BY MICHAEL K. SHAFFER (email@example.com) Kennesaw
State University’s Civil War Center For the Washington County News
Maneuvering armies continued their actions in Virginia during the week, as Lieutenant General U.S. Grant and Major General George Meade approached the Army of Northern Virginia’s position along the North Anna River. General Robert E. Lee had positioned his forces on the southern side of the river, creating an unusual formation, which many have since labeled the “hog snout line.” Lieutenant General A.P. Hill anchored the Confederate left, while Major General Richard Anderson’s men held the center, and Lieutenant General Richard Ewell formed on the right. Hill repulsed a Federal attack on May 23, and again on the following day near Ox Ford. Major General Winfield Scott Hancock’s V Corps made progress against Ewell’s Corps on the Federal left, while Lee, suffering from an illness during the battle, could not effectively order an attack upon a separated element of Grant’s army. The combatants faced off along the North Anna until May 26, when Grant again moved around Lee’s right flank, and ushered the Army of the Potomac closer toward Richmond.
Resting and refitting their armies after almost three weeks of fighting, flanking attempts, and entrenching, Major General William T. Sherman and General Joseph E. Johnston prepared for the next stage of the Atlanta Campaign. The Army of Tennessee held a strong position at Allatoona Pass, an area Sherman had reconnoitered 20 years prior, while serving at an army post in nearby Marietta, and riding through the northwestern part of Georgia, to examine claims for compensation from the United States government after the Second Seminole War. Once again, Sherman attempted to sidle to his right, Johnston’s left, in an effort to turn the Southern flank. This time, unlike his other movements of the campaign, the Federals left their supply line – the Western & Atlantic Railroad, as they marched into Paulding County toward Dallas. Johnston reacted quickly, sending his forces westward. Once in position, Lieutenant General William J. Hardee held the extreme left near Dallas; Lieutenant General Leonidas Polk occupied the center, at New Hope Church; and Lieutenant General John Bell Hood anchored the right near Pickett’s Mill. The blue line formed opposite the gray, as the Federal major generals fell into position, with James B. McPherson fronting Hardee, George H. Thomas facing Polk, and John M. Schofield, with some units from Thomas’s army, occupying the line opposite Hood.
Fighting near New Hope Church began on May 25 with a failed Federal advance; the next day produced constant skirmishing and left Sherman seeking a way to reposition a portion of his army to turn Johnston’s right flank. Major General Oliver Otis Howard drew the unlucky assignment to find a way through the thick underbrush, and attack a Confederate position where the “Stonewall of the West,” Major General Patrick Cleburne held good ground. Howard assigned Brigadier General Thomas Wood to lead the advance, and Wood selected Brigadier General William B. Hazen to occupy the vanguard of the attack. Hazen’s men would go into battle without support, as the wooded, rugged terrain prevented advancing in columns.
Dismounting and providing fire, the cavalry forces of Brigadier Generals John Kelly and W.Y.C. Humes slowed the Federal attack and allowed Cleburne to reposition his forces. Hazen’s men renewed their advance, yelling, “Ah…we have caught you without your logs!” Taunting recent reports of sagging Confederate morale, the boys in gray retaliated with, “Come on! We are demoralized!” Under a withering fire, from the front and the flank, Hazen’s troops sought shelter behind rocks, trees, clumps of ground, or the bodies of fallen comrades. More Confederate reinforcements poured into the area, and Captain Thomas Key’s Arkansas battery rapidly raked the wheat field with shot and canister. Hazen soon retreated, and Cleburne’s men held off two additional assaults on their position.
Darkness fell upon the field of battle, yet the crack of muskets invaded the calm normally associated with nightfall. Back at the Federal rear, Howard’s troops constructed earthworks; they knew well the morning might bring a Confederate assault upon their position. Little did they know – their wait would prove much shorter! Brigadier General Hiram Granbury evaluated the day’s action, and realized his troops has successfully repulsed repeated attacks, suffered minimal casualties, and their morale stood at a zenith. Given this assessment, Granbury reasoned, why cease the battle simply because the sun no longer illuminated the sky? After receiving approval from Cleburne to “clear his front,” Granbury’s Texans initiated an all-out charge on the Federal troops, netting several prisoners in the process. Cleburne best summarized this action in his post-battle report, noting, “It needed but the brilliance of this night attack to add luster to the achievements of Granbury and his brigade in the afternoon.” Sherman lost 1,600 soldiers during the Battle of Pickett’s Mill, while Johnston suffered 500 killed, wounded, or missing. Entrenching and establishing formidable earthworks would become the norm, east and west, as another month of war drew near.