previous next

[326]

Hood's second sortie at Atlanta.

by W. H. Chamberlin, Major, 81ST Ohio Volunteers.
General Sherman's line lay east and north-east of Atlanta, with McPherson's Army of the Tennessee forming the extreme left, and extending some distance south of the Augusta railroad. General Logan's Fifteenth Corps, which joined the left of the Army of the Ohio, extended across the Augusta railroad, and General Blair's Seventeenth Corps extended the line southward, touching the McDonough road beyond what is now McPherson Avenue. The Sixteenth Corps, commanded by General Grenville M. Dodge, had been in reserve in rear of the Fifteenth Corps, north of the railroad, until July 21st, when General Fuller's division was placed in the rear of the center of the Seventeenth Corps. On the morning of July 22d a movement was begun, which afterward proved to have been the most fortunate for the Union army that could have been ordered, even if the intention of the enemy had been known to us. It was to place the remainder of General Dodge's corps--General Sweeny's division — upon the left of the Seventeenth Corps. General Sweeny's division moved south of the railroad and halted, some time before noon, in open ground, sloping down toward a little stream, in the rear of General Fuller's division, which was in bivouac near the edge of a wood. Here, then, in the rear of the Seventeenth Corps, lay the two divisions of General Dodge's corps, as if in waiting for the approach of General Hardee's troops who had been marching nearly all night around Blair's left flank, and were even then making painfully slow progress, moving in line of battle through the thickets and obstructions that opposed their march. Our troops were really in waiting for the order to go to their new position. General Dodge had been out on the left of General Blair's corps to select a place for his troops, and had succeeded in drawing a shell or two from the enemy's nearest earth-work. He had returned to General Fuller's headquarters, and had accepted that officer's invitation to a noonday lunch with him. In a few minutes his command would have been in motion for the front. If that had happened, and his corps had vacated the space it then held, there would have been absolutely nothing but the hospital tents and the wagon trains to stop Hardee's command from falling unheralded directly upon the rear of the Fifteenth and Seventeenth corps in line. Upon what a slight chance, then, hung the fate of Sherman's army that day, for though such a catastrophe as this might not have wrought entire destruction, it is plain it would have put an entirely different phase on the battle.

Just here is a point upon which most of the accounts of the battle are wrong. They represent Dodge's corps to have been in motion. Fuller had bivouacked there the previous night. Sweeny's command, while technically in motion, had been halted, awaiting orders.

Just as General Dodge was about to dismount to accept General Fuller's hospitality, he heard firing in a south-easterly direction, to the rear of General Sweeny's division. He took no lunch. He was an intensely active, almost nervously restless, officer. Ie saw in an instant that something serious was at hand. He gave General Fuller orders to form his division immediately, facing south-eastwardly, and galloped off toward Sweeny's division. He had hardly reached that command when Hardee's lines came tearing wildly through the woods with the yells of demons. As if by magic, Sweeny's division sprang into line. The two batteries of artillery (Loomis's and Laird's) had stopped on commanding ground, and they were promptly in service. General Dodge's quick eye saw the proper disposition to be made of a portion of Colonel Mersy's brigade, and, cutting red tape, he delivered his orders direct to the colonels of the regiments. The orders were executed instantly, and the enemy's advance was checked. This act afterward caused trouble. General Dodge was not a West Point graduate, and did not revere so highly the army regulations as did General Sweeny, who had learned them as a cadet. Sweeny was much hurt by General Dodgers action in giving orders direct to regimental commanders, and pursued the matter so far as to bring on a personal encounter a few days after the battle, in which he came near losing his life at the hands of a hot-tempered. officer. He was placed in arrest. The court-martial, however, did not consider his ease until nearly the end of the war, when he was acquitted.

The battle of General Dodge's corps on this open ground, with no works to protect the troops of either side, was one of the fiercest of the war. General Dodge's troops were inspired by his courageous personal presence, for he rode directly along the lines, and must have been a conspicuous target for many a Confederate gun. His sturdy saddle-horse was worn out early in the afternoon, and was replaced by another. There was not a soldier who did not feel that he ought to equal his general in courage, and no fight of the war exhibited greater personal bravery on the part of an entire command than was shown here. Nor can I restrain a tribute to the bravery of the enemy. We had an advantage in artillery; they in numbers. Their assaults were repulsed, only to be fearlessly renewed, until the sight of dead and wounded lying in their way, as they charged again and again to break our lines, must have appalled the stoutest hearts. So persistent were their onslaughts that numbers were made prisoners by rushing directly into our lines.

