On the 1st day of May the army again began concentration, for active operations against the enemy at Dalton, with the ultimate object of securing possession of Atlanta, the most important inland point in the Confederacy. The forces destined for service in the approaching campaign included the Army of the Cumberland, under Major General Thomas; the Army of the Tennessee, under Major General McPherson; and a portion of the Army of the Ohio, under Major General Schofield. The troops composing these organizations were distributed along the railroads, from Knoxville to Huntsville and thence to Nashville, and in Northern Georgia, except the Seventeenth Corps, which was en route from Vicksburg. Two Divisions each of the Sixteenth and Seventeenth Corps were retained in Western Tennessee and Mississippi; and the Third Division, Fifteenth Corps, in Northern Alabama, excepting which, the (p177) entire Army of the Tennessee was under order to take the field. One Division of the Army of the Cumberland was retained in Middle Tennessee, to hold our lines of communication, and two Divisions of the Army of the Ohio were stationed at Knoxville and in its vicinity. The entire force with which General Sherman entered upon the campaign--including infantry, cavalry, and artillery--numbered nearly ninety-eight thousand men. This force was collecting in the vicinity of Chattanooga during the first days of May, 1864.
In the meantime, Grant was mustering his forces for offensive operations against Lee's army and Richmond. The time had now come for the harmonious cooperation of the two great armies of the East and West, in the work of crushing treason and restoring the authority of the Union in the revolted States. Hitherto there had been a radical defect in this respect, which was remedied by the assignment of Grant and Sherman to their respective commands. Their previous services together had qualified them to act with full confidence of success in well-matured plans. Such plans had been arranged for the great campaigns of 1864, and each entered upon the prosecution of his work with great vigor. They had, as subordinates, the tried men of previous campaigns, who had written their fame by deeds of noble worth, in the accomplishment of victory at Gettysburg, Vicksburg, (p178) and Chattanooga. Meade, McPherson, and Thomas had all evinced their ability, and secured the confidence of the nation, as well as that of their superiors in rank. Added to these, were Corps commanders who had achieved a brilliant reputation in the face of the enemy. An more than all, the armies, led by those brave officers, were inspired with fresh confidence, as they saw the harmonious combination of military skill and energy, in those who were to lead them to certain triumph.
The concentration of forces at Chattanooga was effected on the 5th of May, at which date the Fifteenth Corps arrived from Alabama. The Fourth Division moved form Scottsboro, on the 1st of May. The resignation of Colonel Loomis occurred at this date, and on the morning of May 2d he delivered a brief parting address to the Brigade, as the troops were formed in line for resuming the march. For more than three years he had led his regiment, and for the last fourteen months had held command of the Brigade; and the parting scene was to him--on the eve of great events--one calculated to call forth peculiar thoughts and emotions. He was a brave officer and strict disciplinarian. He cared for the interests of his men, and earned the reputation of being the equal in efficiency of any Brigade commander under whom the Regiment served during its continuance in the field. Colonel Williams (p179) succeeded him in command of the Brigade, and continued to fill the position throughout the memorable campaign, and Lieutenant Colonel Goodnow assumed command of the Regiment.
Our route to Chattanooga was by the mountain road form Bridgeport, this being the fourth time the Regiment had marched over the same ground. The road was still lined with the carcasses of mules which had died during the winter, in crossing the mountain. The record of suffering then endured by these worn-out creatures can never be written. Over their crushed remains and bleaching bones, which almost paved the road, through the mountain pass called "the Narrows," we now made our way. The account of the scene presented at this place, while our trains were returning from Chattanooga, in December previous, as given by the participants, exceeds all we ever heard of labor under difficulties. With the utmost effort the train succeeded in moving only half a mile during an entire day.
