MILITARY REMINISCENCES OF THE CIVIL WAR
BY JACOB DOLSON COX, A.M., LL.D.
Formerly Major-General commanding Twenty-Third Army Corps_
NOVEMBER 1863-JUNE 1865
ATLANTA CAMPAIGN: DALTON AND RESACA
The opposing forces--North Georgia triangle--Topography--Dalton--Army of the Ohio enters Georgia--Positions of the other armies--Turning Tunnel Hill--First meeting with Sherman--Thomas--Sherman's plan as to Dalton--McPherson's orders and movement--Those of Thomas and Schofield--Hopes of a decisive engagement--Thomas attacks north end of Rocky Face--Opdycke on the ridge--Developing Johnston's lines--Schofield's advance on 9th May--The flanking march through Snake Creek Gap--Retiring movement of my division--Passing lines--Johnston's view of the situation--Use of temporary intrenchments and barricades--Passing the Snake Creek defile--Camp Creek line--A wheel in line--Rough march of left flank--Battle of Resaca--Crossing Camp Creek--Storming Confederate line--My division relieved by Newton's--Incidents--Further advance of left flank--Progress of right flank--Johnston retreats.
The history of the campaigns of 1864-1865 under Sherman have been given in another form, and I need not repeat the narrative of the connected movements of his forces. [Footnote: See "Atlanta," and "The March to the Sea, Franklin and Nashville."] I shall confine myself to the more personal view of events as they came under my own eye, and to such additional knowledge as the publication of the Records has brought within our reach.
Nashville and Chattanooga, being large depots of supply, were fortified and furnished with garrisons. A few other points had also to be garrisoned in some force, besides the numerous small posts and blockhouses. But after all deductions, Sherman still expected to take the field with an army of a hundred thousand men of all arms, and this was what he did. His returns for the 30th of April show his strength to have been 93,131 infantry, 12,455 cavalry, and 4537 artillery. [Footnote: Official Records, vol. xxxviii. pt. i. p. 115.] His cavalry were not all at the front, and fell short of the nominal strength. [Footnote: Memoirs, vol. ii. pp. 23, 24; Official Records, vol. xxxviii. pt. iv. p. 26.]
General Johnston's similar returns for the end of April show his army actually present at Dalton to have consisted of 54,500 infantry, cavalry, and artillery, not including part of a brigade at Resaca and some detachments _en route_. [Footnote: _Id._, vol. xxxii. pt. iii. p. 866.]
General Polk was on his way to join with 14,000 men, [Footnote: _Id._, vol. xxxviii. pt. iv. pp. 670, 737, 740.] and these with about 5000 increase of
Hardee's and Hood's corps reached Johnston before he was seriously engaged with Sherman, giving him an army of 75,000 men. [Footnote: For a careful analysis of these forces, see "Century War Book," vol. iv. p. 281, a statistical paper by Major E. C. Dawes; also "Atlanta," Appendix A. For the meaning of "effective total" in Confederate returns, see _ante_, p. 482.] The Richmond government only delayed ordering
Polk to join Johnston until it was certain that Sherman intended to operate with a single army upon the Atlanta line, and
Polk went even beyond what they seemed to expect of him in carrying the troops of his department to the army at Dalton.
Although he was not aware of the urgency of the Confederate government with Johnston to induce him to take the initiative and operate by turning our left flank, Sherman had considered the possibility of this. The Fourth Corps had been concentrated at Cleveland on the East Tennessee and Georgia Railway about a dozen miles north of the Georgia state line and thirty-five miles from Dalton. The line of this railway was the easy road out of northern Georgia into Tennessee, and pretty closely followed the old Federal road. Had Johnston marched northward, he must have taken this route, and would have found his way barred by the Fourth Corps, which was strong enough to retard his advance till Sherman could have concentrated to meet him. The railways made a nearly equilateral triangle of the country between Cleveland, Chattanooga, and Dalton. It was thirty-eight miles from Chattanooga to Dalton, and twenty-seven to Cleveland. The east side of the triangle was near the Cooyehuttee Creek, a stream heading quite close to Cleveland and uniting, below Dalton, with the Connasauga. This valley is narrow west of the river, and is, much of the way, separated by a high and sharp ridge from the very broken country, which makes up the greater part of the triangle, where the branches of the Chickamauga run northward in parallel valleys till they unite near Chattanooga, and empty into the Tennessee. For nearly forty miles, therefore, the waters on the east side of the dividing ridge run southward to the Gulf of Mexico, whilst on the west side they run northward to the Ohio.
Going south from Chattanooga, the railroad and the wagon roads have to thread their way from one valley to another, the latter climbing painfully the high ridges intervening, the former taking shorter cuts by deep excavations and tunnels. Within sight of Chattanooga the north end of Missionary Ridge is pierced for the railway where Grant's left wing fought in the battle which closed General Bragg's career as a commander in the field. Some twenty miles further on, another ridge is tunnelled where the railroad passes from the Chickamauga valley into that of Mill Creek, a small tributary of the Cooyehuttee, flowing eastward into that river in front of Dalton. Here, at Tunnel Hill, had been Johnston's advanced post during the winter, and Thomas's had been above Ringgold on the top of Taylor's ridge facing it on the west. But as Tunnel Hill did not extend many miles northward, and could be turned in that direction, the Confederates had made Dalton their intrenched camp, and were prepared to retire from Tunnel Hill whenever Sherman should advance in force.
