The Regional Review

Volume III - Nos. 4 & 5

October-November, 1939

Kennesaw Mountain and the Atlanta Campaign
Little Kennesaw, the Saddle and Big Kennesaw, as Seen from the Site of General Johnston's Headquarters

By Bowling C. Yates, Jr.,
Kennesaw Mountain National Battlefield Park, Georgia.

"Kenesaw, the bold and striking twin mountain, lay before us, with a high range of chestnut hills trending off to the northeast, terminating to our view in another peak called Brush Mountain. To our right was a smaller hill, called Pine Mountain, and beyond it in the distance, Lost Mountain. All these, though linked in a continuous chain, present a sharp conical appearance, prominent in the vast landscape that presents itself from any of the hills that abound in that region. Kenesaw, Pine Mountain, and Lost Mountain form a triangle. Pine Mountain, the apex, and Kenesaw and Lost Mountain the base, covering perfectly the town of Marietta, and the railroad back of the Chattahoochee. On each of these peaks the enemy had his signal station, the summits were crowned with batteries, and the spurs were alive with men busy in felling trees, digging pits, and preparing for the grand struggle impending. The scene was enchanting; too beautiful to be disturbed by the harsh clamor of war; but the Chattahoochee lay beyond, and I had to reach it."

With these words General William T. Sherman gives a brief but fitting description of Kennesaw Mountain battlefield near Marietta, Georgia. Today the spurs are not alive with preparations for a grand struggle as when Sherman saw them, but the natural beauty and strength of the terrain are sufficient to attract the interest of the many travelers of U. S. Highway No. 41 between Chattanooga and Atlanta.


Kennesaw is today the officially accepted orthography. The nearby town of Kennesaw (the "Big Shanty" of war days) and the name of a residential street in Marietta both demonstrate the local preference for the double "n". A well known survival of the form often found on maps of the Sixties is the spelling employed by "Czar" Kenesaw Mountain Landis (born in Ohio two years after the Georgia battle), a former United States district judge who, since 1920, has been commissioner for the major baseball organizations of America.

Sherman was not the only Federal soldier to be impressed by this battlefield. During the engagement a direct frontal assault was made on a part of the Confederate line defended by General Cheatham. Here Federal losses were heavy and among them was a brigade commander, Colonel Dan McCook, a dashing young officer, personal friend of Sherman, and a member of the famous McCook family of Ohio. His father and eight brothers served in the Federal army, five of his brothers being generals.

Members of Dan McCook's brigade, impelled by the desire to honor the memory of their fallen leader and comrades, formed the Colonel Dan McCook Memorial Association. This group of Federal soldiers, so far as is known to the writer, by acquiring the land over which they fought on Kennesaw battlefield, was the first and only organization of Civil War soldiers to become directly responsible for the establishment of a national battlefield park. On December 26, 1899, representatives of the association acquired title to the area where the brigade had fought, and dedicated it for "commemorating the heroism of that brigade, its associates and opposing troops of the battlefield at Cheetham's Hill near Kennesaw Mountain, Georgia."

On February 8, 1917, Congress authorized the establishment of Kennesaw Mountain National Battlefield Site. The act specified the inclusion of the 60-acre tract which had been acquired and developed by the Colonel Dan McCook Memorial Association. It was not until 1928 that the association transferred the property to the United States, so that a portion of the battlefield had been acquired, dedicated and partly developed as a Civil War historic site over a period of 28 years before the Federal government initiated the establishment of a national battlefield park. This area was placed under supervision of the War Department and was transferred in 1933 to the National Park Service. Malcolm C. Tarver, Congressman for the Seventh Georgia District, sponsored legislation in 1935 for considerable acquisition and development of the lands, pursuant to which 2,000 acres have been obtained, including the most historic portions of the battlefield.

The Atlanta Campaign was an integral part of the Federal military strategy for 1864. Grant was to resume the drive on Richmond. Sherman, commanding Federal forces at Chattanooga, was to keep the Confederate army in the west so busy that it could not reinforce Lee and, as well, he was to destroy all factories, communications and supplies which might prove of aid to the Confederacy.

