NEAR ATLANTA, GA., August 24, 1864: 7.15 p .m.
Major General H. W. HALLECK, Washington, D. C.:
Heavy fires in Atlanta all day, caused by our artillery. I will be all ready and will commence the movement round Atlanta by the south tomorrow night, and for some time you will hear little of me. I will keep open a courier line with Chattahoochee bridge by the way of Sandtown. The Twentieth Corps will hold the bridge, and I will move with the balance of the army, provisioned for twenty days.
W. T. SHERMAN, Major-General
I rode down to the bridge today to see the lay of ground and the character of the redoubts there so that our movement when begun may proceed rapidly and safely. Our maps will be compiled, and as many roads laid down between Red Oak and Jonesborough as we can be sure of existence.
At the bridge, the works are not ready. It would be well to send pioneers to mark and begin the line for a bridge-head; also a cavalry company could go through the woods in every direction and order all the drift to get over the river. I came round by Turner’s Ferry and found men encamped everywhere; a battery belonging to General McCook. All had better move tomorrow, so that Generals Williams and Stanley will have the road clear. The telegraph superintendent may take up his line tomorrow after 9 o’clock.
My commanders will order down the pioneers and working parties with Lieutenant Ludlow, engineer department, and prepare the bridge-head before the troops come down; the two small redoubts here on this side are inefficient and of little account. It may be the troops will not have time to cover themselves and the bridge before Hood may strike them, as his first impression may and will be that our whole army is retiring.
My commanders are discussing the withdrawal and movement. This is a delicate move and must be done carefully to prevent flanks from becoming exposed. Howard writes that he conferred with General Thomas and learned from him that he intended to cover the movement of the Twentieth Corps with Fourth Corps near Proctor’s Creek, and then move the Fourth Corps at once in rear of Fourteenth. Howard has already made a new flank near Ezra Church and given orders to withdraw the Sixteenth and part of the Seventeenth into the new works in conjunction with General Thomas’ first movement. Howard prefers not to fight a battle in his current position but to withdraw into his new lines with a refused flank.
I approved the movement. Howard is to make the movement tomorrow night and next day according to his better knowledge of the ground. We must take due precaution that all the trains are covered or moved behind the Chattahoochee, under protection of the Twentieth Corps.
I will move my headquarters to Utoy Creek, near the left division of General Schofield somewhere below General Hascall. The telegraph wire will be taken down at 9 a.m. tomorrow. Dispatches must be made before then. Nothing from General Steedman, who is after Wheeler above the Hiwassee.
The Signal Corp reports the following:
At 11.30 a. m. I discovered a column of smoke rising from Atlanta. I examined it closely, but could not determine from what it originated. The fire emitted black smoke for a space of five minutes, then white smoke, something like steam. Heated air could be seen to rise in thick white clouds. It was still burning at dark. At 11.40 a. m. a train of eighteen box-cars left town; doors closed; could not tell if loaded or not. At 4.30 p. m. a train of eighteen box-cars and one passenger-car arrived, all empty. At 4.50 p. m. a train of our passenger and five box cars arrived; they appeared to be empty. At 6 p. m. a train of eight box-cars, loaded with boxes, bundles of clothing or bedding, and other articles, left town, also about thirty-five men on board. The six-gun fort in front of the Seventeenth Corps has part of the embrasures casemated. A battery in the Seventeenth Army Corps almost destroyed one of the casemates to-day; their firing was very good.
Lieutenant Weirick, of this detachment, reports from Captain De Gress’ battery:
I notice the following changes on the rebel lines in front of Fifteenth Army Corps: During the last twenty-four hours considerable timber has been cut in front of their main lines. They have extended and completed some of their advance skirmish pits and pitched some additional tents or flies in rear of main works, apparently officers’ quarters; otherwise their lines appear unchanged.
