June 14, 1864
On June 4, 1864, Confederate Gen. Joseph E. Johnston shifted his 10 mile long line east and took up positions on Lost, Pine, and Brush Mountains. On his left flank were W.H. Jackson’s cavalry and the cavalry of Confederate Gens. William Hardee, Leonidas Polk, and Joseph Wheeler. This rocky ridge, extending across the Western & Atlantic Railroad, protected Marietta, Ga., a strategic goal in Union Gen. William T. Sherman’s Atlanta Campaign and site of Johnston’s hidden headquarters.
Ahead lay Kennesaw Mountain. Earlier, Sherman had maneuvered his men farther in, forcing Johnston to withdraw into the mountains. In order to reach Atlanta, Sherman had to march across the mountains and cross the broad Chattahoochie River. Fortunately, Sherman’s troops had received reinforcements; 10,000 men in Gen. Francis P. Blair’s XVII Corps had joined them, along with the 3d Brigade of Kenner Garrard’s cavalry, J.E. Smith’s division of XV Corps, and 4,000 XXIII Corps soldiers.
Torrential downpours slowed the movements of both sides. Sherman had been joined by James B.McPherson’s Army of the Tennessee, John Schofield’s Army of the Ohio, and George thomas’s Army of the Cumberland. With them he approached the most vulnerable part of the enemy line, the salient that jutted forward at Pine Mountain. Here, on the morning of June 14, Confederate General Polk, an Episcopalian bishop, rode to the crest of the mountain with Johnston and Hardee. Dismounting, they viewed the Union troops stationed 300 feet below. Irritated by their bold presence, Sherman ordered artillery fire to “make ’em take cover.”
Sherman’s order was carried out by artilleryman Capt. Hubert Dilger, an excellent fighter known to cue his men with carefully rehearsed hand claps. Dilger signaled and Johnston and Hardee were forced to run for cover; the second series of claps sent shells crashing into Polk. Johnston rushed forward and cradled the dying man in his arms.
Fascinating Fact: Three inscribed copies of the little devotional Balm for the Weary and Wounded were found in Polk’s bloodsoaked pocket. He had intended to give them to Johnston, Hardee and Hood as gifts.