June 26, 1864: The Eve of Battle

After days of frustration along the Kennesaw Line, William T. Sherman issued Special Orders 28 on June 24, 1864, ordering an assault against Confederate forces around Kennesaw Mountain. The time for maneuver was over. It was now time to attack. The orders were as follows:

 

The army commanders will make full reconnaissances and preparations to attack the enemy in force on the 27th instant, at 8 am precisely. The commanding general will be on signal hill, and will have telegraphic communications with all the army commanders.
1. I. Major-General Thomas will assault the enemy at any point near his center, to be selected by himself, and will make any changes in his troops necessary by night, so as not to attract the attention of the: enemy.
II. Major-General McPherson will feign by a movement of his cavalry and one division of infantry on his extreme left, approaching Marietta from the north, and using artillery freely, but will make his real attack at a point south and west of Kenesaw.
III Major-General Schofield will feel well to his extreme right and threaten that flank of the enemy with artillery and display, but attack some one point of the enemy’s line as near the Marietta and Powder Springs road as he can with prospect of success.
IV. All commanders will maintain reserve and secrecy even from their staff’ officers, but make all the proper preparations and reconnaissances When troops are to be shifted to accomplish this attack the movements will be made at night. At the time of the general attack the skirmishers at the base of Kenesaw will take advantage of it to gain, if possible, the summit and hold it.
V. Each attacking column will endeavor to break a single point of the enemy’s line, and make a secure lodgment beyond, and be prepared for following it up toward Marietta and the railroad in case of success.
By order of Maj. Gen. W. T. Sherman

 

Over the coming days, Federal forces went about their preparations for battle. Major General George Thomas and his subordinates picked the points for the assaults to be made by the Army of the Cumberland, the men of the Army of the Tennessee nervously changed positions behind Union lines, and artillery batteries on each side continued to blast each other with flaming shot and shell. All the while, soldiers in camp endured the artillery barrages while continuing the mundane aspects of army life, such as writing letters home.

150 years ago today, Lt. Colonel Columbus Sykes of the 43rd Mississippi wrote the following to his wife at home:

It is Sunday afternoon, 4 ½ o’clock—the day is beautiful, bright, warm—a brass band is discoursing sweet music from the mountain and its strains, mellowed and softened by distance, come floating gently down the valley, while an occasional cannon, deep and loud, plays the bass, accompanied with 2 enormous Minnie balls from the enemy’s sharpshooters. Rather a strange and incongruous combination of sounds for a lovely Sabbath evening. Is it not? But this being the 46th day we have been listening uninterruptedly at the two last, they fail to attract our attention, while the first, now but seldom heard, cheers and enlivens the men and is received with shouts of joy. This morning we had a sermon near the trenches from our chaplain, the first I have heard since we left Montevallo.

 

That same day, 150 years ago, Colonel Oscar Harmon wrote the following to his wife:

Well dearest I must close in conclusion I must say, I still love you and think I am the most fortunate man in the world in having as good a wife. You have been very kind to me and more so if possible since I have been in the army. The remembrance of these things my dear one, as I pass along, affords me much kind happiness and my pleasure and when I look forward with a great deal of pleasure when kind providence I hope will permit us to see each other face to face. I feel if I escape this campaign that I am pretty safe.

I have so far, for your sake been prudent and do not expect to be rash. I do not know how a man is any braver than others who keep their places. If I fall, expect me to fall in my proper place. Then no blame can attach to me. Let us hope for the best, Kiss my darlings for me. Give my compliments to my friends. I am better along very well now. Had a potato this morning, it was glorious, and a pickle too.

 

As the sun set before the battle, 150 years ago this evening, it was the last sunset that many would ever see. Thousands on each side knew that in the coming days a battle was to be fought, and that they may not live to see its result. Sergeant Nixon Stewart of the 52nd Ohio, writing years later, wrote of that evening in moving terms, noting the importance of what was to come the following morning.

 

Night came on and we sat down with the boys, who with us had followed the old flag almost two years, who on the coming morn were to go where sheets of flame would baptize them and where plunging shot would thin their ranks.

There was such a beautiful sunset that evening. The trees and woods seemed touched and set on fire. I had thought of the burning bush, but it had come back to me as one of the loveliest pictures of memory. Jest and laughter was heard from the groups gathered here and there to while away the time, while nothing seemed to disturb the steady stroke of an easy going heart.

 

150 years ago today, the Battle of Kennesaw Mountain was yet to take place. The battle which many consider to be one of the greatest mistakes of William T. Sherman’s military career had not yet happened. Dan McCook, Charles Harker, and many others had not yet received their moral wounds.

All that was to take place the next day.

 

 

 

 

 

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