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: NEW HOPE CHURCH AND THE KENNESAW LINES
Sherman's plan for June--Movements of 24th May--Johnston's position at Dallas and New Hope Church--We concentrate to attack--Pickett's Mill--Dallas--Flanking movements--Method developed by the character of the country--Closer personal relations to Sherman--Turning Johnston's right--Cross-roads at Burnt Church--A tangled forest--Fighting in a thunderstorm--Sudden freshet--Bivouac in a thicket--Johnston retires to a new line--Formidable character of the old one--Sherman extends to the railroad on our left--Blair's corps joins the army--General Hovey's retirement--The principles involved--Politics and promotions.
Sherman's general plan of campaign for the month of June was to move his army in several columns upon Dallas, and then along the ridge between the Etowah and Chattahooche rivers on Marietta. As Johnston was at Allatoona and his cavalry was active all along the south bank of the Etowah, our left flank was not only covered by
Stoneman's cavalry, but Schofield was purposely held back a day's march so as to cover the rear as well as the flank, which was exposed to a possible attack from Johnston as we marched south and opened a space between us and the river, uncovering the supply trains which filled the roads over which the troops had passed.
After crossing the river at Milam's bridge on May 24th, we turned eastward through Stilesborough, to and across Richland Creek, reaching the road on the upland which runs from Cassville to Marietta by way of Rowland's Ferry. Stoneman, who had crossed the Etowah with his division of horse at Shellman's Ford on the 22d, and covered the laying of the pontoon bridges at Milam's, went back to look after a raid by the Confederate cavalry at Cass Station, and was not able to return to his position south of the river until the evening of the 24th, when he scouted the road toward Allatoona. Having the advance, my division marched southward on the Marietta road to Sligh's Mill, where the road forks, the right-hand branch turning southwest, along the ridge, to Huntsville, better known in the neighborhood as Burnt Hickory. This place was about half-way on the direct road from Kingston to Dallas, and was the rendezvous for the Cumberland Army for the night. We camped at Sligh's Mill, being joined by Hascall's division of our corps. Hovey's division and the corps trains took the road from Stilesborough up Raccoon Creek, some miles west of us and covered by our march. The Army of the Tennessee reached VanWert, some miles west of Burnt Hickory, on the Rome and Dallas road.
We lay at Sligh's Mill during the 25th, till five P.M., [Footnote: Official Records, vol. xxxviii. pt. iv. p. 311.] giving time for
McPherson to approach Dallas, and for
Thomas to continue his movement of the centre upon the same place. We were then to march to Burnt Hickory and follow Thomas to Dallas. But the enemy was also active and modified our program. His cavalry had reported our concentration in front of Kingston, and the laying of our pontoons at Milam's bridge on the 23d. [Footnote: _Id._, p. 737.] They had also made a reconnoissance to Cass Station, and found nothing there but the wagons of the Twenty-third Corps, of which a number were captured and destroyed. Satisfied that Sherman was marching southward in force, Johnston immediately put his army in motion.
Hardee's Corps, being his left, marched to Dallas and took position south of the town, covering the main road to Atlanta and extending its line northeast toward New Hope Church. Hood was assigned to the right at the church, and
Polk had the interval in the centre, upon the main road they had travelled from Allatoona. The line was along the ridge dividing the headwaters of Pumpkin Vine Creek, which flows northward into the Etowah, from the sources of the Sweetwater and Powder-spring creeks which empty into the Chattahoochee at the south.
The movement was begun on the 24th, and in the forenoon of the 25th the Confederate troops were taking the positions assigned them, covered by their cavalry. A captured dispatch gave Sherman useful information, and he directed that instead of marching straight to Dallas,
Hooker should test the appearance of hostile force toward New Hope Church, turning off on the Marietta road at Owen's Mill. This brought on the fierce combat at New Hope Church, where Hood's Corps held its line against Hooker's very vigorous attack. The fighting began about four o'clock in the afternoon and lasted till darkness put an end to it. All the other troops of the grand army were hurried forward. McPherson continued his march to Dallas, Thomas hastened the Fourth Corps to Hooker's support, holding part of the Fourteenth as a general reserve, and Schofield was directed to hasten the march of the Twenty-third Corps by way of Burnt Hickory.
