DE ARAGON, The Chronicle of a Confederate Surgeon – Part 11

by Robert M. Webb on June 14, 2012 · 0 comments

Author’s note:

This is the 11th part of the story of Major Ramon T. de Aragon. This part tells of the siege of Atlanta and the details of the activities of Ector’s Brigade.

Announcement:  DE ARAGON, the Chronicle of a Confederate Surgeon is now available in paperback as well as the Kindle version.

Chapter 11

The Atlanta campaign

Part II

The Siege of Atlanta

 

“I left Kennesaw with regret. From its slopes we repelled the assaults of the enemy, and from its top, where I loved to sit and witness the almost daily conflicts, and hear the “Rebel yell” from away down the throat … The ““Rebel yell”“ was born amidst the roar of cannon, the flash of the musket, the deadly conflict, comrades falling, and death in front – then, when rushing forward, that unearthly yell rose from a thousand Confederate throats, loud, above ““the thunder of the captains and the shoutings,”“ and with the force of a tornado they swept on over the field to death or victory. O how the heart throbs and the eye glares! As that yell is the offspring of the tempest of the battle and death, it cannot be heard in peace, no, never, never!  … That Confederate yell was never, as far as I know, made when standing still. It was really an inspiration arising from facing danger and death which, as brave men, they resolved to meet.”

 

Major General Samuel Gibbs French – From his postwar book “Two Wars,”

 

On July 1, Sherman returned to his flanking tactics and ordered McPherson’s army toward Smyrna, Georgia. McPherson pulled out of his position on the Federal left, passed behind Thomas’ army, and moved along the Sandtown Road toward the Chattahoochee River. All along the line, Yankee artillery kept up a steady fire to keep the Rebels busy while McPherson made his move. Meanwhile, Schofield and his force moved south to a point five miles in the rear of Johnston’s left.

The Georgia Militia was ordered to support the cavalry on the Confederate left, but as Sherman’s intentions became clear, Johnston had to pull back. Major General French received the order to withdraw from Kennesaw Mountain at 1:00 p. m. on July 2. The division began its move toward Smyrna at 10:00 p. m., but the infantry in the trenches and rifle pits did not leave till 3:00 a. m. on July 3. By dawn, the entire division was at Smyrna Campground, some four miles south of Kennesaw Mountain along the railroad.

Johnston’s new position, called the Smyrna Line, began with the right at Rottenwood Creek and extended to the west two miles past the railroad at Smyrna Station where it turned south and ended at a place overlooking Nickajack Creek. Hardee’s Corps was in the center with Hood’s Corps on the left and Loring’s on the right. The Georgia Militia was in line on Hood’s left. Jackson’s cavalry guarded the left of the line while Wheeler guarded the right.

Sherman’s forces approached during the day on July 3 and his artillery and skirmishers were deployed in General French’s front by noon. On July 4, Sherman attacked at two points. In the “Battle of Smyrna,” Colonel William Grose’s Brigade of Howard’s IV Corps attacked to the east of the railroad near the center of the line. He was repulsed with heavy losses by the men of Cleburne’s Division.

In the “Battle of Bluff’s Mill,” the assault was made by Brigadier General John W. Fuller’s Brigade of Major General Grenville Dodge’s XVI Corps on Johnston’s left where Hood’s and Hardee’s lines connected. They were driven back by Major General Carter Stevenson’s troops. Elements of Federal Major General Francis P. Blair’s XVII Corps did, however, successfully turn Johnston’s left flank held by the Georgia Militia and Johnston again had to redeploy closer to Atlanta. Late on July 4, he began withdrawing his line five miles to a previously fortified position two miles north of the Chattahoochee River. French withdrew his division at 3 a. m. to Vining Station.

The new site was called “Johnston’s River Line.” The Chattahoochee was the last natural barrier between the enemy and Atlanta, just nine miles away. The line was six miles long with a railroad bridge in the center and protected five other bridges. It began one mile above the railroad  bridge on the North and curved outward in an arc before turning back toward the river south of Turner’s Ferry Road.

Johnston placed his cavalry at each end of the line and charged Gustavus Smith’s Georgia Militia with guarding the bridges and ferry crossings on the left of the line. Beginning the line on the left was Hood’s Corps, with Hardee’s Corps the center of the arc. Loring’s Corps was on the right, with French’s Division holding the left of Loring’s line where it connected with Hardee’s Corps at the Smyrna Road. The supply wagon’s were moved to the south bank of the river.

Sherman expressed surprise that Johnston would “invite battle with the Chattahoochee behind him” (Johnston later explained that he did so because the south bank was much lower than the north). He did admit that Johnston’s works were “the best line of field entrenchments I have ever seen” and wired Washington that he would need time to study the new position.

What had Sherman in a quandary, was a unique new style of defensive fortifications, the brainchild of Brigadier General Francis Asbury Shoup, the Army of Tennessee’s Chief of Artillery. Up to this point in the war, the standard of both sides was the construction of square earthen forts for artillery connected by trenches for the infantry with the whole protected by a buffer line of rifle pits. Shoup’s new idea consisted of a series of diamond shaped forts with the point of each extending toward the enemy. They were built with a double wall of logs ten to twelve feet thick and filled with earth. A parapet at the top brought the height to as much as sixteen feet. Named for their creator, each “Shoupade” was manned by a company of eighty infantrymen.