We camped at Whiteside Station, on the evening of May 4th. At this point the Nashville and Chattanooga Railroad crosses a deep gorge, through which flows a rapid mountain stream, called Falling waters. The magnificent bridge spanning the chasm. more than a hundred feet in depth, had been destroyed by the enemy, on the abandonment of the line of the Tennessee, and a (p180) trestle-bridge had been erected by the military authorities. The passage of trains over the bridge seemed perilous, and we trembled for the troops borne across so frail a structure as it appears to be. In the following November, while on our way from Atlanta to Indiana, with money for the Regiment, an incident occurred at this place that will never be forgotten. On nearing the bridge, one of the axles of the car in which we rode gave way. The train was running so rapidly that it was impossible to check it before reaching the chasm. The car was thrown from the track, and went bounding over the ties, striking the bridge, and detaching the hospital car --filled with sick and wounded soldiers --from the rear. The jostling now became fearful, and the terrible truth that we were rushing into the jaws of destruction appalled the stoutest heart. The ties being piled up before us, we were drawn over them, breaking the trucks, over the foremost of which the car was balanced for the fall into the chasm below, when the train was stopped, and we were saved.
Arriving at Chattanooga, on the 5th of May, all surplus baggage was stored at that place, where it remained till the close of the campaign. Strict orders were issued, limiting the officers to tentflyes and the men to shelter tents, also limiting the amount of officers' baggage. Everything was required to be in readiness to move on the morning (p181) of the 6th, and busy scenes of preparation were observable in all the camps. Morning found us prepared for the march, and at half-past ten o'clock the Regiment was on its unknown destination.
The disposition of the forces for the movement upon Dalton was as follows: Thomas occupied the centre, McPherson the right, and Schofield the left. Hooker, with the Twentieth Corps, occupied the right centre. This Corps has been formed by the consolidation of the Eleventh and Twelfth Corps, and was attached to the Army of the Cumberland, which also included the fourth and Fourteenth Corps. Schofield's command consisted only of two Divisions of the Twenty-third Corps. McPherson's included the Fifteenth Corps, excepting the Third Division, which was retained for a time at Huntsville and on the line of railroad thence to Stevenson, and two Divisions of the sixteenth Corps, under Major General Dodge. The army consisted of sixteen divisions, distributed as follows: in the Fourth Corps, three; in the Fourteenth, three; in the Fifteenth, three; in the Sixteenth, two; in the Twentieth, three, and in the Twenty-third, two. Added to this was the cavalry force, consisting of the several commands of Kilpatrick, Stoneman, and Garrard.
While Thomas was demonstrating in front of Dalton, and Hooker at Rocky Face Ridge, Schofield was threatening the enemy's right flank, (p182) and McPherson was moving to his rear, through Snake Creek Gap. The details of this important movement, by which Johnston was forced to evacuate his strong position at Dalton, are full of interest and will form the subject of the remaining portion of the present chapter.
Our first day's march brought us to Craw Fish Spring, near the Chickamauga battlefield, over which our route lay. A beautiful and abundant fountain of gushing water issues from a rocky bed at this place, and the night passed very pleasantly. The evening was occupied in social worship by the religious men of the Regiment, and the interest that prevailed will not soon be forgotten by those who shared in the enjoyment of the occasion. The spot where we met will ever be sacred in the memory to those who will recall one who subsequently fell in battle, and fulfilled in death the promise recorded on that night. It was one of the waymarks in the weary life of the Christian soldier, to which we shall often recur with peculiar pleasure.
On the following morning we resumed the march, crossing the Little Chickamauga, at Glass; Mill. The First and Second Divisions having secured the road in advance, we were compelled to halt till near right, reaching camp at midnight. On the 8th we entered the beautiful Cane Creek Valley. This fertile valley is bound on the (p183) southeast by Taylor's Ridge, which stretches away in either direction as far as the eye can reach, giving an air of beauty to the scene that charmed the eye in the early spring-time. No Federal forces had before passed through this valley. Previous to the battle of Chickamauga the enemy occupied it, and the supplies of the previous year had been chiefly consumed by Bragg's army. At Ships Gap, a depression in Taylor's Ridge, our forces crossed into Armurchy Valley, and camped at Villanow, a small town in Walker County, Georgia. As in all the small towns which we saw in the South, everything indicated the entire suspension of business. Desolation seemed written upon everything, presenting a striking contrast with the busy scenes in our Northern villages, where industry and enterprise have been stimulated instead of paralyzed by the war. Nothing evinced more clearly the destitute condition of the people than the total absence of all trade, and the dependence of rich and poor alike upon the productions of home industry.
