The Battle of Resacathe Battle of Resaca, the first battle on Atlanta Campaign
Each year a reenactment of the Battle of Resaca, the first battle on Atlanta Campaign, is held on the third weekend of May.
May 13, 1864, Confederate General Joseph Johnston positioned his forces along a ridge that lay between the Oostanaula River and the Conasauga River just north of the small town of Resaca, GA. This defensive line protected his supply line to Atlanta, the Western & Atlantic Railroad.
On the afternoon of the 13th, Federal Major General John Logan’s XV Corps arrived west of Resaca to discover that General Johnston had reinforced his army with General Leonidas Polk’s Army of Mississippi, which became the third Corps of the Army of Tennessee.
The morning of the 14th, Federal General Sherman ordered an attack at Johnston’s center with a division of Federal General John Palmer’s XIV Corps. They pushed across Camp Creek valley towards a crest held by Confederate General Hardee’s Corps. There they met devastating infantry and artillery fire. General Henry Judah launched an independent attack with his 2nd Division of Schofield’s Army of the Ohio accompanied by Baird’s 3rd Division. The attack was uncoordinated due to an overlapping of brigades. They met head long into Confederate Joseph Lewis’ Kentucky Orphan Brigade and Edward Walthall’s Mississippi Brigade. The attack was repulsed by infantry fire and heavy artillery from Maj. Thomas Hotchkiss’s battalion.
On the Federal left, General Johnston ordered General Hood to attack the exposed flank of General Howard’s IV Corps. General’s Carter Stevenson and Alex Stewart were ordered to “wheel” against them. General Stevenson’s Division hit directly upon the exposed flank of David Stanley’s Federal Division. General Stewart’s division ran into and was stalled by the effective fire of Peter Simonson’s 5th Indiana Battery. The attack was still moving somewhat successfully until the timely arrival of Col. James Robinson’s 3rd Brigade of Alpheus Williams’ 1st Division of Hooker’s XX corps which helped restore the Federal line.
The only Federal success of the day was when several brigades of Logan’s XV Corps managed to push back Polk’s troops on the Confederate left. There the Federals dug in on the recently acquired high ground as Polk’s troops withdrew to a new position closer to town.
Sherman ordered Sweeny’s Division of the XVI Corps to move several miles south to Lay’s Ferry. Late on the afternoon of the 14th, Sweeny pushed back a small compliment of Confederate Calvary and crossed two regiments, in pontoon boats, to the Oostanaula’s southern shore. Confederate General William Walker’s Division was sent to intercept. Upon learning of Walker’s Division being en route, Sweeny pulled back across the river. When Walker arrived and found no enemy, he drew back to the east and left the ferry unguarded. Sherman ordered Sweeny back across the river on the 15th and Sweeny crossed with his whole division.
Sherman then shifted Hooker’s XX Corps and at 11:30 on the 15th, the attack on the Confederate right was renewed. Hooker’s three divisions, with Gen. William Ward’s Brigade, over ran Captain Maxillian Van den Corput’s Cherokee Georgia Battery, but the attack stalled in front of Brown’s, Cumming’s and Reynold’s Brigades’ deadly musketry.
General Johnston, more than satisfied with Hood’s previous attack on the Federal left the day before, had again ordered General Hood to attack. General Stevenson was already engaged with Hooker’s XX Corps and could not attack. General Stewart moved out in the same half wheel manner. General Johnston attempted to call off the attack when he learned of Sweeny’s crossing again at Lay’s Ferry, but Stewart was already heavily engaged. Over a thousand men were lost before Stewart could return to his works.
Despite carrying both days, Sweeny had gained a foothold and threatened the Army of Tennessee’s supply line. General Johnston informed his senior officers that the Army of Tennessee had no choice but to fall back from Resaca or be cut off from Atlanta. Under the cover of darkness, the Army of Tennessee fell back and crossed the Oostanaula River toward Calhoun and Adairsville.
In the early morning hours of May 16th, the Confederates set fire to the railroad span crossing the Oostanaula and a nearby wagon bridge to prevent it from falling into Federal hands.
By early afternoon of the 16th, the Federals had repaired the damaged bridges and Howard’s IV corps was in pursuit of the Confederates.
Thus ended the first major battle of the Atlanta Campaign. The fight at Resaca involved for the Federals, 110,123 men and 254 guns as of April 30, 1864* and for the Confederates, 54,500 men and 144 guns as of April 30, 1864*. The Battle of Resaca was one of the largest engagements and is estimated to have cost the Federals some 4,000 causalities and the Confederates nearly 3,000 men. Some estimates are even higher.