Resaca Battlefield

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.

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Kennesaw Mountain

Having yesterday navigated my way from Vicksburg in Mississippi to Georgia today I ventured out to explore Kennesaw Mountain Battlefield Park. To understand the Battle of Kennesaw Mountain you need to consider it as part of Sherman’s Atlanta Campaign which effectively started after Grant’s victory Chattanooga until Atlanta was captured. As such it would have been ideal to have started in Chattanooga and travelled south. However, travel logistics for me didn’t allow for such an itinerary.

Kennesaw Mountain Battlefield Park is sprawling and unfortunately is not contiguous, at least from a driving perspective. To move from one driving tour spot to another you need to drive on some busy roads and drive some distance.

My visit started at the Visitor Centre where an excellent film will remind the visitor of some of the pertinent points of the campaign and battle. Afterward, I drove to the top of Kennesaw Mountain. From here you quickly gain an appreciation of the commanding location that Big Kennesaw Mountain is, as well as the barrier the successive hills provides.

Above, a view from Big Kennesaw Mountain towards Little Kennesaw Mountain. Below, a view from Big Kennesaw Mountain looking generally northwest to provide an impression of its dominating position.

Below, Confederate artillery on Big Kennesaw Mountain positioned to engage Union forces. From here, according to the interpretation boards, Lumsden’s Alabama artillery hit a railroad water tower “scattering both water and nearby Yankees”.

Soon Union rifled artillery was positioned to counter the Confederate artillery and both duelled day and night for a week. Confederate artillery, some nine guns, were also dragged up Little Kennesaw Mountain.

Much of the battlefield is well covered in trees today making it difficult to understand the battle. Historical photos show less trees, at least in places. Visiting the park in winter would have been more rewarding I suspect. The advantage of the increased number of trees however is to reduce erosion.

Below, a view from Union artillery positions on a low ridge that generally faces Kennesaw Mountain. From here some 24 guns, half 10-pounder Parrots and half 12-pounder Napoleons, bombarded Confederates on Little Kennesaw Mountain and Pigeon Hill. I spent some time trying to confirm the location using my phone, with limited success.

Continuing the tour we now move down Old Mountain Road towards Pigeon Hill, the location of a main attack on the 27th of June, rather than a feint.

This part of the field is easily accessible. Below, a view of Pigeon Hill looking northeast. Directly in front can be seen Burnt Hickory Road, which also marks the left flank of Cockrell’s position.

Now a view from the Confederate positions on Pigeon Hill looking west. These are the positions held Cockrell’s Brigade. I have included both a period photo and one taken today for comparison.

Note the three rocks in the foreground of both photos. The period photo provides details on defences and visibility. A field can be seen some distance in advance of the Pigeon Hill slopes.

Staying in the area below we look to the area south of Cockrell’s position.

We are now looking east over the ground that Williamson’s and Lightburn’s Brigades attacked. In the woods beyond Mercer’s Confederate Brigade was entrenched. To the left is Cockrell’s position and we can see cars travelling west on Burnt Hickory Road.

Moving south from Pigeon Hill we come to Cheatham Hill.

I approached the position from Sherman and Thomas Headquarters. Parking my car I walked across the park heading east, generally following the advance of Union troops as they advanced on the Confederate positions on Cheatham Hill.

From the Headquarters I advanced to a ridge line and then down into a valley. Crossing a deep creek, above, I then moved out of the woods and into a clearing, below. Here, the Illinois Monument is just visible in the upper centre which is just below the “Dead Angle”.

A steep and open field took me now towards the Confederate trenches to my front. There were a number of dips in the field that troops could perhaps gain a degree of cover if stationary. However, apart from this the ground was open with no cover. The last 20 or so metres were very steep and at the top a Rebel trench line the remains of which are very visible.

A view from just in front of the Rebel lines which partly captures the slope over which the Illinois troops advanced.

Below, the remains of Confederate entrenchments at the Dead Angle, looking generally south. The “Angle” is on the far side. Historically these entrenchments were significant with head logs and parapets, but 160 years has taken a toll.

It generally extended south, with a slight inclination to the west, until on Confederate left it makes a sharp change in direction, east. In doing so it followed the contour of the hill. The result is the “Dead Angle”. At the angle the southern side is protected by an even steeper hillside.

Below, the Illinois Monument that marks where the Union forces, specifically Dan McCook’s Brigade was forced back to and where they dug their own entrenchments, some 30 metres from Confederate positions. The remains of the Union tunnel is just to the left, which I foolishly failed to photograph.

