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: MARIETTA LINES--CROSSING THE CHATTAHOOCHEE
Continuous rains in June--Allatoona made a field depot on the railway and fortified--Johnston in the Marietta lines--That from Pine Mountain to Lost Mountain abandoned--Swinging our right flank--Affair at Kolb's farm--Preparing for a general attack--Battle of Kennesaw--The tactical problem--Work of my division--Topography about Cheney's--Our advance on the 27th--Nickajack valley reached--The army moves behind us--Johnston retreats to the Chattahoochee--Twenty-third Corps at Smyrna Camp-ground--Crossing the Chattahoochee at Soap Creek--At Roswell--Johnston again retreats--Correspondence with Davis--Mission of B. H. Hill--Visit of Bragg to Johnston--Johnston's unfortunate reticence--He is relieved and Hood placed in command--Significance of the change to the Confederacy and to us.
In the month of June we had more than three weeks of pouring rains, making a quagmire of the whole country. The "dirt roads," which were the only ones, were soon destroyed by the heavy army wagons, and even the place where they had been could not be distinguished in the waste of mud and ruts which spread far and wide. Sherman found the intrenchments Johnston had left "an immense line of works," and congratulated himself that they had been turned with less loss to himself than he had inflicted on the enemy. [Footnote: Official Records, vol. xxxviii. pt. iv. p. 408.] The first reconnoissances found that Johnston had retreated so far that, from the commander downward, we all harbored the hope that he had retreated beyond the Chattahoochee. [Footnote: _Id_., p. 427.] To prepare for our next step, the railway crossing of the Etowah must be completed and our depot of supplies advanced to Allatoona. The gorge there was almost as defensible on the south as on the north, and Sherman set Captain Poe, his engineer, to work laying out fortifications to cover its southern mouth and thus prepare for holding it by a small garrison as a secondary base if we should have to leave it again to make a wide turning movement. [Footnote: Official Records, vol. xxxviii. pt. iv. p. 428.]
[Illustration: Vicinity of Marietta, June 20,--July 4, 1864.]
We were not long in learning that Johnston was not over the Chattahoochee, but had only fallen back to a shorter and more formidable line about Marietta, covering the railway where it passed through the defiles of Kennesaw Mountain, extending his left centre to the isolated knob of Pine Mountain, and thence recurving his flank by way of Gilgal (Hard-Shell Church in local nomenclature) toward Lost Mountain, which was held by his cavalry.
At the first appearance of a retreat by the Confederates beyond the Chattahoochee, Sherman's mind naturally turned to the plans of campaign which should follow his approach to Atlanta as they had been indicated by
General Grant at the beginning of operations in the spring, and he inquired of
Halleck whether the intended movement of the fleet under
Farragut and part of the southwestern army under
Mobile had been ordered. [Footnote: Official Records, vol. xxxviii. pt. iv. p. 418.]
Halleck answered that it had been suggested to Canby, but that Grant had, just then, all he could attend to on the Chickahominy. The fierce battles in Virginia had culminated on June 3d, in the terrible struggle at Cold Harbor, where the assault had been so costly as almost to produce dismay throughout the country, and in all our armies to enforce the lesson of caution in attacking such works as the enemy was now habitually constructing. The feeling was hinted at by Sherman in his dispatch to
Washington on the 5th, when he said that although he should probably have to fight Johnston at Kennesaw, he would not "run head on to his fortifications." [Footnote: _Id_., p. 408.]
Amid the discouragements incident to the incessant rains the army gained positions closely enveloping Johnston's lines, and we who constituted the right flank, pushing out from hill to hill and from brook to brook, gradually outflanked the enemy and forced him to swing back his left. On the 14th he let go of Pine Mountain, where
General Polk was killed and
General Johnston himself had a narrow escape from our artillery fire while they were reconnoitring our positions from its summit. On the 16th we were close upon the Gilgal and Lost Mountain line, and the enemy again withdrew that flank beyond Mud Creek, which with Noyes's Creek [Footnote: Noyes's Creek was pronounced Noses Creek by the negroes and the people of the neighborhood, and the name took that form in our reports at the time. It was afterward corrected in the Official Records.] and Olley's are the tributaries of the Sweetwater (before mentioned) which flows southward into the Chattahoochee. Sherman was on the lookout for weak places in his adversary's line where he might break through and change into a rout the war of positions which was too much like siege operations to suit him. He said to Halleck that Johnston had declined the assault which must have followed our so close contact, "and abandoned Lost Mountain and some six miles of as good field-works as I ever saw." [Footnote: Official Records, vol. xxxviii. pt. iv. p. 498.] Still keeping the right shoulder forward, we crowded in upon the new line, and in the night of the 18th the enemy retreated from the intrenchments behind Mud Creek to those of Noyes's Creek, whilst at the same time he drew back his extreme right behind Noonday Creek, compacting his lines with the purpose of transferring a corps to his left, where we now began to threaten his communications.
