The Cassville Affair

Bartow County’s former seat, Cassville, was the site of some activity during the Atlanta Campaign of the Civil War in May of 1864. The general outline is this: on May 18, 1864, Confederate General Joseph E. Johnston retreated from Adairsville, and tricked Union General William T. Sherman into dividing his troops in pursuit. Johnston made it look like the Confederates had retreated to Kingston, when in fact most of them had retreated to Cassville. Sherman thus sent the bulk of his troops to Kingston, while sending a smaller force toward Cassville. The Confederates were hoping to ambush the weakened force at Cassville and annihilate it before Sherman realized what was going on, but they were accidentally discovered on the morning of May 19. Their cover blown, they retreated south of the Etowah River in order to make another defensive stand.

That is the general outline. But every account that one reads about this incident is slightly different, like the accounts of Jesus’ life and ministry in the various Gospels. Here is the account given at Cassville’s WPA “Pocket Park”:

So in this version, we’ve got Union Brig. Gen. John Schofield leading the XXIII Corps from Adairsville to face Polk head-on, with Hood hoping to attack from the east, and Edward McCook’s division of Union Cavalry blowing Hood’s cover. The Pocket Park also includes a map:

I think this map is more schematic than geographically accurate. There is a local Spring Place Road to the east and it may have once linked up with what is now the Cassville-White Road (White being founded after the Civil War). But it does not make sense that Hood’s troops would be hiding behind this road while Polk was just across Two Run Creek – it’s simply too far away to be tactically useful for an ambush. (No roads around here are that straight anyway.)

Here is what the town looks like today, according to Google Maps:

Google Maps.

The Pocket Park is at 4. Points 1, 2, 3, and 5 on the map mark the locations of the following Georgia Historical Commission markers. They provide more detail, but leave some things unexplained. 

Where is McDow’s? Where is the Hawkins Price House? Who composes these things?!

I guess the idea is that Daniel Butterfield’s Third Division of the XX Corps was coming from Adairsville to Cassville, and was to then turn towards Kingston to attack any Confederates there in the rear? So according to this sign, it was Butterfield who discovered the Confederates in wait. Why wouldn’t the Confederates then simply attack Butterfield?

This sign acknowledges McCook’s attack.

This one indicates that Polk retreated in the face of an attack by Butterfield.

And this one shows the regretful aftermath for the Confederates. 

Albert Castel, Decision in the West: The Atlanta Campaign of 1864 (University Press of Kansas, 1992), 199.

Here is a map from a long and thorough book on the Atlanta Campaign. It shows no Spring Place Rd. What is now the Cassville-White Road is designated the Canton Road, which makes sense. Instead of a Spring Place Road heading north, we have a “Road to Martseller’s Mill (Sallacoa),” which also makes sense. According to the map, Hood’s men were supposed to be on this road, waiting for troops to come from Adairsville on the Adairsville Road. Was Butterfield’s division of the XX Corps also marching along this road, accompanying Schofield’s XXIII Corps, in order to make the fateful discovery? The map also has McCook, along with George Stoneman, approaching along the Canton Road. It has the (rest of) the XX Corps coming to Cassville straight from Adairsville. I believe that these troops were under the command of Joseph Hooker. 

And Is “Cox (XIII Corps)” an error? Jacob Cox commanded the third division of the XXIII Corps. 

A marker at Adairsville indicates that Moesteller’s Mills, a “notable plantation and manufacturing center of the 1860s,” may be found five miles to the east of Adairsville on GA-140. I’ve looked for it but apart from “Moestellers Mill Road” there is no indication that it ever existed (Sallacoa, as the name of a settlement, is also completely mysterious). The marker does indicate that both the XXIII Corps and Butterfield’s division both passed through Moesteller’s Mills. 

Jim Miles, Fields of Glory: A History and Tour Guide of the Atlanta Campaign (Rutledge Hill Press, 1995), 52.

This map, from a driving guide to Atlanta Campaign battlefields, is a lot less useful. If nothing else, there is no railroad between Cassville and Adairsville. The tributary to the Etowah River that is labeled “Etowah River” is in fact the Euharlee River.

Russell W. Blount, Jr., The Battles of New Hope Church (Pelican Publishing Co., 2010), 16.

This one is better. It shows Schofield heading south from where Moesteller’s Mills would have been. But there’s no road connecting Adairsville and Cassville, or any indication of who might have traveled on this route.  

I assume that many other people have written about the Atlanta Campaign. If I read those accounts, would a consensus emerge – or at least would I be able to piece together What Actually Happened in detail? I assume that all the primary sources don’t agree – otherwise there would be a lot less ambiguity in the secondary ones. This whole thing surely stands as an illustration of the “fog of war.” In that context, events happen quickly and often under conditions of great stress, with multiple participants who don’t have the time to write anything down until later, and who might flesh out their imperfect memories with self-serving narratives of their own heroism – producing a major headache for anyone trying to discover the truth, if we can even speak of such a thing. 

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