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Engagement at Bald (or Leggett's) Hill.

Beginning on 1864/07/21 and ending 1864/07/21


While the confederate forces under Maj. Gen.William J. Hardee where attacking the Union Right wings commanded by Maj. Gen. George H. Thomas, the Union Center commanded by Maj. Gen. John M. Schofield and the Union left commanded by Maj. Gen James B. McPherson were closing in on Atlanta from the east. By July 20, Gen. O.O. Howard´s 4th Corps, Army of the Tennessee, was in the vicinity of Durand´s Mill (near the present day location of WAGA-TV.[1] Unless Hood was able to slow Schofield and McPherson down, the Confederate flank would be turned.


Major General Benjamin Franklin Cheatham corp. on the right of the main confederate line,[2] extended his right to the Georgia Railroad to prevent the confederates right from being turned by the Army of the Ohio, With approximately 2,500 cavalry, Maj. Gen. Joseph Wheeler patrolled the confederate right and continually harassed the Army of the Tennessee on the Union left moving from Decatur, GA toward Atlanta.[3]


On July 20th, the confederate cavalry under Maj. Gen. Joseph Wheeler encountered and, opened fire, on Maj. Gen. Frank P. Blair´s 17th A.C. at Clay St. and in a contest lasting all afternoon, endeavored to halt the advance of the Union forces towards Atlanta. Both forces used artillery. Toward evening, Wheeler withdrew west to a treeless eminence known as Bald Hill (later known as Leggett´s Hill, present day at I-20 and Moreland Ave. – US 23). He dismounted his troops and dug in[4].



 

 

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Start Date
07/21/1864
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Historic Markers Across Georgia - Civil War in GA

Engagement at Bald (or Leggett's) Hill Creek

Engagement at Bald (or Leggett's) Hill
Part of the Atlanta Campaign
Synopsis
Date July 21, 1864
Location Fulton & DeKalb County, Georgia
Result Union victory
Belligerents
Flag of Confederate States of America CSA (Confederacy)
Commanders
Forces Engaged
Army of Tennessee
Casualties and losses [5]
700
300


John Alexander Logan (click to enlarge) During the afternoon of the 20th, the XV Corps, Army of the Tennessee, commanded by Major General John A. Logan moved along the Decatur Rd. and the Georgia Railroad on the right of the XVII Corps, but McPherson never ordered any unit of the XV Corps to assist the XVII Corps. In the late afternoon, Major General John H. Logan ordered Battery H, 1st Illinois Light Artillery, commanded by Captain Francis H. De Gress to fire the first shots on the city. The 4 Parrott rifles were positioned on elevated ground and fired twenty-pound rounds toward Atlanta. The shells exploded in the square in front of City Hall and at the railroad depot. [6]


At Bald Hill, the two Brigades of Brigadier General Walter Q. Gresham´s 4th Division continued trying to dislodge Wheeler´s men positioned on top of Bald Hill. The first Brigade, commanded by Colonel Benjamin F. Potts, was located about 400 yards east of Bald Hill. While inspecting the front lines, General Gresham dismounted his horse and was walking toward Col. Potts position when a bullet hit him in his left leg, shattering his tibia, Colonel William Hall temporarily assumed command.[7] The 3rd Division, commanded by Brigadier General Mortimer D. Leggett, moved up on the left of the 4th Division. General Leggett sent his aid to Major General Francis P. Blair, Jr., commanding the XVII Corps., asking if Blair intended to attack. By the time Leggett´s aid reached Gen. Blair word had come that General McPherson had decided not to attack on the 20th since there were only two hours of daylight left.


During the night of July 20 – 21, Major General Patrick R. Cleburne moved his division to support wheeler´s 3,000 cavalrymen. Gen. Cleburne assumed command of the confederates defense of Bald Hill at 2:30 a.m. Gen. Cleburne´s Division was organized into 3 Major General Patrick R. Cleburne (click to enlarge) Brigades, Brigadier General James A. Smith´s Brigade, Brigadier General Daniel C. Govan´s Arkansas Brigade and Brigadier General Mark P. Lowrey´s Brigade. The confederate line ran north from Wheeler´s position on top of Bald Hill. Smith´s Brigade was on Wheeler´s left. Next was Govan Brigade and Lowery´s Brigade formed the left (north) end of the confederate line. [8]


The Union forces facing the confederates where made up by parts of two Division. One part consisted of a section of Col. Robert K. Scott´s 1st Brigade, Third Division, positioned on the Union left (south). This Brigade was south of Wheelers men on top of the hill. Next was the 1st Brigade commanded by Brigadier General Manning F. Force, also of the 3rd Division. To the right (north) of Force´s 1st Brigade were the 3rd Brigade, 4th Division, commanded by Col. William Hall, and then the 1st Brigade, commanded by Benjamin Potts, held the Federal right.


