Page images
PDF
EPUB

made and still more successfully held. The first rush having been stopped, Sheridan turned the lull that ensued into a triumphal progress by riding bareheaded along his whole line, so that all his men might feel themselves once more under his personal command. Cheer upon cheer greeted him as his gallant charger carried him past; and when the astonished enemy were themselves attacked they broke in irretrievable defeat.

This crowning victory of the long-drawn Valley campaigns, coming with cumulative force after those of Mobile, Atlanta, and Opequan Creek, did more to turn the critical election than all the speeches in the North. The fittest at the home front judged by deeds, not words, agreeing therein with Rutherford B. Hayes (a future President, now one of Sheridan's generals) who said: “Any officer fit for duty who at this crisis would abandon his post to electioneer for a seat in Congress, ought to be scalped.”

The devastation of everything in the Valley that might be useful to Lee's army completed the Union victory in arms; while Lincoln's own triumph in November completed it in politics and raised his party to the highest plane of statesmanship in war.

From this time till the early spring the battle of the giants in Virginia calmed down to the minor moves and clashes that mark a period of winter quarters; while the scene of more stirring action shifts once more to Georgia and Tennessee.

CHAPTER XI

SHERMAN DESTROYS THE BASE: 1864

SHERMAN made Atlanta his field headquarters for September and October, changing it entirely from a Southern city to a Northern camp. The whole population was removed, every one being given the choice of going north or south. In his own words, Sherman “had seen Memphis, Vicksburg, Natchez, and New Orleans, all captured from the enemy, and each at once garrisoned by a full division, if not more; so that success was actually crippling our armies in the field by detachments to guard and protect the interests of a hostile population.” In reporting to Washington he said: “If the people raise a howl against my barbarity and cruelty, I will answer that war is war, and not popularityseeking. If they want peace, they and their relatives must stop the war. He also excluded the swarms of demoralizing camp-followers that had clogged him elsewhere. One licensed sutler was

366

allowed for each of his three armies, and no more. Atlanta thus became a perfect Union stronghold fixed in the flank of the South.

The balance of losses in action, from May to September, was heavily against the South: nearly nine to four. The actual numbers did not greatly differ: thirty-two thousand Federals to thirty-five thousand Confederates. (And in killed and wounded the Federals lost many more than the Confederates. It was the thirteen thousand captured Confederates that redressed the balance.) But, since Sherman had twice as many in his total as the Confederates had in theirs, the odds in relative loss were nine to four in his favor. The balance of loss from disease was also heavily against the Confederates, who as usual suffered from dearth of medical stores. The losses in present and prospective food supplies were even more in Sherman's favor; for his devastations had begun. Yet Jefferson Davis was bound that Hood should “fight”; and Hood was nothing loth.

Davis went about denouncing Johnston for his magnificent Fabian defense; and added insult to injury by coupling the name of this very able soldier and quite incorruptible man with that of Joseph E. Brown, Governor of Georgia, who, though a

violent Secessionist, opposed all proper unification of effort, and exempted eight thousand State employees from conscription as civilian "indispensables.” Then, when Sherman approached, Brown ran away with all the food and furniture he could stuff into his own special train; though he left behind him ail arms, ammunition, and other warlike stores, besides the confidential documents belonging to the State.

Brown had also weakened Hood's army by withdrawing the State troops to gather in the harvest and store it where Sherman afterwards used what he wanted and destroyed the rest. Yet Hood kept operating in Sherman's rear, admirably seconded by Forrest's and Wheeler's raiding cavalry. Late in October Forrest performed the remarkable feat of taking a flotilla with cavalry. He suddenly swooped down on the Tennessee near Johnsonville and took the gunboat Undine with a couple of transports. Hood had meanwhile been busy on Sherman's line of communications, hoping at least to immobilize him round Atlanta, and at best to bring him back from Georgia for a Federal defeat in Tennessee.

On the fifth of October the last action near Atlanta was fought thirty miles northwest, when

« PreviousContinue »