The Road to Atlanta, Part. 2 | HistoryNet MENU

The Road to Atlanta, Part. 2

By Jay Wertz
9/5/2018 • Civil War Times Magazine

In the November/December 2006 issue, “In Their Footsteps” covered the first part of Maj. Gen. William T.  Sherman’s ambitious advance through northwest Georgia to Atlanta—a campaign that, when combined with his subsequent March to the Sea and drive through the Carolinas, may well have won the war for the Union. Please note that while this tour focuses primarily on Sherman’s march to Atlanta in the spring and summer of 1864, points of interest relevant to John Bell Hood’s late 1864 offensive and the James J. Andrews’ raid of 1862 will be mentioned. Part 1 of the tour stopped at Calhoun, which is where we will begin this installment.

Proceed south on U.S. 41 to Adairsville, a quaint old Southern town. James Andrews and his raiders, in the General, covered the railroad between these two historic towns at more than 75 mph, a phenomenal speed at the time. The Texas followed at 60 mph. From Adairsville take Halls Station Road south to Kingston. Sherman maintained a headquarters and rested his troops here for a time. Historic Barnsley Gardens, site of a cavalry skirmish, is nearby. Upon returning to Kingston in November 1864, Sherman decided to change his strategy of pursuing Hood and planned his March to the Sea. He ordered Kingston burned. The Methodist church on Church Street was the only house of worship to survive.

Rome, west of Kingston, is a lovely historic town with great Civil War significance, but if time does not permit a side trip there, it will be covered in a future column on north Alabama cavalry raids. Proceed east on Ga. 293 to Cassville, called Spur 293C where it intersects U.S. 41. GHC markers describe the action here and locate the Female College, a key point on the Federal line. The prosperous town was burned by the Federals on November 5, 1864, in retaliation for a massacre of some Union troopers nearby. Several buildings used as hospitals survived, and these, along with the cemetery and a park at the old courthouse, are on or near Cassville-White Road. Continue south on U.S. 41 to Allatoona.

The Rebels now had a secure defensive position aided by nature. Sherman was familiar with the area, having served a tour of duty in northwest Georgia in the 1840s, and concluded that General Joseph E. Johnston would have a strong defensive position prepared south of the Etowah River, where the railroad passed through the Allatoona Mountains. The assumption was correct, and Sherman determined to take his entire force on a wide flanking move around the Confederate right.

The move was centered on the small county seat at Dallas, roughly 15 miles southwest of Allatoona. But the area around Dallas was neither rugged mountain country nor rolling pastures such as the Federals had just passed through—it was a tangled wilderness. When Maj. Gen. George H. Thomas’ Army of the Cumberland, with Maj. Gen. Joseph Hooker’s XX Corps in the vanguard, arrived at New Hope Church on May 25, they were met by Hood’s Corps. Confederate cavalry had detected the move, and Johnston carefully sidled his men to match Sherman’s march. The Federal assault against Hood’s already lightly entrenched men failed. Both sides began to dig in as reinforcements arrived. The Dallas system of earthworks, which would eventually cover some 200 square miles, was the first significant precursor of the type of warfare that would soon be practiced at Petersburg and become the mainstay of World War I.

Thinking he had an opportunity to again outflank Johnston, Sherman ordered Maj. Gen. O.O. Howard’s IV Corps to attack Rebel cavalry at Pickett’s Mill two days later, on May 27. But the cavalry was backed up by Maj. Gen. Patrick Cleburne’s elite infantry division, and the thicket provided the defenders natural cover before breastworks were constructed. Not only was the assault a failure but the Confederates launched an evening counterattack and rounded up Yankee prisoners from those men trapped between the lines.

The only success scored by the North in what its soldiers referred to as the “Hell Hole” was on May 28 at Dallas, when elements of Lt. Gen. William Hardee’s Corps attacked Maj. Gen. James B. McPherson’s men, whom they mistakenly believed were withdrawing. The attack was repulsed. Hardest hit was the Kentucky “Orphan Brigade,” whose troops found themselves alone and unsupported after failing to receive the order to fall back.

