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1864 August 6: Battle of Peachtree Creek—Part II

August 8, 2014

The main article in the August 6, 1864, issue of The Prescott Journal is a lengthy one—split into two posts—on the battles and skirmishes leading up to Atlanta, especially the Battle of Peachtree Creek, which took place on July 20, 1864.  This article continually spells Peachtree as two words and we have not put [sic] after all of them.

It was Confederate General John B. Hood’s first battle since taking command of the Confederate Army of the Tennessee from General Joseph E. Johnston.  The Union Army of the Cumberland, commanded by General George H. Thomas, was the main Union army involved in the conflict.

Although the Confederates won tactical victories at the Battle of New Hope Church, the Battle of Pickett’s Mill, and the Battle of Kennesaw Mountain, Union General William T. Sherman’s superior troop numbers kept the Confederates from taking advantages of their successes.  Gradually, the Union forces flanked the Confederates out of every defensive position they attempted to hold.  On July 8, 1864, Union forces crossed the Chattahoochee River, the last major natural barrier between Sherman and Atlanta.

T H E  A T L A N T A  B A T T L E S.

W e d n e s d a y ‘ s  F i g h t  o n  P e a c h  T r e e  C r e e k.

T h o m a s,   H o o k e r,   H o w a r d,   P a l m e r.

A TREMENDOUS REBEL ASSAULT REPULSED.

O u r   L o s s ,   2,500 ;     R e b e l   L o s s ,   6,500.

W i s c o n s i n  R e g ’ t s  F a v o r a b l y  M e n t i o n e d.

Special Correspondence of the Cincinnati Gazette.

The wave of rebel assault rolled from left to right, finally involving our whole line from Newton on the left to Col. Anson G. McCook‘s brigade on the right.

Colonel Bradley’s brigade [Luther P. Bradley], of Newton ‘s division [John Newton], (to the command of which he succeeded after the death of the noble Harker,¹) was formed in columns of regiments along the road leading from Buckhead to Atlanta, when the fight commenced.  Immediately after the rebel assault began upon Newton’s front, the 64th Ohio and 42nd Illinois were sent to support Colonel Blake [John W. Blake], while the 27th Illinois was dispatched to the assistance of General Kimball [Nathan Kimball].  The remainder of the brigade was at first also intended to go to the support of Blake ;  but its destination was changed, and it was formed in order of battle along the Atlanta road, where it assisted in repelling and capturing a column of the enemy which had forced its way past Blake’s left flank and actually gained our rear.

This incident deserves to be further noticed. So intense was the interest among our men to repel the rebels in their immediate front, that they old not perceive a small column had passed around entirety to the left of Blake, and penetrated the right of that long line of skirmishers which I have described as alone holding the huge gap between Newton and Wood, until they heard the noise of conflict immediately in their rear.  The rebels had rescued the Buckhead and Atlanta Road.  But there was one man near by who saw the rebels, and marked them as doomed.  Gen. Thomas was overlooking the progress of the fight in the rear of Newton.  The moment he perceived the body of rebels I have mentioned, he hastily got together a force consisting of the pioneers of Kimball’s brigade, some of the straggling skirmisher who had fled before the first rebel onset, and a couple of pieces of artillery.  Taking immediate personal command of this novel battalion, he assailed the astonished rebels, and killed and captured the whole body.  He may perform great achievements in the future, as he has in the past, but I venture to predict that he will think as often of this little affair as of any military event of his life.

The 57th Indiana and 100th Illinois, of Col. Blake’s brigade, which were advanced in the first place as skirmishers, were separated for some time from the remainder of the brigade by the rebel column above mentioned.  The right of Colonel Blake ‘s brigade rested on the Atlanta road, the left of General Kimball’s upon the same.  Four guns of Goodspeed’s Ohio Battery,² under command of Lieut. Scovill,² were placed upon the Atlanta road, just in rear of these two brigades, and during the whole time the fight lasted did terrible execution upon the enemy.  Once the rebels came up a ravine just to the left of the road, in close column, with Brigadier-General Stephens [sic]³ at their head, determined, if possible, to capture these four pieces ;  but Kimball’s left regiment, 74th Illinois, on the right of the road, and Blake’s right regiment, the 88th Illinois, on the left of the road, poured into the column so terrible a direct and cross fire, that it reeled, staggered and broke in confusion, leaving its leader dead upon the field.

