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: ADVANCE TO THE ETOWAH
Tactics modified by character of the country--Use of the spade--Johnston's cautious defensive--Methods of
Grant and Sherman--Open country between Oostanaula and Etowah--Movement in several columns--Sherman's eagerness--Route of left wing--Of
McPherson on the right--Necessity of exact system in such marches--Route of Twenty-third Corps--Hooker gets in the way--Delays occasioned--Closing in on Cassville--Our commanding position--Johnston's march to Cassville--His order to fight there--Protest of Hood and Polk--Retreat over the Etowah--Sherman crosses near Kingston--My reconnoissance to the Allatoona crossing--Destruction of iron works and mills--Marching without baggage--Barbarism of war--Desolation it causes--Changes in our corps organization--Hascall takes Judah's division--Our place of crossing the Etowah--Interference again--Kingston the new base--Rations--Camp coffee.
The opening period of the campaign had developed the conditions of warfare in so broken and difficult a country, and they were only emphasized by the later experiences of both armies. Positions for defence could be intrenched with field-works whilst the hostile army was feeling its way forward through dense forests and over mountain ridges. To carry such positions by direct assault was so costly that the lesson of prudence was soon learned and such attacks were more and more rarely resorted to. Sherman had moved upon the enemy at Resaca as promptly as the deployment and advance could be made after the turning movement and the passage of the Snake Creek defile; but we found Johnston strongly placed, on ground naturally difficult of approach, with works which gave his men such cover as to overcome any advantage we had in numbers. Still, the enemy found in turn that we could make counter-intrenchments and quickly extend them till we turned his flanks and threatened his communications, when he must either retreat or assault our works, and that, if he assaulted, the balance of losses would turn so heavily against him as to fatally deplete his army. Johnston carefully and systematically maintained this defensive, and in Virginia, after Lee had tried the policy of attack in the Wilderness, he became as cautiously defensive as Johnston. Grant was slower than Sherman in learning the unprofitableness of attacking field-works, and his campaign was by far the more costly one. The difference in such cases goes much farther than the casualty list; it was shown in October, when Sherman's army was strong and well-seasoned, but Grant's was so full of raw recruits as almost to have lost its veteran quality. There were special reasons which led Grant to adhere so long to the more aggressive tactics, which would need to be weighed in any full treatment of the subject; but I am now only pointing out the fact that in both the East and the West the lesson was practically the same. Aggressive strategy had the advantage it always has, but defensive tactics proved generally the better in so peculiar a field of operations.
Between the Oostanaula and the Etowah was the most open portion of northern Georgia, and it was possible for Sherman to move his army southward in several columns of pursuit on parallel roads (such as they were) without extending his front over a width of more than eight or ten miles. He was eager to bring the Confederates to battle in this region, and urged his subordinates to make haste. The assignment of routes to the different columns gave the centre to
General Thomas, following the railroad in general, but putting his three corps upon as many country roads, when they could be found. General Schofield with the Twenty-third Corps was ordered to get over to the old Federal road which runs through Spring Place (east of Dalton) to Cassville. General McPherson with his two corps was sent by the Rome road and such parallel road as might be available, keeping communication with the centre. [Footnote: Official Records, vol. xxxviii. pt. iv. p. 216.] Beyond him, on the extreme right, Davis's division of the Cumberland Army supported Garrard's cavalry division in a movement upon Rome by the west side of the Oostanaula. [Footnote: _Id_., pp. 198, 202-204.] The object of the last-mentioned movement was the destruction of the Confederate machine-shops and factories at Rome, as well as to cover the flank against movements along the main route of travel from Alabama. The extreme left flank was to be covered by the cavalry of the Ohio Army under
In making such an advance, success as well as comfort depends upon the care with which the several columns are led, so that each shall keep its place, progressing equally with the others, and avoid above all things cutting into and interrupting those moving on its right or left. Each must keep the common purpose in view, and avoid obstructing the rest, for nothing is more wearisome to the troops and ruinous to the plans of the commander than to have the lines of advance cross each other. In our march of the 17th our own corps was fated to feel the full annoyance and delay of such an interference.
General Thomas ordered
Howard's corps to cross by the bridges at Resaca, followed by Palmer's, which was diminished by the absence of Davis's division. He also ordered Hooker's corps to march by the long neck between the Oostanaula and Connasauga rivers to Newtown, and cross the Oostanaula there. Hooker would then follow such roads as he could find within two or three miles of Howard's line of march toward Adairsville. Sherman and Thomas both were with Howard. [Footnote: _Id_., pp. 202, 209, 210, 216, 217.]
Schofield ordered the divisions of the Twenty-third Corps to cross the Connasauga at different places, and make their way by different roads eastward to the Federal road crossing of the Coosawattee, turning south after crossing that river and marching till abreast of Adairsville and some four or five miles distant from it. As we had to gain several miles of easting and to cross two rivers before marching southward, ours was, of course, much the longer route; and as the pontoons were all in use at Resaca and Lay's Ferry, we had to find fords or build trestle-bridges.
I marched my own division to Hogan's Ford on the Connasauga, two miles below Tilton, and there crossed in water so deep that the men had to strip and carry their clothes and arms on their heads. Once over we pushed for the Federal road and the crossing of the Coosawattee at Field's Ferry. The other two divisions of the corps crossed the Connasauga at or near Fite's Ferry, where were trestle-bridges. [Footnote: Official Records, vol. xxxviii. pt. iv. p. 210.]
General Hooker started upon the Newtown road, which runs southward some miles upon a long, narrow ridge which here separates the Oostanaula from its tributary; but before he had gone far he learned that the crossing at Newtown (the mouth of the Connasauga) was unfordable, and other means of getting over doubtful. He now turned abruptly to the east, crossed the Connasauga at Fite's, and marched toward McClure's Ford on the Coosawattee. [Footnote: _Id_., pp. 205, 206.] In moving out from Hogan's (or Hobart's) Ford, I had learned that the road from the north which crosses the Coosawattee at McClure's was probably the principal and shortest route to Cassville and had reported this to General Schofield, who ordered Judah's and
Hovey's division to take the most direct roads to McClure's. These columns, however, ran into Hooker's, which were making for the same point and had headed Schofield's off, having the inner of the concentric routes on which we were marching. Neither at McClure's nor the more distant ferry at Field's Mill was there any bridge or tolerable ford, and Hooker was no better off than he would have been at Newtown. This movement had wholly disjointed Sherman's plan of keeping the three armies upon separate lines of march. Finding no means for rapid crossing at McClure's, he pushed one of his divisions to Field's, and so occupied and blocked both of the Coosawattee crossings, which by the orders should have been wholly at Schofield's disposal. We found ourselves obliged therefore to camp on the north side of the Coosawattee on the night of the 16th, instead of being well over that river and ready for a prompt advance on the 17th. [Footnote: Official Records, vol. xxxviii. pt. iv. pp. 210, 211, 220, 221, 225, 226.] Hooker himself might much better have obeyed his original orders. He reported to Thomas at ten o'clock on the morning of the 17th that he was not yet over, and had not the means of constructing a bridge that would stand; in short, that he had been "bothered beyond parallel." [Footnote: _Id_., p. 221.] When Schofield requested that he would allow our troops to take precedence of the Twentieth Corps wagons at either the ferry or the bridge, so that Sherman's expectation might not be disappointed, Hooker suggested that we should march back to Resaca and follow Thomas across the bridges there, thus getting into the place he himself should have taken if the Newtown crossing had been really impossible! [Footnote: _Id_., p. 227.]
Modern systems lay great stress upon the most scrupulous care on the part of corps commanders to follow the roads assigned them, and to avoid trespassing upon those assigned to others. Moltke has even condensed the whole strategic art of moving troops into "marching divided in order to fight united," and to avoid interference and confusion of columns _en route_ is quite as essential as to keep tactical manoeuvres on the battle-field from crossing each other. [Footnote: See Prince Hohenlohe-Ingelfingen's Letters on Strategy (Wolseley Series), vol. ii. pp. 160, 161, 185, 237, etc.] No better proof of the necessity of the rule could be given than this. Sherman was most anxious to bring Johnston to battle in the open country between the two rivers, and ordered his subordinates to press the pursuit and to engage the enemy wherever he might be overtaken, trusting to the quick advance of the several columns to their support. [Footnote: Official Records, vol. xxxviii. pt. iv. pp. 201, 202, 211, 220, 232, 242.] Anything which delayed the columns or put them on different roads from those indicated by the commanding general, directly tended to thwart his plans. All of Sherman's dispatches during the 17th, 18th, and 19th of May show his disappointment at not getting forward more rapidly.
