Wednesday, July 18, 2018

The Atlanta Campaign: Hood Takes Command

The overall situation around Atlanta when Hood took command on July 18 as depicted in Atlanta is Ours!  The Army of Tennessee is dug-in near Peachtree Creek facing the Army of the Cumberland.  The Army of the Ohio stitches the Union line together between Thomas and the Army of the Tennessee approaching from Roswell.  About 7,000 Union troops are in reserve at Marietta.  Click to enlarge.
Note:  This part five of my essay on the Campaign for Atlanta in 1864.

Johnston retreated behind Peachtree Creek as Sherman’s dispersed armies crossed the Chattahoochee. McPherson was at Roswell with about 17,500 troops opposed by General John H. Kelly’s cavalry division of 2,000.  Schofield’s Army of the Ohio with 11,500 formed the left flank of Thomas’ Army of the Cumberland, which numbered about 46,500 approaching Atlanta. Another 7,000 infantry (of McPherson’s command) were ready at the large Federal depot in Marietta under General Francis Preston Blair’s command in case the Confederates attempted some sort of raid against the now greatly elongated Union supply line. 3,000 cavalry under General Joseph Wheeler formed Johnston’s forward line, allowing the Rebel infantry to dig-in defensively.

So Sherman had made it to within a few miles of Atlanta with over 75,000 infantry against Johnston’s 41,500.  Thousands more Yankees were fortified along every rail station back to Dalton.  After about 9 weeks of campaigning with many skirmishes and several larger battles, the Southerners were no better off than when they had started.  While he had avoided outright defeat, Johnston had not scored any major victory and it seemed he might be maneuvered completely out of Atlanta.

That was something President Jefferson Davis in Richmond knew the Southern Confederacy could not afford.  Atlanta was a significant transportation hub but, more importantly, it was symbolic of the "unconquerable deep South."  As long as it the South held it, the idea of the futile war with no end in sight was legitimate among a large number of citizens in the North.  A Confederate-held Atlanta aided the growing anti-war movement in the Union states.  Davis and Johnston never had an amiable working relationship throughout the war.  The former being offensively minded, the later defensively so.  While Davis wanted clarity and, above all, offensive action, Johnston was deliberately vague about his plans and intentions. The consensus of the Confederate government at the beginning of July was that Johnston would rarely (if ever) attack because he was more afraid of losing a battle than he was confident in winning one.  To Davis' way of thinking, that was too defeatist for the demands of the hour.  

Hood, by contrast, had shown himself a perpetual aggressor.  He was wounded at both Gettysburg and Chickamauga while leading his command in assaults.  He had been Johnston’s go-to commander for attacks at Resaca, Cassville (though aborted), New Hope Church, and Kolb’s Farm.  On the evening of July 17, 1864 Davis ordered that the 33-year old Hood replace Johnston.

This was a crucial moment in American history.  Apparently, Johnston planned to attack Thomas as his divisions crossed Peachtree Creek, before the Yankees had time to organize themselves on the creek's south side.  But the change in command froze the Army of Tennessee in place.  Hood took over for Johnston, General Cheatham took over Hood’s Corps, General Alexander P. Stewart replaced General Loring as commander of Polk’s former corps. All of this happened at the exact moment part of Thomas’ Army of the Cumberland was crossing the creek while the rest of Sherman's armies approached Decatur from the northeast.

Hood asked Johnston to remain as an advisor until all the command transitions were complete.  Johnston felt bitter about the Davis' decision and refused.  Hood had to ascertain where his infantry and cavalry were located and establish communication with them.  So, instead of attacking on July 18, the Confederates were reorganizing and shifting their positions.  By July 19, Hood was ready to order an assault, but by now the Federals had crossed the creek and were waiting.

The Battle of Peachtree Creek, like so many in the campaign, was a short, sharp attack that was handily repulsed.  Another command change for the Southerners, General George Maney substituting for Cheatham’s former division, was a basic cause for that division attacking lamely, but none of Hardee's infantry formations distinguished themselves. As many as 1,800 Federal troops were killed or wounded against perhaps 2,500 Confederate losses.  Hood had accomplished nothing at a cost his badly outnumbered army could not afford.

Meanwhile, with Schofield covering his right flank, McPherson was approaching Atlanta from the east.  Wheeler's cavalry could do little more than slow him down.  Two corps under McPherson were less than three miles away from Atlanta on July 20.  Hood readjusted his forces.  The immediate threat was the possible shelling of the city from Union artillery.  A cleared and elevated area known as Bald Hill offered a prime bombardment position.  General Cleburne, mostly in reserve at Peachtree Creek, was quickly dispatched to reinforce Wheeler’s cavalry.  General Mortimer Dormer Leggett’s division assaulted and captured the hill on July 21 at a cost of about 700 killed and wounded against a few hundred Confederate losses.  A counterattack by Cleburne was driven back by Union artillery fire.  Cleburne’s men continued to engage Leggett in heavy skirmishing into the night.

