( Originally Published Early 1900's )
THE blue army was massed beyond Noonday Creek, in front of Pine Mountain, and on the Burnt Hickory road. The grey held a line from Gilgal Church to a point beyond the Marietta and Ackworth road. It was the fourteenth of June news just received by way of Atlanta of Grant's movement toward the James. On the crest of Pine Mountain was a grey outpost Bates's Division of Hardee's corps. At Gilgal Church, Johnston, on his chestnut horse, was in conversation with that churchman-militant with a Spartan name Lieutenant-General Leonidas Polk. Hardee rode up. "General, I should be grateful if you would come with me to the top of the mountain yonder. Bates there is too. exposed."
The three, Johnston with Hardee and Polk, rode through the thick brush, by a narrow and rough bridle-path, up to the crown of the low mountain. Dismounting in the rear of Bates's works they went forward on foot, the men saluting where they lay behind heaped logs. Overhanging the slope was a parapet, and the three walked here, opening their field-glasses as they walked. Before them stretched the wooded country, and full in sight, the heavy lines of the foe. Not a thousand feet away a field-battery held a hilltop.
"Wait till nightfall," said Johnston, "then let Bates join you at Gilgal."
He lowered his field-glass. Out of the mouth of one of the blue cannon on the hilltop came a puff of white smoke. The shot cut away a bough of the oak under which the three were standing. " Certainly this parapet is too exposed," said Hardee. "Come this way, General." As they moved diagonally across the spur, the blue guns opened full pack. A shot passed through the breast of Leonidas Polk, sometime Bishop of Louisiana. He fell, lying at full length upon the summit, dead, with a pleasant look upon his face.
On the sixteenth, grey left and blue right shifted positions, coming again to face each other. There was skirmishing and cavalry fighting. On the nineteenth, the two fencers again changed ground. The grey left, Hardee, now stretched across the Lost Mountain and Marietta road; the grey right, Hood, lay beyond the Canton road; and Loring, who had succeeded Polk, held flank and crest of Kennesaw Mountain. At once, grey and blue, the interminable entrenching began again, the grey throwing up earthworks and defences, the blue making lines of approach. Throughout the latter half of June, hour after hour, day after day, night after night, there was fighting. The first half of the month it had poured rain. Torrent after torrent had successfully interfered with man's operations. Under streaming skies, with the earth semi-liquid, the roads bottomless, the unending forest like oozy growths of an ocean floor, entrenching, manoeuvres for advantage of position, attack and parry one and all had been attended with difficulties. General Rain and General Mud had as usual put then unrecorded fingers into the current of events. But now, though sun and cloud still fought, the roads were drying and there was fighting every day.
Up on the crest of Kennesaw, Edward Cary, lying with his men behind a work of earth and logs, saw the sun rise and the sun set, and often in the dead of night the solemn pomp of stars. All around him, beneath the stars, were the shadowy forms of sleeping men. The footfall of the pickets could be heard, that and the breathing of the sleepers. Slowly came on the grey dawn; reveille sounded and the day's work was before you. Night came again and the stars and the shadowy forms of men though not all, who were breathing the night before, breathed now where they slept.
Cary's mind ranged far from the comfortless top of Kennesaw. First of all and oftenest it looked southward, across the forest, to where, in a farmhouse near Smyrna Church, Dιsirιe slept or waked. It paused there, suspended, watching her where she lay, then passed from the quiet room and swept in widening circles around the core of life. . . . This Georgian battle-ground! Fifty days now of a great strategic campaign Dalton and the spring-time far behind Atlanta and the pitched battle that must toss victory into this camp or into that drawing nearer. The Army of Tennessee, stanch and cheerful even in the rain-filled rifle-pits on Kennesaw; gaunt, heroic, like its brother the Army of Northern Virginia. . . . Not the Georgia battle-grounds alone; all battle-fields all the South one battle-field, fringed and crossed with weary, weary, weary marches! Suddenly he saw how red were the rivers and how many houses were blackened ruins. There was a great loneliness, and he thought he saw children straying, lost, across the plain. Edward sat up and rested his forehead on his hands. "What is it all for ?" he thought. "It is absurd." The sky was clear to-night. He looked up at the Great Bear and the Dragon. "We are in a world of contradictories. There is the heroic, the piteous, and the beautiful, there is a loud and sweet music, and yet it is all in the service of the King of the Dwarfs, of a gnome with a gnome's brain. . . . How to change the service ?"
