Memoirs of General W.T. Sherman

Text to Speech

rear to Thomas's extreme right, and hoped thus to reach the other

railroad at East Point. While we sat there we could hear lively

skirmishing going on near us (down about the distillery), and

occasionally round-shot from twelve or twenty-four pound guns came

through the trees in reply to those of Schofield, and we could hear

similar sounds all along down the lines of Thomas to our right, and

his own to the left; but presently the firing appeared a little

more brisk (especially over about Giles G. Smith's division), and

then we heard an occasional gun back toward Decatur. I asked him

what it meant. We took my pocket-compass (which I always carried),

and by noting the direction of the sound, we became satisfied that

the firing was too far to our left rear to be explained by known

facts, and he hastily called for his horse, his staff, and his


McPherson was then in his prime (about thirty-four years old), over

six feet high, and a very handsome man in every way, was

universally liked, and had many noble qualities. He had on his

boots outside his pantaloons, gauntlets on his hands, had on his

major-general's uniform, and wore a sword-belt, but no sword. He

hastily gathered his papers (save one, which I now possess) into a

pocket-book, put it in his breast-pocket, and jumped on his horse,

saying he would hurry down his line and send me back word what

these sounds meant. His adjutant-general, Clark, Inspector-General

Strong, and his aides, Captains Steele and Gile, were with him.

Although the sound of musketry on our left grew in volume, I was

not so much disturbed by it as by the sound of artillery back

toward Decatur. I ordered Schofield at once to send a brigade back

to Decatur (some five miles) and was walking up and down the porch

of the Howard House, listening, when one of McPherson's staff, with

his horse covered with sweat, dashed up to the porch, and reported

that General McPherson was either "killed or a prisoner." He

explained that when they had left me a few minutes before, they had

ridden rapidly across to the railroad, the sounds of battle

increasing as they neared the position occupied by General Giles A.

Smith's division, and that McPherson had sent first one, then

another of his staff to bring some of the reserve brigades of the

Fifteenth Corps over to the exposed left flank; that he had reached

the head of Dodge's corps (marching by the flank on the diagonal

road as described), and had ordered it to hurry forward to the same

point; that then, almost if not entirely alone, he had followed

this road leading across the wooded valley behind the Seventeenth

Corps, and had disappeared in these woods, doubtless with a sense

of absolute security. The sound of musketry was there heard, and

McPherson's horse came back, bleeding, wounded, and riderless. I

ordered the staff-officer who brought this message to return at

once, to find General Logan (the senior officer present with the

Army of the Tennessee), to report the same facts to him, and to

instruct him to drive back this supposed small force, which had

evidently got around the Seventeenth Corps through the blind woods

in rear of our left flank. I soon dispatched one of my own staff

(McCoy, I think) to General Logan with similar orders, telling him

to refuse his left flank, and to fight the battle (holding fast to

Leggett's Hill) with the Army of the Tennessee; that I would

personally look to Decatur and to the safety of his rear, and would

reenforce him if he needed it. I dispatched orders to General

Thomas on our right, telling him of this strong sally, and my

inference that the lines in his front had evidently been weakened

by reason thereof, and that he ought to take advantage of the

opportunity to make a lodgment in Atlanta, if possible.

Meantime the sounds of the battle rose on our extreme left more and

more furious, extending to the place where I stood, at the Howard

House. Within an hour an ambulance came in (attended by Colonels

Clark and Strong, and Captains Steele and Gile), bearing

McPherson's body. I had it carried inside of the Howard House, and

laid on a door wrenched from its hinges. Dr. Hewitt, of the army,

was there, and I asked him to examine the wound. He opened the

coat and shirt, saw where the ball had entered and where it came

out, or rather lodged under the skin, and he reported that

McPherson must have died in a few seconds after being hit; that the

ball had ranged upward across his body, and passed near the heart.

He was dressed just as he left me, with gauntlets and boots on, but

his pocket-book was gone. On further inquiry I learned that his

body must have been in possession of the enemy some minutes, during

which time it was rifled of the pocket-book, and I was much

concerned lest the letter I had written him that morning should

have fallen into the hands of some one who could read and

understand its meaning. Fortunately the spot in the woods where

McPherson was shot was regained by our troops in a few minutes, and

the pocket-book found in the haversack of a prisoner of war

captured at the time, and it and its contents were secured by one

of McPherson's staff.

