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William T. Sherman online

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(May 9th). The enemy seemed so well entrenched,
here, however, that McPherson fell back three
miles to the mouth of Snake Creek Gap. Sherman
afterward declared that his general had not done
the full measure of his work, and might have
i walked into Eesaca. * Had he done so, I am
certain that Johnston would not have ventured to
attack him in position, but would have retreated
eastward by Spring Place, and we should have cap
tured half his army and all his artillery and wagons
at the very beginning of the campaign. Such an
opportunity does not occur twice in a single life,
but at the critical moment McPherson seems to have
been a little timid. Still, he was perfectly justified
by his orders.

The failure of McPherson s movement which
thus brought forth the only adverse criticism
Sherman ever made of this fine officer caused
a change of plans. Sherman concentrated his
forces and advanced against Eesaca, where Johns
ton, having suddenly abandoned his admirable


defenses at Dalton, had strongly entrenched himself
with the major part of his force. The rival armies
now faced each other, and in the battling and skir
mishing which followed, McPherson, as if anxious
to make amends for being i a little timid, played
a gallant part. On the 15th, the Union troops
obstinately pressed around the town from all points,
while l i the sound of cannon and musketry rose all
day to the dignity of a battle." Late in the after
noon McPherson got his line of battle forward to a
ridge overlooking Eesaca, from which his field
artillery commanded a railroad bridge across the
Oostenaula River, running past the town. The
Confederates made several brave sallies in their at
tempt to drive him away from this place of vantage,
but were each time repulsed with heavy loss.

Johnston, seeing that his lines of communication
were threatened and that further occupation of
Resaca would put his army in peril, quickly got his
men out of the place that night and retreated across
the Oostenaula, burning his bridges behind him.
He was a great defensive general, but already Sher
man was threatening to beat him on his own ground.
As a military expert has pointed out, Sherman s
tactics during this great campaign, though varied,
of course, in the matter of detail, uniformly con
sisted in forcing the centre of his army upon Johns
ton s lines, while with the right and left he operated
upon either flank as chance or ground best offered.

The abandonment of Dalton and Resaca was
sharply criticised at Richmond, and did not tend to


increase President Da vis s love for Johnston. But
the latter has well explained in his " Narrative of
Military Operations," that he was compelled to
evacuate Dal ton " by the march of the Federal
army itself toward Besaca that march being com
pletely covered by the mountain, Rocky Face.
And at Resaca, after intrenching his army so
strongly as to make it secure from assault, General
Sherman availed himself of the course of the
Oostenaula, almost parallel to our railroad, to ex
tend his line, protected by it, to the neighborhood
of Calhouu, which compelled us to pass to the rear
of that point, to avoid being cut off from Atlanta."

It is idle to speculate as to what some other South
ern general, Lee, for instance, might have done had
he been in Johnston s place. A genius might have
entrapped Sherman, far away in the enemy s coun
try, into the surrender of his whole army. Johns
ton was not a genius. He failed, however, in a
masterly way. "It was the cleanest and best- con
ducted retreat that we had seen or read of," wrote
General Hooker, who served as one of Sherman s
corps commanders. Quite aside from the griev
ances which Johnston had against the Confederate
government, it is fair to say, however, that he was
completely outgeneraled by his great antagonist.

We have some curious side-lights on the history
of this campaign from Captain David P. Conyng-

1 The quotation is taken from a very interesting letter, in
praise of Johnston, which Hooker wrote to General Lovell,
dated October 21, 1873.


ham, who served through it as a volunteer
aide-de-camp and also as a correspondent of the
New York Herald. Conyngham was no hero-wor
shiper, but he had a great admiration for the mili
tary powers of General Sherman, as he shows in his
series of entertaining pen -pictures entitled " Sher
man s March Through the South," published several
months after the close of the war. The glimpses
of Sherman himself which he gives us seem lifelike
portraits, because they have the real human touch,
devoid of fustian and i i spread-eagleism. Here is a
description of a scene which occurred while the in
vading army was in front of the Rocky Face Moun
tain. The different corps and division commanders
had their headquarters contiguous to their com
mands. Major-General Howard, in charge of the
Fourth Corps, had his unassuming quarters un
der fire of the Confederates long-range guns.
i i Several shots fell quite near, creating some com
motion in the camp, but without disturbing Howard
in the least." One day, Sherman called at How
ard s quarters, only to be received, as he sat down
to wait for the general, with the bursting of two of
Johnston s shells too near for absolute safety.

