The Life of Major General George H. Thomas
by Thomas Van Horne, 1882
< Part 1 Part 3 >
Page 160 - LIFE OF GENERAL GEORGE S. THOMAS
On November 7th General Grant learned that Bragg had sent Longstreet's corps into East Tennessee, to wrest Knoxville from General Burnside, and capture his army or drive it back into Kentucky. As no direct assistance from Chattanooga was then possible Thomas was ordered to take the offensive immediately. The instructions given him embraced objects and methods.
HEADQ'RS MILITARY DIVISION OF MISSISSIPPI, Chattanooga, Tenn., November 7, 1863.
MAJOR-GENERAL THOMAS, Commanding Department of the Cumberland.
GENERAL :—News just received from Major-General Burnside, taken in connection with information given by a deserter just in, whose statement you have, is of such a nature that it becomes an imperative duty for your forces to draw the attention of the enemy from Burnside to your own front. Already the enemy have attacked Burnside's most easterly garrison of two regiments and a battery, capturing the battery and about half of the forces. This corroborates the statement of the Georgia lieutenant as to the designs and present movements of the enemy.
I deem the best movement to attract the enemy to be an attack on the northern end of Missionary Ridge with all the force you can bring to bear against it, and when that is carried, to threaten and even attack, if possible, the enemy's line of communications between Dalton and Cleveland. Rations should be ready to issue a sufficiency to last four days, the moment Missionary Ridge is in our possession—rations to be carried in haversacks.
Where there are not horses to move the artillery, mules must be taken from the teams or horses from ambulances, or if necessary, officers dismounted and their horses taken. In view of so many troops having been taken from this valley and from Lockout, Howard's corps of Hooker's command can be used in this movement. Immediate preparations should be made to carry these directions into execution. The movement should not be made one moment later than tomorrow morning.
You having been over this country and having had a better opportunity of studying it than myself, the details are left to you.
I am General,
Very respectfully, your obedient servant,
U. S. GRANT, Major-General.
Page 161 - ATTACK POSTPONED
As soon as General Thomas received this order he sent for General W. F. Smith, and the following quotation from the letter of General Smith to the writer, under date of April /th, 1882, gives the conference and its result:
General Thomas said, that taking into account his numbers and condition, and the numbers and situation of the enemy, that the carrying out of the order meant disaster to us, and that I must endeavor to get the order countermanded, and wait for Sherman's army to arrive.
After a somewhat protracted conversation, I suggested to him that he should go up on the right bank of the river with me opposite to the northern end of Missionary Ridge, and make an examination, to which he assented, and we went up as far as the mouth of Chickamauga Creek.
From there we made a scrutiny of the character of the ground and the position of the right of the enemy on the ridge as marked by their works and smokes, and it was evident that General Thomas, with his command, could not turn the right of Bragg's army without uncovering Chattanooga. We then returned, and I went to the headquarters of General Grant, and reported the result of the reconnaissance, and told him in my judgment it was absolutely necessary to wait for the arrival of Sherman's army before attempting any movement.
The order was at once countermanded.
In his report and other official utterances, General Grant gave his reasons for this action. In his report he thus referred to his order and its revocation:
Ascertaining from scouts and deserters that Bragg
detaching Longstreet from the front, and moving him in the direction of
Knoxville, Tenn., evidently to attack Burnside, and feeling strongly
necessity of some move that would compel him to retain his forces and
those he had detached, directions were given for a movement against
Ridge, with a view to carrying it, and threatening the enemy's
with Longstreet, of which I informed Burnside by telegraph on the
of November. After a thorough reconnaissance of
ground, however, it was deemed utterly impracticable to make the move
Sherman could get up, because of the inadequacy of our forces, and the
condition of the animals then at Chattanooga; and I was forced to leave
Burnside, for the present, to contend against superior forces of the
until the arrival of Sherman with his men and means of transportation.
Page 162 - LIFE OF GENERAL GEORGE H. THOMAS
In a despatch to General Halleck, November 21st, General Grant again referred to this projected movement:
I ordered an attack here two weeks ago, but it was impossible to move artillery. Now Thomas' chief of artillery says he has to borrow teams from Sherman to move a part of his artillery to where it is to be used. Sherman has used almost superhuman efforts to get up even at this time, and his force is really the only one that I can move. Thomas can take about one gun to each battery, and can go as far with infantry as his men can carry rations to keep them and bring them back. I have never felt such restlessness before as I have at the fixed and immovable condition of the Army of the Cumberland. The quartermaster-general states that the loss of animals here will exceed ten thousand. Those left are scarcely able to carry themselves.
Professor Coppee, General Grant's first biographer, makes a statement in accord with the passage above quoted:
His (Grant's) first idea was to attack Missionary Ridge without delay, and of this plan he informed Burnside, telling him to hold Knoxville to the last extremity. But a sober second-thought, suggested by that calm prudence, which is one of his best characteristics, prompted him to wait the arrival of Sherman and his army, and thus by skill and carefulness to leave little to chance. *
Had this projected movement been subsequently represented in history in harmony with these quotations, no further reference to it would be necessary in this Biography. But as Badeau has made statements so radically different, their examination is imperative. This author states :
But Thomas announced that he had no horses to move his artillery, and declared himself entirely and absolutely unable to move until Sherman should arrive to cooperate. * * * * Nevertheless, Thomas' delay was a great disappointment. A prompt movement on the part of that commander would undoubtedly have had the effect to recall Longstreet; but now it was possible that the troops sent into East Tennessee might succeed in overthrowing the occupation which was so important. *
* Grant and his Campaigns, p. 220.
Page 163 - SELF-RELIANT
To emphasize this view of the case, the same author, in closing his account of the battle of Nashville, thus refers to the operations at Chattanooga, in connection with his idea of Thomas' character:
Grant knew all this well. The same traits which were exhibited in the Nashville campaign he had seen evinced at Chattanooga a year before. The same provoking, obstinate delay before the battle, the same splendid, victorious, irresistible energy afterwards. He believed, indeed, in Thomas, more than Thomas did in himself. The subordinate always shrank from responsibility." +
He supports the assumption expressed in the last of these sentences by a quotation from one of General Sherman's letters to himself:
"Thomas always shrank from supreme command and consequent responsibility."++
These positive statements are utterly erroneous. Thomas never shrank from supreme command unless the conditions of holding it were repugnant to him. He never shunned responsibility when corresponding independence and adequate resources were given to him. No man ever believed in Thomas more fully than Thomas believed in himself. A more self-reliant general never commanded in battle, a more symmetrical soldier never lived. His forcefulness in battle was the offspring of the same traits of character that made him reluctant to fight when he could not command adequate resources, or when additional preparations would magnify success. This illogical jumble of praise and disparagement evinces an utter misapprehension of the character and generalship of Thomas.
* Mil. Hist. U. S. Grant. Vol. 1. pp. 463, 464.
+ Mil. Hist. U. S. Grant. Vol. III., pp. 279, 280.
++ Ibid. p. 280.
Page 164 - LIFE OF GENERAL GEORGE H. THOMAS
But General Thomas did not delay on the 7th of November. He simply convinced General Grant that the operations which he had ordered were utterly impracticable. There was no room for delay since Grant countermanded the movement before the time for its execution.
Badeau has been exceedingly rash in asserting so positively, that " a prompt movement " on the part of Thomas "would undoubtedly have recalled Longstreet." If he has done this by authority the case is better for himself, but worse for General Grant. In the light of the subsequent battle at Chattanooga, a careful historian, critic, or general would be reluctant to put it beyond doubt that the execution of Grant's order of the 7th, would have recalled Longstreet from East Tennessee. His recall was only one of the objects announced for attainment by the execution of this order. General Grant's objects, then, were identical with those proposed for the subsequent battle, which was fought upon conditions radically different from those existing on the 7th ; and although in that action all the other objects named were attained, Longstreet was not recalled from East Tennessee.
On the 25th of November General Sherman led a larger
against the northern extremity of Missionary Ridge, without success,
General Thomas could have safely. taken from Chattanooga on the 8th.
And when Sherman made his attack there were two other offensive columns
threatening the enemy's centre and left flank. On the 8th, General
had five divisions in Chattanooga, three in Lockout Valley and one
that valley and Bridgeport. Had Howard's corps been withdrawn from
the latter would have had only one small division with which to guard
miles of the most exposed part of the vital communications with
Besides it would have been difficult to determine how many of the
seven divisions could be safely withdrawn from the long line of
Page 165 - DANGEROUS POSSIBILITIES
around Chattanooga from river to river. And when the attacking column, composed of four, five or six divisions, had reached the northern end of Missionary Ridge, Thomas' army would have to be divided into four parts, and the parts so widely separated that direct cooperation would have been impossible.
General Bragg had eight divisions on his line after the departure of Longstreet's corps, and each of these, except the one on the summit of Lockout Mountain, was nearer Chattanooga and Lookout Valley than the point designated for Thomas' attack. Grant's plan of operations opened up several promising possibilities to the enemy. , Bragg could have massed his forces to resist Thomas, interposed his army between Thomas and Chattanooga, overwhelmed Hooker in Lookout Valley, or stormed the fortifications of Chattanooga, had they been held by a slender line of troops. In fine, the Confederate army could have acted as a unit against the smaller National army in fragments. Bragg would have had choice of offense or defense, with greatly superior advantages for either. If, therefore, the appointments of the Army of the Cumberland had been complete. General Thomas' reluctance to fight the enemy on the 8th of November would have been justified by other circumstances.
In view of these facts, and in the light of the battle, fought soon
after, there are doubtless many men having some knowledge of war and of
history, who will not admit the truth of Badeau's assumption that the
prescribed for Thomas by General Grant's order of November 7th
would have recalled Longstreet. This result would have been improbable,
even if a successful attack had been made by Thomas on the northern end
of Missionary Ridge, since, according to the plan of operations, the
of the enemy was to be supplemented by the rupture of the
between Bragg and East Tennessee, and by throwing the National army
of his communications with Dalton.
Page 166 - LIFE OF GENERAL GEORGE H. THOMAS
Badeau has not explained the discrepancy between his own statements and those of General Grant. It is, therefore, left to conjecture whether this disagreement has resulted from inexcusably careless writing, misapprehension of the facts, or malign purpose on the part of Badeau, or a change in the views of General Grant since the publication of his official utterances.
During the ten days next following the revocation of General Grant's order preparations for offensive operations were prosecuted with great vigor.
On the 27th of October General Thomas was appointed a
general in the United States Army. This was not a prompt recognition of
his services in the battle of Chickamauga. To have full force, a
promotion must tread on the heel of the achievements which make it
PLAN OF BATTLE OF CHATTANOOGA -- ADVANCE OF THE CENTRAL FORCES,
NOVEMBER 23rd -- HOOKER'S ACTION ON LOCKOUT MOUNTAIN, ON THE
24th -- SHERMAN'S ACTION ON THE 25th -- FINAL ASSAULT.
The features of General Grant's final plan of battle at Chattanooga, Tennessee, were definitely set forth in his instructions to Generals Thomas and Sherman on November 18th , 1863. These generals were directed to prepare for battle on the 21st. The following letter indicates the plan of the commanding general :
HEADQUARTERS MILITARY DIVISION OF THE MISSISSIPPI, Chattanooga, Tenn., Nov. 18, 1863
MAJOR-GENERAL GEO. H. THOMAS,
Commanding Department: and Army of the Cumberland:
preparations should be made for attacking the enemy's position on
Ridge by Saturday morning at daylight. Not being provided with a map
names of roads, spurs of the mountain, and other places, such definite
instructions cannot be given as might be desirable. However, the
plan you understand, is for Sherman, with his force brought with him
by a division from your command, to effect a crossing of the Tennessee
River just below the mouth of the Chickamauga; his crossing to be
by artillery from the heights on the north bank of the river (to be
by your chief of artillery), and to carry the heights from the northern
extremity to about the railroad tunnel, before the enemy can
a force against him. You will cooperate with Sherman. The troops in
Valley should be well concentrated on your left flank, leaving only the
necessary force to defend fortifications on the right and centre, and a
movable column of one division, in readiness to move wherever
Page 168 - LIFE OF GENERAL GEORGE H. THOMAS
ever ordered. This division should show itself as threateningly as possible, on the most practicable line for making an attack up the valley. Your effort will then be to form a junction with Sherman, making your advance well towards the north end of Missionary Ridge, and moving as near simultaneously with him as possible.
The junction once formed, and the ridge carried, communications will be at once established between the two armies, by roads on the south bank of the river. Further movements will then depend on those of the enemy.
Lookout Valley, I think, will be easily held by Geary's division, and what troops you may still have there belonging to the old Army of the Cumberland. Howard's corps can then be held in readiness to act either with you at Chattanooga, or with Sherman. It should be marched on Friday night to a position on the north side of the river, not lower down than the first pontoon bridge, and there held in readiness for such orders as may become necessary. All the troops will be provided with two days' cooked rations in their haversacks, and one hundred rounds of ammunition on the person of each infantry soldier. Special care should be taken by all officers to see that ammunition is not wasted, or unnecessarily fired away. You will call on the engineering department for such preparations as you may deem necessary for crossing your infantry and artillery over Citico Creek.
I am, General,
Very respectfully, Your obedient servant, U.
S. GRANT, Major General U. S. V. Commanding.
The plan thus defined was a modification of a previous one which had
been formed before General Sherman arrived at Chattanooga, and which
an attack upon Lookout Mountain. This attack was abandoned in
of a reconnoissance on the north bank of the river by Generals Grant,
Sherman, W. F. Smith, chief engineer, and J. M. Brannan, chief of
of the Army of the Cumberland, which had developed the fact that the
heights of Missionary Ridge were not occupied by the enemy in force.
reason for this change of plan is thus given in General Grant's
Page 169 - GRANTS PLAN
Upon further consideration, the great object being to mass all forces possible against one given point, namely. Missionary Ridge, converging toward the northern end of it, it was deemed best to change the original plan so far as it contemplated Hooker's attack on Lockout Mountain,, which would give us Howard's corps of his command to aid in this purpose; and on the l8th the following instructions were given to Thomas. *
This final plan defines but one aggressive movement combining the
strength of the armies of Thomas and Sherman. To the latter was given
initiative against the northern heights of Missionary Ridge, and to the
former, subsequent cooperation in sweeping the enemy from the ridge.
can be no accurate analysis of this battle that is not based upon
Grant's avowed object of massing all his available forces towards the
extremity of Missionary Ridge, that by Sherman's initial attack and
subsequent cooperation he might dislodge the enemy and drive him away
his communications. To this object Grant most persistently adhered,
after it was known that the anticipated conditions did not exist. And
is absolutely certain that the actual operations of the battle, other
Sherman's effort " to carry the ridge to about the tunnel" in
movement, were not indicated in the pre-announced plan of battle. If,
several historians have asserted, General Grant's instructions to his
subordinates were the history of the battle in outline, the objects and
relations of the operations of the actual battle would have been
mentioned in these instructions. But if the only pre-directed movement
attempted beyond those that were plainly preparatory, was Sherman's
to carry the ridge to the tunnel, and this failed, then Grant's
plan of battle did not give the history of the actual conflict even in
outline. It is assumed in this history that the battle of Chattanooga
not fought according to Grant's plan in a single successful movement,
those of preparation,
* These are the instructions given by the order already quoted.
Page 170 - LIFE OF GENERAL GEORGE H. THOMAS
and that the influence of General Thomas gave shape to a successful action whose conduct and specific results had not been anticipated by General Grant. During three days, from the 20th to the 22nd inclusive, General Grant postponed the battle from day to day, until at last the 24th became the day fixed for its inauguration. This delay was due to General Sherman's failure, until the 22nd, to attain, with sufficient forces, his assigned position on the north bank of the Tennessee River. Rain and bad roads had retarded the march of his troops from Bridgeport, and on the 22nd the parting of the pontoon bridge at Brown's Ferry arrested two of his divisions in Lookout Valley.
At this juncture General Thomas was ready for battle. He had made all the preliminary movements which had been prescribed for his troops, in time for an earlier action. He had designated Wood's division for the movable column; had sent Jeff. C. Davis' division to report to Sherman; had stationed Howard's corps between the pontoon bridge at Brown's Ferry and the one at Chattanooga; his artillery had been planted on the heights north of the river, and Colonel Long's brigade* of cavalry had taken position to protect Sherman's left flank, and afterwards to move up the river upon the enemy's communications with Knoxville. Thus far General Thomas had addressed himself earnestly to the execution of General Grant's plan of battle. But upon the announcement of the third postponement of the action he began to make suggestions to General Grant, and urged him to attack the enemy on the 23rd. He feared that General Bragg would ascertain the plan of sweeping the ridge from the north, and concentrate to defeat it, and he proposed that Howard's corps (the Eleventh) should be used by General Sherman in room of his two divisions in Lookout Valley, and that these divisions and Hooker's force
* This brigade had been sent to Sherman, in compliance with an order
from General Grant.
Page 171 - URGES ATTACK
should be hurled against Bragg's left flank on Lockout Mountain
with Sherman's attack upon his right on Missionary Ridge. At the time
suggestion was made (Nov. 22nd,) Bragg's right rested at a
on Missionary Ridge, opposite the left of our entrenched line on the
of Chattanooga and several miles from the northern end of the ridge. He
had four divisions on the summit and western slope of Missionary Ridge
and on the line across Chattanooga Valley to Lookout Mountain, and had
not anticipated the proposed effort of two armies to cooperate against
his right flank. Stevenson's division of his army held the summit of
Mountain, and Cheatham's and Walker's the front slope. Had General
adopted Thomas' suggestion Sherman would have had five divisions for
initial movement and Thomas would have cooperated with him as
with four, making in all nine divisions, against Bragg's four holding
long line from his right on Missionary Ridge to Lookout Mountain. Had
leaped quickly across the Tennessee on the night of the 22nd,
Thomas would have been ready for cooperation, while only one of the
divisions that resisted Sherman on the 25th, would have been
on Missionary Ridge, and Bragg's right flank would have been found far
south of the tunnel. This plan would have given General Hooker four
for operations against Bragg's left flank and with the same strategy he
would have driven Cheatham's and Walker's divisions from the front of
Mountain and eliminated Stevenson's from the action, as he did on the 24th.
On these conditions a decisive victory would have been won on the 23rd,
General Grant would have thrown into the action, every one of his
divisions of infantry and each of his three columns of attack would
had adequate strength. But Grant yielded to Thomas only so far as to
him to use for a demonstration against Lookout
Page 172 - LIFE OF GENERAL GEORGE H. THOMAS
Mountain such forces as might be in Lookout Valley when Sherman should be ready for action, and persisted in delaying another day for Sherman to gather to himself all of his divisions. It is demonstrable that the conditions for executing Grant's plan, with a movement against Lookout Mountain added, were more favorable on the 23rd than at any other time. The reason given by General Thomas for Hooker's demonstration was that it would at least aid Sherman, even if it did not result in assault, and to aid Sherman was to contribute to the success of the initial and dominant feature of Grant's plan. Thomas' plan for the 23rd would have assured the most nicely adjusted cooperation of the three attacking columns. As a war problem it offered every factor, or element, essential to a brilliant solution. Bragg held a long line and, consequently, one weak against simultaneous attacks upon flanks and centre, and no one competent to determine the force of the several elements of a war problem will deny that the best conditions that existed during the three days of desultory fighting were present on the 23rd. Had a general battle been delivered on that day, Bragg would not at last have massed his entire army on Missionary Ridge for final defense. His positions on Lookout Mountain and Missionary Ridge were exceedingly strong, but his centre in the intervening valley, as he had disposed his forces, was comparatively weak. Under the attack of five divisions on one flank and of four on the other, while there was a central column of four more for cooperation, the enemy's long line would doubtless have quickly crumbled.
The action of the 23rd was not, however, such as Thomas
suggested. Neither was it such as Grant had planned. In semblance of a
turning movement, Sherman had sent Ewing's division to Steven's Gap. To
meet this division General Bragg withdrew some of his troops from line,
and this step led to the belief in his own army that it was to
Page 173 - RECONNOISSANCE ORDERED
be withdrawn. This error was reported by deserters to Generals Sheridan and Wood; whereupon General Grant directed Thomas to order a reconnoissance to ascertain the truth or falsity of this report. It did not occur to either Grant or Thomas that this reconnoissance, instituted to ascertain whether or not there was to be a battle, would become the first and ruling departure from Grant's plan. An ordinary operation of this type to solve so simple a problem could not have produced such a result. But General Thomas did not organize an ordinary reconnoissance. He directed General Gordon Granger, commanding the Fourth corps, to put in readiness for action his two divisions then in hand in front of Chattanooga. He also directed General Palmer, commanding the Fourteenth corps, to support these divisions on their right by Baird's division, and ordered General Howard with his corps * to perform a similar office on their left. Five divisions were thus disposed in readiness to utilize any possible developments. Thomas made ample provision for emergencies without having any definite anticipations. It certainly was not expected that a reconnoissance with a definite object would result in the advance of the central divisions nearly a mile toward Missionary Ridge. But preparations were made for a heavy fight, if necessary, to secure the safety of the leading divisions and attain the object specifically mentioned by General Grant. In making ample preparations to attain these objects, General Thomas made it possible to produce a result which had a vital relation to all the successful operations of the battle.
At 12.30 P.M. Wood's division with Sheridan's on its right, dashed
to a line of hills nearly half-way to Missionary Ridge from the
east of Chattanooga. The enemy was holding these hills and the
low ground, but the onset of the two divisions was
* This corps had crossed into Chattanooga on the 22nd.
Page 174 - LIFE OF GENERAL GEORGE H. THOMAS
so sudden and resistless, that in an instant the enemy was dislodged. Orchard Knob, the more imposing hill, was covered by Wood's division, and the knolls to the right by Sheridan's. When Thomas saw Wood's flags on the knob, he signaled to him : " You have gained too much to with-draw, hold your position and I will support you," and immediately ordered Howard to move his corps abreast of Wood's left, and Baird to advance his division to Sheridan's right.
At 3 P. M. General Grant sent the following despatch to Washington:
CHATTANOOGA, NOVEMBER 23, 1863-3 P. M.
MAJOR-GENERAL H. W. HALLECK, General-in-Chief:
General Thomas' troops attacked the enemy's left (sic.) at 2 P.M. to-day, and carried his first line of rifle-pits, running over the knoll one thousand two hundred yards in front of Wood's fort and low ridge to the right of it, taking about two hundred prisoners besides killed and wounded. Our loss small. The troops moved under fire with all the precision of veterans on parade. Thomas' troops will entrench themselves and hold their position until daylight, when Sherman will join the attack from the mouth of South Chickamauga, and a decisive battle will be fought.
U. S. GRANT, Major-General.
This despatch reveals Grant's estimate of this advance of the
line in its relation to Sherman's anticipated movement across the
during th e following night, and his conjunction with Thomas in
a decisive battle the next day. All his communications to Thomas on the
20th, 21st and 22nd, and this despatch
to General Halleck, concur in expressing his expectation that Sherman
be ready to attack at daylight of the morning after he should begin to
cross the river. And this is an important factor in determining the
relations of the anticipated operations of the battle as well as in
for the actual operations and their results.
Page 175 - GRANT'S CHANGED PLANS
Referring in his official report to the action of the 23rd, General Grant said:
" Thomas having done on the twenty-third with his troops in Chattanooga Valley what was intended for the twenty-fourth, bettered and strengthened his advanced positions during the day, and pushed the Eleventh corps forward along the south bank of the Tennessee River across Citico Creek, one brigade of which, with Howard in person, reached Sherman just he had completed the crossing of the river."
It is difficult to harmonize the statement that Thomas did on the 23rdwhat was intended for the 24th with General Grant's instructions, which defined Thomas' first movement, with the advance of his forces well toward the northern extremity of Missionary Ridge, to form a junction with Sherman. Neither does it agree with the order to Thomas requiring a reconnoissance to ascertain the truth or falsity of the reported withdrawal of Bragg's army. That the advance of the central divisions directly forward was accepted in room of their movement towards the northern extremity of Missionary Ridge is certainly true, but the establishment of a line of battle near Bragg's right flank and center before Sherman's movement was developed, was a radical departure from Grant's plan, and of itself defeated the prescribed cooperation of Thomas with Sherman towards the northern end of Missionary Ridge. When Thomas' central divisions advanced directly forward and entrenched a line, the movement was far from being identical with the one prescribed for them on the 24th in Grant's plan, since they were then massed on the right towards Rossville rather than on Thomas' left towards Sherman's point of attack. The centre of Wood's division rested on Orchard Knob, which was situated south of east from Fort Wood. On the right of this division were the divisions of Sherman, Baird and Johnson, while on the left were Schurz's and Steinwehr's of the Eleventh corps. The maintenance of this line, therefore, forbade the
Page 176 - LIFE OF GENERAL GEORGE H. THOMAS
conjunction of Thomas' and Sherman's forces until the latter should carry the summit of Missionary Ridge far south of the tunnel. Yet the impossibility of their conjunction, except on the condition of the abandonment of Thomas' "advanced positions," did not induce General Grant to forego his purpose to initiate his operations for ' the dislodgment of the enemy with Sherman's attack, as defined in his plan of battle, but it did eventually cause him to weaken Thomas to strengthen Sherman.
The advance of the central divisions induced changes also in Bragg's line. When Howard aligned his corps on the left of Wood's division, his left overlapped Bragg's right flank on Missionary Ridge, and led him to believe that Thomas' advance indicated an effort to turn his right flank and capture his depot of supplies at Chickamauga Station in the rear of that flank. He had no knowledge of the purpose to attack his right with forces then in position on the north bank of the Tennessee. But in view of danger to that flank from the forces that had moved toward it and overlapped it, he resolved to strengthen his right at the expense of his left, and during the night of the 23nd extended his line northward by transferring Walker's division from the northern slope of Lookout Mountain to Missionary Ridge.
Had there been a general battle on the 24th, as Grant anticipated, the conditions would have been somewhat different from those existing on the 23rd. Sherman had gained one division (Ewing's), but Osterhaus' was still in Lookout Valley, and the pontoon bridge at Brown's Ferry had again parted. The enemy's force on Lookout Mountain had lost one division. Thomas and Sherman would have had ten divisions for their co-operative attack against five divisions of the enemy on Missionary Ridge, and the line across Chattanooga Valley.
In estimating the wisdom of General Thomas' persistence in moving
column against Lookout Mountain on
Page 177 - ORDERS TO HOOKER
the 24th, the fact that a general decisive battle was expected on that day must be kept in view.
When General Hooker ascertained from Grant's instructions to Thomas that he was to be left in Lockout Valley in command of troops that were to be inactive except in the contingency of fighting on the defensive, he requested General Thomas to permit him to go into the battle with the Eleventh corps. The desired permission was granted, but was afterwards recalled, when Thomas had gained Grant's consent to use for offense the troops in Lookout Valley. This consent was gained on the 22nd, but no positive assurance was then given that Hooker would be reenforced from Sherman's army; General Thomas nevertheless instructed Hooker to act offensively with Geary's and Cruft's divisions, five brigades in all. General Grant did not consent to the diversion of Osterhaus' division to Hooker until it was certain that it could not join Sherman in time for his movement across the Tennessee River. While the final disposition of this division was still in doubt, Thomas sent the following despatch to Hooker:-
HEADQUARTERS DEPARTMENT OF THE CUMBERLAND, Chattanooga, Tenn., Nov. 24-th, 12.30 p. M.
MAJOR-GENERAL HOOKER, Lockout Valley:-
Intercepted rebel despatches are to the effect that the rebels expect us to attack them on their left in the morning. General commanding desires that you make demonstration early as possible after daybreak on point of Lookout Mountain. General Grant still hopes Woods' division (Osterhaus') will get across to join Sherman, in which case your demonstration will aid Sherman's crossing. If Woods can't cross, you can take the point of Lookout, if your demonstration develops its practicability.
J. J. REYNOLDS, Major-General and Chief of Staff
Later in the morning of the 24th it was ascertained that
Osterhaus' division could not cross in time to join Sherman before his
projected attack at daylight, and then General
Page 178 - LIFE OF GENERAL GEORGE H. THOMAS
Grant consented that it should be added to Hooker's slender column for a movement which had been eliminated from the plan of battle, for the purpose of giving the greatest possible force to operations against the enemy's right flank. General Thomas' instructions to General Hooker gave him entire freedom as to the manner of attack. He was required to demonstrate first, and if he deemed it practicable to carry the position, he was authorized to attempt it; in all other respects he was independent. General Thomas was always ready to accord a just measure of independence to subordinates who were held responsible for methods and results. He also accorded to Hooker the merit of carrying Lookout Mountain, except the origination of the movement, which he claimed for himself, not as original in conception, but in its relations to the actual battle.
It is safe to assume that Hooker adopted the best possible plan to
the enemy from Lookout Mountain. He placed two brigades (Grose's and
in plain sight, to rebuild a bridge near the base of the mountain and
the attention of the enemy, while he removed the remainder of his
up the valley and up the mountain side till the right of his line
the foot of the palisades the perpendicular ledge of rocks that walls
summit of the mountain. Having gained this important advantage without
the knowledge of the enemy, he swept round the front with this
line, and Cheatham's division receiving fire in front, flank and rear,
fled before him. Stevenson's division on the summit could not render
except by a long, circuitous route, and Hooker was too rapid in his
for help to come to Cheatham's division, by any circuit, long or short.
