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Chapter 32: battle of Kolb's Farm and Kenesaw

The weather continued stormy, and it was not until June 22, 1864, that any positive advance could be made. On that date, as he often did, Sherman rode from end to end of our line, in order that he might thoroughly understand the position of his army.

He ordered Thomas to advance his right corps, which was Hooker's; and he instructed Schofield by letter to keep his whole army as a strong right flank in close support of Hooker's deployed line. It will be remembered that Schofield's Twenty-third Corps at this time constituted Sherman's extreme right.

Hooker came next leftward, and then my corps. Hooker, in accordance with his orders, pressed forward his troops in an easterly direction, touching on my right.

There was heavy skirmish firing along the whole front. As Hooker went forward he first drove in the enemy's cavalry. The movement was necessarily slow and bothersome; and at 2.30 P. M. the contest became very hot. The enemy took a new stand near Manning's Mill about 5 P. M. The Confederate advance was made boldly in force.

During the progress of this engagement, which became an assault upon Hooker's right flank, he called upon me for some help, asking me to relieve his left [572] division (Butterfield's), so that it might be sent off for a reinforcement to his right. This request I complied with at once, using every regiment of mine not then in line. These replacing troops were five regiments of Colonel Grose's brigade.

In this manner Hooker was given the whole of Butterfield's division for a reserve, or for resting any troops that had been long engaged; so his left flank was thoroughly secured.

Just as soon as the Union troops all along these lines had recovered from the first shock of the battle and re-formed wherever broken, so as to restore the unity of their defense, all hands became confident. In those places where the small breaks had occurred, several attempts were made by Hood to reanimate his men and push on, but all in vain. This was called the battle of Kolb's Farm. In this battle, at one time the firing, on a part of my corps front, was rapid. I rode to a high plateau where I could see considerable of the ground where the contest was sharpest. I had sent my staff away with important messages, and had with me only my orderly, McDonald, and my secretary, Sladen. We three were on our horses, anxiously watching the results of the Confederate attacks, my horse being a few yards ahead of the others. Suddenly McDonald rode up to my side and said: “General, I am wounded.”

“Where, McDonald?”

“In my left foot, sir, right through the instep.”

He was very pale and evidently suffering intensely. He looked me in the face, and in a low voice said: “General Howard, I shall die from this wound 1”

“Oh, no, McDonald, you will not die A wound like that through the foot is very painful, but not [573] fatal. You go back to the field hospital, and when this battle is over I will visit you there.”

After he began to ride back from me, he turned his horse about, and, with tears bedimming his eyes, he looked in my face again and said: “Oh, general, I am so glad I was wounded and not you l”

When, near sunset, I went to the field hospital, I learned that McDonald had been sent back with other wounded to the general hospital on the top of Lookout Mountain. And he did die from that severe wound and was buried among “the unknown.”

Some very peculiar controversies, in which Sherman, Thomas, Schofield, and Hooker were involved, grew out of this battle.

During the battle, Hooker was asked by Sherman from a signal station: “How are you getting along! Near what house are you?”

He replied as follows: “Kolb's House, 5.20 P. M. We have repulsed two heavy attacks and feel confident, our only apprehension being from our extreme right. Three entire corps are in front of us.”

This latter dispatch was not received by Sherman until after the battle, about 9.20 P. M. He then wrote to Thomas, who was Hooker's army commander. After citing to Thomas two dispatches, he telegraphed as follows:

I was at the Wallace House at 5.30 and the Kolb House was within two miles, and though I heard some cannonading I had no idea of his being attacked; and General Hooker must be mistaken about three entire corps being in his front. Johnston's army has only three corps, and I know there was a very respectable force along McPherson's front, so much so that his generals thought the enemy was massing against them. I know there was some force in front of Palmer and Howard, for [574] I was there. Still, it is very natural the enemy should meet Hooker at that point in force, and I gave Schofield orders this morning to conduct his column from Nose's Creek, on the Powder Springs road, toward Marietta and support Hooker's right flank, sending his cavalry down the Powder Springs road toward Sweet Water and leaving some infantry from his rear to guard the forks. ...

