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Civil War Series

The Campaign for Atlanta

   

THE "HELL HOLE" (MAY 21-JUNE 6)

Once across the Etowah Johnston halted at Allatoona, a position naturally stronger than the one he occupied at Dalton. Aware of this, Sherman again resorted to a flanking move, one that took him away from his railroad lifeline. On May 23 his troops, who had been instructed to carry ten days' rations, crossed the Etowah near Kingston and advanced to the west of Allatoona in three columns, with the XV and XVI Corps on the right, the IV and XIV Corps in the center, and Hooker and Schofield as before on the left. Sherman believed that this maneuver not only would cause Johnston to evacuate Allatoona but also result in his falling back to or even beyond the Chattahoochee River, only a few miles from Atlanta. "We are all in motion" Sherman confidently telegraphed the head of his quartermaster bureau in Nashville, "like a vast hive of bees, and expect to swarm along the Chattahoochee in five days."

A WARTIME PHOTOGRAPH OF ALLATOONA PASS. (USAMHI)

Again Sherman indulged in wishful thinking. Johnston anticipated Sherman's move, and when his cavalry confirmed it he sent his army marching toward Dallas, a crossroads village which he correctly judged was Sherman's immediate objective. By the morning of May 25 all of his forces were deployed in the Dallas area, with Hardee's Corps on the left, Polk's in the center, and Hood's on the right where it covered a road that passed by a Methodist chapel called New Hope Church.

This road was not on the Union maps. Consequently, on reaching it Geary's division of Hooker's corps took it in the belief that it led to Dallas. Instead, of course, it led to Hood's Corps. At once Thomas and Hooker ordered Geary, whom they accompanied, to halt and dig in. At the same time they summoned Williams's and Butterfield's divisions to hasten to Geary's aid and notified Sherman that the enemy was in their front and in great strength. Sherman, however, scoffed at their report, for he assumed that if Johnston made a stand at all north of the Chattahoochee, it would be at Marietta.

THE BATTLEFIELD AT NEW HOPE CHURCH IN 1865. (LC)

Therefore, when Williams and Butterfield reinforced Geary, Sherman ordered Hooker to attack the Confederates at New Hope Church, confident that they were few in number and that Hooker would break through easily and thus open the way to Marietta. Spearheaded by Williams's division, the XX Corps delivered a series of assaults that continued until dark. Stewart's Division alone sufficed to beat back all of them, inflicting nearly 700 casualties and gaining a measure of revenge for its bloody repulse ten days ago at Resaca.

THE TWO ARMIES WERE VIRTUALLY ON TOP OF EACH OTHER DURING THE MAY 25 BATTLE AT NEW HOPE CHURCH AS ILLUSTRATED BY A. R. WAUD.

Still skeptical that Johnston had chosen to fight at Dallas rather than at Marietta, Sherman spent May 26 deploying his forces for another attack. This took the form on May 27 of sending Howard with two divisions (Brigadier General Thomas J. Wood's of the IV Corps and Brigadier General Richard W. Johnson's of the XIV Corps) to turn the Confederate right flank. That afternoon at Pickett's Mill on Little Pumpkinvine Creek, Howard found what he thought was the end of the enemy line and so ordered Brigadier General William B. Hazen's brigade of Wood's division to attack it. Unfortunately for Hazen's troops and those of another of Wood's brigades, Colonel William H. Gibson's, who followed them into action, the Confederates had detected Howard's movement and perceived its purpose. As a result, Hazen's and Gibson's men encountered, not an open flank, but Major General Patrick Cleburne's elite division of Hardee's Corps, which hurled them back with over one thousand casualties, nearly half of them killed, while suffering a comparatively light loss itself. Ironically, just as Howard began his assault, Sherman concluded that "it is useless to look for the flank of the enemy, as he makes temporary breastworks as fast as we travel" and so sent a message to Howard to halt and go on the defensive!

