Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Battle of Atlanta

John Bell Hood was not discouraged by his defeat in front of Atlanta at the Battle of Peachtree Creek. He soon had a new plan to throw back Sherman's advance. He sent Hardee's corps around the Union left flank, while Cheatham's corps hit the Union front and Wheeler's cavalry probed their supply line. This plan was put into effect on July 22, 150 years ago today. Hardee's march took longer than he expected and by the time he arrived on McPherson's flank, the Federals had realized the blow was coming and realigned their forces to meet it. Nevertheless, Hardee ordered his men forward and the battle began.

Confederate works
As the Confederate lines rolled forward, they did not achieve the surprise and breakthrough they hoped for. The Union soldiers stood firm, and Hardee's first charge was repulsed. The Confederates continued to press forward, and a fierce battle developed. Hardee and Cheatham were attacking the Federal forces at right angles to each other. There was much fighting over a place called Bald Hill, and both sides struggled, at times hand to hand, until darkness put an end to the fighting.

Fortifications around Atlanta
Hardee was able to make little progress, but Cheatham's men did score a breakthrough two miles up the line. Sam Watkins of the 1st Tennessee was sent in to follow up on this success:
The Yankee lines seemed routed. We followed in hot pursuit; but from their main line of entrenchment--which was diagonal to those that we had just captured, and also on which they had built forts and erected batteries - was their artillery, raking us fore and aft. We passed over a hill and down into a valley being under the muzzles of this rampart of death. We had been charging and running, and had stopped to catch our breath right under their reserve and main line of battle. … Our regiment … re-formed and the order was given to charge, and take their guns even at the point of the bayonet. We rushed forward up the steep hill sides, the seething fires from ten thousand muskets and small arms, and forty pieces of cannon hurled right into our very faces, scorching and burning our clothes, and hands, and faces from their rapid discharges, and piling the ground with our dead and wounded almost in heaps. It seemed that the hot flames of hell were turned loose in all their fury, while the demons of damnation were laughing in the flames, like seething serpents hissing out their rage. 
Cheatham's men had broken Logan's XV Corps, and as the rebels rushed forward twenty cannon were assembled near Sherman's headquarters to stop them. The shells from these guns, supported by Logan's rallied men, were able to stop the Confederate advance.

The battle ended around sunset with the Confederates yet again having failed to break through the Federal lines. Hardee's delayed march, and the hard Federal fighting, had frustrated Hood's plans. The Union lost over 3,600 men, including James McPherson, who was killed by advancing Confederate skirmishers. Hood lost around 5,500 men.

Sherman at Atlanta

Sunday, July 20, 2014

Battle of Peachtree Creek

After replacing Joseph Johnston at the head of the Army of Tennessee, it did not take John Bell Hood long to strike a blow. On July 19th he received news that the Union army was split in two, with Thomas' Army of the Cumberland heading directly for Atlanta, while the Army of the Ohio and the Army of the Tennessee moved to the east, heading towards the railroad supply lines. Hood planned to attack Thomas while he was crossing Peachtree Creek, thus neutralizing the superior numbers of the Yankees. This was a plan that Johnston had been developing before he was removed from command.

The Confederates attacked on July 20th, 150 years ago today. Hood committed two corps to the attack, Hardee's and Stewart's, while Cheatham's stood in place before the other Union army. The plan was to strike at 1 pm, but it took too long to keep the three corps aligned in position. The rebels finally attacked by 4 pm, but by that time Thomas had not long crossed the creek, but the men had thrown up significant defensive works. Hardee's attack was badly executed and repulsed by the Federals without much danger. Stewart's blow struck harder. In his attack two Federal brigades were driven back, and nearly an entire regiment captured. But Thomas' men counterattacked, and with the help of their artillery stopped the Confederate advance. Before Hardee could throw in his reserve he received an order from Hood to send them to reinforce Cheatham, and thus the battle ended for the day. About 1,900 Federals and 2,500 Confederates fell. 
Graves after the battle

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Joseph Johnston Removed from Command

One of the longest lasting Confederate generals in the American Civil War was Joseph E. Johnston. He was in command at Manassas, the first great battle of the war, and at the Bennett Place, the largest surrender of Confederate troops at the end of the war. He did not, however, have a good relationship with President Jefferson Davis. It was 150 years ago today that Davis removed him from command, frustrated with his defensive strategy in the face of Sherman's advance southward towards Atlanta.

