Memoirs of General W.T. Sherman

Text to Speech

my orders to fire were executed, had no idea that our shot had

taken effect, and continued my ride down along the line to

Schofield's extreme flank, returning late in the evening to my

head-quarters at Big Shanty, where I occupied an abandoned house.

In a cotton-field back of that house was our signal-station, on the

roof of an old gin-house. The signal-officer reported that by

studying the enemy's signals he had learned the key, and that he

could read their signals. He explained to me that he had

translated a signal about noon, from Pine Mountain to Marietta,

"Send an ambulance for General Polk's body;" and later in the day

another, "Why don't you send an ambulance for General Polk?" From

this we inferred that General Polk had been killed, but how or

where we knew not; and this inference was confirmed later in the

same day by the report of some prisoners who had been captured.

On the 15th we advanced our general lines, intending to attack at

any weak point discovered between Kenesaw and Pine Mountain; but

Pine Mountain was found to be abandoned, and Johnston had

contracted his front somewhat, on a direct line, connecting Kenesaw

with Lost Mountain. Thomas and Schofield thereby gained about two

miles of most difficult, country, and McPherson's left lapped well

around the north end of Kenesaw. We captured a good many

prisoners, among them a whole infantry regiment, the Fourteenth

Alabama, three hundred and twenty strong.

On the 16th the general movement was continued, when Lost Mountain

was abandoned by the enemy. Our right naturally swung round, so as

to threaten the railroad below Marietta, but Johnston had still

further contracted and strengthened his lines, covering Marietta

and all the roads below.

On the 17th and 18th the rain again fell in torrents, making army

movements impossible, but we devoted the time to strengthening our

positions, more especially the left and centre, with a view

gradually to draw from the left to add to the right; and we had to

hold our lines on the left extremely strong, to guard against a

sally from Kenesaw against our depot at Big Shanty. Garrard's

division of cavalry was kept busy on our left, McPherson had

gradually extended to his right, enabling Thomas to do the same

still farther; but the enemy's position was so very strong, and

everywhere it was covered by intrenchments, that we found it as

dangerous to assault as a permanent fort. We in like manner

covered our lines of battle by similar works, and even our

skirmishers learned to cover their bodies by the simplest and best

forms of defensive works, such as rails or logs, piled in the form

of a simple lunette, covered on the outside with earth thrown up at


The enemy and ourselves used the same form of rifle-trench, varied

according to the nature of the ground, viz.: the trees and bushes

were cut away for a hundred yards or more in front, serving as an

abatis or entanglement; the parapets varied from four to six feet

high, the dirt taken from a ditch outside and from a covered way

inside, and this parapet was surmounted by a "head-log," composed

of the trunk of a tree from twelve to twenty inches at the butt,

lying along the interior crest of the parapet and resting in

notches cut in other trunks which extended back, forming an

inclined plane, in case the head-log should be knocked inward by a

cannon-shot. The men of both armies became extremely skillful in

the construction of these works, because each man realized their

value and importance to himself, so that it required no orders for

their construction. As soon as a regiment or brigade gained a

position within easy distance for a sally, it would set to work

with a will, and would construct such a parapet in a single night;

but I endeavored to spare the soldiers this hard labor by

authorizing each division commander to organize out of the freedmen

who escaped to us a pioneer corps of two hundred men, who were fed

out of the regular army supplies, and I promised them ten dollars a

month, under an existing act of Congress. These pioneer

detachments became very useful to us during the rest of the war,

for they could work at night while our men slept; they in turn were

not expected to fight, and could therefore sleep by day. Our

enemies used their slaves for a similar purpose, but usually kept

them out of the range of fire by employing them to fortify and

strengthen the position to their rear next to be occupied in their

general retrograde. During this campaign hundreds if not thousands

of miles of similar intrenchments were built by both armies, and,

as a rule, whichever party attacked got the worst of it.

