As Seen in the Painting

Benjamin Harrison to his wife Carrie:

It is wonderful how much skill and labor Johnston has expended on defensive works from Dalton to this place. He has these defensive line prepared in advance, or rather in his rear, and when we flank him out from his line he has only to fall back to another a few miles to the rear, then we are forced to make such movements as will force him to retreat again, and so the campaign has dragged along.

Those who blame Sherman for what they call inactivity ought to serve under him for a few days & make a survey of, or an assault on, one of Johnston’s defensive lines & they would take a new view of it.

As you have never seen one of these field works, I must try to give you an idea of what an assaulting column has to overcome. In the first place in advancing you will come at 1000 yards from the enemy’s works into a “tangle,” that is, all the small trees and some & some larger ones are felled crosswise so that you have to make your way through a continual succession of tree tops. As you get nearer say 300 yards, you come to an “abatis” which consists of tree-tops laid with the bushy ends towards you, all the leaves trimmed off and every branch twig sharpened so that it will catch in the clothes. If you succeed getting through this, you will find about 20 yards from the rifle pits two lines of stakes about 12 feet long, set about four feet in the ground and inclining towards you, the upper end being sharpened and stakes set so close that a man can’t pass between them. If you can stand the deadly stream of musketry fire until you can dig up or down these stakes, you will have no other obstacle save the climb of the breastworks and a line of bayonets jetting up inside. In some places they also have what the boys call “horse rakes”, but technically called “Cheval de frise”. These are made by boring large auger holes through logs 20 feet long or so, at right angles, and putting through them long oaken stakes or pines sharpened at both end so that however many times you may turn the thing over, there is ways an ugly line of sharpened stakes sticking out towards you.

I would like to see a few thousand of the “On to Atlanta” civilians of the North charging such a line of works. Most of the tender skinned individuals of this class would require help to get into the works if they were empty.

Benjamin Harrison, July 10, 1864, near Atlanta, Georgia

Edmund Randolph Brown

27th INDIANA. Promoted from Private. Wounded at Antietam–left of navel. Declined promotion to Sergeant over those absent wounded; Detached service as clerk for post Provost Marshall office Tullahoma Tennessee 11-1-1863 to 8-1864. Mustered out 10-1-1864. Regimental Historian – wrote The Twenty-Seventh Indiana Volunteer Infantry in the War of the Rebellion, (1899). From Winamac, Pulaski County, Indiana, USA. Died March 14, 1930. Birth unknown.

(Missing from book’s profiles of contributors.)

Corput’s Battle Flag

After midnight, the Rebels were long gone and the Fifth Ohio Infantry, who were digging the guns (and claimed to be the only ones doing it), had already sent two down the hill, when:

“It was about this time that Corporal George W. Tyrrell, of Company H, Fifth Ohio, handed me the rebel flag that he had taken from the flag-staff of the redoubt. It was the usual bunting red flag, with the blue St. Andrew’s cross, with stars. I handed it in with my official report. Corporal Tyrrell afterward received a medal of honor for the capture of the flag referred to.”

This is as reported by Colonel Kilpatrick, in Sketches of War History, Volume IV, page 246-254 The Fifth Ohio Infantry at Resaca. The flag was forwarded to Washington by General Geary: from “Record of Rebel Flags Captured by Union Troops After April 19, 1861”, National Archives, RG 94.

This image is from a website that no longer can be contacted. The National Archive reports that all Confederate Flags were returned to their states under a resolution of Congress in 1905.

Steve Noon Painting

English artist Steve Noon painted this for the cover of Atlanta 1864 by James Donnell. John Fritz, whose ancestor fought at the fort, bought the original and asked to have a copy posted here. Later I will put it in a page of its own. Steven Noon corrected the flags and added a Spencer rifle after some Resaca folks offered more information about them. More difficult to correct, and left alone, was Benjamin Harrison’s horse. Mr. Noon had seen the lithograph and web sites showing Harrison on horseback, though not in a scene of the fort. The setting is quite realistic–the fort looks just like that. And the soldiers are set about as one would expect from the stories.

