Atlanta, Georgia I gathered with my personal staff, a company of Alabama cavalry, commanded by Lieutenant Snelling, and an infantry company, commanded by Lieutenant McCrory, which guarded our small train of wagons. My mess includes Major L. M. Dayton, aide-de-camp and acting adjutant-general, Major J. C. McCoy, and Major J. C. Audenried, aides. Major Ward Nichols had joined at Gaylesville, Alabama, and is attached as an acting aide-de-camp. Major Henry Hitchcock had joined at the same time as judge-advocate. My Nephew, Colonel Charles Ewing is inspector-general, and Surgeon John Moore medical director. We have no tents, only the flies, with which we can make bivouacs.
About 7 a.m. we rode out of Atlanta by the Decatur road, filled by the marching troops and wagons of the Fourteenth Corps; and reaching the hill, just outside of the old rebel works, we naturally paused to look back upon the scenes of our past battles. We stood upon the very ground whereon was fought the bloody battle of July 22d, and could see the copse of wood where McPherson fell. Behind us lies Atlanta, smouldering and in ruins, the black smoke rising high in air, and hanging like a pall over the ruined city. Away off in the distance, on the McDonough road, is the rear of Howard’s column, the gun-barrels glistening in the sun, the white-topped wagons stretching away to the south; and right before us the Fourteenth Corps, marching steadily and rapidly, with a cheery look and swinging pace, that makes light of the thousand miles that lie between us and Richmond. Some band, by accident, struck up the anthem of “John Brown’s soul goes marching on;” the men caught up the strain, and never before have I heard the chorus of “Glory, glory, hallelujah!” done with more spirit, or in better harmony of time and place.
We turned our horses’ heads to the east; Atlanta was soon lost behind the screen of trees, and became a thing of the past. Around Atlanta clings many a thought of desperate battle, of hope and fear, that now seem like the memory of a dream. The day is extremely beautiful, clear sunlight, with bracing air, and an unusual feeling of exhilaration seems to pervade all minds–a feeling of something to come, vague and undefined, still full of venture and intense interest. Even the common soldiers caught the inspiration, and many a group called out to me as I worked my way past them, “Uncle Billy, I guess Grant is waiting for us at Richmond!” Indeed, the general sentiment is that we are marching for Richmond, and that there we should end the war, but how and when they seem to care not; nor do they measure the distance, or count the cost in life, or bother their brains about the great rivers to be crossed, and the food required for man and beast, that has to be gathered by the way. There is a “devil-may-care” feeling pervading officers and men, that makes me feel the full load of responsibility, for success will be accepted as a matter of course, whereas, should we fail, this “march” would be adjudged the wild adventure of a crazy fool. I design to reach the sea-coast first at Savannah or Port Royal, South Carolina, and keep in mind the alternative of Pensacola.
At night, we camped by the road-side near Lithonia. Stone Mountain, a mass of granite, is in plain view, cut out in clear outline against the blue sky; the whole horizon is lurid with the bonfires of rail-ties. Groups of men are carrying the heated rails to the nearest trees, and bending them around the trunks. Colonel Poe has provided tools for ripping up the rails and twisting them when hot; but the best and easiest way is heating the middle of the iron- rails on bonfires made of the cross-ties, and then winding them around a telegraph-pole or the trunk of some convenient sapling. I attach much importance to this destruction of the railroad, give it my own personal attention, and make reiterated orders to others on the subject.