“From the Army at Atlanta”


July 21, 1864

Collection: The Civil War
Publication: The Charleston Mercury
Date: July 21, 1864
Events have taken place within the last twenty-four hours
which have disturbed the equilibrium of everybody – put the
army to pondering, and fermented Atlanta until it is absolutely
effervescing. Falling back from Marietta, Gen. Johnston
established his long line along the Chattahoochee, entered the
entrenchment that had been previously prepared, and erected
others which gave additional strength to his position, and led
to the belief that he had made his last step backward;
subsequently, two corps were withdrawn to this side of the
river to defend the crossings on either wing, should any
attempt be made to that end, and Hardee was left two miles in
front on the other side to defend the railroad bridge and to
hold the enemy in check on our centre.
Hardeeline extended three or four miles, and yesterday,
(Saturday,) heavy skirmishing ensued. The Federals drove in
our pickets in front of the division of Gen. French, but
reinforcements being sent forward, the enemy were in turn
driven back nearly to their own works, and our line was
e- established. Demonstrations were likewise made on our right
and left several miles distant, but with what effect I am not
informed. They may have been of a character sufficiently
threatening to justify the movements which followed, or the
latter may have been in accordance with a new line of policy
adopted by Gen. Johnston.
The fact, however, became evident yesterday that the
Commander in Chief had determined to withdraw his forces still
further to the rear. General Hardee, during the night,
accordingly retired to the south side of the Chattahoochee,
burning the bridge behind him, and this morning we are in line
of battle two or more miles from the river banks. The enemy
have followed rapidly, but cautiously; and, while I write,
skirmishing is going on in front. General Johnston has
established his headquarters only two and a half miles from the
city. Meanwhile the several railroads are bearing away
Government property with all haste; no one can leave Atlanta,
eastward, without an order difficult to obtain, and the town is
in a furore. Citizens are packing up their furniture;
merchants are rushing around eager to have their goods
impressed, and thus removed; the sick and wounded are leaving
in all directions; hospital, commissary and quartermasters have
changed their base; machine shops are moving machinery;
newspaper offices are dismantled and in a hub bub, boxed up and
ready to leave by the first train; the streets are crowded with
drays and private vehicles, containing ladies, babies, band
boxes and household et ceteras; while anxious looking men are
hurrying to and fro in futile efforts to escape with their
property and families from the hated invader. Mingling in the
air are sounds of the Sabbath bells, the shrieks of a score of
locomotives, the rumbling of cars and carts, the shouts of
drivers and unceasing hum of a modern Babel. The spectacle is
more melancholy than interesting. Every one has given up the
city, and, save those who cannot get away, are preparing to
leave in the general evacuation.
I must confess myself at a loss what to say on the
premises. General Johnston is stern, severe and reticent.
One can only draw conclusions from his actions, and these may
prove to be only precautionery and strategic.
General Johnstonplan of campaign embraces three primary
objects – the defeat of Sherman, the salvation of his own army,
and the preservation of the granaries of Georgia. Thus far the
first of these purposes has come to naught. With a greatly
superior force – numbering ninety-odd thousand men – Sherman
has, from the beginning, moved in such a manner that it has
been claimed to be impracticable to attack him with advantage;
while by means of his 800 miles of entrenchments – according to
Yankee authority – he has been enabled to outflank and compel
us to retreat. Gen. Johnston has sought every opportunity to
give his antagonist battle; nay, he has waited until the
bullets were rained upon his rear before moving backward, in
the hope that he might turn upon his foe; and yet, to the
present hour, he has failed to bring on the issue.
By the confession of the enemy himself, the retreat of Gen.
Johnston is one of the most skillful and wonderful achievements
which the history of war records, for he has saved an army from
annihilation, inflicted tremendous damage on his antagonist,
and at this hour confronts him with the original disparity
between the two forces so much reduced, that in a fair and open
field fight, there is not a question as to our success.
General Johnston has been compelled to regard the situation
not only as a soldier but as a statesman. Willing to encounter
the obloquy of the people, and to trust to results for his
vindication, he has acted the part of the prudent general by
husbanding the lives committed to his charge, although it may
have been at an unavoidable sacrifice of territory. If he
could not alone and single handed do what the country expected
of him, he has done the next best thing practicable under the
circumstances, by drawing Sherman a long distance from his base
and preparing him for a crushing defeat. He has urged upon the
President, by telegraph and letter, and Gov. Brown has done the
same, the importance of severing the lines of communication in
the enemyrear, and the Executive has been almost implored to
detach Forrest for this purpose; but the appeal has been
unheeded, and the crisis is upon us. Wheeler is fettered by
important duties which hourly demand his presence upon our
flanks; Morgan is rusticating in Virginia, and Forrest is
awaiting the arrival of Washburn in North Mississippi,
comparatively idle. Yet Forrest knows that his place is here;
and he is said to have publicly declared his ability to destroy
every important link of communication between Sherman and his
base, and then whip the advancing columns from the West.
No one can doubt that a defeat of Sherman by these means
would be the defeat of every other column in this section of
the Confederacy. The retreat of the Federal army from its
present position, with starvation staring it in the face, would
be rapid. With Johnston closely pressing the rear, it would
quickly become a rout. Yet the President appears blind to the
situation, deaf to all remonstrances, and obstinate in adhering
to a policy which persists in the control of campaigns, and
obstructs the free action of our generals. As I observed in a
previous letter, the Executive may not have directly interfered
with General Johnston during the operations of the past two
months, but he has thus far declined to cooperate with him in
the most essential of all points – namely, an attack upon the
There are no demonstrations in our front worthy of record.
Johnston is still waiting on the enemy and offering them
battle, but the Yankee movements are enveloped in mystery.
Three of their seven corps are said to be on this side of the
river, and strongly entrenched. A movement of their cavalry,
2000 strong, was made against Newnan, on our left, yesterday,
but was promptly met by General Armstrong and defeated. The
excitement in the city has subsided, and the town is a mere
shell of its former self, everything of value having been
removed. General Bragg is still here conferring with General
Johnston. Our troops are enjoying rest, after the arduous
duties of the past two months; and in every camp you see
evidences of renewed health, spirit and determination. Bathing
and washing of clothes is the order of the day.


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