Memoirs of General W.T. Sherman

Text to Speech

expedition himself, to which I consented, and on the 6th of July he

reported that he was all ready at Decatur, and I gave him orders to

start. He moved promptly on the 9th, crossed the Coosa below the

"Ten Islands" and the Tallapoosa below "Horseshoe Bend," having

passed through Talladega. He struck the railroad west of Opelika,

tore it up for twenty miles, then turned north and came to Marietta

on the 22d of July, whence he reported to me. This expedition was

in the nature of a raid, and must have disturbed the enemy

somewhat; but, as usual, the cavalry did not work hard, and their

destruction of the railroad was soon repaired. Rousseau, when he

reported to me in person before Atlanta, on the 28d of July, stated

his entire loss to have been only twelve killed and thirty wounded.

He brought in four hundred captured mules and three hundred horses,

and also told me a good story. He said he was far down in Alabama,

below Talladega, one hot, dusty day, when the blue clothing of his

men was gray with dust; he had halted his column along a road, and

he in person, with his staff, had gone to the house of a planter,

who met him kindly on the front-porch. He asked for water, which

was brought, and as the party sat on the porch in conversation he

saw, in a stable-yard across the road, quite a number of good

mules. He remarked to the planter, "My good sir, I fear I must take

some of your mules." The planter remonstrated, saying he had

already contributed liberally to the good cause; that it was only

last week he had given to General Roddy ten mules. Rousseau

replied, "Well, in this war you should be at least neutral--that

is, you should be as liberal to us as to Roddy" (a rebel cavalry

general). "Well, ain't you on our side?" "No," said Rousseau; "I

am General Rousseau, and all these men you see are Yanks." "Great

God! is it possible! Are these Yanks! Who ever supposed they

would come away down here in Alabama?" Of course, Rousseau took

his ten mules.

Schofield effected his crossing at Soap's Creek very handsomely on

the 9th, capturing the small guard that was watching the crossing.

By night he was on the high ground beyond, strongly intrenched,

with two good pontoon-bridges finished, and was prepared, if

necessary, for an assault by the whole Confederate army. The same

day Garrard's cavalry also crossed over at Roswell, drove away the

cavalry-pickets, and held its ground till relieved by Newton's

division of Howard's corps, which was sent up temporarily, till it

in turn was relieved by Dodge's corps (Sixteenth) of the Army of

the Tennessee, which was the advance of the whole of that army.

That night Johnston evacuated his trenches, crossed over the

Chattahoochee, burned the railroad bridge and his pontoon and

trestle bridges, and left us in full possession of the north or

west bank-besides which, we had already secured possession of the

two good crossings at Roswell and Soap's Creek. I have always

thought Johnston neglected his opportunity there, for he had lain

comparatively idle while we got control of both banks of the river

above him.

On the 13th I ordered McPherson, with the Fifteenth Corps, to move

up to Roswell, to cross over, prepare good bridges, and to make a

strong tete-du-pont on the farther side. Stoneman had been sent

down to Campbellton, with orders to cross over and to threaten the

railroad below Atlanta, if he could do so without too much risk;

and General Blair, with the Seventeenth Corps, was to remain at

Turner's Ferry, demonstrating as much as possible, thus keeping up

the feint below while we were actually crossing above. Thomas was

also ordered to prepare his bridges at Powers's and Paice's

Ferries. By crossing the Chattahoochee above the railroad bridge,

we were better placed to cover our railroad and depots than below,

though a movement across the river below the railroad, to the south

of Atlanta, might have been more decisive. But we were already so

far from home, and would be compelled to accept battle whenever

offered, with the Chattahoochee to our rear, that it became

imperative for me to take all prudential measures the case admitted

of, and I therefore determined to pass the river above the

railroad-bridge-McPherson on the left, Schofield in the centre,

and Thomas on the right. On the 13th I reported to General Halleck

as follows:

All is well. I have now accumulated stores at Allatoona and

Marietta, both fortified and garrisoned points. Have also three

places at which to cross the Chattahoochee in our possession, and

only await General Stoneman's return from a trip down the river, to

cross the army in force and move on Atlanta.

Stoneman is now out two days, and had orders to be back on the

fourth or fifth day at furthest.