Again there was a momentary belief that Marietta was abandoned, but again it was premature, for the apex of the angle was stoutly held at the rocky crest of Kennesaw. [Footnote: _Id_., p. 519.] There was nothing for it but to continue the swing of the right flank. In his instructions to
Thomas, Sherman said, "Until Schofield develops the flank we should move with due caution; but the moment it is found or we are satisfied the enemy has lengthened his line beyond his ability to defend, we must strike quick and with great energy." [Footnote: _Id_., p. 509.]
The waters were up in all the streams, and Noyes's was wholly unfordable. Following the Sandtown road southward, my division was stopped by the creek, and the enemy's artillery and dismounted cavalry held a good position on the other side, having removed the flooring of the bridge. In a brilliant little affair by a part of Cameron's brigade, the bridge was carried, and the whole division was soon across and intrenched at the crest on the south side, covering the intersection of the Sandtown road with that from Marietta to Powder Springs Church. [Footnote: Official Records, vol. xxxviiii. pt. iv. pp. 534, 540.] On the morning of June 22d, the rest of Schofield's corps crossed the creek and took the Marietta road, whilst
Hooker's corps swung forward from the right of the Cumberland Army to keep pace with Schofield. My own division at the same time marched southward on the Sandtown road to Cheney's farm, near the crossing of Olley's Creek, the next in the series of parallel valleys trending to the southwest. Cheney's was also at the crossing of the lower road from Marietta to Powder Springs village, which forked near Kolb's farm, the northern branch being that on which Schofield was advancing with Hascall's division. But Hood's corps was also upon this road, having marched in the night from the extreme right of Johnston's army to extend the left and meet our aggressive movement. This brought on the bloody affair of Kolb's (or Culp's) farm, Hood making a fierce attack on Schofield's left and Hooker's right, which was repulsed. [Footnote: Atlanta, p. 108, etc.] The enemy had to content himself with extending southward the line confronting ours, till it passed over the ridge behind Noyes's creek and covered the valley of Olley's. Schofield had called me with three brigades to Hascall's support, leaving one (Reilly's) at the Cheney farm. [Footnote: Official Records, vol. xxxviii. pt. iv. pp. 558, 559, 566-569.]
Hood's attack had checked the flanking movement from which Sherman had hoped good results. Johnston had also been able to stretch out his right so that the works in front of
McPherson seemed to be held in force enough to make an assault unpromising. On the reports of subordinates as to their uneasiness at the stretching of their lines, Thomas suggested to Sherman that the lines be contracted and strengthened. [Footnote: _Id_., p. 581.] At the same time reports were received that Confederate cavalry had crossed the Etowah in our rear, and had begun to make use of
torpedoes to derail and destroy trains on the railway. [Footnote: Official Records, vol. xxxviii. pt. iv. p. 579.] Yet Garrard's cavalry on our left reported the enemy's horse superior in numbers, and were unable to make such progress there as Sherman had expected. [Footnote: _Id_., pp. 542, 555.] It began to look like a dead-lock, and that, of all things, was what Sherman could not endure. With grim humor he wrote to Thomas, "I suppose the enemy with his smaller force intends to surround us!" [Footnote: _Id_., p. 582.] The only alternative seemed to be to find the places where that smaller force was most attenuated and break through by main strength. He notified his subordinates that this must be done on the 27th. [Footnote: _Ibid_. and p. 588.] As a preliminary, he ordered demonstrations to be kept up on both flanks to draw the enemy away from the centre. His formal order, issued on the 24th, directed
General Thomas to select a point of attack near his centre. McPherson was directed to make a feint with his cavalry and one division of infantry on the left, but to make his real attack at a point south and west of Kennesaw. Schofield was likewise to make a demonstration on the extreme right, in front of my division, but to attack a point as near as practicable to the Powder Springs road, which was the scene of the affair of the 22d. [Footnote: _Ibid_.] The tactical details were all left to the subordinate army commanders.
On the 25th Sherman visited our positions in person, and accompanied the active reconnoissances which we were making. The result he stated in an evening dispatch to Thomas, saying, "I found that the enemy had strengthened his works across the Powder Springs road very much, having made embrasures for three complete batteries, all bearing on that road. Line extends as far as can be seen to the right, mostly in timber and partly in open ground. The enemy is also on his [Schofield's] right flank on the other side of Olley's Creek." [Footnote: Official Records, vol. xxxviii. pt. iv. p. 589.] The outcome of this was a modification of Schofield's orders, so that instead of attacking seriously in force, he should make strong demonstrations to attract the enemy to our wing of the army as much as possible, and thus assist Thomas and McPherson in their attacks near the centre.
