Confederate General’s West Point Classmates Provide Sherman with Valuable Insights into His Temperament
July 22, 1864. Before the Battle of Atlanta (also known as the Confederate General John B. Hood, courtesy Library of Congress Battle of Decatur), Union General William T. Sherman asked three of his generals what their West Point classmate, Confederate commander John Bell Hood, was like as an undergraduate at the Academy. Hood was commanding Confederate forces that were defending the important rail and supply center. When they told him that Hood was “impetuous,” Sherman prepared for an immediate Confederate attack — which came, and which he handily beat back.
“The battlefield,” author and historian Thomas Fleming has written, “was the grisly graduate school in which West Point men learned the ultimate lessons in the art of modern war.”
– Submitted by Vermont Humanities Council executive director Peter A. Gilbert.
Troops Cook, Eat, Talk, and Laugh Amidst the Enemy Dead
July 20-23, 1864. During late July, 1864, as William T. Sherman was continuing his slow advance on Atlanta, Captain Samuel T. Foster of the 24th Texas Cavalry chronicled in his diary the deadly interaction of the United States and Confederate forces.
July 20 – . . . . the Yanks have crossed the river above us and are coming, in fact they are shooting away to our right now, and have been since yesterday. . . . They are extending their line around Atlanta to the east, and now reaches from the river north of the rail road to the Augusta R.R. and cut us off from that direction — and they are still extending their lines in that direction. . . .
July 21 – Made breastworks of logs, and by nine Oclock A.M. the Yanks artillery open on us from our left, their shell enfalading our lines. [“Enfalade” refers to enemy fire that comes from the side or flank of the line, rather than the front.] They have heard us chopping down trees and building our works and have our range — and the woods are so thick we can’t see them. Their artillery are killing our men very fast– One company just to my left after finishing their works sat down to rest in a little ditch they had dug, when a shell came and took them at one end and killed and crippled every man in the ditch . . .
July 23 – All quiet this morning, after a terrible day yesterday all along the lines. . . . Our men are getting boots hats &c watches knives &c off of the dead Yanks near us in the woods — lots of them. . . . Alf Neil and Ogle Love come back this morning, having been over heated yesterday, and retired. Our dead have all been buried, and the Yanks will be as soon as they can do so. . . .We cook and eat, talk and laugh with the enemys dead lying all about us as though they were so many logs.
Emphasis added. Sheehan-Dean, Aaron, The Civil War: The Final Year Told By Those Who Lived It, New York: The Library of America, 2014, 272-277.
– Submitted by Dwight T. Pitcaithley, New Mexico State University