Catching Up with Sherman

August 26, 1864 (Friday)

"Gentlemen, I intend to place this army southwest of Atlanta!"
“Gentlemen, I intend to place this army southwest of Atlanta!”

Though he had dispatched much of his cavalry to destroy the Confederate lines of supply into Atlanta, they had failed him. Returning to camp on August 22nd, Judson Kilpatrick told William Sherman that he had destroyed at least three miles of track, which he reasoned would take ten days to repair. It was hoped that in those ten days, John Bell Hood’s Rebels, faced with the prospect of starvation, would abandon the city.

But the very next, Sherman saw for himself that Southern ingenuity had won out and train upon train chuffed north into Atlanta. “I became more than ever convinced that cavalry could not or would not work hard enough to disable a railroad property,” wrote Sherman in his memoirs.

The next day, it began. Sherman reported to Washington that his artillery bombardment had sent the city ablaze. “I will be all ready, and will commence the movement around Atlanta by the south, tomorrow night, and for some time you will hear little of us.”

His plan was to leave the Twentieth Corps behind to hold the railroad bridge across the Chattahoochee River, and the move with the rest of his force around Atlanta to cut off the Rebel supply lines.

Two railroads ran south out of Atlanta, both diverging soon after they made their egress, at East Point. One ran to Montgomery, Alabama, and the other to Macon, Georgia. By this time, the Rebel lines ran from Atlanta to Eastpoint. They were strong and deemed by Sherman to be unbreakable in a frontal assault. Since he could not strike with success between East Point and Atlanta, where the two lines shared the same right-of-way, he had to hold both somewhere south of East Point.

He decided that he must strike for Jonesboro on the line running toward Macon. But to accomplish this, his army would disengage from the entrenchments around the northern circumference of Atlanta, swinging to the west before dropping south, where they would then circle east, consuming the line to Montgomery before falling upon the line to Macon at Jonesboro.

Apologies for the incredibly inaccurate map.
Apologies for the incredibly inaccurate map.

Sherman’s host consisted of seven corps divided into three armies: the Cumberland, the Tennessee, and the Ohio. With the Army of the Cumberland’s Twentieth Corps left behind, the remaining six were to advance. On the 25th, the entire Army of the Cumberland pulled back from their works north of the city, while their places were taken over by dismounted cavalry, lest the Confederates notice that their neighbors had left them. And then the balance of the Army of the Cumberland moved south toward Camp Creek, southwest of the city.

And then, on this date, the Army of Tennessee began their move. They had been, since late July, occupying ground west of the city at Ezra Church. But they were not as fortunate as the men from the Army of the Cumberland.

“The enemy seemed aware of our withdrawing during its progress,” wrote Oliver Otis Howard, now commanding the army, “and opened on us with artillery and considerable skirmish-firing, but, providentially, we had but one casualty, one poor fellow losing his leg by a round shot.”

Taking parallel routes, Howard wound his army to the west and then south, making his way by dawn to Camp Creek, falling in on the right flank of the Army of the Cumberland. Come dawn, the armies would be on the move once more.1

  1. Sources: Official Records, Series 1, Vol. 38, Part 1, p80; Part 3, p43; Memoirs by William Tecumseh Sherman; Nothing But Victory by Steven E. Woodworth; Decision in the West by Albert Castel. []


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