“Good Logistics is Combat Power”: Sherman, Atlanta, and the Sinews of War
By Michael Brasher

Author Bio: Mike was born and raised in West Tennessee, near where his great-grandfather moved from Northern Mississippi following the Civil War. He is now almost 52 years of age, having served 20 of those years in both an enlisted and officer capacity in the United States Air Force, retiring as a Major in 1991. His present work still involves supporting the Air Force's space-related research and development activities as a government civil service employee. He graduated from the University of Tennessee in 1975 with a degree in Electrical Engineering. While still in service in 1983, he obtained an MBA from Baldwin-Wallace College in Berea, Ohio. Later, after retiring from the Air Force he obtained a MA in history in 1999. He has been working on a regimental history of his great-grandfather's unit...the 2nd Mississippi Infantry Regiment…for almost 10-years now. Much of that research he has posted to his web site at http://www.2ndmississippi.org


 While discussing the part he played in Operation Desert Shield/Desert Storm, Lieutenant General William G. Pagonis noted that his logistical organization’s vision was captured in the slogan “Good Logistics is Combat Power.” William T. Sherman’s campaign for Atlanta, as well as illustrating the truth of that statement, can also serve as a model for future logistical planning and preparation. What Sherman accomplished involved assembling three to four months’ supplies for a Federal Army Group of some 100,000+ troops and forage for more than 60,000 horses and mules, transporting them over roads in terrible condition through rough, mountainous terrain, supported by one single-track, reduced capacity railroad. Along the way, he refined a system of field trains and advance depots, “locked horns” with his own quartermaster department over logistical matters, and incidentally, bested the veteran Confederate Army of Tennessee and captured Atlanta. Following Atlanta’s fall, he then launched his famous “March to the Sea” to implement a Union change of base, which served to further cripple the Confederacy’s ability to continue to supply food and equipment to its own depleted armies. This essay examines the critical role played by Federal logistics during Sherman’s campaign against Atlanta from May - November 1864.

With Grant having been named General-in-Chief of all the Federal armies and Sherman assuming command in the West, the plan for the 1864 campaign was that all Federal armies move simultaneously against the forces of the Confederacy. While Grant engaged Lee in Virginia, his instructions to Sherman in a letter dated April 4, 1864 reads in part:


You I propose to move against Johnston’s army [the Army of Tennessee], to break it up and to get into the interior of the enemy’s country as far as you can, inflicting all the damage you can against their war resources. I do not propose to lay down for you a plan of campaign, but simply lay down the work it is desirable to have done and leave you free to execute it in your own way. Submit to me, however, as early as you can, your plan of operations.


In his reply to Grant on April 10th, Sherman affirmed his mission as being “to knock Jos. Johnston, and do as much damage to the resources of the enemy as possible.” Although this seems in accordance with Grant’s instructions, we find, in examining the specifics of what Sherman proposed to do, that he actually violated the spirit, if not the letter, of Grant’s directives. Sherman, instead of striving to “knock” Johnston and break up his army, would merely try to maneuver him into retreating south of the Chattahoochee River, at which point, as he also tells Grant in his April 10th letter, he will send cavalry to cut the railroad between Atlanta and Montgomery and then “feign to the right, but pass to the left and act against Atlanta or its eastern communications, according to developed facts.” Thus it is clear that Sherman’s primary objective was, contrary to the clear meaning of Grant’s instructions, not Johnston’s army, but Atlanta. This subtle shift in priorities probably reflected, at least in part, Sherman’s dislike of battles, which he tended to regard as dangerously unpredictable in outcome. However, the main reason was his belief that Grant’s Virginia offensive would be the “principal” one, and that his own campaign would be “secondary.” Thus Sherman saw his top-priority task as preventing Johnston from reinforcing Lee, not necessarily defeating Johnston’s army in pitched battle.

Regardless of the differences in interpretation of Sherman’s true campaign objectives, the fact remains that when he began to plan the drive on Atlanta, Sherman acknowledged that “The great question of the campaign was one of supplies.” Sherman was forced to deal with a Federal logistical system in the West that was organized to operate under a “push” system of supplies with respect to active campaigns in the field. The Western Theater operation involved a large, com-plex logistical network that began at Louisville, Kentucky, and ran south to Nashville and Chatta-nooga, Tennessee. This supply line was long and vulnerable to guerrilla activity and to enterprising large-scale Confederate cavalry raids. Sherman faced a supply problem to a much greater degree than did Grant in Virginia. Grant’s Army of the Potomac campaigned in 1864-1865 over a much smaller theater of operations and was located much closer to its sources of supply.