The Shoupades were spaced from sixty to one hundred seventy-five yards apart and were connected by a wall of eight foot logs with sharpened points. Artillery “redans” were placed halfway between the Shoupades and were positioned in such a way that the guns could fire point blank along the wall of the Shoupade to either side as well as directly forward. The riflemen in the Shoupades could, in turn, fire across the fronts of the gun emplacements.

Shoup had discussed this idea with Johnston several times since they had left Dalton in May, and on June 18, Johnston finally gave his consent for Shoup to construct his line at the point where the Railroad crossed the Chattahoochee. With the assistance of Major William B. Foster, Chief Engineer of Loring’s Corps, work began. Over one thousand slaves from surrounding plantations labored for two weeks to complete the project.

Sherman elected not to attack the Rebels in such a strongly fortified position, and on July 7, while Thomas’ Army of the Cumberland demonstrated in Johnston’s front, instructed Schofield to pick a river crossing somewhere between Pace’s Ferry and the town of Roswell. Schofield proceeded several miles above the Confederate’s right flank to Isom’s Ferry near the mouth of Soap Creek. He began moving his troops across the Chattahoochee at 3:30 p. m. on July 8.

 

 

A. P. Stewart was promoted to Lieutenant General and assumed command of Polk’s corps from Major General Loring on July 7. Loring returned to his division. The following day detachments of Federal Cavalry crossed at Shallow Ford near Roswell and at Cochran’s Ford, just below Soap Creek.

On July 9, there was skirmishing between the enemy and Sears’ Brigade, but the 36th Mississippi sent forward by Colonel Barry, drove them back to their main line. Later that evening, French received the order from Stewart to cross the river and burn the bridges. The division moved toward Paces Ferry after crossing the river and camped along the road.

The next day, July 10, Johnston’s army dug in south of Peachtree Creek behind the outer line of fortifications that encircled Atlanta. This position was one and one-half miles from an inner line of works and five miles from the center of the city. He deployed Stewart’s Corps on the left from the railroad bridge over the river to a point west of Peachtree Road, where his line met the left of Hardee’s Corps. Hardee’s line proceeded east to Highland Avenue near Clear Creek. From there, Hood’s Corps turned south in the line of trenches that faced east toward Decatur.

Ector’s Brigade was deployed astride the railroad on the extreme left of the Confederate army in the fortifications on the south bank of the Chattahoochee. Ector’s skirmishers reached from one-half mile below the railroad bridge several hundred yards above the mouth of Peachtree Creek.

Sherman continued moving his troops across the Chattahoochee and began a wide sweep toward the Southeast in order to cut the railroad from Atlanta to Augusta, Georgia – he didn’t want Rebels arriving from Virginia as had happened to Rosecrans at the Battle of Chickamauga the previous September. McPherson crossed the river at Roswell and keeping to the east of Schofield,  he cut the railroad near Stone Mountain, Georgia. Schofield headed toward Buckhead, beyond which lay his target of Decatur between Stone Mountain and Atlanta. After McPherson and Schofield rendezvoused, Sherman planned to send Thomas across the Chattahoochee, at which time the combined Federal armies would advance on the Rebels at Peachtree Creek.

Johnston’s withdrawal across the Chattahoochee created panic in Atlanta and the wires to the capital in Richmond, Virginia burned with messages demanding his removal. Braxton Bragg, now President Davis’ military advisor, was sent to Atlanta to determine Johnston’s intentions. He requested of Johnston details of his immediate plans to stop the Yankee advance, to which Johnston replied he planned “mainly to watch for opportunity to fight to advantage.”

Johnston later explained that Sherman couldn’t cross the Chattahoochee with the entire Yankee host at any one place and a portion could be trapped between the river and Peachtree Creek where the two met. He proposed to attack the gap that would form between Thomas’ force and that of Schofield when Thomas crossed the river. Hardee’s Corps would make the assault from their vantage point on the high ground overlooking Peachtree Creek.

On July 17, there was increased enemy artillery fire near the railroad bridge where the division had pickets and French received word to be prepared for a movement. That night Joe Wheeler’s cavalry reported elements of Thomas’ army crossing the river. At 10:00 p. m., while meeting with his chief engineer at his headquarters at the Dexter Niles house on the Marietta Road, General Joe Johnston received the telegram from Adjutant and Inspector General Samuel Cooper in Richmond, relieving him of command of the Army of Tennessee:

 

 “Lieutenant General J. B. Hood has been commissioned to the temporary rank of General under the laws of Congress. I am directed by the Secretary of War to inform you that as you have failed to arrest the advance of the enemy to the vicinity of Atlanta, far in the interior of Georgia, and express no confidence that you can defeat or repel him,. you are hereby relieved from the command of the Army and Department of Tennessee, which you will immediately turn over to General Hood.”

 

The news brought chaos at every level in the army. From the highest level of command to the men in the ranks, with few exceptions Johnston was beloved by his troops and their confidence in him had never wavered through the months of the campaign. The three corps commanders went to Johnston’s headquarters early on July 18 and all three, including Hood himself, begged him not to leave with Sherman literally knocking at the door of Atlanta. Johnston refused, saying that a soldier must obey orders. They then sent a joint message to President Davis requesting him postpone the order, which he refused to do. Hood sent his own personal appeal to Cooper, and Davis replied to him directly, stating that rescinding the order would only make things worse. Hood then asked Johnston to set aside the order till the immediate threat to Atlanta had been dealt with.

