The Defense of Atlanta
General John B. Hood, CSA
About 11 o'clock on the night of the 17th of July, 1864, I received a telegram from the War Office directing me to assume command of the Army of Tennessee. It is difficult to imagine a commander placed at the head of an army under more embarrassing circumstances than those against which I was left to contend. I was comparatively a stranger to the Army of Tennessee. The troops of the Army of Tennessee had for such length of time been subjected to the ruinous policy pursued from Dalton to Atlanta that they were unfitted for united action in pitched battle. They had, in other words, been so long habituated to security behind breastworks that they had become wedded to the "timid defensive" policy, and naturally regarded with distrust a commander likely to initiate offensive operations.
The senior corps commander [Hardee] considered he had been supplanted through my promotion and thereupon determined to resign. In consequence, I have no doubt, of my application to President Davis to postpone the order transferring to me the command of the army, he, however, altered his decision, and concluded to remain with his corps.
The evening of the 18th of July found General Johnston comfortably quartered at Macon, whilst McPherson's and Schofield's corps were tearing up the Georgia railroad between Stone Mountain and Decatur; Thomas's army was hastening preparations to cross Peach Tree Creek, within about six miles of Atlanta; and I was busily engaged in hunting up the positions of, and establishing communication with, Stewart's and Hardee's corps.
After having established communication with the corps and the cavalry of the army during the forepart of the night, I found myself upon the morning of the 19th in readiness to fulfill the grave. duties devolving upon me.
Our troops had awakened in me heartfelt sympathy, as I had followed their military career with deep interest from early in May of that year. I had witnessed their splendid condition at that period; had welcomed with pride the fine body of reinforcements under General Polk; but, with disappointment, I had seen them, day after day, turn their back upon the enemy, and lastly cross the Chattahoochee River on the night of the 9th of July with one-third of their number lost-the men downcast, dispirited, and demoralized. Stragglers and deserters, the captured and killed, could not now, however, be replaced by recruits, because all the recruiting depots had been drained to reinforce either Lee or Johnston. I could, therefore, but make the best dispositions in my power with the reduced numbers of the army, which opposed a force of 106,000 Federals, buoyant with success and hope, and who were fully equal to 140,000 such troops as confronted Johnston at Dalton, by reason of their victorious march of a hundred miles into the heart of the Confederacy.
Accordingly, on the night of the 18th and morning of the 19th I formed line of battle facing Peach Tree Creek; the left rested near Pace's Ferry road, and the right covered Atlanta. I was informed on the 19th that Thomas was building bridges across Peach Tree Creek; that McPherson and Schofield were well over toward, and even on, the Georgia railroad, near Decatur. I perceived at once that the Federal commander had committed a serious blunder in separating his corps or armies by such distance as to allow me to concentrate the main body of our army upon his right wing, whilst his left was so far removed as to be incapable of rendering timely assistance. General Sherman's violation of the established maxim that an army should always he held well within hand, or its detachments within easy supporting distance, afforded one of the most favorable occasions for complete victory which could have been offered; especially as it presented an opportunity, after crushing, his right wing, to throw our entire force upon his left. In fact, such a blunder affords a small army the best, if not the sole, chance of success when contending with a vastly superior force.
Line of battle having been formed, Stewart's corps was in position on the left, Hardee's in the center, and Cheatham's [formerly Hood's] on the right. Orders were given to Generals Hardee and Stewart to observe closely and report promptly the progress of Thomas in the construction of bridges across Peach Tree Creek and the passage of troops. General Cheatham was directed to reconnoiter in front of his left; to erect, upon that part of his line, batteries so disposed as to command the entire space between his left and Peach Tree Creek, in order to completely isolate McPherson's and Schofield's forces from those of Thomas; and, finally, to intrench his line thoroughly. This object accomplished, and Thomas having partially crossed the creek and made a lodgment on the east side within the pocket formed by Peach Tree Creek and the Chattahoochee River, I determined to attack him with two corps-Hardee's and Stewart's, which constituted the main body of the Confederate army-and thus, if possible, crush Sherman's right wing, as we drove it into the narrow space between the creek and the river.
