February 21, 1864 (Sunday)
“Do your troops move tomorrow,” Grant asked him knowingly. “It is important that at least a demonstration be made at once.”
General Grant had been trying to push George Thomas, commanding the Union Army of the Cumberland at Chattanooga into making a demonstration against Joe Johnston’s Confederates at Dalton, Georgia. The reasoning was simple – he wanted Johnston occupied so that he could not sent reinforcements to any of the Rebels armies operating in the West.
He had asked several times before, but was met with dodges and excuses. This time, however, Thomas replied with some brighter news. “The troops will move to-morrow morning by daylight.” As he had disclosed before, Thomas, stricken with what was diagnosed as neuralgia, would not himself be leading the expedition. This would fall upon General John Palmer, a political general who had, at the start of the war, been selected by President Lincoln to delegate the peace convention in the capital.
Palmer had been in the West for all the war, serving first in Missouri under John Fremont, and in Tennessee under William Rosecrans. Most recently, he had proven himself on the battlefields of Chickamauga and Missionary Ridge, helming the Fourteenth Corps in the Army of the Cumberland.
General Thomas had been tasked by Grant to, if possible, gain possession of Dalton, thirty miles to the south. He would bring with him two division from his own corps, to march forth from Chattanooga on the 22nd. He would be joined by a division from the Fourth Corps, marching from Cleveland, thirty miles east of Chattanooga. They were to meet near Dalton.
The Fourth Corps division was commanded by General Charles Cruft, who had been a lawyer and newspaper editor before the war. Though he had no military training, he had heart. After witnessing the First Battle of Bull Run as one of the picnicking civilians, Crust returned to his home in Indiana to raise himself a regiment. Like Palmer, he had served in the West since the beginning, commanding a regiment, then a brigade, until now when he headed a division.
For the march on the following day, General Palmer had selected Ringgold as his destination. It was a march of, perhaps, fifteen miles, but would give him a good idea of Johnston’s placement of pickets and scouts. Cruft, who was ordered to “go light; three days,” was also told to be at Red Clay the following night. Between Red Clay and Ringgold were a series of small ridges which would separate Palmer and Cruft, though the latter was to keep in contact by courier with the former, who would have to use fifteen miles of various roads to ride from one place to the other.
Before the march even began, there cropped up organizational problems. While General Thomas gave orders to Palmer, he did not do the same for Cruft, apparently figuring that Palmer would handle that. “I had supposed,” wrote Palmer, “that you had received detailed orders for your movements tomorrow.” After explaining that he was to be in Red Clay and then scout south along the railroad for another ten miles, he admitted that he wasn’t able to give more details.
“From the lateness of the evening at which I received my own orders,” continued Palmer, “I am not able to give precise directions for further operations, but can only suggest that I hope everything will be done to make the reconnaissance effective.” This did not sound promising. Still, by the hour to march, all was decided for the following day. Anything further could be deduced while on the road.1
- Sources: Official Records, Series 1, Vol. 32, Part 1, p9, 423; Part 2, p442, 443-444; Days of Glory by Larry J. Daniel. [↩]