George Eggleston.

The History of the Confederate War, Its Causes and Its Conduct. Volume 2 of 2



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Then on the seventeenth of July came a change of commanders on the Confederate side which did more than anything else that happened or could have happened during the campaign, to help forward Sherman's success. Angrily and with insulting comment, the Confederate authorities removed Johnston from command and ordered him to turn over his authority to General John B. Hood.

In a subordinate position Hood had demonstrated a vigorous fighting capacity. He had not before commanded an army, and in the opinion of those who had directed his operations, he was a man peculiarly unfit to command an army. General Longstreet once said of him, "Hood is one of the best division commanders I ever knew. He would fight anybody anywhere, at any time. But he has no more discretion than any pugnacious schoolboy might be expected to manifest."

Hood's proceedings at and after Atlanta certainly justified this judgment of a great general who had had full opportunity to observe his conduct and estimate his capacities. For surely at no point in the war was a situation more blunderingly or more bravely handled than was that at Atlanta under Hood. If that general had had any discretion at all he must have seen that it was the one function of his army to delay, embarrass and prevent Sherman's march through Georgia to the sea. Yet no sooner was that march undertaken than Hood abandoned all effort to check it, left Sherman free to do as he might, and himself marched northward upon a wild-goose chase of campaigning in pursuit of the pot of gold at the farther end of the rainbow. With all that we shall deal hereafter.

Hood's reckless impetuosity promptly manifested itself. Abandoning all of Johnston's precautions, and quitting his defenses, Hood hurled column after column upon the enemy on the twentieth of July and succeeding days, only to have them broken to pieces in a mad endeavor to accomplish the impossible. He inflicted heavy losses upon Sherman's army, to be sure, but his madness entailed upon his own force losses which it could far less well afford. There is no doubt whatever that his impetuosity, which some critics have characterized as foolhardiness, greatly aided Sherman in his purpose of capturing Atlanta.

Beaten in these insane ventures Hood was slowly forced back upon the inner defenses of the town, but he had not yet learned his lesson. As late as the twenty-second of the month he again moved out of his fortifications and assailed Sherman with a vigor which would have been praiseworthy had he possessed a force adequate to his undertaking. Seven times he pushed his men forward to the assault, and seven times he was bloodily repulsed. It was gallant fighting that he did, but fighting ill directed and foolishly undertaken. To paraphrase the familiar quotation, it was magnificent, but it was not war. So far as the facts are ascertainable, it appears that Hood's losses greatly exceeded those which he inflicted upon his enemy, a very serious circumstance in view of the fact of his greatly inferior numbers.

On the twenty-seventh of July Sherman again moved by his right flank in the attempt to cut the railroad lines south of Atlanta.

On the twenty-eighth Hood assailed him violently, and a severe action occurred involving heavy losses on both sides. Thus far in the campaign, according to the official reports, the Confederates had lost 8,841 men, and the Federals 9,917.

The campaign had been accompanied by various and extensive cavalry raids, chiefly on the part of the Federal troops. On one of these raids the Federal General Stoneman was captured with 700 of his men, while General McCook, who was to have met and co?operated with him, lost the greater part of his force as prisoners.

Continuing his southward movements by the right flank Sherman at last succeeded in placing his army south of Atlanta, where a deal of hard fighting occurred.

The position thus taken up by the Federals rendered it imperative that Hood should either assail and crush his foe or make such escape as he could from Atlanta. His efforts to crush his foe had failed too conspicuously for even so venturesome a commander to renew them, and accordingly on the night of September first Hood destroyed all that he could of government property, and withdrew to a strong position eastward of the town. Sherman immediately occupied Atlanta, and quickly made an impregnable fortress of it.

His army now lay fortified almost in the center of what remained of the Confederacy. A pause for reorganization, recuperation and the bringing in of supplies was all that remained to him before he should undertake that march to the sea by which Grant had ordered him again to cut the Confederacy in twain. He expected to make that march in daily and hourly conflict with Hood's forces. But as we shall see hereafter, when the story of that matter is told, he made the march in fact, with no opposition at all, beyond that of some handfuls of cavalry, for the reason that Hood, after the surrender of Atlanta, had gone rainbow chasing northward into Tennessee.

CHAPTER L
The Bay Fight at Mobile

In the meanwhile another important blow had been struck in pursuance of Grant's comprehensive plan of destroying the Confederate capacity of resistance.