Sherman, in his nervous, fidgetty way, was walk
ing about when he saw Howard riding toward him.
As the latter reined up at headquarters he cried :
I say, Howard, do you know, but you are the
politest man in the army ? "

"Indeed, I wasn t aware of that, general," ob
served Howard.


"Well, it s true! Here I am, in your absence,
and though you were not here to receive ine, I have
got the warmest reception I have experienced for a
long time."

"Why, general, you need not thank me for it,
but General Johnston, " answered Howard; "his
compliments were so overpowering that one of
them came near killing me, and he pointed to his
pantaloons, torn by a bullet.

General Thomas s headquarters, so Conyngham
tells us, comprised a "gorgeous outlay of tents of
all kinds." Every officer had a tent, "almost
every servant had a tent, while the adjutant-gen
eral s was a sort of open rebellion against all
restrict ory orders." Sherman, on the contrary,
"had but one old wall tent, and some three or
four < flies for his quarters." He "could never
let slip an opportunity to pass a joke at Thomas s
expense," and would frequently rein up his horse
in front of the latter s tent, and ask, in apparent
ignorance, "Whose quarters are these?"

"General Thomas s, general," would be the
quick reply.

"Oh, yes; Thomastown; Thomasville; a very
pretty place, indeed ; it appears to be growing
rapidly" and Sherman would ride away, chuck
ling at his own humor.

After McPherson fell back from Eesaca, we have
a picture of Sherman as he rode up the valley to
the front. He was anxious and nervous, as was
evident from the fierce manner in which he pulled


at his unlit cigar, and twitched that strange, coarse
face of his. 7 His ride through the lines created
no enthusiasm j his old corps, the Fifteenth, alone
brightened up when they saw "Uncle Billy," as
they fondly called him. "Sherman was, at all
times, too cold and undemonstrative for the men to
love him. They had unbounded confidence in him
and believed whatever he did was right, and that
was all. McPhersou by his noble bearing and
dashing appearance, Hooker by his fine martial
presence and princely air, Logan by his dashing,
kind manner, might create enthusiasm among
troops, but Sherman, or Thomas, never ! "

The night before, Sherman had remained up a
long time, maturing the plans for his operations
against Eesaca. The next morning, feeling very
tired, he sat on a log, under the shade of a tree,
and soon tumbled off on the ground, fast asleep.
The soldiers went marching by the prostrate com
mander, whom few of them recognized.

"Is that a general?" asked one of the men, in
amazement, of the single orderly who stood near

" Yes," was the response.

" It s a pretty way we are commanded, when our
generals are lying drunk on the road," exclaimed
the soldier, as he walked away in disgust.

Sherman suddenly leaped to his feet. "Stop,
my man," he said for he had evidently been
sleeping with one ear open "stop, my man! I
am not drunk. While you were sleeping last


night I was planning for you, sir, and now I was
taking a nap. General Sherman never gets drunk !

The soldier was only too glad to slink away.

Another writer, Colonel (then Major) George
Ward Nichols, who was one of Sherman s aides-de
camp, has emphasized the combination of bravery
and simplicity which so many observed in Sher
man during his campaign. "When sounds of
musketry or cannonading reach his ears the general
is extremely restless until he has been satisfied as
to the origin, location, and probable results of the
fight in progress. At such moments he usually
lights a fresh cigar, and smokes while walking to
and fro, stopping now and then to listen to the
increasing rattle of musketry ; then, muttering,
( Forward ! will mount Old Sam/ a horribly fast
walking horse, which is as indifferent to shot and
shell as his master, and starts oif in the direction
of the fire. Dismounting near the battle line, he
will stride away into the woods, or to the edge of a
creek or swamp, until some officer, fearful of the
consequences, respectfully warns him that he is in
a dangerous position, when, perhaps, he retires." *

During this campaign we get another glimpse, a
serio-comic one, of Sherman s contempt for dan
ger. One afternoon he paid a visit to General
Hooker, who had pitched his headquarters in a
place so admirably exposed to the fire of the enemy
that one might have thought he was seeking

