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Fighting at Cheatham Hill
About North Georgia

Overview

For a complete view of the command structure at the Battle of Kennesaw Mountain, see Commanders at Kennesaw Mountain

On June_25, 1864 Union commander William Tecumseh Sherman ordered his generals to prepare for a series of frontal assaults against entrenched Rebel positions at Kennesaw Mountain to occur on June_27, 1864. Sherman intended to test the Rebel line from Stilesboro Road down to Cheatham Hill. If the frontal assault broke the Confederate line, Sherman intended to drive through to the Western and Atlantic Railroad two miles east of Kennesaw Mountain and trap Joseph E. Johnston in Marietta.

Opposing the Union Army were Joe Johnston's Confederates under the command of W. W. Loring, a replacement for Leonidas Polk and William Hardee, a battle-hardened veteran who wrote the book on Army tactics. Hardee had assigned Frank Cheatham a small hill to anchor Hardee's left (southern) flank. Further south, John Bell Hood held a line to Powder Springs Road.

Preparation

Daniel McCook as a Brigadier General
After receiving Sherman's orders on June 25, George Thomas and Oliver Otis Howard scouted the Union line looking for the best place to attack. That night Howard, IV Corps commander, told Jefferson C. Davis that his men would "storm the enemy's works" in front of him on Cheatham Hill. Davis ordered two brigades under John Mitchell and Daniel McCook Jr. to withdraw from the Union line and form a camp a mile to the rear (behind the present-day parking area on Cheatham Hill Road for the Kolb's Farm Loop). On the evening of June 26, Davis told his men they would strike the Confederate line the following morning.

John M. Palmer, XIV Corps commander, chose Charles G. Harker to make a supporting attack on the left flank of McCook's men. Since his brigade was already behind the forward Union line they simply told to line up without knapsacks on the morning of the attack. The soldiers knew from this order that fighting would be involved. Additional attacks, aimed at Hardee's right (northern) flank were carried out by Nathan Kimball and George D. Wagner, also part of the IV Corps.

Thomas would later write there were two reasons why he chose to attack at this point in the Confederate line. First, the natural cover and the jutting salient brought his men closer to the Confederate line here than in any other place where his Army of the Cumberland was positioned. Second, Thomas believed that Frank Cheatham had failed to protect his line with adequate amounts of abatis and other anti-personnel devices.

Before the battle

Frank Cheatham
About 1,000 of Confederate Benjamin Franklin "Frank" Cheatham's Tennesseans held an entrenched position at the top of a hill protected by a field of abatis and entanglements designed to slow an opposing force. Four picket posts protected the front of the entrenchment. Patrick Cleburne's men protected Cheatham's northern (right) flank.

Hoping to take advantage of the Union attack in this area, Sherman ordered Joseph Hooker to advance south of Cheatham's defenses in hopes of capturing the Western and Atlantic Railroad and driving a wedge between the Confederate forces and the city of Atlanta.

Union Attack

Cheatham, a hard-drinking Tennessean who advertised Jack Daniels after the war did have a couple of tricks up his sleeve. His entrenched men were back from the military crest of the hill, but well positioned to withstand any Union assault. Mebane's battery of concealed artillery, positioned to the right of Cheatham's center with two regiments from Alfred J. Vaughn's brigade in front of it, could sweep the field near his defensive works with grapeshot and canister. George E. Maney's men and the rest of Vaughn's brigade manned the entrenchments at the top of the hill. Finally, Cheatham had a regiment on the front line withhold firing until the Yankees rose to the clearing in front of the entrenchments.

At the bottom of Cheatham Hill three Union brigades (Harker, McCook and Mitchell from north to south) formed behind a Union line at the bottom of the hill. Two brigades would strike the Confederate line at the top of the hill while a third would try to outflank the line to the left. A secondary attack would strike Cleburne's position north of Cheatham. Finally, Geary's Division from Hooker's XX Corps moved in support of the attacking Yankees bring the total number of Yankees in the attack to over 5,000 men. It was a textbook Sherman assault.

The end of a 15-minute artillery barrage indicated the start of movement for the Yankees. As the three brigades passed through the Union line they crossed a tributary of John Ward Creek and then stepped into the open. Harker's men came into the open first, but McCook's men weren't far behind. Mitchell's men, the furthest south, appeared last. As the Union soldiers began to approach, sporadic Confederate fire turned into a "murderous volley"

As the men climbed Cheatham Hill they were suppose to form a battleline, but the fire was so heavy there was no chance of that. Moving towards the forward salient was Mitchell on the Union right and McCook on the Union left. Harker headed for the line in front of Mebane's battery. South of Mitchell, 'Fighting Joe' Hooker pushed Geary's division forward towards the southern side of Cheatham's defenses.

Near Phelan's battery, south of the line of attack, stood a man wearing no insignia, as if he was a private, intently watching the action develop was. He was not loading the cannon or firing guns. This was Frank Cheatham. In the area directly in front of the Confederate line of defense the Union soldiers entered a "small dip" where Confederate guns could not reach them. As soldiers reached Cheatham's defenses they would surge up the parapet, then fall, repeatedly unsuccessful in their attempt to breech the defensive line.

After killing Charles Harker and driving back his men, Vaughan's men turned their fury upon McCook and Mitchell. Dan McCook, a law partner of Sherman's reached the Confederate earthworks before he was mortally wounded by a bullet in the right breast, about 4 inches below the collar bone. The Confederates in the trenches began to chant "Chickamauga, Chickamauga", the chant used by the Army of the Cumberland as they took Missionary Ridge during the Battle of Chattanooga.

At this point most of the Union troops withdrew about 25 yards from Cheatham's line to the small dip where they would be protected from fire. They began firing on the Rebel position, allowing others who were trapped directly in front of Cheatham's line to withdraw.

The men of Maney's and Vaughan's brigades were drawn to the line to see what had transpired. In front of them was a "frightful and disgusting" sight a member of the 9th Tennessee wrote after the war. Almost immediately both sides began calling the salient in Cheatham's line the Dead Angle.

From the regroup position, the Union soldiers of McCook's and Mitchell's brigade could be resupplied at night. Work began on a tunnel to blow the Confederate position.

Cheatham's losses for the hour-and-a-half battle were 26 dead and 169 wounded or captured. Jefferson C. Davis reported the losses for his division (Mitchell's and McCook's brigades) at 824 with 131 killed in action.

County: Cobb County

The Civil War in Georgia
Beginning with the Great Locomotive Chase and the battle of Chickamauga, to the Atlanta Campaign and the March to the Sea

Article Links
'Fighting Joe' Hooker
Battle of Kennesaw Mountain
Commanders at Kennesaw Mountain
John Bell Hood
Joseph E. Johnston
Joseph Hooker
Kennesaw Mountain
Kolb's Farm Loop
Leonidas Polk
Missionary Ridge
Patrick Cleburne
Western and Atlantic Railroad
William Tecumseh Sherman

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