Williams Family from Evansville, Indiana


The Chattahoochee (a Creek name) begins in the area between the North and South Carolina borders, the general area where many of Pvt. William Williams’s ancestors lived. A poem about the River starts with the line, "out of the hills of Haversham, down to the plains of Hall…." It hasn’t made it completely out of the hills by the time it reaches Atlanta. In the summer it can usually be waded but after long periods of storm it can be 500 feet wide in spots. The present day bridges across it are extremely long and high making it seem like a very formidable river. The summer of 1864 is an exception with all the rain in north Georgia in June. Sherman ordered Schofield to personally look over the area without giving away his position. The area where Soap Creek comes into it from the north, is 300 yards across and the swift flowing water is higher than a mans head in early July. It is a hilly area with hills and ridges about 200 to 300 feet high. The 23rd Corps lined the north side of the River, in a stealthy manner. There is a rebel cavalry outpost and cannon on top of a nearby hill. Schofield somehow finds out that there is a submerged fish dam above the chosen crossing. On Saturday, July 9th as the 91st Indiana Volunteers cross, some soldiers are sent up stealthily to cross separately on the rocky fish dam and then give cover for the rest of the corps from the other side. At 3:30 PM fifty soldiers with their pants in hand walk across the river on top of the dam and occupy a ridge. A risky crossing. A half-hour later, some from Hascall’s division cross on 25 pontoon boats. There was no alarm from the rebels. Gen. Cox recalls "Immediately, twenty large white (Union) pontoon boats shot out from the mouth of the creek pulled by expert oarsmen selected from Hascall’s Division (including the 91st Indiana) and led by Col. Rousseau’s Kentuckians. Other divisions lined the river. The rebel militia with the cannon find themselves "beset front and flank" and after firing one harmless shot decide to run if possible or surrender. Soon the 91st is crossing, with their pants on, by way of the boats, "crossed this morning on the pontoons, all safe. Castel’s Decision in the West sums it up, "with scarcely a fight and without a casualty, the Federals have breached the last major natural barrier between them and Atlanta." Johnston assumed they would cross downstream. And the stealth was executed in an excellent manner. One fleeing rebel left behind a half-cooked meal and a half-written letter to his wife, which talked of how quiet it was and how he was as safe as if he were home. He didn’t suspect even a Company of Union troops let alone a whole Corps.

Isham’s Ford has changed since Pvt. William Williams crossed in’64. Today on the north bank is the prestigious Atlanta Country Club. Adjacent is the huge Chattahoochee River National Recreational Area. So big that in places the countryside will always look as it did when the 91st crossed nearly 140 years ago. On the south side are beautiful large homes on large tree filled lots in rolling hills. Children and even adults go about their business and play with no thought whatsoever of what happened in their backyards and neighboring towns. Safely across the river, our Pvt. Williams and his 91st certainly have felt in the thick of the action. Blocking the Cumberland Pass, holding the line at Kolb’s Farm where a major "drubbing" was given, in the front for the whole month of June, pressing the rebels left flank back to turn their line forcing their Kennesaw retreat, leading the charge to near the Chattahoochee to where Sherman sees they should be reinforced and finally making the first of the final river crossings. Unbeknownst to the 91st, in the east "on this very day, Jubal Early, after routing a Federal army near Fredrick Maryland is marching on Washington DC." "In Virginia, Grant is no closer to taking Richmond than he had been at the beginning of May… In Mississippi, Nathan Bedford Forrest twice has routed invading forces… West of the Mississippi, Union garrisons collect in fortified towns, afraid to venture forth." President Lincoln is up for reelection in less than four months and even people in his party are wondering if the fight is worth it. His opponent will stop it and split the country if he is elected. Then, on July 9th, beneath a half-full moon the Confederates begin a final pull back across the river and set fire to the railroad bridge. Gen. Johnston sends a telegram, "…the enemy crossed at Isham’s Ford; entrenched. In consequence we crossed at and below the railroad and are now about 3 miles from the river, guarding the crossings."

