Battle of Pickett's Mill
Today, the Pickett's Mill Battlefield Historic Site is one of the most thoroughly preserved and interpreted Civil War battlefields in the nation.
By May 23 Sherman's army had crossed the Etowah River in the move toward Atlanta. In order to skirt the Allatoona Pass, where Confederate general Joseph E. Johnston's forces defended the railroad, the Union forces crossed through the wilderness south to Marietta via Dallas, with more than 85,000 men and twenty days' worth of supplies. Searching for a route between Johnston's forces and the Chattahoochee River, Sherman drove his troops to the crossroads at New Hope Church, where they encountered Confederates under the command of Lieutenant General John Bell Hood on May 25. As Hood's Corps stood its ground on May 26, Sherman ordered Major Lieutenant General Oliver O. Howard to lead 14,000 Union troops to the left of the Union army and attack the Confederates on Hood's right.
When Howard arrived at the west bank of Pickett's Mill Creek, he thought that his army had moved beyond the enemy's right and so ordered Wood to attack. Wood's first two battle lines composed Union brigadier general William B. Hazen's brigade. At 4:30 p.m. Hazen's troops advanced, only to encounter the fierce firepower of Brigadier General Hiram B. Granbury's Texans on the top of a rocky, tree-covered ridge. Soon after the battle began, the Texans were reinforced with Brigadier General Daniel Govan's Arkansas troops and Brigadier General Mark P. Lowrey's Alabama-Mississippi Brigade. After fifty minutes of bloody combat, Hazen's surviving troops began to fall back. At this moment Wood sent in Colonel William Gibson's brigade. This second attack also failed in the absence of sufficient support, and Gibson's men fell back an hour later.
Knefler received an order to withdraw at 10:00 p.m. However, with the permission from Cleburne to clear his front, Granbury's Texans charged Knefler's brigade nearly at the same time. Surprised by the sudden onslaught, the Union forces fired a ragged, harmless volley and fled. The Texans took many of them prisoner.
The Battle of Pickett's Mill delayed Sherman's progress; when his forces emerged from the wilderness, they were no closer to Atlanta than they had been almost two weeks earlier. The real significance of the battle was that it marked the beginning of trench warfare. Beginning at New Hope Church and continuing until September 2, much of the war around Atlanta was fought in trenches. Trench warfare cost Johnston his single important advantage of maneuver over Sherman's superior manpower and materiel, eventually leaving Johnston with no choice but to retreat or accept defeat.
Preservation and Excavation
In 1971 a group of interested citizens, led by historian Philip Secrist, initiated the purchase of the battlefield, and the state of Georgia was persuaded to purchase it in 1973-74 and establish it as a state historic site. The state entered into negotiations with several other smaller landowners to purchase the last piece of the park in 1981.
The Pickett's Mill Battlefield Historic Site was officially opened to the public in 1990. It consists of 765 acres of nearly pristine wilderness, with evidence of trenches still apparent at various points on the battlefield. In addition to the remains of earthworks, parts of the old Pickett's Mill still stand. In 2010 the historic site received attention as one of the most endangered battlefields, due to state cutbacks in spending that affected maintenance of the site and its hours of accessibility to the public. It is currently the site of archaeological investigations.
Barry L. Brown and Gordon R. Elwell, Crossroads of Conflict: A Guide to Civil War Sites in Georgia (Athens: University of Georgia Press, 2010).
Albert Castel, Decision in the West: The Atlanta Campaign of 1864 (Lawrence: University Press of Kansas, 1992).
Frances H. Kennedy, ed., The Civil War Battlefield Guide, 2nd ed. (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1998).
Morton R. McInvale, The Battle of Pickett's Mill: Foredoomed to Oblivion (Atlanta: Georgia Department of Natural Resources, Office of Planning and Research, Historic Preservation Section, 1977).
Richard M. McMurry , Atlanta 1864: Last Chance for the Confederacy (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 2000).
Jun Suk Hyun, University of Georgia
A project of the Georgia Humanities Council, in partnership with the University of Georgia Press, the University System of Georgia/GALILEO, and the Office of the Governor.