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Kennesaw Mountain.

By General S. G. French.
[The following paper was sent by General French and read before the Louisville Branch of the Southern Historical Society:]

On the 14th of June, 1864, the army under General Joseph E. Johnston occupied a line of hastily-constructed works of several miles in length, extending from near Lost Mountain to a point about a mile north of Kennesaw Mountain. The general direction of this line, from our left, was north of east, and it was confronted in its entire length by the Federal army under General W. T. Sherman. Johnston's command numbered 48,800, and that of Sherman, by official reports, 112,800.

The better to explain movements previous to assuming position on Kennesaw Mountain, I will make some extracts from my diary.

June 14, 1864.

This morning, by written orders, General Loring moved to the right; General Canty from the left to the centre, and I extended to the right. Rode over to see General Polk; asked him when General Johnston and he went to the right to come down my line; said they probably would. * * * * At 12 M. heard that General Polk was dead; sent an officer to his headquarters to inquire, and learned the report too true. Went to headquarters at 2.30 P. M., but his remains had just left for Marietta. He had accompanied General Johnston to the left and gone to Pine Mountain, and while there the party was fired on by one of the Federal batteries, and the third shot fired struck the General on the left side and killed him instantly. * * *

June 15.

All quiet at sunrise; soon after some desultory cannonading along the lines, but chiefly on the right, until 3 P. M., when it became quite heavy, and at the same time opened on my front with a few guns. At 5 P. M. received orders to hold Cockrell's brigade in readiness to move to the right of Loring. Part of Loring's division had their skirmishers driven in to their main works. At 9 P. M. enemy attacked my skirmishers without any result. * * * *

June 16.

Early this morning the enemy opened on my front with artillery. At 10 A. M. they shelled my front without effect. To-day Cockrell is held in reserve for General Hardee, and thus it always is. I have to hold a reserve for everybody but myself.

June 17.

To-day the enemy opened on us with artillery. Last night the left wing of the army swung back and took a new line. This has placed my command in a salient of less than ninety degrees, [506] and renders it liable to both an enfilading and reverse fire. In the afternoon cannonading pretty severe.

June 18.

This morning pickets and skirmishers on my left (Walker's division) gave way and let the enemy in behind Cockrell's skirmishers, and enabled them to gain the Latimer house, four hundred yards distant. Ector's skirmishers also came in. Enemy soon advanced in line of battle, and with batteries opened on the salient an enfilading and reverse fire; and all day long this fire never ceased. They could not carry my lines successfully, and we would not attack them by leaving the trenches; and so the firing went on. My loss was severe, amounting to one hundred and eighty, and as an instance of the severity of the fire on the salient, Captain Guibor had served with his battery throughout the siege of Vicksburg, yet his loss this day of thirteen men is greater than that sustained during the whole siege. Toward evening ordered to withdraw and assume a new line on Kennesaw Mountain.

June 19.

The enemy made rapid pursuit, and before my line was established on Kennesaw Mountain, skirmishing commenced, and by 12 M. artillery fire from the enemy was rapid. It ranged up and over the spur of the mountain with great fury, and wounded General Cockrell, and put thirty-five of his men hors du combat.

The position of our army to-day is: Hood on the right, covering Marietta on the northwest. From his left, Polk's corps (now Loring's) extends over both Big and Little Kennesaw Mountains, with the left on the road from Gilgath church to Marietta. From this road Hardee extended the line nearly south, covering Marietta on the west, the left of my division was fixed on the Marietta road; thence it ran up the spur of the mountain called Little Kennesaw, and thence to the top of same and on up to the top of Big Kennesaw, connecting with General Walthall. Featherstone was on the right of Walthall, and joined General Hood's left; Walker, of Hardee's corps, was on my left; then in order came Bate, Cleburne and Cheatham.

Kennesaw Mountain is about four miles northwest of Marietta. It is over two-and-a-half miles in length, and rises abruptly from the plain, solitary and alone, to the height of perhaps 600 or 700 feet. Its western side is rocky and abrupt. Its eastern side can, in a few places, be gained on horseback, and the west of Little Kennesaw, being bald and destitute of timber, affords a commanding view of all the surrounding country as far as the eye can reach, except where the view is interrupted by the higher peak.

June 20.

Busy this morning in establishing batteries on the road, [507] on the spur of the mountain and on the top of Little Kennesaw. In the afternoon changed the line lower down the mountain side, so as to command the ascent as far as possible. Heavy cannonading on the left of my line. Lost ten horses and a few men.

June 21.

Went to the top of the mountain this morning, and while there witnessed the artillery duel between the batteries on Harder's line and those of the enemy in his front. * * *

June 22.

