Memoirs of General W.T. Sherman

Text to Speech

losing about six hundred men in killed and captured, and then

returned with the remainder to his position at Turner's Ferry.

This was bad enough, but not so bad as had been reported by Colonel

Brownlow. Meantime, rumors came that General Stoneman was down

about Mason, on the east bank of the Ocmulgee. On the 4th of

August Colonel Adams got to Marietta with his small brigade of nine

hundred men belonging to Stoneman's cavalry, reporting, as usual,

all the rest lost, and this was partially confirmed by a report

which came to me all the way round by General Grant's headquarters

before Richmond. A few days afterward Colonel Capron also got in,

with another small brigade perfectly demoralized, and confirmed the

report that General Stoneman had covered the escape of these two

small brigades, himself standing with a reserve of seven hundred

men, with which he surrendered to a Colonel Iverson. Thus another

of my cavalry divisions was badly damaged, and out of the fragments

we hastily reorganized three small divisions under

Brigadier-Generals Garrard, McCook, and Kilpatrick.

Stoneman had not obeyed his orders to attack the railroad first

before going to Macon and Andersonville, but had crossed the

Ocmulgee River high up near Covington, and had gone down that river

on the east bank. He reached Clinton, and sent out detachments

which struck the railroad leading from Macon to Savannah at

Griswold Station, where they found and destroyed seventeen

locomotives and over a hundred cars; then went on and burned the

bridge across the Oconee, and reunited the division before Macon.

Stoneman shelled the town across the river, but could not cross

over by the bridge, and returned to Clinton, where he found his

retreat obstructed, as he supposed, by a superior force. There he

became bewildered, and sacrificed himself for the safety of his

command. He occupied the attention of his enemy by a small force

of seven hundred men, giving Colonels Adams and Capron leave, with

their brigades, to cut their way back to me at Atlanta. The former

reached us entire, but the latter was struck and scattered at some

place farther north, and came in by detachments. Stoneman

surrendered, and remained a prisoner until he was exchanged some

time after, late in September, at Rough and Ready.

I now became satisfied that cavalry could not, or would not, make a

sufficient lodgment on the railroad below Atlanta, and that nothing

would suffice but for us to reach it with the main army. Therefore

the most urgent efforts to that end were made, and to Schofield, on

the right, was committed the charge of this special object. He had

his own corps (the Twenty-third), composed of eleven thousand and

seventy-five infantry and eight hundred and eighty-five artillery,

with McCook's broken division of cavalry, seventeen hundred and

fifty-four men and horses. For this purpose I also placed the

Fourteenth Corps (Palmer) under his orders. This corps numbered at

the time seventeen thousand two hundred and eighty-eight infantry

and eight hundred and twenty-six artillery; but General Palmer

claimed to rank General Schofield in the date of his commission as

major-general, and denied the latter's right to exercise command

over him. General Palmer was a man of ability, but was not

enterprising. His three divisions were compact and strong, well

commanded, admirable on the defensive, but slow to move or to act

on the offensive. His corps (the Fourteenth) had sustained, up to

that time, fewer hard knocks than any other corps in the whole

army, and I was anxious to give it a chance. I always expected to

have a desperate fight to get possession of the Macon road, which

was then the vital objective of the campaign. Its possession by us

would, in my judgment, result in the capture of Atlanta, and give

us the fruits of victory, although the destruction of Hood's army

was the real object to be desired. Yet Atlanta was known as the

"Gate-City of the South," was full of founderies, arsenals, and

machine-shops, and I knew that its capture would be the death-knell

of the Southern Confederacy.

On the 4th of August I ordered General Schofield to make a bold

attack on the railroad, anywhere about East Point, and ordered

General Palmer to report to him for duty. He at once denied

General Schofield's right to command him; but, after examining the

dates of their respective commissions, and hearing their arguments,

I wrote to General Palmer.

August 4th.-10.45 p.m.

From the statements made by yourself and General Schofield to-day,

my decision is, that he ranks you as a major-general, being of the

same date of present commission, by reason of his previous superior

rank as brigadier-general. The movements of to-morrow are so

important that the orders of the superior on that flank must be

regarded as military orders, and not in the nature of cooperation.