1 Nichols, " The Story of the Great March, from the Diary of
a Staff Officer. "


destruction. The two generals seated themselves
placidly, "with their feet against the trees, watch
ing the operations immediately in front of them."
What is more, they were in full view of the Con
federates. Very soon a shell shrieked right over
their heads, making the crockery on the dinner-
table rattle like mad, and nearly frightening to
death the negro cook, Sambo who later excused
himself on the ground that a fellow darky
had been killed the night before by "one o
deni tings." Another shell quickly followed, de
molishing a chair recently vacated by an officer,
and all the time rifle-bullets went " singing and
fizzing" about merrily, as they crashed through
the leaves and branches of neighboring trees. The
staff-officers of the respective generals did not find
this leaden rain very amusing, nor was their cheer
fulness increased by the whistling of a new shell-
but they could not move while Sherman and
Hooker sat calmly in the open, discussing military
questions with as much nonchalance as if they were
dining at Delmonico s, in New York. It must have
been hard to appear at ease under such trying-
circumstances, but the staff officers could not do
less than imitate, if they could not feel, the in
difference of the two chiefs. At last the sun went
down, whereupon Sherman condescended to take
leave of General Hooker, much to the relief of
every one.

1 General Sherman asserts that he never needlessly goes under
fire, and that he calculates all the chances, avoiding useless ex-


"The general s habits of life," further writes
Colonel Nichols, of Sherman at this period, u are
simple. Primitive, almost as first principles, his
greatest sacrifice will be made when he resigns
campaigning for a more civilized life. He has a
keen sense of the beauty of nature, and never is
happier than when his camp is pitched in some
forest of lofty pines, where the wind sings through
t he tree- tops in melodious measure, and the feet are
buried in the soft carpeting of spindles. He is the
last one to complain when the table-fare is reduced
to beef and hard-tack, and, in truth, he rather
enjoys poverty of food, as one of the conditions of
a soldier s life."

After General Johnston had abandoned Eesaca
and Sherman s troops had marched into the town,
the latter began a pursuit of the Confederates, who
were now retreating, in admirable order, to the
southward. Johnston, when he reached Cassville,
entrenched himself and issued orders for a battle.
But there was some friction, or difference of
opinion, between him and several of his officers,
and he withdrew from the place, to continue the
retreat. Johnston tells us that two of his com
manders, Generals Hood and Polk, urged him, for
military reasons, to abandon the ground at once,
and cross the Etowah River, to the south. " Al
though the position was the best we had occupied,"
he says, "I yielded at last, in the belief that the

posure, which is undoubtedly true. Mais, as the French say.
"Story of the Great March."


confidence of the commanders of two of the three
corps of the army, of their inability to resist
the enemy, would inevitably be communicated to
their troops, and produce that inability."

This conference afterward gave rise to a particu
larly acid controversy, and none the less so because
the South, wincing as it was from the evacuation of
Dalton and Resaca, had expected Johnston to do
something brilliant and aggressive at Cassville.
Five years after the war General Hood gave his
own version of the affair to Sherman. He said he
had argued with Johnston against fighting the
battle "purely on the defensive," but had asked
the general to " permit him, with his own corps
and part of Folk s, to quit their lines, and march
rapidly to attack and overwhelm Schofield, who
was known to be separated from Thomas by an
interval of nearly five miles, claiming that he could
have defeated Schofield, and got back to his posi
tion in time to meet General Thomas s attack in
front." He had contended, he added, for the
" offensive-defensive game," instead of the "pure
defensive," as proposed by General Johnston; and
it "was at this time that General Johnston had
taken offense, and for this reason had ordered the
retreat." l

It would be idle to attempt to settle the merits of
this controversy, which will doubtless have advo
cates on either side a century from now. Sherman
entered Cassville on the morning of May 20th, and

1 See Sherman s " Memoirs," Vol. II, p. 41.


found there many signs of preparation for a grand
battle, among them a line of fresh entrenchments
on a hill beyond the town, extending nearly three
miles to the south. Whereupon there was more
gloom in Richmond, and more unkind thinking by
Mr. Davis and his advisers. But Johnston still
had warm friends who said, with a knowing air :
u The general is a great strategist. Wait a little
while, and you will see what you will see ! He
is quietly, skilfully drawing Sherman farther and
farther into a trap, farther and farther away from
Northern aid, and in due season you will see Johns
ton turn, like a wary tiger, and crush the Union
army !

