Tennessee Captain Robert Davis Smith was a member of Patrick Cleburne’s staff, giving him an up close view of some of the fiercest fighting around Kennesaw Mountain in June 1864. Smith recorded much of what occurred in his diary, which is excerpted below.
This has been rather a busy day as we have been expecting the enemy to charge our line every moment. All the skirmishers of our Div. have been engaged; at about 4 pm the enemy advanced in two lines of battle, drove in our videttes and skirmishers, but stopped where our skirmish line was posted (about 600 yards in front of our breastworks), he threw forward his skirmishers about 100 yards and there stopped; our skirmishers then advanced a short distance and have been heavily engaged up to this time (sunset). I have been under fire all the evening. We have had seven men killed and wounded this evening.
Our Div. was engaged all night in skirmishing with the Yanks and have been heavily engaged all day. Our brigade drove the enemy back some distance today. My ordinance wagons have been under a heavier fire of artillery and infantry than they ever were before—it was regular cross fire—I was under a pine tree about 50 ft. high when a shell struck it, cutting it in two in the middle—I made a narrow escape fro the falling timber.
The roads are almost impassable for the mud. This whole country is cut up by wagons; if we have much more rain, I should not be surprised to see both armies suspend military operations for it is almost impossible to get artillery and ordnance to the line at present. I can only carry eight boxes in a four horse wagon through the mud. Last night we moved three miles nearer Marietta over as bad a road as ever a man traveled over. We stopped for the night in a large wheat field, raining nearly all night.
The troops receive dispatches from all parts of the line during the day, so that they are constantly informed as to what the rest of the army is doing. The way the dispatches are sent is this: some one will write what his command has done or doing and pass it by hand to the end of the line. A dispatch late this evening reports that Hood’s corps has been heavily engaged and repulsed the enemy with great slaughter. I sleep at the line of battle tonight. …
Went to Marietta this morning and drew 15,000 cartridges, stopped by our brigade CS and had a plate of splendid vegetable soup. I drew rations for my men. My ordinance wagon upset in one of the worst mud holes a man ever saw. We had a long job to get it out, it did not break anything. Busy all evening preparing my extra guns to go to Atlanta. Raining all day.
This evening there was the heaviest cannonading I ever heard; the enemy posted several batteries on the hill that our skirmishers occupied yesterday morning. I thought that I had been under heavy fire from artillery before but this was far ahead of anything I ever witnessed before, the shot and shell flew by me so fast that I did not hear the report of the cannons. It was truly terrific. One man was mortally wounded at my train by a Minnie ball.
“It is surprising that we do not have more sick than we do as the men have to stay in the ditches all of the time, they (the ditches) are becoming very filthy. If we have many more such days as this, our list will be increased very rapidly especially among the troops posted in the open fields where they have no shade to protect them from the broiling sun.
This has been the warmest day we have had this year. The roads are drying rapidly and we may expect stirring times now. Nearly all of the slightly wounded (that were disabled in the early part of this campaign) are returning to their commands, more come in every day than we send off.
At about 10 am the enemy charged our works, they had two lines of skirmishers and three lines of battle in front of our brigades, and seven lines of battle in front of Cheatham’s div. We only had four brigades engaged, Maney’s and Vaughn’s of Cheatham’s Div, Polk and Lowrey of Cleburne’s div. The enemy came within five feet of our breastworks and the slaughter was terrific as our troops literally mowed them down. We only lost 12 killed and wounded in our brigade. The enemy could not stand the steady fire of our troops and in a few moments fell back to their breastworks except in front of Maney’s brigade, where, it is reported, they are fortifying in 50 yards of our lines. About half an hour later the charge, our brigade stopped skirmishing and called to the enemy to stop and come and get their dead and wounded that were in the woods, as they heavy firing had set the dry leaves on fire and the wounded were in danger of being burnt up; during the armistice I succeeded in getting 90 rifles from the field, 7 of them were Henry’s patent (16 shooters).
The enemy have made no demonstrations on our line today and the firing of the skirmishers has been rather lazy. We had to withdraw our skirmishers this PM as it was almost impossible for them to stand the stench from the Yankee dead. Both armies have agreed to suspend hostilities tonight so that the dead may be buried. I bought a mare today for the moderate sum of $1,000.00. She moves well and I have only one objection to her; that is she is 10 years old. I forgot to mention that yesterday, our brigade captured 40 Yankees, among the number was a Lieut. Col., they were a hard looking sett of men.
