Wednesday, August 31, 1864

COUCH’S HOUSE, Southwest of Atlanta, 8 a.m.

Major General H. W. HALLECK, Washington, D. C.:
At this time I would not suggest a change in the geographical lines of the Departments of the Ohio and the Cumberland because Generals Thomas and Schofield are now in actual battle and cannot give their attention to the necessary details. I will see both of them today and will then communicate my opinion.

We reached the West Point railroad, and broke up twelve miles of it thoroughly; then marched on a big left-wheel for the Macon road, General Schofield on the left, aiming for Rough and Ready, General Thomas center, and General Howard right, aiming for Jonesborough. The left and center as yet have met little or no opposition, but General Howard has fought two brigades of cavalry all the way from Fairburn. Last night darkness overtook him within a mile of Jonesborough, having pushed the cavalry so close that he secured the Flint River bridge. Today I press at all points, but expect to make a lodgment on the road at or below Jonesborough, when I propose to swing the whole army upon it and break it all to pieces. I expect, and am prepared for, hard fighting, and have the army well in hand.
W. T. SHERMAN, Major-General

Howard writes this morning from Jonesboro:

August 31, 1864: 3 a. m.
Major-General SHERMAN, Commanding:

Kilpatrick made an attempt to get upon the railroad, but met with so strong resistance that he gave it up for daylight. He says Logan’s center is about 800 yards from the depot. The town is to our right and the depot in the direct front. The Sixteenth Corps is on the west side of the river, and prolonging the line of Logan. The Seventeenth Corps did not get up; is three miles back. I intended to place it in position facing north, virtually prolonging Logan’s left; it will move at daylight. My only exposure is in that direction. If you will push hard enough to prevent the enemy from striking me this side of Flint River it will be all right; my officers apprehend it more than I do. My information is that the enemy had here four brigades of infantry on our arrival, and more are coming. I understand your anxiety to get the road; no exertion will be spared as soon as we can see. The Seventeenth Corps will move up at daylight.
O. O. HOWARD, Major-General

I Reply:
I have yours of 3 a.m. I am satisfied you have as many men as can operate at that point now. Let Kilpatrick reach well to the right, break the telegraph and take up a few rails, but I want you to get possession and fortify some one point of the road itself anywhere near Jonesborough. Davis is all ready with his whole corps to move to your assistance, and I will order him to feel forward toward a point north of Jonesborough. As soon as Schofield gets up I will put him and Stanly toward Rough and Ready, and Garrard’s cavalry down toward Fayetteville. We must have that road. It is worth to us a heavy battle. Make good all the ground you have, and if your guns command any reach of the road it will be a great gain, but we want the road itself. Keep me fully advised, and I will see that you are supported either by direct help or by auxiliary attacks above and below you. Understand that my hope of success rests mainly with you. I am in the dead certainty of having heavy masses in close support, which are soon to be intrenched. Let your trains come down well, close to your bridge, and I will move a division of Davis’ to the forks at Renfroe’s to cover that point.

In the Field
General THOMAS:
I send you for perusal Howard’s letter of 3 a. m. He did not get the road, though I doubt not he is too close for the comfort of the enemy. He must not fail in this. Order one of Davis’ divisions down at once to Renfroe’s, and move all your trains well to your right, so that you can rapidly fling your whole command over to Jonesborough. Then let Davis send out from his front, obliquely tot he right front, a strong skirmish line with supports, as though to reach the railroad three or four miles above Jonesborough. Have Stanely do the same toward, but below, Rough and Ready. Impress upon these commanders that it is not so necessary to have united lines, but rather columns of attack. We are not on the defensive, but offensive, and must risk everything rather than dilly-dally about. We must confuse the enemy. As soon as Schofield gets up I will put him against Rough and Ready till he meets formidable resistance.
W. T. SHERMAN, Major-General, Commanding

Thomas Responds:

Couch’s House.

