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SEAC: CONFEDERATES COUNTERATTACK


CONFEDERATES COUNTERATTACK

In hope of regaining the artillery and the camp, Lieutenant General Wheeler hurriedly gathered together elements of Allen’s Division. He knew that if the left of the Federal line could be breached or driven back the Federals would be forced to abandon the camp.

As Major General Allen’s men were falling into line, Pelote, for the second time that morning, sounded the charge. With Lieutenant General Wheeler leading, the Confederates furiously charged forward. Incensed at the audacious attempt to drive them out of their camp once again, the Federals responded with a withering fire from their rapid-firing carbines. The Confederates struck hard, forcing the dismounted Federal men to seek cover behind the thick-trunked pine trees dotting the west slope of the ridge. From behind these sturdy giants they continued to deliver devastating fire. Storming in among the Federal men, the Confederate cavalrymen resorted to the saber. Circling the trees, they slashed away at their stubborn foes. Mounted and exposed to the Federal’s fire, Confederate casualties quickly mounted.

Viewing the carnage and recognizing the attack had lost momentum, Lieutenant General Wheeler ordered the attack broken off. Obediently the Confederate riders ceased their violent efforts and pulled back. Many, having lost their mounts in the melee, trotted out on foot; some accepted the offers of the outstretched arms of their comrades and were whisked up and onto the backs of their rescuers’ mounts. On the left, Major General Butler, witnessing Lieutenant General Wheeler’s repulse, began assembling Young’s Brigade.

A Federal cavalryman (Source: U.S. Army).On seeing Lieutenant General Wheeler waving his hat in a rallying signal, the returning Confederates broke into a gallop. Determined to drive the Federals off, Lieutenant General Wheeler urged his men to return quickly and to form for another attempt. From other parts of the field additional men came forward to join the effort. Not wishing to give the Federals time to recover from the previous assault, the mounted men hurriedly jockeyed into position.

The blast of Pelote’s bugle was followed by a shrill, desperate yell as Lieutenant General Wheeler’s men once again charged forward, the yell being taken up by other Confederates engaged along the ridge. This time the Federal men were ready and waiting for the Confederate charge. As the frenzied Confederates neared their prey, they were met by a veritable hailstorm of lead, unseating most riders in the front ranks instantly. Horses shot dead while at a run plowed forward into the ground, stumbling those behind them. The volume of fire dispensed from the bores of the Federal carbines quickly checked the Confederate attack.

A cloud of gunsmoke quickly developed. Held close to the ground by the damp air, the smoke cloud obscured the combatants. As the firing slackened, the smoke dissipated, revealing the high cost of the latest Confederate assault. Colonel James Hagan, C.S.A., commanding the Alabama Brigade, lay wounded on the ground, surrounded by many of his officers and men also wounded or dead.

Brigadier General Humes, wounded and slumped over the neck of his horse, directed his men to withdraw.

On the left, Major General Butler had assembled elements of Young’s Brigade under the command of Colonel Wright. As Lieutenant General Wheeler’s men were withdrawing on the right, Major General Butler gave the command to charge. Lieutenant General Wheeler, on seeing Major General Butler’s men charge forward, rode toward them, encouraging them on, "hat raised as they charged by." The Federals, having recently remanned the artillery, opened fire with canister. Major General Butler’s men were cut down in groups by the lead-belching ordnance rifles. "It was at the head of this charge that Lieutenant Colonel King of the Cobb Legion was killed." The tide of Confederate attackers broke before reaching the Federal line (Howard 1901; Butler 1909; Brooks 1909; Du Bose 1912b).

Wanting to continue the attack, but under intense fire, the Confederates hesitated in front of the Federal line. Unable to withstand the onslaught of shot, and with casualties quickly mounting, Major General Butler’s men were compelled to withdraw.

Major General Butler (Butler 1909a):

They had got to their artillery and, with their carbines, made it so hot for the handful of us we had to retire. In fact I lost sixty-two men there in about five minutes’ time.

The Confederates galloped back a short distance, turned, and faced the Federals again. Hoping to convince the Confederates to continue their withdrawal, the Federals kept up their fire. The mounted Confederates responded, firing pistols and carbines across the short intervening space. Having been repulsed, Confederate tempers ran high. Attempting to antagonize the Federals, groups of Confederate cavalrymen made spontaneous charges toward them. The dismounted Federals held their ground and traded blow for blow with the Confederate cavalrymen. With both sides stubbornly refusing to give, casualties mounted, as insults and lead were exchanged at close quarters.

Several miles southwest on Chicken Road, Brigadier General Atkins and the men of the 2nd Brigade heard heavy firing to the north. The 2nd Brigade soon encountered a band of wild-eyed refugees from the 3rd Brigade and 4th Brigade (dismounted). The shaken men reported to Brigadier General Atkins that "Kilpatrick’s command had been surprised and badly used up" (OR 1885).Brigadier General Atkins immediately turned his command in the direction of the battle.

Confederate Cavalry (Source: U.S. Army).Five miles south of Monroe’s Crossroads, marching east on Plank Road, the 2nd Division, XIV Army Corps, heard the sounds of battle to the north. As they neared the 18 mile-post, a courier rode past the infantrymen at a gallop. At the head of the column the courier reached the Division Commander, Brigadier General James D. Morgan, U.S.A.

Soon the command halted and the Division’s 2nd Brigade was ordered off the road. The 2nd Brigade Commander, Brigadier General John Mitchell, U.S.A., informed his men that the cavalry had been attacked in camp and that the Brigade was marching to their assistance.

Major Aaron B. Robinson, U.S.A., 121st Ohio, 2nd Brigade, 2nd Division, XIV Army Corps (OR 1885):

Heavy firing was heard on our left, and in a short time our Brigade was ordered to the relief of General Kilpatrick, who had been attacked in his camp.

Contemplating what to do next, Lieutenant General Wheeler assessed the situation.

Brigadier Generals Humes and Harrison, Colonels Hagan and Roberts and Major Farish had been badly wounded. The Alabama Brigade had lost its’ commander and every field grade officer. Brigadier General Allen’s and Colonel Ashby’s horses had been shot.

With so many key leaders lost, it would be extremely difficult to mount another effort to retake the camp.

Having departed Bethesda Church at dawn, Brigadier General Jordan’s 1st Brigade had reached Plank Road and was moving east. As the Brigade continued eastward, the faint sounds of gunfire to the north grew louder. In the vicinity of Sandy Grove Church, Brigadier General Jordan turned north to investigate.

The Confederates Retire

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