Also on July 21, Sherman, rather obsessed with Southern logistics, ordered General Kenner Garrard’s cavalry to destroy the railroad east of Atlanta.  This was a gamble as it rendered McPherson’s left flank unprotected. When Wheeler expertly notified Hood of the situation, Hood sent Hardee marching through the city to the south and realigned Cheatham to the east while Stewart shifted and continued to defend the city’s northern fortifications.  Wheeler was ordered to attack the unprotected Union wagon trains in Decatur (because Hood knew Sherman was obsessed with logistics) while Hardee was to attack McPherson’s flank on July 22.  If the Rebels could roll-up the Yankee line, they might get into the rear of McPherson’s advanced line and score a major victory for the first time in the campaign.

But Cleburne, Hardee’s best division, had difficulty disengaging from Bald Hill.  It took much longer than anticipated in the summer heat for the Southerners to form up their line of attack. About 25% of the crops straggled during their 15-mile night march.  McPherson was busy fanning out his command along the Confederate defensive line held by Cheatham.  General Thomas William Sweeny was bringing up McPherson’s rare and had not yet been ordered into line, instead he was backed-up along the railroad, awaiting orders, by sheer coincidence facing Hardee’s developing line of attack, though the Federal troops still did not know the Southerners were on their flank.
The situation at the start of the Battle of Atlanta, July 22, 1864. 
The Battle of Atlanta began about noon on July 22 with Hardee ordering his four divisions forward.  McPherson had just returned from Sherman’s headquarters and decided to reconnoiter his exposed left with his staff.  He rode straight into Hardee’s attack and was killed. Cleburne’s division managed to drive the Northern line back.  Once again, however, the Confederate attack lacked coordination.  Moreover, instead of hitting the Union flank, they actually attacked into Sweeny’s hastily deployed troops facing them.  This unexpected turn of events choked Hardee’s attack.  Repeat assaults failed.

Meanwhile, Cheatham, reinforced by the Georgia Militia, advanced out of the Atlanta fortifications and hit General Morgan Lewis Smith’s division, driving its center back in the only meaningful success that day for Hood’s attack.  But even this was negligible as two of Cheatham’s three divisions failed to penetrate at all and General John A. Logan organized an effective Union counterattack to retake his lost position. (This is the scene depicted in the famous oil painting, the Atlanta Cyclorama).  The Confederates would wait until nightfall and retire to the safety of the city’s fortifications again. 

McPherson was dead and his army suffered about 3,300 casualties.  Hood’s army incurred about 5,500 losses including General Walker, who was leading his division.  In what was probably the most intense battle of the entire campaign, Hood had only managed to render his army less combat effective and had not prevented Sherman from accomplishing anything.  The noose around Atlanta tightened.

Sherman ordered Union artillery to shell Atlanta for the first time on July 20.  With the capture of Bald Hill this shelling intensified on July 22 when 187 shells were fired into the populated city.  Many citizens panicked and evacuated the city by road and by rail southward toward Jonesboro.  Only about 20% of Atlanta’s population as of January 1864 remained in the city at the end of July. Sherman replaced McPherson with General Oliver Otis Howard, which caused an insulted General Hooker (Howard's senior in rank and former commander of the Army of the Potomac) to immediately resign for not being offered command of the Army of the Tennessee.  Sherman was glad to see Hooker go.  He detested “political” generals.

Hood was also shuffling generals and officers around.  Upon taking command he immediately requested that General Stephen Dill Lee be ordered from Mississippi to command Hood’s former corps which had been temporarily led by Cheatham, who returned to command his division.  Lee arrived on July 26.  General Braxton Bragg arrived from Richmond on July 24 to personally report back to President Davis on events pertaining to Atlanta.  When Bragg offered his hand to Hood’s (and formerly Johnston’s) chief of staff Brigadier General William W. Mackall, the Confederate officer (reflecting tensions going back to when MacKall headed Bragg's staff in 1863) refused to accept Bragg’s handshake.  MacKall was quickly dismissed by Hood with General Shoup taking his place.

Sherman had repeatedly used wide sweeping movements to probe and dislodge the Army of Tennessee throughout the campaign.  With the Army of the Cumberland pressing down on the northern Atlanta fortifications and the Army of the Ohio pushing on the northeast, Sherman sent the Army of the Tennessee with the newly appointed General Howard around west to envelop Atlanta from that side.  Hood’s cavalry again alerted him to the movement and he decided to attack the Yankee columns en route.  But, instead, the Confederate concentration of Lee’s and Stewart’s corps started late again.  The Union troops were defensively deployed and easily repulsed the attack. 

