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On the 17th, while engaged in giving instructions to his chief engineer concerning the fortifications of Atlanta, he was handed the following dispatch :
RICHMOND, Va., July 17, 1864. To Gen. J. E. Johnston :
Lieut.-Gen. J. B. Hood has been commissioned to the temporary rank of General, under the late law of Congress. I am directed by the Secretary of War to inform you, that as you have failed to arrest the advance of the enemy to the vicinity of Atlanta, far in the interiour of Georgia, and express no confidence that you can defeat or repel him, you are hereby relieved from the command of the Army and Department of Tennessee, which you will immediately turn over to Gen. Hood.
S. COOPER, A. and I. Gen.
The order arrested Gen. Johnston in a work which was enlisting all the energies of his nature. He was preparing to consummate, at the time and place designed, a purpose which had been the end and aim of two months of toil and strategy. The surprise, therefore, was severe, and the disappointment extreme. But these were due to the pride he took in his profession, and the solicitude he felt for his country. Aside from the professional disappointment, the extraordinary document gave him more grief for the South than for himself. The service had for some time been rendered as distasteful as the displeasure of his superiours could make it, and to be "relieved" from it was relief indeed. But, for the Confederacy, it filled him with forebodings, because, possessing as he did the affectionate devotion of his troops, and the unbounded confidence of his officers (with but one exception, if indeed that was an exception), the measure was taken at an untimely moment and critical place. He knew what was expected of his successor, and he knew that the expectation involved destruction, both to that ill-starred army and to the Confederacy. The measure did indeed prove to be “the beginning of the end." Then began the final and general ruin. It was like the opening of the fourth seal, and the appearance of the pale horse in the Apocalypse—“all hell followed.”
He immediately called for Gen. Hood, and communicated to him the plans he had been pursuing. The information of his
removal was cautiously communicated to the Generals of the higher grade. They promptly united in a request to the Government for a revocation of the order. But Gen. Johnston took leave of them at once; and veteran commanders, who had never blanched before the enemy, now gave way to emotions which do honour at times even to warriors. It was thought best to withhold the announcement of the intelligence from the army until Gen. Johnston had left its vicinity.
On the next day Gen. Johnston sent the following dispatch to Richmond, which closed his service in the field, until public opinion and the voice of Congress demanded his restoration again to command, when he was once more to appear, but at a time when he could only bear a part in the formalities of the final dissolution. The dispatch was as follows:
NEAR ATLANTA, July 18, 1864. Gen. S. Cooper :
Your dispatch of yesterday received and obeyed. Command of the Army and Department of Tennessee has been transferred to Gen. Hood. As to the alleged cause of my removal, I assert that Sherman's army is much stronger, compared with that of Tennessee, than Grant's, compared with that of Northern Virginia. Yet the enemy has been compelled to advance more slowly to the vicinity of Atlanta than to that of Richmond and Petersburg, and has penetrated much deeper into Virginia than into Georgia. Confident language by a military commander is not usually regarded as evidence of competency.
J. E. JOHNSTON.
Besides the cause assigned for his removal in the official telegram of Gen. Cooper, it was alleged in the Government newspapers in Richmond that Gen. Johnston had disregarded the instructions and wishes of President Davis. But there had been no instructions except those for assuming the offensive, given while at Dalton in the preceding winter, and these it had been impracticable at any time to execute. Other than those, there had been no expression of the President's wishes, except just before the army had reached the Chattahoochee, which was a warning to Johnston against fighting with a river at his back, as well as against crossing it.
It was also semi-officially charged that he had intended giving up Atlanta—a charge which the vigorous measures he was engaged in for strengthening the place, and the fact that his own family and effects were there under permanent arrangements, disproved.
As to the reason which had been officially alleged, it was palpably insufficient, as coming from the government at Richmond, near which Gen. Lee had, in a manner equally inasterly, executed a defensive movement under the same necessity. On this subject, Gen. Johnston wrote unofficially, a few weeks later :-“ After his experience in the Wilderness, Gen. Lee adopted as thorough a defensive as mine, and added by it to his great fame. The only other difference between our operations, was due to Gen. Grant's bull-headedness and Sherman's extreme caution, which carried the armies in Virginia to Petersburg in less than half the time in which Sherman reached Atlanta. From our relative losses, I might have expected to be very soon stronger than Sherman. His army beaten on the east of the Chattahoochee, might have been destroyed.” The same government which made this objection had virtually promoted Gen. Bragg, who had retreated from central Kentucky into North Georgia, with a force far less disproportioned to that of his adversary than Gen. Johnston's.
