Kennesaw Mountain and the Atlanta Campaign (Lecture)

Well good afternoon everyone. All right. welcome
to Gettysburg National Military Park. On behalf of my colleagues here we’re all very glad
that you’re here today for our Winter Lecture Series. My name is Dan Vermilya, I’m sure for
many of you might not recognize me. This is my first time doing a Winter Lecture here.
Just a brief intro on who I am. I’ve been in the Park Service for a couple years now.
I’ve worked at Antietam Battlefield in Maryland for a couple years and last year I had the
privilege of working here as a seasonal ranger during the summer season, and I was fortunate
enough to be asked to take part in this program today. Of course our topic today is in keeping
with the theme of 1864 or the Civil War in 1864. It is the battle of Kennesaw Mountain.
Now, by a show of hands, I am curious to see how many of you have visited Kennesaw Mountain
National Battlefield Park? Okay, it is about 25 miles northwest of Atlanta. It is probably
the biggest green space near Atlanta, so it gets quite a few visitors. I think the statistic
is something like maybe 2 million visitors a year, but the vast majority of those visitors
go there for the recreation, for the trails. A lot of the visitors who go to Kennesaw don’t
really pick up on the history of the park. It’s an interesting story to tell. A fascinating
part of the war in 1864, and some of you might ask yourselves, “What does a ranger who has worked
at Antietam National Battlefield and Gettysburg National Military Park know about a battle
that took place many miles away in Georgia?” It’s a valid question. Well, let’s see if we
can get this going here, it would help if I turned it on. Okay, this is a very familiar image,
no doubt. The image of Atlanta burning in 1864, it’s one of the most famous moments of
the American Civil War. We have front and center William Tecumseh Sherman riding victoriously,
he’s on his way starting his famous March to the Sea. Well the fall of Atlanta, I would
say, is one of the three most important Union victories of the American Civil War. In conforming
with what we might call the central storyline of the war, one of the central legacies of the war, which
is the expansion of freedom in the United States. And I would say those three victories are
Antietam in 1862, the victory that led to the Emancipation Proclamation being issued,
then in July of 1863 when the Emancipation Proclamation and that new birth of freedom
that Lincoln was fighting for needed to be defended, it was defended at Gettysburg in
Pennsylvania. And then finally, the fall of Atlanta in September of 1864 was the victory
which many historians agree helped to ensure the reelection of Abraham Lincoln therefore helping
to make possible things such as the 13th amendment. So it’s all connected in the broad scope of
the Civil War, and as far as the Atlanta Campaign goes, a lot of times it gets forgotten. A lot
of folks focus on the March to the Sea as Sherman’s big triumph, but without the Atlanta
Campaign there would not have been the March to the Sea. There would not have been
this opportunity to cut south through Georgia. He had to get into Georgia first, and that
is the story of the Atlanta Campaign. Of course, just to do some background, some setup, I know this
is Western Theater stuff and for some folks it might be kind of unfamiliar so we’re going
to start from broad background and get caught up to speed. At the end of 1863, Union forces
had made tremendous gains in the Western Theater. Most of the Tennessee had fallen to Union
forces. Notably, in late 1863 you have Confederate victory at Chickamauga in northern
Georgia, and then in November of 1863 Union forces have a victory at Chattanooga, driving away
Confederate forces under general Braxton Bragg. These victories mean that the summer campaigns
or the main fighting campaigns of 1864, as far as the Western Theater, are likely going
to be taking place, not in Tennessee, but in the state of Georgia. At the end of 1863, we
have some leadership changes for the Union Army. We have this fellow here, no doubt a famous
face, Ulysses S. Grant in early 1864 becomes Lieutenant General commanding all Union forces in the
Civil War, leaving a void of leadership in the West. This newly created military division
of the Mississippi, this broad command encompassing the Western Theater. William Tecumseh Sherman
assumes command of that force, that position. These two men are in many ways are unlikely candidates
to be in these positions in 1864 considering where they were earlier on in their lives and their careers.
Each one had experienced numerous failures in their personal professional military lives.
They have a strong friendship going back to what many might say the Battle of Shiloh in
1862. So in 1864 you will have, for the first time, concerted action for Union forces, a
strong friendship binding together actions in the East and the West with Grant acting
in the East, commanding all Union forces, and Sherman acting in the West. On the other hand,
Confederate leadership. I think I may have heard a few chuckles right there. That says
it all right there. That’s a great transition, thank you for doing that. While we could use
the word ‘strong’ to characterize the partnership and the ties for Union leadership at the start
of 1864, we could not use that word for Confederates. Braxton Bragg; he is certainly not the most
popular commander of the war, that might be the understatement of the afternoon. He is
not loved by his subordinate generals, but he has a very powerful ally in Richmond – Jefferson
Davis – who allows him to keep his command throughout much of 1863. But after he loses Chattanooga,
Bragg is essentially relieved of his command and brought to Richmond to serve as Davis’s new military adviser, a role he will hold in 1864. Meaning that Joseph
Johnston, a man who Davis does not like – these two men do not get along – Joseph Johnston
is placed in command of what is the Confederate Army of Tennessee. Note my wording there very
carefully. Army of Tennessee, the state of Tennessee. You’ll understand the importance of that in just
a moment. So these will be some of the leading figures for the Confederate side in 1864. In these campaigns, you will have concerted action that will be plunging deep into the
heart of the Confederacy. The two main campaigns will be Grant and the Army of the Potomac
moving against Robert E. Lee in Virginia in what is known as the Overland Campaign, and
in the West you will have William Tecumseh Sherman with his Army Group, as we can call
it, moving against Joseph Johnston, the Confederate Army of Tennessee, trying to damage Confederate
war resources in Georgia. Each campaign will prevent confederate armies from reinforcing
one another, very important. For Sherman, looking at his campaign into Georgia in 1864, there
were some major problems. Throughout much of the fighting in the West we’re talking about vast
expanses of territory, and there’s a need to move men and supplies across these expanses
of ground, and rivers are a key way to do that. but Sherman has a problem: there are no rivers
that will follow his route of advance towards Atlanta. There is instead, a railroad. A railroad.
This will serve as his primary means of moving south into Georgia. It’s going to be his main
supply line – the Western and Atlantic Railroad. Sherman’s Army Group is going to be composed
of essentially three different forces. And earlier I said note my wording when I said
the Confederate Army of Tennessee. because if it’s not confusing enough we have a Union
Army of the Tennessee named after the Tennessee River. And that’s going to be commanded by
James McPherson, not the historian, the General James McPherson. James “Birdseye” McPherson,
an Ohio native, just like Sherman himself. the Army of the Cumberland, this happy looking
fellow right here, George Thomas, George Henry Thomas, native Virginian stays loyal to the Union. He’s a general who
we often forget about when we’re talking about these great men of the Western Theater. We often
talk about names such as Bragg or Albert Sydney Johnston or Grant or Sherman. Thomas is sometimes
forgotten about. And last but not least we have the Army of the Ohio, commanded by John
Schofield. And at the start of the campaign these forces are going to number about 100,000
total. For Confederates, Johnston’s army of Tennessee is going to number perhaps 60,000 effective
soldiers in May, and he’s going to have three army corps. He’s going to have William Hardee,
Leonidas Polk, who’s pictured here, and no doubt a name familiar to many folks who have spent
time on the Gettysburg battlefield, John Bell Hood. He is now in the West in 1864. And again
the campaign goals for each of these men squaring off: for Sherman, it’s to move south, pursue
Joseph Johnston, damage Confederate war resources in Georgia. For Johnston, it’s a much different
scenario. He’s being pressured by Jefferson Davis in Richmond to launch his own campaign
against Sherman but he doesn’t believe he has enough men or materiel or resources to do that. what
he essentially wants to do is wait in Georgia, find some good defensive ground, force sherman to attack