The position at Dalton was an impregnable one to an attack in front on the Chattanooga road. Mill Creek breaks through the Chattanooga Mountains (here known by the local name of Rocky Face), by a crooked gorge flanked by precipitous cliffs called the Buzzards Roost. The west side of Rocky Face is a nearly perpendicular wall, and in the Mill Creek gorge, spurs from the sides so project as to enfilade the entrance like bastions. A little north of the gorge a larger spur from the ridge runs down to the east, connecting with a subordinate parallel ridge, and from the lower slope a line of heavy earthworks continued the defences toward the Cooyehuttee. Mill Creek had been dammed so as to make an inundation in the gorge, and the Confederates held the ridge and cliffs on both sides as well as the fortified line in the lower ground. Some three miles north of Mill Creek Gap, Rocky Face and Tunnel Hill break down into smaller disconnected hills, and here about Catoosa Springs a bit of more open country made a practicable connection between the centre of the Union Army at Ringgold and its left wing advancing from Cleveland. Johnston hoped that Sherman would dash himself against the walls of Rocky Face and suffer severe loss in doing so; and if the ridge was turned on the north by part of the Union Army, this wing would find itself in presence of the strong earthworks skirting Mill Creek, and would be so separated from the centre that he could reasonably hope to crush it. Sherman, of course, could know little of the Confederate position till he was near enough to reconnoitre it, and must find out by experiment how the nut was to be cracked.
On Thursday, the 5th of May, the Army of the Ohio under General Schofield was at Red Clay, a hamlet just south of the Georgia state line. My own division (the third) was encamped a mile in advance, at some springs which furnished a good supply of water. General Judah's division (the second) was at Red Clay.
General Hovey's division (the first) was still at Blue Springs, Tennessee, covering the army trains and the repairs of the railway. The cavalry covered the left flank and reconnoitred forward toward Varnell's Station, skirmishing with the enemy's horse. The valley was a narrow one, tributary to the principal valley of the Connasauga, and, near my camp, was filled with a dense thicket of loblolly pine, a second growth which came up in the exhausted light soil of abandoned fields, and which we were to become very familiar with as we advanced into Georgia. As we could not see out in any direction except that of the road, I covered my front with a slashing of the trees by way of a rough abatis to prevent a surprise. We were now the left flank of the grand army.
When we passed Cleveland, the Fourth Corps took up its line of march, bearing away to the westward of ours and went into position at Catoosa Springs, about eight miles southwest of Red Clay, with a ridge intervening. Here
General Howard became the left of the
Army of the Cumberland, having Palmer's Corps (the Fourteenth), next beyond him facing Tunnel Hill, and Hooker's (the Twentieth) still farther to the southwest, marching by way of Woods Station over Taylor's Ridge upon Trickum in the upper valley of the East Chickamauga. Thomas's army was the heavy centre of the grand army, and his infantry was about two-thirds of the whole. This great preponderance of one organization was faulty in a purely military point of view, but Grant and Sherman both felt that it would not be wise to disturb the _esprit de corps_ of the Cumberland Army by subdividing it, or to offend Thomas by diminishing it, and, anyhow, no such change could have been made without the concurrence of the President.
General McPherson's Army of the Tennessee was to constitute Sherman's right, but was a little delayed in its concentration. At this time it contained only
Logan's Corps (the Fifteenth) and the left wing of the Sixteenth (Brigadier-General G. M. Dodge in command). It was moving behind the Army of the Cumberland, to Lee and Gordon's Mills, and thence upon Villanow. [Footnote: Official Records, vol. xxxviii. pt. iv. p. 39.] General Kenner Garrard's strong division of cavalry accompanied McPherson's movement.
Sherman was anxious to allow the enemy as little time for preparation as might be, yet, as he had to give McPherson a day or two to come into line, he set Saturday the 7th of May as the time for the more complete concentration, and an attack upon Tunnel Hill if Johnston should continue to hold it. [Footnote: _Id_., p. 38.] Accordingly, on Saturday morning all the columns were in motion. Palmer advanced against the ridge of Tunnel Hill in front, and Howard coming from the north turned the flank of the ridge. The hill was held by the Confederate cavalry under
General Joseph Wheeler, supported by Stewart's division of infantry, who were ordered to resist our advance with stubbornness enough to force the display of Thomas's forces. [Footnote: _Id_., p. 672.] A lively skirmishing fight was kept up till Howard's men advanced toward the flank and rear of the position, when the enemy retreated within Mill Creek Gap.
Wheeler was ordered to let a brigade of cavalry retire up the valley of Mill Creek, outside of Rocky Face, and to cover Dug Gap, through which runs the road from Villanow to Dalton. [Footnote: _Ibid_.]
