The Atlanta Campaign and Snake Creek Gap
I. Planning the Campaign
After the victory at Chattanooga, Grant sent Sherman’s Army of the Tennessee,
along with Howard’s XI and Granger’s IV corps and Jefferson C. Davis’ 2nd division of Palmer’s XIV
Corps to reinforce Burnside in Knoxville1.
As Sherman approached Longstreet, who had besieged Burnside, retreated east. With no Rebels to protect Burnside form, Sherman,
hurriedly departed with his Army of the Tennessee, leaving George H. Thomas’ IV corps, Gordon Granger commanding, with
Burnside at Knoxville and "returned to Nashville on the 21st of December to confer with General Grant and conclude
arrangements for the winter."2
Grant, planning ahead, felt the next great campaign would be fought up
through the valley of east Tennessee to Virginia. This, in his mind, would be the final battle of the war. To free up troops
stationed along the Mississippi, for this movement, Sherman urged Grant to allow him to make the "Meridian Campaign." Grant
gave his consent and Sherman began planning.
Sherman developed a plan that would send McPherson southeast from Alabama
to Rome, Georgia. He would attack and destroy the railroad and any military manufacturing facilities existing and cut Joe
Johnston’s Army of Tennessee’s lifeline to Atlanta. However, he had been ordered to provide two infantry divisions
to General N. P. Banks in March 1864 for the "Red River" campaign. These troops, with A. J. Smith commanding, are from McPherson's
Army of The Tennessee, are sent to Alexandria, Louisiana and reached there on March 17. Then, these troops are delayed west
of the Mississippi until December 1, 1864, three months after the end of Sherman’s Atlanta Campaign. Finally, in April,
he realizes McPherson would not have the manpower to be separated that far from the rest of Sherman’s command. It dawns
on Sherman that he needs a new plan. On the 22nd of April, Grant notifies Sherman regarding the men he lent Banks, with the
warning "Do not let this delay or embarrass your plans." Thomas' Army of the Cumberland and Schofield's XXIII Corps had no
such problems. Only Sherman's former (now McPherson's) Army of the Tennessee was unprepared. Sherman reported to Halleck that
"McPherson was a day late."
Early in the Chattanooga campaign, Sherman committed a series of blunders
when Grant ordered him to march rapidly to Chattanooga. Sherman, trying his best to obey, mixed his trains and troops, thus
slowing the entire march to the speed of the trains causing him to be late. Grant, when he found out the cause for the slowness
of Sherman’s march assumed the blame.
Grant’s battle plan assigned Sherman the critical role of driving
the Rebels off Missionary Ridge. A subordinate role was assigned to Thomas’ forces (Hooker was not considered in the
plans first iteration). Although outnumbering the Rebels six to one he failed this assignment also. He neglected to reconnoiter
his position on the 24th while his troops entrenched. The next morning he did scout his position and wound up one
hill short of the Confederate position. Then despite being reinforced with Long’s cavalry brigade and three infantry
divisions from the Army of the Cumberland, He was held at bay by Cleburne with one division and another brigade. A delay after
this warning might damage his standing with Grant.
When visiting Major General George H. Thomas’ headquarters in Chattanooga,
he explains his problem. With McPherson, now short of cavalry and two divisions of Infantry, is unable to follow Sherman’s
original plan of attacking Rome, Ga. and breaking the railroad to Atlanta there. He needs a plan.
Thomas has one. He prepared a plan after his troops at Dalton, GA. (providing
a diversion for Sherman’s Meridian Campaign) found an unguarded pass called Snake Creek Gap and proposed his plan to
cut Johnston’s route to Atlanta to Grant (who ignored it). He explained the details to Sherman. It required McPherson’s
and Schofield’s smaller forces, to create a diversion on Confederate General Joseph E. Johnston’s front at Dalton,
Georgia, while Thomas’ Army of the Cumberland slips through the unguarded gap in the mountains, south of Dalton, The
gap, discovered by Thomas’ forces during a ‘diversion’ ordered by Grant to prevent Johnston providing troops
to Polk during Sherman’s ‘Meridian Campaign,’ They also found the Gap was unprotected. This may have been
because Johnston’s 50,000 men had to cover a front of some 25+ miles.
Most historians believe Johnston didn’t know about the Snake Creek
Gap but, recent research uncovered a map known to Johnston’s Adjutant, therefore, undoubtedly known to Johnston. A careful
reading of the Confederate O. R.’s also showed Johnston’s knowledge of the gap. Before McPherson moved through
the gap, Johnston ordered cavalry to the gap to prevent his entry. As further proof, as McPherson’s men exited the western
mouth of the Snake Creek Gap, they reported that they met and engaged the group of Rebel Cavalry, sent by Johnston, to protect
the gap. (Cite?)
Lieutenant James Oates wrote to the editors of Battles and Leaders on July
8, 1887, from Cincinnati, Ark., correcting a rendition by O. O. Howard, of the Union move on Snake Creek Gap, as follows:
"On May 1 the 9th Illinois Mounted Infantry broke camp at Decatur, Alabama,
to participate in the Atlanta campaign. On the afternoon of May 8 the regiment came up with General McPherson at Villanow.
Lieutenant-Colonel J. J. Phillips, in command, of the regiment received orders to take the advance of the Army of the Tennessee,
and did so at once, Company ‘K,' Lieutenant James Oates in command, took the lead through Snake Creek Gap. We advanced
down into the open country of Sugar Valley on the evening of May 8. No part of General Kilpatrick's command was there when
we passed through Snake Creek Gap.
On the morning of the 9th of May our regiment took the advance without
any other cavalry support. The infantry was a considerable distance in the rear. Very early in the morning we engaged the
Confederate cavalry, losing several men in killed and wounded, among the latter, Lieutenant-Colonel Phillips. The infantry
came up at double-quick to our support and ended the fight. Our regiment followed up the retreating Confederates' with dash
Johnston was convinced that Sherman was planning an attack on his position
from the north and west. He knew that Schofield was located north of his northern front at Red Clay, Georgia, about 8 miles
north of Dalton. He also believed McPherson was heading south to Rome!
McPherson's march, taking his XV and XVI Corps from North Alabama through
Chattanooga, to Lee and Gordon's Mill, onwards by LaFayette and Villanow to the Snake Creek Gap, had not gone undetected.
During the last few days Johnston received enough reports from his scouts to know the Army of the Tennessee’s position
and route, but he continued to believe that McPherson's real objective was Rome.
McPherson then pushed his troops through the gap on into the valley. All
he had to spearhead the advance were the remnants of Dodge's Corps.
Grenville M. Dodge, commanding, pushed his XVIth Corps east through the
gap and toward the railroad and on the way found several roads leading north toward Dalton. McPherson’s nerves at this
discovery took hold. The roads obviously provided an opportunity for Johnston’s rebels to hit McPherson’s forces,
heading east on his left flank. He’d left Logan and the XV Corps at the western entrance to the Gap to guard the entrance,
his rear and the Army of the Tennessee’s trains. Dodge’s XVI Corps (two divisions) was ordered to advance to Resaca
and cut the railroad if possible. This unit was weakened further by Dodges posting one of the divisions as protection for
his left at the crossroads two miles west of Resaca. Final forces available to Dodge were less than a division, which in those
days was three brigades or about 3,000 men and some mounted infantry. Dodge sent his mounted infantry (Eighteen mounted infantry
from the Ninth Illinois, "all I had left" he’d used most of the regiment as skirmishers when attacked by the Rebel cavalry),
up the railroad to try to cut or damage it, but failed.
As he moved on Resaca, McPherson began to speculate about the Rebel forces
that met him at the eastern exit of the Gap and then the others further ahead. He also began to mull over thoughts about what
lay to his left or north. Without proper cavalry he was more or less blind to the possibilities. Dodges’ forces, Brig.
Gen. Thomas Sweeny commanding the advance, were less than two hundred yards from the railroad, McPherson recalled him and
fearing for his left, per his orders from Sherman, retreated to the entrance of the gap.
The first accusing finger to be pointed was that of Major General William
Tecumseh Sherman. Writing to Halleck Sherman claimed that "McPherson was too timid." Then later in his "Memoirs" and when
McPherson was not around to defend himself he accused McPherson of first being timid, then altered it to, "too cautious."
Sherman fails to mention that McPherson followed Sherman’s orders. Orders that were at first verbal, then later were
written in his "Memoirs." He was told to "break the railroad and pull back to the mouth of Snake Creek Gap and be prepared
to attack Johnston’s right flank as he moved south." But, Mac couldn't break the railroad because he had little cavalry
and too little infantry to, protect his trains and rear, second, cover his left flank and third, engage Rebel troops at the
Snake Creek Gap and then fourth, engage them at Resaca and lastly, break Johnston's railroad lifeline to Atlanta.
Sherman and to an extent Grant, is responsible for this failure.
They created an assignment for McPherson, but failed to provide tools, too little infantry and too few cavalry, to do the
Sherman did not provide McPherson with adequate cavalry. As a result, the
column often had to halt while infantrymen executed scouting duties on his front and flanks that normally are handled by mounted
units. Two of Sherman's four cavalry divisions had not returned from remounting, repairing and rearming.
But there was no-good reason why at least some of the mounted units on
Hooker's right in the valley north of Villanow could not have joined McPherson once he cleared Taylor's Ridge. Providing him
with the horsemen, he critically needed. Sherman's failure to strengthen McPherson adequately is even more puzzling because
as early as May 6 the Federals knew that Polk's troops were moving from Alabama to Georgia. Still, McPherson had given Sherman
a success. With Snake Creek Gap in Union hands, Johnston and the Rebels could not long remain at Dalton.
In his letter to Grant dated 10 April, 1864, two days short of a month
before the invasion of Snake Creek Gap, Sherman recognized McPherson’s lack of cavalry and states he has assigned to
him, one of Thomas’ units, Garrard’s 6,000 men now at Columbia, re-equipping, remounting, and repairing. Since
Thomas’ and Schofield’s, units were to be used as a diversion for McPherson’s flanking move, Sherman should
earlier have assigned one of Thomas’ two mounted units, now aligned west of Johnston’s forces in Dalton, in front
of the Rocky Face Ridge, to McPherson. They could easily have met McPherson at the mouth of the gap, entered with him, to
scout and move to cut the railroad. Instead, Garrard and his units were delayed and did not reach him in time. Then, Sherman
frantically ordered Judson Kilpatrick and his troops to join McPherson. Kilpatrick reported to Hooker on the 7th
and Hooker reported Kilpatrick’s message to Whipple, Thomas’ Chief of staff, on the 8th. Then, also on the 9th
at 6:00 A.M., Lorenzo Dayton a Sherman aide writes to Thomas to "Send Kilpatrick to operate down between Villanow and
Snake Creek Gap till Garrard is up, which will surely be today."
