With the fall of Atlanta, and with Robert E. Lee pinned down in the trenches around Richmond and Petersburg, things looked grim for the Confederacy. The only hope seemed to fall on the shoulders of General John Bell Hood and the hard-luck Army of Tennessee. There weren’t many options that could lead to victory. But on September 29, Hood set forth on a new campaign—one that was designed to do something other than follow a path that led to surrender.
Hood decided on a plan to strike at Sherman’s lifeline in North Georgia, retracing the route of the Atlanta Campaign in reverse to try to draw Sherman out of Atlanta and, perhaps, onto a field where Hood could deliver a fatal blow and maybe regain what had been lost the previous spring. Maybe he could even reclaim the heartland of Tennessee.
Hood’s campaign in North Georgia is largely forgotten, consisting of a series of small, but intense engagements and micro sieges with Union garrisons along the Western and Atlantic Railroad. The first of these took place under the shadow of Kennesaw Mountain on October 3 and 4 at Big Shanty, Ackworth, and Moon Station.
Col. Marquis De LaFayette Stephens commanding Featherston’s Mississippi Brigade noted:
“[O]rdered to assault the Depot and fort at Big Shanty, we had a short hot spirited contest, I had my horse shot in the foot and a number of men killed a wounded. We captured the Depot which had converted into a fort, and all the men in the fort . . . . We battered the door of the depot down and rushed into the fort which we found full of both white and colored soldiers, who threw down their arms and surrendered.”
The task of taking the garrison at Ackworth fell to General John Adams and his Mississippians. James Binford of the 15th Mississippi described what followed: “We found 236 Federals that had taken refugee in a two story brick house. We partially surrounded the place, and General Adams sent his Inspector General Major Pat Henry with a flag of Truce demanding an unconditional surrender. In the mean time he drew up his brigade in line on the east side, in the edge of an old field, and in full view of the Brick House . . . and gave orders in the event of the enemy refusing to surrender, to charge and capture the Brick House . . . . The order almost made me shudder as I looked at that house with many bricks knocked out to furnish holes for the enemy’s rifles, and as I could see those rifles waiting only for the order to fire, and realizing the fact that there was neither trees, nor shrubs between us and a wide ditch to cross, I saw at once if I made the charge it would be the last one many of us would ever make but it was my duty to obey . . . . From my position I could see Major Pat Henry as he approached under his white flag that house, and I saw the Federal officers come and hold a consultation with him, I have never in my life seen an assemble of men in whose meeting I felt such an intense interest. I hoped, and I expect I secretly prayed they would surrender. The few minutes that consultation lasted seemed like hours to me, but soon I saw Major Henry turn and ride slowly away. I said to one of our officers, ‘They refused to surrender, Pat rides too slow.’ But just at that time I noticed he turned and rode back and had another parley and soon started towards the Brigade in a gallop. I then said to that officer, ‘They have surrendered, Pat rides like he has good news. And so it was . . . .”
Private William B. Smith of the 14th Illinois Infantry described what was his first and last battle, which pitted his garrison of 84 men against General Daniel Reynolds’s Arkansas Brigade on the afternoon of October 4th: “Firing then ceased for a short time, during which we could hear the Confederate officers as they were forming a storming party and gave the orders preparatory to the charge. Hearing this we stood to our guns, hammers raised, and fingers to triggers. It was a moment of unspeakable suspense as we thus stood and peered through the loopholes over the long steel barrels of our trusty rifles breathlessly awaiting the desperate charge and the proper moment to press the death dealing trigger. We had but a moment to wait when the enemy, maddened at their loss and our stubborn resistance, surged over the roadbed and made a wild rush up the hill with their peculiar yell. In this fifty yards of open slope we moved them down like grain before the sickle, but with our most rapid deadly fire we could not check them. On, on they swept up the hillside in the face of our leaden hail, a mad, resistless tide of gray, whose right and left striking the stockade, swept entirely around it, completely engulfing us in a seething mass of yelling Confederates. Four Confederate flags were soon waving over our stockade, and their smoking rifles thrust through our loopholes, and for a few moments our brave old company fought the desperate Johnnies under their stars and bars, at times our muskets locking horns and theirs in the some loopholes in hand to hand contest. “