On the 19th of June the rebel army again fell back on its flanks,

to such an extent that for a time I supposed it had retreated to

the Chattahoochee River, fifteen miles distant; but as we pressed

forward we were soon undeceived, for we found it still more

concentrated, covering Marietta and the railroad. These successive

contractions of the enemy's line encouraged us and discouraged him,

but were doubtless justified by sound reasons. On the 20th

Johnston's position was unusually strong. Kenesaw Mountain was his

salient; his two flanks were refused and covered by parapets and by

Noonday and Nose's Creeks. His left flank was his weak point, so

long as he acted on the "defensive," whereas, had he designed to

contract the extent of his line for the purpose of getting in

reserve a force with which to strike "offensively" from his right,

he would have done a wise act, and I was compelled to presume that

such was his object: We were also so far from Nashville and

Chattanooga that we were naturally sensitive for the safety of our

railroad and depots, so that the left (McPherson) was held very


About this time came reports that a large cavalry force of the

enemy had passed around our left flank, evidently to strike this

very railroad somewhere below Chattanooga. I therefore reenforced

the cavalry stationed from Resaca to Casaville, and ordered forward

from Huntsville, Alabama, the infantry division of General John E.

Smith, to hold Kingston securely.

While we were thus engaged about Kenesaw, General Grant had his

hands full with Lee, in Virginia. General Halleck was the chief of

staff at Washington, and to him I communicated almost daily. I

find from my letter-book that on the 21st of June I reported to him

tersely and truly the condition of facts on that day: "This is the

nineteenth day of rain, and the prospect of fair weather is as far

off as ever. The roads are impassable; the fields and woods become

quagmire's after a few wagons have crossed over. Yet we are at

work all the time. The left flank is across Noonday Creek, and the

right is across Nose's Creek. The enemy still holds Kenesaw, a

conical mountain, with Marietta behind it, and has his flanks

retired, to cover that town and the railroad behind. I am all

ready to attack the moment the weather and roads will permit troops

and artillery to move with any thing like life."

The weather has a wonderful effect on troops: in action and on the

march, rain is favorable; but in the woods, where all is blind and

uncertain, it seems almost impossible for an army covering ten

miles of front to act in concert during wet and stormy weather.

Still I pressed operations with the utmost earnestness, aiming

always to keep our fortified lines in absolute contact with the

enemy, while with the surplus force we felt forward, from one flank

or the other, for his line of communication and retreat. On the

22d of June I rode the whole line, and ordered General Thomas in

person to advance his extreme right corps (Hooker's); and

instructed General Schofield, by letter, to keep his entire army,

viz., the Twenty-third Corps, as a strong right flank in close

support of Hooker's deployed line. During this day the sun came

out, with some promise of clear weather, and I had got back to my

bivouac about dark, when a signal message was received, dated-


General SHERMAN:

We have repulsed two heavy attacks, and feel confident, our only

apprehension being from our extreme right flank. Three entire

corps are in front of us.

Major-General HOOKER.

Hooker's corps (the Twentieth) belonged to Thomas's army; Thomas's

headquarters were two miles nearer to Hooker than mine; and Hooker,

being an old army officer, knew that he should have reported this

fact to Thomas and not to me; I was, moreover, specially disturbed

by the assertion in his report that he was uneasy about his right

flank, when Schofield had been specially ordered to protect that.

I first inquired of my adjutant, Dayton, if he were certain that

General Schofield had received his orders, and he answered that the

envelope in which he had sent them was receipted by General

Schofield himself. I knew, therefore, that General Schofield must

be near by, in close support of Hooker's right flank. General

Thomas had before this occasion complained to me of General

Hooker's disposition to "switch off," leaving wide gaps in his

line, so as to be independent, and to make glory on his own

account. I therefore resolved not to overlook this breach of

discipline and propriety. The rebel army was only composed of

three corps; I had that very day ridden six miles of their lines,

found them everywhere strongly occupied, and therefore Hooker could

not have encountered "three entire corps." Both McPherson and

Schofield had also complained to me of this same tendency of Hooker

to widen the gap between his own corps and his proper army

(Thomas's), so as to come into closer contact with one or other of

the wings, asserting that he was the senior by commission to both

McPherson and Schofield, and that in the event of battle he should

assume command over them, by virtue of his older commission.