Johnston left that afternoon for Macon, Georgia. A number of regiments, moving out the Marietta Road toward new positions, passed Johnston’s headquarters on the way. As they approached, Johnston came out of the house to watch them go. Colonel James C. Nesbet of the 66th Georgia wrote of the scene:

 

“ We lifted our hats. There was no cheering! We simply passed silently, with heads uncovered. Some of the officers broke ranks and grasped his hand, as the tears poured down their cheeks.”

 

In July of 1864, General John Bell Hood was only thirty-three years old. He had served as a division commander in the Army of Northern Virginia and had only ten weeks experience in command of a corps. He lost the use of his left arm when wounded during the Battle of Gettysburg in July, 1863 and then lost his right leg during the Battle of Chickamauga in September, 1863. Aides had to lift him onto his horse and it was necessary to strap him on. He was in constant pain and his only relief was from the use of Laudanum, a painkiller containing opium in a tincture of alcohol that was in common use at the time. As a commander, he subscribed to a radically different strategy, based on the offensive rather than the defensive, as was Johnston’s practice. Robert E. Lee, Hood’s previous superior, had counseled President Davis against changing commanders in the first place, and when asked for his opinion on Hood, praised Hood’s aggressive style, while at the same time hinted that he was doubtful of his abilities as an army commander. Sherman himself was delighted with the change:

 

“At this critical moment the Confederate Government rendered us most valuable service. Being dissatisfied with the Fabian policy of General Johnston, it relieved him, and General Hood was substituted to command the Confederate army…No officer who ever served under me will question the Generalship of Joseph E. Johnston. His retreats were timely, in good order, and he left nothing behind.”

 

The change in command in the Confederate army came at a time also critical from the northern standpoint. As of July 11 Confederate Lieutenant General Jubal Early was at the gates of Washington with his army. A man standing only three feet from Lincoln was killed by one of Early’s sharpshooters. The Lincoln administration itself was in trouble. During the summer a group of radical Republicans had nominated John “Frontier” Fremont for president. Lincoln desperately needed a major victory which the fall of Atlanta would provide.

The forces turned over to Hood consisted of forty-one thousand infantry and ten thousand cavalry, with an additional forty thousand distributed in hospitals throughout southern Georgia and Alabama. Of these, ten thousand were wounded and the remaining thirty thousand suffering from various illnesses. Hood began reorganizing by putting Major General Cheatham in temporary command of his corps.

 

The Battle of Peachtree Creek

 

French’s Division moved to a new position on July 18 with the left on the Marietta Road. The following day Union General Thomas began sending the rest of his army across Peachtree Creek and deployed on the high ground one-fourth mile to the south. Palmer’s XIV Corps took position on the right of the line west of present day Northside Drive, Hooker’s XX Corps was in the center to the west of Peachtree Road, and Newton’s Division of Howard’s IV Corps was to his left on the opposite side of the road. Severe fighting broke out on Thomas’ extreme right involving Confederate Brigadier Generals’ John Adams’, Claudius Sears’, and Daniel Reynolds’ Brigades.

On July 20, Hood met with his corps commanders and presented them with his plan of attack. He followed Johnston’s basic design although where Johnston’s plan called for an attack in a left wheel, Hood chose the classic “En Echelon.” He also chose different ground. Stewart and Hardee were to hit Thomas at 1:00 p. m. in the wooded area west of the point of attack Johnston had selected. Hardee was to break through to the enemy’s rear and, swinging to the left, drive the Yankees back across the creek and into the angle where the creek and river met. Meanwhile, Cheatham’s Corps and the Georgia Militia would block the advance of Schofield and McPherson as they moved in from Decatur.

McPherson approached Atlanta more quickly than expected and Hood ordered Cheatham to shift one division front to the right to support Wheeler’s cavalry. To maintain contact with Cheatham, Stewart and Hardee had to move their lines one-half division front each. This wasted valuable time and Hardee was not in position to attack until 4:00 p. m. By that time, all of Thomas’ forces, with the exception of Ward’s Division, had crossed Peachtree Creek.

Hardee deployed his corps with Bate’s Division on the right near the present site of Peidmont Park. Walker,’s Division was in the center, and Cheatham’s Division, now under the command of George Maney, was on the left. When he finally gave the order to attack, Hardee caught the Federals by surprise. Bate led the advance through the bottoms of Clear Creek and hit Newton’s left as Walker’s troops fought through heavy undergrowth and ploughed into his front. With Ward’s Division not yet in position, a gap was present in Thomas’ line and into the gap went Maney’s Division, which threatened Newton on his right. Unfortunately, Walker actually made contact with the enemy before Bate, which defeated the desired results of an echelon movement. At that time, Ward’s Division came into the fray and the gains made by Hardee’s initial assault were lost as the Confederate lines were forced back.

Stewart placed Loring’s Division on the right of his corps connecting with Maney, Walthall’s Division was in the center astride Howell’s Mill Road, and French’s Division was on the left. Loring’s Division made the attack at 4:30 p. m.. Brigadier General Winfield S. Featherston’s Brigade was caught in a crossfire and repulsed with heavy losses, but Brigadier General Thomas M. Scott took his men across Tanyard Branch and overran the 33rd New Jersey, capturing their colors. Scott found himself unsupported, however, and was forced to withdraw. Walthall’s two brigades under the command of Colonel Edward A. O’Neal and Brigadier General Daniel H. Reynolds crossed Collier Road and made their assault over terrain cut with ravines. They drove the enemy a short distance, but they also lacked support and came under heavy fire on their flanks, and fell back.

