[This article is crossposted at UNCPressBlog.com.]
While fighting his way toward Atlanta, William T. Sherman encountered his biggest roadblock at Kennesaw Mountain, where Joseph E. Johnston’s Army of Tennessee held a heavily fortified position. The opposing armies confronted each other from June 19 to July 3, 1864, and Sherman initially tried to outflank the Confederates. His men endured heavy rains, artillery duels, sniping, and a fierce battle at Kolb’s Farm before Sherman decided to directly attack Johnston’s position on June 27. Kennesaw Mountain: Sherman, Johnston, and the Atlanta Campaign, by Earl J. Hess, tells the story of an important phase of the Atlanta campaign.
The following excerpt comes from the book’s Preface (pp. xii-xvi). Here, Hess explains how the nearly three weeks of battle at Kennesaw Mountain in the face of unyielding natural elements stand historically as a pivotal representation of military strategy and adaptation for both the Union and Confederate generals.
Six weeks after setting out from Chattanooga in early May, 1864, Major General William T. Sherman hit a massive roadblock while fighting his way toward Atlanta. Confederate general Joseph E. Johnston’s Army of Tennessee was heavily fortified along a line that stretched across the Georgia countryside, anchored on the twin peaks of Kennesaw Mountain near Marietta. It was the ninth fortified position Johnston had created thus far in the campaign, and it proved to be the most difficult to bypass. For two weeks, from June 19 to July 3, Sherman tried to find a way to turn Johnston’s left flank. Both armies were stretched to the breaking point in their extended positions as artillery duels, constant sniping, and a fierce battle or two erupted. As the two sides tested each other, heavy rains descended, and the dirt roads of Georgia became quagmires. Frustrated at the delay, Sherman decided to try a major frontal assault against three points of Johnston’s line on June 27. The Federals who survived that day would remember the attack for the rest of their lives.
The assault of June 27 was a significant departure from Sherman’s mode of operations during the Atlanta campaign. He had more often maneuvered parts of his massive force, an army group consisting of available troops from the departments of his Military Division of the Mississippi, in order to turn enemy flanks and force the Confederates out of their trenches. Sherman did mix attacks with his turning strategy at Dalton, Resaca, New Hope Church, and Pickett’s Mill, but most of those assaults had been exploratory efforts to find and develop enemy lines and take advantage of opportunities that occurred. On June 27, the Federals knew what to expect and were hitting a heavily fortified, well-manned position. It was, in a way, an experiment, and Sherman arrived at the decision after many days of deliberation.
Sherman threw eight brigades of veteran troops, some fifteen thousand men, at three locations along the heavily fortified Confederate line on June 27. keep reading →