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Battle of Resaca
May 13, 1864
May 15, 1864
Battle of Resaca Georgia
  George Thomas
  William Tecumseh Sherman
  Joseph E. Johnston
  Atlanta Campaign
  Leonidas Polk
  William Hardee
  James McPherson


Battle of Resaca

In April, 1864, George Thomas looked west towards the Rocky Face, the ridge between his forces in Ringgold, Georgia and Joe Johnston's men in Dalton, Georgia. Having attacked the formidable Confederate defenses in February of that year, he did not want to repeat the assault that May as the Union Army advanced on the Army of Tennessee. Thomas proposed that instead of a frontal assault, he try to outflank the Rebel army, pushing south to Snake Creek Gap west of Resaca.

General William Tecumseh Sherman liked the plan, but gave the job of advancing to Snake Creek Gap to General James B. McPherson and the Army of the Tennessee. Thomas and the Army of the Cumberland, largest of the three armies under Sherman, would advance on Rocky Face Ridge in an attempt to hold Johnston's army in position. Sherman hoped to gain the Western and Atlantic Railroad, cutting Johnston off from the vital supply center of Atlanta.

McPherson left Rossville on May 5th, heading south to Villanow, screened by Taylor's Ridge. Turning west at Lafayette, the Army of the Tennessee dispersed some Confederate pickets at Ship's Gap, crossed Taylor Ridge and headed for the entrance to Snake Creek Gap. Formed by Horn Mountain to the west and Mill Creek Mountain on the east, passing through 4.5 mile Snake Creek Gap was a daunting task for McPherson's Army. At the south end of the gap, crossing out of Walker County and into Gordon County, McPherson swung around Chestnut Mountain and headed due west for Resaca, a tiny rail stop town on the W&ARR between Calhoun and Dalton, with Grenville Dodge's 16th Corps in the lead.

Joining Johnston early that May was The Bishop, Leonidas Polk, who had been exiled to Mississippi following a well-documented run-in with his commanding officer, Braxton Bragg. With 15,000 men Polk was moving by rail to Dalton just as Dodge was coming out of Snake Creek Gap. His forward unit, under the command of William Wing Loring ("Old Blizzards"), took up a position in Resaca because a Union raiding party struck the wood refueling station at Tilton on May 9, 1864. Suddenly, Dodge's reinforced skirmish line hit Loring's Mississippians, easily routing the unsuspecting Rebels. Dodge began to deploy his troops to engage Loring, but then suddenly withdrew.

McPherson had recalled Dodge, ordering him back to bivouac at Snake Creek Gap and await the arrival of reinforcements. There had been a miscommunication between Sherman and McPherson and when Dodge encountered heavy resistance, caution got the best of McPherson, who thought it best to withdraw.

Late on May 11, 1864, General Sherman issued orders for his men to withdraw from Rocky Face and head south towards Resaca. It would take them almost two full days to make it to McPherson's position, marching south with Rocky Face on their left. On the morning of May 12, Carter Stevenson woke to a strange lack of sound and Johnston ordered Joe Wheeler to make a cavalry sweep of the area. Wheeler found that Sherman had moved south, lock, stock and haversack. Johnston now had enemy to his rear and had no choice but to withdraw to Resaca. He did not face a two-day march to get there. Riding on the Western and Atlantic, the 12-mile trip took about an hour, but the single track restricted him to a train every couple of hours. As John Schofield's Army of the Ohio was arriving west of the depot on the morning of May 14th, John Bell Hood was moving north from Resaca depot to form Johnston's right flank, an east-west line about 2 miles from the depot. At the Camp Creek valley the line formed a salient to the south, where Hardee's Corps extended the line following the natural lay of the land south to Polk's Corp, which had anchored on the Oostanaula River and formed on a series of ridges west of the railroad bridge and depot.

A drive by Henry Judah [US] shortly after 11:30am advanced on the northern end of Hardee's line, but failed because some Judah's men had become entangled with another division. Those that made it forward were quickly turned back because of the incomplete attack. Then Jacob Cox launched a drive, as ordered, but with Judah's men hopelessly confused, Cox did not have the support he needed.

The Confederates were not just absorbing the federal attacks. North of Hood's line, near the Whitfield-Gordon County line, Carter Stevenson advanced on an artillery battery on the exposed Union flank, but the attack was turned back when Robinson's Brigade appeared suddenly in support.

Meanwhile, almost due west of the town James McPherson had begun to advance on the Union right Sherman did not want Polk sending reinforcements to Hardee or Hood, who were withstanding the attack on the north end of the battlefield. At 6:00pm the artillery fell quiet and a bugle signaled the order to advance. John "Blackjack" Logan's [US] XV Corps crossed a small valley, then took some low hills in front of Polk's main line, driving off the skirmishers who had claimed them.

At this point The Bishop realized that federal occupation of these hill meant their artillery could range the railroad bridge over the Oostanaula River and perhaps the pontoon bridge a little further east. He was not concerned about supplies, which the railroad had been bringing to Resaca, but about the pontoon bridge's use as a route of retreat. Soon both Polk and Logan were pouring men into the hills. By 8:00pm Polk realized that he could not turn the federal and withdrew.

That night Sherman consolidated his gains along his line, building entrenchments. If he noticed the tactical advantage of Logan's position, he did not mention it. Johnston did realize Sherman's advantage, but by that time he was more concerned about reports coming from his rear - Yankee infantry had crossed the Oostanuala downstream at Lay's Ferry and was preparing to attack the exposed Rebel flank.

On the morning of May 15 nearly 80,000 Yankees were less than a mile from 50,000 Rebels, both working feverishly on entrenching their position. Word had reached Johnston that reports of a federal crossing of the Oostanaula were false (they weren't).

Joe Johnston though he might be able to breakthrough the Union lines to the north and threaten Sherman's supply line. The Confederate right was the target of a federal attack, centered on the four-gun artillery battery of Captain Max Van Den Corput, a Georgian, on a ridge just east of present-day U. S. 41. The men of a young colonel from Indiana, Benjamin Harrison, gained the battery just as Confederates A. P. Stewart and Carter Stevenson were coming out of the woods with 5 brigades of men. The fort became the center of a no man's land for the rest of the afternoon.

At Lay's Ferry, General Thomas Sweeney crossed the Oostanaula undetected by Major General W. H. T. Walker. After crossing, however, they stumbled on some Confederate picketts and Walker tried to drive them back across the river unsuccessfully. Johnston simply gave up and withdrew, failing to support Walker.

Links appearing on this page:

Army of Tennessee
Army of the Cumberland
Braxton Bragg
George Thomas
James B. McPherson
Joe Johnston
John Bell Hood
Leonidas Polk
William Tecumseh Sherman

Battle of Resaca was added in 2005



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