Kennesaw Mountain June 27, 1864 Estimated casualties: 4,000 (Union: 3000, Confederates 1,000)
An army lives on its stomach. For as long as man has warred, the toughest tactical feat is feeding men who fight battles. Many times important tactical and strategic decisions are based on the ability to provide food. It is this concern that causes General William Tecumseh Sherman to launch a full-scale frontal assault on the entrenched position of General Joseph Eggleston Johnston's Rebels at Kennesaw Mountain.
The red-headed commander from Ohio tries to make a run around the south end of the Confederate line when an "impetuous" attack by John Bell Hood at Kolb's Farm stops him cold in his tracks. Now, for the first time during The Atlanta Campaign, he must fight. The Western and Atlanta Railroad skirts the north end of Kennesaw Mountain. Simply leaving Rebel artillery entrenched on the mountain would doom any hope of using the all-weather lifeline to supply his men south of the peak. Having left the railroad once in Kingston, he feels that leaving it now would spell disaster for his army totaling nearly 100,000 men. The Confederate position must fall. John Scofield's Army of the Ohio holds the southern end of the line, George Thomas' Army of the Cumberland the middle, and John McPherson's Army of the Tennessee the northern end, west and north of Kennesaw Mountain. They go up against John Bell Hood to the south, William J. Hardee in the center and Polk's Corps to the north, now with William Loring in charge after the untimely death of Bishop Polk a few days earlier.
A simple plan is devised, with Sherman giving his field commanders great leeway in their choices for attack. Schofield and Hooker, at the southern end of the line, demonstrate to keep Hood in place. Thomas launches the primary attack somewhere along a front nearly two and half miles long south of Pigeon Hill. To the north Mcpherson demonstrates but also launches a secondary attack. With his men in position and the entire Union Army on the move in front of them, Army of Tennessee commander Joseph E. Johnston can not reinforce the actual areas of attack. Sherman wants to split two holes in the Rebel line and drive to the Western and Atlantic Railroad in downtown Marietta.
XV Corps commander John "Blackjack" Logan, from Illinois, decides to attack a salient in the Rebel line between Little Kennesaw Mountain and Pigeon Hill. To the south, Generals George Thomas ("The Rock of Chickamauga") and O. O. Howard personally select a salient in the line that appears to be misplaced. The line had formed far enough back on the hill that a "dead area" beneath the Confederates might offer the attackers brief relief from the hail of lead they would surely face. Also, this is the location where the two opposing lines are closest.
"Hell breaks loose in Georgia..."
Plans of the Union generals almost immediately go awry. The Army of the Cumberland does not start until an hour after schedule, and the assault on Pigeon Hill runs into unexpected physical barriers.
At 8:15 cannon fall silent, quickly replaced by the staccato bursts of gunfire as Logan's men move forward. Nearly 5,500 infantry pour into a small area to battle the intrenched Rebels. Noyes Creek, which runs north-south just west of Mountain Road, provided the first physical barrier for Joseph A. J. Lightborn's Union infantry. Behind the creek sat the 63rd Georgia Regiment, along with other groups on the skirmish line. Instead of withdrawing when others moved back, the recently transferred 63rd stays on the line. Regiments of Federals, six in all, pour out of the forest and over the line held by the Georgians. Ordered to reinforce the skirmish line, reserves come forward as support. Brief hand-to-hand fighting routs the Georgia Regiment, who head for the Rebel line followed closely by boys in blue. Punishing Confederate cross-fire halts the Federals, and the commander orders retreat within ten minutes.
Just to the north, a second group of Union soldiers under Giles Smith tries to advance across Old Mountain Road, which still exists. The heavy woods, large rocks and a stone palisade at the top of Pigeon Hill doom this assault. Even further north the men of Col. Charles C. Walcutt overrun the skirmish line but fail to take the main line in the heavily wooded gap between Little Kennesaw and Pigeon Hill.
The Union Army charge south of the Dallas Highway launches at nine o'clock on June 27, 1864. 8,000 men are committed to the assault across a two-mile front, many waiting for a breakthrough to exploit. Leading the charge for Davis was Daniel McCook, an Ohioan most noted for sharing a law office with his commanding officer, William Tecumseh Sherman. John G. Mitchell would hit the salient from the southern side, McCook from the northern side. Newton's men, led by the able Charles Harker, would try to penetrate the Confederate line to the north.
Wave after wave of Federals advance towards the salient in the Rebel line on Cheatham Hill. Withering gunfire kills hundreds of boys, mostly from Illinois and Ohio. Incredibly, McCook and some of his men make it to the Rebel line, only to be shot, stabbed, or captured by the Graybacks. Later both sides would refer to this area as "The Dead Angle."
Just to the north of Cheatham Hill some woods catch on fire during the attack. Wounded Union soldiers, left during the hasty retreat, scream as they burn to death in the blaze. A colonel from Arkansas steps on top of the entrenchments with a white flag and calls to the opposing force, "Come and get your men, for they are burning to death!" Rifleless Federals approach and begin to remove the bodies, aided by men in gray. The two forces that had been killing each other less than fifteen minutes earlier now were working together to save the lives of fallen men. The next day the Union commanders present the Colonel with a matching pair of ivory-handled Colt .45 pistols.
The battle is over. Unable to pierce the Confederate
line, what remains of the Union attackers withdraw to safer territory. Some
Illinois men remain 20 yards from the Rebel line, trying to dig a tunnel
to blow a hole in the entrenchments above them. In an hour and a half the
Federals loose more than 1,000 men, the Confederates one-third that total.
McCook is returned to the field hospital, badly wounded. He will die shortly
after his promotion to general a few days later. Johnston withdraws on the
evening of July 2 to a position in defense of Atlanta.
Recommended Reading from About North Georgia and Amazon.com
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