The constant rains have ceased; the sky is clear, and the sun, so long hid, now shines out brightly. Skirmishing on my line last night; rode to the top of the mountain quite early, to where I had placed nine guns in position. During the night the enemy had moved a camp close to the base of the mountain. It was headquarters of some general officers. Tent walls were raised, officers sitting around, orderlies coming and going, wagons parked, and soldiers idling about or resting under the shade of the trees; and all this at my very feet. Directed cartridges for the guns to be reduced, so as to drop the shells below, and that the enemy should be left awhile in his fancied security, for no doubt they thought we could not place artillery on the height above them, and they were not visible to my infantry on the mountain sides, by reason of the timber.

At length the gunners, impatient of delay, were directed to open fire on them. They were evidently much surprised, and, disregarding rank, stood not on the order of their going, but left quickly, every man for himself; and “their tents were all silent, their banners alone,” like Senacherib's of old.

The enemy appear this morning to be moving permanently to our left, and the firing this afternoon extends further in that direction. To-wards dark opened guns again on the enemy, also at 11 P. M.

June 23.

Yesterday Cockrell had fourteen men wounded. All quiet this morning. During the night the enemy removed their tents, wagons, etc., from their abandoned encampment that was shelled yester-day, and the place looks desolate. At 10 A. M., when all was quiet on the mountain, the enemy commenced a rapid artillery fire from guns put in position during the night, and concentrated it on our guns on the mountain. Yesterday we had it all our own way-to-day they are repaying us, and the cannonade is “fast and furious.” Last night there was fighting on our left, but so different are the reports received that I cannot get at the truth.

June 24.

There has been but little fighting during the day.

June 25.

The everlasting “pop,” “pop,” on the skirmish line is all that breaks the stillness of the morning. Went early to the left of my [508] line; could not ride in rear of Hoskin's Battery, on account of the trees and limbs felled by the shells. From top of the mountain the vast panorama is ever changing. There are now large trains to the left of Lost Mountain and at Big Shanty, and wagons are moving to and fro every where. Encampments of hospitals, quartermasters, commissaries, cavalry and infantry whiten the plain here and there as far as the eye can reach. Our side of the line looks narrow, poor and life-less, with but little canvas in spots that contrasts with the green foliage.

The usual flank extension is going on. Troops on both side move to left, and now the blue smoke of the musket discloses the line by day trending away, far away south toward the Chattahoochee, and by night it is marked, at times by the red glow of the artillery, amidst the spark-like flash of small arms that looks in the distance like innumerable fire-flies.

At 10 A. M. opened fire on the enemy from the guns on Kennesaw. Enemy replied furiously, and for an hour the firing was incessant. Received an order to hold Ector's brigade in reserve. In the afternoon considerable firing, and all the chests of one of my caissons were blown up by a shell from the enemy, and a shell from one of the chests killed a gunner. They have now about forty guns in my fronts, and when they concentrate their fire on the mountain at any one place, it is pretty severe, but owing to our height, nearly harmless. Thousand of their parrot-shells pass high over the mountain, and exploding at a great elevation, the after-part of the shell is arrested in its flight, and falling perpendicularly, comes into camp, and they have injured our tents. Last night I heard a peculiar “thug” on my tent, and a rattle of tin pans, and this morning my negro boy cook put his head into my tent and said: “See here, Master Sam, them ‘fernal Yanks done shot my pans last night. What am I going to do ‘bout it?” A rifle ball coming over the mountain had fallen from a great height, and, perforating the pans, had entered the ground.

June 26.

This is Sunday, and all is comparatively still in the lines up to this, 4 P. M., excepting one artillery duel; but now cannon are heard on our extreme left. We have not opened our batteries here, and we have not been annoyed much. Enemy moving to our left. The day has been very warm.

June 27.

This morning there appeared great activity among staff officers and Generals all along my front and up and down the lines. The better to observe what it portended, myself and staff seated ourselves on the brow of the mountain, sheltered by a large rock that [509] rested between our guns and those of the enemy, the infantry being still lower down the side of the mountain.

Artillery firing was common on the line at all times, but now it swelled in volume and extended down to the extreme left, and then from fifty guns burst out in my front, and thence, battery after battery following on the right, disclosed a general attack on our entire lines. Presently, and as if by magic, there sprung from the earth a host of men, and in one long waving line of blue the infantry advanced and the battle of Kennesaw Mountain began.

I could see no infantry on my immediate front, owing to the woods at the base of the mountain, and therefore directed the guns from their elevated position to enfilade Walker's front. In a short time the flank fire down the line drove them back, and Walker was relieved from the attack.

We sat there, perhaps an hour, enjoying a bird's-eye view of one of the most magnificent sights ever allotted to man — to look down upon an hundred and fifty thousand men arrayed in the strife of battle on the plain below.