Sherman was a commander who closely managed his troops and laid out detailed plans. This included logistics as well as operational considerations. He stressed mobility and disliked large baggage trains (even though his transportation ratio was almost 52 wagons per 1,000 men). Although part of this philosophy must have come about as a result of having been a part of Grant’s tremendously successful and highly mobile Vicksburg Campaign, some of it can probably be traced all the way back to the Union’s humiliating defeat at First Manassas, where Sherman was also a participant. There he observed:


…they [the Union troops] were so loaded down with overcoats, haversacks, knapsacks, tents, and baggage, that it took from twenty-five to fifty wagons to move the camp of a regiment from one place to another, and some of the camps had bakeries and cooking establishments that would have done credit to Delmonico.


During the Vicksburg Campaign under Grant, Sherman’s keen powers of observation had taught him two cardinal rules with respect to logistics: one, to vigilantly guard his supply bases; and two, to carefully prepare for a campaign, ensuring the ability to maintain a logistics flow to sustain the army both on the march and in battle. He would not forget either during his drive on Atlanta.

By the time Sherman began his campaign in early May 1864, the logistical system under which he functioned had already been in operation for three years and had served very well in the field. Quartermaster General Montgomery C. Meigs was heavily involved in the logistics flow and in the maintenance and operation of the railroads from Nashville to Chattanooga, and then south into Georgia. Also Meigs had been attempting to obtain the acceptance of the virtues of the “flying column” by his western field commanders. Although Sherman may have adopted some of the features of a modified flying column into the organization of his field transportation and supply, he still had his men carry the conventional three days’ supply (or five at most, depending on circumstances), compared with the flying column, which required the troops transport eight to twelve days’ supply. This situation led to an excessive number of wagons being required by the army (as noted by the large wagon to troop ratio), somewhat compromising Sherman’s expressed desire for increased mobility.

Realizing his dependence on the single-track railroad back to Chattanooga and Nashville, Sherman determined to stockpile supplies at field depots along the railroad to be prepared to move them to the troops by wagon train when necessary. Prior to the start of the campaign it had been determined in a conference with his logistical team that Sherman would need 130 railroad cars, each carrying 10 tons of supplies, arriving at Chattanooga each day to supply the army. This requirement took into effect expected losses by accident and raids, and even provided for a reduced amount of forage for the horses and mules [note that the calculations Sherman used were based on 100,000 men and 35,000 animals. His Quartermaster’s report for July 1, 1864 showed closer to 60,000 animals with the army and, if non-combatants were included, his army probably numbered closer to 125,000 men]. Beef cattle and troop reinforcements would be forced to walk rather than take up space on the limited railroad cars. Despite howls of protest, Sherman also issued orders strictly limiting the railroad’s use to military and not civilian, requirements. Even then there were concerns that there was too little rolling stock and too few locomotives to meet the task. Prior to the start of the campaign, there were only about sixty serviceable locomotives and six hundred cars available. At least one hundred locomotives and one thousand cars would be required. Revealing a quick temper and absolute impatience with those who obstructed or clung to the letter of regulations, Sherman is reported to have retorted to one such officer, “If you don’t have my army supplied, and keep it supplied, we’ll eat your mules up, sir – eat your mules up.”

Before the end of April, Meigs had reported the accumulation of enough food at Nashville for 200,000 men for four months, and grain enough to feed 50,000 animals through the rest of the year. Also, rolling stock and locomotives were being built-up at the rate of fifteen new cars and one new engine per day.

