Johnston defeats Sherman at Kennesaw Mountain

ttisbell@sunherald.comJune 28, 2014 

Having just reconnected with his vital supply line from Chattanooga, William T. Sherman's army advanced toward their prize, Atlanta. Sherman's path was blocked by Joseph E. Johnston's Army of Tennessee at Kennesaw Mountain near Marietta, Ga.

From the start of Sherman's campaign, Johnston initiated a defensive plan to block the Federals at strong strategic locations, retreating only after his position was flanked. This had occurred at Rocky Face Ridge, Resaca, New Hope Church, Pickett's Mill and Dallas.

President Jefferson Davis abhorred Johnston giving ground. Davis preferred Johnston to attack and destroy Sherman rather than cede territory. This difference in tactics was just another issue for Davis and Johnston to argue.

Johnston's tactics were having the desired effect on the Federals. Sherman lamented to Washington, "The whole country is one vast fort, and Johnston must have at least 50 miles of connected trenches with abatis and finished batteries. We gain ground daily, fighting all the time. . . Our lines are now in close contact and fighting incessant, with a good deal of artillery. As fast as we gain one position the enemy has another ready. ... Kennesaw ... is the key to the whole country."

At Kennesaw Mountain, Johnston had a network of trenches effectively blocking Sherman's path. Initially, Sherman attempted to maneuver around the Confederate right flank.

This time such a maneuver was blocked by John Bell Hood's corps at Kolb's farm. With maneuver seemingly out of the question, Sherman resolved to attack Johnston's entrenchments.

On June 27, 1864, a 200-gun Federal artillery barrage was unleashed to soften up the Confederate defensive line. After the barrage, George Thomas' Army of the Cumberland attacked the Confederate center held by William Hardee's men.

James B. McPherson's Army of the Tennessee attacked the Confederate left at Little Kennesaw Mountain defended by William Loring. John Schofield's Army of Ohio assaulted the Confederate right commanded by Hood.

While the Federals were repulsed all along the Confederate defensive line, fighting that occurred in the center, at an area called the Dead Angle, was most severe.

At the Confederate center, Patrick Cleburne and Frank Cheatham were dug in, bracing for the Federal attack. John Newton's division charged in two columns with one regiment following another.

Pushing their way past the Confederate abatis and even reaching the forward rifle pits, the Federals could go no further. Charles Harker, forming Newton's right, was repulsed. Harker attempted to personally lead his men forward in a second charge but was mortally wounded.

Jefferson Davis' Union division suffered a fate similar to Harker. Davis was pinned down at an angle in front of Cheatham. Daniel McCook Jr.'s brigade assaulted the angle.

One Federal soldier recalled, "The air seemed filled with bullets, giving the sensation of moving swiftly against a head wind and sleet storm."

McCook was mortally wounded when he was shot in the right lung as his men reached the entrenchments. Aside from McCook, the brigade lost nearly all of its field officers and one-third of its men during the melee.

Sherman's frontal assaults at Kennesaw Mountain cost the Union general 3,000 casualties while Johnston suffered 1,000. For five days, Union soldiers held their advanced position at Cheatham Hill but there was little fighting. With his attack repulsed, Sherman returned to maneuver his way to Atlanta.

The Sun Herald is pleased to provide this opportunity to share information, experiences and observations about what's in the news. Some of the comments may be reprinted elsewhere in the site or in the newspaper. We encourage lively, open debate on the issues of the day, and ask that you refrain from profanity, hate speech, personal comments and remarks that are off point. Thank you for taking the time to offer your thoughts.

Commenting FAQs | Terms of Service