For months Sherman and Johnston had maneuvered. Johnston took up strong defensive positions, trying to lure Sherman into wrecking his army against them. Time and again the Federals frustrated his plans by simply outflanking the Confederate line, and forcing Johnston to order a retreat. In this way, time after time, Johnston retreated through northern Georgia until he was at the gates of Atlanta. Sherman had attacked him once, at Kennesaw Mountain, and had received a serious bloodying from it. But the Federal general just returned back to his old outflanking ways. Johnston's plan was simply not working.

Jefferson Davis had long wished to relieve Johnston of command, but he did not have a good replacement for him. Finally he decided to replace him with John Bell Hood. It was a dangerous time to do it, with the army engaged with the enemy in front of Atlanta, but Davis believed if he waited, Johnston might abandon the city without a struggle. When the President asked Lee's advice on the change, he answered:
It is a grievous thing to change commander of an army situated as is that of the Tennessee. Still if necessary it ought to be done. I know nothing of the necessity. I had hoped that Johnston was strong enough to deliver battle.... Hood is a good fighter, very industrious on the battle field, careless off, & I have had no opportunity of judging of his action, when the whole responsibility rested upon him. I have a high opinion of his gallantry, earnestness & zeal. 
Davis made the decision and Johnston replaced Hood 150 years ago today. This change of commanders would rapidly alter the course of the campaign. Hood would move quickly and zealously to implement a very different strategy than that of Joseph E. Johnston.

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Early's Raid and the Battle of Monocacy

In the summer of 1864, with Lee and Grant stalled in siege-like conditions around Petersburg and Richmond, both sides turned some of their focus to nearby areas. A Union army under David Hunter advanced up the Shenandoah Valley, and Robert E. Lee responded by sending Jubal Early to face him with the army's Second Corps. He disposed of Hunter at the Battle of Lynchburg, and then turned his attention to an invasion of the north. Although his small force could not be reasonably expected to make serious progress north, it was hoped that pressure on the northern home front would at least ease the pressure on Lee at Petersburg.

Thus Early turned his men north. Bypassing Harper's Ferry, they crossed the Potomac River into Maryland on July 5th. When Hunter had moved through the Shenandoah Valley, his men had destroyed much property owned by Confederate civilians. Now the Confederates would deliver some payback, though in a more upstanding fashion. Instead of burning Union homes, Early sent demands for money and supplies to the town magistrates. Collecting from them what he could, the Confederates moved east toward Washington.

The Federals were racing to gather what forces they could to throw in front of the advancing Confederate raiders. A corps was detached from Grant and sent hurriedly north to defend the capital. The commander of the Union's Middle Atlantic Department was Major General Lew Wallace, who later wrote Ben Hur. He rounded up all the men he could to Monocacy, where he could block Early from moving on Baltimore or Washington.

When Early approached Monocacy on July 9th, 150 years ago today, he had 10,000 veterans to Wallace's 6,000 green troops. While Rodes division skirmished with the Federal force, Early sent cavalry later followed by Gordon's division, to cross the river to the north and strike the Union left. The plan eventually worked, and under heavy pressure from the Confederates and with his retreat threatened, Wallace ordered his men to fall back. He had lost just under 1,300 men. Less than 1000 Confederates were killed and wounded.