him, and then launch his counter-offensive into Georgia. In early May, on May 5th, May
6th of 1864, these two armies separated by hundreds of miles, these two Union armies, begin
moving. Again, concerted military action. No doubt, many of you are familiar with the
Battle of the Wilderness in Virginia, well at the same time that is going on, Sherman
begins his push south into Georgia. However, instead of a dense forest, he’s dealing with
mountains. Johnston has taken up position on Rocky Face Ridge, some mountainous ground
near Dalton, Georgia, which poses some major problems for Sherman and his army. And it’s
going to start a pattern in this campaign, a pattern of flanking and maneuvering around Johnston’s
army. this is sherman’s preferred route of advance. He’s going to send the Army of the
Tenneessee to do an end-around of Johnston’s army forcing him to fall back from Dalton
to Resaca, where on May 14th and 15th, while the fighting is going on at Spotsylvania in
Virginia, the Battle of Resaca, the first battle of the Atlanta Campaign, is fought in
Georgia. There’s a few thousand casualties there, certainly it pales in comparison
when we are thinking about the bloodshed of places like the Mule Shoe of Spotsylvania,
some of the things that are very familiar for us here who are students of the war on the
Eastern Theater, but nonetheless it is a significant action, especially when considering that Sherman
is going to repeat his method of advance, continue to try to outflank Johnston at every turn during
this campaign. By late May, several weeks into the campaign, these two armies have centered
in a place known as the “Hell Hole” of Georgia. Essentially, Sherman had been advancing along
the Western and Atlantic Railroad, by late May he decides he’s going to try to completely
outflank Johnston, leave the railroad all together. The two armies become bogged down in
a very dense forested area near Dallas, Georgia. Three very vicious battles are fought. the
Battle of New Hope Church, Pickett’s Mill, and Dallas. Three quick, successive fights,
these two armies are trying to block each other or fight each other at every possibility,
Johnston swinging out and blocking Sherman’s flanking advance. What this means for our
story, for Kennesaw Mountain is that as June begins, Sherman has to shift back to the railroad
and continue advancing toward Marietta, Georgia. I hope you all can see this, but right here, Kennesaw Mountain
is located just west of Marietta, Georgia. It’s some mountainous terrain west of Marietta.
Here we have a wartime sketch of Marietta and we can see the twin peaks of Big and Little
Kennesaw just west of the town. Well if you’re Joseph Johnston, this is excellent defensive
terrain. You have two mountain peaks with other rocky hillsides around them that are
right next to the rail-line that Sherman absolutely needs, so this is good defensive ground if
you’re Joseph Johnston. This is a great time to slam the breaks on this campaign, slow things
down, and test Sherman’s patience, perseverance, and willpower to continue on. This is
a very famous photograph taken after the fighting around Kennesaw, but it shows some of the trenches
around the mountain that compose what many historians call the Kennesaw Line. For Union
and Confederate forces starting on June 19th, 1864, these two armies are going to settle
in around Kennesaw Mountain and a daily grind of skirmishing every day, picket firing
every day, the threat of death from artillery shells, or a sniper’s bullet, every day, will commence. This is the view from
Kennesaw Mountain itself. It’s about 700 feet high, about 1800 feet above sea level. You
can see a lot of the ground of the Atlanta Campaign here; just a beautiful view, I just mostly
threw this in there for the beautiful view. But back to this theme of stagnation and skirmishing.
These are actually some replica earthworks that have been built right near Kennesaw Mountain
at a place called Gilgal Church Battlefield. Some of the skirmishing, fighting taking place around Kennessaw, one
of the fights was at Gilgal Church. And it gives you an idea of what these soldiers are
working with every day. These are logs stacked up six feet high, there are sometimes head
logs on top providing a nice little window through which to fire at your opponent, but
these are the trenches that soldiers will be occupying around the fighting around Kennesaw Mountain,
on this Kennesaw Line. And during this fighting it’s taking a tremendous toll on soldiers
of both sides. One soldier, a quartermaster in the 125th Illinois, wrote home to his wife
in early June saying, “This is now the 35th day of this campaign and we have advanced
into the enmey’s territory 108 miles,” it’s a slight exaggeration there but we can’t blame
him for that, “constantly driving the enemy. There has been some pretty bad fighitng and
a good many men lost. We are now 32 miles from Atlanta. We may stay here a few days
to let the troops rest for they are almost all worn out. There may be some hard fighting
before we get to Atlanta, but I think if we get there we will stop for some time.” On the
opposite side of the campaign a lieutenant colonel in the 43rd Mississippi who wrote
his wife a series of very detailed, intricate letters during the Atlanta Campaign. Through
these letters we see a picture, not of soldiers who are demoralized, but soldiers who are still
hoping for a chance to strike back against what they see as the enemy invader, the Yankee invader who is
on Southern soil. In early June, Lieutenant Colonel Columbus Sykes wrote, “The heroic fortitude,
unflinching courage, and patient endurance of the men amid the dangerous toils, privations, hardships,
midday and midnight marches of a campaig,n which is now at the end of its sixth week
and will probably continue as much longer, is not only wonderful, but will excite admiration
in the most stoical and unfeeling heart. It is said that General Johnston has said that
this is the best and bravest army he ever saw.” We have frustration growing on both sides,
mostly on the side of William Tecumseh Sherman. He’s many, many miles from his supply base,
his supply lines are reaching all the way up into Nashville in Tennessee, and he realizes that
he can’t stay here forever. So he begins trying to, once again, outflank Joseph Johnston. Unfortunately
for Sherman, he runs into a little problem, and that problem is named John Bell Hood.
John Bell Hood was placed on the southern end of the Confederate line on June 22nd, 1864
in a defensive position but, much like here at Gettysburg, Hood decides he’s taking an
aggressive role that day. He’s going to be attacking forward and he attacks directly
into Sherman’s flanking attempt and the Battle of Kolb’s Farm is the result. Now there’s,
again, not an exorbitant amount of casualties that day, certainly not when compared to Gettysburg
and Spotsylvania. There’s about 1500 Confederate casualties, maybe a few hundred Union casualties,
but it’s a very fierce fight. Here we have a map of Kolb’s Farm showing Hood’s two divisions,
Stevenson and Hindman charging right into the Union 20th Corps commanded by Joseph Hooker,
another man from the Civil War’s Eastern Theater. but what this does, more than on a tactical
level, but on a broader strategic level for the campaign, for Kennesaw Mountain, is this sends a message to William Tecumseh Sherman. It tells Sherman that Johnston is defending
his left flank. He has John Bell Hood down there on the left flank making sure that no
one can get around it. So for Sherman, perhaps moving around Johnston’s position will not work
this time. Perhaps he needs to take a different approach. Two days later, on June 24th, 1864,
Sherman orders an assault at Kennessaw Mountain in what is known as Special Orders 28. In
the days leading up to that he had been dispatching back and forth between the various generals
in his army, and through these dispatches it had become clear to Sherman that his own lines were
very thin, they were very stretched out, and everywhere they were moving they were meeting
Confederates. So let’s put ourselves in Sherman’s shoes here; if we have more men than our opponent
has and our own lines are thin and stretched out, and everywhere we’re going we’re meeting
Confederates that might suggest what? That might suggest that if you’re Joseph Johnston, your lines are stretched incredly thin and perhaps, they are so thin, that there might
be a vulnerability there, there might be a chance to break through. George Thomas wrote to
Sherman on the morning of June 24th, the morning he issued his orders to attack: “The troops
are much fatigued in consequence of the continuous operations of the last three or four days.
Howard’s and Palmer’s fronts are now so much extended that it will be exceedingly difficult
for them to mass a sufficient number of men to make an effective move.” Sherman’s response,
somewhat sarcastic: “I suppose the enemy, with his smaller force, intends to surround us, but
I propose to study the ground well and the day after tomorrow break through after letting
Johnston develop his line as much as possible.” And thus we have Special Orders 28, Sherman’s
decision to attack at Kennesaw Mountain – one of the most heavily criticized decisions of