The Confederate positions are just beyond the monument. Even today, and despite erosion, the Rebel entrenchments are perhaps 1.5m above the monument base, that is 1.5m from the top of the monument steps.

Moving back to the Rebel lines the entrenchments continue north and south. Below, the position of two Confederate 12-pounders which were kept camouflaged until the Union attack on the 27th of June when they fired at point blank range and, according to one Confederate officer, “did great execution”.

The final position I visited was in the area of Kolb’s Farm. Here Hood pushed two divisions of his 13,000 strong corps forward in an attempt to stop Union forces flanking of the Kennesaw Mountain position on the 22nd of June. The main axis of the attack went through the woods behind the cottage.

While the house remains, and is now restored to its original form, the area of the battle is cut by a very busy road that unfortunately makes exploring and understanding this portion of the battle difficult.

This completed my visit to Kennesaw Mountain.

Raymond Battlefield

I had been considering options for my final day in Vicksburg. Options included visiting several sites associated with Grant’s campaign, or a more limited visit to Champion Hill or Raymond Battlefield. After some consideration, and suggestions from the visitors centre, I opted to just visit Raymond Battlefield. It was a decision I was extremely pleased I made.

In general terms the situation was that Grant’s army was advancing along several roads southeast of Vicksburg after crossing the Mississippi. One of these columns, McPherson’s XVII Corps, was engaged on the 12th of May 1863 by a much smaller Confederate force under General John Gregg. Gregg had under command some 4000 men. Gregg, thinking he outnumbered the enemy attacked and tried to turn the Union right. Eventually, unable to hold the ever increasing Union force the Confederates were forced back. Soon the city of Jackson would be captured, the Battle of Champion Hill would be fought and in due course, Vicksburg would be under siege.

The land encompassing the battlefield has been purchased and developed by a group of volunteers and their efforts are simply amazing. By chance one of these volunteers was exercising his dogs at the park when I arrived. A conversation ensued about the battlefield, the volunteers and the battlefield park.

The preservation is focussed on four areas. First, the Confederate artillery positions to the rear. Secondly the Confederate right flank including Fourteen Mile Creek and where the historical road crossed the creek. Opposite this area is the main Union gun line, and to the left the area where the Confederate attacked the Union right. These areas are seperated by areas of private land so some walking or driving is required.

The Confederate artillery position is next to the Old Port Gibson Road. This was the road I approached the battlefield on an follows the route used by Grant and Sherman, though neither was involved in the battle.

Above and below, Confederate artillery, two smoothbores and a Whitworth Rifle. The Whitworth actual burst during the battle while being fired.

The main preserved area is on the Confederate right and includes the ground that 1st Tennessee Infantry Battalion advanced over. This comprises the field, the woods and Fourteen Mile Creek in the distance. The Confederate artillery is positioned on a knoll behind. This section includes a number of interpretive boards and a circular walk. A cannon near the old bridge marks the initial location of Union artillery before forced back.

Below, a section of Fourteen Mile Creek. I understand the creek is much as it was in 1863. A considerable obstacle with steep banks which would have made it a considerable obstacle.

To the left, and on the Union side of the creek another cannon marks the Union lines and a reconstructed split rail fence marks a location where the Union forces attempted to delay the Rebels. This section I believe is not fully developed.

Above, a cannon marks the position of four James Rifles of the 8th Michigan Light Artillery, commanded by Captain De Golyer on the right of the historic bridge. This battery was the first Union battery deployed. The James Rifles are rifled bronze pieces designed to take a James projectile. Two 12 Pound Howitzers were on the left of the historic bridge and today is represented by another piece. The position of the original bridge and old road are marked but are now gone. Heavy Confederate fire forced the battery of six guns to fall back to what would become the main Union artillery position.

Opposite the artillery and split rail fence a marker records the advance of the 7th Texan Infantry who splashed across the Fourteen Mile Creek around noon attacking the 68th and 20th Ohio. Around 4pm pressed to front and flank they were forced back.

The final section is the Union artillery line which is positioned on the Union left and opposite the Rebel right on the Union artillery ridge.

Here 22 artillery pieces were progressively deployed and today 20 cannon are placed. The spectacle is significant and certainly I pondered the amount of fire that these pieces would have put down. The cannon are reproductions, but comprise different models, the carriages were I understand, were supplied by the Vicksburg Military Park.

Above, a view looking towards the Confederate right which is along the woods to the front. Behind these woods on a knoll is the hopelessly out numbered Confederate artillery, perhaps 1000 yards distant.

This is a small but extremely well presented battlefield. I was taken back by the dedication of the volunteers that have done so much to preserve this significant battle of the campaign. If you have an opportunity I encourage you to include a visit to the Raymond Military Park on a trip to Vicksburg.

