Atlanta, Geo., 30th Aug., 1864
….I have been very closely engaged here since the enemy began shelling the city. He hauled off a few days ago and the army seemed as much elated as tho’ we had gained a great victory, whereas it was simply changing his mode of attack. Our works were formidable; he felt of them half a dozen times; his men could not be got to charge them. He then wisely fell back, massed himself 6 or 7 miles west so. west [west, southwest] of the town on the West Point Road R. Road, entrenched, and is gradually moving, entrenching as he goes, until he straddles the Macon road, cuts off our supplies, and compels us to fight him in his works or evacuate the place as soon as our rations are out.
In the mean time he places a corps on the Chattahoochee defending his line from Vining’s Station to Sand Town in his rear and thus protecting his line of communications. In fact, allowing for the topography of the country, it is precisely the Vicksburg movement acted over again, except we can get out when we want to and Pemberton could not. But we shall be equally unable to hold the place.
The enemy care nothing for Wheeler and his seven thousand cavalry in the rear. They did not obstruct his trains more than four days, if that; and Wheeler avoided all depots where there were as much as armed sutlers. He has been gone for three weeks. I cannot say he has done no good, for he has relieved the poor people of this part of the country temporarily from his plundering marauding bands of cowardly robbers. It is said he is in Tennessee….
This army of Tennessee is in a deplorable condition. Hood is getting ridd of Bragg’s worthless pets as fast as he can, but Davis supports a great number of them, and many other incompts. [incompetents] are sent from other places to take their commands. Hood I think the very best of the generals of his school; but like all the rest of them he knows no more of business that a ten year old boy, and don’t know who does know anything about it.
The longer the war last the more and more important it becomes to husband the resources of the country; but our are wasted with a wild recklessness….
Behold the prospect! This army has less than thirty thousand musketts present for duty, leaving out the militia who have under four thousand….
Robert Toombs, excerpts from a private letter to Alexander Stephens, August 30, 1864.
(Source: The Civil War: The Final Year Told by Those Who Lived It; Brooks D. Simpson, Editor, 2013, pages 333-335.)
Confederate Problems at Atlanta
Robert Toombs – former U.S. Senator from Georgia – didn’t paint a rosy picture when he wrote to a fellow Georgian – Alexander Stephens, Vice President of the Confederacy. The situation which had been spiraling and stalemating over the summer was certainly not improving in Confederate favor.
General John Bell Hood had replaced General Joseph E. Johnston as the Confederate commander earlier in the summer but didn’t have significant successes. The Southern army was outnumbered. Vital supply lines into Atlanta were under constant threat from purposeful Union attacks.
If that wasn’t enough trouble, Confederate supplies to feed the army and civilians were lacking. Just having Wheeler’s cavalry in the area had strained the countryside’s provisions. The situation created a catch – have the army and the army eats your food. No army, and you’ll definitely have Yankees.
Atlanta Will Fall
After a series of battles and skirmishes climaxing at the Battle of Atlanta on July 22, General Sherman and his Yankees settled in for a siege-like wait for the next couple weeks; his artillery shelled Atlanta, and cavalry and raiding parties headed to the west and south, cutting vital supply lines to the Southern city. Here, the Confederate cavalry under Joseph Wheeler played a large and more successful role than Toombs gave them credit for.
The Confederates stubbornly held onto to Atlanta, forcing Sherman to revise his plans. The Union army swung around the city to the west, still angling to cut railroad connections. On August 31st, they successfully seized Jonesborough and the tracks to Macon, Georgia. Atlanta was about to be pulled from the Confederate’s grips.
“The longer the war last the more and more important it becomes to husband the resources of the country…”
The Confederates knew it. The Union generals knew it. And within a few weeks, Sherman would act accordingly. If the resources of the country could be destroyed or used to sustain the Union army on a quick march toward the coast…
The stage was set. And both sides knew the possible danger and opportunity.