Kilpatrick later writes:
HEADQUARTERS THIRD CAVALRY DIVISION,
Villanow, May 9, 1864---8.30 p.m.
Chief of Cavalry.
GENERAL: Captain Stansbury, of my staff, has just returned from Sugar Valley
Post-Office. Two divisions of General McPherson's corps occupy the country from that point to the gap this side. General McPherson,
with the other three divisions of his command, is six miles farther on in the direction of Resaca. At 6 p.m. his advance had
reached a point about one mile from the railroad. Considerable firing of infantry and artillery had been heard for an hour.
The rebel General Martin, with a brigade of cavalry, was operating on the right of General Smith's position, and the right
and rear of General McPherson's advance. Individual scouts and scouting parties from my command <ar75_97> have returned
from points eight and ten miles down the valley this side the ridge in direction of Rome, and find no traces of the enemy.
A large train of wagons belonging to General McPherson's command have just arrived from Ship's Gap and gone into park just
at the entrance of Snake Creek Gap; they are guarded by a brigade of infantry and a battery of artillery. General Garrard
is still at La Fayette. My command is in good condition, fully supplied with rations, forage, and ammunition, and is ready
and anxious for an order to strike the enemy.
Very respectfully, your obedient servant,
Brigadier-General of Volunteers, Commanding Division.
[Indorsement.]Read and respectfully forwarded by request of General Kilpatrick.
J. HOOKER, Major-General.
Sherman enters the picture:
HDQRS. MILITARY DIVISION OF THE MISSISSIPPI,
May 9, 1864--7 a.m.
Maj. Gen. J. B. MCPHERSON,
Commanding, &c., Snake Creek Gap:
GENERAL: I have heard from Corse. Garrard will surely be with you to-day.
General Hooker will be ready to move to you on a signal.
General Kilpatrick can operate directly on your flank till General Garrard
gets up. You can send your trains up this valley to Ringgold, not exposing them at all in Chickamauga Valley. The railroad
is now done to this depot. We will push the enemy at all points to-day, ready to take advantage of the effect of your movement.
Open communication with General Hooker by signals.
I am, yours, &c.,W. T. SHERMAN,
Then on the 10th, Kilpatrick’s titular commander Elliott,
orders Kilpatrick to:
HDQRS. CHIEF OF CAVALRY, DEPT. OF THE CUMBERLAND,
Tunnel Hill, Ga.,
May 10, 1864.Brig. Gen. J. KILPATRICK,
Commanding Third Cavalry Division:You will proceed without delay and report with
your division to Major-General McPherson. The inclosed instructions for General Garrard to march with his division from La
Fayette to Villanow you will forward to him by a force sufficient to make their receipt sure.
I am, general, very respectfully, your obedient servant,
W. L. ELLIOTT,
Brigadier-General and Chief of Cavalry.
McPherson has already been thru the gap and is now engaged with Johnston’s
cavalry and probing for the railroad.
Sherman’s initial failure to provide adequate cavalry and infantry
and his tardy orders to Kilpatrick, doom McPherson’s strike on the railroad. He, not McPherson is responsible for its
In addition, to beef up Mac’s infantry numbers Sherman should
have detached one of Thomas’ divisions or even a Corps (Hookers), which Thomas immediately volunteered when Mac flopped.
Why didn’t Sherman try to give McPherson a hand? Is this a premonition of the Battle of Atlanta, where McPherson was
killed, and Sherman allowed the remainder of the Army of the Tennessee fight Hood’s Confederate’s alone, without
help from Thomas’ or Schofield’s forces, because The Army of Tennessee would be . . . Jealous?5
What events led up to these failures?
First of all, in the three administrative areas the Department of the Ohio
under Schofield, the Department of the Cumberland under Thomas and the Department of the Mississippi under McPherson, Sherman
had, besides the units making the "Atlanta Campaign," a total of ~140,000 men for whatever military, administrative or work
details necessary to administer the areas.
Why weren’t say, 10,000 men detached, and assigned to McPherson’s
In April of 1864, Sherman, now replacing Grant as commander of the Department
of the Mississippi, learned that A. J. Smith’s two divisions would not be returned by Banks in time for the start of
the Atlanta Campaign. He made no effort to provide additional infantry for the opening move by McPherson on Rome, Georgia.
Recognizing that McPherson, with almost half his Army absent6 could not make the Rome attack
without support from Thomas’ and Schofield’s force’s, Sherman immediately sought advises as to another plan
from Thomas. Thomas, ready with a contingency plan described his proposed attack on Johnston’s right flank and route
to Atlanta through the Snake Creek Gap.
In a diversion ordered by Grant for Sherman’s Meridian campaign,
Thomas’ force discovered the crucial Gap. Reconnaissance by his enterprising troops also showed the Gap to be undefended
by Rebel troops.
About the same time Sherman was ". . . sent General Orders from the War
Department promising all veterans thirty days furlough to all soldiers who would ‘veteranize' — viz., reenlist
for the rest of the war."
Following is an account of what may have caused MacPherson’s failure.
On January 17, 1864, Sherman notifies McPherson at Vicksburg, of
his ‘Meridian’ campaign obligations. He expects Mac’s preparations to be completed by January 25, and to
anticipate Sherman’s arrival on that date.7
Next, Sherman orders B/General William "Sooy" Smith, his requirements.
He tells Smith that:
"DEAR GENERAL: By an order issued this day I have placed all the
cavalry of this department subject to your command. I estimate you can make a force of full 7,000 men, which I believe to
be superior and better in all respects than the combined cavalry which the enemy has in all the State of Mississippi." Then
he orders Smith to: "I want you with your cavalry to move (starting on Jan. 24 or 25th) from Collierville on Pontotoc and
Okolona; thence sweeping down near the Mobile and Ohio Railroad, disable that road as much as possible, consume or destroy
the resources of the enemy along that road, break up the connection with Columbus, Miss., and finally reach me at or near
Meridian as near the date I have mentioned as possible (Feb. 10th). This will call for great energy of action on your part,
but I believe you are equal to it, and you have the best and most experienced troops in the service, and they will do anything
that is possible. General Grierson is with you, and is familiar with the whole country. I will send up from Haynes' Bluff
an expedition of gunboats and transports combined to feel up the Yazoo as far as the present stage of water will permit. This
will disconcert the enemy. My movement on Jackson will also divide the enemy, so that by no combination can he reach you with
but a part of his force. I wish you to attack any force of cavalry you meet and follow them southward, but in no event be
drawn into the forks of the streams that make up the Yazoo nor over into Alabama. Do not let the enemy draw you into minor
affairs, but look solely to the greater object, to destroy his communication from Okolona to Meridian and thence eastward
to Selma . . ."8
With this order, Sherman makes another of his inaccurate assumptions, that
continue throughout the Atlanta Campaign and to the end of the war. He dismisses the abilities, activities and accomplishments
of N. B. Forrest and his merry band of Rebels, active in that area. He entrusts the assignment to a man, who later discovers
that commanding a desk, rather than leading an undermanned, ill-equipped cavalry force in a strange and hostile enemy territory,
is more suitable to his abilities. While no disparagement attaches to his failure, he never commands a combat unit again.
Hurlbut later comments that:
"The expedition filled every man connected with it with burning shame."
General Hurlbut wrote with some bitterness in April that "the cavalry of Grierson, now at Memphis, is of little value . .
. All the dash and energy they ever had was taken out by Sooy Smith's misfortune - Not to be lost sight of is the fact that
Smith's failure "strengthened Sherman's belief that as an instrument for achieving major results in war cavalry had been much
overrated"; thereafter, he was to voice ever more bluntly, and unfortunately also act on, his distrust of the cavalry."9
Hurlbut, adroitly avoids, or has no idea that Sherman has little or no
knowledge of how to handle cavalry or knew their uses beyond close support covering for the infantry, his flanks or scouting.
Having no knowledge of classical Napoleonic or of the more current horse cavalry tactics, he splits them up for use as raiders.
Of course even Grant commits these errors. He continues these practices until late in 1864 when Sheridan shows him cavalry’s
proper use. Paddy Griffith has some cogent comments on this practice.
"As the Union cavalry gradually built up its numbers and its skills
it came are used increasingly for raiding rather than for close support of the Infantry. . . . The general Civil War doctrine
of raiding, particularly of raiding with cavalry, represented not a great innovation in the art of warfare - as critics such
as Liddell Hart has claimed - but its abasement and corruption: A reversion to the methods of the Black Prince (Prince Edward
of England)10, rather than a step forward to the Blitzkrieg of
the twentieth century. The use of cavalry for raiding was not only a deliberate turn away from hope of victory on the battlefield,
but it actually removed the means by which victory might have been won at the very moment when those means were at last starting
to be properly efficient. If the slow development of high-quality cavalry during the first half of the war was a major missed
opportunity, the deliberate diversion of it into raiding during the second half was a still greater one."11
Stephen Z. Starr also explains that:
". . . the accepted military wisdom has it that European cavalry
tradition, culminating in the Napoleonic wars, was never fully naturalized in the United States; hence the cavalry of the
Civil War, both Blue and Gray, developed spontaneously, as a substitute, a native cavalry doctrine, namely that of the mounted
infantry. Cavalry in the European tradition, when not engaged in battle, had two primary functions: reconnaissance, to locate
and shadow the enemy army, and screening, to prevent the enemy cavalry from locating and shadowing its own army. In battle-and
by devotees this was held to be the cavalry's main reason for being-its essential function was the massed charge with the
saber on bodies of enemy infantry and cavalry. There was also another cavalry tradition, of more recent vintage, also
imported from Europe. This was represented in the United States Army until August 1861, by two regiments of dragoons, armed
with short muskets ("musketoons"), sabers, and "horse pistols," who were intended to be equally adept at skirmishing and fighting
on foot as infantry and on horseback as cavalry."12 These formations were used in the west by Rosecrans and were called ‘Mounted Infantry.’