Sherman’s plan is still the same from April, feign to the right and circle around the left to cut the rail line at Decatur. Now that the rebels have burned the bridges, cutting the rail line prevents their escape. Sherman has stockpiled provisions in Chattanooga and Allatoona to last him two months without further shipments from Nashville (always subject to rebel raids). The terrain "about a mile south of the crossing" on the south side offered good positions for the Union troops with vantage points to cover the area. Today it is near and west of Heard’s Cemetery. The main body of the 23rd Corps takes over the area. Stoneman is making a raid of bridges and boats on the Chattahoochee toward Newnan, Georgia. At this point the Federal troops need some rest and treatment of problems. The men are thin and haggard. Diarrhea and dysentery are widespread and scurvy has appeared. Even the perfectly well suffer the misery of lice, chiggers, flies and heat so terrible that Corporal John Barnard of the 72nd Indiana Mounted Infantry thinks he might "dry up and blow away"- all six feet six of him. On Sunday July 10th the 91st marches "out from the river two miles" to gain high ground and take R&R. They likely set up in what now is the Wyndam Hills area and they "lay idle all day on top of a hill for three days." On the 10th and 11th there are general orders and plans given to his subordinates from Sherman. Thomas was to lay a pontoon bridge at Power’s Ferry on night of the 12th. On the 13th, McPherson was to join Dodge with Logan’s Corps upriver at Roswell where a 650 feet long was hurriedly built.

On Thursday the 14th, the 91st marched "2 miles east to the top of another hill and fortified, hard rain at night, weather very warm." This position likely puts them in the general area near Dunwoody and above Abernathy Road. They spend the 15th and the 16th fortifying, still in very warm weather. They are now about ten miles due north of Atlanta. Atlanta is on a plateau from which streams descend in all directions. Actually Atlanta and Decatur, the next objective of Schofield’s Corps and due east of Atlanta, are both on the watershed separating the tributaries of the two major rivers. The Chattahoochee and the Ocmulgee which is to the south and which flows southeastward to the ocean. There are three creeks that flow east to west, the northernmost parallel to the Chattahoochee, and combine before entering it. They are all a part of Peachtree Creek. The northernmost is Nancy’s Creek. The middle is the Little Peachtree and the southernmost is the South Fork of the Peachtree. It drains Atlanta and Decatur. The ridges parallel to it afford excellent lines for the Confederate defense of Atlanta. It is there that Gen. Johnston set up his main lines of defense. And Sherman determined the long way around them to the east in a clockwise wheeling was the surest. He ordered Schofield to move out from the river by way of Cross Keys toward Decatur. McPherson to keep farther to the left with Garrard’s cavalry on his flank cutting and destroying the railroad line between Decatur and Stone Mountain. Meanwhile Thomas, with half of the whole army, marched south from Paces’s and Phillips’s Ferries toward Atlanta. The whole would wheel to the right, clockwise, as he had done at Acworth. Thomas had to hold until the long distance wheel was executed. Gen. Johnston knew the country whereas Sherman had imperfect maps. Johnston figured the Schofield and McPherson "wing" would get separated from Thomas. Johnston ‘s defense line ran to 6 miles east of the railroad and turned south along Pea Vine Creek till it reached the railway that runs east out of Atlanta to Decatur, and beyond. He would wait until the separation occurred, and then attack the breech with full force.

On Sunday the 17th, Pvt. Holder of the 91st Indiana says, "marched (from it’s northern position) toward Atlanta a distance of 3 miles and on skirmish part of the day…and drove the rebels with very little loss." They were near Nancy’s Creek when they camped. We know that Cox’s Division was still marching with them and Cox camped at Nancy’s Creek (a north branch of Peachtree Creek with a separate name), at the Johnson Ferry Road (an area now called Lynwood Park). Hascall likely camped further upstream. Strangely, Col. Butterfield of the 91st says nothing in his report of the period from July 7th to the 19th other than there were no casualties. This is strange in that one of Pvt. William Williams Casualty Reports says he was shot on the 19th of July. But these reports are often not precise because of the nature of the situation. Certainly it wasn’t on William’s mind to note the exact day or argue any mistake. We will explain why the 20th is the day of his wounding. We are getting ahead of the story.

