Archive for January, 2014

Sherman’s 1864 Spring Advance on Atlanta

by Andy Mateja

After the Confederate debacle at Missionary Ridge in the Nov 1863 Campaign to relieve Chattanooga, Union strategy was to advance deeper into the Confederacy in the spring. Atlanta was the chosen objective and the assignment was given to Maj Gen William T. Sherman. Sherman had been promoted to command of the Military Division of the Mississippi when Maj Gen Ulysses S. Gant was promoted to Lt General and placed in command of ALL the Union armies.
Sherman’s movement began in the beginning of May from Nashville toward Georgia. On the Confederate side, army command has changed as well when defeated and disgraced Gen Braxton Bragg resigned his command which was then transferred to Gen Joseph E. Johnston. Pres Jefferson Davis was reluctant to make the change, as he personally despised Johnston and Bragg was his personal friend. However, prominent voices in the South (including Gen Robot E. Lee) pressured Davis into making the appointment which he finally did.
Johnston began to restore to effective condition the army he inherited from Bragg. He anticipated Sherman’s advance and wanted to be prepared to resist it as best as possible. Sherman’s forces in early May totaled nearly 100,000 troops and Johnston’s was around 63,000 on paper. The advantage for Johnston was that as the Union troops advanced, their forces would decrease in size (for supply line guard duty) and his would increase (through concentration) the closer they got to Atlanta. Sherman also had to contend with a rail supply line that stretched all the way back to Louisville KY.
Sherman wanted to reach Dalton GA before Johnston had a chance to concentrate there. Unfortunately the Confederates already strengthened their defensive there and were waiting for the Union troops to attack. Johnston’s troops were also busy strengthening another position near Ringgold further south, should his troops be compelled to fall back if flanked. He did what he could to strengthen his own rail supply line coming up from Atlanta as well.
Sherman ordered the three armies under his command to advance on Dalton from different directions. While Johnston anticipated Sherman’s’ move on Dalton, he was concentrating a defensive force further south at Resaca as well. This turned out to be fortuitous as one of Sherman’s armies (Maj Gen James McPherson’s) was moving in that direction.
The Union forces had set a trap for Johnston’s men which was discovered in time for the Confederates to abandon Dalton without loss. A fierce battle however was fought at Resaca on May 14 & 15 after which Johnston pulled back another 15 miles southward. Johnston did fight a rear guard action at Calhoun to protect his supply trains before reaching Adairsville.
Now it was Johnston’s turn to set a trap for Sherman. He positioned his forces so that one of Sherman’s armies could be attacked in from the front and left flank before the remaining two Union armies could arrive to help. Unfortunately one of Johnston’s corps commanders –Lt Gen John B Hood did not line up for the attack as planned and the attack plan for the “trap” was abandoned. Johnston then concentrated his forces at Cassville but abandoned it shortly thereafter, when Hood insisted their new position was not safe from enfilading Union fire. Johnston now fell back across the Etowah River the Allatoona mountain range…. and 12 miles closer to Atlanta.
Sherman was fully aware of the strong defensive nature of the ground around Allatoona and decided to bypass it altogether and move toward Dallas …20 miles to the left rear of Johnston’s troops and closer to Atlanta than were the Confederates. Johnston however, caught on to Sherman’s flanking movement on the left and advanced quickly to block the roads to Dallas and New Hope Church where severe fighting took place on May 25th.
As Sherman continued his forward movement toward Atlanta, he seized the railroad tracks in his rear to further secure his supply line as he advanced deeper into Georgia. Johnston fell back and moved eastward to the Pine and Lost Mountain region. Sadly for Johnston, one of his premier corps commanders, Lt Gen Leonidas Polk was killed on June 14th by a single artillery shot on Pine Mountain while observing enemy activity. Afterward, Johnston fell back even further to the Kennesaw Mountain range which he felt was in a stronger defensive position.
Sherman was now anxious to deliver a “knock out” attack on Johnston before consideration could be given to dispatch Confederate troops to assist Robt E Lee’s resistance of Ulysses Grant relentless offensive in Virginia. Sherman however was unaware that Johnston had turned his defensive position at Kennesaw Mountain into a veritable impregnable bastion. Sherman believed the Confederates had overextended their position and rather than bypassing the position, he chose to attack.
On June 27th Sherman launched his attack and within several hours, came to the realization further fighting was useless and the Johnston’s line could not be broken. Sherman’s losses were 3000 to Johnston’s 1000 and turned into the bloodiest day of the campaign thus far.
That would be the last time Sherman attempted a direct assault on a fortified Confederate position during the Atlanta campaign. The remaining twenty miles to the confines of Atlanta city limits would be gained by maneuver rather than battle. Johnston, realizing this, was practically powerless to resist…….

