Recently, I had the pleasure of visiting Kennesaw Mountain National Battlefield, on the 154th anniversary weekend of the battle. While there, I was able to explore part of the battlefield which has been beautifully preserved. During this anniversary weekend, there were living historians who were doing artillery-firing demonstrations, infantry demonstrations including musket fire, camp life, and military music.
The Kennesaw Mountain National Battlefield Park is comprised of Kennesaw Mountain, including the large open field which had been held by Confederate forces, and a monument to the Georgia troops;
Pigeon Hill where one of the two major attacks by Sherman’s forces were repulsed; a 24-gun battery of Federal artillery. These guns sit on the location where an actual Federal gun emplacement was located, comprised of four batteries (6 guns each), which bombarded Kennesaw Mountain for 10 days, attempting to force the Confederates off the hill. Cheatham Hill, located south of Kennesaw mountain and to the east of Sherman’s headquarters, saw the fiercest fighting of the battle at what would be known as the “Dead Angle” where Confederate forces had created a protruding angle in their lines and was a slaughter of the Union Forces. Today, a monument to the Illinois troops stands at this location. The Wallace House stands to the west of the mountain, facing Pigeon Hill. Built in 1853, Josiah Wallace abandoned his home as Sherman’s forces invaded. The home would be used by Union General Oliver O. Howards during the battle, though it had earlier been used as a Confederate hospital. Kolb’s Farm is located at the southernmost end of the National Battlefield Park, and well south of the mountain. It was the location of General Hooker’s headquarters after the repulsion of Confederate forces under General Hood by Union troops on June 22nd, 1864. These locations and the sites of other locations (many of which are no longer standing or are private residents) can all be found in the Kennesaw Mountain handout available in the visitor center.
Also on site is a theatre showing a film about the battle and the park, as well as a museum. The museum contains maps, uniforms, weapons, artifacts – such as surveying equipment, a Union Surgeons’ capital case – which had been captured and used by a Confederate surgeon, ammunition, original cap case, and the Confederate Medal of Honor.
The Battle of Kennesaw Mountain was the seventh engagement in the Atlanta Campaign as Sherman and his generals marched their way through north Georgia toward Atlanta. Sherman’s objective was to get into Atlanta and raze it to the ground to cut off all transportation and supplies from one of the main hubs of the Confederacy. Sherman and his generals would clash with Johnson and his generals off and on for 10 days on miles of Marietta, GA ground, surrounding and including Kennesaw Mountain.
Knowing the Federals were on the move in their direction, Confederate forces began digging in on June 19th, taking command of earthworks complete with trenches and fortifications prepared by volunteers working around the clock, as they entrenched for the impending attack. On June 22nd, the battle for Kennesaw began when Sherman and Johnson’s troops clashed at Kolb’s farm, south of Kennesaw Mountain. General Hood, one of Johnson’s commanders, had wrongly assumed that he had outflanked General Hooker (USA) and attacked without reconnoitering the area and having proper intelligence. The battle would be a disaster for Confederate troops, costing them roughly 1,500 soldiers, roughly one third of Union losses. This action led Sherman to think that the Confederate line was spread thin and would be easy to penetrate and break in two. This caused him to choose a frontal attack on the entrenched Confederate Forces, which he had not wanted to do since the high losses he had received at Resaca, GA. On June 16th, he would tell Chief of Staff, Major General Henry Halleck, “I am now inclined to feign with both flanks and assault the center. It may cost us dear but the results would surpass an attempt to pass around.” 1
Deciding to give up the element of surprise in exchange for loosing fewer men, Sherman ordered an artillery barrage to start the battle. On the morning of June 27th, cannon opened fire to the west of Kennesaw mountain, as federal artillery tried to rain shells down upon the Confederate forces and lessen their hold on the mountain in order to take them much easier to push back or surrender. Unfortunately for the Federals, it alerted the Confederates of the impending attack and allowed them to entrench and prepare more securely. Following the end of the bombardment, Sherman sent 8,000 of his forces to attack right in the middle of the Confederate line, thinking it weak. They were anything but! The fighting was close and personal, artillery raining grape shot and canister on one assault of General Cleburnes’ men; to Missourians fighting Missourians; whole regiments not returning their ram rod to their rifles, but sticking it in the ground in front of them for speed of loading, and creating a much more deadly fire down on the federals. Some Confederates were well entrenched and were able to pick off their Yankee foe without being reached. In one section of the line, the underbrush caught fire from the muzzle flashes and risked burning the wounded Yankees in it to death. Seeing this, Colonel William Martin of the 1st/15th Arkansas Regiment took a white handkerchief and stood atop the wall of the trenches, calling a cease fire long enough that the Federals could move their wounded to safety. Many Confederates jumped out of the trenches and helped move these wounded men to safety, before returning to the trenches and preparing once again for battle. Colonel Martin was handed a pair of pearl-handled pistols by a Federal officer out of appreciation.