Major-General G. W. Smith's Georgia State troops were posted on the right of Cheatham, and it was impossible for Schofield or McPherson to assist Thomas without recrossing Peach Tree Creek in the vicinity of Decatur, and making on the west side a d6tour which necessitated a march of not less than ten or twelve miles, in order to reach Thomas's bridges across this creek. I immediately assembled the three corps commanders, Hardee, Stewart, and Cheatham, together, with Major-General G. W. Smith, commanding Georgia State troops, for the purpose of giving orders for battle on the following day, the 20th of July.
The three corps commanders, together with General G. W. Smith, were assembled not only for the purpose of issuing to them orders for battle, but with the special design to deliver most explicit instructions in regard to their respective duties. I sought to "make assurance doubly sure" by direct interrogatory; each was asked whether or not he understood his orders. All replied in the affirmative. I was very careful in this respect, inasmuch as I had learned from long experience that no measure is more important, upon the eve of battle, than to make certain, in the presence of the commanders, that each thoroughly comprehends his orders. The usual discretion allowed these officers in no manner diminishes the importance of this precaution.
I also deemed it of equal moment that each should fully appreciate the imperativeness of the orders then issued, by reason of the certainty that our troops would encounter hastily constructed works, thrown up by the Federal troops which had been foremost to cross Peach Tree Creek. Although a portion of the enemy would undoubtedly be found under cover of temporary breastworks, it was equally certain a larger portion would be caught in the act of throwing up such works, and in just the state of confusion to enable our forces to rout them by a bold and persistent attack. With these convictions, I timed the assault at 1 P. M., so as to surprise the enemy in their unsettled condition.
The charge was unfortunately not made till about 4 o'clock P. M., on account of General Hardee's failure to obey my specific instructions in regard to the extension of the one-half division front to the right, in order to afford General Cheatham an advantageous position to hold in check McPherson and Schofield. The result was not, however, materially affected by this delay, since the Federals were completely taken by surprise.
General Stewart carried out his instructions to the letter; he moreover appealed in person to his troops before going into action, and informed them that orders were imperative they should carry everything, at all hazards, on their side of Peach Tree Creek; he impressed upon them that they should not halt before temporary breastworks, but charge gallantly over every obstacle and rout the enemy. It was evident that, after long-continued use of entrenchments, General Stewart deemed a personal appeal to his soldiers expedient.
General Stewart and his troops nobly performed their duty in the engagement of the 20th. At the time of the attack his corps moved boldly forward, drove the enemy from his works, and held possession of them until driven out by an enfilade fire of batteries placed in position by General Thomas.
Unfortunately, the corps on Stewart's right, although composed of the best troops in the army, virtually accomplished nothing. In lieu of moving promptly, attacking as ordered, and supporting Stewart's gallant assault, the troops of Hardee-as their losses on that day indicate-did nothing more than skirmish with the enemy. Instead of charging down upon the foe as Sherman represents Stewart's men to have done, many of the troops, when they discovered that they had come into contact with breastworks, lay down, and, consequently, this attempt at pitched battle proved abortive.
The failure on the 20th rendered urgent the most active measures, in order to save Atlanta even for a short period. Through the vigilance of General Wheeler I received information, during the night of the 20th, of the exposed position of McPherson's left flank; it was standing out in air, near the Georgia railroad between Decatur and Atlanta, and a large number of the enemy's wagons had been parked in and around Decatur. The roads were in good condition, and ran in the direction to enable a large body of our army to march, under cover of darkness, around this exposed flank and attack in rear.
I determined to make all necessary preparations for a renewed assault; to attack the extreme left of the Federals in rear and flank, and endeavor to bring the entire Confederate army into united action.