During the Mexican war Sherman rode out the action in San Francisco, California
in a quartermaster post. His combat experience in the civil war started and ended as a commander of infantry. This experience
may have been of some help in steering his forces through Georgia during the Atlanta Campaign though that only amounted to
following Joe Johnston through south central Georgia. Since he never won a battle in either Georgia or elsewhere, his credentials
as a leader of men and strategist, also appear wanting.
Smith’s failure, contributes directly to the dissipation of cavalry
available to McPherson and with Sherman’s failure too correct or compensate for it, causes the failure at Snake Creek
Gap. McPherson, whose performance at the Academy was substantially above average, has shown no outstanding abilities as a
commander. We cannot say what difference there might have been in the outcome if he had adequate cavalry but the result might
have been more in line with Sherman’s fantasies.
Sherman then lays out his own itinerary to Meridian. It includes
as traveling companions four divisions of infantry, and a division of cavalry, two batteries of artillery and engineering
and pontoon supports, roughly 27,000 troops.13 He expects to reach Meridian by February 10, 1864, with Smith arriving soon after. Sherman’s
route is less than half the distance Smith had to travel. While he attempted nothing worthwhile militarily, he expected Smith
to defeat Forrest (Sherman’s foe was Polk, who was retreating as fast as it was possible), destroy all railroads and
connections he found, fight and defeat any Rebel forces he met and destroys or consume all the resources he found.
Sherman’s actions in the Meridian Expedition closely imitate
what is to happen in the March to Savannah. At Meridian he surrounds himself with 22,34614 Infantry and 1,871 Cavalry, and supports and assigns
Sooy Smith the leavings of Grierson’s raid combined with Hurlbut’s worn out brigade totaling 6,312 men. As with
the Savannah march, he moves thru unguarded, unprotected territory with minimal opposition. As a prelude to the march to Savannah,
a subordinate is delegated with a critical assignment. But, as in the march to Savannah, Sherman fails to assign adequate
manpower, making one of his usually wrong suppositions (that men and material assigned Smith are the best in the country and
his opponents, ‘Forrest’ is the worst).
Smith’s march failed. Sherman bitterly wrote in his ‘Memoirs’
of this episode. Later, seeking to clear his name, Smith gave this version of the failed march. " . . . Twenty years after
Sherman's death, Smith, still bitter, gave Dodge his version of the episode. At their Memphis meeting Sherman had told him
to leave Collierville on the first of February, taking with him 7,000 men divided into four brigades, one of which, led by
Colonel George E. Waring Jr., was then a hundred miles away. Smith, not knowing Waring and fearing he might be late, asked
Sherman if he should go without him. "No, no," Sherman answered, "if you do you will be too weak and they'll lick you." Smith
then asked if it were necessary to reach Meridian at the appointed time. Again Sherman said "No." Any movement beyond Meridian,
say to Mobile, would depend on Smith's arrival, but at the moment Sherman planned to stop at Meridian.
Because Waring was delayed by ice storms, Smith did not leave Collierville
until February 11. His columns soon made up half the delay with forced marches. They crossed the Tallahatchie River and advanced
against token op position. With ease Smith pushed southeast toward West Point, Mississippi, a hundred miles above Meridian.
His men totally destroyed Redland, Okolona, and Egypt Station. Only two houses were left standing in Egypt, located in one
of the most fertile and beautiful prairies in the world. The town of Aberdeen, however, received different treatment. Entering
it, General Benjamin H. Grierson called on the mayor and his family. He then entertained the ladies present by playing on
the piano a few Southern airs, finishing his concert with "The Star-Spangled Banner." I9
On February 20, when his cavalry reached the outskirts of West Point, Smith
ran into trouble. A mile north of the town his men met and drove back an enemy brigade. But his scouts insisted that the Southerners,
with between six and seven thousand men, blocked his front, right, and left. Coupled with this, he received, as he noted,
"exaggerated reports" that Forrest was soon to be reinforced by General Stephen D. Lee. Sure he was riding into a trap, Smith
decided on February 21 to withdraw.
Sherman had warned Smith that a retreat would enable the enemy cavalry
to mass. As it turned out, Smith was forced to fight the pursuing Confederates all the way back to the Tallahatchie. In one
Confederate charge Forrest's brother, Colonel Jeffrey E. Forrest, lost his life.15
In this case Smith fails, but, if Thomas had not destroyed Hood, and he
had somehow invaded the North, what would Sherman have been able to do in Savannah on December 15, 1864? Instead Thomas destroys
the Army of Tennessee, and ends the war in the west at Nashville. Sherman should have been nicknamed "Lucky" instead of "Cump."
In a letter to "Ellen Ewing Sherman, (on the) Steamboat Westmoreland approaching
Memphis, Mch. 10, 1864" Sherman crows:
"If he (Nathaniel Banks, Cmdr. Red River campaign) had been smart
he could have walked into Mobile when I was at Meridian. I am down on Wm. Sooy Smith. He could have come to me, I know it,
and had he, I would have captured Polk’s Army, but the Enemy had too much Cavalry for me to attempt it with men afoot.
As it was I scared the Bishop out of his senses, he made a clean run and I could not get within a days march of him. He had
Railroads to help him, but these are now gone. MARCH 1864 "16
Here Sherman lies to his wife. By March 10 Smith had adequate time
to explain to Sherman the details of his campaign and why Smith could not "come to him." Sherman’s knowledge of Polk’s
cavalry and infantry forces was faulty.17 Polk had about 7,000 less than Sherman’s estimate. He claims he couldn’t do it with only
men afoot. He ignores the fact that he had about 2,000 cavalry and 6,000 more infantry than Polk. Additionally, Polk was no
"Confederate railroad experts assure their authorities that the damage
will be repaired within a month. It was, and the railroad was soon running at full capacity. The Confederates were able to
repair their railroads within a month. But the weak Confederate industrial base could not replace the locomotives, and that
placed the Confederate forces in a critical situation."18
Sherman reports his losses for the expedition at 170 men. Smith reported
Despite his defeat in the Meridian Campaign, Sooy Smith retains his
post of chief of cavalry of the Military Division until his resignation from the army, officially due to illness, on July
"The most immediate of Smith's administrative problems, but one beyond
his power to cure, was the shortage of manpower caused by the absence from the field of large portions of the veteran cavalry
regiments. The thirty (or in some case’s thirty-five) day veterans' furlough, with perhaps ten days added for travel,
stretched in many cases into an absence of several months. One regiment for whom precise data are available, the 7th Kansas,
was ordered on January 15 to leave for Memphis in preparation for muster as veterans and departure on furlough. The regiment
arrived in Memphis on January 21; in the next four days it turned in its weapons and horses, was mustered as veterans and
for pay, and left by steamboat for home. It arrived in Leavenworth on February 6, and after experiencing the rigors of an
elaborate civic reception, the men scattered to their homes. They reassembled at Fort Leavenworth and on March 21 departed
for St. Louis, where they were to receive weapons, equipment, and horses to replace those they had turned in before leaving
Memphis. But St. Louis had neither weapons nor horses to give them, and the troopers of this veteran regiment cooled their
heels for two months in a dismal camp on "Bloody Island" where there were neither shelter nor camp facilities of any kind
when they arrived. The Jayhawkers and their horses finally left St. Louis in three installments as transportation became available
on May 31, June I, and June 6; on June 11, five months nearly to the day after being relieved of duty to go On a thirty-five-day
furlough, they were reassembled, their "bobtails" back in their places, and were ready once again for active service.'"20 But, too late to participate in
the indecisive Snake Creek Gap incursion with McPherson.
"The 2nd Iowa had a more orderly experience than did their Kansas
comrades. The 360 men of the regiment who veteranized were mustered in on March 28, left Memphis for Iowa on April 7, reached
Davenport on the fourteenth, reassembled there on May 15, arrived at St. Louis on the twentieth, and after a wait of a mere
six days for horses, were back in Memphis on May 29. But there they had to wait three weeks, until June 19, for their firearms,
which, happily, were Spencers. "21
"As . . . (earlier) indicated, the 7th Kansas was not the only cavalry
regiment stranded for months in St. Louis in the spring of 1864. In early April, General Grierson complained to the adjutant
general of the army, General Lorenzo Thomas, that in addition to the 7th Kansas and the 3rd Michigan, both of which should
have been back in Memphis in early March, six other regiments of his division, "the oldest and most experienced in the command,"
were on veterans' furlough and not expected back until the first ten days of May - an exceedingly optimistic estimate. In
a dispatch of May 2, Grierson spoke (but without naming them) of "three quarters of eight regiments and above one-half of
a ninth of . . . [his] command absent upon veteran furloughs."' Two weeks later, he was able to report that two of the absent
regiments, the 3rd and 9th Illinois, had just reached Memphis, and two more, the 6th Illinois and 2nd Iowa, were due back
in another week or ten days. The four regiments returned, a part . . . mounted, and a part not. Eventually, but not until
the end of April, Sherman ordered that "all cavalry regiments at Saint Louis belonging to the sixteenth Army Corps be sent
forward without any delay to Memphis . . . until they obtain horses they can be of good service as garrison, and . . . the
horses can follow as soon as practicable."'22 This of course was no solution to McPherson’s lack of cavalry.
"The 4th Iowa, of Winslow's brigade, arrived in St. Louis in April
on its return from veterans' furlough and was quartered in Benton Barracks to wait for its remount. "There were four or five
thousand other dismounted cavalry men of other regiments in the barracks," wrote the historian of the Iowa regiment, "also
waiting for horses, some having been waiting there for a long time; and the quartermasters then had on hand only about eight
hundred good horses, which they were trying to distribute in small numbers in such a way as to satisfy the clamoring cavalrymen."23
"The records fail to disclose the extent to which the Armies of the
Cumberland and the Ohio lost cavalry by the absence of regiments on veterans' furlough. The 2nd Michigan, 9th Pennsylvania,
2nd Indiana, and 1st Wisconsin, all of the Army of the Cumberland, indicated their willingness to reenlist provided they could
have their furlough, but were told that they could not be spared and were still with their army in early April. Obviously,
there was a considerable difference from one army to another in the way the problem was handled."24
At the end of March the Army of Cumberland’s cavalry had increased
to 14,131, the Army of Ohio’s to 5,511, but the Army of the Tennessee’s had decreased to 4,997 present for duty,
Grierson's division alone dropping from 7,560 to 2,887, possibly because of the absence of large numbers of men on veterans'
On March 30, 1864, Hurlbut notifies Sherman that . . . "Grierson has only
2,200 mounted men. Buckland has 2,400 white infantry and 2,600 colored.
