This Day in Georgia Civil War History
June 27, 1864
Union Soldiers Wrote Home about Kennesaw Mountain
A Wisconsin soldier wrote home to his wife, telling her of what he heard of the Battle of Kennesaw Mountain (his brigade was in reserve), and had some pointed comments on the lack of accuracy in press reporting of the war.
“An order came at six o’ clock this morning that our artillery would open on the enemy, and that our infantry should hug their breastworks closely, so as to be protected from the enemy’s fire of shot and shell, in case he should reply; this was nothing formidable, so I laid down again, but had scarcely got into a doze when I was aroused and several lengthy orders were put in my hands, from which it appeared that General Geary, whose position was to our left and somewhat in rear, was to advance his lines to the woods in front, which would bring him about in line with our front line. General Williams, whose division was between Geary and us, and partly right in rear of us, was to send a brigade to occupy the line Geary would vacate, and our brigade was to Din Williams’ left and extend to the Powder Springs road. This would bring us directly in rear of our other two brigades, who were to keep their position. All these positions were to be made at two o’clock in the morning, so there was no more sleep. We were ready at two, but did not start until nearly three, and soon got to the position assigned us behind the original lines of rifle pits built here, in a fine, shady forest of tall oaks and chestnut trees. We got another hour’s sleep and than a breakfast. About five o’clock, artillery began to play slowly, and soon firing became brisk. It was said that the 4th and 14th Corps were to assail the enemy’s works, and the appearances were decidedly as though there would be a big battle to-day. Artillery fire has been quite heavy this afternoon, and to our left we heard a lively infantry fire too, but it was only as of a strong skirmish line. We were ordered to be ready at any moment to move to any place where our aid might be required, but so far we have been undisturbed, and save the occasional boom of a shot all is quiet now, about four P.M. We have a pleasant position here, good water, and the stray bullets from the enemy’s pickets cannot reach us. I do not know what you may have read of General Wood’s fight of the 28th of May. General Wood commands a division in Howard’s 4th Corps. He advanced his lines there on our left that day, but did not have so terrible a fight. He came upon the same position that checked our advance on the 25th, but did not have near as severe an engagement as we did. I find that newspaper reporters give the most extravagant and exaggerated accounts of small engagements, and even where there are no engagements. To us, who know the truth, these accounts are often absolutely sickening. A Nashville paper, for instance, has a long, glowing and minute account of Hooker’s magnificent assault upon Lost Mountain, capturing over one thousand Prisoners and twelve pieces of artillery, and of Schofield’s contemporaneous assault on Pine Knob. Neither Lost Mountain nor Pine Knob have ever been assaulted by any of our forces; the former, I believe the enemy never occupied. He had a strong line extending across the latter and towards Lost Mountain, and we took up a strong line in front of it on the 6th inst. Our whole army took position there and fortified and there it remained until the 15th inst., from time to time throwing shell into the rebel lines, one of which proved fatal to Lieutenant General Polk. On the 15th, it was found that the enemy had evacuated, and then we occupied and advanced beyond his line. Except at Resaca, we have not, throughout this campaign, made a charge upon any of the enemy’s principal lines of work. Whenever we have got up to them, we have stopped and entrenched and then gradually crowding closer and closer, bringing all the artillery into position we could; thus he has been induced to give up many very strong positions, but he seems to be stubborn. His right is strongly entrenched on Kenesaw [sic] Mountain, and his whole line is doubtless made as strong as possible, still he will and must be got out of it. I can only write military letters here amidst the din of the conflict.” Source: Civil War Letters of Major Fredrick C. Winkler, in 26th Wisconsin Infantry Volunteers Home Page
An Iowa soldier was much briefer in his diary entry concerning the Battle of Kennesaw Mountain, but equally upset by it.
“Monday, 27th - There was a general line of battle formed this morning and orders given to make a charge all along the lines. The center charged in full force, but as the flanks failed to charge, soon had to fall back. The Eleventh and Sixteenth Iowa furnished the skirmishers for our brigade and charged the rebels’ skirmish line, but were driven back to their old line. Our side lost several in killed and wounded, and what little was gained did not pay for the loss of life. Company A of our regiment was in the charge and had one man killed; so close was he to the rebel works that our men had to raise the white flag in order to get his body. The Fifty-third Indiana made a charge on the rebel rifle pits and lost about forty men, taken as prisoners. When they made the charge, the rebels lay down in their pits, allowing them to come close up, when they rose up with their rifles drawn and said: ‘Come on, boys, we won’t hurt you,’ and took them prisoners.” Source:Source: Olynthus B. Clark (ed.), Alexander G. Downing, Downing’s Civil War Diary (Des Moines: The Historical Department of Iowa, 1916), pp. 201-202.