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1864 May 28: The Beginnings of the Atlanta Campaign: Battle of Rocky Face Ridge

May 31, 2014

Union General William T. Sherman’s Atlanta Campaign was a series of battles fought throughout northwest Georgia and the area around Atlanta during the summer of 1864.  Sherman invaded Georgia from the vicinity of Chattanooga, Tennessee, beginning on May 7, 1864.  Confederate troops opposing Sherman were led by General Joseph E. Johnston [Joseph E. Johnston].

The Battle of Rocky Face Ridge was fought May 7-13 and the Battle of Resaca was fought from May 13 to 15, 1864.  They were the first two battles of Sherman’s Atlanta Campaign.  The following report on the battles is from the May 28, 1864, issue of The Prescott Journal.  We have split the lengthy report into two postings.  Today’s post consists of the days leading up to and the battle at Rocky Face Ridge; tomorrow’s post contains the report of the Resaca battle.

T H E   W A R   I N   G E O R G I A.



Bloody and Obstinate Battle.

The telegraph has given us very meagre [sic] details of the progress of Gen. SHERMAN’S campaign in Georgia, and the public generally are but partially informed in regard to it.  Gen. SHERMAN has a chronic dislike of correspondents¹ and so very few letters with regard to his operations have come North and been published.  The Cincinnati Commercial, however, has an elaborate and highly interesting account of his movements up to the 12th of May, which we should like to publish if could possibly find room for it.  For the information of our readers, however, we prepare  brief summary.

About thhe [sic] first of May a general concentration of troops in the Department of the Cumberland began, and a stripping of the army for the march and the fight.  Baggage and tents were discarded, and little but ammunition and supplies carried in the trains.

May 3d was principally passed in concentrating the 4th Army Corps, Maj. Gen. Howard [Oliver O. Howard], which was stretched along the railroad, the left resting at Cleveland [Tenn.], and the right at Ooltawah [Tenn.], ten miles below.  The troops were wild with enthusiasm, and the roads superb.  There was abundance of excellent water on the road, and the march to Red Clay² was easily made.

May 4th, by a tedious, but not lengthy march, Catoosa Springs, a former noted Southern summer watering place was reached.  Some slight skirmishes with rebel cavalry took place on the way.

Thursday and Friday, the 5th and 6th, the army, or at least the 5th, 14th and 23d corps, which had arrived at advanced positions, remained in its position of Wednesday, awaiting the arrival of Gen. Hooker’s [Joseph Hooker] and Gen. McPherson’s [James B. McPherson] corps, who marched around to our right, preparatory to a flank movement upon the enemy’s left, for the purpose of turning it.

Saturday, May 7th, the 4th Corps, encamped in the hills about Catoosa Springs, moved east, Stanley [David S. Stanley] taking the lead, followed by Generals Newton [John Newton] and Wood [Thomas J. Wood].  Extensive preparations were made to carry the enemy’s position at Tunnel Hill, but by a flank movement and some slight skirmishing, it was carried with a loss of only ten men wounded.—The line that night was established about a mile south of Tunnel Hill.

On Sunday, May 8th, Gen. Howard, who in the temporary absence of Gen. Thomas [George H. Thomas], commanded the 14th and 23d Corps, ordered a further advance, and by some skllfully [sic] planned and well executed movements, made considerable progress toward Rocky Face.  Gen. Geary [John W. Geary], of Hooker’s Corps, had a sharp fight with the rebels under Gen. John H. Morgan,³ and failed to carry Dug Gap, losing some 250 men.  Meantime Schofield’s Corps [John M. Schofield] was working east of the rebel positions and Hooker bearing southwest of Dalton, while McPherson, with a heavy force, was aiming at Resaca in the rear of the rebels.  Kilpatrick’s cavalry [Judson Kilpatrick] occupied our right and Sherman’s our left.