Fifteen hundred men under McCulloch passed through La Grange yesterday
[going] north. Forrest's strength with this is about 4,500, with some artillery. Grierson has received your orders to follow
and attack (Forrest), but unless he can reach Veatch and be supported by him he will not be strong enough to punish him much.
. . . I can get no more horses and consequently can arm no more cavalry.
. . . If Forrest comes within the reach of infantry I shall try him with what I can gather."26
Grierson, attached to the Left Wing, commanded by Dodge, of Hurlbut’s XVIth Corps, reported 2752 troopers on the March
In a letter to Schofield, Sherman claims, "It is useless for us to
expect the new cavalry from Indiana. We cannot mount even the veteran cavalry, which should, of course, have precedence. I
will be at Chattanooga about May 1."28 Sherman, knowing the situation of the cavalry in the Army of the Tennessee, does nothing to alleviate
He may have stalled for more time to get more cavalry in the field.
That was obviously not a satisfactory solution. "You know how I like to be on time."29
He may have stripped Sturgis of what cavalry he had. (Citations?)
II. Snake Creek Gap
On April 4, 1864, Lt. General Grant sends Sherman a letter detailing his
Grand Plan and Sherman’s duties.
"HEADQUARTERS ARMIES OF THE UNITED STATES, Washington, D.C., April 4, 1864.
Maj. Gen. W. T. SHERMAN, Commanding Military Division of the Mississippi:GENERAL:
It is my design, if the enemy keep quiet and allow me to take the initiative in the spring campaign, to work all parts of
the army together and somewhat toward a common center. For your information I now write you my programme as at present determined
upon. . . . .
You, I propose to move against Johnston's army, to break it up and to get
into the interior of the enemy's country as far as you can, inflicting all the damage you can against their war resources.
I do not propose to lay down for you a plan of campaign, but simply
to lay down the work it is desirable to have done, and leave you free to execute in your own way. Submit to me, however, as
early as you can, your plan of operations . . . "30
Grant’s strategy as formulated, called for simultaneous advances
of the armies on all fronts so as to maintain a constant pressure on the Confederate armies, preventing them from transferring
troops from a non threatened area to strengthen another that was under attack.
According to this plan, George G. Meade's Army of the Potomac, which
Grant accompanied in person, was to move toward Richmond, Virginia against Robert E. Lee's Army of Northern Virginia. Sherman
was to start with his Army of the Military Division of the Mississippi southeast from Chattanooga, toward Dalton, Georgia
and ‘break up Joe Johnston’s army,’ then, into the interior of the country, inflicting as much damage as
possible." However, in January 1864, before Grant’s promotion, Washington planners developed a plan for Nathaniel P.
Banks that interfered severely with Grant’s future strategy. Banks was to advance with the available forces of his Department
of the Gulf against Mobile, Alabama, the defeat of Banks' army along the Red River in Louisiana, however, forced a cancellation
of projected movement against Mobile. This left Sherman to make the major effort in the West that spring."31
Before taking the field, at Grant’s direction, Sherman drew up two
plans in order to implement Grants directive. Sherman decides his first objective (per Grant’s orders) at the beginning
of the campaign was to be Joe Johnston's Army encamped at Dalton, Georgia, about twenty-five miles southeast of Chattanooga.
But, the First and Third divisions of XVIth Corps were detached and with
A. J. Smith commanding, were sent to support Banks on the Red River. Two other divisions, on veterans' furlough in Illinois,
Indiana, Iowa, and Ohio, were gathering at Cairo, Illinois under Mortimer D. Leggett and Marcellus M. Crocker to form part
of XVII Corps, to be commanded by Frank P. Blair, still serving in the U. S. Congress. Blair’s Corps would catch up
with the Army of the Tennessee about a month (June) later at Acworth, Georgia. McPherson’s cavalry was refitting slowly
in Kentucky. Only XV Corps commanded by John Logan is at full strength. McPherson’s Army of The Tennessee (AOTT) is
severely undermanned. Originally a 44,000 man army, he is now down to about 23,000 troops.
Sherman thus revises his first plan. He plans now to swing McPherson’s
army thru northern Alabama to Georgia and place himself so as to either move on Johnston North at Dalton or advance South
to Rome, cutting the lines to Atlanta in case Johnston retreats. But, McPherson with only 23,000 infantry and little cavalry
(he reported 624 +, Phillips 9th Mounted Infantry Regiment, and the 1st Alabama Cavalry, made up of pro-union Alabamians).
Accounts are unclear as to the actual numbers of the Alabama cavalry. Now, however, McPherson is too weak to be separated
that distance from the main Armies support.
Now all those plans also must be scrapped. At the beginning of May 1864
McPherson had only five of the nine divisions of his army. On the eve of battle, with almost half of McPherson’s army
missing, Sherman needs another plan - now!
He goes to Thomas in Nashville who suggests a plan, similar to the one
he sent Grant in February 1864, which Grant ignored.
Thomas’ plan would send McPherson’s Army of the Tennessee,
to demonstrate from the west against Johnston's army at Dalton, by direct roads to Buzzard's Roost Gap in Georgia, cutting
off any plans for Johnston to break out toward Chattanooga. Then send Schofield with his Army of the Ohio from Cleveland,
Tennessee, East of the mountain, South to Dalton. According to Schofield, ". . . the position. . . . in front of the
Rocky-face Ridge was virtually as unassailable as that of Johnston’s behind it." That is, it could be easily
defended against assaults from the West as well as those made from the East.
The position at Resaca was strategic. Thomas could advance North, up the
tracks, toward Dalton, tearing them up as he advanced and then hit Johnston’s left flank twelve miles north at Dalton.
Or he could entrench his army over the tracks at Resaca and await Johnston’s
attack. He could destroy the railroad and wagon bridges to his rear or cover them with artillery. With his flanks on the Connesauga
and Oostenaula he would be impregnable.
Or he could attack Johnston as he retreated from Dalton toward Resaca and
before he was entrenched. If Johnston defeated Thomas north of Resaca, the railroad bridge extending over the Oostenaula river,
south of the town over which Thomas could move his Army and establish a defensive line on the north bank and fight as he did
at Chickamauga. If Polk showed up with his Army of Mississippi, a Brigade or Division placed on the north end of the bridge
could easily hold the bridge or burn it if necessary (blowing it up might not be an option since dynamite was not invented
until 1866 and the black powder used at that time may not have been effective).
With Schofield’s and McPherson’s combined force of ~35,000,
bearing down on his right flank and rear from the north and west, Johnston would be in an untenable position. He would be
compelled either to retreat eastward through mountainous, poorly supplied and overly foraged country with strong Union sentiments,
and few roads, or to stand his ground near Resaca and suffer almost certain defeat. If Johnston defeated Thomas north of Resaca,
there was still the Snake Creek Gap to retreat through. Thomas has all his options covered.
Thomas's plan was simple and covered all contingencies. With his larger
Union Army of the Cumberland, he would cut off Joe Johnston's slightly smaller Confederate Army of Tennessee North of the
town of Resaca, which was nearer the Federal supply base at Chattanooga than Johnston's base at Atlanta. With Johnston cut
off from his supply and manufacturing base at Atlanta; the rebel cause in the west, was lost.
With Johnston's army scattered, defeated or surrendered, there would be
no large Confederate army in the west. Atlanta could quickly be captured. Confederate contact with the Trans-Mississippi and
western areas would be cut. The food, fodder and western factories would be lost and Confederate resolve to continue the struggle
to defeat the Union would die.
Some thought Johnston could have counterattacked thru the northern gaps
and taken Chattanooga. But, Johnston could not have attacked out of Mill Creek Gap (several miles North of Snake Creek Gap),
which was a sizeable gap, because unlike Snake Creek Gap, it had been dammed and flooded as a defense against Union attacks.
Johnston's forces, at or around Dalton, were 56,083 including Cantey at Resaca. By the end of May, with Polk's arrival, he
would have 69,946 men, minus casualties.
Despite Blair’s and Dodge’s Corps manpower shortages and missing
cavalry in McPherson’s Army, when asked by Grant on the 25th of April 1864, Sherman assures him that "he
will move with what (manpower) he has" but asks for a delay until May 5, 1864.
On April 28, 1864, still not hearing from Grant, Sherman entrains for Chattanooga.
When he arrives there is the awaited telegram from Grant. "Get your forces up so as to move by the 5th of May.
Sherman replies. I will be already by May 5."
Unfortunately, Sherman modified Thomas' advice and sent McPherson’s
smaller force (The Army of the Tennessee Infantry, 22,437; artillery, 1,404; Guns, 96, cavalry, 624 (?); total, 24,465.),32 through Snake Creek Gap, hoping to achieve decisive results. Thomas and Schofield
(almost 75% of Sherman’s Army) were left to supply a ‘diversion.’ Tactical military doctrine never uses
a majority of their force to create a ‘diversion.’ Later, at Thomas’ suggestion, Sherman finally
sent one of Hooker’s divisions to attack thru "Dug Gap and push forward sufficiently to protect the flank of McPherson33."
Later, in his O. R., Sherman, distorted authorship of the plan, and his
original orders to McPherson told Grant that:
"In that direction I found Snake Creek Gap (False! It was
found in February by Thomas’ scouting party while at Rocky Face Mountain creating a diversion for Sherman’s Meridian
raid), affording me a good practicable way to reach Resaca, a point on the enemy's railroad line of communication, eighteen
miles below Dalton. Accordingly I ordered General McPherson to move rapidly from his position at Gordon's Mills, via Ship's
Gap, Villanow, and Snake Creek Gap directly on Resaca, or the railroad at any point below Dalton, and to make a bold attack.