Vicksburg

Today the weather has held and allowed me to complete my visit to the Vicksburg Military Park. The capture of Vicksburg was critical to the Union strategy of splitting the Confederacy and dominating the Mississippi River. Prior to the final campaign several attempts to advance on Vicksburg were attempted and failed. However, in Grant’s successful campaign Grant he crossed below Grand Gulf and then advanced northeast. A series of battles followed, where Union success would eventually resulted in the Siege of Vicksburg. As pre-reading I would highly recommend Arnold’s “Grant Wins The War: Decision at Vicksburg”. It places the campaign and siege in context.

Today the Vicksburg Military Park encompasses both the Union and Confederate lines and the various assaults and trenches that were developed. Unfortunately, there are many more trees on the park than there were in 1863, which detracts from an understanding of events and terrain. However, in several parts visibility remains good. Further accessibility to portions of park are limited by extremely long grass which you are advised to stay out of due to the local wildlife.

These points aside there are some areas where visibility is excellent. One such part is the area around what is today called Battery De Golyer.

Above and below two of four sections of the battery which today comprises a total of 18 guns. Historically 22 guns were massed here.

In a central position the battery was opposite the Confederate Great Redoubt and diagonally opposite the Third Louisiana Redan. In the photo below the Great Redoubt is marked by the left monument while the Third Louisiana Redan is around two thirds of the way to the right. The right monument is the Illinois Monument and marks the advancing saps near the old Jackson Road.

Below, the Illinois Monument sits behind the advancing Union lines that push forward to the Third Louisiana Redan. In the background is the Shirley House, which is the only surviving structure on the field. Blue markers denote Union positions while red Confederate.

From the position above the Jackson Road passes to the left and then continues to Rebel lines where it passes in front and then to the side of the Third Louisiana Redan, the remains of the Redan are shown below.

Here a Confederate 20 Pound Parrot Rifle is positioned on the left. You will note the blue sign between the two Confederate cannon. This was the location of the crater nearest the Confederate line after the detonation of a mine around the 25th of June. The walls of the Redan were 12 feet high and 24 feet thick. The Jackson road passes in front and then to the right, though not shown in this photo.

Below, a view from the Confederate Great Redoubt. The Union battery position is visible in the distance. The Third Louisiana Redan is to the left and between the two the Jackson Road passes.

Further north we came to Sherman’s sector.

Below, the Stockade Redan can be seen in the centre distance. An attack here on the 19th of May was repulsed. Following this, like many sectors, saps were dug towards the enemy lines. Below, the blue markers that generally follow the road mark a series of trenches dug toward the Redan. In this case it is called “Ewing’s Approach”.

Below, a view from the Confederate Stockade Redan towards the Union line. The line of approach is clearly visible here. Other lines are also visible in the distant left.

The Vicksburg Military Park is of course very different to the other Battlefield Parks I have visited on this trip, being a park focussed on the siege rather than a battle. As such it is important to consider the time frames involved. The terrain is somewhat rugged and in the heat of a Mississippi summer the conditions must have been unbearable for all involved.

While there are several other forts and redoubts for the visitor to explore I hope these few photos prove of some interest and provide an overview for the reader.

USS Cairo

Today I have started to explore the Vicksburg National Military Park, but unfortunately progress has been slow due to significant periods of rain. Hopefully, weather permitting, I will complete the key elements tomorrow and in due course post an overview of my visit. However, I felt a few photos of USS Cairo deserves its own post.

Cairo was an ironclad of the City class and was part of the Western Gunboat flotilla. She operated on the Mississippi and Ohio rivers and tributaries. In December 1862 she was sunk by a mine and sank in twelve minutes. Her resting place on the Yahzoo River was over the years was lost. However, eventually relocated she was raised from the mud in 1964.

A view of the port side of Cairo. Cleary visible are the forward facing guns as well as several port facing cannon. Supporting beams are visible, which also indicate the general shape, along with her original timbers.

Above, a wonderful view from the inside showing her paddle wheel and associated drive.

Here, her five boilers seen from the inside centre. The firebox on the left is apparently a reconstruction.

Above and below, views of the starboard side of Cairo. Above additional railway iron fitted to protect her while below showing iron plate.

The cannon were a mix of rifled and smoothbore pieces and of various sizes. The cannons themselves are her originals, though the carriages are reproductions.

Below, a view of her stern. The timber in her rudders are mostly new.

Another view of her stern, now from a port perspective.

I had been looking forward to seeing Cairo and I was well rewarded by my visit. I hope this selection of these photos proves of interest to some.