My division marched from its camp in front of Red Clay over the ridge by Ellidge's Mill to Dr. Lee's on the main road from Varnell's Station to Ringgold, and near the northern end of Tunnel Hill ridge. Here we came into close connection with the Fourth Corps. The rest of the Army of the Ohio followed, the rear-guard holding a gap looking eastward above Ellidge's Mill, and the cavalry covering the front and flank to Varnell's Station. [Footnote: _Id_., pp. 48, 54.] Our supply station was moved over to Ringgold on the Chattanooga line, and the railroad at Red Clay was soon abandoned. In the movement all the division commanders were ordered to report to me in the absence of General Schofield.
At Dr. Lee's I met Sherman and Thomas for the first time. They had come over from Ringgold to reconnoitre for themselves and observe the effect of Howard's movement turning Tunnel Hill. The house stood upon a knoll looking southward over farm fields and rolling country to the sharp end of Rocky Face, and when my column halted near by, I rode forward with General Schofield to meet the army commander. It was a bright May morning, and a picturesque group was gathered on the sloping lawn in front of the house. The principal officers were dismounted, their horses and escort in the background. An occasional puff of white smoke on the slope of Tunnel Hill in the distance marked the attack going on there, but it was too far away for the cannonade to be more than a muffled sound, not interrupting the conversation. Sherman was tall, lithe, and active, with light brown hair, close-cropped sandy beard and moustache, and every motion and expression indicated eagerness and energy. His head was apt to be bent a little forward as if in earnest outlook or aggressive advance, and his rapid incisive utterance hit off the topics of discussion in a sharp and telling way. His opinions usually took a strong and very pronounced form, full of the feeling that was for the moment uppermost, not hesitating at even a little humorous extravagance if it added point to his statement; but in such cases the keen eye took a merry twinkle accentuated by the crow-foot lines in the corner, so that the real geniality and kindliness that underlay the brusque exterior were sufficiently apparent. The general effect was of a nature of intense, restless activity, both physical and mental. In conversation he poured out a wealth of original and striking ideas, from a full experience, observation, and reading; his assertions would be strong and confident, highly colored by the glow of momentary feeling, unsoftened by the modifications and exceptions which have to tame down broad generalizations before they are put in practice. One did not know him long before discovering that in responsible action he did not lack the prudence which took all probable contingencies into account. His practical work in the field was never reckless, but his boldest outlines of plan were worked out with thoughtful caution in detail and full provision for possible disappointment. When discussing a situation with his familiars, after strongly stating his own view he would add, "Now what is Joe Johnston's game?" and he would analyze his adversary's possible moves with a candor and insight that left no doubt of his full comprehension of the problem before him. In carrying out a plan he was free from the common weakness of giving increased weight to doubts when the conflict is joined, and making a timid execution of a strong purpose; he knew when it was time for debate to stop (even with his own thoughts), and to bend every energy to decisive action. All this was, of course, not visible in the first meeting at Dr. Lee's, but no one could doubt that here was a most original and interesting character, and I soon acquired an undoubting conviction that of all the men I had met, he was the one to whose leadership in war I would commit my own life and the lives of my men with most complete confidence. In him the combination of intellectual insight with fertility of invention and with force of will in execution was of the highest order. I felt that if the end we aimed at was a noble and worthy one, the price he asked us to pay was reasonable, and the object was worth the sacrifices he called for: we were therefore enthusiastic in our obedience.
General Thomas was in person and manner a strong contrast to Sherman. Equally tall, he was large and solidly stout, with an air of dignified quiet and deliberation. His full beard was not of so stubbly a cut as Sherman's, his countenance was almost impassive, and the lines of his brow gave an air of sternness. His part in the conversation was less, his words much fewer and less expressive, but always clear and intelligent. His manner was kindly, but rather reserved, and one felt that his acquaintance must be gradually cultivated. His reputation for cool intrepidity and stubborn tenacity could not be excelled, and no soldier could approach him without a deep interest and respect that was not diminished by his natural modesty of demeanor. Better acquaintance with him made one learn that his intellect was strong and broad, and his mind had been expanded by general reading, with some special scientific tastes beyond his military profession. He was a noble model of patriotic devotion to country, and of the private virtues that make a great citizen. His military career had been an important one from the beginning of the war. Second in rank in the armies of
Buell and Rosecrans in 1862 and 1863, at the great battles of Stone's River and Chickamauga he had held his wing of the army defiant and invincible when other parts were swept back by the Confederate impetuosity. No sobriquet conferred by an admiring soldiery was more characteristic than the "Rock of Chickamauga." Between him and Sherman the old affection of schoolmates at the Military Academy was still warm. Sherman still called him "Tom," the nickname of cadet days, and Thomas evidently enjoyed, in his quiet way, the vivacious talk and brilliant ideas of his old friend, now his commander. His army so much outnumbered the organizations of McPherson and Schofield that, as a massive centre, it was necessarily the chief reliance of Sherman for the results of the campaign, and was personified in its leader's weight and deliberation; while the lighter organizations of the Tennessee and the Ohio were thrown from flank to flank in zigzag movements from one strategic position to another as we penetrated into Georgia.
