Outside Resaca, Georgia, this morning, General Sherman is so sleepy from his late night of planning that, riding toward the front, he stops to catnap. He has to reassure passing troops that see him lying slumped against a tree that he isn’t drunk. What Sherman plans is to press all along the line, at the same time sending one of McPherson’s divisions directly south to probe for a crossing of the Oostanaula River; having crossed, McPherson’s troops will then attempt to cut the railroad.
On the Federal left, John Schofield’s Army of the Ohio is assigned to pierce the Confederate defenses at the head of Camp Creek. Schofield, who arrived from the frontier war in Missouri the previous winter to assume command of the army, is 32 years old and a former roommate of McPherson’s at West Point. A physics professor at Washington University in St. Louis before the war, Schofield is short and plump and rather dowdy. But his men take a liking to him. Schofield’s little army includes many raw and undisciplined men from Kentucky and Tennessee. Its leadership also is largely unproved. Schofield, who himself is untried, fully trusts only one of his three division commanders, the capable Brigadier General Jacob D. Cox, and already has asked Sherman to replace Brigadier General Alvin P. Hovey, who he feels doesn’t adequately respond to orders. Schofield also has doubts about his other division commander, Brigadier General Henry M. Judah.
Shortly after noon, Schofield launches two divisions abreast against Major General Thomas C. Hindman’s Confederate division on the other side of Camp Creek; Cox attacks on the left and Judah on the right. They charge across an open field interspersed with dead trees. A roaring fire of artillery bursts from the enemy’s works on the margin of the woods on their front; shot and shell fall among the dead tree-tops and “crash down upon the moving columns like a shower of meteoric stones.” Cox’s division splashes across the shallow creek and captures part of Hindman’s first line of entrenchments about 1:30 pm. But within an hour, the attack founders against stronger fortifications a few hundred yards farther ahead, costing Cox most of his day’s toll of 562 casualties. Meanwhile, on Cox’s right, Judah’s division fares even worse. First, Judah gets his lines entangled with a division from the Army of the Cumberland that is meant to support him on the right. He doesn’t halt to reorganize his confused men, nor does he wait for the supporting troops to get into position. In great haste, Judah orders a charge across the 400-yard-wide valley of Camp Creek. This is open ground, and Hindman’s defenders, concealed beyond the far bank of the creek, rake it with nearly continuous fire that costs Judah more than 600 men. Only a handful of Judah’s troops get across the creek, and they have to seek shelter under its steep banks until darkness covers their withdrawal. For “incompetency displayed in handling his division”—some of his men think he’s drunk—Judah will soon be relieved of his command.
While Schofield is being repulsed, Confederate scouts notice an opening on the extreme Federal left. This position is occupied by Thomas’s IV Corps, having followed the Confederates south when they abandoned Dalton. Facing south, most of Howard’s troops have crowded right to link up with Schofield, leaving a division under Brigadier General David S. Stanley exposed on the left near the railroad. About 4 pm, the Confederates take advantage of this gap. Two of John Bell Hood’s divisions—strengthened by four brigades taken from the center and left of the Confederate line—slam into Stanley’s right flank. It is a “grand charge” and the enemy are driven hastily back from their entrenched position, “leaving knapsacks, haversacks, guns.” The sudden attack stampedes an Indiana regiment, leaving only an Indiana battery to try to plug the hole. Firing double-shotted canister from the crest of a knoll, the Indiana gunners gouge big gaps in the gray lines. But the Confederates press ahead on both sides of the knoll, threatening to envelop the guns. Only the timely arrival of Federal reinforcements prevents a breakthrough. Major General Alpheus William’s division marches at the double-quick over from the Army of the Cumberland in the center of the Federal line to rescue the threatened battery. Under withering new fire, the Confederate attack slows, then recedes around the base of the knoll. The Federal artillery are safe, at least for the time being.