Accordingly, Hardee's and Stewart's corps resumed their former positions. Colonel Presstman, chief engineer, was instructed to examine at once the partially completed line of works toward Peach Tree Creek, which General Johnston had ordered to be constructed for the defense of Atlanta, and to report, at the earliest moment, in regard to their fitness to be occupied by Stewart and Cheatham's corps, together with the Georgia State troops, under General G. W. Smith. The report was received early on the morning of the 21st, to the effect that the line established by Johnston was not only too close to the city and located upon too low ground, but was totally inadequate for the purpose designed; that Sherman's line, which extended from the vicinity of Decatur almost to the Dalton railroad, north of Atlanta, rendered necessary the construction of an entirely new line, and upon more elevated ground.
The chief engineer was thereupon directed to prepare and stake off a new fine, and to employ his entire force, in order that the troops might occupy the works soon after dark on the night of the 21st, and have time to aid in strengthening their position before dawn of next morning. This task was soon executed through the skill and energy of Colonel Presstman and his assistants. Generals Stewart, Cheatham, and G. W. Smith were instructed to order their division and brigade commanders to examine before dark the ground to be occupied by their respective troops, so as to avoid confusion or delay at the time of the movement.
General Hardee, who commanded the largest corps, and whose troops were comparatively fresh, as they had taken but little part in the attack of the previous day, was ordered to hold his forces in readiness to move promptly at dark that night-the 21st. I selected Hardee for this duty, because Cheatham had, at that time, but little experience as a corps commander, and Stewart had been heavily engaged the day previous.
The position of the enemy during the 21st remained, I may say, unchanged, with the exception that Schofield and McPherson had advanced slightly toward Atlanta. To transfer after dark our entire line from the immediate presence of the enemy to another line around Atlanta, and to throw Hardee, the same night, entirely to the rear and flank of McPherson-as Jackson was thrown, in a similar movement, at Chancellorsville and Second Manassas and to initiate the offensive at daylight, required no small effort upon the part of the men and officers. I hoped, however, that the assault would result not only in a general battle, but in a signal victory to our arms.
It was absolutely necessary these operations should be executed that same night, since a delay of even twenty-four hours would allow the enemy time to intrench further, and afford Sherman a chance to rectify, in a measure, his strange blunder in separating Thomas so far from Schofield and McPherson.
I well knew he would seek to retrieve his oversight at the earliest possible moment; therefore I determined to forestall his attempt and to make another effort to defeat the Federal army. No time was to be lost in taking advantage of this second unexpected opportunity to achieve victory and relieve Atlanta.
I was convinced that McPherson and Schofield intended to destroy not only the Georgia railroad, but likewise our main line of communication, the railroad to Macon. It is now evident the blow on the 20th checked the reckless manner of moving, which had so long been practiced by the enemy, without fear of molestation, during the Dalton-Atlanta campaign. The rap of warning received by Thomas, on Peach Tree Creek, must have induced the Federal commander to alter his plan.
Thus was situated the Federal army at the close of night,on the 2lst: it was but partially entrenched; Schofield and McPherson were still separated from Thomas, and at such distance as to compel them to make a detour of about twelve miles, in order to reach the latter in time of need.
The Confederate army occupied the same position, at dark, as prior to the attack of the 20th. The new line around the city, however, had been chosen; each corps commander fully advised of the ground assigned to him, and the special duty devolving upon him; working parties had been detailed in advance from the corps of Stewart and Cheatham, and from the Georgia State troops; rations and ammunition had been issued, and Hardee's corps instructed to be in readiness to move at a moment's warning.
The demonstrations of the enemy upon our right, and which threatened to destroy the Macon railroad-our main line for receiving supplies-rendered it imperative that I should check, immediately, his operations in that direction; otherwise Atlanta was doomed to fall at a very early day. Although the attack of the 20th had caused Sherman to pause and reflect, I do not think he would have desisted extending his left toward our main line of communications had not the events occurred which I am about to narrate.
As already stated, every preparation had been carefully made during the day of the 21st. I had summoned, moreover, to my headquarters the three corps commanders, Hardee, Stewart, and Cheatham, together with Major General Wheeler, commanding cavalry corps, and Major-General G. W. Smith, commanding Georgia State troops. The following minute instructions were given in the presence of all assembled, in order that each might understand not only his own duty, but likewise that of his brother corps commanders. By this means I hoped each officer would know what support to expect from his neighbor in the hour of battle.
Stewart, Cheatham, and G. W. Smith were ordered to occupy soon after dark the positions assigned them in the new line round the city, and to intrench as thoroughly as possible. General Shoup, chief-of-artillery, was ordered to mass artillery on our right. General Hardee was directed to put his corps in motion soon after dusk; to move south on the McDonough road, across Entrenchment Creek at Cobb's Mills, and completely to turn the left of McPherson's army and attack at daylight, or as soon thereafter as possible. He was furnished guides from Wheeler's cavalry, who were familiar with the various roads in that direction; was given clear and positive orders to detach his corps, to swing away from the main body of the army, and to march entirely around and to the rear of McPherson's left flank, even if he was forced to go to or beyond Decatur, which is only about six miles from Atlanta.
Major-General Wheeler was ordered to move on Hardee's right with all the cavalry at his disposal, and to attack with Hardee at daylight. General Cheatham, who was in line of battle on the right and around the city, was instructed to take up the movement from his right as soon as Hardee succeeded in forcing back, or throwing into confusion, the Federal left, and to assist in driving the enemy down and back upon Peach Tree Creek ' from right to left. General G. W. Smith would, thereupon, join in the attack. General Stewart, posted on the left, was instructed not only. to occupy and keep a strict watch upon Thomas, in order to prevent him from giving aid to Schofield and McPherson, but to engage the enemy the instant the movement became general, i. e., as soon as Hardee and Cheatham succeeded in driving the Federals down Peach Tree Creek and near his right.
Thus orders were given to attack from right to left, and to press -the Federal army down and against the deep and muddy stream in their rear. These orders were carefully explained again and again, till each officer present gave assurance that he fully comprehended his duties.
At dawn on the morning of the 22d, Cheatham, Stewart, and G. W. Smith had, by alternating working parties during the night previous, not only strongly fortified their respective positions, but had kept their men comparatively fresh for action, and were in readiness to act as soon as the battle was initiated by Hardee, who was supposed to be at that moment in rear of the adversary's flank.
I took my position at daybreak near Cheatham's right, whence I could observe the left of the enemy's entrenchments, which seemed to be thrown back a short distance on their extreme left. After awaiting nearly the entire morning, I heard, about 10 or II o'clock, skirmishing going on directly opposite the left of the enemy, which was in front of Cheatham's right and Shoup's artillery. A considerable time had elapsed when I discovered, with astonishment and bitter disappointment, a line of battle composed of one of Hardee's divisions advancing directly against the entrenched flank of the enemy. I at once perceived that Hardee had not only failed to turn McPherson's left, according to positive orders, but had thrown his men against the enemy's breastworks, thereby occasioning unnecessary loss to us, and rendering doubtful the great result desired. In lieu of completely turning the Federal left and taking the entrenched line of the enemy in reverse, he attacked the retired wing of their flank, having his own left almost within gunshot of our main line around the city. I then began to fear that his disregard of the fixed rule in war, that one danger in rear is more to be feared than ten in front-in other words, that one thousand men in rear are equal to ten thousand in front-would cause us much embarrassment, and place his corps at great disadvantage, notwithstanding he had held success within easy grasp. It had rested in his power to rout McPherson's army by simply moving a little further to the right, and attacking in rear and flank instead of assaulting an entrenched flank. I hoped, nevertheless, this blunder would be remedied, at least in part, by the extreme right of his line lapping round, during the attack, to the rear of McPherson.
I anxiously awaited tidings from the scene of action while listening attentively to what seemed a spirited engagement upon that part of the field. This sound proceeded from the guns of the gallant Wheeler, in the direction of Decatur, whence I hoped, momentarily, to hear a continuous roar of musketry, accompanied by the genuine Confederate shout from Hardee's entire corps, as it advanced and drove the enemy down Peach Tree Creek between our general line of battle and that formidable stream. Although the troops of Hardee fought, seemingly, with determination and spirit, there were indications that the desired end was not being accomplished. The roar of musketry occurring only at intervals strengthened this impression, and a staff-officer was dispatched to General Hardee to know the actual result.