Grant's plan of having the armies of the East and West begin simultaneous movements on the first days of May had been responded to by Sherman with the information that on the first of the month his three armies were in mutual support, and that he would "draw the enemy's fire within twenty-four hours of May 5th." [Footnote: Official Records, vol. xxxviii. pt. iv. p. 1.] The delay in McPherson's reaching his position, slight as it was, had to be considered in ordering other movements in view of the promise to
Grant to get into immediate contact with the enemy, and helped in the decision to let Thomas's army advance strongly in the centre and engage the enemy if the chance seemed at all favorable, while McPherson made the flanking movement by way of Snake Creek Gap. On the 4th Sherman had telegraphed Grant that he would "first secure the Tunnel Hill, then throw McPherson rapidly on his (the enemy's) communications, attacking at the same time cautiously and in force." [Footnote: _Id_., p. 25.]
McPherson's orders went to him on the evening of the 5th, directing that whilst the movements of Thomas and Schofield already described were in progress, on Saturday the 7th he should "secure Snake Creek Gap, and from it make a bold attack on the enemy's flank or his railroad at any point between Tilton and Resaca." [Footnote: _Id_., p. 39.] Sherman expressed the hope that Johnston would fight at Dalton, but should he fall back along the railroad McPherson was to hit him in flank. "Do not fail, in that event," he continued, "to make the most of the opportunity by the most vigorous attack possible, as it may save us what we have most reason to apprehend, a slow pursuit, in which he gains strength as we lose it." McPherson was assured that Thomas and Schofield would prevent Johnston from turning on him alone, and the sound of battle at the north would show the greater necessity for rapid movement on the railroad. "If once broken to an extent that would take them days to repair, you can withdraw to Snake Creek Gap, and come to us or await the development according to your judgment or information you may receive." [Footnote: Official Records, vol. xxxviii. pt. iv. p. 39.]
Sherman's orders to Thomas were to take Tunnel Hill, and threaten Dalton in front, but not to attack its defences "unless the enemy assume the offensive against either of our wings, when all must attack directly in front toward the enemy's main army, and not without orders detach to the relief of the threatened wing." [Footnote: _Id_., p. 40.] With similar orders to Schofield, Sherman added: "As soon as Tunnel Hill is secured to us, I shall pause to give McPherson time for his long march; but we must occupy the attention of all the enemy, lest he turn his whole force on McPherson, which must be prevented. Therefore, on the sound of heavy battle always close up on Howard and act according to circumstances. We will not be able to detach to McPherson's assistance, but can press so closely from this direction that he (Johnston) cannot detach but a part of his command against him." [Footnote: _Id_., p. 38.]
These lucid orders show that Sherman was not contemplating merely a flanking movement to make Johnston retreat and yield territory; on the other hand he strongly expressed the desirability of forcing conclusions as near his own base as possible, and showed his apprehension of the disadvantages which must come from stretching still further his long line of communications. The same desire and the same apprehension were constant with him throughout the campaign, and it was with an unwillingness growing at times into impatience that he found himself compelled to follow Johnston's slow and skilful retreat. It was not till the change of the Confederate commanders that aggressive tactics on the part of the enemy gave the opportunity for severe punishment and led to the speedy destruction of the hostile army. Herein lies the key of the whole campaign.
The possession of Tunnel Hill enabled Sherman to look into Mill Creek Gap, the break in Rocky Face, and the first look was enough to show how desperate would be an attack either upon the precipitous cliffs or into the fortified gorge. His orders for the 8th of May were for Thomas to threaten the Buzzard Roost pass and try to get a small force on Rocky Face ridge. Schofield from Dr. Lee's was to feel along the same ridge southward toward the gap and the signal station which the enemy had established above it on Buzzard Roost. It was to be a skirmishing advance, but no battle, attracting the enemy's attention whilst McPherson was seizing on Snake Creek Gap in Johnston's rear. [Footnote: Official Records, vol. xxxviii. pt. iv. p. 56.]
On our part, Schofield ordered Judah's division to ascend the north point of Rocky Face and press along the sharp ridge southward. My own division was to occupy the passes looking toward Varnell's Station, sending a regiment to support the cavalry there. [Footnote: _Id_., pp. 55, 66, 85.]
General Thomas, seeing no chance of getting to the top of Rocky Face from the west, had ordered the Fourth Corps to attempt it from the north, and Howard had sent in Newton's division to do this before Schofield received his orders for the day. The latter therefore put Judah's division in support of Newton's, extending the line along the east base of the ridge, and called up Hovey's division into close support. With my own division I advanced southeastwardly to hills in that direction, keeping abreast of the movement on Rocky Face. [Footnote: _Id_., pp. 82, 83; pt. ii. p. 675.]
Sherman had conjectured that the hill-tops would be found to be plateaus on which troops might manoeuvre to some extent, but they proved to be sharp and steep to the very summits, and composed of loose rock of every size, but all as angular as if from fresh cleavage. [Footnote: Official Records, vol. xxxviii. pt. ii. p. 675; pt. iv. p. 84.] Harker's brigade of Newton's division had the advance, but even a brigade was too large a body for combined action, and Colonel Opdycke with his regiment (One Hundred and Twenty-fifth Ohio) took the lead. He made a demonstration as if to turn the north point and go up the eastern side; then leaving the brigade skirmish line to continue to push there, he rapidly moved again to the west side and climbed swiftly to the ridge. Here was only room for four men to march abreast, but charging from rock to rock he succeeded in advancing about a third of a mile southward along the ridge to a breastwork of stone where the enemy, who had fought bravely for every "coign of vantage," were finally enabled to check him. He also threw together a heap of stones to cover and enable him to hold the ground he had gained. [Footnote: _Id_., pt. i. p. 367.]