It was with reluctance that Sherman was brought to the determination to make a front assault. His preference and his earlier purpose had been to make an equal force to Johnston's keep the Confederates in their works whilst the remainder of his own army should move from our right and attack beyond Johnston's left flank. He had thought the opportunity was come when we had secured the crossing of Noyes's Creek, and he indicated the morning of the 22d for an advance on the Powder Springs and Marietta road which we then commanded. In his dispatch to Thomas on the 21st, he said, "I feel much disposed to push your right, supported by Schofield and
Stoneman's cavalry, whilst McPherson engages attention to his front, but keeps ready to march by his right to reinforce you." [Footnote: _Id_., p. 546.]
The founderous condition of the whole region had made every movement slow, and in the same note to Thomas, Sherman had summed it up in the two words: "Roads terrific." Yet on the morning of the 22d the way to Marietta by the Powder Springs road was only contested by cavalry, though Johnston's ever-watchful eye had seen the danger and by his order Hood was marching his corps from the other flank of the army to meet Sherman's extension by our right. In going to examine McPherson's lines himself, Sherman had added to his dispatch, "If anything happens, act promptly with your own troops and advise me and your neighbor, Schofield, who has standing orders to conform to you." [Footnote: _Ibid_.] The situation was, in fact, exactly what he had been hoping for. The flank of the enemy was exposed, and we had the opportunity to use the broad road leading to Marietta to turn it. Could Hooker, supported by Hascall's division of our corps, have reached Zion's Church before Hood, or at the same time with him, it seems almost certain that the position gained would have compelled Johnston to abandon Kennesaw and Marietta at once, and fall back to the line of the Nickajack if not beyond the Chattahoochee. In that case the battle of Kennesaw would not have been fought.
In the evening of the 22d, when Sherman received Hooker's answer to a question sent him during the progress of the combat in the afternoon, and found the latter laboring under the conviction that the whole of Johnston's army was in his immediate front, he was naturally annoyed at so exaggerated a view of the situation. [Footnote: Official Records, vol. xxxviii. pt. iv. p. 558.] Thomas received similar reports from Hooker and a call for reinforcements, and though he said he "thought at the time he was stampeded," [Footnote: _Id_., p. 559.] he sent to him a division from Howard's corps. The truth was that one brigade of Hooker's corps and one of Schofield's were the only ones that had suffered at all severely, the total list of less than 300 casualties being about equally divided between them. Hood had been repulsed with a loss of more than 1000. [Footnote: Atlanta, p. 113.] When to these circumstances are added those which have before been mentioned, [Footnote: _Ante_, pp. 258, 259.] we can understand how Sherman began to fear that, in the systematic flanking operations he had been carrying on, his army was losing the energetic aggressive character without which he could not profit decisively by the opportunities which might offer. [Footnote: See Sherman's personal letters to Halleck of July 9th, Official Records, vol. xxxviii. pt. v. p. 91; to Grant of June 18th, _Id_., pt. iv. p. 507; and of July 12th, _Id_., pt. v. p. 123.] Adding still further the difficulty, amounting almost to an impossibility, of supplying the wing of the army most distant from the railroad, and the probability that Johnston's army was stretched into a line even thinner than his own, it will not seem strange that he concluded it was time to try whether a bold stroke would not break through the Confederate defences and rout his adversary. I am saying this from the standpoint of our own experience in the wooded and sparsely settled region we were operating in. From a European point of view, an aggressive policy of attack would be taken as a matter of course, and the only questions open for debate would be the tactical ones as to the method of making the assault and the points at which to deliver it. [Footnote: For a recent summary of the discussion of "Attack or Defence," see Letters and Essays of Captain F. N. Maude, R. E. (International Series), p. 70; also his "Cavalry and Infantry" (same series), p. 127, etc.]
The attack was made on the 27th, and failed to carry the enemy's works, though our troops were able to hold positions close to the ditch and to intrench themselves on a new line there. The casualties in the action were 2164. [Footnote: In
Logan's Corps, 629 (Official Records, vol. xxxviii. pt. iii. p. 85); in Howard's, 756 (_Id_., pt. i. p. 205), and in Palmer's, 779 (_Id_., p. 509).] Some of the best officers who took part in the assault were of the opinion that had the supports been well in hand, so as to have charged quickly over the first line when it was checked and lost its impetus, the works in front of Davis's division would have been carried. [Footnote: McCook's Brigade at Kennesaw Mountain, by Major F. B. James of the Fifty-Second Ohio; Ohio Loyal Legion Papers, vol. iv. pp. 269, 270.] It is hardly necessary to say that at the present day an entirely different deployment and organization of the attacking forces would be considered essential, and the preparation by concentrated artillery fire would be much more thorough than was practicable then. The dense forest made the cannonade almost harmless at the points chosen for assault, and the attack was one of infantry against unshaken earthworks. [Footnote: For description of the battle, see "Atlanta," chap. x.]