During the early afternoon I received information that the attack had been, in part, successful, but had been checked in consequence of our troops coming in contact with different lines of entrenchments, several of which they had carried and held. Fearing a concentration of the enemy upon Hardee, I commanded General Cheatham, about 3 P. m., to move forward with his corps and attack the position in his front, so as to, at least, create a diversion. The order was promptly and well executed, and our troops succeeded in taking possession of the enemy's defenses in that part of the field. A heavy enfilade fire, however, forced Cheatham to abandon the works he had captured.
Major-General G. W. Smith, perceiving that Cheatham had moved out on his left, and having thoroughly comprehended all the orders relative to the battle, moved gallantly forward with his State troops in support of Cheatham's attack, but was eventually forced to retire on account of superiority of numbers in his front.
Hardee bore off as trophies eight guns and thirteen stand of colors, and, having rectified his line, remained in the presence of the enemy. Cheatham captured five guns and five or six stand of colors.
Notwithstanding the non-fulfillment of the brilliant result anticipated, the partial success of that day was productive of much benefit to,the army. It greatly improved the morale of the troops, infused new life and fresh hopes, arrested desertions, which had hitherto been numerous, defeated the movement of McPherson and Schofield upon our communications in that direction, and demonstrated to the foe our determination to abandon no more territory without at least a manful effort to retain it.
It became apparent almost immediately after the battle of the 22d that Sherman would make an attack upon our left, in order to destroy the Macon railroad; and, from that moment, I may say, began the siege of Atlanta. The battles of the 20th and 22d checked the enemy's reckless manner of moving, and illustrated effectually to Sherman the danger of stretching out his line in such a manner as to form extensive gaps between his corps or armies as he admits he did at Rocky Face Ridge and New Hope Church.
On the 26th of July the Federals were reported to be moving to our left. This movement continued during the 27th, when I received the additional information that their cavalry was turning our right, in the direction of Flat Rock, with the intention, as I supposed, of interrupting our main line of communication, the Macon railroad. We had lost the road to Augusta previous to the departure of General Johnston on the 18th, and, by the 22d, thirty miles or more thereof had been utterly destroyed....
The holding of Atlanta-unless some favorable opportunity offered itself to defeat the Federals in battle-depended upon our ability to hold intact the road to Macon.
General Wheeler started on the 27th of July in pursuit of the Federal cavalry which had moved around our right; and General [W. H.] Jackson, with the brigades of [Thomas] Harrison and [L. S.] Ross, was ordered, the following day, to push vigorously another body of the enemy's cavalry which was reported to have crossed the river, at Campbellton, and to be moving, via Fairburn, in the direction of the Macon road. On the 28th it was apparent that Sherman was also moving in the same direction with his main body. Lieutenant-General S. D. Lee was instructed to move out with his corps upon the Lick-Skillet road, and to take the position most advantageous to prevent or delay the extension of the enemy's right flank. This officer promptly obeyed orders, and in the afternoon, unexpectedly, came in contact with the Federals in the vicinity of Ezra Church, where a spirited engagement ensued. The enemy was already in possession of a portion of the ground Lee desired to occupy, and the struggle grew to such dimensions that I sent Lieutenant-General Stewart to his support. The contest lasted till near sunset without any material advantage having been gained by either opponent. Our troops failed to dislodge the enemy from their position, and the Federals likewise to capture the position occupied by the Confederates.
Whilst these operations were in progress, Wheeler and Jackson were in hot pursuit of the Federal cavalry; General Lewis's infantry brigade having been sent to Jonesboro', the point about which I supposed the raiders would strike our communications.
