Tuesday, May 27, 2014

150 Years Ago Today - Pickett's Mill

To the east of the fighting at New Hope Church was the Confederate right flank. After being thwarted on May 25, Sherman sent Gen. O. O. Howard to go around the rebel right flank and force Johnston out of his defensive line. When Howard made his move on May 27, he ran into the hard-fighting division of Gen. Patrick Cleburne (pictured). Fighting late in day, the battle continued after dark with a night charge by Cleburne's Confederates.

Among the men in Cleburne's command was Captain Samuel Foster of the 24th Texas Cavalry (dismounted). Foster wrote of the action at Pickett's Mill:

". . .We find some Ark.[ansas] troops on the end of our line, and we form on to their right making our line that much longer and it also puts us just about where the scouts said the Yanks were going to try to flank our Army. Our position is in a heavy timbered section with chinquapin bushes as an undergrowth. From the end of the army, where the breastworks stop we followed a small trail or mill path as soon as our Brigade got its whole length in this place and the command is to halt! and at the same instant the cavalry skirmishers came running back to our lines, saying that we had better get away from there, for they were coming by the thousand. . . .

As soon as the skirmish line was put in position our men commenced firing at the enemy skirmishers who were not more than forty to fifty yards from us. One of my men Joe Harrison who never could stop on a line of that kind without seeing the Yanks ran forward through the brush, but came back as fast as he went, saying that they fired a broadside on him, but didn't hit him - He took his place on the skirmish line behind an Oak tree about 14 inches in diameter - The enemy kept advancing through the bushes from tree to tree until they were (some of them) in 30 or 40 feet of our line - nor would they give back. I had three as good men as ever fired a gun killed on this skirmish line - W J Maddox, T L Doran & T F Nolan. The two first named were shot thru the neck and killed instantly, the last one shot in the bowels and died in about 15 hours later. When the sun was about an hour high in the evening we were ordered back to the line of battle. And it seems that the enemys line of battle was advancing when the order came for the skirmishers to fall back.

The frolick opened in fine style as soon as we got back into our places - in stead of the two skirmish lines - the two lines of battle open to their fullest extent. No artillery in this fight - nothing but small arms.

Our men have no protection, but they are lying flat on the ground, and shooting as fast as they can. This continues until dark when it gradually stops, until it is very dark, when every thing is very still, so still that they chirp of a cricket could be heard 100 feet away - all hands lying perfectly still, and the enemy not more than 40 feet in front of us."

After the night charge which netted some Yankee prisoners, and Foster gained some "crackers bacon & coffee) Sherman moved back west. Foster commented on the terrible sights he witnessed the following morning:

"About sun up this morning we were relieved and ordered back to the Brigade - and we have to pass over the dead Yanks of the battle field of yesterday; and here I beheld that which I cannot describe; and which I hope never to see again, dead men meet the eye in every direction, and in one place I stoped and counted 50 dead men in a circle of 50 ft. of me. Men lying in all sorts of shapes and . . . just as they had fallen, and it seems like they have nearly all been shot in the head, and a great number of them have their skulls bursted open and their brains running out, quite a number that way. I have seen many dead men, and seen them wounded and crippled in various ways, have seen their limbs cut off, but I never saw anything before that made me sick, like looking at the brains of these men did. I do believe that if a soldier could be made to faint, that I would have fainted if I had not passed on and got out of that place as soon as I did - We learn thru Col. Wilkes that we killed 703 dead on the ground, and captured near 350 prisoners."

Image courtesy of the Library of Congress.

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