Sherman was aware of the vulnerabilities of the rail system that supplied his army and remembered only too clearly the devastating one-two punch delivered by Forrest and Van Dorn against Grant’s West Tennessee railroad supply network and advance depot at Holly Springs, Mississippi during the first drive against Vicksburg in December 1862. He knew that it only took one destroyed bridge, tunnel, or trestle to disrupt the critical flow of provisions and ordnance for his troops. To prevent this type of disaster, he ordered that blockhouses with a garrison of at least twenty men each be constructed at both ends of all critical bridges along the railroad. This gave some advantage to the defenders, at least against a small cavalry or guerrilla force, which Sherman hoped would act as a deterrent to such attacks. Sherman also obtained the services of Colonel W.W. Wright for his engineering tasks, bridge construction and repair. Wright worked under Sherman’s rear area headquarters to consolidate these matters under one central authority for the Division of the Mississippi. This was one of the real secrets of Sherman’s success. Damage to tracks and other railroad facilities were rapidly repaired by detachments of the Construction Corps, which were stationed at critical points along the railroad. Stockpiles of rails, ties, and timbers were ready to move out on short notice to repair damaged track. With the mention of Colonel Wright, it should be noted that three Federal officers rarely mentioned in the story of Sherman’s Atlanta Campaign are Colonels Daniel C. McCallum, Adna Anderson, and William W. Wright. This trio was charged by Sherman with creating, operating, and maintaining his railroad lifeline with the rear. In his memoirs Sherman wrote, “The Atlanta campaign would simply have not been possible without the use of the railroads.” These three colonels were responsible for making the campaign possible. McCallum was director and general manager of military railroads. Anderson headed the Department of Transportation, which operated the supply trains, and Wright, as previously mentioned, commanded the Department of Construction, which kept road-bed, track, and bridges operational. In addition to these three men, a civilian superintendent of bridge construction, E.C. Smeed, performed truly remarkable feats in quickly bridging the Etowah and Chattahoochee rivers, helping ensure that at no time were the trains coming down the Western & Atlantic Railroad more than five days behind Sherman’s army.

Out of almost 180,000 troops reported present for duty in the three Federal armies under his command, Sherman determined that a large number would be needed for garrison duty and for protection of the army’s line of communications during its drive south. The Union railroads ran for some three hundred miles across Kentucky and Tennessee. In addition to the detachments from his main army group, the Federals also mobilized several thousand Midwestern militiamen for three months service to help garrison the railroads. The seasoned troops were typically employed south of Chattanooga, amounting to an average of about 230 men per mile of track. Eventually Sherman assigned General James B. Steedman to command the District of the Etowah, an organization whose sole purpose was railroad defense. The Federal commander therefore began the campaign in May with some 98,797 men and 254 pieces of artillery in his mobile field force. He would endeavor to maintain a reserve of twenty days’ rations with the army as insurance against supply interruptions. Again demonstrating his attention to detail with respect to his logistical system, Sherman noted that:

“…to make these troops as mobile as possible, I made the strictest possible orders in relation to wagons and all species of incumbrance and impedimenta whatever. Each officer and soldier was required to carry on his horse or person food and clothing enough for five days. To each regiment was allowed but one wagon and one ambulance, and to the officers of each company one pack-horse or mule Each division and brigade was provided a fair proportion of wagons for a supply-train, and these were limited in their loads to carry food, ammunition, and clothing. Tents were forbidden to all save sick and wounded, and one tent only was allowed to each headquarters for use as an office. .

Sherman believed that by this reduction in tentage and personal baggage, and by having each soldier always carry three days’ cooked rations in his haversack, his army group’s seven combat corps could release 300 wagons for other duties. By carrying three days’ rations in the haversacks and seven days’ rations (uncooked) in the regimental commissary wagon, each regiment would have ten days’ supply of rations on hand.

To implement his understanding of Sherman’s directives, Major General John Schofield, commander of the small Army of the Ohio, specified at the beginning of the Atlanta Campaign in his field order exactly how the trains would be configured and ordered. First, the ammunition train of about fifty wagons would precede the supply or commissary wagons, and at the rear of the trains would be the few allowed baggage wagons. At the front with the ammunition train came the wagons containing the engineers’ supplies and equipment. In some ways this arrangement is in keeping with the very modern concept of configuring field trains and combat trains. With the troops carrying three days’ rations in their haversacks, the combat trains, comprising those logistics necessary for battle, would advance directly with the army. The combat trains consisted of the ammunition, engineering equipment, and medical supplies and ambulances. Ammunition wagons took priority even over the medical train. The field trains were made up of what was left over from the combat trains, plus commissary, clothing and individual equipment, and per-sonal baggage wagons. The field trains were designated as the General Trains and the combat trains were designated as the Ordnance Trains.

Taking the lead from their commanding general, subordinate commanders were usually very careful that their wagons were where they were supposed to be and that the trains did not interfere with combat operations. For example, during the early operations near Rocky Face Ridge in early May 1864, almost every field order specified the positioning of the trains so that combat operations could be rapidly initiated and sustained.