The reader will doubtless remember that when Farragut captured New Orleans in April, 1862, he desired at once to move against Mobile in the hope and confident expectation of capturing and closing all those Confederate ports upon which, as blockade running centers, the Southerners relied for the export of their cotton, and the import of arms, ammunition and clothing. From this purpose Farragut was diverted by the peremptory orders of civilians in the navy department at Washington, and it was not until more than two years later that he was permitted to act upon a plan which common sense had dictated from the beginning. In the meanwhile the Confederates, with that energy and ceaseless determination which characterized all their activities, had been daily and hourly rendering the capture of their ports more and more difficult. At Mobile they had strengthened the fortifications and mounted destructively heavy guns in their casemates and upon their parapets. They had strewn the harbor thick with torpedoes of every kind then known to the military science of destruction. When at last in August, 1864, Farragut was permitted to undertake that enterprise against Mobile which would have been easy and nearly bloodless, if he had been allowed to undertake it two years and three months earlier, he had before him one of the most difficult tasks that was set for any naval commander in this war to accomplish.

Early on the morning of August fifth, Farragut put his fleet in motion to enter Mobile bay. The entrance is a narrow one and was obstructed by every device that engineering ingenuity could place in the pathway of an invading fleet. The only passageway into the harbor lay between Fort Morgan on Mobile Point, and Fort Gaines on Dauphin Island, three miles away. Two miles of this narrow passageway had been completely obstructed by the driving of innumerable piles into the sands, thus forming a fence through which the stoutest ship could not force its way. From the end of this pile fence eastward toward Fort Morgan there extended a quadruple line of destructive torpedoes. The only open way into the harbor was a narrow passage left for the use of blockade runners, directly under the guns of Fort Morgan.

Inside the bay there was a Confederate fleet of considerable strength, including one ironclad ram, and many heavily armed wooden gunboats. The bay was also thickly strewn with mines and torpedoes, the exact location of which was known of course to the Confederate officers, but entirely unknown to Farragut and his captains.

On the fourth of August a strong land force under General Gordon Granger succeeded in making a landing on Dauphin Island. This gave to Farragut the support he had desired from the land side. His time had at last come, and with four ironclad monitors, seven wooden vessels, all heavily armed, and a fleet of gunboats he advanced toward the mouth of the bay, a little after daylight on the morning of August 5, 1864.

During almost half an hour before Farragut's ships were in a position from which they could render their own fire effective, the fire from the Confederate forts and still more from the Confederate fleet that lay just inside the entrance line, played havoc with the wooden ships of Farragut's squadron. His flagship, the Hartford, had her mainmast shot away and many of her crew destroyed. Still Farragut pushed onward without a moment's hesitation at any point until he brought his ships into a position from which they could effectively return the Confederate fire. The heavier metal of his guns quickly and disastrously told upon the Confederate defenses. But these continued to belch out destruction in spite of any crippling that had been done to them, and for a time the fleet suffered terribly.

In order that he might see everything that occurred and direct the conflict with full knowledge of all its details, Farragut mounted to the rigging of his flagship, and a quartermaster lashed him to the spars in order that he might not fall to the deck, in the event of his receiving a wound.

One of Farragut's monitors, the Tecumseh, was quickly destroyed in an attempt to pass over the line of torpedoes in order to engage the Confederate ram, Tennessee, at close quarters. The Monitor encountered one of the torpedoes, and its explosion sent her to the bottom so suddenly that her commander and most of her crew perished with her.

The Brooklyn had been set to lead the advance with Farragut's flagship following immediately in her wake. The Brooklyn was provided with an apparatus for removing torpedoes in advance of her, but the apparatus was by no means a perfect one, and when the commander of that ship discovered the presence of torpedoes almost immediately under his bows, he stopped his vessel and began to back her. The whole fleet was now under a terrific fire, and the maintenance of its order was of the most vital importance. Farragut saw in a moment that the backing of the Brooklyn must result not only in halting the entire line under a destructive fire, but in throwing it into hopeless confusion. It was then that he gave his celebrated order, "Go on, damn the torpedo!" But as the Brooklyn still hesitated, Farragut immediately pushed the Hartford past that vessel, and himself took the lead of the line with his flagship, "damning the torpedoes."

