Page:Southern Historical Society Papers volume 19.djvu/365

From Wikisource
Jump to navigation Jump to search
This page needs to be proofread.


General Joseph E. Johnston. 359

that army be permitted to assign the identical reason for his own change of plan at Rocky Face ?

At New Hope Church, at Kennesaw Mountain, all that fierce attack could do was tried and found wanting. As the attack was resolute, so the repulse was bitter. If there was no such repulse as at Fred- ericksburg, Spotsylvania and Cold Harbor, it must have been owing to the fact that there was no such attack persistent as Sherman's undoubtedly were. In Johnston's view, between Dalton and the Chattahoochie, the igth and 2gth of May, offered the only oppor- tunities to give battle without attacking the preponderant force in en- trenchments. But Cassville he considered his greatest opportunity.

From Reseca to Atlanta might be called a siege in open field daily approaches and resistances, daily battle, so received as to make the losses to the assailant more than treble those of the defensive forces. Sherman's progress was at the rate of a mile and a quarter a day. Every day was a warlike exercise. In the warfare of attrition, at this rate of progress, battle could ere long be given upon equal terms.

The advancing army found, in the wake of that retreat, no de- serters, no stragglers, no muskets, no material of war. Retreat resembles victory when it is the assailant who is chiefly worn by the advantageous battle of each day. Think for an instant of this single achievement, that in all the difficulty of the time, in the imminent breach of daily battle, Johnston's troops did not miss a meal from Dalton to Atlanta ; that the primitive prayer, " Give us this day our daily bread, " was punctually answered out ot the smoke and roar of unremitting war that, too, when not only the nutrition of life, but the nutrition of death was scant; when he had to be parsimonious of ammunition in his skirmishes, in order to be sure of it for his general engagements. He swung his army upon its hinges with the smoothness of well-oiled machinery, which no more swerved from its appointed course than do the forces of nature because a campaign of death reigns all around. We seem to touch the pulse of destiny itself, as we accompany that regular throb of recoil and repulse, and that still flexure of sockets about a pinion of resolve that knew no turning.

Johnston felt himself daily growing stronger against an adversary daily growing weaker. Tireless in his vigilant activity, clear in his pur- pose, every tactical, every strategic advantage was hourly on his side. No jeopardy stole upon him unawares. With a deadly precision he divined and repelled every adverse stroke. He handled his army ast