In the cold hour before the dawn, he slept, to be presently awakened by the sound of the pickets' pieces and a night attack. Half an hour's fighting rolled it back, down Kennesaw, but when it was done the men were kept awake lest the wave should return.
They talked, behind the breastworks, while the stars faded. "Wish it was a false alarm! Wish I'd wake up and find myself asleep." .
"O God, yes! In my bed at home."
"Talking about false alarms Did you ever hear about Spaulding ?"
"What Spaulding ? No."
"It was in Mississippi; Grant somewhere near, but nobody knew how near; all of us scattered over a few hills and marshes, keeping pretty good lookout, but yet knowing that nobody could be within a day's march of us. In comes Spaulding in haste to head quarters, to the general's tent. In he comes, pale and excited, and he brings a piece of news that was indeed alarming! He had been on a hill overlooking the river I forget its name there 's such an infinity of rivers in this country! Anyhow he had seen the most amazing thing, and that was what he had come like lightning back to the camp to tell the general about. A column of the enemy was crossing the river they had laid pontoons and they were crossing by them and by a ford as well. It was a large force a division undoubtedly, possibly a corps. Artillery was crossing as he looked. The ford was black with infantry, and there was cavalry on the farther bank. A man on a great black horse was directing. On this side was a man on a very tall grey horse, a man with a bloody hand-kerchief tied round his head under his hat. The troops saluted him as they came out of the water. All were crossing very silently and swiftly. Spaulding had run all the way from the hill; he had to put his hand to his side as he talked, he was so breathed. Well, immediately there was activity enough at headquarters, but still activity with a doubt, it was so amazing! What were the pickets doing to say nothing of the cavalry? Well, the long roll was beaten, and everybody scurried to arms, and off went two aides at full speed to the hilltop to examine that thief in the night-time crossing, and Spaulding went behind the one on the strongest horse. He was just as calm and sure. `Yes, it's amazing, but it's so! I think the man on the black horse is Grant. I could n't see the face of the man on the grey horseonly the bloody cloth around his head.' Well, they got there, all the fuss behind them of the regiments forming they got to the hilltop and there was the river sure enough before them, just as the aides knew it would be. `Now, you see!' says Spaulding, for he had been hurt by the way everybody, even the general, said, `Impossible!' `See what ?' say the aides. `Are you mad ?' asks Spaulding impatiently. `The bridge and the ford and the crossing guns and infantry, the man on the black horse and the man on the grey with the cloth around his head.' One of the aides rides down the hillside toward the river and finds a picket. `Have you seen any-thing unusual up or down or across the river ?' `No,' says the picket, or words to that effect. `Have you?"Well, that aide goes back and he takes Spaulding by the shoulders and shakes him. And then the two, they stand on either side of him, and the one says, `Look now, and pretty quick about it, and tell us what you see!' `You damned fools,' says Spaulding, `I see a column crossing, infantry and artillery, a man on a black horse directing, and a man on a grey horse with a bloody cloth ' And then he stopped speaking and stared, the colour going out of his face and his eyes starting from his head. And presently he just slipped like water down between them and sat upon the earth. `Great God!' he said, `there is n't anything there!' So they took him back to headquarters, the drums still beating and everybody getting into ranks "
"What did they do to him ? "
"Well, if he'd been a drinking man he'd have been drumhead court-martialled and shot. But he was n't he was a nice, clean, manly kind of young fellow, a great mathematician, and the boys all liked him, and his officers, too. And he was so covered with confusion 't was pitiful. The general's a mighty good man. He said those things happened sometimes, and he quoted Shakespeare that there are more experiences in heaven and earth or words to that effect. Spaulding was put under arrest, and there was enquiry and all that, but at the last he was given a caution and sent back to his regiment. But he kind of pined away and took to mooning, and in the next battle he was killed and killed, that was the funny thing, by a pistol shot from a man on a grey horse with a bloody handkerchief tied round his head! He shot Spaulding through the brain."
The sun pushed a red rim above the eastern horizon. The day's work began. Fightingand fighting and fighting again on Kennesaw and over the rolling country from which Kennesaw arose! On the twentieth, Wheeler with a thousand horsemen crashed against and drove a force of blue cavalry. On the twenty-second, on the Powder Spring road, Hood struck Schofield and Hooker. The divisions of Hindman and Stevenson were engaged here, advancing with heroism under a plunging fire, musketry and artillery, and driving the blue from their first to their second line of entrenchments. The ground was fearfully difficult. The blue had every-where epaulements from which they brought to bear upon the charging grey a terrible raking fire of grape and canister. Steven-son's men fell thick and fast; when night laid her stilling hand upon the guns, he had lost in killed and wounded eight hundred and seventy men. On the twenty-fourth, the blue came in line of battle against Hardee, and were repulsed. On the twenty-fifth, they again struck Stevenson, and were repulsed. All day the twenty-sixth there was bitter skirmishing. On the twenty-seventh, upstormed the battle of Kennesaw Mountain.
It began in the early morning with all of Sherman's guns. They shelled the crest and sides of Kennesaw; roaring, they poured fierce death into the air, hoping that he would find many victims. He found many, though not so many as the blue hoped. The atmosphere rocked and grew smoky; it was a fierce, prolonged cannonade. During the furious overture, behind the tall, fretted screen of smoke, the blues were forming in two lines of battle, long and thick.
The grey position was exceedingly strong. The grey said as much, contemning the shells that shrieked and dropped.
"We're pretty well fixed! W. T. Sherman'll find there ain't no buried treasure on Kennesaw! General Joe's going to win out on this campaign."
"We're going to have a battle here. But I don't think it's going to be the big battle. I think the big battle's going to be at Atlanta."
"Maybe so. Anyhow he'll win out, and that's all I'm caring about! This place's a regular sea-beach for shells."
There were in the company a father and son a tall, lean, lantern-jawed, silent man of sixty and a tall, lean, lantern-jawed, silent man of thirty-five. Except that they messed and foraged together they did not seem to have much to say to each other. They were near Edward where he stood behind the rifle-pit.
"I reckon," said the elder, "that the cotton air blooming mighty pretty, 'long about now."
"I reckon it air," said the younger.
The cannonading did not cease, but now, while all the guns thundered, the blue pushed forward a thick line of skirmishers. Behind them showed, between the trees, wide and long and dark, two bands of infantry. The grey batteries that had been sparing ammunition now ceased to spare it. They opened full cry. Grey and blue, the noise was appalling.
"I reckon," said the elder tall man, "that the mill wheel air turning today."
"I reckon it air," said the younger.
The blue moved forward to the assault, Schofield and Mc-Pherson and Thomas. They came on boldly and well, cheering, with waved banners, now lost amid the trees, now seen as clearly as aught could be seen under and in the sulphurous battle-cloud. They were striking right and left and centre. On they came larger larger Full in their faces sprang the fire of the trenches.
The attack just here was desperate. The blue swarmed through the felled trees, seized an advanced breastwork swarmed on toward the second and stronger line. This line beat them back, burst from the trenches, rushed forward and down, retook the captured work, struck a flag there upon the parapet, and, hurrying on, fell upon the backward-sinking foe. There followed hand-to-hand fighting, with much carnage. The two tall men were in front. A minie ball cut the father down. He lay across a hummock of earth from behind which two or three grey men were firing. The son fought on above the dead body. The face looked at him each time he brought rifle to shoulder. The plain gravity of it, living, was gone; now it was contorted like a gargoyle. A third line of blue came shouting up to reinforce the other two; there ran a grey order to fall back to the earthworks. The tall, lean man, his musket yet in hand, stooped, put his arms under the elder's body, lifted it, and with it across his shoulder started up the mountain-side. An officer ordered him to put the body down, but he shook his head. "I could n't do that, sir. It's father." Just outside the breastwork an exploding shell killed him, too.