Resaca, May 15, 1864 ,by Steve Noon

Artillery Work

Simonson’s battery pushed their guns to the limit. If fired too fast, the hot guns swelled, making loading difficult or impossible, as well as dangerous. Sometimes they put wet blankets over the barrel. The man who put his thumb over the touch hole, to quell embers, wore a leather glove at least. Their equipment also included a pole with a corkscrew hook–using that would take some plain old guts, such as when Wes Conner was driven from his cannon and left it double loaded after two primers had failed. Robert Hale Strong describes watching them work.

“Our artillerymen were stripped to the waist for their work. It was a sight to watch them firing those cannons. Each man at the cannon is numbered, and each number has just certain things to do. He does this with the regularity of clock work, and does nothing else. The caisson holding the ammunition is brought up to a few feet in rear of the cannon, the horses are unhitched and taken a short distance to the rear and hidden if possible, and firing begins. One man brings the powder cartridge from the caisson. Another man shoves it into the cannon muzzle. Another one rams it down. By this time, the first man has returned from the caisson with a shot or a shell. If it is a shell and the fuse is already cut to the required length, the shell is passed on to the cannon, inserted and rammed home. If not properly fused, the fuse is adjusted first. Then the priming is inserted in the touch hole and the string that fires the cannon is pulled. After the shell screams out and the cannon recoils, the cannon is run back into position. Then one man puts his finger over the touch hole to keep out air. Another with a swab or sponge on a pole wipes out the cannon. Another shell is inserted and fired. As this is done two or three times in a minute, everybody is on the jump. Every so often, the end of the swab is dipped in a bucket of water and the cannon thoroughly washed out.1 If an artilleryman is killed or wounded, another stands ready to take his place. Each is trained to do the next man’s job when needed. At this time we had a good view of the enemy’s guns and of their lines behind. We could see our shells burst inside their lines. One shell knocked a wheel off one of their cannon. All this time, their shells were striking and bursting among us. Some of our gunner men were just literally blown to pieces. As they were, the next one would take his place. It was a grand sight, but a horrible one.”

Strong, Robert Hale. A Yankee Private’s Civil War (Dover Military History, Weapons, Armor) . Dover Publications. Kindle Edition.

Grab a Root!

Officers, in their elevated positions on horseback, had to duck shells, by reflex, to the amusement of those whose feet were on the ground instead of in stirrups. The catch-phrase of desperation no doubt arose from climbing steep slopes and perhaps being swept downstream as well.

From History of the 90th Ohio: “Grab a Root”:

While soldiering in the Army of the Cumberland,
Some Johnnies to shoot.
We stubbed our toe, fell down in the mud,
And the boys, hollowed, ”Grab a Root !”

The origin of the word we never heard.
Yet, it always seemed to suit,
For, no matter what to you occurred,
They would tell you to “Grab a Root.”

The Colonel of the 31st rode a mare —
A scary sort of a brute —
At the Catoosa Springs she threw him.
When one of the boys hollowed, “Grab a Root.”

A new recruit was stealing meat.
Because he thought it cute,
But when the guard marched him off to Gen. Cruft,
The boys hollowed, “Grab a Root.”

At Ooltewah we were crossing on a log
With a canteen full of old jute.
When we lost our balance and in we went.
And Smith hollowed, “Grab a Root.”

A drunken bummer rode a mouse-colored mule —
A bucking son-of-a-galoot —
And when he threw him and nearly broke his neck.
The boys hollowed, “Grab a Root.”

A goose hissed at us when we foraged,
As a disloyal old brute.
But when the Major ordered us front in disgrace,
George Harney whispered, “Grab a Root.”

Down in Hog- Jaw Valley we heard a gun,
For some one in the distance did shoot.
But at the command, “Attention ! I heard a gun,”
Some one remarked, “Grab a Root.”

We shot the load from our gun in camp,
When there was positive orders not to shoot ;
But as the General was placing us on the General’s
The boys hollowed, “Grab a Root.”

A dude of a Sergeant got full of beer ;
He sang a song he thought was cute,
But at the end of every verse he sang,
The boys hollowed, “Grab a Root.”

The Sergeant got mad and wanted to fight.
And finally began talking shoot.
Then he stormed and raved till he foamed at the mouth.
And the boys hollowed, “Grab a Root.”

An officer swore it was cowardly to dodge
When the Johnnies too near would shoot,
But when he dropped at a shell passing high in the air,
The boys hollowed, “Grab a Root.”