At an early hour on the 29th dispatches were received from various points upon the Macon road to the effect that General Wheeler had successfully checked the enemy at Latimer's, and was quietly awaiting developments. On our left, the Federals succeeded in eluding our cavalry, for a time, by skirmishing with our main body, whilst their main force moved round to the rear and cut the telegraph lines at Fairburn and Palmetto. General Jackson, however, soon discovered the ruse, and marched rapidly toward Fayetteville and Jonesboro', the direction in which the Federals had moved. The enemy succeeded in destroying a wagon-train at the former place, in capturing one or two quartermasters who afterward made their escape, and in striking the Macon road about four miles below Jonesboro', when the work of destruction was begun in earnest.
General Lewis, within three hours after receiving the order, had placed his men on the cars and was in Jonesboro' with his brigade ready for action. Meantime Jackson was coming up with his cavalry, when the Federals became alarmed and abandoned their work, but not without having destroyed about a mile and a half of the road, which was promptly repaired.
While Jackson followed in pursuit and Lewis returned to Atlanta, Wheeler moved across from Latimer's, with a portion of his command, in rear of this body of the enemy, leaving General Iverson to pursue General Stoneman, who, after somewhat further damaging the Augusta road and burning the bridges across Walnut Creek and the Oconee River, had moved against Macon.
These operations had been ordered by General Sherman upon a grand scale; picked men and horses had been placed under the command of Generals McCook and Stoneman, with the purpose to destroy our sole line of communication, and to release, at Andersonville, 34,000 Federal prisoners.
These raiders, under McCook, came in contact with General Roddey's cavalry at Newnan, and were there held in check till Wheeler's and Jackson's troops came up; whereupon the combined forces, directed by General Wheeler, attacked the enemy with vigor and determination, and finally routed them. Whilst these operations were progressing in the vicinity of Newnan, General Cobb was gallantly repelling the assault of Stoneman at Macon, when Iverson came up and engaged the enemy with equal spirit and success.
The flanks of the Federal army were at this juncture so well protected by the Chattahoochee and the deep ravines which run down into the river, that my antagonist was enabled to throw his entire force of cavalry against the Macon road; and but for the superiority of the Confederate cavalry he might have succeeded to such an extent as to cause us great annoyance and subject our troops to short rations for a time.
After the utter failure of this experiment General Sherman perceived that his mounted force, about twelve thousand in number, in concert with a corps of infantry as support, could not so effectually destroy our main line of communication as to compel us to evacuate Atlanta.
Wheeler and Iverson having thus thoroughly crippled the Federal cavalry, I determined to detach all the troops of that arm that I could possibly spare, and expedite them, under the command of Wheeler, against Sherman's railroad to Nashville; at the same time to request of the proper authorities that General Maury, commanding at Mobile, be instructed to strike with small bodies the line at different points, in the vicinity of the Tennessee River and also that Forrest be ordered, with the whole of his available force, into Tennessee for the same object.
General Wheeler, with 4500 men, began operations at once. He succeeded in burning the bridge over the Etowah; recaptured Dalton and Resaca; destroyed about 35 miles of railroad in the vicinity, and captured about 300 mules and 1000 horses; he destroyed in addition about 50 miles of railroad in Tennessee. General Forrest, with his usual energy, struck shortly afterward the Federal line of supplies in this State, and inflicted great damage upon the enemy. Forrest and Wheeler accomplished all but the impossible with their restricted numbers, and the former, finally, was driven out of Tennessee by superior forces.
So vast were the facilities of the Federal commander to reinforce his line of skirmishers, extending from Nashville to Atlanta, that we could not bring together a sufficient force of cavalry to accomplish the desired object. I thereupon became convinced that no sufficiently effective number of cavalry could be assembled in the Confederacy to interrupt the enemy's line of supplies to an extent to compel him to retreat....
On the 7th General Cleburne's division was transferred to our extreme left, and the 9th was made memorable by the most furious cannonade which the city sustained during the siege. Women and children fled into cellars, and were forced to seek shelter a greater length of time than at any period of the bombardment.