While we were examining the body inside the house, the battle was

progressing outside, and many shots struck the building, which I

feared would take fire; so I ordered Captains Steele and Gile to

carry the body to Marietta. They reached that place the same

night, and, on application, I ordered his personal staff to go on

and escort the body to his home, in Clyde, Ohio, where it was

received with great honor, and it is now buried in a small

cemetery, close by his mother's house, which cemetery is composed

in part of the family orchard, in which he used to play when a boy.

The foundation is ready laid for the equestrian monument now in

progress, under the auspices of the Society of the Army of the


The reports that came to me from all parts of the field revealed

clearly what was the game of my antagonist, and the ground somewhat

favored him. The railroad and wagon-road from Decatur to Atlanta

lie along the summit, from which the waters flow, by short, steep

valleys, into the "Peach-Tree" and Chattahoochee, to the west, and

by other valleys, of gentler declivity, toward the east (Ocmulgee).

The ridges and level ground were mostly cleared, and had been

cultivated as corn or cotton fields; but where the valleys were

broken, they were left in a state of nature--wooded, and full of

undergrowth. McPherson's line of battle was across this railroad,

along a general ridge, with a gentle but cleared valley to his

front, between him and the defenses of Atlanta; and another valley,

behind him, was clear of timber in part, but to his left rear the

country was heavily wooded. Hood, during the night of July 21st,

had withdrawn from his Peach-Tree line, had occupied the fortified

line of Atlanta, facing north and east, with Stewart's--formerly

Polk's--corps and part of Hardee's, and with G. W. Smith's division

of militia. His own corps, and part of Hardee's, had marched out

to the road leading from McDonough to Decatur, and had turned so as

to strike the left and, rear of McPherson's line "in air." At the

same time he had sent Wheeler's division of cavalry against the

trains parked in Decatur. Unluckily for us, I had sent away the

whole of Garrard's division of cavalry during the night of the

20th, with orders to proceed to Covington, thirty miles east, to

burn two important bridges across the Ulcofauhatchee and Yellow

Rivers, to tear up the railroad, to damage it as much as possible

from Stone Mountain eastward, and to be gone four days; so that

McPherson had no cavalry in hand to guard that flank.

The enemy was therefore enabled, under cover or the forest, to

approach quite near before he was discovered; indeed, his skirmish-

line had worked through the timber and got into the field to the

rear of Giles A. Smith's division of the Seventeenth Corps unseen,

had captured Murray's battery of regular artillery, moving through

these woods entirely unguarded, and had got possession of several

of the hospital camps. The right of this rebel line struck Dodge's

troops in motion; but, fortunately, this corps (Sixteenth) had only

to halt, face to the left, and was in line of battle; and this

corps not only held in check the enemy, but drove him back through

the woods. About the same time this same force had struck General

Giles A. Smith's left flank, doubled it back, captured four guns in

position and the party engaged in building the very battery which

was the special object of McPherson's visit to me, and almost

enveloped the entire left flank. The men, however, were skillful

and brave, and fought for a time with their backs to Atlanta. They

gradually fell back, compressing their own line, and gaining

strength by making junction with Leggett's division of the Seventeenth

Corps, well and strongly posted on the hill. One or two

brigades of the Fifteenth Corps, ordered by McPherson, came rapidly

across the open field to the rear, from the direction of the

railroad, filled up the gap from Blair's new left to the head of

Dodge's column--now facing to the general left--thus forming a

strong left flank, at right angles to the original line of battle.

The enemy attacked, boldly and repeatedly, the whole of this flank,

but met an equally fierce resistance; and on that ground a bloody

battle raged from little after noon till into the night. A part of

Hood's plan of action was to sally from Atlanta at the same moment;

but this sally was not, for some reason, simultaneous, for the

first attack on our extreme left flank had been checked and

repulsed before the sally came from the direction of Atlanta.