The enemy, however; in his flight, found friendly shelter on the
slope, among the trees, and behind huge fragments of rocks which the
had detached from the overhanging ledge. Here, also, reenforcements
met, coming from Chattanooga Valley. Thus sheltered and
Page l79 - LOOKOUT MOUNTAIN
supported, the routed enemy was enabled to cover the road leading down the mountain from Summerville, until Stevenson's division had descended, and then the whole force moved across the valley to Missionary Ridge, burning the bridge over Chattanooga Creek, to prevent immediate pursuit.
This victory was gained more by strategy than hard fighting, but
was nevertheless all the fighting necessary to give full force to the
strategy. The grand scenery and the roar of cannon from Moccasin Point
heightened the thrilling effect of a battle fought in part above the
which shrouded portions of the mountain. Hooker's operations turned
left flank, but made it possible for the enemy to strengthen his right.
This result, however, could not have followed had there been a general
battle on the 24th. In the event of such a battle, Hooker's
action would have had its full effect, since no reenforcements from the
valley could have been sent to prevent the separation of Stevenson's
from the main army, and there would have been two divisions less
Sherman than there were on the following day. When Bragg had lost
Mountain and Chattanooga Valley, his position on Missionary Ridge was
it being open to turning movements through the gap at Rossville and,
gaps farther south, and from the first it had been exposed to such a
round the northern extremity of Missionary Ridge. General Bragg was not
ignorant of his exposure to turning operations on right and left; and
a correspondent of the Richmond Dispatch, writing under the
of " Sallust," may be credited, orders were issued for the retreat of
army. These, however, were revoked, on the supposition that better
would follow another day of battle.
Page 180 - LIFE OF GENERAL GEORGE H. THOMAS
At midnight General Thomas reported the operations of the 23rd and 24th in cipher:
CHATTANOOGA, TENN., Nov. 24th, 1863,12 M.
MAJOR-GENERAL HALLECK, General-in-Chief:-
Yesterday, at half past twelve, Granger's and Palmer's corps, supported by Howard's, were advanced directly in front of our fortifications, drove in the enemy's pickets, and carried his first line of rifle-pits between Chattanooga and Citico Creeks. We captured nine commissioned officers, and about one hundred and sixty enlisted men. Our loss about one hundred and eleven.
To-day Hooker, in command of Geary's division, Twelfth corps, Osterhaus' division, Fifteenth corps, and two brigades, Fourteenth corps, carried north slope of Lookout Mountain, with small loss on our side, and the loss to the enemy of five or six hundred prisoners killed and wounded not reported.
There has been continuous fighting from twelve o'clock until after night, but our troops gallantly repulsed every attempt to retake the position. Sherman crossed the Tennessee River before daylight this morning, at the mouth of South Chickamauga, with three divisions of the Fifteenth corps, one division of the Fourteenth, and carried the northern extremity of Missionary Ridge. General Grant has ordered a general advance in the morning. Our success so far has been complete, and the behavior of the troops admirable.
GEO. H. THOMAS, Major-General.
Thus passed the 24th, with no general decisive battle. In the afternoon of that day, Sherman gained position on Missionary Ridge, near the right flank of the enemy. This flank rested on an elevation north of the tunnel, with sloping ground towards the north, east and west, and strong extemporized defenses to the north and west. The deep depression in the ridge separated the two armies.
General Grant's announcement of a prospective decisive battle on the
24th was certainly based upon the belief that Sherman would
cross the river during the night of the 23rd, and open the
at daylight the next morning. He also expected such immediate success
would establish the condition for the cooperation of Thomas. It
was not worth the trouble to conceal the first stages of Sherman's
by hills and darkness, if
Page 181 - SHERMAN'S DELAY
the march from the south bank of the Tennessee River towards the northern heights of Missionary Ridge could not have been begun until one o'clock in the afternoon of the 24th. General Grant evidently designed that this movement should be a surprise; and when it failed to be a surprise it lost its special objective, and its exact relation to his plan. Had Sherman made his attack at daylight on the 24th, in fulfilment of Grant's promise to General Halleck, the enemy's right would not have been sheltered by defenses on the summit north of the tunnel. The fact, therefore, that his attack was not made until the morning of the 25th, presents this dilemma: either General Grant misapprehended the conditions of the movement, or General Sherman was needlessly tardy in executing it. Grant gave Sherman six hours in which to cross the river and dispose his troops for attack, and yet during the thirty hours next after midnight on the 23rd, Sherman only carried the two northernmost heights of the ridge, with a skirmish line in slight action. In fact Bragg, without serious contest, gave up all the ground north of the deep depression which cuts Missionary Ridge almost to its base, because he did not wish to extend his line beyond that point.
General Grant's pre-announced plan of battle utterly miscarried,
General Sherman's delay in attacking the enemy's flank, whether this
resulted from defect of plan, or default in execution. It was in
to such a possibility that General Thomas advised that a battle should
be fought on the 23rd.
Page 182 - LIFE OF GENERAL GEORGE H. THOMAS
Grant's instructions to Thomas in relation to the action of the 25th were embodied in the following note:
HEADQUARTERS MILITARY DIVISION OF THE MISSISSIPPI, Chattanooga, Tenn., Nov. 24-th, 1863
MAJOR-GENERAL GEO. H. THOMAS, Commanding Army of the Cumberland.
General Sherman carried Missionary Ridge as far as the tunnel, with only slight skirmishing. His right now rests at the tunnel and on top of the hill, his left at Chickamauga Creek. I have instructed General Sherman to advance as soon as it is light in the morning, and your attack, which will be simultaneous, will be in cooperation. Your command will either carry the rifle-pits and ridge directly in front of them, or move to the left, as the presence of the enemy may require.
If Hooker's present position on the mountain can be maintained with a small force, and it is found impracticable to carry the top from where he is, it would be advisable for him to move up the valley with all the force he can spare, and ascend by the first practicable road.
U. S. GRANT, Major-General Commanding.
Several important facts come to light in this note. General Grant was mistaken as to the degree of Sherman's success, and his order to Thomas to attack simultaneously with Sherman and in cooperation with him, was based upon this misapprehension. Sherman had not carried the ridge to the tunnel; his right was not at the tunnel and on top of the hill; and hence the condition for the cooperation of Thomas, mentioned specifically in the announcement of Grant's plan on the 18th, had not been established. Neither did General Grant, on the night of the 24th, think of using Hooker's troops against Missionary Ridge the next day. He did not know that the enemy's forces that had occupied Lookout Mountain were in motion towards the main army on Missionary Ridge.
These illusions disappeared on the morning of the 25th, and with them the practicability of Grant's instructions to Thomas.
The conditions for a general engagement on the 25th were
very different from those existing on the two previous days. The two
which Hooker had driven from Lookout Mountain, and the troops from the
line across Chattanooga Valley, were now on Missionary Ridge, and
line was shorter by the distance from Missionary
Page 183 - HOWARD JOINS SHERMAN
Ridge to the crest and northern slope of Lockout Mountain. The development of Sherman's operations against the enemy's right flank had drawn Cleburne's and Walker's divisions to the strong position north of the tunnel, and with a line greatly shortened, Bragg had two divisions free to move wherever needed.
Sherman attacked the right flank of the enemy early in the morning, but failed to carry the summit immediately north of the tunnel. General Grant observed his movements and their results from Orchard Knob, and at once gave orders for the movement of troops to his support. The evening previous, Thomas had, in compliance with Grant's orders, made arrangements for the earliest possible cooperation with Sherman. He had directed Howard to throw his left forward, in readiness to connect with Sherman's right as he should move southward. General Grant had not specified the mode of cooperation, since this was contingent upon Sherman's movements. The advance of Howard's left to the railroad, in anticipation of touching Sherman's right, had only the effect to expedite the march of the whole corps to Sherman at 9:45 A.M.
The state of affairs on the right was quite as unexpected as that on the left.
As soon as Thomas had learned that the enemy had left Lockout Mountain, he sent the following order to Hooker:
HEADQUARTERS DEPARTMENT OF THE CUMBERLAND, November 2ºth, 1863, 8 A. M.
MAJOR-GENERAL HOOKER :-
Leave Carlin's brigade * at Summertown road, to rejoin General Palmer. Move with the remainder of your force, except two regiments to hold Lookout, on the Rossville road towards Mission Ridge, looking well to your right flank.
By Command of GENERAL THOMAS.
J. J. REYNOLDS, Major-General
Chief of Staff
* This brigade had gone to Hooker the evening before.
Page 184 - LIFE OF GENERAL GEORGE H. THOMAS
A little later he modified these instructions :
HEADQUARTERS DEPARTMENT OF THE CUMBERLAND, Orchard Knob, November 25. 1863
I wish you and Palmer to move forward firmly and steadily upon enemy's works in front, using General Sheridan as a pivot.
GEO. H. THOMAS, Major-General
This combination was not designed to interfere with General Sherman's operations, but to supplement them. It was however, abortive; Hooker's movement was arrested at Chattanooga Creek, and Sherman's apparent need of reenforcements induced General Grant to detach Baird's division from the right of the central line, and send it to Sherman. Thomas was then too weak in the centre for any action except in support of forces on right and left.
With Sherman fighting for the tunnel and Hooker building a bridge
Chattanooga Creek, the forenoon and part of the afternoon passed away.
Sherman had been repulsed in every attempt to carry the enemy's
north of the tunnel. In the meantime the central divisions had been
in the presence of General Grant. At 3 P.M. there was no prospect of
The day was far spent; Hooker was not in sight on the right; Sherman
failed to accomplish his mission was resting on the left; while
to Grant's plan of battle, the condition for the central divisions to
their cooperative movement did not exist At this hour General Grant
" We must do something for Sherman," and thereupon ordered Thomas'
line to advance and carry the rifle-pits at the base of Missionary
Badeau thus describes the situation at the time this order was issued:
Page 185 - SHERMAN'S EXPLANATION
Grant was watching- the progress of the fight from Orchard Knoll and seeing the danger to which Sherman was exposed he now ordered Baird's division of the Fourteenth corps to support the extreme left, but Sherman sent word that he had all the force necessary and Baird was put in position on Thomas’ left. Baird accordingly marched by the left flank in front of Fort Wood to take position on Howard's right. This movement was plainly perceived by the enemy, and impressed him with the idea that Grant's main assault was to be made on the rebel right; a massive column of Bragg's forces soon was seen to move northward along the crest of the ridge, regiment after regiment filing towards Sherman.
Meanwhile the day was waning and Thomas' attack which was to relieve Sherman had not been made. Grant looked eagerly for the advance of Hooker moving north on the ridge with his left in Chattanooga Valley, and his right thrown east of the ridge. *
From General Grant's own words and this statement of Badeau, it is evident that this advance of the central divisions was designed to relieve the pressure upon Sherman ; either to arrest supposed danger, or to open the way for his success in gaining the enemy's position north of the tunnel. General Sherman had expected General Thomas to attack early in the day. In his official report he explicitly mentions this expectation :
Thus matters stood about 3 P. M. The day was bright and clear and the amphitheatre of Chattanooga lay in beauty at our feet. I had watched for the attack of General Thomas "early in the day."
This watching for Thomas' attack was doubtless based upon Grant's order of the evening previous, which required Sherman to attack and Thomas to cooperate. But Sherman was perhaps ignorant of the fact that the order for the cooperative attack was induced by the belief that he had carried the ridge to the tunnel, and that according to the plan of battle the condition for the cooperation of Thomas was established. The explanation of General Grant's action in first sending Howard's corps and then Baird's division from General Thomas was his desire that Sherman should turn the enemy's right before Thomas should cooperate with him. And the fact that Thomas' forces in the centre were by General Grant's order
* Mil. Hist. U. S. Grant, Vol. I, p. pp. 506, 507
Page 186 - LIFE OF GENERAL GEORGE H. THOMAS
diminished from six divisions to eight brigades, while Sherman, after Baird's division reported to him, had seven divisions clustered around the enemy's position at the tunnel, is incontestable evidence that no independent attack was required of Thomas early in the day. It is therefore an untenable assumption, contradicted by Grant's orders and official report, though assumed to be true by many historians, that Sherman's attack was designed as a feint to cause Bragg to weaken his centre that Thomas might storm it. In General Sherman's Memoirs this passage is found:-
The object of General Hooker's and my attacks on the extreme flanks of Bragg's position was to disturb him to such an extent, that he would naturally detach from his centre as against us, so that Thomas' army could break through his centre. The whole plan succeeded admirably, but it was not until after dark that I learned the complete success at the centre, and received General Grant's order to pursue on the north side of Chickamauga Creek. *
Badeau's statements are to the same effect:-
Hooker was to draw attention to the right, to seize and hold Lockout Mountain, while Sherman attacking Missionary Ridge on the extreme left, was still further to distract the enemy ; and then when reenforcements and attention should be drawn to both rebel flanks, the centre was to be assaulted by the main body of Grant's force under Thomas.+
The rebel centre, as Grant had foreseen, was weakened to save the right ; and then the whole mass of the Army of the Cumberland was precipitated on the weakened point ; the centre was pierced, the heights carried, and the battle of Chattanooga won.++
This author gives the relative strength of the three columns:
Hooker's force amounted to about ten thousand;
including Howard's to over twenty thousand; and Thomas' command
almost thirty thousand soldiers.++
* Memoirs, Vol. 1., p. 364.
+ Mil. Hist. U. S. Grant, Vol. 1., p. 525.
++ Ibid., p. 528.
+++ Ibid., p. 524
Page l87 - MISTAKES OF GRANT'S BIOGRAPHERS
And states that General Sherman told him:-
That he did not consider the hill for which he fought on November 23rd, (sic.) as very important in itself, and therefore used only three regiments, in the original attack; but he made as much noise and show as he could to alarm Bragg for the safety of that flank and of the railroad bridge just in rear. His effort was to induce Bragg to detach as much as possible from the centre, and so to weaken that which Sherman knew from Grant would be the critical point of the battle. *
Coppee referring to Sherman's attack says:
General Sherman's duty was twofold; to beat the enemy if possible and at all events to keep him in full force in his front while an attack should be made in another part of the field.+
These historians have made two mistakes, one in calling an
result an object, and another in asserting that it was the purpose of
Grant that the central forces under Thomas in person should make an
assault. It is certainly true that Bragg did move troops to his extreme
right on the 24th and also on the 25th. Sherman's
movement across the Tennessee with four divisions, and his advance from
the river, indicated some great purpose. It was imperative that Bragg
send to meet Sherman all the troops that he could spare from his
On the 24th he sent Cleburne's and Walker's divisions from
right of his line to establish a flank at the tunnel. These were the
that first resisted Sherman on the morning of the 25th .
Howard's corps was seen marching to Sherman, the danger to the enemy's
right flank was patent to Bragg. But by this time the troops from
Mountain were available, and first Stevenson's division was sent to
Hardee, who was in command of the right wing of Bragg's army. When
Baird's division followed the Eleventh corps to Sherman,
* Mil. Hist. U. S. Grant, Vol. 1., p. 505.
+ Grant and his Campaigns, p. 229.
Page 188 - LIFE OF GENERAL GEORGE H. THOMAS
General Bragg sent Cheatham's division to the right. The movement of these floating divisions to the enemy's right induced the belief in the National army that Bragg was weakening his centre to reenforce his right. This was true, in one view, for the troops from Lookout Mountain could have been used against Thomas. But Bragg's line in front of Thomas remained unchanged, and he put together before Sherman the troops that had composed the two flanks of his original line. Now the attacks of Hooker and Sherman had this result rather than that of drawing troops from Bragg's centre to his flanks. Sherman was in sight, with a very large force, menacing his right flank and communications, and Hooker was not yet in view, and Bragg sent the troops that had fought Hooker, to oppose Sherman, keeping his line before Thomas as it had been first formed, on the 25th, after the withdrawal of them from Chattanooga Valley.
There are many facts which prove that General Grant did not regard
central column, after he had detached Howard's corps from it, as his
reliance for carrying the enemy's position, and he could not have
an independent assault for it at noon, when he ordered Baird's division
to Sherman. When this was done, more than half of all the infantry
on the field of battle were subject to Sherman, and of all the opposing
forces more than half were on Bragg's right flank. Had Sherman been
a mere imposing feint, while Thomas was to assault an exceedingly
position as the culmination of the battle, Grant would not have given
divisions for the feint and only three for the paramount effort.
is it true that the "main body of Grant's forces"-"the whole mass of
Army of the Cumberland "-was, at last, " precipitated on the weakened
Of the nine divisions belonging to the Army of the Cumberland, on the
of battle at the time of the final assault, three were with Sherman and
two with Hooker.
Page 189 - HELPING SHERMAN.
The three that were under Sherman, two regiments excepted, were in
battle only as quiet reserves. Davis' division was in the rear of
fighting forces and Howard's corps was between Missionary Ridge and
Creek at rest and undeployed. General Davis, chafing under enforced
requested permission to turn the enemy's right flank by moving his
to its rear, but this movement, which might have produced decisive
especially if Howard's corps, or part of it, had participated, was
by General Sherman. This movement would have supported the direct
most effectively, since there were no defenses on the east side of the
ridge, and the slope on that side was far from steep. Besides it would
have harmonized with Grant's plan of dislodging the enemy by
attacks in two directions closely cooperative. If, however, the
of forces made by General Grant in preparation for the action and
the three days of battle, do not prove that he expected more than an
feint from Sherman, his official report written in retrospect of all
operations and results, brings this truth into bold relief. It is not
that Grant did not order Thomas with Baird's, Wood's, Sheridan's and
divisions to carry the summit of Missionary Ridge, since he had only
to dislodge the enemy by an attack upon his flank, supported by a
one in front. And if he defined to himself the exact relation of the
of the four central divisions of carrying the lower defences of the
with Sherman's operations on the left, or Hooker's on the right, he
no intimation of such relation to others at the time, beyond saying: "
We must do something for Sherman." Badeau states that it was in
of apprehended danger to Sherman that General Grant ordered Baird's
to his support.*
* Mil. Hist. U. S. Grant, Vol. 1. p. 506.
Page 190 - LIFE OF GENERAL GEORGE H. THOMAS
Still it is not credible that any other fear was entertained than
Sherman could not overcome the resistance of the enemy. It could not
been supposed that with six divisions in hand, Sherman was in danger of
being thrown upon the defensive. But acting upon the belief that Bragg
had greatly weakened his centre to maintain his right, General Grant
have reasonably supposed that a movement against his lower defenses
cause the return, to the enemy's centre, of some of the forces that had
moved to his endangered right flank. This movement, therefore, is
explained, if considered as a diversion in favor of Sherman. Neither is
there mystery in it if it was made, in accordance with Grant's report,
in expectation that Hooker would be ready to cooperate with the central
forces, by the time they had carried the enemy's rifle-pits at the base
of the ridge. But on the supposition that it was intended to be an
attack upon the enemy's line on the summit, it is involved in the
mystery. Since, if Grant intended that the central divisions should
the summit without support on right or left, he gave no instructions to
his subordinates, from General Thomas down, that suggested such an
as a possible contingency. These divisions and their commanders of
grade had known for two days that they were in line before the enemy
the purpose of assaulting the summit, eventually, but had been held in
extreme quietness in the presence of General Grant, while waiting for
success of other forces. Grant stated in his official report that
instructions to Thomas required that these troops should re-form in the
rifle-pits for the ulterior effort, but he nevertheless gave no
that this ulterior effort was to be made without further orders from
But in advance of trial, a position under the artillery and musketry of
the enemy should have been regarded as a poor place to re-form a line
battle. And this fact taken in connection with other circumstances,
the risk that this advance, without assured support, involved.
Page 191 - HOOKER'S ADVANCE
The report of General Grant also asserts that the appearance of Hooker on the enemy's left was to be the signal for storming the summit of Missionary Ridge. But General Hooker was not in sight when the order for the advance of the central divisions was given. Neither was there good ground for the expectation that he would appear as early as 3 P.M. He did not leave Chattanooga Creek until after 2 P. M. Thereafter he had to march several miles to reach the left flank of the enemy. Time was required to dispose his troops for action. Resistance to his advance was to be expected; and the summit and slopes of Missionary Ridge from Rossville to the enemy's flank were covered somewhat densely with woods which offered a bar to rapid marching and gave help to the enemy in preventing a quick movement. Resistance was first offered at Rossville, and afterward at several points on the summit, but with no other effect than to slightly retard Hooker's northward movement. The enemy had selected for his advanced position on that flank the breastworks on the crest, immediately north of Rossville, which our army had thrown up the next day after the battle of Chickamauga; and here two regiments of. infantry and a battery of artillery had been posted. General Bragg's report does not give the strength of the forces that were detached from the left of his line of battle to oppose Hooker, but the feebleness of the resistance at Rossville and other points gave proof that want of time rather than the opposition of the enemy prevented the appearance of Hooker on the left of Bragg's line in front of Thomas as soon as expected.
The action prescribed for the central line was quickly and gallantly
performed. But when the troops reached the rifle-pits at the base of
hill, and at some points on the slope, they came under a terrific fire
of musketry and artillery. The quick action of at least forty cannon at
Page 192 - LIFE OF GENERAL GEORGE H. THOMAS
short range wrought fearful carnage in the rifle pits, and this was supplemented by the deadly fire of musketry from the summit. They had no orders to go forward, and none to retreat. There were no supporting forces in sight on right or left. The situation offered them the opportunity to stand still and die, to go forward without orders to stop the destructive fire to which they were exposed, or to retreat on the same condition to avoid it. The men in the ranks and their immediate commanders chose to go forward, and they speedily executed one of the most brilliant assaults known to martial history. The advance of the troops beyond the enemy's lower breastwork was a surprise to all the generals on Orchard Knob. General Grant had not ordered such an advance, and General Thomas had been opposed to the movement as ordered when there was no prospect of support from Sherman or Hooker, and disregarding mere suggestions from General Grant made earlier in the afternoon had not sent the troops forward until positively ordered to do so.
Neither of these generals had any direct relation to this unexpected assault beyond their concurrent agency in the development of the situation which made it possible. Thomas established his line on Orchard Knob and the lateral hills when simply ordered to make a reconnoissance, and Grant put the troops composing it under the fire of the enemy and thus gave them an opportunity to gain a great victory without orders.
General Grant gave the following account of the operations of the 25th in his official report :-
Early in the morning of the twenty-fifth the remainder of Howard's corps reported to Sherman and constituted a part of his forces during that day's battle, the pursuit and subsequent advance for the relief of Knoxville.
Sherman's position not only threatened the right
of the enemy, but from his occupying a line across the mountain and to
the railroad bridge across Chickamauga Creek, his rear and stores at
Station. This caused the enemy to move heavily
Page 193 - OFFICIAL REPORTS
against him. This movement of his being plainly seen from the position I occupied on Orchard Knob, Baird's division of the Fourteenth corps was ordered to Sherman's support, but receiving a note from Sherman informing me that he had all the force necessary, Baird was put in position on Thomas' left.
The appearance of Hooker's column was at this time anxiously looked for and momentarily expected moving north on the ridge with his left in Chattanooga Valley and his right east of the ridge. His approach was intended as the signal for storming the ridge in the centre with strong columns, but the length of time necessarily consumed in the construction of a bridge near* Chattanooga Creek, detained him to a later hour than was expected. Being satisfied from the latest information from him, that he must by this time, be on his way from Rossville, though not yet in sight, and discovering that the enemy, in his desperation to defeat or resist the progress of Sherman, was weakening his centre on Missionary Ridge, determined me to order the advance at once. Thomas was accordingly directed to move forward his troops constituting, our centre Baird's division (Fourteenth corps), Wood's and Sheridan's divisions (Fourth corps), and Johnson's division (Fourteenth corps) with a double line of skirmishers thrown out, followed in easy supporting distance by the whole force, and carry the rifle-pits at the foot of Missionary Ridge, and when carried to re-form his lines with a view of carrying the top of the ridge.
These troops moved forward, drove the enemy from the rifle-pits at the base of the ridge like bees from a hive; stopped but a moment until the whole were in line, and commenced ascent of the mountain from right to left almost simultaneously, following closely the retreating enemy without further orders. They encountered a fearful volley of grape and canister from nearly thirty pieces of artillery, and musketry from still well filled rifle-pits on the summit of the ridge. Not a waver however, was seen in all that long line of brave men; their progress was steadily onward until the summit was in their possession.
General Thomas' report of the same operations is subjoined :-
"About noon General Sherman becoming heavily engaged
the enemy, they having massed a strong force in his front, orders were
given for General Baird to march his division within supporting
of General Sherman; moving his command promptly in the direction
he was placed in position to the left of Wood's
* This bridge was over Chattanooga Creek.
Page 194 - LIFE OF GENERAL GEORGE H. THOMAS
division of Granger's corps. Owing to the difficulties of the ground his troops did not get into line with Granger's until about 2.30 P. M., orders were then given him to move forward on Granger's left and within supporting distance against the enemy's rifle-pits on the slope and at the foot of Missionary Ridge. The whole line then advanced against the breastworks and soon became warmly engaged with the enemy's skirmishers ; these giving way retired upon their reserves posted within their works, our troops advancing steadily in a continuous line. The enemy seized with panic, abandoned the works at the foot of the hill, and retreated precipitately to the crest, where they were closely followed by our troops, who apparently inspired by the impulse of victory, carried the hill simultaneously at six different points, and so closely upon the heels of the enemy that many of them were taken prisoners in the trenches."
General Thomas evidently did not know at the time his report was written that General Baird actually reported to General Sherman, and that the march thither and return, rather than the difficulties of the ground had delayed him in attaining position.
The following passage is from the official report of General Sherman:-
An occasional shot from Fort Wood and Orchard Knoll, and some musketry fire and artillery over about Lockout Mountain, was all that I could detect on our side ; but about 3 P M. I noticed the white line of musketry fire in front of Orchard Knoll, extending farther and farther right and left and on. We could only hear a faint echo of sound, but enough was seen to satisfy me that General Thomas was at last moving on the centre. I knew that our attack had drawn vast masses of the enemy to our flank, and felt sure of the result. Some guns which had been firing on us all day were silent, or were turned in a different direction.
It is evident from General Grant's language that when he ordered the
advance of the central divisions he expected Hooker rather than Sherman
to establish the condition for assault. And Grant had then departed so
far from his scheme of massing " all the forces possible against one
point, namely. Missionary Ridge, converging toward the north end of
that he was dependent upon a general who by the
Page 195 - CARRYING MISSIONARY RIDGE
original plan had been consigned to inaction in Lookout Valley, to give the signal for storming Missionary Ridge in the centre. Grant had hoped that the signal would have come from the opposite direction, where ten divisions could have cooperated in an attack on front and right flank, but now the experiment was in prospect with seven divisions, upon the opposite flank. And the general, whose appearance was expected to give the signal, had come from his prescribed inaction in Lookout Valley, through the smoke of his battle on the mountain's front and across Lookout Valley, to the summit of Missionary Ridge. And yet again the plan miscarried, because the direct attack transcended orders, was begun too early and executed too quickly for Hooker to reach the left of Bragg's continuous line on Missionary Ridge.
In many features beyond its success and the absence of orders, this
assault by about twenty thousand men surpasses the precedents of the
civil war, and those of other modern wars. Its most remarkable feature
was its unity. The supreme moments of battle sometimes create impulses
more potent than plans and orders. And in the absence of unusual
it is not probable that embattlements so long and lofty would have been
carried throughout their extent almost at the same instant had each
of every grade been definitely instructed before and as to the best
of assault. So nearly together did the four divisions reach the summit,
that General Thomas, seeing the crowning banners from Orchard Knob,
that the enemy's line was gained simultaneously at six different
This was not strictly true. According to the testimony of General Baird
and of some of the Confederate commanders. Wood's central brigade first
pierced the enemy's line. The projection of the slope gave the enemy's
line-defenses first to this division, and it led to the crest.
the conditions gave a common impulse to the whole force to pass the
rifle-pits; and although
Page 196 - LIFE OF GENERAL GEORGE H. THOMAS
the officers of higher rank were at first somewhat bewildered and undecided, there was from first to last as much consonance of movement and as strict cooperation as could have been attained under definite instructions. The origin of the action, as well as its conditions, enforced concert of action as fully as could have been possible under the orders of one controlling mind. The division commanders acted in unison as soon as the movement was so far precipitated by the eagerness of the soldiers that its success was dependent upon the instantaneous cooperation of the four divisions. The summit might not have been held had not all the divisions reached the crest at nearly the same instant. When General Bragg was informed that his line had been broken on the right of his own position, he made effort to restore it by detaching troops from his own presence ; but these troops and himself were instantly put to flight by Sheridan's division. This fact shows that Sheridan was so near the crest when Wood gained it, that Bragg's effort to dislodge Wood miscarried at its inception; and in turn Wood's enfilading fire diminished the resistance to Sheridan's left brigade.
