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1864 July 30: Battle of Kennesaw Mountain and Other Atlanta Campaign Skirmishing

July 31, 2014

The following letter from the 12th Wisconsin Infantry appeared in The Prescott Journal of July 30, 1864.  The headlines are from nearly a page-worth of reports from various Wisconsin regiments and do not refer only to what appears in the letter from the 12th Regiment.  Company A of the 12th Wisconsin was the Lyon Light Guards from Prescott.


The Advance to the Chattahoochie [sic].

How Rebel Works are Rendered Useless.

Story of an Escaped Prisoner.

Barbarous Cruelty of Rebels.

One Hundred Day Men at Memphis.

From the 12th Regiment.

A Review from the 15th of June—The Movements of our Forces—More of Sherman’s Right Flanking—Rebel Evacuation of Kenesaw [sic]—The Pursuit of the EnemyCharging and Driving the Rebels to the Chattahoochee—The Spires of Atlanta in View.

July 9, 1864. }

In my last I related the particulars of a charge in which a part of our regiment participated, on the 15th of June, and which cost us heavily.  I will now relate our subsequent adventures.

After several days shelling the woods in our front, where our boys made the charge, the rebs gradually falling back from line to line as each grew too hot to hold them, it was decided to make another advance, and on the morning of the 19th the various regiments of our corps began to move forward.  Crossing over our late battle-ground, we marched through the thick brush, over quite a number of steep hills, through a double line of empty rifle-pits, sitting under the crest of a little hill to endure a two hours’ deluge of rain, then moving by the left flank through openings in the woods, where the rebels had exhausted their ingenuity in felling trees and brush so as to block up and prevent the passage of any hostile forces, through more rifle-pits, finally halting near a rebel fort, where a double row of pointed stakes forbid a nearer approach.  However, as the builders had skedaddled, we quietly pushed the obstructions aside and took position in the deserted works, using the logs to make other works for our better protection.  Before finishing them we were ordered to make another advance, which after repeating our former adventures among logs, trees, hills and abattis, brought us to another and still stronger line of works, the fourth entered since leaving our camp in the morning.  Do not suppose that no opposition had been made to our advance.  Shot, shell and bullets had constantly been on the hunt for us in a remarkable interesting manner, but, fortunately, without doing very great damage.  Upon reaching this fourth type of works, we laid down behind them, taking baptism the second, while bullets sang around us right merrily.

In the morning our batteries, which had taken position on the flanks of our brigades, opened fire upon the rebelswhose batteries could plainly be seen upon the crest of the mountaim [sic] overlooking uswhich was returned with considerable spirit for a while, after which they became silent and our boys had it all their own way again.

We remained quietly in our new position until the morning of the 22d ult., the rebels apparently paying little heed to us, but giving great attention to the proceedings of our troops far to the right, when they suddenly began to shell the tents and flys [sic] of regimental and brigade headquarters, tearing a tent-fly on one side and a shelter tent on the other side of our Colonel’s tent, sending a shower of dirt over the table where a few of our officers were eating, causing them to scatter in great disgust and rather rapidly to a safer place, damaging the understanding of a horse and a mule, whose brains were at once knocked out, to save doctor’s bills, while the rest of us “laid low,” not caring to receive any of the compliments so lavishly showered upon us.

Next day we dug a line of rifle-pits some fifty steps in advance of the line, strengthening it considerably otherwise, so as to make ourselves more secure from shot and shell, or the more insidious bullet.

During the night of the 26th ult., we moved a little to the right, and went to work strengthing [sic] the breastworks and closing up the line of rifle-pits, so as to make them into an advanced line of breastworks.  Next morning another charge was ordered by Gen. Whisky, or somebody else, to be made by four companies of the 53d Indiana, of our brigade, an order which was obeyed, resulting in the death of one captain and the capture of another, the death of one or two lieutenants, and the killing, wounding, and capturing of about 75 rank and file, and the rapid retreat of the rest, loudly cursing the officers who sent them to charge up the side of a precipitous mountain where the rebel rifle-pits, perched upon inaccessible walls of rocks, showered death and defiance upon them.