The situation at the Battle of Ezra Church, July 28, 1864.
The Battle of Ezra Church was fought on July 28, 1864.  It was another intense battle but over very quickly as the Confederates retired.  General Logan’s troops again bore the brunt of the Southern attack and gave a good accounting of themselves.  Against a mere 700 Union casualties, 600 Confederates were killed, another 2,200 wounded.  Hood had used his interior lines to attack Sherman three times in 9 days.  The Army of Tennessee lost about 10,000 of its 41,500 men during this time, a horrific ratio.  Even Hood realized his army could no longer attack. Comparably, Sherman lost about 6,500 men. Though certainly tempered by the blows of the campaign, he still commanded some 69,000 infantry who were ready for action and slowly surrounding Atlanta.

Monday, July 2, 2018

The Atlanta Braves: Looking Good After 82 games in 2018

After a couple of dismal seasons, the Atlanta Braves enjoyed a great first half to the 2018 baseball season.  At 48-34 they have the best record in the National League, but only the fifth best record in baseball overall.  The four teams above them are all in the American League.  Overall, however, this has been a really good first half.  The Braves have been fairly consistent this year.  They have not lost more than three games in a row and have not won more than four games in a row.  Basically, with some painful exceptions (most recently against Baltimore and Cincinnati), they win series by series, often taking 2 out of 3 games.  That starts to add up very positively over a 162-game schedule.

How are they winning?  Mostly with their bats.  The Braves all of baseball early in the season in terms of team batting average.  Currently they are 4th best in baseball with a .261 team average - a very good stat.  The average for the league is .245.  As of today, Nick Markakis (.323) and Freddie  Freeman (.315) are number 3 and 4 respectively in the NL. 

There has been much written about the "babyBraves" in 2018.  Atlanta has one of the youngest teams in baseball.  Ronald Acuna, Jr. has been an early start in his rookie year, though he has battled some injuries.  Ozzie Albies is not much older and has hammered an amazing 17 home runs so far while doing a great job of playing second base.  Johan Camargo and Dansby Swanson are not rookies but they have played very well and are only 24 years old.

It is noteworthy that Freeman, Markakis, and Albies lead the All-Star balloting in their respective positions.  Quite an accomplishment which means that baseball fans in general know who these guys are and how good they are this season.  Acuna would have probably made this list as well but for the fact that he started the season in the minor leagues.

On the pitching side of the equation, the Braves feature several promising young arms as well.  Sean Newcomb has won 8 games so far with an excellent 2.71 ERA.  Though only 6-4, Mike Foltynewicz has a splendid 2.02 ERA with 107 K's in 89 innings, another excellent stat.  Unfortunately, the rest of the Braves pitching has been erratic.  Julio Teheran is supposed to be our "ace" and he has looked brilliant a few times this season.  But he is 6-5 with a rather high 4.21 ERA. 

Where the Braves seem the weakest right now is in their bullpen.  Sam Freeman has been disappointing with a 2-4 record and a 5.03 ERA.  Dan Winkler started the season as unhittable but has had a couple of bad outings lately that have cost us two games.  Our closer, Arodys Vizcaino, has 15 saves but he walks too many batters and has given up too many hits.  Ditto middle relievers Shane Carle, Peter Moylan, A.J. Minter.  Hopefully, these guys can settle down and stop letting teams get back into games that we should have won.

Back to the offensive side of the equation, the Braves are managing to win with basically a bunch of utility players at SS, 3B, and LF.  The star recently has been Charlie Culberson who is swinging a hot bat.  He has emerged as the favorite for now among Camargo, Preston Tucker and Ryan Flaherty.  I actually like the way this diverse collection of players are being managed by Braves skipper Brian Snitker.  As with last season, Kurt Suzuki and Tyler Flowers are playing very well while platooning at catcher.

It is a luxury to whine about how the Braves have not yet quite played up to their potential, as they lead the NL East and have 48 wins in their pocket.  It has been a number of seasons since we had this much to root for in a Braves baseball team.  Hopefully, they can stay free of serious injury and the players don't burn out as the summer rolls on.  It rolls on for every time, of course, and those who can stay consistent will make the playoffs.  Consistency, particularly in middle relief, is what the Braves need with 80 games to play.

Starting tonight, the team faces its biggest test so far this season when the Braves open a 3-game interleague series against the team with the best record in baseball - the damn New York Yankees who are 54-27 by comparison.  To this point in the season Atlanta actually has a slightly better road record (25-17) than they do playing at home (23-17).  So there's hope.  If we can take 2 out of 3 up there then it would be a major statement of our prowess and a big reason to hope for good things to come in the second half of 2018.  That's a BIG IF though.