On the very day that General Sherman s forces
occupied Cassville, he wrote from Kingston, near by,
to his brother John: "I now have full posses
sion of all the rich country of the Etowah. We
occupy Rome, Kingston and Cassville. I have re
paired the railroad [torn up by the enemy] to these
points, and now have ordered the essential supplies
forward to replenish our wagons, when I will make
for Atlanta, fifty-nine miles from here, and about
fifty from the advance. Johnston has halted across
the Etowah at a place called Allatoona, where the
railroad and common road pass through a spur of the
mountain, making one of those formidable passes
which gives an army on the defensive so much
advantage, but I propose to cross the Etowah here,
and to go for Marietta via Dallas (Ga.). Look at


your map, and you will see the move. l . . . Put
forth the whole strength of the nation now, and if
we can t whip the South we must bow our necks in
patient submission. Grant surely is fighting hard
enough, and I think this army will make its mark."

A little later Sherman writes, illustrative of the
difficulties which Nature is putting in his way, as
if she were in league with the Southland: "My
long and single line of railroad to my rear, of
limited capacity, is the delicate point of my game,
as also the fact that all of Georgia, except the
cleared bottoms, is densely wooded, with few roads,
and at any point an enterprising enemy can, in a
few hours with axes and spades, make across our
path formidable works, whilst his sharpshooters,
spies, and scouts, in the guise of peaceable farmers,
can hang around us and kill our wagonmen, mes
sengers and couriers. It is a big Indian war."

There is no doubt that as Sherman continued the
pursuit from Cassville he was severely hampered,
although not fatally so, by the roughness of the
country. Before reaching Rome, as we learn from
the graphic narrative in "Marching Through
Georgia," much of the route was terribly moun
tainous and hard to traverse. Sand Mountain, in
reality a succession of mountains of no great alti
tude, but very steep, proved particularly danger
ous. In the sides of these huge hills a road had

1 The Etowah is a river of Georgia which rises in Lumpkin
County and, after a course of about 150 miles, finally unites
with the Oostenaula River, at Rome, to form the Coosa.


been cut, so narrow that only one team could creep
cautiously along it. a A sudden pitch sidewise, or
a rough jolt against one of the many huge boulders
which lay in the roadway, was sufficient to upset a
wagon and send it tearing down the mountainside,
end over end." Several such accidents did happen,
but the teamsters had the presence of mind to leap
from their saddles and seek safety before the crash

Of course the passage of the wagons put a great
deal of unpleasant work upon the soldiers, and we
are told that it was by no means unusual to see a
squad of men " bolstering up a wagon, in order to
keep the centre of gravity within the limit of safety.

During a portion of the journey rain fell inces
santly, soaking soldiers and officers to the skin.
Then, just before the Coosa Eiver was reached, the
sun again shone on the bedraggled troops and dried
their clothes upon their bodies. When they got to
the river, already greatly swollen and rising rap
idly, they were ordered to ford the stream. i Being
averse to again marching in water-soaked clothing,
they removed their shoes, socks and trousers, and
strapped them upon their knapsacks ; then, tuck
ing their shirts under their arms, plunged in, dress
ing themselves on gaining the farther shore. 7
Under hardships like these did Sherman and his
army resolutely follow Joe Johnston. By the end
of May, through hard work and fighting, too, Sher
man had contrived to drive the enemy from the
strong positions of Dalton, Eesaca, Cassville, Alia-


tooiia and Dallas; had advanced his lines from
Chattanooga nearly a hundred miles through "as
difficult country as was ever fought over by civi
lized armies" ; and stood eager to go on as soon as
the railroad communications to bring forward the
necessary supplies were completed. The fighting
had been continuous. Sherman s casualties for
May, killed, wounded and missing, comprised nearly
10,000 men. The troops had been under fire for
the greater part of the whole month, owing not
only to several actual engagements, but also to the
skirmishing and the clever u sharpshooting " of
the enemy.