Sherman’s military career. He orders two primary assaults. The secondary assault, we can call
it, will take place with men of the Army of the Tennessee attacking against what is known as Pigeon
Hill in Little Kennesaw mountain. Little Kennesaw, the smaller of the two peaks at Kennesaw Mountain,
and just south of Little Kennesaw is a very rocky hilltop known as Pigeon Hill. I have
read that it is named Pigeon Hill because of pigeons stopping there on their migration
patterns after the war. I don’t know if that is true or not but for those of you wondering
where the name Pigeon Hill comes from that is one possible answer. That is one attack
which Sherman intends to launch. The main attack, however, is going to be south of there.
I was speaking with a gentleman before the program who said that until he went to Kennesaw
Mountain, he didn’t realize that a lot of the fighting actually took place south of the mountain
and I think that’s a very common perception. And thus, Sherman’s main attack is not at the main
mountain peak itself, it is actually a few miles south where George Thomas and the Army
of the Cumberland will amass about 10-12,000 men and send them directly towards Confederate lines,
trying to punch through what Sherman hopes is a thin and weakened Confederate front.
Why does he do it? It’s a question historians and veterans of the assault have been asking
ever since it was made. One answer is frustration. He’s mad, he’s tired of this stalemate around
Kennesaw. He wants to continue on to Atlanta. Another answer: worries over supply lines.
Sherman’s dispatches at that time were filled with concerns over how much his men were going
to get to eat. How he was going to continue to bring supplies all the way down that rail
line towards his armies. And of course the obvious answer would be he simply wants to
end the campaign. He’s hoping to break through Johnston’s lines, perhaps overwhelm the Confederate
Army, and force an end to the campaign before he even gets to Atlanta. On June 26th, the
day before the battle, Sherman provided some insight into his decision making in a letter
he wrote home to his wife: “We have worked our way forward until we are in close contact,
constant skirmishing, and picket firing. Johnston is afraid to come at us and we have been cautious
and dashing against his breastworks that are so difficult to understand in this hilly and
wooded country. My lines are ten miles long and every change necessitates a larger amount
of work. Still we are now all ready, and I must attack directly or turn the position.
Both will be attended with loss and difficulty but one or the other must be attempted.” In
the coming days there will be preparations for battle around kennesaw mountain. Many
soldiers in the Union Army were kept in the dark, they were not told of the plan to attack
immediately. The idea was that secrecy was the key to this assault. But nonetheless, men
began to have the sense that there was an impending battle. Private John Swanson from
Illinois wrote in his diary that, “a big battle is unquestionably at hand. This afternoon
there was another furious cannonade.” One Alabama soldier William McMillian wrote in his diary
that, “we are well entrenched now and we have plenty loose rocks and I think it would
take more Yankees than you could pack into a fifty acre field to move us from our position.”
He went on to write that the sight of these Union soldiers made him very angry as he saw
them as, “destroying our beautiful fields and the peaceful homes of our countrymen, and it
takes something from the beauty of the scene.” Well this feeling that there was an impending
assault taking place it wasn’t only in the men in the ranks. None other than General
Hardee himself, one of the corps commanders in Johnston’s army wrote home on June 26th,
the day before this attack was to take place, “My lines are strong and I feel perfectly confident of
whipping the Yankees whenever and howsoever they come.” Years after the battle, Sergeant
Stewart Nixon of the 52nd Ohio recalled the evening before the assault, writing: “There was
such a beautiful sunset that evening. The trees and woods seemed touched and set on
fire. I thought of the burning bush but it had come back to me as one of the loveliest
pictures of memory. Jest and laughter was heard from the groups gathered here and there
to wile away the time, while nothing seemed to disturb the steady stroke of an easygoing
heart.” I thought before we talked about the battle specifically we could hear some words
on Kennesaw Mountain from a man who certainly had a major role to play here at the Battle
of Gettysburg. While i’ve been working on a project on Kennesaw Mountain over the past
months, I’ve been working at Antietam or working at Gettysburg. Well Oliver O.
Howard was the only man who was at Antietam, at Gettysburg, and Kennesaw so he was kind of
a nice way for me to keep my sanity while working on three different campaigns. But
Howard had some things to say on Kennesaw Mountain, comparing it to the action that took place here at Gettysburg.
He wrote: “The whole line,” the Kennesaw Line, “was stronger in artificial contrivances and natural features than
the cemetery at Gettysburg.” Cemetery Hill here. “The complete works, the slashings in front and the difficulties
of the slope towards us under the full sweep of crossfire made the position almost impregnable.
For reasons similar to those which induced Lee to strike twice for Little Round Top, Sherman ordered
an assault here with the hope of carrying the southern slope of Kennesaw, or penetrating
Johnston’s long line at some weak point.” Here we have a map showing the general assaults
of June 27th, the day of Kennesaw Mountain. As you can see, there are to be some skirmishing
attacks at Big Kennesaw, the main peak of the mountain, a secondary assault with John Logan’s
15th Corps attacking against Little Kennesaw and Pigeon Hill, and the main assault; men from
the Union Army of the Cumberland attacking against the center of the Confederate line.
So let’s begin to the north at Big Kennesaw Mountain. This is a very famous painting, it
looks a little dark here, but it’s a very famous painting showing the Battle of Kennesaw
Mountain and, of course, you can see quite prominently Big Kennesaw, the main peak there. Now why, you
might ask, is there skirmishing there at all? Why not just reserve all of the men for the
main attacks? Well, if you’re William Tecumseh Sherman or James McPherson, commander of the
Army of the Tennessee, you might want to send skirmishers against Big Kennesaw, number one,
believing that perhaps the line was so weak there they might be able to take the summit. Perhaps
Johnston believed that the terrain there was so strong that he didn’t really need to place
that many men there. Another reason is you want to distract Johnston, you want to
prevent him from allocating his resources to block the main assaults. So on the morning
of June 27th at 8 AM a furious cannonade begins with Union gunners blasting Confederates across
the Kennesaw Line. Several hundred skirmishers from various Union regiments begin scampering
up the slopes of Big Kennesaw. There’s going to be about four hundred combined Union casualties
on Kennesaw Mountain out of the few thousand men who are sent in the skirmishing attacks
there, but the main assault for the Army of the Tennessee, what we can call the secondary
assault overall, takes place at Pigeon Hill and Little Kennesaw. Now this is a photograph
on top of Little Kennesaw Mountain. There were Confederate artillery pieces up there, much to the credit
of the strong Confederate gunners, who pulled them up there; it certainly wasn’t an easy
feat. The fighting at Little Kennesaw and Pigeon Hill. Roughly 5,500 Union soldiers attacking
against about 11,000 Confederates, and these are 11,000 Confederates who have trenches, who
have had several days to prepare these trenches, and they are on top of rocky hillsides and wooded
slopes. So certainly this is a very difficult task. As Captain Aldus Skilton of the 57th
Ohio wrote, “This column has been selected as a forlorn hope and we are expected to carry
the enemy’s works in our front.” That morning before going into battle, captain Jacob Augusten
of the 55th Illinois wrote in his diary of his skepticism about the assault: “Our division
takes the lead, now may God protect the right in doubting our success.” As these union soldiers
began trying to scamper up the slopes of Kennesaw Mountain, excuse me, Little Kennesaw and Pigeon
Hill, there were three attacking brigades in this assault: Giles Smith, Jacob Lightburn, Joseph
Lightburn, excuse me, and Charles Walcott. again about 5,500 Union soldiers. And the ground
they’re attacking against, just to give you a sense of it, these are some of the lines
held by the Confederates. This is one of the trenchlines you can still see today, on top of Pigeon
Hill. It still looks like a strong defensive position 150 years later, because it was. Private
Joseph Dresch of 83rd Ohio: “The steeps of the mountain slopes were so rough and encumbered
with huge rocks that we found it impossible to ascend far up under such a galling fire as they
continued to pour into us. The scene of this day’s fight beggars all description. The ground
