….The morning of September 1, 1864 found the Confederate Army under General Hardee entrenched in the little town of Jonesboro in a last ditch attempt to block the Union soldiers from the last rail line into Atlanta. During the night (the confused) Confederate General Hood had ordered half of the southerners to move north up the tracks toward Atlanta and so no more than 15,000 soldiers were left to hold the line open against the coming onslaught of more than 65,000 northern troops. General Sherman himself stood just west of the town to watch the coming fight.
Sherman’s plan was to move east into Jonesboro on a four mile front and while keeping the forces busy there, move troops south down the rail line and overwhelm the forces caught in the “curve of the line” near the home of Guy Warren. The forces coming south would capture those in the curve and then “swing around and gobble up” the rest of the southerners from behind. But neither side planned that the soldiers from Kentucky and Missouri who carried the Rebel flag would by chance meet their friends and neighbors and family members marching under the Federal Eagle in and around that curve and fight in bloody hand to hand combat that caused, “blood to run like rainwater in a ditch”.
Make no mistake about it, the overwhelming number of veteran combat troops of the Northern army could not be driven out of town, so the best hope for the southerners watching the grand march of death moving toward them was to hold out long enough for General Hood and the rest of the Confederate Army to evacuate Atlanta before this back door was closed (remember the burning of the rail cars in GWTW). Due to their small numbers the Confederate line consisted of one line of soldiers six feet apart. There were no second or third lines of rested troops in the rear to fill the gaps as men fell, it was all or nothing.
When the attack commenced the soldiers marching west to east came under a galling fire from the Confederates that sliced through the companies of soldiers and blocked the advance with the piles of dead. Meanwhile in the yard of the Warren House the overwhelming numbers created a free for all as Blue and Gray mixed together, with each man fighting, “on his own hook”. Sargent Green of the Confederate Sixth Kentucky said, “they ran over us like a herd of cattle”, but that action met with an equal and opposite reaction which pushed back and continued to fight back. As fresh Union troops surged into the yard, one of their officers yelled, “follow me, me lads, Michigan forever”, while in another corner of the yard a Confederate Officer cried, “never give up, NEVER GIVE UP”! Absalom Baird (Medal of Honor recipient) said as he led his men into the salient (curve) he saw soldiers facing one another as they killed their fellow man with rocks, sticks, canteens of water…and their bare hands. At this point, General Sherman, thinking that the objective had been reached, began dancing and shouting, “by God we are rolling ém up like a sheet of paper”.
In spite of overwhelming numbers which gave the Union enough soldiers to bypass the fight and cut the rail lines north of Jonesboro and to the south (near the Fitzgerald Plantation) the men fighting for their lives in town were able to reestablish their lines and hold out until dark, and link up with General Hoods command slipping out of Atlanta via the McDonough Road.
Jonesboro is captured on September 1, 1864 and Atlanta surrenders the next day. Twelve days later the Times of London reports, “Atlanta has fallen, because of a little battle in the little town called Jonesborough. Compared to the great battles of the war, Jonesboro is merely a skirmish, but the fighting there has been more decisive than all the bloodshed of Grants Campaign” (Petersburg).
These stories and connections to Gone With the Wind can be found in my book Lost In Yesterday which can be purchased on this site under the Peter’s book link