Sunday, June 15, 2014

The Battle of Pine Knob


As some of you know, I have a soft spot for the 20th Corps, Army of the Cumberland, which contained regiments formerly belonging to the Army of the Potomac. Today, June 15, is the 150th Anniversary of the Battle of Pine Knob, Georgia, one of the 20th Corps’ bloodier engagements. At 2:15 P.M., in an attempt to break the Confederate hold on Pine Mountain, Brigadier General John W. Geary’s 2nd Division launched a frontal assault over rough wooded ground. The Confederates blunted the 20th Corps’ offensive, but the indefatigable bluecoats dug in. Rather than retreat, they improvised entrenchments and continued shooting. Geary explained, “All of my brigades were handled very handsomely by their commanders, preserving their formation in two lines of battle while advancing, and fighting desperately over very rough and timbered ridges.” The next day, the Confederates quietly abandoned the position, retiring three miles closer to Atlanta. The battle cost Geary’s Division 519 men and it gained the Army of the Cumberland another three miles of territory. It was just one of the many engagements that determined the fate of Georgia’s Gate City.
Primary accounts describing the Battle of Pine Knob are hard to find, but I have inserted one here. It was written by John Hampton SeCheverell, a drummer boy attached to the 29th Ohio Volunteer Infantry:

This position of the enemy was found to be strongly fortified. Twenty embrazures, from which as many cannon bristled, covered all the approaches to it. General Hooker ordered General Geary to send two regiments in a sortie against the rebel position, and the Twenty-ninth Ohio and Twenty-eighth Pennsylvania regiments, the latter on our left, were at once forwarded to the assault. General Hooker, mounted on his famous gray charger, advanced with us, immediately in rear of our line. The general’s presence greatly encouraged the men in this desperate undertaking.
On the hill were the twenty cannon, which we knew would soon belch forth destruction to our ranks. The two regiments silently but rapidly cross a ravine where they encounter two rebel regiments. These proved to be the First and Twenty-ninth Georgia. We opened fire briskly and charging upon them soon drove them in disorder to the rear.
We pursued them so hotly that our standard-bearer was at one time within a few paces of the rebel Twenty-ninth Georgia colors, which we were making desperate efforts to capture. The rebel color-bearer was shot, but their flag was grasped again by another rebel who escaped with it into their fortification. But the regiment to which he belonged was nearly annihilated before it succeeded in regaining its main line. Our regiment had rushed upon them forcing them back step by step until they were under cover, and we had succeeded in killing, wounding, and taking prisoners all except the little handful who escaped with the flag. At the moment of their escape we made a dash to carry their fortifications, but were checked by abattis and a deep trench hidden by brush. At this point their artillery opened with murderous discharges of grape and canister, which produced terrible destruction in our ranks. Still the line stands firm. Another instant and our men are laying flat upon the ground and the deadly missles go hissing harmlessly through the air over our heads. We now open a fire upon their cannoniers, so deadly in its character that the guns are soon silenced.
Night was fast coming on when our line was ordered to fall back to a more secure position. The men now engage in the erection of earthworks within a few rods of the rebel fort on the knob, which placed the Twenty-ninth Ohio in the extreme front, our flanking regiments assuming a circular position on our right and left rear. We were under fire all night, the rebel infantry and artillery keeping up an almost continuous rattle in their endeavors to drive our men from their labors on the fortifications. Despite this, however, we held our position, though suffering a constant loss in our ranks.
Just at daybreak on the 16th instant the Sixty-sixth Ohio, of our brigade from the reserve, relieved us; we, however, left them well protected by the strong earthworks constructed during the night.
The Twenty-ninth Ohio regiment went into this action with two hundred members, of whom thirty-nine were killed and wounded. Among the killed was First Sergeant Joel E. Tanner, one of our bravest men. Soon after his death his commission reached us promoting him to a captaincy for bravery in action. God help that little wife of his in her far away northern home to bear his death bravely as the wife of a soldier should, even though all her hopes and bright anticipations seem shattered by the blow. Generals Joe Hooker and Geary announced in warm terms their admiration of the “gallant manner in which the Twenty-ninth Ohio and Twenty-eighth Pennsylvania regiments conducted themselves in the assault on Pine Knob.” The former remarked that taking into consideration the deadly fire we were exposed to, we had accomplished that which he never saw so small a force attempt before. As he was present in the assault his opinion is of value.

On June 16, Geary’s soldiers buried their dead and moved on. I don’t imagine they ever forgot the hellish gunfire of Pine Knob.

(There are few artistic renditions of the Battle of Pine Knob. This one shows Geary's men [foreground] making their charge.)
 
(Here is the tactical arrangement of the Battle of Pine Knob. Map by John Heiser, property of the author.)
 
(Some of the Union earthworks from the battle still exist--those that were dug hastily while the bluecoats were under fire. Here I am at a line of entrenchments once held by the 60th New York.)
 
 

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