June 22, 1864: The Battle of Kolb’s Farm

150 years ago today, on June 22, 1864, the Battle of Kolb’s Farm took place on the southern end of Johnston’s Kennesaw Line, just west of Marietta, Georgia. Situated along the Powder Springs Road, the Kolb family farm was positioned on crucial ground for Union and Confederate forces in June 1864. Having grown impatient and frustrated at the lack of progress toward Atlanta, Union commander William T. Sherman wanted elements of the 20th and 23rd Corps, positioned on the southern end of the Federal line, to push along the Powder Springs Road toward Marietta, seeing if Johnston’s left flank was vulnerable.

Positioned along that left flank for the Confederates was the corps of John Bell Hood, who was relatively new to the Western Theater of the Civil War. Still suffering from the effects of wounds at Gettysburg and Chickamauga in 1863, Hood was a physically limited man who still possessed a strong fighting spirit. Johnston had placed him on the Confederate left to defend against Sherman’s flanking attempts. Having taken the position earlier that day, Hood issued orders on the afternoon of the 22nd for his corps–consisting of the divisions of Carter Stevenson and Thomas Hindman to push foward and drive back Union skirmishers.

These skirmishers were men of the 14th Kentucky (23rd Corps, south of the Powder Springs Road) and the 123rd New York (20th Corps, north of the Powder Springs Road). As the Confederates came charging forward in the late afternoon hours of the 22nd, the New Yorkers and Kentuckians quickly retired toward the main Federal defensive line, which was quickly preparing to unleash a storm of shot and shell into Confederate ranks. Sergeant Rice Bull of the 123rd New York recalled the opening of the fight that day:

They came without skirmishers which meant an attack in force. We fired and dropped back through the woods…. And into the open field over which we would have to retreat for nearly a half a mile to reach our battle line on the hill. The men there were working with pick and shovel, as men will work whose lives depend on constructing barricades to stop bullets. Back of them we saw our batteries being wheeled into place. Everything was being done that could be for the fight that was coming.

 

As a veteran of the 13th New Jersey later remembered, Federal artillery was first unleashed, raking the advancing ranks with great effect: “Before the infantry fired a shot the artillery poured a destructive fire of grape and canister into them which caused them to waver and threw them into confusion, but they soon rallied in our front and pressed forward again impetuously.” Once Confederates came within close range, Federal infantry added their contribution to the already deadly artillery barrage. One Confederate declared, “I think it was the heaviest fire I ever was under,” exceeding even the bloodletting at Chickamauga the previous fall. On the southern side of the Powder Springs Road, the 23rd Corps also joined the action. Captain Joseph Shields of the 19th Ohio Artillery Battery observed the effect of the canister rounds being fired into the advancing Southerners:

 

There was a mighty excitement in the moment. We threw the canister into the gaping guns, and then, like a tornado, volley after volley were sent plunging and tearing through the massed lines, strewing the ground with fallen men. It was a magnificent range for canister, and the effectiveness of the gunners’ aim was made terribly manifest. They trembled under the awful fire, wavered, and then retreated in confusion. As they retreated the guns were elevated, and for a mile they were followed with the fierce storm of shot and shell.

 

After roughly 90 minutes, the fight was over. Confederates fell back battered and bruised, having lost well over 1,000 casualties in their ill advised attack into Federal lines. Union losses were significantly lower, coming to just a few hundred men. Hood’s attempt to stop Sherman’s flanking efforts had failed in breaking the Federal line at a very high cost. Yet, it had other, perhaps unintended benefits. The Confederate assault served as a message to Sherman: the way to the south was not open. Thus, the Federal commander would begin looking for other ways to break Johnston’s stranglehold on the dominating terrain around Kennesaw Mountain.

 

 

 

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