Separately, that evening, President Lincoln authorizes a message to President Davis that the South can have peace – "all it has to do is return to the Union and abolish slavery." Davis flatly rejects him, declaring, "the South is fighting, not for slavery, but for independence." Also that afternoon Davis sends a telegram to Gen. Johnston that he is to be replaced by Gen. Hood because he has not arrested Sherman’s advance and expresses no confidence in doing so.

On July 18th the 91st Indiana moves again and "marches 8 miles south- east up on the left of our line, and encountered no rebels, land sandy and poor, weather cooler, per Pvt. Holder’s diary." His diary has in almost every instance over two years matched well with the history books and memoirs of officers. We tend to generally believe him verbatim at this point. It is likely the 91st was intact on that day, and that if they went south –east that full distance they would have gone well away from the known southward march of both Hascall and Cox who were on the front lines. So Holder is consistent but it leaves us knowing the path of the 23rd Corps but not being sure about that of the 91st. They were not likely by themselves. They could have been with McPherson’s Corps and Garrard’s cavalry but the West Point maps show McPherson approaching Decatur from the north. Gen. Cox’s memoirs state that on the 18th, "McPherson reached the Augusta Railroad early in the afternoon, at its north curve two miles from Stone Mountain and seven from Decatur." There is a marker at the juncture of Route 236 and Briarwood marking the "March on Decatur." It is right on line with a southeast march as described by Holder, but it is only 4 miles from the camp the night before. Considering all these facts we feel the 91st did proceed south- east for maybe about four miles which would put them well behind the front lines as established by Thomas and Schofield’s main Corps. It is likely that they were moving in coordination with Gen. McPherson and Garrard’s cavalry and did not hold the south- east direction longer than about 4 miles before turning south toward Decatur. But it is also possible that they were supporting McPherson and Garrard’s cavalry in their march to 7 miles east of Decatur. Certainly Schofield and McPherson could not separate far and some infantry had to cover ground between. That may have fallen upon parts of Hascall’s division and including the 91st in particular. We may never know the exact line of march but it ends east of Decatur where 5 miles of track will be torn up.

The news that Hood replaces Johnston has a major impact on everyone. Negative on the rebel army. They like him and I the seven months they have served under him it seemed to strengthen. Sherman gets the news and, because he and Schofield went to school with Hood, knows what to expect. Hood will take bold and even brash action and will attack at the earliest opportunity. The Confederate troops know this has led to much bloodshed in the past- their blood- and few victories.

On the evening of the 18th, Hascall’s Division has camped at Johnson’s Mill on the North Fork of Peachtree Creek. This is just off Highway 13 where Old Briarwood Road approaches the creek. The main body of Schofield’s Corps has passed the now obliterated settlement of "Old" Cross Keys at the intersection of Dunwoody Road and the old Johnson Ferry Road where the Peachtree Golf Club now stands. Following south down Dunwoody Road Sherman and Schofield and Cox made their headquarters on the 18th at the Samuel House Plantation. Cox’s Division providing protection. The house is still standing as a historical landmark. The 91st, after marching 8 miles on the 18th of July, must have been quite close to Decatur and we estimate they camped about 3 to 5 miles north of the town, trusting to Pvt. Holders diary entries. Also on the 18th, the Union Army of the Cumberland is at Buckhead four miles north of Atlanta. Garrard’s Union cavalry (part of McPherson’s Corps) are astride the Georgia Railroad east of Decatur and are tearing up the track (one of Sherman’s main objectives was to cut off Lee’s supplies). The Union cavalry has moved out in front of the 91st but the Indiana Regiment will catch up the next day. Amazing to be there when the main objective is reached. By then, most of Atlanta’s war production is shut down but foodstuffs could get through if the Georgia Railroad were intact. Smartly, Sherman orders the rails not just be torn up and tossed aside, but rather the wood ties be piled up and burned with rail heaped over them to allow the men to twist them into "Sherman’s neckties" and toss aside to be of no value to anyone. The newly installed commander Gen. Hood, has no idea the railroad has been taken. That night about midnight, Gen. Sherman telegraphs Gen. McPherson saying he has "done well in breaking the railroad…. move toward Decatur and co-operate with Schofield and Thomas."

