A Lauderdale County Web
46th Regiment, Mississippi Infantry
Part IV: The Fall of Atlanta.
The regiment and brigade having arrived back in Mobile, Alabama early in February 1864, was shaken deeply by a tragedy. On 19 February 1864, in what some reports refer to as a “freak accident”, (and it is undoubtedly so, for an experienced equestrian such as the general) BG William E. Baldwin was killed in a fall from his mount. The brigade, and especially the 46th Mississippi, was much grieved at the loss of this trusted and much beloved commander that had been with them since Vicksburg. His funeral was held on 21 February in Mobile.
At daylight on 17 February 1864, MAJ Con Rea left the Regiment with his sharpshooters. They had been ordered to report to COL Henry Maury’s regiment, the 15th Confederate Cavalry at Hall’s Mills, Alabama, about 8 miles from Mobile. Knowing MAJ Rea’s personality and zeal, it will come as no surprise that “Major Rea’s sharpshooters”, (as Chambers describes them) would later become known as Rea’s Sharpshooter Battalion and see service throughout the theater of operations.
On 11 March 1864 COL O. S. Holland was promoted to Brigadier General and assigned to command the brigade. However, once again, the brigade sent wave after wave of protest up the chain of command and his tenure as Brigade Commander would be a short one.
17 March 1864 found the unit, having again been deployed from Mobile, encamped at a location called Camp Lee which was near Pollard, Alabama. On 19 March, at this location, COL Claudius W. Sears was promoted to Brigadier General and assigned command of the brigade. Thus, for the moment, ending COL Holland’s, foray among the general officer grades. He would revert to his former rank of colonel and rejoin his unit.
Since Sears had been the commander of the 46th Mississippi, it was thought that everyone would move up in grade and position, and, in fact, this was the case to some extent. LTC William H. Clarke was promoted to Colonel and given command of the 46th Mississippi. MAJ Constantine Rea was promoted to Lieutenant Colonel and CPT T. D. Magee was promoted to Major. These promotions were pending the decisions of examining boards to be held at a latter date, therefore leaving the final and permanent designation of status in limbo for the moment. The new officers would be “acting” until confirmed, so Major Magee was, technically, Acting Major Magee and Major Rea was Acting Lieutenant Colonel Rea. CPT Magee would later be confirmed and serve with the unit as a Major; MAJ Rea would not be so fortunate.
Along with the necessary reorganization of the 46th Mississippi, came the reorganization of the brigade. The new brigade structure included the 4th Mississippi, the 35th Mississippi, the 36th Mississippi, the 39th Mississippi and the 46th Mississippi Regiments as well as the 7th Mississippi Battalion.
On 16 April some of the brigade moved out to Selma, Alabama, but because of transportation problems, the remainder of the unit could only follow along later. After a brief layover in Anniston, Alabama, the brigade moved on the Adairsville, Georgia
Arriving at Adairsville about 2:00 am on Tuesday 17 May 1863, shortly after the Battle of Resaca on 13 through 15 May 1864, the brigade, with the much diminished brigades of BG Frances Marion Cockrell’s Missouri Brigade, BG Matther Ducan Ector’s Texas Brigade and a brigade of North Carolinians, was assigned to a division commanded by MG Samuel G. French of Mississippi. This was one of four division commanded by Corps Commander LTG Polk of the Army of the Mississippi.
From this point on the brigade was in combat and under hostile fire every day through the Atlanta Campaign. Beginning with their arrival on 16 May 1864 for the next 113 days (with the exception of but one single day) until 6 September 1864
As the Atlanta campaign began the regiment was comprised of the following companies and their commanders:
During the Atlanta campaign the regiment suffered a total of 7 killed, 21 wounded and 82 missing in action.
On the morning of the 19 May 1864, two corps of the Confederate army were ordered to advance against Federal troops that had followed the units from Adairsville. On receiving word that the enemy was advancing via the Canton road (to the right rear of their positions) LTG John Bell Hood positioned his forces across the road and set up defensive positions. When it was discovered that this intelligence was incorrect, GEN Johnston, now at a loss to determine the actual position of the enemy and expecting an attack at any moment, assumed a defensive position on a ridgeline south of Cassville, facing an open valley. The enemy immediately began an artillery barrage almost as soon as Johnston’s troops were formed and continued well into the night. This resulted in light causalities to the regiment, 4 wounded.