Up and over the slopes of Kennesaw rushed another charge. The grey clutched with it, locked and swayed. Down it went, down the slopes of Kennesaw. Mountain and surrounding foot country were wrapped in smoke. For three hours the clamour held; with onslaught and repulse and heavy loss to the blue. At last, in the hot and heavy noon, the North drew sullenly back, beaten on Kennesaw.
The Virginia moved from the line it had successfully held to a point on the southern face it was ordered to entrench and hold. Moving so, it passed over ground where lay many dead and injured. This had been the rear of the position. Shells had not spared it. They had exploded among ammunition wagons and ambulances, setting afire and consuming the hut that had been divis-ion headquarters, injuring various noncombatants, working wrack and ruin here as among the trenches. The regiment halting for a moment, Edward had time to observe the corpse of a drummer-boy, lying in the briar and grass beneath a splintered tree. The shell had struck it full in the breast, tearing the trunk asunder. Above the red ghastliness rose a young face round and freckled. Edward knew it for that of the drummer-boy who wanted the war never to stop.
Two men in the rank nearest him were talking of money. "You have paper money and you have war, and in war you always over-issue. We did it in the old Revolution and there were the French assignats and Great Britain did the same thing when she was fighting Napoleon. You over-issue and over-issue and the whole thing depreciates. Sometimes it's slow and sometimes it's hand over hand. And then you can't redeem, and the whole bottom drops out "
The regiment moved forward.
That night, from the house near Smyrna Church, Dιsirιe watched the line of flame. She stood with three women in a cotton-field and watched. One of the women was old, and her sons were there where the flame was. She rocked herself to and fro, and she beat her hands together and she cursed war. One of the women had a babe in her arms. It wailed, and she opened her dress, and put her breast to its mouth. The wind loosened her hair. It blew about her, framing her brooding young face. Simple and straight she stood amid the cotton, giving life more life, while her dark eyes were filled with the image of death. The wind blew the smoke over the cotton-fields; to the women's ears it brought alike the groaning.
Two days later, Sherman in Georgia, like Grant in Virginia, re-sorted again to a turning movement. South and east he pushed his right, until it threatened to crook between Johnston and Atlanta. Johnston lifted the Army of Tennessee from Kennesaw and set it down at Smyrna Church. In its rear now was the Chattahoochee, its bridges covered by the Georgia militia. A very few miles behind the Chattahoochee was Atlanta, fairly fortified. Smyrna Church and Station saw heavy, continued skirmishing. On the fourth, Sher-man pushed Schofield and McPherson yet farther south, curving like a scimitar upon the Smyrna position. His advance thrust the Georgia militia back to Nickajack Ridge, baring the approach to the river. That night Johnston moved from Smyrna and took up position on the north bank of Chattahoochee. Here were works prepared in advance, and here for several days the hours were filled with skirmishing. Sherman had brought up, hot foot, the remainder of the blue army from Kennesaw. "We ought," he says, "to have caught Johnston on this retreat, but he had prepared the way too well."
The Chattahoochee was a fordable stream. On the eighth, some miles above the grey entrenchments, Sherman crossed over two army corps. On the ninth, the Army of Tennessee crossed the Chattahoochee, and took up position behind Peach Tree Creek, a bold affluent of that river. The ground was rough, seamed with ravines. It was high and convex to the foe. Behind it was a fortified town, fit base for a culminating battle. "About the middle of June," says Joseph E. Johnston, "Captain Grant, of the Engineers, was instructed to strengthen the fortifications of Atlanta materially, on the side toward Peach Tree Creek, by the addition of redoubts and by converting barbette into embrasure batteries, I also obtained promise of seven seacoast rifles from General D. H. Maury, to be mounted on that front. Colonel Presstman was instructed to join Captain Grant with his subordinates, in this work of strengthening the defences of Atlanta, especially between the Augusta and Marietta roads, as the enemy was approaching on that side. For the same reason a position on the high ground looking down into the valley of Peach Tree Creek was selected for the army, from which it might engage the enemy if he should expose himself in the passage of the stream. The position of each division was marked and pointed out to its staff officers." "And," says the Federal General Howard, "Johnston had planned to attack Sherman at Peach Tree Creek, expecting just such a division between our wings as we made."