After breaking the railroad well he was ordered to fall back to a strong defensive position near Snake Creek, and stand ready
to fall on the enemy's flank when he retreated, as I judged he would."34
In his report to Grant, Sherman further changes the truth,
". . . . General McPherson was thereby enabled to march within a
mile of Resaca almost unopposed. He found Resaca too strong to be carried by assault (McPherson was stopped by two Brigade’s
totaling about 3,500 men - authors comment), and although there were many good roads leading from north to south, endangering
his left flank, from the direction of Dalton, he could find no road by which he could rapidly cross over to the railroad,
and accordingly he fell back and took strong position near the east end of Snake Creek Gap. I was somewhat disappointed at
the result, still appreciated the advantage gained, and on the 10th ordered General Thomas (Actually Thomas’s idea)
to send General Hooker's corps to Snake Creek Gap in support of General McPherson, and to follow with another corps (the XIV,
General Palmer's), leaving General Howard with the IV Corps to continue to threaten Dalton in front, while the rest of the
army moved rapidly through Snake Creek Gap."35
Sherman quickly adopted and modified Thomas’s plan knowing
Grant had ordered him to start the campaign in concert with his own, in Virginia, on the 2nd. It is now May 1,
1864,36 and he is struggling to get his Army into position by the
5th, the date he on which he frantically obtained Grant’s compromise. He obviously does not want to disappoint
Grant now. However, on the first of May, McPherson is still in Alabama.37
On the 4th he sends orders to Thomas to position his Army of
General Thomas answers:
"RINGGOLD, May 4, 1864.Major-General SHERMAN:
Your two dispatches of this evening are received. My troops are all
in position now with the exception of Geary's division, and that will be up to-morrow.
GEO. H. THOMAS, Major-general."38
Thomas, in his Report dated June 1864 said:
"In obedience to instructions from the major-general commanding the military
division, I got my command in readiness for a forward movement on Dalton, Ga., and was fully prepared to move on the 2d of
May, as directed. Major-General Hooker, commanding Twentieth Army Corps, was directed to move from Lookout Valley, via Lee
and Gordon's Mills, on East Chickamauga Creek, to Leet's farm, on the road leading from the mills to Nickajack Gap, the movement
to commence on the 2d. Major-General Palmer, commanding the Fourteenth Army Corps, was to concentrate his command at Ringgold,
Ga., and Major-General Howard, commanding the Fourth Army Corps, was to move from Cleveland, East Tennessee, on the 3d, and
concentrate his command in the vicinity of Catoosa Springs, about three miles east of Ringgold; McCook's division of cavalry
to move on Howard's left; Kilpatrick's division of cavalry was stationed at Ringgold, picketing toward Tunnel Hill, and patrolling
on Palmer's right flank; Garrard's division was detached and operating under instructions from Major-General McPherson, commanding
the Army of the Tennessee. The army got into position by the 5th, and stood as above directed, communication having
been fully established from the right to the left of the whole command.
According to instructions given on the 6th, the army moved
on Tunnel Hill at daylight on the 7th in three columns--Palmer's Corps on the direct road from Ringgold, Howard's via Lee's
house, and Hooker's via Nickajack Gap and Trickum. The enemy made some show of resistance in Palmer's front, but evacuated
Tunnel Hill on the appearance of Howard's column on his flank, and fled toward Buzzard Roost, our troops occupying Tunnel
Hill Ridge. Palmer's, command was then moved forward and took position on Howard's right along the ridge, and both corps remained
there for the night. Hooker's column reached Trickum Post-Office about 4 p.m. and camped for the night, picketing strongly
the roads leading from Buzzard Roost and Dalton, as well as the approaches from the direction of Villanow. General Kilpatrick's
division of cavalry took post at or near Gordon's Spring to be in readiness to establish communication with the Army of the
Tennessee, which was expected at Villanow on the 8th."39
In addition, on May 2, he sent Baird, who immediately sends out skirmishers,
to find out what force faces him at Tunnel Hill.40
Thomas still attending to details, orders Geary to send a detachment
to Alabama to collect a pontoon bridge, located at Larkinsville, Alabama and bring it to Bridgeport for future use.41
Knowing McPherson has a cavalry problem, Sherman on the 4th
of May, writes to Thomas
"Would it not be well for me to order Garrard to march, after crossing
the Tennessee at Bridgeport, across to La Fayette, via Trenton and Dug Gap, sending his wagons and artillery along with McPherson's
train? What does cavalry operating with infantry want with artillery and wagons?" 42
Thomas, on the same day, patiently answers,
"The only difficulty in the way of ordering Garrard to La Fayette,
by the way of Trenton and Dug Gap, is that he cannot take forage enough to last him across on his horses."43
In other words, without the wagons, he cannot carry enough forage (hay
and corn or grain) to feed his horses. Sherman, whose early military service was primarily in the Quartermaster and Logistics
corps, should not be asking this question!
Because of poor planning, on the 4th Sherman is still
scurrying about trying to bring McPherson’s troops into position at the mouth of Snake Creek Gap.0 Most of the available cavalry has been mounting and preparing horses for the men in Kentucky
and Tennessee45 and are not ready. That designated portion of McPherson’s cavalry is left behind, with the
hope they will catch up. They don’t and McPherson has no one to scout ahead or cover his flanks in the Snake Creek Gap
and beyond. Sherman assigns a Brigade of Thomas’s cavalry to McPherson "General Kilpatrick's division of cavalry took
post at or near Gordon's Spring to be in readiness to establish communication with the Army of the Tennessee, which was expected
at Villanow on the 8th."46 "Kilpatrick communicated with General McPherson's command at Villanow, and then returned
to Trickum."47 All which conspire to cause his timidity at Resaca.48 In his memoirs, Sherman casually
blames McPherson for being "cautious" at Resaca.49
On May 5, 1864, Sherman starts his "Atlanta Campaign."
Thomas moves on and takes Tunnel Hill with no serious fighting.
McPherson moving slowly from Ringgold, Georgia finally enters Snake
Creek Gap on May 8. On the ninth, fearing something was happening at Resaca, Johnston orders Wheeler to check the area.0
"DALTON, May 9, 1864--9.45 a.m.Major-General WHEELER:
General Johnston wishes you to send a body of cavalry toward Resaca
to observe any movement that may be made by the enemy from that direction toward Dalton. Let them observe all gaps through
which an enemy may pass across Rocky Face south of Dug Gap.51
W. W. MACKALL, Brigadier-General and Chief of Staff."
"HEADQUARTERS ARMY OF TENNESSEE,Dalton, May 9, 1864--4 p.m.Major-General
WHEELER,Dalton and Cleveland Road:
GENERAL: Grigsby's brigade is in the trenches at Resaca.
General Johnston wants some cavalry in observation between this place
and Resaca for fear of a surprise by an advance here. I do not think Resaca in any danger; we have 4,000 men there. Let me
congratulate you on your splendid success till the general can speak his thanks. Let Colonel Allen call at headquarters as
Very respectfully, your obedient servant,
W. W. MACKALL, Chief of Staff."
"DALTON, May 11, 1864--7.30 a.m.General WHEELER, Cleveland and Dalton Road:
Did the system of scouts established by you just before the advance
of the enemy include the valley between Taylor's Ridge and Rocky Face? Is it still in operation? It is very important now
that the force and movements of the enemy between those two ridges from Ringgold to the Snake Creek Gap should be accurately
known, and, as cavalry cannot be kept in observation in that valley now, General Johnston wishes you to try by sending scouts
in from your position to ascertain. Grigsby and Allen will receive orders to attempt the same from the south. A corps supposed
to be held in the mouth of Snake Creek Gap threatening Resaca.53
Respectfully, your obedient servant,
W. W. Mackall,
Chief of Staff."
"RESACA, May 12, 1864.
"ON SUGAR VALLEY ROAD,May 12--2.30 p.m.General MACKALL:
GENERAL: The following dispatch just received:
GENERAL: Private Walker and another of Seventh Texas Regiment, just returned
from scout, report that the enemy were fortifying at Villanow last night. They are massing very heavily in Snake Creek Gap.
A great deal of artillery passed down in the gap by a road through the woods. They moved in two columns. This he saw yesterday.
Their talk is that they are going to Resaca, Calhoun, and Atlanta. This morning their infantry was in line, and they could
hear the artillery bugles sounding.
P. R. CLEBURNE,
Major-GeneralL. POLK, Lieutenant-General."
Mackall tells Johnston (May 9) that a Federal Corps is in the mouth of
the Gap right now!
That Corps is McPherson’s and has been there since May 8.
In "Atlanta Will Fall," p. 202, Stephen Davis reveals that Johnston may
have been aware of the existence of the Snake Creek Gap, ". . . as damning to General Johnston are the manuscript maps belonging
to Confederate Brigadier General Henry D. Clayton, in the Alabama Department of Archives and History, Montgomery, which would
have been given him by army headquarters. One particular map I found shows clearly the gap by which Major General James B.
McPherson flanked Johnston at Dalton. This map confirms that Confederate topographical engineers recorded the gap and that
Johnston therefore knew of it. Most important of all, the map indicts Johnston for negligence in not guarding his flank. No
longer can he be excused (as he has been for so long) for not knowing of Snake Creek Gap; henceforth he should be condemned
for a severe strategic blunder."
Still, this is an unreasonable argument. In the dispatches noted above
there are several indications that the "Snake Creek Gap" was known to most of the writers. Why Johnston failed to cover the
Gap should be the topic of discussion. The fact that he was trying to cover a 53+/- mile front with 43,000 men may have been
the reason. Sherman suggested that a force for territorial defense should number 2,000 to 5,000 troops. He also had to worry
about Schofield, with ~15,000 men on his northern front. Then his largest problem was with 65,000 on his western front. He
thought McPherson was heading to Rome, Georgia, about 25+ miles to the south. Even so, he posted 4,000 cavalry in Resaca to
cover any Federal thrust from that direction. On the 9th these troops were headed to the "Snake Creek Gap" to oppose
a Federal column that was seen coming through that gap. McPherson surprised them as soon as they passed through the gap. Had
they (the Rebels) got there earlier, McPherson may have been stalled in or before the gap.
