The Civil War: The Mississippi river



On May 1, 1864, General Sherman was at Chattanooga with an army of nearly one hundred thousand men. General Johnston, who had succeeded Bragg, opposed him with an army of about seventy-five thousand men. Sherman's advance began on the 6th of May. His army was stationed at some distance in front of Chattanooga, while Johnston's army was massed at Dalton, a strong defensive position. The first collision took place at Resaca, to the south of Dalton, which latter place Johnston had abandoned on finding himself outflanked. Howard occupied Dalton, and pressed him in his retreat. At Resaca a severe battle occurred, in which Sherman lost over four thousand men. He succeeded, however, in turning the Confederate works, and Johnston was again forced to retreat. The pursuit and retreat continued across the Etowah River, which no attempt was made to defend. Johnston made his next stand in the Allatoona Pass, south of that stream. After some further fighting, Sherman succeeded in turning that position also, while Johnston retired to strong positions in the Kenesaw, Pine, and Lost Mountains, near Marietta. In a month's time Sherman had advanced nearly one hundred miles, and forced the enemy to desert four strong positions, with heavy loss.

On the 9th of June, Sherman advanced again. The position held by Johnston was a very strong one, but the line he occupied was too long for the strength of his army. From one extremity to the other it was twelve miles long. Sherman forced him to yield Lost and Pine Mountains, but the powerful post of Kenesaw was so strongly intrenched as to be nearly impregnable. The whole country, Sherman says, had become one vast fort, defended by fifty miles of trenches and batteries. For three weeks, during which operations around Kenesaw continued, the rain fell almost incessantly, yet despite this the army kept in high spirits, and gradually pushed forward, step by step. Sherman, finding that he must either assault the lines or turn the position, determined on the former. Two assaults were made, at different points, on June 27. Both failed, and three thousand men were killed, wounded, and missing. Little damage was done to the enemy.

The second alternative was then adopted. A movement to turn the position was begun on the night of July 2, and instantly Kenesaw was abandoned. Sherman's skirmishers were on the mountain-top by dawn of the next day. Johnston next formed a defensive line behind the Chattahoochee River, yet by the 9th Sherman had crossed the stream above him, when he at once retreated. Consternation now began to spread through the Confederacy. More than five miles of works of defence, of the most formidable kind, had been constructed, yet they were abandoned without a blow. Only eight miles distant lay the railroad-centre of Atlanta, with its magazines, stores, arsenals, workshops, and foundries, one of the most important posts in the Confederate States.

Sherman now rested until the 17th, to bring up stores and recruit his men. He marched again on that day, and on the same day Johnston, whose cautious policy had given offence to the Richmond authorities, was removed from his command and replaced by Hood. The latter at once began offensive operations, and severe battles were fought on the 20th and the 22d, in both of which the Confederates were repulsed. In the two conflicts the assailants lost about thirteen thousand men. The Union loss was less than half this number. A third battle took place on the 28th, in which Hood was again the assailant, and in which he was repulsed with a loss of five thousand men, Sherman's loss being less than six hundred. This attack had been made to check Sherman's flanking movements, which now continued with less opposition. He eventually raised the siege of Atlanta, and fell on Hood's line of communication, thoroughly destroying the railroad, and interposing his army between Hood and a large detachment which had been sent out under Hardee. This circumstance made necessary the abandonment of the city, which had been rendered untenable. It was deserted during the night of September 1, and fell into Sherman's hands. In this series of operations the Union losses had been about thirty thousand, those of the Confederates about forty-two thousand. Hood destroyed all the valuable railroad and other war material in the city before leaving it. Sherman, finding it inadvisable to hold the city, felt it necessary as a war-measure to render it useless to the Confederates. Accordingly, everything in the place was burned except the churches and dwelling-houses.

Hood now marched against Sherman's line of communication, hoping, by the destruction of the railroad over which the Union supplies were drawn, to force his antagonist to retreat. He was pursued for some distance, but Sherman soon desisted from pursuit, having decided upon another plan of operations. General Thomas had been sent to Nashville, to guard the State of Tennessee against Confederate aggression. Sherman now sent the Fourth and Twenty-Third Corps, numbering twenty-three thousand men, to reinforce him, retaining about sixty-five thousand men for the bold enterprise which he had projected, that of cutting loose from lines of communication, and marching across Georgia, from Atlanta to the ocean. Before describing this march, the final important event of the war in the Western States may be briefly reviewed.

Instead of following Sherman, Hood continued to march northward, and forced a crossing of the Tennessee River near Florence. He had with him about thirty thousand infantry and ten thousand cavalry. The corps under Schofield and Stanley, which Sherman had sent to reinforce Thomas, faced Hood at Florence, but gradually retired as he advanced, obstructing his march. No important collision took place until the two armies reached Franklin, on the Harpeth River, eighteen miles south of Nashville. Schofield delayed here to pass his wagon-trains over the river, and before he could follow with the troops Hood was upon him. His position was perilous. Of his seventeen thousand men a portion had crossed, and he had but ten thousand available to meet Hood. If defeated, with the river in his rear, destruction was imminent.

Schofield bravely held his ground, however, repulsing four successive attacks with severe loss to the enemy. Hood lost about six thousand men, Schofield but two thousand three hundred. During the night the river was crossed, and a rapid march made to Nashville, in which city the whole army was concentrated on the 1st of December. Thomas had covered the place with a line of strong fortifications, while his army was gradually strengthened till it amounted to more than fifty-six thousand troops. Hood approached Nashville on December 2, and established his line in front of that of Thomas. In this position both armies lay till the 15th of the month, busily preparing for battle. In the mean time great impatience was felt in the North at the seeming procrastination of Thomas. Grant constantly urged him to decisive action, but without effect. Nothing would stir him until he was ready to move. The idea was entertained of replacing him with some more active soldier, and Grant, impatient at the delay, left City Point on a hasty journey to Nashville. He got no further than Washington. On reaching there he received news which satisfied him that Thomas had best be left alone. The cautious soldier had moved, and Hood's army had almost ceased to exist.

On the 15th of December, a morning of fog and gloom, the Union army marched out of its intrenchments, and fell, with the force of a surprise, on Hood's lines. A severe battle followed, in which Hood's army was driven back at every point, with severe loss, and forced to take up a new line of defence. At dawn of the next day the battle recommenced, the Confederates being assailed with such impetuosity that their line was broken in a dozen places and driven back in utter rout. All their artillery, and thousands of prisoners, were taken, while their losses in killed and wounded were much greater than those of the Union forces. The pursuit of the flying army was pushed with the greatest energy and success, prisoners being captured at every point, and the lately disciplined force reduced to a terror-stricken mob. The rear-guard of cavalry and infantry under Forrest bravely covered the flying army, but the pursuit was pushed day and night until the remaining fugitives had made their way across the Tennessee, when Thomas recalled his troops. There was no longer occasion for pursuit. Hood's army had ceased to exist as an army. Over thirteen thousand prisoners had been taken. Over two thousand deserters were received. Many fled to their homes. The loss in killed and wounded had been enormous. Seventy-two pieces of artillery, and vast quantities of other war-material, were captured. The army was annihilated, with a loss to Thomas in all of about ten thousand killed, wounded, and missing. This terrible stroke ended the war in the Mississippi Valley. No organized army appeared again in the field.





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