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1864 May 28: The Beginnings of the Atlanta Campaign: Battle of Resaca

June 1, 2014

Union General William T. Sherman’s Atlanta Campaign was a series of battles fought throughout northwest Georgia and the area around Atlanta during the summer of 1864.  Sherman invaded Georgia from the vicinity of Chattanooga, Tennessee, beginning on May 7, 1864.  Confederate troops opposing Sherman were led by General Joseph E. Johnston.

The Battle of Rocky Face Ridge was fought May 7-13 and the Battle of Resaca was fought from May 13 to 15, 1864.  They were the first two battles of Sherman’s Atlanta Campaign.  The following report on the battles is from the May 28, 1864, issue of The Prescott Journal.  We have split the lengthy report into two postings.  Today’s post contains the report of the Resaca battle; yesterday’s post consists of the days leading up to and the battle at Rocky Face Ridge.

T H E   W A R   I N   G E O R G I A.



Bloody and Obstinate Battle.

The subsequent operation in expelling the enemy from Resaca are given below as detailed by a correspondent of the Chicago Times.  Other reports state our loss at 5,000.¹  The Times would doubtless make the affair appear as little damaging to the rebels as possible.  Nevertheless its report is doubtless in the main correct and is more full than any other yet received.

RESACA, Ga. May 17.

A series of operations have just been completed, and the rebel army has retreated from the works around Resaca.

Presuming you have intelligence of our operations up to where the army left Buzzard Roost, I shall speak only of those subsequent to that, and in as brief a manner as possible.

On Thursday, May 12th, nearly the whole army was in motion toward Snake Creek, which lies about fifteen miles south of Buzzard Roost, only Howard [Oliver O. Howard], with Wood’s [Thomas J. Wood] and Stanley’s [David S. Stanley] divisions, being left to threaten the enemy in front of Dalton.  It should be observed, however, that Gen. McPherson [James B. McPherson], crossing directly over from Villianow [sic], had passed through Snake Creek Gap as early as Monday, the 9th of May.

By morning of Friday, the 13th, the bulk of our forces was assembled at Sugar Valley, near the eastern mouth of the gap, cavalry covering the operations of the infantry.  Gen. Kilpatrick [Judson Kilpatrick] was wounded while attending to this work.

During the 13th the army was occupied in deploying from the Gap, and getting in position.  Heavy skirmishing took place during the day.  Gen. Harrow’s division [William Harrow] of Gen. Logan’s corps [John A. Logan] met with considerable loss.  By night the enemy’s position was fully discovered.  Resaca is situated in a great bend toward the east.  Across the neck of the Coosawatte[e] River, the convex portion of the peninsula thus formed, extend continuous lines of rebel works, with strong field fortifications, especially about the town.  Both their flanks rested on the river, and the line of retreat was completely protected by these fortifications.

By the night of Friday our army was in position around the rebel works, except Howard’s forces, which had occupied Dalton the day before, and were sweeping down the line of the Altoona and Western Railroad to form a junction with the rest of the army.

On Saturday, the 14th, skirmishing began early in the morning, and continued incessantly throughout the day all along the line.  About 2 o’clock it was especially severe upon the left of the 15th corps, many of our men being picked off by rebel sharpshooters.—About noon Howard effected a junction with the rest of the army, and our whole force was then in line,—Howard’s corps forming the extreme left, Schofield’s [John M. Schofield] coming next, Hooker’s next [Joseph Hooker], Palmer’s next [Henry L. Palmer], Logan’s next,—Wood, with two divisions of the 16th corps, being on the extreme right.  Such dispositions and changes were afterward made as the movements of the enemy or the evacuation of our own plans required ;  but generally the line remained as I have indicated.

About one P. M. an attempt was made to break the centre of the enemy’s line, or, at least, to recapture his outer works.  Gen. Judah’s [Henry M. Judah] division of Schofield’s corps, and Newton’s division of Howard’s corps, moving over comparatively level ground, succeeded, after a desperate conflict, in compelling the rebels to abandon the position of their outer line.  We did not continue to hold this, but our own line being somewhat advanced, our artillery acting very effectively, we prevented the rebels from occupying it.

Further to our right we were not so fortunate.  Portions of Jamieson’s, Baird’s [Absalom Baird], and Weaver’s [James B. Weaver] divisions of Palmer’s corps, in attempting to charge the rebels in front, were compelled to throw themselves down an almost perpendicular bank ;  wade a creek waist deep, which ran at the foot of the bluff ;  and then across a valley filled with ditches, fully exposed to a fire from the rebel works.  Never did men go to work more gallantly, or contest more nobly, but they could not accomplish impossibilities, and, after severe loss, were obliged to withdraw.

