As Butterfield’s 1st Brigade attacked the Confederate defenses at Gilgal Church, to his left Gen. John Geary advanced his XX Corps 2nd Division, the “White Stars,” against the ridge known Pine Knob, an extension from Pine Mountain. Geary, unlike Butterfield, moved forward with his whole division against the imposing Confederate defenses—a line of fortifications on a ridge that was dotted with twenty embrasures that covered all approaches.
“The line again moved forward forcing the enemy back into his works, which were protected in front by heavy abattis and double rows of cheveaux-de-frise, and were occupied by a strong force of infantry and artillery,” remembered Capt. George Collins of the 149th New York. “The line developed was found too strong to be carried by assault without great loss of life, so the command halted within 100 yards of the Conf. entrenchments, taking advantage of the inequality of the ground and such other cover as could be found.”
James Hyde, the bugler for the 134th New York, “suddenly found that we could not go any farther. And we did not try to, for there was a splendid line of works in our front. We had no orders to charge the works and didn’t want any.”
However, General Hooker did order Geary to send two regiments forward to test the strength of the defenses, and the unfortunate role fell to the 29th Ohio and 28th Pennsylvania. Hooker went with the two regiments. “On the hill were twenty cannon, which we knew would soon belch forth destruction to our ranks,” one Ohioan recalled. “The two regiments silently but rapidly cross a ravine where they encounter two rebel regiments. They 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 a 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 the fortifications . . . . 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 fire with murderous discharges of grape and canister, which produced terrible destruction in our ranks.”
“We all had as much to do as we could,” one of Walker’s Georgians simply noted.
Hooker ordered the attack to stop and for the regiments to fall back down slope to a more secure position. The White Stars began to entrench and begin to return the fire as best they could.
Despite the decision not to push the assault, Geary lost 519 men, including 82 killed, with 39 of those killed and wounded in the 29th Ohio, and 15 men killed and wounded in the ranks of the 28th Pennsylvania.
One of the men to fall was Sgt. Ambrose Henry Hayward, who was leading Company D. Hayward received a gunshot in his thigh that his comrades thought was minor; however, unknown to them, the bullet had penetrated into his body and into his stomach. Hayward died a few days later in a hospital at Chattanooga. Hayward’s letters home, Last to Leave the Field, have recently been edited by Dr. Timothy Orr and published by the University of Tennessee Press.