It was natural for Hooker to make reply, for Sherman had asked questions of him. And, naturally, at such a time there was some excitement at Hooker's headquarters. As soon as Sherman received this disturbing message directly from Hooker, he first answered thus:

Dispatch received. Schofield was ordered this morning to be on the Powder Springs and Marietta road, in close support of your right. Is not this the case? There cannot be three corps in your front; Johnston has but three corps, and I know from full inspection that a full proportion is now, and has been all day, on his right and center.

Sherman also sent for his adjutant general, Captain Dayton, and made inquiry as to whether or not those most important orders had been sent to Schofield and received by him. Dayton immediately brought him the envelope which had on it the receipt of Sherman's instructions, signed by Schofield himself.

After that assurance, Sherman was more confident than ever that the Army of the Ohio had been all the time in place, and close up to Hooker's right flank.

When Sherman had passed from his left to his right, he had found evidence to satisfy him that Confederate Loring held all the long breastworks of the Confederate right opposite McPherson; Hardee held the center and much of the left opposite Thomas's [575] three corps, which were in line from left to right, viz., Palmer's, Howard's, and Hooker's. Hood had simply passed partially beyond Hardee's left and come up to make his reconnoissance and attack, so that Hooker's men encountered only a part of Hood's and a part of Hardee's commands.

Schofield breasted the remainder of Hood's divisions and the cavalry of Wheeler, which supported Hood's moving left flank. In view of these plain facts Sherman was incensed that Hooker should have made such a fulsome report, and some words of Thomas increased his vexation-words that we find in a letter written by Thomas to Sherman himself, about ten o'clock the same night, for example:

I sent you a dispatch after my return to my headquarters this morning that Hooker reported he had the whole rebel army in his front. I thought at the time he was stampeded, but in view of the probability that the enemy might believe thatwe intended to make the real attack on our right, and would oppose us with as much of his force as he could spare, I ordered one division of Howard's to be relieved by Palmer and placed in reserve behind Hooker.

Hooker's position is a very strong one, and before I left him he certainly had his troops as well together as Howard has had for the last three days, and Howard has repulsed every attack the enemy has made on him in very handsome style .... The enemy cannot possibly send an overwhelming force against Hooker without exposing his weakness to McPherson.

Taking these things into account, Sherman took occasion the next day after the battle (June 23d) to ride down to Kolb's Farm, fully determined in his own sharp way to call Hooker to an account for his exaggerations. Sherman's determination to do so was increased when he found Hooker had used during [576] the combat but two of his own divisions, for Butterfield's, kept back in reserve, had not been engaged at all during the day. Again, he saw, as before reported, one of Schofield's divisions properly placed abreast of Hooker's right, constituting what Sherman denominated a strong right flank.

Just after this personal reconnoissance, with its results in his mind, Sherman met both Schofield and Hooker near there on the field of battle. At once Sherman showed Hooker's dispatch to Schofield. Sherman said: “Schofield was very angry, and pretty sharp words passed between them,” i.e., Schofield and Hooker. Schofield insisted that he had not only formed a strong right flank, as ordered, but that in the primary engagement the head of his column, part of Haskell's division, had been in advance of Hooker's corps, and were entitled to that credit. He affirmed, also, that dead men from his army were yet lying up there on the ground to show where his lines had been.

Hooker, thus called to account, made answer, apologetically, that he did not know this when he sent the dispatch. But Sherman, considering that the original statement of Hooker had reflected to his hurt upon an army commander without cause, and that Hooker's exaggeration had led Thomas to'weaken other portions of his line-something that might have led to disaster-and that the dispatch came near causing him to do the same as Thomas, administered in his own blunt manner a caustic reprimand.

Sherman, as I think, was unaware of his own severity. He justified himself in this phrase: “I reproved him more gently than the occasion warranted.” The result of this reproof was that from that date to [577] July 27th following, Hooker felt aggrieved. On that day he was relieved, at his own request, by General A. S. Williams.