My division marched from Sligh's Mill at five o'clock, and on reaching Burnt Hickory took the road Hooker had travelled to Owen's Mill, accompanied by Hascall's division, Hovey's being left near Burnt Hickory to protect the trains. A thunderstorm with pouring rain came on soon after we started and lasted through the night. On reaching the road behind Hooker, we found it filled with his wagons, and the storm, the darkness, and the obstructed road produced a combination of miseries which made the march slow and fatiguing to the last degree. We plodded on till midnight, but had not yet reached Pumpkin Vine Creek, when we halted for a little rest, and to get further orders from Schofield, who had before nightfall gone on to communicate with Sherman. Word came that he was disabled by an accident when on his way back to us, and I was directed to lead the two divisions forward and report to Sherman. After a halt of an hour the men fell into ranks again, and pressing the toilsome march, reached the field at daybreak. [Footnote: Official Records, vol. xxxviii. pt. iv. pp. 303, 311, 320. The official Atlas is again inaccurate in making our line of advance from Sligh's Mill follow the Marietta road instead of that to Burnt Hickory (Huntsville).]
By Sherman's orders we joined the Fourth Corps (Howard's), extending its line to the left, and the whole swung forward through a terribly tangled forest till we passed Brown's saw-mill and reached the open valley which was the continuation of that in front of Hooker, and took our extreme left over the Dallas and Allatoona road. We had met with a strong skirmishing resistance, for Johnston was manifestly unwilling to give up the control of the road we had crossed. Having thus partly turned the Confederate position on our left, Sherman hoped that McPherson might complete their dislodgment by a similar flanking movement through Dallas on our right. [Footnote: _Id._, pp. 321, 322.] The distances, however, were greater than we estimated, and though McPherson kept with him Davis's division of Palmer's Corps (greatly to Palmer's disgust), [Footnote: _Id._, pp. 316, 324.] he was still unable to connect his line with Hooker's, and occupied an isolated, salient position in front of Dallas which would be perilous if Johnston were able to concentrate upon him.
The enemy's line was along one of the smaller branches of Pumpkin Vine Creek, and Sherman ordered for the 27th that McPherson should press toward the left down the little valley, whilst Howard, with one division of his own corps withdrawn from the line and one division of Palmer's which had been in reserve, should push out beyond our left and turn the enemy's right near Pickett's Mill. A brigade of the Twenty-third Corps moved in the interval to cover Howard's flank and keep connection with the intrenched line. The almost impenetrable character of the forest made the movement slow, and it was late in the afternoon when Howard reached the enemy's position. He found they too had been busy in extending their lines, though pretty sharply recurved, to the eastward. The fierce combat did not succeed in carrying the Confederate position, but it gained good ground near the mill, better covering all the roads toward the railway. The left wing of the Twenty-third Corps swung forward to Howard's position, and all intrenched strongly upon it.
On May 28th McPherson was ordered to prepare for moving to the extreme left, continuing the extension of our line toward the railroad. Suspecting this, the Confederates made a fierce attack upon the position in front of Dallas, but were repulsed with heavy loss. At McPherson's request his movement was delayed a little, lest it should seem to be forced by Johnston's attack. [Footnote: Official Records, vol. xxxviii. pt. iv. pp. 339, 340.]