This assault was unique in its origin, conditions, conduct, and
and in the risk it involved it is almost without parallel. This central
line, at the time, alone covered Chattanooga, and if the troops
it had retreated after carrying the lower defenses of the enemy, or had
failed in storming the summit, there would have been no decisive battle
that day, unless defeat had come to the National arms. Had these troops
been broken in organization and spirit by defeat, retreat, and losses,
Bragg's whole army would have been between Sherman and Hooker
the shortest lines to Chattanooga, with most inviting possibilities on
right and left. So far forth, therefore, as this action in origin, form
and issue was unprecedented, is the degree of the risk apparent.
Page 197 - STRENGTH OF THE ENEMY
Grant's order required a movement involving great risk within its pre-prescribed limitations, and the hazard of the subsequent unordered assault can hardly be estimated.
There were, in these divisions, eleven brigades in line of battle, one of Johnson's having been left in the entrenchments at Chattanooga. Bragg had nominally three divisions in his left wing,-- Anderson's, Bate's, and Stewart's. But Anderson's command was more than a full division, as to it had been attached the troops that had been recalled by the battle, while en route to Knoxville. The troops that opposed Hooker at Rossville returned to the main line before it received the final assault. It may, therefore, be safely assumed that the opposing forces in this action were approximately of the same numerical strength, with the advantages of position and the defensive more than doubling Bragg's strength. It is not surprising, therefore, that he confessed, in his official report of the battle, that he could not account for the loss of a position which should have been held by a line of skirmishers against any assaulting column. There was one fact, however, which he may not have duly considered. Numerous transverse depressions divide the summit of Missionary Ridge, where his left wing was in line, into numerous rounded hillocks; so that only a small part of his line'was in view from any point in it, while every one of his soldiers could see the whole assaulting column, at least in the first stages of its advance. This, perhaps, more than anything else except the manifest spirit and momentum of the assaulting forces, caused his troops to give up their strong position. They did, however, resist. Bragg bore testimony to this; and a loss of twenty per cent. in some of Thomas' divisions gives proof of positive resistance. But the Confederate troops did not fight as they had fought before, and as they did fight afterwards, in offense and defense.
In addition to the troops that formed Bragg's left wing, Cheatham's
division from the right participated in the action, resisting Baird's
as it wheeled to the left upon the crest. It is evident, therefore,
Cheatham's division, the last to leave Lookout Mountain, was made, by
and circumstances, a reserve for each wing of the Confederate army.
Page 198 - LIFE OF GENERAL GEORGE H. THOMAS
To this movement of Cheatham's, the resulting conflict with Baird, and the general issue of the battle, General Grant thus alludes in his official report:-
The resistance to Thomas' left being overcome, the enemy abandoned his position near the railroad tunnel in front of Sherman, and by twelve o'clock at night was in full retreat; and the whole of his strong positions on Lookout Mountain, Chattanooga Valley, and Missionary Ridge, were in our possession, together with a large number of prisoners, artillery and small arms.
In the evening he wrote to General Sherman:-
No doubt you witnessed the handsome manner in which Thomas troops carried Missionary Ridge this afternoon, and can feel a just pride, too, in the part taken by the forces under your command, in taking first so much of the same range of hills, and then in attracting the attention of so many of the enemy as to make Thomas' part certain of success. The next thing now will be to relieve Burnside.
Having full knowledge of the facts thus briefly narrated, General Thomas was justified in stating in his official report that the battle was not fought in accordance with General Grant's plan. He wrote:-
"It will be perceived from the foregoing report, that the original plan of operations was somewhat modified to meet and take advantage of emergencies which necessitated material modifications of that plan. It is believed, however, that the original plan, had it been carried out, could not possibly have led to more successful results."
It will be believed by all who carefully analyze the operations of
battle, in their origin, relations, conduct, and results, that the
who stated officially that the original plan of operations was somewhat
modified, exerted potent influence in making the changes. He was a
was by the side of his superior in rank during the battle, was
in handling his own army, and yet his personality was felt in every
Page 199 - THE ARMY OF THE CUMBERLAND
Another brief passage from his report demands insertion as characteristic of General Thomas:-
The alacrity and intelligence displayed by officers in executing their orders, the enthusiasm and spirit displayed by the men who did the work, cannot be too highly appreciated by the Nation, for the defense of which they have, on so many other memorable occasions, nobly and patriotically exposed their lives in battle.
All the successful operations of this battle were executed by troops from the Army of the Cumberland, except the two brigades of Osterhaus' division, Fifteenth Corps, under General Hooker. And this fact effectually refutes the imputation that the morale of this army was impaired by the battle of Chickamauga, and the succeeding situation at Chattanooga. And yet there is little room to doubt that before the battle. General Grant distrusted it for offense, believing that a dispiriting defensive at Chattanooga, combined with the loss of the battle-field at Chickamauga, had produced such demoralization that it would not take the aggressive boldly, unless under the leadership of another army and the inspiration of its success. General Sherman, in his Memoirs, is very explicit in asserting that this was General Grant's opinion:-
General Grant pointed out to me a house on
Ridge where General Bragg's headquarters were known to be. He also
the situation of affairs generally: that the mules and horses of
army were so starved that they could not haul his guns; that forage,
and provisions were so scarce that the men, in hunger, stole the few
of corn that were given to favorite horses; that the men of Thomas'
had been so demoralized by the battle of Chickamauga, that he feared
could not be got out of their trenches to assume the offensive; that
had detached Longstreet, with a considerable force, up into East
to defeat and capture Burnside; that Burnside was in danger, etc.; and
that he (Grant) was extremely anxious to attack Bragg in position, to
him, or at least to force him to recall Longstreet. The Army of the
had so long been in the trenches that he wanted my troops to hurry up
take the offensive first, after which he had no doubt the Cumberland
would fight well. *
* Memoirs, Vol. 1., pp. 361-2.
Page 200 - LIFE OF GENERAL GEORGE H. THOMAS
General Grant's official utterances do not explicitly reveal his
of this army, but some of them preceding the battle imply such
At any rate, he has made no denial of General Sherman's statements in
premises. And as his conduct of the battle accorded fully with the
that he feared that the Army of the Cumberland would not fight well in
offense, except under the leadership of another army, the evidence is
that he has been correctly reported. He certainly made persistent
to unite Sherman's four divisions, postponing battle for three days
this might be effected, and that General Sherman might have his own
for the initial attack. It is equally true that, although only one of
divisions failed to join him, General Grant detached troops from
central column, until there were more men from the Army of the
under the commander of the Army of the Tennessee than under Thomas
It must therefore be inferred that there was a special reason for
adherence to his leading movement as long as there was any probability
of its success, his belief that Sherman's success was essential to
an inveterate attachment to his own plan, which was subjected to
only in the unsuccessful operations against Bragg's right flank; or the
fear of driving the enemy eastward rather than southward, and thus
further endangering Burnside. But the valor of the army from
and the trenches at Chattanooga won the battle, whether General Grant
or did not consider that a successful initial attack by the Army of the
Tennessee was essential to victory. And had this been achieved, history
would have set the service over against the saving help rendered at the
battle of Shiloh, by the Army of the Cumberland, when, under another
it was commanded by General Buell. But the effort to give corresponding
aid at Chattanooga having failed, the war did not give another
to balance the account.
PURSUIT OF BRAGG'S ARMY - PREPARATIONS FOR THE SPRING CAMPAIGN -
OPERATIONS AGAINST DALTON - CONCENTRATION OF THE ARMY OF
BRAGG'S routed army was pursued to Ringgold. At that place a sharp conflict occurred between the advance of Grant's forces under Hooker and Cleburne's division, the enemy's rear guard. General Grant had sent Howard's corps with supporting forces across to. the railroad leading from Cleveland to Dalton, to break that road and prevent the passage of Longstreet's forces to Bragg, or the detachment of troops from the retreating army to strengthen the former against General Burnside. General Bragg, however, having lost about six thousand by capture alone in the battles before Chattanooga, had no thought of still further diminishing his army, and was only intent upon posting it in the nearest practicable defensive position. Grant arrested the pursuit of the enemy at Ringgold, although a small force advanced beyond that place. He was still anxious in regard to affairs in East Tennessee, and at once sent General Sherman with a very large force into that region. Sherman had, in addition to his own army, Howard's corps, Sheridan's, Wood's and Davis' divisions, and a large force of cavalry under General Elliott, chief of cavalry, all from the Army of the Cumberland.
The remainder of General Thomas' troops, after a part of them had
their dead comrades left upon the field of Chickamauga, took position
the vicinity of Chattanooga.
Page 202 - LIFE OF GENERAL GEORGE H. THOMAS
During the winter of 1863-4 the army was widely scattered in Middle and East Tennessee, engaged in minor military operations, repairing railroads, building bridges, stockades, fortifications and store-houses, transporting supplies and restoring the appointments lost at Chickamauga.
Its attitude was mainly defensive while accumulating supplies and making preparations generally for an aggressive campaign into Georgia from Chattanooga as a base. This state of affairs devolved upon General Thomas a perplexing administration. There was danger that while his army was scattered from Nashville to East Tennessee, the enemy concentrated at Dalton, Georgia, would break through this long line at one of its weakest points. He was in the field but once during the winter, all the remoter operations of his forces having been, from necessity, submitted to subordinate commanders. He was under orders in February to conduct operations in East Tennessee, but these orders were revoked by General Grant because he thought it was necessary to move against the enemy at Dalton, as a diversion in favor of Sherman who was operating in Mississippi against General Polk, with Mobile as a possible objective.
The correspondence relating to the projected operations from Knoxville is subjoined :
Grant to Thomas, February 6, 1864:-
Reports of scouts make it evident that Joe Johnston
removed most of his force from your front, two divisions going to
Longstreet has been reenforced by troops from the East. This makes it
the enemy intends to secure East Tennessee if they can, and I intend to
drive them out, or get whipped, this month. For this purpose you will
to detach at least ten thousand men besides Stanley's division (more
be better). I can partly relieve the vacuum at Chattanooga by troops
Logan's command. It will not be necessary to take artillery or wagons
Knoxville, but all the serviceable artillery horses should be taken to
use on artillery there. Six mules to each two hundred men should also
taken, if you have them to spare. Let me know how soon you can start.
Page 203 - PROPOSED MOVEMENT TO KNOXVILLE
Thomas to Grant, February 8, 1864:-
Your despatch of 2 P. M., February 6, was received that evening, but only so much of it could be translated as to make me understand that I am expected to detach from my command ten thousand men, in addition to Stanley's division, and to report when I can start. I can start a portion of the additional troops day after to-morrow, but I do not see how they can be fed in an exhausted country, until the railroad is completed to London. I am in hopes of getting the railroad completed and in operation to London by Thursday next. These ten thousand should be replaced by troops from Logan's command immediately, else the enemy might take advantage of my move towards Knoxville, and attack and capture this place. It will require an entire division to hold the railroad secure from here to Loudon.
Thomas to Grant, February 10, 1864:-
The engineer reports that he will have the railroad finished to Loudon on Friday next. As they are very much in need of supplies, at Knoxville, I think it will be best to allow time for accumulation there before the troops from here move up. I will try to provide for the defense of the place by placing a division of General Logan's corps at Chickamauga Station, and Davis' division in front of Cleveland, to cover the railroad, taking with me Stanley's, Johnson's and Baird's divisions. Will you order the division of Logan to move to this place as soon as possible ?
Grant to Thomas, February 10, 1864.:-
Prepare to start for Knoxville on Saturday. I will order Logan to send to Chattanooga all the troops he can, and still hold his line of railroad. The number will probably be about five thousand men. One division of your command will have to move out to hold the road to the Hiawassee.
Grant to Thomas, February 12, 1864:-
Conversation with Major-General Foster* has undecided me as to the propriety of the contemplated move against Longstreet. Schofield telegraphs the same view. I will take the matter into consideration […] during the day, after further talk with Foster, and give you the conclusion arrived at. If decided that you do not go, I will instruct Schofield to let Granger send off his veterans at once.
Should you not be required to go into East
could you not make a formidable reconnoissance towards Dalton, and if
in driving the enemy out, occupy that place, and complete the railroad
up to it this winter?
* General Foster had succeeded General Burnside in
of the Department of the Ohio, and on account of ill health had himself
been superseded by General Schofield.
Page 204 - LIFE OF GENERAL GEORGE S. THOMAS
Thomas to Grant, February 12, 1864 :-
I think an attack on Dalton would be successful, if you let me have the division of Logan's during the movement.
Thomas to Grant, February 15, 1864:-
Your communication of the 13th, by General Elliott,
received yesterday. Seven regiments of Logan's force have arrived.
Matthias reports that the remainder will reach here to-morrow. My plan
was to place Matthias in reserve, near Cleveland, and march with
division, supported by two brigades of Matthias', on the road from
to Dalton, and, with the Fourteenth army corps, take the direct road
here to Dalton, covering my advance and right flank with cavalry. I
thought of the route you suggest, but find, upon inquiry, that the
across the mountain are so difficult that they can hardly be considered
practicable at this season of the year. I have been considerably
by having Generals Stanley and Davis summoned before the McCook court
inquiry just at this time ; but if it continues to rain through the day
as it did last night, I think nothing will be gained by starting just
In the mean time, Stanley and Davis can get back by Wednesday. Should
weather clear up, however, I will not wait. I intend to relieve as much
of the cavalry at Calhoun as I can with infantry, and send it (the
toward Dalton, via Spring Place, in cooperation with Stanley's force.
Page 205 - JOHNSTON APPOINTED TO COMMAND
Thomas to Grant, February 16, 1864:-
I have just received a telegram from General Schofield, dated February I4th, stating that he had reliable information that Longstreet had advanced to Strawberry Plains, and had brought pontoon boats. Schofield thought that he might intend to make a cavalry raid to cut his communication with London, or that he might advance to attack Knoxville and asks me to send him reenforcements as early as practicable. What shall I do ? If reenforcements are sent to Knoxville, they will be detained there for the winter, and cannot make an advance on Longstreet until the London and Strawberry Plains bridges are re-built. It will also be necessary to give up any demonstration against Dalton. But if Schofield can hold Knoxville, the demonstration on Dalton can be made, and I hope with success. Captain Gay, just from Knoxville, and gone to Nashville, does not mention such reports."
Grant to Thomas, February 17, 1864:-
Longstreet cannot afford to place his forces between Knoxville and the Tennessee. If he does, it will then be time to move against him. The work of a raid on the road can soon be repaired, if it cannot be prevented. Make your contemplated move as soon as possible.
In assigning General Joseph E. Johnston to the command of the Confederate Army of the Tennessee, the President and Secretary of War impressed upon him the importance of early operations against the Army of the Cumberland. But fortunately General Johnston was detained by the necessity of improving the morale and restoring the appointments of his army impaired by the battle of Missionary Ridge, as well as by the reported strength of the forces at Chattanooga, Knoxville, and intermediate places.
General Thomas, however, discerned the possibilities to the enemy concentrated at Dalton, while his own army was diffused over a long line and greatly reduced by furloughs granted to re-enlisting regiments. He was manifestly unwilling to uncover Chattanooga, to save East Tennessee from any real or supposed danger. During December, January, and the first half of February, there was an army of forty thousand men at Dalton, and at this time that army could have taken Cleveland, and separated the forces holding Chattanooga and Knoxville. Thomas was therefore wise in mentioning the danger to Chattanooga, should a large force be sent from that place to Knoxville.
The movement against Dalton was projected by General
Page 206 - LIFE OF GENERAL GEORGE H. THOMAS
Grant on the supposition that Johnston had detached largely from his army to aid Longstreet against Burnside in East Tennessee, and to assist Polk in resisting the advance of Sherman in Mississippi. The objects proposed were, to gain Dalton, and, if that could not be effected, to prevent the transfer of more troops to Polk. By orders from Richmond, two divisions under General Hardee were sent to Mississippi on the 7th of February, but no forces had been sent to East Tennessee. General Thomas at first believed that Dalton might be captured, if he could advance from Chattanooga with a strong force; but when he ascertained Johnston's strength, he considered, the project impracticable.
On the 22d of February all the forces that could be safely withdrawn
from Chattanooga and the line of communications, were put in motion
Dalton. Johnston's advanced troops were at Tunnel Hill, while his other
forces were holding positions of great strength south of that point. As
General Palmer, commanding the Fourteenth corps, approached Tunnel
the enemy retired to Buzzard's Roost, an almost impregnable natural
commanding the railroad. On the 25th, Davis' division,
by Johnson's, made an unsuccessful effort against the enemy. At this
General Thomas joined his troops, and at once became convinced that the
enemy's forces outnumbered his own, and besides were posted so as to
than double their strength in defense. By this time the
of supplying his troops was fully developed, he therefore advised their
immediate withdrawal. General Grant, however, not having heard of the
of Sherman's campaign, counseled the maintenance of the attitude that
an advance to the heart of the South until General Sherman could be
from, and suggested measures for holding the position before Buzzard's
Roost. Deeming further menace impracticable, Thomas retired his forces
to their former
Page 207 - STRENGTH OF THE ENEMY AT DALTON
positions; and this action had no evil result, as General Sherman had turned back from Meridian, Mississippi, before Thomas had set out from Chattanooga. General Thomas ascertained, during his operations, that Johnston's detached troops had returned, and he supposed his menace had brought them back, whereas it was in consequence of the countermarch of General Sherman.
The following despatches reveal the views of Grant and Thomas in relation to the movement on Dalton:-
Thomas to Grant, February 19, 1864:
Assistant Surgeon Jacob Miller, Sixth Missouri volunteer infantry, arrived here yesterday from Dalton. He was captured at Lebanon, Alabama, when General Logan sent out an expedition towards Rome. He reports Cleburne's division at Tunnel Hill; Stewart's division between Tunnel Hill and Dalton ; Walker two miles out from Dalton, towards Spring Place; Cheatham at Dalton, and Stevenson's and Bates divisions to the west of Dalton two miles. He saw all of the camps, and estimates their force between thirty and forty thousand. He moreover states that no troops have been sent away except one brigade of infantry, which went to Rome about the first of this month.
Thomas to Grant from Tunnel Hill, Ga., February 26, 1864, 7.30 A. M. :-
I arrived here last night. Davis and Johnson occupy
pass at Buzzard's Roost. They have a force equal to theirs in their
who outnumber them in artillery. It is not possible to carry this place
by assault. General Palmer made the attempt to turn, yesterday, with
and Cruft's divisions, but was met by an equal force, exclusive of
cavalry, and in an equally strong position as at Buzzard's Roost. After
expending nearly all of his ammunition, he retired during the night to
Catoosa Platform. Our transportation is poor and limited; we are not
to carry more than sixty pounds per man ; artillery horses so poor,
Palmer could bring but sixteen pieces. The country is stripped entirely
of subsistence and forage. The enemy's cavalry is much superior to
Prisoners taken yesterday report that a portion of Cleburne's division
has returned. I will await the development of this day, and advise you
Page 208 - LIFE OF GENERAL GEORGE H. THOMAS
Grant to Thomas, February 27, 1864:-
It is of the utmost importance that the enemy should be held in full belief that an advance into the heart of the South is intended, until the fate of General Sherman is fully known. The difficulties of supplies can be overcome by keeping your trains running between Chattanooga and your position. Take the depot trains at Chattanooga, yours and General Howard's wagons. These can be replaced temporarily by yours returning. Veterans are returning daily. This will enable you to draw reenforcements constantly to your point. Can General Schofield not also take a division from Howard's corps ? It is intended to send Granger to you the moment Schofield is thought to be safe without him.
General Grant to General Whipple, (Thomas' chief of staff), February 27, 6 P. M.:-
Information has reached Washington that orders have been given for Johnston's army to fall back. General Thomas should watch any such movement, and follow it up closely. Can't you draw teams from Bridgeport and Stevenson, to send supplies to the front ? They have teams in great numbers at those places. Every energy should be exerted to get supplies and reenforcements forward. Troops will leave here at the rate of two or three thousand a day for the front Many of them go to Chattanooga.
Thomas to Grant, February 27, 1864, 10 P. M. :-
Your two despatches of this date received. I have
returned from the front. My troops, after ceaseless labor under the
embarrassments for want of transportation, reached within three miles
Dalton, where they were received by the enemy strongly posted, and in
fully equal to my own in infantry. His artillery and cavalry was not
in better condition (as regards horses), but at least two to our one in
pieces and men. We found the country entirely stripped of everything
forage, and our mules being in such poor condition that double the
of teams we now have could not supply the troops, I thought it best to
come back to Ringgold, and, if workmen can be found by Colonel
to go to work deliberately to repair the railroad, and advance as it
The present condition of the roads is not good, and one day's rain
render the part across Chickamauga bottom impassable for loaded wagons.
So it would be absolutely necessary to repair the railroad
Page 209 - PROPOSES TO TURN DALTON
to supply the troops at Ringgold. The fact of working on the road would hold Johnston at Dalton, unless he intended to leave under any circumstances. Howard’s teams and the depot teams at this place and Bridgeport are in no better condition than those belonging to the divisions, all being composed of such mules as we have been able to keep after a fashion during the winter. Johnston has no idea of leaving Dalton until compelled, and having a force greater than I now have under my immediate command, I cannot drive him from that place.
If Longstreet has retired, why can I not get Granger's two divisions and my first cavalry division back ? The little cavalry I had on the expedition is completely run down from constant work and from want of forage.
It should be observed that while General Thomas had but four divisions of infantry and a small cavalry force with which to advance against General Johnston, the latter had nearly as large a force at Dalton, the last of February, as he had in May, when General Sherman advanced against him with more than one hundred thousand men.
Johnston, referring to his detachment of two divisions to Polk, and the advance of Thomas against Dalton, said in his report:
The force detached was probably exaggerated to Major-General Thomas; for on the 23d the Federal army advanced to Ringgold; on the 24th drove in our outposts; and on the 2 th skirmished at Mill Creek Gap and in the corn valley east of Rocky Face Mountain. We were successful at both places.
General Thomas' despatches to General Grant evince a very clear
of the situation. He assumed that Johnston's position at Mill Creek
or Buzzard's Roost, if well defended, was impregnable, as was
in the following May; and that the enemy would not leave Dalton until
to do so, which was likewise true. And he discerned the only way to
Johnston, and made it known to General Grant in the following despatch,
proposing to turn Dalton and take Atlanta with less than the whole of
Page 210 - LIFE OF GENERAL GEORGE H. THOMAS
Thomas to Grant, February 28, 1864 :-
General Butterfield, by my direction, has recently examined the line between here and Nashville, and reports that he thinks six thousand men will be sufficient to guard that line, two regiments of which force should be cavalry. From what I know of the road between Nashville and Decatur, two thousand infantry and two thousand cavalry will be sufficient to protect that line. One thousand infantry, will be sufficient to protect the line from Athens to Stevenson. Probably both lines of communication can be guarded by six thousand infantry and two thousand cavalry, a great portion of which should be made up from the local militia of Tennessee, or troops organized especially for the preservation of order in the State. I believe, if I commence the campaign with the Fourteenth and Fourth corps in front, with Howard's corps in reserve, that I can move along the line of the railroad and overcome all opposition, as far, at least, as Atlanta. I should want a strong division of cavalry in advance. As soon as Captain Merrill returns from his reconnoissance along the railroad lines, I can give you a definite estimate of the number of troops required to guard the bridges along the road.
In his report to the Committee on the Conduct of the War, General Thomas thus referred to the plan proposed in his despatch to General Grant:-
The above proposition was submitted to General Grant for his approval, and if obtained, it was my intention (having acquired by the reconnoissance of February 23d, 24th, and 2gth a thorough
knowledge of the approaches direct upon Dalton from Ringgold and Cleveland) to have made a strong demonstration against Buzzard's Roost, attracting Johnston's whole attention to that point, and to have thrown the main body of my infantry and cavalry through Snake Creek Gap upon his communications, which, I had ascertained from scouts, he had up to that time neglected to observe or guard. 'With this view I had previously asked for the return to me of Granger's
troops and my cavalry from East Tennessee, and had already initiated preparations for the execution of the above movement as soon as the spring opened sufficiently to admit of it. See the following telegrams in illustration. *
The despatches referred to had relation to the return of his troops
from East Tennessee, the repair of the railroad towards Dalton, and the
protection of the railroad to Nashville.
* Report to Com. on Conduct of War, p, 198.
Page 211 - PLANS OF CONFEDERATE AUTHORITIES
His plan of offense was a bold one for a single army, and his purpose was to make it as large as possible, leaving the fewest men behind that could hold the communications securely. The plan itself will appear in another chapter; and although it was not tested when or in the way that General Thomas suggested, its merits cannot be questioned.
From December 1863 to May 1864, the project of a forward movement by the Confederate army at Dalton was discussed by the authorities at Richmond and General Johnston. The latter urged that an increase of his army and additional material were necessary should such a movement be attempted. He proposed that Longstreet's command from East Tennessee and troops from Beauregard's and Folk's departments should be promptly sent to him. Reenforcements to raise his army to seventy-five thousand men were promised, but were not to be sent to him until he should appoint a time for his advance.
The plan formed at Richmond required that he should not attempt to capture fortified places, but to draw out Thomas' troops, if practicable, and force -them to battle in an open field; failing .in this, Johnston was instructed to concentrate all available troops, break Thomas' line at Kingston, East Tennessee, isolating the army at Knoxville, and then to strike and destroy the railroad leading from Nashville to Chattanooga. The sanguine Confederate leaders even hoped that Johnston would be able to move to the rear of Nashville also, and reclaim the " provision country " of Tennessee and Kentucky.
Had seventy five thousand men been given to Johnston when Thomas'
was most scattered and weakest, some, if not all, of these results
have been produced, and had the army that wintered at Dalton, been
against Thomas' line where it was weakest, from Cleveland to Kingston,
there might have been a serious derangement of the plan of operations
Chattanooga as a base. But the winter and much of the spring passed in
the discussion of plans, rather than in preparation for offense or
and thus the opportunity was lost.
Page 212 - LIFE OF GENERAL GEORGE H. THOMAS
General Johnston, however, anticipated that General Grant would take the offensive with a large army, and on the 18th of March asked for immediate reenforcements to meet Grant in battle should he advance and if successful pursue his defeated army; or should Grant not advance, to take the offensive himself, and proposed, if practicable, to strike near Chattanooga, or to march into Middle Tennessee through North Alabama. Still when General Sherman advanced from Chattanooga in May, with an immense army, or three armies in one, reenforcements from Polk's department had not reached Dalton, and other service had been assigned to General Longstreet.
On the 18th of March General Johnston wrote to General Bragg, chief staff officer to Mr. Davis:-
I expressly accept taking the offensive. Only differ with you as to details. I assume that the enemy will be prepared to advance before we are, and will make it to our advantage. Therefore I propose as necessary, both for the offensive and defensive, to assemble our troops here immediately. Other preparations for advance are going on. *
And yet on the first of May he reported an army of less than forty-five thousand men at Dalton, when the offensive was impracticable.
On the 25th of November, during the action on Missionary Ridge,
Thomas thought of the burial of the officers and men who were then
as well as those who had yielded their lives on other fields. Previous
to the advance which resulted in the rout of the Confederate army, a
of troops in reserve coursed over a hill to the right and rear of
position, revealing a suitable configuration for a National cemetery.
by his order, this hill was taken for this use. During
*Johnston's " Narrative of Military Operations,"
Page 213 - ''TIRED OF STATE RIGHTS"
the preparation of the ground he manifested great interest in the work, and frequently rode out from the town to note the progress and to make suggestions. He provided amply for the work, by detaching troops, at times whole regiments, for this duty. He directed not only that his soldiers should be carefully buried, but that the grounds should be beautified. And through his action in its establishment, and his support of those in charge, he made it the type of the National cemeteries in the West, and caused a change for the better in those in the East. It was meet that the first National cemetery, founded by military order, should give the ideal of the last resting places of the Nation's heroes.
In conferring with General Thomas in regard to the plan of burial, the chaplain in charge asked, if the dead should be buried according to their several states. The general was silent for a moment and then said very positively : " No, no. Mix them up; mix them up. I am tired of state-rights."
Whatever may have been General Thomas' views of this political dogma
at the beginning of the war, it is certain that in December 1863, he
it. He rose superior to its claims at the beginning of the struggle, so
far at least as to give unhesitating support to the General government
in suppressing a rebellion which resulted from its application. He may
not have brushed away at once the subtleties by which the ablest
of the South maintained the doctrine. But when he had seen the
fruits, in a gigantic war, and had perceived that the Confederate
had been compelled to infringe upon the recognized rights of states to
give vigor to a war, waged for their establishment, he grew "tired of
rights." The logic of war, left no doubt in his mind, that the rights
states, as understood in the South, stood opposed to complete National
Page 214 - LIFE OF GENERAL GEORGE H. THOMAS
In accordance with his antagonism to state rights, General Thomas supported the government in declaring slaves contraband of war, and in enlisting them as soldiers when their freedom had been proclaimed by the President of the United States. He was too pronounced in his loyalty and too direct and severe in his logic, to falter when extreme measures were adopted. He was, therefore, prepared for the radical solution of the problems of the war as they were developed in the various stages of the conflict. When the enlistment of the manumitted slaves was ordered by the National authorities no department commander performed his duty in giving efficiency to colored regiments more loyally than General Thomas. He gave advice and encouragement to the officers who were engaged in organizing and commanding negro troops in his department. And when these troops exhibited their proficiency in the manual of arms and drill, he was often among the delighted spectators.
