Jerry Summers: Battle of Kennesaw Mountain

Tuesday, April 7, 2020 - by Jerry Summers
Jerry Summers
Jerry Summers

After the ill-fated defeat of the Confederate Army at Missionary Ridge on November 23-25, 1863, under the leadership of General Braxton Bragg, the Southern Army lost its last big advantage and made a slow but gradual retreat towards Atlanta.

 

Bragg had been replaced as commanding officer of the Confederate Army by General Joseph E. Johnston.

 

After both sides engaged in winter quarters, the South gradually began retreating south pursued by Union Major General William T.

Sherman, who continuously attempted to outflank Johnston’s Army in a series of skirmishes in northwest Georgia.

 

The Battle of Kennesaw Mountain took place on June 27 and was the most significant frontal assault between the two competing armies.

 

After two months of using flanking movements against the Rebels which resulted in only minimal casualties on each side, Sherman began his large-scale frontal assault.

 

Generals James B. McPherson, John A. Logan and George H. Thomas attacked on several fronts but sustained heavy casualties. However, General John M. Schofield was successful in threatening the Confederate army’s left flank which resulted in the Confederates making another retreat towards Atlanta. 

 

The Battle of Kennesaw Mountain had been preceded by several encounters designed for the North to take over control of the two principal Southern cities of Richmond and Atlanta by destroying the armies defending them.

 

On June 14, Sherman spied a group of Confederate officers on Pine Mountain and ordered his artillery batteries to open fire.  One of the casualties was Lieutenant General Leonidas Polk who was an Episcopal Bishop and one of the founders of the University of the South at Sewanee, Tennessee.  Polk was nicknamed the “Fighting Bishop”, although this descriptive title overstated his ability as a military officer.  However, Johnston withdrew his troops from Pine Mountain and established military lines in an arc-shaped defensive position between Kennesaw Mountain and little Kennesaw Mountain.

 

The lay of the land and the heavily entrenched Confederates prevented further southern advance by Sherman’s troops.

 

A stalemate took place with the Union forces being stilled about 15 miles north of Atlanta.

 

Sherman decided to use the same strategy that had worked successfully at Missionary Ridge by ordering Schofield to attack on the right and McPherson on the left at the northern outskirts of Marietta and the northeastern end of Kennesaw Mountain.

 

General Thomas’ army would then attack the center of the weak Confederate lines.

 

At 8:00 a.m. on June 27, the Union artillery barrage of over 200 cannons bombarded the enemy’s lines with the Rebel artillery responding likewise.

 

For five days, the opposing armies fought in deadly combat, but on July 2, Sherman initiated a flanking movement on the left and Johnston was forced to retreat from the mountain to set up new positions outside Smyrna.

 

On July 17, Johnston was released of command and replaced by the overly aggressive John Bell Hood.

 

After other skirmishes at Peachtree Creek, Atlanta Ezra Church and Jonesboro on September 1, Hood’s unsuccessful tactics resulted in Atlanta being evacuated.

 

Sherman proudly proclaimed the victory and Abraham Lincoln was able to interject the favorable result in his re-election campaign in the fall of 1864.

 

The battlefield is now part of Kennesaw Mountain Battlefield Park where one of the lesser known but highly significant contests of the Civil War took place.

 
* * *

Jerry Summers

(If you have additional information about one of Mr. Summers' articles or have suggestions or ideas about a future Chattanooga area historical piece, please contact Mr. Summers at jsummers@summersfirm.com  

Illinois Monument at Kennesaw
Illinois Monument at Kennesaw

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