AND THE FALL OF ATLANTA
Frustrated at his
inability to pound and starve Atlanta into submission, General Sherman on
August 25 sent the XX Corps, now commanded by Major General Henry D.
Slocum, back to the Chattahoochee River at Bolton to protect the railroad
and Turner’s and Pace’s Ferry crossings. Major General Joseph Hooker had
been incensed by Sherman’s appointment of Oliver O. Howard, whom Hooker
outranked, to succeed the slain General McPherson as commander of the Army
of the Tennessee. Hooker, with indignation asked to be relieved of command
of the XX Corps, a request which Sherman gladly agreed to, naming Slocum
to succeed him.
Sherman then sent his remaining armies in a wide sweep west and south to
cut the railroads to Macon and West Point far below Atlanta. He knew that
these areas south of the city were not heavily fortified and that in order
to effectively counter these moves, General Hood would have to pull a
substantial portion of his depleted forces out of Atlanta’s impregnable
On August 25, Sherman’s
artillery fell suddenly silent. Federal Major General Oliver O. Howard’s
Army of the Tennessee was on the move southward and on August 30 cut the
Atlanta & West Point Railroad below East Point at Red Oak and Fairburn.
Howard then moved from Fairburn and Shadnor Church (Union City) to
Renfroe’s Plantation west of Jonesboro, but finding no water there, moved
eastward toward the Flint River.
Although at first thinking that Sherman was abandoning Atlanta, General
Hood finally realized what Sherman was up to, and sent Lieutenant General
William J. Hardee with his own corps under the command of Major General
Patrick R. Cleburne and Major General Stephen D. Lee’s Corps toward
Jonesboro on the night of August 30. The Confederate troops began the
movement to Jonesboro long after dark. Hardee’s Corps, followed by
Anderson’s Division of Lee’s Corps, marched through East Point and Rough
and Ready (now Mountain View) and at 3:00 a.m., Brown’s Division of
Hardee’s Corps, at the head of the column, encountered Federal picketts at
the bridge near John Chamber’s Mill. Rather than risk a night battle, the
column detoured eastward on a field road and entered Jonesboro on the
Morrow Station Road (now Georgia Highway 54), which paralleled the
railroad. This detour caused considerable delay and it was well into the
afternoon of August 31 before Hardee’s Corps and Anderson’s Division were in line at
Jonesboro. General Stephen D. Lee’s other two divisions, Stevenson’s and
Clayton’s, went by Mt.Zion Church and Rough and Ready, where they followed
the railroad via Morrow Station, arriving at Jonesboro in the immediate
rear of Hardee’s Corps later in the afternoon. By this time, Major General
Oliver O.Howard had deployed his Federal forces with Logan’s XV Corps
entrenched on the high ground just east of the Flint River and Ransom’s
XVI Corps refused back across the river to the southwest. During the night
of August 30, the sounds of trains arriving in Jonesboro had already
warned Howard of the impending battle and he had been prepared since dawn
for the assault.
At 3:00 p.m. on
August 31, 1864, Hardee advanced to attack Howard’s Federal line with
Lieutenant General Stephen D. Lee’s Corps on the right and Hardee’s own
corps, under Major General Patrick R. Cleburne, on the left.
Cleburne was to wheel to the right and north and attack the refused right
flank of Brigadier General Thomas E. Ransom’s XVI Corps posted behind a
wide, swampy ravine, and when Cleburne’s attack was well under way,
Stephen D. Lee’s Corps on the right was to make a direct frontal assault
against Logan’s XV Corps, which was entrenched east of the river.
division, under Brigadier General Mark P. Lowrey, advanced with Granbury’s
Brigade on the left, Lowrey’s Brigade under Colonel John Weir in the
center, Mercer’s Brigade under Colonel Charles H. Olmstead on the right,
and Govan’s Brigade in reserve. See BATTLE OF JONESBORO, August 31, 1864,
PLATE XXI. Granbury encountered units of Kilpatrick’s dismounted Federal
cavalry and drove them back to the river, then across it and pursued them
to the other (west)
side. Granbury was followed by Lowrey’s and Mercer’s brigades in a
dramatic advance, but in so doing, the alignment of Lowrey’s Division was
deflected to the west, creating a gap between that division and Bate’s
Division on his right. General Lowrey described the dramatic advance as
“impetuous and against orders,” but Colonel Ellison Capers, commanding the
24th South Carolina Regiment of Gist’s Brigade, described it as
division under Major General George Maney, along with Govan’s reserve
brigade of Lowrey’s Division, moved to the right in an attempt to close
the gap created by Lowrey’s deflection, but by that time, Bate’s Division
had been repulsed by Corse’s entrenched Federal division to his front, and
this alignment was impossible to accomplish. Hearing Granbury firing at
Kilpatrick’s dismounted cavalry on the left and thinking that Cleburne’s
attack was well under way, Stephen D. Lee ordered his corps to a frontal
assault on Logan’s XV Corps, with Stevenson’s Division on the left and
Hindman’s Division, under Patton Anderson, on the right. They overran the
Federal skirmish line in the rifle pits but were unable to penetrate the
main line. Lee’s second line, consisting of Clayton’s Division, along with
the brigades of Manigault (of Hindman) and Cumming (of Stevenson) then
moved to the attack, but likewise were repulsed in front of the Federal
army by this time was severely depleted and near exhaustion. The number of
acting or replacement unit commanders at Jonesboro gives some indication
of its attenuated condition. They went into battle with Patrick Cleburne
commanding Hardee’s Corps, Mark Lowrey commanding Cleburne’s old Division,
John C. Brown commanding Bate’s, George Maney commanding Cheatham’s and
Patton Anderson commanding Hindman’s Divisions. Lowrey’ s Brigade was
commanded by Colonel John Weir, Mercer’s by Colonel Charles H. Olmstead,
Gist’s by Colonel James McCullough, Maney’s by Colonel George Porter,
Ho].tzclaw’s by Colonel Bushrod Jones, Stovall’s by Colonel Abda Johnson,
and Baker’s by Colonel John Higley.
