August 27, 1864 (Saturday)
Just as General Sherman had unleashed his cavalry against to railroads south of Atlanta, John Bell Hood, commanding the Rebels nearly besieged in the city, did the same. When the Federal cavalry returned, they did so with tales of their destruction and promises that nothing would move along the line for ten days. Likewise, when Joe Wheeler’s Confederate riders returned to Hood, they arrived with tidings of wreckage and bridges burned. But it was not so. Neither side’s cavalry could do much damage against their enemies’ lines of supply.
In Sherman’s case, he witnessed the inaccuracy the day after, and seeing the steam of the locomotives plumed to the south, he knew that he had to move with infantry. But Hood had no such evidence, and took Wheeler at his word, and possibly even believed the Yankees to be in retreat. But it was not so.
For the better part of two days, Sherman’s Federals had been snaking to the west and then south of the city. It would take time for him to understand this, but time was something in short supply.
On the morning of the 26th, Hood noted that Sherman’s troops had abandoned the railroad running east out of town, and that they were moving or had moved to the railroad running southwest. They had moved, but as was reported to A.P. Stewart, commanding a corps in Hood’s Army of Tennessee, “thus far their whereabouts [have] not been ascertained.”
The day was spent by the Confederate cavalry probing east and north toward Peach Tree Creek to see what might be found. “General Hood desires you to direct Armstrong to press forward his cavalry in on the enemy’s right,” came one of the early orders, “to ascertain what is going on. Enemy has given up his works on our right.”
Come the dawn of this day, Hood seemed almost hopeful.
“Last night the enemy continued to change their position by their left and center. They have drawn back so that their left is now on the Chattahoochee at the railroad bridge; their right is unchanged, and they appear to be moving troops in that direction. They have no troops nearer than four miles of Atlanta.”
By the late morning, Hood was “of the opinion that the enemy has taken up a new line.” He ordered S.D. Lee, commanding another corps, to dispatch an engineer to “make a thorough reconnaissance of the enemy’s lines.”
Come the meridian, the scouts understood that the Union right now rested on Camp Creek southwest of the city. “They are constructing works rapidly,” came one message. And toward evening, Sherman’s advance – his right – began to shell the Rebel skirmishers in their front.
It was becoming clear to Hood that Sherman’s target might be East Point, the rail junction south of the city. If this fell, then both southward-running lines would be cut. His supplies would but severed.
William Hardee’s Corps was dispatched to reinforce the scant array of troops already guarding the point, even reinforcing him with another brigade as need dictated. But though Hood could perceive Sherman’s current movements, he could not foretell his next.
Was East Point truly his target? If it was successfully defended, would Sherman beg off or would he instead move south to the town of Rough and Ready, severing each line in turn? Or might it be Jonesboro, even farther south? If Hood essentially evacuated Atlanta in order to defend Sherman’s southerly reach, might not the Federal corps remaining to the north descend upon the city, catching it nearly defenseless?
Soon all of Hood’s indecision would necessarily dissipate.1
- Sources: Official Records, Series 1, Vol. 38, Part 5, p991-997; Autumn of Glory by Thomas Lawrence Connelly; Decision in the West by Albert Castel. [↩]