hood determined to move against the railroad over which Sherman, in Atlanta, drew all his supplies from Nashville, then invade. Tennessee, transfer the theater of operations to that State, and perhaps to Kentucky and the Ohio River. He believed that a change from the defensive, in trenches, to the active offensive would reestablish the morale of his army, present many chances of success, free north Georgia, and probably arrest the previous tide of Federal successes in the West.

It seemed to him that the passive policy--waiting for Sherman to manoeuvre the Confederate army back from one position to another --would result in the perhaps slow but certain subjugation and occupation of all Georgia by the Federals, and the consequent probable downfall of the Confederacy.

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(1) Near the south-western suburb of Atlanta.