The Whole Country is One Vast Fort – Sherman Prepares to Take Kennesaw Mountain

June 26, 1864 (Sunday)


“The weather has a wonderful effect on troops,” mused William Tecumseh Sherman after the war, “in action and on the march, rain is favorable; but in the woods, where all is blind and uncertain, it seems almost impossible for an army covering ten miles of front to act in concert during wet and stormy weather. Still I pressed operations with the utmost earnestness, aiming always to keep our fortified lines in absolute contact with the enemy, while with the surplus force we felt forward, from one flank or the other, for his line of communication and retreat.”

And so days upon days of rain finally gave way to a dry, clear heat.

On the 22d of June I rode the whole line, and ordered General Thomas in person to advance his extreme right corps (Hooker’s); and instructed General Schofield, by letter, to keep his entire army, viz., the Twenty-third Corps, as a strong right flank in close support of Hooker’s deployed line. During this day the sun came out, with some promise of clear weather….”

Sherman had come to a standstill, the Rebel army under Joe Johnston in his front on Kennesaw Mountain. He was no more than fifteen miles north of Atlanta, but could find no way to outflank the enemy.

“We continue to press forward on the principle of an advance against fortified positions,” reported Sherman to Henry Halleck in Washington. “The whole country is one vast fort, and Johnston must have at least fifty miles of connected trenches, with abatis and finished batteries. We gain ground daily, fighting all the time.”

Through the next few days, both armies shifted and settled, but Sherman was set upon striking. And so he called together the commanders of his three armies: George Thomas – Army of the Cumberland, James McPherson – Army of the Tennessee, and John Schofield – Army of the Ohio.

Map for tomorrow, but you get the idea.
Map for tomorrow, but you get the idea.

“We all agreed,” remembered Sherman, “that we could not with prudence stretch out any more, and therefore there was no alternative but to attack ‘fortified lines,’ a thing carefully avoided up to that time. I reasoned, if we could make a breach anywhere near the rebel centre, and thrust in a strong head of column, that with the one moiety of our army we could hold in check the corresponding wing of the enemy, and with the other sweep in flank and overwhelm the other half.”

“We have worked our way forward until we are in close contact,” wrote Sherman to his wife on this date, “constant skirmishing and picket firing. He is afraid to come at us, and we have been cautious about dashing against his breastworks, that are so difficult to undertake in this hilly and wooded country.

“My lines are ten miles long, and every change necessitates a large amount of work. Still we are now all ready and I must attack direct or turn the position. Both will be attended with loss and difficulty, but one or the other must be attempted.

“This is Sunday and I will write up all my letters, and tomorrow will pitch in at some one or more points.”

Kennesaw Mountain drawn by Alfred Waud around June 27, 1864.
Kennesaw Mountain drawn by Alfred Waud around June 27, 1864.

The attack would strike at three points, while the rest of the Federal line made some kind of demonstration. Two of McPherson’s corps, as well as Schofield’s, would advance as if to attack, but would not fully assault. General John Logan’s Fifteenth Corps from the Army of the Tennessee was to launch an actual attack. Roughly a mile to the south, George Thomas’ Army of the Cumberland, save Joe Hooker’s Twentieth Corps, was poised to strike the Confederate center.

The third was more of a surgical procedure. Jefferson C. Davis’ division, with two brigades, were tasked with taking the hill rising in a salient in Johnston’s lines.

This was a day of preparation, as Thomas, McPherson and Schofield readied their troops. The next morning it would begin.1

  1. Sources: Memoirs by William Tecumseh Sherman; Home Letters of General Sherman; Kennesaw Mountain by Earl J. Hess; Clash at Kennesaw by Russell W. Blount, Jr. []
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