Tuesday, May 10, 1864

Tunnel Hill, Georgia

I discussed our situation with Thomas and Schofield. I think we are satisfied that our troops cannot take Rocky Face Ridge, and also the attempt to put our column into the jaws of Buzzard Roost would be fatal to us.

Two plans of action suggest themselves: First. By night, to replace Schofield’s present command by Stoneman’s cavalry and rapidly move our entire army to Snake Creek Gap, and join McPherson, whilst the wagons are moved to Villanow. When we are joined to McPherson to move from Sugar Valley on Resaca, interposing ourselves between that place and Dalton. Could your army and McPherson’s surely whip Joe Johnston? Second. To cut loose from the railroad altogether and move the whole army on the same objective point, leaving Johnston to choose his courage.

Thomas suggested leaving General Schofield where he is, placing General Howard in front of the gap, to intrench himself to hold the gap and send General Hooker’s corps at once to support General McPherson. Thomas thinks General Hooker’s corps will be sufficient to enable General McPherson to whip any force that Johnston can bring against him.

I asked Thomas to order Hooker to Snake Creek Gap in support of McPherson. I wrote my plans and sent them to Thomas.

HDQRS. MILITARY DIVISION OF THE MISSISSIPPI, In the Field, Tunnel Hill, May 10, 1864
Major-General THOMAS, Commanding Army of the Cumberland:

GENERAL: I propose to leave hereabouts one of your corps, say Howard’s, the cavalry of Colonel McCook, and the cavalry of General Stoneman, to keep up the feint of a direct attack on Dalton through Buzzard Roost Gap as long as possible, and with all the remainder of the three armies to march to and through Snake Creek Gap and to attack the enemy in force from that quarter. You may at once commence the necessary preparations and give orders that the force left here is to be under the command of the senior officer, who will strip his command light, sending all spare wagons to Ringgold; that the cars run daily to this point with daily supplies, but the main stores to be at Ringgold; that the cavalry watch well the passes north of Tunnel Hill and at Ray’s Gap, and that in case the enemy detect the diminution of the enforce and attack, it gradually withdraw in the direction of Ringgold, but defend that point at all cost; that a locomotive and construction train be kept here with orders and prepared if this retrograde movement be made necessary that the party shall take up at intervals rails, so as to make a repair train necessary to replace them; this that the enemy may not use the track to facilitate his movement in pursuit. A few rails should at once be removed at some point east of the tunnel that can again be put down when we want it done.

The pass at Snake Creek is represented as very narrow. Please instruct a division to be there tomorrow provided with axes and spades so as to widen the road as to enable the passage of wagons, also to facilitate the march of troops by roads and paths outside the wagon track. General Stoneman will be at Varnell’s tonight, and by to-morrow night all his command will be in, so that we will calculate all to go to Snake Creek and close up on General McPherson during the day after to-morrow. As soon as General Stoneman comes I will cause him to relieve Colonel McCook on that flank, so that you may send him to replace General Geary at Ray’s road. Let the troops move as much under cover as possible, wagons going around by Villanow and the troops by the Mill Creek road. General Schofield will either go round by Villanow or follow General Newton.

I am, &c.,
W. T. SHERMAN, Major-General, Commanding

I asked Schofield to be ready to move at moments notice:

TUNNEL HILL, May 10, 1864
Major-General SCHOFIELD, Rocky Face

GENERAL: Keep your entire command ready to move to this place. McPherson did not break the railroad although he reached Resaca, which he found fortified and manned. I may make one of two moves, and either or both very sudden; take up my whole army and move to Resaca, or leave you here with Stoneman’s cavalry at the point now occupied by you to cover this narrow outlet, and with Thomas to issue on the east of Rocky Face at Sugar Valley and interpose between Johnston and his base. The latter I prefer. If possible, hurry Stoneman, and write me your opinion.

W. T. SHERMAN, Major-General

General Schofield sends his opinion:


My opinion is in favor of the first of the plans you propose, ie., to take your whole army to Resaca. To leave my small command here (at Tunnel Hill and this place) would simply result in my being idle or being whipped. The moment Johnston discovered the move he would turn upon me, drive me back, and capture your supplies at Tunnel Hill, then turn upon you. If you can carry with you large supplies to Resaca than Johnston has north of that point, I believe your success would not be doubtful, even if Dalton were fortified toward the south, which I understand it is not. Dalton being not fortified toward the south, if you can carry supplies enough to last while you defeat Johnston in open field, and then reopen your communication with Chattanooga, your success seems more than probable.

Would not 12,000 men be more certain to aid you by being with you in Johnston’s rear, than by trying to hold Tunnel Hill with Johnston between it and the main army? If there was any certainty of my force being able to do what is desired in your second plan, I would regard the latter as less objectionable, for I understand that Thomas and McPherson are stronger than Johnston. With my present impression, I think it would be little more than throwing away my command, at least so far as the present operations are concerned, to leave it here.

I have perhaps expressed my opinion more decidedly than is justified by the short time I have had to consider the question, and my limited knowledge of some of the less important data upon which such as opinion must be founded. Longer consideration or more accurate knowledge might cause me to change my views. At all events, whatever the plan may be, I will cheerfully do my utmost to execute my part of it. I take it for granted you regard Chattanooga as impregnable against assault. My infantry is all here except one regiment at Red Clay. Stoneman’s First Brigade was at Cleveland at noon. The other is to be there tomorrow. This is the most definite report I have about it. The cavalry is coming forward as rapidly as practicable.

Very respectfully, your obedient servant,
J. M. SCHOFIELD, Major-General

I told Schofield that his command did a fine job removing his troops from a forward position to a retreat behind fortifications yesterday. I sent him this message:

Tunnel Hill, May 10, 1864
Major-General SCHOFIELD, Commanding Army of the Ohio:

I shall attack Johnston through Snake Creek Gap. I will take your three infantry division along, but for the time will have to leave Stoneman to guard the point now occupied by you and to keep up a delusion as long as possible. I propose to leave Howard here so light and so familiar with the ground the Johnston cannot strike him. I have made some orders accordingly, and without attracting too much attention you may prepare to move about the day after tomorrow by Villanow and the gap. It may be necessary to start in the night to avoid being seen. Get all your wagons in the best order possible, and send for Stoneman to come over to seem me. I want to give him some personal instructions.

I regret I cannot, under the circumstances, relieve Hovey, because I know General Grant esteems him and gave him the promise of this division. He was peculiarly noted in the affair at Champion’s Hill, and had quite a name as brigadier. I do not propose to keep any supplies here, but to send all that are not issued back to Ringgold, and if the enemy are drawn here we will make short work of them at Dalton.

I propose to take McPherson, 23,000, Thomas, 30,000, and you, 12,000, with Garrard’s cavalry at Villanow; McCook between this and Villanow, and Stoneman north of the tunnel. On the contrary, I am glad to have you at all times give me your unqualified opinion freely and frankly. Call in that regiment at Red Clay, and caution the force at Charleston to keep on the north bank and guard the bridge. Thomas will instruct the Cleveland garrison, and I will have a construction train run down to Varnell’s and take up a train-load of iron and run it into Chattanooga, so that the enemy cannot use the road whilst we are south of them.

Chattanooga cannot be taken by Johnston with us on his heels. I’ll risk that. I think all the chances are in favor of the move. McPherson is already there. Hooker, has gone in support, and the defenses of Dalton will not avail Johnston if we interpose between him and Georgia. Buzzard Roost is as hard to pass out as in.

W. T. SHERMAN, Major-General

I wish you would have Stoneman come to see me the moment you can. He can bring his cavalry near you and send here for corn.
W. T. S.

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