The two armies skirmished across the lines for several more days. By this time, Sherman’s cavalry had occupied Allatoona Pass and points farther south, and the side trip to Dallas was abandoned. By June 7, Sherman had his army group back on the railroad and south of the Etowah River, which he had called “the Rubicon of Georgia.”

While crossing the modern bridge over the river, look to the left to see the piers of the old railroad bridge. Just north of the river, exit to the left and follow River Road for 2.4 miles to Cooper’s Furnace Historic Site, which tells the story of the important antebellum and wartime ironworks here. A skirmish occurred on May 21. Most of the earthworks were destroyed when Allatoona Lake was created. Continue south on U.S. 41 to Emerson-Allatoona Road and drive east for 1.5 miles to Allatoona Pass. There is a parking lot near the pass. The Clayton-Mooney House served as a wartime hospital. For more information contact the Etowah Valley Historical Society, listed at the end of this article.

Proceed south on U.S. 41 to Ga. 92 and turn right. Veer right upon reaching Ga. 381, which generally follows the entrenchments on the Dallas line, and turn left on Mount Tabor Church Road. The entrance to Pickett’s Mill Battlefield State Historic Site is here. The park has trails, interpretive displays and some of the best-preserved Civil War earthworks in the country. Return to Ga. 381 and head south. At the intersection of Ga. 120C is the site of New Hope Church. There are GHC markers and a section of earthworks at the intersection. Continue southwest on Ga. 381 to Dallas. GHC markers here describe the battle. Retrace the route north on Ga. 381 to U.S. 41 or return via U.S. 278/Ga. 6 east to Ga. 120 and Ga. 92. Additional GHC markers on this route describe the movements and headquarters locations of the Confederate forces.

The first part of June brought heavy rains to the Georgia countryside, and the Federal return to the rail line was an arduous task. By the time Sherman’s cavalry located the Rebels, Johnston had established a line running from southwest to northeast along Lost, Pine and Brushy mountains. From June 14-17 Sherman assaulted the line and several artillery shells were fired, one of which struck and instantly killed Bishop/Lt. Gen. Leonidas Polk. The loss of their spiritual leader infuriated the defenders. On the 15th a vicious fight at Gilgal Church involving Cleburne and Hooker resulted in a Federal repulse. By the 18th, three Army of the Cumberland divisions were able to enfilade the Confederate position at the Latimer House, and Johnston withdrew that night to Kennesaw Mountain.

From Kennesaw Mountain, actually a ridge whose northernmost peak is known as Big Kennesaw, Johnston was able to mount cannons in a commanding position overlooking the railroad and the plain from which the Federals would advance. Sherman’s men arrived on the 19th and established their line and artillery positions below the peaks. Sherman again hoped to flank Johnston and sent Hooker to the south to gain Powder Springs Road, which ran to Marietta. Anticipating this, Johnston sent Hood to block the move and the Federals entrenched near the widow Kolb’s farm. Hood launched an ill-advised offensive, and the Battle of Kolb’s Farm resulted in a number of Confederate casualties. Still, the flanking move was stopped.

Finally Sherman, under pressure from critical newspapers in the North, launched an all-out offensive on the Kennesaw Mountain line on June 27. The results were predictably grisly, much as they had been for Grant at Cold Harbor. Despite an introductory cannonade by 200 guns, the morning attack could not break the strong Confederate position, though individual heroics were widespread. Federal casualties outnumbered those of the Confederates by 2-to-1. Still, the assault had one bright spot for the North. On the Union right flank Maj. Gen. John M. Schofield gained a toehold south of Olley’s Creek, gaining him access to Smyrna from the west. He inched forward while skirmishing continued across the lines. A June 30 truce allowed time to bury the dead, and by July 3, the Federals took the Kennesaw position, abandoned by Johnston the night before. Once again a successful flanking movement had enabled Sherman to force a Confederate retreat.