In Sherman's visit to our position on the 25th, he had arranged with Schofield the general plan for our demonstrations on the 26th and 27th. Hascall's division was to make a feint of attack near the Powder Springs road, whilst mine should force the crossing of Olley's Creek near Cheney's, on the Sandtown road, build a temporary bridge over the creek a mile or two above, and make a strong show of a purpose to attack beyond Hascall's right flank by crossing with a brigade there. [Footnote: Official Records, vol. xxxviii. pt. iv. pp. 589, 592.]
The valley of Olley's Creek was broad and open, and the country beyond my right was more practicable than the tangled wilderness on the northern slope of the watershed. We had got beyond the denser thickets of the loblolly pine, and could better see what we were about. The old Sandtown road south of Cheney's crossed the creek on a wooden bridge which was commanded by a fortified hill a little beyond where a battery of artillery swept the bridge and its approaches. The stream widened out after passing the bridge and ran between low and marshy banks with bluffs further back. I had placed Reilly's brigade astride the road at Cheney's with Myer's Indiana battery of light twelves, smooth-bore bronze guns. A gap of more than a mile lay between Reilly and the other three brigades of the division after I had marched to Hascall's support on the 22d. The lower branch of the Powder Springs road was parallel to the creek and not far from it, and my artillery near the right of the three brigades was on an advancing knoll where the guns not only commanded the valley before them, but Cockerill's Ohio battery of three-inch rifles swept nearly the whole space to Reilly's position. [Footnote: _Id._, p. 568.]
To give more effect to our demonstration, Sherman directed that it begin on the 26th, and preparations were made to build a bridge in front of Byrd's brigade, which was ordered to cross the stream when Reilly's effort against the lower bridge should begin. Our first information was that the fortified hill in front of Reilly was held by infantry, and as the work was in form a redoubt, its garrison of course on foot, we assumed that it was a detached outwork of the Confederate line. [Footnote: Official Records, vol. xxxviii. pt. iv. p. 597.] Reilly kept up a cannonade of the hill in front of him during the 26th, and made some attempts to get over the stream at the bridge, but did not seriously try to force the passage. A temporary bridge was laid at Byrd's position, and soon after noon he crossed the creek with little opposition, our artillery thoroughly commanding the further bank. [Footnote: _Id._, p. 599] I personally accompanied Byrd's movement. The artillery of Hascall's division as well as my own was turned on the enemy's works when they came out into the open. The hills along this part of Olley's Creek were not a continuous ridge, but knobby and somewhat detached; the higher land marking the edge of the plateau about Marietta was further back, and the Confederate line of works followed it. Byrd's direction of march was nearly parallel to the Sandtown road, and by advancing about a mile and a half he reached the summit of a rough wooded hill about six hundred yards from the main ridge, with open ground intervening. He was here from half a mile to a mile east of the Sandtown road, and from the fortified hill in front of Reilly, which was on the continuation of the same ridge, though with ravines interrupting it. The position was a very threatening one, and if any demonstration could draw the enemy in that direction, this seemed likely to do it. I directed Byrd to intrench on the crest, drawing back the flanks of the brigade so as to be ready for attack from any direction. Our movement had been sharply resisted by the enemy, but so far as we could see, only by dismounted cavalry. Sherman had said that he did not care to have Reilly force the passage of the creek that afternoon, for a strong threatening of the fortified hill would be more likely to draw the enemy that way than actually capturing it. [Footnote: Official Records, vol. xxxviii. pt. iv. p. 597.] On my reporting to General Schofield in the evening the position of Byrd's brigade with the favorable look of the country beyond, it was arranged that Byrd's bridge should be made stronger for permanent use, and that Cameron's brigade should follow him at daylight in the morning. With my whole division except Barter's brigade, which was left to cover Hascall's right flank, I was to test what further progress could be made on the Sandtown road. [Footnote: _Id._, pp. 598-600.]
At peep of day on the 27th we were astir, anxious to get our part of the day's work well advanced before the more serious engagement at the centre should begin. Another battery had been sent to Reilly, and he was directed to silence the enemy's guns and find a way across the creek under cover of his own if he could, but if this failed, to storm the bridge.
Cameron was over Byrd's bridge at four o'clock, and was ordered upon reaching the ridge in rear of Byrd to push boldly along it toward the fortified hill the other side of the Sandtown road in front of Reilly. Byrd's orders were to hold his position with the main body of his brigade, but to throw out detachments and skirmishers in all directions to watch the enemy and to get information of the country. Leaving Cameron as soon as he was well on his way, I rode to Reilly in front of the Cheney farm, and found that at five his dispositions for forcing the passage of the stream were well under way. He had determined to try it some distance below the bridge, at a place where, though the banks were swampy, the creek was fordable, and the hills behind gave good opportunity to use the artillery and put the men across under shelter. My chief of artillery, Major Wells, was with him, selecting places for the batteries and getting them in position. Soon after six I was with Cameron again, and before eight was back at Reilly's position, urging each to all the speed which the strong skirmishing opposition would permit. [Footnote: Official Records, vol. xxxviii. pt. iv. p. 619.] As it was necessary to pass from one position to the other by way of the roads at the rear, it made hard riding for one who wished to be as much as possible with the active heads of columns.
