General John W. Fuller’s Report on His Division’s Action at the Battle of Atlanta

Gen. John W. Fuller

Gen. John W. Fuller

Brigadier General John W. Fuller was born in England in 1827 and moved with his family to upstate New York in 1833. He owned a publishing business in Utica, New York, and also served as that city’s treasurer and as an officer in the local militia. Fuller moved to Toledo, Ohio in 1858 to set up a publishing business there, and after the Civil War started, he was commissioned as the colonel of the 27th Ohio Infantry in August of 1861. Within a year, he had moved up to brigade command.

A very capable field commander, Fuller was promoted to Brigadier General in 1864. He served as a brigade commander during most of the war, but was in temporary command of the 4th Division of the 16th Corps in the Army of the Tennessee at the Battle of Atlanta on July 22nd, 1864. On that day, General John Bell Hood attacked the Army of the Tennessee, which was on the left of the Union forces outside Atlanta to the east of the city. Anticipating that the Confederates would strike the Army of the Tennessee’s left in this attack, Major General James B. McPherson ordered the 16th Corps to reinforce the position. It was a good move, as two of Hood’s divisions did indeed attack at that location, with Major General William H. T. Walker’s Division opposing Fuller.

One of Fuller’s brigades had been deployed a few miles away at Decatur, Georgia. This brigade, under the command of Colonel John W. Sprague, successfully defended the Union supply trains against a much larger Confederate force. For his actions at Decatur, Sprague would be promoted to Brigadier General; years after the war ended he received the Congressional Medal of Honor.

Here’s Fuller’s Official Report on his command’s action at the Battle of Atlanta:

Near Atlanta, Ga., August 2, 1864.

MAJOR: I have the honor to submit the following report of the part taken by my command in the battle of July 22, before Atlanta: The day prior to the battle I had been ordered to send one brigade to Decatur,

Gen. John W. Sprague

Gen. John W. Sprague

a village five miles east of our lines, to garrison that place. I accordingly ordered Col. (now General) J. W. Sprague, commanding the Second Brigade, to proceed there, directing him to report to Major-General Dodge for detailed instructions. During the afternoon of the same day I was ordered to proceed with the remaining brigade and to report to Major-General Blair, commanding Seventeenth Army Corps. The Fourteenth Ohio Calvary was to await orders from Major-General Dodge. Light Company F, Second U.S. Artillery, was to march with me, also my corps of pioneers. Reporting to General Blair, that officer sent a member of his staff to conduct me to that part of the line held by Brigadier-General Leggett. After a conference with that officer, my infantry was formed in two lines near and in rear of his intrenchments. Light Company F was assigned a position in the front line between General Leggett’s division and that of Brig. Gen. G. A. Smith. My pioneer corps was employed in assisting to complete the intrenched line for General Smith’s infantry, in constructing a work for Light Company F, and during the remainder of the night in throwing up a strong work to cover some heavy guns on the bald hill which formed the right of the line of the Seventeenth Corps. On the following morning, July 22, it was discovered that the enemy had fallen back from the line he had occupied, and the skirmish line in our front was advanced nearly half a mile. Everything seemed unusually quiet, and the new position of the enemy appeared to offer an opportunity to considerably advance our lines. General Dodge came up early in the day, and informed me that our corps would take position on the left of the Seventeenth, and as soon as that corps had established its new line we would form on its left. In the mean time, my command would retain its present position. At about 12 m. Lieutenant Laird reported with the Fourteenth Ohio Battery. I ordered him to park his battery on the hill near my headquarters until our position should be established. It so happened that the position where he halted was that from which he used his guns with such telling effect. It was near 1 o’clock when skirmishing was heard in our rear, and General Dodge, then dining in my tent, said he had been informed that the enemy’s cavalry had been seen in that direction, and ordered me to place a regiment in position to cover our trains. The regiment was sent for, but within four or five minutes after General Dodge left me the skirmishing was so heavy that I ordered out the entire brigade at a double-quick. Three regiments were formed in line in the field in rear of our trains, with our backs toward Atlanta, and my left near the right of the Second Division, which had just arrived, as shown in the accompanying map marked A,  the Eighteenth Missouri being held in reserve. Skirmishers thrown out to cover our front had scarcely crossed the field when they were driven back by the enemy’s line of battle, and my command became at once warmly engaged.