This battle of Kolb's Farm was wholly on the Kenesaw line extended southward. Sherman, on account of guerrilla and cavalry attacks far in his rear, upon his own line of railroad, was greatly distressed concerning his communications. They were not secure enough, he declared, to permit him to break away from his base of supplies.

The Kenesaw Mountain-sometimes called the Kenesaws, probably on account of an apparent cross break in the range giving apparently two mountains --is the highest elevation in Georgia, west of the Chattahoochee. It is the natural watershed, and was in 1864, upon its sides, mostly covered with trees. From its crest Johnston and his officers could see our movements, which were believed to be hidden; they have recorded accounts of them in wonderful detail. The handsome village of Marietta, known to Sherman in his youth, lying eastward between the mountain and the river, could be plainly seen. Johnston could not have found a stronger defensive position for his great army.

Prior to the battle of Kolb's Farm the entire Confederate army had taken substantially its new line; the Confederate right, which abutted against Brush Mountain on the north, took in the Kenesaw; the line passing down the southern slope of that mountain, continued on to the neighborhood of Olley's Creek. It was virtually a north and south bending alignment, convex toward us. Its right was protected by rough Brush Mountain and Noonday Creek. Its center had Nose's Creek in front of it, but the strength of its [578] almost impregnable part was in the natural fortress of the south slope of Kenesaw.

The intrenchments or breastworks everywhere, whatever ypu call those Confederate protecting contrivances, were excellent. They had along the fronting slopes abundant “slashings,” that is, trees felled toward us with limbs embracing each other, trimmed or untrimmed, according to whichever condition would be worse for our approach. Batteries were so placed as to give against us both direct and cross fires.

To my eye, Kenesaw there, at the middle bend of Johnston's long line, was more difficult than any portion of Gettysburg's Cemetery Ridge, or Little Round Top, and quite as impossible to take. From extreme to extreme, that is, from the Confederate infantry right to the actual left in a straight line, must have been six miles.

The reports show that Johnston had just before the battle of Kenesaw received reinforcements from the Georgia militia under G. W. Smith. His numbers at this terrible battle are not now easily discovered, but standing so much as Johnston did on the defensive behind the prepared works, his losses were hardly ever as great as ours; so that, I think, at Kenesaw he had as many men as at Resaca. My judgment is confirmed by the surprisingly long defensive line which he occupied. Hood, at first, had the right, covering all the wagon approaches and trails from Ackworth and the north, and the wagon and railroads that ran between Brush Mountain and the Kenesaw.

Loring, the Confederate commander who now replaced Polk, for his custody and defense had all the Kenesaw front, including the southern sloping crest [579] and the ground passing beyond the Marietta and Canton wagon road.

Hardee's corps began there, crossed the next highway (the Marietta and Lost Mountain road), and gradually drew back till his left was somewhere between Kolb's Farm and Zion's Church, that part of his force looking into the valley of Olley's Creek.

On our side, Blair, with his Seventeenth Corps, had now come to us from the west. He brought enough men to compensate for Sherman's previous losses; so that, like Johnston, Sherman had about the same numbers as at Resaca. The Army of the Tennessee, with Blair on the left, faced Hood. A short distance beyond, eastward, was Garrard's cavalry, trying to keep back the Confederate cavalry of Wheeler.

Thomas, with his three Union corps, touched the middle bend opposite Loring and part of Hardee. Hooker's corps made Thomas's right; then came, on the extreme right, the Twenty-third Corps and Stoneman's cavalry, under Schofield. The Union right, already by June 20th reached as far south as Olley's Creek. The whole infantry stretch of Sherman's front was at that time fully eight miles.

