[Jonathan Beacher’s notes: In Confederate Major-General Joseph Wheeler’s report on the Atlanta campaign of October 9, 1864, Wheeler describes how his cavalry responded to multi-prong Federal raids on the Macon Railroad involving the cavalries of Stoneman, McCook, and Garrard.]
I took my place on the right of the army, skirmishing with the enemy until the 27th. At daylight on that morning, pursuant to orders, I relieved General Hardee’s entire line with my cavalry. While doing so I discovered that the enemy had abandoned their strong position in my front and fallen back to his position north of the railroad. At the same time I discovered that a large raiding party of the enemy, under Major-General Stoneman, had moved toward our line of communications. This was reported to the general commanding, and after being relieved I was ordered to pursue, but not to continue the pursuit in person unless it was absolutely necessary to take the greater portion of my command.
By daylight the following morning I had got ahead of the enemy and driven the advance of Garrard’s division, which was marching for Jonesborough, across Flat Creek. He, finding himself so strongly opposed, retreated rapidly toward the left of the enemy’s main army. We pursued a few miles, capturing a few horse and arms, and caused him to abandon three wagons.
About this time I discovered that General Stoneman, with 2,200 men, had moved early that morning on toward Covington with the intention, according to statements of prisoners, of continuing his march toward Macon. I felt unauthorized with my orders to pursue Stoneman’s force of 2,200 men in person, particularly as I had received a dispatch from General Shoup, chief of staff, that the left of the army was also threatened by a raid. I, therefore, ordered General Iverson, with his own, General Allen’s, and Colonel Breckinridge’s brigades, to follow Stoneman rapidly and attack him wherever found. While this order was being executed I received additional dispatches from General Shoup stating that a large cavalry force, estimated at over 3,000, had crossed the Chattahoochee near Campbellton, and was making its way toward the macron railroad. General Shoup further stated that he feared Brigadier-General Jackson could not check its movements, and that General Hood desired me to move immediately to oppose this force with such troops as could be spared. I immediately ordered Ashby’s brigade, under General Humes, which then on the march to join me, to move rapidly to Jonesborough. I ordered General Kelly to remain and hold Garrard’s division in check with Dibrell’s brigade, and to send Anderson’s brigade after me on the Jonesborough road. By riding rapidly I arrived at 4 o’clock at Jonesborough with Ashby’s brigade, 500 strong, which I had overtaken on the march. I here learned that the enemy had struck the railroad some six miles south of that point. I arrived at that point about dark and found the enemy had moved off on the Fayetteville road. A courier with a dispatch, and a staff officer whom I had sent to communicate with General Jackson, met me with a message from General Jackson to the effect that if I would press the enemy’s rear he would gain their front and thus secure his capture. I immediately replied to General Jackson, agreeing to the proposition.
My scouts now reported that the enemy had taken the road crossing Flint River at —- bridge. Feeling confident the enemy would destroy the bridge, I sent a staff officer to ascertain, and also sent scouts to ascertain if any of the enemy went toward Griffin. Finding that the brigade had been destroyed and that all of the enemy had moved toward Fayetteville, I changed my course and followed them rapidly. Upon the road I received the following dispatch from General Jackson:
TWO MILES AND A HALF FROM FAYETTEVILLE,
July 29, 1864-10 p. m.
GENERAL: The latest reports represent the enemy moving toward Fayetteville. I am quite certain they are moving back to cross the Chattahoochee. I have Harrison’s brigade in their front at Fayetteville, and am moving now with Ross’ brigade to that place. Should enemy attempt to pass the place I will gain their front or flank about Newman. If you can follow and push them in rear it would be well.
W. H. JACKSON,
Upon arriving at Fayetteville about midnight I learned that the enemy had passed through that place without meeting any opposition whatever, and was then not more than an hour in advance of me. I pressed on rapidly and overtook his rear at Line Creek. The enemy had destroyed the bridge and were holding the opposite side with troops in strong barricades. With great difficulty the enemy was dislodged and driven from the bank. After an hour’s hard labor a bridge was constructed and my command passed over. I had with me at this time but 400 men, having traveled so rapidly that a number of my horses and been absolutely unable to keep up with the column, and General Anderson, whom I had ordered to follow me, had not, on account of the rapidity of my march, been heard from. After crossing the bridge I pressed on rapidly, in the extreme darkness encountering barricades every few hundred yards, the first intimation of the enemy being a volley from their small-arms. At daylight I received the following dispatch from General Jackson:
HEADQUARTERS CAVALRY DIVISION,
Three miles and a half from Fayetteville, July 30, 1864-3 a. m.