As the infantry closed in the blue smoke of the musket marked out our line for miles, while over it rose in cumuli-like clouds the white smoke of the artillery. Through the rifts of smoke, or, as it was wafted aside by the wind, we could see the assault made on Cheatham, and there the struggle was hard, and there it lasted longest. So many guns were trained on those by our side, and so incessant was the roar of cannon and sharp the explosion of shells, that nought else could be heard. From the fact that I had seen no infantry in my front, and had heard no musketry near, and the elevation of my line on the mountain, I thought I was exempted from the general infantry attack; I was therefore surprised and awakened from my dreams when a courier came to me about 9 o'clock and said General Cockrell wanted assistance, that his line had been attacked in force. General Ector was at once directed to send two regiments to report to him. Soon again a second courier came and reported the assault on the left of my line. I went immediately with the remainder of Ector's brigade to Cockrell, but on joining him found the Federal forces had been repulsed. The assaulting column had struck Cockrell's works near the centre, recoiled under the fife, swung around into a steep valley where — exposed to the fire of the Missourians in front and right flank and of Sears's men on the left — it seemed to melt away or sink to the earth to rise no more.

The assault on my line repulsed, I returned to the mountain top. The intensity of the fire had slackened and no movement of troops was [510] visible; and although the din of arms yet resounded far and near, the battle was virtually ended.

From prisoners and from papers on their persons shown us, I learned my line had, from its position, been selected for assault by General McPherson, as that of Cheatham's had been by General Thomas.

General McPherson distinguished himself under Grant, was conspicuous at the siege of Vicksburg, and enjoyed the confidence of officers and the affection of his soldiers, and having been directed in orders to make reconnoissances and preparations to assault our line, it would be a reflection on his judgment and skill as a General to infer that he did not — under the eye of his commander with ample means — make what he deemed adequate preparations for its accomplishment; but owing to the nature of the ground, and the determined resistance encountered, his men by an intuitive perception, awakened by action, realized the contest was hopeless, and where persistance was only death, very properly abandoned the field.

The battle, in its entirety, became a pageantry on a grand scale, and barren of results, because the attacking columns were too small in numbers, considering the character of the troops they knew they would encounter.

General Cheatham's loss was one hundred and ninety-five (195); mine (French's) one hundred and eighty-six (186); all other Confederate losses were one hundred and forty-one (141), being a total of five hundred and twenty-two. What the Federal loss was I do not know. It has been variously estimated from three to eight thousand.

The following orders of General Sherman will explain the attack clearly, and the telegrams to General Schofield and Thomas the result of the attack:

Headquarters Military division of the Mississippi in the field near Kennesaw Mountain, June 24, 1864.-The army commanders will make full reconnoissances and preparations to attack the enemy in force on the 27th instant, at 8 o'clock A. M. precisely.

The Commanding General will be on Signal Hill, and will have telegraph communication with all the army commanders.

I.--Major-General Thomas will assault the enemy at any point near his center, to be selected by himself, and will make any changes in his troops necessary by night, so as not to attract the attention of the enemy.

II.--Major-General McPherson will feign by a movement of his cavalry and one division of his infantry on his extreme left, approaching [511] Marietta from the north, and using his artillery freely, but will make his real attack at a point south and west of Kennesaw.

III.--Major-General Scofield will feel to his extreme right, and threaten that flank of the enemy with artillery and display, but attack some one point of the enemy's line as near the Marietta and Powder Spring road as he can with prospect of success. * * * *

V.--Each attacking column will endeavor to break a single point of the enemy's line, and make a secure lodgment beyond, and be prepared for following it up towards Marietta and the railroad in case of success.

By order of Major-General W. T. Sherman.

L. M. Dayton, Aid-de-Camp.

Headquarters Military division of the Mississippi in the field, June 27, 1864, 11:45 A. M.--General Schofield: Neither McPherson nor Thomas have succeeded in breaking through, but each has made substantial progress at some cost. Push your operations on the flank, and keep me advised.

W. T. Sherman, Major-General Commanding.

Headquarters Military division of the Mississippi in the field near Kennesaw, June 27, 1864, 11:45 A. M.--General Thomas: McPherson's column marched near the top of the hill, through very tangled brush, but was repulsed. It is found impossible to deploy, but they hold their ground. I wish you to study well the positions, and if it be possible, break through the lines to do it; it is easier now than it will be hereafter. I hear Leggett's guns well behind the mountain.

W. T. Sherman, Major-General Commanding.

As nothing decisive was obtained by Sherman's attack, the firing slackened, except on the skirmish line. After dark the enemy withdrew to their main trenches, the roar of guns died gradually away, and the morning of the 28th dawned on both armies in their former positions. The battle of Kennesaw, then, was a display of force and advance of troops by the enemy on the entire length of our line, that opened a furious fire of artillery and musketry, under cover of which two grand attacks were made by assaulting columns — the one on my line and the other on Cheatham's.

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