We left our friend Joseph E. Johnston perched high above Atlanta (well, 700 feet up) on Kennesaw Mountain. It’s raining. It’s also 24 June 1864. Union General Sherman has just ordered a frontal attack on the mountain. The consensus of historians is that General Sherman was either bored or annoyed at the delay in the fighting caused by Johnston’s entrenchment on top of the mountain. Sherman, no fool, was well aware of the risks and consequences of attacking an entrenched position which commanded the heights. By this time in the War, Pickett’s Charge at Gettysburg and the Union attack at Fredericksburg (another story for another time) were already part of the record. But Sherman got impatient.
Anyway, on 24 June 1864, Sherman ordered a frontal assault on the heights. His forces struggled through mud (it was, as usual, raining), brambles, brush, undergrowth and tightly packed trees, as well as tightly packed Confederates. This was not Sherman’s brightest moment. His plan was for division-sized units to punch two holes through the Confederate lines drive the two-and-a-half miles to the railroad yards (remember the railroad yards) at Marietta, and draw Johnston off his high ground to defend the railroads.
The attack was a colossal failure and resulted in significant loss of life. Despite the terrain (uphill through woods), the Confederate entrenchments (they still stand – you can walk on and through them and see for yourself how formidable they were) and the hundred-degree heat (yes, this is June in the Deep South, and remember that it has been raining regularly, so humidity and mosquitos are a factor too!), the Federal troops managed to get within a few feet of the Confederate lines but never managed to break through.
Withdrawing from the assault, Sherman’s troops maintain a cordon around the mountain and continue to pressure Johnston on his heights. Sherman attempts several different strategies to get Johnston to leave his position.