Once the campaign began in earnest in early May, Sherman’s logistical situation was such that he could devote his primary attention to Johnston’s army to his front. From the earliest clashes at Rocky Face Ridge, Resaca, Cassville, New Hope Church, Pickett’s Mill, Dallas, and the Kennesaw Mountain line, the pattern of maneuver between Sherman and Johnston remained constant. Johnston’s Confederate Army of Tennessee, which at any given time mustered about half Sherman’s troop strength, was typically found positioned behind strong defensive works, protecting its own main railroad supply line – the Western & Atlantic – and simultaneously screening Atlanta. Sherman, instead of attacking head-on would fix Johnston in place with the larger, slower moving Army of the Cumberland, and send the smaller, more mobile Army of the Tennessee and the Army of the Ohio on flanking maneuvers to render Johnston’s position untenable. Johnston would skillfully withdraw to a new, previously prepared line and destroy the railroad in the wake of his retreat. Sherman would then advance, repairing the railroad as he went, never venturing to operate very far from his lifeline. Johnston described his own strategy in his memoirs:

I therefore thought it our policy to stand on the defensive, to spare the blood of our soldiers by fighting under cover habitually, and to attack only when bad position or division of the enemy’s forces might give us advantages counterbalancing that of superior numbers. So we held every position occupied until our communications were strongly threatened; then fell back only far enough to secure them, watching for opportunities to attack, keeping near enough to the Federal army to assure the Confederate Administration that Sherman could not send reinforcements to Grant, and hoping to reduce the odds against us by partial engagements. …I was confident, too, that the Administration would see the expediency of employing Forrest and his cavalry to break the enemy’s railroad communications, by which he could have been defeated.

Only once, at Kennesaw Mountain, did Sherman lose his patience and order an assault directly against Johnston’s fortified lines (suffering heavy casualties in the process). Thus, logistical support was always foremost in Sherman’s mind as he slowly maneuvered Johnston south towards Atlanta. As his army moved, he determined that his advance supply depots also needed to move south to ensure continued effective support. For example, by late May, Thomas’ large Army of the Cumberland was expending more than 200,000 rounds of ammunition per day. This intensity of combat operations would not have been possible without an adequate system in place to move the necessary supplies to the troops. To maintain the logistical support of the army, Sherman designated Allatoona and Marietta as his main advance supply depots.

When Sherman had successfully forced Johnston to fall back south of the last major river obstacle before Atlanta – the Chattahoochee – and had secured his Allatoona depot location, he believed that the first part of the “grand plan” was now over. In a July 12, 1864 letter to Grant, Sherman wrote:

My railroad and telegraph are now up and we are rapidly accumulating stores in Marietta and Allatoona that will make us less timid about the roads to our rear. We have been wonderfully supplied in provisions and ammunition; not a day has a regiment been without bread and essentials. Forage has been the hardest, and we have cleaned the country in a breadth of thirty miles of grain and grass. Now the corn is getting a size which makes a good fodder, and the railroad has brought us grain to the extent of four pounds per animal per day.

Within five days of Sherman’s letter, General Johnston would be relieved of command because the Davis administration lost confidence in his willingness to risk a major battle to save Atlanta. In his place, the aggressive John B. Hood would assume command of the Army of Tennessee. With the appointment of Hood, there would be much additional hard fighting, and since Hood was more unpredictable than Johnston, Sherman had to be on his guard to ensure his logistics were in place, smoothly functioning, and well-guarded.

Since Sherman had taken great pains to ensure security measures for his supply and communications lines, he could be fairly confident that supplies would continue to flow without interruption. Sherman had gone to great lengths to keep the Confederate “Wizard of the Saddle,” General Nathan Bedford Forrest and his cavalry command tied down in northern Mississippi. Although Sherman had little respect for Johnston’s chief of cavalry, Joseph Wheeler, Forrest was altogether another matter. On June 10, 1864, Forrest achieved probably his most famous victory over a much larger Union task force led by Brigadier General Sam Sturgis at Brice’s Crossroads. In another July 12, 1864 dispatch to Grant, Sherman wrote, “…we have kept Forrest in Mississippi. The defeat of Sturgis at Brices’ Crossroads was unfortunate; still, he kept Forrest away from us…” However, Sherman’s real concern was probably better expressed in a June 15, 1864 dispatch to Secretary of War Stanton:

I will have the matter of Sturgis critically examined, and, if he be at fault, he shall have no mercy at my hands. I cannot but believe he had troops enough. I know I would have been willing to attempt the same task with that force; but Forrest is the very devil [emphasis added], and I think he has got some of our troops under cower. I have two officers at Memphis that will fight all the time – A.J. Smith and Mower. The latter is a young brigadier of fine promise, and I commend him to your notice. I will order them to make up a force and go out and follow Forrest to the death, if it cost 10,000 lives and breaks up the Treasury. There will never be peace in Tennessee till Forrest is dead [emphasis added].