Sherman had been very unwilling to give up the hope of putting Johnston's army to rout in a decisive engagement, and to accept, instead, the patient flanking movements by which he should force upon his adversary the dilemma of abandoning more and more of Georgia, or of himself making attacks upon intrenched lines. In writing to
Halleck after the battle of Resaca, he had said that although the campaign was progressing favorably, he knew that his army "must have one or more bloody battles such as have characterized Grant's terrific struggles." [Footnote: _Id._, p. 219.] But the affairs at New Hope Church and Pickett's Mill show that the country was so impracticable that it was not possible to deliver an attack by his whole army at once, and so to give real unity to a great battle. He was therefore brought, perforce, to accept the systematic advance by flanking movements, and to avoid assaults upon intrenched positions on the forest-covered hills. He knew that this policy would bring a time when the enemy could no longer afford to retreat and must resort to aggressive tactics, even at the risk of destruction to his army. It was a curious repetition of the ancient colloquy,--"If thou art a great general, come down and fight me.--If thou art a great general, make me come down and fight thee." It may be readily admitted that in such a country as Central Europe other methods would have been feasible and preferable; but in the tangled wildernesses of Virginia and Georgia the matter was brought to the test by leaders who had courage and will equal to any, and the result was a system which may be confidently said to be the natural evolution of warfare in such environment. Johnston knew that his retreat, though slow, was giving dissatisfaction to President Davis at Richmond, but he saw also that to assault Sherman's lines meant final and irretrievable disaster, and he continued his patient and steady defence. Our progress around his right warned him that the New Hope Church position must soon be abandoned, and a new one was already selected, closer to Marietta, with Kennesaw, Pine and Lost mountains, for its strongholds.
The two or three days during which General Schofield had been disabled had brought me into closer personal relations with Sherman than I had enjoyed before, and was the beginning of an intimate friendship which lasted as long as he lived. I had the opportunity of learning more of his characteristics and his methods, and saw how sound his judgment was, and how cool a prudence there was behind his apparent impulsiveness. The untiring activity of his mind turned every problem over and over until he had viewed it from every point and considered the probable consequences of each mode of solving it. At bottom of all lay the indomitable courage and will which were only stimulated by obstacles, and which stuck to the inexorable purpose of keeping the initiative and making each day bring him nearer to a successful end of the campaign.
By the 1st of June McPherson had brought the Army of the Tennessee into close connection with the centre, where Palmer's Corps of the Cumberland Army had its three divisions reunited (except one brigade), relieving us and enabling Thomas to draw out Hooker's Corps as a reserve. The orders for the 2d were that we were to pass to the left beyond Howard's Corps, and push out upon the Burnt Hickory and Marietta road, turning the enemy's flank and reaching, if possible, the cross-roads where it intersected a second road leading from New Hope Church to Ackworth, a little in rear of the enemy's lines. The object was to cover more completely the connections with the railroad south of the Etowah, and to gain positions which would take in reverse portions of the Confederate lines. Hooker's Corps was ordered to support this movement on our extreme left. The cavalry were ordered to make a combined effort to reach Allatoona Pass on the railroad, and to hold it till Blair's (Seventeenth) Corps, coming from Alabama by way of Rome, could arrive and occupy it in force. [Footnote: Official Records, vol. xxxviii. pt. iv. pp. 348, 349, 362, 366, 367.]
Stoneman with the cavalry of the Army of the Ohio entered Allatoona on June 1st, and reported the gorge a place he could hold against a superior force. [Footnote: _Id_., p. 379.] General Johnston was so well persuaded that his position was no longer tenable that he issued the same day a confidential order directing a withdrawal, but recalled it late in the day in view of the changes evidently going on at our extreme right, and so remained a few days longer. [Footnote: _Id_., p. 753.] On the morning of the 2d, the preliminary changes in the line being completed, Schofield marched with the Twenty-third Corps to the left until he reached the Burnt Hickory and Marietta road, near the Cross Roads Church, or Burnt Church, [Footnote: _Id_., p. 396.] then turning to the east and guiding his left on the road he pushed forward through an almost impenetrable forest where it was impossible to see two rods. There was great difficulty in keeping the movement of the invisible skirmish line in accord with the line of battle, which we directed by compass, like a ship at sea. In the advance, my adjutant-general, Captain Saunders, was mortally wounded by my side, as we were riding, unconscious of our danger, through an opening out of our skirmishers in a momentary loss of direction. There were extensive thickets of the loblolly pine occasionally met, where these scrub trees were so thick and their branches so interlaced that neither man nor horse could force a way through them, and the movement would be delayed till these densest places were turned by marching around them. The connection would then be made again, the direction of the skirmishers rectified, and the advance resumed. The regiments advanced by the right of companies in columns of fours at deploying distance, but not even the men of a company could see those on right or left, so dense was the tangle.