Most of the sites during the action along Lost, Pine and Brushy mountains can be reached by taking Stilesboro Road south between Acworth and Marietta. A climb up Beaumont Drive brings visitors to the crest of Pine Mountain, where there is a monument at the location where Polk fell. Return to Stilesboro Road and proceed about two miles farther to New Salem Road. Turn right again; in less than a mile, near the intersection of Kirk Lane, is the site of Latimer’s Farm. Continue west on New Salem Road to Burnt Hickory Road. In about three miles turn right on Due West (Old Sandtown) Road, then right again on Kennesaw-Due West Road. Gilgal Church has been replaced by a school, but there are GHC markers and a monument at the site. For more information on sites in this area contact the rangers at Kennesaw Mountain National Battlefield Park. Return to Burnt Hickory Road and travel north to Old Mountain Road to the national park visitor center.

Kennesaw Mountain National Battlefield Park is a wonderful place with many amenities, starting with the visitor center. There is an audiovisual program, bookstore, and of course helpful rangers and guides. There are numerous monuments and field pieces throughout the park, and the park roads cover the Confederate position on the crest, the initial Federal line and other points of interest. Recent acquisitions have been made to expand the interpretation of the Battle of Kolb’s Farm. From the national park, travel north across U.S. 41 to the town of Kennesaw, formerly Big Shanty. Here the General was stolen by Andrews’ raiders during a stop. The famous locomotive is now housed in the Southern Museum of the Civil War and Locomotive History at 2829 Cherokee St. The museum has exhibits covering all aspects of the Southern railroads during the Civil War, including their rebuilding and use by Sherman’s forces in the 1864 campaigns. Continue south on U.S. 41 to Marietta, which was an important supply and command center. The Marietta Welcome Center on Whitlock Avenue offers walking and driving tours of historic buildings. Marietta also has the largest National Cemetery in the area, containing the remains of Federal soldiers killed in the Atlanta campaign.

Johnston’s next stand was at Smyrna, where he only hoped to delay Sherman. The Federal commander immediately contested the position, and pitched battles were fought on July 4, in which Cleburne’s Division once again proved highly effective and the Georgia Militia under Maj. Gen. Gustavus Smith proved their worth. However, at Ruff’s Mill along Nickajack Creek, while the XVI Corps of the Army of the Tennessee assaulted the Rebel salient there in the evening, the XVII Corps turned Johnston’s flank to the south. As a result, on July 5 Johnston fell back to his final position north of the Chattahoochee. His River Line was a series of diamond-shaped fortifications designed by his chief of artillery, Francis Asbury Shoup, and built by slaves in June. The “shoupades,” as they were nicknamed, made an impression on Sherman. After several failed probes of the works, he determined to shift his objective to taking Atlanta. He sent his cavalry on wide flanking maneuvers to the north and south and dispatched Schofield’s army to search for a Chattahoochee River crossing, which was found at the mouth of Sope Creek, north of the defense line. A brigade of Maj. Gen. Jacob D. Cox’s division crossed the river over a rock dam ahead of the rest of the army on July 8. With the river crossing secured, Johnston was compelled to abandon the River Line and retreat across the Chattahoochee on July 9.

From U.S. 41, take Ga. 280 south to Smyrna. Concord Road follows the Smyrna line. Watch for GHC markers. At the intersection of Covered Bridge Road is the Concord Covered Bridge Historic District. Near there, Ruff’s Mill is visible from the road. Return to Ga. 280 and proceed south to King’s Spring Road. Hood’s headquarters during the stand there was at the Alexander Eaton House. Continue to I-285. Take it south to exit 12, then go west on U.S. 278 to Discovery Boulevard SE. An existing shoupade and an eight-gun anchor fort can be seen here. Finally, in Vinings (exit 18 off I-285) on Paces Ferry Road is Vinings Hill (Mount Wilkinson), where Sherman first observed the city at the end of the long and difficult Road to Atlanta.

Not only was the establishment of a successful crossing of the Chattahoochee a change in Federal strategy, establishing the capture of the city as the primary goal, it was also a fatal blow to Johnston’s tenure. With Richmond impatiently monitoring Johnston’s measured withdrawal and Hood’s criticism of him being heard loudly in the Confederate capital, it was only a short time until major changes occurred in the Confederate leadership, leading shortly to the battles for Atlanta.

 

Originally published in the January 2007 issue of Civil War Times. To subscribe, click here.  

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