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Skirmish at Lay's Ferry

Beginning on 1864/05/14 and ending 1864/05/15

Skirmish at Lay's Ferry - On May 14, 1864, Brigadier General Thomas W. Sweeny (2d) division of the 16th A.C moved to secure a crossing of the Oostanaula River at Lay´s Ferry. Two battalions of an engineering regiment under the command of Colonel Buell moved at pontoon bridge down through Snake Creek Gap to support the Federal crossing. Sweeny division put one brigade across the river but a false rumor of Confederate crossings above caused the Federals to withdraw to this side. On May 15, Sweeny´s division again crossed the Oostanaula River, in strength. He was at once assailed by Walker´s division of Hardee´s Corps [CSA]. General Walker was unable to dislodge the Federal forces from the south bank of the Oostanaula River. This battle became known the battle of Lay´s Ferry. This move on Johnston´s left rear caused him to abandon the position at Resaca, GA, and retreat south. [1]




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Civil War in GA - Historic Markers Across Georgia

Lay's Ferry

In his operational report written on November 25, 1864, General Dodge describes to encounter at Lay’s Ferry as follows:

On the morning of the 15th the First Brigade, Second Division, Col. (now Brig. Gen.) E. W. Rice commanding, was thrown across the Oostenaula at Lays Ferry. The pontoon bridge was laid, and Second Brigade, Second Division, crossed. The troops had scarcely got into position when the First Brigade was attacked by a portion of Walker’s division, Hardee’s corps, in largely superior force, which impetuously charged down upon the brigade. Colonel Rice, by an admirable maneuver, caught the enemy in flank, while the batteries, in position on the north side of the river, opened a direct and deadly fire upon the enemy’s front, and he was soon routed and driven from the field, leaving his dead and a portion of his wounded in our hands. The Third Brigade soon came up, and was thrown across the river, and the entire division intrenched, thus placing it on the flank and rear of the enemy’s army and almost directly upon his communications, which, no doubt, was one great cause leading to the evacuation of Resaca and the retreat of Johnston’s army south. The loss of the Second Division in this engagement did not exceed 200 in killed, wounded, and missing, while that of the enemy was much greater, as their own reports acknowledge in killed alone more than that number. Col. E. W. Rice, who had charge of the crossing and commanded the troops in the engagement, deserves great credit for the gallant and efficient manner in which he performed his duty. His division commander (Brig. Gen. T. W. Sweeny) was not on the ground, and the entire direction and control of the movement fell upon him.

The following morning, May 16, I received orders to move the Fourth Division to Lay’s Ferry, cross the Oostenanla, and push the entire command forward, as far as practicable, on the road to Adairsville Station. The Second Division, General Sweeny, had received orders at daylight, direct from Major-General Sherman, to move out at once and secure the Rome and Calhoun cross-roads. I arrived at the ferry about 9 a.m. with the advance of the Fourth Division, and was informed by General Sweeny that the Third Brigade only, Col. M. M. Bane commanding, had been pushed forward. Knowing that the enemy would in all probability contest our advance on this flank, and endeavor especially to hold those roads, I ordered the other two brigades of the Second Division to move out immediately to Colonel Bane’s support; and instructing General Veatch to cross as rapidly as possible and follow the Second Division, I went immediately to the front, and found Colonel Bane in line of battle, skirmishing heavily along his entire front and on both flanks, and the enemy developed in heavy force in rifle-pits on his left. General Sweeny, commanding the division, not being present, I immediately ordered Col. P. E. Burke, commanding Second Brigade, into position on Colonel Bane’s right, directing him to deploy the Sixty-sixth Illinois Infantry as skirmishers. I placed the First Brigade, Colonel Rice commanding, in position on the left and rear of Colonel Bane, on a line of commanding hills that we could occupy and hold in case of an attack by a superior force of the enemy, until the balance of the army arrived. Colonel Burke had pressed his skirmishers forward on the right until they had seized the Rome and Calhoun cross-roads, which I ordered him to hold, if possible, until the Fourth Division could be brought up. General Veatch had just arrived upon the ground, and was being shown the position to be taken by his division on the right of the Second Division, when the enemy in heavy force charged down upon the right of the Sixty- sixth Illinois Infantry, which was deployed as skirmishers, striking it in flank. This regiment, which is in part armed with the Henry rifle (seventeen-shooters), by a stubborn resistance, and a steady, cool fire, checked the enemy’s advance, and gave me time to throw forward to its support, and directly to the enemy’s front, the balance the of Second Brigade and part of the Third Brigade. The Sixty-sixth Illinois then fell back gradually to its supports. The enemy advancing rapidly in line of battle received the fire, first of the Eighty-first Ohio Infantry, then of the Twelfth Illinois Infantry and Thirty-ninth Iowa Infantry, which checked and routed him. At the same time the enemy advanced on Colonel Burke. They moved in force around on the east side of Oostenanla Creek, on my extreme left and rear, to a high range of hills commanding the valley and road up which my command was advancing, when they opened a battery, which for a few moments caused some confusion in rear of my line. The Second Iowa Infantry, of Colonel Rice’s brigade, was immediately ordered to cross the creek and charge the battery. It moved promptly forward for that purpose, and received a heavy fire, but found the creek impassable. The enemy, however, discovering the movement, withdrew. A new line was immediately formed on an extension of the First Brigade, Second Division, on the line of hills before alluded to; the Fourth Division forming on the right of Colonel Rice, the Second and Third Brigades, Second Division, were drawn back and formed as a rear line and reserve. Major-General McPherson arrived on the ground just before the attack of the enemy and after their defeat ordered the troops to bivouac in the new position. Skirmishers were pushed forward and crossed the ground fought over. At dark the Fifteenth Army Corps arrived and formed on my right. During the night my transportation crossed the river and came up. My loss during the day was about 70 killed and wounded; that of the enemy unknown. From prisoners captured I ascertained that three divisions of Hardees corps were intrenched at the cross-roads, covering Calhoun and the railroad. I cannot speak in terms too highly of the conduct of Col. M. M. Bane. He found the enemy in his front in force largely superior to his own, and forming and handling his brigade with consummate skill fought it successfully. Nor can I speak too highly of the conduct of the gallant and lamented Col. P. E. Burke, commanding Second Brigade, who fell at the head of his brigade while engaged in checking the enemy’s charge, and from his wounds there received died a few days after at Resaca. His loss fell heavily upon the command. An officer of acknowledged ability, he had already won the esteem and secured the confidence of all in his superior judgment on the march and in battle. In this engagement his prompt action and quick and skillful management of his three regiments, with their steady unflinching fire, converted a promised serious disaster to the command into one to the enemy.

At 7 p. m. of May 17 the command moved out toward Kingston, via McGuires and Adairsville and Woodland roads, and after two nights and one day and a half’s march reached Kingston, where transportation was reduced and twenty days short rations for men and animals collected.[2]



  1. The War of the Rebellion: a compilation of the official records of the Union and Confederate armies, Volume XXXVIII; Part 3, Operational Report 524; pp 377-379



Links to Civil War Historic Markers Across Georgia.


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