Bvt. Major General J. C. DAVIS, Commanding Fourteenth Army Corps:
Direct General Morgan to move with his division at once and take up a position on General Baird’s right, on the east side of the Rough and Ready and Jonesborough road, so as to threaten the Macon railroad between Rough and Ready and Jonesborough. Threaten the enemy strongly, but do not push so far as to give him an advantage. In other words, do not go beyond supporting distance from General Howard, in case the enemy should turn on you. Endeavor to communicate with General Howard by your right and rear, giving him your position, and satisfying yourself with reference to his position on your right. You need not be under much apprehension as regards your left, as Generals Stanely and Schofield will be between you and Rough and Ready, and covering the only practicable wagon route between Rough and Ready and Jonesborough by which the enemy could move to attack you. I wish General Morgan to be in position before sunset. General Carlin will cover the trains completely at Renfroe Place.

I write General Thomas:
Major-General THOMAS, Commanding Army of the Cumberland:
I have reports from Generals Howard and Schofield, and from a signal dispatch of the former I infer Hardee will attempt tonight to move back to Atlanta to form a junction with Hood. It also appears that Stanley ranks Schofield, raising that old question of who commands. Of course my decision is that the senior commission, which is Stanely’s; but as my instructions have been made to Schofield, I wish you would make them to Stanley to move very early in the morning down on Jonesborough (or the enemy wherever he may be), breaking railroad as he moves south. I don’t believe anybody recognizes how important it is now to destroy this railroad. Should it appear the enemy is trying to make a junction round by the east, we must strike him in motion.

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

Thomas Replies:

What do you think of this: Let Stanley and Schofield, covered by Garrard, destroy the railroad tomorrow to their rear until they come down to Baird; then for me to draw off the Army of the Cumberland and throw it on the railroad east of Fayetteville, say at Lovejoy’s, or some point below, Howard confronting and holding the enemy at Jonesborough. Prisoners taken by Stanley report five trains in Atlanta which cannot get out; they also confirm the report that the militia and probably one corps have been left in Atlanta. I understand that General Howard repulsed the enemy, inflicting a heavy loss upon him; if so, I think the move on Fayetteville would be eminently beneficial. I am happy to report that General Baird is also on the railroad; he reached it at 5 p.m., and set 400 men at work immediately to destroy the road. I think Hood has gone up or ordered to Macon.
P. S.-All the prisoners captured by Baird say there are but two corps in Jonesborough. Baird has taken between 40 and 50 prisoners.

I Reply:
Inasmuch as I have already give orders to Schofield, based on the idea that he and Stanley move down the railroad, breaking it, till they come to Baird and Davis, near Jonesborough, I think we had better adhere to that plan till we develop the first step in the enemy’s game, after he knows we are between him and Atlanta. I wish you to order Kilpatrick the moment he learns the enemy has gone south to hurry to Fayette Station and Griffin, hang on the flanks of the enemy while we push him to the rear. I propose to go as to far as Griffin, utterly destroying the road, and then act according to circumstances. I would rather you should follow the enemy as he retreats, leaving the Army of the Tennessee to swing by the right, and that of the Ohio by the left.

I am glad to hear that Baird also is on the railroad, and now the sooner we get all our army together in close order the better. You may put Davis in on the left of Howard, ready for Baird and Stanley to come up along the railroad. If Hood remains in Atlanta and Hardee commands at Jonesborough the latter may attempt to get back to Atlanta, in which event he may tonight run up against Baird, who should be put on his guard. You may give all the necessary orders that will bring your command together to attack and pursue that part of the Confederate army now at Jonesborough by whatever road it takes, and I will give directions to the other armies to operate on its flanks. As soon as it is demonstrated on what road it retreats we can arrange to head it off.

Howard Reports the enemy getting ready to attack him:

I have sent Kilpatrick to the right with all his cavalry; he has secured a bridge over the Flint River about a mile from railroad. The enemy is showing troops down here with great rapidity, and preparing, I think, to attack Logan’s position. I have strengthened Logan by a division of Ransom’s on the right, by a brigade of General Blair’s on the left. It seems to me that it would be better to push General Davis straight to Flint River on my left. He cannot be far off from me. I have a battery being put in position, which will fire straight into the depot at a range of 600 yards, and another position where the trains can be seen passing. I propose to keep at work at them, but do not think I could carry any point of Logan’s front by assault. If the enemy will attack, as I think he will, that will simplify the matter.

