Johnston and Sherman Slide East

June 4, 1864 (Saturday)

“Today the enemy is moving his forces from his right to his left,” wrote Confederate General Joe Johnston on the 1st. “We are making a corresponding movement to our right.”

Lovell: Trust me, Joe, Sherman's army is almost spent!
Lovell: Trust me, Joe, Sherman’s army is almost spent!

When last we left the Western theater, William Tecumseh Sherman was trying to re-establish his link with the railroad east of Dallas, Georgia. As Johnston noticed, Sherman was making such moves on the 1st. James McPherson’s Army of the Tennessee, one of Sherman’s three armies, had been pulled back from their embattlements on the Federal right to another line about a mile distant. This was only technically to the Confederate right, but Johnston guessed Sherman’s mind and knew of the Federal cavalry scouting toward the railroad.

The following two days were one of deluge, and neither side did more than skirmish and watch their respective foes. Though the findings of General Mansfield Lovell, Johnston believed that Sherman’s armies had suffered greatly since leaving Chattanooga. Combining battlefield losses and sick leave, Lovell estimated that 45,000 were no longer wearing the blue.

And so Johnston concluded that he was actually winning a war of attrition. The longer he held on, the more Sherman’s armies would melt away. Also, the more the Confederates fell back, the longer the Federal line of supply would grow. In truth, Sherman had lose no where near 45,000 men, falling closer to 10,000 by this time. The supply lines, however, were an issue that Sherman was on this day trying to correct.

Sherman had been slowly shifting units in the direction of the railroad. On the 2nd, he drew back John Schofield’s Army of the Ohio, sending it up the road to Allatoona. There, they met strong Confederate resistance, including artillery. Schofield called upon Dan Butterfield, requesting reinforcements, but Butterfield refused. It was good that he did, as Johnston had followed Schofield’s movements with three divisions. If the Federals would have attacked, they would have been mauled, Butterfield and all.

Sherman: That's right Joe. All washed up. ... Joe? ... Joe? You still there?
Sherman: That’s right Joe. All washed up. … Joe? … Joe? You still there?

This movement convinced Johnston that Sherman was attempting to turn his right. This was untrue, but understandable. On the night of the 3rd, Johnston issued orders to fall back ten miles to a line running between Lost Mountain and the railroad, with Kennesaw Mountain and Marietta to their backs.

Sherman, who was also planning on this day for such a move, thought much of his adversary. “Joe Johnston is shrewd enough to see that we have begun such a movement, and will prepare the way,” wrote Sherman to George Thomas, commanding the Army of the Cumberland. Instead, Johnston’s entire force vacates its entrenchments. The Federals were heedless, and noticed nothing in the dark and rainy night.

Both armies marched east, cutting roads where they had to and fording streams flooded with days of rain. By the morning of the 5th, the Confederate movement was nearly complete. Sherman’s, however, was sporadic, with James McPherson’s army left behind to deceive the Rebels who were no longer watching. This, Sherman would not uncover for two more days. There would be regrouping and reinforcement, but when they were again ready, his eyes would be cast upon Marietta.1

Approximate Map showing positions as they would wind up on June 6.
Approximate Map showing positions as they would wind up on June 6.

  1. Sources: Official Records, Series 1, Vol. 38, Part 4, p401, 752-753; Decision in the West by Albert Castel; Autumn of Glory by Thomas Lawrence Connelly; The Army of Tennessee by Stanley Horn; Joseph E. Johnston by Craig L. Symonds. []
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Johnston and Sherman Slide East by CW DG is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 4.0 International


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