October 15, 1864 (Saturday)
With a now more positive idea where John Bell Hood’s Confederates were marching, William Tecumseh Sherman sent his men north from Rome. Hood had attacked Resaca and captured Dalton and to those towns, he pointed the troops in that direction.
Sherman had arrived in Resaca on the day previous and was determined to his Hood in the flank. To try and force Hood’s hand, Sherman made several moves. Starting from Resaca, the Army of Tennessee, consisting of three corps commanded by Olive Otis Howard, was to march west over the Chattanooga Mountains via Snake Creek Gap, “approaching carefully and holding his column ready to pass through when relieved by General Stanley’s movement.”
General David Stanley, commanding part of the Army of the Cumberland (basically two corps), was to cross over the mountains two miles north of Snake Creek Gap “somewhere south of Tilton,” as Sherman’s orders went, “and if possible find a way across into he valley beyond toward Villanow.”
Just how they were supposed to relieve Howard’s Army of the Tennessee was unstated, but there was Jacob Cox’s corps-sized Army of the Ohio marching right behind Howard.
In the meanwhile, Hood’s Rebels had retired to “a beautiful valley about nine miles south of Lafayette,” wrote Hood in his memoirs. Learning that Sherman was fast approaching, Hood dispatched Joe Wheeler’s Cavalry to Snake Creek Gap to slow them down. But now Hood had a decision to make, though he would wait a day before deciding.
And while he did, Howard pressed on. “The Army of the Tennessee simply pressed the enemy’s front with a skirmish line, waiting for his position to be turned by Stanley,” who was off on Howard’s right. But Stanley didn’t even have to show up. “The enemy’s force,” continued Howard in his report, “was so small that a simple threat upon his right flank as if to turn it caused him to abandon the position and run over the ridge and through the gap.”
Howard’s pursuit was slowed by the five miles of trees felled by the Rebels in their wake. “The infantry did not cease its march a moment,” wrote Howard, “going over the trunks of the trees and through the bushes, pushing forward as rapidly as possible, while general and staff officers , with dismounted orderlies and detachments of pioneers, as far as they came up went to work vigorously to clear away the obstructions for the artillery and wagons. Smaller trees were throw out bodily, the larger ones cut and cleared away with great rapidity, so that the pass was rendered practicable, and the head of the wagon train reached the western opening by 7pm.”
Though the troops halted for the night, Sherman was determined to press forward to Villanow and Ships Gap the next morning.1
- Sources: Official Records, Series 1, Vol. 39, Part 1, p582, 732; Part 3, p268, 285. [↩]