Archive for February, 2014

Wagner’s Brigade, Kennesaw Mountain

Posted in Atlanta Campaign, Wagners Brigade with tags , , , on February 27, 2014 by 40thindiana

“ Kennesaw Mountain, June 1864, Bitter Standoff at the Gibralter of Georgia”
By Richard A. Baumgartner and Larry M. Strayer, Blue Acorn Press, 1998; pp 125-128

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“Delegated for the effort from the 4th Corps was Newton’s entire division of three brigades, commanded left to right by Generals Nathan Kimball, George Wagner and Charles G. Harker. Newton and corps commander O.O. Howard had examined with field glasses the terrain to be traversed, and decided to organize the brigades in close-packed columns of reqimental divisions, each presenting a two-company front and a depth of 30 lines. “That formation,” wrote Howard years afterward, “seemed best for the situation; first to keep the men concealed as well as possible beforehand and during the first third of the distance, the ground being favorable for this; second, to make as narrow a front as he could with many men, so as to make a sudden rush with numbers over their works.” In other words, they were to become a human battering ram.”

“…At 9 A.M., one hour behind schedule, the advance began. In front of Wagner, Lt. Col. Willis Blanch’s 57th Ind. Deployed as skirmishers, each man 5 paces apart. Following close behind were the brigade’s five other regiments, headed by the 40th Indiana. The Hoosiers no sooner had crossed the Union breastworks when the left of Cleburne’s line exploded in a blaze of musketry. “Unmindful of the terific havoc in their ranks,” Wagner reflected, “the column moved forward.”

Before the Rebel pickets’ rifle pits could be overrun, their occupants loosed a volley and ran up the slope to saftey. The opposing lines here were separated by only 500 yards, so little time was consumed by Wagner’s leading elements in reaching the Confederate obstructions, 40 yards from the trenches. The 40th Indiana having caught up with the 57th Indiana skirmishers, began tugging and slashing at the abatis in order to clear a pathway. Captain Kirkpatrick, commanding the 40th’s Company G, drew abreast of Wagner and asked him, “Where shall I strike the enemy’s lines?” The general pointed and Kirkpatrick passed on. Suddenly, wrote Sergeant Walter Wilson of the 57th,” the hillside was transformed into the hottest place I ever was in.”

At that moment, two Napoleon 12-pounders loaded with canister fired into the Hoosiers’ faces. The guns belonged to a section of Capt. William B. Turner’s Mississippi Battery, and were commanded by 2nd Lt. W.W. Henry. The young officer’s cannoneers swabbed the barrels, reloaded and fired again into the tightly packed blueclad mass. Among those instantly killed were Kirkpatrick, Capt. Charles Elliott of Co. A, and 1st Lt. John C. Sharp commanding Co. F. An eyewitness recalled: “The enemy reserved their artillery fire till the 40th advanced to within a short distance of their works, had raised the yell, and were moving forward on the double-quick, when they opened a withering fire of grape and canister … The assaulting party was checked, and the men laid down.”

“Behind them the rest of the brigade pushed on, as did Kimball’s seven regiments supporting Wagner’s left……..”

“….It was a nightmare on Wagner’s front. The 57th and 40th Indiana were stymied at the abatis, unable to punch through of find shelter rearward as the 28th KY, 100TH Ill., 26th and 97th Ohio bunched inextricably together behind them. To Capt. Robert D. Smith, a Tennessean serving on Cleburne’s staff, “the slaughter was terrific as our troops literally mowed them down.” Cleburne’s adjutant, Capt. Irving A. Buck, stated that Polk’s Arkansans and Tennesseans “cooly and rapidly poured a murderous fire into the massed Federals, causing losses to them entirely out of proportion to those inflicted upon the Confederates……”

Wagners men twice surged uphill, but all efforts to bypass the inhibiting obstructions failed. In the column’s hindmost regiment, the 97th Ohio, 1st Sergeant John W. Marshall saw his company had no chance to proceed further. “As advance was impossible, the line falters, breaks, and comes rushing back on the next line, which in turn breaks, causing the wildest confusion.” Another non-commissioned officer, Ashbury Kerwood of the 57th Indiana, wrote: “The order was given to fall back by companies from the rear, but in the confusion and excitement it was misunderstood, and a general retreat commenced. The slaughter among our troops at this moment was even greater than when they advanced, for the enemy now rose from behind their works, fearless of danger from the retreating force, and fired with greater precision than when the column advanced.”

“The assault cost Kimball 194 dead, wounded and missing. Wagner’s losses totalled 215. Not all these casualties, however, resulted from bullets or cannon shot.”

While the battered Federals headed rearward, orange flames began flickering along the ground where the fighting had raged fiercest. Soon a sizeable brushfire, ignited by embers from hundreds of discharged weapons falling amidst dry leaves, twigs and pine needles, cracked in front of Polk’s Brigade. The Confederates watched in horror as the flames crept toward the bodies of dead and severely wounded Yankees still lying on the battlefield. Screams rent the air. Lt. Col. William H. Martin of the 1st/15th Arkansas realized that if something was not done instantly, dozens of helpless men would be burned alive.”

“At this stage”, recounted William T. Barnes, an Arkansas private in Co. G, “our colonel sang out, ‘Boys, this is butchery,’ and mounting our head logs with a white hankerchief, he sang out to the Yanks as well as to our own mwn: ‘Cease firing and help get out those men,’ It is needless to add that the Feds never once refused to comply with this request. Our men scaling the head logs as though for a counter charge, were soon mixed with Yankees, carrying out dead and wounded Feds with those who, a few minutes previous were trying to ‘down our shanties.’ Together, the Rebs and Yanks soon had the fire beat out and the dead and wounded removed to the Federal side of the fence.”

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