all around the mountain is exceedingly rough: deep ravines, steep hills, sloughs, open fields, and thickets are intermingled together in indescribable confusion.
Over such and all of these we had to charge so that it was difficult to tell our position
or to see from what corner danger threatened us the most.” Many of these trenches atop Pigeon
Hill were held by the brigade of Francis Cockerell. These are Missouri soldiers. Now, interestingly
enough, some of the Union soldiers attacking against this position were also from the state
of Missouri, so here this is one example in the Civil War where we have men from the same
state on two separate sides fighting against one another. Among those Missourians who sided with the South,
with the Confederacy, was Lieutenant Joseph Boyce of the 1st and 4th Missouri. Atop pigeon
Hill, firing down into the ranks of men of his state, he later wrote, “It was really
sickening to see those brave fellows struggling up that valley. Our infantry did not return
their rammers as usual after loading, but stuck them in the ground and snatched them up when
wanted to save time. No troops could stand long such a concentrated fire.” Opposite of Francis
Cockerell we have another picture here; that is Colonel Americus Rice of the 57th Ohio.
Now earlier that day before the attack, Rice was one of several officers who was called
to his brigade commander’s headquarters, to receive his orders for the attack, and he received a sort of pep talk there at the headquarters.
One of those present later remarked that while several of those at the meetings would ended
up being killed or wounded on the slopes of Little Kennesaw and Pigeon Hill, one of those
was Americus Rice. He received several wounds one of them a severe wound in his right leg,
which was actually near a wound he had received at Vicksburg one year before. When he was taken
back to a field hospital it was decided that the wound necessitated an amputation, and
during that surgery he actually woke up and had to deal with the pain of overcoming that.
But, in perhaps what is, in my opinion, the more important part of that story, he didn’t stop
serving his country. He ran for Congress, served in Congress in the 1870s, and he could have
said I did my part and that’s that. I suffered all of this pain and all of these horrible
things but he kept on, he continued on, he served as a Democrat from Ohio in the 1870s, and I
believe he lived into the 20th century as well. By 10 AM this attack at Pigeon Hill
had largely fallen out. Many of these soldiers were unable to gain their objectives that
day. They had no choice but to fall back down the steep slopes of Little Kennesaw and Pigeon Hill.
In this attack there were nearly 600 casualties in two hours. 600 casualties spread over three
brigades, that’s roughly 200 casualties per brigade. that’s about what the Irish Brigade lost at
Gettysburg on July 2nd. In his report, one of the Confederate officers who was there
at Little Kennesaw wrote, “In less than two hours the enemy was repulsed with great slaughter
along our entire front and retreated in confusion leaving a number of prisoners and many dead
and wounded on the field.” Again, just to give you a sense, the main assault, which is taking
place at this same time, occurs a little ways to the south, and that occurs at a place known
today as Cheatham Hill. Now it was not known as Cheatham Hill before the Battle of Kennesaw
Mountain, it is known as Cheatham Hill for one of the most famous Confederate officers
in the Western Theater of the Civil War, Benjamin Franklin Cheatham. Cheatham’s division of
Hardee’s corps held this position along the Confederate line, as did the division of Patrick
Cleburne, another very famous Confederate officer in the Western Theater of the Civil War. Again,
this was the largest Federal assault, the fiercest fighting at Kennesaw Mountain. There will be
five Federal brigades from the 4th and the 14th Corps sent foward against this position.
Here we have the five Federal brigades. And these Confederates at Cheatham Hill, they didn’t
have the advantage of steep slopes. Certainly it’s a hill, but it’s nothing when compared
to Big Kennesaw, Little Kennesaw, and Pigeon Hill. They don’t have the advantage of steep
slopes and rocks, what they do have are very strong trenches and very strong impediments that they
have built. They have cut down trees, saplings, sharpened them together, wired them together,
and formed a dense mass of thickets and spikes, the likes of which these Union soldiers do
not want to be going through. One Arkansas soldier, William Barnes, later wrote: “We
had cut down and placed in our front hundred of black jack saplings as abatis, cutting off
the tips of the limbs with our jackknives and whittling the limbs so sharp and close
it would have been an uphill business for even a rabbit to crawl through.” Again, this
is just a view of some of the earthworks along Cheatham and Cleburne’s position. these
are still preserved today at Kennesaw Mountain. They are some of the best preserved Civil
War earthworks of any battlefield in the country. Forming for the assault, many of these men
gathered up on hillsides opposite of the position, a large cannonade preceded the assault. There
were nerves in men in both sides. Here we have some of the cannons placed along Patrick
Cleburne’s front. The 4th Corps assault. you can see down here there’s a quote, “To Death
or A Southern Prison.” Those are the words of Private Jacob Andervount of the 19th Ohio
as he wrote in his diary of the attack that day. Now, the 19th Ohio wasn’t sent forward,
they were a reserve unit kept in readiness to be sent forward should they be needed.
But nonetheless, this private is standing there, watching men streaming back from this assault,
noting that they had charged forward that day towards either death or a Southern prison
with how strong the Confederate defenses were. Now this attack starts shortly before 9 AM, it doesn’t start quite as early as the
fighting to the north at Little Kennesaw and Pigeon Hill. In the moments before the attack began, there was a reporter from the Cincinati Daily Commercial who was with some of the Union soldiers. And he wrote, “During the brief respite that ensued before the word ‘charge’ was given, the men rested silently in their places, and no
one could have guessed from their undisturbed faces that all the latent gallantry of their
natures could be aroused and lashed into a fury of heroism during the next ten minutes.” Private
Barnes who we heard from just a few minutes ago, in the 1st Arkansas recalled from
the moment when the attack began, seeing the Union soldiers coming into the Confederate line
of fire: “If any command was ever given for us to commence firing, I never heard it. It sounded as though we had a hundred
cannon instead of eight or ten, and such regularity, one would think they were on parade drill,
scattering canister, grape, shrapnel, and short fire bombs and the like, our infantry shot
for execution. Well the Yanks got as far as the gully in the ravine which seemed at that
time the healthiest place. One would imagine Vesuvius had moved over to the
Confederate States of America and opened up business on Kennesaw Mountain.” Amongst those Union soldiers running toward the Confederate lines was Henry Gillman Shed of the 97th Ohio,
who wrote: “The bullets, grape, and canister shot flew amazingly thick and fast it seemed
almost impossible for any of us to escape.” Captain Robert Davis Smith on the staff of
Patrick Cleburne later wrote: “The slaughter was terrific as our troops literally mowed
them down.” One captain from Kentucky, the 3rd Kentucky, a Union regiment, took shelter under
the parapet, the Confederate earthworks, with guns blazing away just inches from his head.
He later wrote: “The concussions from the enemy’s cannon nearly unjointed my neck and the heat from them burnt my face.” Among those soldiers who went forward against the Confederate line was Brigadier General
Charles Harker, all of 28 years old, a graduate of West Point, and a colonel in the 66th Ohio
earlier in the war. Harker had been offered a spot on Oliver Howard’s staff, he had actually
been offered his chief of staff spot, when Oliver Howard took command of the 4th Corps in the Army of the Cumberland, and
he turned it down, and of course Howard was upset that he wouldn’t have Harker working
with him that closely, but he respected his decision. He later wrote: “He had independence
of character and uprightness of conduct.” He also wrote of Harker, “Whenever anything difficult
was to be done, anything that required pluck and energy, we called on Harker.” While this federal
assault is failing, while it is lagging, while the men are starting to stop and retreat, Harker, riding a white
horse, he had had horses shot out from under him four other times during the war, takes
his hat on his hand, charges forward on his horse, and is just feet from the Confederate
lines when he is felled by a bullet. It pierces his arm, enters into his torso, and he is carried
back from the lines mortally wounded. He would die later that day. He had only received his
Brigadier General’s commission, the letter with his commission in it, just 20 days before.