From the 10th to the 15th we were all busy in strengthening the

several points for the proposed passage of the Chattahoochee, in

increasing the number and capacity of the bridges, rearranging the

garrisons to our rear, and in bringing forward supplies. On the

15th General Stoneman got back to Powder Springs, and was ordered

to replace General Blair at Turner's Ferry, and Blair, with the

Seventeenth Corps, was ordered up to Roswell to join McPherson. On

the 17th we began the general movement against Atlanta, Thomas

crossing the Chattahoochee at Powers's and Paice's, by pontoon-

bridges; Schofield moving out toward Cross Keys, and McPherson

toward Stone Mountain. We encountered but little opposition except

by cavalry. On the 18th all the armies moved on a general right

wheel, Thomas to Buckhead, forming line of battle facing

Peach-Tree Creek; Schofield was on his left, and McPherson well

over toward the railroad between Stone Mountain and Decatur, which

he reached at 2 p.m. of that day, about four miles from Stone

Mountain, and seven miles east of Decatur, and there he turned

toward Atlanta, breaking up the railroad as he progressed, his

advance-guard reaching Ecatur about night, where he came into

communication with Schofield's troops, which had also reached

Decatur. About 10 A.M. of that day (July 18th), when the armies

were all in motion, one of General Thomas's staff-officers brought

me a citizen, one of our spies, who had just come out of Atlanta,

and had brought a newspaper of the same day, or of the day before,

containing Johnston's order relinquishing the command of the

Confederate forces in Atlanta, and Hood's order assuming the

command. I immediately inquired of General Schofield, who was his

classmate at West Point, about Hood, as to his general character,

etc., and learned that he was bold even to rashness, and courageous

in the extreme; I inferred that the change of commanders meant

"fight." Notice of this important change was at once sent to all

parts of the army, and every division commander was cautioned to be

always prepared for battle in any shape. This was just what we

wanted, viz., to fight in open ground, on any thing like equal

terms, instead of being forced to run up against prepared

intrenchments; but, at the same time, the enemy having Atlanta

behind him, could choose the time and place of attack, and could at

pleasure mass a superior force on our weakest points. Therefore,

we had to be constantly ready for sallies.

On the 19th the three armies were converging toward Atlanta,

meeting such feeble resistance that I really thought the enemy

intended to evacuate the place. McPherson was moving astride of

the railroad, near Decatur; Schofield along a road leading toward

Atlanta, by Colonel Howard's house and the distillery; and Thomas

was crossing "Peach-Tree" in line of battle, building bridges for

nearly every division as deployed. There was quite a gap between

Thomas and Schofield, which I endeavored to close by drawing two of

Howard's divisions nearer Schofield. On the 20th I was with

General Schofield near the centre, and soon after noon heard heavy

firing in front of Thomas's right, which lasted an hour or so, and

then ceased.

I soon learned that the enemy had made a furious sally, the blow

falling on Hooker's corps (the Twentieth), and partially on

Johnson's division of the Fourteenth, and Newton's of the Fourth.

The troops had crossed Peach-Tree Creek, were deployed, but at the

time were resting for noon, when, without notice, the enemy came

pouring out of their trenches down upon them, they became

commingled, and fought in many places hand to hand. General Thomas

happened to be near the rear of Newton's division, and got some

field-batteries in a good position, on the north side of Peach-Tree

Creek, from which he directed a furious fire on a mass of the

enemy, which was passing around Newton's left and exposed flank.

After a couple of hours of hard and close conflict, the enemy

retired slowly within his trenches, leaving his dead and many

wounded on the field. Johnson's and Newton's losses were light, for

they had partially covered their fronts with light parapet; but

Hooker's whole corps fought in open ground, and lost about fifteen

hundred men. He reported four hundred rebel dead left on the

ground, and that the rebel wounded would number four thousand; but

this was conjectural, for most of them got back within their own

lines. We had, however, met successfully a bold sally, had

repelled it handsomely, and were also put on our guard; and the

event illustrated the future tactics of our enemy. This sally came

from the Peach-Tree line, which General Johnston had carefully

prepared in advance, from which to fight us outside of Atlanta. We

then advanced our lines in compact order, close up to these

finished intrenchments, overlapping them on our left. From various

parts of our lines the houses inside of Atlanta were plainly

visible, though between us were the strong parapets, with ditch,

fraise, chevaux-de-frise, and abatis, prepared long in advance by

Colonel Jeremy F. Gilmer, formerly of the United States Engineers.