Battle of Resaca

Battle of Resaca, from the Library of Congress²

It was now discovered that the enemy were moving a heavy force up the Resaca and Filton road, with the obvious purpose of turning our left.  Hooker was immediately sent to checkmate his movement.  Before he arrived, however, the rebels had thrown themselves in immense masses upon Cruft’s brigade [Charles Cruft] of Stanley’s division, and forced it, after splendid resistance, to abandon the hill upon which it was posted, and retire in considerable confusion.  The rebels, yelling like demons, came running across the road and open field to the west of it, when they were met by a murderous fire of grape and canister from Simpson’s old New York battery and the 5th Indiana.  At the same time, portions of Hooker’s men, falling into an open space, took position upon both sides of the valley and supported them.  Parts of Cruft’s brigade rallied to the rescue, and the rebels were repulsed with great slaughter.  It was night when the contest ceased.

Meantime a fierce conflict had commenced upon the right.  Morgan Smith’s and Osterhaus’ [Peter J. Osterhaus] divisions of Logan’s corps, with Sprague’s [William Sprague] brigade of Veatch’s [James C. Veatch] division of the 16th corps, charged a line of rebel rifle-pits a little to the right of and in sight of Resaca, and intrepidly carried them.  This was about 7 P. M.  An hour afterwards the rebel leaders, massing a large force, attempted to regain possession of these works.  Coming boldly up a long hill to the very foot of the works, they seemed determined to retake them or perish ;  but they were met with a determination as stern as their own.  The line of fire sweeping up the hill was answered by a line of fire on the summit.  The yell of the rebels was drowned in the louder shouts of Federal soldiers ;  and, after a struggle worthy of a good cause, the rebel host was hurled down the hill, leaving its sides covered with wounded and dead.  Our men continued to hold this work, which the rebels never regained.

On Sunday morning firing commenced as usual, but nothing of particular importance occurred until about 1 P.M.  At that time a determined charge was made by Hooker’s Corps, which now occupied our left—Palmer, Howard and Schofield having been shifted toward the right to fill up the gap, occasioned by Hooker’s withdrawal the day before.  This charge was at first believed to be successful.  The enemy were driven from a portion of their second lines, and Wood’s brigade, of Butterfield’s division [Daniel A. Butterfield], stormed a small fort and took a battery of four guns.  The rebels, however, having massed of this part of the line very heavily the day before, our men were exposed to so deadly a fire from the inner works that they were compelled to withdraw.  Part of them continued to hold the small fort and kept possession of the four rebel guns.  Notwithstanding this repulse, our line was now advanced to what had been the first rebel line of works.

Thus had we held our own in the centre and gained substantial and permanent advantage on both wings.

For this, and for some reason yet unknown, the enemy thought best to retire, and on Sunday night evacuated the place with his entire army, leaving only three guns and some stores of meat and corn behind.

Early this morning we started in pursuit, and no doubt Joe Johnston is by this time well on his way across the Etowah River.

I estimate our losses in our operations in front of Resaca at 600 killed, 3,000 wounded and 400 missing.  We have doubtless killed and wounded 2,600 of the enemy and taken 1,600 prisoners.  Four of our Brigadier-Generals have been wounded—Hooker slightly ;  Kilpatrick painfully ;  Manson seriously [Mahlon D. Manson] ;  Willich [August Willich], it is feared, mortally.  Three General officers of the rebels are known to have been killed.

Our trophies may be summed up at one stand of colors and seven pieces of artillery, unless the cavalry has since taken more, of which there are some hopes.

We can doubtless pursue the enemy to the Etowah River with case, as the cars came down to Resaca to-day, the rebels not having injured the railroad anywhere south of Buzzard Roost.  Our telegraphic communication is also perfect to Resaca.  The rebels have made no attempt to interfere with our communications, except by burning the depot at Madison, west of Huntsville.  The cars run through to Nashville as usual.

1.  This is fairly accurate. Modern estimates of Union losses at Resaca are between 4,000 and 5,000; Confederate losses were 2,800.
2.  “Battle of Resaca, May 13 to 16, 1864.” This digital image is from an original 1889 Kurz & Allison print, available at the Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division. The UWRF University Archives & Area Research Center has in its Special Collections a copy of Battles of the Civil War: The Complete Kurz & Allison Prints, 1861-1865, Birmingham, Ala.: Oxmoor House, 1976 (Oversized E 468.7 .B3 1976), which includes a copy of this print.

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