We passed over the divide separating Pumpkin Vine Creek, and its branches from Allatoona Creek, and the sharp skirmishing began as we approached the latter. The afternoon was well advanced when we reached the creek, and a heavy thunderstorm broke as our line forded the stream and pushed up the hill on the other side. We now drew the artillery fire from an intrenched line on the crest which we could not see, and for a time the mingled roar of the thunder and of the enemy's cannon was such that it was hard to tell the one from the other. My advanced line closed in as near the intrenchments as possible, whilst the second remained on the hither side of the creek. At my request Hascall's division swung still farther out to the left to develop the line of the enemy's works, and Schofield asked
Butterfield's division of Hooker's Corps to advance on the extreme flank. He found that Hascall developed the full extent of the Confederate line, and thought it a good opportunity to take the position in reverse. Butterfield, however, declined to do more than move up to Hascall's support in rear, and night fell before Schofield could accomplish anything decisive. [Footnote: Official Records, vol. xxxviii. pt. iv. p. 386. In this instance the question of relative rank by date of commission was slightly involved. Butterfield claimed to rank Schofield and declined to do more than is stated. Schofield's Report, _Id_., pt. ii. p. 512; Schofield's Forty-six Years in the Army, p. 130.]
The downpour of rain had been such that the creek, which was insignificant when we first came to it, became unfordable before sunset, and gave me no little concern for the first line of my division, which was over it. It was ordered to cover itself with such abatis as could be speedily made and to intrench, whilst we improvised footbridges for crossing to its support if it should be attacked. I announced that my headquarters for the night would be immediately in rear of the centre of my second line; but when the pressure of duty was off and I was at liberty to go to the position I had named, I found that it was one of the densest parts of a pine thicket, and I could not even get back of the troops in line till a path was cut for me by a detachment of men with axes. They cleared a narrow way for a few rods, and then widened it out into a circular space at the foot of the trunk of a great tree so that there was room for a camp-fire, and for two or three of us to bivouac, but most of the staff remained at a more approachable place a little in rear. [Footnote: Official Records, vol. xxxviii. pt. iv. p. 396.] We regarded it so important that the notice given to subordinates of our whereabouts at night should not be misleading, that we stuck to the place that had been named, in spite of the inconvenience and discomfort. The fall of rain is amusingly illustrated by the fact that in the height of the storm my knee-boots filled with the water running off me, and I emptied them as I sat in the saddle by lifting first one leg and then the other up in front of me till the water ran out of the boot-top in a stream. I had been a little ailing for a day or two, and my sleep was not as sound as it usually was even in close contact with the hostile lines. In the wakeful hours the loss of my friend and able staff officer, Captain Saunders, filled me with mournful thoughts; for though the daily work under fire had exposed all the little circle at headquarters to casualties, our good fortune hitherto had bred a sort of confidence in immunity, and the sudden fall of him who had been the centre of the staff group and a personal favorite with all was a heavy blow to us when we had time to think of it.
Next morning Schofield arranged with
General Thomas to relieve Hovey's division of our corps which had been on our right, and marching this division beyond Hascall's on our extreme left, the whole line went forward. The Confederate intrenchment in my immediate front was completely outflanked, and was found to be a detached position which the enemy abandoned when threatened by Hascall's advance, and my men at once occupied it. The movement was continued until Hovey's division was upon the interior Dallas and Ackworth road near Allatoona church, whilst my division and Hascall's held the cross roads which had been covered by the fortifications we had captured. Hooker's Corps passed beyond Hovey, covering the flank to the eastward. Sherman now hastened the extension of the line toward the railroad by passing the whole army behind us, till by the 6th we became the extreme right flank of the army. [Footnote: Official Records, vol. xxxviii. pt. ii. p. 681; _Id._, pt. iv. p. 407.] Johnston had abandoned his position on the night of the 4th, falling back on the new line he had selected with his left resting on Lost Mountain and his right upon Brush Mountain, the next eminence north of Kennesaw. [Footnote: _Id._, pt. iv. pp. 408, 758.]
