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Battle of Jonesboro, GA
in the American Civil War

Union Battle Summary

Jonesboro, Ga., Aug. 31-Sept. 1, 1864. Armies of the Tennessee, Cumberland and Ohio. The movement of Sherman's armies to the south of Atlanta began on Aug. 25. On the morning of the 31st the Army of the Tennessee, commanded by Maj.-Gen. O.O. Howard, was in position near Jonesboro; the 4th and 14th corps of the Army of the Cumberland, commanded by Maj.-Gen. George H. Thomas, and the Army of the Ohio, under Maj.-Gen. John M. Schofield, were along the line of the Macon & Western railroad between Jonesboro and Rough and Ready Station. Hood had learned the position of the Federal forces on the 30th, and that night he sent Hardee's and S.D. Lee's corps to Jonesboro, with orders to attack Sherman's flank the next morning. Hardee was in command of the expedition, his corps being temporarily commanded by Gen. Cleburne. Owing to the fact that Howard occupied the road on which Hardee wanted to move, it was 2 p.m. before the Confederates were in a position to attack. Shortly after that hour a heavy artillery fire was opened along the entire line and a little later Cleburne advanced to the assault. Hardee had formed his line with Cleburne on the left and Lee on the right. The former was to turn the Union right and Lee was to attack vigorously as soon as he heard the sound of Cleburne's guns. Lee mistook the firing of the skirmishers on his left for the main attack and advanced his line before Cleburne became fairly engaged. Hazen's division, which formed the left of Logan's line, received the brunt of the attack, the enemy trying to turn the left flank and get between the Union line and the Flint river. Bryant's brigade of Blair's corps was first sent to Hazen's assistance and later all of Woods' division was moved to that part of the line with instructions to charge the Confederates if they attempted to turn the flank. At the same time Howard called on Thomas for reinforcements and Carlin's division of the 14th corps was hurried to the scene of action, but before its arrival the enemy had been repulsed.

While the main engagement was in progress Kilpatrick, with his cavalry division, was at Anthony's bridge, a mile and a half below Howard. Seeing that Howard's right was in danger of being turned, Kilpatrick dismounted five regiments, posted them behind barricades on the flank of Cleburne's column, placed his batteries in good positions and directed them to open fire, while the rest of his command was ordered to attack. This diversion forced Cleburne to forego his attempt to turn Howard's flank and turn his attention to Kilpatrick. Twice he attacked the latter, but each time he was repulsed. A third effort was more successful and Kilpatrick was forced to retire across the river. This was done in good order, but with the loss of 2 of his cannon. Some of the enemy followed over the bridge, but they were met by the 92nd Ill. mounted infantry, now dismounted, and held in check. To protect his trains and assist Kilpatrick, Howard ordered Blair to send Giles A. Smith's division to the bridge. The arrival of this division turned the tide of battle, the enemy was repulsed with heavy loss and the 2 guns were recaptured.

The fight lasted about an hour and resulted in complete defeat for the Confederates at every point. The defeats at Peachtree creek, Bald Hill, Ezra church and Utoy creek seemed to have dampened the ardor of the Confederate soldiers, as Lee says in his report: "The attack was not made by the troops with that spirit and inflexible determination that would insure success. Several brigades behaved with great gallantry, and in each brigade many instances of gallant conduct were exhibited by regiments and individuals; but generally the troops halted in the charge when they were much exposed, and within easy range of the enemy's musketry, and when they could do but little damage to the enemy behind his works, instead of moving directly and promptly against the temporary and informidable works in their front. The attack was a feeble one and a failure, with a loss to my corps of about 1,300 men in killed and wounded."

As soon as Sherman was informed of the result of the action he knew that he was in possession of Hood's line of communications, and issued orders for a complete destruction of the railroad, in the expectation of forcing Hood to evacuate Atlanta and concentrate his forces somewhere near Jonesboro. Lee's corps was recalled during the night, leaving Hardee alone at Jonesboro, and upon learning this Sherman ordered Thomas and Schofield to unite with Howard to surround and capture Hardee before Hood could reinforce him. Stanley's corps, which was engaged in destroying the railroad near Rough and Ready, was hurried forward to Jonesboro; Davis was sent to Howard's left; two divisions of Blair's corps, with Kilpatrick's cavalry, were ordered to gain a position on the railroad south of town, and Schofield was to continue the work of destroying the track, but at the same time follow up Stanley to support him in an emergency. Hardee had formed his line to meet an attack from Howard on the west, with Cleburne's division on the right, sharply refused, Govan holding the angle, Granbury on the left of Govan, and Lewis to the right and rear. Davis reached the position assigned him about noon on Sept. 1, and pushed forward Edie's brigade of Carlin's division to reconnoiter and ground to the railroad. Edie soon became engaged in a sharp skirmish, but succeeded in gaining a ridge that commanded the angle in Hardee's line. Prescott's battery was placed on this ridge, in a position where it could enfilade a portion of the enemy's line, and in a short time disabled a number of Hardee's guns. Davis now ordered an assault. Edie struck the salient and carried it, but owing to the uneven surface of the ground his supports did not come up in time and he was repulsed with considerable loss. About 5 p.m. a second advance was made, when Este's brigade of Baird's division carried the salient. This time the supports were at hand. Morgan's division swept in from the right and Carlin's from the left, completely surrounding the Confederates and capturing Gen. Govan, with nearly all his command. Lewis and Granbury were forced to fall back and form a new line, though the Confederate left and center held on to their trenches. Stanley, who had reached the field about the time Davis made his second assault, now deployed on the left of Davis, but before any decisive movement could be made darkness put an end to the conflict. During the night Hardee abandoned his position and joined the main body of Hood's army at Lovejoy Station. The Union loss at Jonesboro was about 1,150 men. The enemy acknowledged a loss of 5,000.

Source: The Union Army, Volume 5, Cyclopedia of Battles, 1908


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