I did hope that there would be no necessity for my making this

decision; but it is better for all parties interested that no

question of rank should occur in actual battle. The Sandtown road,

and the railroad, if possible, must be gained to-morrow, if it

costs half your command. I regard the loss of time this afternoon

as equal to the loss of two thousand men.

I also communicated the substance of this to General Thomas, to

whose army Palmer's corps belonged, who replied on the 5th:

I regret to hear that Palmer has taken the course he has, and I

know that he intends to offer his resignation as soon as he can

properly do so. I recommend that his application be granted.

And on the 5th I again wrote to General Palmer, arguing the point

with him, advising him, as a friend, not to resign at that crisis

lest his motives might be misconstrued, and because it might damage

his future career in civil life; but, at the same time, I felt it

my duty to say to him that the operations on that flank, during the

4th and 5th, had not been satisfactory--not imputing to him,

however, any want of energy or skill, but insisting that "the

events did not keep pace with my desires." General Schofield had

reported to me that night:

I am compelled to acknowledge that I have totally failed to make

any aggressive movement with the Fourteenth Corps. I have ordered

General Johnson's division to replace General Hascall's this

evening, and I propose to-morrow to take my own troops (Twenty-

third Corps) to the right, and try to recover what has been lost by

two days' delay. The force may likely be too small.

I sanctioned the movement, and ordered two of Palmers divisions--

Davis's and Baird's--to follow en echelon in support of Schofield,

and summoned General Palmer to meet me in person: He came on the

6th to my headquarters, and insisted on his resignation being

accepted, for which formal act I referred him to General Thomas.

He then rode to General Thomas's camp, where he made a written

resignation of his office as commander of the Fourteenth Corps, and

was granted the usual leave of absence to go to his home in

Illinois, there to await further orders. General Thomas

recommended that the resignation be accepted; that Johnson, the

senior division commander of the corps, should be ordered back to

Nashville as chief of cavalry, and that Brigadier-General Jefferson

C. Davis, the next in order, should be promoted major general, and

assigned to command the corps. These changes had to be referred to

the President, in Washington, and were, in due time, approved and

executed; and thenceforward I had no reason to complain of the

slowness or inactivity of that splendid corps. It had been

originally formed by General George H. Thomas, had been commanded

by him in person, and had imbibed some what his personal character,

viz., steadiness, good order, and deliberation nothing hasty or

rash, but always safe, "slow, and sure." On August 7th I

telegraphed to General Halleck:

Have received to-day the dispatches of the Secretary of War and of

General Grant, which are very satisfactory. We keep hammering away

all the time, and there is no peace, inside or outside of Atlanta.

To-day General Schofield got round the line which was assaulted

yesterday by General Reilly's brigade, turned it and gained the

ground where the assault had been made, and got possession of all

our dead and wounded. He continued to press on that flank, and

brought on a noisy but not a bloody battle. He drove the enemy

behind his main breastworks, which cover the railroad from Atlanta

to East Point, and captured a good many of the skirmishers, who are

of his best troops--for the militia hug the breastworks close. I

do not deem it prudent to extend any more to the right, but will

push forward daily by parallels, and make the inside of Atlanta too

hot to be endured. I have sent back to Chattanooga for two thirty-

pound Parrotts, with which we can pick out almost any house in

town. I am too impatient for a siege, and don't know but this is

as good a place to fight it out on, as farther inland. One thing

is certain, whether we get inside of Atlanta or not, it will be a

used-up community when we are done with it.

In Schofield's extension on the 5th, General Reilly's brigade had

struck an outwork, which he promptly attacked, but, as usual, got

entangled in the trees and bushes which had been felled, and lost

about five hundred men, in killed and wounded; but, as above

reported, this outwork was found abandoned the next day, and we

could see from it that the rebels were extending their lines,

parallel with the railroad, about as fast as we could add to our

line of investment. On the 10th of August the Parrott

thirty-pounders were received and placed in Position; for a couple

of days we kept up a sharp fire from all our batteries converging

on Atlanta, and at every available point we advanced our

infantry-lines, thereby shortening and strengthening the

investment; but I was not willing to order a direct assault, unless

some accident or positive neglect on the part of our antagonist

should reveal an opening. However, it was manifest that no such

opening was intended by Hood, who felt secure behind his strong

defenses. He had repelled our cavalry attacks on his railroad, and

had damaged us seriously thereby, so I expected that he would

attempt the same game against our rear. Therefore I made

extraordinary exertions to recompose our cavalry divisions, which

were so essential, both for defense and offense. Kilpatrick was

given that on our right rear, in support of Schofield's exposed

flank; Garrard retained that on our general left; and McCook's

division was held somewhat in reserve, about Marietta and the

railroad. On the 10th, having occasion to telegraph to General

Grant, then in Washington, I used this language:

Since July 28th Hood has not attempted to meet us outside his

parapets. In order to possess and destroy effectually his

communications, I may have to leave a corps at the railroad-bridge,

well intrenched, and cut loose with the balance to make a circle of

desolation around Atlanta. I do not propose to assault the works,

which are too strong, nor to proceed by regular approaches. I have

lost a good many regiments, and will lose more, by the expiration

of service; and this is the only reason why I want reenforcements.

We have killed, crippled, and captured more of the enemy than we

have lost by his acts.

On the 12th of August I heard of the success of Admiral Farragut in

entering Mobile Bay, which was regarded as a most valuable

auxiliary to our operations at Atlanta; and learned that I had been

commissioned a major-general in the regular army, which was

unexpected, and not desired until successful in the capture of

Atlanta. These did not change the fact that we were held in check

by the stubborn defense of the place, and a conviction was forced

on my mind that our enemy would hold fast, even though every house

in the town should be battered down by our artillery. It was

evident that we most decoy him out to fight us on something like

equal terms, or else, with the whole army, raise the siege and

attack his communications. Accordingly, on the 13th of August, I

gave general orders for the Twentieth Corps to draw back to the

railroad-bridge at the Chattahoochee, to protect our trains,

hospitals, spare artillery, and the railroad-depot, while the rest

of the army should move bodily to some point on the Macon Railroad

below East Point.

Luckily, I learned just then that the enemy's cavalry, under

General Wheeler, had made a wide circuit around our left flank, and

had actually reached our railroad at Tilton Station, above Resaca,

captured a drove of one thousand of our beef-cattle, and was strong

enough to appear before Dalton, and demand of its commander,

Colonel Raum, the surrender of the place. General John E. Smith,

who was at Kingston, collected together a couple of thousand men,

and proceeded in cars to the relief of Dalton when Wheeler

retreated northward toward Cleveland. On the 16th another

detachment of the enemy's cavalry appeared in force about Allatoona

and the Etowah bridge, when I became fully convinced that Hood had

sent all of his cavalry to raid upon our railroads. For some days

our communication with Nashville was interrupted by the destruction

of the telegraph-lines, as well as railroad. I at once ordered

strong reconnoissances forward from our flanks on the left by

Garrard, and on the right by Kilpatrick. The former moved with so

much caution that I was displeased; but Kilpatrick, on the

contrary, displayed so much zeal and activity that I was attracted

to him at once. He reached Fairburn Station, on the West Point

road, and tore it up, returning safely to his position on our right

flank. I summoned him to me, and was so pleased with his spirit

and confidence, that I concluded to suspend the general movement of

the main army, and to send him with his small division of cavalry

to break up the Macon road about Jonesboro, in the hopes that it

would force Hood to evacuate Atlanta, and that I should thereby not

only secure possession of the city itself, but probably could catch

Hood in the confusion of retreat; and, further to increase the

chances of success.

I ordered General Thomas to detach two brigades of Garrard's

division of cavalry from the left to the right rear, to act as a

reserve in support of General Kilpatrick. Meantime, also, the

utmost activity was ordered along our whole front by the infantry

and artillery. Kilpatrick got off during the night of the 18th,

and returned to us on the 22d, having made the complete circuit of

Atlanta. He reported that he had destroyed three miles of the

railroad about Jonesboro, which he reckoned would take ten days to

repair; that he had encountered a division of infantry and a

brigade of cavalry (Ross's); that he had captured a battery and

destroyed three of its guns, bringing one in as a trophy, and he

also brought in three battle-flags and seventy prisoners. On the

23d, however, we saw trains coming into Atlanta from the south,

when I became more than ever convinced that cavalry could not or

would not work hard enough to disable a railroad properly, and

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