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May 13 - 15, 1864

The Battle of Resaca

On May 5, Confederate Gen. Joseph E. Johnston ordered Brig. Gen. James Cantey’s small infantry brigade to Resaca, a small town along the Western & Atlantic on the north bank of the Oostanaula River, five and a half miles to the east of Snake Creek Gap. After digging earthworks to guard the railroad and wagon bridges, Cantey placed one regiment there and another, the 37th Mississippi, atop a treeless ridge known as the "bald hill." Johnston ordered a brigade of cavalry, Col. J. Warren Grigsby’s, to ride for Resaca on May 8.

Maj. Gen. James B. McPherson had his troops marching on the 9th with orders to strike the Rebels’ railroad at or near Resaca. When Grigsby’s troopers approached, the Federals fired, driving them back to the ridge line where the 37th Mississippi waited. A division of Federal infantry under Brig. Gen. Thomas Sweeny drove the Confederates across Camp Creek and back to Cantey’s main line. Sweeny’s troops occupied Bald Hill, and from there were able to see Resaca and the railroad bridge over the Oostanaula River.

McPherson had arrived, and instructed Sweeny’s division to hold Bald Hill while he sent other troops probing to the northeast for an approach to the railroad. But McPherson lost his nerve; worried that Johnston would send troops to drive him back, he ordered Sweeny back to Snake Creek Gap. The Union infantry withdrew, abandoning Bald Hill. When Sherman learned this, he was disappointed “beyond measure,” as he wrote to McPherson, telling him to dig in while he brought the rest of the army through Snake Creek Gap.

By May 14, Johnston’s Confederate army was positioned north and west of Resaca, stretching four miles, with its left on the Oostanaula River and the right extending to the Conasauga. Camp Creek cut across most of Johnston’s front, creating an additional obstacle for the Federals. As Sherman’s forces marching from Snake Creek Gap paralleled Rebel lines, Sherman ordered attacks to keep the Rebels occupied while Sweeny’s division of the Sixteenth Corps crossed the Oostanaula four miles downstream from Resaca, beyond the Confederates’ left, to threaten the railroad.

Starting around 11:30 a.m. Yankees from the Maj. Gen John Schofield’s Twenty-third and Maj. Gen. Oliver O. Howard’s Fourth Corps attacked across rough terrain; Camp Creek, “with quicksand in places, and steep muddy banks,” proved a formidable obstacle indeed. Schofield’s two divisions charged and failed. One brigade of Brig. Gen. Henry Judah’s division never got past Camp Creek. The Fourteenth Corps divisions of Brig. Gen. Absalom Baird’s and Brig. Gen. Richard Johnson also charged, managing to cross the creek before withdrawing under heavy musketry and cannon fire. Brig. Gen. Jacob Cox’s division of Schofield’s corps entered the battle after Judah’s and was also thrown back.

On the Confederate line Maj. Gen. Pat Cleburne’s and Maj. Gen. Thomas Hindman’s divisions helped repel the attacks, but Maj. Gen. William Bate’s division bore the brunt of them.

The Federal assault on the Confederate center-right petered out around 3 p.m., having achieved nothing but casualties—at least 1,600 killed and wounded. Following their failed attacks, Thomas and Schofield ordered artillery to shell the Rebel works. After adding casualties from the bombardment, the Confederates probably lost between 400 and 500 men in the Camp Creek fighting on May 14.

The next morning, Lt. Gen. John B. Hood instructed his division commander Maj. Gen. Carter Stevenson to position a battery so as to bear on enemy artillery "annoying General Hindman’s line." Stevenson ordered Capt. Maximilian Van Den Corput’s “Cherokee Battery” of four Napoleons to be placed 20 yards in front of his entrenched infantry. Soldiers constructed an earthen lunette for the guns, but before they could connect it to their main line with rifle pits, Federals attacked the center-right of the Confederate line. They were repulsed elsewhere, but two Federal regiments of Brig. Gen. John Ward’s brigade stormed up to the Rebel earthworks. By then Van Den Corput’s infantry supports had run away and his troops "entered the embrasures, striking down and bayoneting the rebel gunners, many of whom defiantly stood by their guns till struck down."

The Northerners received heavy fire and withdrew, leaving the battery unmanned. Neither side could sortie forward to reclaim the battery. By 3 p.m. both sides resorted to heavy skirmishing and artillery dueling while the Confederate cannon sat in no-man’s land. “Come on—take those guns!” yelled the Southerners. “Come on and take ‘em yourselves!” came the Northerners’ reply. After dark, Brig. Gen. John Geary ordered troops to sneak forward, quietly dig through the earthwork, and with ropes drag the four guns back into Union lines. The mission was successful. While all this was taking place on Johnston’s right, Sweeny’s Yankee division crossed the Oostanaula below the Confederate left. Realizing he had been flanked, the Confederate commander ordered his troops to withdraw on the night of May 15-16.