On July 19, Sears’ Brigade was on duty at the Chattahoochee railroad bridge where Major De Aragon’s brigade had been relieved earlier in the day. Ector moved to a position astride the Marietta Road in the trenches on the extreme left of Stewart’s Corps. On July 20, French received an order to take Ector’s and Cockrell’s Brigades to the right and place them in line of battle along Collier Road near Pace’s Ferry Road. French moved the two brigades forward a 4:00 p. m. with Cockrell’s Brigade, commanded by Colonel Elijah Gates, on the right and Ector’s Brigade on the left. As directed, they remained four hundred yards behind Walthall’s line and advanced “en echelon” six hundred yards across the Embry Plantation, meeting only token resistance from skirmishers belonging to Palmer’s XIV Corps. They struggled over ground covered with abatis and other entanglements hastily placed there by the enemy. To get clear French moved his force “by the right of companies” until they came to an open field, at which time he reformed them in line of battle while under fire from Yankee artillery.

French was ordered to guard his left, so he stopped Ector’s Brigade while Gates continued to advance on the enemy who was entrenched at the far end of the field and was supported by two batteries of artillery. French ordered Ector to the right through some woods to come up on Gates’ rear. Ector moved forward till he closed up on Gates and halted under the brow of a ridge three hundred yards from the enemy line.

Lieutenant General Stewart was with French and he ordered French to occupy a ridge to their left with Sears’ Brigade. French checked out the ground, but dark came before the troops could advance. As the Confederate attack had collapsed by this time, French pulled his men back to their entrenchments.

Lieutenant General Hardee withheld Cleburne’s Division till the last, but at 6:00 p. m., when Cleburne’s brigades were in line for the attack, word came that Union troops were advancing rapidly on Atlanta from Decatur. Hood ordered Hardee to send a division to the extreme right where the enemy was already overlapping Cheatham’s line. Hardee had no choice but to call off the attack and send Cleburne to Cheatham’s aid.

General Hood had eighteen thousand four hundred fifty men engaged in the “Battle of Peachtree Creek” and lost nearly five thousand. Of these, Major General French had fifteen hundred men in the field, but only his skirmishers were involved in any fighting. Major De Aragon’s brigade suffered the only casualties in the division with two killed, nine wounded, and twenty-eight missing. Of the twenty-one thousand four hundred fifty Federal troops engaged, there were only seventeen hundred seventy-nine casualties.

 

 

 

The Battle of Atlanta

 

The Federal force approaching Atlanta form Decatur was Major General McPherson’s Army of the Tennessee. Logan’s XV Corps headed straight toward town on the Georgia Railroad while Blair’s XVII Corps veered southwest toward Bald Hill. Logan’s artillery fired the first three shells into Atlanta at 1:00 p. m. The first shell killed a little girl walking with her parents at the intersection of Ivy and Ellis Streets.

Wheeler’s Cavalry alone opposed the Yankee advance on Bald Hill. They were later relieved by Cleburne’s Division. The following day Cleburne was driven from the hill by two divisions of Blair’s Corps.

General Hood developed a new plan, which emulated a tactic used by Stonewall Jackson at the Battle of Chancelorsville, to aggressively respond to this new threat. Stewart and Cheatham, with their corps were to occupy Federal commanders Thomas and Schofield in their fronts, while Hardee marched his corps at night fifteen miles south along the Fayetteville Road past Bald Hill and McPherson’s left flank. When Hardee attacked in McPherson’s rear at dawn, Cheatham would attack McPherson from the front.

To distract attention from Hardee’s movements, Hood withdrew Stewart’s Corps one and one-half miles from the outer line of entrenchments to the main or “inner works” on the northwest side of the city. By July 22, French’s Division was in position in trenches between Marietta and Turner’s Ferry Roads – the extreme left of the Confederate line defending Atlanta. Major De Aragon, along with the rest of the division surgeons established a division infirmary to the rear of the line within the city proper. The permanent hospitals of the Army of Tennessee had earlier been moved south as the Yankees advanced on Atlanta, leaving only a processing hospital. After performing such emergency surgery and care as was immediately necessary in the wake of a battle, Major De Aragon and his colleagues in the field passed their patients along to this place, where those able to travel were put on trains and sent south to those hospitals that were by then well out of harm’s way.

Patrick Cleburne had difficulty in disengaging his division at Bald Hill, and it was 3:00 a. m. before the last of his troops joined the rest of Hardee’s Corps on the march. Most had not slept for forty-eight hours. Hood expected Hardee to attack at dawn, but because of the delay and the distance the men had to cover, the first sounds of battle were not heard till 12:15 p. m.

By an unfortunate coincidence, Federal General McPherson had ordered Major General Grenville Dodge to bring up the XVI Corps of five thousand men, who had been occupied destroying railroad track to the East. Dodge had just brought his men into position extending McPherson’s line to the South, when Hardee launched his assault.

The Confederate division commanders were surprised on finding a strong enemy force where none was supposed to be, but attacked with spirit nevertheless. On Hardee’s right, Walker’s and Bate’s Divisions were driven back, but Cleburne attacked at 12:45 p. m. and succeeded in driving the foe as far as Bald Hill. His troops captured eight cannon and the entire 16th Iowa Infantry.