I Reply:
Your dispatch is received. Of course, now an attack by you on Jonesborough is out of the question, but you can make that position impregnable, and we can operate beyond. Baird is now moving toward the road four miles north of you, and Schofield about the mills, which of course is the strongest part of the enemy’s works. I expect Garrard’s cavalry can be relieved of guarding Schofield’s trains today, and I will send it to Kilpatrick. The enemy is too smart for us, and we may have to maneuver thus down to Macon. It may be that some accident will happen, of which we can take advantage.

Get yours guns in position and damage trains passing, but it is useless to waste ammunition on the depot already reported burned by Kilpatrick. I cannot move the troops 100 yards without their stopping to intrench, though I have not seen an enemy. I have got Baird across Flint River about due east of this point. Thomas is at Renfroe’s, and will come to your aid if you need him, but I think you have as many men as can operate at that point, and a soon as I can hear from Schofield further I will commence to move toward Griffin, the next accessible point.

I have no idea that Hardee will attack you, if you have any cover whatever. Get as many guns in as possible, so that by a simultaneous discharge you can knock a train to pieces at one discharge. It is only on condition that you can get to the road that I would put all of Thomas’ troops on that side of the Flint.

My own impression is that Hardee will try to join Hood in Atlanta. I may send Schofield tonight, and I am anxious that Howard should keep in close contact. Audenried, of my staff, went about dark with orders to Schofield to the above effect, and for him and Stanley to work down the railroad tonight if possible, otherwise early in the morning. I will come down early also.

Has Hood already left Atlanta to join Hardee at Jonesboro? I wish you would instruct General Slocum at the bridge to feel forward to Atlanta, as boldly as he can, by the direct road leading from the bridge, and to send any cavalry force he can raise over toward Decatur to watch the movements of the enemy in that quarter. Advise him fully of the situation of affairs here, and assure him that we will fully occupy the attention of the rebel army outside of Atlanta.

Stanley Reports:

My corps moved today from its position on the road from Long’s to Couch’s to Morrow’s Mill. Here we met the enemy in intrenchments very well finished, but occupied only by dismounted cavalry. We drove these out, and as soon as General Schofield’s forces had come up pushed out for the Macon railroad, which we reached at the big bend about the same time or a little later than General Cox. My corps is in position in strong line, the left resting upon the railroad, my right at Morrow’s Mill. The working parties will go to work to burn up the track at 3 o’clock in the morning, unless I receive other instructions.

Thomas sends orders:

The major-general commanding directs that tomorrow morning early you commence the destruction of the Macon and Western Railroad in conjunction with General Schofield, who will receive orders from General Sherman. You will destroy as far as you can in the direction of Jonesborough, or until you meet with General Baird’s division, of the Fourteenth Corps, which you will probably find engaged in the same work. Should you meet with or overtake General Baird, you will report for further orders. General Garrard has been ordered to cover the flank of your column during its down the road.

Howard Writes:

3.45 p m.
The enemy attacked us in three distinct points, and were each time handsomely repulsed.
Major-General Logan says the enemy made two district attack on his lines and were repulsed.

I Reply:
I have your dispatch. Hold your own. Carlin’s division is near you. Schofield and Stanly are on the railroad two miles south of Rough and Ready; they headed off a train of cars loaded with troops making south, so you have Hardee all right. Watch him close and be prepared with Davis to follow him. He must retreat to McDonough or down the road. I must interpose our whole army between Atlanta and the enemy now in Jonesborough. Let your whole command know and feel I am thinking of them, and that I have got the railroad above them.

General Schofield has possession of the railroad below Rough and Ready, and by this time is strongly fortified, and has already commenced the destruction of the railroad. Baird to the south will throw up defenses, then make a strong demonstration toward the road to the east early tomorrow morning. General Carlin will go to the relief of Howard who has been attacked.

Howard Reports on his battle:

Your letter is received. I have the honor to report the following as the result of the day’s operations: About 4 o’clock the enemy attacked the position of Major-General Logan and General Corse, who occupied the right of the line on the other side of Flint River, and was handsomely repulsed. He repeated the attack at three different points on the line with the same result. One division of the Seventeenth Corps, General Woods commanding, was moved across the river and went into position on the left. One of his brigades was attacked and the enemy repulsed promptly. Cleburne’s division, failing to make any impression on the right of my line across the river, moved down to the bridge held by General Kilpatrick’s cavalry, upon whom they advanced in three lines. The cavalry held their position until their ammunition was exhausted, when they retired across the bridge, but were not followed up, nor have they been by the enemy. Upon learning the situation of General Kilpatrick, General Giles A. Smith’s division, of Blair’s corps, was moved over to protect the train and to repulse any attack on my right.