Lee & Meade: Sparring Along the Rapidan

by Andy Mateja

Following the heartbreaking defeat at Gettysburg suffered by Gen Robt E Lee and his stalwart Army of Northern Virginia, Lee dug into a defensive position along the Rappahannock River. He realized his army needed time to overcome the tremendous losses suffered during the campaign and with the recent detachment two divisions of his I Corps under Lt Gen James Longstreet to aid the Southern Army in Georgia, Lee reverted to a defensive posture and waited for the enemy to attack him.
Most of the fighting from August through November 1863 was more in the line of sparring engagements, with each side probing for weaknesses in the other’s position. Maj Gen George Meade’s Union Army of the Potomac scored as minor victory on Oct 14th at Bristoe Station which was evened up by Maj Gen Jeb Stuart’s Confederate cavalry a few days later at Buckland Mills. Lee almost trapped Meade’s army shortly afterward wedged between the Rappahannock and Rapidan Rivers. Meade realized the tenuous position he was in and withdrew his much larger Union army at the last minute to avoid the trap.
Lee however, severely weakened by his Gettysburg losses and Longstreet’s absence, could not move in an offensive manor retreat as he had done repeatedly in the past to capitalize on the Union blunders and instead just pulled back to a more secure defensive position. Union forces now pursued Lee instead and engaged him on Nov 7th at Rappahannock Station. Lee was assured by division commander Maj Gen Jubal Early that the Confederate position there was “secure”.
Lee believed the Union attack was just a feint for a much larger move planned at Kelly’s Ford which he planned to counter with a “Chancellorsville style” flank attack. However as it turned out the Union attack at Rappahannock Station was NOT a feint, but a full-fledged attack which caught the Confederates completely off guard. Lee’s position was now untenable as the Union forces could now flank the Confederates. Lee angrily had to pull his forces back once again.
There was no question that Lee was feeling the tragic loss of Stonewall Jackson at this time. As it was at Chancellorsville six month earlier, his army way significantly downsized and without the services of Longstreet. Lee was in need of a “strategic miracle” with an aggressive field commander worthy of the task.
Fortunately for Lee, Meade moved his army weeks later across the Rapidan very cautiously, providing Lee precious time to prepare for the attack. Lee ordered his two corps commanders to converge on the Union attacking point. The battle was beginning to shape up very similar to the beginning of Chancellorsville on almost the very same ground. Jubal Early, now in command of Gen Richard Ewell’s II Corp, was ordered to attack the advancing Union forces near a place called Mine Run on Nov 28th. The fighting escalated as the Union VI Corps entered the fray. After the days battle, the Confederates pulled back to what they believed was an impregnable position and awaited the full force Union attack in the morning.
At dawn, when Meade, an experienced Amy Engineer as well as commander, viewed the Confederate entrenchments, he thought the attack would be suicidal and decided instead to come up with an alternate plan. That night the Union commanders devised a plan where the Union II corps would feint an attack on the left and move toward flanking the Confederate line while the III and VI Corps attacked center and the right. Two additional Union Corps would be held in reserve and used to exploit the expected breakthrough.
The Union VI Corps led off the assault on the icy cold morning of Nov 30th. However when the full light of morning revealed the true strength of Lee’s defensive position, Meade called off the attack. Lee on the other hand with the help of JEB Stuart’s cavalry, discovered a weakness in the Union line and was eager to exploit it once the Union attack was underway.
Lee waiting hours for the Union attacked that already had been cancelled, Lee began to prepare his own attack the next day. Meade, always wary, now realized that the shoe was on the other foot and HE was now about to be attacked. Running low on rations and anticipating a possible “thaw” in the frigid weather that would turn the roads into hopeless mud, Meade decided to retreat and was completely gone by the time Lee launched his attack. The “campaign of caution” was now essentially over.
Both Lee and Meade missed golden opportunities to inflict severe damage on their opponent’s army. Both appeared to be hesitant to risk full-scale battles. This would change however when Lt Gen Ulysses Grant arrived on the scene a few months later and change the dynamics from “maneuver” to “bloodletting”………