General Thomas was strictly observant of the rules of war in relation to the treatment of citizens of the South when within his lines, giving them protection whenever they could justly claim it, and visiting upon them just punishment when they violated the restrictions imposed upon non-combatant enemies. As an illustration of just severity the following order, relating to murders by guerillas, is adduced:
HEADQUARTERS DEPARTMENT OF THE CUMBERLAND, Chattanooga, Tenn., January 6, 1864
GENERAL ORDERS No. 6.
It having been reported to these headquarters that,
seven and eight o'clock on the evening of the 23d ult., within one and
a half miles of the village of Mulberry, Lincoln County, Tenn., a wagon
which had become detached from a foraging train belonging to the United
States was attacked by guerrillas, and the officer in command of the
party, 1st Lieut. Porter, Co. A, 27th Indiana volunteers, the teamster,
wagon-master, and two other soldiers who had been sent to load the
(the latter four unarmed) were captured. They were immediately mounted
and hurried off, the guerrillas avoiding the road, until their party
about one o'clock in the morning on the bank of Elk River, where the
Page 215 - GUERILLA WARFARE
stated they were going into camp for the night. The hands of the prisoners were then tied behind them, and they were robbed of everything of value about their persons. They were next drawn up
in line, about five paces in front of their captors, and one of the latter, who acted as leader, commanded "Ready," and the whole party immediately fired upon them. One of the prisoners was shot through the head and killed instantly, and three were wounded. Lieut. Porter was not hit. He immediately ran, was followed and fired upon three times by one of the party, and finding that he was about to be overtaken, threw himself over a precipice into the river, and succeeding in getting his hands loose, swam to the opposite side, and although pursued to that side and several times fired upon, he, after twenty-four hours of extraordinary exertions and great exposure, reached a house, whence he was taken to Tullahoma, where he now lies in a critical situation. The others after being shot, were immediately thrown into the river. Thus the murder of three men: Newell
E. Orcutt, 9th Independent Battery, Ohio vol. artillery, John W. Drought, Co. H. 22nd Wisconsin volunteers, and George W. Jacobs, Co. D, 22nd Wisconsin volunteers, was accomplished by shooting and drowning. The fourth, James W. Foley, 9th Independent Battery Ohio vol. artillery, is now lying in hospital, having escaped by getting his hands free while in the water.
For these atrocious, cold-blooded murders, equaling in savage ferocity any ever committed by the most barbarous tribes on the continent, committed by rebel citizens of Tennessee, it is ordered that the property of all other rebel citizens living within a circuit of ten miles of the place where these men were captured, be assessed each in their due proportion according to his wealth, to make up the sum of thirty thousand dollars, to be divided among the families who are dependent upon the murdered men for support:
Ten thousand dollars to be paid to the widow of John W. Drought, of North Cape, Racine County, Wisconsin, for the support of herself and two children.
Ten thousand dollars to be paid to the widow of George W. Jacobs, of Delavan, Walworth County, Wisconsin, for the support of herself and one child.
Ten thousand dollars to be divided between the aged mother and sister of Newell E. Orcutt, of Burton, Geauga County, Ohio.
Should the persons assessed fail within one week
notice shall have been served upon them to pay in the amount of their
in money, sufficient of their personal property shall be seized and
at public auction to make up the amount
Page 216 - LIFE OF GENERAL GEORGE H. THOMAS.
Major-General H. W. Slocum, U. S. Volunteers commanding Twelfth army corps, is charged with the execution of this order. The men who committed these murders, if caught, will be summarily executed, and any persons executing them will be held guiltless and will receive the protection of this army, and all persons who are suspected of having aided, abetted or harbored these guerrillas will be immediately arrested and tried by military commission.
By command of MAJOR-GENERAL THOMAS,
WM. D. WHIPPLE, Assist. Adjt-General
These guerrillas were one day citizens, in pretension, and the next day were engaged in the wanton murder of our soldiers. Extreme measures were imperative to suppress this irregular warfare within the lines of his army, and General Thomas did not hesitate to hold communities responsible for such cowardly and cruel acts. These men had the support of citizens who were protected by the army, and as citizens the criminals themselves were protected. It was just that both classes should be punished as far as this could be done, when the murders could not be traced to individuals. The fines imposed and collected were justly applied to the support of the nearest relatives of the murdered soldiers.
The Army of the Cumberland, under General Thomas, never wantonly
the property of enemies. There were doubtless some cases of
spoliation and destruction of property. For military reasons, as
by the laws and usages of war, property was taken by the proper
and accounted for to the owners and to the supply departments, beyond
all pillaging was forbidden. And no army during the war was less
to pillage than the Army of the Cumberland. By judicious and regular
during the East Tennessee campaign General Davis' division was so well
supplied, and kept so close in hand as to call forth the official
of General Sherman. And this division simply represented the army.
Page 217 - PREPARING FOR SPRING CAMPAIGN
The months of March and April were especially devoted to preparation for a campaign in Georgia. While General Thomas and his army were thus engaged against difficulties neither few nor easily overcome, there was need of constant watchfulness against probable offense by General Johnston* who, as has been mentioned, was under orders to take the offensive, and the weak points in Thomas' long line invited attack. The fears concerning Longstreet's movements detained the Fourth corps and cavalry in East Tennessee. It was therefore in doubt for several weeks which of the opposing armies would first be ready for offense.
On the 17th of March General Grant assumed command of the Armies of the United States, as lieutenant-general, and on that day General Thomas was informed by him that General W. T. Sherman had been assigned to the command of the Military Division of the Mississippi. At this time General Thomas ranked General Sherman by date of commission as a major-general of volunteers, but the assignment of the latter to the command of a military division gave him seniority over all department commanders. Appreciating this fact and having committed himself voluntarily to an unprotesting acquiescence in all orders affecting his own position, Thomas quietly accepted the prescribed subordination, --so quietly that it has since been assumed that he preferred an inferior office through fear of the responsibility of chief command.
By the 1st of May the Army of the Cumberland was fully prepared for the meditated campaign. It then comprised about sixty-five thousand men for the field. The appointments of this army were then superb and its organization perfect in detail. General Thomas had anticipated all its wants.
Few generals have been as exhaustive in preparation as he, when time permitted, and fewer still have been so closely observant of details or so thoroughly acquainted with the soldiers of a large army in their minor
Page 218 - LIFE OF GENERAL GEORGE H. THOMAS
organizations. Lieut-Colonel Wilkinson, commanding the Ninth Michigan regiment, which for a long time was headquarters guard, once said, that he was in constant fear lest General Thomas should evince a more complete knowledge of his regiment than himself. At times the general did not see the regiment for months, and yet he could give the names of the sergeants and the companies to which they severally belonged. He was a close observer, and having a very retentive memory, he often surprised those about him by his intimate knowledge of the minutest details of matters to which he had not seemingly given attention. An illustration of the completeness of General Thomas' professional knowledge is given in the following statement of General Gates P. Thruston :
When I became a member of his staff, as judge advocate, it was a matter of surprise to me to find how remarkably familiar and accomplished he was with all matters of military law and precedent; and other officers of his staff in the various departments often remarked to me that he seemed to know the usage, details and system of each department of service as thoroughly as though he had passed his entire military service in it. During two years in the judge advocate's department I devoted almost my entire time to fitting myself for the duties of the position. I sent to Europe for books, and read everything pertaining to military law and that branch of the service; yet in the preparation of court-martial orders, or in the consideration of questions of law or precedent relating to that department, the general was always ready with useful suggestions and counsel, and seemed to have given more consideration to these subjects than any other officer in the army. He also always gave a willing and patient consideration to every case or question brought before him.
During his earlier days he had made a careful study of military and court-martial law, and had prepared notes of decisions from various works on the subject, showing how painstaking and systematic he was in making himself master of all departments of his profession. * * *
I mention the foregoing merely to add my testimony
the completeness of his character. What was true of my department was
as to all the other branches of the service, as far as I could judge.
He was master of them all.
Page 219 - THOMAS AND HIS ARMY
The corps commanders were: Major-General Oliver 0. Howard, Fourth corps, Major-General John M. Palmer, Fourteenth corps, and Major-General Joseph Hooker, Twentieth corps. The division commanders of the Fourth corps were: Major-Generals David S. Stanley and John Newton and Brigadier-General Thomas J. Wood; of the Fourteenth corps, Brigadier-Generals Richard W. Johnson, Jefferson C. Davis and Absalom Baird; of the Twentieth corps, Brigadier-Generals Alpheus S. Williams and John W. Gear/and Major-General Daniel Butterfield. Brigadier-General Washington L. Elliott was chief of cavalry, and Brigadier-Generals Kenner Garrard, Judson Kilpatrick and Edward M. McCook, division commanders. *
While the Army of the Cumberland was magnificently equipped, its morale was superb. It had full confidence in its commander, and no general ever had stronger faith in an army than had Thomas in his soldiers. This mutual faith gave greater power than was represented by mere numbers. It had always been unusually harmonious, in its grand and minor units, free from parties, cliques and cabals. It was now in its enlargement stronger than ever in its essential unity, and being free from jealousy, it was ripe for good faith and hearty cooperation with the other armies to be associated with it in the projected campaign. In this respect it was in full sympathy with its commander. Never in the history of war, in any cause, or under any necessity for the association and cooperation of armies of distinct organization, was an officer more fully guided by regard for the common object, than General Thomas. And yet he was not indifferent to his own fame or that of his army.
For full roster see Hist. Army of the Cumberland,
II., pp. 31-39.
ADVANCE TO BUZZARD'S ROOST-TURNING OF DALTON-ACTION AT RESACA, MOVEMENT ON DALLAS-ASSAULT OF JUNE 27TH, AT KENESAW MOUNTAIN FLANK MOVEMENT-ADVANCE ON ATLANTA-BATTLES OF JULY 20TH AND 22nd -SIEGE-TURNING MOVEMENT-ACTION AT JONESBORO’.
GENERAL SHERMAN'S armies moved forward from their respective positions on converging roads towards Tunnel Hill and Snake Creek Gap, on the 5th of May. The Army of the Cumberland advanced on the direct roads, the Army of the Ohio on the road from Cleveland to Dalton, and the Army of the Tennessee by Lee and Gordon's mill through Villanow to the northern entrance to Snake Creek Gap, a route that the enemy was not observing.
The tenacious adherence of General Thomas to his plan of turning Dalton, first suggested to General Grant for execution by the Army of the Cumberland alone, is evinced by the following extract from the report of General Thomas to the Committee on the Conduct of the War:
Shortly after his assignment to the command of the
Division of the Mississippi General Sherman came to see me at
to consult as to the position of affairs, and adopt a plan for a spring
campaign. At that interview I proposed to General Sherman that if he
use McPherson's and Schofield's armies to demonstrate on the enemy's
at Dalton by the direct roads through Buzzard Roost Gap, and from the
of Cleveland, I would throw my whole force through Snake Creek Gap,
I knew to be unguarded; fall upon the enemy's communications between
and Resaca, thereby turning his position completely, and force him
to retreat towards the east through a difficult country,
Page 221 - SHERMAN'S LOST OPPORTUNITY
poorly supplied with provisions and forage, with a strong probability of total disorganization of his force, or attack me, in which latter event I felt confident that my army was sufficiently strong to beat him, especially as I hoped to gain a position on his communications before he could be made aware of my movement. General Sherman objected to this plan for the reason that he desired my army to form the reserve of the united armies, and to serve as a rallying point for the two wings, the Army of the Ohio and that of the Tennessee, to operate from. *
In rejecting General Thomas' suggestions General Sherman lost the supreme opportunity of the Atlanta campaign. He adopted Thomas' plan so far as to send a smaller army through Snake Creek Gap, but with a different object from that proposed to him. His policy of holding the great army as a reserve for the smaller ones, might have been effective in a region which gave freedom of motion to his forces, but was not suited to the mountain region of Northern Georgia. In a direct advance the main army would necessarily encounter the enemy's strongest positions, while the smaller armies in independent movement could produce no decisive results.
General Sherman made provision for about eighty thousand men to move
directly against Johnston's position in the mountains before Dalton, in
feint or positive attack, as circumstances might determine, and for
thousand to pass through Snake Creek Gap to frighten the enemy into
and then to strike him in flank and rear as he should run from Dalton
Resaca to save his communications. Thomas would have led his army of
than sixty thousand men through that Gap to seize and hold Resaca or
railroad north of that place, while leaving fifty thousand men to cover
the more important movement by feigning a direct attack at Buzzard's
* Report to Corn. on Conduct of War, pp. 201-2.
Page 222 - LIFE OF GENERAL GEORGE H. THOMAS
Seldom have mountains and a long, secluded gap offered such aid to generalship. But the topography prescribed only one plan, a feint upon the enemy's position before Dalton, and the movement of an army strong enough to plant itself firmly on his communications. The practicability of this plan was demonstrated by the operations of the combined armies on the 8th, 9th and 10th of May.
The views of General Sherman as to his plan of operations were expressed in his communications to General Halleck and his army commanders. On the 8th he said to Halleck:
I have been all day reconnoitering the mountain range through whose gap the railroad and common road pass. By to-night McPherson will be in Snake Creek Gap, threatening Resaca, and to-morrow all will move to the attack. Army in good spirits and condition. I hope Johnston will fight here, instead of drawing me far down in Georgia.
On the 9th he telegraphed to Washington:
We have been fighting all day against precipices and mountain gaps to keep Johnston's army busy whilst McPherson could march to Resaca to destroy the railroad behind him. I heard from McPherson up to 2 P. M., when he was within a mile and a half of the railroad. After breaking the road good, his orders are to retire to the mouth of Snake Creek Gap, and be ready to work on Johnston's flank in case he retreats south. I will pitch in again early in the morning. Fighting has been mostly skirmishing, and casualties small. McPherson has the Army of the Tennessee, twenty-three thousand, and only encountered cavalry, so that Johnston did not measure his strength at all.
The day following, at 7 A. M., he telegraphed to General Halleck:
I am starting for the extreme front in Buzzard Roost
and make this despatch that you may understand that Johnston acts
on the defensive. I am attacking him on his strongest points, viz.,
and north, till McPherson breaks his line at Resaca, when I will swing
round through Snake Creek Gap and interfere between him and Georgia. *
* * Yesterday I pressed hard to prevent Johnston detaching against
to-day I will be more easy, as I believe believe
has destroyed Resaca, when he is ordered to fall back to the mouth of
Creek Gap, and act against Johnston's flank when he does start.
Page 223 - McPHERSON FAILS TO TAKE RESACA
But General McPherson did not take Resaca, nor destroy the railroad north of that place. He advanced to the vicinity of the town, posted his army on the south and west for a little time, and then withdrew to the mouth of Snake Creek Gap and fortified. In the advance from the gap a small force of cavalry was brushed away, but no other resistance was offered by the enemy.
At this time Resaca was held by two brigades, comprising about three thousand men, and there were no supporting forces nearer than Dalton. These facts demonstrate the practicability of the march of the Army of the Cumberland through Snake Creek Gap before the enemy " could become aware of the movement." And had General Thomas been permitted to execute his own plan, his army would have been firmly planted on Johnston's communications at Resaca, before either the whole or a part of his army could have marched from Dalton. General Thomas was as sanguine that he could have whipped Johnston's entire army with his own as that he could have moved through Snake Creek Gap without his knowledge.
In the afternoon of the 9th, General Johnston was informed by General Canty, commanding at Resaca, that the Army of the Tennessee had passed through Snake Creek Gap, and thereupon he sent Hood with three divisions to Resaca. But on the l0th General Hood reported that the enemy had retired, and he was then ordered to leave two divisions at Tilton, one on each road, and to return to Dalton with the third. Tilton is nearly half-way from Resaca to Dalton, and these two divisions were disposed for a quick movement to either place, as circumstances should require.
The reasons which have been assigned for the fruitless advance of
Army of the Tennessee through Snake Creek Gap on the 9th, are that
was strongly fortified
Page 224 - LIFE OF GENERAL GEORGE H. THOMAS
fied and manned, and that the valley north of that place was a forest. General Sherman stated, in his official report, that "nothing saved Johnston's army at Resaca, but the impracticable nature of the country which made the passage of troops across the valley almost impossible." When at the time General Thomas heard that the woods north of Resaca were considered a barrier to an advance upon the railroad, he simply asked: "Where were their axes?" On the 13th his own army and Schofield's moved through these woods to form a line of battle before Resaca. When Sherman learned that McPherson had not broken the railroad at Resaca, he sent the following letter to Thomas:
HEADQUARTERS MILITARY DIVISION OF THE MISSISSIPPI.
In the field, Tunnel Hill, May 10, 1864.
GENERAL :--I think you are satisfied that your troops cannot take Rocky Face Ridge, and also the attempt to put our columns into the jaws of Buzzard Roost would be fatal to us.
Two plans of action suggest themselves :
1st. By night to replace Schofield's present command by Stoneman's cavalry which, should be near at hand and rapidly move your entire army, the men along the base of John's Mountain by the Mill Creek road to Snake Creek Gap, and join McPherson while the wagons are moved to Villanow. When we are joined to McPherson to move from Sugar Valley on Resaca, interposing ourselves between that place and Dalton. Could your army and McPherson's surely whip Joe Johnston?
2nd. I cast loose from the railroad altogether and move the whole army on the same objective point leaving Johnston to choose his course.
Give orders for all your troops to be ready with three days' provisions and to be prepared to march to-night. I expect to hear from McPherson and Schofield as to their situation, also as to the near approach of Stoneman. He was at Charleston yesterday, and is apprized of the necessity for haste. Do you think any danger to McPherson should make us delay one day?
Please give me the benefit of your opinion on these points.
W. T. SHERMAN, Major General Commanding
MAJOR-GENERAL THOMAS, Present.
Page 225 - PROPOSES TO SUPPORT MCPHERSON
But on the same day General Sherman said to Halleck:
I must feign on Buzzard Roost but pass through Snake Creek Gap, and place myself between Johnston and Resaca, where we will have to fight it out. I am making the preliminary move. Certain that Johnston can make no detachments, I will be in no hurry.
This modification of plan did not bring the two generals into much nearer accord. The appearance of the Army of the Tennessee at Resaca on the 9th, and its quick retirement to Snake Creek Gap, had given intricacy to General Sherman's problem. As the town had not been attacked nor a demand made for the surrender of the troops holding it, and as no attempt had been made to seize or break the railroad north of the place, McPherson's movement was equivocal in Johnston's view, indicating danger to his communications, or a feint to cover direct operations against Dalton. While, therefore, in doubt as to the real significance of this movement Johnston was more watchful against the advance of Sherman's forces on the direct road to his position as well as on 'the one to his rear through Snake Creek Gap.
On the 10th, General Thomas addressed the following letter to General Sherman:
HEADQUARTERS DEPARTMENT CUMBERLAND. In the Field, May 10, 1864
MAJOR-GENERAL W. T. SHERMAN, Commanding Military Division of Mississippi.
"How do you like the idea of leaving General Schofield where he is, placing General Howard in front of the gap to entrench himself to hold the gap: Palmer's corps in reserve, with ten days provisions and full supply of ammunition, to reenforce General McPherson, if necessary, and send General Hooker's corps at once to support General McPherson? I make this proposition simply because I think General Hooker's corps will be sufficient to enable General McPherson to whip any force that Johnston can bring against him. Not knowing what your plans may be I submit this for your consideration.
" I am General very respectfully your obedient servant,
GEO. H. THOMAS, Major-General U. S. V. Commanding
Page 226 - LIFE OF GENERAL GEORGE H. THOMAS
This letter is seemingly a reply to General Sherman's of the same day, and yet the last sentence warrants the inference that it was independently suggestive. It answers directly or indirectly, the questions proposed by Sherman, and yet at the time Thomas was evidently ignorant of the plans of the former which were to follow the failure of McPherson to change the situation. This letter, therefore, as anticipating General Sherman's questions, evinces a persistent thoughtfulness and a wonderfully clear apprehension of possibilities. The practicability of his original plan had been demonstrated by McPherson's movements, although the great object proposed by Thomas had not been attained. The instructions of Sherman to McPherson named a different object, and yet the situation at Resaca demonstrated so plainly the practicability of achieving all that Thomas had promised, had he been permitted to lead his army through Snake Creek Gap, that General McPherson was subsequently censured for not departing from the course prescribed by his orders.
Some of General Sherman's questions were indirectly answered by General Thomas whether his letter was an answer to Sherman's or written before that letter was received. He had previously asserted that with his own army he could whip Johnston, and in his letter he assumed that reenforced by Hooker's corps, McPherson could whip any force that Johnston could "bring against him;" and he did not express his conviction that it was useless to attempt to carry Johnston's mountain fortress, because he had previously asserted that that position if well defended could not be carried by assault.
In this letter of the 10th, General Thomas virtually made a
of his original plan, with this difference however, that General
was to be given the vital movement with Hooker's corps added to his
His suggestions, if adopted, would have divided Sherman's forces into
nearly equal parts, one-half to
Page 227 - SNAKE CREEK GAP
advance on Resaca or on the railroad north of that place, and the other to maintain the feint on the north of Dalton. He was not in favor of withdrawing any of the forces from Buzzard Roost under the observation of the enemy. But as Hooker had already moved towards Snake Creek Gap, that corps could have joined McPherson unnoticed by the enemy. Thomas suggested the fortification of Howard's position to strengthen the feint rather than to neutralize it altogether by the withdrawal of the forces from Buzzard's Roost. And had his second plan been promptly tried with troops disposed as he recommended all the circumstances gave assurance of success. From the return of General Hood to Dalton on the 10th, to the evening of the 11th, Resaca was held by Canty's troops. McPherson could have moved against Resaca or to the railroad between that place and Dalton, with a larger army than General Johnston had at hand and at the same time he could have cut off from the enemy the two divisions of Folk's corps, one of which arrived at Resaca from the south on the evening of the 11th. This coincidence of plan with circumstances assuring successful execution, is one of the marvelous, oft-recurring proofs of the generalship of Thomas. And seldom has a general been so generous and patriotic. He had been forbidden to carry out a plan of his own devising, and yet he offered a corps of twenty thousand men to another commander to execute that plan.
But General Sherman decided to move his entire force through Snake
Gap on the 12th, except Howard's corps and McCook's and Stoneman's
and gave orders accordingly. On the 12th,all his infantry except
corps moved through Snake Creek Gap. Early on that day General Johnston
reconnoitred his front before Dalton to ascertain the number of troops
at Buzzard's Roost and other points, and early on the following morning
he retired his army to Resaca, General Folk's corps covering the
Page 228 - LIFE OF GENERAL GEORGE H. THOMAS
formation of Hardee's and Hood's corps in line of battle before the town. A large army could have advanced to the railroad north of Resaca, at any time between the 9th, and evening of the 12th.
During this period Johnston had no forces there, or near there, that could not have been shut up in the town or driven back to Dalton. But when on the 13th, Sherman's armies debouched from the southern opening of Snake Creek Gap, Johnston had at least fifty thousand infantry and artillery, in part behind defenses, but all in front of his communications. But had the Army of the Cumberland instead of the Army of the Tennessee -- sixty thousand men in room of twenty three thousand -- passed through Snake Creek Gap on the 9th, or had the latter army strengthened by Hooker's corps advanced on Resaca on the 11th , General Johnston in all probability would have lost his communications if not his army.
Sherman's armies were put in array before Resaca on the 13th, and on the next day there was an indecisive battle. On the night of the 15th, to avoid being shut up in Resaca, and a retreat with exposed flanks, General Johnston retired with his army and his material. In shunning a general engagement he gave up Rome and Kingston and the railroad to the Etowah River. Here General Sherman halted for three days to give rest to his troops, repair the railroad and accumulate supplies.
Despairing of bringing on a battle by direct pursuit, he resolved to
cut loose from his communications and move past Johnston's left flank,
and if possible reach his line of supply at Marietta or the
River. His forces having supplies for twenty days in wagon crossed the
Etowah on the 23rd , and moved upon various railroads
to the southwest. In this movement the Army of the Cumberland was in
centre, the Army of the Tennessee on the right and the Army of the
on the left. McCook's cavalry, in front of the central army, skirmished
Page 229 - NEW HOPE CHURCH
with cavalry and infantry at Stilesboro’ on the 23rd. The day following indications multiplied that General Johnston had discovered the movement of Sherman's armies to his left and was making efforts to defeat it.
On the 25th, the Army of the Cumberland advanced upon four roads under orders to converge on Dallas. As it progressed, resistance was offered by the enemy on the road leading to New Hope Church. And it soon became evident that Johnston had thrown his army across Sherman's line of march, in a strong position about four miles from Dallas. As soon as General Geary's division in advance began to meet strong resistance, General Thomas apprehended the situation and sent from him all the members of his staff, bearing messages, looking to the quick concentration of his army before the enemy.
In emergencies no general was more prompt, or wise, in his dispositions. At the time, his own army was scattered, and the other two armies were not near for quick support. The purpose of the enemy was not known, and an offensive blow was not improbable. Sherman believed that he had struck Johnston's right flank and proposed to turn it. Thomas perceiving the danger to his scattered forces, should Johnston take the offensive with his concentrated army, addressed himself to supporting the troops that first engaged the enemy, so as to hide the condition of his army and ward off offense until his troops should be gathered together.
The operations near Dallas were very much like those at Resaca in
and issue. General Sherman made effort to break Johnston's line and
his flank, and finally after heavy loss solved the problem, by moving
army by the left flank to the railroad at Ackworth, leaving his foe
to take position on his communications further south.
Page 230 - LIFE OF GENERAL GEORGE H. THOMAS
The operations of the month of May cost the Army of the Cumberland nearly nine thousand men, of whom eleven hundred and fifty-six were killed, and six thousand seven hundred and fifty-two wounded. And there had been no general engagement, and no success beyond pressing the enemy back by turning movements.
From the 10th of June to the 21st , the combined armies advanced slowly towards Marietta, by attacking entrenchments and turning the enemy's flanks. Incessant rain greatly retarded operations, and gave great discomfort to officers and men.
At the beginning of the campaign General Sherman had prescribed shelter tents for his armies and had taken one for himself. But General Thomas had been so far insubordinate as to provide better appointments for himself and his staff Suffering from the injury to his spine, received in 1863, he deemed it necessary to make himself as comfortable as might be in such a campaign. One evening he observed that General Sherman, who had stopped for the night was seemingly in destitution of the usual comforts of a commanding general, and almost without attendants. He thereupon sent a company of sharp-shooters* from his own headquarters, to pitch tents, and devote themselves in other ways, to the comfort of the commander-in-chief. This company and their service were accepted by General Sherman for the remainder of the campaign, and the shelter tents and other self-imposed privations were thrown aside.
On the 21st of June, Johnston's army was covering
with his lines upon the two Kenesaw Mountains, and the ground on the
of the greater the approach to the town from the north. The day
Sherman made effort to advance the right of his line, so as to threaten
the enemy's communications between Marietta and the Chattahoochee
The forces making this advance, were Hooker's corps, and the Army of
Ohio. This movement caused Johnston to transfer Hood's
* 7th Independent Co. Ohio sharp-shooters, Lieut, McCrory
Page 231 - KULP’S HOUSE
corps from his right to his left. In the afternoon, Hood attacked Hooker, when the latter had advanced to the vicinity of Kulp's house. The conflict resulted in the enemy's repulse.
At this juncture the Army of the Tennessee, recently reenforced by nine thousand men, under General Blair, was in line of battle on the east of the railroad, touching the left flank of the Army of the Cumberland near the base of the greater Kenesaw. As shown by the following despatch from Sherman to McPherson, Thomas suggested the advance of the Army of the Tennessee, to attack Marietta from the north.
HEADQUARTERS MILITARY DIVISION OF THE MISSISSIPPI.in the field. Big Shanty, June 22nd, 1864
GENERAL :-General Hooker, this p.m. advanced to Kulp's house two and a half miles southwest of Marietta, and reports finding three corps. He was attacked twice and successfully repulsed the enemy. General Thomas thinks that that will be the enemy's tactics, and that you ought to attack Marietta from that side of Kenesaw, but I judge the safer and better plan to be the one, I indicated, viz: for you to leave a light force and cover that flank, and throw the remainder rapidly and as much out of view as possible to your right.
You may make the necessary orders and be prepared for rapid action to-morrow. So dispose matters that the big guns of Kenesaw will do you as little mischief as possible.
W. T. SHERMAN, Major General
MAJOR-GENERAL MCPHERSON, Commanding the Army of the Tennessee.
General Sherman had the alternative of a turning movement on right
left, or a direct attack on the enemy's strong position on the
General Thomas expressed a decided preference for a movement on
from the north. And when he made the suggestion the approach in that
had just been uncovered by the transfer of Hood's corps to Johnston's
Page 232 - LIFE OF GENERAL GEORGE H. THOMAS
Johnston thus mentions this transfer in his official report:
"On the 21st , Hood's corps was transferred from right to left, Wheeler's cavalry taking charge of the position which it left." It was manifestly impracticable for Johnston to cover his communications securely and protect Marietta on the north with a corps or any strong force of infantry."
