Synopsis of a Fiasco
Dateline: June 27, 1864, Kennesaw Mountain, west of Atlanta, 9:00 a.m.
The participants: The United States Army, composed of the Army of the Tennessee, The Army of the Cumberland and The Army of the Ohio, 100,000 effectives; Gen. William T. Sherman, Commanding. The Confederate States Army, The Army of Tennessee, Gen. Joseph J. Johnston Commanding, 50,000 effectives including Laurens County companies: Company B, Company C, 57th Georgia Infantry, and portions of Co. H, 63rd Georgia Infantry.
Foreword: In order to bring a quicker end to the Civil War, which had ravaged our nation for more than three years, the Union Army believed that a force of nearly a quarter of a million soldiers from the hills of North Georgia to the seaport of Savannah would split the South in half and hasten the end of the bitter epic struggle. General Sherman's forces had moved with relative through Resaca, Adairsville, New Hope Church, Pickett's Mill, Dallas and Kolb's Farm with relative ease, primarily because of their overwhelming force but equally because of General Johnston's willingness to put up a half-hearted fight, fall back and allow the Union armies to flank around his positions, only to fight again with the same results. But at Kennesaw Mountain, the Confederates held a distinct advantage. Torrential rains had slowed the advance of Union infantrymen giving Confederate scouts ample opportunities to view their movements. Meanwhile, Confederate forces positioned themselves in heavily fortified entrenchments along the crest of the mountain and strategic points along the slopes.
The Attack: The 57th and 63rd Georgia regiments, under the command of Brigadier General Hugh Mercer, were placed along the steep southwestern slopes of Pigeon Hill just south of Burnt Hickory Road. From this commanding viewpoint, the brigade had an unimpeded view of a rolling meadow below them. General Sherman ordered the primary attack on General Cleburne's and General Cheatam's brigades. The secondary attack was to be directed along Burnt Hickory Road and squarely at the 57th and 63rd regiments. General Mercer assigned the companies of the 63rd to act as pickets, or advance guards. The men entrenched themselves along the projected line of the Union advance about a quarter of a mile in front the main Confederate line.
Union batteries opened up with a heavy volley of artillery fire directed toward the Confederate entrenchments. The Army of the Cumberland, under Gen. George H. Thomas, conducted the main attack against the Confederate Center. The Army of the Tennessee, under Gen. James B. McPherson, attacked Little Kennesaw Mountain. Held in reserve was the Army of the Ohio, commanded by Gen. John Schofield, whose mission it was to guard against flank assaults by Gen. John B. Hood's Corps, which was positioned at the southern end of the mountain.
Union General Andrew Lightburn directed his troops to the right of the road toward the anxiously awaiting Confederate pickets. The "blue boys" charged from the edge of the woods and easily overran the green older men and young boys of the 63rd. There were two choices for the embattled sentinels, retreat and face friendly fire, or remain and face certain death. As Union and Confederate artillery joined in enfilading the meadow, the "Johnny Rebs" chose the former course of action and fled toward the hills.
Hoping to be able to hide their advance on the coat tails of the Confederate retreat, Union artillery unites opened severe volleys against the entrenched rebels on Pigeon Hill, a mile south of the summit of Big Kennesaw Mountain. Most of the casualties of the 57th Georgia that day were likely a result of artillery barrages and possibly lucky shots by the advance elements of Gen. Lightburn's brigade.
In just a matter of minutes, the Union advance collapsed. Mercer's brigade occupied the high ground and any further attacks would be fruitless and fatal. Lightburn ordered a retreat to the cover of the wood line, leaving his dead, dying and wounded on the green meadow, stained with the blood of hundreds of fine young men.
The main attack was quashed by Confederate sharpshooters and artillerymen firing from the commanding heights. The heaviest fighting occurred at a place the southern boys called "Dead Angle." In one dogged wave after another the attackers were slaughtered as the climbed the side of the mountain.
Approximately 1 percent of the Confederate casualties were Laurens Countians. Nathan Maddox (Co. C, 57th Ga.), Blackshear Smith (Co. B, 57th Ga.) and John Mimbs (Co. H, 63rd, Ga.) were killed during the fighting. Cinncinatus Alligood (Co. C, 57th, Ga.), Dudley Keen (Co. B, 57th, Ga.), James Arthur Smith (Co. B, 57th Ga.), Wesley W. Smith (Co. B, 57th, Ga.), Thomas Warren White (Co. B, 57th Ga.) and Kinson Wright (Co. A, 66th Ga.) suffered wounds ranging from moderate to severe.
The Result: Though he could have easily flanked around the mountain, General William Tecumseh Sherman obstinately pressed the a futile frontal attack. Bad weather, terrible terrain and superior defensive positions foiled his plans. After losing nearly three thousand men, Sherman retreated back down the mountain, reassessed his positions and moved around the flank, as he should have done in the beginning. Johnston ordered his forces, which suffered a thousand casualties, to abandon their positions five days after their victory and move back to block the advancing hoard.
The Aftermath: The Union behemoth advanced toward their main objective of Atlanta. Thousands more were killed and wounded along the way. The Battle for Atlanta erupted on July 22, 1864. The 57th Georgia, under the command of Lt. Col. Cinncinatus Saxon Guyton of Laurens County, took part in the forefront of the initial skirmishes of the opponents south of the city. After a five-week siege, the city of Atlanta was abandoned and left to the ravenous desires of soldiers, looters, and assorted scores of miscreants. From Atlanta, General Sherman launched his devastating "March to the Sea," which ended in Savannah just before Christmas. After having its underbelly mortally sliced open, it was only a matter of time before the bedraggled Confederates would succumb to the vastly equipped and manned Union army. For Mary Maddox and Nancy Mimbs, the Battle of Kennesaw Mountain was a perpetual nightmare. As for Mahala, Reuben and Martha Mimbs, they would never see their daddy again.