NEAR ATLANTA, GA., July 21, 1864: 8.30 p.m.
Major General H. W. HALLECK, Washington, D. C.:
Yesterday at 4 p. m. the enemy sallied from his entrenchments and fell suddenly and heavily on our line in the direction of Buck Head. The blow fell upon General Newton’s division, of General Howard’s corps, and on General Ward’s, Geary’s, and Williams’ divisions, of General Hooker’s corps, and General Johnson’s of General Palmer’s. For two hours the fighting was close severe, resulting in the complete repulse of the enemy with heavy loss in dead and wounded. He left his dead and many wounded in our possession, we retaining undisputed possession of all the ground fought over. General Newton reports he has buried 200 of the enemy’s dead, and is satisfied he wounded at least 1,200. His entire loss is only 100, as his men were partially covered by a rail barricade.
At the time of the attack General Hooker was in the act of advancing his lines, so that he fought his corps uncovered, in comparatively open ground and on fair terms with the enemy. The contest was very severe. He has buried about 400 of the rebel dead, took 7 colors, and has collected many of the wounded and other prisoners. Hooker thinks the rebel wounded in his front fully equal to 4,000; but I don’t’s like to make guesses in such matters. His own loss will be covered by 1,500. On the whole the result is most favorable to us.
Today we have gained important positions, so that General McPherson and Schofield, on the east, have batteries in position that will easily reach the heart of the city, and General Howard, on the north, also has advanced his lines about two miles, being within easy cannon-range of the buildings in Atlanta. He compelled the enemy to give up a long line of parapets, which constituted an advance line of entrenchments. The city seems to have a line all around it, at an average distance from the center of the town of a mile and a half, but our shot passing over this line will destroy the town.
I doubt if General Hood will stand a bombardment. Still he has fought hard at all points all day. I will open on the town from the east and northeast tomorrow, and General Thomas will advance his right from the mouth of Peach Tree Creek so as to cross the railroad to the northwest of the town. I have sent General Garrard’s cavalry eastward to Covington to break railroad and destroy the bridges on Yellow River and the Ulcofauhachee Creek. In the action yesterday the rebel generals O’Branan and Stevens were killed, and among the dead were 3 colonels and many officers. Brigadier-General Gresham was injured severely, but is in no danger of life or limb.
W. T. SHERMAN, Major-General
Since my report yesterday evening at 6 p. m. I have ascertained that, with the exception of General Geary’s division, my loss has been very slight, although exposed to as hot a fire as I have almost ever experienced. The enemy was handsomely repulsed at all points in every attack he made. On General Palmer he assaulted some six or seven times. The same on General Newton. The attack on General Hooker seemed to have been continuous from the time the attack first began until the final repulse about sundown. I passed by General Geary’s hospital last evening, and think he must have some 500 or 600 wounded. We took quite a number of prisoners (the exact number has not yet been reported), and General Ward reports that he has captured 2 stand of colors. Orders were given yesterday evening before I left the field to press the enemy again this morning, but I doubt if we can accomplish very much, as he undoubtedly had yesterday strong entrenchments in our front.
After leaving you today I visited General Palmer and saw his skirmishers advance well to his right flank. I am satisfied the enemy will not attempt to hold Atlanta and the fort at the railroad crossing of the Chattahoochee. There is a weak place in that line, and it can best be reached by advancing General Johnson on the direct road as far as possible and bringing General Baird and Davis well up on his right. I do not think the enemy will assume the offensive from the fort on the Chattahoochee, but it may be prudent to let General McCook watch him on both sides of the river.
The front of General Hooker is very narrow, but I admit is the point where your line should be the strongest. General Howard’s two divisions in the direction have advanced a good distance over a complete line of the enemy’s defenses, and I think both General Wood and Stanley are up to the main line of entrenchments, and that from General Wood’s right rifled guns can reach the town. The enemy still holds the hill near where General Stanley’s left and General Schofield’s right are, and they keep up an infernal clatter, but it sounds to me like a waste of ammunition.
General McPherson today charged and carried a hill, losing 250 men, but killing some and taking prisoners. From this hill he has an easy range of the town. We will try the effect of shelling tomorrow, and during it you had better make all the ground you can. I do not believe the enemy will repeat his assault as he had in that of yesterday his best troops and failed signally. Therefore I don’t fear for your right flank.
Still, it is well to be prudent.
Ours maps are all wrong and the quicker we can get our surveys up and publish the better. I will look to Schofield and McPherson tomorrow.
Report from General Palmer at 7.30 states that he had a conversation with a spy which confirms his previous impression that the rebel works extend to the river and are held in force. The rebel guns were fired yesterday from the high hill that overlooks Atlanta. Prisoners say that our shells yesterday fell into Atlanta, producing great consternation. They also say that General Stevens, commanding a brigade, was killed, and not Stevenson.
Davis’s skirmishers advanced today as far as the Marietta and Atlanta road. The enemy’s skirmish line was formed along the railroad. Newton Reports that the enemy is intrenched in his front in considerable numbers.
Encourage your troops to feel for the enemy line, but do not bring on a general engagement. Have your troops intrench against an enemy sally.
Davis reports that the enemy is entreched along the line of the Marietta and Atlanta Railroad. His skirmishers crossed the road but were driven back by several regiments.
I wrote to McPherson:
HDQRS. MILITARY DIVISION OF THE MISSISSIPPI, In the Field, near Atlanta, July 21, 1864: 1 a. m.