The abandonment of the New Hope line gave us the opportunity to examine it, which, of course, we did with great interest. It was about six miles long, of the most formidable character of field fortifications. The entry in my diary says of them that we found them "very strong, both for artillery and infantry, with abatis carefully sharpened and staked down. They have never before shown so much industry and finished their defensive works with so much care." When it is remembered that these lines could only be approached through forests which hid everything till we were right upon them, it will easily be believed that we congratulated ourselves that the enemy was manoeuvred out of them and was being crowded back till he must soon assume the aggressive and assault our works.
Sherman's new positions placed McPherson's army on Proctor's Creek, a branch of the Allatoona in front of Ackworth on the railroad, Thomas's army between Mt. Olivet Church and Golgotha, covering the principal roads from Cassville and Kingston to Marietta and Lost Mountain, whilst Schofield was placed in echelon on the right flank, covering the hospitals and trains until the base could be transferred to the railway. [Footnote: Official Records, vol. xxxviii. pt. iv. pp. 423, 428, 430.] My own division was left for some days in the position we had carried on the 3d, about a mile separated from the rest of the line. A pontoon bridge was laid at the Etowah railway crossing till the great bridge could be constructed, and General Blair, who was on the 6th at Kingston, with two divisions of the Seventeenth Corps, was ordered to march to Ackworth by this direct road. [Footnote: _Id_., p. 424.] Blair's command was the only important reinforcement received by Sherman during the campaign, and just about made up for the losses by battle and by sickness up to the time of its arrival. A more open belt of country lay along the western side of the line from Kennesaw to Lost Mountain, and Sherman hurried the readjustment of his forces in the hope of a decisive engagement with Johnston by the 9th of June or soon afterward.
A change now occurred in the organization of our corps which afterward became a matter of so much historical notoriety that it may be worth while to give the particulars with accuracy. General Hovey tendered his resignation as a division commander, and asked a leave of absence to await the action of the President upon it. The reasons assigned by him were his dissatisfaction and unwillingness to serve longer with his division, which he claimed should be increased by five regiments of Indiana cavalry, recruited at the same time and in connection with his infantry regiments, and, as he asserted, with some assurance that they should be one organization under him. He also intimated that he had reason to expect promotion which had not been given him.
I have already mentioned some dissatisfaction on General Schofield's part with him at the beginning of the campaign, [Footnote: _Ante_, p. 214.] but the middle of the campaign seemed so inconvenient a time to make a change that Schofield sought earnestly to smooth the matter over, and tried to obtain for Hovey other troops to increase the size of his division. [Footnote: Official Records, vol. xxxviii. pt. iv. p. 439.] Sherman had no infantry which was not a regular part of other divisions, and could not increase Hovey's command in that way. He said that he could not tolerate the anomaly of combining five cavalry regiments with infantry in a division of foot, and that, in fact, the regiments were along the railroad, protecting our communications and could not be spared. He invited Hovey to a personal conference, and urged him to withdraw his resignation, to take time at least for reflection, and not insist upon changes in the midst of a campaign and in the presence of the enemy. The appeal was unsuccessful, and Sherman telegraphed to the War Department that Hovey was discontented because he was not made a major-general, and that, though he esteemed him as a man, he should recommend the acceptance of the resignation. On the paper itself he endorsed a full statement of the circumstances and his recommendation that General Hovey be allowed to resign. [Footnote: Official Records, vol. xxxviii. pt. iv. pp. 433, 439, 443, 448.]
The official censure of General Sherman having been thus spread upon the records of the War Department, and that department having made a tender of resignation in the presence of the enemy a cause for summary dismissal of inferior officers, the surprise of the army may be imagined when, on July 25th, Sherman was notified from Washington that Hovey and Osterhaus had been promoted to be major-generals,--the first by brevet, the other to the full grade. To Sherman himself the thing was exceedingly galling, for not only was his action in Hovey's case reversed, and that which he condemned made the occasion for reward, but he had, only the day before, in asking to have Howard transferred to the command of the Army of the Tennessee, made vacant by McPherson's death, added a special request on the general subject of promotions. "After we have taken Atlanta," he had said, "I will name officers who merit promotion. In the mean time I request that the President will not give increased rank to any officer who has gone on leave from sickness, or cause other than wounds in battle." [Footnote: _Id_., pt. v. p. 241.] This language had manifest reference to the cases in hand, and was, no doubt, based on rumors of what was about to happen: but it was too late, for a dispatch from Colonel Hardie, Inspector-General, was already on the way to him, announcing the promotions by order of the War Department.