Soon after eight o'clock part of Reilly's brigade got over the swamp and creek under cover of the artillery, uncovering the bridge at the road where the rest crossed; Cameron's was now coming into close co-operation from the east, and a dashing charge by both carried the hill. [Footnote: _Id._, pt. ii. pp. 683, 703, 720.] It was now half-past eight, and the cannonade which preceded the attacks at the centre was opening heavily behind us. [Footnote: _Id._, pt. i. pp. 199, 632.] The captured position was a commanding one, and the view from it covered the whole region from Kennesaw to Lost Mountain. Cameron was left there whilst Reilly followed the retreating enemy with orders to advance as far as he could toward the Marietta and Sandtown road, which was supposed to come into the old Cassville and Sandtown road a mile or two ahead. We now knew from prisoners that the force opposed to us was the division of Confederate cavalry under Jackson, and that they were not closely supported by infantry.
The hill had been held by Ross's brigade, which retreated to another eminence half a mile further down the road. Reilly again advanced, supported by Cameron. Ross was again dislodged and retreated upon the rest of the division at the junction of the roads above mentioned. [Footnote: _Id._, pt. iv. pp. 799-801.] As we advanced it became evident that the principal ridge on which Johnston's army was broke down into separate hills as it came forward toward the forks of the main roads, and it seemed feasible to hold some of these in such a way as to make mutually supporting positions from Byrd to Reilly, covering a front of two miles and commanding the lower part of the Nickajack valley, in which the Marietta road ran. Reilly was put in one of these positions with his right across the road on which we had come, two miles south of Cheney's; Cameron was ordered forward upon high ground near Reilly's left, and Byrd was directed to straighten out his line on his right and reach as far as he could toward Cameron. All were ordered to intrench as rapidly and thoroughly as possible, for it was plain that we now commanded a short road to the railway in Johnston's rear, and that he must drive us out or abandon the Kennesaw line he had clung to so stubbornly.
I had sent my aide, Mr. Coughlan, with the orders to Byrd, and when the line was extended and skirmishers partly covered the front, he came back to me by a direct course from Byrd to Cameron and Reilly, with the daring and intelligence which made him a model staff officer, and reported that a continuous ridge connected the brigades so that pickets could be well placed in the interval to give warning of any hostile attempt to pass between. [Footnote: Official Records, vol. xxxviii. pt. iv. pp. 620, 621. Lieutenant Coughlan was afterward killed in the heroic performance of duty at the battle of Franklin. See "Franklin," p. 114.] A small hill a few hundred yards in front of the main line better commanded the Marietta road, and upon this I directed Reilly to build a lunette for an advanced guard of a regiment and a battery.
The whole affair was one of the minor class in war, but it had a special interest, in our ignorance of the topography of the country, because it revealed a way to Johnston's line of communications, which could not be seen and was not suspected when Sherman made the reconnoissance with us on the 25th, and saw the Confederate lines crossing the Powder Springs road and stretching away far beyond our right. In my field dispatch to General Schofield I said: "The possession of the end of the ridge, if we can hold it, I am now sure will prevent the enemy from extending his line along it, since it would be necessarily flanked and enfiladed by our positions. The only objection is the extension relatively to the strength of my command and the distance from supports. Upon carefully re-examining the ground my conviction is strengthened that it is exceedingly desirable to hold all we have gained, and if Hascall's place could possibly be filled by troops drawn from other parts of the line, it would give all the force needed to make a _point-d'appui_ which would be safe and exceedingly available for future movements in this direction if they become necessary. I only suggest this by way of indicating the impression made on my own mind by the position." [Footnote: Official Records, vol. xxxviii. pt. iv. p. 621.]
Reilly was three miles distant from Barter's brigade, which covered the right of the continuous line of the army intrenchments, and it was certainly risking something to extend the brigades of a single division so far, but it would have been a great disappointment to us to have been called back. General Schofield instantly saw the advantage, and in answering my dispatch, said, "I do not think the importance of the position you have gained can be over-estimated, especially in view of the failure elsewhere and probable future movements." [Footnote: _Ibid_. See map, p. 255.] He ordered Stoneman's cavalry to aid me in holding the ground and in picketing the intervals, and reported to General Sherman the details of the operation. The latter determined to make use of the advantage gained, and said, "If we had our supplies well up, I would move at once by the right flank, but I suppose we must cover our railroad a few days." [Footnote: Dispatch to McPherson, _Id._, p. 622.] We were left, therefore, for a little while in our exposed position, whilst the whole army made strenuous efforts to get forward supplies enough for a few days' separation from the railway. The weather had begun to favor us. The day of the affair at the Kolb farm (22d) had been the first fair day of the month, and the continuous clear skies and hot suns rapidly dried the roads. Sherman sent Captain Poe to make an engineer's examination of our position and reconnoissance in front. The report confirmed his purpose of making us the pivot in a swinging movement of the whole army. On the 29th Generals Thomas and
Howard accompanied General Schofield and myself in a similar inspection, to help fix the details of the movement for the
Army of the Cumberland. Crittenden's brigade of dismounted cavalry reported to me for temporary duty as infantry with my division. On the 1st of July Hascall's division was relieved by the extension of Hooker's corps, and Schofield with his whole corps in hand advanced a mile upon the Marietta road toward Ruff's Mill. Johnston's failure to attack was proof that he was preparing for retreat, and Sherman pressed the movement of his own army.
