Duelin’ Dalton

Johnston at Dalton

The above picture is of the statue of “Uncle Joe” Joseph E. Johnston, of the Army of Tennessee, in downtown Dalton, Georgia. When I visited it two weeks ago I found the site much less cluttered than when I took this picture, about 4 years ago – the greenery has been cleared away. This picture was taken early one Sunday morning, and for once I caught the light just right. An eye for photography is not among my usual skills.

Grant’s Overland campaign in Virginia is heavily documented, and well preserved. The major battles all have significant acreage saved – even North Anna has some interpretation.

And Atlanta? I suspect that most people think that with the exception of Kennesaw Mountain, the battles of Atlanta have largely been lost, swallowed up by the carnivorous beast that is Atlanta metro development. This is certainly true for the fighting of July 20, 22, and 28, 1864; or even for Jonesboro, August 31 to September 1.

But what of the opening of the campaign? In the half of May, 1864, a campaign fully equal in drama and importance began, in North Georgia. Joe Johnston occupied a strong defensive line around Dalton, holding Crow Valley, Rocky Face Ridge and Buzzard’s Roost against William T. Sherman’s combined Armies of the Cumberland, the Ohio, and the Tennessee – 100,000 men.

View from Rocky Face looking west

Here is a view from atop Rocky Face, north of Mill Creek Gap, looking west towards Ringgold, Tunnel Hill, and the approach of the Union Army of the Cumberland. And you thought Missionary Ridge was a tall order.

Just this first phase of the campaign – from Dalton to Resaca, and up to the crossing of the Oostanaula River on May 15 – involved roughly ten days of fighting, and produced something like 8,000-9,000 casualties. This first phase also represents some of the most dramatic maneuvering of the war, as Sherman tried to outflank Johnston via Snake Creek Gap, cutting the Confederate supply line and trapping them at Dalton.

And much of the actual ground is still there. Today, Whitfield County boasts of the most preserved earthworks of any county in the nation – thanks to the intensive digging efforts of a combined 170,000 troops – and that doesn’t include Resaca, in Gordon County. Thanks to local efforts, you can still see the fruits of these efforts: small parks like Dug Gap, Potato (Picket-top) Hill, the Disney Trail up to Buzzard’s Roost, and other sites all document the opening of the Atlanta Campaign. With effort and some pre-arrangement, you can get up to the crest of Rocky Face, and there are plans for more accessibility in the works. Resaca is now a state/county park, soon to be officially opened, with about 1,000 preserved acres. I hope to attend the official grand opening of Resaca on May 13 of this year.

So get off I-75 and take some side roads on your way from Chickamauga to Kennesaw. You will be rewarded for your effort.


10 Responses to Duelin’ Dalton

  1. Dave:

    I may be heading in that direction next year. Is Snake Creek Gap accessible? Too bad Wm. Sherman didn’t send George Thomas and his Army of the Cumberland through there, instead of James McPherson and the Army of the Tennessee.

    Thomas’ corps – about twice the size of McPherson’s – probably could have captured Resaca and thus cut off Joe Johnston from Atlanta. Oh, well. One of the many woulda-shoulda-couldas of the Civil War.

  2. Ga rte 136 winds through Snake Creek Gap today, so you can drive McPherson’s entire route. The last few miles into Resaca the road does not follow the historical trace, however – it was moved to accomodate I-75, which has an exit there.

    1. Dave:
      Thanks much. I’ll be thinking of you as my wife and I commune with the ghosts of the Army of the Tennessee.

      1. I would love to see some of your photos from your trip, Bob. Our family had a soldier in the Fourth Division of the16th Corps in the Army of Tennessee – Second Brigade commanded by Colonel Sprague. On May 8 and 9 he skirmished with the enemy along the Snake Creek Gap. I would like to see what that area looked like. Please post again here in the future, if possible. Thank you.

  3. It’s worth noting that the Civil War Trust put out a smart phone touring app the covers the entire Atlanta Campaign and helps guide visitors to some of the sites Dave mentions above. It’s an excellent way to tour the campaign trail. And I definitely echo Dave’s advice: get off I-75 to see these important sites. Check out http://www.civilwar.org/battleapps for more info.

  4. Yes indeed. I am looking forward to meeting Mr. Davis at the August Symposium, assuming he is attending.

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