The 46th Mississippi Regiment had been held in reserve during the fighting at Adairsville and moved into position at Cassville, creating defensive positions, on the morning of 17 May. About 3:00 pm the regiment came under heavy enemy fire. William Chambers writes “It was the first time we had heard the zip of hostile bullets since leaving Vicksburg…”
Later, on 25 and 26 May 1864, 3 were killed, 6 wounded and 1 missing during the Battle of New Hope Church as GEN Johnson withdrawing from a strong position in the Allatoona Mountains, moved to block the Union advance on the city of Atlanta. GEN Johnson met MG Sherman’s army at this small church approximately 20 miles northwest of Atlanta. The regiment remained in their trenches and breastworks long after the initial encounters with the enemy and, in fact, on 27 May and 28 May the regiment continued strengthening their positions. On 28 May SGT E. W. White of H Company was killed by enemy artillery fire.
About this time, unfortunately LTG Polk would fall to enemy cannon fire on Pine Mountain, Georgia on Tuesday, 14 June 1864. He was struck in the arm by a 3 inch solid cannon shot that continue through his arm and into his chest nearly tearing him in half, bringing to an untimely and brutal end the life and career of Polk. Upon his death, the brigade was assigned to LTG Alexander Peter Stewart’s Corp, Army of Tennessee. LTG Stewart is sometimes recognized as one of the finest generals of the era.
In June, GEN Johnston's Army, in an attempt to slow the progress of MG Sherman whose strategic objective was Atlanta, constructed earthworks across the farm land of Georgia farmer Ruben Latimer, imposing himself between Sherman and his objective. (Note: Chambers refers to these trenches as the “Lattimore [sic] Line.”) On the morning of 18 June 1864, Sherman attacked the earthworks occupied by the units of the brigade. Federal forces assaulted the position, perhaps unexpectedly, under the cover of a violent thunderstorm. The Yankees successfully drove the Confederates back to their main line of earthworks. There were Confederate counterattacks which produced a number of southern causalities as well as an artillery barrage. However, the Federals were able to hold the new positions. The following morning GEN Johnston withdrew to positions on Kennesaw Mountain. The engagement at Latimer House resulted in 1 killed, 1 wounded, and 1 missing for the 46th Mississippi.
In their new positions, Confederates soldiers under GEN Johnson were entrenched in positions and had placed artillery batteries on the high ground surrounding the Kennesaw Mountains. At this location on 18 February, LTC Lucien B. Purdue of the 7th Mississippi Battalion was killed. Chambers says “He was a brave man, a good officer and a courtly gentleman.” He also indicates that the brigade losses for the day were about 200 men.
MG Sherman finding himself positioned so that he could not maintain his supply lines without access to the land covered by the Confederate emplacements, launched, on 27 June 1864, an attempt to turn the flanks of the Confederate forces and create a corridor through which he could resupply his troops. The initial attempt failed and was a costly loss for the Federals. It cost the 46th Mississippi 9 killed, 26 wounded and 20 missing.
However, on 1 July elements of Sherman’s army were able to turn Johnston’s flank and threaten the rear of his positions, unwilling to risk being cut off, Johnston began an evacuation of the Kennesaw Mountain positions. Withdrawing to Smyrna, Johnston set up position in a double line of earth works. After several attempts by union forces, Johnston’s flanks began to weaken and fearing an assault. He eventually withdrew further. The stand at the defensive positions near Smyrna incurred regimental causalities of 5 wounded.
On 4 July Johnston continued to pull back occupying the so called Chattahoochee Line. That evening the brigade, having fallen back to the Chattahoochee River, formed battle lines on the following morning. The 36th Mississippi was engaged the following day and served gallantly in a seesaw battle with Federal troops over the entrenchment positions. On 8 July, Companies G and E of the 46th Mississippi were detached and sent to strengthen Major Rea’s battalion on the left of the battle lines.
Holding the position for 6 days, on 10 July Johnston withdrew to the gates of Atlanta, destroying all bridges over the Chattahoochee River. At Chattahoochee, the regiment’s losses were 2 killed, 4 wounded, and 3 missing.