Although the Yankees lost the battlefield, the time Wallace and his men won was very valuable. As Grant later wrote:
If Early had been but one day earlier, he might have entered the capital before the arrival of the reinforcements I had sent .... General Wallace contributed on this occasion by the defeat of the troops under him, a greater benefit to the cause than often falls to the lot of a commander of an equal force to render by means of a victory.
If Early had been at the gates of Washington on that day, he may have been able to walk right in. As it was, he did not arrive before the city for two more days. After letting his men rest for the night, he determined not to attack the capital's formidable defenses, which by now were occupied by substantial numbers of northern troops. The Confederates probed the Union fortifications, which were for a short while held under the eye of Abraham Lincoln himself. Finding no opportunity to attack, Jubal Early set his men marching back to Virginia on July 13th. This was the last Confederate invasion of the north, and probably their best opportunity to capture Washington. Even if they had captured the northern capital, they probably could not have held it for long, and it is unlikely that it may not have had the same political consequences as earlier in the war. Nonetheless, as Early told a staff officer as they rode south, “Major, we haven't taken Washington, but we've scared Abe Lincoln like hell!”

Fort Stevens today

Friday, June 27, 2014

Battle of Kennesaw Mountain

Positioning guns on Kennesaw Mountain
After his latest retreat, Joseph E. Johnston established a new defensive line on Kennesaw Mountain. 15 miles north of Atlanta. The mountain, which rises almost 700 feet above the surrounding countryside, was another strong defensive position. Sherman called it “the key to the whole country.” He did not want to attack this position head on, so he probed the flanks for an opening through which he could flank Johnston. Eventually he decided that instead of striking on the flanks as he had before, this time he would strike at the center, where he hoped the Confederates would least expect him. The Union plan was after an hour long bombardment to launch two feints and two attacks along the 8 mile long line. McPherson would feint on Kennesaw Mountain and attack Little Kennesaw Mountain. Schofield was to lengthen the Union right and demonstrate there, while Thomas launched a main attack along the Dallas Road.

The bombardment
At 8 am on June 27, 150 years ago today, 200 Federal cannon opened fire. The barrage back and forth was terrible, as the rebel guns responded. One hour later the guns fell silent, and the Federal infantry rose from their trenches and advanced against the Confederate line. The terrain they had to cross was difficult – filled with thick brush and in some places swampy.

A captain of the 103rd Illinois wrote:
The Rebels caught sight of us as we commenced moving, and opened a battery on us. It had the effect to accelerate our movements considerably. ... The ground to be gone over was covered with a dense undergrowth of oak and vines of all kinds binding the dead and live timber and bush together, and making an almost impenetrable abatis. To keep a line in such a place was out of the question. ... Not a man in our regiment knew where the Rebel works were when we started, and I think the most of them found them as I did. ... The balls were whistling thick around us, but I could see no enemy ahead. I did not even think of them being on our flank, until one of the boys said, 'Look there, Captain, may I shoot?'  I looked to the right, and just across a narrow and deep ravine were the Rebel works, while a confused mass of greybacks were crowding up the ravine. ... I shouted "forward" to my men and we ran down across the ravine, and about one-third the way up the hill on which their works were and then lay down. There was little protection from their fire, though, and if they had done their duty, not a man of us would have got out alive. Our men fired rapidly and kept them well down in their works. It would have been madness to have attempted carrying their works then, for our regiment had not a particle of support, and we were so scattered that we only presented the appearance of a very thin skirmish line.
Union entrenchments 
The 5,500 Federals who attacked the 5,000 Confederates on Pigeon Hill did capture some rifle pits, but they were unable to gain a foothold on the Confederate lines. It was a bad place to attack. The hill was steep, so steep that in some places the rock formed cliffs, and in others the Yankees would have to climb up on hands and knees. Swept by artillery and musketry from the Confederate defenders on top, it was clear that no assault would be successful.