Hood tries to regroup for another attack, but night falls and the fighting ends. Nevertheless, General Johnston is so pleased with Hood’s initial success that he orders him to renew the advance at dawn. Johnston hopes that Hood can turn the enemy left flank, then smash through to Snake Creek Gap, cut off the Federals from their supply wagons, and sever their line of retreat. The day’s events have left Johnston in high spirits—but not for long. Come night ominous reports reach the general from his left flank. First, he learns that, during the evening, part of McPherson’s army shifted south and without opposition has quietly occupied a hill that commands Johnston’s line of retreat from Resaca. Artillery on this hill would be capable of knocking out the railroad bridge and another span across the Oostanaula just south of town. Then, about 8 pm, comes alarming news from scouts that a Federal division has crossed the Oostanaula at Lay’s Ferry, six miles southwest of Resaca. The report is true enough—but misleading all the same.
In reality, General McPherson, following Sherman’s orders, has dispatched a division under Brigadier General Thomas Sweeny southward to get across the river and into the Confederate rear. Sweeny, a 43-year-old, one-armed Irishman who, according to a subordinate, speaks three languages—“English, Irish-American and profane”—had executed his mission well enough at the start of the afternoon. He ordered most of his division to demonstrate on the north bank of the river at Lay’s Ferry for the benefit of some Confederate cavalrymen on the south bank. Then, about 5 pm, Sweeny launched some troops from Ohio and Illinois regiments in five pontoon boats farther downstream. With about twenty men to the boat, the soldiers rowed across the river under a spattering of enemy fire and “with a bound and a yell and a volley” established a bridgehead on the south bank. They were scarcely across, however, when Sweeny received reports—erroneous, as it turned out—that a large Confederate force was crossing the river above Lay’s Ferry. Fearing that his division would be cut off, he called back the boats and withdrew.
Up in Resaca this night, Johnston knows only that the Federals have reached the south bank. Faced by this apparent danger to the south and by the threat of Federal artillery to his bridges just below Resaca, he issues a series of orders to prepare for the worst. He calls off the scheduled attack by Hood north of Resaca, and orders immediate construction of a pontoon bridge a mile upstream from Resaca, beyond the reach of McPherson’s guns. And he directs the division of Major William H.T. Walker, posted a few miles south of Resaca, to march westward toward Lay’s Ferry in hopes of heading off Sweeny’s Federals at Oostanaula.
Sherman is also busily making plans for tomorrow. He orders Sweeny’s division, reinforced by a division of cavalry, to return to the Oostanaula and cross it again. And he calls for a major push in the left center of the line, northwest of Resaca, near the mouth of Camp Creek, where Schofield’s little Army of the Ohio failed to make headway today.
East of Spotsylvania Court House, Virginia, the ordered assaults by the Federal V and VI Corps fail to occur. Darkness, confusion, weariness, and the ankle-deep slime left by rainstorms hindered their march, and by first light only the vanguard of Warren’s V Corps has arrived at their launch point. The advantage of surprise is now lost and the attacks are canceled. “The very heavy rains of the last 48 hours have made it almost impossible to move trains or artillery,” an impatient Grant reports to General Halleck in Washington. The roads are “so impassible,” he continues, “that little will be done until there is a change of weather.”
In the Shenandoah Valley, General Sigel has decided it is too dangerous to go further south than Woodstock. “If Breckinridge should advance against us,” he tells Washington bravely, “I will resist him at some convenient location.” But on learning of Boyd’s defeat, Sigel is seized by a sense of urgency. He orders Colonel Augustus Moor, commander of one of his two infantry brigades, to assemble a force of infantry, cavalry, and artillery from various commands—2,300 men in all, approximately one third of Sigel’s army—and make a reconnaissance. The order troubles Moor. Only one of his three regiments is from his own brigade. He asks for scouts, or a reliable map of the Valley, as he doesn’t have any knowledge of the place at all, but nobody can furnish either. Still, in seven hours Moor’s men march 21 miles with only a single, 10-minute rest. They camp just north of New Market.