When General Dodge rode from General Fuller's lunch toward the sound of the firing I rode with him. The first order he gave me was to return to General Fuller and direct him to close up his line on General Sweeny's right. Returning as soon as I could after delivering this order, I met General Dodge riding at full speed. As soon as he got [327]

The battle of Atlanta, July 22. from the Painting by James E. Taylor. Fuller's division (of the Sixteenth Corps) rallying to hold their ground after being forced back by the first charge of the Confederates in their flank attack.

within hearing distance he called out to me, “Go at once to General McPherson, on Blair's left, and tell him I need troops to cover my left. The enemy is flanking us.” Wheeling my horse, I started back. As I went, the attack on Dodge's corps was in full force. Out in open ground, in full view as it was, I could not resist checking my horse for a moment to see the grand conflict. I remember yet how the sight of our banners advancing amid the smoke thrilled me as it gave them a new beauty, and the sound of our artillery, though it meant death to the foe, fell upon our ears as the assurance of safety to us and to our flag.

General McPherson, from a point farther on, had witnessed the same scene. Lieutenant-Colonel W. E. Strong, his chief-of-staff, and the only staff-officer with him at that time, thus describes what they then saw:

The enemy, massed in columns three or four lines deep, moved out of the dense timber several hundred yards from Dodge's position, and, after gaining fairly the open fields, halted and opened fire rapidly on the Sixteenth Corps. They, however, seemed surprised to find our infantry in line of battle prepared for attack, and, after facing for a few minutes the destructive fire from the divisions of Generals Fuller and Sweeny, fell back in disorder to the cover of the woods. Here, however, their lines were quickly re-formed, and they again advanced, evidently determined to carry the position. The scene at this time was grand and impressive. It seemed to us that every mounted officer of the attacking column was riding at the front or at the right or left of the first line of battle. The regimental colors waved and fluttered in advance of the lines, and not a shot was fired by the rebel infantry, although their movement was covered by a heavy and well-directed fire of artillery which was posted in the woods and on higher ground, and which enabled the guns to bear upon our troops with solid shot and shell by firing over the attacking column. It seemed impossible, however, for the enemy to face the sweeping, deadly fire from Fuller's and Sweeny's divisions, and the guns of Laird's 14th Ohio and Welker's batteries fairly mowed great swaths in the advancing columns. They showed great steadiness, and closed up the gaps and preserved their alignments; but the iron and leaden hail that was poured upon them was too much for flesh and blood to stand, and before reaching the center of the open fields the columns were broken and thrown into great confusion. Taking advantage of this, a portion of Fuller's and Sweeny's divisions, with bayonets fixed, charged the enemy and drove them back to the woods, taking many prisoners. The 81st Ohio (Colonel Adams) charged first, then the 39th Ohio (Colonel McDowell) and the 27th Ohio (Colonel Churchill). General McPherson's admiration [328]

Battle of Atlanta, July 22--recapture from the Confederates of De Gress's Battery. I: the view is west toward Atlanta; the Confederates in capturing the Battery charged along the Georgia railroad from the rolling-mill [see map, p. 312], and took advantage of the cover of the railroad embankment and cut.

for the steadiness and determined bravery of the Sixteenth Corps was unbounded.

While I was riding to find General McPherson, he had just taken his eyes from the view of this splendid victory described by Colonel Strong, and had started ahead of me in the direction of Blair's left. Of course I did not find him. In a very few minutes after leaving Colonel Strong the brave general was dead, while I, following, was forced to deflect to the right, and reached our line at Giles A. Smith's division, at the point known then as Bald Hill. While in the act of asking there for a brigade for General Dodge's left, I heard a terrific yelling toward the left and rear, and, looking around, I saw a full Confederate line rushing out of the dense timber within easy hailing distance. I perceived at once that no brigade could be spared from that position for General Dodge. General Smith's troops quickly jumped to the other side of their works, prepared to meet this rear attack. The mounted officers, myself included, found some difficulty in getting their horses over the works before the firing began. I then rode to General Harrow's division, next on the right, but he had no reserve troops to spare. Proceeding to General Morgan L. Smith's division, I met General John A. Logan, commander of the Fifteenth Corps, and he directed General Smith to weaken his front line by sending Martin's brigade to General Dodge's left.