One officer who was good friends with Harker later wrote: “He the brave and pure hearted has gone
to his rest. He was a noble sacrifice for the noblest of causes.” While this fighting
is taking place with the 4th Corps soldiers to the south, there is perhaps the most famous
assault at Kennesaw Mountain; the fighting taking place around what is known today
simply as the “Dead Angle.” Now it is known as this for various reasons, there was a lot of fierce
fighting, a lot of death, a lot of suffering that occurred here, it was also a flaw with
this position because the Confederate line on this salient here, on this ridge, was built
on the natural crest of the hill, not the military crest. This meant that looking downhill there
was a blind spot. It didn’t have an open field of fire the entire way,
we might say. And this is where men of the 14th Corps, the brigades of John Mitchell and
Colonel Daniel McCook, charged forward towards Confederate lines. Mitchell’s brigade charged
across a stream, a branch of the John Ward Creek and up against the Dead Angle with several hundred casualties, but the more
famous of these attacks is that of Dan McCook’s. So that’s what we’re going to talk about a little
bit more here. This is the stream through which these Union soldiers pressed on their way
up towards the Angle, but before they began their assault that day, Dan McCook, this 29-year-old colonel, from a family known as the Fighting McCook’s because so many of their
fathers, brothers, and cousins had served in the Union army. The Fighting McCooks, it sounds like a high school mascot doesn’t
it? Well so many of them had served in the army that they’re a very noted family. We
have this 29-year-old colonel who before the war had been a law partner of William Tecumseh
Sherman in Kansas. He’s a very odd fellow to be in this position; what he did was what
very few other officers would do in such circumstances, he recited poetry. He recited a stanza
from “Horatius” by Thomas Macaulay. Standing in front of his men with cannon shot echoing
above their heads, the order to go forward into combat is going to be given at any moment, and this guy is reciting a poem. “Then out
spake brave Horatius/ The Captain of the Gate:/ To every man upon this earth/ Death cometh
soon or late./ And how can man die better/ Than facing fearful odds,/ For the ashes of his fathers,/
And the temples of his gods.” One of the soldiers present called it a heathen refrain, but noted
that it did a good job of stirring up their patriotic spirit, getting them ready to charge
into battle. And no sooner had he spoken these words that the order to charge forward came, the men
plunged down through a ravine, across the branch of the John Ward Creek, and uphill against the Dead
Angle. Lieutenant Colonel James Langely in McCook’s brigade wrote the following: “A few
minutes before nine, the command forward was given and responded to by the brave men of the brigade
with the will and determination to succeed where success was possible. On and up the
brave men rushed with their gallant leader at the head until some of them reached the
base of the enemy’s parapet. Nothing daunted, they struggled to scale the works in their
effort to do this some were knocked down with stones and clubs hurled at them by the enemy.”
In the Confederate lines one of the brigades was commanded by Alfred Vaughn, who later
wrote: “Never did men charge into the very jaws of death with a firmer tread or more
determination than did the Federals to this attack.” J.T. Holmes, a major in the 52nd Ohio,
later compared this to men charging forward into a sleet storm, leaning forward as the
bullets were flying into them. Now that to me sounds similar to some of the Confederate
accounts describing Pickett’s Charge. Lieutenant William Trask, a Louisianan, later wrote: “They
advanced with a gallantry worthier of a better cause.” Once they got up to the Angle itself,
an onslaught of shot and shell is pouring into their ranks. One of the Confederates
at the Angle is Private Sam Watkins. A very famous veteran of the war, he wrote one of
the most famous accounts of the war, “Company Aytch” an account of his time in the 1st
Tennessee Infantry, which was positioned at the exact point of this salient at the dead
angle, looking down the hill towards the attacking Union soldiers. This photograph is actually
taken from what is the Illinois Monument at Kennesaw Battelfield, dedicated in 1914. One hundred
years ago this year, fifty years after the battle. Looking back on the fighting that day, Watkins wrote the following: “It seemed impossible to check the onslaught but every man was true
to his trust and seemed to think that at that moment the whole responsibility of the entire
Confederate government was rested upon his shoulders. Talk about other battles, victories,
shouts, cheers, and triumphs but in comparison with this day’s fight, all others dwarf into
insignificance.” Watkins went on to write that he had heard men talk after battles that they
weren’t sure if they killed a man in that fight. But this was never a doubt for any of
the Confederates who were at the Dead Angle. No doubt, it was a bit of an exaggeration when
Watkins who wrote that each man in his regiment killed from 20 to 100 Yankees, but it tells
us of the certainty these men had, firing into direct targets advancing uphill against them,
marching, into what seemed to be a certain death. At the Dead Angle itself we have two fallen
officers. Here we have Dan McCook, who jumps on top of the parapet putting his foot atop of the headlog in the Confederate trench, trying to shove it down, while bayonets are coming up at him. A musket
is raised, fired directly into his chest as he falls backwards off the parapet. He would
survive for several weeks. He died on july 17th, 1864, just five days short of his 30th
birthday. And as soon as McCook falls, Colonel Oscar Harmon of the 125th Illinois, he takes
command of the brigade just moments before he is killed instantly by a wound to the head.
Oscar Harmon had written a letter to his wife the day before, telling her that he was the
most fortunate man in the world in having as good as a wife as her. And he also wrote: “If I fall, expect
me to fall in my proper place, then no blame can be attached to me.” By 10 AM it was fairly
apparent that this assault had failed. At the Dead Angle, many of these Union soldiers
fell back to the position roughly where this photograph was taken, not more than fifty yards
away from the Confederate trenches, and they began to dig makeshift earthworks to protect
themselves. It speaks to the soldiers’ experience in 1864, that they knew right away, they
had to dig in, they had to protect themselves from this heavy fire coming directly at them. While
these soldiers are doing this, trying to hang on, dispatches are being fired back
and forth across the Federal lines from one general to another, trying to inform Sherman
of what is taking place. And by noon it had become, excuse me, shortly after 1 o’clock, it
had become apparent to Sherman that this was not going as he had planned. Thomas told him
several times of the heavy losses taking place in his brigades. Shortly after 2 o’clock, he
reported to Sherman, “My officers report that the enemy’s works exceedingly strong, in fact
so strong that they cannot be carried by assault except by immense sacrifice, even if they can
be carried at all.” He went on writing, “We have already lost heavily today without gaining
any material advantage. One or two more such assaults would use up this army.” Sherman of
course was dismayed by this, he still wanted Thomas to launch another assault, but by that
evening he had accepted the realities of what took place that day. He compared it to
the fighting taking place in the East, in Virginia, noting that the casualties were not as high
as those that were occurring in the East. On the night of the 27th, reflecting on the
day Joseph Johnston, on the Confederate side, sent a dispatch to Richmond writing: “The enemy advanced upon our whole
line today. Their loss is supposed to be great; ours is known to be small.” While these dispatches
are going back and forth and we understand things from the commanding general’s perspective,
what about the perspective of these men who made the assault? What is going on for
the human cost of this attack at Kennesaw Mountain? We can see it clearly in the words
of Claiborne Walton, a surgeon, a Union surgeon who was day after day, night after night was dealing
with the consequences of war. He wrote home to his wife on June 29th: “I am sick, yes sick
and tired of bloodshed. Weary and worn out with it. We have been on this campaign 56
days and it has been almost one continued scene of carnage from one day to another.
I am not out much of the groans of the wounded from morning till night. My hands are constantly
steeped in blood.” He went on writing: “The horror of this war can never be half told. Citizens
at home can never know one-fourth part of the misery brought about by this terrible
rebellion.” Across the battlefield there was death and suffering. This is a famous sketch
of a truce along the line during the fighting on the 27th. In front of Patrick Cleburne’s
division, some of these Confederate guns that had been belching forth the shot and shell,