Johnston seemed disposed, in the afternoon of the 17th, to meet Sherman's wish for a decisive battle, and had selected a position a mile or two north of Adairsville, where the valley of the Oothcaloga Creek seemed narrow enough to give strong positions for his flanks on the hills bordering it. Preliminary orders were given and the cavalry was strongly supported by infantry to hold back Sherman's advance-guard till the deployment should be completed. The skirmishing was so brisk that, at a distance, it sounded like a battle; but upon testing the position by a partial deployment, Johnston concluded that his army would not fill it, and he resumed his retreat on Cassville and Kingston, hoping that Sherman's columns would be so separated that he could concentrate upon one of them, and so fight his adversary in detail. [Footnote: Narrative, pp. 319, 320.]
Schofield had pressed the march of his troops after getting over the Coosawattee, but the interruptions had been such that the distance made was not great, though the time was long and the troops were more tired than if they had made double the number of miles on an unobstructed road. My division was on the extreme left flank and in advance. After crossing the river at Field's Mill, the infantry by Hooker's foot-bridge and the artillery by the flat-boat ferry, I marched at ten o'clock in the evening and reached Big Spring Creek at two o'clock in the morning of the 18th. Resting only till five o'clock, we marched again, going southward on the Cassville road three miles, thence westward on the Adairsville road five miles to Marsteller's Mill. The other divisions of our corps took roads westward of that which I followed, and the cavalry under
Stoneman passed beyond our left flank, scouting up the valley of Salequa Creek as far as Fairmount and Pine Log Post-Office. Hooker moved two of his divisions toward Calhoun after getting over the Coosawattee, and these regained the position relative to the rest of Thomas's army which the corps had been ordered to take. The other division (Butterfield's), which had crossed in advance of my own at Field's Mill, was necessarily on roads assigned to Schofield's command, and a good deal of interference was inevitable. Hooker was personally with this division, and in the afternoon of the 18th met General Schofield at Marsteller's Mill, and then went forward about six miles to the foot of the Gravelly Plateau, Butterfield's division going still further forward on its top. [Footnote: Official Records, vol. xxxviii. pt. iv. pp. 238-242. The Atlas of the Official Records does not give the routes of all the columns of either Hooker's or Schofield's corps, nor does it give the line of march of the cavalry on our left. The march of my own division is fixed by the memoranda of my personal diary of the campaign. The official "Atlas" (Plate lviii.) gives two mills as Marsteller's. It is difficult to identify the several roads, but my own line of march was the principal Cassville road leading from Field's Mills and ferry through Sonora until we reached the road running directly to Adairsville. On this last we marched to Marsteller's Mills. Our route on the 19th is also incorrectly marked on the map. See Official Records, vol. xxxviii. pt. iv. p. 256.]
General Schofield assembled the corps at the mills and rested for the night. Early on the 19th my division took the advance and marched southward on by-roads till we overtook Hooker's corps and found it in line of battle, its movement being disputed by the enemy's cavalry. Schofield deployed his corps on Hooker's left, my division taking the extreme flank and advancing in line to the south fork of Two Run Creek. Crossing this, we went forward to a position a mile northeast of Cassville, briskly skirmishing with part of Hood's corps. We found that we were opposite the extreme right of the Confederate position, which was a strong one on the hills behind Cassville; but an exchange of artillery shots satisfied us that we to some extent enfiladed their intrenchments. [Footnote: Official Records, vol. xxxviii. pt. ii. p. 680.] The concentration of Thomas's army with Schofield's made a continuous line facing the enemy on the north and west. Night was falling as we took position.