True to his promise, Sherman kept up the diversionary pressure in Mississippi. A.J. Smith was ordered out on another expedition to keep Forrest tied down. This resulted in a Union tactical victory at Tupelo, Mississippi on July 14, 1864 [Forrest’s departmental commander, Lieutenant General Stephen D. Lee, ordered Forrest to attack an entrenched Federal position against the latter’s better judgment]. Although Smith was also eventually driven back to Memphis, Forrest’s command had suffered heavy casualties to little purpose. The unwillingness of Richmond to temporarily abandon Mississippi and to utilize the substantial forces available there to counter the primary Union threat against Atlanta was another demonstration of the flaws in Davis’ departmental command system. In any event, these operations effectively kept Forrest – probably the only cavalry leader who could have seriously threatened Sherman’s logistics – away from the Union commander’s railroad lifeline.

Grant was very supportive and understanding of Sherman’s logistical plans and requirements. In a July 15, 1864 letter to Major General Halleck, Grant proposed that over sixty days’ supplies should be collected at Chattanooga and then pushed forward as rapidly as possible. Because of Sherman’s detailed advance planning, the railroad from Chattanooga to Atlanta (the part of the line in Union hands) was well defended, and the Union army well maintained.

By mid-July, rapidly assembled bridges soon spanned the Chattahoochee, with the aid of the enterprising Colonel Wright and Mr. Smeed, and soon wagons and men of Sherman’s army were pouring across the waterway to flank the Confederate position. Johnston was forced once more to retreat. This led to Johnston’s removal as previously noted, and now it was clear the Federals could threaten to sever the important Georgia Railroad to the east of the city, cutting off Richmond from most of Georgia, Alabama and Mississippi. Although this accomplishment, by itself, would seriously damage the Confederacy’s war resources, to secure the real prize – the city of Atlanta – the Federals first had to sever its railroads; four lines radiating out of the city to various vital points of the Confederacy. Once across the Chattahoochee, Sherman now had control of the Western & Atlantic. The remaining lines included the Georgia Railroad heading into At-lanta from the east, and the Atlanta & West Point and Macon & West Point railroads which connected the city with southern Georgia and Alabama. With all these lines cut, the Confederate Army of Tennessee would be forced to abandon the city, and the Confederacy would thus lose the productive, commercial and transportation resources of Atlanta and the surrounding area. But to begin this process, Sherman would first have to cross his army south of Peachtree Creek. This is where the Confederate Army of Tennessee’s new commander first saw an opportunity to strike, and strike hard.

In the process of crossing Peachtree Creek, Thomas’ Army of the Cumberland had left itself in an exposed position, with a two-mile gap separating its left flank from the rest of the Federal army. Hood took advantage of the situation to strike the exposed flank on July 20th. Unfortunately for Hood, misunderstood orders, poor staff work, and perhaps the mistrust of his subordinate commanders, resulted in a disastrous repulse and heavy losses. Despite the fact that his first offensive at Peachtree Creek had proven to be a major failure, the offensive-minded Confederate commander immediately searched for another opening to deal Sherman a decisive and crippling blow. Hood found another opportunity, this time against McPherson’s Army of the Tennessee, then in the process of driving towards Atlanta from the east along the Georgia Railroad. Once more, carelessness on the part of a Sherman subordinate gave Hood his opportunity. The Confederate cavalry reported that McPherson’s left flank was in the air. Hood saw this as an opportunity to deliver a crushing assault. The attack would take place on July 22nd (and would be known as the Battle of Atlanta, or, Hood’s Second Sortie). The same problems that had appeared at Peachtree Creek again surfaced during the execution of Hood’s plans. The offensive unraveled; the assault was disorganized, and launched piecemeal and unsupported. Despite the death of McPherson, the Confederate army again suffered heavy losses while inflicting less than half as many casualties on the Federals. Assessing his worsening situation, Hood decided to let Sherman make the next move.