GENERAL: Since arrival of your courier I received notice from Colonel Harrison that he is opposite the enemy at Shakerag, three miles from here. The enemy has gone into camp there. I move at once with Ross’ brigade. I forward Colonel James’ [D. W. Jones’] report.
Very respectfully, your obedient servant,
W. H. JACKSON,
Finding him so far in my rear I pushed on and in a few moments struck enemy’s line of battle. I immediately attacked and drove him from his position, routing the entire line and capturing 200 prisoners with their horses, equipments, and arms. In this engagement and the running fight which ensued more than 40 of the enemy were left dead on the field. My entire force, including my reserves, which were not engaged, did not exceed 500 men. In pushed on, continually engaging the enemy’s rear guard, until about 9 a. m., when they succeeded by a rapid movement in gaining some two miles upon my advance. Upon reaching a point two miles from Newman I again overtook him, and captured 20 prisoners in the engagement which ensued. My command had up to this time traveled about seventy miles without having halted.
About this time Colonel Cook, with a portion of his regiment, and General Ross, with two small regiments, each about 100 strong, reported to me increasing my force to about 700 men. I here found that on the head of McCook’s column approaching town he had observed Confederate troops in the town, and without engaging them turned off, leaving the town to the right. Feeling certain he would attempt to come into the La Grange road below the town, I ordered Colonel Ashby to move through Newman and down the La Grange road to gain his front if possible. I then sent scouts and pickets out upon all roads by which the enemy could approach the town, and moved with the remainder of my command, now less than 300 men, down between the railroad and the main La Grange road in the hope that I might strike the enemy’s flank. After marching about three miles I discovered the enemy in a dense wood forming a line, the right flank of which was scarcely fifty yards in my front. Almost at the same moment I received a dispatch from Colonel Ashby informing me that he had struck the head of the enemy’s column just as it was entering the main La Grange road, three miles and a half below Newman, and that the enemy was forming a line of battle dismounted. Feeling that I was upon the flanks of the force to which he referred, I determined to attack immediately, notwithstanding the great disparity of numbers, the enemy having fully ten times my force. I immediately sent orders to Colonel Ashby to engage the enemy in front, while with the remainder of my troops I attacked with great vigor. I met with a strong resistance at first, but in a few moments the enemy gave way, when with a shout and a gallant charge, the entire line was thrown into confusion and commenced a disorderly retreat. We pursued rapidly, captured a great number of prisoners, and divided the enemy’s forces.
While pursuing the enemy, I heard firing in my rear, when I was surprised to learn that General Ross had left his horses where he had first dismounted. Feeling convinced that they were being attacked, I immediately recalled the line, returned, and drove off the enemy, capturing a number of prisoners and horses, and recovering all of General Ross’ horses. Immediately after this success, and before I had re-established my lines, the enemy made a most determined charge, driving back a portion of my line and throwing the whole of it into temporary confusion. In a moment my troops were rallied and the enemy repulsed. The fight had now lasted two hours. We had driven the enemy from every position and captured 400 prisoners, including 3 brigade commanders, one of whom lay wounded upon the field. At this moment General Anderson came up with his brigade, 400 strong, which was thrown into position. While doing so, General Anderson was wounded, and the brigade left under command of Colonel Bird.
