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