By daylight on the 21st, general Cleburne´s Division had moved up on Wheelers left. Cleburne´s men marched as quietly as possible so as not to alert the federal forces of their presents, but they were not entirely successful and they took casualties. Early on the morning of July 21, while Colonel Samuel Adams of the 33rd Alabama was inspecting and positing his troops, he was shot in the chest and died on the battle field. [12]


Brigadier General James A. Smith´s (CSA) Brigade was positioned on the right of Cleburne´s Division and took position on the North Slope of Bald Hill with Wheeler´s Calvary on their right. At 7:00 a.m., the 1st Iowa battery, commanded by Captain William Gay, opened fire on the confederates. The battery of ten pounder rifled cannons was positioned on high ground 800 yards north east of Bald Hill. The rain of canister and solid shot was devastating from such a close range. [13]


General Smith describes the action as follows:


“I immediately proceeded to construct such works for protection as the limited means at my disposal would permit. Owing, however, to the position being much exposed and the close proximity of the enemy, who occupied a strongly intrenched position, our progress was slow. About 7 O´clock he opened a battery on my left, about 800 yards distant, which swept my line from left to right, committing dreadful havoc in the ranks. I have never before witnessed such accurate and destructive cannonading. In a few minutes 40 men were killed and over 100 wounded by this battery alone. In the Eighteenth Texas Cavalry Regiment (dismounted) 17 of the 18 men composing one company were placed hors de combat by one shot alone.” [11]


General Blair´s plan was to attack at dawn, but due to an injury to Brig. Gen. Walter Q. Gresham command fell to Brig. Gen. Giles A. Smith. The order to attack reached General Leggett at about 8:00 a.m. The First Brigade, commanded by Brig. Gen. Manning F. Force, was in front of Bald Hill. The 12th Wisconsin and the 16th Wisconsin regiments were in the front line with the 12th on the right. The 3 Illinois regiments of the Brigade would follow the two regiments from Wisconsin. As the Brigade emerged from the woods, they were met by a murderous fire. They not only faced the rifle fire of the infantry defending the hill, but from two batteries from Arkansas and Mississippi that opened fire from their flank. General Blair order them men down and then for them to fix bayonets. He the ordered them back up and to continue the assault. The confederate Calvary on the hill fled and the Union Brigade was able to reach the top of Bald Hill and gain the confederate breastworks. On the confederate left, General James A. Smith´s Brigade held their place and hand to hand combat ensued. [14]


With Cleburne´s Division in place, Wheeler was ordered to extend his line to the right to face the 1st Brigade of Col. Robert K. Scott. It was just as Wheelers men were moving that the Union forces attacked.


General Joseph Wheeler (click to enlarge)

General Wheeler reports that:


“About daylight the following morning General Cleburne with his Division of infantry came, pursuant to General Hood's orders, to relieve me, while I was ordered to extend my line to the right. General Cleburne placed his troops so closely together that only a little more than half my line was occupied by General Cleburne's troops. While changing position, and before my troops had faced toward the enemy, a general attack was made on my own and General Cleburne's front. General Frerguson, who was on the right, reported a force turning his right flank, when, at the same moment, a general assault of several lines of battle was made by the enemy. Ferguson gave way in some confusion, which exposed the right of Allen's Brigade, which, with the Georgia Brigade, nevertheless, fought brilliantly, repulsing a desperate assault and killing the enemy in hand-to-hand conflicts. On the enemy's second assault both the Georgia and Alabama Brigades, with the right Brigade of Cleburne's Division, were forced from their works by an overwhelming force. After falling back a short distance the Georgia and part of the .Alabama Brigades, rallied, charged the enemy, and retook the works, with 2 officers and 20 privates, beside a number of the enemy's dead and wounded, some of whom were killed in our rifle-pits. This was a most brilliant feat, and the Georgia Brigade deserves great credit for its conduct upon that day. ”


“Our loss in killed and wounded was not severe, and we did not lose any prisoners. The loss of the enemy was severe. I then established my line and maintained my position until relieved late in the day by Cheatham's Division.”[10]


Smith´s Brigade attempted to retake the hill and were able to temporarily gain 200 yards of breastworks on the hill, but they were forced to retreat before the rest of Cleburne´s Division could re-enforce them. With Union forces on the hill, Captain Gay´s 1st Iowa battery could no longer fire towards the northern slope of Bald Hill. The confederates took advantage of this and assaulted General Force´s right flank. The 20th Illinois found themselves in a crossfire from confederate forces attacking from the north and others firing from the shelter of trees north west of the hill. [15]


To secure the right flank, General Blair ordered the 4th Division, commanded by Brigadier General Giles A. Smith, forward. The Division moved forward with the 1st Brigade commanded by Col. Benjamin F. Potts on the right (North) and the 3rd Brigade commanded by Col. William Hall on the left (south).