Upon advancing my line, I ascertained that the enemy had fallen back and taken a strong position in the edge of a wood, with a large field in front, and a deep ravine, only passable at certain points, intervening between my troops and the enemy’s position. The enemy had thrown up strong barricades and was using his artillery freely. General Roddey, who had been in the town, and had not been engaged, came up with about 600 men, and was placed in position on my left. He advised strongly against attacking the position. I immediately moved my troops to the right and pressed down upon the enemy’s left flank. Upon discovering this movement, the enemy commenced retreating. I pressed rapidly down the road upon their flank, cutting off nearly two entire regiments, which surrendered in a body with all their artillery, wagons, and ambulances. The entire column was thrown into disorder, and a number of prisoners, arms, horses, and 2 stand of colors were captured in the pursuit which ensued. Some 300 prisoners, mostly quartermasters, commissaries, and other non-combatants whom the enemy had captured the previous day, were also recaptured by our troops. General Roddey, on account of the fatigued condition of his men, had been authorized by me to retire to Newman before this movement commenced. After pursuing about four miles I found the enemy had become very much scattered through the woods and fields, and that the only party claiming organization had been severed nearly equally. One column, estimated at about 400 men, under General McCook in person, had moved at a gallop toward the mouth of New River, and the other party, under Colonel Brownlow, had moved on by-roads toward the Chattahoochee River, near Franklin. I ordered Colonel Bird, commanding Anderson’s brigade, to pursue the party with McCook vigorously. In anticipation that the enemy would take the direction pursued by the other party, I had some time previously sent Colonel McKenzie, with his own and the Third Arkansas Regiment, to gain the front of the enemy moving toward Franklin.
I omitted to state that a short time before dark General Jackson arrived, but his troops, numbering only about 300 men, remained in rear and did not come up to engage the enemy. After dark I ordered General Jackson to take his entire command to the battle-field and take charge of all the prisoners which had not been sent to the rear, to gather up the arms, wagons, horses, artillery, and all other public property, and take them to Newman and await my orders. The balance of my command left with me I ordered to search the woods and gather together the straggling parties of the enemy who had been cut off and were scattered over the country. Colonel McKenzie was very fortunate in his movement and succeeded in capturing between 200 and 300 prisoners. Colonel Bird was not so successful. His instructions from me were to press on rapidly after the enemy, and to report by courier to me his progress and the force he found himself following. It was full daylight before I heard from him at all, and then I learned that he had fallen asleep and allowed the demoralized mass to escape to the river.
On my arrival at that point in the morning I found that some 400 of the enemy had succeeded in crossing after abandoning some 200 horses and equipments, throwing away most of their arms. These were still pursued on the other side of the river and a number captured, thus completing the entire destruction of the entire command. This proved to be a picked body of cavalry, and its destruction destroyed the flower of General Sharman’s vast cavalry organization. General Iverson had been equally successful in his pursuit of General Stoneman, whom he met, defeated, and captured, with 500 of his command, some twenty miles from Macon. The remainder of Stoneman’s command was much demoralized and scattered. Colonel Breckinridge pursued and, in successive engagements, defeated and captured the only organized party which attempted escape.
Thus ended in most ignominious defeat and destruction the most stupendous cavalry operation of the war. As was acknowledged by the brigade commanders captured, their plan was to move these columns on the railroad north of Macon, destroy the railroad, then move rapidly upon and released the 30,000 prisoners of war we held at Andersonville. At this he was thoroughly thwarted at the cost of about 5,000 men, with their horses, arms, equipments, colors, cannon, &c. The force which was sent on this expedition numbered as follows, all picked cavalry:
Garrard’s division…………………… 4,000
McCook’s division……………………. 3,200
Stoneman’s division………………….. 2,200
Garrard returned to the army without sustaining much damage except the morale of defeat. McCook, according to the enemy’s own accounts, only succeeded in returning with 500 men, most of whom were dismounted and unarmed, while none but a few stragglers from Stoneman’s column ever returned, making their entire los over 5,000 men. Of these I am informed 3,200 were lodged in prison, and the remainder killed, wounded, or scattered through the country. McCook’s column was a picked body of men selected from his own division and a division a short time previously brought from Tennessee by Major-General Rousseau. All this was accomplished by a force of cavalry not exceeding an aggregate of 3,800 men.
On my return to the army I was ordered by General Hood to move upon the enemy’s line of communications, destroy them at various points between Marietta and Chattanooga; then cross the Tennessee River, break the line of communication on the two roads running from Nashville to the army; to then leave 1,200 men to continue their operations on those roads; to then return again striking the railroad south of Chattanooga, and join the main army.