After a humiliating defeat and rout at Lookout Mountain and Missionary Ridge, the Confederate Army of Tennessee on Nov. 26, 1863, retreated into the hills of North Georgia. By the end of November and early December 1863 they began settling into winter quarters in Dalton.
The weather was extremely cold with intermittent bouts of freezing rain, sleet and snow.
In his diary, John S. Jackson, a member of the Kentucky Orphan Brigade, nicknamed the “Orphans” by Gen. John C. Breckenridge of Kentucky because the soldiers of this brigade could not go home during the war as the Federal Army had captured and occupied the Blue Grass State, wrote of his tribulation during that time. “At Tunnel Hill we had to stand in line of battle, in the pelting rain until noon when General Pat Cleburne passed us. Then we marched for Dalton on the railroad six or seven miles. We stopped for night in some old hospital buildings one mile from town on the railroad. That night, November the 28th, I believe was the most disagreeable night I ever spent.”
The hospital buildings he wrote of were the ones built earlier that year on the Hamilton Plantation. All of the bunks, heat stoves and hospital equipment had been removed in September and the facilities abandoned. The writer went on to describe them in this way, “The houses were not very tight and I could not sleep on the floor inside so I went out by a fire and hovered around it all night long. I believe the keenest wind was blowing I ever felt. I had not slept for four or five nights and could hardly hold my eyes open yet I knew if I went to sleep I would freeze to death.”
The next day, Nov. 29, their supply wagons arrived from Resaca and the Orphans began setting a winter camp. They would spend the winter in the flats below the Hamilton House, along today’s Chattanooga Avenue and Social Security Administration building near Mill Creek.
Gen. Joseph H. Lewis of the Orphan Brigade pitched his command tent near the big spring at the Hamilton House.
A scene of hardship and sacrifice would be repeated many times over in the various encampments throughout the Army. The morale of the soldiers was very low and the desertions were many. Some of the soldiers had not been paid in months and a good hot meal was something they truly desired.
On Nov. 29, Gen. Braxton Bragg telegraphed Richmond, offering up his sword and tendering his resignation as commander of the Army of Tennessee. Lt, Gen. William J. Hardee, who was next in command, was then given temporary command of the army. Later in December, Hardee issued an order for 15 deserters to be executed. It was carried out and was a gruesome sight not soon forgotten by those who were called to attend.
But word traveled fast that a new commander was coming and on Dec. 27, 1863, Gen. Joseph E. Johnston arrived in Dalton with orders to assume command of the Army of Tennessee. He immediately set about improving the condition of the army and established his headquarters in the Cook-Huff House located now on Selvidge Street. The changes and improvements he sought to make were favorably received by all under his command and promptly implemented.
First, Johnston allowed amnesty to all soldiers who had deserted if they would immediately return to their regiments. All charges of desertion would be dropped from their records. He also installed a system of furloughs which would allow each man a chance to go home for 30 days during the winter months.
These changes brought about all the desired affects as the deserters began returning to their ranks and morale began to improve. Johnston improved the commissary department by providing more food and enabling the men to prepare better and more regular meals. Much to their delight, many of the men received their back pay and for the first time in months had money to spend or to take home to families while on their furloughs.
Army Quartermaster Maj. W.F. Ayer, and other regimental quartermasters were putting forth a tremendous effort in procuring lumber and firewood. In one such instance in December of 1863, a thousand cords of wood at $10 per cord were purchased from Fred Cox (first sheriff of Whitfield County) for $10,000. The quartermaster of Pettus’ Brigade purchased the wood to be used for fuel and for building winter quarters.
Many local citizens with wood lots would help fill this critical need throughout the winter. For this reason, much of the land around Dalton for many miles was stripped of all timber as the army of more than 40,000 men needed wood for building huts and cabins and for fires to cook and warm themselves during their six-month stay in Dalton from November 1863 to May 1864.
Johnston was able to work with the governor of North Carolina in procuring thousands of new uniforms and successfully supplied the army with new shoes, socks, blankets and the new commander virtually resupplied the army with arms, ammunition, accouterments and many other basic necessities. Morale of the army was restored as a result of the many positive changes that Johnston put into effect.
A great religious revival swept across the army and many souls were converted and others reconfirmed. Through rigid discipline and tough training, a once defeated and demoralized army of men again regained the confidence and respect of their commander whom they would follow into battle anywhere. They would be tested under fire many times in the days to come.
This article is part of a series of stories about Dalton and life in Dalton during the Civil War. The stories run on Sunday and are provided by the Dalton 150th Civil War Commission. To find out more about the committee, go to www.dalton150th.com. If you have material that you would like to contribute for a future article contact Robert Jenkins at (706) 259-4626 or firstname.lastname@example.org.