Our brigade has not fired a shot today. The truce has lasted all day as the last of the Yankee dead in front of Cheatham’s were only buried at sunset. (I am expecting every moment to hear the skirmishers commence again.) I walked all along our line and Cheatham’s today and witnessed a sight seldom seen. The troops of both armies were sitting on top of the their respective breastworks talking with each other; where, if they had dared to show their heads twenty-four hours ago it would have been shot off. In front of our brigade the Yanks are in full view and their works are between three and four hundred yards off, in front of Maney’s brigade. The enemy’s line is within fifty yards of his at one point. I went up to see it this evening and found the flags of both armies only about 50 yards apart and several colonels on the ground talking to each other as if they were the best friends in the world.
I should not be surprised to hear that this salient angle of Cheatham’s line (where the lines are so near each other) have been undermined and blown up. The enemy can do it will all case in thirty-six hours. I consider this the most dangerous part of the line. Had my horse appraised, for $1,400.00
Nothing of importance has happened on our part of the line today. Last night at 2 o’clock the enemy attempted to charge our line, but our troops were ready for them and it is reported (by the enemy) that there were 458 dead Yanks in front of our brigade alone. The firing was very heavy for a few moments. We only lost, on our brigade, two killed and three wounded. Some of our brigade met a squad of blue bellies on the half way ground and exchanged late papers, coffee, tobacco, etc. They have new weights and measures on our line; the Yanks give a shirt tail full of coffee for a plug of tobacco. Received a letter from father.
The regular skirmish firing has continued all day. The man that was wounded at my train a few days ago has died. The enemy have advanced their works in front of Maney’s brigade. They are only about twenty-five yards apart now, rather too close for comfort. Willie went to prayer meeting at the Episcopal Church in Marietta. Rev. Mr. Benedict, the minister, gave him two small prayer books. One for himself and the other for me.
There has been very little skirmishing on our part of the line today but the enemy shelled us pretty steadily for about an hour this morning. I don’t think they damaged anything. I have named my new horse Marietta. She was slightly wounded this morning by a minie ball. Received a note from Rev Mr. Fitch this evening telling me that Bishop Green of Miss. Would preach tomorrow morning at the Episcopal Church in [Marietta] and would administer the rite of confirmation to all persons desirous of joining the church. I went to town this evening to see him, but was disappointed, as everything is being prepared to fall back, as the enemy have flanked us on the left. We left camp at sunset and marched 6 miles toward Atlanta to Smyrna Church and established a new line.
The troops have been busy all day making breastworks. Our brigade has a splendid position. I had some works put up to protect my men and mules as we will be in rather a dangerous place if we have heavy fighting in front. I been riding nearly all day examining the roads and having new ones cut. I have been sick for more than a month, and am becoming so weak that I can scarcely get about. I wish they would make haste and have the big fight so that I can get some rest or to to a hospital. We are expecting a big fight tomorrow—it is the fourth of July. There has been scarcely any fighting on the line today.
Contrary to our expectations there was very little firing on the line today; only an occasional shot from the pickets. I understand that some shells fell uncomfortably near my reserve train this evening.
We moved back again last night. I stopped my train about a mile north of the Chattahochee River and camped for the night. This morning I moved to the line of battle. I never saw a line like this before: it is made of stockade about 300 yards apart, each stockade will accommodate about 100 men. I will not say how I like them as I have never seen any fighting from the kind of works; we shall probably know all about them in a week.
There has been very little fighting on the line that I have heard of today. General Johnston sent me an order this evening to have all the wagons that can be spared brought to the front, sent to the south side of the river. I only have one wagon at the front now.
This evening there was very heavy artillery firing on the right and left of the line. I have not heard what the result was. We are all getting anxious to hear from the Va. Army as we have had nothing relish for a week.
Our brigade, also one from each Div of the army, moved to the south side of the river at daylight this morning to await further orders from General Johnston. I don’t understand this move, but do no ____ it all as I have had a fine time among the “Battlefield relief committee.”
…From the movements of troops this evening I expect our whole army to cross to this side of the river tonight. The enemy have burned one of the finest cotton factories in the south at Rossville, it was valued at $5,000,000.
Last night at 11 o’clock our whole army crossed to the south bank of the Chattahoochee River and are now … in line about 3 or 4 miles north of Atlanta.
Source: TN-3 file, Kennesaw Mountain National Battlefield Park