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Battle of Kennesaw Mountain

Battle of Kennesaw Mountain
Part of the American Civil War

"Kennesaw's Bombardment, 64", sketch by war correspondent Alfred Waud, digitally restored.
Date June 27, 1864 (1864-06-27)
Location Cobb County, Georgia
Result Confederate victory[1]
 United States (Union) CSA (Confederacy)
Commanders and leaders
William T. Sherman Joseph E. Johnston
Units involved
Army of the Tennessee
Army of the Cumberland
Army of the Ohio
Army of Tennessee
16,225[2] 17,733[2]
Casualties and losses
3,000[3] 1,000[3]

The Battle of Kennesaw Mountain was fought on June 27, 1864, during the Atlanta Campaign of the American Civil War. It was the most significant frontal assault launched by Union Maj. Gen. William T. Sherman against the Confederate Army of Tennessee under Gen. Joseph E. Johnston, ending in a tactical defeat for the Union forces. Strategically, however, the battle failed to deliver the result that the Confederacy desperately needed--namely a halt to Sherman's advance on Atlanta.

Sherman's 1864 campaign against demonstration by Maj. Gen. John M. Schofield achieved a strategic success by threatening the Confederate army's left flank, prompting yet another Confederate withdrawal toward Atlanta and the removal of General Johnston from command of the army.


  • Background 1
  • Start of the Atlanta Campaign 2
  • Battle 3
  • Aftermath 4
  • Battlefield today 5
  • In popular culture 6
  • Notes 7
  • References 8
  • Further reading 9
  • External links 10


In March 1864, Army of the Potomac, accompanied by Grant himself, which would attack Robert E. Lee's army directly and advance toward the Confederate capital of Richmond, Virginia; and Maj. Gen. William T. Sherman, replacing Grant in his role as commander of the Military Division of the Mississippi, who would advance from Chattanooga, Tennessee, to Atlanta.[4]

Both Grant and Sherman initially had objectives to engage with and destroy the two principal armies of the Confederacy, relegating the capture of important enemy cities to a secondary, supporting role. This was a strategy that President Abraham Lincoln had emphasized throughout the war, but Grant was the first general who actively cooperated with it. As their campaigns progressed, however, the political importance of the cities of Richmond and Atlanta began to dominate their strategy. By 1864, Atlanta was a critical target. The city of 20,000 was founded at the intersection of four important railroad lines that supplied the Confederacy and was a military manufacturing arsenal in its own right. Atlanta's nickname of "Gate City of the South" was apt—its capture would open virtually the entire Deep South to Union conquest. Grant's orders to Sherman were to "move against Johnston's Army, to break it up and to get into the interior of the enemy's country as far as you can, inflicting all the damage you can against their War resources."[5]

Sherman's force of about 100,000 men was composed of three subordinate armies: the Army of the Ohio (composed of only the XXIII Corps) under Maj. Gen. John M. Schofield. Their principal opponent was the Confederate Army of Tennessee, commanded by Gen. Joseph E. Johnston, who had replaced the unpopular Braxton Bragg after his defeat in Chattanooga in November 1863. The 50,000-man army consisted of the infantry corps of Lt. Gens. William J. Hardee, John Bell Hood, and Leonidas Polk, and a cavalry corps under Maj. Gen. Joseph Wheeler.[6]

Start of the Atlanta Campaign

The Atlanta Campaign from Dalton to Kennesaw Mountain
Confederate troops dragging guns up Kennesaw Mountain.

Sherman's campaign began on May 7, 1864, as his three armies departed from the vicinity of Chattanooga. He launched demonstration attacks against Johnston's position on the long, high mountain named Cassville line May 18–19. Johnston planned to defeat part of Sherman's force as it approached on multiple routes, but Hood became uncharacteristically cautious and feared encirclement, failing to attack as ordered. Encouraged by Hood and Polk, Johnston ordered another withdrawal, this time across the Etowah River.[7]