In a final attempt to thwart the efforts of Sherman, the 46th Mississippi Regiment, COL William H. Clark, Commanding, were positioned as the main picket line of COL Sears’ brigade near (“in front of”) Atlanta, a few miles to the northwest with their backs to the city. The 46th Mississippi charged the enemy and drove him back regaining the positions having previously been thought lost completely to the enemy, against heavy Union resistance. The unit took 21 Federal prisoners and lost 7 killed, 25 wounded, and 7 missing.
Of this action, COL Sears wrote, "The gallantry of the Forty-sixth was highly commended in this affair." This action developed in the following series of events. COL Clark and the 46th Mississippi were in the exterior trenches on the evening of 2 August 1864 when his advanced vedettes (mounted sentinels positioned in advance of the earthworks) were driven in – back to the primary position -- on 4 August. COL Clark, his regiment strengthen by a small detachment of 120 dismounted cavalry (a total of only 420 strong) charged, attacking the enemy with such furor that the enemy was driven back. The unit was supported by another Mississippi regiment but the 46th Mississippi with COL Clark in the fore, was clearly in the lead during the assault.
On Monday, 18 July, the regiment learned that GEN Joseph Johnston, “Fightin’ Joe” had been relieved as Commander of the Army of Tennessee and replaced by LTG Hood. They were not pleased. The units under “Old Joe’s” command had come to have faith in his orders and felt that he was of strong moral character. LTG Hood was, to them, an unknown. The brigade was rife with rumors that Hood was, at best, a mediocre general and in many ways inferior to GEN Johnston, but, over this assignment, they had no say.
Late in August, MG Sherman, continuing to press LTG John B. Hood defense of Atlanta, decided that if he could sever Hood’s supply line along the Macon & Western and Atlanta & West Point Railroads that Hood would have to either surrender or evacuate the city, if he was to save his force.
In an effort to save the all important railroads, Hood dispatched MG William J. Hardee in their defense. On 31 August, Hardee mounted an attack against Union forces west of Jonesborough, Georgia but could not remain engaged. Fearing for the safety of the city, Hood withdrew fully half of Hardee's forces that evening.
The next day, Union troops broke through the seriously weakened lines forcing Hardee to fall back to Lovejoy's Station. In the fighting at Lovejoy’s station, the regiment lost 1 killed and 2 wounded.
On the night of September 1 the regiment marched out of Atlanta as the rear guard, the final fighting of the campaign being at Lovejoy's.
In a footnote to the Atlanta Campaign, on 9 July 1864 Major Constantine Rea had been assigned the command of a battalion of sharpshooters that would become known as Rea’s Mississippi Sharpshooter Battalion. Whether the battalion was attached to the brigade is unclear, but the battalion was certainly hard worked during the Atlanta Campaign.
These were highly qualified and valuable forces both for offensive as well as psychological reasons. Sharpshooters were said to have been required to place 10 shots in a 10-inch circle at 200 yards, an amazing feat in itself. In any event, the forces of war often place units and personnel well away from their preferred surroundings. On July 9, 1864 while directing the fire of his newly formed sharpshooter battalion in the general vicinity of the Chattahoochee River, Major Con Rea received a severe wound in his right leg. As was often the case in field operations during the era, the resulting damage to bone and tissue was not repairable by the physicians of the time and MAJ Rea’s right leg required amputation.
He was sent to his home in Marion, Mississippi to heal and recuperate but the wound would not heal properly and became infected. On 15 September 1864, MAJ Rea died just two months after his wounding. He was buried in Marion Cemetery. Constantine Rea left behind his much beloved wife, Margaret and four children. One of Rea’s sons, Richard Nathan Rea, already in the fighting would soon rise to the command of Company F, 46th Mississippi Infantry Regiment, formerly organized and commanded by his father just before those dark days at Vicksburg and beyond.
The fighting in Georgia over for the time, the 46th Mississippi by 4 September 1864 was on its’ way west, in a covering action, protecting the retreat of its’ comrades in arms. There would be more battles and more loses but for now, there would be a brief respite from the violence.
Page Last Updated: Monday, 20 August 2018
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