General McPHERSON, Army of the Tennessee:
I have yours of 8.45 last evening and regret much the wound which will deprive us of the services of General Gresham. I was in hopes you could have made a closer approach to Atlanta yesterday, as I was satisfied you had a less force and more inferior works than will be revealed by daylight, if, as I suppose, Hood propose to hold Atlanta to the death. All afternoon heavy and desperate sallies were made against Thomas, all along his lines from left to right, particularly heavy against Newton and Geary, but in every instance he was roughly handled; considerable firing has been going on all night along Howard’s lines, and still continues.
Tomorrow I propose to press along the whole line, and try to advance Thomas, so that we will command the Chattahoochee’s east bank, and contract our lines by diminishing the circle. I think tomorrow Hood will draw from his left and re-enforce his right. Nevertheless, I deem it necessary that you should gain ground so that your artillery can reach the town easily; say within 1,000 yards of the inner or main lines.
I have ordered Garrard to send to Roswell his wagons and impediments and push rapidly and boldly on the bridges across the Yellow River and Ulcofauhachee, near Covington, to be gone two days. Giver orders that in the mean time no trains come up you from Roswell. He will substantially cover the road back because all the cavalry in that direction will be driven away, still seem squads might be left about Stone Mountain, as he will take the direct road from Decatur to Covington, passing considerably south of Stone Mountain.
Order your ordnance wagons and those that you may have left about Decatur up to your immediate rear. I will ride over to Thomas tomorrow morning and would like to hear from you before starting. If at any time you see signs of retreat on the part of the enemy follow up with all possible vigor, keeping to the left or south of Atlanta and following roads that will keep you on that flank. If Hood was as roughly handled by Thomas this afternoon as reported, and in addition the little artillery he has displayed today, I would not be astonished to find him off in the morning, but I see no signs looking that way yet. In case he retreats it will be toward Macon, whither all the advance stores have been sent, and most of the provisions. I want him pursued vigorously for a couple of days.
W. T. SHERMAN, Major-General, Commanding
Brigadier-General Leggett, commanding Third Division, Seventeenth Army Corps, advanced his lines and captured a hill, quite a commanding position, this forenoon; also, some 60 prisoners, principally from Cleburne’s division. General Leggett is on my extreme left. The Fourth Division (late Gresham’s) made a demonstration at the same time in favor of Leggett, and the loss in the two divisions is between 260 and 300 killed and wounded. The hill is two and a quarter miles from Atlanta, and a portion of the enemy’s works around the town are in view. The enemy made one vigorous and two feeble attempts to recapture the hill, but were signally repulsed. Since that time he to has been moving troops in the direction of our left. General Leggett reports having seen at least ten regiments of infantry passing in that direction. I have strengthened that portion of the line with all the available troops I have got, and I will simply remark in closing, that I have no cavalry as a body of observation on my flank, and that the whole rebel army, except Georgia militia, is not in front of the Army of the Cumberland.
I will have Dodge send a brigade to guard Decatur in my rear and picket the roads strongly to the south and east. Dodge will also make a road from my position to Schofield so we can connect if necessary.
I have the honor to acknowledge the receipt of your orders last night at 1.30 a. m. At that time one brigade (three regiments) was at Cross Keys, ten miles from here, with pickets in every direction from there to four miles; one regiment was at McAffee’s Bridge and one at Roswell, leaving me only fire regiments, which were all on duty here guarding the roads. I at once took the necessary steps to carry out your instructions, and will leave here during the day, and by traveling to-night make up for the time lost in concentration. My pickets on the road to the south and east are constantly exchanging shots with rebel cavalry pickets, and this morning one of my patrols down the Covington road captured 2 prisoners belonging to a brigade camped, when they left it, at Latimar’s. As your object is to destroy the bridges and six or eight miles of road east of Stone Mountain, and as my chance of success is better by varying some from the route indicated, I deem it best to do so. I desire to succeed, as you place so much importance in having it done, and I will endeavor to do it. I would have started with my five regiments here, but my force would have been too weak to tear up railroad. If no misfortune happens I will burn the bridge east of Covington by 12 m. to-morrow, and by doing this first I catch all west of that point. I then propose breaking up everything between the two rivers. Trusting my views may meet your approval.
I wrote orders for tomorrow:
SPECIAL FIELD ORDERS, HDQRS. MIL. DIV. OF THE MISS., In the Field, near Atlanta, Ga., Numbers 40. July 21, 1864.
The operations of the enemy tomorrow, July 22, will be as follows:
I. Major-Generals McPherson, Schofield, and Howard will open a careful artillery fire on the town of Atlanta, directing their shots so as to produce the best effect, and each commander will endeavor to advance his line if it can be done without a direct assault on the enemy’s parapets if held in force. They will keep their men well in hand to repel assault, or to follow to the enemy’s main line of entrenchments.
II. Major-General Thomas, will put the whole or a part of General McCook’s cavalry to watch the peninsula between Peach Tree Creek and the Chattahoochee, and will press his lines forward close upon the enemy, endeavoring to advance his right so as to extend across the railroad and main road from Marietta.
By order of Major General W. T. Sherman:
L. M. DAYTON, Aide-de-Camp.
I Replied to Tuesday’s letter from President Lincoln:
NEAR ATLANTA, July 21, 1864
His Excellency President LINCOLN:
Your dispatch is received. I have the highest veneration for the law, and will respect it always, however it conflicts with my opinion of its propriety. I only telegraphed to General Halleck because I had seen no copy of the law, and supposed the War Department might have some control over its operations. When I have taken Atlanta and can sit down in some peace I will convey by letter a fuller expression of my views in relation to the subject.
With great respect,
W. T. SHERMAN, Major-General