Catastrophe at Cassville! (Civil War TL)

Chapter 1: The Battle of Cassville

Catastrophe at Cassville! (Civil War TL)​

Chapter 1: The Battle of Cassville, May 19, 1864​


After Ulysses S. Grant was promoted to general-in-chief of all Union armies, he left his favorite subordinate from his time in command of the Western Theater, William T. Sherman, in charge of the Western armies. Grant's strategy was to apply pressure against the Confederacy in several coordinated offensives. While he, George G. Meade, Benjamin Butler, Franz Sigel, George Crook, and William W. Averell advanced in Virginia against Robert E. Lee, and Nathaniel Banks attempted to capture Mobile, Alabama, Sherman was assigned the mission of defeating Johnston's army, capturing Atlanta, and striking through Georgia and the Confederate heartland.

At the start of the campaign, Sherman's Military Division of the Mississippi consisted of three armies: James B. McPherson's Army of the Tennessee (Sherman's old army under Grant), John M. Schofield's Army of the Ohio, and George H. Thomas's Army of the Cumberland. Opposing him was the Confederate Army of Tennessee, commanded by Joseph E. Johnston. Sherman initially outnumbered Johnston 113,000 to 70,000.

Following the Battle of Resaca, May 13–15, Joseph E. Johnston's army retreated southward while Sherman pursued. Failing to find a good defensive position south of Calhoun, Georgia, Johnston continued to Adairsville, while the Confederate cavalry fought a skillful rearguard action and kept Sherman away from Atlanta.

When the Southerners abandoned Adairsville during the night of May 17–18, Johnston sent Lieutenant General William J. Hardee's Corps to Kingston, while he fell back toward Cassville with the rest of his army. He hoped that Sherman would believe most of the Southerners to be in Kingston and concentrate the bulk of his forces there. Hardee would then hold off the Northerners at Kingston while Johnston, with Lieutenant Generals Leonidas Polk and John Bell Hood as well as Major General William H. Jackson’s Cavalry Division, destroyed the smaller Federal column at Cassville.

Sherman reacted as Johnston hoped, ordering James B. McPherson and the bulk of George Henry Thomas's Army of the Cumberland toward Kingston while sending only Major General John Schofield’s 10,000-strong Army of the Ohio and one corps of Thomas' army, Major General Hooker’s, along the road to Cassville. On the morning of May 19, Johnston ordered Hood to march along a country road a mile or so east of the Adairsville-Cassville Road and form his corps for battle facing west. While Polk attacked the head of the Federal column, Hood was to assail its left flank.

Some 41,000 Confederates now awaited the arrival of fewer than 27,000 Northerners to spring the trap.

Mistaking Polk’s Corps of 15,000 men for a paltry Confederate cavalry force, Schofield launched an attack to disperse them. In turn, the Yankees were driven back. Schofield then established a makeshift defensive line and called for reinforcements. To the north of him, the 17,000 troops of Major General Joseph Hooker’s XX Corps neared the field in column formation.

Meantime, Johnston’s army arrayed itself to deal a decisive blow to the Federals. It took the Confederates the better part of the day to bring their offensive to life. After 3 p.m., the Rebel line surged forward. Leonidas Polk’s Corps attacked the right of Schofield’s line, driving back Schofield‘s men and overrunning the Union XXIII Corps field hospital.

While on the Union left, the 21,000-strong corps under the command of John Bell Hood crashed into the weak Federal line consisting of Brigadier General Alvin P. Hovey’s First Division, overlapping the Northerner’s line massively.

Hovey's men were taken completely by surprise and within minutes almost the entire division was taken prisoner. Only marginally slowed by this, Hood pressed on unflinchingly to maintain the momentum. While his most numerous division continued to advance west and Brigadier General Henry M. Judah's flank rolled up (Schofield's Second Division), he sent the two remaining divisions against Hooker. Joseph Hooker may have been a pompous show-off, but he had guts. With his corps strung out along the road and out of position, he nevertheless managed to form his First Division into something like an order of battle.

The blue-clad men unleashed such a sharp volley that Hood's troops momentarily paused in their advance. This success, however, was short-lived. Looking north, Hooker could detect a cloud of dust. At Johnston's command, Hicks Jackson's 4,600 horsemen came trotting down the road to put the cork on the bottle.