From my perspective, Johnston apparently tried to cover two points (Resaca
and Snake Creek Gap)
This may be too harsh a judgement. Johnston probably did know of the Snake
Creek Gap. However, with only ~45,000 total troops and ?????? infantry he could only adequately cover a portion of his front.
The front extended from east of Tunnel Hill and south to Resaca. A distance of ~25 miles. He had to cover the Crow Valley
north of Tunnel Hill against an incursion by Schofield and perhaps some of Thomas’ troops. He had to cover the front
to the west facing Thomas’ large Army. He also had to cover Resaca to the south against a possible incursion by McPherson.
That he sent Canty’s division to cover Resaca and that a portion of that division was sent to Snake Creek Gap but bumped
into McPherson’s Federals indicated some knowledge of the Gap.
Sherman’s orders for McPherson were outlined in a message sent to
McPherson on the 5th of May. In it he tells McPherson to damage the tracks and withdraw into the mouth of the Gap.
Without his Cavalry to screen his left flank, McPherson does slightly less than Sherman’s orders required.
"I hope the enemy will fight at Dalton, in which case he can have
no force there that can interfere with you. But, should his policy be to fall back along his railroad, you will hit him in
flank. Do not fail in that event to make the most of the opportunity by the most vigorous attack possible, as it may save
us what we have most reason to apprehend--a slow pursuit, in which he gains strength as we lose it. In either event you may
be sure the forces north of you will prevent his turning on you alone. In the event of hearing the sound of heavy battle about
Dalton, the greater necessity for your rapid movement on the railroad. It once broken to an extent that would take them days
to repair, you can withdraw to Snake [Creek] Gap and come to us or await the development according to your judgment or information
you may receive. I want to put this plan in operation, beginning with Saturday morning if possible. The sooner the better
McPherson reached the vicinity of Resaca on the 9th. Late morning:
McPherson's remaining three divisions (under John A. Logan) emerge, less two brigades left to provide security at the northern
end of Snake Creek Gap.
Only one of two brigades left behind came from Logan, the other was from
Dodge. Each Corps had been ordered to detach one brigade to secure its own wagon train. Dodge had also left a brigade (Grower)
in northern Alabama. Thus, Dodge's two divisions consisted of only two brigades each.
Dodges’ skirmisher advanced within 200 yards of the railroad
and was preparing to advance his division, when McPherson, unnerved by the two entrenched Rebel Brigades (Colonel Warren Grigsby’s
Kentucky Cavalry Brigade, about one thousand men and Canty’s Brigade who reported about twenty-five hundred troopers
total,55 totaling at most about 3,500 men),56 returned to the mouth of the Gap, entrenched and notified
Sherman at 2:00PM 57
and awaited further orders. Sherman’s original orders were not worded
as decisively as they might have been.58 Sherman had sent the wrong man and the wrong Army.II. Early planning of
the Atlanta Campaign
Grant had ordered Sherman to conduct a raid to Meridian, Mississippi, but
before Sherman’s invasion took place, in February 1863, Longstreet reappeared in east Tennessee and panicked Schofield,
who asks Grant and Thomas for more troops to protect Knoxville, Tennessee. Thomas gives Grant the opportunity to either move
on Dalton as a diversion for Sherman’s raid on Meridian, Mississippi, or defend Knoxville. On February 17 Grant orders
him to make the move on Dalton. Thomas applies to Grant for more troops and then is delayed by the impassable roads and an
attack of ‘Neuralgia’. On the 18th, he wires Grant that he can’t make the trip because of his
illness and will send Palmer instead.
On the 22nd Palmer moves out. On the 24th Thomas
reports to Grant that they have reached Tunnel Hill and will be on the road to Dalton by tomorrow night. On the 24th
at 9:00PM he writes Grant that they are in Tunnel Hill Pass and in response to Grant’s request, Thomas is on the way
to the front. Colonel W. Grose reports the same day he is within five miles of Dalton. On the 26th, Thomas reports
to Grant that his transportation is failing, ammunition is running low and he has heard that Cleburne’s Division, originally
sent to support Polk against Sherman, has returned. On the 27th of February, Thomas reports that he has returned
his command to Chattanooga because of the conditions of his transport and that Johnston’s force is equal to him in manpower
and better in transports, horses and mules.59 This action probably increased Grant's dislike of Thomas. Grant had
no use for subordinates who did not obey his orders immediately, or at least pretend to, as was Sherman’s long suit.
Buell suggests in his "Warrior Generals" that Thomas’s periodic demurs implied errors in Grant’s strategic and
tactical thinking and likely contributed to the rift.60 Grant’s actions implied that he was not totally pleased
with the Cumberlanders charge up the Missionary Ridge either, feeling Thomas possibly planned the action to the embarrassment
of Sherman, whose tactical blundering at Tunnel Hill contributed nothing to Bragg’s defeat.
In addition to Thomas’s diversion at Dalton, a naval force accompanied
by infantry threatens the railroad center at Grenada on the Yazoo; while Farragut menaces Mobile. William "Sooy" Smith is
to lead 7,000 mounted Infantry to Meridian to assist Sherman. Sherman’s plans are spoiled by the inability of Smith
to carry out his assignment due to harassment from the redoubtable Forrest. Leonidas Polk, the Bishop-General or General-Bishop,
bungles the Confederate defense and while Meridian is laid waste, nothing lasting is achieved and in four weeks, despite the
destruction, the railroads are running again.
Albert Castel writes ". . . . While (A. J.) Smith's men stagger back into
Memphis, Thomas' troops head back toward Chattanooga (at Grant's insistence and despite being in ill health, Thomas took personal
charge of the operation). For the past three days (February 24-26) they have been skirmishing with the Confederates along
Rocky Face Ridge, an almost solid range of steep, craggy hills to the north, west and south of Dalton. In the process they
have discovered two things. One of them is that the ridge, in particular Buzzard Roost Gap, through which the railroad runs,
is virtually impregnable to an attack from the north: the 10th Michigan, which was due to go on veteran furlough in a few
days, lost sixty men in a matter of minutes while "feeling" the Rebel defenses. The other is that, potentially, Johnston is
vulnerable to a flanking move. On the afternoon of February 25, Colonel Thomas J. Harrison's 39th Indiana Mounted Infantry,
having been ordered by Palmer to explore the western approaches to Rocky Face, entered Dug Gap, a man-made pass five miles
south of Buzzard's Roost Gap, drove away the infantry company stationed there, and then repulsed an attack by a small Confederate
cavalry regiment. Nothing except insufficient strength prevented it from pushing onto the railroad south of Dalton, cutting
Johnston off from Atlanta. Moreover, not until the following morning was it compelled to retreat when assailed by Granbury's
Brigade of Cleburne's Division, just arrived back from Alabama in response to frantic dispatches by Johnston to Richmond declaring,
in effect, that Grant's entire army had beset him.
Thomas is most impressed on learning of what Harrison's Hoosier troopers
have done and might have done. To be sure, one could not expect Johnston to be caught off guard again at Dug Gap. But are
there not other passes through the southward extension of Rocky Face which can be penetrated with more than a mere mounted
regiment? Thomas begins to study his maps and scouting reports. Soon he pays special attention to a pass about twelve miles
south of Dalton. It leads to a village called Resaca on the north bank of the Oostenaula River and, much more important, to
the Western and Atlantic Railroad (Johnston’s lifeline to Atlanta). Its name, a sinister sounding one, is Snake Creek
Logistically, the key to the campaign for both armies, was the railroad.
Without the railroad connection to Chattanooga, Sherman's army could not be adequately supplied. The Western and Atlantic
Railroad was to be preserved until forward supply depots could be established. Although Sherman faced Johnston with about
110,000 men, another 70,000 were used to protect the railroad. Johnston could not leave his lifeline to Atlanta unprotected.
His problem is lessened because as he retreats, he picks up troops along the way, while Sherman moving south and further from
his supply base has to detach troops to guard important points along the railroad.
Resaca and the railroad, Joe Johnston's lifeline, were lightly guarded.
Thus in February, Thomas recommended Grant send The Army of the Cumberland (with the return of Granger’s Corps, still
in Knoxville, his cavalry from East Tennessee and improved transportation) through the gap, place it astride the railroad
north of Resaca, and cut
Johnston's line of retreat to Atlanta.62 Johnston would have
to attack the 'Rock of Chickamauga', in defense, with an army slightly larger than his and with more artillery; or retreat
eastward through the mountainous and over foraged, devastated areas of East Tennessee to get to Lee and the ANV. Either way,
the Confederacy could lose its only viable military force in the west.
Grant, apparently absorbed with his own plans for the area, or waiting
for another chance to make Sherman a General, ignores the plan.
From Grant’s Memoirs:
"Nothing occurred at Nashville worthy of mention (conveniently forgetting
Thomas’s plan that might have ended the war in the west) during the winter (then he lays out Sherman’s future
Atlanta campaign and ‘March to the Sea’ which Sherman quickly adopts and claims as his own idea.),
" . . . . I expected to retain the command I then had, and prepared
myself for the campaign against Atlanta. I also had great hopes of having a campaign made against Mobile from the Gulf. I
expected after Atlanta fell to occupy that place permanently, and to cut off Lee's army from the West by way of the road running
through Augusta to Atlanta and thence south-west. I was preparing to hold Atlanta with a small garrison, and it was my expectation
to push through to Mobile if that city was in our possession: if not, to Savannah; and in this manner to get possession of
the only east and west railroad that would then be left to the enemy. But the spring campaign against Mobile was not made."63
Thomas ascertains there are no Confederate troops moving to Polk at Meridian
against Sherman, then sends the following message to Grant providing an outline of the proposed Atlanta Campaign that was
adopted by Grant but given to Sherman to execute:-
"CHATTANOOGA, February 28, 1864.Major-General GRANT, Nashville :
General Butterfield, by my direction, has recently examined the line between
here and Nashville, and reports that he thinks 6,000 men will be sufficient to guard that line, two regiments of which force
should be cavalry. From what I know of the road between Nashville and Decatur, 2,000 infantry and 2,000 cavalry will be sufficient
to protect that line. One thousand infantry will be sufficient to protect the line from Athens to Stevenson. Probably both
lines of communication can be guarded by 6,000 infantry and 2,000 cavalry, a great portion of which should be made up from
the local militia of Tennessee, or troops organized especially for the preservation of order in the State.