By July 27th, Sherman’s men were once more on the move, this time across the northern face of Atlanta. Confederate operations on the Georgia Railroad had been significantly disrupted and now the Western & Atlantic’s bridge over the Chattahoochee had been repaired and Sherman was receiving plenty of supplies to support his new plans. His desire was to now get around Atlanta by the west and cut the two remaining railroad lines. A critical target would be the town of East Point, where both lines merged to run out of Atlanta. As Sherman got under way, Hood was once more laying out his own plan to strike the flank of the Federal right while they were in motion. To implement his plan, he needed to first seize the crossroads of the Lickskillet Road and Marietta Pike at Ezra Church. Unfortunately for Hood, the Federals got there first and entrenched. The Confederate attack on July 28th to seize the crossroads resulted in lopsided losses of about 5,000 Confederates to only 600 Federal casualties. Hood had indeed lived up to his aggressive reputation. However, Sherman had won all the battles by maintaining the strategic offen-sive while fighting on the tactical defensive. Hood’s veteran army was being bled white in costly assaults against fortified Federal positions.

For several weeks following Ezra Church, Sherman’s army was stalemated before the city of Atlanta. Hood apparently saw that continuing his attacks would soon leave him with but the remnant of an army, and adopted a more passive, but highly successful policy of merely blocking the Federal army from the remaining Confederate supply lines. Sherman, in the meantime, had determined his best move was to continue to shift his forces to the right to continue to threaten these lines. During the month of August, Sherman essentially settled down to a siege of the city. While he pondered his next moves, he telegraphed to Halleck,

I am too impatient for a siege, and don’t know but this is as good a place to fight it out on, as farther inland. One thing is for certain, whether we get inside Atlanta or not, it will be a used-up community when we are done with it. .

Hood, still hoping to drive Sherman away, next sent Wheeler and 4,000 Confederate cavalry to raid into Sherman’s rear. Unfortunately, Joe Wheeler was no Bedford Forrest, and his troopers had little stomach for the hard work required to do lasting damage to a railroad. For example, the Confederate cavalry did not even challenge two of the most vulnerable points along Sherman’s lifeline – the bridge over the Etowah and the railroad tunnel at Tunnel Hill. Through the month of August, Wheeler sporadically destroyed trains and supplies, but then tiring of the assignment, took off into East Tennessee where he simply rendered his horses and men unfit for further service but otherwise accomplished little. In the meantime Hood was essentially deprived of his eyes and ears. Sherman determined to take advantage of the new situation.

The plan he eventually settled on was to send the XX Corps north to guard the railroad bridge crossing the Chattahoochee, while the rest of the Federal army would swing south, leaving its line of communications, to hit the Macon & Western Railroad at Jonesboro. The jump off date was set for August 23rd. Extra rations were prepared for the troops as they would not be in contact with their regular supply line for several days.

The disappearance of Sherman’s men from the Confederate commander’s front left Hood paralyzed by confusion. Had Wheeler’s raid succeeded? Had Sherman pulled back due to lack of supplies? With Wheeler away, Hood had no way of determining what, exactly, the Federals might be up to. Despite Hood’s postwar arguments that he was aware that only one Federal corps protected the Chattahoochee railroad bridge and that Sherman had moved the bulk of his army southward, they are weak and open to question. He claimed that the only reason he did not sortie the Army of Tennessee against this isolated corps and then destroy Sherman’s line of communications was the presence of 34,000 Federal prisoners at Andersonville, and the necessity of maintaining the Army of Tennessee as a screen between them and Sherman until they could be re-moved. The 20/20 hindsight expressed by Hood is only too apparent in his memoirs.

By the time Hood finally realized what was happening, Southern troops sent to intercept Sherman at Jonesboro were repulsed on August 31 – September 1, 1864. The loss of the last two railroads had now rendered Atlanta untenable. The Army of Tennessee marched out of the city during the night of September 1st. Warehouses, supplies and an irreplaceable ordnance train with 81 carloads of ammunition were fired to prevent their capture by Sherman. Throughout the early morning of September 2nd, the ground around Atlanta shook from terrible explosions and the sky was painted with crimson flames and black smoke caused by the massive inferno. The unthinkable had happened. Atlanta had fallen.