There are four distinct combats which ought to come into this battle of Kenesaw:

1. The combat with Wheeler's cavalry near Brush Mountain.

2. The cavalry combat against Jackson.

3. The battle of Kolb's Farm on June 22d.

4. Our determined attacks and repulses at different points all along the Kenesaw line during June 27th.

General Sherman's field orders notified us that he and his staff would be “near Kenesaw Mountain” on [580] June 27th. I recall, in general, the character of the country near to Kenesaw, mostly wild, hilly, and rugged, and thickly covered with virgin trees, oak and chestnut, with here and there a clearing made for a small farm, or a bald opening that seemed to have come of itself, though I but dimly remember Sherman's temporary headquarters, which were fixed on Signal Hill for a few days only.

Mr. J. C. Van Duzer (a superintendent of telegraph lines) telegraphed to the Assistant Secretary of War at 9.30 P. M. on June 24th: “Sherman moved to a point in field three miles west of Marietta, and Thomas to a new headquarters camp half a mile farther to our right, about the same distance from Marietta.”

Van Duzer thus, by the wires keeping up his connection with Washington, united our commands. He used for us what was called the “field line” of telegraph wire, and connected his railroad line with Sherman, and Sherman with Thomas half a mile distant, and with Schofield, at least two miles in the same direction; also northward from Sherman two miles with McPherson.

Here, then, like the arrangements of Von Moltke in the Franco-Prussian War, we have our commander in a central position on high ground, about one mile in our rear, connecting his spreading rays in fanshaped order with his army commanders; and they by signal stations and swift messengers with their corps commanders, the latter with division leaders, and so on to include brigades and regiments.

Johnston did well to go up to the Kenesaw crest. Here he had in the battle similar but better advantages over Sherman than Meade had over Lee from the famous Cemetery Hill. [581]

Sherman's plan was, as ordered, for Thomas to make a heavy assault at the center with his army while McPherson made a feint on the left and Schofield a threatened attack on the right. Orders:

I. The corps of Major General Howard will assault the enemy's intrenchments at some point near the left of Stanley's and Davis's divisions, which will be selected by General Howard after a careful reconnoissance. He will support his attack by such disposition of his artillery as, in his judgment, is best calculated to insure success.

II. Major General Palmer will, with his column on the right of General Howard's, cooperate with the latter by carrying the enemy's works immediately in his front. The batteries of General Baird's and Davis's divisions will remain as at present posted until the contemplated movement is made. General King's division will occupy its present position, but hold itself in readiness to follow up any advantage gained by the other troops.

III. Major General Hooker will support General Palmer on the latter's right with as much of his force as he can draw from his lines, selecting positions for his artillery best calculated to enfilade the enemy's works to his left and on General Palmer's front. In supporting General Palmer's movement, General Hooker will watch carefully his own right flank, and be prepared to meet any demonstration of the enemy upon it.

IV. The troops must get into position as early as possible and commence the movement at 8 A. M. to-morrow, precisely. All the troops will be ready to follow up with promptness any success which may be gained.

I will risk wearying the reader by quoting here my own brief orders for the same battle:

In pursuance of instructions from headquarters, Army of the Cumberland, an attack will be made upon the enemy tomorrow at 8 A. M. by this corps (the Fourth) in conjunction with the Fourteenth Corps. The points of attack are selected near the present position of Colonel Grose's brigade. [582]

II. General Newton will lead the assault, being prepared to cover his own left.

III. Major General Stanley will retain one of his brigades in position extending from General Palmer's left to the ravine, and will be prepared, with his other two brigades well in hand, to follow closely General Newton's movements.

IV. General Wood will occupy his present front and extend to the ravine on his right with one brigade, while he will hold his other two brigades in readiness to follow up the movement of the attacking column.

V. The points for massing the troops of General Stanley's and Wood's divisions will be pointed out in the morning.

General Newton will commence his movement for the attack at sunrise, keeping his troops as well concealed from the enemy's view as possible.

Thomas and his two corps commanders most concerned, Palmer and I, were for hours closeted together. I went with my division commander, Newton, and we examined the ground which our juniors had selected that seemed least objectionable. Newton used the column of regimental divisions, doubled on the center. That formation seemed best for the situation; first, to keep the men concealed as well as possible beforehand and during the first third of the distance, the ground being favorable for this; second, to make as narrow a front as he could, so as to make a sudden rush with numbers over their works. But for the slashings, abatis, and other entanglements, all proving to be greater obstacles than they appeared to our glasses, the little column would have lost but a few men before arriving at the barricades. Had they done so, and broken through the Confederate works, as our men did in the night fight in Lookout Valley, and as Harker's men did at Muddy Creek, deployed [583] lines were ready to follow up the forlorn hope and gain a success.