I believe, if I can commence the campaign with the XIV and IV Corps in
front, with Howard's corps in reserve, that I can move along the line of the railroad and overcome all opposition as far,
at least, as Atlanta. I should want a strong division of cavalry in advance. As soon as Captain Merrill returns from his reconnaissance
along the railroad lines, I can give you a definite estimate of the number of troops required to guard the bridges along the
GEO. H. THOMAS, Major-General, U. S. Volunteers"64
III. The Battle at Resaca
On the evening of the 9th, Johnston sent Hood to Resaca
to see if there was any truth to the rumors of Federal activity. Hood left Dalton, looked around Resaca the next morning,
notified Johnston that there were Federal troops in the Snake Creek Gap and asked for orders.65 Then, he reports
"the Federals have left, and he is returning to Dalton."66 He then was ordered to leave two divisions at Tilton,
one on each road, and to return to Dalton with the third. Tilton is nearly halfway from Resaca to Dalton, and these two divisions
were disposed for a quick movement to either place, as circumstances should require."67 Hardee verifies Hood’s
reports.68 Johnston orders Polk (at the head of his column in Rome, Georgia69), heading north with reinforcements
from Mississippi, to move quickly to Resaca and take command.70
Of course, the plan failed. McPherson was too ‘timid’
(Sherman’s words), and the force sent, was inadequate to accomplish the mission.71
McPherson apparently unnerved because he did not have enough cavalry to
screen his left flank while crossing the plain toward Resaca, nor the manpower to do it with infantry. He returns and entrenches
in the mouth of the gap and asks for further orders.
Sherman, while sending about 25%, of his available force, in a maneuver
that could possibly end the war in the west, neglected to send any cavalry to scout for McPherson’s AOT.
That McPherson did not have adequate cavalry, was a logistical failure
of Sherman’s, over which McPherson had no control.
When McPherson, on May 9, 1864, turned back without any meaningful engagement
with the 3,500 Rebel troops sent by Johnston to guard the pass at Resaca, Thomas immediately proposes Sherman send Hooker
with the 20th Corps, now at Trickum, within easy supporting distance of McPherson, through the pass to help him.
Finally, on the 10th of May 1864, (a day after he was notified by McPherson of his failure to cut the railroad)
Sherman orders Hooker to send a division along with Kilpatrick’s cavalry to aid McPherson. Later, that day another division
of Hooker’s was sent to the gap to clear the roads to Resaca.
The day following (May 10), at 7 A. M., Sherman telegraphs to General Halleck:-
"I am starting for the extreme front in Buzzard Roost Gap, and make this
despatch that you may understand that Johnston acts purely on the defensive. I am attacking him on his strongest points, viz.,
west and north, till McPherson breaks his line at Resaca, when I will swing round through Snake Creek Gap and interfere between
him and Georgia. * * * Yesterday I pressed hard to prevent Johnston detaching against McPherson; today I will be more easy,
as I believe McPherson has destroyed Resaca, when he is ordered to fall back to the mouth of Snake Creek Gap, and act against
Johnston's flank when he does start.
Too late, for because of Sherman’s willful delays, on the 9th,
10th, 11th, and 12th, Johnston on the 13th, marching from Dalton arrives and entrenches
his forces along with Polk’s Army of the Mississippi, north and west of Resaca.72
This is Sherman’s first blunder!
Thomas, observing McPherson’s timidity and still seeking to trap
and destroy Johnston’s Army and knowing that Johnston was still entrenched at Dalton, on the 9th, prods Sherman
to send the 17,000 men of ‘Fighting’ Joe Hookers XXth Corps plus two other divisions to support McPherson, take
Resaca, cut the railroad and thereby cut off Johnston’s line of retreat to his Atlanta supply base. Sherman, not knowing
the status of the forces at Resaca until about 10AM the morning of the 10th, telegraphs Halleck ". . . . yesterday
I pressed hard . . . but today I will be more easy,. . . . "73 That evening he telegraphs Halleck ". . . . I intend
to place myself between Johnston and Resaca, when he will have to fight it out," and adds, "I will be in no hurry," Such delays
by Thomas would not have been tolerated later by Sherman and Grant who spent the rest of their life telling any and everybody
that "Thomas" was slow. "On the 10th. . . . Sherman finally. . . . orders General Thomas to send one division of
General Hooker's corps to Snake Creek Gap to support McPherson and later sends another.
Colonel Fullerton reports in his diary that: "May 11. --Breakfasted at
5.30 a.m. Went to the front at 7. a.m. At 5.40 a.m. received a letter of instructions from Major-General Thomas, stating that
it had been decided to leave the IV Corps, with Stoneman's and McCook's cavalry, to keep up the feint of a direct attack on
Dalton through Buzzard Roost Gap, while the rest of the army moved through Snake Creek"74 On May 12, he follows
with General Palmer's XIV Corps. Sherman did not learn from his mistakes at Chattanooga, where he allowed divisional trains
to follow their divisional infantry thereby slowing the entire army’s march to Chattanooga. He sent Hooker to reinforce
McPherson and let him take his trains as at Chattanooga. Palmer following Hooker with his XIV Corps took maybe 15 hours to
reach the Snake Creek Gap75. On the 11th Johnston, realizing the danger, starts pouring troops from Dalton into
Resaca, with orders to help Polk defend the town with his troops arriving from Mississippi.
Johnston immediately confirms Thomas is no longer in his front, withdraws
the AOT from Dalton and heads south. The Union ‘Signal Station of Observation’ reports on the 12th,
"Road leading from Dalton full of wagons moving south; the rear of train not yet left town."76 On the 13th,
Johnston and the Confederate AOT and Polk’s Army of Mississippi are entrenched at Resaca.77
The plan should have worked. Johnston, in Dalton, was distracted, concerned
that Sherman would move south toward Rome and Crow Valley. He carefully watched Thomas’s diversion at Rocky Face and
Dug Gap. He was almost completely deceived. Some aggressiveness on McPherson’s part would have done it! McPherson’s
total loss: six killed, thirty wounded and sixteen captured!
This tap, with a fly swatter, was exactly opposite of Thomas’ plans.
Thomas wanted to confront Johnston with an overwhelming concentration of force and fight a battle he felt sure he would win.
If not, at least cut off Johnston from Atlanta and force him into a poor position or retreat. Here Thomas was applying the
maxim made famous by N. B. Forrest, "to get there fustest with the mostest!" But Sherman, whose poor performance at Chattanooga,
compared to Thomas’s accomplishment, was not about to let Thomas upstage him up again. And because of this petty jealousy,
Sherman bears the responsibility for all the costs and casualties his subsequent campaigns.
B. H. Liddell Hart78 and Alfred Burne79 argue
that sending Thomas to Snake Creek instead of McPherson would have created complications by having Thomas’s Army of
the Cumberland cross over McPherson’s Army of the Tennessee’s route. However, they apparently did not know or
ignored the fact that Thomas already was in his ordered position at Ringgold, Tennessee and was prepared to move on the 2nd
of May 1864, while on that date, McPherson was still struggling to get to Lee and Gordon’s Mill on Thomas’s right.80
Grant ordered Sherman to begin the campaign on the 5th of May.
Thomas was in position before the 5th, Sherman finally got the campaign started on the 7th when Thomas’s
XIVth Corps moved on Tunnel Hill. Hooker, XXth Corps commander under Thomas, was at Trickum Post Office less than 15 miles
from the Gap and within easy support of McPherson, at 4:00PM on May, 7th 81. McPherson started two days
later. Thomas could easily have moved thru the Snake Creek Gap on the 7th while McPherson was still ttwo days behind
him. There would have been no tangling of lines or crossed communications, contrary to Hart and Burne’s assertions.
Thus, Sherman loses his first chance to cut the Army of Tennessee off from
it’s base and for all practical purposes, to end the war in the west. He reports to Grant:
" . . . The enemy lay in and about Dalton, superior to me in cavalry (Wheeler's),
and with three corps of infantry and artillery, viz. Hardee's, Hood's, and Polk's, the whole commanded by General Joe Johnston,
of the Confederate Army. I estimated the cavalry under Wheeler at about 10,000, and the infantry and artillery about 45,000
to 50,000 men. To strike Dalton in front was impracticable, as it was covered by an inaccessible ridge known as the Rocky
Face, through which was a pass between Tunnel Hill and Dalton known as the Buzzard Roost, through which lay the railroad and
wagon road. It was narrow, well obstructed by abatis, and flooded by water caused by dams across Mill Creek. Batteries also
commanded it in its whole length from the spurs on either side, and more especially from a ridge at the farther end like a
traverse directly across its débouché. It was, therefore, necessary to turn it. On its north front the enemy had a strong
line of works behind Mill Creek, so that my attention was at once directed to the south. In that direction I found Snake Creek
Gap, affording me a good practicable way to reach Resaca, a point on the enemy's railroad line of communication, eighteen
miles below Dalton. Accordingly I ordered General McPherson to move rapidly from his position at Gordon's Mills, via Ship's
Gap, Villanow, and Snake Creek Gap directly on Resaca, or the railroad at any point below Dalton, and to make a bold attack.