For a week Sherman made feints and demonstrations. The end of that time found the two armies actually confronted. Behind the two there had fallen into the abyss of time seventy days of hard and skilful fencing. Each had felt the rapier point, but no vital spot had been reached. Each had lost blood; thousands lay quiet forever in the dark woods and by the creeks of that hundred and twenty miles. Each had been at odd times reinforced; the accession in strength had covered the loss. On the last day of June the Federal "effective strength for offensive purposes" is given as one hundred and six thousand, nine hundred and seventy men. On the same day Johnston's effective strength is given as fifty-four thousand and eighty-five men. General Sherman states that throughout the campaign he knew his numbers to be double those of Johnston. He could afford to lose two to one without disturbing the relative strength of the armies.
On the evening of the seventeenth of July there was delivered to the commander of the Army of Tennessee a telegram from Richmond: It read,
"Lieutenant-General J. B. Hood has been commissioned to the temporary rank of general under the late law of Congress. I am directed by the Secretary of War to inform you that, as you have failed to arrest the advance of the enemy to the vicinity of Atlanta, and express no confidence that you can defeat or repel him, you are hereby relieved from the command of the Army and Department of Tennessee, which you will immediately turn over to General Hood.
"S. COOPER, Adjutant and Inspector-General."
Hardee, coming presently to headquarters, was shown the telegram. Johnston sat writing. Several of his staff were in waiting, one with pale face and set lips, another with eyes that winked back the tears.
Hardee read. "I don't believe it," he said.
"A thing may be both unbelievable and a fact," said Johnston, writing. " Well, I've got my wound. It's pretty deep so deep that I scarcely feel it."
He rose from the table and going to the window stood looking out at Antares, red in the heavens. "I have sent out the orders transferring the command," he said. "It's a strange world, Hardee."
"Sometimes I think it's a half-crazy one, sir," said Hardee, with a shaking voice. "I know what the army's going to think about it
"I wish as little said as possible," said Johnston. "It is the only way to take wounds."
He came back to the table, sat down, and began to write. "There are certain memoranda of plans " Through the window came a sound of horses stopping at the door, followed by a noise of steps in the hall. "Here is General Hood," said Johnston, and rose.
One of his colonels, in his official report, speaks as follows: "On the seventeenth of July the commanding general published an address to the army and announced that he would attack General Sherman's army so soon as it should cross the Chattahoochee. It was understood that the enemy was crossing at Roswell Factory beyond the right flank of the army and east of Peach Tree Creek. ... The order of battle was received with enthusiasm and the most confident spirit prevailed. Next day, the eighteenth, while we were forming to march from our bivouac to the right, a rumour-prevailed that General Johnston had been removed from command, and after we had marched some distance on the road to Atlanta a courier handed me a circular order from General Hood, announcing General Johnston's removal and assuming command. Shortly after, the farewell address of General Johnston was received and read to the regiment. It is due to truth to say that the reception of these orders produced the most despondent feeling in my command. The loss of the commanding general was felt to be irreparable. Continuing the march and passing by his headquarters, Walker's division passed at the shoulder, the officers saluting, and most of the latter and hundreds of the men taking off their hats. It had been proposed to halt and cheer, but General Johnston, hearing our intention, requested that the troops pass by in silence."
"The news," said Fighting Joe Hooker, "the news that General Johnston had been removed from the command of the army opposed to us was received by our officers with universal rejoicing."
"Heretofore," said Sherman, "the fighting has been as Johnston pleased, but now it shall be as I please."