Hood didn’t order Cheatham forward till after 3:00 p. m., by which time Hardee’s attack was beginning to wind down. Maney’s Division of Hardee’s Corps came into the battle at 3:30 p. m., late because of the rough ground the troops had to cover. Maney along with Carter Stevenson’s Division of Cheatham’s Corps launched an assault on Bald Hill but were unable to drive the Federals from it.

On the Confederate left, Brigadier General John C. Brown’s Division broke through the Federal line held by Major General Morgan L. Smith’s Division of Logan’s Corps. Logan’s men were entrenched in the works recently abandoned by the Rebels. The Confederate breakthrough occurred in the middle of Logan’s line. Sherman was watching from Augustus Hurt’s house on Copen hill, three-fourth’s mile to the Northwest. He had been surprised by the attack and had thought the Rebels were abandoning Atlanta when he found the outer trenches empty. When Logan’s line began to collapse, he quickly instructed Schofield to concentrate his artillery, five batteries, along with Wood’s Division against the breach . Brown, however, had already been ordered to withdraw. The battle wound down at sunset, with the opposing forces in nearly the same positions as they had been at the beginning of the day.

The Confederate losses were appalling. Hood lost not only eighty-five hundred men, but also one of his veteran division commanders. Another brave leader under whom Major De Aragon had served, Major General W. H. T. Walker, had been felled by a sharpshooter’s bullet. Sherman’s casualties were fewer at thirty-six hundred forty-one, but he lost Major General James McPherson, commander of the Army of the Tennessee, who was killed at the height of the battle.

 

The Battle of Ezra Church

 

Sherman replaced McPherson with the commander of the IV Corps, Major General Oliver. O. Howard. In doing so he bypassed Major General Joseph Hooker of the XX Corps, who was senior to Howard. Hooker promptly resigned. Sherman then looked to the problem confronting him. Hoods army was firmly entrenched behind the inner line of works that encircled Atlanta. Sherman lacked the numbers to completely envelop the city, and declined to attack after receiving a detailed report on the extent of the fortifications, provided by his Chief of Engineers, Captain Orlando M. Poe:

 

“They completely encircled the city at a distance of about one and a half miles from the center and consisted of a system of batteries open to the rear and connected by infantry parapets, with complete abatis, in some places in three or four rows, with rows of pointed stakes and low lines of chevaux-de-frise.

In many places rows of palisading were planted along the foot of the exterior slope … having a height of twelve to fourteen feet. The ground in front of these palisades or stockades was always completely swept by the fire from adjacent batteries which enabled a very small force to hold them.”

 

The Yankees had succeeded in cutting the railroad lines on all sides of the city, save one. Sherman ordered Howard to move his army from its position on the extreme left of the Union line, pass westward behind the rest of the army, then push to the South toward East Point, Georgia, about five miles southwest of Atlanta. The only supply lines to Atlanta still in Hood’s possession, the Atlanta & West Point Railroad which ran to Mobile, Alabama, and the Macon & Western which ran eighty-five miles south to Macon, Georgia, connected there. Major De Aragon received his medical supplies from the Medical Purveyor at Macon and the closest permanent hospital of the Army of Tennessee was located there. The surgeons relied on the railroad to Macon to transport their wounded out of the city. Sherman went with Howard as Howard began his movement on July 27.

Lick Skillet Road running west from Atlanta joined with Green’s Ferry Road and together they went on to the town of Lick Skillet (present day Adamsville). Just north of the point where the two roads converged was a Methodist meeting house called Ezra Church. It lay directly in the path of Howard’s advancing army.

On July 23, newly promoted Lieutenant General Stephen Dill Lee arrived from Mississippi and was placed in command of Hood’s old corps. Cheatham returned to command of his division. At thirty years of age, Lee was the youngest Lieutenant General in the Confederate Army. On July 27, when Hood got word of Howard’s presence to the West, he ordered Lee to move out Lick Skillet Road to intercept him before he could reach East Point. He then instructed Stewart to take two divisions in a sweep to the West and gain the enemy’s rear. Stewart gave an overview of Hood’s orders in his report:

 

     “As I understood the instructions, General Lee, commanding corps, was to move out on the Lick Skillet Road, attack the enemy’s right flank, and drive him from that road and the one leading from it by Ezra Church. My own orders were to move to the point where our line of works crossed the Lick Skillet Road. French’s Division (when relieved) and one from some other corps were to join us, and at an early hour next morning we were to move out on that road, turn to the right and, pass in rear of the enemy, and attack.”

 

On the morning of July 27, Generals French and Ector were in the Redan of Captain John J. Ward’s Alabama Battery, which marked the center of Ector’s line, when a shell exploded overhead mortally wounding Captain Ward and striking Ector in the upper thigh. Ector was sent immediately to French’s headquarters and then on to the division hospital where it was determined, as was usual for such injuries, that amputation was required. As Senior Surgeon of Ector’s Brigade, Major De Aragon was more than likely involved in the surgery.