There was danger in uncovering the rear of his troops on the mountains, but it was not so great as in leaving his communications open to the advancing right of Sherman's armies. And Johnston hoped that this movement would be maintained, and that his exposure on the north would not be observed. But had Thomas' plan been adopted and carried out, the enemy would have been taken at great disadvantage.
Had the Army of the Tennessee advanced on Marietta on the 23rd , the confused flight of Johnston's army, or a battle for which he was in no way prepared, would certainly have resulted. McPherson, with more than thirty thousand men, would have been in rear of the mountains, and Johnston could have made no dispositions to meet him that would not have exposed his left flank and his communications to the Armies of the Cumberland and the Ohio. General Johnston acted upon a probability that would not have become actual if General Thomas had been in supreme command. He would have thrown an army upon the enemy's most vulnerable point, and this would have precipitated a general engagement where Johnston had no defenses, or necessitated his retreat in daylight, involving a peril that he most strenuously guarded against throughout the campaign. If he had retreated, the Army of the Tennessee would have been upon his rear and the
two other armies upon his flank. When, however, Hood's corps was
from the front of the Army of the Tennessee, the attitude of Wheeler's
cavalry induced General McPherson to believe that the enemy was massing
against him. This belief, or other reasons, caused General Sherman
Page 233 - KENESAW MOUNTAIN
to order his armies to move by the right flank until the Army of the Tennessee confronted the mountains. This movement was followed by the disastrous effort to break through Johnston's line, where nature and art had rendered his position exceedingly strong. If Thomas had been in command Johnston would not have been on the mountain.
In his Memoirs General Sherman makes the following statements:
During the 24th and 25th of June General Schofield extended his right as far as prudent, so as to compel the enemy to thin out his lines correspondingly, with the intention to make two strong assaults at points where success would give us the greatest advantage. I had consulted Generals Thomas, McPherson and Schofield, and we all agreed that we could not with prudence stretch out any more, and there was no alternative but to attack "fortified lines," a thing carefully avoided up to that time. I reasoned, if he could make a breach anywhere near the rebel centre, and thrust in a strong head of column, that with the one moiety of our army we could hold in check the corresponding wing of the enemy, and with the other sweep in flank and overwhelm the other half. *
It is explicitly stated in this extract that General Sherman and his
army commanders agreed that it would not be prudent to attenuate the
any further, but is not made clear whether the conclusion that "there
no alternative but to attack ' fortified lines' " was drawn by General
Sherman alone, or with the concurrence of the other generals. It is
that a flank movement was not precluded by the situation before the
of the 27th, since such a movement was successful
The testimony of several of General Thomas' staff officers is explicit
as to his opposition to attacking the fortified lines before Marietta.
Five days before the assault he had suggested the advance of the Army
the Tennessee on that town from the northeast. He opposed a second
most positively, and was quick to approve the movement of the armies by
* Memoirs, Vol. II,, page 60.
Page 234 - LIFE OF GENERAL GEORGE H. THOMAS
right flank when it was first proposed by General Sherman. It is clear, therefore, that General Thomas did not deem it wise to attempt to carry the enemy's strong positions.
On the 24th, General Sherman directed the army commanders to make preparations to attack the enemy in force on the 27th. Thomas was instructed to attack a point of his own selection near his centre, and McPherson, after feigning a movement on Marietta from the north, to make his real attack south and west from Kenesaw. Each attacking column was to endeavor to break a single point and make a secure lodgment beyond, and to follow it up toward Marietta and the railroad, in the event of success.
The required assault was made early on the 27th, and the following despatch tells the result:
Thomas to Sherman, June 27, 10.45 A.M.:-
Yours received. Harker's brigade advanced to within twenty paces of the enemy's breast-works, and was repulsed with canister at short range, General Harker losing an arm. General Wagner's brigade of Newton's division, supporting General Harker, was so severely handled that it is compelled to reorganize. Col Mitchell's brigade of Davis' division captured one line of the rebel breastworks. which they still hold. McCook's brigade was also severely handled, nearly every colonel being killed or wounded. It is compelled to fall back and reorganize. The troops are all too much exhausted to advance, but we hold all that we have gained.
The failure of the assault rendered imperative the consideration of some other movement. The views of General Thomas appear in the following despatches.
At 10.30 P. M. General Sherman asked Thomas,
"Do you think you can carry any of the enemy's line?
In answer the latter telegraphed:
From Thomas to Sherman, June 27:-
Your dispatches of 11.45 A.M. and 1:30 P.M.
Davis' two brigades are now within sixty yards of the enemy's
Davis reports that he does not think he can carry the works by assault
on account of the steepness of the hill, but he can hold his
Page 235 - KENESAW MOUNTAIN
position, put in one or two batteries to-night, and probably drive them out to-morrow morning. General Howard reports the same. Their works are from six to seven feet high, and nine feet thick. In front of Howard they have a strong abattis. Davis' loss in officers has been very heavy. Nearly all the field officers of McCook's brigade, with McCook, have been killed or wounded. From what the officers tell me, I do not think we can carry the works by assault at this point to-day, but they can be approached by saps and the enemy driven out.
Thomas to Sherman, June 27:-
Your despatch of 2.25 received. We still hold all the ground we have gained, and the division report their ability to hold. They also report the enemy's works exceedingly strong, in fact, so strong that they cannot be carried by assault, except by an immense sacrifice, even if they can be carried at all. I think, therefore, the best chance is to approach them by regular saps if we can find a favorable approach to batter them down. We have already lost heavily today, without gaining any material advantage. One or two more such assaults would use up this army.
Thomas to Sherman, June 27 - 6 P.M.:-
"The assault of the enemy's works in my front was well arranged, and the officers and men went to their work with the greatest coolness and gallantry. The failure to carry them is due only to the strength of the works, and to the fact that they were well manned, thereby enabling the enemy to hold them securely against the assault. We have lost nearly two thousand officers and men, among them two brigade commanders, General Harker, commanding a brigade in Newton's division, and Colonel Dan McCook, commanding a brigade in Jeff. Davis' division, both reported to be mortally wounded, besides some six or eight field officers killed. Both General Harker and Colonel McCook were wounded on the enemy's breastworks, and all say had they not been wounded we would have driven the enemy from his works. Both Generals Howard and Palmer think that they can find favorable positions on their lines for placing batteries for enfilading the enemy's works. We took between ninety and one hundred prisoners.
His proposition to approach the enemy's fortifications by saps, was
simply a substitute for a second assault, but he undoubtedly preferred
a flank movement.
Page 236 - LIFE OF GENERAL GEORGE H. THOMAS
In the evening Sherman suggested a flank movement, and to this Thomas eagerly acceded.
Sherman to Thomas, June 27, 1864.--9 P. M.:-
Are you willing to risk the move on Fulton, cutting loose from our railroad ? It would bring matters to a crisis, and Schofield has secured the way.
Thomas to Sherman, June 27: -
What force do you think of moving with ? If with the greater part of the army, I think it decidedly better than butting against breastworks twelve feet thick and strongly abatised.
Thomas to Sherman, June 27:-
How far is Fulton from the crossing of Oiley's Creek ? Will we have to cross any other streams of much size ? When do you wish to start ?
On the 1st of July, General Sherman ordered his armies to move by the right flank to compel Johnston to abandon the mountains before Marietta. Thomas was required to hold his position while McPherson should march his array to the right to threaten the enemy's communications at the Chattahoochee River. When this general movement was fully developed on the 2nd of July, Johnston availed himself of the darkness of the following night, and covering his rear with defenses at Ruff's Station, and afterwards in front of the railroad bridge over the Chattahoochee, retreated in safety to the fortifications before Atlanta.
During the first two months of the campaign Sherman's operations had
a specific relation to General Grant's movements in Virginia, but on
28th of June he was freed from the obligation to maneuver
armies with reference to the retention of all Johnston's forces in
Hitherto the great army in the East and the combined armies in the
Page 237 - THOMAS' INDIFFERENCE TO DANGER
west had been so far cooperative that they were in turn to prevent Lee from sending troops to Georgia, and Johnston from detaching troops to Virginia.
The temerity of General Thomas in exposing himself to danger was illustrated on two occasions during the advance to the Chattahoochee River. At one time with General Davis and other officers, he went to the picket line to ascertain whether the enemy was in force in his front. On the line there was a vacant log cabin, and to this house the officers repaired, after leaving their horses in a depression in the rear. The cabin proved to be a poor protection, as there were openings between the logs, and a volley from the enemy caused all except General Thomas to beat a hasty retreat to their horses. The general, however, walked slowly back, although he was plainly a mark for the enemy's sharp-shooters. At a gate in the rear he stopped and faced the enemy, and then walked slowly to his horse. He seemed unwilling to retreat when alone, and consciously a target for the enemy.
At another time he was invited by General Davis to ride in the rear of Colonel J. G. Mitchell's brigade which was sent on a reconnoissance. As the two generals rode in the rear of the column they observed ripe blackberries by the roadside, and dismounted to pick them. While thus engaged bullets began to fall thickly around them, from the enemy's cavalry that had come round the flank of the reconnoitring column, then out of sight. General Thomas did not even look up, but continued to pick the berries, remarking playfully, "Davis, this is eating blackberries under difficulties." General Davis, however, became anxious, lest his commander should be killed or captured, and urged an immediate retreat.
While halting his troops on the north bank of the Chattahoochee
that his construction corps might bring the cars to his camp, General
received the following despatches which hastened his advance on
Page 238 - LIFE OF GENERAL GEORGE H. THOMAS
CITY POINT, VIRGINIA, July 16, 1864, l0 A.M.
MAJOR-GENERAL SHERMAN :
The attempted invasion of Maryland having failed to give the enemy a firm foothold north, they are now returning with possibly twenty-five thousand troops. All the men they have here, beyond a sufficiency to hold their string of fortifications, will be an element of weakness by eating up their supplies. It is not improbable, therefore, that you will find in the next fortnight reenforcements on your front to the number indicated above. I advise, therefore, that if you get Atlanta, you set about destroying the railroad as far to the east and south of you as possible. Collect all the stores of the country for your own use, and select a point that you can hold until help can be had. I shall make a desperate effort to get a position here which will hold the enemy without the necessity of so many men. If successful I can detach from here for other enterprises; looking much to your assistance or anything elsewhere.
U. S. GRANT, Lieutenant-General.
WASHINGTON, July 16, 1864--4.30 P.M.
MAJOR-GENERAL SHERMAN :
Lieutenant-General Grant wishes me to call your attention to the possibility of Johnston's being reenforced from Richmond, and the importance of your having prepared a good line of defense against such an increase of rebel force. Also, the importance of getting as large an amount of supplies collected at Chattanooga as possible.
H. W. HALLECK, Major- General, Chief of Staff
HEADQUARTERS MILITARY DIVISION OF THE MISS., In the Field, Chattahoochee, July 16, 1864
GENERALS THOMAS AND MCPHERSON :
Despatches from Generals Grant and Halleck to-day, speak of the enemy having failed in his designs in Maryland, and cautioning me that Lee may in the next fortnight reenforce Johnson by twenty thousand men. It behooves us therefore to hurry, so all will move tomorrow as far as Nancy's Creek.
W. T. SHERMAN, Major-General Commanding
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
before help could be rendered by either of the other two armies, then
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
south bank of Peach Tree Creek, with Stewart's corps on the left,
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
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
leading to Decatur, and having restored a bridge burnt by the enemy,
the south branch of Peach Tree Creek, three miles from the Buckhead
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,
the same number in the Army of the Cumberland. And if it was
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
whole Confederate army, it was certainly an error to diminish the Army
of the Cumberland, when it was advancing to meet a combination formed
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
on General Schofield's right, giving eleven divisions to the left wing,
and leaving seven divisions with Thomas, when, for the first time in
campaign, the enemy in his full strength was to take the offensive. To
place Thomas at still greater disadvantage, the general movement on
threw his left division forward in air on the Buckhead road. General
had planned to take the offensive against Sherman's armies at Peach
Creek; and General Hood had indulged himself in the delusion that he
crush the Army of the Cumberland as a whole on the south bank of that
As the outcome of these projects, the blow fell on Thomas when bereft
two divisions and a secure flank. In preparation for the advance on
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
the low ground covered with trees and bushes to the left. Newton had
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
Creek, neither Thomas nor his army were surprised when it opened. A
here had not been indicated by the manner of the required movement on
nor by the removal of two divisions from his left after his army had
the stream. But under the circumstances better preparations for an
could not have been made. About 3 P. M., Hardee's central division
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
But the dead and wounded, thickly strewn in front of Newton's and
divisions and on the flank and rear of the former, disprove this
General Hood's plan, formed and put on trial in expectation of success
against the entire Army of the Cumberland, utterly miscarried as
four divisions and one brigade of that army. Cheatham, posted and
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,
combined armies operated against Atlanta. There was severe fighting
this period in offense and defense. Sherman gradually extended his
to his right, south of the city towards East Point, in hope of
Hood's fortifications. But as the southern ends of the two lines of
kept abreast in their southern extension, the project of gaining
in this way was finally abandoned. At times General Sherman thought of
storming the enemy's fortifications; but to such a measure General
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
of the enemy from Atlanta. Finally Sherman directed the army commanders
to make preparations for a general movement to the south. When this
was perfected, and a time suggested by Sherman to put it on trial,
asked for a few days' delay to accumulate the requisite amount of
and to rest and "shoe-up" his cavalry horses. He was unwilling to
the strong fortifications before Atlanta, and, therefore, gave cordial
support to the turning movement. His despatches in reference to the
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 movement tomorrow. 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
Atlanta was begun. The Twentieth corps, Major-General H. W. Slocum,
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
day the Army of the Cumberland moved eastward from the West Point
to the Macon road, and thus connected with the Army of Ohio. By this
General Hood had posted two corps, Hardee's and Lee's, to attack the
of the Tennessee and drive it across Flint River. These corps attacked
Howard on the 31st, and were repulsed. Lee's corps then
to Rough and Ready. The next day the two armies on the left moved
Jonesboro'. The Fourteenth corps took position on the left of the Army
of the Tennessee, or two corps of that army, the Fifteenth and
the Seventeenth corps and Kilpatrick's cavalry having been sent to the
rear of Jonesboro'. That evening the Fourteenth corps, in presence of
Thomas and by his order, attacked Hardee's corps, posted behind
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
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
Army of the Tennessee soon after the death of General McPherson;
Stanley to the Fourth corps ; General Slocum to the Twentieth in room
General Hooker, relieved at his own request ; and General Davis to the
Fourteenth corps in place of General Palmer, relieved in the same way.
DISCUSSION OF NEW PLANS - NORTHWARD ADVANCE OF HOOD'S ARMY -
DIVISION OF THE ARMIES - MARCH TO THE SEA - THOMAS CHARGED
WITH DEFENSE OF TENNESSEE.
THE possession of Atlanta was not a solution of the great western problem. This city gave name to a campaign; but it was not General Sherman's chief objective in that campaign. His paramount objective from May to September, 1864, was the Confederate Army of the Tennessee; and while that army maintained its organization, the prescribed object of his advance from Chattanooga with a hundred thousand men was unattained. Atlanta as a railroad centre and a place for the manufacture of war material was of great value to the South. But it was not a strategic point of the first importance, since it was easily turned by Sherman, and soon afterwards by Hood. It was so far from General Sherman's base of supplies, that no plan for aggression southward from that city could be formed that did not involve the abandonment of his northern source of supply. The problems demanding solution after he had gained Atlanta were far more intricate than the one which was partially solved by its capture.
The fact that their largest western army could not hold this city
exceedingly depressing to the Southern people, and the production of
effect was after all the greatest result of the Atlanta campaign. The
was of no value to the National cause except for the movement of
and its loss opened to the enemy the way for
Page 250 - LIFE OF GENERAL GEORGE H. THOMAS
offensive operations. Hood, having no city to defend and no railroad to guard, was free to move in any direction that promised success. The Atlanta campaign threw upon the Confederate authorities the alternative of submission to the National Government, or the concentration of their western forces to turn back the invading armies from Atlanta and restore hopes to their troops and their people.
The situation of the enemy was clearly revealed by Mr. Davis in a despatch to General Hood:
RICHMOND, September 5th, 1864
GENERAL J. B. HOOD :-Your despatches of yesterday received.
The necessity for reenforcements was realized, and every effort made to bring forward reserves, militia, and detailed men for the purpose. Polk, Maury, S. D. Lee and Jones have been drawn on to fullest extent. E. K. Smith has been called on. No other resource remains. It is now requisite that absentees be brought back, the addition required from the surrounding country be promptly made available, and that the means in hand be used with energy proportionate to the country's need.
While therefore Generals Grant and Sherman were looking for a
objective south of Atlanta for the armies that were resting in that
in September, Mr. Davis and his western generals were busy in forming a
plan which should unite for its execution all their available forces
east and west of the Mississippi River, and in the utmost stretch of
they promised to the Southern people the restoration of the earlier
in the West. The first step in the execution of this plan was to force
Sherman and. his armies out of Georgia by the movement of Hood's army
their communications, and then provision was to be made for resulting
by the transfer of the trans-Mississippi troops to Tennessee. It was
that a bold movement to the North would inspirit the army, whose morale
had been impaired by protracted and unsuccessful defense; that
would be restored to their colors, and recruits gathered in large
Page 251 - NEW PLANS OF THE CONFEDERATES
for a grand effort to regain lost territory, and in the end, establish the cause itself. To carry out this plan the trans-Mississippi troops were to be joined with Hood's army, and to give unity and appropriate expression to the projected operations, General Beauregard, who had previously urged the abandonment of the great Southern cities, including Richmond, that a vast army might be concentrated for an advance to the North, was given the command of the military departments between the Allegheny Mountains and the Mississippi River. These troops had been previously ordered to cross the great river, but had been prevented by General Canby. The new plan proposed a repetition of the effort to transfer them, not as before to defend Southern cities and productive territory, but to capture Northern cities and gather supplies from Northern soil.
Prospectively Hood's army was to become bolder as it grew stronger in its northward march.
This then was the plan which having previously miscarried in some of its features was utterly defeated at Nashville. It was first put upon trial against all the National forces in the West; it was defeated after the withdrawal of more than sixty thousand men that had resisted its first stage of development. Though a failure in the end, who will say that it was not the best plan that could have been adopted by the enemy ? Both the North and the South were at the time making final efforts. The effective strength of the National forces was mainly represented by the Army of the Potomac and the combined armies under Sherman, while Lee's and Hood's armies correspondingly represented the strength of the Southern Confederacy. And at no time during the war had success in the West depended more fully on the quick reenforcement of the Confederate Army of the Tennessee.
While Generals Grant and Sherman were busy with the problem of a
beyond Atlanta, General Hood gave Sherman other employment by putting
trial the second grand Confederate scheme, of throwing our armies back
to the Ohio River.
Page 252 - LIFE OF GENERAL GEORGE H. THOMAS
Late in September, reports reached Atlanta that Hood's army was in motion. It was supposed, at first, that Hood was marching into Northern Alabama, the first steps in his circuit round Atlanta indicating such a destination. But it was soon apparent that he was moving upon Sherman's communications in Georgia. About the same time news came from the north that Forrest was operating against the line of Sherman's communications in Tennessee. On the 26th of September Sherman sent Newton's division of the Fourth corps to Tennessee to cooperate with the local garrisons in repelling Forrest. Three days later, he sent General Thomas with Morgan's division of the Fourteenth corps to Tennessee. These dispositions were not necessary as against Forrest, who had been driven to the west by Generals Rousseau, Granger and Steedman, but in part made provision against a menace by Hood's entire army. The duty of defending the vital communications in Tennessee with only two divisions of his army, besides his local garrisons, was thus devolved upon General Thomas. Unconsciously he had entered upon a campaign which, though beset with embarrassments through all of its stages, was in its outcome to bring the crowning glory of his career.
General Thomas had hardly reached Chattanooga before telegraphic
with General Sherman were broken ; and, for several days thereafter,
operations in Georgia were involved in mystery. September 30th
Hood crossed the Chattahoochee River and moved upon Sherman's rail
The latter at once put five of his corps in hot pursuit, leaving the
corps at Atlanta. When it was known at the North that Hood was in
rear and had captured garrisons at Ackworth, Big Shanty, Dalton and
there was universal alarm. It was known that Thomas had not sufficient
force to arrest, or greatly retard the advance of the enemy into
Page 253 - HOOD'S NORTHWARD MOVEMENT
This emergency had not been anticipated by Sherman, and consequently adequate preparations had not been made to meet it. At best the troops in Tennessee were only equal to the defense of the railroads against the enemy's cavalry.
In their consternation at Washington and City Point, the military authorities hurried a few troops to Tennessee from the North, but Thomas, as was frequently the case, received more suggestions than reenforcements when he needed the latter, and not the former.
When General Grant learned that Hood had captured the garrison at Dalton, and had advanced thence nearly to Lafayette, he inferred that Chattanooga was his objective, and advised Thomas to withdraw his garrisons from the railroad leading from Columbia to Decatur and thence to
Stevenson. But the latter did not act in accordance with this advice, and the subsequent movement of the enemy to the west justified his decision. Hood had no thought of attacking such fortifications as enclosed Chattanooga when he could so easily pass around them. He had hoped that his army would have been so inspirited by its successful march to Northern Georgia that he could there offer to meet Sherman in a general engagement. But in this he was disappointed. He then proposed to march to Gunter's Landing, cross the river into Tennessee, capture Bridgeport and Stevenson, defeat Thomas wherever he should present himself, march to Nashville, and thence into Kentucky.* Had he thrown himself boldly upon Sherman's divided army at Gaylesville he might have won a great victory.
When Hood moved to the west from the vicinity of Lafayette, General
Thomas sent Schofield up Lockout Valley with Newton's and Morgan's
to oppose him
*"Advance and Retreat," by General J. B. Hood, pp. 266-7
Page 254 - LIFE OF GENERAL GEORGE H. THOMAS
should he turn to the northwest across that valley. When afterwards he moved in apparent menace to Bridgeport, Schofield was directed by Thomas to move to Caperton's Ferry, a few miles below that place. This latter movement was condemned by General Sherman, although it was directly in anticipation of Hood's meditated movement to that point and other places on the line of communications between Chattanooga and Nashville. Gunter's Landing is below Bridgeport, but Hood proposed to cross the Tennessee there and then move northeast. Had he carried out his plan, these troops at Caperton's Ferry would have been near the line of his advance. October 17th General Sherman telegraphed to Schofield:
"Your first move on Trenton and Valley Head was right, the move to defend Caperton's Ferry is wrong. Notify General Thomas of these my views."
This movement was useless, but only inconsequence of Hood's change of plan. Before reaching Gunter's Landing he learned that it was impossible for Forrest to join him on the line of his proposed advance to Nashville, and consequently he turned towards Decatur.
October 26th Hood sent part of his army to threaten that
town. He called this menace a " slight demonstration " to cover the
of his army to the west. He would, however, have grasped the Tennessee
River at that point, had it been abandoned as General Grant suggested.
But when Hood's forces appeared before the town, General Thomas was
to send reenforcements from Chattanooga, and this may be cited as an
of his unerring foresight. Upon finding that Decatur was held by a
force, and having lost some men in an action brought on by Granger
of his defenses, Hood turned down the river to Tuscumbia, to meet
establish a new line of supply from Corinth as a base, and perfect his
preparations for advancing into Tennessee.
Page 255 - WANTS TO MOVE EASTWARD
Thus without serious opposition Hood had executed that part of the general plan, which, at the beginning, had been assigned his army. He was now comparatively near Nashville, near his base of supplies, at Corinth, and nearer his expected reenforcements from the west bank of the Mississippi than he had been at the beginning of his campaign. He had drawn General Sherman with most of his forces to Northern Georgia, but not out of that State in the disastrous retreat predicted by Mr. Davis.
In the mean time Sherman had repeatedly sought General Grant's permission to turn from the pursuit of Hood and with his three armies march to the sea. But Grant had refused for a time, he then gave his consent, and afterwards recalled it. After Hood had marched to the west, Sherman's requests were repeated, and, though at first denied, were finally granted on the 2d of November.
General Thomas had been anxious to enter upon a campaign south from Atlanta with his own army * but he was opposed to General Sherman's project of moving with all his field forces to the Atlantic coast, after General Hood had established himself on the Tennessee River at Florence.
He therefore expressed his unwillingness to be left behind to defend
Tennessee with inadequate resources. He was opposed also to the
of his own army, especially when the greater part of it was to be taken
from him. He telegraphed to Sherman October 17th : "I hope
*General W. F. Smith, in a letter to the writer, states what follows:
" In June 1865 I met General Thomas at West Point. I had not seen him after we parted at Chattanooga and he sat down and gave me an account of the campaign from Chattanooga to Atlanta, and told me of his subsequent proceedings against Hood, winding up in the victory at Nashville.
"He also said to me that after he had entered
he (Thomas) went to Sherman and said, ' now you have no more use for
let me take my little command and go eastward to the sea’ Sherman
to him that he could not take the responsibility without consulting
Grant, which he would do while they were repairing damages and
the army ; that he heard nothing more of it till he with his little
was ordered lo face Hood - the only effective organization in the
- while Sherman took his army to encounter the Georgia militia under
Page 256 - LIFE OF GENERAL GEORGE H. THOMAS
adopt Grant's idea of turning Wilson loose, rather than undertake the plan of a march, with the whole force through Georgia to the sea, inasmuch as General Grant cannot cooperate with you as at first arranged." There is here, doubtless an allusion to a plan discussed at Atlanta, involving the cooperation of General Grant, at some point in Georgia or South Carolina. At this date Sherman had not promised to detach any of his field forces for the defense of Tennessee, and he did not believe that Hood would enter that State.* The next day Thomas telegraphed: "I have received your despatch from Ship's Gap of yesterday noon. Am ready to carry out your orders should Hood attempt to come into Tennessee. General Wilson will take a duplicate of this to you and will explain my views on your plan of operations. * * *
There is one thing, however, I don't wish -- to be in command of' the defense of Tennessee, unless you and the authorities at Washington deem it absolutely necessary."
Thomas obeyed Sherman's order and sent to him Newton's and Morgan's
divisions. And the recall of these troops plainly indicated that
then intended to march to the sea with his three armies, committing to
Thomas the defense of Tennessee with his local garrisons and such other
troops as could be drawn from the north and west. It is not clear from
General Thomas' subsequent utterances whether or not he was opposed to
the march to the sea with the forces finally taken by General Sherman.
But since that movement threw upon him the defense of Tennessee, under
circumstances of the greatest discouragement, the discussion of the "
to the Sea" is pertinent to this story.
* General Sherman had said : " Hood is not going to
Tennessee. Keep enough force to watch the river below and at the
and let all the rest march to me or to reenforce the railroad."
Page 257 - THE MARCH TO THE SEA.
The march to Savannah, while Hood's army was in Northern Alabama was the abandonment by Sherman of one of the two great objectives announced for the two great cooperative campaigns which began in May 1864. Lee's army, rather than Richmond was Grant's objective, and Johnston's army rather than Atlanta was Sherman's. The two cities in the rear of these armies respectively, were only secondary objectives. And they were comparatively of no importance after the overthrow of the two armies which so long fought before them. But the march to the sea was to be made, not only when Hood's army was farther north than in May 1864, but when the movement would give back to the enemy the city of Atlanta, and more of Georgia than had been gained by the operations and battles of the Atlanta campaign. General Sherman himself did not justify his march for the reason that it was strategic. October 19th he telegraphed to General Halleck :
"This movement is not purely military or strategic, but it will illustrate the vulnerability of the South."
And a few days later he wrote to General Grant.:
On the supposition, always, that Thomas can hold the line of the Tennessee, and very shortly be able to assume the offensive as against Beauregard, I propose to act in such manner against the material resources of the South as utterly to negative Davis' boasted threats and promises of protection. If we can march a well appointed army right through this territory, it is a demonstration to the world foreign and domestic, that we have a power which Davis cannot resist. This is not war, but rather statesmanship.
But this march was strategic, in so far as it had relation to Grant's operations in Virginia. It was a long march to give aid to Grant; but Sherman regarded it as a
" ' shift of base,' as the transfer of a strong
which had no opponent, and had finished its then work, from the
to a point on the sea-coast, from which it could achieve other
results. I considered this march as a means to an end, and not as an
act of war. * * * I simply moved from Atlanta to Savannah, as one step
in the direction of Richmond, a movement that
to be met and defeated, or the war was necessarily at an end." *.
Page 258 - LIFE OF GENERAL GEORGE H. THOMAS
In this view this movement was strategic, but in favor of the East at the expense of the West, since it transferred to the Atlantic coast an immense army before the great problem in the West had been solved, and by changing the conditions of its solution, endangered all that had been previously gained. The Confederate Army of the Tennessee had come out of the Atlanta campaign somewhat reduced in strength, but with organization intact, and was on the offensive, in hope of such accretions as would render it relatively stronger than it had been six months before, as against all the forces of the Military Division of the Mississippi.
