For military reasons, stated in the report of the lieutenant- general,* it was determined that Atlanta should be destroyed and Sherman's armies push forward to Savannah or some other point on the Atlantic Coast.
Shortly before the fall of Atlanta, General Johnston had been superseded in command of the rebel army by General Hood, who, adopting a different system from that pursued by his cautious predecessor, boldly assumed the offensive, with a view to force General Sherman from Georgia by cutting off his communications and invading Tennessee and Kentucky. Pursuant to this plan, Hood, by a rapid march, gained and broke up at Big Shanty the railroad that supplied Sherman's army, advanced to Dalton, and thence moved toward Tennessee. Hood was followed from Atlanta by General Sherman far enough north to cover his own purpose and assure him against Hood's interrupting the contemplated march to the sea-coast. Sherman turned back suddenly to Atlanta. That city and all the railroads leading to it were destroyed, and on the 15th of November the march commenced for Savannah. Advancing in three columns, and living upon the country, the capital of the State and other large towns were occupied without resistance. General Sherman's command on the 10th of December "closed in on the enemy's works which covered Savannah." Fort McAllister was gallantly carried by assault on the same day.+ The city of Savannah, strongly fortified and garrisoned by a large force under General Hardee, was summoned, but surrender was refused. Preparations for assault were made, and in the night of the 20th of December Hardee evacuated the city, and with a large part of his garrison escaped under cover of darkness. The U. S. troops entered the city early in the morning of the 21st of December. Immense quantities of arms, ammunition, ordnance, and military stores were captured, and the cotton that feel into our hands amounted in value to many millions of dollars.
While General Sherman's army was marching south from Atlanta to the sea-coast the rebel army under Hood, strongly re-enforced, was moving north, threatening Tennessee. The task of encountering this formidable foe and defending the border States from invasion was intrusted to Major General George H. Thomas, who was ably assisted by his second in command, Major-General Schofield. In his report General Thomas says:
I found myself confronted by the army which, under General J. E. Johnston, had so skillfully resisted the advance of the whole active army of the Military Division of the Mississippi from Dalton to the Chattahoochee, re-enforced by a well-equipped and enthusiastic cavalry command of over 12,000 men, led by one of the boldest and most successful cavalry commanders in the rebel army. My information from all sources confirmed the reported strength stated of Hood's army to be from 40,000 to 45,000 infantry and from 12,000 to 15,000 cavalry. My effective force at this time consisted of the Fourth Corps, about 12,000, under Major General D. S. Stanley; the Twenty-third Corps, about 10,000, under Major-General Schofield; Hatch's division of cavalry, about 4,000; Croxton's brigade, 2,500; and Capron's brigade, of about 1,200. The balance of my force was distributed along the railroad and posted at Murfreesborough, Stevenson, Bridgeport, Huntsville, Decatur, and Chattanooga, to keep open our communications and hold the posts above named if attacked until they could be re-enforced, as up to this time it was impossible to determine which course Hood would take-advance on Nashville or turn toward Huntsville. Under these circumstances it was manifestly best to act on the defensive until sufficiently re-enforced to justify taking the offensive. On the 12th of November communication with General Sherman was severed, the last dispatch from him leaving Cartersville, Ga., at 2.25 p. m. on that
*See Series I, Vol. XXXVIII, Part I, p. 1.
+McAllister feel December 13, 1864.