As Sherman engaged Joe Johnston’s Confederates around Dalton to hold them in place, Gen. James McPherson moved his Army of the Tennessee towards Snake Creek Gap, a passage to his rear. General John Geary’s White Star Division of the XX Corps was ordered to assault the heights of Rocky Face Ridge at a point known as Dug Gap.
Geary’s men were becoming the Mountain Assault Division of the Army of the Cumberland. They were the men who carried Lookout Mountain, assaulted the south end of Missionary Ridge, and then charged up Taylor’s Ridge at Ringgold Gap. Now another Mountain stood before them.
The fight that developed at Dug Gap on the afternoon of May 8 was a rather one-sided affair. A small force of Kentucky Cavalrymen and Arkansas Mounted Infantry easily held the rocky heights against Geary’s assaults. “It was an awful place for men to climb, worse than Taylor’s Ridge,” remembered Henry Hayward of the 28th Pennsylvania.
J. Hamp SeCheverell of the 29th Ohio remembered:
[T]he order was given to advance, which was executed with a rush despite the deadly volleys that were cutting through our ranks. Up! Up! We go to death or victory! And commenced to scale the obstructions close to their works; and now a storm of deadly missiles are hurled against us. Rocks, boulders, and even cart wheels come crashing down upon us. Yet we moved steadily in the deadly advance until ordered back by our officers, when we retired a few paces to reform our line, the fallen trees only separating us from the enemy. Here we made determined and bloody fight, but having no support to cover our flank from the left, yet the regiment stubbornly stood its ground, returning shot for shot until its ammunition was exhausted. More was secured from the cartridge boxes of the dead and wounded, and with this we fought on, determined to hold the position until reinforcements should reach us. Just before dusk an order came from the commanding general for the Twenty Ninth regiment to retire, all the other regiments having done so some time previous…. Our losses in killed and wounded was more than double that of any other regiment engaged: Killed 26, wounded 67, captured 1: total 94.
Though repulsed, Geary succeeded in his objective of distracting the Confederates as McPherson made his way unopposed to Snake Creek Gap.
Today little is noted about the small battle of Dug Gap, but it was representative of many of the small but savage engagements that would be the hallmark of the early phases of the Atlanta Campaign.