“We have been a little too quick for them” — Confederate failure at Snake Creek Gap

by Ned B. on January 4, 2014 · 0 comments

Continued from The Road to Villanow.

By May 8th the Confederates had lost control of the valley between Taylor Ridge and Rocky Face.1 It was too late to stop the US advance from reaching Snake Creek Gap. Nonetheless there appears to have been a last ditch effort to fight for the gap.

Most books on this stage of the Atlanta campaign are heavily influenced by an article called “The Opening of the Atlanta Campaign” published in the April 1888 issue of The Century Magazine and written by William Campbell Preston Breckinridge who had been Colonel of the 9th Kentucky Cavalry. As mentioned in the previous post, on the morning of May 8th the 9th Kentucky was posted just west of Dug Gap.  When pushed by Geary’s division, the 9th Kentucky withdrew to the gap, joining the 1st & 2nd Arkansas Rifles that had recently been sent there. At some point the rest of Grigsby’s Kentucky cavalry brigade arrived, as well as other infantry reinforcements. In the late afternoon Geary attacked the Confederate position but was repulsed.2

Breckenridge wrote in his article that during the night Grigsby’s brigade received new orders to go to Snake Creek Gap, that they rode through the night, and that the next morning they skirmished with the US troops that emerged from Snake Creek gap. Breckenridge concluded that “Undoubtedly if a cavalry force had been started to Snake Creek Gap at the moment Grigsby was ordered to Dug Gap, it would have reached there before McPherson, and held it during the night of the 8th, during which time infantry support could have reached there.” I think over-reliance on this article, written over 20 years after the events, have led writers to overlook other indications of what transpired that day.

At 10:30 am on May 9th General McPherson wrote to General Logan that:

“We met on emerging from the gorge one brigade of cavalry (rebel), who were endeavoring to get possession of the gap. Prisoners report that one regiment, Fourth Georgia Cavalry, is coming up the Pocket road to the Furnace, and that Wheeler, with a cavalry force, is trying to cross the mountain from the north, the three forces to form a junction at the west end of the gap. We have been a little too quick for them.”3
 

In this message, McPherson describes three Confederate elements, the second of which was the 4th Georgia cavalry “coming up the Pocket road to the Furnace”.  The Pocket road runs though ‘the Pocket’, a valley just west of Snake Creek Gap, that can be reached by a road over the ridge from Sugar Valley; the furnace was where the Pocket Road met the road from Villanow to Snake Creek Gap. The 4th Georgia cavalry was in Iverson’s brigade, which was part of Martin’s division. Two days earlier Martin’s division had been ordered to relocate from Rome to Calhoun.4 On the 8th the commander at Resaca had been ordered to cooperate with Martin.5 A few days later Iverson was mentioned by name as being at Calhoun.6 So it seems likely Iverson and his brigade would have also been in the area on the 9th. Which points to the identity of the brigade McPherson mentioned as met “on emerging from the gorge”.  The prisoners from that brigade identified the 4th Georgia specifically by name but referred to the cavalry coming from the north more generically as “Wheeler” which suggests to me that the brigade met coming out of the gap was the rest of Iverson’s brigade. Later on the 9th, General Kilpatrick reported that “The rebel General Martin, with a brigade of cavalry, was operating on the right of General Smith’s position, and the right and rear of General McPherson’s advance.”7  I interpret this again to be a reference to Iverson’s brigade.

McPherson also referred to a cavalry force “trying to cross the mountain from the north”; this would seem to be Grigsby’s brigade. It was part of Wheeler’s command and had come from the north.  If McPherson’s intelligence was correct, Grigsby’s mission was to get to the west end of Snake Creek Gap.  The orders that sent Grigsby to Dug Gap have not survived; nor have the orders Breckenridge claimed were received at Dug Gap that night that sent Grigsby to Snake Creek Gap.  What if there was only one set of orders, sending Grigsby to secure the west end of Snake Creek, and he initially attempted to go by way of Dug Gap? When this failed he turned south, looking for other ways to reach Snake Creek Gap.

Two hours later (12:30 pm), from “about five miles from Resaca, At intersection of Cross-Roads”, McPherson wrote to Sherman:

GENERAL: We met one brigade of rebel cavalry shortly after we emerged from the gap this morning; drove them back after a slight skirmish. Dodge’s advance must be within two miles of Resaca by this time. The cavalry which we met here was part of Wheeler’s. Prisoners say they left Dalton at 10 p. m. last night and expected to get possession of the gap. We were a little too quick for them. … 8
 

My analysis of this message is that the first sentence and the third sentence refer to different events.  The first sentence speaks of cavalry met “shortly after we emerged from the gap this morning” while the third sentence speaks of cavalry met “here”; I interpret here to be where the message was written. Connecting this message back to the earlier message, the cavalry met at the gap would have been Iverson; the cavalry met at the crossroads would have been Grigsby.

One bit of evidence that has puzzled me is Dodge’s official report, written in November 1864.  In giving a brief description of these events, Dodge wrote “At daylight in the morning (May 9) the advance, consisting of the Ninth Illinois Mounted Infantry and Thirty-ninth Iowa Infantry, was attacked by Ferguson‘s brigade, of the enemy’s cavalry.”9 Confederate Brigadier General Samuel Wragg Ferguson commanded a brigade of cavalry but on May 9th, 1864, he and his brigade were in Alabama.10 Perhaps Dodge confused Ferguson and Iverson.

Anyway, it appears to me that the Confederates made a final attempt to defend the gap by converging two cavalry brigades — Grigsby’s and Iverson’s — from different directions. But, as McPherson wrote, the US advance had “been a little too quick for them”.

 

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  1. Official Records Series 1 – Volume 38 Part IV page 678
  2. Report of Brig. Gen. John W. Geary, Volume 38 part II page 114-117; see also beginning of General Cleburne’s Report, Part III page 720  and the report of Major William Lester, 43rd Georgia, Part III page 828-829
  3. volume 38 part 4 page 104
  4. Ibid page 674
  5. Ibid page 679
  6. Ibid page 707 and 711
  7. Ibid 96
  8. Ibid page 105
  9. Volume 38, Part III, page 375
  10. Volume 38, Part IV, page 680

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