While McPherson's men were fighting on Pigeon Hill, Thomas's men attacked in the center of the line, the area which is now called Cheatham Hill. The Federals chose to attack it because it was salient jutting out towards the Federal line, which meant a shorter charge. The position had some weaknesses. The trenches had been built on the very top of the hill instead of on the military crest, where the Confederates would have a clear shot to the bottom. However it was still strong, and defended by some of Johnston's best troops, the divisions of Cleburne and Cheatham. Column after column of Federal troops moved upon the hill. Sam Watkins, of the First Tennessee, was stationed on what was called "Dead Angle." He wrote in his famous book, Co. Aytch:
My pen is unable to describe the scene of carnage and death that ensued in the next two hours. Column after column of Federal soldiers were crowded upon that line ...  but no sooner would a regiment mount our works than they were shot down or surrendered, and soon we had every "gopher hole" full of Yankee prisoners. Yet still the Yankees came. It seemed impossible to check the onslaught, but every man was true to his trust, and seemed to think that at that moment the whole responsibility of the Confederate government was rested upon his shoulders.  ... The sun beaming down on our uncovered heads, the thermometer being one hundred and ten degrees in the shade, and a solid line of blazing fire right from the muzzles of the Yankee guns being poured right into our very faces, singeing our hair and clothes, the hot blood of our dead and wounded spurting on us, the blinding smoke and stifling atmosphere filling our eyes and mouths, and the awful concussion causing the blood to gush out of our noses and ears, and above all, the roar of battle, made it a perfect pandemonium.
For two hours this terrible fighting continued, and although they were hard pressed, the Confederates maintained their position. At one point the Federals reached the very parapet. Colonel Daniel McCook led his men up the hill and leapt over the entrenchment with the shout of, “Surrender you traitors!” The Confederates did not Unions and McCook was killed, sword in hand. After fierce fighting, at times hand to hand, the Northern generals finally realized after about two hours that this attack was useless. However, it would be more costly to retreat than to stay where they were, lying flat on the ground. So on this section of the line the Federals dug entrenchments a few dozen yards from the Confederate lines.

Confederate position
Sherman's attack on Kennesaw Mountain was not renewed. He lost 3,000 men in this attack, while inflicting only 1,000 on Johnston. Sherman had been shown again that his men could not storm strong entrenched positions, and that it only caused much lost of life. Sherman did not consider the attack a mistake. He thought that it was necessary to show his men that the maneuverings in the campaign were necessary and were not just because he was scared to fight. Instead of making another frontal attack or embarking a slow siege, he turned back to the flanking tactics that had gotten him all the way to Kennesaw Mountain.

Thursday, June 19, 2014

Alabama vs. Kearsarge

The Battle of Cherbourg was fought off of France on June 19, 1864, between the United States warship Kearsarge and the Confederate raider Alabama. For months the Alabama had sailed the oceans of the world, wreaking havoc in the Union shipping. But when she came into Cherbourg for repairs she was caught by the Kearsarge. Raphael Semmes, the Confederate captain, had the option to remain holed up in port for probably the rest of the war, or to take a chance and take on the Union ship. He chose the bolder course, and so went out to battle. Semmes wrote of the battle:
We were three quarters of an hour in running out to the Kearsarge, during which time we had gotten our people to quarters, cast loose the battery, and made all the other necessary preparations for battle. The yards had been previously slung in chains, stoppers prepared for the rigging, and preventer braces rove. It only remained to open the magazine and shell-rooms, sand down the decks, and fill the requisite number of tubs with water. The crew had been particularly neat in their dress on that morning, and the officers were all in the uniforms appropriate to their rank. As we were approaching the enemy's ship, I caused to be sent aft, within convenient reach of my voice, and mounting a gun-carriage, delivered the following brief address.  I had not spoken to them in this formal way since I had addressed them on the memorable occasion of commissioning the ship.

“Officers And Seamen Of The Alabama!—You have, at length, another opportunity of meeting the enemy—the first that has been presented to you, since you sank the Hatteras! In the meantime, you have been all over the world, and it is not too much to say, that you have destroyed, and driven for protection under neutral flags, one half of the enemy's commerce, which, at the beginning of the war, covered every sea. This is an achievement of which you may well be proud; and a grateful country will not be unmindful of it. The name of your ship has become a household word wherever civilization extends. Shall that name be tarnished by defeat? The thing is impossible! Remember that you are in the English Channel, the theatre of so much of the naval glory of our race, and that the eyes of all Europe are at this moment, upon you. The flag that floats over you is that of a young Republic, who bids defiance to her enemies, whenever, and wherever found. Show the world that you know how to uphold it! Go to your quarters.” 
… My official report of the engagement, addressed to Flag-Officer Barron, in Paris, will describe what now took place. It was written at Southampton, England, two days after the battle. 

