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100 Years Ago

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As the Union commanders drew more troops into position, they tightened the noose around Atlanta — the industrial heart of the South and the ultimate target. In assessing the importance of taking Atlanta, Grant had said in May of 1864 that "Sherman will take Atlanta; and when he gets Atlanta, he will have his hand upon the vitals of the Confederacy: and you can judge how long a man is likely to live when another has a firm grip upon his vitals."

As terrible as the Battle of Resaca was, the worst was ahead for the volunteer soldiers from Shelby County, Ohio. The man chosen by President Jefferson Davis to defend Atlanta was General John Bell Hood (pictured at right). He had lost a leg at Gettysburg, and was loved by his men for being brave and a risk-taking leader. The 'Johnnies' were well entrenched around the outskirts of the city. The veterans of the 20th Ohio had marched 376 punishing miles to outside Atlanta, and by good fortune had missed the action at Resaca.

In what would prove to be a sad irony, a soldier of the 20th, apparently newly recruited, wrote to the editor of the "Sidney Journal" on June 13, 1864, confidently stating: "There can be no doubt of the results. Our army is much larger than the enemy, and though it may cost many lives, we will succeed...The health of the regiment was never better. There is no sickness at all. None killed or wounded as yet."

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General John Bell Hood

On July 21, the 20th had assisted in the routing of Cleburne's division and the capture of Bald Hill on the outskirts of the city. From this point, the Union artillery could shell Atlanta. General Hood was furious. The next day was July 22, 1864. During the morning hours, the men watched as the Confederates appeared to be withdrawing from the city. The 20th was placed on the far left of the federal line. What followed is taken from fircaptaineenutt.gif (66340 bytes)st-person accounts of Captain E. E. Nutt and Private William Updegraff of the 20th.

Catching the Union forces completely by surprise, the rebels launched a savage attack against the left of the federal line. That section was anchored by the 20th, and it received the brunt of the assault. Nutt recalled, "The Johnnies were coming at us like a storm." Waves of rebels rolled over the 20th, first from the rear, then the front, and then from the side. A captured Union cannon was turned on them, and the men of the 20th were raked with cannister fire.

Updegraff reported that at the height of the battle he saw brothers Mathias and Robert Elliot of Dinsmore Township fighting side by side. (Mathias had been awarded the Medal of Gold for heroism at Fort Donelson, Raymond, Vicksburg, and Shiloh.) Updegraff recalled: "Mathias Elliot of Company F was killed. His brother Robert stood over his body fighting until he had fired every cartridge. He then clubbed his musket and fought until he was literally shot to pieces."

Captain Nutt remembered the lines surging back and forth amid the dense smoke and incredible noise. "Now it was hand to hand; bayonets, butts of muskets and fists were used; men were pulled over the works from both sides..." Shelby County, Ohio men fell like leaves before the north wind: Perry Bailey, Christian Jelley, John Blakely, Jasper Miller, James Morrow, George Redinbo, John Umphrey, John Kessler, Albert Hines, and many more.

The carnage was worse among the rebels. Over 600 enemy bodies were counted in front of the 20th's fortifications the next morning. Lt. Dwight of the 20th reported in a letter that was printed in the "New York Times" on August 12, 1864: "Such was the most awful battle I have ever been in; and I most heartily pray I may never see another like it. I never saw such awful slaughter as took place among the rebels. They literally laid in piles as I went over the ground the next morning."

The failure of General Hood to route the federal forces resulted in the rebels retiring within the city. They waited for Sherman to attack. "The Yankee gents can't get their men to charge our works," one Confederate soldier declared. Sherman, remembering Grant's success built on patience at Vicksburg, cut off supplies to the city and ordered a daily bombardment. By September 1, the Confederates gave up and evacuated their industrial center. Afterward, Grant told Sherman, "I feel you have accomplished the most gigantic undertaking given to any general in this war, with a skill and ability that will be acknowledged in history as not surpassed."

'Civil War' segment written in July, 1998 by Rich Wallace


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