William Tecumseh Sherman - September 29, 1864 - Warning of Enemy Attack - to General John McCarthur - Siege of Atlanta.
September 29, 1864 telegraph from General William Tecumseh Sherman to General John McArthur. Recipients copy. Quarto.
In this incredibly poignant communication during the Siege of Atlanta, General William Tecumseh Sherman sends an urgent warning of an potential Confederate enemy attack:
On September 27, 1864, two days before this telegram, General Ulysses S. Grant sent a message to Sherman from Virginia:
"Major-General Sherman: It is evident, from the tone of the Richmond press and from other sources of information, that the enemy intend making a desperate effort to drive you from where you are. I have directed all new troops from the West, and from the East too, if necessary, in case none are ready in the West, to be sent to you. If General Burbridge is not too far on his way to Abingdon, I think he had better be recalled and his surplus troops sent into Tennessee. U. S. Grant, Lieutenant- General."
And a second dispatch:
"I have directed all recruits and new troops from all the Western States to be sent to Nashville, to receive their further orders from you."
Lying west of the city of Atlanta, the Chattahoochee River was the primary geographic obstacle for both the Union Army approaching and the Confederate Army retreating from Atlanta. As the Confederate forces retreated west across the Chattahoochee, Union forces in the area were greatly at risk of attack. It was imperative that the Union not only reinforce their defensive position, but that they constantly monitor the enemy forces.
Nowhere was this more important than at Kennesaw, to the northwest across the Chattahoochee, where Sherman warns General McArthur in this urgent communication that the enemy is approaching and may attack. Ultimately, the bulk of the Confederate forces would head in this direction.
In the Personal Memoirs of Gen. W. T. Sherman, Volume II Sherman expresses the concerns he had at the time:
"There was great difficulty in obtaining correct information about Hood's movements from Palmetto Station. I could not get spies to penetrate his camps, but on the 1st of October I was satisfied that the bulk of his infantry was at and across the Chattahoochee River, near Campbellton, and that his cavalry was on the west side, at Powder Springs."
On October 1, 1864, Sherman telegraphed Grant that he had located Hood's forces, an ominous communication where he expresses his concerns about holding Atlanta and remaining on the defensive. Here Sherman sets forth to Grant the plan that will forever define him - the destruction of Atlanta, and Sherman's March to the Sea:
"Hood is evidently across the Chattahoochee, below Sweetwater. If he tries to get on our road, this side of the Etowah, I shall attack him; but if he goes to the Selraa & Talladega road, why will it not do to leave Tennessee to the forces which Thomas has, and the reserves soon too come to Nashville, and for me to destroy Atlanta and march across Georgia to Savannah or Charleston, breaking roads and doing irreparable damage? We cannot remain on the defensive."
The Confederate Army there posed not only a threat of counter-attack, but also threatened Union supply lines while they destroyed roads and railroads to the west leading to Atlanta. Sherman brought a force in the direction of the Confederate encampment, and crossed west over the Chattahoochee River on October 3-4,1864. On the morning of October 5th, Sherman arrived at Kennesaw, and saw the mass of the Confederate Army which had encamped nearby at Altoona Pass for himself:
"Reaching Kennesaw Mountain about 8 a. m. of October 5th (a beautiful day), I had a superb view of the vast panorama to the north and west. To the southwest, about Dallas, could be seen the smoke of camp-fires, indicating the presence of a large force of the enemy, and the whole line of railroad from Big Shanty up to Allatoona (full fifteen miles) was marked by the fires of the burning railroad. We could plainly see the smoke of battle about Allatoona, and hear the faint reverberation of the cannon."
Sherman ordered an attack against the Confederate position, and the bloody October 5, 1864 Battle of Altoona Pass commenced. On November 12, 1864, Sherman would order the destruction of Atlanta, and three days later, on November 15, began his infamous March to the Sea.
Brigadier General John McArthur was born in Erskine Scotland. He led "McArthur's Brigade, the 2nd Brigade, 2nd Division of the Army of the Tennessee at the Battle of Shiloh where a large monument in his honor remains on the battlefield today. McArthur is credited with having fought at Fort Donelson, Shiloh, Vicksburg, Nashville, and Fort Blakely. He also commanded the 6th Division, XVIII Corps and 1st Division, XVI Corps of the Army of the Tennessee. McArthur, who was in Eastern Tennessee at the time, was among those ordered to reinforce Sherman in Atlanta, as this document proves, but his participation remains uncredited.