The Battle of Kennesaw Mountain
June 27, 1864
Maj. Gen. William T. Sherman began his Atlanta Campaign in May of 1864, clashing with Gen. Joseph E. Johnston's Army of Tennessee as it withdrew towards Atlanta in the face of Sherman's successive flanking maneuvers. During the month of June, several battles were fought around Marietta, Georgia, including Pine Mountain and Kolb's Farm led Johnston to establish a seven mile long, formidably entrenched, arc shaped line beginning at Kennesaw Mountain and Little Kennesaw Mountain, a mere fifteen miles outside of Atlanta. With the roads in this vicinity all but impassable, Sherman could no longer flank his enemy. Frustrated, Sherman considered a course of action he had previously refused to enact: attack the enemy’s fortifications head-on. On June 24, he drew up an order for an assault on the 27th which called for Maj. Gen. James McPherson, whose army held the Union left near the Kennesaw Mountain, and Maj. Gen. George Thomas, who held the center, to select points of attack to break the enemy line while Gen. John Schofield maneuvered on the right to draw out Johnston’s line.
At 8:00 a.m. on June 27, over fifty cannons on McPherson's front opened fire on Kennesaw Mountain. Troops of the Fifteenth and Seventeenth Corps started skirmishing in the dense undergrowth to prevent the Rebels from shifting forces to Little Kennesaw and Pigeon Hill. Three brigades under Maj. Gen. John A Logan's Fifteenth Corps moved forward, but despite overrunning some of the rifle pits fronting them and capturing a number of Rebels, they could not get within fifteen yards of the principal Confederate defenses. Most Federals became mired in the undergrowth and punishing musketry as they attempted to ascend the slope. Well-directed fire by Maj. Gen. Samuel French's artillery on Little Kennesaw and a Confederate counterattack eventually drove off the Yankees.
At the center of the Union line, the two armies were only 400 yards apart. Thomas chose portions of the Fourth and Fourteenth Corps to make the attack against the Rebels. Facing them was Confederate Maj. Gen. Patrick Cleburne's division, which had built abatis, driven sharp wooden stakes in the ground and strengthened its entrenchments with headlogs and Brig. Gen. George Maney's Tennesee brigade (under Maj. Gen. Frank Cheatham) whose position jutted forth in an inverted V salient on a rise now known as Cheatham's Hill. Federal artillery opened at 8:00 a.m., shelling the Rebel works for a quarter hour before advancing an hour later under heavy fire, stalling at the abatis around 45 yards from the enemy works. Some Federals got close to the enemy works. Union Colonel Daniel McCook, Jr. stood at the Rebel parapet urging his men on when he was shot in the chest. Reacting quickly, Col. Oscar Harmon of the One Hundred and Twenty Fifth Illinois took command of the brigade, but he was shot five minutes later, mortally wounded. On McCook's left, Brig. Gen. Charles Harker urged his men forward astride his white horse, before being mortally struck in the arm and chest. After 10:00 a.m., the Union attack became disorganized and the men fell back. Some men of Col. John Mitchell's brigade made it up the slope to one of Maney's entrenched salients where the lines became so close that the Tennesseans threw rocks at the advancing Federals. Eventually Mitchell's men had to retreat and find cover anywhere from twenty to a hundred yards from the Confederate works and dig in with their bayonets at what was later called the "Dead Angle."
By 11:30 that morning, the Union attack had failed. The frontal assault cost Sherman 3,000 men in just over three hours. Although the survivors of the assaulting columns at Cheatham Hill spent the next five days in advanced works only thirty yards from the Confederate position, there was no more heavy fighting at Kennesaw. Only on July 2nd when Sherman sent McPherson and Maj. Gen. George Stoneman's cavalry around the Confederate left did Johnston once again fall back to another defensive position at Smyrna.