armies emerge from the mouth of Snake Creek Gap in force, sweeping Confederate
skirimishers in their wake. The Army of Tennessee withdraws from Dalton
in west and north of Resaca.
When he realized that McPherson had failed to get into Johnston's rear at Resaca, Sherman decided to move most of his massive force through Snake Creek Gap, connect up with the Army of the Tennessee and attempt to defeat Johnston at Resaca. Leaving Major General Oliver O. Howard's IV Corps of the Army of the Cumberland along with Brigadier Edward M. McCook's and Major General George Stoneman's cavalry divisions at Dalton to protect his lines of communication, he succeeded in massing the bulk of his vast force at the mouth of the gap by the morning of May 13.
At 6 a.m. Sherman issued essentially the same orders to McPherson that he had given him on May 9 and the advance to the west began. This time, McPherson had plentiful cavalry with which to feel out Confederate positions and provide more accurate information than was possible on May 9. Following McPherson was two corps of Major General George H. Thomas' Army of the Cumberland, forming on McPherson's left. Major General John M. Schofield's single corps Army of the Ohio brought up the rear, turning farther to the north such that it eventually formed a line on Thomas' left. The Army of the Cumberland thus formed the center of Sherman's line.
Once more, a Southern cavalry skirmish line was driven from the mouth of the gap. Around noon, the Union forces encountered more rigorous resistance from the Confederate cavalry and Scott's brigade of Cantey's (now) division supported by a detached section of artillery. Scott was situated upon the bald hill along the road just west of Camp Creek. It was fairly close to the situation McPherson faced on May 9, except now he was contending with an entire Southern brigade supported by some detached artillery.
As McPherson deployed for his advance (and while Thomas and Schofield positioned their respective armies further north), Kilpatrick's cavalrymen formed a line between McPherson and the Oostanaula River. They drove forward placing pressure upon pickets situated to protect Scott's left. This cleared a hill to the south and west of the bald hill, allowing the Union force to place some artillery into position to offer counter-battery fire upon the detached artillery Scott had been employing with great effect as McPherson readied his attack upon the hill. This silenced the Confederate battery, inducing its withdrawal. With the picket's driven in by Kilpatrick's cavalry and his artillery forced to withdraw, Scott was able to offer only momentary resistance before retiring back to the Southern works at Resaca proper. For his trouble, Kilpatrick was wounded and would take no further part in the battle.
When McPherson topped the bald hill this time he saw a much different landscape than what was presented on May 9. Polk's troops had been busy further fortifying that portion of the battlefield and now the entrenchments looked imposing indeed. More artillery had been placed in tactically important points along the line that had been much improved and extended. What's more, the field of fire was enhanced as indicated in the following…
Brigadier General Morgan L. Smith, commanding the Second Division of Major General John H. Logan's XV Corps made this interesting entry in his report: "My division reached a high wooded hill about 400 yards in the rear of Camp Creek, overlooking Resaca and the railroad bridge, about 4:30 p.m. We found the ground along Camp Creek partially cleared, with all the dead trees, which were standing quite thick, on fire, to prevent their being used as cover for our skirmishers. I got my division in position on this hill under heavy fire, and not without considerable loss." (OR No. 416)
It is obvious from this that Confederate artillery fire from their fortifications was well placed and of great irritation to the Federal troops as they positioned themselves late in the day. Equally obvious, is that the Southerners had been busy clearing trees to improve their ability to site their foe on the hills just west of Camp Creek. But the Union artillery, usually more accurate and with superior manufactured ordinance throughout the War Between the States, soon made a meaningful contribution itself according to Logan's report:
"The line being perfected at about 1 p. m. the command, preceded by a strong line of skirmishers, commenced steadily driving the enemy toward Resaca, over broken and irregular ground, with heavy growths of timber and underbrush, with occasional small cleared fields. The enemy's skirmish fire was rapid and effective, but he made no decided stand until our line debouched from the woods into a wide extent of cleared fields, along the farther edge of which, at a distance of about 700 yards, extended a range of commanding hills, which bounded the valley of the Oostenaula River on the west, but their particular direction was that of Camp Creek a small stream whose banks they fringed. The enemy having taken position on those hills, their infantry firing from behind slight barricades and pits, and having opened artillery with some effect, some pieces of the First and Fourth Divisions were placed in position, and the rebel battery promptly silenced. I then moved forward the entire line, which advanced steadily, and resistingly drove the enemy from his position and carried the Camp Creek hills. The crests immediately on the right and left of the road overlooked the enemy's forts, the town of Resaca, and the railroad and bridge over the Oostenaula River. I caused artillery to be placed in position on these crests, and opened vigorously, causing considerable confusion and interrupting the passage of railroad trains. My lines were formed in the most advantageous positions, using, wherever practicable, the crests of the Camp Creek hills, General M. L. Smith's division, being on our right of the Resaca road, and extending across it, with Osterhaus on his left. Harrow's division, at first in the reserve, was afterward deployed farther to the left to fill up a gap caused by the withdrawal of troops of the Twentieth Corps. Here, during the rest of the day, Col. Reuben Williams' brigade, of Harrow's division, was engaged constantly, with heavy and continuous skirmishing, with considerable loss. Captain Griffiths, First Iowa Battery, and chief of artillery Fourth Division, placed his guns in position in an open field, directly exposed to the fire of the enemy's artillery, and engaged them during the afternoon, with damaging effect, entirely disabling two of the enemy's guns, which were left on the field when he evacuated." (OR No. 446) Note: No substantiating evidence has been found to verify that the Confederates lost any artillery on this portion of the battlefield at Resaca.