flames coming from their muzzles actually set fire to some of the wooden earthworks.
Well for the wounded Federal soldiers they were trapped in this inferno, and in a moment
of humanity, Colonel William Martin of the 1st and 15th Arkansas raised a white flag,
stood atop the parapet, and shouted, “Boys, this is butchery!” He actually called a halt so
they could drag these wounded and dying men out of the way of these flames. It’s a rare
moment of humanity in what was a very inhumane attack that day. Across the lines this was
noted as a very severe assault, men were left out in the heat that day, it was perhaps
100 degrees that day by many different accounts. These soldiers were exposed to the heat, the
sunshine, the humidity, and the shot and shell of Confederate guns. And this also speaks to the experience
of soldiers in combat in 1864. I believe a few weeks ago, my colleague John Hoptak spoke
about the Battle of the Crater in the Petersburg Campaign. Well what happened there was Union
soldiers were digging a trench under Confederate lines and they were going to set off an explosion
and blast a hole in the Confederate position which they eventually did. Well here
along the Kennesaw Line, in the days after the attack when there are soldiers still pinned
down, some of them in makeshift trenches near the Confederate position, wouldn’t
you know it but some of the soldiers get the same idea. And this is not coming from Sherman,
this is not coming from Thomas, it’s coming from lower in the ranks. Men are trying to dig a hole under the Confederate lines;
part of that hole still exists today. They were going to tunnel underneath and the plan
was, by the Fourth of July, they were going to set it off and give the Confederates an
old fashioned Fourth of July celebration. That’s how one Ohioan described it. Well
they’re digging this trench for several days, by July 3rd, they were within 20 feet of
the Confederate position. And on the morning of July 3rd, Union soldiers awoke and peered out from
their lines only to see that the Confederates had vacated their trenches. Well
what’s going on with this? While these soldiers were pinned down on the Kennesaw Line, while
they were still suffering the effects of the charge at Kennesaw Mountain, Sherman was not
dismayed by the results that day and instead he decided to go back to his previous pattern.
He was determined to, at this point, separate from the railroad once again believing that
the lesser of two evils when compared to launching an attack such as that of the 27th. He was
prepared to gather supplies, break away from the railroad, and swing entirely around Johnston’s position,
hoping to reach the Chattahoochee River if possible. Well Johnston and his men, they picked
up on this on July 2nd, and Johnston ordered another retreat in the face of Sherman’s army.
He decided to fall back from this exceedingly strong Kennesaw Mountain position and thus
we have a return to flanking. Several days after the battle, Johnston had left Kennesaw,
and Sherman was once again pushing his way closer to Atlanta. By July 7th and 8th,
Johnston had taken position on the last geographic barrier between the Federals and Atlanta, and
that is the Chattahoochee River just north of Atlanta. On July 9th, Johnston decided he
was going to fall back because Sherman had crossed men both upstream and downstream from
his position. He had no choice but to fall back from the river once again. Here we have
Union soldiers crossing over the Chattahoochee. For some of these men this is the first time
to have a chance to bathe in several weeks they had been engaged in the deadly combat
of the Hell Hole in Georgia, the fighting, the skirmishing, the daily killing along the Kennesaw Line,
and the heat grime bloodshed of battle at Kennesaw Mountain itself. Sherman of course
according to one account got in the river and bathed with some of his soldiers. By mid-July
Sherman had zeroed in on Atlanta, encircling the city. Because of his patterns of retreat, Joseph Johnston was relieved of his command by Jefferson Davis and none other than John
Bell Hood took his place. Hood launched several fierce assaults against Union forces around
the city but they were not successful. On September 2nd, Sherman captured the city of
Atlanta. Hood moved north into Northern Georgia, hoping to lure Sherman to follow him, which
he did for a while, he obliged him for a short while, until Sherman decided to set his sights
south once again and launch his very famous or infamous, depending on where you grew up,
March to the Sea. And here we have a sketch of Sherman and his men marching triumphantly
in Savannah in late 1864.Aagain i’m sure for many of you Sherman’s March the Sea has always
been his most his biggest claim to fame. but we are left with a question: what role did
Kennesaw Mountain have in all this? we have the fall of Atlanta, this tremendously important,
event the March to the Sea. But we have this small fight, a relatively small fight, at Kennesaw
Mountain on June 27th, 1864, and it’s a weird story because Kennesaw Mountain was without
a doubt a Confederate victory. Union forces completely failed to meet their objectives
that day. They suffered over 3,000 casualties; Johnston suffered just a few hundred, and yet
it’s a Confederate victory in the midst of this broader campaign, so how do we make sense
of this? This is a question I’ve asked myself many times. Well for the Confederate side,
Kennesaw Mountain was Johnston’s last best chance to stop Sherman’s army. It was a strong
geographic barrier, it was a good defensive position. On the same day of the Battle at
Kennesaw Mountain, Johnston sent a dispatch to Braxton Bragg in Richmond: “I have been unable
so far to stop the enemy’s progress by gradual approaches on account of his numerous army and character of the
country which is favorable to his method. Our best mode of operating against him would
be to use strong parties of cavalry to cut his railroad communications. Our own cavalry
is so weak compared with that of the Federal army that I have been unable to do it. If
you could employ cavalry in that way quickly, great benefit must result from it: probably Sherman’s speedy
discomfiture.” Now what Johnston was saying was, “I’m probably not going to be able to stop
him at this point. He’s under 30 miles from Atlanta, so there’s not much more that I can
do. I need help from Richmond. I need help from elsewhere to attack these long exposed
supply lines along this railroad to stop the federal advance.” Well from Richmond’s perspective
they did not have help to give. The Confederacy was stretched thin and certainly Johnston
and Davis’s poor working relationship was not going to help anything either. Josiah Gorgas,
the Chief of Ordnance in Richmond wrote in his diary a few days after Kennesaw: “No striking
military events have occurred if we accept that Johnston telegraphs he repulsed a general
attack of the enemy with supposed heavy losses. There are no particulars and I have little
confidence in the state of affairs in that quarter.” Thus for the Confederates, this was
a Confederate victory, yet Sherman’s presence needed more to repulse the Federal army for
being that close to Atlanta. Perhaps we might say it’s too little too late for Johnston.
What’s clear is that there were rewards of victory for Johnston but he and his army, for
various reasons, were unable to seize those rewards but thus watched as they withered on
the vine instead. So for the Confederates, we might say that Kennesaw Mountain is an episode
of tragedy because it is a Confederate victory, yet, it does not lead to a strong counter-offensive.
It’s not a battle such as Seven Pines in 1862 which completely stops the Federal advance
and gives an opportunity for a Confederate counter-attack. Instead, it is simply a temporary
stop to the Federal advance. On the union side, what did this mean for Sherman and his
army? Well without a doubt this is a mistake for Sherman. This is not his finest hour and
historians ever since have noted that with many many words. It was a mistake to attack
at Kennesaw Mountain. He had his reasons to make the attack; it was a failure in many
ways. In a June 30th letter to his wife, Sherman wrote: “It is enough to make the whole world
start at the awful amount of death and destruction that now stalks abroad. Daily for the
past two months has the work progressed and I see no signs of a remission to one or both
and all the armies are destroyed when I suppose the balance of the people will tear each other
up. I begin to regard the death and mangling of a couple thousand men as a small affair
a kind of morning dash, and it may well be that we become so hardened. Each day has killed
or wounded some valuable officers and men, the bullets coming from a concealed foe.” For
Sherman, Kennesaw Mountain was a failure. It was a failure that taught him the folly of
frontal attacks. Never again would he launch such a frontal assault. Instead, he decided,
rather than attacking fortified Confederate lines, he would attack the heart of the Confederacy
itself: Atlanta, rail-lines, factories, things that did not cost such a heavy price for his
own men. And certainly we can say that Sherman was a man who had failed before. Perhaps we
