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The Famous Cyclorama Of The Great Battle Of Atlanta
There have been few more desperate fights than the one in which John B. Hood vainly tried to block the invasion of the South
February 1956 | Volume 7, Issue 2
At which point—it was just a little after noon, on July 22—the advancing Confederates ran into a solid wall of Federal infantry which was not facing Atlanta at all. It was facing toward the south and east—the direction from which Bate’s and Mercer’s men were coming—and it could not have been better placed if McPherson had read Hood’s orders.
McPherson had been taking thought for his exposed left Hank even before he knew about Hood’s move, and that morning he hail sent two brigades down to protect it. These brigades, commanded by a General Sweeney, reached the scene just in time to see Bate’s and Mercer’s battle lines coming up the Sugar Creek valley. They promptly took position to meet this thrust, opened a stiff fire, and—aided by another brigade which had been posted in Blair’s rear—beat off the first onset.
Meanwhile, Hardee’s other two divisions had begun their fight. Cleburne’s and Maney’s divisions drove in hard on Blair’s line and cracked it. One Federal division was swept away and driven north to Leggett’s Hill. A Confederate battle line went swinging forward through a pine woods, coming up behind the Federal brigade which had gone over to help Sweeney’s men. This brigade promptly swung about in its tracks and began a brand-new fight, while Cleburne’s skirmishers went prowling forward through an authentic gap in the Yankee battle line.
McPherson had been eating lunch, some distance away, when the noise of the firing told him that something was coming unstitched along his left and rear. Sending his stall officers oil on various missions, he galloped down toward the end of Blair’s line accompanied by a lone signal officer. Riding along a narrow woods road, he ran smack into CIeburne s skirmishers and was shot from his horse, dead.
… His body was recovered, a little later, and taken to headquarters, where tough Sherman wept unashamedly. Sherman had believed that McPherson was a man of destiny; eventually, Sherman had thought, both he and Grant would be shelved, and McPherson would emerge as the supreme Union commander. Now McPherson was dead, and his army was in danger of destruction.
For Hood was getting more Confederates into the fight. The corps he himself had led before he was promoted into Johnston’s place, a stout-fighting outfit commanded by Benjamin Cheatham, came over from the Atlanta fortifications, and one of its divisions began to pound the Federals who were still clinging desperately to Leggett’s Hill. Simultaneously, Cheatham’s other two divisions extended the fight northward, opening a bitter assault on John Logan’s 15th Corps, astride the Georgia Railroad.
This attack nearly brought Federal disaster. It promptly punched a hole in the line. Two Federal brigades were driven out of their works, the line on their left had to give ground, and a solid mass of Confederates came swarming up to the Atlanta-Decatur road. There was desperate fighting around the white two-story house of the Widow Pope, and around the unfinished brick residence of one George Troup Hurt, where an Illinois battery slammed away at the oncoming ranks in butternut and gray.
The Confederates kept on coming. Five Ohio regiments were driven away from the Hurt house, the Illinois guns were abandoned, and some of Cheatham’s men regained the former Confederate works which the Federals had seized the day before.
But Federal reinforcements were coming up fast. The troops which had been driven out were rallied, and one of the Federal brigades which had been fighting down in Sugar Creek valley came up cross-lots, on the double, to get into the fight. The Confederates became altogether too busy to take away the guns they had captured, and the broken Federal line north of the railroad was at last restored.
The Federal General John Logan on his big black horse was visible in all of this. (Highly visible in the painting, too; he was in politics when it was painted, and there is a legend that the artists gave him prominence to help him capture votes. If that is true, the trick failed; Logan died in December, 1886, before the painting was put on display.)
If Logan was a politican before and after the war he was a solid combat soldier while the war was going on, and he was never more so than he was in this Rattle of Atlanta. When McPherson died Logan succeeded temporarily to command of the Army of the Tennessee, and now he came pounding up on his horse, felt hat clenched in one fist, demanding that his men hold their ground. He was liked by his troops; they had a pet nickname for him, and as he rode along their lines now they chanted it—“Blackjack! Blackjack!”—and dug in their heels to hold on as he had directed.
They were not getting very much help, just here. Sherman himself had formerly commanded the Army of the Tennessee, and he took great pride in it; so much so, it was alleged, that he believed it could fight its own way out of the fix into which Hood’s driving onslaught had put it, and hence refused to send help over from Thomas’ Army of the Cumberland, which was not engaged that afternoon of July 22. (Just incidentally, he refused to keep Logan in top command alter the battle, putting one-armed Oliver Otis Howard in the spot.) And the battle came to its enormous climax here, along the railroad cut and near the Hurt house, with the tide inexorably turning and the weary Confederates fighting desperately to hold on.