The discussion of the movement by Generals Grant and Sherman embraced its effects upon affairs in Tennessee and Georgia, as well as its moral effect. On the 1st of November Sherman telegraphed to Grant:
As you foresaw and as Jeff Davis threatened, the enemy is now in the full tide of execution of his plan to destroy my communications and defeat this army. * * * If I were to let go Atlanta and North Georgia and make for Hood, he would do as he did here (Rome) --retreat to the southwest, leaving his militia now assembling at Macon and Griffin to occupy our conquests, and the work of last summer would be lost.
And on the day following he said:
If I could hope to overhaul Hood, I would move
him with my whole force ; then he would retreat to the southwest,
me as a decoy from Georgia. * * * No single army can catch him, and I
convinced the best results will follow from our defeating Jeff Davis'
plan of making me leave Georgia. * * * Still, if he attempts to invade
Middle Tennessee, I will hold Decatur and be prepared to move in that
; but unless I let go Atlanta, my force will not be equal to his."If I
turn back, the whole effect of my campaign will be lost."
* Memoirs, Vol. II,, page 220.
Page 259 - THE MARCH TO THE SEA AUTHORIZED
On the 6th of November Sherman wrote to Grant:
Now, as to the second branch of my proposition, I admit that the first object should be the destruction of that army; and if Beauregard moves his infantry and artillery up into the pocket about Jackson and Paris, I will feel tempted to move Thomas directly against him and move myself by Decatur and Purdy to cut off his retreat.
On the 1st of November Grant had telegraphed to Sherman:
Do you not think it advisable now that Hood has gone so far north, to entirely ruin him before starting on your proposed campaign ? With Hood's army destroyed, you can go where you please with impunity. I believed, and still believe, if you had started south while Hood was in the neighborhood of you, he would have been forced to go after you. Now, that he is so far away, he might look upon the chase as useless, and he will go in one direction while you are pushing the other. If you can see the chance for destroying Hood's army, attend to that first and make your other move secondary.
But the next day Grant authorized the movement in these words:
"I really do not see that you can withdraw from where you are to follow Hood without giving up all we have gained in territory. I say, then, go on as you propose."
The fact that Hood's army was the more important objective for Sherman is admitted by General Grant and himself in these despatches and letters. It is not evident that any territory would have been given up by following Hood which was not given up by the march to the sea. General
Sherman certainly surrendered all the territory which he had gained
by his previous campaign; and in his march to Savannah, he avoided all
fortified places and only retained the privilege of the roads and a
shifting campground for his army. Had he followed Hood, after leaving
Twentieth corps at Atlanta, he would have had in the Fourteenth,
and Seventeenth corps and cavalry, nearly or quite fifty thousand men,
and with the mobile forces under Thomas he would have had about
Page 260 - LIFE OF GENERAL GEORGE H. THOMAS
In following Hood to the southwest or north west, or in any other direction, Sherman would have virtually protected his conquests in Georgia, because he would have been between them and Hood. The movement to the sea therefore gave up more territory than the pursuit of Hood could have done, unless defeat had resulted. It is not a little surprising, that Grant and Sherman omitted all mention of the enemy's plan of operations, and the possibility of the transfer of his western forces to Hood, although they were not ignorant of Mr. Davis' order requiring them to cross the Mississippi. General Sherman even proposed to General Halleck to diminish the forces guarding against their transfer.
On November 3rd he telegraphed:
I would advise the accumulation of all troops available up the Tennessee River (now in good boating stage) about Clifton, subject to General Thomas' orders, and that Canby leave the Mississippi River to be watched by gunboats and local garrisons, and push with about fifteen thousand men for the Alabama River and Selma.
This march to the sea, however, was a success in this, that it furnished evidence of what had been previously well established, that Mr. Davis was not a true prophet, and that the Southern Confederacy was a shell, as Grant had foretold. But it removed Sherman after he passed southeast of Atlanta, farther and farther from the true line of march to Virginia.
While General Thomas was given the task of subduing the army which
so long been Sherman's objective, the latter took with him to the sea
than sixty thousand selected men, together with the selected
which rightfully belonged to Thomas and the forces placed under his
In place of this immense force, two divisions of infantry from Missouri
* and recruits from the
*Two divisions of the Sixteenth corps which had been sent to General Rosecrans. The other two divisions of that corps, under General Dodge, participated in the Atlanta campaign.
Page 261 - THE FOURTEENTH CORPS
North were promised to Thomas. It is not therefore surprising that with his clear discernment of the problem given to him, he desired to avoid its embarrassments.
When he knew that Sherman would send troops from Georgia, he requested that the Fourteenth corps should be sent to him. But General Sherman refused, saying:
"It is too compact and reliable a corps for me to leave behind."
This corps belonged to Thomas by every tie that can bind troops to a commander. He had organized and commanded its first brigade; he then commanded in succession the division which embraced this brigade, the corps of which the First division formed a part, and finally the army of which the Fourteenth corps was a grand unit. He loved his entire army, as that army loved him, but this thoroughly organized, well equipped and gallant corps laid the foundation of his fame as a general, and to it he gave a degree of affection that he could feel for no other similar organization. He was at Washington at the close of the war to attend the "Grand Review." Before he had seen the Fourteenth corps at the Capital, he met at a small dinner party as its first representative, Captain Robert Hunter of the Seventy-fourth Ohio. Thomas at once began to ask questions about officers and men, and finally said: "That corps made me what I am." But in place of the Fourteenth corps, thus denied him, the Twenty-third, embracing two divisions, and yet constituting a distinct army, was sent back to Tennessee.
On the 23d of October Sherman said to Thomas:
I do believe you are the man best qualified to manage the affairs of Tennessee and North Mississippi. * * * I can spare you the Fourth corps and about five thousand men not fit for my
purpose, but which will be well enough for garrison
in Chattanooga, Murfreesboro' and Nashville. What you need is a few
fortified and stocked with provisions, and a good movable column of
thousand men that can strike in any direction.
Page 262 - LIFE OF GENERAL GEORGE H. THOMAS
A few days later General Sherman stated in a despatch to General Grant, that if he followed Hood, his force, which included the Fourteenth, Fifteenth and Seventeenth corps and cavalry, would not be equal to Hood's, and yet at first Sherman proposed to give Thomas the Fourth corps and five thousand men unfit for the field, telling him that he would only need a movable column of twenty-five thousand men, in face of the probability that the Confederate army would invade Tennessee, reserving to himself seventy-five thousand men for the march through the vacant Confederacy.
October 26th General Sherman issued the following order:
( SPECIAL FIELD ORDERS NO. 105. )
HEADQUARTERS MILITARY DIVISION OF THE MISSISSIPPI.In the Field, Gaylesville, Ala., October 26, 1864.
In the event of military movements or the accidents of war separating the general in command from his military division, Major-General Geo. H. Thomas commanding the Department of the Cumberland, will exercise command over all troops and garrisons not absolutely in the presence of the general-in-chief. The commanding generals of the departments, Armies of the Ohio and Tennessee, will forthwith send abstracts of their returns to General Thomas at Nashville, in order that he may understand the position and distribution of troops ; and General Thomas may call for such further reports as he may require, disturbing the actual condition of affairs and mixing up the troops of separate departments as little as possible consistent with the interests of the service.
By order of Maj.-Gen. W. T, SHERMAN.
L. M. DAYTON, Aide-de-camp.
Hypothetically General Thomas had then a large army, embracing the Fourth corps of the Army of the Cumberland, two divisions of the Sixteenth corps of the Army of the Tennessee, the Twenty-third corps --the Army of the Ohio, --a large force of cavalry, mainly dismounted and widely scattered, an indefinite number of raw troops, convalescents belonging to-the four corps with Sherman, and the local garrisons of the Department of the Cumberland. The two divisions of the Sixteenth corps were due at Nashville early in November, and the speedy coming of troops from
Page 263 - HIS COMMAND
the North was promised. His corps commanders were Major-General David S. Stanley, Fourth corps, Major-General John M. Schofield, Twenty-third corps, Major-General Andrew J. Smith, Sixteenth corps and Brevet Major-General James H. Wilson, chief of cavalry of the military division.
In a despatch to Thomas of October 19th General Sherman said:
Hood's army may be set down at forty thousand of all arms fit for duty. He may follow me, or turn against you. If you can defend the line of the Tennessee in my absence of three months, it is all I ask.
General Grant made it a condition of the march to the sea, that sufficient forces should be left with Thomas to enable him to defend this line. October 11th Grant telegraphed to Sherman:
If you are satisfied the trip to the sea-coast can be made, holding the line of the Tennessee firmly, you may make it, destroying all the railroad south of Dalton or Chattanooga, as you think best.
And yet before the Fourth and Twenty-third corps had been sent to Thomas, Hood had grasped this line at Florence. Thomas was instructed by Sherman to hold defensively Nashville, Chattanooga and Decatur, and yet he was told " you must unite all your men into one army and abandon all minor points, if you expect to defeat Hood."
Had the Fourteenth corps been given to Thomas instead of the Twenty-third, he would have been stronger by five thousand men, and would have had a substantial basis of unity for all his accessions, and an unpleasant question of rank would have been avoided. General Stanley was General Schofield's senior as major-general. Stanley commanded a larger corps, and yet Schofield, by virtue of commanding an army of two divisions, which represented a military department, was his superior in rank in another army. It would have been a far more equitable division of the forces of the military division if General Thomas had been left in
Page 264 - LIFE OF GENERAL GEORGE H. THOMAS
Tennessee with the Army of the Cumberland. Had this been done, General Sherman would still have had forty-five thousand men. The comprehensive plan of the enemy and the strong probability that Sherman would not be opposed in his march, demanded that Thomas should have had his own army with which to defend Tennessee and the West. This army in his hands would have overwhelmed Hood on the banks of the Tennessee River, or followed him in any direction he might have chosen for retreat, had he there refused to fight.
The well-organized infantry forces which had been promised to General Thomas embraced about thirty-two thousand men. The available cavalry, largely dismounted and scattered in detachments throughout the division, was about twelve thousand strong. The two divisions of the Sixteenth corps promised early In November in Tennessee, did not arrive at Nashville until the 30th. From this cause, and owing- to the expiration of the terms of service of many regiments, and the absence of other regiments that had been sent North to vote, his army grew less rather than greater, at a time when reenforcements were most needed.
The Fourth corps arrived at Chattanooga, October 29th and was
sent by General Thomas to Athens, Alabama. Hood had then thrown some of
his troops across the river at Florence. On the 29th, Thomas repeated
application to Commander Pennock for gunboats to go up the Tennessee
and embarrass, If not prevent, the crossing of the enemy at that point.
He also telegraphed to General Rosecrans to send the promised divisions
of the Sixteenth corps. November 5th Schofield arrived at Nashville
the advance of his corps. He had been sent in consequence of the
of Thomas, that he was sure that Stanley's force was not large enough
drive Hood's whole army back. With the arrival of Schofield, there came
a report from Johnsonville that an attack upon that important place, by
Forrest's cavalry, was imminent.
Page 265 - AWAITING DEVELOPMENTS
Thereupon, Thomas sent Schofield thither. The latter arrived at Johnsonville in the evening of the 5th, and immediately reported that the enemy had retired. He was then directed to leave a sufficient force to hold the place, and to proceed to Pulaski and take command of the troops at that place, in pursuance of orders previously given. The Fourth corps was already there.
Badeau states that the whole of the Twenty-third corps was sent to Johnsonville, and that "more than a week was lost by this diversion." * But the last division of that corps did not arrive at Nashville until the 9th, so that in reality not a day was lost in the movement of the corps to the support of Stanley. It will hardly be questioned that it was important to maintain the river line of supply through Johnsoriville. This place was ninety miles from Nashville, and for this distance only was the line guarded by land forces. Beyond, the gunboats had the mastery of the rivers. Had there been delay in the movement of the Twenty-third corps by the diversion of a part of it to Johnsonville, the importance of that place as connecting the river and railroad transportation justified the action of Thomas, especially since at that time he expected to fight Hood in Southern Tennessee. He had telegraphed to Sherman, October 31st:
"Commanding officer at Johnsonville expects to be attacked daily, and I have no troops to reenforce him, unless the Missouri troops should accidentally get there in time to do so."
Sherman replied :
"The fact that Forrest is down about Johnsonville; while Hood with his infantry is still about Florence, and Tuscumbia gives you time for concentration."
It was evident to General Thomas from the first that he could not prevent Hood's army from crossing the Tennessee, and that the defense of the line of that river west of Stevenson was dependent upon the quick coming of
* Military Hist. U. S. Grant, Vol. III. page 187.
Page 266 - LIFE OF GEORGE H. THOMAS.
the promised reenforcements. The water in the river having fallen, the gunboats could render no assistance. Thomas' only hope therefore was, that he could retard Hood's advance before he could gather his forces for a decisive battle. His first step was, to throw the Fourth and Twenty-third corps on the anticipated line of the enemy's advance, keeping his cavalry before his foremost forces. But as it was not improbable that Hood would turn towards Huntsville Thomas did not withdraw his troops from Decatur, nor from the Nashville and Chattanooga railroad. He nevertheless moved all that could be spared from Chattanooga to that road, at Stevenson, to await developments.
October 29th General Sherman telegraphed :
If necessary breakup all minor points and get about Columbia, as big an army as you can, and go at him. You may hold all the cavalry and new troops, except new artillery, assigned to the corps with me. I would like Dalton held, but leave that to you; Chattanooga of course and Decatur in connection, with the boats. If, to make up a force adequate, it be necessary, abandon Huntsville, and that line and the Nashville and Decatur road, except so far as it facilitates an army operating toward Florence. I repeat, should the enemy cross the Tennessee in force, abandon all minor points and concentrate your forces at some point where you cover the road from Murfreesboro' to Stevenson.
It should be noted that at this time Sherman desired Thomas to hold Decatur because its maintenance would facilitate the cooperation of the gunboats with the land forces.
Telegraphic communication between Generals Sherman and Thomas was broken November 12th. The last despatches between Nashville and Kingston, having historic importance are inserted in full.
NASHVILLE, November ll, 1864, 9 P. M.
MAJOR-GENERAL SHERMAN :
Following from Granger received to-day. It confirms
reported, position of the enemy:
Page 267 - DESPATCHES OF NOVEMBER ELEVENTH.
DECATUR, 11th, 10 A. M.
"Ten men from Tenth Tennessee made prisoners; escaped Saturday night, from rebels. They confirm report of two corps having crossed. One corps still on south bank. They assert that enemy are still badly off for clothing, many being barefoot, but they are expecting clothing by train. They say railroad is not completed to Tuscumbia, but only to Cherokee, fifteen miles from there. They have train of wagons from Cherokee and one pontoon bridge at foot of the island above old railroad bridge. They say enemy are fortifying. Talk in their camps is they are going to Nashville."
"R. S. GRANGER, Brigadier General."
Stanley from Pulaski reports nothing new. Water still very high. It is hoped the rise would carry off the enemy's bridge. They say it is trestled at both ends with pontoons in the middle. Deserters say Georgia troops are disgusted and are deserting. Received despatch from General Washburne to-day, dated Memphis, 8th. He says advices from Corinth, that but few troops there then; that cavalry have brought up a lot of conscripts, absentees from Hood's army, who went towards Tuscumbia. Also reports enemy repairing road from Cherokee to Tuscumbia. About 29th ultimo four thousand rebel soldiers came down Blue Mountain railroad to Selma, and were sent to Hood by the way of Meridian and Corinth; also ten car-loads ammunition from Selma. The impression is that Beauregard intends to make Corinth his base, supplies being sent up constantly on the Mobile and Ohio railroad, He was to send out cavalry reconnoissance 9th, but says his force is not strong enough to threaten Mobile and Ohio railroad much. Have not heard from General A, J. Smith's troops since last report but daily expecting him here. No reports from Hatch or Croxton to-day. Rear Admiral Lee informs me, he is pushing to put one ironclad on Tennessee River, one on Cumberland, with a third convenient to be placed on either according to necessity of the case.
GEO. H THOMAS, Major-General
HEADQUARTERS MILITARY DIVISION OF THE MISSISSIPPI.In
Field, Kingston, Ga., November 11, 1864
MAJOR-GENERAL THOMAS, Nashville, Tennessee :
Despatch to-night received. All right. I can hardly
Beauregard would attempt to work against Nashville from Corinth, as a
at this stage of the war, but all information seems to point that
Page 268 - LIFE OF .GENERAL GEORGE H. THOMAS.
If he does you will whip him out of his boots. But I think you will find commotion in his camp in a day or two. Last night we burned Rome, and in two days more will burn Atlanta, and he must discover that I am not retreating, but on the contrary, fighting for the very heart of Georgia,. About a division of rebel cavalry made its appearance this morning south of the Coosa River, opposite Rome, and fired on the rear guard as it withdrew. Also two days ago some of lverson's cavalry --- about eight hundred --- approached Atlanta from the direction of Decatur, with a section of guns and swept round toward Whitehall and disappeared in the direction of Rough and Ready. These also seem to indicate that Beauregard expected us to retreat. I hear of about fifteen hundred infantry down at Carrollton, and also some infantry at Jonesboro’, but what number I cannot estimate. These are all the enemy I know to be in this neighborhood, though rumor is that Breckinridge has arrived with some from West Virginia. To-morrow I begin the movement laid down. in my Special Field Order 115, and shall keep things moving thereafter. By to-morrow morning all trains will be at or north of Kingston, and you can have the exclusive use of all the rolling stock. By using detachments of recruits and dismounted cavalry in your fortifications, you will have Schofield and Stanley and A. J. Smith, strengthened by eight or ten new regiments and all of Wilson's cavalry, you could safely invite Beauregard across the Tennessee, and prevent his ever returning. I still believe, however, that the public clamor will force him to turn and follow me, in which event you should cross at Decatur and move directly towards Selma, as far as you can transport supplies. The probabilities are the wires will be broken to-morrow and that all communication will cease between us; but I have directed the main line to be left and will use it, if possible, and wish you to do the same. You may act however on the certainty that I sally from Atlanta on the 16th with about sixty thousand men well-provisioned, but expecting to live liberally on the country.
W. T. SHERMAN, Major-General
NASHVILLE, November 12th 1864, 8.30 A. M.
Your despatch of 12 o'clock last night received. I have no fears that Beauregard can do us any harm now, and if he attempts to follow you I will follow him as far as possible. If he does not follow you, I will then thoroughly organize my troops, and, I believe, shall have men enough to ruin him unless he gets out of the way very rapidly. The country of Middle Alabama, I learn, is teeming with supplies this year, which will be greatly to our advantage. I have no additional news to report from the direction of Florence. I am now convinced, that the greater part of Beauregard's army is near Florence and Tuscumbia, and that you will at least have a clear road before you for several days, and that your success will fully equal your. expectations.
GEORGE H. THOMAS, Major-General.
Page 269 - SHERMAN'S MEMORY AT FAULT
From Cartersville, Georgia, General Sherman simply acknowledged receipt of the last despatch.
In his "Memoirs," General Sherman makes this statement in regard to these despatches:
On the 11th General Thomas and I exchanged full despatches. He had. heard of the arrival of General A. J. Smith's two divisions at Paducah, which would surely reach Nashville much sooner than General Hood could possibly do from Florence, so that he was perfectly satisfied with his share of the army. *
And in a letter to General Grant, dated Savannah, December 16th, he wrote:
I myself am somewhat astonished at the attitude of things in Tennessee. I purposely delayed at Kingston until General Thomas assured me that he was all ready; and my last despatch from him of the 12th of November was full of confidence, in which he promised me that he would ruin Hood if he dared to advance from Florence, urging me to go ahead and give myself no concern about Hood's army in Tennessee.
General Sherman could not have had these despatches before him when
he made these allegations, or he certainly would have avoided so
an interpretation of them, General Thomas did not state that he had
of the arrival of A. J. Smith's two divisions at Paducah, but said that
he had "heard nothing from him since last report." He did not assure
that he was all ready; he did not urge him to go ahead, nor did he
unconditionally that he would ruin Hood if he advanced from Florence.
* Memoirs, Vol. II., page 169.
Page 270 - LIFE OF GENERAL GEORGE H. THOMAS.
Florence. In reply to Sherman's despatch of the 11th, which mentioned the forces that were coming to him, he simply said, that in the event of the enemy declining to follow Sherman, he would organize these promised troops and expressed the belief that he would have enough to ruin Beauregard, "unless he gets out of the way very rapidly." Thomas was conscious on the 12th of November that he was not then prepared to engage the enemy. Smith's troops were expected at Nashville at this time, and Thomas' promises to Grant and to Sherman were made in expectation that these troops would join his other forces before Hood's army would advance from Florence.
October 25th Thomas said to General Grant: '" If Rosecrans' troops can reach Eastport early next week, I shall have no further fears, and will set to work to prepare for our advance as Sherman has directed should Beauregard follow him," At that time he expected to meet Hood in Southern Tennessee, or to be in readiness to pursue him should he follow Sherman, as Sherman had repeatedly predicted.
When General Sherman turned south from Kingston, and severed his
connection with Nashville, General Thomas became an independent
HOOD ADVANCES TOWARDS' NASHVILLE - INSTRUCTIONS OF GENERAL THOMAS
TO GENERAL SCHOFIELD - OPERATIONS AT COLUMBIA AND SPRING HILL -
BATTLE OF FRANKLIN - CONCENTRATION AT NASHVILLE.
For several days after the 12th the only indication of Hood's advance was the improvement of his bridges; but on the 10th, his forward movement was fully developed. Then General Thomas knew that the only policy which was practicable was to check Hood's movements, whenever it was possible, until the National army was strong enough to meet its opponent in battle.
With the full development, of Hood's movement obstacles to successful resistance multiplied on every hand. Thomas could not obtain horses and equipments for his dismounted cavalry, although he had sent his horseless troopers to Louisville to meet them. Fresh troops did not arrive in numbers equal to the veterans who were daily going north, and General A. J. Smith's divisions were long delayed en route. *
* ''HEADQUARTERS DEPARTMENT MISSOURI" St. Louis, November 7, 1864 -- 4 P. M.
"MAJOR GENERAL THOMAS.
"General A. J. Smith's command, formerly Generals A. J. Smith and Mower's divisions, numbering nine thousand effective men, will commence leaving here as early as the tenth instant: for Paducah, Kentucky, with orders to report arrival at that place to you by telegraph, the Sixty-first Illinois volunteers, numbering fully two hundred and sixty effective veterans left here for Paducah yesterday, and the Seventy-second Illinois volunteers, numbering six hundred effective men, was to leave Cairo last night, or this morning, for Paducah. There will also leave here within next four days in addition to the troops herein before named six regiments and two batteries numbering over four thousand effective men. Four of these regiment; and one battery will be off to-day, these troops have been directed to report to the commanding officer at Paducah until the arrival of General A. J. Smith, and then to report to him, unless otherwise ordered by you. There is about three hundred effective cavalry of Winslow's command that did not go forward in pursuit of Price beyond La Mine Bridge which will reach here in four days from this time, under order of Major General Sherman, to go to Memphis. If you desire it to accompany General Smith, who wants it very much, you are authorized to so order it from here. The remainder of Winslow's cavalry is with Generals Rosecrans and Curtis' cavalry continuing the pursuit of Price, and it will be some time before it will be back. Major General Rosecrans may be able to send you more troops than are mentioned in this dispatch. He will at least use every exertion in doing so. Should you desire any change in the orders as to the destination of these troops, please communicate the desired change to Generals Rosecrans and Smith at this place who will at once make it for the troops under their-respective commands.
"By command of Lieutenant General U.S. GRANT
JOHN A. RAWLINS, Brigadier General and Chief of
Page 272 - LIFE OF GENERAL GEORGE H. THOMAS.
For several days the situation was alarmingly unpromising. Adequate
resources had not been given to Thomas to prevent invasion of
Hood had been bold enough to move to the rear of an army of nearly one
hundred thousand men; had captured garrisons in front of that great
after it had faced to the north; had encamped his army where General
massed his forces to crush Rosecrans; and then had turned westward with
purpose of ulterior aggression. Hood was now advancing towards
and the game of war had been so played that the general who had been
ample forces to maintain the line of the Tennessee, had not been able
concentrate thirty thousand men before him without endangering
points for which great battles had been fought. And the strategy which
embraced all operations East and West had put in jeopardy all that had
been gained in the central theatre of war, by depriving Thomas of
of his army at a time when it was possible for the enemy to reenforce
from the west bank of the Mississippi, and give him overwhelming
The vigilance of General Canby and his subordinate commanders in
the great river in steamers, and in guarding the crossings, with land
defeated a combination which had it been
Page 273 - CANBY’S IMPORTANT SERVICE
effected would have reversed the military status in the West. Fortunately for the country Canby rendered a service which has never been appreciated, but one which made it possible for Thomas, though later than the national fear and General Grant's impatience demanded, to annihilate one of the two armies upon which the existence of the Southern Confederacy depended.
October 18th Canby sent the following despatch to Sherman:
NEW ORLEANS, October 18, 1864.
I learn from an intercepted despatch from Jeff Davis to Kirby Smith, dated Montgomery on the 30th, that the orders to cross the Mississippi River had been received. I presume that a duplicate of this dispatch reached Kirby Smith, as Magruder's force, about eighteen or twenty thousand men, suddenly left General Steel's front and moved in, the direction of Washita River. I have sent a fast boat to communicate this intelligence to the troops and gun boats on the river. And as I have about eight thousand troops afloat, and will at once increase the number, I think the crossing can be prevented. The crossing will probably be attempted in the neighborhood of Gaines Landing.
E. R. S. CANBY, Major-General.
To show that General Canby discerned the plan of the enemy, a paragraph from a despatch of General N. J. T. Dana, sent from Vicksburg Nov. 8th, addressed to either General Sherman or General Thomas, and received by the latter, after the former had marched to the south, is here quoted:
The enemy is threatening to cross to the east side
the Mississippi River at Gaines
Landing where Major-General Reynolds is ready for them. *
*The writer to General Canby, at Portland, Oregon, a short time
his death, " I have traced an intimate connection between your
on the Mississippi River and those of General Thomas in Tennessee
in November and December 1841, in defeating the enemy's plan of
This connection seems to have been overlooked by historians." He
replied " Such a connection did exist, and my efforts were directed to
prevent the crossing of the Mississippi after River by the western
forces that made efforts to do so in pursuance of orders from the
President, This I found out from an intercepted despatch to Kirby
Smith, of which I informed General Sherman." He then produced a
of this despatch in cipher, and laughing said; '' I cannot now read it,
but it was deciphered at the time."
Page 274 - LIFE OF GENERAL GEORGE H. THOMAS.
That this plan of campaign was known at Washington is evident from the following despatch:
WAR DEPARTMENT, Washington, November 6, 1864--r p. M.
LIEUTENANT-GENERAL GRANT, City Point, Va,
What I meant about Canby was whether, considering the uncertainty of Sherman's movements and the large force with which Beauregard was operating against Thomas and the Mississippi River, it would, not be best for Canby to give up sending troops to the coast of Georgia, and operate against Beauregard the best he could from the Mississippi River. I understand that the Mobile and Ohio railroad has been repaired as far north as Corinth, which is made Beauregard's depot, and that the Mississippi and Tennessee railroad is repaired to Holly Springs. I also learn from Generals Dana and M. L, Smith, that the enemy are preparing to occupy the left bank of the Mississippi, so as to secure the crossing of Kirby Smith's forces to the east side. General Curtis reached Fayetteville, Ark. on the 2nd , and raised the rebel siege of that place. He then pushed on for Fort Smith, where General Thayer is besieged, and will probably reach there to-night or to-morrow. Whether Steel is doing anything I cannot learn. At any rate Price will be disposed of within the next two or three days, and it seemed to me that if Canby were relieved from the proposed expedition to the Georgia coast he could, with Reynolds' forces, with what Steel could spare, and with what he could collect on the Mississippi River, so operate on Beauregard's communications as to greatly relieve Sherman and Thomas. From all the despatches and telegrams received here, it seems that Beauregard is collecting into West Tennessee and Northern Mississippi every man he can raise in Mississippi, Alabama, and Georgia.
H. W. HALLECK, Major-General, Chief of Staff.
This grand plan of the Confederate leaders had been formed to be put
upon trial against all the National forces in the West. It
was defeated by Thomas and Canby
Page 275 - DAVIS' VIEWS OF THE SITUATION
Sherman with more than sixty thousand men had gone to the sea.
During the period of Sherman's inaction in Northern Georgia, neither Beauregard nor Hood was ignorant of his purpose to march southward. But it was not their intention to follow him with Hood's army. It was expected that their own campaign in Tennessee and Kentucky would compensate for any harm Sherman might do in Georgia. Mr. Davis was consulted, and his views were expressed in the following communication:
RICHMOND, November 7th , 1864.
GENERAL J. B. HOOD.
No troops can have been sent by Grant or Sheridan to Nashville. The latter attempted to reenforce the former but Early's movements prevented it, That fact will assure you as to their condition and purpose. The policy of taking advantage of the reported division of his (Sherman's) forces when he cannot re-unite his army is too obvious to have been overlooked by you. I therefore take it for granted that you have not been able to avail yourself of that advantage, during his march northward from Atlanta. Hope the opportunity will be offered before he is extensively recruited. If you keep his communications destroyed, he will most probably seek to concentrate for an attack on you. But if, as reported to you, he has sent a large part of his force southward, you may first beat him in detail, and subsequently, without serious obstruction or danger to the country in your rear, advance to the Ohio River,
General Hood inferred that his proposition to invade Tennessee was
approved by the Confederate President, since his approval was
upon the defeat of Sherman in detail before this step should be taken.