In one point of the Confederate line on Cheatham’s hill, the line bowed out, creating a right angle known as the Dead Angle. 180 Tennesseans held the Western side of the angle, while other Tennessee regiments held the southern side, with a total of ten artillery pieces, all poised to obliterate the oncoming Yankees. Union General Davis hoped to quickly overrun the Confederate position by consolidating his men into densely packed columns rather than battle lines. They attacked the Confederate forces, to the point the Rebels had a fierce fight on their hands to hold their position, in part due to Federal artillery having obliterated the top part of a section of their breastworks. Also defended by sharpened logs positioned toward the oncoming enemy (called abatis). “No sooner would a regiment mount our works than they were shot down or surrendered, and soon we had every gopher hole full of Federal prisoners,” wrote Watkins. “Yet still the Yankees came. It seemed impossible to check the onslaught.” 1 Though viciously assaulting the Confederate line, and rotating troops from the rear to quickly fill in holes created by their fallen comrades, the luscious undergrowth and abatis slowed the Federals to essentially being caught in a quagmire, and the Confederates picked them off one by one with heavy fire.
“A poor wounded and dying boy, not more than sixteen years of age, asked permission to crawl over our works, and when he crawled to the top, and just as Blair Webster and I reached up to help the poor fellow, he, the Yankee, was killed by his own men,” wrote Watkins. “In fact, I have ever thought that is why the slaughter was so great in our front, that nearly, if not as many, Yankees were killed by their own men as by us. The brave ones, who tried to storm and carry our works, were simply between two fires.” 1
By 11am, the two federal Brigade commanders Newton and Davis sent word to command at the rear that there was no possible way of breaching the Confederate line. They had lost nearly 1,500 men and were then instructed that those who were able were to retreat to the rear. Those who could not without receiving further casualties were to retreat under the cover of night. Just north of them, nearly 13,500 men were still bombarding the Confederate center. With the retreat of these two Brigades, the Confederates at the Dead Angle got desperately needed relief.
““When the Yankees fell back and the firing ceased, I never saw so many broken down and exhausted men in my life,” he wrote after the war. “I was as sick as a horse, and as wet with blood and sweat as I could be, and many of our men were vomiting with excessive fatigue, over exhaustion, and sunstroke; our tongues were parched and cracked for water, and our faces blackened with powder and smoke, and our dead and wounded were piled indiscriminately in the trenches. There was not a single man in the company who was not wounded, or had holes shot through his hat and clothing.” Many of Cleburne’s and Cheatham’s men taunted the retreating Yankees, screaming “Chickamauga, Chickamauga,” because many of those attackers had yelled “Missionary Ridge” during the advance.” 1
While all the fighting continued at the Confederate center, Union General Schofield’s troops quietly slipped to CSA General Johnson’s right attempting to outflank him, and were undiscovered for some time.
Over the next day, the Yankees formed into a 4-mile long battle line, skirmishing with the Confederates here and there, but for the most part the Confederates – both infantry and dismounted cavalry – fought from behind the breastworks. Little became of the skirmishes other than another 100 Union losses. The Confederates continued to hold the position until it became clear to Johnson that he had been outflanked. Rather than being completely cut off and obliterated, he withdrew his forces from Kennesaw Mountain to reform and hold at Smyrna, Georgia.
The whole battle of Kennesaw Mountain would cost Sherman 3,000 troops and two of his generals, and he would dub the battle “the hardest fighting of that campaign up to that date.” In contrast, the Confederates lost between 500-700 men and one general during the fighting. It was a Confederate victory tactically, though it felt short-lived as Johnson was unable to permanently stop Sherman’s forces. (To read more details of the battle, check out this link: http://www.aboutnorthgeorgia.com/ang/Battle_of_Kennesaw_Mountain)
Sherman would remain in place for 4 more days, before Johnson was forced to leave and retreat toward the ill-fated Atlanta. Sherman would follow and continue fighting his way toward Atlanta on his fiery march to the sea.
If you get the opportunity, please visit Kennesaw Mountain National Battlefield Park. For Georgians, it’s a great day-trip! Our battlefields and national parks are in danger of closing and losing that history forever if we do not visit them, support them, and teach our children the real history. Kennesaw Mountain is one of the better-preserved battlefields in Georgia and worth the trip (especially if you are a history nerd like me!) My trip was delightful, and I plan to go back in the future and take to some of the trails! If you go and enjoy your trip, please post photos of your trip in the comments!