On the 2d Johnston knew that McPherson's army was marching to interpose between him and the Chattahoochee, and issued his orders for the evacuation of the Marietta lines in the night, and the occupation of the position beyond the Nickajack. [Footnote: Official Records, vol. xxxviii. pt. v. p. 860.] But Thomas and McPherson both followed so vigorously that the Confederate general saw that he could not cover the crossings of the river which Stoneman's cavalry was already reaching on our right, and in the night of the 4th he again retired, this time to intrenchments with both flanks resting on the river and covering the railway bridge with two or three of the principal ferries. With his usual prudence, Johnston had prepared both these lines with the aid of the Georgia militia under General Gustavus W. Smith, who, being himself an engineer, was admirably fitted to co-operate with the plans of the staff.
Again a few days had to be given to repairs of the railroad and a readjustment of the depots and means of supply, whilst careful reconnoissances of the river were made both above and below the Confederate position. Schofield's corps was placed in reserve near the railway, at Smyrna Camp ground, and on the 8th my division was assigned the duty of making a crossing of the Chattahoochee, and laying pontoon bridges at Isham's ford and ferry at the mouth of Soap Creek, [Footnote: In the official Atlas, pl. lx., two creeks are named Rottenwood. The upper one of these with paper-mills upon it is Soap Creek. The ford was sometimes called Cavalry Ford in the Confederate dispatches. For particulars of the movements at this period of the campaign, see "Atlanta," chap. xi.] about nine miles above the railway crossing of the river. Johnston does not seem to have been well served by his cavalry on this occasion, for the crossing was gained and two bridges laid with only trifling opposition, and my division was over and strongly intrenched before any concentration of the enemy was made in my front. [Footnote: Official Records, vol. xxxviii. pt. v. pp. 85, 89, 93.] This, of course, decided Johnston to abandon the northern bank of the river, and he selected a strong position behind Peach-tree Creek as the next line of defence for Atlanta, burning the railway bridge and other bridges behind him.
Several days were occupied by Sherman in moving McPherson's command to Roswell, twenty miles above the railway, and building a trestle-bridge there, in accumulating supplies and organizing transportation for another considerable absence from the railroad. By the 17th the army was over the Chattahoochee, McPherson on the left, Schoneld next, and Thomas from the centre to the right. A general wheel of the whole toward the right was ordered, to find and drive back the enemy upon Atlanta.
Meanwhile the relations between General Johnston and the Confederate government had reached a crisis. He had regularly reported the actual movements of his army, but had carefully avoided any indication of his intentions or of his hopes or fears. When, on the 5th of July, he retreated to the position at the Chattahoochee crossing, his dispatch briefly announced that "In consequence of the enemy's advance toward the river below our left, we this morning took this position, which is slightly intrenched." [Footnote: Official Records, vol. xxxviii. pt. v. p. 865.] Mr. Davis replied on the 7th, expressing grave apprehensions at the situation, pointing out the dangers of the position, and saying that other places had been stripped to reinforce him, that further increase was impossible, and that they now depended on his success. [Footnote: _Id_., p. 867.] By an unfortunate blunder of a subordinate, the dispatch was not sent in cipher as was intended, and Johnston knew that the contents with its implied criticism was known to the telegraphers along the line and was practically public property. [Footnote: _Id_., p. 871] this was not soothing to the general's feelings, even when explained. His answer said that he had been forced back by siege operations, and had no opportunity for battle except by attacking intrenchments. He suggested that the enemy's purpose to capture Atlanta might be foiled by sending part of the 16,000 cavalry believed to be in Alabama and Mississippi to break up the railroads behind Sherman and force him to retreat. Davis replied with the intimation that Johnston must know that no such force was available in the West, and that it would be much more to the purpose to use the cavalry he had for that task of pressing importance. [Footnote: _Id_., p. 875] He sent also by letter fuller details of the stress under which General S.D. Lee was in the Department of Mississippi, showing that the hands of that officer were more than full. [Footnote: The letter, however, did not reach Johnston till after he had been relieved of command.] On the 10th Johnston had forwarded a laconic dispatch, saying, "On the night of the 8th the enemy crossed at Isham's Cavalry Ford; intrenched. In consequence we crossed at and below the railroad, and are now about two miles from the river, guarding the crossings." [Footnote: Official Records, vol. xxxviii. pt. v. p. 873.] On the 11th he telegraphed, recommending the immediate distribution elsewhere of the prisoners at Andersonville. [Footnote: _Id_., p.876]