Battle of Atlanta by Kurz and Allison

The enemy advanced into the open field, halted, and opened fire upon us. But he seemed surprised to find himself facing our infantry in line of battle, for their steady fire, aided by the guns of the Fourteenth Ohio Battery, which held an enfilading position on my left, soon caused him to go back under cover of the woods. I then ordered the regiments to lie down behind the crest of the ridge, and, seeing the enemy was preparing to again advance, directed Colonels McDowell, Thirty-ninth Ohio, and Churchill, Twenty-seventh Ohio, to wait until the enemy should march half way across the field, and then to rise, fire a volley, and charge. Bayonets were immediately fixed to carry out this order, but for some reason the regiments did not wait, as I had ordered, but charged as soon as the enemy’s line had again emerged from the woods. This movement was executed too soon to give us very many prisoners, the woods covering their retreat, but it so thoroughly routed that portion of the enemy’s line which was in front of these regiments, and sent them back in such confusion, that his supports retired also, and no enemy afterward showed himself on that part of the field. All who were not shot, or did not run away, of the Sixty-sixth Georgia Infantry were captured by the Thirty-ninth Ohio, including the colonel, the adjutant, and 1 captain. Immediately after this charge I discovered that such of the enemy’s line as overlapped our right flank was marching past the right of the Twenty-seventh [Ohio]. Regiment on toward Atlanta, which now lay in our rear. His supports followed closely, halted, and some rebel regiments marching in columns doubled on the center, changed direction to their right, and marched straight for the flank of those regiments which had just made the charge described. Seeing this, I ordered these regiments to change front to face this new enemy. To accomplish this we were obliged to throw back the right rapidly; a very hot fire during this hazardous but necessary maneuver rendered it impossible to keep the line well dressed, and for a moment it seemed as if these veteran regiments would be routed. The Twenty-seventh [Ohio] especially, occupying the right and obliged to make the movement on a run, when reaching the ground, where it was to halt and face about, was in confusion and looked like defeat. There was not a moment to lose, and the din of the battle was too great to hear orders, so the colors were moved out from the confused mass toward the approaching enemy, and my sword indicated where the line should be reformed. The men of the Twenty-seventh [Ohio], noting this movement of their colors, and instantly comprehending what was required, with a great shout came up on either side in less time than I can write. The Thirty-ninth [Ohio] instantly formed on their left, bayonets were brought down to a charge, our men advanced, and the rebels, now distant less than a hundred yards, came to a right-about, and ran back into the woods. While the movements just described were occurring, some rebel regiments which had outflanked the Twenty-seventh Ohio, and were marching toward our rear, were stopped by the fire of the Sixty-fourth Illinois and the Eighteenth Missouri. Colonel Sheldon, of the Eighteenth, rapidly changed the direction of his line, so as to give his men a raking fire on the enemy. These rebels were partly covered by a piece of rail fence, but soon began to break, when a general officer (supposed to be General Walker) rode out from the woods, and swinging his hat made a great effort to urge forward his troops. The next moment his horse went back riderless, and so sharp was the fire of our men that the enemy disappeared almost immediately, and nobody seemed to heed the cry of their officers to “bring off the general.” The slaughter here may be judged from the report of Colonel Sheldon, who found as many as 13 dead rebels in a single fence corner. It was just after these combats that General McPherson, who had been looking on from high ground in our rear, rode away to see how General Giles A. Smith was getting on. He rode down the road which led from my right flank, into the woods, where he must have been immediately killed. Very soon, the rebels having reformed under cover of the woods, returned to the fence at the edge of the field, and reopened a heavy fire upon us. I ordered the Sixty-fourth Illinois to move to the right, then advance into the woods, and, if possible, get a flank fire on this line. This proved a heavier job than one regiment could accomplish. They drove back the rebels temporarily; they captured and sent to the rear 40 prisoners; they took a stand of colors; and their valor rescued the body of McPherson, whence it was borne to the rear; but after a hard fight, in which they lost several officers and more than 50 men, they were driven out of the woods pell-mell. Yet our line in the field, now lying down and partially covered by the crest of a ridge, aided by the Fourteenth [Ohio] Battery, which threw shells incessantly over our men into the rebel ranks, made it so hot that the enemy was eventually compelled to withdraw. And here let me say this Ohio battery (Lieutenant Laird), in position across the ravine on my left (in rear after our change of front), did more toward defeating the enemy than is often accomplished by six guns. Every discharge seemed to tell, and the battery was very active throughout the battle. Light Company F, Second U.S. Artillery, was at the beginning of the action in the line of the Seventeenth Corps. I sent my chief of artillery to get it relieved, and then to order it to report to me. Some delay occurred in relieving it, and it never reported. I learned after the battle that it was captured by the enemy while attempting to rejoin me, on the same road, and not far from the spot, where General McPherson was killed.