Johnston had followed the railroad to Kingston, where he was joined by French's division coming to Polk's corps from Rome, and still stuck to the general line of the railway to Cassville, though this led him by a considerable detour to the east. His manifest policy was to make the largest use of the railroad to move his baggage and supply his troops, for wagon trains were not over-abundant with the Confederates. He naturally reckoned also that Sherman could not go far from the same line, and as the road crossed the Etowah near the gorges of the Allatoona hills, he wished to lead the national commander into that difficult country from the north, instead of taking the more direct wagon-roads from Kingston toward Marietta. Could Sherman have been sure of the route his adversary would take, no doubt he would have concentrated his columns by shortest roads on Cassville, gaining possibly a day thereby. [Footnote: _Id_., pt. iv. pp. 242, 266.]
The position on the hills behind the village of Cassville was so strong a one, and Johnston so much desired to offer battle at an early day, that he resolved to retreat no further and to try conclusions with Sherman here. He signified this in an unusually formal manner by issuing a brief and stirring address to his troops, in which he said that as their communications were now secure, they would turn and meet our advancing columns. "Fully confiding in the conduct of the officers and the courage of the soldiers," he said, "I lead you to battle" [Footnote: Official Records, vol. xxxviii. pt. iv. p. 728.] But when our left flank crossed Two Run Creek and partly turned the right of his position, his corps commanders, Hood and Polk, became so uneasy that they protested against giving battle there, and induced Johnston to continue the retreat through Cartersville across the Etowah River. He saw the mistake he had made as soon as it was done, and never ceased to regret it. [Footnote: Narrative, p. 323, etc.] The Richmond government had been disappointed at his retreat from Dalton and Resaca and its continuation through Adairsville. His strained relations with Mr. Davis were rapidly tending toward his deprivation of command. But more strictly military reasons made his change of purpose very undesirable. Hardly anything is more destructive of the confidence of an army than vacillation. The order to fight had been published, and even a defeat might be less mischievous than the sudden retreat in the night without joining the battle which had been so formally announced. Either the order had been an error or the retreat was one. Every soldier in the army knew this, and the _morale_ of the whole was necessarily affected by it.
Sherman had no mind to follow the enemy into the defiles of Allatoona from Cartersville. His position at Kingston offered a far more easy way to turn that fastness by the south, if he could replenish his stores, rebuild the bridges behind him, and make Kingston the base for a march upon Dallas and thence on Marietta. On the 20th of May his orders were issued for the new movement, to begin on the 23d with preparation for a twenty days' separation from the railroad. [Footnote: Official Records, vol. xxxviii. pt. iv. p. 271.] My own duty on the 20th was to follow the enemy's rear-guard to the river and learn the condition of the bridges and crossings. The division marched early, most of the distance to Cartersville being made in line of battle, the opposition being at times stubborn. The purpose of this was probably to prepare for the destruction of the bridges, which were burned as soon as the rear-guard crossed. We sent detachments to destroy the Etowah Mills and Iron Works a few miles above; [Footnote: _Id_., pp. 286, 298.] meanwhile General Schofield concentrated the Army of the Ohio at Cartersville, General Thomas occupied Kingston as the centre, and McPherson came into position on the right near the same place. General J. C. Davis's division had occupied Rome, finding there important iron-works and machine-shops as well as considerable depots of supplies. [Footnote: _Id_., p. 264.] General Blair was advancing from Decatur, Ala., with the Seventeenth Corps, under orders to relieve Davis at Rome, when the latter would rejoin Palmer's corps at the front.
The ten days which had passed since the movement to turn the enemy's position at Dalton was begun, had been in literal obedience to the order to march without baggage. At my headquarters we were, in fact, worse off than the men in the ranks, for, although the private soldier finds his knapsack, haversack, canteen, and coffee-kettle a burden and a clattering annoyance, he soon learns to bear them patiently, for they are the necessary condition of the comparative comfort of his bivouac when the day's march is over. The veteran, indeed, clings to them with eager tenacity, when he has fully learned that they are his salvation from utter misery. But the officer, whose hours of halting are crowded with important business, and whose movements must be light and quick whenever occasion arises, cannot carry on his person or on his horse the outfit necessary for his cooking and his shelter. We had been full of the most earnest zeal to respond thoroughly to the general's wishes, and had not tried to smuggle into wagons or ambulances any extra comforts. We had left mess chests behind, and had used our fingers for forks and our pocket-knives for carving, turning sardine boxes into dishes, and other tins in which preserved meats are put up into coffee-cups. Such roughing can be kept up for a week or two, but it is not a real economy of means to make it permanent. A compromise must be found in which the wholesome cooking of food and the shelter in a rainstorm, without which no dispatches can be written or records kept, may be made to consist with the lightness of transportation which active campaigning requires. The simple, closely packed kitchen kit of a Rob-Roy canoe voyager was more or less completely anticipated by the devices and inventions born of necessity in our campaign in Georgia. The remainder of the season bore witness that we could organize our camp life so as to secure cleanliness of person and healthful living without transgressing the reasonable rules as to weight and bulk of baggage which Sherman insisted on. Every day proved the reasonableness of his system, without which the campaign could not have been made.
