June 22, 1864 – As Major General William T. Sherman continued advancing through Georgia, Confederates on General Joseph E. Johnston’s left flank attacked a portion of Sherman’s force near Marietta, Georgia.
By this time, Johnston had arranged his Army of Tennessee in a semicircular line with his right north of Marietta, his center running southwest through Kennesaw Mountain, and his left curving to south of Marietta. On the left flank, Lieutenant General John Bell Hood deployed his corps near a plantation called Kolb’s Farm, about four miles southwest of Marietta.
The constant rains of the past three weeks gave way to warm sunshine on the 22nd. Sherman directed Major General Joseph Hooker’s XX Corps of Major General George H. Thomas’s Army of the Cumberland to move southeast to flank the Confederate left and cut the Western & Atlantic Railroad below Marietta. Hooker’s right flank was to be supported by Major General John Schofield’s Army of the Ohio.
As the Federals approached, Hood issued orders to attack without consulting Johnston. Confederate skirmishers taken prisoner confirmed that an attack would come, so the Federals were ready. About 11,000 Confederates struggled to advance across swampy ground, with about 14,000 Federals and 40 guns waiting for them. The attack began after 5 p.m.
Major General Carter L. Stevenson’s Confederate division advanced from the woods south of the Powder Springs Road to the open fields of Kolb’s Farm. They were met by Federal artillery and small arms fire, which enfiladed their line and pinned them down until they could retreat after dark. Major General Thomas C. Hindman’s division north of Powder Springs Road struggled to advance across swampy terrain and was easily repelled by artillery alone.
Hood sustained 1,000 casualties, 870 of which came from Stevenson’s division. The Federals lost less than 300 men. Hooker reported to Sherman, “We have repulsed two heavy attacks and feel confident, our only apprehension being our extreme right flank. Three entire corps are in front of us.” This implied that Schofield was not covering Hooker’s right as ordered, even though Schofield was. Sherman admonished Hooker for exaggerating the danger and warned him that “such things must not occur again.”
Sherman continued his flanking effort the next day, as the weather continued improving. He reported to Chief of Staff Henry W. Halleck:
“We continue to press forward on the principle of an advance against fortified positions. The whole country is one vast fort, and Johnston must have at least 50 miles of connected trenches, with abatis and finished batteries. We gain ground daily, fighting all the time. Our lines are now in close contact and the fighting incessant, with a good deal of artillery. As fast as we gain one position, the enemy has another already.”
Despite the Federal success at Kolb’s Farm, Hood’s Confederates prevented the Federals from getting any closer to either Marietta or Atlanta. Sherman had extended his lines as far as they could possibly reach, and he could not penetrate Johnston’s left or right. He met with his army commanders on the 24th and later wrote:
“We all agreed that we could not with prudence stretch out any more, and therefore there was no alternative but to attack ‘fortified lines,’ a thing carefully avoided up to that time. I reasoned, if we could make a breach anywhere near the rebel centre, and thrust in a strong head of column, that with the one moiety of our army we could hold in check the corresponding wing of the enemy, and with the other sweep in flank and overwhelm the other half.”
Sherman issued a special field order for his commanders to “make full reconnaissances and preparations to attack the enemy in force on the 27th instant, at 8 a.m. precisely… All commanders will maintain reserve and secrecy even from their staff officers.” For the first time in the campaign, Sherman would “feign on both flanks and assault the center. It may cost us dear but in results would surpass an attempt to pass around.”
The Federals were to make preliminary feints to draw Johnston’s attention from the concentrated attack:
- Major General James B. McPherson’s Army of the Tennessee would demonstrate against Major General William W. Loring’s Confederate corps (formerly Leonidas Polk’s) north of Marietta.
- Schofield’s army would extend its right to Olley’s Creek while demonstrating against Hood’s Confederates southwest of Marietta.
- Thomas’s army, supported by part of Major General John A. Logan’s XVI Corps from McPherson’s army, would launch the main attack against Lieutenant General William Hardee’s corps on Kennesaw Mountain.
Schofield began extending his right on the 26th, crossing Olley’s Creek with only Confederate cavalry putting up a token resistance. Although this indicated that Johnston’s left flank was weak enough to attack, Sherman was still determined to launch his main attack against the Confederate center. Sherman wrote his wife:
“My lines are 10 miles long, and every change necessitates a large amount of work. Still we are now all ready and I must attack direct or turn the position. Both will be attended with loss and difficulty, but one or the other must be attempted.”
Bailey, Ronald H., The Battles for Atlanta: Sherman Moves East (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 63-66; CivilWarDailyGazette.com; Davis, Jefferson, The Rise and Fall of the Confederate Government: All Volumes (Heraklion Press, Kindle Edition 2013, 1889), Loc 20817; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 429-30; Foote, Shelby, The Civil War: A Narrative: Volume 3: Red River to Appomattox (Vintage Civil War Library, Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, Kindle Edition, 2011), Loc 8245-66, 8277-319, 8324-28; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 460-62; Linedecker, Clifford L. (ed.), The Civil War A to Z (Ballantine Books, 2002), p. 157; Longacre, Edward G., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 305, 413; McPherson, James M., Battle Cry of Freedom: The Civil War Era (Oxford History of the United States Book 6, Oxford University Press, Kindle Edition, 1988), p. 749