After the enemy had retired from my front he was reported in heavy force to the right and rear, and was still fighting the Seventeenth Corps, whose line was now nearly at right angles with its original position. To form connection with the left of this corps I was ordered to take a position to the right of the Second Division, Sixteenth Corps, which had now changed front to rear on its left battalion, and, if possible, to cover the space between that division and the Seventeenth Corps. Accordingly, after removing my own wounded, I moved to the position indicated, and, so far as my command was concerned, the battle had closed. This movement enabled the rebels to return and carry off their wounded and many of their dead. Such as were not removed (viz, 79 bodies) we buried the following morning.

It is impossible for me to state accurately the number of prisoners captured by the command, as they were sent in squads to the rear during the battle. From the best evidence I can get, I think we sent to the rear about 200. The map which accompanies this report, marked B, will show the position occupied by the several regiments when the enemy was being driven a second time into the woods. The plan marked C shows our position at about 2 p.m., and that marked D the line occupied after the battle

No command ever behaved with more gallantry than did the officers and men to whom this report relates. Colonel Morrill, who had recently assumed command of the brigade, was wounded at the beginning of the action, but he did not leave the field until a second wound, a few minutes later, compelled him to withdraw. I need not stop to bestow praise on the regimental commanders. I have related what their regiments accomplished–that with a single line they broke and routed the enemy’s double line in their front, and when, immediately thereafter, assailed by fresh troops in flank, they turned and drove them also from the field. Let this simple statement be the record of their valor.

It gives me pleasure, in connection with the foregoing, to refer to the operations of the Second Brigade, as shown by the accompanying report of Col. (now Brig. Gen.) J. W. Sprague. While we were fighting theenemy’s infantry near Atlanta a very large force of his cavalry endeavored to envelop Colonel Sprague’s detached command at Decatur, and to possess themselves of our supply trains moving in his rear. That Colonel Sprague saved our train and brought off his command in good order is well known; that he handled his command skillfully, and that they fought bravely, the reports will fully prove. I will not attempt to praise an officer who is deservedly held in such high esteem as is Brigadier-General Sprague, but respectfully submit his own report of his engagement with the enemy.

Sprague's Brigade

I must not omit to acknowledge my obligations to my staff (whose names cannot appear elsewhere) for services rendered in this hard fought battle. Capt. Daniel Weber, acting adjutant, Capt. O. W. Pollock, inspector, and Capt. George Robinson, chief of artillery, were all on the field throughout the action, and were distinguished for coolness and promptness in the discharge of the duties assigned them.

I am, major, very respectfully, yours,
Brig, Gen., Comdg. Fourth Division, Sixteenth Corps.

Maj. J. W. BARNES,
A. A. O., Left Wing, Sixteenth Corps.

As Fuller mentioned, General McPherson was killed in action, as was Confederate General Walker.  Fuller listed his total casualties as 69 killed, 419 wounded and 165 missing.


Decision in the West: The Atlanta Campaign of 1864
by Albert Castle

Generals in Blue by Ezra Warner

Official Records of the Union and Confederate Armies in the War of the Rebellion, Series I, Volume XXXVIII, Part 3.

Sherman’s Battle For Atlanta
by Jacob D. Cox

The Struggle for Atlanta by Oliver O. Howard.  In Battles and Leaders of the Civil War, Volume IV.

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