Schofield in person had followed the advance of Judah's division, and reconnoitred along the ridge parallel to Rocky Face on the east. It was plain that there was little chance of getting near Buzzard Roost by following Harker's path along the knife-like summit, and he was disposed to let Judah try the effect of a night attack upon the fortified outpost at the enemy's signal station in front of Harker. [Footnote: _Id_., pt. iv. p. 83.] Sherman realized that he could not hope to carry the Dalton lines from the west and north, and that Johnston was too well satisfied with his defensive position to leave it unless some part of our army was compromised by making a false move. McPherson, however, was entering Snake Creek Gap with so little opposition as to show that the importance of that pass was not understood by Johnston, if indeed he knew of its existence. Sherman therefore determined to keep up active demonstrations with watchful observation of the enemy for another day, whilst the decisive part of McPherson's movement should go on, and was already planning to transfer Hooker's Corps to McPherson's column as soon as the latter should hold the outlet of his gap. He wrote to Schofield, "We must not let Johnston amuse us here by a small force whilst he turns on McPherson." He sometimes suspected this was being done, and had been uneasy during the day at the absence of cannonade from Johnston's lines. [Footnote: Official Records, vol. xxxviii. pt. iv. pp. 83, 84.] The orders for the 9th were that Thomas should continue to push along the crest of Rocky Face from the north and make demonstrations on other parts of his line, whilst Schofield cautiously swung his left flank out toward the east at right angles to the principal ridge and made a strong reconnoissance of the enemy's lines in the immediate front of the town. At midnight Sherman learned that Hooker had made an effort to carry Rocky Face at Dug Gap, two or three miles south of Buzzard Roost, and had failed with considerable loss to Geary's division, which was engaged.
At daybreak on the 9th, my own camp was astir. The division advanced beyond the left flank of the position of Hovey's, then swung the left forward and moved southward astride of the ridge parallel to Rocky Face on the east. Judah's division connected our movement with the left flank of the Fourth Corps across the intervening valley. Hovey's division marched in rear of my left flank as a reserve. McCook's division of cavalry covered the extreme flank at Varnell's Station, under orders to demonstrate on the direct road to Dalton as our infantry advanced. [Footnote: _Id_., pp. 98-100.] The enemy resisted with strong outposts and skirmish lines posted in several strong barricades of timber and stones. We drove him from these and continued the movement till we confronted the main line of intrenchments. Schofield intended to attack these as soon as Newton's division of the Fourth Corps (which was our pivot) should be able to force the position in its immediate front on the crest of Rocky Face, but Newton was obliged to report that Harker's brigade had failed in its effort, [Footnote: Official Records, vol. xxxviii. pt. iv. p. 102.] and Schofield ordered us to stand fast where we were.
McCook had found a superior force of Confederate cavalry under Wheeler on the Dalton road; his advanced brigade under Colonel La Grange had been roughly handled, and that officer was captured. [Footnote: _Id_., p. 96.]
General Stoneman was, however, advancing from
Charleston with the cavalry of the Army of the Ohio, and the affair was of no great significance, though the Confederates claimed a considerable victory for their horse. [Footnote: _Id_., p. 683.]
Our movement had been an interesting one. As we went forward on the ridge, we could see Judah's line keeping pace with us in the valley and on the lower slopes of Rocky Face, whilst Newton's men continued the line to the summit, where Harker was having a sharp combat in which both artillery and small arms were brought into play. Off beyond our left was a separate rounded height, Potato Hill, on which the enemy had artillery which annoyed us, and to which our own guns answered. The space between was filled with skirmishers, horse and foot, and a rattling fusillade accompanied our march. It was evident that the lines before us were very formidable and held in force, and that the reconnoissance had been pushed as far as possible; to go further would commit us to a desperate attack upon intrenchments. [Footnote: When Johnston's retreat gave us possession of Dalton, we found the works of a very strong character, putting that front quite beyond a _coup-de-main_. I examined them myself later in the campaign.] But Sherman did not desire to do this. He wished to keep the enemy employed so that he could not send a great force against McPherson, and thus to give the latter a chance to make a success of the movement against Resaca. [Footnote: Official Records, vol. xxxviii. pt. iv. p. 98.] Toward evening he directed Schofield to fall back to a strong defensive position again, as from the news he got from McPherson he was sure Johnston must either attack us or retreat on the next day, and he wished to be ready for a prompt transfer of his army to Snake Creek Gap. But Schofield thought a night movement too uncertain in that broken and tangled country, especially as he had not been pleased with the handling of Hovey's division during the day, and obtained permission to bivouac for the night where we were, sending a couple of infantry regiments to support McCook's cavalry and cover our flank. [Footnote: _Id_., pp. 99, 119.]