Hardee retired both
Cleburne’s and Lee’s corps before sundown, leaving the final verdict on
the Battle of Jonesboro to be determined the next day.
About the same time
that the battle was raging at Jonesboro, Schofield’s Army of the Ohio and
Stanley’s IV Corps reached the Macon & Western Railroad just below Rough &
Ready (Mountain View) and routed a force of dismounted Confederate cavalry
entrenched there to protect the railroad. While the fighting raged, a
train from Atlanta approached Rough & Ready and the engineer quickly
reversed the engine and steamed back to Atlanta, reporting that Federal
troops were advancing on Atlanta along the railroad from the south.
Without verifying the
status of Hardee’s troops at Jonesboro, General Hood ordered Hardee to
return Stephen D. Lee’s Corps to Atlanta and by 2:00 p.m., Lee had begun
his night march back to the city.
The next morning,
September 1, General Hardee extended his single corps to include the
position occupied by Lee’s Corps the day before. His single depleted and
tired corps now faced three Federal corps, with three more within easy
march of the battlefield. Hardee stretched his thin line with his extreme
right held by Cleburne’s Division refused sharply back at the Warren House
and extending across the railroad, bending slightly to the southeast.
with Granbury’s Brigade at the Warren House, Lowrey’s and Mercer’ s
Brigades running southward along the railroad tracks, and Govan’s Brigade
north of Granbury at the salient angle, where the line turned
back toward the railroad to the east. See BATTLE OF JONESBORO, Sept 1,
1864, PLATE XXII.
Bate’s Division under
John C. Brown formed the Confederate center and Cheatham’s Division under
John C. Carter formed the left, both extending the line southward parallel
to the railroad to a point just above the tiny hamlet of
Jonesboro. Lewis’ (Orphan) Brigade of Bate’s Division was moved to the
extreme right, connecting Govan’s Brigade with the railroad.
At about 1:00 p.m.,
General Hardee ordered Gist’s Brigade of Cheatham’s Division from its
position in reserve on the extreme left, to the extreme right flank,
personally directing the deployment of the men. He placed them in a single
line and charged Colonel Ellison Capers, who commanded the 24th
South Carolina Regiment at the railroad cut, with the defense of that
critical position. The area to the front of Gist’s Brigade was covered by
a dense growth
of small trees and the men were sent into the area, where
they climbed the smaller trees, bent them down, cut across the trunks with
their pocket knives, and made a first rate abatis of interlaced trees,
covering their entire front.
The Federal plan of
attack called for Logan’s XV Corps to advance with its three divisions
from the west against Carter’s and Brown’s Confederate divisions, while
Davis’s XIV Corps of three divisions advanced from the northwest against
Cleburne’s single refused division. Then, learning that Hardee had only a
single corps on the field, Sherman ordered Stanley’s IV Corps down the
railroad from the northeast in an attempt to surround Hardee, in an
outrageously one-sided mismatch.
The Federal attack
got under way at about 4:00 p.m. with the brunt being delivered by
Morgan’s 2nd Division of Jefferson C. Davis’ XIV Corps against the salient
angle in the Confederate line held by Govan’s and Lewis Brigades. In the
onslaught that followed, Confederate Brigadier Daniel C. Govan, at the
apex of the angle, was captured along with some 600 officers and men and 8
pieces of artillery. After Govan was captured, Vaughn’s Brigade of
Cheatham’s Division was thrown into the lurch and, along with the remnants
of Govan’s and Lewis’ Brigades, held off the Federal attack until dark.
