[Jonathan Beacher’s notes: Sherman in his final report on the Atlanta campaign discusses his reasoning for Stoneman’s raid on the Macon Railroad, which ultimately was a failure.]
Sherman’s report:
Atlanta, Ga., September 15, 1864.
Having, therefore, sufficiently crippled the Augusta road, and rendered it useless to the enemy, I then addressed myself to the task of reaching the Macon road, over which of necessity came the stores and ammunition that alone maintained the rebel army in Atlanta. Generals Schofield and Thomas had closed well up, holding the enemy behind his inner intrenchments. I first ordered the Army of the Tennessee to prepare to vacate its line, and to shift by the right below Proctor’s Creek, and General Schofield to extend up to the Augusta road. About the same time General Rousseau had arrived from his expedition to Opelika, bringing me about 2,000 good cavalry, but, of course, fatigued with its long and rapid march, and ordering it to relieve General Stoneman at the river about Sandtown, I shifted General Stoneman to our left flank, and ordered all my cavalry to prepare for a blow at the Macon road simultaneous with the movement of the Army of the Tennessee toward East Point. To accomplish this I gave General Stoneman the command of his own and General Stoneman the command of his own and General Garrard’s cavalry, making an effective force of full 5,000 men, and to General McCook I gave his own and the new cavalry brought by General Rousseau, which was commanded by Colonel Harrison, of the Eighth Indiana Cavalry, in the aggregate about 4,000. These two well appointed bodies were to move in concert, the former by the left around Atlanta to McDonough, land the latter by the right on Fayetteville, and on a certain night, viz, July 28, they were to meet on the Macon road near Lovejoy’s and destroy it in the most effectual manner. I estimated this joint cavalry could whip all of Wheeler’s cavalry, and could otherwise accomplish its task, and I think so still. I had the officers in command to meet me, and explained the movement perfectly, and they entertained not a doubt of perfect success. At the very moment almost of starting General Stoneman addressed me a note asking permission, after fulfilling his orders and breaking the road, to be allowed with his command proper to proceed to Macon and Andersonville and release our prisoners of war confined at those pints. There was something most captivating in the idea, and the execution was within the bounds of probability of success. I consented that after the defeat of Wheeler’s cavalry, which was embraced in his orders, and breaking the road he might attempt it with his cavalry proper, sending that of General Garrard back to its proper flank of the army.
Both cavalry expeditions started at the time appointed. I have as yet no report from General Stoneman, who is a prisoner of war at Macon, but I know he dispatched General Garrard’s cavalry to Flat Rock for the propose of covering his own movement to McDonough, but for some reason unknown to me he went off toward Covington and did not again communicate with General Garrard at Flat Rock. General Garrard remained there until the 29th, skirmishing heavily with a part of Wheeler’s cavalry and occupying third attention, but hearing nothing rom General Stoneman he moved back to Conyers, where, learning that General Stoneman had gone to Covington and south on the east side of the Ocmulgee, he returned and resumed his position on our left. It is known that General Stoneman kept to the east of the Ocmulgee to Clinton, sending detachments off to the east, which did a large amount of damage to the railroad, burning the bridges of Walnut Creek and Oconee, and destroying a large number of cars and locomotives, and with his main force appeared before Macon. He did not succeed in crossing the Ocmulgee at Macon, nor in approaching Andersonville, but retired in the direction from whence he came, followed by various detachments of mounted men under a General Iverson. He seems to have become hemmed in, and gave consent to two- thirds of his force to escape back, while he held the enemy in check with the remainder, about 700 men and a section of light guns. One brigade, Colonel Adams’, came in almost intact; another, commanded by Colonel Capron, was surprised on the way back and scattered his small command and is now a prisoner in Macon. His mistake was in not making the first concentration with Generals McCook and Garrard near Lovejoy’s, according to his orders, which is yet unexplained.
General McCook in the execution of his part went down the west branch of the Chattahoochee to near Rivertown, where he laid a pontoon bridge with which he was provided, crossed his command and moved rapidly on Palmetto Station of the West Point Railroad, where he tore up a section of track, leaving a regiment to create a diversion toward Campbellton, which regiment fulfilled its duty and returned to camp by way of and escorting back the pontoon bridge train. General McCook then rapidly moved to Fayetteville, where he found a large number of the wagons belonging to the rebel army in Atlanta. These he burned to the number of about 500, killing 800 mules and carrying along others, and taking 250 prisoners, mostly quartermasters and men belonging to the trains. He then pushed for the railroad, reaching it at Lovejoy’s Staten at the time appointed. He burned the depot, tore up a section of the road, and continued to work until forced to leave off to defend himself against an accumulating force of the enemy. He could hear nothing of General Stoneman, and finding his progress east too strongly opposed he moved south and west and reached Newnan, on the West Point road, where he encountered an infantry force coming from Mississippi to Atlanta, which had been stopped by the break he had made at Palmetto. This force with the pursuing cavalry hemmed him in and forced him to fight. He was compelled to drop his prisoners and captures, and cut him way out, losing some 500 officers and men, among them a most valuable officer, Colonel Harrison, who, when fighting his men as skirmishers on foot, was overcome and made prisoner, and is now at Macon. He cut his way out, reached the Chattahoochee, crossed, and got to Marietta without further loss. General McCook is entitled to much credit for thus saving his command, which was endangered by the failure of General Stoneman to reach Lovejoy’s. But on the whole the cavalry raid is not deemed a success, for the real purpose was to break the enemy’s communications, which though done was on so limited as scale the I knew the damage would soon be repaired.
Major-General, Commanding.