Perhaps no better disposition of General Dodge's corps could have been made, if the intentions of General Hood had been known. But so much cannot be said of the position of General Blair's left. It has not escaped attention that Hood's ability to throw Hardee's corps into the position where it struck General Dodge that noonday, was aided materially by the fact that General Sherman's usual cavalry flanking pickets were wanting. The cavalry had nearly all been sent to break railroads in Hood's rear. Nor does it appear that General Blair's infantry outposts were far enough advanced to give timely warning of the approach of an enemy.

I happened to be with General Logan when he received the order to take command of the Army of the Tennessee in place of General McPherson. .1 shall not easily forget the ride I had with him as he made his way to the point of danger, the left. Although whizzing balls sped about our ears as we entered the open ground near Dodge's position, and shells now and then exploded overhead, General Logan moved on the most direct line, and with no delay, to General Dodge's headquarters. He heard, in a few terse sentences from General Dodge, how affairs stood there. Dodge's battle at [329]

Battle of Atlanta, July 22--recapture from the Confederates of De Gress's Battery. II: this picture, in two parts, is a reproduction from the Panorama of the battle of Atlanta.

that time was about won, and his command, after the enemy had spent its force in unsuccessful assaults, intrenched quickly, almost on the battle-line. Both General Fuller's and General Sweeny's divisions had captured battle-flags and prisoners. A part of General Fuller's command had changed front under fire with conspicuous bravery and steadiness, General Fuller having himself planted the colors of the 27th Ohio, to indicate the new line. Among the regiments engaged were the 27th, 39th, 43d, and 81st Ohio; the 7th, 9th, 12th, 50th, 52d, 57th, 64th, and 66th Illinois, and the 2d Iowa. The brigade (Martin's) from the Fifteenth Corps did not take part in the action, and was subsequently sent farther to the rear to assist in the defense of Decatur.

What may be considered a separate action, although intended by Hood to be simultaneous, was the attack on the Fifteenth Corps, one division of which (General Morgan L. Smith's) was driven from its line. This took place about 3 o'clock, after the Sixteenth Corps' fighting was mainly over. It was a part of the attack from the Atlanta defenses made by Hood on both the Seventeenth and Fifteenth corps.

When General Logan assumed command of the Army of the Tennessee he placed General Morgan L. Smith in command of the Fifteenth Corps, and General Lightburn succeeded to the command of Smith's division. This all happened just before Hood's attack on the Fifteenth Corps. The line had been weakened as before indicated, and the enemy succeeding in pushing a column through a cut in the Augusta railroad line, and driving back a portion of General Lightburn's troops and flanking the rest, the whole division, to use the language of General Lightburn's official report, “broke in confusion to the rear.” This left in the enemy's hands sections of an Illinois battery (A, 1st Artillery) stationed near the railroad, and also De Gress's famous battery of four 20-pounder Parrotts, placed on the right of this division. General Lightburn's report is very brief. He simply says he checked the retreat of his division at the line occupied by his troops on the morning of that day, re-formed, and, with the assistance of General Woods's division and one brigade of the Sixteenth Corps, commanded by Colonel Mersy, recaptured all the guns of Battery H, 1st Illinois (De Gress's), and two of Battery A. He had but six regiments in line when his division was driven back.

General Logan, in his report of the Army of the Tennessee, says that when he heard of the repulse of the Fifteenth Corps' division, he ordered Colonel Martin's brigade back to its position, and adds:

I also ordered General Dodge to send a, brigade of the Sixteenth Corps to the assistance of the right of our line. . . . The second brigade of the Second Division, [330] Sixteenth Corps, Colonel Mersy commanding, moved promptly out, and I conducted it to the rear of the old works of the Second Division of the Fifteenth Corps, where it deployed on the right of the railroad.

After detailing his orders to General Smith, and the disposition of troops by General Woods on the right, he continues:

At the same time the Second Division, followed by Colonel Mersy's brigade, advanced upon the enemy's front. The movement was successful. Woods's division striking the enemy's flank, it began to break, and soon after, the Second Division charging his front, the old line of works, De Gress's battery, and two guns of Battery “A” were recaptured.

Colonel Wells S. Jones, who succeeded to the command of Lightburn's brigade, after telling in his official report of the repulse of his brigade, says:

It re-formed in a few minutes back at the works we had advanced from in the morning, and, supported by a brigade of the Sixteenth Corps, charged upon and drove the enemy from our works, turning our recaptured artillery upon the retreating enemy.

