General James D. Morgan’s Report on the Battle of Jonesboro

By the end of August 1864, Major General William T. Sherman’s army had been outside of Atlanta, Georgia for several weeks but had been unable to drive out General John Bell Hood’s determined Confederate defenders. Efforts to cut the Confederate supply lines into Atlanta had been only partially effective, as any damages to rail lines, etc. by cavalry raids were quickly repaired. Sherman decided to change his approach and move the bulk of his army around and to the south of Atlanta to sever the railroads leading into the city from that direction.

On August 25th, Sherman began pulling six of his seven infantry corps out of their positions and marched them west and then south to cut off the supply lines entering the city from the south. Hood sent two corps to attack the Federals near Jonesboro (spelled Jonesborough at that time). The attack was repulsed. The next day, September 1st, the 14th Corps arrived and reinforced the Federal lines. In the afternoon, a Union attack successfully broke through the Confederate line. That night, Hood evacuated Atlanta.

Battle of Jonesboro by Currier and Ives

One of the 14th Corps divisions that took part in the attack on September 1st was under the command of Brigadier General James D. Morgan. The 38 year old Morgan, a resident of Quincy, Illinois, was commissioned Lieutenant Colonel on the 10th Illinois Infantry in April 1861, and was promoted to Brigadier General in July 1862. He served until the end of the war, seeing action in most of the campaigns of the western armies.

Morgan filed this report on his division’s action at the Battle of Jonesboro:

HDQRS. SECOND DIVISION, FOURTEENTH ARMY CORPS,
White Hall, Ga., September 9, 1864.
CAPTAIN: In compliance with orders from corps headquarters, I have the honor to herewith transmit report of the part taken by my command from the date (August 23) I assumed command of this division up to the evacuation of Atlanta, September 1:

Gen. James D. Morgan

Gen. James D. Morgan

August 23, my division was occupying front line on the right of the Fourteenth Army Corps, well thinned out, having a few days previous relieved General Cox’s division, Twenty-third Army Corps, on my right. My division was, therefore, covering the front of two divisions. August 24 and 25, no change of position. August 26, in obedience to orders from corps headquarters, the division ready to move at 5 p.m. Just before daylight on the 27th, following General Baird’s division, left the works and moved to the rear and right, in the following order: First Brigade on the right, Second Brigade in the center, Third Brigade on the left. The picket-line of each brigade was ordered to fall back to the main line, respectively, from left to right., and cover the movements of their respective commands. The whole movement was successfully executed without loss. Crossing Utoy Creek, took up position on the left of General Baird. At 10.30 p.m. received orders to move at 4 a.m. August 28, division on the right of the corps, moved promptly at daylight, on the Campbellton road, to Mount Gilead Church; reported in person, by order, to Major-General Thomas. In accordance with orders here received, moved to the rear of Fourth Army Corps to Redwine’s, this point being the right flank of the Army. The enemy’s pickets held the ridge on the south side of Camp Creek, and were briskly firing on the pickets of the Fourth Corps. Colonel Mitchell was directed to deploy a regiment from his command, and support it with his brigade. The One hundred and twenty-first Ohio, Colonel Banning commanding, very handsomely drove the enemy over the ridge, and after constructing a bridge over Camp Creek, the whole division moved steadily forward on the road to Mira’s, to a point on West Point railroad one-half mile east of Red Oak, meeting with little or no resistance. Crossing the railroad, the Second and Third Brigades (the First, Colonel Lum commanding, having been detailed to guard supply train) took up a position facing east, their right about a mile and a half south of the railroad. August 29, First Brigade reported and was placed in position on the right refused, facing south. One regiment from Second Brigade was ordered forward and directed to protect right flank of First Division, destroying railroad. One regiment, the Tenth Michigan Infantry, Major Burnett commanding, was ordered on a reconnaissance toward Shoal Creek Church, and cut out a road in a southeast direction; when within three-fourths of a mile of the church, a strong cavalry force was encountered, which was steadily pushed back to Shoal Creek Church. Here Major Burnett, with his usual promptness, discovered that he was confronted by over a brigade of cavalry, and that they were endeavoring to turn his right flank, and get in his rear. Moving quickly to his left to the — road, he retired to camp without the loss of a man, capturing 17 head of horses and mules, and taking 1 prisoner. August 30, in accordance with orders from corps headquarters, the division moved promptly at 6 a.m. in the following order: First Brigade, Fifth Wisconsin Battery, Second Brigade, Second Illinois Battery, Third Brigade. Ascertaining that the road cut out yesterday was not practicable for artillery, took one farther to the left. The Tenth Michigan Infantry was ordered to deploy, and moved forward on the one cut out yesterday toward Shoal Creek Church. The Fourteenth Michigan Infantry was thrown out as flankers on right and left, when the division moved forward, without resistance to the church, and taking up a line fronting Shoal Creek, massed up by brigades in close column by division. My line of march was too far to the left, and for a short time interrupted that of the Fourth Corps. At 12 m. marched to Couch’s, on Fairburn and Jonesborough road, six miles from the latter, and bivouacked for the night. August 31, Second Brigade ordered to report to General Baird at 3.35 p.m., by direct order from Major-General Thomas. The First and Third Brigades moved at 4 p.m., on the road taken by General Baird’s division; when the head of column had moved some one and a half miles, countermanding orders were received, when, moving by the left flank, arrived at Renfroe’s, on Jonesborough road, and took up a position covering the Jonesborough and Fayetteville road, bivouacking for the night.