The brigade which formed the left of Gen. Ward’s division [William T. Ward] is commanded by Col. Jas. Wood of the 136th New-York.  But two of its regiments were in front line when the conflict commenced, the 26th Wisconsin and 20th Connecticut.  The 55th Ohio afterward took part in the fighting, as did the 73rd, which relieved the 26th Wisconsin, and the 136th New-York, which relieved the 20th Connecticut.  The troops immediately opposed to Col. Wood were a Mississippi brigade, under command of a “Brigadier-General” Featherstone [sic],4 who was killed early in the fight.  Col. Wood did all that was required of him, as might be expected from so excellent a commander.

The centre of Gen. Ward’s division was held by Col. Coburn’s brigade [John Coburn].  Coburn is the faithful and intelligent Colonel of the 33rd Indiana, a regiment which, although it was very unfortunate some time ago, has more than once redeemed its reputation.  The 22nd Wisconsin, Lieutenant-Colonel Bloodgood [Edward Bloodgood], was deployed as skirmishers in front of this brigade, in the beginning of the fight, and contended there a long time with obstinacy and skill.  It was part of Col. Coburn’s brigade which, in the terrible shock along the front or Ward’s division, exchanged places with a part of the rebel line, and wheeled about to renew the fight with them.

The next brigade, going toward the left, was Gen. Ward’s, (at present commanded by Col. Harrison [Benjamin Harrison], of the 70th Indiana.)  It did its full share of this glorious day’s work.—When the great charge of the rebels and counter-charge by our men were made, the 129th Illinois engaged the enemy in a hand-to-hand conflict, in which officers as well as men mingled indiscriminately.  Lieut. Col. Flynn and a rebel Colonel, each with a gun in his hands, fought each other for a considerable time, each dodging around a bush repeatedly, so as to give or avoid a shot.

Gen. Williams’ division [Alpheus S. Williams] gloriously distinguished itself.  Gen. Knipe’s brigade [Joseph F. Knipe], composed exclusively of Eastern troops, contended in patriotic and glorious rivalry with Col. Robinson’s [James S. Robinson], which are nearly all Western ; while Col. T. H. Ruger’s [Thomas H. Ruger] (formerly Colonel of the 3d Wisconsin,) made up from both sections, did its duty as well.

Colonel Anson G. McCook, of the 2nd Ohio, earned a place among the best and bravest of those who that day beat back the legions of treason and anarchy.  His brigade, consisting of old regiments, each of which has a historical name, was, until recently, under command of Brig. Gen. Carlin [William P. Carlin].  The latter being on leave of absence, Col. McCook assumed command by right of seniority.  On him was devolved the duty of clipping the left wing of the rebel host which pounced upon us.  He was on the extreme left of Palmer’s corps [John M. Palmer], and his was the left brigade of Gen. Johnson’s division [Richard W. Johnson].  It was formed in two lines, the first commanded by Col. Taylor,5 of the 15th Kentucky ; the second by Col. Hobart [Harrison C. Hobart], 21st Wisconsin.  The brigade advanced to the top of the ridge in front, to keep in line with Gen. Hooker [Joseph “Fighting Joe” Hooker], and had time to throw up some slight works before it was assailed.  This remark applies to the first line only—the second had no works.

The 104th Illinois, on the left of the first line, was somewhat in advance of the other regiments, in consequence of the peculiar nature of the ground ; and was therefore the first struck when the rebels came thundering upon us.  A brave stand was made, and then the right of the regiment began to crumble away.  Col. McCook, while feeling deeply the heavy responsibility resting upon his shoulders, remained cool and self-possessed as a veteran.  He knew how terrible the result might be if this portion of our line was broken.  Yet the rebel legions had advanced entirely up to our rude works, and a rebel color-bearer stuck his detested flag into one of the logs composing them.  He almost instantly paid for his audacity with his life, being both shot and bayoneted where he stood. While the rebels were pressing on with exultant shouts after the retiring 104th, the 15th Kentucky, 42nd and 88th Indiana which were in line further back than the 104th, were shifted round in such a way that they were enabled to pour into the advancing enemy a destructive flank and cross fire, which at once chilled his ardor, and sent him to the right about.  Again they essayed to charge ; but by this time the gallant Colonel Hobart had placed the second line in such positions that it could assist materially in the conflict, and again the rebel flood was rolled back.  Thus gloriously did Col. McCook inaugurate his new command, and showed himself a worthy namesake of him whose name bathed the soil of Alabama, and of him who gave his life for freedom at Kenesaw [sic].