It cannot be denied that there was a certain justification for Mr. Davis's conclusion that the circumstances foreboded the yielding of Atlanta without the desperate struggle which the importance of the position demanded. Had Johnston expressed any hopefulness, or said, what was the fact, that he was himself coming to the determnation to try the effect of a bold attack whilst Sherman's army was in motion, he would probably have been left in command. But the personal estrangement had gone so far that he confined himself rigidly to the briefest report of events, leaving the Richmond government to guess what was next to happen. His attitude was in effect a challenge to the Confederate President to trust the Confederate cause in Georgia to him absolutely, or to take the responsibility of removing him. The Hon. B. H. Hill, who was in Richmond, at Johnston's request, to learn if it was possible to reinforce him, telegraphed him on the 14th, "You must do the work with your present force. For God's sake, do it." [Footnote: _Id_., p. 879.] Governor Brown offered to furnish 5000 "old men and boys" for the local defence of Atlanta in the emergency, in addition to the similar number of the militia reserves already in the field. These were 'promptly accepted by Mr. Davis and the order was issued to arm them. [Footnote: _Id_., p. 878, and vol. lii. pt. ii. pp. 691-695, 704. The correspondence between Mr. Hill and Mr. Seddon, Secretary of War, is especially instructive as to the issue between Johnston and Davis.]
Before acting further the Confederate President sent out General Bragg to Atlanta to examine on the spot and report upon the condition of affairs. Bragg arrived on the 13th and reported that an entire evacuation of Atlanta seemed to be indicated by what he saw. The army was sadly depleted, he said, and reported 10,000 less than the return of June 10th. He could find but little encouraging. [Footnote: Official Records, vol. xxxviii. pt. v. p. 878.] On the following two days he visited Johnston twice and was "received courteously and kindly." "He has not sought my advice," Bragg added, "and it was not volunteered. I cannot learn that he has any more plan for the future than he has had in the past. It is expected that he will await the enemy on a line some three miles from here, and the impression prevails that he is now more inclined to fight. The enemy is very cautious, and intrenches immediately on taking a new position. His force, like our own, is greatly reduced by the hard campaign. His infantry now very little over 60,000. The morale of our army is still reported good." [Footnote: _Id._, p. 881.]
The receipt of this dispatch with Johnston's of the 16th seems to have decided President Davis to make a change in the command of the army, and on the 17th Hood was appointed to the temporary rank of general in the Provisional Army and ordered to relieve Johnston. [Footnote: _Id._, pp. 885, 887, 889.] Hood shrank from the responsibility in the crisis which then existed, and suggested delay till the fate of Atlanta should be decided; but Mr. Davis replied, "A change of commanders, under existing circumstances, was regarded as so objectionable that I only accepted it as the alternative of continuing in a policy which had proved so disastrous. Reluctance to make the change induced me to send a telegram of inquiry to the commanding general on the 16th instant. His reply but confirmed previous apprehensions. There can be but one question which you and I can entertain: that is, what will best promote the public good; and to each of you I confidently look for the sacrifice of every personal consideration in conflict with that object." [Footnote: Official Records, vol. xxxviii. pt. v. p. 888.]
Johnston magnanimously assisted Hood in completing the movements of the army during the 18th to the Peachtree Creek position and explained to him his plans. These were, first, to attack Sherman's army when divided in crossing that difficult stream, and, if successful, to press the advantage to decisive results. If unsuccessful, to hold the Peachtree lines till Governor Brown's militia were assembled;[Footnote: Johnston says ten thousand of these were promised him instead of five. Narrative, p. 348.] then, holding Atlanta with these, to draw the army back through the town and march out with the three corps against one of Sherman's flanks, with the confidence that even if his attack did not succeed, with Atlanta so strongly fortified he could hold it forever. [Footnote: Narrative, p. 350.]
In reading his more elaborate statement of the plans of which the above is an outline, one cannot help thinking how unfortunate for him it was that he did not give them to Mr. Davis as fully as he gave them to Hood! In answer to the pressing inquiry of the 16th for "your plan of operations so specifically as will enable me to anticipate events," he had replied, "As the enemy has double our number, we must be on the defensive. My plan of operations must therefore depend upon that of the enemy. It is mainly to watch for an opportunity to fight to advantage. We are trying to put Atlanta in condition to be held for a day or two by the Georgia militia, that army movements may be freer and wider." [Footnote: _Id_., p. 883.] A good understanding with his government was so essential, just then, that the most reticent of commanders would have been wise in sending in cipher the whole page in which he tells the specific details of his purposes and their alternates as he gave them to Hood. Had he done so, it is quite safe to say that he would not have been removed; but reading, in the light of the whole season's correspondence, the dispatch he actually sent, we cannot say that Mr. Davis was unreasonable in finding it confirm his previous apprehension. Had the general fully and frankly opened to Bragg the same purposes, the latter could not have sent the hopeless message which clinched the President's decision.