During the night Sherman learned that McPherson had not succeeded in taking Resaca or breaking the railroad, and had retired to the mouth of Snake Creek Gap. Johnston was, of course, now aware of the turning movement, and before morning we had evidence that he was changing the positions of his army to meet the new situation. Sherman immediately turned his whole energy to transferring his army to McPherson's position. Hooker's Corps leading off was followed by Palmer's, and this by ours. Howard's was ordered to remain in position covering the Chattanooga railway, and to follow Johnston directly through Dalton when he left his intrenchments. The movement could not be begun till the 11th, as Stoneman with the cavalry of the Army of the Ohio was marching from Cleveland, and another day was needed to enable him to get upon our left flank, the place assigned him in the combined advance. [Footnote: _Id_., pp. 112, 113, 126.] Three days' rations in haversacks and seven more in wagons gave provisions for a short separation from our base, and orders to send back all baggage to Ringgold were strictly enforced.
At daybreak of the 10th I advanced my skirmishers to reconnoitre the enemy's lines, which were found to be still held in force, and his troops on the alert. We then proceeded to wheel the whole of the corps backward in line of battle, ready to halt at any moment, and engage the enemy if he should come out and attack us. My division being on the flank, it was to regulate the movement, Judah's conforming to mine on the right, and Hovey's in reserve immediately in rear of mine. [Footnote: Official Records, vol. xxxviii. pt. iv. pp. 123, 131.] We were under a warm skirmish fire of infantry in front, and the enemy's cavalry on our left flank also followed up the movement sharply. Reinforcing the skirmish line till the enemy was driven back, a good position in rear was selected for my second line and it was made to lie down. My first line was then marched slowly to the rear over the other, to another position, where it halted and lay down in turn, whilst the other rose and marched to the rear in a similar manner. Making the troops lie down avoided the danger, incident to such a manoeuvre under fire, that the men in second line would be confused by the passing of the first line through their ranks and break their organization. [Footnote: Officers experienced in war know that manoeuvres which are easy and of fine effect on parade are difficult and even dangerous under fire, and that it is wise to simplify the tactics as much as possible. Marshal Saint-Cyr, whose reputation for tactical skill was second to none in the wars of the French Republic and Empire, thus speaks of the matter in his comments on the battle of Novi, apropos to the break of the French division Watrin, which was in two brigade lines: "La premiere, attaquee avec vigueur par le general Lusignan appuye par Laudon, ne soutint qu'un moment le choc, et se rabattit sur la seconde; elle esperait se reformer en arriere de celle-ci, en faisant ce qu'on appelle une passage de ligne; mais il fut demontre une fois de plus, que cette manoeuvre, qui fait un assez bel effet a la parade, ne peut reussir a la guerre lorsqu'on est suivi par un ennemi actif. La premiere entraina la seconde dans un mouvement retrograde; de plus elle y apporta assez de confusion pour que ces deux lignes reunies crussent n'avoir d'autre parti a prendre que celui de la fuite," etc. Memoires, vol. i. p. 257. There can be no question as to the general soundness of this criticism, and we should not have continued the movement described if we had been attacked in force. We should then have fought where we stood, bringing the reserves to support the front line. It justifies, however, the precaution of selecting carefully the alternate positions and making the rear line lie down.] When we came opposite the positions assigned us in the extension of the Fourth Corps line, the division changed front to rear on right battalion and so swung into its place. [Footnote: Official Records, vol. xxxviii. pt. ii. p. 675.] Sherman had sent Captain Poe, his chief engineer, to observe our movement from the crest of Rocky Face held by Newton's troops, and congratulated Schofield upon it, saying it "was described to me by Captain Poe, as seen from the mountain, as very handsome." [Footnote: _Id_., pt. iv. p. 121.] In his full report made at the close of the campaign, General Schofield referred to it as "a delicate and difficult one, owing to the character of the ground, the position and strength of the enemy, and our comparative isolation from the main army." He adds: "I regarded it as a complete test of the quality of my troops, which I had not before had opportunity of seeing manoeuvre in presence of the enemy." [Footnote: _Id_., pt. ii. p. 510.]
Schofield had been so dissatisfied with General Hovey that on the same day he asked to have him removed from the command of the division, notwithstanding his high personal esteem for him and his confidence in his personal gallantry. The trouble seemed to be in the comprehension of orders and in the grasp of the surrounding circumstances. Sherman did not feel at liberty to act on the request, as Hovey had been assigned to the new division, before it took the field, in fulfilment of a promise of
General Grant under whom Hovey had served in the Vicksburg campaign, and had been recommended for promotion as a recognition of good conduct at the affair of Champion Hill. [Footnote: _Id_., pt. iv. p. 122. Brigadier-General Alvin P. Hovey had been a Judge of the Supreme Court of Indiana, and a "War Democrat" in politics. His subsequent withdrawal from the army and his connection with Sherman's famous protest against promotions given under stress of personal and political influences at Washington would not be entirely clear without mention of the incident here told.]