McPherson had the Fifteenth Corps astride the Augusta Railroad, and

the Seventeenth deployed on its left. Schofield was next on his

right, then came Howard's, Hooker's, and Palmer's corps, on the

extreme right. Each corps was deployed with strong reserves, and

their trains were parked to their rear. McPherson's trains were in

Decatur, guarded by a brigade commanded by Colonel Sprague of the

Sixty-third Ohio. The Sixteenth Corps (Dodge's) was crowded out of

position on the right of McPherson's line, by the contraction of

the circle of investment; and, during the previous afternoon, the

Seventeenth Corps (Blair's) had pushed its operations on the

farther side of the Augusta Railroad, so as to secure possession of

a hill, known as Leggett's Hill, which Leggett's and Force's

divisions had carried by assault. Giles A. Smith's division was on

Leggett's left, deployed with a weak left flank "in air," in

military phraseology. The evening before General Gresham, a great

favorite, was badly wounded; and there also Colonel Tom Reynolds,

now of Madison, Wisconsin, was shot through the leg. When the

surgeons were debating the propriety of amputating it in his

hearing, he begged them to spare the leg, as it was very valuable,

being an "imported leg." He was of Irish birth, and this

well-timed piece of wit saved his leg, for the surgeons thought, if

he could perpetrate a joke at such a time, they would trust to his

vitality to save his limb.

During the night, I had full reports from all parts of our line,

most of which was partially intrenched as against a sally, and

finding that McPherson was stretching out too much on his left

flank, I wrote him a note early in the morning not to extend so

much by his left; for we had not troops enough to completely invest

the place, and I intended to destroy utterly all parts of the

Augusta Railroad to the east of Atlanta, then to withdraw from the

left flank and add to the right. In that letter I ordered

McPherson not to extend any farther to the left, but to employ

General Dodge's corps (Sixteenth), then forced out of position, to

destroy every rail and tie of the railroad, from Decatur up to his

skirmish-line, and I wanted him (McPherson) to be ready, as soon as

General Garrard returned from Covington (whither I had sent him),

to move to the extreme right of Thomas, so as to reach if possible

the railroad below Atlanta, viz., the Macon road. In the morning

we found the strong line of parapet, "Peach-Tree line," to the

front of Schofield and Thomas, abandoned, and our lines were

advanced rapidly close up to Atlanta. For some moments I supposed

the enemy intended to evacuate, and in person was on horseback at

the head of Schofield's troops, who had advanced in front of the

Howard House to some open ground, from which we could plainly see

the whole rebel line of parapets, and I saw their men dragging up

from the intervening valley, by the distillery, trees and saplings

for abatis. Our skirmishers found the enemy down in this valley,

and we could see the rebel main line strongly manned, with guns in

position at intervals. Schofield was dressing forward his lines,

and I could hear Thomas farther to the right engaged, when General

McPherson and his staff rode up. We went back to the Howard House,

a double frame-building with a porch, and sat on the steps,

discussing the chances of battle, and of Hood's general character.

McPherson had also been of the same class at West Point with Hood,

Schofield, and Sheridan. We agreed that we ought to be unusually

cautious and prepared at all times for sallies and for hard

fighting, because Hood, though not deemed much of a scholar, or of

great mental capacity, was undoubtedly a brave, determined, and

rash man; and the change of commanders at that particular crisis

argued the displeasure of the Confederate Government with the

cautious but prudent conduct of General Jos. Johnston.

McPherson was in excellent spirits, well pleased at the progress of

events so far, and had come over purposely to see me about the

order I had given him to use Dodge's corps to break up the

railroad, saying that the night before he had gained a position on

Leggett's Hill from which he could look over the rebel parapet, and

see the high smoke-stack of a large foundery in Atlanta; that

before receiving my order he had diverted Dodge's two divisions

(then in motion) from the main road, along a diagonal one that led

to his extreme left flank, then held by Giles A. Smith's division

(Seventeenth Corps), for the purpose of strengthening that flank;

and that he had sent some intrenching-tools there, to erect some

batteries from which he intended to knock down that foundery, and

otherwise to damage the buildings inside of Atlanta. He said he

could put all his pioneers to work, and do with them in the time

indicated all I had proposed to do with General Dodge's two

divisions. Of course I assented at once, and we walked down the

road a short distance, sat down by the foot of a tree where I had

my map, and on it pointed out to him Thomas's position and his own.

I then explained minutely that, after we had sufficiently broken up

the Augusta road, I wanted to shift his whole army around by the

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