Perhaps the best description of the day's battle and particularly of the effect of Union artillery placement on bald hill in the late afternoon of May 13 and upon the hill to the south of it came from Major General Peter J. Osterhaus, commanding Logan's First Division: "The road to Resaca, from the intersection of the Dalton, and Calhoun Ferry road, lends around a series of hills in more or less sudden curves until it strikes Camp Creek, half a mile west of town. Timber and our fields alternate on both sides of the road, which, before reaching the creek, runs through a short gap, formed by narrow crested hills. From these the forts of Resaca are within effective range of rifled ordnance (1,600 to 2,400 yards). On receipt of your order to advance, my skirmishers and sharpshooters opened a lively fire on the rebels occupying a belt of timber in their front. Following up their fire by a steady advance, they soon dislodged the rebels, driving them from every position which the terrain induced them to take, until their rear reached the short gap mentioned above, west of Camp Creek. The eminencies on both sides of the gap were held by a strong line of sharpshooters, and on the hill on the left a two-gun battery had been established behind some light breast-works. As soon as my line debouched from a belt of timber to an open field, separating us from the rebel intrenchments on the line (distance not over 700 yards), the battery opened a brisk fire of spherical case and shell. The conformation of the ground on the right of the road afforded comparatively good cover to my skirmishers and sharpshooters, who not only pushed back the enemy, but succeeded in approaching the position of the battery so as to expose its flank to our fire. While this movement on my right (First Brigade) was being executed, one section of 12-pounder howitzers (Battery F Second Missouri Artillery) was brought into action against the rebel battery with the usual alacrity and skin of this command. They immediately found the range of their opponents, and the enemy very soon had to yield to our superior practice. My skirmishers and line followed the retrograde movement of the rebels, and took possessions of the lines just evacuated by them. The occupation of these ridges giving us a direct artillery fire on the town, the Fourth Ohio Battery was placed in position on the right of the road, while the section of 3-inch ordnance (Battery F, second Missouri Artillery) was brought into action on the foremost crest to the left of the road; the First and Second Infantry Brigades were deployed on the left of the road, their lines conforming to the ridges, so that the bottoms in front, which, as yet, separated us from the fortifications, were exposed to their fire. The skirmishers advanced to Camp Creek, which winds around the base of the hills occupied by us. The Third Brigade was placed in reserve in the open field at the western slope of the hills mentioned. Our artillery opened with vigor and precision, and the consternation in the doomed town became apparent. The greatest commotion existed among the troops, and numerous railroad trains were seen to move southward over the bridge and trestle-work across Oostenaula River. Of course this became the objective point of fire of our long-range guns, and the Fourth Ohio Battery succeeded in landing several shots into the trains. At the eastern extremity of the gap, now occupied by our artillery and infantry, the Resaca road crosses Camp Creek by a bridge. A belt of timber, very dense, swarmed with rebel sharpshooters, who kept up a very well-directed fire, against which our skirmishers were hardly able to make headway, as they were compelled to expose themselves in an open field, while the thicket in front screened the rebel marksmen. Night setting in, artillery and musketry fire both ceased." (OR No. 450)
As the artillery duel progressed on McPherson's portion of the field, Thomas and Schofield formed up their lines to the west and north of Camp Creek just as twilight began. Earlier in the afternoon, Howard (still before Dalton) informed Sherman that the Confederates were in full retreat and he was in pursuit. Major General Joseph Wheeler, commander of the Southern cavalry, checked Howard's advance at every step with effective skirmishing actions, delaying his advance of ten miles by some 15 hours to grant the Southern infantry time to entrench. (OR No. 713)
Johnston had his men well-positioned by that time. They had vacated Dalton during the evening of May 12 - May 13. Since he had already positioned much of his army along the route toward Resaca on the evening of May 9, it didn't take long for his divisions to form up along whatever favorable terrain they could find. With Polk's troops already anchoring his army's left firmly on the Oostanuala River before Resaca proper, Lieutenant General William J. Hardee's corps entrenched on the east side of the Camp Creek valley leading about one mile north at which point Johnston bent his line back forming an angle where Hardee's and Hood's veterans met. Hood was to command the right flank of the Army of Tennessee and was responsible for the line from Hardee's right all the way over to the Conasauga River which protected Johnston's right. This upside down "L" clawed its way into the numerous ridges and angles around Resaca and readied for whatever blows Sherman chose to inflict upon it.
Other dispositions of the Southern army are aptly summarized by Bill Scaife: "Wheeler's cavalry was deployed along the east bank of the Conasauga River, guarding the right flank, and William H. T. Walker's division of Hardee's Corps was sent south of the Oostanaula River to join William T. Martin's cavalry division, already deployed in the vicinity of Calhoun." (Scaife p. 28)
Johnston seemed to already anticipate Sherman's next move, to possibly flank him out of his army's strong position at Resaca, just as he had at Dalton. But when Walker arrived, there was no sign of Northern troops…yet. Note: For details on this important aspect of the battle see Lay's Ferry.