General C. R. Woods, who commanded the First Division, posted on the right of the Second, says in his official report:

About 3 P. M. the rebels made a determined attack in heavy force upon the lines to my left, and, after having been several times repulsed, succeeded in breaking those lines and occupying the pits, which gave them a position three or four hundred yards to my rear and left. Finding my position untenable, I threw my left back, and formed a new line, facing the enemy's flank. At the same time I kept up a heavy artillery fire on the enemy, preventing them from taking off De Gress's battery of four 20-pounder Parrotts, of which they had possession. Shortly after having taken my new position I received a verbal order from General M. L. Smith, commanding Fifteenth Army Corps, to attack the enemy in flank and rear, while other troops moved up in front to retake the position. I immediately moved the Second Brigade forward to strike the enemy's flank and rear, and the First Brigade to attack them from front and flank. The movement proved successful, and in less than fifteen minutes I had retaken De Gress's battery and driven the enemy from their rifle-pits on their left as far as the railroad.

I was so well aware, at the time of the battle, that it was Colonel Mersy's brigade of General Sweeny's division of the Sixteenth Corps that re-took De Gress's battery that I was astonished, years afterward, in reading accounts of the battle, to find that the honor was assigned to others. General Lightburn and Colonel Wells S. Jones, in their reports, mention the Sixteenth Corps' brigade, but do not specify the part it took, farther than to say it supported their troops; while General Woods makes no mention of it whatever. General Logan was evidently guided in his report by that of General Woods. To one not familiar with the numberless duties of an officer in General Logan's position at that time, it seems incredible that he should overlook the part taken by this brigade, for he asked General Dodge in person for “the little Dutchman's brigade,” meaning Colonel Mersy's brigade, and in person he rode at its head down the railroad until within range of the enemy, and then he gave Colonel Mersy orders to form his line along a board fence at right angles with the railroad, and in cooperation with General Woods to charge the enemy's line. He then left the brigade.1

Colonel Mersy had just given the order to leave the railroad, as directed, when a volley from the enemy struck the brigade, killing the colonel's horse and wounding him. He turned over the command to Colonel (afterward Brevet Brigadier-General) R. N. Adams, commanding the 81st Ohio, who had heard the instructions given by General Logan. The brigade was thrown into some confusion in leaving the railroad under a galling fire, but it quickly formed along the board fence, with its left resting on the railroad. Let me tell the remainder of the story in Colonel Adams's own words:

I at once gave the command, ‘Forward!’ The brigade crossed the fence, and at ‘trail arms’ advanced under a moderate fire toward the line to be taken. On emerging from the ravine, and beginning the ascent of the hill, the enemy opened anew upon us, whereupon I gave the order, ‘Charge!’ and in apparently less than half a minute the line was ours. We captured some of the men who were manning the De Gress guns, and about fifty men in the works, who fired until they were captured. Among these was the only colored man I saw during the war shooting the wrong way. He was game; he fired till he was taken. I detailed men at once to man the recovered guns, but found them partly disabled. I am not sure, but it is my impression, that this detail succeeded in discharging one of the pieces. At any rate, they were endeavoring to use them when Captain De Gress and some of his men came and took charge of the recovered guns.

Simultaneous with our action was that of General Charles Woods (I think it was), who charged the enemy on our right. It would not be fair to say that we could have succeeded without Woods's cooperation; nor is it fair for them to say that they could have succeeded without ours. Certain it is, we charged that line with the enemy in it, and that we recaptured the lost guns and had them in our possession some time before the men of any other command saw them, or before Captain De Gress himself came and took charge of them.

In another letter, General Adams, in answer to specific inquiries, says that his line, at the beginning of this movement, rested its left on the railroad; but during the movement it left a space between its left and the railroad, owing to the slight divergence of the road., No other troops advanced before, with, or behind his line over the [331] space covered by his brigade. He does not speak of any simultaneous movement on his left.2

No doubt the peculiar circumstances mentioned already, of the change in commanders of General Morgan L. Smith's division, gave rise to misleading accounts concerning the recovery of this battery. Shortly after the line was retaken, General Lightburn's troops relieved Mersy's brigade, and it marched back to its own division.

It should be remembered, in placing an estimate upon what was accomplished by these troops, that they had borne a part in an open field, at midday, under a scorching sun, in one of the fiercest fights of the war, and had afterward performed their share of the heavy work of throwing up intrenchments. They were still engaged at this when ordered to follow General Logan. The movement, under his leadership, was made at “double-quick” over the greater portion of the distance, which was more than a mile. There is not a man in that brigade who could be repaid by the pensions of a lifetime for the work of that single day and its attendant risks, nor could the country pay in pensions to the whole brigade, at the highest rates, for the actual value of its services rendered that day.

