September 6, 1864 (Tuesday)
“The enemy withdrew from my front in the direction of Jonesborough last night,” wrote John Bell Hood to Braxton Bragg in Richmond. But this was only true in a very literal sense. Following Hood’s retreat from Atlanta, Sherman’s forces gave chase, though slightly. It was not long before he ordered a slow but steady withdrawal to the confines of the city.
Since then, he had ordered the Army of the Cumberland to Atlanta proper, while the Army of Tennessee was to hold the railroad junction of East Point, south of the city. The Army of the Ohio was to garrison Decatur. The campaign was at an end and Sherman saw little need to continue on without rest and refitting.
General Hood, however, knew nothing of Sherman’s mind. “Sherman continues his retreat beyond Jonesborough,” he wrote to Secretary of War James Seddon. But again, that wasn’t quite the truth.
Hood also composed two letters addressed to Jefferson Davis. The first relayed the news that Sherman’s troops had withdrawn, and by now he figured that they would occupy Atlanta, East Point and Decatur. While Sherman needed to prepare for another campaign, Hood was also looking forward.
“I am making, and shall still make, every possible effort to gather the absentees of this army,” he wrote. “Shoes and clothing are much needed.” Hood vowed to “interrupt as much as possible the communications of the enemy,” and hoped that Richard Taylor’s Arkansas troops could soon join his own. “I would be glad if yourself or General Bragg would visit the army.”
His second letter was less full of platitudes and one more of logistics. He would do what he could to keep the Union cavalry from operating south of Atlanta, just as he would try to play upon their lines of supply to the north.
“I deem it important that the prisoners at Andersonville should be so disposed of as not to prevent this army from moving in any direction it may be thought best,” Hood continued. As many as 40,000 Federal soldiers were held at Andersonville prison, 130 miles south. He feared that if he left the place uncovered that Sherman’s troopers would storm the camp and free a literal Union army. He had proposed before that the entire camp be moved and seemed to expect it to be done as soon as possible.
“According to all human calculations we should have saved Atlanta had the officers and men of the army done what was expected of them. It has been God’s will for it to be otherwise. I am of good heart and feel that we shall yet succeed. The army is much in need of a little rest.”
But looking ahead, Hood went on. “After removing the prisoners from Andersonville, I think we should, as soon as practicable, place our army upon the communications of the enemy, drawing our supplies from the West Point and Montgomery Railroad. Looking to this, I shall at once proceed to strongly fortify Macon.”
At this point, Hood planned to drop farther south to Macon, eighty miles southeast of Atlanta. But this was only to refit his command. Once ready, he was prepared to march north. Perhaps this would pry Sherman from Georgia and even throw him back to Chattanooga.
“Please do not fail to give me advice at all times,” Hood concluded. “It is my desire to do the best for you and my country. May God be with you and us.”1
- Sources: Official Records, Series 1, Vol. 38, Part 5, p1023-1024; Nothing But Victory by Steven E. Woodworth. [↩]