"Battle of Kenesaw Mountian" [sic], by Kurz & Allison

“Battle of Kenesaw Mountian” [sic], by Kurz & Allison¹

Toward evening of the 1st of July, the rebels exposed a flag of truce in their pits at the foot of the mountain when, upon inquiry, they proposed that the 53d boys should come up and bury their dead.  When it is recollected that they buried none of those who fell in the charge of the 15th of June, belonging to either army, but left them for us to inter when we advanced to the occupation of the ground, it seemed strange that they should make such a proposition ;  but the object sought by them soon became apparent, when the flag was ordered back by our picket officer, as their whole line of pits at the foot of the mountain opened fire upon our skirmish line, with an uproar that was awful.  The time occupied in receiving the flag of truce had been used to cover the approach of a large force of rebels, who crept down the side of the mountain into their pits, preparatory to opening a heavy fire upon our boys.  I think they soon became satisfied that they had ” waked the wrong passenger,” as batteries from all directions took up the quarrel, and more than rained hardware upon the ragged rascals.  The air was fairly alive with the roar of artillery and bursting shells for awhile, and the rebels retreated to their dens in the mountain-side very suddenly, losing all relish for the concert of death which so rudely disturbed the sunset hour.

At dawn on the morning of the 2d the enemy opened a heavy musketry fire along their lines for miles, which again caused our batteries and skirmishers a lively hour’s work, resulting in the rebels being silenced as usual.  During the day we made preparations for moving, leaving all our “leafy shades” standing, so as to deceive the rebels as to our whereabouts, and being relieved by Wilder’s cavalry [John T. Wilder], at 10 o’clock P. M., we bade adieu to Kenesaw [sic] Mountain, and began to march toward the right, going several miles in the dark, and halting near a very strong line of rebel-built works, long captured by our forces, until daylight.

Before starting in the morning we were informed that the rebels had evacuated the mountain, and fallen back to the river, where they had very strong works. We marched all day, going some twelve or fourteen miles, until we had passed to the right of all the grand army, and then rested awhile. The day had been very hot, we had marched fast, so that many men gave out along the road, but the news that a great many prisoners had been taken, and that the rebel army was retreating in great haste, and the order coming to “press them on all sides,” stimulated the boys exceedingly, so that they fell in for a further advance with a good will and moved off, fully resolved to “do or die,” so that they might but whip the enemy.  We halted and drew one day’s rations of “hard-tack,” then forward again, filed to the left across several fields and over several steep hills until dark, when we were ordered back to camp, a mile to the rear, accompanied by two or three shells sent by the rebels to look for us, but which, happily for us, “failed to connect.”

We passed most of the “glorious 4th” in camp, resting from the fatigue of the day previous, drawing rations and preparing for further movements.  About 5 o’clock P. M. we fell in again, and marched away to the right, along the road for some three miles at a terrible rate, suddenly filing to the left, behind a fence, and forming a line of battle, expecting orders to advance every moment.  However, after moving down the fence farther, we made a barricade of fence rails and slept behind it till morning.

Early in the day, of July 5th, we formed a line-of-battle in front of our lodgings, our regiment being on the extreme left, covered by Co. B of “ours,” and a company of the 53d Indiana as skirmishers, and advanced to find a foe.  Over hills and hollows, fences and creeks, fields and forests, brush and brambles, tearing through or rushing over every obstacle—and they were as numerous as they well could be—our line went forwards steadily as if impelled by the hand of fate.  Suddenly after marching some two miles in this way, from right to left for miles the skirmishers opened fire, charging over everything with thrilling cheers, and followed by the whole line, in grim and stern array.  The rebel works, swarming with graybacks,² appeared on the crest of a hill ;  with a cheer that made the welkin³ ring, the line charged at the double quick, delivering its fire as it advanced, forcing a passage through the felled and tangled trees placed in its way, and planted the glorious flag upon its crest, while the dense woods resounded with the fleeing footsteps of the discomfited rebels, who were “changing their base” with alarming rapidity.  Guns, knapsacks, letters, blankets, cartridge boxes, and “corn-dodgers”4 were scattered around, all showing that the rebels are firm believers in that doctrine of Satan, “skin for skin, yea all that a man hath will he give for his life.”5  Some of the regiments on our right suffered severely in this charge, we had one or two wounded but none killed.  Our three regimental flags looked well, waving over those works, so lately covered by the flaunting flag of treason, and our boys felt justly proud of them, as they gleamed all glorious in the glow of victory, giving hope and courage, sure prestige of greater triumphs still in store for those who fight beneath their folds.