Meantime, Colonel Sprague, in Decatur, had got his teams harnessed

up, and safely conducted his train to the rear of Schofield's

position, holding in check Wheeler's cavalry till he had got off

all his trains, with the exception of three or four wagons. I

remained near the Howard House, receiving reports and sending

orders, urging Generals Thomas and Schofield to take advantage of

the absence from their front of so considerable a body as was

evidently engaged on our left, and, if possible, to make a lodgment

in Atlanta itself; but they reported that the lines to their front,

at all accessible points, were strong, by nature and by art, and

were fully manned. About 4 p.m. the expected, sally came from

Atlanta, directed mainly against Leggett's Hill and along the

Decatur road. At Leggett's Hill they were met and bloodily

repulsed. Along the railroad they were more successful. Sweeping

over a small force with two guns, they reached our main line, broke

through it, and got possession of De Gress's battery of four

twenty-pound Parrotts, killing every horse, and turning the guns

against us. General Charles R. Wood's division of the Fifteenth

Corps was on the extreme right of the Army of the Tennessee,

between the railroad and the Howard House, where he connected with

Schofield's troops. He reported to me in person that the line on

his left had been swept back, and that his connection with General

Logan, on Leggett's Hill, was broken. I ordered him to wheel his

brigades to the left, to advance in echelon, and to catch the enemy

in flank. General Schofield brought forward all his available

batteries, to the number of twenty guns, to a position to the left

front of the Howard House, whence we could overlook the field of

action, and directed a heavy fire over the heads of General Wood's

men against the enemy; and we saw Wood's troops advance and

encounter the enemy, who had secured possession of the old line of

parapet which had been held by our men. His right crossed this

parapet, which he swept back, taking it in flank; and, at the same

time, the division which had been driven back along the railroad

was rallied by General Logan in person, and fought for their former

ground. These combined forces drove the enemy into Atlanta,

recovering the twenty pound Parrott guns but one of them was found

"bursted" while in the possession of the enemy. The two

six-pounders farther in advance were, however, lost, and had been

hauled back by the enemy into Atlanta. Poor Captain de Gress came

to me in tears, lamenting the loss of his favorite guns; when they

were regained he had only a few men left, and not a single horse.

He asked an order for a reequipment, but I told him he must beg and

borrow of others till he could restore his battery, now reduced to

three guns. How he did so I do not know, but in a short time he

did get horses, men, and finally another gun, of the same special

pattern, and served them with splendid effect till the very close

of the war. This battery had also been with me from Shiloh till

that time.

The battle of July 22d is usually called the battle of Atlanta. It

extended from the Howard House to General Giles A. Smith's

position, about a mile beyond the Augusta Railroad, and then back

toward Decatur, the whole extent of ground being fully seven miles.

In part the ground was clear and in part densely wooded. I rode

over the whole of it the next day, and it bore the marks of a

bloody conflict. The enemy had retired during the night inside of

Atlanta, and we remained masters of the situation outside. I

purposely allowed the Army of the Tennessee to fight this battle

almost unaided, save by demonstrations on the part of General

Schofield and Thomas against the fortified lines to their immediate

fronts, and by detaching, as described, one of Schofield's brigades

to Decatur, because I knew that the attacking force could only be a

part of Hood's army, and that, if any assistance were rendered by

either of the other armies, the Army of the Tennessee would be

jealous. Nobly did they do their work that day, and terrible was

the slaughter done to our enemy, though at sad cost to ourselves,

as shown by the following reports:



General HALLECK, Washington, D. C.

Yesterday morning the enemy fell back to the intrenchments proper

of the city of Atlanta, which are in a general circle, with a

radius of one and a half miles, and we closed in. While we were

forming our lines, and selecting positions for our batteries, the

enemy appeared suddenly out of the dense woods in heavy masses on

our extreme left, and struck the Seventeenth Corps (General Blair)

in flank, and was forcing it back, when the Sixteenth Corps

(General Dodge) came up and checked the movement, but the enemy's

cavalry got well to our rear, and into Decatur, and for some hours

our left flank was completely enveloped. The fight that resulted

was continuous until night, with heavy loss on both sides. The

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