I directed General Carlin to cover the Fayetteville road so that my right flank and trains may be considered sufficiently protected. The First Regiment Missouri Engineers, which reported during the day over 1,000 strong, now occupies the works vacated by General Blair’s command. I have published the contents of your very gratifying letter to this command. I inclosed I send you the latest dispatch from the signal officer. It would appear that the enemy contemplates making connection again with his forces at East Point or Atlanta.

Signal Officer Edge Reports:

In the morning Lieutenant Edge and myself made a station of observation in a tall pine, where we had a good view of town and a portion of the enemy’s lines, that fronting First and Fourth Division, Fifteenth Army Corps. In front of these divisions the enemy had massed a large force. In an open field fronting the First Division a line of battle was formed extending up into the timber to their left out of sight. A battery of four guns was with this line.

Lieutenant Edge went down to the line to direct our battery in firing, I was watching the shots and signaling to him the effect and range. While engaged in signaling to him this line of battle was formed, faced to the rear, and marched back to the edge of the timber about 100 yards, the battery put in position, and a barricade of rails made. Another column moved up a formed in their front and moved obliquely toward the right of First Division, Fifteenth Corps. A portion of their line was badly broken up by our shells and ran in wild confusion, but rallied on reaching cover, and reformed their lines.

At this time two batteries opened on our line and cross-fired on my tree, a good many shells bursting in and around it. Nearly all their shells passed over our main line. I had to leave my tree, and reported what I had seen to the general commanding the corps. As soon as it was possible I went back to my station, saw the enemy busily engaged in removing their dead and wounded. A large detail was at work with stretchers, and their ambulances very active. At 5 p. m. a column of the enemy moved from the left up in front of the First and Fourth Division, Fifteenth Army Corps, and formed two lines of battle, placed a battery in position, and made preparation as if intending another charge.

I immediately reported this to the commanding general personally, them went back to my tree; found a very heavy column of the enemy, both infantry and artillery, moving to their right. This column was nearly an hour and a half passing a given point. There were five batteries that I saw. The infantry and two of these batteries passed on through town toward Atlanta; the other three batteries were parked in town. The skirmish line in front of the Fifteenth Army Corps was heavily re-enforced. Their line of rear skirmishers was left very weak. No artillery left on the line that I could see. I remained at my station until 7 p. m. the rear of the enemy’s column had just passed through town. I reported in person to the commanding general the condition of enemy’s lines in his front.

I went to the front of our corps and built a station on a tree; saw a brigade of the enemy (and several regimens) lying in an open field in front of First Division, Fifteenth Army Corps. Proceeded to a battery in front of my station, and, with the aid of Lieutenant Fish, who was left on the three, I directed the shooting of our guns on rebel brigade, which caused great confusion and drove them out. They then reformed in column of regiments and moved to their front, with two batteries of artillery, apparently to make a charge on the right of the Fifteenth Corps. I then proceeded in person to the general commanding the corps and reported to him, and also to Major General O. O. Howard, all I had seen.

Schofield is on the railroad and destroying it as he moves south. I think we have now a good game. The bulk of the enemy’s good troops are at Jonesboro; they attacked Howard twice and were repulsed. I want Schofield to put Garrard’s cavalry at his back; work down the road, burning and breaking the road good. Howard and Davis will hold on to Hardee and Lee. Baird has four brigades on the road from Rough and Ready, five miles above Jonesborough. Garrard should push the enemy up to Rough and Ready, breaking road as he goes, and Schofield with Stanely move south doing the same. I will give you timely notice if Hardee turns on them in force. We won’t get off the track; hold it fast; we will get our whole army on the railroad as near Jonesborough as possible and push Hardee and Lee first, and then for Atlanta. Commanders should inspire the men with the importance of their work, and trust to me to fall on Hardee’s flank or rear if he turns north. The cavalry of Garrard can guard the rear toward Atlanta.

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