They appealed to me to protect them. I had heard during that day

some cannonading and heavy firing down toward the "Kulp House,"

which was about five miles southeast of where I was, but this was

nothing unusual, for at the same moment there was firing along our

lines full ten miles in extent. Early the next day (23d) I rode

down to the "Kulp House," which was on a road leading from Powder

Springs to Marietta, about three miles distant from the latter. On

the way I passed through General Butterfield's division of Hooker's

corps, which I learned had not been engaged at all in the battle of

the day before; then I rode along Geary's and Williams's divisions,

which occupied the field of battle, and the men were engaged in

burying the dead. I found General Schofield's corps on the Powder

Springs road, its head of column abreast of Hooker's right,

therefore constituting "a strong right flank," and I met Generale

Schofield and Hooker together. As rain was falling at the moment,

we passed into a little church standing by the road-side, and I

there showed General Schofield Hooker's signal-message of the day

before. He was very angry, and pretty sharp words passed between

them, Schofield saying that his head of column (Hascall's division)

had been, at the time of the battle, actually in advance of

Hooker's line; that the attack or sally of the enemy struck his

troops before it did Hooker's; that General Hooker knew of it at

the time; and he offered to go out and show me that the dead men of

his advance division (Hascall's) were lying farther out than any of

Hooker's. General Hooker pretended not to have known this fact. I

then asked him why he had called on me for help, until he had used

all of his own troops; asserting that I had just seen Butterfield's

division, and had learned from him that he had not been engaged the

day before at all; and I asserted that the enemy's sally must have

been made by one corps (Hood's), in place of three, and that it had

fallen on Geary's and Williams's divisions, which had repulsed the

attack handsomely. As we rode away from that church General Hooker

was by my side, and I told him that such a thing must not occur

again; in other words, I reproved him more gently than the occasion

demanded, and from that time he began to sulk. General Hooker had

come from the East with great fame as a "fighter," and at

Chattanooga he was glorified by his "battle above the clouds,"

which I fear turned his head. He seemed jealous of all the army

commanders, because in years, former rank, and experience, he

thought he was our superior.

On the 23d of June I telegraphed to General Halleck this summary,

which I cannot again better state:

We continue to press forward on the principle of an advance against

fortified positions. The whole country is one vast fort, and

Johnston must have at least fifty miles of connected trenches, with

abatis and finished batteries. We gain ground daily, fighting all

the time. On the 21st General Stanley gained a position near the

south end of Kenesaw, from which the enemy attempted in vain to

drive him; and the same day General T. J. Wood's division took a

hill, which the enemy assaulted three times at night without

success, leaving more than a hundred dead on the ground. Yesterday

the extreme right (Hooker and Schofield) advanced on the Powder

Springs road to within three miles of Marietta. The enemy made a

strong effort to drive them away, but failed signally, leaving more

than two hundred dead on the field. Our lines are now in close

contact, and the fighting is incessant, with a good deal of

artillery-fire. As fast as we gain one position the enemy has

another all ready, but I think he will soon have to let go Kenesaw,

which is the key to the whole country. The weather is now better,

and the roads are drying up fast. Our losses are light, and, not-

withstanding the repeated breaks of the road to our rear, supplies

are ample.

During the 24th and 25th of June General Schofield extended his

right as far as prudent, so as to compel the enemy to thin out his

lines correspondingly, with the intention to make two strong

assaults at points where success would give us the greatest

advantage. I had consulted Generals Thomas, McPherson, and

Schofield, and we all agreed that we could not with prudence

stretch out any more, and therefore there was no alternative but to

attack "fortified lines," a thing carefully avoided up to that

time. I reasoned, if we could make a breach anywhere near the

rebel centre, and thrust in a strong head of column, that with the

one moiety of our army we could hold in check the corresponding

wing of the enemy, and with the other sweep in flank and overwhelm

the other half. The 27th of June was fixed as the day for the

attempt, and in order to oversee the whole, and to be in close

communication with all parts of the army, I had a place cleared on

the top of a hill to the rear of Thomas's centre, and had the

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