As an aside, in Atlanta it almost seems everything is named Peachtree. The name comes from the Creek of that name on the north and northeast sides of town. There are no peach trees as such however. The name comes from the tall "Pitch trees" that once lined its banks. Then on Tuesday the 19th of July, Hood spends most of the day, his first in actual full command, assessing the situation. He has about 55,000 effective soldiers lined up with Stewart’s Corps on the left, Hardee’s Corps in the center and hood’s old former Corps, with Cheatham commanding, on the right with Wheeler’s cavalry holding his right (south) flank. The Hood plan is that Stewart and Hardee will deliver the main blow to Thomas and Cheatham and Wheeler will fend off McPherson and Schofield. When McPherson and Schofield (including the 91st) are thereby cut off from the rest of the Union forces, they will have to surrender. Meanwhile, Cox’s and Hascall’s Divisions main groups are rejoined onto the Clairmont Road and marching south toward Decatur. Hascall by the North Druid Hills Road until it intersects Clairmont Road.

Sherman and Schofield setup headquarters at the Powell House on a knoll right on Clairmont Road and just south several blocks from the south fork of Peachtree Creek. The location is marked today by a Georgia Historical Marker at the address of 1481 Clairmont Rd. Atlanta GA 30329. It also became the hospital for the 23rd for the next weeks and almost certainly Pvt. Williams of the 91st Indiana will be a patient there. Strangely, a modern Veterans Administration Hospital has since been built a few blocks to the north, on the same side of the street but on the other side of the creek. The Powell House location is also at the eastward boundary of the immense and famous Centers for Disease Control. The bronze marker says this is the site of the ante-bellum residence of Dr. James Oliver Powell (1826-1875), Sherman’s headquarters July 19, 1864. It goes on," Sherman traveled with Schofield’s 23rd Army Corps from the Chattahoochee River at Powers’s ferry July 17 and arrived here July 19. The house was used as a temporary hospital while the 23rd Army Corps was in this vicinity. Cox’s 3rd Division moved to the Peyton Plantation (now Emory University and the Judge Peyton house was in what is now Druid Hills area based on maps of 1864): Hascall’s 2nd Division together with Dodge’s 16th Army Corps occupied Decatur after a spirited conflict with the defenders of the town- a detachment of Wheeler’s cavalry."

From Sherman’s Memoirs, "on the 19th , McPherson was moving astride the railroad from Decatur; Schofield on the road from Powell’s to Atlanta by Howard’s house and the distillery; and Thomas was crossing the "Peachtree Line" of rebel works" on the south side of the creek of the same name. That night, the 18th, Gen. Hood moves his Confederate headquarters to a house just north of Atlanta on Peachtree Road about 4 miles from Sherman’s Powell House headquarters. Also on July 19th , from Holder’s diary, the 91st Indiana "marched five miles south and drove the rebs, and took Decator (sic), no great loss to either party and took the railroad that runs by Decator." The Confederate works were north-south here, built by Cheatham’s Corps, and just to the west of the low ridge of hills that also run north and south along Emory University’s west boundary. They run south to the railroad line at Howard house. Some pickets and skirmishers were east of the works, closer to the Union troops.

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Copyright © 2001 Williams Family from Evansville, Indiana