At a preconcerted signal the columns pushed rapidly forward, driving in the enemy's skirmishers, and were not checked until they reached the entanglements in front of the enemy's works. At this place the artillery and infantry fire became so galling that the advance was stopped. Harker made a second advance, when he received the wound which caused his death. Some of his men succeeded in reaching the enemy's works, but failed to secure a lodgment. As soon as it became evident that the enemy's intrenchments could not be carried by assault, the command was directed to resume its former position. Our losses were very heavy, particularly in valuable officers.

General Harker's brigade,” says Newton, “advanced through the dense undergrowth, through the slashing and abatis made by the enemy, in the face of their fire, to the foot of the works, but” (the men); “were unable to got in, and fell back a short distance. General Wagner's brigade passed through similar obstacles, and” (his men) “were compelled to stop their advance a short distance from the enemy's works. .. . Apart from the strength of the enemy's lines, and the numerous obstacles which they had accumulated in front of their works, our want of success is in a great degree to be attributed to the thickets and undergrowth, which effectually broke up the formation of our columns and deprived that formation of the momentum which was expected of it. Besides the enemy's musketry, our troops were exposed to a heavy fire of case shot.... The loss of the division in the assault was 654 killed and wounded.” [584]

Colonel Opdycke, with the One Hundred and Twenty-fifth Ohio, led Harker's charge. Harker went into the action mounted, and so was a conspicuous mark. At the bugle call the column was started. The mass paid no attention to the enemy's scattered outwatchers, but rushed at once for the hostile skirmish line, protected by deep detached rifle pits. The skirmish fire made but little impression. But here came the “tug of battle” --musketry before them, hot in their faces, direct and cross firingl On they went up the slope, but not many yards, when a Confederate battery, well located for the purpose, poured grape and shells into their flank, cutting in halves their column and confusing the regiments in rear. Still many men kept on, pulled the abatis apart1 sprang over or kept under the felled trees, and tried to mount the high parapet. Some were killed, some were seized and pulled over to become prisoners. This terrible trial lasted a little more than an hour, when Harker's brigade gave up the assault and fell back for better shelter, bringing their dead chief, General Harker, with them.

Wagner's assault was equally brave-six regiments in column, Colonel Blake, with the Fortieth Indiana in the lead.

The Confederates, at one time eagerly pursuing, sprang over their works and undertook to charge Wagner's repulsed brigade, but gained nothing.

Palmer, commanding the Fourteenth Corps, selected Jeff. C. Davis's division. Davis chose what seemed to be the most vulnerable point in the enemy's breastworks. He designated McCook's and Mitchell's brigades, placing McCook on his right and Mitchell on his left, in the rear of my right division (Stanley's). [585] Morgan's brigade he held in reserve. His front line was about 600 yards from the point of attack. There the ground was uneven and rocky, covered with the usual trees and undergrowth.

“ The signal,” writes Davis, “was given a little before nine o'clock, and the troops, following the example of their admired leaders, bounded over our own works in the face of the enemy's fire, and rushed gallantly for the enemy, meeting and disregarding with great coolness the heavy fire, both of artillery and infantry, to which they were exposed, until the enemy's works were reached. Here, owing to exhaustion produced by too rapid execution of the movement, the exceedingly rough ground, and the excessive heat, the troops failed to leap over and carry the works to which their noble, daring, and impetuous valor had carried them.”