The difficulty of properly supplying and equipping his army was an
to an early advance, and the failure of the western Confederate forces
to cross the Mississippi River made him cautious while General Sherman
was near enough to give trouble. Hood lost nearly a month
account of supplies. But when Sherman began his march from
Page 276 - LIFE OF GENERAL GEORGE H. THOMAS.
was deemed impracticable for Hood to follow him, owing to the great distance between the two armies; besides such a step would be regarded as a retreat, and consequently would be more disheartening to the Confederate army and the Southern people than to offset aggression in Georgia by an offensive campaign in Tennessee. And it was believed that the opportunity to defeat the National forces in that State had come. The subjoined passage from Hood's report reveals his conception of the situation and his hopes:
When our army arrived at Florence it had entirely recovered from the depression, that frequent retreats had created, The enemy having for the first time divided his forces, I had to determine which of the two parts to direct my operations against. To follow the forces about to move through Georgia under Sherman would be to again abandon the required territory to the forces under Thomas, with little hope of being able to reach the enemy in time to defeat his movement, and also to cause desertion and greatly impair the morale, or fighting spirit, of the army, by what would be considered a compulsory retreat.
I thought the alternative clear that I should move upon Thomas. If I succeeded in beating him, the effect of Sherman's movement would not be great and I should gain in men. sufficiently to compensate for the damages he might inflict. If beaten I should leave the army in better condition than it would be if I attempted a retrograde move merit against Sherman.
When Hood's aggressive movement was developed Stanley's corps was at
Pulaski; Cox's division of the Twenty-third corps was on the Columbia
north of Pulaski; Ruger's division was on Duck River holding the
at Columbia, Williamsport, Gordon's Ferry and Centreville; and the
forces under Generals Hatch and Croxton and Colonel Capron, were in
of the enemy near Florence. Thomas had relieved the two brigades left
Schofield at Johnsonville, and had sent them to Duck River early in the
month. General Schofield had in hand eighteen thousand infantry and
Page 277 - HIS INSTRUCTIONS TO SCHOFIELD.
brigades of cavalry. His instructions from General Thomas were;
If the enemy advance in force as General Hatch* believes, have everything in readiness to fight him at Pulaski, if he advances on that place, or cover the railroad and concentrate at Columbia. Should he attempt to turn your right flank, in the latter case, that is, the attempt to turn your right flank, General Hatch should cover the fords and ferries across Duck River and hold them when. you concentrate at Columbia.
The policy indicated was to be continued until sufficient forces were concentrated to fight a battle. The enemy quickly turned Pulaski by advancing, on the roads west of the place, but by a forced night-march the Fourth corps and Cox's division of the Twenty-third corps reached Columbia before Hood. It was equally impracticable to prevent the turning of Columbia. Schofield placed his infantry before the town on the south bank of Duck River and constructed fortifications. Wilson's cavalry was posted up and down the stream to watch against turning movements on right or left. During the 24th and 25th , the enemy skirmished with dismounted cavalry and on the 26th and 27th , he pressed against the National forces with infantry but made no assault.
On the 24th, Thomas telegraphed:
If you cannot hold Columbia you had better withdraw to the north bank of the river. From the description given, I supposed the line was sufficiently short to enable you and Stanley to hold itsecurely and have a reserve.
The next day he said:
In case you have to move to the north bank of Duck River, I wish you to keep some cavalry on the south side of it, to observe and delay Hood's advance on Chattanooga railroad as much as possible.
*General Wilson had not yet gone to the front, being
at Nashville in mounting and equipping his men.
Page 278 - LIFE OF GENERAL GEORGE H. THOMAS.
And on the 27th:
Your despatch of 10 A. M.. yesterday received: I will send you all available infantry I can raise. I expect some of Smith's command here to-day and will send. it forward as rapidly as possible.
On the night of the 27th , Schofield crossed from the town to the north bank. Hood's plan was, to feign with two divisions of cavalry, to hold Schofield at Columbia, until he could move seven divisions of infantry and all his cavalry to the rear of the National army, and thus effect its overthrow.* This scheme was so nearly accomplished that its final failure was one of the most remarkable events of the war. Its success in the first stages was due to the fact that Schofield retained his position at Columbia, after a turning movement was fully developed, and against the explicit instructions of Thomas.
On the 28th Thomas telegraphed to Schofield:
If General Wilson. cannot succeed in. driving back the enemy, should it prove true that he has crossed the river, you will necessarily have to make preparations to take up a new position at Franklin behind Harpeth, immediately, if it becomes necessary to fall back.
This was in answer to General Schofield's report on the 27th , as follows:
My information though not very satisfactory leads me to believe that Hood intends to cross Duck River above Columbia, and as near it as he can, I shall withdraw to the north bank to-night and endeavor to prevent him from crossing.
This withdrawal was simply from the town to the north bank. During the 28th , Wilson became fully satisfied, that the enemy was moving to turn the position, and so informed Schofield and Thomas.
On the 28th , Schofield telegraphed:
The enemy has crossed in force a short distance this side of the Lewisburg pike, Lewisburg pike, at noon to-day, and has driven our cavalry back across the river on that pike at the same time. The force is reported to be infantry, but I do not regard it as being probable. Wilson has gone with his main force to learn the facts and drive the enemy back, if possible.
* See "Advance and Retreat," page 283.
Page 279 - HIS INSTRUCTIONS TO SCHOFIELD
At this time, and subsequently, General Schofield believed that Hood had an army of fifty thousand men before Columbia. In Schofield's official report he gave the following estimate of Hood's strength:
The enemy's force was variously estimated at from thirty to forty thousand infantry, and from ten to twenty thousand cavalry; the largest estimate for the infantry and the smallest for the cavalry are most probably, nearly accurate.
To give opportunity for an army, which, according to his own words, was more than double his own strength, to reach his rear, was to invite his own overthrow, and with it the most direful consequences to the National cause. His instructions from General Thomas were explicit in forbidding the maintenance of position at Columbia until such an emergency was possible.
At 3.30 A. M., on the 29th , Thomas telegraphed:
I desire you to fall back from Columbia and take up your position at Franklin, leaving a sufficient force at Spring Hill, to contest the enemy's progress until you are securely posted at Franklin.
He then had hope that General Smith's divisions would arrive in time to fight the enemy at Franklin.
At 8.30 A. M. Schofield replied:
The enemy's cavalry has crossed in force on the
pike, and General Wilson reports the infantry crossing above Huey's
about five miles from this place. I have sent an infantry
to learn the facts. If it proves true, I will act according to your
of the morning.
Page 280 - LIFE OF GENERAL GEORGE H. THOMAS
General Wilson thus explains his action in his official report:-
By this time (between 7 and 8 P.M.) it had become evident that the entire rebel cavalry force (three divisions), had crossed, and were directing their march towards the Lewisburg pike, an excellent macadamized road, leading to Franklin, and therefore at 8 P. M, I sent a despatch by courier to General Schofield, informing him of the fact, and that no part of Forrest's force, up to dark, had moved towards the Franklin pike. During the night several prisoners were brought in, from whom I received valuable information. At 1 A. M., I sent a despatch to General Schofield, informing him that the force which had crossed at Huey's mill was Forrest's corps of cavalry, consisting of Chalmers', Jackson's, and Buford's divisions, and Biffie's regiment; that the rebel infantry were to have begun crossings two hours before, by three pontoon bridges, under construction at the same place. Believing this information to be perfectly correct, I therefore suggested that our infantry should reach Spring Hill by 10 A. M., of that day, I regarded my force too small, with Hammond's and Stewart's brigades absent, to cover the Lewisburg pike, and at the same time the dirt roads leading to Spring Hill; and believing that General Schofield, with the infantry, would have plenty of time, marching by the Franklin turnpike, to reach Spring Hill, or any intermediate point, before the enemy, marching by bad dirt roads, made worse by the heavy rains which had recently fallen, I determined to keep my entire force on the Lewisburg turnpike, and hold the enemy as long as I could, hoping by good management to get no farther back that day than to the Ridge meeting-house.
It is therefore manifest that General Wilson, whose duty it was to discover the intentions and movements of the enemy informed General Schofield that a turning movement was developed, advising his immediate withdrawal from Columbia, and that General Thomas, at 3.30 A. M. on the 29th , directed him to withdraw and take position at Franklin.
Supposing that his instructions of 3.30 A. M. had been obeyed, and that his army was then at Franklin, at 11 P. M., Thomas telegraphed to Schofield at that place:
General Wilson has telegraphed me very fully the
of the enemy yesterday and this morning. He believes Forrest is aiming
to strike this place, while the infantry will move against you, and
to get on your flank. If you discover such to be his movement you had
cross Harpeth at Franklin, and then retire along
Franklin pike to this place, covering your wagon train, and the
Page 281 - MOVEMENT TO SPRING HILL.
But at the date of this despatch, Wood's division, followed by Kimball's, was approaching Spring Hill, having two divisions of the enemy in their rear, and coming into the immediate presence of seven divisions of infantry, and all of the enemy's cavalry. This situation, so exceedingly critical, together with the dangers of the day, had resulted from the operations of the two armies on the 29th .
General Schofield, in his official report, thus describes the situation during the 28th and the morning of the 29th:
The crossings below Columbia were guarded by General Ruger's infantry, and General Wilson had all his cavalry, save one brigade, to guard the river above. The troops rested in this position, during the 28th , and I had strong hopes of being able to hold the line of Duck River, until reenforcements should arrive. But I learned from General Wilson about 3 A. M., on the 29th , that the enemy's cavalry had forced a crossing near the Lewisburg piles, and about daylight in the morning, that his infantry was also crossing at Huey's mills, five miles above Columbia, from which, a road leads into the Franklin pike at Spring Hill. The enemy might endeavor to reach the latter place in advance of me, and thus cut off my retreat, or strike me in flank near Duck River, or both. He had already forced a column of cavalry between General Wilson and me, and cut off all communication between us. I therefore sent General Stanley with a division of infantry on one line to Spring Hill to hold that point and cover the trains; General Cox was left in. his position to hold the crossing at Columbia; Generals Wood and Kimball were put in line, facing Huey's mills with a. brigade thrown forward to reconnoiter, and General Ruger was ordered to move on to the pike, in. rear of Rutherford's Creek, leaving one regiment to hold the ford near the railroad bridge, the bridges having been destroyed.
In compliance with orders, General Stanley at 8 A. M. moved to. the
rear with Wagner's and Kimball's divisions, the trains, and ambulances,
and all artillery that could be spared. By the time he reached
Creek which was bridgeless, the enemy's turning movement was plainly
Colonel Post's brigade, from General Wood's
Page 282 - LIFE OF GENERAL GEORGE H. THOMAS.
division had reconnoitered up Duck River, and had reported that Hood's infantry were crossing the river and advancing towards Spring Hill. To guard against a flank attack at Rutherford's Creek, Kimball's division was left on the south bank. With Wagner's division alone Stanley proceeded to Spring Hill. By this time General Hood had advanced so far in the execution of his plan, as to place his army in Schofield's rear, and to him, doubtless, its complete success was then assured, Having left two divisions of Lee's corps to maintain the feint upon Schofield's position at Columbia, Hood had at dawn of day, led Cheatham's and Stewards corps, and one division of Lee's across the pontoon bridges, and advanced at their head on the road leading from Huey's mills to Spring Hill. Forrest's cavalry had preceded Hood on the Lewisburg road, following Wilson till well abreast of Spring Hill, and then turning towards that place. So that at 11.30 A. M. when Stanley with Wagner's division was within two miles of Spring Hill he was informed that the enemy's cavalry was approaching from the east. Thereupon the division moved rapidly forward and drove Forrest from the place. Stanley then directed .General Wagner to form as long a line as possible with Opdycke's and Lane's brigades to cover the trains and the town, and throw Bradley's brigade forward to the front and right, to a wooded knoll about three fourths of a mile to the east, to guard the approaches from that direction.
Meanwhile Hood had left four divisions of his infantry under Stewart, at the crossing of Rutherford's Creek on his line of march, two and a half miles from Spring Hill, to guard against Schofield's escape to the defenses of Murfreesboro', and was advancing upon Stanley with Cheatham's corps.
At this juncture Schofield's forces were widely scattered. Cox's
was on the bank of Duck River, opposite Columbia. Kimball's division
Page 283 - SPRING HILL.
back from Rutherford's Creek to join Wood's, and these two divisions were faced to the east as against the enemy approaching from Huey's mill. One half of Ruger's division was far down Duck River, without orders to join the main arm, and the other half was on the Franklin turnpike at the crossing of Rutherford's Creek. While Schofield's forces were thus scattered, Hood had seven divisions of infantry and all his cavalry within supporting distance, near Stanley's single division at Spring Hill, as General Wilson had, in his despatch of 1 P. M..predicted they would be. A more critical situation could hardly be imagined for an army of inferior strength. During the forenoon and first hours of the afternoon Colonel Post had frequently reported from his position up the river that the enemy's forces were moving northward from Huey's mill, and although his reports had been promptly sent. by General Wood to General Schofield, it was not until 3 P. M.. that the latter became convinced that the enemy had turned his position.
General Schofield in his official report thus mentioned his conviction and his consequent dispositions:
About 3 P. M., I became satisfied that the enemy would not attack my position on Duck River, but was pushing two corps direct for Spring Hill. I then gave the necessary orders for the withdrawal of the troops after dark, and took General Ruger's troops and pushed for Spring Hill to reopen communication with General Stanley, and was followed, at a short distance, by the head of the main column.
At the same hour, 3 P. M., Hood at the head of Cheatham's corps was
within two miles of Spring Hill, and looking upon the trains and
under guard of a single division, eight miles from the nearest support,
gave orders to General Cheatham to advance his corps, take possession
.the road at or near Spring Hill, and to hold it, promising support by
the four divisions then so near. But, notwithstanding Stanley with one
division was in complete isolation from noon until 7 P. M., the time of
Schofield's arrival at Spring Hill with half of
Page 284 - LIFE OF GENERAL GEORGE H. THOMAS.
Ruger's division, there was no fighting that imperiled Stanley. Hood had detachments of cavalry north and west of the town, three divisions of infantry directly before it, and four others near by; and yet no attack was made, except by Cleburne's division late in the afternoon, when it fell furiously on Bradley's brigade. After a sharp conflict Bradley was compelled to fall back to the rear of the right of Lane's line immediately before the town. As Cleburne advanced, he received a heavy fire of eight pieces of artillery, posted by General Stanley near the town, and also an enfilading volley from Lane's more advanced troops. A vigorous attack in the afternoon by a corps of infantry supported by a strong force of cavalry would have necessarily overwhelmed a single unsupported division of infantry. The reason given by Cheatham, as reported by General Hood, for not attacking, was "that the line looked a little too long for him and that Stewart should first form on his right."* And this statement is sustained by the fact that Cheatham restrained Bate from attacking with his division, when under orders from Hood to do so.
The line formed by Lane's and Opdycke's brigades was indeed long,
consequently very weak, since nearly all their regiments were greatly
in an attenuated skirmish line. Colonel Lane held the Ninety-seventh
immediately in front of the town, placing the One Hundredth Illinois
a mile in advance, one company of the Fortieth Indiana between them as
flankers, and the remainder of his brigade, to the left of the One
Illinois as skirmishers. Colonel Opdycke on the left of Lane, stretched
out his brigade to a very great length, and kept his slender reserves
constant motion from the cover of the woods to open view to deceive the
enemy as to the strength of the force in his front.
* "Advance and Retreat," p. 286.
Page 285 - SPRING HILL
Effort was made by Hood late in the evening to place Stewart's corps on. the right of Cheatham on the Franklin road, but night fell before the movement had been effected. It is hardly credible that seven divisions of infantry and three of cavalry completely surrounded one small division and the wagon trains of the army, and yet they neither attacked the slender line, nor held the road north of Spring Hill with a strong force. General Hood has given to history as the reason for the loss of one of the most promising opportunities ever offered to a general, the disobedience of a subordinate. Had Wagner's division been crushed, even late in the evening, the escape of the troops south of Spring Hill would have been impossible, except through the blunders of the enemy, Ten divisions, including cavalry, would have been before them on their direct line of retreat to Franklin and Nashville, and two in their rear. Against such odds and such disadvantages of position, three divisions and a half, scattered for miles along a single road could hardly have escaped utter destruction.
In moving from Rutherford's Creek with Ruger's troops, General
found the enemy upon the road south of Spring Hill, but not in such
as to arrest his movements. Schofield arrived at Stanley's position at
7 P. M., the hour when the movement of the three remaining divisions
Columbia began, and learning that the enemy was on the road north of
Hill, went forward three miles to Thompson's Station to find only
camp fires, where Forrest's troopers had been stationed to prevent the
retreat of our army during the night. Returning at midnight, General
met Cox's division, which in turn was joined by Wood's and Kimball's.
the withdrawal of General Cox from the bank of Duck River, the two
of Lee's corps which had kept up the feint with vigor during the day,
from the town and then pressed upon the rear of Kimball's division as
moved towards Spring Hill. The head of each division found the enemy on
the road south of that: place, and Kimball skirmished with the enemy in
Page 286 - LIFE OF GENERAL GEORGE H. THOMAS.
The danger to the little army did not pass away with Hood's failure to put his forces on its line of retreat, but at 12 P. M., the situation at Spring Hill was still exceedingly critical. There were possibilities, still open to the enemy, that threatened the loss of a train of five hundred wagons and many of the troops. It was only necessary for Hood to advance his lines a few hundred yards to fire into troops and trains as they passed along the front of his army. At the town there was a bridge so narrow that two wagons could not pass it abreast, and yet the army, with the artillery and wagons could only be saved by crossing it before daylight. At 10 P. M.. General Schofield at the head of his own corps' moved on to Franklin, leaving General Stanley with his corps and the train of the army in front of the enemy. With admirable skill, however, Stanley sent the train over the narrow bridge, and covering it with a line of troops all the way to Franklin, snatched, his corps and the appointments of the army from Hood's inclosing grasp.
At Spring Hill General Hood lost the great opportunity of his campaign. He had thrown ten-twelfths of his army twelve miles in Schofield's rear, and he could have attacked an inferior army widely scattered. His advantages even as against Stanley after Schofield and the Twenty-third corps had moved towards Franklin, were far beyond ordinary precedents, One small corps, encumbered with its artillery and the trains of the army, would have been an easy prey had Hood ordered an advance, when he knew that troops and train as they slipped from his grasp were almost touching the guns of his pickets.
For the situation at Spring Hill, General Thomas was in no way
He had first given contingent orders for the withdrawal of the army
Columbia whenever a turning movement should be developed. He then had
Page 287 - FRANKLIN.
positively ordered a withdrawal fifteen hours before the last divisions began their retreat from Columbia; but even without these orders Schofield had ample information and advice from Wilson to justify the movement at early dawn.
The march of the enemy from Spring Hill to Franklin, retarded as it was, by the spirited skirmishing of Opdycke's brigade as rear guard to our army, consumed the greater part of the following day.
General Thomas did not expect a battle at Franklin. He had not been able to gather his forces to offer battle, and at 11 P. M.., on the 29th he had ordered General Schofield to retire from Franklin to Nashville, should the enemy develop a movement to turn Franklin.
Thomas had left nothing undone that he deemed practicable, to gather an army of adequate proportions, having resorted, even, to requests for militia from the North. He had been authorized to call for militia by General Sherman, who had written, November 2nd,
"To make all things sure you can call on the Governors of Kentucky and Indiana for some militia, cautioning them against a stampede, no matter what occurs. Try and avoid, as I know you will, all false alarms."
As soon as the direction of Hood's immediate advance from Florence had been clearly indicated, Thomas had withdrawn the troops from Decatur and united them with Steedman's command on the Nashville and Chattanooga railroad in provision for resistance should the Confederate army turn towards that road. General Smith's advance arrived at Nashville on the 30th but not in time to reenforce Schofield that day.
The action at Franklin occurred in the afternoon of the 30th.
Upon arriving at Franklin, General Schofield had given personal
to the repair of the bridges, that his artillery and trains might pass
to the north bank of the Harpeth as quickly as possible, leaving
Cox commanding the Twenty-third corps to put in position to
Page 288 - LIFE OF GENERAL GEORGE H. THOMAS.
defend the crossing, that corps and the advance of Stanley's. Cox, with his two divisions, Ruger's and Reilly's, and Kimball's of the Fourth, formed a line around the town from river to river.
By direction of General Schofield, Wood's division moved to the north bank of the Harpeth River to cover the flanks should the enemy attempt to cross above or below the town, and Wagner's division was left in front of the line of battle to retard the enemy's advance. The position assigned to this division was about one-third of a mile from the entrenched line, in open exposure.
Regarding this exposure as needless as well as extremely dangerous, Colonel Opdycke protested against it, and was permitted by General Wagner to take his brigade within the lines. Being familiar with the position, Opdycke posted his brigade in rear of Carter's Hill, -- the key point of the defensive line. It was well that this discretion was permitted since this brigade proved to be the only reserve when the line gave way at Carter's Hill and on each side of that vital point. In this protest Colonel Opdycke did the thinking which in the outcome enabled him and his brigade to render the service which saved the army.
Colonel Lane, later in the day, in a more indirect way, also protested against the position of his brigade in front of the line. He had been stationed on a hill much farther from the main line, and, having observed the formation of the enemy for battle, had sent word that unless withdrawn, his brigade would be captured. When retired from this perilous position, he was ordered to form on the right of Conrad's* brigade of Wagner's division. Lane's line when formed was well refused. Observing the movements early in the afternoon, he became fully confirmed in his belief that Hood intended to attack, and requested Captain, E. G. Whitesides, the adjutant general of the
* General Bradley had been severely wounded at Spring Hill.
Page 289 - FRANKLIN
division, to report that belief to General Wagner. The report was made, and Wagner directed Whitesides to communicate the information to General Stanley, The message was delivered to Stanley in the presence of General Schofield, but the two brigades in advance of the main line were not withdrawn.
These brigades extemporized defenses and awaited the advance of the enemy.
At 4 P. M. Stanley was with Schofield on the north bank of the Harpeth, nearly two miles by the road from the centre of the line of battle, and neither general anticipated an engagement that day. Hitherto Hood had not attacked entrenched lines except in feint at Columbia; and the obstacles to a successful turning movement were not greater at that place than they were at Franklin. Besides, the trains, for which the defensive attitude had been assumed were rapidly crossing the Harpeth and moving on to Nashville. The lateness of the hour also increased the improbability of an action on that day. But these considerations had no weight with General Hood, and having massed his forces heavily in his centre, he hurled them against the two brigades in front.
Conrad’s brigade was more directly in the line of advance but held position until the enemy was upon it. Broken at once by the onset of Hood's army, this brigade fled hurriedly through the fortifications which were abandoned by the troops stationed to hold them, The enemy followed
closely and occupied the defenses. The retirement of Conrad's
exposed Lane's left flank, and he promptly ordered his brigade to fall
back. He was also followed closely by the enemy, but breaking through
own abatis, his brigade entered the entrenchments to the right of the
road, and most of the men having withheld their fire, wheeled at the
and poured a volley into the foremost pursuing troops and then formed a
triple line in the vacant trench,
Page 290 - LIFE OF GENERAL GEORGE H. THOMAS
These brigades as they fell back formed a screen for the enemy, and some of the forces following Conrad passed to the rear of our works at the key-point. Thus the main line was broken by the impact of friends and foes. Carter's Hill was as near the bridges as was the right flank of the army, and almost as near as the other flank. The two batteries captured by the enemy on the line were turned to right and left to enfilade the line, while towards the breach, Hood's massed central forces were rapidly advancing. Opposite the breach, one hundred yards within, there was a single brigade, a self-appointed reserve. Across the river there was a division before Schofield's headquarters, but too far off to give support in the supreme moment. Help from the flanks of the line was impossible.
Had Opdycke and his brave troops waited for orders - the day might have been lost. But there was no delay. Commander and men alike discerned the emergency and the only way to save the army. When Opdycke turned to give the order, he found that his troops unbidden had prepared for the desperate charge, and with bayonets already fixed, they heard the ringing command, "First brigade forward to the lines." And with a heroism, consonant with the supreme exigence, commander and men rushed to the breach and in hand-to-hand fight drove the enemy from Carter's Hill, changed again the direction of the twice captured batteries and saved the army.
From that moment until late at night, the enemy moved in frequent
upon the whole line, but at Carter's Hill the conflict reached the
fury. To this point, General Hood advanced his reserves from every
and although it was, at first, opposite the strong centre of his army,
yet against it, with reckless bravery, division commanders led their
And hither in support of Opdycke, all the rallied troops were thrown.
victory turned upon the quick formation of Lane's brigade in the works,
the gallant action of Opdycke and his brigade, and subsequently upon
stubborn resistance of all the troops in line of battle.
Page 291 - FRANKLIN
The mistake was the posting of the two brigades in front of the line of battle. A small force may retard the advance of army, when in marching order, but such a force only invites disaster, when thrown before an army formed for battle. The object of placing these brigades before the main line was doubtless to check the enemy's advance, and the resistance necessary to effect this result, made their retreat perilous to themselves, and to the army behind them, These brigades were in a false position. They knew that they were expected to resist the enemy, and that the degree of their resistance was to be determined by circumstances rather than by orders. They constructed barricades in sight of the army behind them, and in view of all the generals who turned their eyes to the front. These extemporized defenses were the prophecy of their stubborn resistance. And when Hood's army moved towards them, they had the alternative of retreating without fighting or awaiting the onset of the enemy. They chose to hold their position as long as possible, in compliance with the orders of the division commander.
When General Stanley heard the roar of the opening conflict, he left
the presence of the commanding general and galloped to the line of
and yet he was too late to order the advance of Opdycke's brigade. When
General Cox, commanding at the time all the troops on the south side of
the Harpeth, first perceived that the enemy had gained Carter's Hill,
started an order to Opdycke to move his brigade forward to the breach,
but the quick advance of that brigade, anticipated the order which
in passage. The form of the action was such as to give opportunity for
personal bravery rather than generalship. General Cox displayed wisdom,
in the formation of the line of battle and the construction of breast
This done the repulse of the enemy was effected mainly by the bravery
Page 292 - LIFE OF GENERAL GEORGE H. THOMAS
and brilliant fighting of the men) and the officers with them on the line. But in this service the ranking generals were conspicuous. Stanley's horse was killed under him, and he was himself wounded, when on the line with his troops, Cox was active in rallying the troops that were broken in organization by the first attack of the enemy upon their advanced position, and those that were driven from Carter's Hill; and by voice and gallant bearing in the extreme exposure to the terrific fire of the enemy, inspirited his men throughout the conflict. The division commanders and their troops as a whole were unflinching in their resistance.
The action of Opdycke and his brigade was nevertheless distinctive. The commander rode to Carter's Hill in front of his line, emptying and breaking his pistol, and after his horse was shot, leading his men on foot, he clubbed a musket and fought hand-to-hand with the enemy. Emulating his example the officers and men of his brigade, forced the enemy from the key-point, and held it to the close of the action. Instances of such bravery and success are rare in history. General Hood bore testimony to the splendid morale of his army. And this was evinced by the death of five of his generals, the wounding of six, the death of seventeen hundred and fifty men, and four thousand wounded. And there was equal energy and courage throughout the defensive line from river to river. More than half the losses in the National army, were from Wagner's division. The two brigades posted in front, lost heavily in fighting the centre of Hood's line, and in retreating under fire to our main line. And Opdycke's brigade sustained great loss in driving the enemy from Carter's Hill.
During the day, General Wilson's troopers on the left were
engaged, first in driving back the enemy's cavalry across the Harpeth,
and subsequently in successfully resisting all of Forrest's attempts to
gain the north bank of that river, and fall upon the flank. and, rear
the Union army.
Page 293 - FRANKLIN
This action at Franklin was not a battle in the broad signification of that term. There was no strategy and no maneuvering, except by cavalry. Hood stormed a position virtually fortified, and was repulsed in every assault. The conflict was made possible by the fact that Thomas' orders were not promptly obeyed. The late withdrawal from Columbia, endangered the little army at Spring Hill, and made it possible for Hood to attack at Franklin.
Franklin was as easily turned as Pulaski, or Columbia, and previous to the action of the 30th, General Thomas had decided that it was impracticable to concentrate south of Nashville the forces intended for a general battle and had given orders for the retirement of his army to that place. After the engagement he repeated his orders for this movement. For this action he has been severely censured.
On December 3rd, in a letter to General Sherman, General Grant expressed his opinion that Thomas ought not to have withdrawn his army to Nashville. His language is subjoined:
"Thomas has got back into the defenses of Nashville with Hood close upon him. Decatur has been abandoned and so have all the roads, except the main one leading to Chattanooga. Part of this falling back was undoubtedly necessary, and all of it may have been. It did. not look so, however, to me. In my opinion Thomas far outnumbers Hood in. infantry. In cavalry Hood has the advantage morale and numbers. I hope yet that Hood will be badly crippled, if not destroyed." *
This is positive censure of Thomas for the abandonment of Decatur
the retirement of his army to Nashville, And yet Grant had previously
the abandonment of Decatur. This, however, was previous to Sherman's
movement, and previous to the stipulation that the line of the
was to be held.
