‘If You Want It, Come And Take It’ – Federals in Resaca Refuse to Surrender

October 12, 1864 (Wednesday)

The news coming to Col. Clark Wever on the morning of this date wasn’t good, but neither was it especially unexpected. Rumors that the vanguard of John Bell Hood’s was marching upon Resaca, which he was defending with a few regiments, had been swirling in the air for days.

Wever: Taking no prisoners? Just try your luck, John.
Wever: Taking no prisoners? Just try your luck, John.

The night previous, he had dispatched a reconnaissance party west toward John’s Mountain to see if they might be able to learn the truth of the Confederates’ movement. After seeing with their own eyes, they reported back that the enemy was coming in force.

Not long after, the telegraph lines and railroad running north toward Tilton and Dalton were severed. Immediately, he called for reinforcements, but the paths taken by the messengers were already blocked.

Since he knew from whence the Rebels were marching, he sent a company as skirmishers out the road leading west from town, and before long, they were exchanging shots and falling back to the picket lines along Sugar Creek. Along this creek, they made a small sort of stand, bolstered by another company.

“The firing became quite brisk at this time,” wrote Wever in his report, “and deeming it prudent to keep the enemy beyond the creek as long as possible, I sent Lieutenant Colonel J.P. Hall with four additional companies of his regiment (Fifty-sixth Illinois), instructing him to skirmish with and, if possible, develope the strength of the enemy.”

And so before the coming Rebels stood roughly half a regiment of men and a small creek. This bought Wever some time, but to what end, he was not sure. Before long, the Confederates unlimbered a battery, but before it could speak, Wever replied with one of his own, though the distance was too great for either to do any damage. But when a column of Southern infantry appeared along the railroad about a mile north of town, the guns turned in that direction.

Somehow or another, this skirmishing lasted hours. “The firing was brisk,” Wever continued, “and at times quite heavy, increasing continually until 4:30pm, when Colonel Hall informed me that a flag of truce was approaching.”

Today's very approximate map.
Today’s very approximate map.

Wever knew that it was infantry before him, but was probably unsure who might be in command. This was cleared up when a message came through the lines.

Sir: I demand an immediate and unconditional surrender of the post and garrison under your command, and should this be acceded to, all white officers and soldiers will be paroled within a few days. If the place is carried by assault no prisoners will be taken.

Most respectfully, your obedient servant,

J.B. Hood, General.

Though he knew little about the force before him, Wever replied:

General J.B. Hood:

Your communication of this date just received. In reply I have to state that I am somewhat surprised at the concluding paragraph, to the effect that “If this place is carried by assault no prisoners will be taken.” In my opinion I can hold this post; if you want it come and take it.

I am, general, very respectfully, your most obedient servant,

Clark R. Wever, Commanding Officer.

The Confederate force before Col. Wever was not actually under the immediate command of John Bell Hood. It was helmed by S.D. Lee, who was carrying a general order to surrender signed by Hood.

Lee had been directed by Hood to move upon Resaca, as Hood recalled in his Memoirs, “with instructions to display his forces and demand the surender of the garrison, but not to attack, unless, in his judgement, the capture could be effected with small loss of life.”

According to Col. Wever, with the order to surrender refused, “the fight was resumed.” Directly after it once more started up, 500 cavalrymen from Calhoune, a small outpost to the south, arrived, bringing Wever’s total to 1,200.

This might have been enough to convince S.D. Lee to beg off. “The commanding officer refused to surrender,” wrote Lee in his report, “as he could have easily escaped from teh forts with his forces, and crossed the Oostenaula rive; I did not deem it prudent to assault the works, which were strong and well manned, believing that our loss would have been severe.”

Resaca as drawn by some Waud or another.
Resaca as drawn by some Waud or another.

So what had been the purpose of appearing before Resaca at all? Though they had no plans to attack, their appearance concentrated and then pinned down the Federals inside the town, leaving the railroad to the north wide open. This they fell upon with all fury, and before dusk it was aflame.

This conflagration meant little to William Tecumseh Sherman. He had all plans to abandon Hood so that his own Union forces might rage across Georgia to the sea. One thing that he was ordered by General Grant to do before leaving was destroy the railroad. Hood was essentially doing him a favor, though perhaps a week or so earlier than Sherman had wished.

Still, Hood was moving north at an alarming speed. He next set his mind upon the railroad running through Mill Creek Gap, just south of Tunnel Hill. And as with the railroad around Resaca, he needed to immobilize whatever force was in Dalton.

This force was the 44th United States Colored Troops, commanded by Lewis Johnson, who was watching with great intrepidation the events to his south.

“My scouts report rebel force at Villanow and this side,” went one message, “report rebels intend to attack here in the morning or during the night.” In another, he had learned that “the rebels have attacked Resaca, and that they are fighting there now.” He requested “75,000 elongated ball cartridges, caliber .57, as soon as possible.”

While Hood continued north, Sherman remained with most of his army in Rome. The next day, he planned to send not a soldier north of the river, save for those already above. Even no this late date, he had no true idea that Hood had gone north. To discover the truth, he dispatched Jacob Cox’s Twenty-Third Corps from the Army of the Ohio to the crossing used by Hood at Coosaville. Sherman would not fight out until the following morning that Hood had appeared before Resaca, thirty miles northeast of his army and his headquarters in Rome.1

  1. Sources: Official Records, Series 1, Vol. 39, Part 1, p753, 801-802, 807, 810-811; Advance and Retreat by John Bell Hood; Memoirs by William Tecumseh Sherman; Military Remembrances by Jacob Cox; The Confederacy’s Last Hurrah by Wiley Sword. []
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‘If You Want It, Come And Take It’ – Federals in Resaca Refuse to Surrender by CW DG is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 4.0 International


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