On 22 July 1864 another major battle was fought and lost by the Confederates but the 33rd Mississippi was not involved. This battle resulted in the Confederates losing two of the three railroads supplying Atlanta. The last remaining railroad was west of Atlanta, the Macon and Western Railroad, and was Sherman's next target. He sent Union General O.O. Howard to the west of Atlanta to attack the railroad. Gen. Hood sent Gen. S. D. Lee to oppose him. Ironically, both of these warriors would turn their post-war careers to becoming educators. Gen. Howard founded Howard University in Washington D.C., to educate the freed former slaves and Gen. Lee became the first president of what is now Mississippi State University.
On 28 July 1864 Stewart's Corps was sent out to support Lee. As they reached the battlefield they found that Lee had suffered a severe defeat. He had committed his forces in piecemeal fashion and had lost many men. This battle was known as the Battle of Ezra Church or as the Battle of Lick Skillet Road. Loring's Division was drawn up along the Lick Skillet Road to follow Walthall's Division into the battle. The Federal forces were in a very strong position and were able to fire away at the Confederates while the men of Loring's Division were not in a position to return fire. General Loring and Stewart were both wounded and Gen. Featherston assumed field command of the division. However, Featherston's Brigade was not committed to the fighting and suffered no losses.
The month of August was spent mostly in picket duty and skirmishing. On 22 August 1864 Pvt. Matthew Dunn wrote to his wife Stumpy: " Camp; I have no important news. My health never was much better, which I consider a great blessing. The Yankees for the past few days have made some demonstrations on our picket line, but their efforts so far have proved ineffectual. They shelled us rapidly all day and one came very near getting me which has been the case several times before. But God for some purpose, unknown to me, has spared me. He has taken 3 of my men in killed and wounded since we have been on this campaign. And not only have I lost mess mates but I have lost my bed mate, my best friend in Camp and neighbor at home -poor Clem is no more (Clem Lea was Dunn s neighbor in Amite County). But when I took the last look at him I felt very happy to think that he had gone to a better world and left so honorable a name to be transmitted to loved and dear ones behind."
Gen. Sherman had become frustrated in his attempts to capture Atlanta. He could easily shell the city from his positions and did so on a daily basis but political concerns made it essential that he capture the city. The re-election of the Lincoln government seemed to depend on some great military success and both he and General Grant in Virginia were stalled.
On 30 August 1864 he began a movement that would hand him Atlanta. He began another shift of his armies to the south of the city and fought Hardee's Corps in the Battle of Jonesboro the following day and on 1 Sept 1864. The Federal victory there sealed Atlanta's fate.
On 1 Sept. 1864 the men of Stewart's Corps were ordered to evacuate the city. Since Gen. Loring had been wounded at Ezra Church Gen. Featherston was still in command of the division. Col. M.D.L. Stephens of the 31st Mississippi Infantry took temporary command of the brigade. Capt. Moses Jackson of Amite County was in command of the 33rd Mississippi. By 4 Sept 1864 the 3rd Mississippi had reached Lovejoy Station. The next day the Federal army began pulling out of the area and moved into Atlanta itself. Atlanta was lost to the Confederacy.
The 33rd Mississippi had lost all of its field officers, many of its company officers, and over half of the enlisted men to desertion, disease, injury, and death on this campaign. Even men who had served without a blemish on their records became discouraged after the losses of the Atlanta campaign and voted on the future of the Confederacy with their feet. Sgt. Til McCarty of Company A had been in the small group who had become separated from the regiment at Champion Hill and had surrendered to Gen. Grant at Vicksburg. After being notified that he was exchanged he had reported to a Confederate cavalry command and had eventually made his way to Atlanta to rejoin the regiment. On his arrival Col. Drake charged him with desertion and reduced him to private. The next day he really did desert and walked home to Neshoba County.
On 18 Sept 1864 the regiment left Lovejoy Station and marched westward to Palmetto along the Atlanta and West Point R.R. near the Chattahoochie River. Loring s division camped Between the railroad and the river. On the 20th the regiment was on picket duty and stayed out from the rest of the division for two days. On 25 Sept. 1864 Lt. R. J. McCormack of the 3rd Mississippi wrote to his " "Dearest Rebecca that My application (to go on a detail to Mississipi in order to get blankets and shoes for the men of his company) will be back soon, but I know Featherston will not aprove it and that will be sufficient toruin it forever. He is a great old sinner and prides in disapproving all favors that are asked& I want to visit Yazoo (County, in Mississippi) worse than I ever did and if "Old Sweat" (Featherston s nickname among the troops) don t give my papers his approval I shall not like it at all& I hope there will be no more fighting this winters."
Lt. McCormack was right in his assumption of what "Old Seweat" would do with his application but he was wrong about what Gen. John Bell Hood would do with the Army of Tennessee. There would be no resting in winter quarters for this army. The fighting would be starting up very soon.
President Jefferson Davis visited with Gen. Hood on 25 Sept. 1864 and reviewed the military situation. Gen. Hood explained that he proposed to march northward and get between Atlanta and Tennessee in order to cut Sherman s supply lines and force him into battle outside of the city. President Davis departed two days later leaving Gen. Hood in command of the army.
On 29 Sept. 1864 the Confederate marched across the Chattahoochie River and headed north. Gen. Hood's plan was to march north of Atlanta, tear up the railroad supply line from Chattanooga to Atlanta and force Gen. Sherman out of the city. Little did Gen Hood know that Gen. Sherman planned to leave Atlanta behind but instead of going north he would be going east toward the Atlantic Ocean in what would become known as Sherman's March to the Sea. On 3 Oct. 1864 Featherston's Brigade was ordered to attack the Federal garrison at Big Shanty on the Western and Atlantic Railroad. The corps commander, Gen. A.P. Stewart. Later reported, "Featherston's Brigade, of Loring's Division, was formed in line, with skirmishers in front, and moved forward on the village. The small force of the enemy took refuge in the depot, which was loop holded. After the exchange of a few shots and a small loss in killed and wounded they surrendered -- some 100 or more. Loring's Division then moved to Acworth, where a few hundred prisoners were taken next morning. Capt. Saucier of the 3rd Mississippi estimated the Big Shanty capture at 60 Yankees. Pvt. Martin Van Kees of the 33rd Mississippi estimated the number at 40. In the action at Acworth Pvt. Van Kees estimated the capture at 300 Yankees and stated that the Mississippians did extensive damage to the railroad.
The following weeks were spent retracing the steps of the regiment s travels during the previous summer's campaign in the area of Lost Mountain, New Hope Church, and Dallas. On 21 Oct. 1864 Pvt. Matthew Dunn wrote from Gadsden, Alabama, to his Stumpy:
"I am blessed with good health but nearly tired to death. We have been for several weeks operating in Sherman's rear. We have torn up the railroad about 40 miles and captured several garrisons with 1500 to 2000 prisoners and 800 Negroes. It has been a very exciting time for us although very laborious. We went as high up on the road as Tunnel Hill which is a few miles below the Tennessee line. We are now in north Alabama and will turn our course for Tennessee when we start again which will be in the morning I guess."
In the attempt to destroy the railroad one division under Gen. Samuel French attacked Allatoona Pass but the Federals under Gen J. M. Corse repulsed them. The 33rd Mississippi did not participate in the attack. This attack did drive Gen. Sherman out from Atlanta and delayed his march to the sea but he did not arrive in time to participate in the battle. During the battle Sherman sent Corse a signal message saying that he was coming. This formed the basis for a hymn that even in Southern churches is still sung today, "Hold The Fort; I Am Coming."