* Sherman's Memoirs, Vol. II., p. 205.
Page 294 - LIFE OF GENERAL GEORGE H. THOMAS
On the 13th of October, Grant had telegraphed to General Halleck:
"I think it will be advisable for Major General Thomas now to abandon all the railroad from Columbia to Decatur, thence to Stevenson, This will give him much additional force."
When this opinion was made known to Thomas he replied:
"Forrest's pickets are on the south bank of the river, and if Croxton and Granger were withdrawn, I am satisfied he would push across the river and operate against our direct line of communication with no adequate force to successfully oppose him."
General Thomas held Decatur when there were sound military reasons for doing so, and when there were none, he abandoned the place.
General Sherman also expressed the same opinion as Grant. December 15th, he wrote to Grant:
"Why he did not turn on. him at Franklin after checking and discomfiting him surpasses my understanding. Indeed, I do not approve of his evacuating Decatur, but think he should have assumed the offensive against Hood from Pulaski, in the direction of Waynesburg. I know full well that General Thomas is slow in mind and in action, but he is judicious and brave, and the troops feel great confidence in him. I still hope he will out-maneuver and destroy Hood." *
It had been the intention of Thomas from the first to avoid a general battle until Smith's divisions could be united with Schofield's forces. And whether he was right or wrong he deliberately adhered to that purpose. But without Smith's troops and his local garrisons he was not superior to Hood in infantry, and there was too much at stake to risk a battle except on the best conditions possible.
The generals who have censured Thomas with such freedom did not win
victories without having armies greatly superior to those opposing
And for a long period, or from the. battle of Chickamauga, to the
of the Tennessee campaign, the National forces in Tennessee and
*Memoirs Vol. II., p. 200.
Page 295 - FRANKLIN
Georgia had been far stronger than those of the enemy, and yet there had been no decisive victory in a great battle except at Chattanooga. In the Atlanta campaign the enemy had been weakened by attrition rather than by heavy blows. The offensive when carried to positive assault by either army, had resulted in failure, except at Jonesboro.
Under conditions of conflict radically different, it was not possible for Thomas to hold the railroad through Athens, Huntsville and Decatur, without risking a battle at or near Pulaski, when his army was numerically inferior to Hood's. And when the enemy had advanced far towards Nashville, it was eminently judicious to transfer the troops from Decatur to the Nashville and Chattanooga railroad, which he had intended to hold and which he had been directed to hold, He was at the time censured forgiving up Decatur and the line of railroad from Columbia to that place, and he has since been most severely criticised because he did not abandon his important posts in order to concentrate his forces to meet Hood in Southern Tennessee. It was no part of his plan to decoy Hood to Nashville, but he intended to meet him in battle, as soon as actual circumstances promised a decisive victory. Had it been possible to send Smith's forces to Franklin, this would have been done. Before the action at Franklin he asked General Schofield if he could hold that place until reenforcements could reach him.
At noon of November 30th Schofield replied :
Your despatch of 10.25 A. M. is received. I am
that I have heretofore run too much risk in trying to hold Hood in
while so far inferior to him in both infantry and cavalry. The
mistake on my part, or failure of a subordinate during the last three
might have proved disastrous. I don't want to get into so tight a place
again, I will cheerfully act in accordance with
views if you think it expedient to hold Hood back as long as possible.
When you get all your troops together and in fighting condition we can
whip Hood easily, and, I believe, make the campaign a decisive one.
that the most we can do is to husband our strength and increase it as
Page 296 - LIFE OF GENERAL GEORGE H. THOMAS
When later in the day, and yet before the action, General Thomas ascertained that he could not send Smith's command to General Schofield before the 2nd or 3rd of December, he asked Schofield if he could hold Hood in check three days. The reply was made at 3 P. M.
I have just received your despatch asking if I can hold Hood here three days. I do not believe I can. I can doubtless hold him one day, but will hazard something in doing that. He now has a large force, probably two corps in my front, and seems preparing to cross the river above and below. I think he can. effect a crossing tomorrow in spite of all my efforts to prevent, or to-night if he attempts it. A worse place than this for an inferior force could hardly be found. I will refer your question to General Wilson this evening, yet fear he can do very little. I have no doubt Forrest will be in my rear tomorrow doing some greater mischief.
It appears that I ought to take position at Brentwood at once. If A. J. Smith's divisions and the Murfreesboro garrison join me there I ought to be able to hold Hood in check for some time. I have just learned that the enemy's cavalry is already crossing three miles below. I will have lively times with my trains again.
General Wilson had previously advised a concentration at Nashville,
arid Thomas had believed that he could not gather his forces together
of that city, until on the 30th Smith's foremost division
and then he asked Schofield if he could hold Hood at Franklin for three
days, and thus give time to concentrate the army there. General Thomas
intended from the beginning of the campaign, to fight the enemy at the
earliest movement possible. With this intention he had given
which, if they had been strictly obeyed, would have kept the little
across Hood's front continually, in hope that first at Pulaski and in
at Columbia and Franklin, he would be ready for battle. And at last,
knowing what was possible, he asked General Schofield if he could hold
the enemy in check long enough for Smith's forces to join him.
Page 297 - DECATUR WISELY ABANDONED
The supposition, therefore, that a successful battle could have been fought south of Nashville rests upon the assumption that Smith's forces were not essential, or that Thomas ought to have abandoned all his important posts, and effected a concentration at Pulaski or Columbia before Hood's line of advance was fully indicated. There were no sound reasons for withdrawing from important strategic points before Hood's movements were fully developed. Decatur was far west of the only railroad south of Nashville which it was practicable to defend, and when Hood had advanced far towards Nashville, it was wise to transfer the garrison from Decatur to Stevenson; otherwise these troops would have been, eliminated from the general problem. Had Hood won a victory at Nashville he would have gained Decatur also, had its garrison remained, and that place was so far from his line of retreat, when defeated, that its possession was of no value to him. The abandonment of Decatur had been authorized by General Sherman, at least by implication. October 29th he telegraphed to Thomas :
"I repeat, should the enemy cross the Tennessee in force, abandon all minor points, and. concentrate your forces at some point where you can cover the road from Murfreesboro' to Stevenson."
When Hood had crossed the Tennessee River and advanced towards
by way of Pulaski and Columbia, Decatur certainly was a minor point.
If the line of the Tennessee could have been held by Thomas, Decatur
have been an exceedingly important point, both for the cooperation of
gun boats with the army, and for operations against an enemy south of
river. But whether directly or indirectly ordered, the abandonment of
place was eminently judicious, and from this point of view rather than
from an analysis of his conflicting instructions, General Thomas
to transfer its garrison to Stevenson. He made provision, as far as
for the contingency of Hood's divergence to the Nashville and
Page 298 - LIFE OF GENERAL GEORGE H. THOMAS
railroad, and held the more important points on that road throughout the campaign. The main force on that road under General Steedman moved north, step by step, in correspondence with Hood's advance towards Nashville, and arrived at that city on the first day of December.
The problem for Thomas was an intricate one, in view of all circumstances, including the possibilities to the enemy, and he displayed consummate generalship in its solution. Hood did no serious harm from first to last. He did not capture a single garrison. He had in fact only two opportunities, one at Spring Hill, and the other in the action at Franklin, and these were given to him by Schofield, through no fault of General Thomas. Hood lost the first through his own blunders, and the other was wrested from him with the bayonet. .
The responsibility for the failure to arrest the advance of Hood
of Nashville did not rest upon Thomas, but upon the general who
the situation in Tennessee, by withdrawing more than sixty thousand
before an army adequate for a decisive battle had been concentrated for
Thomas. It is not wonderful that the interest of the people of the
was withdrawn from Sherman's march to the sea and centred upon Thomas'
operations in Tennessee. As Hood's army advanced northward, the fear of
the Northern people grew more intense day by day. Yet amidst all the
of the people, and of his superiors and subordinates, General Thomas
calm and self-poised, displaying an energy that knew no abatement,
his resources with a clearness of vision that brought for his view all
the elements of his problem in their individual force and concurrent
The emergency culminated when General Hood took position before
but the anxiety of the county gained force until the shout of victory
Brentwood Hills, on December sixteenth, dispelled anxiety altogether,
sent a thrill of joy throughout the land.
CONCENTRATION AT NASHVILLE - DELAY FOR PREPARATION - GENERAL
THOMAS URGED TO FIGHT, POSTPONE BATTLE FIRST FOR PREPARATION
AND THEN FOR SUITABLE WEATHER - COUNCIL OF WAR - PLANS
AND HOPES OF GENERAL HOOD - THOMAS' PLAN OF BATTLE - ACTION OF
On the first day of December General Thomas had in hand at Nashville all the troops available for battle, except a part: of his cavalry that had been sent north to be remounted. He then felt secure against attack but not prepared for offense, His purpose was to crush his foe, and this intention was one cause -- perhaps the dominant one -- for his delay of a few days against a pressure of suggestions and positive orders, which might have moved a weaker man to fight the enemy regardless of consequences. But he preferred the loss of command to fighting before he had made preparations to crush Hood's army. He had three corps of infantry from as many military departments, together with mounted and dismounted cavalry, a large element of raw troops, convalescents from the four corps with General Sherman, and six regiments of negro troops, and he requested permission to delay a week, that he might give the semblance of unity to this heterogeneous mass, remount his cavalry, and provide transportation for the pursuit of the enemy, in the event of victory,
These forces did not constitute an army according to any proper
of such a body - one with established relations running through all its
units great and small, and with corresponding sentiment and esprit-du-corps.
It was not an army as compared with the Army of the Cumberland. That
comprised three fighting corps of infantry - the Fourth, Fourteenth and
Twentieth - and a body of cavalry, having commander's and soldiers
together by battle-wrought sympathies and fixed organic relations.
Page 300 - LIFE OF GENERAL GEORGE H. THOMAS
General Thomas did not distrust the troops thus loosely connected, but he would have preferred his own army, cemented by the traditions of oft-repeated battle, and the spirit and discipline that result from long-continued relations and service. He did not propose, however, to give perfected compactness to his forces, but only to take time enough to drill his raw troops, remount his cavalry and provide the necessary transportation.
In the following despatch to General Halleck, Thomas described the situation at Nashville, and made known his plans:
NASHVILLE, December 1st, 1864, 9.30 P. M.
MAJOR-GENERAL HALLECK, Washington, D. C.
After General Schofield's fight of yesterday, feeling convinced that the enemy very far outnumbered him, both in infantry and cavalry, I determined to retire to the fortifications around Nashville, until General. Wilson can get his cavalry equipped. He has now about one-fourth the number of the enemy, and consequently is no match for him. I have two iron-clads here, with several gunboats, and Commodore Fitch assures me that Hood can neither cross the Cumberland, nor blockade it. I therefore think it best to wait here until Wilson can equip all his cavalry, If Hood attacks me here, he will be more seriously damaged than he was yesterday, If he remains until Wilson gets equipped, I can whip him, and will move against him at once. I have Murfreesboro' strongly held, and therefore feel easy in regard to its safety. Chattanooga, Bridgeport, Stevenson, and Elk River bridges have strong garrisons.
GEO. H. THOMAS, Major-General U. S. V. Commanding.
His expressed intention to postpone battle for a. few days to
his cavalry, produced intense solicitude at Washington, and greatly
the equanimity of General Grant. The lieutenant general having been
Page 301 - URGED TO FIGHT
upon by his superiors at Washington to consider the situation at Nashville, entered upon this service with an energy that had no parallel in the war. He opened a series of despatches suggestive, hortatory and mandatory, which would have unwisely deprived General Thomas of the independence that had been accorded to army commanders from the beginning of the war. The President, it is true, had ordered such commanders to enter upon campaigns, but in no case had such a general been entirely restricted in his discretion, or overruled in his judgment as to adequate preparations.
General Grant's attention was called to the situation at Nashville by the following despatch:
WAR DEPARTMENT, Washington, Dec. 3,10.30.A. M.
LIEUT -GENERAL GRANT, City Point:
The President feels solicitous about the disposition of Thomas to lay in fortifications for an indefinite period, "until Wilson gets equipments." This looks like the McClellan and Rosecrans strategy of do nothing, and let the enemy raid the country. The President wishes you to consider the matter.
EDWIN M. STANTON, Secretary of War.
Immediately upon receipt of this despatch Grant telegraphed to Thomas:
If Hood is permitted to remain quietly about Nashville, we will lose all the roads back to Chattanooga, and possibly have to abandon the line of the Tennessee River, should he attack you it is all well, but if he does not, you should attack him before he fortifies. Arm and put in the trenches your quartermaster's employees, citizens, etc.
Ninety minutes after the foregoing, a despatch of the same general purport, but more specific in instructions, was sent:
With your citizen employees armed you can move out
Nashville with all your army, and force the enemy to retire or fight
ground of your own choosing. After the repulse of Hood at Franklin
Page 302 - LIFE OF GENERAL GEORGE H. THOMAS
it looks to me that instead of falling back to Nashville, we should have taken the offensive against the enemy, but at this distance may err, as to the method of dealing with the enemy. You will suffer incalculable injury upon your railroads if Hood is not speedily disposed of. Put forth, therefore, every possible exertion to attain this end. Should you get him to retreating give him no peace.
In reply to this despatch Thomas sent the following at 10 P.M., the same day:
Your two telegrams of 11 A. M. and 1.30 P.M., to-day are received. At the time Hood was whipped at Franklin I had at this place but about five thousand men of General Smith's command, which added to the force under General Schofield, would not have given me more than twenty-five thousand men. Besides, General Schofield felt convinced that he could not hold the enemy at Franklin until the five thousand could reach him. As General Wilson's cavalry force also numbered only about one-fourth that of Forrest, I thought it best to draw the troops back to Nashville, and await the arrival of the remainder of General Smith's force, and also a force of about five thousand commanded by General Steedman, which I had ordered up from Chattanooga. The division of General Smith arrived yesterday morning, and General Steedman's troops arrived last night. I now have infantry enough to assume the offensive, if I had more cavalry; and will take the field any how as soon as the remainder of General McCook's cavalry reaches here, which I hope it will in two or three days. We can neither get reenforcements nor equipments at this great distance from the North very easily, and it must be remembered that my command was made up of the two weakest corps of General Sherman's army, and all the dismounted cavalry except one brigade, and the task of reorganizing and equipping has met with many delays, which have enabled Hood to take advantage of of my crippled condition. I earnestly hope, however, in a few more days I shall be able to give him a fight.
It will be observed that General Thomas did not intend a long delay.
He wished to call to him the cavalry then in Kentucky, obtaining horses
and equipments. He explained the necessity of withdrawing his army from
Franklin, and mentioned his embarrassments with marked
Page 303 - GRANT STILL URGES ATTACK
particularity. He probably did not put much faith in General Grant's statement, that he could move out against the enemy, and either force him to retire, or choose for him a field of battle, since the general on the defensive has choice of ground, especially, when his army covers its communications and line of retreat.
On the 5th, Grant with greater emphasis, urged Thomas to attack, and suggested the danger of delay. In answer General Thomas stated that he hoped in three days to mount a sufficient force of cavalry.
The next day, December 6th, Thomas was ordered peremptorily to attack and wait no longer for a remount of cavalry. Grant said:
"There is great danger in delay resulting in a campaign back to the Ohio."
"I will make the necessary disposition, and attack Hood at once, agreeably to your orders, though I believe it will be hazardous with the small force of cavalry now at my service."
In the effort to fulfil this promise, he met with obstacles that convinced him that he could not then fight a battle with such results as he desired, and consequently he resolved, though with the consciousness of great personal hazard, to wait until the 9th or 10th.
On the 8th, Grant said to General Halleck: "If Thomas has not struck yet, he ought to be ordered to hand over his command to Schofield. There is no better man to repel an attack than Thomas, but I fear he is too cautious to take the initiative."
In reply Halleck said, "If you wish General Thomas
give the order. No one here will, I think, interfere. The
however, will be yours, as no one here, so far as I am informed, wishes
General Thomas removed.
Page 304 - THE LIFE OF GENERAL GEORGE H. THOMAS
Before issuing an order relieving Thomas, Grant again urged him to attack. Late on the 8th, he telegraphed :
It looks to me evidently the enemy are trying to cross the Cumberland, and are scattered. Why not attack at once ? By all means
avoid the contingency of a foot-race, to see which, you or Hood, can beat to the Ohio. If you think necessary, call on the Governors of States to send a force into Louisville to meet the enemy, if he should cross the river, you clearly never should cross except in rear of the enemy. Now is one of the fairest opportunities ever presented of destroying one of the three armies of the enemy. If destroyed he can never replace it; use the means at your command, and you can do this, and cause a rejoicing from one end of the land to the other.
But General Thomas, was firm, replying the same evening:
I can only say in. further extenuation, why I have not attacked Hood, that I could not concentrate my troops, and get their transportation in order, in shorter time than it has been done, and am satisfied that I have made every effort that was possible to complete the task.
On the 9th Grant directed that Thomas should be ordered to turn over his command to Schofield, but on the same day suspended the order.
CITY POINT. VA., December 9, 1864 11 A. M.
MAJOR-GENERAL HALLECK., Washington, D.C.:
Despatch of 8, P. M,, last evening from Nashville, shows the enemy scattered for more than seventy miles down. the river, and no attack yet made by Thomas. Please telegraph orders relieving him at once, and placing Schofield in command. Thomas should be ordered to turn over all orders and despatches received since the battle of Franklin, to Schofield.
WAR DEPARTMENT, ADJUTANT-GENERAL'S OFFICE, Washington., December 9, 1864.
(General Orders, No.--),
The following despatch having been received from. Lieutenant-General Grant, viz. : "Please telegraph orders relieving him (General Thomas) at once, and placing (General) Schofield in command. The President orders:
I. That Major-General J M. Schofield relieve, at once, Major-General G. H. Thomas, in command of the Department and Army of the Cumberland.
II. General Thomas will turn over to General Schofield all orders and instructions received by him since the battle of Franklin.
Page 305 - THOMAS UNMOVED BY THREATS
WAR DEPARTMENT, WASHINGTON, December 9, 1864 -- 4 P. M.
LIEUTENANT-GENERAL GRANT, City Point:
Orders relieving General. Thomas had been made out when his telegram of this P.M. was received. If you still wish these orders telegraphed to Nashville, they will be forwarded.
Chief of Staff.
CITY POINT, VA December 9, 1864 - 5.30 P. M.
MAJOR-GENERAL HALLECK., Washington.:
General Thomas has been urged in every possible way to attack the enemy; even to the giving the positive order. He did say he thought he should be able to attack on the 7th, but he did not do, nor has he given a reason for not doing it. I am very unwilling to do injustice to an officer who has done so much good service as General Thomas has, however, and will therefore suspend the order relieving him, until it is seen whether he will do anything.
U. S. GRANT, Lieutenant-General,
General Thomas had no knowledge of the appointment of Schofield as his successor until years afterwards, but learning from Halleck that Grant had expressed dissatisfaction, and anticipating his own removal, Thomas telegraphed General Halleck :
"I regret that General Grant should feel dissatisfaction at my delay in attacking the enemy. I feel conscious that I have done everything in my power to prepare, and that the troops could not have been gotten ready before this. And if he should order me to be relieved I will submit without a murmur."
In the same despatch he also stated that a terrible storm of freezing rain, then prevailing, rendered an attack impossible until it should cease.
On that day he also telegraphed to Grant :
"I have nearly completed my preparations to attack
enemy tomorrow morning, but a terrible storm of-freezing rain has come
on to-day, which ml make it impossible for our men to fight to any
I am, therefore, compelled to wait for the storm to break and make the
attack immediately after. Admiral Lee is
Page 306 - THE LIFE OF GENERAL GEORGE H. THOMAS
patrolling the river above and below the city and I believe will be able to prevent the enemy from crossing. * * * . * Major-General Halleck informs me that you are very much dissatisfied with my delay in attacking. I can only say, I have done all in my power to prepare, and if you should deem it necessary to relieve me I shall submit without a murmur."
General Grant replied:
"I have as much confidence in your conducting the battle rightly as I have in any other officer, but it has seemed to me you have been slow, and I have had no explanation of affairs to convince me otherwise. Receiving your despatch to Major-General Halleck of 2 P. M., before I did the first to me, I telegraphed to suspend the order relieving you until we should hear further. I hope most sincerely that there will be no necessity of repeating the order, and that the facts will show that you have been right all the time."
The impossibility of attacking the enemy while the hills were covered with ice, still further complicated the case. Late on the 11th, General Grant said :
"If you delay attacking longer, the mortifying spectacle will be witnessed of a rebel army moving for the Ohio, and you will be forced to act, accepting such weather as you find. Let there be no further delay. Hood cannot stand even a drawn battle so far from his supplies of ordnance stores. If he retreats and you follow, he must lose his material and most of his army. I am in hopes of receiving a despatch from you to-day announcing that you have moved. Delay no longer, for weather and reenforcements."
General Thomas was not then waiting for reenforcements. He had announced his readiness for battle on the 10th and was only waiting for the melting of the ice. In his reply to this peremptory order he said:
"I will obey the order as promptly as possible,
much I may regret it, as the attack will have to be made under every
The whole country is covered with a perfect sheet of ice and sleet, and
it is with difficulty the troops are able to move about on level
It was my intention to attack Hood as soon as the ice melted, and would
have done so yesterday had it not been for the storm."
Page 307 - THOMAS AND HOOD STORM BOUND
He subsequently called his corps commanders together, consulted them in reference to his peremptory orders, made effort to move his army into position for attack, but found that it was utterly impossible to fight a battle until the ice should melt, and on the 12th so reported to General Halleck .
"I have the troop's ready to make the attack on the enemy as soon as the sleet, which now covers the ground, has melted sufficiently to enable the men to march. As the whole country is now covered with a sheet of ice so hard and slippery, it is utterly impossible for troops to ascend the slopes or even move on level, ground, in anything like order. It has taken the entire day to place my cavalry in position, and it has only been finally effected with imminent risk and many serious accidents resulting from the numbers of horses falling with their riders on the road. Under these circumstances I believe that an attack at this time would only result in a useless sacrifice of life."
And again on the 13th;
"There is no change in the weather, and as soon as there is, I shall move against the enemy, as everything is ready and prepared to assume the offensive."
Thomas had previously resolved to abandon all efforts to attack the enemy until the ice should melt, since the barrier to his own action, also kept the enemy quiet in his camp.
Badeau referring to the movement of the enemy's cavalry under Lyon into Kentucky, and the operations against Murfreesboro', states:
"Thus Hood had become bold enough to throw large
of infantry and cavalry both to the north and south of Nashville, and
spite of the storms and ice that held Thomas fast, the rebel troops
in constant motion."*
* Mil. Hist. U. S. Grant, Vol. III. p. 247.
Page 308 - THE LIFE OF GENERAL GEORGE H. THOMAS.
This historian must have failed to look at the dates of these movements. Hood's forces operated against Murfreesboro' on the 5th, 6th and 7th, and on the 8th, General Milroy sallied from his defenses and routed the enemy. General Lyon with a small force crossed the Cumberland River into Kentucky, near Clarksville, on the day the storm began. Both movements preceded the ice blockade that held Thomas and Hood fast in their camps. Lyon was promptly followed by the National cavalry and closely pressed till he was driven back to Tennessee.
But the impossibility of attacking the enemy, of which General Grant had been repeatedly advised, did not change his view of the situation, and on the 13th, he ordered Major-General John A. Logan to proceed to Nashville and take command of the army, provided that on his arrival, Thomas had still made no advance; and on the 15th, General Grant left City Point, Va., for the same destination, Both generals were arrested on the way, by the news of the battle of the 15th, Logan at Louisville and Grant at Washington.
Several interesting thoughts are suggested by Grant's despatches in
relation to Thomas and the situation at Nashville. Grant's
to Halleck to call upon the Governors of States to send a force of
thousand men into Louisville to meet the enemy, should he cross the
River, and his instructions to Thomas to arm the employes of
quartermaster's department, gave proof of an emergency in the West
had not been anticipated, and for which no adequate provision had been
made in the distribution of our veteran forces. It is evident that the
equilibrium of distribution, East and West, which had been maintained
the beginning of the war, had been overthrown at the culmination of the
second great plan of the enemy for offensive operations in the West. It
was not a new measure to call out the militia, and to arm civilians in
the employ of the government. This had been done repeatedly to meet
Soldiers for one hundred days had been enrolled to hold the rear of the
Page 309 - GRANT’S MISAPPREHENSION
National armies in the spring of 1864. The citizen employes of the government had been thrown into the entrenchments at Washington, when a Confederate army had come into the rear of the Army of the Potomac, and menaced the National Capital during the summer of that year. Other emergencies had called forth similar efforts. But when such measures were considered imperative in December 1864, there was an emergency in the West, where, a short time before, there had been a vast preponderance of National forces, and the situation at Nashville pointed to the immense army, marching to the sea through the vacant interior of the Southern Confederacy. The withdrawal of this veteran army had destroyed the equilibrium of the National forces.
Grant's declaration, that Thomas had at Nashville "one
of the fairest opportunities" to destroy
army of the enemy, that had ever been presented, was made when Grant
proposing such defensive measures as only threatening emergencies
In forecasting a battle at Nashville, or the probable invasion of
in face of the belief which Grant entertained in common with Thomas and
other generals, that Hood entered Tennessee with an army of fifty
men, it was a stretch of the imagination, to regard the opportunity for
the destruction of that army as one of the fairest ever presented. The
precedents of the war, certainly, did not .support such a hope. In view
of the supposed or actual strength of Hood's army, the situation at
was not as promising for the complete overthrow of the enemy as other
in other campaigns had been. One hundred thousand men had been
hurled against forty or fifty thousand, without destroying the inferior
army. History presents few instances, if any, in which one army of
superior numerical strength, and of equal morale, has destroyed another
army when the latter has had freedom of motion. But history does give
Page 310 - THE LIFE OF GENERAL GEORGE H. THOMAS
which armies with communications open to the rear have maintained existence and gathered a fair share of results, in defense, against armies of far greater strength. Our own civil war, prior to December, 1864, was not wanting in such cases. If, therefore, there was ground for the prophecy of disastrous results from Hood's threatening attitude before Nashville, there was no ground for the assumption that the opportunity to crush his army was "one of the fairest opportunities ever presented." On the supposition that it was possible for Hood, with an army at his back, to advance still further from his base, it certainly was possible for him to retreat from Nashville.
It is evident, also, that there were reasons for Grant's urgency for an immediate attack, which were foreign to the situation in Nashville. December 14th Halleck telegraphed to Thomas:
It has been seriously apprehended, that while Hood, with a part of his forces, held you in check near Nashville, he would have time to cooperate against other important points left only partially protected. Hence, Lieutenant-General Grant was anxious that you should attack the rebel forces in your front, and expresses great dissatisfaction that his order has not been carried out. Moreover, so long as Hood occupies a threatening position In Tennessee, General Canby is obliged to keep large forces on the Mississippi River to protect its navigation and to hold Memphis, Vicksburg, etc, although General Grant had directed a. part of these forces to cooperate with Sherman.
Every day's delay on. your part, therefore, seriously interferes with General Grant's plans.
It is evident from in this despatch, that Thomas was urged to engage Hood's army under forbidding circumstances, because it was feared that Hood, if not compelled to fight immediately at Nashville, would detach forces to menace remote cities, and because the postponement of battle would prevent Canby's cooperation with Sherman.
Page 311 - CONTINGENCIES OF THE CAMPAIGN
The situation at Nashville was, therefore, from first to last, complicated with Sherman's march to the sea. General Canby was patrolling the Mississippi to prevent the transfer of troops from the west bank of that river to Hood; and General Thomas was required at first, to fight before he was fully prepared, and then, when an action was impossible, in order that Canby might move to the support of General Sherman when he should touch the Gulf of Mexico or the Atlantic Ocean, or make a diversion somewhere in the South to prevent a concentration against his army of more than sixty thousand men. It was not enough that this great army should have been eliminated from western operations, detailing upon Thomas a campaign overcharged with embarrassments; but he was also commanded to fight a battle against his own judgment, to release Canby from duty on the Mississippi that he might cooperate with Sherman in the outcome of his march through a State where there was no great army to offer resistance, and but few organized troops to witness his progress, except from safe seclusion.
In his despatch to Thomas, of December 8th, General Grant mentioned three armies as the support of the rebellion. These, doubtless, were Lee's at Richmond, Hood's at Nashville, and Kirby Smith's, on the right bank of the Mississippi. Two of these were then making effort to unite in order to change the military status in the West. After the battle of Nashville, Grant informed Thomas that he was pursuing one of the two armies upon which the Southern Confederacy rested.
Badeau has given great prominence to the fact that the lieutenant-general had plans, the execution of which General Thomas' delay was defeating. The following quotations will show how damaging this delay was supposed to be:
In the meantime the situation at Nashville was
daily more humiliating and dangerous. *
* Mil. Hist. U. S. Grant, Vol. III., p. 230
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