In prospect of an engagement for the possession of Snake Creek Gap, the First Brigade remained in the rear to guard the train, while the troops moved forward, gained the entrance to the Gap unopposed, and moved through it. On emerging into the valley beyond, a small force of rebel cavalry was encountered by our advance, and a brisk (p184) skirmish ensued. The enemy retreated, and our forces held the mouth of the Gap, at the head of Sugar Valley.
The First Brigade remained at the opposite end of the Gap till the following day. A Brigade of the Sixteenth Corps also remained to guard the trains of that command. During the night of the 9th the A. A. General of that Brigade, while intoxicated, became alarmed for the safety of the trains, reported Wheeler approaching with a superior force, and ordered the removal of the trains within the Gap and the troops to be on the guard against immediate attack. No enemy was near. But the whole camp was thrown into excitement by the fears of a drunken officer, and a scene that beggars (sic) description was presented in the removal of the trains to a place of safety. At last quiet was restored, and the intoxicated author of the unnecessary commotion fell into a state of insensibility.
The advance of the Twentieth Corps reached this point, on the afternoon of the 10th, and our trains were removed forward through the Gap. A heavy rain fell during the night, which completely drenched many of the soldiers. On the 11th an 12th our forces fortified a strong position, on the high ground commanding the entrance to the Gap from the east, in anticipation of an effort by the enemy to force us back. But Johnston had been too long deceived by the demonstrations in his (p185) front. The possession of a strong position in his rear having been secured by the success of McPherson's movement, he was forced to evacuate Dalton, which he effected during the night of the 12th, moving toward Resaca. Our forces were therefore hurried forward through Snake Creek Gap, ready for offensive operations should the enemy decline an attack upon us in our works.
The first object of the campaign was speedily accomplished, with but slight loss. Some severe fighting had been done at Buzzard Roost, by the Twentieth Corps, aside from which the possession of Dalton was almost a bloodless triumph. Disposition of the army was at once ordered for moving upon the enemy at Resaca, on the following day.
While waiting the development of the situation we ascended the mountain, over-looking the valley of the Oustanaula, when a scene of magnificence and beauty was spread out before the eyes. The distant town of Resaca, with its defenses, the silvery course of the river, and the mingling of field and forest, with the smoke rising from the enemy's camps, presented one of the finest landscape views we ever beheld, and such as are to be found in mountainous regions alone. The student of nature never tires of gazing upon scenes like those that greeted the eye from that mountain summit. It seemed almost impossible that amid such visions of peace and loveliness the voice of war could be heard, (p186) and that the lovely valley before us would soon be the burial place of some who now looked down upon its smiling face. A deep sadness was mingled with the pleasure derived from that landscape view, as we meditated upon the probable events of the morrow and succeeding days.
That charming scene, with the sad events that soon succeeded, finds a correspondence in the life of man. The view of his features, lighted up with hope, and blooming in happiness and contentment, while peace and prosperity attend his steps, is like the vision from the mountain-top. But the look of sadness that succeeds, and the voice of mourning which marks the hour of affliction, of trial, and of stern conflict with difficulties too great for human endurance, remind us of the scenes of strife on the bosom of that lovely valley. As the sun shines above the quiet vale or the smoke of battle, so is it in human life. The same Source of light is above and around us, to dispense those cheering influences upon our hearts amid the trials of life that He confers upon us in days of prosperity and happiness.
That beautiful valley, reposing in the quiet of the evening hour, is also suggestive of the days of peace, so long enjoyed by this land of freedom. In the same vision, darkened by the smoke of the conflict, and trembling under the roar of artillery, is seen the emblem of our great struggle for the (p187) right. It is through the agency of the thunderstorm, with its fearful glare of lightning, that the atmosphere is purified and nature rendered more beautiful. And so, too, by the smoke, and roar, and flash of battle, has our nation been purified from its poisonous elements that were impairing the free circulation of the air of freedom. Even the view of that valley from the mountain summit was marred by the hand of oppression, that had itself engendered strife and bloodshed. Were we to look again upon that scene today, both the cloud of battle and the cloud of slavery would be rolled far away, and in the vision we should but behold where freedom triumphed and where the sons of freedom fell. But in their fall they--Sampson-like--pulled down the mighty temple of despotism, by leaning against its pillars, and in its fall involved thousands of their enemies. (p188)