Today I travelled north from Kennesaw Mountain towards Chattanooga. Despite a late start I had allowed a few hours to explore the Resaca Battlefield.
Resaca was the first major action in Sherman’s drive to Atlanta, yet it gains little historical acknowledgement. As with Kennesaw Mountain you must consider Resaca in the context of the Atlanta Campaign but also in terms of the strategic situation. Johnston was strategically trying to draw Sherman into Georgia and by so doing expose the Union lines of communications. Simultaneously Johnston hoped by use of strong positions his smaller army could counter Sherman’s numerical superiority. Outflanked from Rocky Face Ridge and reinforced by Polk Johnston deployed around Resaca. On the 14th and 15th of May the armies clashed inconclusively. Then, Sherman again turned Johnston’s position and the armies moved deeper into Georgia.
Despite some 98,000 Union troops and 60,000 Confederates being deployed at Resaca, and almost 8,000 casualties, few books focus on the battle. Those that cover it provide the briefest of overviews. Something I found frustrating as I prepared for the visit.
The Resaca Battlefield Park is primarily a local initiative. That is, it is not a National Park. It can be found on the western side of I-75 despite what your iPhone or Google Maps may report. Driving in you will be met by a serious of information boards. These are all excellent and should be reviewed. However, once you have read them do keep driving to the third and fourth interpretive areas.
The most useful source I have found is the America Battlefield Trust site. In addition to a useful website, they have recently built a mobile app so you can download maps for your visit, that said a hard copy is still arguably more useful.
Anyway, from these maps you will see that the Rebel divisions were deployed in an inverted fish hook, following a similar shaped ridge. The Union forces deployed opposite also on a ridge but of course Sherman had the burden of attack. The Rebel left rested on the Oostanaula River and the right extending to the Conasauga River. Running in front of much of the Confederate lines was Camp Creek.
The various interpretation boards, when cross referenced to various maps and supplemented by those on the Battlefield Trust website will provide a reasonable interpretation of events.
The photo above is in the area that Carlin’s Brigade attacked over. Here, we have a view of the Union lines. Camp Creek runs along the base of the high ground and in this sector another tributary provides yet another obstacle.
I am standing approximately between the lines. One of the interpretation boards is worth quoting at this point, at least in part:
General Carlin, who lay very near the creek mentioned, threw forward his skirmishers, driving those of the enemy within their works, and moved forward his lines across the creek. No sooner had his first line emerged from the cover of the woods than the enemy – infantry and artillery – opened upon it with terrible effect. Not withstanding this however, Carlin pushed forward both lines beyond the creek and nearly halfway across the open field. The passage of the creek had, however, sadly disordered his lines, and finding it impossible to reform them while advancing so rapidly as the emergency of occasion required, hopeless, moreover, of holding his position even if the assault should succeed, Carlin fell back to the cover of the creek, the eastern bank of which offered in some places all the protection of a well-constructed fortification.
Below, a view from the centre of the field, now looking towards the Rebel positions. I believe that this is where Polk and Lowrey’s Confederate Brigades we’re positioned.
Below, a general view now looking north. Several Union brigades moved left to right, a number of which failed to even cross Camp Creek. Some of these brigades are discussed on the various interpretation boards.
Below, a view of Camp Creek today looking south. The photo unfortunately does not due justice to the depth of the stream. In some places the banks are very steep and others less defined and swamp like.
After the last interpretation point I walked some 15 or so minutes along a trail that generally follows the Confederate lines. Unfortunately the only marker I found was that of this Union regiment, likely denoting a high point of that regiment.
Cross referencing this marker to the Order of Battle, and assuming the marker is correctly placed, I found it was part of Manson’s Brigade from Schofield’s XIII Corps. These maps indicate it attacked angle in the Rebel line, specifically between Lewis and Walthal’s Brigades and where a Confederate battery was placed. A clear weak point in the Rebel line, where artillery was needed to bolster it. Several Union brigades converged on this point.
I hope that over the years Resaca will receive further interpretation signage, particularly in the norther end and in the various walking trails. That said I have a much greater understanding of the field and therefore the battle. An interesting few hours.