All was in readiness for a renewal of hostilities on the 11th of June, and the army was again put in motion. The enemy was in position at Big Shanty, and for thirty days held his ground, during which time our lines were extended to envelop his flanks, by which he was forced to retire from his defenses to Kenesaw Mountain, on the 14th. This was his last available defense north of the Chattahoochee, and he deemed it impregnable. Kenesaw rises abruptly from an undulating plain to the height of a thousand feet, presenting an object of interest to the beholder. From its summit Atlanta is plainly visible, while a vast region lies, like a map, before the eye. Upon the sides and top of this mountain Johnston placed his army, with his flanks stretching out on the high grounds east and west of it. A full view of all our operations was afforded from the lofty eminence. At the foot of (p207) the mountain, and within the enemy's lines, lay the beautiful city of Marietta, the most interesting town in Northern Georgia.
Our forces at once advanced from Big Shanty, and formed their extended lines confronting the enemy. On the 15th the lines of the Fifteenth Corps were advanced, and the enemy was driven from his outer works by a vigorous change, with slight loss on our part. A Brigade from each Division participated in this engagement. The movement was so rapid that the enemy made but feeble resistance. The Regiment was engaged, and sustained a loss of three wounded, viz: George Williams, of Company C, Alfred Dobbins of Company G, and Daniel Bolin, of Company I.
The development of the right flank, soon after this event, led to the removal of the Corps to the right, where a furious assault was made, on the 27th of June, upon the enemy in his strong position. The troops engaged consisted of one Brigade from each Division of the Fourteenth and Fifteenth Corps, including Walcott's Brigade, of Harrow's Division. The place selected for the assault was one which, if carried, would secure greater advantages than any other point in the enemy's line of defense. The troops formed under cover of the forest, line succeeding line to the number deemed necessary, when the bugle sounded the "forward." Up the steep, and (p208) on into the face of the enemy, through a destructive fire, the lines moved without wavering, while every moment brave men were falling by scores. Never was greater bravery exhibited, but all was in vain. The position was impregnable against assault, and the troops gave up the unequal contest retiring in the midst of an awful storm of shot and shell, having suffered heavy loss. Among those who fell were the brave Harker and McCook.
No further general engagement occurred during the presence of the army in front of Kenesaw. Heavy skirmishing continued throughout the entire period of more than three weeks, and many noble men perished. The Regiment lost three men killed, while at Kenesaw. Benjamin Brown, of Company H, was struck by a stray ball, on the morning of June 26th, while preparing his coffee inside the works, and instantly killed. He was a favorite in his Company, and all lamented his tragic fate. John Linton, of Company K, was killed, June 27th, and William H. Ely, of Company E, June 28th, on the skirmish line. Both were good soldiers and greatly esteemed by their comrades.
The further development of the right flank, by the Twentieth and Twenty-third Corps, alarmed Johnston for the safety of his communications, our lines already extending far to his rear, compelling him to form his lines of defense in the shape of a horse-shoe. Our right would soon be still (p209) further extended toward the railroad, should he attempt to retain his position longer. The "great flanker" as Sherman had begun to be termed, had again secured the advantage, and Johnston was forced to evacuate Kenesaw Mountain, which he did on the night of July 3rd, retreating to the Chattahoochee, at the mouth of Nickajack Creek, and covering the crossing for the continuance of his retreat to Atlanta.
On the 4th of July the army was in rapid pursuit of the enemy, pressing his rear closely to the Chattahoochee. Johnston's skill in retreating equaled that of Sherman in flanking, and the success attending the withdrawal of his army from one point to another was made the theme of comment and admiration in our camps. He usually succeeded in the removal of his most valuable stores and munitions of war, and kept his retreating columns well closed up and his rear so thoroughly guarded that stragglers were seldom found. Long continued practice in running from Sherman had made him master of the art of "getting off," as Falstaff would have it.
It was evidently the purpose of Johnston to retire within his defenses around Atlanta, and his delay at the Chattahoochee was but for a few days, during which the operations of the armies were confined to the usual amount of skirmishing. On the 12th Johnston had effected a crossing, and the (p210) army commenced the pursuit. Atlanta was just before us, and from the bluffs north of the Chattahoochee its spires were visible.
The Sixteenth and Twenty-third Corps had already crossed the river, and the Fourth, Fourteenth, and Twentieth were moving to the south bank of the stream, leaving the Fifteenth and Seventeenth Corps to cross at Roswell, and occupy a position upon the left. These two Corps moved via Marietta, reaching Roswell on the morning of the 14th, after an exhausting march in the intense heat of midsummer. During the afternoon of the 14th we crossed the Chattahoochee, having rebuilt the bridge, destroyed by the enemy on his retreat. At this point we remained till the 17th, fortifying our position.
On the morning of July 20th, the entire army was in readiness for the offensive against the rebel stronghold, and the forces were disposed for action. In the meantime Johnston had been superseded by Hood, one of his former Corps Commanders, who at once inaugurated a widely different policy from that pursued by his predecessor. Determined to hold Atlanta, which Johnston acknowledged he could not do, Hood boldly assumed the offensive, and moved a strong force out of the defenses to meet our advancing lines, encountering our right wing under Thomas, and fiercely engaging the Fourteenth and Twentieth Corps at Peach Tree (p211) Creek. The battle raged furiously, the enemy charging repeatedly, meeting a severe repulse each time he essayed to penetrate our lines, and finally retiring from the unequal contest. In this engagement both parties suffered severely. The weight of the attack fell upon Hooker's Corps, which evinced the same spirit of heroic bravery that had always marked that band of noble men. Davis' Division of the Fourteenth Corps was hotly engaged, and maintained its well earned reputation.
While those events were occurring on the right, our lines were formed and advanced, on the left and centre, in the following order. The Army of the Tennessee on the left; the Seventeenth Corps on the left flank, connecting with the Fifteenth Corps on its right, and the Sixteenth Corps in reserve near Decatur. The Twenty-third Corps formed on the right of the Fifteenth, connecting on its right with the Fourth Corps. The troops were moved forward from Decatur, and formed in line three miles east of Atlanta, the Fifteenth Corps stretching across the railroad, and the Seventeenth on the left, while the Fourth and Twenty-third Corps formed an irregular arc of a circle, to the north of Atlanta, where the right wing was engaged with the enemy.
The First Division of the Fifteenth Corps entrenched on the right of the railroad; the Second Division held a position on both sides of the road; (p212) and the Fourth Division was posted on the left of the Corps, the First Brigade being on the right.
The great object of the campaign was before us; but at the gates of the citadel was a watchful enemy. A great work remained to be accomplished before we could enter the "Gate City." We were upon the eve of great events, and under the new policy inaugurated by Hood the utmost vigilance was requisite to guard every point of our extended lines against assault.(p213)