Having crippled the forts and forced his way past the entrance into the harbor, Farragut ordered all his gunboats which had been lashed to the wooden vessels to cut loose, and assail the enemy's fleet. This they did with vigor and promptitude, capturing or destroying nearly all of the Confederate vessels.

There still remained, however, the Confederate ram, Tennessee, a powerful ironclad ship, commanded by a gallant captain, and manned by a desperately determined crew. Seeing what had happened, the commander of the Tennessee instantly tripped his anchors, and steamed at full speed into the midst of the Federal fleet, firing as he went, and with the great steel nose of his ship ramming every vessel that came in his way. Farragut's fleet in the meanwhile poured all the fire possible upon the ironclad monster to no effect, and many of them stove in their bows in a futile effort to sink her by collision. Then the monitors assailed her and so far crippled her, after a brief struggle, that she surrendered.

The story of this great battle at the mouth of Mobile Bay has been splendidly told in verse by Henry Howard Brownell in his poem entitled, "The Bay Fight." Mr. Brownell had written a poem called "The River Fight" in celebration of Farragut's struggle for the defenses of New Orleans two years before. Farragut had written to the poet, expressing his appreciation of his tribute, and at Brownell's request that he might accompany the great sea fighter in his next battle, Farragut had taken him with him on the Hartford as a witness to the struggle at the mouth of Mobile Bay.

The battle there had been a desperate one, costly in life and in ships, but it had accomplished its purpose. Farragut had passed the forts after crippling them so badly that they surrendered a few days later. He had destroyed the Confederate fleet and was now completely master of the entrance to a harbor which he had permanently sealed against the world. By reason of shoal water in the bay, he found it impossible to steam up to the city and take possession of it. But at any rate he had destroyed it for all useful purposes as a Confederate port. Its capture from the land side was now certain, whenever any one of the Federal generals in the field should see fit to move against it in adequate force. In the meanwhile its nominal defense served henceforth only to occupy troops whose presence was badly needed by Lee in his great contest with Grant in Virginia.

CHAPTER LI
The Mine Explosion at Petersburg

General Grant was a man of skill and genius in the game of war. But until the summer of 1864 he had never played that game against another great master of it. He had baffled and beaten Albert Sydney Johnston, whose reputation as a commander of great skill rests rather upon the anticipation of his comrades in the old army at the outbreak of the war, than upon any demonstration of such skill made by himself. Grant had held his own and more against Beauregard in the tremendous second day's struggle at Shiloh. He had overcome great natural obstacles in his effort to take Vicksburg and he had received there the surrender of Pemberton, – a general who had never before commanded an army in the field, or in any other way manifested a capacity for command. Grant had also met Bragg at Chattanooga and beaten him. But none of these antagonists had been comparable with Lee as a great master of strategy and command.

When Grant found himself defeated at Cold Harbor, as he has himself described his situation, he had been baffled in both the purposes with which he had undertaken his campaign. He had not crushed Lee's army, nor had he succeeded in cutting it off from its base in the fortifications of Richmond. He had said at Spottsylvania that he would "fight it out on this line if it takes all summer." The summer was still young when he found himself at Cold Harbor unable to do further fighting upon that line. He had crippled his enemy, it is true, but he had lost more than three men to that enemy's one, and that enemy still lay between him and Richmond in a mood of resoluteness and defiance. There was no way open to him by which, with any show of sanity, to assail Lee further in the field. It was then that he decided upon a campaign on other lines than those which he had chosen at the beginning of the summer.

He hoped by his movement upon Petersburg to take Lee at last by surprise, to cut his communications, and compel his precipitate retreat from the Confederate capital. Here again he was baffled of his purpose. There remained to him only the resource of dogged determination. He called for reinforcements in order that his army might always outnumber that of his adversary by two or three to one, and thus equipped with superior force, he determined, by continually extending his lines to the south and west, to draw Lee's slender line of defense into the condition of an attenuated thread.

Let us make this military situation clear to the minds of unmilitary readers. Grant lay east of Richmond and Petersburg, with a secure base of supplies at City Point on the James river, just in his rear. That base was perfectly protected by a great war fleet which lay in the river and held it. It was easily accessible from the North by transports of every kind, bringing troops or supplies of food or ammunition. Grant's rear was as secure and as well furnished as if it had rested upon New York harbor.