The 19th, nigh two weeks after Wheeler's departure with about one-half of our cavalry force, General Sherman took advantage of the absence of these troops, and again attempted a lodgment on the Macon road with cavalry. At 3:30 A. M. General Kilpatrick was reported to be moving, via Fairburn, in the direction of Jonesboro'. General Jackson quickly divined his object, moved rapidly in pursuit, overtook him at an early hour, attacked and forced him to retreat after sustaining considerable loss. in killed, wounded, and prisoners. The Federals had previously destroyed a mile and a half of the Macon road, and they had cut the wires and burned the depot at Jonesboro'.
Our cavalry also drove a brigade of the enemy from the Augusta road on the 22d, which affair, together with the happy results obtained in the engagement with Kilpatrick, demonstrated conclusively that, the absence of one-half of our mounted force notwithstanding, we had still a sufficient number, with Jackson, to protect not only the flanks of the army, but likewise our communications against similar raids, and, moreover, to defend our people against pillaging expeditions.
The severe handling by Wheeler and Iverson of the troops under Stoneman and McCook, together with Jackson's success, induced me not to recall Wheeler's 4500 men, who were still operating against the railroad to Nashville. I had, moreover, become convinced that our cavalry was able to compete successfully with double their number. Our cavalry were not cavalrymen proper, but were mounted riflemen, trained to dismount and hold in check or delay the advance of the enemy, and who had learned by experience that they could without much difficulty defeat the Federal cavalry.
The bombardment of the city continued till the 25th of August; it was painful, yet strange, to mark how expert grew the old men, women, and children in building their little underground forts, in which to fly for safety during the storm of shell and shot. Often 'mid the darkness of night were they constrained to seek refuge in these dungeons beneath the earth; albeit, I cannot recall one word from their lips expressive of dissatisfaction or willingness to surrender.
Sherman had now been over one month continuously moving toward our left and thoroughly fortifying, step by step, as he advanced in the direction of the Macon railroad. On the night of the 25th he withdrew from our immediate front; his works, which at an early hour the following morning we discovered to be abandoned, were occupied at a later hour by the corps of Stewart and Lee.
On the 27th General G. W. Smith's division was ordered to the left to occupy the position of Stevenson's division which, together with Maury's command, was held in reserve. Early the following morning the enemy were reported by [F. C.] Armstrong in large force at Fairburn, on the West Point road. It became at once evident that Sherman was moving with his main body to destroy the Macon road, and that the fate of Atlanta depended upon our ability to defeat this movement.
Reynolds's and Lewis's brigades were dispatched to Jonesboro' to co6perate with Armstrong. General Adams, at Opelika, was directed to guard the defenses of that place with renewed vigilance, while General Maury was requested to render him assistance, if necessary. The chief quartermaster, ordnance officer, and commissary were given most explicit instructions in regard to the disposition of their respective stores. All surplus property, supplies, etc., were ordered to the rear, or to be placed on cars in readiness to move at any moment the railroad became seriously threatened. Armstrong was instructed to establish a line of couriers to my headquarters, in order to report every hour, if requisite, the movements of the enemy. In fact, every precaution was taken not only to hold our sole line of communication unto the last extremity, but also, in case of failure, to avoid loss or destruction of stores and material.
On the 29th the Federals marched slowly in the direction of Rough and Ready and Jonesboro'. A portion of Brown's division was directed to take position at the former place and fortify thoroughly, in order to afford protection to the road at that point. General Hardee, who was at this juncture in the vicinity of East Point, was instructed to make such disposition of his troops as he considered most favorable for defense; and, in addition, to hold his corps in readiness to march at the word of command. Jackson and Armstrong received orders to report the different positions of the corps of the enemy at dark every night.
The morning of the 30th found our general line extended farther to the left -Hardee being in the vicinity of Rough and Ready with Lee's corps on his right, near East Point. Information from our cavalry clearly indicated that the enemy would strike our road at Jonesboro'. After consultation with the corps commanders, I determined upon the following operations as the last hope of holding on to Atlanta.
