The Battle of Kennesaw Mountain, fought on 27 June 27 1864, was a pivotal engagement in the Atlanta Campaign of the American Civil War. Union Major General William T. Sherman's armies had been steadily advancing through Georgia, with the goal of capturing the vital Confederate city of Atlanta. The battle represented the Confederacy's best chance to halt Sherman's inexorable march, but despite fierce fighting and heavy casualties, the Union forces ultimately prevailed.

Sherman's strategy in the campaign was to "move south, engage the Confederate Army, and destroy the railroads that supplied Atlanta." To achieve this, he employed a series of flanking maneuvers to force Confederate General Joseph E. Johnston to withdraw and stretch his defensive lines. As described by historian Shelby Foote, Johnston used "Fabian tactics" of strategic withdrawal and fortification to slow Sherman's advance and preserve his own army.

By mid-June, Johnston had established a strong seven-mile defensive line anchored on Kennesaw Mountain, a formidable peak rising over 1,800 feet. Sherman, convinced the position was overextended, decided on a rare frontal assault. In his memoirs, Sherman wrote, "I perceived that the enemy and our officers had settled down into a conviction that I would not assault fortified lines. All looked to me to 'outflank.' An army to be efficient must not settle down to a single mode of offence."

On the morning of June 27, Sherman launched coordinated attacks on the Confederate right and center. The fighting was intense and often hand-to-hand. Union Colonel Daniel McCook was mortally wounded while standing atop the enemy parapet, and Brigadier General Charles Harker was shot from his horse leading an assault. Despite tremendous valor, the attacks were repulsed with heavy losses - nearly 3,000 Union casualties compared to only 1,000 for the Confederates.

While a tactical defeat, Kennesaw Mountain did not significantly delay Sherman's advance. In early July, he flanked Johnston again, forcing the Confederates to withdraw closer to Atlanta. Johnston was replaced by the more aggressive John Bell Hood, who made several desperate attacks to save the city but was defeated. Atlanta fell on September 2, 1864, providing a massive boost to Union morale and contributing to Abraham Lincoln's re-election. From Atlanta, Sherman would launch his famous March to the Sea, a devastating campaign that broke the back of the Confederacy.

In the grand strategic picture, Kennesaw Mountain was the last major obstacle on Sherman's drive to Atlanta, the most important industrial and railroad hub in the Deep South. Its capture severed Confederate supply lines and was a powerful symbolic blow demonstrating that the very heart of the Confederacy was now vulnerable. Combined with Ulysses S. Grant's simultaneous Overland Campaign against Robert E. Lee in Virginia, Sherman's success meant that the Union had seized the initiative and placed the Confederacy under relentless, grinding pressure on multiple fronts. The loss of Atlanta made a Confederate victory in the war nearly impossible.

Top photo: "Federal entrenchments at the foot of Kenesaw Mountain." Published 1911 (photo 1864). Source: Wikipedia. File from The Photographic History of The Civil War in Ten Volumes: Volume Three, The Decisive Battles. The Review of Reviews Co., New York. 1911. p. 117.

Bottom photo: Kennesaw, Georgia. Modern day. Cannon at the base of Kennesaw Mountain. Source: War History network license.

While Sherman was criticized for the heavy casualties at Kennesaw Mountain, he defended his decision in his official report, stating, "I was forced to make the effort, and it should have succeeded. I hold every officer and man to their full share of responsibility." The determined Union assaults, while unsuccessful, demonstrated Sherman's aggression and unbreakable will to defeat the Confederacy. They foreshadowed his later scorched-earth campaigns and the South's ultimate doom under the Union's overwhelming military power.



Catton, Bruce. The Civil War. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2005.

Foote, Shelby. The Civil War Box Set: With American Homer; Reflections on Shelby Foote and His Classic the Civil War; A Narrative. New York: Random House, 2011.

"Kennesaw Mountain." American Battlefield Trust. https://www.battlefields.org/learn/civil-war/battles/kennesaw-mountain.

McDonough, James L. William Tecumseh Sherman: In the Service of My Country: A Life. New York: W. W. Norton & Company, 2016.

McPherson, James M. Battle Cry of Freedom: The Civil War Era. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2003.


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