The effect of the intelligence of Johnston's removal was as depressing upon the Confederate army before Atlanta as it was exhilarating upon that of the enemy. Sherman, no longer observing the “extreme caution” which had been the highest proof he could have given of his appreciation of Johnston's ability, now became bold and audacious. And, verily, the Furies were at that time let loose upon Georgia and the ill-fated Carolinas.
The fall of Atlanta and what it involved.--Gen. Johnston foretells Sherman's
“march to the sea.”—The Vo Victis.-Gen. Johnston restored to command.The North Carolina campaign.--Sherman's stipulations for a surrender.-Interference from Washington.--Qualities of Gen. Johnston as a great commander.--His military peculiarities.-Compared to George Washington.--His patriotic and noble silence ander censure.--His person and deportment.--Literary accomplishments.--His advice to the Southern people on their duties after the surrender.
The fall of Atlanta through the unskilful action of Gen. Hood was one of the worst calamities of the war. How so invaluable a prize was lost on the part of the Confederacy, hac been ineffaceably stereotyped on the pages of history. A Gene
an unwearied caution coupled with sleepless diligence, and moving with a force doubly stronger than that defending it. With equal skill and cauticn, and with a success in retreat unsurpassed in history, he had been resisted. But a controlling power at a distance, in an evil moment, ordered the abandonment, by the weaker army, of the wary, skilful, and safe policy of defence, for the assumption of an audacious and reckless series of aggressive measures.
The dispirited army of Hood lay, after the fall of Atlanta, for a month on the road to Macon. Visited there by President Davis, towards the end of September, preparations soon after began to be made for some permanent movement. By the last day of the month, this new strategy bad become developed. Hood crossed the Chattahoochee; and was marching on the line of Sherman's communications. Sherman followed until the 5th of October, far enough to signal the garrison at Allatoona to hold out against the approaching danger. On the 6th of October, Gen. Johnston, living privately at Macon, and not having heard what Sherman was doing, wrote unofficially to Richmond: “It is said that our army is on Sherman's route to Chattanooga. This movement has uncovered the route through Macon, by which the army of
Virginia is supplied, and the shops at which ammunition is prepared and arms are repaired for the Army of Tennessee. If Sherman understands that either Charleston, Savannah, Pensacola or Mobile is as good a point for him as Chattanooga, he will not regard Hood's movement.”
Gen. Hood and his erratic offensive soon came to grief. His army, after severe defeats in Tennessee, soon ceased to be, as an army, among the things of earth. Gen. Sherman, instead of restoring, destroyed his communications with Chattanooga, and returned to Atlanta. The country was open to him “from the centre all round to the sea.” He could march forth at his pleasure. Having concentrated his troops at Atlanta, he was ready, by the 15th November, to set forward, in whatever direction he pleased. One week before, on the 8th of the month, Gen. Johnston, about to leave Macon, wrote thence unofficially to Richmond: “I could not tell the public what I would have done if left in command. I do not hesitate to tell you, though, that if I had been left in command of that army, it is very unlikely that Atlanta would have been abandoned. At all events, ten or twelve thousand soldiers, whose lives have been thrown away, would have been saved. Nor would I have left Sherman, with a force about equal to my own, in the heart of Georgia, to make such an excursion as our army is now engaged in. If Sherman understands his game, he can now cut off Gen. Lee's supplies, which pass through this place, and break up all our establishments for the repair of arms and preparation of ammunition; and this without risk, without the chance of being compelled to fight-a necessity which he can avoid by marching to Charleston, Savannah, Pensacola, or Mobile. At this season the country can furnish his army an abundance of food and forage. Sherman, in his extreme caution, may not venture upon such a course. Should he do so, he will win.
“ His army has been greatly reduced since his occupation of Atlanta. It was formed in 1861 for three years. The terms of most of the regiments have expired, and a very large number refused to reënlist. I expected them to be discharged during the summer, as their times expired. Sherman, however, made an arrangement with them for their service until the capture of Atlanta."