The month had been quite long enough to exhibit
the powers of the two opposing generals in this
strange duel which, in its peculiar details, has no
exact parallel in the annals of war. Sherman had
shown wonderful energy and resourcefulness in
pushing back Johnston ; while it must be admitted
that the latter, though outgeneraled, and perhaps
lacking in initiative, retreated with skill. He
was going to defeat at least gracefully. Sherman
was always trying to force him to an open field en
gagement, while the Confederate, rightly or wrongly,
placidly declined. i * This campaign, observes Colo
nel Dodge, " resembles a bout with the foils. Both
fencers are on guard. Sherman is constantly at play
with his weapon, disengaging, cutting over, beat
ing, lunging, using every art to draw into action
his antagonist. Johnston warily follows every dis
engagement, skilfully parries each lunge his


stronger-armed adversary makes, with an occasional
cautious riposte, which in turn is invariably coun

In short, Johnston was pursuing the Fabian
policy which another Southerner, Washington, had
adopted with such success in the war of the Revo
lution. But the Confederate was not a Washington,
and conditions were different, while the new Fabius
was not fortunate enough to be opposed by wool
gathering English generals.

The month of June saw the continuance of this
duel, as the two principals and their troops moved
cautiously toward Atlanta. The North and the South
alike awaited with breathless interest the result,
which few could intelligently predict. For the
South, everything now depended on the success or
the failure of two armies; Lee s, in Virginia, and
Johnston s retreating columns. Sherman knew,
too, how anxiously Grant and Lincoln, and the loyal
people far away, looked to him for success, and he
went on, farther and farther, into a dangerous, hos-
tile country, quite cheerfully, as if he were not in
curring a terrible responsibility.

A weak man would have gone insane under such
a burden. But Sherman showed no change of de
meanor, unless he seemed a bit more nervous than
usual, and was so much himself, indeed, that he
continued to abuse his old enemies, the politicians,
and the unfortunate newspaper correspondents. He
gave the latter a blast when he issued the following
order :


"Inasmuch as an impression is afloat, that the
commanding general has prohibited the mails to
and from the army, he takes this method of assuring
all officers and men, on the contrary, that he en
courages them by his influence and authority to
keep up the most unreserved correspondence with
their families and friends. . . . What the
commanding general does discourage is the exist
ence of that class of men who will not take up a
musket and fight, but who follow our army to pick
up news for sale, and who are more used to bolster
up idle and worthless officers, than to notice the
hard-working and meritorious, whose modesty is
equal to their courage, and who scorn to seek the
flattery of the press."

The contemptuous allusion to the correspondents
as men who "pick up news for sale," was hardly
just, and the whole order lacked dignity ; but it was
characteristic of Sherman s dislike in one quarter.
Furthermore, it acted as a safety-valve for the gen
eral s wrath. Captain George W. Pepper, who
quotes the order in his fragmentary but spirited ac
count of the campaign, adds that Sherman i had a
righteous horror for a set of itinerant, flattering,
spongy sycophants, who made it their business to
inflate brainless staff-officers, while the field and
line officers, with the brave rank and file, are sel
dom heard of outside of their commands." l

Meanwhile we find that General Johnston, after

1 Pepper, " Personal Recollections of Sherman s Campaigns in
Georgia and the Carolines."


more traveling, has retired to a position between
Lost, Pine aud Brush Mountains, a short distance
from Marietta. Then, by a clever flanking move
ment, Sherman reestablishes his line along the rail
road, and secures a new base of supplies (June 10th).
Later in the month he is assaulting the enemy
at Kenesaw Mountain, just northwest of Marietta,
but the result is not successful. We need not fol
low the remainder of the march in detail. It is
more to the point to say that by the 20th of July
Sherman s forces were getting in position around
Atlanta, into which Johnston s army had retreated.

But it was Johnston s army no longer. As
he had moved to the southward the discontent
with him had grown stronger and stronger in
Eichmond. He was relieved of command, and
General John B. Hood took his place on the 18th
of July. Hood was known as a "fighter," aggres
sive and enterprising ; much was expected of him.

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Online LibraryEdward RobinsWilliam T. Sherman → online text (page 11 of 22)