Stanley’s IV Corps
attack was directed along the railroad from the northeast and was intended
to be delivered in combination with Davis’ XIV Corps attack. With three
divisions directed against the Confederate flank defended by Gist’s single
brigade, Stanley’s attack might easily have crushed Hardee’s entire corps,
but actually made little headway. General Stanley explained in his report,
“It was past 5
o’clock when Kirby’s and Grose’s Brigades got up to the face of the enemy.
This delay, which was fatal to our success, was in part owing to the very
dense nature of the undergrowth and further to the slow progress the
skirmishers made in pushing back those of the enemy. General Grose and
Colonel Kirby both reported they could not carry the position in their
fronts owing to the perfect entanglement (Gist’s abatis) made by cutting
down the thick undergrowth in front of the barricade the rebels had
hastily thrown up. Newton’s Division had a much longer circuit to make,
and, when moved forward, the right brigade (Wagner’s) found no enemy in
front but received a fire from the rear of their right flank. The flank of
the enemy had been found and turned, but it was now pitch dark and
nothing more could be done.
As darkness fell,
General Hardee rode up to the railroad cut in person and congratulated
Colonel Capers for his success in holding the position.
Thus, if one accepts
the accuracy of General Stanley’s report, it is difficult to avoid the
conclusion that, only by virtue of the ingenuity of Gist’s “Pocket Knife
Brigade’ was the day saved for Hardee’s Corps at Jonesboro.
During the night,
Hardee retired his corps down the railroad to Lovejoy’s Station six miles
south of Jonesboro, where he again formed an entrenched line of battle.
Before leaving Jonesboro, he sent a message to General Hood in Atlanta
informing him that Jonesboro had fallen and the railroad had been cut.
According to official
reports from both armies, in the pitched battles at Jonesboro on August 31
and September 1, 1864, the Confederates lost 3,705 and the Federals 3,237
battlefield lies almost completely within the present town of Jonesboro,
approximately eight miles south of Atlanta’s perimeter highway (Interstate
Highway 285) and
may be reached from
Atlanta by driving south on Interstate Highway 75 to the Georgia Highway
54 exit at Morrow, Georgia and proceeding south on Highway 54.
mile south of I-75 and a few hundred yards beyond Battle Creek Road on
Highway 54, you will see a Georgia Historical Commission marker on the
right marking the location of the McPeak House, which lay at the northern
extremity of the battlefield of the second day, September 1, 864, and
served as the headquarters of Brigadier General Jefferson C. Davis,
commander of the Federal XIV Corps during the battle.
Continue southward on
Highway 54 for another 1.3 miles to Mimosa Drive, where the Warren House
still stands to the north and west of the highway. This residence was a
landmark during the second day’s battle, September 1, 1864. Carter’s and
Brown’s Divisions of Confederates extended southward from this point,
parallel to and west of the railroad tracks, while Cleburne’s Division was
refused back to the southeast across the railroad tracks, just to the
Govan’s Brigade of
Cleburne’s Division was overrun in the vicinity and following the battle,
the Warren House was used as a hospital by the 52 Illinois Regiment of
0.2 of a mile on Highway 54 to its intersection with Georgia Highway 138.
The Patrick R. Cleburne Confederate Cemetery lies on your left, just
across the railroad tracks to the east and is where most of the
Confederates killed at the Battle of Jonesboro are buried.
Turn right and
proceed westward 0.7 of a mile on Highway 138 to its intersection with
Highway 54 south. The Georgia Historical Commission marker at this
intersection indicates the point from which Confederate Major General
Stephen D. Lee’s Corps mounted the attack to the west during the first
day’s battle, August 31, 1864. Hardee’s Corps, commanded by Major General
Patrick R. Cleburne, was deployed south of this point and advanced in a
wheeling movement to the west and north during the same attack.
westward a distance of 0.8 of a mile on Highway 138 across U.S. Highway 41
to Hynds Springs Road, turn left and continue southward along Hynds
Springs Road 0.2 of a mile to Dixon Road. Your route is following the
approximate line occupied by Harrow’s Division of Logan’s XV Corps during
the battle of August 31. Confederate Major General Stephen D. Lee’s attack
was directed against this line from the east.
Turn right on Dixon
Road, then left on Holly Drive and proceed 0.3 of a mile to Magnolia
Drive. Turn right on Magnolia and continue half a mile to Dixon Road.
Magnolia Drive runs approximately along the refused line occupied by
Corse’s Division of Ransom’s XVI Corps during the battle of August 31, as
they resisted the attack of Hardee’s Corps (under Cleburne) from the
your route to Highway 138, then turn right and proceed 0.3 of a mile to
U.S. Highway 41, turn right and continue about a mile southward. On your
right you will see the creek and ravine over which Cleburne’s attack of
August 31 passed to reach Corse’s refused line.
William R.Scaife . May not be used or reprinted without express written