Civil War Battles
State War Records
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On the night of June 18-19, Gen. Joseph E. Johnston, fearing envelopment, withdrew his army to a new, previously selected position astride Kennesaw Mountain. This entrenched arc-shaped line, to the north and west of Marietta, protected the Western & Atlantic Railroad, the supply link to Atlanta.
Having defeated Gen. John B. Hood troops at Kolb's Farm on the 22nd, Maj. Gen. William T. Sherman was sure that Johnston had stretched his line too thin and, therefore, decided on a frontal attack with some diversions on the flanks.
Sherman tried to make a run around the south end of the Confederate line when an "impetuous" attack by 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 Confederate 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 felt 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 Gen. John McPherson's Army of the Tennessee the northern end, west and north of Kennesaw Mountain. They would go up against Hood to the south, Maj. Gen. William J. Hardee in the center and Brig. Gen. L. Polk's Corps to the north, now with William Loring in charge after the untimely death of Gen. Bishop Polk a few days earlier.
A simple plan was devised, with Sherman giving his field commanders great leeway in their choices for attack. Schofield and Hooker, at the southern end of the line, demonstrated to keep Hood in place. Thomas launched the primary attack somewhere along a front nearly 2 1/2 miles long south of Pigeon Hill.
To the north, Mcpherson demonstrated but also launched a secondary attack. With his men in position and the entire Union Army on the move in front of them, Army of Tennessee commander Johnston couldn't reinforce the actual areas of attack. Sherman wanted to split 2 holes in the Confederate line and drove to the Western and Atlantic Railroad in downtown Marietta.
XV Corps commander John "Blackjack" Logan, from Illinois, decided to attack a salient in the Confederate line between Little Kennesaw Mountain and Pigeon Hill. To the south, Gens. George Thomas and O. O. Howard personally selected a salient in the line that appeared 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 were the closest.
On June 27, during the morning, ranking officer's reconnoitering gave way to the artillerymen's bombardment. For fifteen minutes across parts of the eight mile front, Union cannoneers lobbed shells at Confederate positions. The barrage was designed to soften up Confederate defenses, but it may have done more harm than good for it forewarned of the impending attack. Plans of the Union generals almost immediately went awry. The Army of the Cumberland did not start until an hour after schedule, and the assault on Pigeon Hill ran into unexpected physical barriers.
At 8:15 A.M., the cannons fell silent, quickly replaced by the staccato bursts of gunfire as Logan's men move forward. Sherman sent his troops forward after an artillery bombardment. At first, they made some headway overrunning Confederate pickets south of the Burnt Hickory Road, but attacking an enemy that was dug in was futile.
Nearly 5,500 infantry pour into a small area to battle the intrenched Confederates. 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, 6 in all, pour out of the forest and over the line held by the Georgians. Ordered to reinforce the skirmish line, reserves came forward as support.
Brief hand-to-hand fighting routed the Georgia Regiment, who headed for the Confederate line followed closely by the Federals. Punishing Confederate cross-fire halted the Federals, and the commander ordered a retreat within 10 minutes.
Just to the north, a second group of Union soldiers under Giles Smith tried to advance across Old Mountain Road. The heavy woods, large rocks and a stone palisade at the top of Pigeon Hill doomed this assault. Even further north the men of Col. Charles C. Walcutt overran the skirmish line but failed to take the main line in the heavily wooded gap between Little Kennesaw and Pigeon Hill. To the south of Pigeon Hill lies land that gently slopes uphill from the Union positions. Johnston assigned two of his best commanders to defend the area. Both Benjamin Franklin Cheatham and Patrick Cleburne led men who were battle tested, hardened to a fine edge. Supported by an intricate web of earthworks and entanglements, these veterans saw the hardest fighting of the day.
To the west Union Gens. Jefferson C. Davis and John Newton formed behind Thomas' line. The plan was to rush the Confederates en masse, hopefully breaking through and routing the Confederates.
The Union Army charge south of the Dallas Highway launched at 9:00 A.M. on June 27, 8,000 men were committed to the assault across a 2-mile front, many waiting for a breakthrough to exploit. Leading the charge for Davis was Daniel McCook. Mitchell would hit the salient from the Confederate 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.
Prepared for the attack by the unusual artillery barrage, the Confederate line watches the green valley become a sea of blue as the Union assault swept across John Ward Creek below them. Advancing men tried to punch holes in the line but word from the battle was not good. Harker fell 15 feet from the Rebel line, shot in the arm and chest by Cleburne's men. Further south, at Cheatham Hill, the Union boys that weren't cannon fodder were repeatedly raked by Cheatham's Tennesseans.
Wave after wave of Federals advanced towards the salient in the Confederate line on Cheatham Hill. Withering gunfire killed hundreds of boys. Incredibly, McCook and some of his men made 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 caught on fire during the attack. Wounded Union soldiers, left during the hasty retreat, screamed as they burnt to death in the blaze. Rifleless Federals approached and began to remove the bodies, aided by the Confederates. The two forces that had been killing each other less than 15 minutes earlier now worked together to save the lives of fallen men.
The battle was over. Unable to pierce the Confederate line, what remains of the Union attackers withdrew to safer territory. Some Illinois men remained 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 lost more than 1,000 men, the Confederates 1/3 that total. McCook is returned to the field hospital, badly wounded. He died shortly after his promotion to general a few days later. Johnston withdrew on the evening of July 2 to a position in defense of Atlanta.