Johnston's army took up defensive positions at Dallas. Johnston was forced to move from his strong position and meet Sherman's army in the open. Fierce but inconclusive fighting occurred on May 25 at New Hope Church, May 27 at Pickett's Mill, and May 28 at Dallas. By June 1, heavy rains turned the roads to quagmires and Sherman was forced to return to the railroad to supply his men. Johnston's new line (called the Brushy Mountain Line) was established by June 4 northwest of Marietta, along Lost Mountain, Pine Mountain, and Brush Mountain. On June 14, following eleven days of steady rain, Sherman was ready to move again. While on a personal reconnaissance, he spotted a group of Confederate officers on Pine Mountain and ordered one of his artillery batteries to open fire. Lt. Gen. Leonidas Polk, the "Fighting Bishop," was killed and Johnston withdrew his men from Pine Mountain, establishing a new line in an arc-shaped defensive position from Kennesaw Mountain to Little Kennesaw Mountain. Hood's corps attempted an unsuccessful attack at Peter Kolb's farm (the Battle of Kolb's Farm) south of Little Kennesaw Mountain on June 22. Maj. Gen. William W. Loring succeeded to command Polk's corps.[8]

Sherman was in a difficult position, stalled 15 miles (24 km) north of Atlanta. He could not continue his strategy of moving around Johnston's flank because of the impassable roads, and his railroad supply line was dominated by Johnston's position on the top of 691 feet (211 m) Kennesaw Mountain. He reported to Washington "The whole country is one vast fort, and Johnston must have at least 50 miles (80 km) of connected trenches with abatis and finished batteries. We gain ground daily, fighting all the time. ... Our lines are now in close contact and the fighting incessant, with a good deal of artillery. As fast as we gain one position the enemy has another all ready. ... Kennesaw ... is the key to the whole country." Sherman decided to break the stalemate by attacking Johnston's position on Kennesaw Mountain. He issued orders on June 24 for an 8 a.m. attack on June 27.[9]


Battle of Kennesaw Mountain

Sherman's plan was first to induce Johnston to thin out and weaken his line by ordering Schofield to extend his army to the right. Then McPherson was to make a feint on his extreme left—the northern outskirts of Marietta and the northeastern end of Kennesaw Mountain—with his cavalry and a division of infantry, and to make a major assault on the southwestern end of Little Kennesaw Mountain. Meanwhile, Thomas's army was to conduct the principal attack against the Confederate fortifications in the center of their line, and Schofield was to demonstrate on the Confederate left flank and attack somewhere near the Powder Springs Road "as he can with the prospect of success."[10]

At 8 a.m. on June 27, Union artillery opened a furious bombardment with over 200 guns on the Confederate works and the Rebel artillery responded in kind. Lt. Col. Joseph S. Fullerton wrote, "Kennesaw smoked and blazed with fire, a volcano as grand as Etna." As the Federal infantry began moving soon afterward, the Confederates quickly determined that much of the 8 miles (13 km) wide advance consisted of demonstrations rather than concerted assaults. The first of those assaults began at around 8:30 a.m., with three brigades of Brig. Gen. XV Corps, Army of the Tennessee) moving against Loring's corps on the southern end of Little Kennesaw Mountain and the spur known as Pigeon Hill near the Burnt Hickory Road. If the attack were successful, capturing Pigeon Hill would isolate Loring's corps on Kennesaw Mountain. All three brigades were disadvantaged by the approach through dense thickets, steep and rocky slopes, and a lack of knowledge of the terrain. About 5,500 Union troops in two columns of regiments moved against about 5,000 Confederate soldiers, well entrenched.[11]

On the right of Smith's attack, the brigade of Brig. Gen.

  • The Battle of Kennesaw Mountain: Battle maps, history articles, and preservation news (Civil War Trust)

External links

  • Hess, Earl J. Kennesaw Mountain: Sherman, Johnston, and the Atlanta Campaign. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2013. ISBN 978-1-4696-0211-0.
  • Vermilya, Daniel J. The Battle of Kennesaw Mountain. Charleston, SC: The History Press, 2014. ISBN 978-1-62619-388-8.

