General William Tecumseh Sherman
The Civil War was filled with endless personal tragedies and one of them played out in the aftermath of the death of General James Birdseye McPherson at the Battle of Atlanta. McPherson was engaged to marry Emily Hoffman of Baltimore. Having gotten leave for the first time in three years, he had been on his way to Baltimore to marry her, when Sherman had called him back to take command of the Army of the Tennessee in the drive on Atlanta. Sherman wrote to Miss Hoffman to explain the necessity of this:
Military Division of the Mississippi
June 9, 1864
My Dear Young Lady,
I hardly feel that I should apologize for intrusion, for I can claim an old acquaintance with your Brother and Sister in California, and feel almost that I know you through them, and others of your honored family. It has come to my knowledge that you are affianced to another close friend and associate of mine Maj General McPherson, and I fear that weighing mighty matters of State but lightly in the Realm of Love, you feel that he gives too much of his time to his Country and too little to you.
His rise in his profession has been rapid, steady and well earned. Not a link unbroken. Not a thing omitted. Each step in his progress however has imposed on him fresh duties that as a man and a soldier, and still more as a Patriot, he could not avoid.
I did hope as he returned from Meridian, when his Corps the 17th was entitled to go home on furlough, that he too could steal a month to obey the promptings of his heart, to hasten to Baltimore and I so instructed, but by the changes incident to General Grant’s elevation, McPherson succeeded to the Command of a separate Army and Department, and could not leave.
There is no rest for us in this war till you and all can look about you and feel there is Reason and Safety in the Land. God purifies the atmosphere with tempests and storms which fall alike upon the just and unjust, and in like manner he appeases the jarring elements of political discord by wars and famine. Heretofore as a nation we have escaped his wrath, but now with the vehemence of anhundred years accumulation we are in the storm, and would you have us shrink?
But I will not discuss so plain a point with one who bears the honored name of Hoffman, rather tell you of him whose every action I know fills your waking and sleeping thoughts, him so young but so prominent, whose cause is among the gallant and brave, who fight not for oppression and wrong but that the Government bequeathed to us by your ancestors shall not perish in ignominy and insult: but which shall survive in honor and glory, with a power to protect the weak and shelter the helpless from the terrible disasters of a fratricidal war.
I know McPherson well, as a young man, handsome and noble soldier, activated by motives as pure as those of Washington, and I know that in making my testimony to his high and noble character, I will not offend the Girl he loves.
Be patient and I know that when the happy day comes for him to stand by your side as one Being identical in heart and human existence you will regard him with a high respect and honor that will convert simple love into something sublime and beautiful.
Yours with respect
W. T. Sherman
Her father was a rich Baltimore merchant, strongly pro-Confederate in his sympathies, as was his mother who organized sewing bees to produce garments for Confederate soldiers. A son was fighting in the Army of Northern Virginia. The Hoffman family strongly disapproved of Emily’s engagement with a Union general.
Emily learned of the death of McPherson on July 23. Stricken with unbearable grief she immediately went to her room and spent the next year there in seclusion. Sherman wrote to her a second time. Continue reading
After the battle of Peachtree Creek Hood ordered his army to withdraw to Atlanta, hoping that an opportunity would present itself to destroy a portion of the Union army as Sherman advanced on Atlanta.
While Stewart’s corps held the fortifications north of Atlanta, Hood planned to attack McPhersons Army of the Tennessee which was approaching from the east. Cheatham’ corps would attack from the eastern fortifications of Atlanta, while Hardee’s corps would attack from the south, with Wheeler’s cavalry launching assaults on the supply lines of the Army of the Tennessee.
Hardee’s corps took much longer to get into position for the attack than Hood anticipated, and McPherson reinforced his left to meet this anticipated attack. The attack of Hardee when it went in caused the Union line to waver and begin to retreat before it was repulsed. It was during this attack that McPherson was slain. Major General John “Blackjack” Logan, the most able of the Union political generals, took temporary command of the Union army and successfully led it during the remainder of the battle.
Cheatham’s corps attacked from the Atlanta entrenchments. Here most of the fighting centered on Baldy Hill, with that conflict going on to nightfall. Two miles to the north Cheatham’s corps made a breakthrough of the Union lines, that was only repulsed after much hard fighting, spearheaded by Logan’s corps supported by a heavy Union artillery bombardment.
At the end of the day, Union casualties were 3,000 to Confederate casualties of 5,000. Hood was unable to repulse the Union forces and the battle of Atlanta now became the siege of Atlanta.
