The Road to Atlanta: Crossing the Chattahoochee

Wildersmen150 years ago today, the final strong barrier between the forces of William T. Sherman and Atlanta—the Chattahoochee River—was crossed as elements of Wilder’s Lightning Brigade (now commanded by Col. Abram Miller) crossed the river near the now-deserted mill town of Roswell.

The engagement that followed was comical, as Miller’s men, stripped of their clothing except for their leather accoutrements, waded into the stream with their Spencer repeating rifles and opened fire at the would-be defenders on the opposite bank. As they crossed, Miller’s men fired and then ducked into the water to work the lever and reload before popping back up and firing again.

Victory was soon achieved as the Confederates broke under the heavy fire and retreated. Soon, all of the Lightning Brigade was across the river and digging in on the opposite bank.

Johnston’s river line was turned. That evening, he would order a retreat once more.

As their flank was being turned, Captain C. Irvine Walker, on Gen. Arthur Manigault’s staff, wrote a letter to his fiancée. He had lost faith in Joe Johnston:

Johnston[I]t is not my business to conduct the campaign, mine only is to obey orders promptly and correctly and not to find faults with the commander in Chief or to suggest plans of a campaign, and as an outsider, a citizen I will not judge of the campaign until it is completed. Then there will be plenty of time to praise or censure Genl. J. For our sakes I am glad that the country has so much confidence in our Comdg. Genl., people will not blame us for not fighting but I cant help thinking that Genl. Bragg would have conducted the campaign very differently and perhaps with other results, and I believe better results as far as we now can see. I should not be at all surprised if we lost Atlanta . . . Genl. J. wants dash and determination,—his policy has been a weak one and the only thing that can now save our cause from a long and tiresome way is a bold, vigorous stroke, which I don’t think Genl. J. is the man to give. I may be mistaken, in my estimate of him, and I sincerely trust that I am—I think we ought to risk something now, But Genl. J. does not appear to desire to risk anything.

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