That day Union troops entered the city. On the following day, Sherman wired the now famous message to Washington that “Atlanta is ours and fairly won.” Its capture was made possible by the combination of excellent leadership, some hard fighting by first-rate Midwestern troops, the exploitation of numerous Confederate mistakes and inherent weaknesses, and by a supply system that was perfected ad hoc as Sherman progressed south into Georgia toward Atlanta. Even though it might be argued that the Federal commander tended toward micro-management of his logistics system, Sherman obviously won the logistics war with his masterful handling of the “sinews of war.” The Federals, despite guerrilla activity and cavalry raids, maintained a massive flow of supplies from Chattanooga south down the Western & Atlantic. Advance supply depots were leapfrogged down the railway until a major secure base was established at Allatoona. Sherman was served well by capable subordinates on his logistics team. When the Army of the Cumberland can expend 200,000 rounds of ammunition in one day and then be re-supplied to fight the following day, while their Confederate adversaries must recover spent rounds for recasting into bullets, can the final outcome be but little in doubt?

As Lieutenant General Pagonis wrote, “Good Logistics is Combat Power,” and the 1864 Atlanta Campaign is certainly a good example of this maxim. Sherman, who shunned the uncertainty inherent in pitched battles with a skilled opponent, used his supplies as a modern combat multiplier, and then, through the strategy of logistical exhaustion, denied the same capability to his adversary. Sherman took Atlanta because he was able to transport mountains of supplies deep into Georgia. His army was well fed and had plenty of ammunition and equipment to get the job done. Sherman was able to lay claim to Atlanta because he had already won the logistics battle before his troops ever faced the wounded but still formidable Army of Tennessee in the pine forests of north Georgia.


Sources Used

William G. Pagonis, Moving Mountains: Lessons in Leadership and Logistics from the Gulf War (Boston, 1992), p. 221. Pagonis was the commander of the 22d Support Command during Operation Desert Shield/Storm.

U. S. War Department, War of the Rebellion: The Official Records of the Union and Confederate Armies, 128 vols. (Washington, D. C., 1880-1901) Series I, vol. 52, p. 697, hereinafter cited as O.R.

Archer Jones, Civil War Command and Strategy: The Process of Victory and Defeat (New York, 1992), 199-203. Jones argues that Grant and Sherman were conducting a combination “raiding” and “persisting” logistic strategy against the Confederacy. Eventually, this would lead to the logistical collapse of the South, even without the defeat of the armies still remaining in the field.

Ulysses S. Grant, Memoirs and Selected Letters (New York, 1990), p. 479.

William T. Sherman, Memoirs of William T. Sherman (New York, 1990), pp. 491-492. Clarence Clough Buel and Robert Underwood Johnson (eds.), Battles and Leaders of the Civil War (Secaucus, NJ, 1884-1888), vol. 4, pp. 247-248.

Albert Castel, Decision in the West: The Atlanta Campaign of 1864 (Lawrence, KS, 1992), p. 91.

Sherman, Memoirs, p. 466.

James Lee McDonough and James Pickett Jones, War So Terrible: Sherman and Atlanta (New York, 1987), pp. 328-331. Thomas Lawrence Connelly, Autumn of Glory: The Army of Tennessee, 1862-1865 (Baton Rouge, 1971), pp. 373-375. Both Connelly and McDonough and Jones present a very good analysis of the vulnerabilities of Sherman’s railroad supply line despite the Federal commander’s attempts to assure its security. They also point out the weaknesses in the Confederate departmental system that prevented available cavalry (Forrest’s command would have been the best choice for the task according to the authors) being sent to cut this line in support of Johnston’s pleas to the Richmond authorities.

O.R. Ser. I, vol. 52, p. 697. Edward Hagerman, The American Civil War and the Origins of Modern Warfare (Bloomington, IN, 1992), p. 279. This ratio was only exceeded by Rosecran’s Army of the Cumberland in the au-tumn of 1863. On July 1, 1864, Sherman was reported to have in his command 100,000 men, 5,180 wagons and 860 ambulances, 28,300 horses and 32,600 mules.

Sherman, Memoirs, p. 196.

James J. Cooke. “Feeding Sherman’s Army: Union Logistics in the Campaign for Atlanta,” Campaign Chroni-cles: The Campaign for Atlanta & Sherman’s March to the Sea, Vol. 1, 1992, pp. 86-87.

Hagerman, Origins of Modern Warfare, p. 279.