Johnston said in his final message to Davis that the enemy had advanced more rapidly and penetrated deeper into Virginia than into Georgia; and that confident language by a military commander is not usually regarded as evidence of competency. [Footnote: Official Records, vol. xxxviii. pt. v. p. 888.] There was much force in both points, but they do not touch the heart of the matter. Between Lee and his government there was always a frank and cordial comparison of views and perfect understanding; so that even in disaster it was seen that he had done the best he could and was actively planning to repair a mischief. On the other hand, they got from Johnston little but a diarist's briefest chronicle of events with no word of hopeful purpose or plan. It was not necessary that he should use "confident language," but words were certainly called for which expressed intelligent comprehension of the situation and fertility in purposed action according to probable contingencies. His advice to Hood showed that he only needed to be equally frank with the Richmond authorities. [Footnote: Mr. Davis has discussed his relations to Johnston in chapter xlviii. of his "Rise and Fall of the Confederate Government," vol. ii. pp. 547, etc.; but the most succinct statement of his views is found in a paper prepared for the Confederate Congress, but withheld. See his letter to Colonel Phelan, Meridian, Miss., O. R, vol. xlvii. pt. ii. pp. 1303-1311.]
The assignment of Hood to the command was, of course, in the belief that he would take a more energetic and aggressive course. He seems to have been free in his criticisms of his commander, and upon Bragg's arrival had addressed to him a letter which it is hard to view as anything else than a bid for the command. [Footnote: Official Records, vol. xxxviii. pt. v. p. 880.] It said Johnston had failed to use several opportunities to strike Sherman decisive blows; that yet the losses of the army were 20,000; that under no circumstances should the enemy be allowed to occupy Atlanta; that if Sherman should establish his line at the Chattahoochee, he must be attacked by crossing that river; that he had so often urged aggressive action that he was regarded as reckless by "the officers high in rank in this army, who are declared to hold directly opposite views." He concluded by saying that he regarded it a great misfortune that battle was not given to the enemy many miles north of the present position.
When Johnston learned from Hood's report [Footnote: _Id._, pt. iii. p. 628.](dated February 15, 1865) the nature of the latter's statements and criticisms, he notified the Richmond government as well as Hood that he should demand that the latter be brought before a court-martial; [Footnote: Id., p. 637.] but it was then April, on the very eve of the collapse of the Confederacy, and the discussion was left for continuance in the private writings of the parties and their friends. Johnston affirmed that in the only instances in the campaign in which it could be said that a favorable opportunity for battle had not been seized, Hood himself had been prominent in protesting against an engagement or had himself failed to carry out the orders given. In his service as commander of the army, Hood became involved in disputes as to fact with
Cheatham as well as with Johnston, and the result was damaging to his reputation for accuracy and candor. [Footnote: Johnston's case is stated in his "Narrative," chapters x. and xi.; Hood's in his "Advance and Retreat," chapters v. to ix. In connection with these, Hardee's Report of April 5, 1865, is of interest (Official Records, vol. xxxviii. pt. iii. p. 697), and his letter to General Mackall (_Id._, pt. v. p. 987).]
The change of commanders undoubtedly precipitated the ruin of the Confederate cause; yet we must in candor admit that the situation was becoming so portentous that human wisdom might be overtaxed in trying to determine what course to take. Of one thing there is no shadow of doubt. We of the National Army in Georgia regarded the removal of Johnston as equivalent to a victory for us. Three months of sharp work had convinced us that a change from Johnston's methods to those which Hood was likely to employ, was, in homely phrase, to have our enemy grasp the hot end of the poker. We knew that we should be kept on the alert and must be watchful; but we were confident that a system of aggression and a succession of attacks would soon destroy the Confederate army. Of course Hood did not mean to assault solidly built intrenchments; but we knew that we could make good enough cover whilst he was advancing against a flank, to insure him a bloody repulse. The dense forests made the artillery of little effect in demolishing the works or weakening the _morale_ of the defenders, and it was essentially an infantry attack upon intrenched infantry and artillery at close range.
The action of the Confederate government was a confession that Sherman's methods had brought about the very result he aimed at. The enemy had been manoeuvred from position to position until he must either give up Atlanta with its important nucleus of railway communications and abandon all northern Georgia and Alabama, or he must assume a desperate aggressive with a probability that this would fatally reduce his army and make the result only the more completely ruinous. This was the meaning of the substitution of Hood for Johnston.