|Source: Historical Markers Across Georgia|
In the early morning hours on today's date in 1864, Hardee's Corps, accompanied by Maj. Gen. Joseph Wheeler's cavalry, and stretching several miles long, marched under a bright full moon, south on the McDonough Road, then southeast, and finally northeast toward Decatur. About an hour before dawn, they halted near William Cobb’s Mill, 3 miles from McPherson's line, where the men got a couple of hours’ rest by the side of the road. Each man was issued an additional 20 rounds of ammunition in preparation to move northward toward the enemy's line.
After meeting with Gens. W.H.T. Walker and Joseph Wheeler to discuss the attack, Cleburne and Hardee decided they could delay no longer. About a mile beyond Cobb's Mill on the Fayetteville Road, Hardee split his corps. He sent the troops on another 2 miles toward the Federal line. Gens. William Bate's and Walker's Divisions would continue northwestward to Sugar Creek, then face left and move against the presumed Federal flank. Cleburne and Brig. Gen. George Maney (commanding Cheatham's Division1) would move northward along the east side of Flat Shoals Road. Maney, traveling on the east side of the road would attack the center. Cleburne on the west side of the road would deploy on Walker’s left and flank the enemy, attacking in the rear
With the exception of that short rest by the side of the road, Cleburne’s men had now marched or fought continuously for 48 hours. They had almost marched in a complete circle and would be assaulting the south flank of the forces they had resisted throughout the previous day.
At 12:45 PM, Cleburne gave the command, and the men moved forward. Very soon, the dense woods and thick underbrush broke up the attack formation. Lowrey's Brigade, and probably the others, too, were forced into a column, 4-men wide, until about a mile forward Cleburne called a halt so his brigade commanders could correct their alignment. This consumed valuable time before the advance resumed.
Cleburne's men struck the left flank of McPherson's army where its line bent eastward in a fishhook of fortified works, beyond which a division was posted on a round hill, known locally as "Bald Hill," from which the Confederates had been forced the day before. Govan’s Brigade was first of the division to meet the enemy, and after a 20-minute struggle, drove its skirmishers back to a line of breastworks, which his men eventually captured along with an entire regiment. His brigade took severe casualties for the effort.
Photo by Mark Dolan, June 2010
Gen. McPherson's monument marking the spot where he was killed.
Location is present day Monument & McPherson Avenues. His body
was removed and buried in the McPherson Cemetery in Clyde, Ohio.
To this point, it seemed that the attack was going according to Hood's plan. But by 2 PM, the heat, lack of sleep, and exhaustion, began to take a toll on the Confederates, and their ranks were thinning.
The enemy was just as determined as Lowrey's men. After 45 minutes of savage fighting, the Federals drove back their attackers. Though some of the of the Confederates gained a temporary hold, night closed with the Federals still in possession of Bald Hill. Cleburne’s men fell back to the second line of Federal entrenchments, which they had captured earlier, and there dug in. What was left of Lowrey’s Brigade withdrew with the division into the dense woods and out of range of enemy fire.
|Captured Confederate entrenchments, Atlanta 1864|
From the Matthew Brady Collection
All the regiments acted well. Taking the brigade all together, I never saw a greater display of gallantry; but they failed to take the works simply because the thing attempted was impossible for a thin line of exhausted men to accomplish. It was a direct attack by exhausted men against double their number behind strong breast-works. The history of this war can show no instance of success under such circumstances.
|Confederate entrenchments, possibly looking east toward Bald Hill, 1864|
From the Matthew Brady Collection
In that assault, the 32nd Regiment lost 18 in killed, 45 wounded, and 23 missing. It is possible that in this fight Acting Lieutenant Colonel of the 32nd Mississippi Regiment, Capt. Flemming S. Norman, was killed. Norman was captain of Great Grandfather Nathan Oakes's Co. D3 since its formation in Corinth, Mississippi in 1861. Norman's death hit even closer to home for Great Grandfather Oakes, for Norman was also his uncle.4 Also, Lieut. B.F. Dilworth from his hometown of Kossuth, was killed while leading Co. D in this attack, as were many others. In fact, every company in the 32nd Mississippi had captains and/or officers who were killed, wounded, captured, or missing.
Around 5 PM, Cleburne personally led Govan's and Smith's Brigades, Maney's Division, and Mercer's Brigade, in an another attack, this time along Flat Shoals Road and Bald Hill. The Confederates captured a line of works and forced the Federal line on the crest of the hill to retire east of its original position. To the east of this fighting, other Confederate units attacked the Federal line, but without success.
|Photo by Mark Dolan, June 2010|
Despite the heroic sacrifices of his soldiers, and even Hardee's success in inflicting heavy losses on the enemy, Hood's goal of a coordinated attack to drive McPherson's army back to the Chattahoochee was not achieved.
The Army of Tennessee, with Cleburne’s and Maney’s support, had managed to carry the left wing of the Federal army to its breastworks. As evidence of its progress in its sector, Cleburne’s men captured 1,600 prisoners, numerous wagons, ammunition, artillery, mules and horses, hundreds of small-arms, 8 pieces of artillery, and 4 stand of colors. In spite of this, the battle for the Confederates ended indecisively.6 It failed to halt Gen. William T. Sherman’s tightening siege on Atlanta. It also resulted in many more Confederate casualties than the army could afford. Confederate losses numbered upwards to 5,000. By contrast, the Federals lost about 3,600 men. Among the Confederate's loss were 1,388 from Cleburne's Division—more than half of those engaged in the battle.
I will record the death of my classmate and boyhood friend, General James B. McPherson, the announcement of which caused me sincere sorrow. Since we had graduated in 1853, and had each been ordered off on duty in different directions, it has not been our fortune to meet. Neither the years nor the difference of sentiment that had led us to range ourselves on opposite sides in the war had lessened my friendship; indeed the attachment formed in early youth was strengthened by my admiration and gratitude for his conduct toward our people in the vicinity of Vicksburg. His considerate and kind treatment of them stood in bright contrast to the course pursued by many Federal officers.
4 Capt. Norman had a brother, Pvt. Lafayette Norman, fighting in this same battle in the 33rd Alabama of Cleburne's Division.
A considerable time had elapsed when I discovered, with astonishment and bitter disappointment, a line of battle composed of one of Hardee’s divisions advancing directly against the entrenched flank of the enemy. I at once perceived that Hardee had not only failed to turn McPherson’s left, according to positive orders, but had thrown his men against the enemy’s breastworks. Thereby occasioning unnecessary loss to us, and rendering doubtful the great result desired. In lieu of completely turning the Federal left and taking the entrenched line of the enemy in reverse, he attacked the retired wing of their flank, having his own left almost within gunshot of our main line around the cityHistorians Albert Castel and Howell and Elizabeth Purdue are some who disagree with Hood's assessment. Hood’s greatest mistake was in failing to carry out his plan for Gens. Cheatham and Stewart who would take up action as soon as Hardee became engaged. By not ordering the 2 other corps forward, Hood failed to make a coordinated attack, which was essential to success. He delayed nearly 3 hours before ordering Cheatham to attack, and Stewart's force was never committed to action.
Sources: Stonewall of the West, Craig L. Symonds; Pat Cleburne: Confederate General, Howell & Elizabeth Purdue; Decision in the West, Albert Castel; Autumn of Glory, Thomas Lawrence Connelly; Atlanta, Jacob D. Cox; Military History of Mississippi, 1803-1898, Dunbar Rowland; Brig. Gen. Mark P. Lowrey's Autobiography; Advance and Retreat, J.B. Hood; Official Records, Vol. 38, Pts. 3 & 5