The corps commander knew it was over. He issued unmistakable orders to Butterfield's and Geary's divisions to withdraw to the west and make contact with Sherman's main army, while he himself, at the head of Williams' division, would buy enough time for the others to withdraw.

While the heaviest loss Schofield's army inflicted on the Southerners was the fatal wounding of Leonidas Polk, Hooker's men sold their lives at a much higher price. Only when they were literally surrounded by Hood and Jackson did Hooker raise the white flag and hand over his officer's sword to John Bell Hood, who thereafter paid him his sincere respects. By this time the remnants of the Army of the Ohio had ceased all resistance.

It was the most one-sided battle of the entire war and Joseph Johnston’s masterpiece. While the Confederates suffered 3,000 dead and wounded, the Northerners' losses in these categories amounted to 2,000. Much heavier, however, were the nearly 20,000 prisoners of war who were taken away in a southerly direction. In one fell swoop, Schofield's Army of the Ohio ceased to exist, while less than a third of Hooker's XX Corps did find their way back to Sherman's main column.​
Chapter 2
After the first waves of disorganised and demoralised soldiers reached William T. Sherman at Kingston, the commander of the Union forces knew he had to act quickly. Despite the still clearly visible numerical superiority, there was a real danger that Hood's and Polk's Corps could cut off the supply lines to the north. Only sporadically disturbed by cavalrymen under Major General Joseph Wheeler, the blue columns retreated in an orderly and rapid manner. The marchers still crossed Adairsville on the evening of 19 May and arrived at Resaca late in the afternoon of the following day, where Sherman anchored his right flank in the mountains and took an initial inventory.

On the other hand, Joseph E. Johnston was confronted with quite different problems. Hood's and Polk's Corps (briefly under the command of Major General William Loring) were completely exhausted and unable to pursue the enemy. In addition, the huge amount of prisoners of war posed a tremendous logistical burden. In a discussion, Johnston agreed with William Hardee and John Bell Hood that housing the Northerners was completely out of the question, especially in light of the already hopelessly overcrowded Andersonville Prison. The most pragmatic solution seemed to be to simply parole the prisoners. Although Ulysses S. Grant had suspended the prisoner exchange until further notice, the parole would nevertheless take the men out of the game just as effectively as resource-intensive housing. Printing the text transcripts took the better part of the next two days.

A count of the spoils seemed much more satisfying. In an initial telegram to President Jefferson Davis, Johnston was able to report the seizure of over fifty regimental flags and 72 pieces of artillery, as well as almost unquantifiable quantities of musketry. The clashes between the two lasted too long for Johnston to pass up the opportunity to attribute success on the battlefield to his long-term strategy, which Davis always criticised. Already the second message of the evening went out to Johnston's long-time supporters, including the governor of Georgia, and to Robert E. Lee in Virginia. After a few days of consolidation, the Army of Tennessee leisurely moved into position a little north of Adairsville.
Chapter 3

The news of the heavy setback in northern Georgia could not have come at a worse time for Lieutenant General Ulysses S. Grant. The struggle for Spotsylvania Courthouse had just ended on the Virginia front, where Grant had tried to drive the Army of Northern Virginia from its positions with hammer blows. In the process, the rebels suffered over 13,000 casualties, including 5,000 prisoners. Johnson's division had been virtually wiped out and Ewell's corps was on the verge of collapse. This substantial success, achieved at the cost of more than 18,000 Northern casualties, had finally put the Confederates on the defensive and, given the morale of the enemy, Grant could reasonably expect that one or two more such battles would wear down Lee's army. Instead of immediately following up on this, it was now a matter of damage limitation. Grant, like Sherman, knew that the capture of Atlanta would be constitutive of the current administration's success in the upcoming presidential election in November.

To compensate for the heavy losses in the West, Grant had to do without the further services of the VI Corps with a heavy heart. In the battles of the Wilderness and Spotsylvania, the VI Corps encountered the hardest contested fighting of its experience. At the Wilderness, the Vermont Brigade—Getty's Division—lost 1,232 men out of the 2,800 effectives that crossed the Rapidan River on the previous day. At Spotsylvania, the Jersey Brigade of Wright's Division was engaged in a deadly struggle. General Sedgwick was killed by a sniper's bullet at Spotsylvania on May 9, which caused great distress to the soldiers of the corps, who loved and admired their "Uncle John". General Wright succeeded to the command of the corps, Brigadier General David A. Russell succeeding Wright in the command of the 1st Division. On May 10, Colonel Emory Upton led a storming party of twelve picked regiments selected from the VI Corps; they carried the Confederate works in the "Mule Shoe" after a hand-to-hand fight in which bayonet wounds were freely given and received. On May 12, the entire corps fought at the "Bloody Angle", where the fighting was among the closest and deadliest of any recorded in the war. The nucleus of the corps now consisted of about 13,000 men.