After resting awhile, the line was reformed, and again advanced.  If anything the country grew rougher as we proceeded, some of the hills being almost covered with fragments of Mica, many of them as large as a person’s hand, and very bright and sparkling in the sunshine.— After going about a mile farther, and scaling the crest of a steep hill, the rebels opened fire with several pieces of artillery and a heavy musketry fire upon our skirmishers.  We were ordered to lie down, an order needing no repetition, as we could see and hear the fragments of shells and bullets cutting off leaves and branches, and striking over us with great energy and violence, altogether too close to be agreeable.  Our batteries, which were kept close to the line, in its advance, replied with great effect, while we laid “under the droppings” of their “eloquent appeals,” hugging the ground as closely as possible, so as to be as far “beneath their notice” as possible.

About 5 o’clock p.m. the line again advanced, crossing an open field at double-quick over a thickly-wooded hill, through which we got a glimpse of a line of earth-works, wreathed in sulfurous smoke, from which shells came screaming over our heads in dangerous proximity.  Dashing across the hollow at its foot we laid down again on the opposite hill side, in a clearing, over which the shells flew at a terrible rate.  An order to charge the enemy’s works was sent round to the brigade commanders, but they, with the regimental commanders, protested against it, as the works in our front were exceedingly strong, our advance would be for at least three-fourths of a mile across an open field, under the cross-fire of about 20 guns placed in strong forts, with at least two lines of rifle-pits in advance, and a deep muddy creek about half way there, without any means at our command for crossing it, except by wading, which was not likely to be a very easy task, as the creek varied from 5 to 10 feet in depth, and was very conveniently for the rebels, at point-blank range from their forts.  In consequence of its depth there was also a strong probability or our cartridge boxes getting wet, which, it was surmised would not help the shooting qualities of any ammunition contained therein, therefore it was deemed expedient to adjourn for the present the proposed charge.  An order arrived at Division Headquarters shortly after countermanding the charge, as it has been ascertained by Gen. McPherson [James B. McPherson], that the position of the enemy was very much stronger than had been anticipated.  We accordingly went to work building breastworks, and planting batteries, so that now our line and the rebel line occupy opposite sides of a deep, open valley, about three fourths of a mile wide, with the creek and the respective skirmish lines between us.

On the evening of the 6th inst, the rebels suddenly opened about 18 guns at us, and for about an hour there was the sharpest artillery fight I ever witnessed.  One of our batteries having 4 twelve pound howitzers in position, directly in front of our right, seemed to attract especial attention, and certainly did its utmost to deserve it.  The hill side behind it was literally covered with troops and their little shelters, but fortunately the rebels sent their shells clear over them.  They killed two horses and three mules at Brigade headquarters, and almost tore the Quartermaster Sergeant of the 16th Iowa to pieces.  Since then they have been comparatively quiet, only throwing shells at sundown just to keep us aware of their presence.  On Thursday night our men bridged the creek at several points in our front, when the skirmishers advanced across under a heavy musketry fire, made pits and entrenched themselves on the other side.

From a hill in our rear the spires of Atlanta, the river with the rebel pontoon bridge, and mile after mile of heavy works on both sides of the river are visible.  Gen. Sherman [William T. Sherman] first took possession of Marietta, and established his headquarters there on the 4th inst, and on the 7th three trains of cars loaded with supplies reached that depot.

Our 3d Division rests with its right on Chattahoochie [sic] river, but it may be a week or two before we get the rebels driven from this side, and then we shall probably have to fight them all the way to Atlanta.  It is 30 days since we formed our fist line of battle at Big Shanty, some twenty-five miles back, and we have been on the front ever since, digging, fighting or skirmishing.  We may be 30 days more before reaching Atlanta, although on the right of every other corps, and within 10 or 12 miles of it now.  More anon.

1.    “Battle of Kenesaw Mountian [sic]—June 27′ 1864.” This digital image is from an original 1891 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.
2.  This is the first time we have seen this nickname used for the Confederates, referring to their gray uniforms.
3.  An archaic term referring to the sky, the upper air, the firmament, the heavens or the Celestial sphere.
4.  A small oval cake made of corn bread, either baked or fried.
5.  From the Bible, Job 2:4, “And Satan answered the LORD, and said, Skin for skin, yea, all that a man hath will he give for his life.

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