Further reading

  • Bailey, Ronald H., and the Editors of Time-Life Books. Battles for Atlanta: Sherman Moves East. Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1985. ISBN 0-8094-4773-8.
  • Castel, Albert. Decision in the West: The Atlanta Campaign of 1864. Lawrence: University Press of Kansas, 1992. ISBN 0-7006-0748-X.
  • Eicher, David J. The Longest Night: A Military History of the Civil War. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2001. ISBN 0-684-84944-5.
  • Kennedy, Frances H., ed. The Civil War Battlefield Guide. 2nd ed. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Co., 1998. ISBN 0-395-74012-6.
  • Liddell Hart, B. H. Sherman: Soldier, Realist, American. New York: Da Capo Press, 1993. ISBN 0-306-80507-3. First published in 1929 by Dodd, Mead & Co.
  • Livermore, Thomas L. Numbers and Losses in the Civil War in America 1861-65. Reprinted with errata, Dayton, OH: Morninside House, 1986. ISBN 0-527-57600-X. First published 1901 by Houghton Mifflin.
  • Luvaas, Jay, and Harold W. Nelson, eds. Guide to the Atlanta Campaign: Rocky Face Ridge to Kennesaw Mountain. Lawrence: University Press of Kansas, 2008. ISBN 978-0-7006-1570-4.
  • McDonough, James Lee, and James Pickett Jones. War So Terrible: Sherman and Atlanta. New York: W. W. Norton & Co., 1987, ISBN 0-393-02497-0.
  • McMurry, Richard M. Atlanta 1864: Last Chance for the Confederacy. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 2000. ISBN 0-8032-8278-8.
  • McPherson, James M. Battle Cry of Freedom: The Civil War Era. Oxford History of the United States. New York: Oxford University Press, 1988. ISBN 0-19-503863-0.
  • Welcher, Frank J. The Union Army, 1861–1865 Organization and Operations. Vol. 2, The Western Theater. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1993. ISBN 0-253-36454-X.
  • National Park Service battle description


  1. ^ NPS
  2. ^ a b Livermore, pp. 120–21. Eicher, pp. 696–97, gives total army strengths at the beginning of the campaign as 98,500 Union, 50,000 Confederate.
  3. ^ a b c NPS; McMurry, p. 109; Bailey, p. 74. Albert Castel's definitive campaign history lists (p. 319) Union casualties broken down as Logan's corps 586, Newton's 654, and Davis's 824; 17 missing from Logan's corps and approximately 300 prisoners from Newton's and Davis's divisions; 57 and 200 casualties respectively in the XVI and XVII Corps while demonstrating against the Confederate right; and approximately 300 for backup units of the IV and XIV Corps and skirmishers of the XX and XXIII Corps.
  4. ^ Eicher, p. 661; McPherson, p. 722.
  5. ^ Bailey, pp. 20–21; Eicher, pp. 696–97.
  6. ^ Eicher, pp. 696–97.
  7. ^ Kennedy, pp. 326–31.
  8. ^ Luvaas and Nelson, pp. 173–246; Kennedy, p. 336.
  9. ^ Kennedy, p. 336; Welcher, pp. 447–48.
  10. ^ Welcher, p. 449: Brig. Gen. Kenner Garrard's cavalry and Brig. Gen. Mortimer D. Leggett's infantry division of Maj. Gen. Francis P. Blair, Jr.'s XVII Corps.
  11. ^ Bailey, p. 66; Welcher, p. 449.
  12. ^ Castel, pp. 311–13; Kennedy, p. 338.
  13. ^ Kennedy, p. 338; Bailey, pp. 69–70.
  14. ^ Welcher, pp. 450–51; Kennedy, p. 338; Bailey, p. 74.
  15. ^ Welcher, p. 451.
  16. ^ McMurry, p. 111.
  17. ^ Sherman frontal-assaulted at Chickasaw Bayou and at Vicksburg during the Vicksburg Campaign and on the northern end of Missionary Ridge in Chattanooga. All these efforts were unsuccessful.
  18. ^ Liddell Hart, p. 266.
  19. ^ McMurry, pp. 110, 113.
  20. ^ Kennedy, pp. 339–43; McPherson, pp. 774–75. The other two significant factors contributing to Lincoln's reelection were the capture of Mobile Bay by Adm. David Farragut and the defeat of Lt. Gen. Jubal Early's Confederate army in the Shenandoah Valley by Philip Sheridan.
  21. ^ Kennesaw Mountain National Battlefield Park
  22. ^ David Pietrusza, Judge and Jury: The Life and Times of Judge Kenesaw Mountain Landis, South Bend, IN: Diamond Communications, 1998. ISBN 978-1-888698-09-1. pp. 1–3.