Sherman's indignation boiled over in his reply, which said: "I wish to put on record this, my emphatic opinion, that it is an act of injustice to officers who stand by their posts in the day of danger to neglect them and advance such as Hovey and Osterhaus, who left us in the midst of bullets to go to the rear in search of personal advancement. If the rear be the post of honor, then we had better all change front on Washington." [Footnote: Official Records, vol. xxxviii. pt. v. p. 247.] The vigor of this protest carried it to
Mr. Lincoln's personal attention, and he answered it, admitting that it was well taken, but urging reasons for his action which show only too well that they were more political than military. A Presidential campaign had just begun, and with all his great qualities,
Mr. Lincoln was susceptible to reasons of political policy in the use of appointments to office. He referred to the recommendations for promotion that
Grant and Sherman had given these officers in a former campaign, and to "committals" which had been drawn from him which he "could neither honorably nor safely disregard." [Footnote: _Id_., p. 259.] In the case of Osterhaus the President added that his promise had been given "on what he thought was high merit and somewhat on his nationality." In short, Indiana and Missouri were doubtful States, and the German vote was important. But what idea of military promotions was that which, in such a war and in the midst of such a campaign, advanced officers to the highest grade upon personal importunity, not only without consultation with their commanding general in the field but in spite of his protest; which does not seem even to have asked the question what was going on in Georgia and what would be the effect of such action upon the army there! If there had been unlimited power of promotion, the case might have been less mischievous; but Congress had limited the number of officers, so that vacancies were now filled, and, for the Atlanta campaign and Sherman's army in Georgia, these two were the only promotions that could be given, and of those whom Sherman recommended for the grade of major-general for service in that campaign when Atlanta was taken, not one then received it. When these things are remembered, Sherman's indignation will be seen to be righteous, and his protest a memorable effort in favor of good military administration. In replying to the President he apologized for the freedom of his language and assured
Mr. Lincoln of his confidence in the conscientiousness of his general course, but he did not soften or blink the facts. "You can see," said he, "how ambitious aspirants for military fame regard these things. They come to me and point them out as evidence that I am wrong in encouraging them to a silent, patient discharge of duty. I assure you that every general of my army has spoken of it, and referred to it as evidence that promotion results from importunity and not from actual service. I have refrained from recommending any thus far in the campaign, as I think we should reach some stage in the game before stopping to balance accounts or to write history." [Footnote: Official Records, vol. xxxviii. pt. v. p. 271.]
Some promotions to the rank of brigadier were made in the Potomac Army at this time, and Grant was notified that there were three or four other vacancies in that grade. This led him to say he would like to have them given to such men as Sherman might recommend. He added: "No one can tell so well as one immediately in command the disposition that should be made of the material on hand. Osterhaus has proved himself a good soldier, but if he is not in the field I regret his promotion." [Footnote: _Id_., p. 260.] As it had been Grant's former recommendation which had been the strongest ostensible ground of the promotion, this remark of his is important as pointing out the true principle in such matters. Recommendations of such a sort are always on the implied condition that the claim shall not be forfeited by subsequent conduct, and Grant said in substance that the circumstances had altered the cases and relieved him (and the administration too) of any obligation.
To complete the discussion, it must be noted that there were three brigadiers from Indiana in the Twenty-third Corps at this time, and Hovey was not only the junior of the three but had been the least actively employed in the campaign. Manson had been stricken down in the battle of Resaca whilst heroically leading his men to the capture of the rebel position, and never fully recovered from the injury. [Footnote: _Ante_, p. 221.] Hascall distinguished himself at every step of the campaign. Both left the service at last without any further recognition. It was common fame in the army that they were not favored by Governor O. P. Morton, the dominant political influence in their State. Hovey's further service was not in the field, but as commandant of the District of Indiana. Osterhaus returned to the Fifteenth Corps and served creditably in Sherman's remaining campaigns. Hovey's division was broken up, one brigade being added to Hascall's division and the other to mine. [Footnote: Official Records, vol. xxxviii. pt. iv. p. 448.]