could say there were few other officers in the Civil War who were better prepared than Sherman
to deal with failure. This is a man who had failed in his personal life, he had failed in his professional
life, he had failed in his military life. In late 1861, he was called insane by a major newspaper in
Cincinnati and many a lesser man would have simply given up, but not Sherman. He was good at finding
ways to overcome these difficulties. That is what he did after Kennesaw Mountain. And
lastly we have the cost of Kennesaw Mountain. Now what i’ve tried to do here today is draw
a few parallels between what I’m sure many of you are more familiar with, the fighting
in the Eastern Theater, the fighting here at Gettysburg, and some of what occurred out West at places
such as Kennesaw Mountain. Because while we’re talking about a battle that took place many
miles away in Georgia in 1864, there are many similarities, there are many common themes
about the experience of war. The experience of these common men called to do extraordinary
things in very difficult circumstances. We have here a photograph of three soldiers in
the 1st Tennessee, three brothers. James Brandon, here on the left, Edmund Brandon, Alexander
Brandon, and there was a fourth brother, Charles Brandon who was captured during Pickett’s
Charge here at Gettysburg. When thinking of such losses, the words of Walter Clark, a sergeant
in the 26th Georgia, might come to mind who upon calling the roll of his regiment on the
night of June 27th wrote: “Standing beside the breastworks on that summer evening under the
shadow of the grim and silent Kennesaw with twilight deepening into night there were shadows
on all our hearts as well. Shadows that stretched beyond us and fell on hearths and hearthstones
far away, shadows that rest there still and never lifted.” Here we have a marker for Sergeant
Coffey. Copernicus Coffey killed on June 27th. Well his mother did not receive a letter
telling her of her son’s death until early August, when these two armies were settled
outside of Atlanta in siege warfare. The sergeant wrote home to the mother telling her: “You are
his mother and I know how fondly you loved him. Your son Copernicus was killed
June 27th, 1864, cast in the assault on the rebel works. He fell like a brave soldier
gallantly fighting in defense of his country and for the most sacred rights of man.” Copernicus
Coffey was buried at the Marietta National Cemetery which is the resting place for near
10,000 Union soldiers who died during the Atlanta Campaign. Many of them died at Kennesaw
Mountain and on the Kennesaw Line. And in closing, I’ve come across many different
quotes describing the fighting at Kennesaw Mountain and the sacrifices of these soldiers,
but no quote has stood out for me as much as this from Lieutenant George Herlick the
14th Battery of Ohio Light Infantry, who wrote home to his wife in early July, telling her
of the sacrifices that had been made thus far in the campaign. “Need I tell you that we are
a weary, jaded, yet confident army. For four long weeks we have been within the sound of
cannon and musketry and the end is not yet near. In all history there is nothing that
will compare with this campaign of General Sherman’s. Here we are 125 miles away from
our base of our supplies. I darenot contemplate what would be the result should the enemy
destroy the railroad in our rear over which comes the food for both men and horses. But
I must not dream of anything but victory. It is certain that we have been thusfar successful
driving an immense army before us through their own country. Our losses have been severe,
many brave men and fallen in battle and many have died from disease. They have fallen in
defense of principles that will never die.” And lastly, to close with one more Gettysburg
connection for you, in case you’re not tired of it yet, there was one captain from the 52nd
Ohio, who years later was giving an address to some of his comrades, some of the fellow
veterans of Kennesaw Mountain who said: “The men of McCook’s brigade claimed that that day’s
work at Kennesaw entitles them to at least as much credit as has been accorded to George
Pickett’s men” of course, for Pickett’s Charge. “It may be considered by some too presuming
to compare this and Pickett’s Charge, but we venture to think not.” I want to thank everyone
for coming out to Gettysburg today for the Winter Lecture Series. If you have any questions
I’d be happy to do my best to try to answer them for you, again on behalf of everyone here at
Gettysburg, thank you. (Question from the audience) I still can’t understand, on June 26th and 27th, why Sherman, he knew that Hood had left the Confederate right flank and was down on the left. Wheeler was up there, a few of Loring’s men, why in the world didn’t he go back to the railroad where he started to go after Dallas and New Hope Church, and try to go around the North end of Kennesaw into Marietta and flank him that way and stay on his supply line? Well it’s a good question, why didn’t Sherman try to go around to the North rather than the South? (Dan Vermilya) I haven’t seen any conclusive thing where it’s like, ok, that’s why. I think in Sherman’s mind, he doesn’t want to risk the guns of Big Kennesaw, they make things difficult moving in that area, there is Confederate cavalry up there, his pattern of advance had been moving south and flanking Johnston to the south. There had been some heavy skirmishing up around there, places such as Noonday Creek, some heavy fights that perhaps had a similar effect on Sherman’s thinking as did the fighting at Kolb’s Farm. There’s really a variety of reasons, no one other than Sherman himself could answer that fully but I would answer by saying there is a variety of reasons. (Question from the audience)The officer that turned down the position on Howard’s staff, Harker? Was that becasue he might have a better chance of advancement with a field command, or was it Howard’s continuous religious fervor? Was that still a factor in perhaps distancing himself from his fellow officers? (Dan Vermilya) I do not know. I do not know why he turned it down, other than everything I’ve read about him states that he would rather be at the front fighting. (Question from audience) I know none of us like talking about failures in life, we like talking about our successes. I’m wondering, later in life, did Sherman ever address this issue from the 27th? (Dan Vermilya) He wrote about it in his memoirs he had a paragraph on it, I think I have it somewhere in my notes, he doesn’t talk about it too much. The same way Hood never really talks about Kolb’s Farm, which a lot of people were really mad at Hood for that. Sherman never really talks about it in any great detail, he wrote years later that he conferred with Schofield, Thomas, and McPherson before making the attack and everbody agreed that the lines were too spread out to do any more flanking, and he firmly believed that he had a chance to win. So it was more of a defensive backing up what he did, explaining what he did. He may have addressed it in a few comments here or there, but his memoirs was the most substantive statement on it. (Question from audience) At the beginning of your presentation, you mentioned the three most important battles, the Fall of Atlanta, Gettysburg, and Antietam. Still focusing on the South, how would you rank Vicksburg? Many historians feel it was one of the most important strategic battles, pretty much cutting the Confederacy in half. (Dan Vermilya) Well Vicksburg is right up there, certainly from a strategic standpoint, it’s as important as Gettysburg if not more important than Gettysburg. Considering the moral effect on the country, Gettysburg being so close to the capitals, being the bigger battle in terms of casualties, with the primary personalities, obviously it stands first and foremost in our remembrance of the war. But yeah, Vicksburg certainly right up there in the same group. (Question from the audience) Another thing that was very frustrating before the 27th was two weeks of incessant rain, I mean it was a nightmare.You couldn’t move, you were stuck in place, I’m sure that frustrated Sherman to no end. He couldn’t get his army on the go. (Dan Vermilya) This gentleman mentioned the heavy rain in June, 1864. One Union soldier wrote in his diary that the rain had caused the men to take the appearance not of Union soldiers, but of partly drowned rats. That’s how much it was raining every day. (Question from the audience) Do we know whether the Union was aware of how strong the breastworks and everything were up there? (Dan Vermilya) That’s a good question, I don’t think they were. Certainly Johnston had time to work on them, he had a lot of time to work on them, but all the reports coming back on the 27th to Sherman, especially from Thomas were that these are pretty strong earthworks. The attack at the Dead Angle, that specific place was chosen because the scouting work, or the preliminary work, suggested that there were not obstructions. There were not saplings cut and things like that in front of the Angle, which there were, they were just very close to the Confederate position. Alright, well thank you all very much.