On May 4 Sherman, with 100,000 troops, moved south toward Dalton where Johnston had assumed a defensive position with 50,000 Confederates. During this campaign Johnston, ever on the defensive, offered battle only when he had a definite advantage of terrain. Unwilling to make frontal assaults under such conditions, Sherman employed flanking tactics to force the Confederates out of position so that he might strike them in motion. So skillfully were both armies maneuvered that neither general could find a flaw in his opponent's armor, but the weight of numbers forced the Confederates deeper and deeper into their own territory with the result that by June 6 they were entrenched in the vicinity of Kennesaw Mountain, one hundred miles south of Chattanooga.

map of area
(click on image for an enlargement in a new window)

The battle of Kennesaw Mountain began June 6 and was ended by the Confederate withdrawal on the night of July 2. The Confederates retired from one defensive position to another during the engagement so that the battle was fought over an area of approximately 144 square miles. It is the final Confederate position held from June 19 to July 2, where the most critical engagements occurred, that has been selected for development by the Service.

During the engagement, the opposing armies employed every type of tactics used during the Atlanta Campaign: flanking operations, direct frontal assaults, cavalry raids, and approach to fortified lines by successive entrenchments. For that reason the battlefield serves remarkably well for interpretation of tactics employed throughout the critical campaign.

The interpretive program for the area is based on a museum supplemented by field exhibits. The theme of the museum will be the story of the battle of Kennesaw Mountain as related to the Atlanta Campaign and Sherman's other campaigns in the west. This theme naturally will develop Sherman's successful treatment of his problem of logistics, the difficulty of maneuvering large bodies of troops over wooded and hilly terrain, and an exposition of the tactics adopted by Sherman and Johnston in the campaign.

The museum story will discuss not only the military phases of the Atlanta Campaign; it likewise will emphasize other far-reaching results of those operations. Sherman's capture of Atlanta disrupted the communication and manufacturing system of the Confederacy to such a large extent as to deprive the southern armies of supplies which were indispensable. The fall of the city indicated to the civilian population of the Confederacy that its armies were unable to defend their own territory. The Confederacy had high hopes of foreign recognition and intervention, but these were dashed completely by the successful conclusion of the Atlanta Campaign.

The larger portion of the population in the north was discouraged because the war was proving long and tedious with no indication that Federal victories could bring it soon to an end. Running for reelection in 1864, Lincoln was opposed by General McClellan who advocated peace. McClellan was popular and unless a major Federal victory occurred before the election it appeared probable that he would be chosen for the Presidency. The timely conclusion of the Atlanta Campaign provided the impetus needed to reelect Lincoln, and spurred the north to the successful climax of the war.

The story to be told in the field will be given at a few natural foci of historical interest. At each point there will be a trailside exhibit of maps, photographs, and narrative, and from each exhibit there will radiate a trail system designed to provide an intimate picture of the operations. Due to the nature of the terrain and the foresight of the engineers who laid out the fortifications for the armies, excellent panoramic views will be obtainable at each of these points. Restoration of fields and woods will be found desirable in areas where such features were factors of considerable importance. The fortifications used in the engagement were constructed mostly on ridges which were rocky and wooded providing good visibility and protection for the combatants. Because of the character of the soil, little attempt has been made to cultivate these areas and the works are well preserved today, presenting an appearance of grim utility combined with age.

Sherman marched from Chattanooga May 4 and entered Atlanta September 2. The bivouacs and battlefields from May 19 to September 2 are visible from the crest of Big Kennesaw Mountain so that from that point a broad picture of a major portion of the Atlanta Campaign can be given readily to visitors by employing the terrain itself as a hugh relief. It is planned to construct observation facilities and interpretive exhibits in order that this panoramic sweep may be utilized to the utmost.

The acquisition and development of Kennesaw battlefield and the interpretation of this battle of the Atlanta Campaign, together with the development of the Atlanta Campaign Markers at Ringgold, Dalton, Resaca, Cassville and New Hope Church, will bring into proper light the thrust in the west which did much to restore the nation to unity by hastening the end of the Southern Confederacy.

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Date: 04-Jul-2002