Following the battle at Resaca, Sherman and Johnston seemed to be at a stalemate. Confederates repulsed each Union attack; Federals repulsed each Confederate countermove. Sherman decided to again use what would become his trademark move—flanking—to force Johnston to abandon his position and move southward.
Sherman intended to flank Resaca early on, and he sent Irish-born Gen. Thomas Sweeny and his division to accomplish the task by crossing the Oostanaula River on May 14. However, due to a comedy of errors, Sweeny did not cross in force until late on May 15, driving back the troops of Maj. Gen. William Henry Talbot “Shot Pouch” Walker, who were covering the crossing there.
Johnston’s position was now untenable, and that evening he evacuated his defenses and moved south away from the rugged terrain of that region and into area of open fields and gently rolling hills.
On May 16, as the rear of the Confederate army made its way through Calhoun and toward Adairsville, Gen. Grenville Dodge’s Corps moved from the area of Lay’s Ferry, threatening the wagon trains of the retreating Confederates. Gen. William J. Hardee moved his Corps to confront Dodge at Rome Crossroads a short distance to the West of Calhoun. Just as Dodge’s men entered the crossroads, two of Hardee’s divisions, Pat Cleburne’s and W.H.T. Walker’s, burst from the woods to the south in line of battle. “The enemy sprang from cover in line of battle,” recalled one of Dodge’s officers, Gen. John Corse, “and charging in the thin skirmish line drove it…back across the Rome Road….”
One of Walker’s men noted of the engagement: “At no place during the whole campaign did such a shower of bullets fly so close to me…”
Hardee’s bold move halted the Union pursuit, giving time for the army’s wagon trains to get a safe distance south. Hardee held his position until 1 a.m. on the morning of May 17 and then began his withdrawal, covering the rear of the army.