Another telegram went to the Mississippi River valley. There stood the right wing of the XVI Corps, "Smith's Guerrillas" under Major General Andrew Jackson Smith. The divisions under Brigadier General Joseph A. Mower and Colonel David Moore, about 10,000 strong, had fought fiercely in the Red River Campaign and, like Wright's men, were ordered on their way to William T. Sherman to replenish his numbers. However, it would be almost eight weeks before both corps were in position and Sherman's army group was ready for an offensive again.
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Interesting to see what will happen to the Army of the Potomac without their steady VI Corps as an anvil. Also, hopefully General Andrew J. Smith earns himself a brighter place in the spotlight than IOTL, as he was one of the Union's finest commanders.
Awesome! I love TLs with PODS in the Atlanta campaign. I've always felt that there was a LOT of opportunities for the Confederates to do some serious damage there that could potentially effect the upcoming '64 election. Very much looking forward to what comes next!
Interesting to see what will happen to the Army of the Potomac without their steady VI Corps as an anvil. Also, hopefully General Andrew J. Smith earns himself a brighter place in the spotlight than IOTL, as he was one of the Union's finest commanders.
In the short turn it seems realistic that Grant actually benefits (without knowing), because without one of his most experienced corps he might not be ordering the reckless otl-assault at Cold Harbor. On Smith I have to do some more reading, his performance at Tupelo however seems rather solid and reliant.

Awesome! I love TLs with PODS in the Atlanta campaign. I've always felt that there was a LOT of opportunities for the Confederates to do some serious damage there that could potentially effect the upcoming '64 election. Very much looking forward to what comes next!
Thank you, I hope to fulfill your expectations with my ideas.

Davis' fatal mistake - replacing Johnston with Hood.
Although I believe Hood gets somewhat mistreated by most historians (especially in the context of the atlanta- and nashville campaigns) you are right. As OTL-Seven Pines and Bentonville showed, Johnston was not averse to the offensive when he thought the circumstances were right. I do not know wether there was a civil war general who cared more for the lives of his soldiers (one reason for why he was so admired).
Chapter 4
In the days following the Battle of Cassville, the telegraph wires ran hot between Richmond and Johnston's headquarters. In terms of content and form, it was true that the news indicated that the general and the president, under the impression of success, were making a serious attempt to repair their poisoned relationship. At the same time, demands were exchanged that left nothing to be desired in terms of clarity. While Davis rejected Johnston's demand for Patrick Cleburne's promotion to lieutenant general, citing political reasons, the commander of the Army of Tennessee was at least able to assert his desire for an adequate replacement to command Polk's former corps. The victor of Mansfield who had been disowned by Edmund Kirby Smith, Lieutenant General Richard Taylor, who at the bottom of his heart still longed for a field command despite being transferred to East Louisiana, was to immediately assume command of the majority Alabama, Louisiana and Mississippi troops of the leaderless corps. Davis also extended Johnston's authority over troops in Georgia and neighbouring states that were not officially part of his army. Johnston would now be able to act in this regard without going through the president and Congress if the situation required it.

Johnston immediately put this new authority to use. Within days of Governor John Brown's proclamation of 18 May 1864, dozens of senior officers and thousands of volunteers had gathered in Atlanta to serve in the Georgia Militia. The first 3,000 militiamen were organised into four brigades under Brigadier Generals Reuben Carswell, Charles Anderson and Henry McCay and Colonel James Mann. The spoils of Cassville provided the rare luxury of supplying the men with the latest weapons, an abundance of ammunition and almost every essential piece of equipment on the spot, which was to massively boost the morale and motivation of the citizen soldiers. They brought their manpower directly to Adairsville, for President Davis' central counter-demand to Johnston had been to undertake a major effort to hold the position and not fall back south as before.

Johnston had grave misgivings about the position of his army, but understood to that extent how politically damaging it would be to abandon reclaimed ground after a massive military success. With a heavy heart, he therefore set to work preparing a battle that he did not want to fight at that location.