Sylvester Rader, Co. T.


Though the book shows much soldiers’ attitudes and experiences, some things were deliberately left out.

One was some negative attitudes toward negroes. While not the rule by any means, some soldiers were convinced they’d never accept them. The range varied the spectrum, but most were accepting and often disgusted and incensed by the treatment slaves received. Uncle Ned seemed to be a more typical example, gaining respect in Joe Peters’s company and going with them from Tennessee till the war was over and they went home.

Except for the comment of General Williams, those comparing Cumberland area whites poorly to negroes were omitted, though they were common. One was enough.


Readers are the judges of what results were the due to anyone’s failings. To avoid prejudicing the reader toward General Geary, It seemed lawyerly to let any failings manifest themselves in his own words and actions. In particular, Robert Hale Strong’s complaints about Geary’s treatment of soldiers are not further aired in this book. Geary piled enough on himself without any help. He apparently was an effective commander, using his men aggressively, but in pursuit of personal goals as much as saving the Union.

It Was Timber Then

Where the 27th Indiana faced Stewart’s Division in the Rebel flank attempt, timber covered the slope between Colgrove and the Rebel trench. So visitors to the timber-less site might have to use some imagination and check his map as they read the account by Edmund Randolph Brown, the regiment’s historian. He explains:

“By the morning of the 15th the Twentieth Corps had mostly reached the vicinity of its assigned position. After some preliminary moves the Twenty-seventh finally took its place in the line of the brigade, which was formed along a timbered ridge (not a mountain) overlooking a wide ravine, along which the ground was somewhat open. The whole line then moved forward across the ravine and open ground, almost to the crest of the next ridge, which was not as high as the first had been. This advance brought some of the regiments to our left out into the cleared fields, near the log farm- house of one J. F. Scales. This house was some two miles north of Resaca, near the railroad, on its west side.

In this position the Twenty-seventh was on the right of the brigade. The Second Massachusetts joined us on the left, while next to us on the right was the Forty-sixth Pennsylvania, of the First Brigade. The enemy’s main entrenched line was one hundred and twenty yards in front of ours. Further to our left his line curved back somewhat, to conform to the ridge upon which it was located, and was, therefore, further away from the Union line. The ground between the two lines varied considerably, but it was all more or less timbered, except just about the Scales house. As has been said, the line of the Twenty-seventh was not quite upon the crest of the ridge, but slightly back from it. After the crest was passed the ground immediately in our front descended gradually, through open timber, for eighty yards. Forty yards further on, upon quite a steep bluff, was the enemy’s line, behind a good breastwork of timber and earth. The fact will be clear to all soldiers that nothing but the trees, which stood between the enemy’s line and our own, and which hid the one from the other, prevented active hostilities from the start. When the writer, and others formerly connected with the Twenty-seventh, visited this field in 1895, the land near the position of the regiment had been cleared. A cotton field extended from the swale, back of where our line was, forward to the base of the bluff occupied by the enemy’s line. A log farmhouse stood near the exact spot where the right of the Twenty-seventh rested against the left of the Forty-sixth Pennsylvania. The various positions were identified beyond a doubt and the distances were carefully measured. The ground not having been cleared at that point, the excavation for the enemy’s breastworks.”

Sun and Moon May 15

Here are the positions of the sun and moon on the day of the battle. The weather was clear.

U.S. Naval Observatory

Astronomical Applications Department

Sun and Moon Data for One Day

The following information is provided for Dalton, Whitfield County, Georgia (longitude W85.0, latitude N34.8):

    Sunday, 15 May 1864 Eastern Standard Time


Begin civil twilight5:08 a.m.
Sunrise5:36 a.m.
Sun transit12:36 p.m.
Sunset7:36 p.m
End civil twilight8:04 p.m.


Moonrise1:16 p.m. on preceding day
Moonset1:58 a.m.
Moonrise2:10 p.m.
Moon transit8:22 p.m.
Moonset2:28 a.m. on following day

Phase of the Moon on 15 May: waxing gibbous with 68% of the Moon’s visible disk illuminated. First quarter Moon on 13 May 1864 at 1:19 p.m. Eastern Standard Time.