Near Decatur, Georgia
I am with General Schofield’s Army in between McPherson to the left and Thomas on the right. Thomas will approach Atlanta from the North and cross Peach Tree Creek Schofield will move Southwest and his right will connect with Thomas’ left around Buck Head. McPherson and Garrard’s cavalry crossed the Chattahoochee at Roswell and headed for Stone Mountain and the Macon and Augusta Railroad East of Atlanta. They have met constant resistance from cavalry but no infantry. They are now astride the railroad and are tearing up several miles of track, twisting the rails so they cannot be reused. McPherson will approach Atlanta from the East connecting with Schofield’s left. I expect the enemy to attack McPherson’s force if they plan to hold Atlanta. I am anxious that Thomas cross Peach Tree Creek and move from the north so that when the enemy attack he can support McPherson and Schofield by an attack on the enemy flank.
HDQRS. MILITARY DIVISION OF THE MISSISSIPPI,
In the Field, near Decatur, Ga., July 19, 1864
I sent General Corse to you this morning to explain the various positions of the troops and to explain my wishes. I think you have too much of your force the other side of Nancy’s Creek. One division would be ample there, and all the rest in a general line, with Buck Head as a center. Howard’s corps should then feel to the left and cross the forks of the Peach Tree, toward Pea Vine Creek. I take it for granted all the main crossings of Peach Tree in that quarter are well covered, but can be turned by the left. We are across all the forks of the Peach Tree, and the head of Schofield’s column is beyond the forks of the road leading to Decatur and Atlanta, where Powers’ is on our map. The Atlanta road is a big one and about half a mile west of Powell’s forks, the left to Atlanta six miles, and the right to Pace’s Ferry. After crossing the Middle Fork, a main fork of the Peach Tree, General Schofield sent Colonel Hartsuff, of his staff, to feel down. He went to the crossing places of Peach Tree, approaching from the south, and was fired on from the bank supposed to be occupied by Howard, and had an orderly wounded. I have no doubt Howard can cross anywhere above the forks.
I have seen an Atlanta paper of the 18th, containing Johnston’s farewell order to his troops. From its tone and substance I infer he has been relieved by Jeff. Davis, who sent Bragg to Atlanta to bear the order. I also infer it is for the purpose of getting another commander. Hood succeeds.
You must get across Peach Tree either by moving direct on Atlanta, or, if necessary, leave a force to watch the bridge in possession of the enemy and move by the left. This is very important, and at once, as we may have to fight all of Hood’s from east of Atlanta. I prefer you should let Howard open the way at once along the Pace’s Ferry and Decatur road, or any other in that direction. I will push for the occupation of Decatur and then west for Atlanta, till we know exactly what the artificial defenses are.
I have already advised you that McPherson has taken the railroad between Decatur a Stone Mountain, and I expect him and Schofield to make a junction in Decatur today, in which case I will move Schofield on the road from Powell’s to Atlanta. Schofield reports that his skirmishers are just in the edge of Decatur: 1,05 p. m.
A paragraph in the Atlanta paper of yesterday says the people in Montgomery were in great apprehensions about a Yankee raid, and were rushing to arms for the defense of the city. That means Rousseau.
HDQRS. MILITARY DIVISION OF THE MISSISSIPPI, In the Field Northeast of Atlanta, July 19, 1864
I have your note of today about the pontoon bridge. You will remember you promised to save one bridge of pontoons of the enemy, and I thought that would be laid at Pace’s, the most easily drawn from for the use of Stoneman, but I will let Stoneman go without, for I doubt whether we can get cavalry to cross the river as long as the enemy chooses to picket it. I am intensely anxious to hear your position and whether, if we engaged the enemy tomorrow, you can lend us a hand. I am satisfied both forks of Peach Tree above the forks can be forded, and I cannot hear that Howard is across even the Middle Fork.
McPherson has broken the railroad to Decatur and occupied Decatur. Schofield is on a road from Doctor Powell’s to Atlanta, his advance a mile and a half down the road at the Pea Vine. I beg you to send me a sketch of the position of your troops, that I may know whether to move tomorrow directly on Atlanta. If not already done, Howard should prepare bridges across both branches of Peach Tree tonight, that in case we become heavily engaged tomorrow you can re-enforce us.
What about the report of Stoneman about the enemy crossing the Chattahoochee westward at Sweet Water? I think it was a party sent to prevent Stoneman’s return from West Point, whither they supposed he had gone. General Corse is not yet back, but I look for him all the time.
I am, yours, truly,
W. T. SHERMAN, Major-General
I have seen your note of General Howard. I am at the crossing of Peach Tree Creek with General Wood’s division, who has crossed one brigade and is crossing another on the main road to Atlanta. General Davis is across Peach Tree at two places. General Geary will cross immediately on Wood’s right. The troops are all pressing forward. All my troops were between Nancy’s and Peach Tree Creek last night, and your orders of yesterday were thoroughly executed.
Your note dated near Decatur is received. General Wood is across Peach Tree Creek on the main road to Atlanta and pushing forward. General Geary is crossing now immediately on Wood’s right. General Davis has crossed at two points, near Moore’s Mill and Howell’s Mill. All are ordered to push for Atlanta. It appears to me this movement will relieve General Schofield in his move on Decatur.
Your order, however, to General Howard has been between Nancy’s Creek and Peach Tree Creek, the place where your ordered them, ever since 12 o’clock yesterday, and by sundown yesterday Palmer’s skirmishers were on the bank of Peach Tree Creek covering all the crossings toward Atlanta, and the enemy continually pressed at all points.
I have given orders that the troops move forward at daybreak tomorrow morning for Atlanta.
An Atlanta paper of today has been captured by Wood’s force which reports Opelika was captured yesterday and corroborates the report that Johnston has been relieved by Hood.
GEO. H. THOMAS
Good for Rousseau! Move for Atlanta at daylight, trying to connect with Schofield two miles east of Atlanta. He will move on the road from Howell’s to Atlanta; McPherson by the main road, following substantially the railroad. The confusion resulting from my misunderstanding your position resulted from want of information. I supposed your central corps to be on the main road from Buck Head to Atlanta, the right corps extending to the mouth of Nancy’s Creek, and the left Howard, up along the Peach Tree road. The road laid down on the map from Buck Head, crossing Peach Tree in lot 155, where Stanley now is, intersects another to Atlanta, crossing the South Fork, which is much the smaller of the two, and easily fordable at lot 57. That road would connect your left with Schofield at the very point needed. On that road I know Howard could meet no forts or barricades, but on the direct road I have no doubt forts will be met.
With McPherson, Howard, and Schofield, I would have ample to fight the whole of Hood’s army, leaving you to walk into Atlanta, capturing guns and everything. But with Schofield and McPherson alone, the going will not be so certain. I would like to have Stanley’s and Newton’s divisions follow that route, and let Wood go ahead, as he is across, and effect the junction at some point near Pea Vine, say two or three miles northeast of Atlanta. At all events, now that I fell satisfied you can get across Peach Tree, and as I think the opportunity the best, I will order the universal movement on Atlanta at daylight. Communicate with me as often as possible. I will be with Schofield, the center.
General Corse just left me for General Thomas. On the main road to Atlanta I find the bridge burnt, stream about fifty paces wide, a bridge-head pretty well constructed for infantry and will manned with troops armed with rifles. No further works can be seen on the main ridge beyond the creek. I do not deem a crossing at this point practicable. On the Decatur road General Stanley finds the bridge burning, which he will try to secure and repair. Very little force in his front. This brigade was across the north fork of Peach Tree Creek. General Newton, upon an intermediate road between Stanley and Wood, finds infantry works defended by troops. On Wood the enemy opened with two pieces of artillery and made demonstration as if to turn his right flank, but it resulted in nothing further. The rumor is (from prisoners and scouts) that Hood is in command, and that Johnston has gone east. A scout who was there reports that the rebel right flank (infantry) was last night at dark near this bridge on the Atlanta road, where Wood now is.
I have received your note. It is true Johnston is relieved and gone east. I have seen a copy of his order of farewell to his troops. Hood is in command and at Atlanta.
I want Thomas to have more of his command at Buck Head. A division will be ample west of Nancy’s. All the rest should be from Buck Head east. I wish him to press hard at all the crossings of the main Peach Tree Creek, but your corps should be across in the direction of Decatur or Pea Vine Creek.
General Schofield sent to communicate with you, and the bearer, approached by one of the crossings, the second one from the mouth of the South Fork, but was fired on, he thinks, by your pickets, wounding an orderly, and he returned. You will have no trouble in crossing the two forks of Peach Tree any where above the forks. General Schofield now holds the forks of the Atlanta and Decatur road, and is skirmishing on both, but thinks he will soon have the head of his column at Decatur. McPherson is approaching the same objective point from the east, having broken up the railroad good. I will write to General Thomas by a courier, and give him such orders as will enable you to put your corps across both forks of Peach Tree between Schofield and your present position.
W. T. SHERMAN, Major-General
General Geary has one brigade established on the south side of Peach Tree Creek. I have directed him to skirmish along the ridge, which is a continuation of the ridge which leads to the creek from my headquarters. Lieutenant Ludlow is now engaged in constructing a bridge for the passage of artillery and trains. We encountered but little resistance after I had gotten one regiment over the creek. My headquarters to-night same as last night.
The enemy opposed to me, prisoners state,is Gist’s brigade, Walker’s division, Hardee’s corps. As near as I can learn Walker’s division is now drawn up in line of battle on the Atlanta road, via Howell’s Mill. Prisoners state that the whole of Hardee’s corps is in this neighborhood.
Prisoners state that that the order was published last night relieving Johnston and putting Hood in command of their army. They do not know that any portion of their forces have been sent to our left. They say that Stewart’s corps is on the left of Hardee’s, which latter is in our front. They state further that their main line of defense is three miles from Atlanta in front of me, and about two and a half miles in the direction of the Chattahoochee. They state that the assignment of Hood gives great dissatisfaction in Hardee’s corps.
I need to know if the enemy is moving a lot of troops north of the Chattahoochee to attack my rear. I asked again about Stoneman’s Report:
I have just received General Stoneman’s note with your indorsement. I cannot reconcile his information with what I see and hear; yet it is possible that the enemy is crossing in force at the mouth of Sweet Water. I think it is the cavalry by way of diversion. Please send to General Stoneman again and see if he has ascertained the truth; and if you deem it necessary you can send your right corps across at Powers’ Ferry and interpose between the enemy and our bridges, as also Marietta. Stoneman and McCook have force enough to check any movement of cavalry, and there is a good force of infantry at Marietta and Kenesaw, to which place information should be promptly sent.
I have ascertained that the rebel party that crossed the river last night near the mouth of Sweet Water Creek, probably recrossed this morning, as I cannot hear of their having gone northward, nor that they brought over any horses. The enemy’s pickets near Turner’s Ferry and the mouth of Nickajack were very active and unusually spiteful all night and this morning, and I have strengthened the line, keeping full all night and this morning, and I have strengthened the line, keeping a limited reserve at the most central position. He appears strongest near the mouth of Sweet Water, a large cavalry camp being there.
I learn that several parties of several hundred in each party made their appearance in the country we passed over, crossing at Campbellton after we left there, three days ago. The enemy have facilities for crossing, as he has all the boats near the mouth of Sweet Water watching the force opposite, another near the mouth of Nickajack, the dismounted men at Turner’s Ferry, all connecting. My remaining force, acting as a reserve, and to guard our communications, is at and near the Widow Mitchell’s, and from this I also send out scouts beyond the Sweet Water Town bridge. I will keep you, and through you, the commanding general, informed of everything of importance as it transpires.
Very respectfully, &c.,
GEORGE STONEMAN, Major-General, Commanding
SPECIAL FIELD ORDERS, HDQRS. MIL. DIV. OF THE MISS., Numbers 39. In the Field, near Decatur, Ga., July 19, 1864.
The whole army will move on Atlanta by the most direct roads to-morrow, July 20, beginning at 5 a. m., as follows:
I. Major-General Thomas from the direction of Buck Head, his left to connect with General Schofield’s right about two miles northeast of Atlanta, about lot 15, near the houses marked as “Hu.” and “Colonel Hoo.”
II. Major-General Schofield by the road leading from Doctor Powell’s to Atlanta.
III. Major-General McPherson will follow one or more roads direct from Decatur to Atlanta, following substantially the railroad. Each army commander will accept battle on anything like fair terms, but if the army reach within cannon-range of the city without receiving artillery or musketry fire he will halt, from a strong line, with batteries in position, and await orders. If fired on fro the first or building of Atlanta no consideration must be paid to the fact that they are occupied by families, but the place must be cannonaded without the formality of a demand.
The general-in-chief will be with the center of the army, viz, with or near General Schofield.
By order of Major General W. T. Sherman:
L. M. DAYTON, Aide-de-Camp