63rd Georgia–Private William Norrell

 

During the fighting south of Pigeon Hill on June 27, the 63rd Georgia infantry sustained heavy losses, the highest of any single unit in Johnston’s army at Kennesaw Mountain. The regiment was positioned on the skirmish line in front of Hugh Mercer’s brigade in William Bate’s division, and was hit directly by the advance from Brigadier General Joseph Lightburn’s brigade of the Federal 15th Corps. Previously, the 63rd Georgia had been posted on coastal defense, and thus, the Atlanta Campaign was the first chance at heavy Civil War combat for these Georgians. The following excerpts from Private William Norrell’s diary provide a glimpse into the regiment’s experiences before, during, and after the battle.

Friday and Saturday, June 17 and 18

“When after a day of fighting, skirmishing and shelling in which a great many casualties must have occurred, but not heard of, we again left at night and took another position on two smaller mountains, along the roadside still nearer Marietta next morning.

“We had not been at our new position long before the Yankees came up and began skirmishing and cannonading upon our right and afterwards changed his attack on the left. The fight was kept up the livelong day incessantly. Such firing of small arms during so long a time I had never heard. The shelling was terrible severe but resulted in small loss so far as I can learn.

“Commenced to rain Friday night and all day Saturday it rained incessantly, and during that time we were under arms and under the mots furious shelling, I ever saw—got wet through to the skin lying sometimes in the water as it puddled under us, shoes, socks, clothes and all, which made me very cold.

June 22

“…during the night our Battery on the Mountain—Kennesaw, opened on the Yankees and gave them a few shells, but I was so sound asleep that I did not hear it.”

“It is said the balls flew about us very plentifully.  A merciful and protecting providence sheltered me from harm. The picket firing was kept up all night. The Yankees began to fire and shell around us as usual about 10 o’clock and kept it up at intervals all day, becoming quite furious towards night.

June 23

“Picket firing as usual of late been going on all day, and the cannonading and shelling as usual, growing more furious as night approaches, and as darkness throws her mantle over the earth the horrible din is hushed for a while.”

“I heard that Hood in an attack on our left which he made on the enemy’s lines, had occupied 2 lines, captured 1,000 prisoners and taken 30 pieces of artillery. I don’t know whether to believe it or not, but it may be and I hope is so. Had to sleep in the trenches last night.

June 24

Slept very uncomfortable in the trenches. The Yankees threw a few shells at our portion of the works which fell rather near the mark for our comfort, though no one hurt I believe.

 

June 27

Morning found us in our rifle pits on picket front of the (works) and firing occasionally through the works in the direction of the enemy, whose balls passed frequently about us. The weather was very warm. About 10 o’clock the enemy began to shell our batteries furiously and to advance their pickets on us in heavy force. We held our pits until they got in some places and clubbed the men with their guns. In our part of the line the retreated after firing a few times, our company went off it seemed to me like a flock of sheep though they had the company of other portions of the Regt. They were partially rallied, however, and got back, when after a considerable fight with the approaching enemy they were ordered to fall back. Fired 16 rounds towards them as I could not see them in the thick woods, while the balls of the enemy came pretty thick around us. Thanks to a merciful and protecting Providence I was sheltered from the terrible shells that flew around and over us all day without any hurt. About dark we were relieved. It is estimated that our Regt lost in all 193 men, killed, wounded, and missing.

At night some additions were put in the breastworks in anticipation of a day attack on the morrow, and I had to stand guard. Did not do any work as I did not feel well enough.

Slept tolerably well during the night in my “Bower” as it was quiet and not so much danger. About dark a battery above us opened on the enemy and provoked a few shells to this point, and one of which struck one of the gun carriages.

June 28

“Weather very warm and all pretty quiet so far this morning, and continued so all day with very little exception. Had to stand guard on the breastworks about two hours. Anticipated an attack from the enemy, who were said to be moving towards our right. They are certainly engaged in some new measure or we would not have such quiet. Weather extremely warm. I am quite unwell again and so weak that I can hardly get along without great effort over these hills—no appetite—more or less headache every day.…

“The enemy seems to have taken a new position, and their sharpshooters are directing more attention to our lines than they did and frequently a ball strikes a victim.”

 

June 29

“The enemy are quiet comparatively—except an occasional shell or ball at our batteries.…

“Quite an excitement was in camp about three o’clock at night. We had been anticipating an attack on our lines, and at that hour a heavy fire commenced and lasted, with cannonading for some time. We all fell into our places awaiting for the enemy to come up but all died away in a short time. Today I learn that they only made a noise and pretended to attack. Can’t tell what the truth of the matter is. A demonstration on our right was noticed to have been going on among the Yankees, and it is reported that Harden says this is to be the battle ground. Weather continues very warm—felt badly all day and very weak.

Source: GA-10 file, Kennesaw Mountain National Battlefield Park

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