When within about a mile and a quarter of the enemy, he suddenly wheeled, and, bringing his head in shore, presented his starboard battery to me. By this time, we were distant about one mile from each other, when I opened on him with solid shot, to which he replied in a few minutes, and the action became active on both sides. The enemy now pressed his ship under a full head of steam, and to prevent our passing each other too speedily, and to keep our respective broadsides bearing, it became necessary to light in a circle; the two ships steaming around a common centre, and preserving a distance from each other of from three quarters to half a mile. When we got within good shell range, we opened upon him with shell. Some ten or fifteen minutes after the commencement of the action, our spanker-gaff was shot away, and our ensign came down by the run. This was immediately replaced by another at the mizzen-mastliead. The firing now became very hot, and the enemy's shot, and shell soon began to tell upon our hull, knocking down, killing, and disabling a number of men, at the same time, in different parts of the ship. Perceiving that our shell, though apparently exploding against the enemy's sides, were doing him but little damage, I returned to solid-shot firing, and from this time onward alternated with shot, and shell. 
After the lapse of about one hour and ten minutes, our ship was ascertained to be in a sinking condition, the enemy's shell having 'exploded in our side, and between decks, opening large apertures through which the water rushed with great rapidity. For some few minutes I had hopes of being able to reach the French coast, for which purpose I gave the ship all steam, and set such of the fore-and-aft sails as were available. The ship filled so rapidly, however, that before we had made much progress, the fires were extinguished in the furnaces, and we were evidently on the point of sinking. I now hauled down my colors, to prevent the further destruction of life, and dispatched a boat to inform the enemy of our condition. Although we were now but 400 yards from each other, the enemy fired upon me five times after my colors had been struck. It is charitable to suppose that a ship of war of a Christian nation could not have done this, intentionally. 'We now directed all our exertions toward saving the wounded, and such of the boys of the ship as were unable to swim. These were dispatched in my quarter-boats, the only boats remaining to me; the waist-boats having been torn to pieces. Some twenty minutes after my furnace-fires had been extinguished, and when the ship was on the point of settling, every man, in obedience to a previous order which had been given the crew, jumped overboard, and endeavored to save himself. There was no appearance of any boat coming to me from the enemy, until after my ship went down. Fortunately, however, the steamyacht Deerhound, owned by a gentleman of Lancashire, England —Mr. John Lancaster—who was himself on board, steamed up in the midst of my drowning men, and rescued a number of both officers and men from the water. I was fortunate enough myself thus to escape to the shelter of the neutral flag, together with about forty others, all told. About this time, the Kearsarge sent one, and then, tardily, another boat. … My officers and men behaved steadily and gallantly, and though they have lost their ship, they have not lost honor. … The enemy was heavier than myself, both in ship, battery, and crew; but I did not know until the action was over, that she was also iron-clad. Our total loss in killed and wounded, is 30, to wit: 9 killed, and 21 wounded.

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Battle of Lynchburg

After defeating the Confederates which stood up to him at the Battle of Piedmont earlier in the month, David Hunter continued his advance into the Shenandoah Valley. After capturing Staunton, the first time it had been occupied during the war, he turned his attention to Lynchburg. On the way, when he passed through Lexington, he burned the Virginia Military Institute, where Stonewall Jackson taught before the war. Robert E. Lee sent Jubal Early and the Second Corps to defend Lynchburg. Around 14,000 men were assembled in the entrenchments around the town to meet Hunter's 16,500.

The Federals attacked on June 18, 150 years ago today. Hunter did not realize that reinforcements had arrived from Lee. An attempt by the Federals to find Early's flank was unsuccessful. The Confederates attacked the Federals, and although they were driven back into their earthworks, Hunter retreated that night. Hunter did not stop retreating. He left the Shenandoah Valley and moved into West Virginia. Early's path north was open, and he setout to implement the second part of his mission from Lee – the last Confederate invasion of the North.