A renewal of the assault in the present exhausted condition of the troops was exceedingly hazardous. Under the circumstances, after a thorough examination of the ground and the enemy's works, I reported to Major General Thomas, and recommended that the position be held and the troops intrenched where they were. This he ordered to be done. . . . Colonel Daniel McCook, long the admired and gallant commander of his brigade, fell with a severe wound, of which he subsequently died at his home in Ohio. Colonel Harmon of the One Hundred and Twenty-fifth Illinois succeeded him in command, but fell immediately after. He was a brave and skillful officer. The death of these two noble leaders was at the time a great misfortune to the troops, and will ever be to the army and country a great loss. General Davis's losses were 770.

Sherman still hoped against hope that Schofield, followed by Hooker, might make a lodgment upon [586] Johnston's weakened flank. Schofield's dispatch at 10 A. M. was encouraging: “Colonel Reilly has carried a position on the Sandtown road and driven the enemy back. Cox will push forward as much as possible. Hascall is using his artillery freely and pressing strongly, but finds the enemy too strong to give hope of getting his works.”

But at last Cox's dispatch, received at 4.30 P. M., showed that nothing more could be done. Cox and Stoneman, routing a Confederate detachment and driving it back, seizing and holding an important Confederate outwork, had done good service for future operations, but that, important as it was, just then afforded poor consolation to our defeated commander.

On the Confederate side, when General Johnston left the Kenesaw heights and retired to his headquarters he was greatly rejoiced with the triumphs of that day. In his modest account of his victory were these words in praise of our gallant attack against him: “The Federal troops were in greater force and deeper order, and pressed forward with the resolution always displayed by the American soldier when properly led.”

The entire Confederate loss was 522 against 2,500 for Sherman. It is a wonder our loss was not greater.

Among our greatest losses was that of General Harker, who was in characteristics much like McPherson. Would that he could have lived to have realized some of his bright hopes, and the country to have reaped still mpre benefit from his grand and heroic qualities I I wrote at the time of him:

Headquarters Fourth Corps, July 15, 1864.
My Dear Colonel: ... I knew General Harker as a cadet while I was on duty as instructor at West Point. He was then [587] remarkable for independence of character and uprightness of conduct. I was particularly happy to renew my acquaintance with him after I came West. I was surprised and pleased to find that so young a man had won the complete confidence of the commanding general of the department. On taking command of this corps Harker was still a colonel, and as I was a comparative stranger in the corps, I was anxious to get him to serve as my chief of staff. He assured me he would do everything in his power to aid me in my duties, but if I would excuse him he greatly preferred command in the field. His choice I soon learned to appreciate. Strict and exact in the performance of his own duty, he obtained the most willing and hearty cooperation from all his officers without apparent effort. The only complaint I ever heard was that if Harker got started against the enemy he could not be kept back. Yet I never found him other than cool and self-possessed. Whenever anything difficult was to be done-anything that required pluck and energy-we called on Harker.

At Rocky Face, where his division wrested one-half of that wonderful wall of strength; at Resaca, where he tenaciously held a line of works close under fire; at Dallas, where he held on for several days with thin lines in connection with his brother officers and hammered their works at a distance of less than 100 yards; at Muddy Creek, where he reinforced the skirmishers and directed their movements with so much skill and vigor as to take and hold a strong line of the enemy's earthworks; in fact, at every place where the corps had been engaged, this noble young man earnestly and heartily performed his part.

On June 27th (upon his horse) he led in that terrible assault on the enemy's breastworks. We did not carry them, but part of his command reached the works. A sergeant bearing the colors was bayoneted as he was climbing over. Our beloved and trusted young general was close by, pressing forward his column, when the fatal wound was received. I never saw him after the fight began. I do not yet realize that he is goneone so full of rich promise, so noble, so true a friend, so patriotic a soldier. God grant that we may live like him, and, if [588] called to die, have as good an earnest of enduring peace in heaven as had our lamented General C. G. Harker.

I am, colonel, respectfully, your obedient servant, O. O. Howard, Major General. Colonel G. P. Buell, commanding fifth-eighth Indiana.

General Daniel McCook, who fell about the same moment as Harker, was once Sherman's law partner, and brother of Major General A. McD. McCook, of the army. Sherman felt his loss as he would that of a brother.

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