All three of French’s brigade commanders were now incapacitated, with Ector and Cockrell wounded and Sears absent because of illness. Command of Ector’s Brigade fell to Colonel William H. Young of the 9th Texas Infantry. Later that day he was ordered to move the brigade to the left to relieve Brigadier General James Cantey’s Brigade of Walthall’s Division in preparation for the upcoming conflict. The brigade was then in position with the right near the redan of Hoskins Battery several hundred yards south of Turner’s Ferry Road.

Howard noticed an increase in the activity of Rebel cavalry in his front as his force approached the vicinity of Ezra Church and he had his troops safely entrenched on high ground when Lee launched his assault on July 28. At 12:30 p. m., a division commanded by Brigadier General John C. Brown attacked the Federal right, held by Brigadier General M. L. Smith’s 2nd Division, and was repulsed. Major General Henry D. Clayton was ordered to attack with his division, but only Brigadier General Randall L. Gibson’s Louisiana Brigade marched out to meet the enemy, and they too were driven back, forcing Clayton to withdraw.

Stewart rode out Lick Skillet Road after the attack started. Major Generals Walthall and Loring waited with their divisions on the road inside their works in Atlanta. After assuring himself the battle had become general, Stewart sent a message back to them ordering them forward and to form in line of battle at a place near the “poor house”.

Walthall’s men attacked over the same ground as had Brown’s Division, and were repulsed with the loss of one-third of their number. Loring was wounded while preparing his division for an assault and was replaced by Brigadier General Winfield Featherston.. Stewart ordered a withdrawal, then was struck in the head by a spent bullet, and Walthall assumed command of the corps.

At Walthall’s request, French remained behind in Atlanta, but sent Ector’s Brigade with Guibor’s Battery to Walthall’s aid. Colonel Young advanced the brigade two miles down Lick Skillet Road and on arrival was put under the command of Brigadier General William A. Quarles of Walthall’s Division. The brigade was put in reserve until dark when it was placed in echelon on Quarles left. At 11:00 p. m. it returned to its original position. They were involved in only one skirmish. During the attack on the Yankees at Ezra Church, Hood’s losses numbered four thousand six hundred forty-two while Sherman lost only seven hundred. In the three attacks ordered by Hood in the ten days since taking command of the Army of Tennessee, he had lost eighteen thousand men, compared to fifty-two hundred Union casualties.

When Major De Aragon’s brigade returned to the trenches in Atlanta, French placed them back on the right of the division, with the brigade left near Ward’s Battery. During the siege of Atlanta, French’s Division held a twenty-two hundred yard line in the entrenchments on the west side of Atlanta. Ector was on the right just south of the Western & Atlantic Railroad, Sears was in the center, and Cockrell was on the left extending past Turner’s Ferry Road. French made his headquarters at the Jennings house two hundred yards behind the main line just south of Turner’s Ferry Road. a line of rifle pits connected four artillery redans containing twenty-five cannon. This line was protected by a double row of sharpened stakes set at about a sixty degree inclination with abatis placed in front. Five hundred yards in advance of the main line was the skirmish line in a single unbroken trench. In reserve behind the skirmish line was a second line of rifle pits.

The enemy in the division’s front possessed thirty pieces of artillery which kept up an almost continuous barrage day and night, often using “hot shot” to start fires in the city. According to General French, there were as many as two thousand artillery shells fired on his line in a single day. a carpet of Minie’ balls from the constant musket fire covered the ground. The combat involving Major De Aragon’s brigade and the rest of the division became sporadic, a prelude to the type of trench warfare seen in later European conflicts. On August 2, the Yankees were able to advance to within two hundred fifty yards of French’s skirmish line and on August 5, Colonel Young was ordered to make a demonstration. He placed the 9th Texas Infantry in line with the 39th North Carolina Infantry and 10th Texas Cavalry (dismounted) and advanced all three till the enemy was within musket range. He withdrew the troops after they had fired on the enemy for some minutes.

The following day French was issued an order to again demonstrate to aid a movement by Lee’s troops. French ordered an attack by three Missouri regiments and one Mississippi regiment all under the command of Colonel Elijah Gates of the 1st/3rd Missouri Cavalry. Gates and his men drove the Federal pickets back to their main line. Young came up with his men on Gates right and charged, driving the enemy from their rifle pits. Due to the nature of the ground, neither commander could effectively advance further and the Yankees began reinforcing their line. French withdrew his troops.

 

 

The Battle of Utoy Creek

 

Hood ordered new fortifications constructed to protect the railroads. This new line began at the existing line west of Atlanta and continued west one and one-fourth miles parallel with Sandtown Road and overlooking Utoy Creek. Bate’s Division of Hardee’s Corps manned the works with Ross’s Texas Brigade of cavalry on his left.

On August 4, Sherman sent Schofield along Sandtown Road toward the railroad at East Point. Schofield approached Hood’s new line and deployed his troops with his own XXIII Corps on the left and the XIV Corps, now under the command of Brigadier General Richard W. Johnson, on the right. Logan’s XV Corps was in support of Johnson. On August 6, Schofield launched 2 separate attacks which were both unsuccessful. Hood, however, saw Bate’s position as untenable and ordered him withdrawn The following morning, Federal troops found the Confederate works abandoned, but Sherman still did not have the railroad.

