The Battle of Kolb’s Farm was fought on June 22, 1864, between Union forces under Maj. Gen. Joseph Hooker and Confederate forces under Lt. Gen. John B. Hood. Hood attempted an attack on the Union force, but poor terrain conditions led to its failure.
After the Confederate Army of Tennessee, under General Joseph E. Johnston, had settled into the Kennesaw line, consisting principally of the twin elevations of Big Kennesaw Mountain and Little Kennesaw Mountain, on June 19, the pursuing Federal forces under Maj. Gen. William Tecumseh Sherman began to probe this new line in search of weak spots. After judging the Kennesaw line to be too strong to take by regular assault—even though he would attempt to do just that five days later—Sherman decided to fix Johnston’s line in place with his left wing, the Army of the Tennessee, under Maj. Gen. James B. McPherson, while maneuvering his center and left wing, the Army of the Cumberland, under Maj. Gen. George H. Thomas, into position to turn Johnston’s left flank somewhere south of the Powder Springs Road. In obedience to Sherman’s orders, Thomas moved the XX Corps, under Maj. Gen. Joseph Hooker, into the area; Hooker would be supported in this operation by the single-corps Army of the Ohio, under Maj. Gen. John M. Schofield, who would guard Hooker’s far right.
Johnston correctly anticipated Sherman’s movements, and decided to counter them by moving one of his three corps, under Lt. Gen. John Bell Hood, from its reserve position near Marietta south and west along Powder Springs Road to the vicinity of Mt. Zion Church; this would both extend his left and counter Sherman’s turning movement. Hood was ordered to pull out of line on June 20 and began the movement on the morning of June 21. His corps passed through Marietta and was in place by June 22.
During the early afternoon of June 22, Maj. Gen. Carter L. Stevenson, commanding one of Hood’s divisions, advanced his division from its campsite near Mt. Zion Church towards Kolb’s Farm, which lay on the south side of the Powder Springs Road. Stevenson reported heavy skirmish fire from what turned out to be two Federal regiments, the 14th Kentucky Infantry and 123rd New York Infantry. Shortly afterward, Hood ordered his entire corps—the divisions of Stevenson, Maj. Gen. Alexander P. Stewart, and Maj. Gen. Thomas C. Hindman—to advance west along the Powder Springs Road, driving the Federals before them. Apparently Hood believed one of two things: 1) he had passed beyond the Federals’ far right flank and was in an excellent position to
“roll them up”
by attacking west and then north or 2) that the Federal troops in the area were deployed in marching columns and were thus vulnerable to attack. Confederate cavalry forces in the area reported the presence of considerable Federal infantry in the area, not just the two outpost regiments encountered by Stevenson, but this information did not reach Hood in time; nor, given Hood’s penchant for aggressive action, is it likely that this information would have changed his mind even if he had received it in a more timely fashion.
Hood’s corps was deployed with Stevenson’s division astride the Powder Springs Road (two brigades north of it and two brigades south of it) and Hindman’s north of it; Stewart’s division remained behind Stevenson’s to provide support if needed. Hood’s entire corps, including artillery, numbered around 14,000 men.
On the Federal side, Hooker had received prior warning of Hood’s advance, and had begun to entrench his corps in order to receive it. Like Hood, Hooker’s XX Corps consisted of three divisions, under Maj. Gens. John W. Geary, Alpheus S. Williams, and Daniel Butterfield. Williams’ division was placed astride of the Powder Springs Road, and thus would receive the brunt of the coming attack. Geary’s division was positioned on Williams’ left, and Butterfield’s division was on Geary’s left, in reserve. Hooker’s total force numbered around 15,000 men.
Hood launched his attack sometime after 5:00 p.m. The 14th Kentucky Infantry and 123rd New York Infantry, still on picket duty, received the weight of this initial attack and fell back, although in the process they managed to inflict considerable damage on Stevenson’s division, particularly its two leftmost brigades under the commands of Brigadier Generals Alfred Cumming and Edmund Pettus. Consequently, these two brigades were forced to pause after driving back the Federal skirmishers, and thus took no part in the coming attack. As the other half of Stevenson’s division emerged from the woods north of the road where it had begun its advance into the more open area around Kolb’s Farm, Federal artillery cut into it. Stevenson was forced to withdraw; his division had suffered too many casualties and too much disorganization during its advance. Falling back to a position near a ravine, which was unfortunately caught in an enfilade fire from Federal artillery, resulting in even greater losses, Stevenson held on until nightfall then withdrew east.
Meanwhile, Hindman’s attack fared even worse; a patch of marshy ground in the area complicated his advance, and he was forced to withdraw after sustaining heavy casualties from Federal artillery. According to Williams’ account, Hindman’s division was repulsed by artillery alone, Williams’ infantry having taken no part in the fighting in that area.
Total Confederate casualties in the battle, which one historian referred to as
“more a one-sided slaughter than a battle”
were approximately 1,500 men. Of this amount, two-thirds were suffered by Stevenson’s division alone. The Federals suffered less than a third of that number, around 350 casualties, with many of them coming in the 123rd New York (48 casualties) and the 14th Kentucky (70 casualties).
The battle demonstrated Hood’s main deficiency as a battlefield commander: his willingness to attack without adequate reconnaissance. He would go on to make the same error, this time as an army commander, at three future engagements in the Atlanta Campaign—the Battle of Peachtree Creek, the Battle of Atlanta, and the Battle of Ezra Church—with exceedingly costly results.
On the Federal side, the victory was marred by growing friction between Sherman and Hooker. Shortly after the last Confederate attack had ended, Sherman sent a message to Hooker asking for a status report. Hooker replied:
“ We have repulsed two heavy attacks and feel confident, our only apprehension being our extreme right flank. Three entire corps are in front of us.”
Sherman took offense to this reply, as did Schofield, for its implication that Schofield’s corps had not been performing its duty as Hooker’s right-flank guard. The next day, June 23, Sherman, Hooker and another officer—either Schofield or one of his subordinates, Brig. Gen. Milo S. Hascall—had a meeting at a local church to discuss the merit of Hooker’s claims. According to most sources, the meeting ended badly, with Sherman supposedly warning Hooker as he rode away that
“such things must not occur again.”
This led to a steady decline in Hooker’s standing with Sherman, which culminated the following month in Sherman’s decision to promote Maj. Gen. Oliver O. Howard, a junior officer whom Hooker disliked, into a senior position in command of Hooker. Hooker promptly tendered his resignation, which Sherman accepted.
Despite the victory, Sherman’s intended turning movement had been checkmated, which forced him to consider other options for breaking Johnston’s Kennesaw line, in the end leading him to order the large-scale assault on June 27. As at least one historian has pointed out, this checkmate had been achieved simply by moving Hood’s corps into the general area of Kolb’s Farm; no attack had been necessary. Nevertheless, an attack had been made, resulting in nothing more than unnecessary casualties for both sides.