This Howard did and it was well that he did. Receiving word from Wheeler that Howard's left on Little Pumpkinvine Creek was "in the air," Hood asked and received Johnston's permission to strike that flank. However, after his corps spent the night marching to that point, Hood learned that Howard's force now was on the west side of the creek behind a line of breastworks facing east. Hood forthwith notified Johnston that the enemy flank no longer was vulnerable, whereupon Johnston directed him to return to his position on the Confederate front.

Next Johnston, having received reports that McPherson's troops were withdrawing from the line they had established east of Dallas, instructed Hardee to have Major General William Bate ascertain whether this was true, and if so to attack. Bate in turn ordered Brigadier General Frank Armstrong's Brigade of Jackson's cavalry to charge the Federal works at Dallas; should it encounter little or no resistance, then four cannon shots would be fired as a signal for Bate's Division, which was on Armstrong's right, to attack. At about 3:45 P.M. Armstrong's troopers, dismounted, rushed forward, only to be driven back by withering fire from the XV Corps. Obviously McPherson had not withdrawn, hence Bate's signal cannons remained silent. Even so, two of Bate's brigades, Findley's Floridians and Lewis's Kentuckians (the famed "Orphan Brigade"), thinking that a full-fledged battle was under way and that they had not heard the cannons, advanced through the dense woods and underbrush in the expectation of hitting a retreating enemy in the open. Instead they were hit with a storm of bullets, shells, and canister which cost them over 1,000 casualties before they could be recalled, It was a fiasco that balanced out the Federal one at Pickett's Mill.

ETOWAH TO CHATTAHOOCHEE
Johnston retreated across the Etowah to Allatoona, a defensive position naturally stronger than Dalton. Sherman again resorted to a flanking move, swinging his whole army to the east of Allatoona. He believed that this would cause Johnston to withdraw to the Chattahoochee. Instead Johnston blocked Sherman's advance on May 25 at New Hope Church, where Hood's Corps repelled an assault by Hooker's XX Corps. Sherman attempted to turn the Confederate right flank but suffered a bloody repulse at Pickett's Mill on May 27. In turn Bate's Division of Hardee's Corps made a poorly executed attack on Sherman's right at Dallas on May 28. Unable to advance, Sherman abandoned his attempt to reach the Chattahoochee by this route and fell back to Acworth early in June. Johnston thereupon established a new defense line north of Kennesaw Mountain.


Sherman now had to accept the fact that the entire Confederate army stood in his way and was determined to stay there.

Sherman now had to accept the fact that the entire Confederate army stood in his way and was determined to stay there. Worse, his own army, because it experienced difficulty supplying itself so far from the railroad, began to run short of food and forage. Consequently, he ordered a withdrawal from around Dallas and Pickett's Mill, an area his troops had dubbed the "Hell Hole." This proved to be a hard, slow process, made all the more so by false alarms of another Confederate assault on McPherson. Not until June 6 did the Union forces reach the Western & Atlantic at Acworth and thus reestablish their supply line.

On the whole Johnston performed well during this phase of the campaign. He anticipated and blocked Sherman's thrust toward the Chattahoochee, kept him pinned down for nearly two weeks while inflicting heavy casualties, and finally forced him to pull back. Sherman, on the other hand, once more displayed a penchant for basing his plans on wishful thinking and an obstinate unwillingness to change then when it should have been apparent to him that they were unrealistic. Yet he also again compelled Johnston to relinquish a strong position (Allatoona), and despite the withdrawal to Acworth his army advanced still closer to Atlanta, where the sound of the fighting at New Hope Church, Pickett's Mill, and Dallas could be heard. To the people there it was an ominous sound, and some of them left the city or made preparations to do so should the Yankees draw much nearer.

MAJOR GENERAL JOHN LOGAN RALLIES HIS TROOPS AT DALLAS ON MAY 28. (FRANK AND MARIE WOOD PRINT COLLECTION)
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