The first commissioner of Major League Baseball, Judge Kenesaw Mountain Landis, was named for Kennesaw Mountain, but using a variant spelling. His father, a physician, fought on the Union side and reportedly nearly lost his leg in the battle.[22]

In popular culture

The site of the battle is now part of Kennesaw Mountain National Battlefield Park, where both Confederate deliberate trenches on top of the mountain and some Union rifle pits are still visible today.[21]

Battlefield today

On July 8, Sherman outflanked Johnston again—for the first time on his right—by sending Schofield to cross the Chattahoochee near the mouth of Soap Creek. The last major geographic barrier to entering Atlanta had been overcome. Alarmed at the imminent danger posed to the city of Atlanta, and frustrated with the strategy of continual withdrawals, Confederate President Jefferson Davis relieved Johnston of command on July 17, replacing him with the aggressive John Bell Hood, who was temporarily promoted to full general. Hood proceeded to attack Sherman in battles at Peachtree Creek (July 20), Atlanta/Decatur (July 22), and Ezra Church (July 28), in all of which he suffered enormous casualties without tactical advantage. Sherman besieged Atlanta for the month of August, but sent almost his entire force swinging to the south to cut off the city's last remaining railroad connection. In the Battle of Jonesboro (August 31 and September 1), Hood attacked again to save his railroad, but was unsuccessful and was forced to evacuate Atlanta. Sherman's men entered the city on September 2 and Sherman telegraphed President Lincoln, "Atlanta is ours, and fairly won." This milestone was arguably one of the key factors enabling Lincoln's reelection in November.[20]

Kennesaw Mountain is usually considered a significant Union tactical defeat, but Richard M. McMurry wrote, "Tactically Johnston had won a minor defensive triumph on Loring's and Hardee's lines. Schofield's success, however, gave Sherman a great advantage, and the federal commander quickly decided to exploit it." The opposing forces spent five days facing each other at close range, but on July 2, with good summer weather at hand, Sherman sent the Army of the Tennessee and Stoneman's cavalry around the Confederate left flank and Johnston was forced to withdraw from Kennesaw Mountain to prepared positions at Smyrna.[19]

Kennesaw Mountain was not Sherman's first large-scale frontal assault of the war,[17] but it was his last. He interrupted his string of successful flanking maneuvers in the Atlanta campaign for the logistical reasons mentioned earlier, but also so that he could keep Johnston guessing about the tactics he would employ in the future. In his report of the battle, Sherman wrote, "I perceived that the enemy and our officers had settled down into a conviction that I would not assault fortified lines. All looked to me to outflank. An army to be efficient, must not settle down to a single mode of offence, but must be prepared to execute any plan which promises success. I wanted, therefore, for the moral effect, to make a successful assault against the enemy behind his breastworks, and resolved to attempt it at that point where success would give the largest fruits of victory."[18]

Sherman's armies suffered about 3,000 casualties in comparison to Johnston's 1,000.[3] The Union general was not initially deterred by these losses and he twice asked Thomas to renew the assault. "Our loss is small, compared to some of those [battles in the] East." The Rock of Chickamauga replied, however, "One or two more such assaults would use up this army." A few days later Sherman mournfully wrote to his wife, "I begin to regard the death and mangling of couple thousand men as a small affair, a kind of morning dash."[16]


To the right of Davis's division, Maj. Gen. Chattahoochee River, closer to the last river protecting Atlanta than any unit in Johnston's army.[15]

Davis's division, to the right of Newton's, also advanced in column formation. While such a movement offered the opportunity for a quick breakthrough by massing power against a narrow point, it also had the disadvantage of offering a large concentrated target to enemy guns. Their orders were to advance silently, capture the works, and then cheer to give a signal to the reserve divisions to move forward to secure the railroad and cut the Confederate army in two. Col. Daniel McCook's brigade advanced down a slope to a creek and then crossed a wheat field to ascend the slope of Cheatham Hill. When they reached within a few yards of the Confederate works, the line halted, crouched, and began firing. But the Confederate counter fire was too strong and McCook's brigade lost two commanders (McCook and his replacement, Col. Oscar F. Harmon), nearly all of its field officers, and a third of its men. McCook was killed on the Confederate parapet as he slashed with his sword and shouted "Surrender, you traitors!" Col. John G. Mitchell's brigade on McCook's right suffered similar losses. After ferocious hand-to-hand fighting, the Union troops dug in across from the Confederates, ending the fighting around 10:45 a.m. Both sides nicknamed this place the "Dead Angle."[14]

"Federal entrenchments at the foot of Kenesaw Mountain."
Confederate position at the Battle of Kennesaw Mountain.

About 2 miles (3.2 km) to the south, Thomas's troops were behind schedule, but began their main attack against Hardee's corps at 9 a.m. Two divisions of the Army of the Cumberland—about 9,000 men under Brig. Gen. Charles G. Harker charged the Tennessee brigade of Brig. Gen. Alfred Vaughan and was repulsed. During a second charge, Harker was mortally wounded.[13]


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