At 12 m. I received information from General O. O. Howard that it was currently reported that the rebel were evacuating Atlanta. I therefore proceeded to the lookout station and examined entirely the enemy’s lines, but could see nothing to justify the report. A large fire appeared in Atlanta that I could tell but very little about. The smoke appeared like that of burning grain. I then proceeded to Captain De Gress’ battery; while there I discovered considerable movements along the rebel line. They appeared to be fixing up their equipments; most of them moved back to a camp or new line in rear of the one in sight. At 5 p. m. I returned to the lookout on tree and discovered a few men leaving the rifle-pits in front of Twentieth Corps with their equipments; they appeared to be militia. At 6 p. m. I saw four old citizens, well dressed, come out on the big work in front of town. They appeared to be agitated and excited. It is evident from their motion and downcast appearance that there is some move about to take place. Two more large fires occurred, one in the evening and the other at about dark; appeared to be large buildings of some kind. From my observations this afternoon I am satisfied that the enemy are about to make a grand move of some sort. The rebels fired their big gun three times, once before dark and twice after. Very few pieces of artillery in sight.
Colonel Capron is to guard the trains to be moved across the Chattahoochie:
The trains of the Army of the Ohio will be sent to Turner’s Ferry tomorrow, to be placed under Capron’s charge; to act until further orders.
The enemy cavalry is still hanging about our rear. I am satisfied the enemy designs to make desperate attempts on our road. Cavalry usually do so little damage to a road that it can be repaired faster than they damage it. It is important to guard well the vital points, such as bridges and tunnels, and when the enemy scatters, as he is sure to do, pitch into his detachments.
During today and tomorrow morning our troops will send all the surplus men, horses, wagons, ammunition and baggage wagons, &c. and material not absolutely necessary for the success of the expedition, to Vining’s Station, on the other side of the Chattahoochee River, each unit will send a small force to the same place to guard such. Let every preparations for this movement be completed by tomorrow noon. Place a good and reliable division officer of the day, or commander of your division pickets, on duty tomorrow. A staff officer will be sent to you to point out the route of march for your division, and further instructions will be given in reference to the time and manner of withdrawing your pickets.
Efforts to keep our rail supply unimpeded are trying my patience:
SPECIAL FIELD ORDERS, HDQRS. MIL. DIV. OF THE MISS., In the Field, near Atlanta, Ga., Numbers 60. August 24, 1864
It being represented by A. W. Smith, special agent of the Post-Office Department, that the mail cars are daily encumbered with about fifty men, detailed by divisions, brigades, and regiments, who profess to be after their mails, but are in reality engaged in traffic, it is ordered:
I. The special agent of the Post-Office Department will be bring the army mail to the nearest practicable point by rail to the army and there deliver the bags only to corps messengers, duly appointed by a corps order, approved by the army commander.
II. Each army corps commander will arrange to receive his mail of the agent of the Post-Office Department at the end of the railroad, and will have it brought to his headquarters and there distributed to divisions, brigades, and regiments, according to his own plan.
III. Army commanders, viz, Cumberland, Tennessee, and Ohio, may send special messengers through to Nashville, Chattanooga, and Knoxville and back, but these must confine their business to that defined in their written orders. The same privilege cannot be conceded to any others, because we have not the facilities of the army.
* * * * *
By order of Major General W. T. Sherman:
L. M. DAYTON, Aide-de-Camp.
The division of the Twentieth Army Corps will be held in readiness to move tomorrow night, the 25th.
The First Division, with Colonel Harrison’s brigade, of the Third Division, to move to the Chattahoochee River at the railroad bridge; the Second Division to the river at Pace’s Ferry; the Second and Third Brigades of the Third Division to the river at Turner’s Ferry. Positions will be taken at each of these crossings for their protection. At daybreak to morrow morning each division commander will send all of his pioneers, with one regiment from each of his brigades, to the position he is to occupy, for the purpose of constructing intrenchments and abatis. General Ward and General Geary will each send a competent staff officer to locate their lines. Lieutenant Ludlow, engineer, will superintend the erection of the works at the railroad crossing. Major Reynolds, chief of artillery, will assign one battery to each General Ward’s and General Geary’s divisions, to march with them, and during the day tomorrow will select positions at the railroad crossing for the other four batteries, which will march with the First Division. The ordnance and regimental trains of the First and Third Divisions will start early tomorrow, and be parked on this side of the river at the crossings they are respectively to hold.
The trains of the Second Division will march simultaneously with the division, taking an interior road. The caissons of the batteries will accompany the ordnance trains of the division to which the battery is assigned. All trains must be out of the way, so that when the troops commence the march they will have a clear road.