The 3rd Brigade was aligned with the 15th Iowa on the left and the 13th Iowa on the right with the 11th and 16th Iowa in support. At first the terrain protected the Iowa men from the confederate defenders, but this changed as the approached the right of General Force´s position. They were as they reached the spine of the ridge they were met with a devastating barrage of musketry and artillery fire. The Iowans were forced to drop to the ground and fire from a prone position.[16]


To the north of Hall´s 3rd Brigade, Col. Potts 1st Brigade advanced with no support on their right flank was unable to advance. The Brigade retreated back to the protection of their earthwork. With the 1st Brigade falling back, now the 3rd Brigade right was exposed to a withering fire. By 8:45, the 13th Iowa´s, commanded by Col. Shanes, position on the right of the Brigade was deemed untenable and permission was given for them to also retreat. [17]


During the aborted attempt of the 4th Division, General Leggett was able to shift his right and to fire obliquely on Cleburne´s men. Battery H of the 1st Michigan Light Artillery, commanded by Captain Marcus D. Elliott, known as the “Black Horse Battery” due to the jet black horses that pulled the black Rodman cannon, was able to reach the top of Bald Hill. The battery soon opened fire on the confederates. With the 4th Division no longer on the right, Captain Gay´s 1st Iowa battery could now also fire. This ended the major action at bald Hill. [18]


With the loss of the high ground, it was feared that General McPherson might advance the entire Army of the Tennessee toward Atlanta. To help support Cleburne´s forces, General Hood sent Brigadier General George Maney´s Division to the right of Cleburne.


While the struggle for Bald Hill was taking place, General Scott´s Second Brigade had moved unopposed to the south of the hill. In the afternoon general Blair shifted the 4th Division under Giles Smith to the south of the hill, eventually extending the union left a half mile south of the hill. The 1st Brigade command by Potts, tied in with Leggett´s left. The 3rd Brigade formed the left of the Army of the Tennessee.[19]


 



 

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References

  1. Gary Ecelbarger, The Day Dixie Died, Thomas Dunne Books; St. Martin´s Press, New York, © 2010, p 45
  2. Gary Ecelbarger, The Day Dixie Died, Thomas Dunne Books; St. Martin´s Press, New York, © 2010, p 29
  3. Gary Ecelbarger, The Day Dixie Died, Thomas Dunne Books; St. Martin´s Press, New York, © 2010, p 30
  4. Gary Ecelbarger, The Day Dixie Died, Thomas Dunne Books; St. Martin´s Press, New York, © 2010, pp 33 - 37
      •  Operational Report, Volume XXXVIII, Chapter L - The Atlanta, Ga., Campaign. May 1-September 8, 1864,
        OR 599; Organization of the Confederate forces.
  5. Gary Ecelbarger, The Day Dixie Died, Thomas Dunne Books; St. Martin´s Press, New York, © 2010, pp 33 - 37
      •  Operational Report, Volume XXXVIII, Chapter L - The Atlanta, Ga., Campaign. May 1-September 8, 1864, OR 2; Organization of the Union forces.
  6. Operational Report, Volume XXXVIII, Chapter L - The Atlanta, Ga., Campaign. May 1-September 8, 1864, OR 709; Maj. Gen. Joseph Wheeler, C. S. Army, commanding Cavalry Corps, of operations May 6–31 and July 17–0ctober 9.
  7. Operational Report, Volume XXXVIII, Chapter L - The Atlanta, Ga., Campaign. May 1-September 8, 1864, OR 606; Brig. Gen. John C. Carter, C. S. Army, commanding Cheatham´s division, of operations September 1.
  8. Gary Ecelbarger, The Day Dixie Died, Thomas Dunne Books; St. Martin´s Press, New York, © 2010, pp 33 - 35
  9. Gary Ecelbarger, The Day Dixie Died, Thomas Dunne Books; St. Martin´s Press, New York, © 2010, p 33 - 35
  10. Gary Ecelbarger, The Day Dixie Died, Thomas Dunne Books; St. Martin´s Press, New York, © 2010, pp 37 - 41
  11. Gary Ecelbarger, The Day Dixie Died, Thomas Dunne Books; St. Martin´s Press, New York, © 2010, pp 40 - 41
  12. Gary Ecelbarger, The Day Dixie Died, Thomas Dunne Books; St. Martin´s Press, New York, © 2010, pp 41 - 43
  13. Gary Ecelbarger, The Day Dixie Died, Thomas Dunne Books; St. Martin´s Press, New York, © 2010, p 43
  14. Gary Ecelbarger, The Day Dixie Died, Thomas Dunne Books; St. Martin´s Press, New York, © 2010, p 44
  15. Gary Ecelbarger, The Day Dixie Died, Thomas Dunne Books; St. Martin´s Press, New York, © 2010, pp 46 - 47

 

 

Links to Civil War Historic Markers Across Georgia.

 

Atlanta Fortifications
Georgia Military Institute 1851 ~ 1864
Hardee's March Turned N.E. on Fayetteville Road
Leggett's Hill
Wesley Chapel / Confederate Commissary / First Methodist Church
Wheeler Delays Blair
Zero Mile Post