He so disposed his men as to threaten Richmond and Petersburg over a space of about thirty miles. His battalions and his guns besieged the two cities all the way from a position north of Richmond, across James river and the Appomattox, to a point south and west of Petersburg. Good roads and a railroad in his rear lay beyond the possible sight of his enemy, and by the use of these he could concentrate any force he pleased at any point he might select upon Lee's attenuated lines, – all without Lee's knowledge, and beyond the possibility of his discovery.

From the beginning of these siege operations to the end General Grant's plan was not that which is here suggested, but another and slower one. It was his plan to continue the extension of his lines southward and westward toward the Weldon railroad, thus compelling his adversary to stretch out his lines and weaken his defenses at every point, and at the same time threatening his communications with the south. This cautious policy is explained and perhaps justified by the fact that in the preliminary operations against Petersburg, in which General Grant was baffled of his purpose to take that town with a rush, the Federals had lost no less than 10,000 men in a stubborn fight with Lee's small head of column. To assail Lee and such an army as that which Lee commanded behind entrenchments was a task so difficult and so perilous that it might well give pause to the most daring and most obstinate of generals.

No sooner was position taken up in front of Petersburg than Grant began his bold operations against the Weldon railroad leading thence southward. On the twenty-first and twenty-second of June Grant and Meade sent heavy forces southward and hurled them upon the Confederate defenses of that railroad. These forces were promptly met by the Confederates and disastrously defeated with a loss of 1,700 prisoners and four guns captured.

The failure of this enterprise ended operations in that quarter with such purpose for several weeks to come. Another plan was formed by which to break Confederate resistance. Immediately in front of Petersburg the two opposing lines of fortifications lay at one point within less than fifty yards of each other. Each line was strongly built and each was protected at every point by traverses, – earthworks built at right angles to the main works, as a protection against an enfilade or cross fire. So close were the works together, and so incessant was the fire that it became at last impossible for men on either side to show their heads above the works in order to discharge their guns. On either side port holes were made by the placing of sand bags on top of the parapets, in such fashion as to leave holes through which the men might fire their guns. Even these port holes were unavailable for use if by any chance the enemy looking toward them through a port hole on the other side could see the sky beyond. The moment a man undertook to shoot through the port hole his head, obscuring the light, revealed his presence there to some sharpshooter on the other side who was standing ready with gun aimed and "bead drawn" waiting to fire into the hole the instant the sky beyond should be obscured by human presence. So ceaseless was the fire at this point that repeated experiments showed that any twig thrust above the crest of the parapet would be instantly cut in two by one of the multitudinous bullets which were flowing in a continuous stream from one side to the other.

The space between the works was so perfectly and completely commanded by Confederate artillery that no general in his senses would have thought of attempting to cross it, even with the most heroic of veterans. But just in rear of the Federal lines there was a cavernous hollow between the hills, where anything might be done without the possibility of Confederate discovery. A regiment composed mainly of Pennsylvania coal miners was brought to that point, and instructed to push a mining shaft under the hill in order to plant a great mine immediately beneath the Confederate works.

The tunnel began in the ravine in rear of the Federal works, and extended thence 500 feet. This brought it immediately under an important redan in the Confederate lines. There a cross gallery eighty feet long was dug, and packed full of gunpowder, – 8,000 pounds in all.

The plan was to surprise the Confederates and break their lines by the explosion of this tremendous mine on the morning of the thirtieth of July. It was intended to take advantage of the confusion thus created, and push a strong column through the gap made in the works, thus cutting Lee's army in two, and compelling it to retreat.

The affair was badly managed from beginning to end, and resulted in a disaster which amounted almost to a crime. For the execution of such an enterprise as this, General Meade ought to have selected his most daring and determined subordinate to lead the assailing force. Instead of that he permitted the selection to be made by some species of lot drawing, and the choice fell upon General James H. Ledlie, who proved himself peculiarly unfit for the conduct of an enterprise that required so much of heroic daring. General Grant in his "Memoirs" says of this officer that, "Ledlie, besides being otherwise inefficient, proved also to possess a disqualification less common among soldiers." He did, indeed, order his men to advance into the breach made by the explosion which occurred at about daylight, but he did not lead them. He remained instead, during all that terrible day, securely ensconced in the ravine that lay in rear of the Federal line.



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