Comments 21

  • Contrary to what the speaker says. O.O. Howard was not the only solider who was at Sharpsburg, Gettysburg, and Kennesaw Mountain. John Hood also participated in all three battles. 

  • Thanks Dan!

  • 5:12 .. Was that some sort of cheap shot?  Or am I just not hearing it right?

  • Antietam a great victory? A draw at best. Even strategically. Vicksburg bagged 30,000 Confederates, the campaign even more.

  • Grant and Sherman. The best commanders a 2-1 ratio of men and 3-1 in materiel can get you. Lost or commited big mistakes in every battle they fought at even odds.

  • 11.000 confederates at Pigeon Hill/Little Kennesaw? Nope. Two Brigades and elements of a 3rd. Maybe 3,500. The NPS claims 11,000 to make it seem more brave. They include confederate troops on the Mountain that did not have fields of fire on the attack, had only marginal contact, or were reserves sent to the area.

  • Serving as a congressman as a" duty" Says a lot about the NPS attitude towards politicians.

  • I live in the City of Atlanta and never knew about Kennesaw. I visited Gettysburg last year and Antideum before that.

  • Is it just me, or is this guy operating on the yankee myth of the great emancipator/honest Abe fighting for freedom bullsht?

    But he did call Sharpsburg "Antietam" like a true yankee.

  • My g-g-grandfather was with the 36th Ms Inf Reg and fought at Kennesaw Mt.

  • While I understand completely the criticism of Bragg, he wasn't the greatest commander by a mile, I am offended (I don't use that word lightly) he is treated as the butt of a joke by a 'serious' speaker. He is not the first one I've seen do this. General Bragg was a soldier fighting for his country and served it the best he could in the manner he thought best, his shortcomings were in his abilities & skill. He would have laid down his life for his country if it came to that. For that he should be remembered with a measure of respect.

  • 57:52 Instead of attacking military objectives like fortified lines Sherman would attack cities that had already surrendered…you left a couple off that list, like women & children.

  • No Vicksburg? GTFO

  • So many “lost causers” offended by the facts in the comment section.

  • There sure was a lot of fighting in vietnam, The North won.

  • Sure! Everyone says that BILL HOWES is JUST LIKE General Sherman. Even his war tactics recommended to The INVADING ~ALIENS~ is the same "Like" mentality. -Bill Howes humbly replies, "Oh you." -Richard Hoagland reporting for @cnnbrk @CBSNews @ABCNetwork @NBCNewYork @FoxNews

  • My great-great-grandfather's brother, Philip Dial, was in the 86th Illinois (Army of the Ohio), when he was killed at Kennesaw Mt.on June 27. My great-great grandfather, fortunately for me, had transferred in 1863 from the 86th Illinois to the Mississippi Marine Brigade. I just found all this out less than a month ago, so I was happy to listen to this wonderful presentation. I'll have to visit the battlefield and Philip's grave soon.

  • Our property in Marietta backed right up to the boundary of the battlefield park. There were still trench lines to be seen in our back yard and people would frequently ask to metal detect there.

  • What part did the weather play in Sherman's decision to fight at Kennesaw? Spring rain(early summer) and Georgia clay turns into a slurry that would stop a Jeep today. Did this affect his ability to flank the Confederate positions?

  • Or infamy, depends on which side you are partial to. Ref march to the sea.

  • excellent presentation thank you

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