 

 

The Siege of Atlanta

 

Sherman, frustrated in his attempts to break the railroad at East Point, turned to his cavalry.  When Howard began his move on Ezra Church, Sherman sent his cavalry from both flanks on a raid aimed at the Macon & West Point Railroad at Lovejoy Station, twenty-six miles to the South of Atlanta. Brigadier General Edward M. McCook with thirty-five hundred Yankee cavalry had attacked one of Hood’s wagon trains on July 17. They captured four hundred men, burned five hundred wagons, and killed eight hundred mules and horses. On July 30, Joe Wheeler’s cavalry surrounded McCook’s force at Newnan, Georgia which lay 30 miles southwest of Atlanta. McCook lost six hundred of his own men, in addition to his four hundred prisoners, to the Rebel cavalry. Major General George Stoneman and sixty-five hundred Federal cavalry moved from the Federal left with instructions to rendezvous with McCook for the strike on the railroad. Stoneman had his own agenda and detached a force of four thousand at Decatur and headed for Macon intending on a heroic liberation of the prisoner of war camp known as Andersonville. Wheeler caught him at Clinton, Georgia some twenty-eight miles short of Macon. Instead of rescuing anyone, Stoneman himself with seven hundred of his men were captured. Sherman learned of the disaster in a Richmond, Virginia newspaper sent him by Ulysses S. Grant.

Following the Battle of Ezra Church, President Davis was understandably concerned with the staggering number of Southern casualties and sent a message to Hood cautioning him “not to attack the enemy in his entrenchments.” For the time being, Hood obediently remained behind his ample fortifications.

Work on the extensive network of defenses around the city of Atlanta began during the summer of 1863. The General Passenger Depot, known as the Car Shed, and Five Points, the intersection of Marietta, Peachtree, Decatur, and Cherokee (present day Edgewood Avenue) Streets, were at the center of a four square mile area encompassed by the line.

The siege of Atlanta officially began with an order from Sherman to Schofield on August 1:

 

     “You may fire ten to fifteen shots from every gun you have in position into Atlanta that will reach any or its houses. Fire slowly and with deliberation between 4:00 p.m. and dark. Thomas and Howard will do the same.”

 

After the failure of the attack at Utoy Creek he escalated the bombardment, and sent a message to Washington that he intended to “make the inside of Atlanta too hot to be endured.”

 

On August 9, over five thousand artillery shells fell on the city killing six of the ten thousand civilians left in town. General Hood sent a message to Sherman protesting the shelling of civilians and pointed out to him that the Confederate line was a mile outside the city. Sherman replied that he was justified in his actions as Atlanta was a military arsenal.

On August 17, Lieutenant General Stewart returned to duty. Both armies had by this time settled in to their respective positions with daily skirmishing and artillery duels though neither side ventured out in force. During lulls in the fighting, men in the ranks crossed the picket lines and traded tobacco and coffee. They tried to out sing each other, the Southerners belting out “Dixie” and the Yankees responding with “Yankee Doodle” before all joined in “Home Sweet Home.”

Both armies edged toward East Point during August, and by the end of August, Hardee’s Corps was on the left of the Confederate line, with Lee’s Corps on his right. Only Stewart’s Corps and the Georgia Militia remained in Atlanta. Earlier in the month Hood had sent Joe Wheeler and half his cavalry north to disrupt Sherman’s supply line, which extended four hundred seventy-three miles north to Louisville, Kentucky. Wheeler destroyed railroad track from Marietta well into Tennessee, but Sherman’s resources were too great for there to be any significant damage.

During the night of August 25, Sherman quietly withdrew his armies from their trenches. First Thomas moved the Army of the Cumberland away followed by Howard and the Army of the Tennessee. Sherman sent the XX Corps, commanded by Major General Henry D. Slocum since Hooker’s resignation, north to Bolton to protect the Chattahoochee River crossing. With the remainder of his forces he began a massive wheel to the southeast aimed at Jonesboro, Georgia which lay on the Macon& Western Railroad 17 miles south of Atlanta. Schofield’s Army of the Ohio, to the Southwest of East Point, was the pivot.

Hood had only Red Jackson’s three brigades of cavalry on hand and these forty-five hundred men were spread too thin. Sherman’s intentions remained undetected for several days. On August 26, patrols from French’s Division discovered the enemy’s trenches abandoned. French sent Young’s and Sears’ Brigades along with Hoskins’ artillery down Turner’s Ferry Road on a reconnaissance. They met no opposition till they reached the Chattahoochee. There they made contact with Slocum’s pickets. Young advanced the 39th North Carolina Infantry and the 14th Texas Cavalry (dismounted) as skirmishers and under the covering fire of Hoskins’ guns drove the Yankees from their rifle pits and back to their main line.

The next few days there was little activity. By August 31 only French’s Division and the Georgia Militia remained in the defenses around Atlanta. Walthall’s and Loring’s Divisions had already been withdrawn from the city. As the men ventured from their trenches they found the ground in their front devoid of any living vegetation. All trees and brush had been cut down by the fire of musket and cannon. In a field between French’s picket line and that of the enemy, one brigade picked up over five thousand pounds of Minie’ balls, which they passed on to the ordinance department.

Rumors flew as to the reason for the Yankee’s departure. The popular opinion was that Joe Wheeler had succeeded in cutting Sherman’s supply line and that Sherman was retreating. When word came of Union troops to the South, Hood considered it merely a raid and sent Lee’s and Hardee’s Corps, with Hardee in overall command, to drive the enemy troops west across the Flint River.

On arriving at Jonesboro, Hardee placed Major General Cleburne in temporary command of his corps and deployed the corps on the left and when Lee arrived, put his corps on the right. Hardee’s plan was for Cleburne to attack in a right wheel against the XVI Corps, commanded by Brigadier General Thomas E. G. Ransom, of Howard’s Army of the Tennessee. After Cleburne attacked, Lee was to throw his corps forward in a frontal assault against Logan’s XV Corps.

The attack was a disaster from the start. Lee was late in arriving, and the Rebels were not able to begin their assault till 3:00 p. m., which gave Howard ample time to prepare his defenses. The attacking formations were broken up by marshy ground. Lee moved his men forward too early. The divisions of Major Generals Patton Anderson and Carter Stevenson broke through Logan’s rifle pits but were mowed down when they reached the enemy’s main line. Hardee’s forces were repulsed with seventeen hundred twenty-five casualties compared to a mere one hundred seventy-nine northern losses.

While the battle was raging at Jonesboro, Federal troops destroyed a part of the railroad just north of Jonesboro at Rough and Ready (present day Mountain View), prompting Hood to recall Lee’s Corps toward Atlanta. This left Hardee and his force of just over twelve thousand men to face the sixty thousand Union troops still in his front.

On September 1 occurred a second day of fighting at Jonesboro. Hardee redeployed his corps to compensate for Lee’s departure. On the left he placed Cheatham’s Division, under the command of Brigadier General John C. Carter. Bate’s Division, commanded by Major General John C. Brown, was in the center parallel with the railroad. On the right was Cleburne’s Division which turned back to the East across the railroad.

Sherman’s plan of attack called for John Logan’s XV Corps to assault Hardee’s front from the West while  David Stanley’s IV Corps came down the railroad from the North to gain Hardee’s rear. J. C. Davis’ XIV Corps was to strike Cleburne’s line. As the battle unfolded, Cleburne’s brigades of Daniel Govan and Joseph Lewis were overrun by the endless hordes of bluecoats and Govan himself was captured. Colonel Michael Magevney’s Tennesseans were sent into the breach and the Yankees were held off till sundown. Stanley’s assault bogged down as his men became entangled in abatis hastily cut from the thick undergrowth by States Rights Gist’s “Pocketknife Brigade.”

When the sun finally set, Hardee withdrew six miles south to Lovejoy Station and had his troops dig in. The last remaining railroad to Atlanta was in Sherman’s hands and Hardee was cut off from the rest of Hood’s army. Hood instructed Lee and Stewart to make their way south to join Hardee. French received the order to evacuate the Atlanta shortly before noon on September 1. He ordered his five heavy guns spiked by the rear guard when they began their withdrawal at 11:00 p. m., but the ordinance men were directed by Hood to burn the gun carriages at 5:00 p. m.. French called this:“… a proclamation to the enemy in my front that we were evacuating the place.”

Major De Aragon’s brigade withdrew from the city at about 9:00 p. m. Shortly after midnight, as the last of French’s troops were leaving their entrenchments, Confederate cavalry detailed by Hood set fire to the ordinance train consisting of eighty-one carloads of ammunition and seven engines, creating a stupendous explosion seen and heard for miles. As they slowly left, the city lit with fires in the background, the men of French’s Division sang the melancholy strains of “Lorena” a song popular with the soldier of the day:

 

“The years creep slowly by, Lorena;

The snow is on the grass again;

The sun’s low down the sky, Lorena;

The frost gleams where the flowers have been.

But the heart throbs on as warmly now

As when the summer days were nigh;

Oh! the sun can never dip so low

Adown affection’s cloudless sky.

 

 

Mayor James M. Calhoun surrendered Atlanta to the Yankees shortly before noon on September 2. Sherman wired Washington of his victory at 6:00 p. m. the following day and the announcement produced widespread rejoicing in the North.

The withdrawal from Atlanta proceeded at a snail’s pace. By the morning of September 2 the men of Stewart’s Corps were not five miles from the city. They pushed on first to McDonough and then to Lovejoy Station where they arrived on September 3. French was ordered to relieve Bate’s Division in the center of Hardee’s line. Major De Aragon’s brigade arrived at 3:00 p. m. and was placed in reserve of the division. The next few days the entire division came under heavy artillery fire from the enemy and suffered a number of casualties. On the evening of September 4, Young placed the brigade in position on the left of the division where it connected with Adams’ Brigade. Sherman declared the Confederate’s line at Lovejoy Station too strong for a frontal attack and by September 6 had withdrawn his forces to Atlanta. Cockrell and his Missourians were sent in pursuit.

Hood moved his army twenty-four miles northwest of Lovejoy Station to Palmetto Station and deployed them in a line covering the West Point Railroad. Stewart’s Corps left Lovejoy Station on September 18 and on September 20 took position on the left of the army between the railroad and the Chattahoochee River.

In his report, French made the following declaration:

 

“I will here state that my division, from the day it joined the Army of Tennessee until the fall of Atlanta, was, with one single day’s exception, constantly under fire of the enemy. The labor they performed, their gallantry, and the privations they endured are lasting evidences of their valor and patriotism.”

 

The Army of Tennessee, at its peak numbering more than sixty thousand men, had been reduced to twenty-three thousand infantry and ten thousand cavalry of which cavalry half was absent on a raid to the North. The casualties of Ector’s Brigade numbered sixty-four killed, three hundred fourteen wounded, and one hundred fourteen missing.

 

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