Reynolds' Counterattack at Peachtree Creek, July 19th

Luke Freet

First Sergeant
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Joined
Nov 8, 2018
I have been reading Earl J. Hess' "The Battle of Peachtree Creek" since I got it around Christmas, and I've stumbled on an incident which gets breifly mentioned by most books I've read on the Campaign (I believe Castel alludes to the engagement breifly refering to Dilworth's Brigade suffering heavy casualties in the crossing).

On July 19th, Thomas began crossing most of his army (All of 14th and 20th Corps and Newton's Division of 4th Corps) across the difficult Peachtree Creek. Across most of the line, the only resistance are rebel skirmishers; the Confederates, under the command of John Bell Hood, were preparing a new defensive line pulled back south of the creek, instead of on the river bank itself. This is allowed Newton and Hooker to cross the river with minimal opposition.

To the 20th's Corps' right, Jefferson C. Davis began crossing his division of 14th Corps near Howell's Mill. The rebel skirmishers used the well-built Mill as a blockhouse; in addition, near the mill on the south side of the creek was ridge from which the rebels could inflict enfilading fire upon the federals when they moved to take the Mill. Davis, on instruction from Thomas, sent his division, led by the brigade of Colonel Caleb J. Dilworth, to cross another ford near the mouth of Green Bone Creek. "Thomas, Palmer, and Davis accompanied Dilworth. Confederate skrimishers on the south bank opened fire , and 'a well-spent ball' hit Davis' boot, stinging his foot. The other generals kidded their subordinate about 'getting the first hit'" (Hess 44).
In the lead of the advance was the 52nd Ohio. Dilworth's Brigade had formerly been Dan McCook's Brigade, and the 52nd Ohio his regiment, before the young fighter was cut down at Kennesaw Mountain. Lt. Colonel Charles W. Clancy had his regiment build a footbridge from fallen trees and crossed his men to take the bluffs on the opposing side.

On the Confederate side, Brigadier Daniel H. Reynolds was in the process of repositioning his small Arkansan brigade after being relieved by another brigade (his former sector would later be pushed by Hooker). His command, according to Hess, numbered around just 600 men. These men were veterans of the last four years of war, and had fought in battles like Wilson's Creek, Pea Ridge, Richmond (Kentucky), Stones River, and Chickamauga, and had seen much action in this campaign so far. Two of the brigade's five regiments carried the designation "Mounted Rifles", even though they had been dismounted since Wilson's Creek almost three years prior.

Due to the increasing skirmishing from the Union troops in his old sector before he left, Reynolds was forced to leave behind 80 men in the old line (which would form the eastern flank of his line), while he moved to link up with Brigadier John Adams' skirmish line. He relieved the 6th and 15th Mississippi with the 25th Arkansas (forming the western flank of his line), and put the 9th Arkansas to the 25th's right, placed atop a ridge. This left a gap between the 9th Arkansas and the 80 men on the east flank, but Reynolds had not the men nor the time to remedy the situation there.

Around this time, the 52nd Ohio was pushing its way across the Green Bone Ford, and attacked the 9th Arkansas. The 9th Arkansas was pushed back, the Ohioans taking the ridge. When he was alerted to the federal attack, Reynolds immediately called up his reserve regiments and push them forward. He sent the 9th Arkansas forward with the 2nd Arkansas Mounted Rifles in support to retake the hill. This was repulsed, and the Ohioans had begun digging rudimentary defenses. However, this bought time for Reynolds to form up two more regiments, the 1st Arkansas Mounted Rifles and the 4th Arkansas, for another assault. When the 2nd Rifles and the 9th rejoined the line from their assault, Reynolds sent word to the commander of the 25th Arkansas, unengaged to the west and essentially detached from the brigade, to support him, and moved his men into line at the double quick. As he was about to attack, he got word from Colonel Michael Farrell of the 15th Mississippi, the commander of Adams' skirmishers Reynolds had recently relieved, offering his support for the counterattack. Thus, while Reynolds had only 4 regiments formed up properly for the attack, he could count on two and a half more to come to his support.

Reynolds ordered the right and left wings of his line to advance, holding his center in place. He did not wish to bring on a general engagement, and sought to force the enemy to pull back without embroiling himself in heavy fighting his weak brigade could not win.

Initially, his men did well. As Reynolds' starting point was only 75 yards away from the 52nd Ohion's skirmish line, the union troops were overrun and many were captured, including Lt. Colonel Clancy. However, Reynolds halted his advance, as the 9th Arkansas was low on ammo. To remedy the situation, and fearing the enemy striking him now and overruning his rear, ordered the wounded to the rear and sent the prisoners over to Adams' brigade, resupplied his men and stablized the line. After this, Reynolds mounted a second attack. This attack nearly overwhelmed the remainder of the 52nd Ohio (now commanded by Major Holmes), if not for the arrival of Major Robert G. Rider's 85th Illinois, moving into line on the 52nd's right just before Reynolds' second attack came. The 85th suffered casualties on his right flank, and part of his regiment is believed to have broken towards the bluffs, but the rest held, along with the 52nd, and Reynolds' Arkansans were forced to fall back.

Reynolds pulled back to his starting position, haggling with Brigadier Adams over positioning of troops in the new skirmish line (Adams would later claim responsibility for the capture of the prisoners from the engagement, as they were in his possession at the end of the battle, and would denigrate Reynolds' role in the battle; this is despite most of his brigade not being heavily engaged in the action). Reynolds continued to skirmish with Davis' division, pushing across to reinforce Dilworth. By nightfall, Reynolds prepared a new line with breastworks, and had the battlefield scavenged for leftover guns, though this process was dampered by the moonlight illuminating his men to the federal troops. The battle had lasted from 3pm to 730pm, and resulted in the lost of 245 men for Dilworth (82 from the 52nd Ohio alone), and merely 59 men for Reynolds

Thus ended the breif engagement near Howell's Mill. The casualties may have paled in comparison to the actions of the next day, but it would be remembered well by its participants. Major Holmes later wrote of how near run the battle was, how, "Without the Eighty-fifth Illinois, the Fifty-Second Ohio would all have been killed or captured" (Hess 47).

More importantly, the news of the engagement pleased General Hood, who saw Reynolds' aggressive action as a sign of the new character he wish to impress upon the Army of Tennessee was starting to set in. Reynolds had achieved rather lopsided casualties in his attack, no mean feat when assaulting an enemy position often results in more casualties for the attacker than the defender. This minor near-run victory may have made Hood over-confident when it came to the events of the next three days.

Hess, however, points out that Hood missed a wonderful oppurtunity to inflict significant damage on the Army of the Cumberland by not aggressively opposing the fordings at the banks of the creek. By letting them cross on the 19th, Hood allowed a significant portion of the Army of the Cumberland to cross the Creek and giving plenty of time to prepare their defenses before his fateful assault the next day.

Sources:
Hess, Earl J. "The Battle of Peachtree Creek: Hood's First Effort to Save Atlanta". 2017. 44-50
 

Luke Freet

First Sergeant
Forum Host
Joined
Nov 8, 2018
Confederate Brigadier Daniel H. Reynolds, commander of the Arkansas Brigade which opposed Dilworth's crossing on the 19th.
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Union Colonel Caleb J. Dilworth, commander of 3rd Brigade, 2nd Division, 14th Corps, who pushed his men across Green Bone Ford.
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