The tendency of war to make men relapse into barbarism becomes most evident when an army is living in any degree upon the enemy's country. Desolation follows in its track, and the utmost that discipline can do is to mitigate the evil. The habit of disregarding rights of property grows apace. The legitimate exercise of the rules of war is not easily distinguished from their abuse. The crops are trampled down, the fences disappear, the timber is felled for breastworks and for camp-fires, the green forage is used for the army horses and mules, barns and houses may be dismantled to build or to floor a bridge,--all this is necessary and lawful. But the pigs and the poultry also disappear, though the subsistence officers are issuing full and abundant rations to the troops; the bacon is gone from the smoke-house, the flour from the bin, the delicacies from the pantry. These things, though forbidden, are half excused by sympathy with the soldier's craving for variety of food. Yet, as the habit of measuring right by might goes on, pillage becomes wanton and arson is committed to cover the pillage. The best efforts of a provost-marshal with his guard will be useless when superior officers, and especially colonels of regiments, encourage or wink at license. The character of different commands becomes as notoriously different as that of the different men of a town. Our armies were usually free from the vagabond class of professional camp-followers that scour a European battlefield and strip the dead and the wounded. We almost never heard of criminal personal assaults upon the unarmed and defenceless; but we cannot deny that a region which had been the theatre of active war became desolate sooner or later. A vacant house was pretty sure to be burned, either by malice or by accident, until, with fences gone, the roads an impassable mire, the fields bare and cut up with innumerable wagon-tracks, no living thing to be seen but carrion birds picking the bones of dead horses and mules, Dante's "Inferno" could not furnish a more horrible and depressing picture than a countryside when war has swept over it. [Footnote: Official Records, vol. xxxviii. pt. iv. pp. 273, 297, 298.]
The orders issued from our army headquarters in Georgia forbade soldiers from entering houses or stripping families of the necessaries of life. Most of the officers honestly tried to enforce this rule; but in an army of a hundred thousand men, a small fraction of the whole would be enough to spoil the best efforts of the rest. The people found, too, that it was not only the enemy they had to fear. The worse disciplined of their own troops and the horde of stragglers were often as severe a scourge as the enemy. [Footnote: See Hood's orders, Official Records, vol. xxxviii. pt. v. pp. 960, 963.] Yet I believe that nowhere in the world is respect for person and property more sincere than among our own people. The evils described are those which may be said to be necessarily incident to the waging of war, and are not indications of ferocity of nature or uncommon lack of discipline.