Johnston seems to have heard rumors of Sherman's original plan to send McPherson's column against Rome, much further in rear, and he remained under the impression that this was the meaning of the movements he now heard of, until McPherson was in possession of Snake Creek Gap. [Footnote: Official Records, vol. xxxviii. pt. iv. pp. 674, 675.] On the 7th he had urged Polk to hasten his concentration at Rome, and ordered Martin's division of cavalry to Calhoun to cover the communications with Polk, and protect the railroad south of the Oostanaula. Brigadier-General Cantey was at Resaca with at least four thousand men, his own and Reynolds's brigades with fourteen pieces of artillery. [Footnote: _Id_., pp. 679, 682.] Movements toward his rear were reported to Johnston, and all his subordinates were on the alert to find out what it meant; the cavalry was ordered to watch all gaps south of Dug Gap, but no mention is made of Snake Creek Gap till McPherson had passed through it. [Footnote: _Id_., pp. 681, 683, 686, 687.] Then Cantey was told to hold Resaca firmly, and call on Martin for assistance if he needed it. Cars were sent to bring a brigade from Rome, intrenchments were made to cover the south end of the Resaca bridge; Major Presstman, chief engineer, was sent to mark out more extensive works about Resaca, and Hood was ordered there with considerable reinforcements. As soon, however, as it was known that McPherson had retired to Sugar Valley, Hood was called back to Dalton, and Johnston requested Polk to hasten in person to Resaca and take command, hurrying forward his corps as fast as possible. [Footnote: _Id_., pp. 687, 689.] This was the situation on the evening of the 10th of May.
When we took our position on the ridge of Rocky Face as the left of the line, the division was somewhat exposed to a flank attack, and I ordered the fallen timber on the hillside to be thrown together to make obstruction to any hostile advance, besides the usual tactical precautions of outposts and reserves. This, like the slashing made at Red Clay a few days before, was suggested by the difficulty of knowing what was going on around us in a country covered by dense forests with only small cultivated openings here and there. In this instance it was only the gathering of logs and tree-tops already lying on the ground, and utilizing them as a means of delaying an enemy till our lines could be formed. From such beginnings grew up our more and more elaborate system of intrenched camps; a natural evolution of campaigning in a country only partially cleared, with no roads worthy of the name.
To pass such a defile as Snake Creek Gap with an army was no small undertaking. Hooker was ordered to clear a second track, so that two lines could march by the flank at once, but this could only be imperfectly done in the time at command. [Footnote: Official Records, vol. xxxviii. pt. iv. pp. 126, 135, 145.] Careful orders in detail were made, fixing the time for each corps and division to move, keeping the roads filled night and day. Wagons were sent by the rear to Villanow, and the regular subsistence trains were stopped at Ringgold and Tunnel Hill till the Confederate army should be dislodged. For night marching men were stationed with torches at the forking of paths, and boards were nailed to trees as finger-posts.
Early on the morning of the 12th May, my division left its position on Rocky Face and marched through Tunnel Hill station. General Schofield, finding the shorter road to Snake Creek Gap blocked by wagons of the Cumberland Army, ordered a detour to the west, and we marched over to the Trickum and Villanow road, some two miles, and then pushing southward got within three miles of Villanow. It was evident that our movement and that of the whole army were visible from the high ridge of Rocky Face. Johnston was aware of them, and telegraphed to Richmond that Sherman was moving to Calhoun or to some point on the Oostanaula. [Footnote: Official Records, vol. xxxviii. pt. iv. p. 698.] He put everything in motion upon his interior line to Resaca, and the last of his infantry left Dalton that night, covered by a cavalry rear-guard. [Footnote: _Id_., p. 160.] Howard entered the place next morning.
Taking only a short rest, my division marched again at one o'clock through Villanow and Snake Creek Gap into Sugar Valley, followed by Judah's division of our corps, the other (Hovey's) being left to guard the gap and the trains. McPherson's army covered the direct road to Resaca, having Kilpatrick's cavalry on its right flank toward the Oostanaula; Thomas's army was in the centre, consisting of two corps (Hooker's and Palmer's) in Howard's absence; and Schofield was ordered to continue the curve to the left, my own division being the flank and directed to rest the left upon the ridge or near it, facing northward.
The different corps advanced from McPherson's intrenchments to the new line which was near Camp Creek on the Resaca road, facing east, thence curving north and west through a quarter circle to my position on the left close to the dominant ridge, and about four miles north of Sugar Valley P. O. on the main Dalton road. I sent Hanson's brigade forward to reconnoitre toward Tilton (where Howard was), and it reached Martin's store, at the forks of the Dalton and Tilton roads and the crossing of Swamp Creek. A Confederate division had left that position only an hour before, marching toward Resaca. [Footnote: Official Records, vol. xxxviii. pt. ii. p. 675. In the official Atlas (compiled after the war), plate lvii. map 2, Martin's Store is given as Roberts' Store, and the position of the enemy there is marked.]
Later in the afternoon the centre and left of the whole army swung forward toward the east into the line along Camp Creek, quite away from the Dalton road. Reilly's brigade of my division was therefore left as a detachment covering that road until we should know that Howard had advanced beyond Tilton. A regiment of Hanson's brigade was left as an outpost at Martin's store, and the rest of the brigade marched across country by the right of companies to the front, keeping touch with Judah's division and this with the left of the Army of the Cumberland. It was a rough march over ridges and streams through the forest, on the long outer curve, of which the pivot was several miles to the southeast.