But I have not yet told the whole story of the service of General Dodge's command that day. When night fell, the Confederate line was intrenched almost within a stone's-throw of what was then called Bald Hill. That was a position which had been stubbornly fought for almost since General Leggett captured it, July 21st. It was the key to the situation, and was the point where an attack by Hood's forces was most likely to fall. General Leggett that night pleaded most earnestly to have his command relieved from duty at Bald Hill. His men, he said, were physically exhausted. They had been under almost constant fire for two days in such circumscribed limits that they were practically imprisoned in the trenches. General Logan answered that the entire army was worn — the Fifteenth Corps had been weakened, and had no reserves from which relief could be drawn; the Seventeenth Corps had been crushed, and was needed where it was. But General Leggett insisted that his men must be relieved; that it would be unwise to trust such an important point in the hands of men in such a condition as his command was; and General Dodge was ordered to send a brigade to Bald Hill. It was long after nightfall when he designated Colonel Mersy's brigade, and for the third time that day these men were called to go into action. They went promptly, and though the assignment meant fighting and working on intrenchments during the remainder of the night, they did both so well that no serious night attack was made, and when morning came an attack would have been well-nigh hopeless, for Bald Hill was almost a Gibraltar. Its fortification was unique, and though engineered by the men who wielded the shovel, it was complete and invulnerable. General Hood's shattered forces, however, had spent their energies in that direction on the 22d, and no assaults were made on our lines on the 23d.

Colonel Mersy's term of service had expired shortly before this battle, but he had volunteered to lead his brigade while awaiting transportation. General Dodge gave him a letter of farewell, in which, speaking of his services on the 22d of July, he said:

You leave at a time and under circumstances of which you and your command may justly be proud. Fighting as you did on three different fields the same day, and victorious on every one, forms the best and most honorable reward that you can take with you.

So far very little has been said of the action of the Seventeenth Corps. These troops occupied the line from Bald Hill to the McDonough road, and were attacked in flank, front, and rear, though in the inverse order. The first attack was from. the rear, then upon the flank, and at last from. the front. Their line was bent back at right angles, hinging at Bald Hill, and the wonder is that larger numbers were not captured. They fought with most heroic determination at close quarters. The next day I remember seeing Colonel Wm. W. Belknap of the 15th Iowa (afterward Brigadier-General and Secretary of War). He was a brawny, red-bearded giant in appearance, and it was told of him that he had captured a number of prisoners by pulling them over the breast-works by main force, so closely were the lines engaged.

1 Brevet Lieutenant-Colonel Edward Jones, of General Dodge's staff, writes to the editors that, by direction of General Dodge, he conducted General August Mersy's brigade to the scene of the charge. “After a rapid march of perhaps a mile,” he says, “Mersy, at a run, deployed his brigade, charged and recaptured De Gress's battery and the line of works, having his horse killed under him in the assault. The Fifteenth Corps men, who were present, joined Mersy, and were with him in the action; but the brigade (Mersy's) of the Sixteenth Corps led, and, if my memory does not fail me, Captain William S. Boyd, of the 66th Illinois, damaged one of the recaptured guns by attempting to discharge it upon the retreating enemy.”--editors.

2 Lieutenants Thomas H. Times and William Pitman, and privates John Quigley and William E. McCreary, of the 81st Ohio (Mersy's brigade), have written me in corroboration of General Adams. Captain Edward Jonas, of General Dodge's staff, has written to the same effect in a letter which I have read.--W. H. C.

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 United States License.

An XML version of this text is available for download, with the additional restriction that you offer Perseus any modifications you make. Perseus provides credit for all accepted changes, storing new additions in a versioning system.

hide Places (automatically extracted)

View a map of the most frequently mentioned places in this document.

Sort places alphabetically, as they appear on the page, by frequency
Click on a place to search for it in this document.
Atlanta (Georgia, United States) (3)
McDonough (Georgia, United States) (2)
Wheeling, W. Va. (West Virginia, United States) (1)
Decatur, Ga. (Georgia, United States) (1)

Visualize the most frequently mentioned Pleiades ancient places in this text.

Download Pleiades ancient places geospacial dataset for this text.

hide Dates (automatically extracted)
Sort dates alphabetically, as they appear on the page, by frequency
Click on a date to search for it in this document.
July 22nd (5)
July 21st (2)
23rd (1)
22nd (1)
hide Display Preferences
Greek Display:
Arabic Display:
View by Default:
Browse Bar: