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Civil War Trust

The Cassville Line

Cassville - May 16-19, 1864
Stephen Davis

On the afternoon of May 19 Johnston supervised the laying out of a new defensive line southeast of Cassville, on a ridge directly behind the town cemetery. Hood's corps took the right, Polk the center, and Hardee moved to hold the left. Sherman's troops came up and both sides engaged in light skirmishing and artillery firing. Johnston hoped Sherman would attack; for his part, Sherman was inclined to give battle. Both sides expected heavy fighting on the morrow. 

Cassville Historical Map
The town of Cassville stood between the two armies on May 19, 1864. (Library of Congress)

By nightfall, both Polk and Hood agreed that in Johnston's line their troops would be vulnerable to artillery fire. According to one of his staff officers, that evening Hood himself had been "continually under a heavy crossfire of artillery." With the concurrence of his engineer offer, General Polk had also concluded that the line would be untenable if the Federals attacked the next day. Sometime toward 9 p.m. Polk and Hood met with Johnston and, according to Johnston, the two corps commanders urged that the army fall back across the Etowah River to a stronger position. By some accounts of the meeting, Hood advocated attacking the Federals on the 20th. Johnston at first rejected the idea of giving up the cemetery line—he had chosen it himself and supervised its construction. Yet Hood and Polk were adamant that under enfilading cannon fire, their troops would not be able to withstand a Federal assault for more than an hour. Johnston reluctantly agreed to order a retreat. The Confederate army began to march southeastward after midnight. Axmen chopped down trees to give the impression that the Southerners were strengthening their works. Johnston's army retreated to Allatoona Mountain, four miles south of the Etowah, where on May 20 it took up its new position. 

Cassville Cemetery
This portion of Johnston's defensive line is now occupied by one of several Confederate cemeteries along the trail of the Atlanta Campaign. (Douglas Ullman, Jr.)

Sherman had visited the Allatoona area before the war, and knew its defensive strength. Rather than attack Johnston, the Federal commander allowed his forces to rest for several days. General Sherman himself spent May 20-23 at Thomas V.B. Hargis' house in Kingston. On May 23 when he got his armies marching again, Sherman directed them to the area of Dallas, fifteen miles to the southwest of Allatoona. 

 

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