After breaking the railroad well he was ordered to fall back to a strong defensive position near Snake Creek, and stand ready
to fall on the enemy's flank when he retreated, as I
nejudged he would. During the movement General Thomas was to make
a strong feint of attack in front, while General Schofield pressed down from the north. General Thomas moved from Ringgold
on the 7th, occupying Tunnel Hill, facing the Buzzard Roost Gap, meeting with little opposition, and pushing the enemy's cavalry
well through the gap. General McPherson reached Snake Creek Gap on the 8th, completely surprising a brigade of cavalry which
was coming to watch and hold it, and on the 9th General Schofield pushed down close on Dalton from the north, while General
Thomas renewed his demonstration against Buzzard Roost and Rocky Face Ridge, pushing it almost to a battle. One division (General
Newton's) of the IV Corps (General Howard's) carried the ridge, and turning south toward Dalton found the crest too narrow
and too well protected by rock epaulements to enable him to reach the gorge or pass. Another division (General Geary's) of
the XX Corps (General Hooker's) also made a bold push for the summit to the south of the pass, but the narrow road as it approached
the summit was too strongly held by the enemy to be carried. This, however, was only designed as a demonstration, and worked
well, for General McPherson was thereby enabled to march within a mile of Resaca almost unopposed. He found Resaca too strong
to be carried by assault, and although there were many good roads leading from north to south, endangering his left flank,
from the direction of Dalton, he could find no road by which he could rapidly cross over to the railroad, and accordingly
he fell back and took strong position near the east end of Snake Creek Gap. I was somewhat disappointed at the result, still
appreciated the advantage gained, and on the 10th ordered General Thomas to send General Hooker's corps to Snake Creek Gap
in support of General McPherson, and to follow with another corps (the XIV, General Palmer's), leaving General Howard with
the IV Corps to continue to threaten Dalton in front, while the rest of the army moved through Snake Creek Gap . . . "82
Thomas, still planning to cutoff Johnston and his forces from their Atlanta
base and knowing that Howard with the IV Corps entered Dalton at 9:10AM putting him on Johnston’s rear, on the May 13
proposes to Sherman that:
" . . . Should the enemy be driven down the railroad, Generals Palmer
and Schofield will be directly in his rear, with General Hooker to support them, if necessary. In this situation of affairs
the enemy must be completely cut off, or compelled to retreat by the various fords southeast of Dalton, across the Connesauga,
in which latter event, if General McPherson will merely threaten Resaca with the head of his column, and force a passage across
the Oostenaula at Lay's Ferry (just south of Resaca and the Oostanaula), and take up a strong position on the hills bordering
the railroad southeast of Lay's Ferry which would prevent Johnston from using the railroad, Johnston will be compelled to
retreat through the mountains to Allatoona, which will be exceedingly difficult, if he succeeds in accomplishing it at all.
Should you think well of this plan, I can throw Hooker's corps across Lay's Ferry to the support of General McPherson, and
General Palmer's corps also, unless the enemy evacuate Resaca. If Resaca be evacuated, the main body of the (Union) army could
be crossed at Resaca and Lay's Ferry and pursue rapidly along the railroad and vicinity."83
Sherman rebuffs him immediately, thus losing his second chance to
Instead, Sherman reports to Halleck on May 14, that ". . . General
Garrard's division of cavalry is sent around by the right to cross the Oostenaula, above Rome, if possible, and break the
railroad north of Kingston."84
Of course Garrard, with 3,000 horse and no Infantry, duplicates McPherson’s
Snake Creek Gap failure and fails to break the railroad!85 Two Federal brigades (part of Sweeny’s force)
manage to cross the Oostenaula south of Resaca and occupy the area around Lays Ferry. When discovered, their presence is enough
to raise the fear in Johnston of being cut off, and he retreats.86 Sherman, not learning from his earlier mistake,
rather than sending a large force to accomplish the job, orders Garrard’s Cavalry Division of five thousand troopers
across the Oostanaula to do the job that McPherson’s Army of the Tennessee could not.
On May 14 Sherman reports incorrectly to Halleck that:
". . . . General Sweeny's division, XVI Corps, with a pontoon train, tried
to cross the Oostenaula at Lay's Ferry, below Calhoun, but was stoutly opposed by a heavy force in the dense timber on the
Sweeny had actually crossed the Oostenaula at Lay’s Ferry on May
14, losing three pontoniers and capturing 60 rebels in the crossing. But, upon receiving a false report from Coarse (now in
charge of the Cavalry after Kilpatrick’s wounding on May 13, he was severely wounded in the thigh at the Battle of Resaca),
that the rebels were building a bridge at the Calhoun Ferry, three miles upstream he stops. If true, this might result in
Sweeny’s command being cutoff from the rest of Sherman’s Army. So, Sweeny recrosses the Oostenaula and waits for
information about the supposed rebel bridge (s). When received on May 15, disclaiming the report, Sweeny crosses the river
again and Dodge reports to Sherman that he advanced "two miles out from the river."88 This move would have placed
Sweeny’s Division about a mile from the railroad.
At 5:00PM, Coarse reports to Sherman, Sweeny’s successful defense
of his position on the south side of the river. Sweeny the same day, reports in a circular the enemy troops are heard moving
Sherman’s third fumble.
Sherman was given a second and then third opportunity to end the
war despite his admonition to McPherson that "such opportunities were never given twice in the same lifetime."89
Bypassing Thomas for the western command might have been appropriate if
Sherman possessed a combat record to support it. Initially, Sherman's hysterics in Kentucky, calling for 200,000 troops, led
to charges of insanity. Sherman was surprised at Shiloh, a surprise that was due to Grants and Sherman’s incorrect assumptions
about Confederate intentions. Grant’s absence from the front and Sherman's neglect in posting minimum security, then
failing to react to the warnings of the Union skirmishers who were on guard. Sherman failed at Chickasaw Bayou, before Vicksburg,
and failed in his assaults, ordered by Grant at Vicksburg. At Chattanooga, he was tardy in getting to Chattanooga from Memphis
and caused the battle to be postponed thrice and his Army of the Tennessee was the only one of the three armies engaged that
failed in its assignment. It was the charge up Missionary Ridge by Thomas's Cumberlanders and Hooker’s slashing attack
on Bragg’s left that won the battle, saving Sherman and Grant from embarrassment, and giving Grant his promotion.
Thus, Sherman missed three opportunities (of several) and failed to end
the war in the west or at least eliminate the largest, most dangerous western Confederate army. Sherman is content to chase
Johnston, rather than destroy him, as Grant has ordered. Or are there other reasons?
Within ten days Sherman has let three opportunities to possibly end the
western war. He failed to at least damage the largest Rebel Army in the west. He is about to let slip two more. This may be
discounted by some as bad luck, by others as poor generalship. Whatever the reason, Sherman is not finished bumbling his efforts
to "Break up Joe Johnston’s army."
The next opportunity to end the western war was at the battle of Resaca.
As Johnston slipped into the town on the 13th, Sherman stood by and let him entrench and fortify.
Grant and Sherman were both given the opportunity to end the war early
in 1864. Had they accepted the planning and experience of the man most knowledgeable of the area, General George H. Thomas,
combat in the west might have been over. Thomas had fought all over the area more than once and was very familiar with it.
All the ten's of thousands of casualties inflicted by Lee on Grant’s forces in the east, may have been unnecessary.
The future combat’s of Hood and Sherman and Thomas would never have happened.
Johnston's position at Dalton a is really bad one in one respect: his line
of supply lies parallel to his battle front. This means that instead of Sherman having to make a 180-degree arc around Johnston's
army to cut his line of supply, he can send out a force perpendicular to his own line and cut Johnston’s supply line
anywhere he chooses, except for one factor: the line of ridges that Johnston holds. Johnston is also in a cul de sac that
allows only one good line of retreat: south. Nevertheless, he has Sherman in somewhat of a pickle. As long as he can hold
the line of ridges running south, Sherman cannot hit his line of supply and can only flank him by sending forces south to
Lay’s Ferry, Calhoun, Adairsville, Kingston, Rome or Allatoona. Sherman can't send the bulk of his army to Rome without
leaving his own rail line which ended at either Chickamauga or Dalton, far behind and exposing Chattanooga with its mountains
of supplies to a raid. Johnston holds the interior line with the railroad at his disposal.
He can send forces down to counter any threat at Rome far faster than Sherman
can support his own. It seems to me that the last thing that Johnston wants to hear is that a Federal army has broken through
the ridges in his rear. At that point his days at Dalton were numbered.
He had hoped to hold Sherman at bay long enough to frustrate him and provoke
him into a headlong assault against his fortifications at Dalton. I would guess that Johnston was pretty upset about Snake
You are missing the point. The significance of Johnston ordering 1,000
men to come up from Resaca to Dalton is that he is unaware that more than 20,000 Federal infantry are already traversing Snake
Creek Gap (on the 8th). If he knew they were there, wouldn't THAT be the time to dispatch a force to block the gap? He DID
deem it important enough that evening to send Grigsby (as soon as he gets Cantey's messages about Yankees near Villanow),
but when he countermanded the order to bring up 1,000 men (midday on the 8th), he ‘still’ left Snake Creek Gap
entirely open. What the order to Cantey about bringing troops to Dalton means is that on May 8, Johnston does not know where
McPherson is. He doesn't know he's coming through the gap. Once he suspects danger there, he promptly orders cavalry to the
gap, but Johnston is too late, because he was caught off guard. Johnston did fortify Resaca and he did direct that the crossings
of the Oostenaula south of Resaca are watched. These were obviously choices he made. He did not defend Snake Creek Gap. In
the absence of other evidence, I see this also as a choice. According to his Chief of Staff, Mackall, leaving the gap undefended
was the result of "a flagrant disobedience of orders" (so he told Cleburne, without naming the culprit). Why did Johnston
choose to defend Dug Gap when Federals threatened to come through there? Why did he choose to defend Snake Creek Gap on the
evening of the 8th (when he sent Grigsby), but not before that time? What changed? The make up of McPherson's force does not
change Johnston's awareness of the movement. Correct. He was caught off guard regardless of the makeup of McPherson's force.
That the Federal force coming out of the gap was not bigger, or well served by cavalry, was Johnston's good fortune.
The significance is that he is concerned about McPherson's column making
an attack "by our left upon Rome or the railroad in our rear," because he continues to receive reports of Federals moving
in that direction (from Wheeler's scouts, from Breckenridge's cavalry, from Hood). That's why he told Martin to be watchful
between Calhoun and Rome. That's why he tells Cantey (through Mackall) on the 8th to cross the river and build defensive works
on the south side of the railroad bridge. This is the 2nd time in two days, or maybe three, that he has told Cantey to bring
troops up to Dalton, then countermanded it. He doesn't actually know where McPherson is until the next evening. It's telling
that Johnston "doesn't" send any force to block Snake Creek Gap when he countermanded the order to Cantey. He doesn't do that
until Cantey reports (from Breckenridge) sighting Yankees around Villanow. By the time Johnston responds to this information,
it is too late.
Perhaps the reason he failed to guard Snack Creek Gap is that he didn’t
have enough troops! His front, from about Cleveland, Tennessee to Calhoun, Georgia, was more than fifty-three miles long and
he had only 47,000 men to cover it or about 880 men per mile.
Sherman’s recommendations were 2,000 to 5,000 men per mile.90.