The essential tragedy of the Civil War is that it was “a war without an enemy” in which Americans were fighting each other. This sad fact is epitomized by this tribute penned by Hood in regard to his classmate and roommate James Birdseye McPherson:
I will record the death of my classmate and boyhood friend, General James B. McPherson, the announcement of which caused me sincere sorrow. Since we had graduated in 1853, and had each been ordered off on duty in different directions, it has not been our fortune to meet. Neither the years nor the difference of sentiment that had led us to range ourselves on opposite sides in the war had lessened my friendship; indeed the attachment formed in early youth was strengthened by my admiration and gratitude for his conduct toward our people in the vicinity of Vicksburg. His considerate and kind treatment of them stood in bright contrast to the course pursued by many Federal officers.
Here is Sherman’s report of the battle: Continue reading
Sherman was closing in on Atlanta. General Joseph Johnston had delayed the advance of Sherman but he had not been able to stop him. On July 8 Sherman crossed the Chattahoochie River, the last major physical obstacle between him and Atlanta. Johnston withdrew across Peachtree Creek north of Atlanta, planning to attack Sherman’s army as it crossed the creek. As he made his preparations, Johnston was suddenly removed from his command by Davis. Davis and Johnston were old enemies, but Davis removing Johnston was more an act of desperation than anything else. If Atlanta fell, the Confederate heartland was open for an invasion by Sherman, and Johnston’s strategy of maneuver and retreat convinced Davis that Johnston would not fight for Atlanta. Rolling the dice, Davis promoted one of Johnston’s corps commanders to the temporary rank of full general and John Bell Hood found himself in command of the Army of Tennessee.
Thirty-three years old and a West Point graduate, Hood had earned a reputation as an aggressive and successful division commander in the Army of Northern Virginia. At Gettysburg he was severely wounded and lost the use of his left arm. At Chickamauga he led the assault that cracked the Union army, and was again wounded losing his right leg. Equipped now with a wooden leg, Hood had lost none of his aggression and self-confidence. Under him retreat was to be a thing of the past, as he swiftly readied his army to take aggressive action to save Atlanta.
On July 19, Hood learned that Sherman was dividing his army, following his usual course of having the Army of the Cumberland under Thomas cross Peachtree Creek for a direct advance on Atlanta, while the Army of the Tennessee under McPherson and the Army of the Ohio under Schofield maneuvered to the East, to outflank the Confederates and to cut rail lines and the Confederate supply lines. For a commander as fond of attack as Hood this was a golden opportunity to launch an assault on Thomas. Continue reading
I have heard men say that if they ever killed a Yankee during the war
Throughout his maneuvers to slow Sherman’s drive on Atlanta, General Joseph Johnston often occupied strong positions that he hoped Sherman would assault. At Kennesaw Mountain on June 27, 1864 he got his wish.
Following the battle of Pickett’s Mill on May 27,1864, go here to read about it, the Union and Confederate armies would spend June with Sherman attempting to find some way to outflank or make his way through the defensive lines constructed by Johnston to defend Marietta, Georgia, and his rail supply line.
Sherman having successfully turned his initial line, Johnston fell back on a previously prepared fortified line astride Kennesaw Mountain, an immensely strong position, on June 18-19. Sherman’s attempt to turn the left of Johnston’s position came to a halt at the Battle of Kolb’s Farm on June 22. Here Hood, in a foreshadowing of dark days to come for the Confederate Army of Tennessee, had his corps attack without adequate reconnaissance and incurred heavy losses of 1500 to 250 Union. Nonetheless, Sherman’s flanking movement was stopped.
Growing impatient, on June 27 Sherman launched the last frontal assault of his career. Assuming that Johnston had stretched his line too thin, Sherman attacked the Confederate center. The attack began with a furious cannonade at 8:00 AM involving 200 cannon. The Union attack went in and was bloodily repulsed with 3000 Union casualties to 1000 Confederates. The fighting was over by 10:45 AM. Sherman twice urged General Thomas to renew the assault. Thomas flatly refused, saying “One or two more such assaults would use up this army.”
The aftermath of the battle was anti-climactic. The armies stood facing each other for five days, until July 2, 1864 when Sherman again attempted to outflank Johnston’s left, this time with success, Johnston retreating to prepared lines at Smyrna. Here is Sherman’s account of the battle in his memoirs: Continue reading
After the battle of Resaca, go here to read about it, Johnston retreated to the Allatoona Pass, fighting the battle of Adairsville on May 17 during his retreat. Sherman viewed Johnston’s Allatoona Pass position as too strong to assault. He moved his armies to the West,hoping to Johnston’s left. Johnston anticipated this move. At New Hope Church on May 25, Johnston bloodily repulsed Hooker’s corps, inflicting 1665 casualties for 350 of his own.
Attacking Johnston’s right at Pickett’s Mill with O.O. Howard’s corps, Sherman suffered another bloody repulse, losing about the same proportion of Union casualties (1600) to Confederate (500) as at New Hope Church.
A Confederate probe at Dallas was repulsed on May 28.