All along the portion of our line which we have just reviewed, the noise of battle continued to resound.  At every point the rebel battalions seem to have charged at least three times, and thrice the ground was left literally covered with their dead and mangled bodies.  Against our single unprotected line of battle on Hooker’s front, they hurled repeatedly two and three ; and although our loss was here most terrible, yet that of the rebels so far exceeded it as to be almost unexampled in the history of warfare.  By nightfall the charging squadrons had been everywhere repulsed, and driven in confusion and dismay back to their barricades.  When this glorious consummation became fully evident, there rose all along our battle-begrimmed [sic] ranks, so loud, so strong, so exultant, so terrible a cheer, that it must have paled the a cheeks of guilty traitors even in-the streets and houses of Atlanta.

The country owes a debt of gratitude to General Hooker, which it never can repay.—He was everywhere in the hottest of the battle, always hailed by enthusiastic cheers, and by the very magnetism of his personal presence infusing such a spirit into his soldiers, that had they been confronted even by ten times their number, they would not have known how to fly.  Without disparagement to any other portion of our glorious army, I but repeat what I heard the commanding General of another corps say, when I remark that it is doubtful whether any other body of troops in the United States service, than that led by Gen. Hooker, could have sustained such an onset in an open field.

Major General Palmer is another of our leaders, whose prudence and foresight did much to avert disaster this day, and enable us to win victory.  He seemed to have an instinctive perception of the impending attack, and at midnight of the 19th, sent word to all his division commanders, to strengthen their works.  Had this not been done, the storm would probably have burst on him instead of Hooker.  As it was, it touched only his extreme left, with what result we have already seen.

Gen. Johnson throughout the day exhibited that cool fidelity to his work, and that careful discharge of all the duties incumbent upon a General of division, which mark him as one of the safest and trustiest leaders of the Union army.

Several points are worthy of notice in this battle, which I shall only briefly mention.

The rebels were aware of the existence of the great gap in our lines, and had they struck it, the consequence might have been very disastrous.  As it was, they were utterly surprised at meeting Hooker where they did.

At least one-half of the rebel army was engaged, prisoners being taken from all three of the corps.

The fight was a most dismal inauguration of Hood’s new command.

Our losses in this fearful conflict, including every part of the line, will amount to about 2,500 men, of whom nearly 2,000 fell in the fierce struggle on the centre.

I cannot, with the authorities now before me, place the rebel loss in killed, wounded and prisoners, at less than 6,500 men.

1.  Brigadier General Charles Garrison Harker (1835 or 37-1864) graduated from West Point in 1858. He was shot from his horse and mortally wounded during the failed attack on Kennesaw Mountain on June 27, 1864.
2.  Captain Wilbur Goodspeed and Lieutenant Charles W. Scovill, both of Company A, 1st Ohio Light Artillery.
3.  Clement Hoffman Stevens (1821-1864) designed and constructed the iron-clad battery on Morris Island in the mouth of Charleston Harbor, which was used in the bombardment of Fort Sumter at the outbreak of the Civil War. He participated in the First Battle of Bull Run where he was wounded, the Battle of Secessionville, the Vicksburg Campaign, and the Battle of Chickamauga where he was wounded again. Stevens was mortally wounded at the Battle of Peachtree Creek and died on July 25, 1864.
4.  Winfield Scott Featherston [no “e” at the end] (1820-1891) was a lawyer in Mississippi before the Civil War, and served in the U.S. House of Representatives from Mississippi (1847-1851). When the Civil War started, he raised the 17th Mississippi Infantry and became its colonel. He participated in both the first and second battles of Bull Run (Manassas), was cited for gallantry at the Battle of Ball’s Bluff, was wounded during the Seven Days Battles, and fought at the battles of Antietam and Fredericksburg. After being transferred to the Western Theater, he fought in the Vicksburg, Atlanta, and Tennessee campaigns. In early 1865, he participated in the Carolinas Campaign and surrendered with Johnston’s army and was paroled. After the War he served in the Mississippi House of Representatives (1876 and 1880), was a delegate to the 1880 Democratic National Convention, served was judge of the 2nd judicial circuit of Mississippi, and was a member of the Mississippi constitutional convention (1890).
5.  Marion Cartright Taylor was a lawyer in Kentucky before the War. His previous military experience consisted of participating in with a Kentucky regiment in Narcisco Lopez’s first Cuban filibustering effort known as the “Cardenas Expedition,” which intended to upset Spanish rule in Cuba. Returning to Kentucky he was elected county attorney and a member of the Kentucky House of Representatives (1853-1855). At the outbreak of the Civil War Taylor raised, and became captain of, Company A, 15th Kentucky Infantry (Union). In January 1863 he was promoted to colonel of the regiment following the death of its previous commander, James B. Forman, at Stones River. Taylor continued to command the regiment for the remainder of the war except for a brief period in a staff position.

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