General Beauregard arrives at Drewry’s Bluff at three am, after taking a roundabout route to avoid capture. He finds that the Federals have driven the defenders from sone of the outworks, south and west of Drewry’s, and now are consolidating their gains, obviously in preparation for an all-out assault that will open the way to Richmond. The high-spirited Creole, with his big sad bloodhound eyes and his hair brushed forward in lovelocks over his temples, doesn’t quail before this menace; he welcomes it as a chance to catch General Butler off balance and drop him with a counterpunch.
Though it comes at a rather awkward time, Ransom having detached two brigades two days ago to help fend off Sheridan, whose troopers had broken through the outer defenses north of the capital, Beauregard has a plan involving Grand Strategy which he hopes will provide him with all the soldiers needed to dispose of the threat to Richmond, not only from the south, but from the north as well: not only from Butler, that is, but also of Grant. For three years now the Hero of Sumter has specialized in providing on short notice various blueprints for total victory, simple in concept, large in scale, and characterized by daring. This one is no exception. In essence, the plan is for Lee to fall back on the capital, avoiding all but rearguard actions in the process, then send Beauregard 10,000 of his veterans, together with Ransom’s two detached brigades, as reinforcements to be used in cutting Butler off from his base and accomplishing his destruction; after which, Old Bory subsequently explains, “I would then move to attack Grant on his left flank and rear, while Lee attacks him in front.” He adds that he not only “felt sure of defeating Grant,” but is convinced that such a stroke would “probably open the way to Washington, where we might dictate Peace!!”
Thus Beauregard plans—at 3 o’clock in the morning. Wasting no time by putting the plan on paper, he outlines it verbally for a colonel on his staff and sends him at once to Richmond with instructions to pass it on without delay to the Commander in Chief. Davis isn’t available at that hour, but Bragg is. Having heard the proposal, he dresses and rides to Drewry’s for a conference with its author. Old Bory is waiting, and launches into a fervent plea for action. Though noncommittal, the grim-faced military adviser listens to further details of the plan and returns to the capital, having promised to lay the facts before the president as soon as possible. This he does: along with his objections, which are stringent. Not only does the scheme ignore the loss of the Shenandoah Valley and the Virginia Central Railroad, he declares, but “the retreat of General Lee, a distance of sixty miles, from the immediate front of a superior force with no less than 8000 of the enemy’s cavalry between him and the Chickahominy ... at least endangered the safety of his army if it did not involve its destruction.” Moreover, he says, such a concentration of troops beyond the James is quite unnecessary; Beauregard already has a force “ample for the purpose of crushing that under Butler, if promptly and vigorously used.” Davis agrees that the plan is neither practical not requisite, and in courtesy to the Louisiana general, as well as out of concern for his touchy pride, he rides out to Drewry’s Bluff to tell him so in person, in the gentlest possible terms.
Beauregard’s spirits droop; but only momentarily. They rebound at the President’s assurance that Ransom’s two brigades, having wound up their pursuit of Sheridan, will be ordered back across the James for a share in the attack, and Old Bory, savoring the prospect of belaboring the Beast who had tyrannized New Orleans, sets to work devising a plan for assailing him, first frontally, to put him in a state of shock, and then on the flanks and rear, so that, being “thus environed by three walls of fire, [Butler] could have no resource against substantial capture or destruction, except in an attempt at partial and hazardous escape westward, away from his base, trains, or supplies.” To accomplish this consummation, Beauregard’s first intention is to assamble all twelve infantry brigades at Drewry’s for the assault, but then he decides that, instead of waiting for the troops to arrive from Petersburg by a roundabout march to avoid the Federals on the turnpike, he will have Whiting move up to Port Walthall Junction and pitch into their rear when he hears the guns announce the opening of the attack on their front by the other ten brigades, four each under Hoke and Ransom and two in a reserve division under Brigadier general Alfred Colquitt, who commands one of the three brigades from Charleston. Notifying Whiting by messenger and the other three division chiefs in person, he sets dawn of May 16th as the jump-off hour.
Other skirmishing is at Wilson’s Landing on the Red River in Louisiana.
President Davis writes General Lee from Richmond, “Affairs here are critical …” meaning Butler’s operations against Drewry’s Bluff and Petersburg.