‘And Make Atlanta a Perfect Moscow of Defeat’ – Hood Stabs Northward

October 4, 1864 (Tuesday)

Hood Goes Forth
Hood Goes Forth

When last we left John Bell Hood and his Army of Tennessee, he had decided to march his forces far west of Atlanta, to then swing north, circling around and fall upon the supply lines of General Sherman’s army within the city. This, he hoped, would cause the Federals to abandon Atlanta and fight Hood on ground of his own choosing. Thus far, it seemed to be working.

All were convinced that Sherman could not maintain his long lines of supply and communication from Chattanooga to Atlanta, and once they were severed, he would necessarily be forced to retreat. In a speech made before the Army of Tennessee, President Davis put it thusly:

“Be of good cheer, for within a shot while your faces will be turned homeward, and you feet will press Tennessee soil, and you will tread your native heath, amid the blue-grass regions and pastures green of your native homes.

We will flank General Sherman out of Atlanta, tear up the railroad and cut off his supplies, and make Atlanta a perfect Moscow of defeat to the Federal army. Situated as he is in an enemy’s country, with his communications all cut off, and our army in the rear, he will be powerless, and being fully posted and cognizant of our position, and of the Federal army, this movement will be the ultima thule, the grand crowning stroke for our independence, and the conclusion of the war.”

These were undoubtedly words of inspiration, even for General Hood, who crossed the Chattahoochee River on September 29 and 30. By this date, he had already veered northward and fallen upon the enemy’s lines of communication.

Approximate map.
Approximate map.

By the night of the 2nd, Hood’s army was between Powder Springs and Lost Mountain, itself now north of Sherman with the river between them.

“This will, I think, force Sherman to move on us or to move south,” wrote Hood to Richmond. “Should he move towards Augusta [south], all available troops should be sent there with an able officer of high rank to command. Could General Lee spare a division for that place in such an event?”

In the meanwhile, Hood divided his army. It was the only way to effect any real damage to the lines. The corps under General A.P. Stewart was ordered to take Big Shanty, and if possible Ackworth, “and to destroy as great a portion of the railroad in the vicinity as possible.” Stewart was also instructed to send a division to Allatoona.”

Stewart arrived near Big Shanty in the afternoon of this date. He formed a brigade in line of battle and advanced upon the village. “The small force of the enemy took refuge in the depot,” he wrote in his report, “which was loop-holed. After the exchange of a few shots and a small loss in killed and wounded they surrendered – some 100 or more.”

Water tanks at Big Shanty. By Waud.
Water tanks at Big Shanty. By Waud.

Then, as instructed, Stewart sent a division under William Wing Loring to Ackworth, which would fall the next day. Still another brigade took the village of Moon’s Station between Big Shanty and Ackworth, “and by 3pm of the 4th the railroad was effectually torn up, the ties burned, and rails bent for a distance of ten or twelve miles. This work, the capture of some 600 prisoners, and a few killed and wounded, was effected with a loss of not more than 12 or 15, mostly wounded.”

This was exactly what Davis had expected of Hood. And there was more to come. Word had it that in Allatoona, just up the tracks from Ackworth, were large Federal stores guarded by only a handful of regiments. The day following, he would unleash General Samuel French to destroy them.

General Sherman was hardly blind to this. On October 1st, he put it all together. “Hood is evidently across the Chattahoochee, below Sweetwater,” he wrote to General Grant in Virginia. “If he tries to get on our road, this side of the Etowah, I shall attack him; but if he goes to the Selma & Talladega road, why will it not do to leave Tennessee to the forces which Thomas has, and the reserves soon to come to Nashville, and for me to destroy Atlanta and march across Georgia to Savannah or Charleston, breaking roads and doing irreparable damage? We cannot remain on the defensive.”

It was obvious which path Sherman wanted Hood to take – the unfinished railroad leading to Selma, Alabama via Talladega. This would not only give Hood a clear shot at Tennessee, but would free Sherman up to destroy whatever he wanted to.

Atlanta before the burning.
Atlanta before the burning.

But by this date, Sherman understood Hood’s path, “that he would strike our railroad nearer us” in the Kingston or Marietta area. He immediately ordered the Twentieth Corps, commanded by Henry Slocum, to hold Atlanta and the main bridge north of Atlanta across the Chattahoochee, while the rest of his army reacted to Hood.

All through the night of the 3rd and day of the 4th, streams of blue flowed north out of Atlanta, crossing the river and bivouacking near by. Come dawn, both armies would be on the move.1

  1. Sources: Official Records, Series 1, Vol. 39, Part 1, p812, 813; Part 3, p782; Memoirs by William Tecumseh Sherman; Advance and Retreat by John Bell Hood; Military Reminiscences by Jacob Cox; Nothing But Victory by Steven E. Woodworth; The Chessboard of War by Anne J. Bailey; Autumn of Glory by Thomas Lawrence Connelly. []
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