In the organization of the Army of the Ohio, General Schofield made an important change by assigning Brigadier-General Hascall to command the second division in place of General Judah. In the battle of Resaca the division suffered severe loss without accomplishing anything, and General Schofield found, on investigation, that it was due to the incompetency of the officer commanding it. [Footnote: Official Records, vol. xxxviii. pt. iv. p. 243.] The brigade commanders, in their reports, complained severely of the way in which the division had been handled, and the army commander felt obliged to examine and to act promptly. [Footnote: _Id_., pt. ii. pp. 581, 610, 611.] Judah was a regular officer, major of the Fourth Infantry, a graduate of West Point in the class of 1843, but lacked the judgment and coolness in action necessary in grave responsibilities. General Schofield kindly softened the treatment of the matter in his report of the campaign, but in his personal memoirs he repeats the judgment he originally acted upon. [Footnote: Schofield's Report, _Id_., pt. ii. p. 511; Forty-two Years in the Army, p. 182. In the passage of his memoirs last referred to, General Schofield had been using the case of General Wagner at Franklin to give point to "the necessity of the higher military education, and the folly of intrusting high commands to men without such education" (p. 181); but he also distinctly recognizes the fact that such education is gained by experience, and the fault of those he uses as illustrations was that they had not learned either by experience or theoretically. I have discussed the subject in vol. i. chapter ix., _ante_. There must be knowledge; but even this will be of no use unless there are the personal qualities which fit for high commands.] The crossing of the Etowah River on May 23d was again the occasion of an interference of columns, because Sherman's orders were not faithfully followed. To McPherson was assigned a country bridge near the mouth of Connasene Creek, to Thomas one four miles southeast of Kingston, known as Gillem's Bridge, and to Schofield two pontoon bridges to be laid at the site of Milam's Bridge, which had been burned. There were fords near all these crossings which were also to be utilized as far as practicable. [Footnote: Sherman's general plan was given to his subordinates in person, but he repeated it to
Halleck, Official Records vol. xxxviii. pt. iv. p. 274. Thomas's order is given, _Id._, p. 289, and accompanying sketch, p. 290. Gillem's Bridge in the Atlas is called Free Bridge, plate lviii. Schofield's place for pontoon bridges is fixed by his dispatch to Sherman, _Id._, p. 284, my own dispatch, _Id._, p. 298, and my official report, _Id._, pt. ii. p. 680. The line of march and place of crossing as given in the Atlas are incorrect.] We marched from Cartersville on the Euharlee road by the way of the hamlet of Etowah Cliffs, till we reached the direct road from Cassville to Milam's Bridge, when we found the way blocked by Hooker's corps, which had possession of the pontoons which Schofield's engineer had placed. Hooker, however, was not responsible for this, as he had been ordered to change his line of march by a dispatch from Thomas's headquarters written without stopping to inquire how such a change might conflict with Schofield's right of way and with Sherman's plans. Halted thus about noon, we were not able to resume the march till next day, as Hooker had ordered his supply trains to follow his column. [Footnote: _Id._, pt. iv. pp. 283, 291. Schofield to Sherman and reply, _Id._, pp. 296, 297. When I wrote "Atlanta," I supposed Hooker acted without orders.] The incident only emphasizes the way in which we learned by experience the importance of strict system in such movements, and the mischiefs almost sure to follow when there is any departure from a plan of march once arranged. There was, of course, no intention to make an interference, and the difficulty rarely, if ever, occurred in the subsequent parts of the campaign.
In preparation for the movement to turn Johnston's new position at Allatoona we were ordered to provide for twenty days' absence from direct railway communication. Within that time Sherman expected to regain the railway again and establish supply depots near the camps. Meanwhile Kingston was made the base, and was garrisoned with a brigade. [Footnote: Official Records, vol. xxxviii. pt. iv. pp. 272, 274, 278.] The returning veterans were coming back by regiments and were fully supplying the losses of the campaign with men of the very best quality and full of enthusiasm. Nine regiments joined the Twenty-third Corps or were _en route_ during the brief halt at the Etowah. [Footnote: _Id._, p. 291.] The ration was the full supply of fresh beef from the herds driven with the army, varied by bacon two days in the week, a pound of bread, flour, or corn-meal per man each day, and the small rations of coffee, sugar and salt. [Footnote: _Id._, p. 272.] Vegetables and forage were to some extent gathered from the country. The coffee was always issued roasted, but in the whole berry, and was uniformly first-rate in quality. The soldiers carried at the belt a tin quart-pail, in which the coffee was crushed as well as boiled. The pail was set upon a flat stone like a cobbler's lapstone, and the coffee berries were broken by using the butt of the bayonet as a pestle. At break of day every camp was musical with the clangor of these primitive coffee-mills. The coffee was fed to the mill a few berries at a time, and the veterans had the skill of gourmands in getting just the degree of fineness in crushing which would give the best strength and flavor. The cheering beverage was the comfort and luxury of camp life, and we habitually spoke of halting to make coffee, as in the French army they speak of their _soupe_.