|Source: Civil War Maps by Hal Jesperson|
Maj. Gen. Patrick Cleburne, in whose division my Great Grandfather Nathan Oakes was serving, wrote in his report that his division was the last of Hardee's to withdraw from the battle line at Adairsville in the early hours of May 18th. Leaving skirmishers behind to cover their withdrawal, and moving in a dense fog, his division followed Hardee's Corps down the road to Kingston. At this point there was nothing between Cleburne's men and the pursuing enemy.
Cleburne's Division reached Kingston later that morning, where he rested his men for several hours. As per Johnston's plan, on today's date, he then marched 3 of his brigades, including Great Grandfather's (Lowrey's Brigade), to Cassville, arriving there by mid-afternoon. He left Lucius Polk's Brigade in Kingston as a rear guard to hold the enemy in check, which would follow later.
The aggressive Gen. Hood volunteered his corps for an immediate attack on the Federal column heading in his direction. Hood marched his men along a country road a mile or so east of the Cassville road and formed them facing west to strike the enemy's left flank. At the same time, Polk's Corps would attack the head of the column. The Confederate's position for this attack was a good one. However, as Hood was moving into position, he encountered Federal soldiers to the east, which he feared would attack his corps's exposed flank and rear. So after only a brief skirmish, Hood fell back, and the Confederate advantage was lost. Johnston, understanding that it was too late to regroup and resume the offensive, ordered Hood and Polk to move to a new line east and south of Cassville, where they would be joined by Hardee's Corps, now pulling back from Kingston. Here he believed the army could make its stand.
By the afternoon, Johnston had arranged his army to deliver a fight from a wooded ridge below Cassville. It was a strong position from which to offer battle to Sherman. He placed Hood's Corps on the right. Polk's army was placed in the center across the Adairsville road. He positioned Hardee on the left to cover the route from Kingston, with Cleburne's Division across the rail line before it passes Cass Station.
While nightfall brought an end to the cannonade, the attack demonstrated to the Confederates that the enemy could effectively enfilade their position. Alarmed by the effectiveness of the artillery against them, Hood and Polk went to inform Johnston. They insisted that their positions were too vulnerable to defend. Hardee was of a different opinion, but he could not convince his fellow generals to change their minds. So, in the end, Johnston gave in and ordered a retreat through Cartersville across the Etowah River. In his own memoirs, Johnston later wrote that he never ceased to regret the decision.*
Between midnight and 2 AM on the 20th, the disappointed Confederates pulled out of their works and marched across the Etowah River toward Allatoona, 8 miles to the rear. Cleburne's Division crossed over a bridge near the railroad crossing. On the heights about 3 miles south of the river and 2 miles east of Allatoona, his division along with the rest of Hardee's Corps, stopped to guard the army's withdrawal. They remained there for several days before marching on to Dallas.
The decision at Cassville was a frustrating disappointment to most of the rest of Johnston's officers and men who had been led to believe that they were done with retreating.
The original town of Cassville founded in 1833, is no more, having been destroyed by Sherman's cavalry in November 1864. Only a simple stone cenotaph with a commemorative iron plaque marks its location. However, in 1899, the Cassville Chapter of the United Daughters of the Confederacy honored the 300 or so unknown Confederate soldiers who died of wounds or disease in hospitals located in Cassville. The hospitals operated from late 1861 until they were evacuated with Johnston's retreating army. One of the markers from 1899 in the cemetery has this inscription:
So long as breathes a Southern woman, so long as time shall last, so long will Southern women cherish and honor the memory of the Confederate soldier and meet annually to strew their resting place with choicest garlands.
|Photos by Mark Dolan, June 2010|
* Even Johnston's opponents recognized this fact. Union general, Maj. Gen. Jacob B. Cox, wrote in his memoirs, "The order to fight had been published, and even a defeat might be less mischievous than the sudden retreat in the night without joining the battle which had been so formally announced. Either the order had been an error or the retreat was one. Every soldier in the army knew this, and the morale of the whole was necessarily affected by it."
Sources: Pat Cleburne: Confederate General, Howell & Elizabeth Purdue; The Army of Tennessee, Stanley F. Horn; Decision in the West: The Atlanta Campaign of 1864, Albert Castel; Military Reminiscences of the Civil War, Jacob Dolson Cox; Narrative of Military Operations During the Civil War, Joseph E. Johnston; Official Records, Vol. 38, Pts. 3 & 4