Tactically Johnson won these engagements and stopped Sherman’s advance for a brief period. Strategically, Sherman won by drawing Johnston’s army away from Allatoona, which Sherman’s cavalry captured on June 1. Sherman moved towards Allatoona on June 5, now being able to supply his army up to that railhead. Johnston followed, as he had to if he was to stop Sherman from advancing down the rail line. Here is an excerpt, from an article that Johnston wrote for the August 1887 edition of Century Magazine on his portion of the Atlanta Campaign, which deals with these battles : Continue reading
While Grant and Lee were engaging in non-stop combat in Virginia, a different type of campaign by different types of generals was getting underway. Sherman, leading an army group consisting of the 98,000 men of the Army of the Tennessee, the Army of the Cumberland and the tiny Army of the Ohio, confronted the 60,000 Confederates of the Army of Tennessee under General Joseph Johnston. Both Sherman and Johnston were more strategists than tacticians, military chess players rather than great captains of the battlefield. Johnston especially had good reason to fear the result of a battle going against him. His army, and his army alone, stood between the vital interior of the Confederacy, thus almost entirely untouched by the War, and Union conquest. Sherman understood that there were many excellent defensive positions between him and Atlanta, and if he was going to get there he had to depend more on maneuver than direct attacks. Continue reading
Fate has a way of picking unlikely material,
Greasy-haired second lieutenants of French artillery,
And bald-headed, dubious, Roman rake-politicians.
Her stiff hands were busy now with an odd piece of wood,
Sometime Westpointer, by accident more than choice,
Sometime brevet-captain in the old Fourth Infantry,
Mentioned in Mexican orders for gallant service
And, six years later, forced to resign from the
Army Without enough money to pay for a stateroom home.
Stephen Vincent Benet, John Brown’s Body
One hundred and fifty years ago the campaigning season in the bloodiest year of the Civil War was about to begin, and plans were being completed for what both sides hoped would be a decisive year. A moment of comedy before the grim business gets underway. Sherman in his memoirs recalled an incident on March 18, 1864 when Grant was presented a sword by the mayor of his hometown of Galena, Illinois:
On the 18th of March I had issued orders assuming command of the Military Division of the Mississippi, and was seated in the office, when the general came in and said they were about to present him a sword, inviting me to come and see the ceremony. I went back into what was the dining-room of the house; on the table lay a rose-wood box, containing a sword, sash, spurs, etc., and round about the table were grouped Mrs. Grant, Nelly, and one or two of the boys. I was introduced to a large, corpulent gentleman, as the mayor, and another citizen, who had come down from Galena to make this presentation of a sword to their fellow-townsman. I think that Rawlins, Bowers, Badeau, and one or more of General Grant’s personal staff, were present. The mayor rose and in the most dignified way read a finished speech to General Grant, who stood, as usual, very awkwardly; and the mayor closed his speech by handing him the resolutions of the City Council engrossed on parchment, with a broad ribbon and large seal attached. After the mayor had fulfilled his office so well, General Grant said: “Mr. Mayor, as I knew that this ceremony was to occur, and as I am not used to speaking, I have written something in reply.” He then began to fumble in his pockets, first his breast-coat pocket, then his pants, vest; etc., and after considerable delay he pulled out a crumpled piece of common yellow cartridge-paper, which he handed to the mayor. His whole manner was awkward in the extreme, yet perfectly characteristic, and in strong contrast with the elegant parchment and speech of the mayor. When read, however, the substance of his answer was most excellent, short, concise, and, if it had been delivered by word of mouth, would have been all that the occasion required.
I could not help laughing at a scene so characteristic of the man who then stood prominent before the country; and to whom all had turned as the only one qualified to guide the nation in a war that had become painfully critical. Continue reading
It is rare for any soldier to attain the rank of general, but Albert Sidney Johnston managed that feat in three armies: rising from private to brigadier general in the army of the Republic of Texas, brevet brigadier general in the United States Army, and full general in the Confederate States Army. On April 3, 1862 he led his newly created Army of Mississippi out of the town of Corinth, Mississippi and began the march which would end in the surprise Confederate attack in the early morning of April 6, 1862, the beginning of the two day mammoth battle known to history as Shiloh.
The battle would result in the death of Johnston, his dying caused probably by his act of mercy in dispatching his personal surgeon to attend a wounded Union officer and none of his remaining staff having the presence of mind to fashion a tourniquet to stanch Johnston’s bleeding after he was wounded, and the fighting would inflict over 23,000 total Union and Confederate casualties, exceeding in two days all of the battlefield casualties in all of America’s wars prior to the Civil War. Shiloh told the nation, North and South, that this was going to be a very grim war, and that their adversary would fight it with all the strength and will that they could muster. After Shiloh the myth of a quick victorious war died on both sides. Continue reading