Sherman had hoped to be in time to interpose between Resaca and Johnston's army, as he had said in his orders of the 12th, [Footnote: _Id_., pt. iv. p. 158.] but the Confederates had the short interior line, and Johnston had been able to concentrate about Resaca in the course of the 13th, his rear-guard resisting Howard's advance at Tilton, and his left under
Polk holding some high hills west of Camp Creek in front of Resaca which commanded the railroad bridge over the Oostanaula. With the latter exception his chosen line of defence was on the broken ridge between the Connasauga River and Camp Creek, which were nearly parallel to each other for some miles.
On the morning of the 14th the advance was renewed, guided as before by the progress of the Army of the Tennessee on the right and continuing the wheeling movement toward the east. My right brigade (Manson) continued its connection with the rest of the army, but Reilly's had a very difficult and laborious march. I ordered it to advance a mile upon the road it had covered during the night, and then by the right flank to position in line with the rest of the command. After leaving the road Reilly had to break his way through the woods, crossing sharp and deep ravines and watercourses, with no path or landmark to guide him. It was especially difficult for the artillery, and that they got through at all proved that the officers and men were experts in woodcraft. The regiment at Martin's store remained there as an outpost during the day.
Reilly came into line about ten o'clock, and we rested an hour till our flankers reported Howard's corps within supporting distance coming from Tilton. We were on the west bank of the main stream of Camp Creek, where its upper course makes an angle with the lower, some small branches coming into it from the northeast. The valley itself was open, and the change in its direction allowed it to be enfiladed by the enemy's batteries at the angle. Generals Thomas and Schofield were together upon a hill having a commanding view, and at the word from them, "The line will advance," we moved forward into the valley from the slope before them. Each brigade was in two lines, and the artillery was left on the hither side of the valley to cover the movement and reply to the enemy's cannonade. The skirmish line had been advanced to the edge of the woods on the far side, and kept the lead until we approached the Confederate trenches. We passed over two or three ridges and ravines, driving back the skirmishers of the enemy, and charged the line of earthworks on the crest of a higher ridge. Our men dropped fast as we went forward, but the line was carried and the Confederates broke from the next ridge in rear, some two hundred yards away. The direction of these ridges was such that our left was constantly thrown forward as we passed from one to another.
Judah's division on our right had not succeeded in crossing Camp Creek, and our flank was exposed to a galling artillery fire, as the ridge on which we were had its shoulder bare when it came out into the valley, whose curve gave the enemy an enfilading fire upon us. His infantry sought also to drive us out of the position we had captured, and the fighting was heavy for an hour or two. But Howard's corps came up on our left, and we made firm our hold on the hills we had gained, forcing the Confederates to adopt a new line curving to the eastward.
The division had lost 562 men, and our ammunition was nearly exhausted. [Footnote: Official Records, vol. xxxviii. pt. ii. pp. 676-679.] Wagons could not follow us, and toward evening Generals Thomas and Schofield arranged to relieve us with Newton's division of Howard's corps, let us replenish the cartridge boxes, and then pass to the left. This brought again the Army of the Cumberland together, and gave us our usual position on the flank. Newton's men came over part of the ground we had traversed, and as they crossed the open we saw them under the enemy's cannonade, the balls here and there bowling them over like tenpins. Harker's brigade came up to relieve Manson's, which was the most exposed, and Manson and I were standing together arranging the details, our horses being under cover in the edge of the wood. Harker rode up to confer with us and learn the situation, and as we talked, a shell exploded among us, the concussion stunning Manson and a fragment slightly wounding Harker. Manson's experience was a curious illustration of the effect of such an accident. He was unaware of his hurt, and only thought, in the moment of failing consciousness as he fell, that the motion was that of his companions flying upward instead of his own falling; and on coming to himself in the hospital began to speak his sorrow for what he supposed was the death of his friends. He himself never fully recovered from the effects of the concussion. Colonel Opdycke's regiment was one of the first in the winning column, and his men were hardly placed in the line before he was led back, wounded; but as soon as his wound was dressed and he had recovered a little from the shock, he was back at his post. The place was so hot a one that Harker's brigade also exhausted its ammunition and had to be relieved before the left of my own line was moved.
The captured position was firmly held by Howard's corps, whilst Hooker's, which had been relieved by the Army of the Tennessee, was marched to the left of Howard's, extending the line across the ridge toward the Connasauga and turning the enemy's flank. The whole Twenty-third Corps was also united during the night and moved to Hooker's support, where next day Hood made strong efforts to drive our line back. My own and Judah's division were held in reserve, but Hovey's was put in on Hooker's left, extending the line practically to the river, and the division took a gallant part in repulsing Hood. [Footnote: Official Records, vol. xxxviii. pt. ii. p. 511.]
On the extreme right McPherson had bridged the Oostanaula at Lay's Ferry and made demonstrations on Calhoun. The whole Army of the Tennessee had pressed forward to Camp Creek, and toward evening of the 14th forced a crossing and carried some hills near its mouth which commanded the railway bridge. [Footnote: Official Records, vol. xxxviii. pt. iii. pp. 92, 377.] Polk's Confederate corps made strong efforts to dislodge McPherson's men, but failed, and the latter intrenched the position. As Johnston had not succeeded in dislodging Sherman at either flank of the position, and the course of the Oostanaula made it possible for Sherman to put himself upon the railway near Calhoun, the Confederate general evacuated the Resaca position in the night of the 15th, retreating southward toward Kingston and Cassville.