On Monday, May 9th, Rocky Face Creek was crossed and considerable skirmishing and artillery duelling [sic] took place.  At four o’clock, Gen. Howard ordered the divisions of Stanley and Wood forward into the gaps facing the enemy’s breast-works and fortifications to the right of Dalton.  This compelled the enemy to expose his batteries, and after some heavy firing an advance was made far up the slope of Rocky Face Ridge.  Gen. Schofield, with his Corps, succeeded in gaining considerable ground on the left of Dalton.  During nearly the entire day, Gens. Sherman, Thomas, Howard, Davis, Stanley, and the other division commanders of the 4th Corps, were under fire of the rebel sharpshooters, far in advance, and had many narrow escapes.  Gen. Howard, accompanied by Gens. Wood and Willich [August Willich], ascended nearly half way up Rocky Face, under heavy fire.—Gens. Sherman, Thomas and Palmer [John M. Palmer], during the day at various times, rode out to our extreme front, but escaped the deadly aim of the sharpshooters.  During the day the railroad was repaired up to the army and trains commenced running with supplies.

At noon a dispatch was received from Gen. McPherson that he had occupied Snake Gap in Chatanooga [sic] mountains and was within six miles of Resaca, directly on the enemy’s flank and 30 miles in the rear of Dalton.  Our loses in the day’s fighting were about 400.

On this day the correspondent says “a brigade of McCook’s cavalry division [Edward M. McCook], which has been making demonstrations for some days on Schofield’s left, engaged two rebel brigades of infantry.  The charge was led by Colonel La Grange, of the 1st Wisconsin cavalry, who every body agrees, is one of the bravest of the brave brigade-commanders of cavalry.—After frequent assaults upon the wall of rebel infantry, our cavalry was repulsed, Col. La Grange captured, after two horses were shot under him, and a large portion of the command wounded and captured, including Capt. Starr of the 2d Indiana, who escaped from his captors, and came in.”

On Tuesday, May 10th, the weather was very unfavorable, but the news of Grant’s successes over Lee roused the troops to such a pitch of enthusiasm that they were eager to advance, and would doubtless have repeated Mission Ridge on a grand scale, but Sherman and Thomas preferred to  effect their object by strategy, without such sacrifice of lives as an assault would have involved.—Skirmishing and artillery firing occupied the day, with comparatively faint response from the rebels.  Two prisoners were taken, one a very willing one who gave much valuable information.

Wednesday morning, the 11th, was damp and chilly, but it soon cleared up.  Affairs had come to a dead lock, however.  Through a long line our forces were pushed close to the enemy’s entrenchments, but he was “in a very devils’ nest.”  His position was said to be the strongest in the Southwest.  Bluffs and gorges and almost inaccessible and strongly defended ridges confronted us everywhere.  The troops were ready for assault, but it seemed madness to attempt it.  Dalton seemed almost if not altogether impregnable to a front attack.

Nothing of consequence was done during the day.  The night was dark, and by the time it had fairly overspread nature, a sudden, stealthy life was infused into the hitherto recumbent troops.  Hooker moves his corps to the right, and being near at hand, reports before daylight to McPherson.  Schofield comes drifting in the same direction from his fruitless position east of Rocky Face.  Other corps follow.  Rations for several days were put in wagons, and extra rations of slat, indicate a purpose to live off the country, at least to some extent.  This movement compelled the rebels to evacuate Dalton the night of the 13th, and our forces after occupying it and making some captures, pushed on toward Resaca, 15 miles further south.

The Commercial’s correspondent says “the strength of Johnston’s army is estimated by the best judges to be about fifty thousand, exclusive of the Georgia militia, of whom probably 15,000 are bearing arms, and distributed at Rome and Resaca.  Their journals estimate the strength of our army at 60,000.  They will be astonished after annihilate that number of Sherman’s Yankees to fine their work signally incomplete.”

1.  Sherman was vocal about his disdain for journalists. One quotation: “I hate newspapermen. They come into camp and pick up their camp rumors and print them as facts. I regard them as spies, which, in truth, they are. If I killed them all there would be news from Hell before breakfast.”
2.  In 1832, the Cherokee nation moved their seat of government from Georgia to Red Clay, Tennessee, just across the state line. Today, Red Clay is a Tennessee state historic park.
3.  John Hunt Morgan did not participate in the Atlanta Campaign or any of its battles.

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