One thing that drives my interest in the Civil War is the experience of the common men who were caught up in the conflict. I relied heavily upon first hand soldier accounts in my book on Kennesaw Mountain, trying to use the words of the men who experienced the war to relate what Civil War combat did to common soldiers. I tried to use accounts that were not only descriptive but touched on the larger themes of the soldier experience, such as historical memory, battlefield trauma, and how soldier’s viewed the war from a larger perspective.
One of those accounts that I came across was a letter from Private Jeremiah Mansfield, Company E, 52nd Ohio. Mansfield’s regiment was a part of Colonel Dan McCook’s brigade, which assaulted the “Dead Angle” in the Confederate line south of Kennesaw Mountain. The following letter was written on July 11, 1864, once Johnston had retreated across the Chattahoochee River, but it still talks about the terrors of fighting at Kennesaw, as well as the difficulties Sherman and his army faced when they encountered the extremely strong works on Johnston’s line on the Chattahoochee River.
July 11, 1864
Dear Father and Mother,
As this is a moment of rest on the field…. It is 11 o’clock am and sun is beaming down on us with almost unendurable heat. But we are quartered in line of battle in a shady field. We have the advantage of the pleasant shade it affords and we enjoy it so well. Worn and haggard we hardly knew how to realize the power of rest enough. So sweet, so pleasant. As though nature had bestowed a new luxury.
May Heaven make us thankful (soldiers or men), thankful for what blessings we enjoy. We have through the “God” of battles been successful in all our efforts. Although at times been almost overcome by the enemy but in the end we were successful. This was the case on the 27th of June when we charged the “rebel” works. Many of our brigade had given way and had run to the rear in disgrace and had caused our line to waver but stern and steady we went in a few yards of the strong guns and breast works under heavy fire of the enemy while our men fell thick and fast but we soon opened a fire well directed at the head or arm or what ever the enemy exposed in firing and soon we had them afraid to raise even a hand to fire at us. We held our ground and fortified and in 24 hours from the time they left had they stayed we would have blown them up and made their words and easy pray. We were in 20 yards of them and had run a tunnel under ground half way to them and we intended to put powder under their works and demolish them. But we have pushed them across the river.
They made a stand twice since they left Kennesaw Mountain. One 6 miles this side of Marietta. There they had strong works, but their stay there was short. McPherson moved to their rear and they made a hasty retreat. On the night of the 4th [and] on the morning of the 6th we started after them at daylight again they made a stand on the side of the river but as usual on Saturday night left and went to the other side of the river and burned the railroad bridge. They had works here that could not be charged. They were built [with] logs [that] were set up in the ground close about 8 foot high, rifle pits were dug from 4 to 8 feet deep behind these logs or pickets—in front were an abates, also in this were rails cut in to an sharpened and drove in the ground pointing gout so as to strike a man about the [chest]. About every 100 yards were 8 ago pens built of heavy logs raised up from 8 to 12 feet high and places made on the top of these for sharps hooters. These were made shell proof so the men could get down into when shelled. I can side a line of these kind would be able to contend against 6 lines or as many as could be brought against them. They have strong works on the other side of the water. But we are shelling their forts on the other side of the river from the fort. They left on this side. We give them no peace day or night….
How long the rebels will stand on the other side I cannot tell but will assume before this reaches you some of our flanking forces will reinforce them and they call is and they will be compelled to leave. I think we will be in Atlanta this week but this depends on circumstances. If Sherman wants it that soon our movements depend on Grant. We ship them and hold them here while Grant does the same and finally will destroy both Lee’s and Johnston’s armies.
Mansfield’s letter went on to discussion personal and family matters. His description of the fighting at the Dead Angle, as well as detailing the Union plans to tunnel under the angle to detonate explosives, provide an excellent account of what the brutal stand off on Cheatham Hill was like for Union soldiers during and after the charge on June 27th.
Perhaps most interesting is the description Mansfield gave to the importance of Kennesaw Mountain:
May Heaven make us thankful (soldiers or men), thankful for what blessings we enjoy. We have through the “God” of battles been successful in all our efforts. Although at times been almost overcome by the enemy but in the end we were successful. This was the case on the 27th of June when we charged the “rebel works.
While Kennesaw Mountain was a Confederate victory, Mansfield and many others like him refused to give up. This perseverance characterized not only Mansfield, but William Tecumseh Sherman as well, a man who had dealt with failure many times before, but continued on to achieve victory at Atlanta.
Western Reserve Historical Society, Cleveland, Ohio–Jeremiah B. and Elizabeth Taggart Mansfield Family papers, Mss. 4592, 1 Container, Folder 3