Next Move Will Be Battle – Johnston Considers His Defenses

May 1, 1864 (Sunday)

William Tecumseh Sherman’s forces were gathering, concentrating upon Chattanooga, Tennessee. In short order, nearly 110,000 men would be poised to ascend upon Dalton, Georgia, where Joseph Johnston’s Confederate Army of Tennessee had established their defenses.

Joe Johnston will just have to make do with what he's got.
Joe Johnston will just have to make do with what he’s got.

Against the Yankee multitudes, Johnston could array no more than 40,000 in seven divisions of infantry spread across two corps. The first, under William Hardee, was comrpised of four, while John Bell Hood’s Corps held three. Prior to the month of March, the Army of Tennessee had no formal training in marksmanship. Since then, however, Johnston saw to it that it was folded into the regular drill. By and large, however, the men were veterans. Embarrassingly few new volunteers had come forward over the winter months to join the ranks of the Rebellion.

Johnston also commanded three divisions of cavalry numbering 8,500, all told, and immediately under Joseph Wheeler. A difficult winter, however, saw that but 2,400 were equipped and ready to take the field. Horses were in very short supply, as were weapons. For those who did bear arms, there was a mystifying array of makes and calibers, promising it impossible to bring any sort of uniformity to the branch.

The artillery stood better, and could bring to the field a surprising 114 guns – quite an array for such a small army. But compared to the Federal guns, Johnston’s were of shorter range and much less efficient. Powder, as well, was inferior, and served to give the Rebels a multitude of misfires.

Along with the volunteers and conscripts strode an immense number of slaves, who acted as pioneers, cooks, and body servants, performing tasks deemed below that of their white counterparts. This was the practice in every Confederate army, none of which would be able to function without them.

The state of his army did nothing to quell General Johnston’s fears. And neither did the reports coming in from Wheeler’s cavalry, and he wired Richmond for reinforcements. “Our scouts report re-enforcements to the enemy continually arrive,” wrote Johnston on this date, “and preparations to advance, including repair of railroad from Cleveland to Red Clay.” Upon the reception of the news, Johnston ordered Wheeler “to try to ascertain the truth of the reported actively and movements of trains from Chattanooga to Ringgold.”

But three lines of ridges protected Johnston’s army at Dalton, and across all three Sherman’s army had to march. The ridges provided a great barrier, but were arranged so that the Federals might bypass the Confederate positions, even severing their line of retreat. It was, if anything, dangerously precarious.

Today's approximate map shows the future positions of Federal troops (as described by Sherman on this date).
Today’s approximate map shows the future positions of Federal troops (as described by Sherman on this date).

For a time, Johnston may have even contemplated abandoning the position, retreating south toward Atlanta, but Richmond had forbidden it, fearing it would sap whatever remained of the morale of the troops. But Johnston had never pressed the issue, and so in Dalton he and his army remained.

To the north, at Chattanooga, General Sherman continued to ready his men, who were yet still arriving. Three Federal armies were converging and each had their place. The Army of the Cumblerland, helmed by George Thomas, was already on hand. It would march south along the railroad to Ringgold, approaching Dalton from the west. John Schofield’s Army of the Ohio, still en route from Knoxville, would be gathered east of Ringgold at Red Clay. From there, they would move upon Dalton from the north. Late in the arriving, James McPherson’s Army of the Tennessee would slide even farther south to Villanow. Their objective would be Resacca and Johnston’s lines of communication to Atlanta.

“Next move will be battle,” wrote Sherman to General Grant, vowing to move to action in four days.1

  1. Sources: Official Records, Series 1, Vol. 38, Part 3, p3, 5, 655-656, 676; Decision in the West by Albert Castel; Autumn of Glory by Thomas Lawrence Connelly; The Army of Tennessee by Stanley F. Horn. []
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Next Move Will Be Battle – Johnston Considers His Defenses by CW DG is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 4.0 International


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