Sherman, Memoirs, p. 467-469. George Edgar Turner, Victory Rode the Rails: The Strategic Place of the Rail-roads in the Civil War (Lincoln, NE, 1953), pp. 325-326. James A. Huston, The Sinews of War: Army Logistics 1775-1953 (Washington, D.C., 1997), p. 234-235. It should be noted that Louisville, Kentucky remained Sherman’s base for the entire campaign while Nashville and Chattanooga expanded into secondary bases. Other advance depots were located at Johnsonville and Knoxville, Tennessee and were involved in supporting Sherman’s drive on Atlanta.

B.H. Liddell Hart, Sherman: Soldier, Realist, American (New York, 1993), p. 236.

O.R., Series I, vol. 32, pt. 3, p. 434.

Huston, The Sinews of War, p. 235.

Cooke, “Feeding Sherman’s Army,” p. 89. McDonough and Jones, War So Terrible, p. 34. O.R., Series I, vol. 32, pt. 2, pp. 329, 365, 372. Huston, The Sinews of War, p. 235.

McDonough and Jones, War So Terrible, pp. 35-36.

Sherman, Memoirs, pp. 472-473. Sherman good-naturedly noted that General Thomas did not follow his austere example, keeping his regular “headquarters camp” and a big wagon that could be converted into an office, to which Sherman referred to as “Thomas’s circus.”

O.R., Series I, vol. 38, pt. 4, p. 37.

Ibid., p. 55.

Ibid., pp. 86-87, 144.

Joseph E. Johnston, Narrative of Military Operations During the Civil War (New York, 1959), p. 318.

Cooke, “Feeding Sherman’s Army,” pp. 93-94.

O.R., Series I, vol. 38, pt. 5, p. 123.

John Cannan, The Atlanta Campaign: May – November, 1864 (Conshohocken, PA, 1991), pp. 105-106.

Cooke, “Feeding Sherman’s Army,” p. 95.

O.R., Series I, vol. 38, pt. 5, pp. 123-124.

Ibid., vol. 39, pt. 2, p. 121.

McDonough and Jones, War So Terrible, p. 330.

Brian Steel Wills, A Battle from the Start: The Life of Nathan Bedford Forrest (New York, 1992), pp. 249-251. The potential of what Forrest might have done to Sherman’s line of communications had he been turned loose ear-lier in the campaign can be seen in the success of his Johnsonville Expedition, which began on October 21, 1864 (after Sherman had already taken possession of Atlanta). In short, his command captured the Union gunboat Un-dine, the steamer Venus, and destroyed two other steamers, then manned the two viable boats and headed for John-sonville. Besides the gunboat, Forrest ordered his eleven pieces of artillery to ring the heights surrounding the Union supply depot. Although the cavalrymen-turned-sailors eventually lost their boats to the Federals, the bom-bardment of Johnsonville by Forrest’s guns was a complete success. For minor losses of two men killed and nine wounded, Forrest counted the destruction of four gunboats, 14 transports, 20 barges, 26 pieces of artillery, and $6,700,000 worth of property, plus the capture of 150 Federals. In a November 6 dispatch to Grant, Sherman noted, “But that devil Forrest was down about Johnsonville and was making havoc among the gun-boats and trans-ports.” [O.R., Series I, vol. 39, pt. 3, p. 569]. Forrest, upon observing the effects of his bombardment turned to Captain John Morton (his chief of artillery) and said with a smile of satisfaction, “There is no doubt we could soon wipe old Sherman off the face of the earth, John, if they’d give me enough men and you enough guns.” [John Watson Morton, Forrest’s Artillery (Gaithersburg, MD, 1909), pp. 257-258].

O.R., Series I, vol. 38, pt. 5, pp. 143-144.

Castel, Decision in the West, pp. 366-367. Cannan, The Atlanta Campaign, p. 111.

Ibid., pp. 119-130. Castel, Decision in the West, pp. 379, 382, 385-386, 413.

Ibid., pp. 425-428, 434-436. Cannan, The Atlanta Campaign, pp. 131-140.

Sherman, Memoirs, p. 575.

Cannan, The Atlanta Campaign, pp. 141-144.

Ibid., pp. 144, 150.

John Bell Hood, Advance and Retreat (New York, 1993), pp. 206-207.

Cannan, The Atlanta Campaign, pp. 150-159.

Cooke, “Feeding Sherman’s Army,” pp. 97-98.

Ibid., p. 98.

 

 

 



 

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