July 13, 1864 (Wednesday)
William Tecumseh Sherman had succeeded in turning the left flank of Joe Johnston’s Confederate Army of Tennessee. The Rebels had been secure in the defenses of their Kennesaw line, but Sherman’s numbers allowed him to slip around the left. In response to this, Johnston retreated across the Chattahoochie River, losing track of Sherman’s forces. This was important, since now Johnston had no way of knowing which crossings Sherman might use.
Taking advantage of this, Sherman sent a column of cavalry around the Confederate right to destroy the factories at Roswell, up the Chattahoochie River from Marrieta, directly in the Confederate rear. They were soon joined by infantry – James McPherson’s Army of the Tennessee.
With his two other armies, the Army of the Ohio, helmed by James Schofield, and George Thomas’ Army of the Cumberland, Sherman held two other crossings nearby – all three now on the Confederate right. The very next day, the 10th, Johnston abandoned yet another position, that along the river, burning his bridges behind him. Sherman’s armies were now, in Sherman’s words the “undisputed masters of north and west of the Chattahoochee.”
This was cerainly worthy of laurels, but there was Atlanta before them, “and it was too important a place in the hands of the enemy to be left undisturbed, with its magazines, stores, arsenals, workshops, founderies, &c., and more especially its railroads, which converged there from the four great cardinal points.”
Sherman did not have an easy go at it since leaving Chattanooga two months prior. The strain had exhausted his men, and they needed a rest, “and accordingly we took a short spell.” But it was during this short spell when he made his final plans.
The rest was, of course, not for all of this men. General George Stoneman’s cavalry were sent downriver on the 10th with orders to destroy the Atlanta & West Point Railroad near Newman. This would cut off Johnston’s supply line to Montgomery, Alabama. Sherman decided to wait until Stoneman returned to cross the Chattahoochee.
Johnston, however, was planning ahead. On the 11th, he sent a message to Richmond, strongly suggesting that the prisoners in Andersonville, 100 mile south of Atlanta, be moved “immediately.” This made it clear to President Davis that Johnston had no hope of holding Atlanta. As a reply, Davis washed his hands and told Johnston that the decision was his on what to do with Andersonville.
Davis turned to General Lee the next day, asking him who he would place in command of the Army of Tennessee, and suggesting John Bell Hood. Lee was troubled by the news. “It is a bad time to relieve the commander of an army situated as that of Tennessee.” Though he approved of Hood, he hardly saw it as ideal. “Hood is a bold figure,” he concluded. “I am doubtful as to the other qualities necessary.”
Later on the 12th, Lee rethought his criticism. The stakes were too high and who was left to command the army? If Atlanta was lost, Mississippi would be lost as well – what to speak of anything in the far west. “We had better therefore hazard that communication to retain the countyr. Hood is a good fighter, very industrious on the battlefield, careless off, and I have had no opportunity of judging his action, when the whole responsibility rested upon him. I have a very high opinion of his gallantry, earnestness and zeal.” But in closing, Lee left Davis another option: “General [William] Hardee has more experience in managing an army.”
Davis, now faced with a choice between Hood and Hardee decided to wait to heard from Braxton Bragg, who had left Richmond to visit Johnston and the Army of Tennessee. Bragg, now Davis’ military consultant, arrived in Atlanta on this date, and immediately word spread – even the Federals heard the rumors. It would take him two days to get around to visiting Johnston, but his first impressions were not good.
“Our army all south of the Chattahoochee,” wrote Bragg, “and indications seem to favor an entire evacuation of this place.” He later reported that the Federals had crossed two corps up river and cavalry downriver. “Our army is sadly depleted, and now reports 10,000 less than the return of 10th June. I find but little encouraging.”
This would place Johnston’s figures no higher than 60,000, and probably closer to 50,000. Sherman, reinforced almost constantly, hovered near twice that amount.1
- Sources: Official Records, Series 1, Vol. 38, Part 1, p70-71; Part 5, p877, 878; Braxton Bragg and Confederate Defeat, Vol. 2 by Judith Lee Hallock; Autumn of Glory by Thomas Lawrence Connelly; Decision in the West by Albert Castel. [↩]