A Federal corps crossed Flint River, at about 6 P. M., near Jonesboro', and made an attack upon Lewis's brigade, which was gallantly repulsed. This action became the signal for battle. General Hardee was instructed to move rapidly with his troops to Jonesboro', whither Lieutenant-General Lee, with his corps, was ordered to follow during the night. Hardee was to attack with the entire force early on the morning of the 31st, and drive the enemy, at all hazards, into the river in their rear. In the event of success, Lee and his command were to be withdrawn that night back to Rough and Ready; Stewart's corps, together with Major-General G. W. Smith's State troops, were to form line of battle on Lee's right, near East Point, and the whole force move forward the following morning, attack the enemy in flank, and drive him down Flint River and the West Point railroad. In the meantime the cavalry was to hold in check the corps of the enemy, stationed at the railroad bridge across the Chattahoochee, near the mouth of Peach Tree Creek, whilst Hardee advanced from his position near Jonesboro', or directly on Lee's left.
Such were the explicit instructions delivered. I impressed upon General Hardee that the fate of Atlanta rested upon his ability, with the aid of two corps, to drive the Federals across Flint River, at Jonesboro'. I also instructed him in the event of failure-which would necessitate the evacuation of the city-to send Lee's corps, at dark, back to or near Rough and Ready, in order to protect our retreat to Lovejoy's Station.
The attack was not made till about 2 P. M., and then resulted in our inability to dislodge the enemy. The Federals had been allowed time, by the delay, to strongly intrench; whereas had the assault been made at an early hour in the morning the enemy would have been found but partially protected by works.
General Hardee transmitted to me no official report at that period, nor subsequently, of his operations whilst under my command. I find, however, from the diary in my possession that his corps succeeded in gaining a portion of the Federal works; the general attack, notwithstanding, must have been rather feeble, as the loss incurred was only about 1400 in killed and wounded-a small number in comparison to the forces engaged.
This failure gave to the Federal army the control of the Macon road, and thus necessitated the evacuation of Atlanta at the earliest hour possible.
I was not so much pained by the fall of Atlanta as by the recurrence of retreat, which I full well knew would further demoralize the army and renew desertions. The loss of over 4000, sustained from this same cause during the change from Kenesaw Mountain to and across the Chattahoochee, augmented my great reluctance to order the army to again turn its back to the foe. Howbeit, the presence of 34,000 Federal prisoners at Andersonviue rendered it absolutely incumbent to place the army between Sherman and that point, in order to prevent the Federal commander from turning loose this large body.... Thus the proximity of these prisoners to Sherinan's army not only forced me to remain in a position to guard the country against the fearful calamity aforementioned, but also thwarted my design to move north, across Peach Tree Creek and the Chattahoochee, back to Marietta, where I would have destroyed the enemy's communications and supplies, and then have taken position near the Alabama line, with the Blue Mountain railroad in rear, by which means the Confederate army could, with ease, have been provisioned.
In lieu of the foregoing operations, the battle of Jonesboro' was fought, and on the following day, September 1st, at 2 A.M., Lieutenant-General Lee, with his corps, marched from Jonesboro' to the vicinity of Rough and Ready, and so posted his troops as to protect our flank, whilst we marched out of Atlanta at 5 P.M. the same day, on the McDonough road, in the direction of Lovejoy's Station. Generals Morgan and Scott, stationed at East Point, received similar orders to protect our flank during the retreat....
On the 6th the Federals withdrew from our immediate front and moved off in the direction of Atlanta. General Sherman published orders stating that his army would retire to East Point, Decatur, and Atlanta, and repose after the fatigue of the campaign through which it had passed. We were apprised of these instructions soon after their issuance-as well as of nigh every important movement of the enemy-through the vigilance of our cavalry, spies, and scouts, and from information received through Federal prisoners. Upon this date it may be justly considered that the operations round Atlanta ceased. We had maintained a defense, during forty-six days, of an untenable position, and had battled almost incessantly, day and night, with a force of about 45,000 against an army of 106,000 electives, flushed with victory upon victory from Dalton to Atlanta.
This page last updated 02/03/02