September 1, in accordance with verbal orders received from corps headquarters, the First and Third Brigades moved back on Fayetteville road to the Rough and Ready and Jonesborough road, following the First Division, with orders to take up position on the right of General Baird, halting in rear of his line. While preparing to take up position received orders to move forward with my whole division toward Jonesborough, following General Carlin’s division. On arriving with head of column at Toland’s house, three and a half miles north of Jonesborough, halted to enable General Carlin to take up a position. As I had been ordered to form on his left, soon after, by order from Major-General Thomas, Colonel Dilworth was directed to send forward a regiment from his command, deployed as skirmishers, and clear the front on General Carlin’s left. By subsequent orders from corps commander, this regiment was withdrawn and a new position assigned to my command upon the right of General Carlin. My orders were to cross Flint River and gain a ridge to the left of that stream and form a line of battle facing near south, the Second and Third Brigades deployed in two lines and the First in reserve, my right to the left of General Howard’s command, and that General Carlin would form on my left, not to feel uneasy about any gap that might occur on my right, as it would be supported by a division of the Seventeenth Corps. Measures were immediately taken to place my command in position, moving to Flint River and crossing it. The enemy was soon discovered in a strong position on a ridge running nearly east and west, and two batteries commenced shelling my lines severely. Gardner’s battery and a battery from the Seventeenth Corps were soon placed in position, and a brisk artillery fire continued during the afternoon, Barnett’s battery subsequently taking part. After crossing Flint River a bad swamp was encountered, across which bridges had to be constructed. Officers and men worked with a will, notwithstanding they were under a heavy fire. Crossing the swamp, soon took up a position at about 200 yards in front of the enemy’s lines in the following order: The Third Brigade (Colonel Dilworth) on Col. Caleb J. Dilworth 85th Illinois Infantrythe right, column of regiments in echelon; the Second Brigade (Colonel Mitchell) on the left, in two lines. General Carlin having moved his command to his left, opened a large gap between his right and my left. The First Brigade (Colonel Lure) was ordered to move immediately from its reserved position to the left and front. This brigade was formed upon the left of Colonel Mitchell in two lines. Having very bad ground to move over was hardly in position before the advance of the whole line was ordered forward. Silently and steadily the line moved up the ridge, and disappeared in the woods, under cover of which the rebels had constructed their works, and in a few moments a shout was heard that told of victory and success, which was soon made certain by hundreds of rebels coming from the woods and seeking safety by retreating to the rear. The charge was gallantly and successfully made, and the results commensurate–2 4-gun batteries taken (1 by the First and 1 by the Second Brigade), 394 prisoners (1 brigadier-general and 24 commissioned officers), over 1,000 stand small-arms, and 6 battle-flags. Never was a command better entitled to the thanks of its officers and the nation. Men who can steadily move upon strong works, covered with acknowledged fighting men (infantry and artillery), and carry them are truly soldiers. I am under obligations to brigade commanders for the manner their commands were moved upon the enemy’s lines and the tenacity with which they were held and pursuit made until darkness ended the conflict. My right was heavily pressed for two or three hours, but finally succeeded in clearing its front. My picket line was soon established, and by daylight had advanced to Jonesborough. My loss was heavy in officers and men; over 500 killed and wounded. Colonel Grower, Seventeenth New York Veteran Volunteer Infantry, fell at the head of his regiment mortally wounded (since died), a brave and accomplished officer. Major Burnett, commanding Tenth Michigan Infantry, was killed in leading that gallant regiment over the main works. This officer has greatly distinguished himself during the campaign. Always prompt, active, and energetic, his loss will be severely felt and his place difficult to fill. Colonel Dilworth, commanding Third Brigade, was severely wounded at the head of his brigade. This is a gallant and energetic officer. Many other brave and worthy officers fell, to which I refer to casualty reports of regiments. Thus has this remarkable campaign been successfully closed.

For four long months, marching, fighting, and intrenching, the enemy has been driven, mile by mile, back over 140 miles. A large part of the time the men have been under fire night and day, eating, drinking, or sleeping. Shot, shell, and rifle-ball have been plunging through camp and bivouac, but steady persevering valor and determination will ever win, and the day is ours. When all do well it is difficult to discriminate; many individual cases of personal gallantry have no doubt occurred that will be mentioned in regimental and brigade reports. Since I have been in command of the division I have been ably assisted by Colonel Mitchell and Colonel Dilworth, commanding Second and Third Brigades; they are both able, prompt, and energetic officers, and have earned promotion; I cheerfully recommend it. Colonel Anderson, Sixtieth Illinois Infantry, has been constantly on duty with his regiment, a most faithful and competent officer; he could fill with credit to himself and country a higher position; I recommend him.

To my own personal staff I am under obligations for promptness and constant attention to duty. Captain Wiseman, my assistant adjutant-general, merits promotion; I ask it for him. Lieutenant Coe, my acting assistant quartermaster, and Lieutenant Pyatt, my brigade acting commissary of subsistence, for long and faithful discharge of their respective duties, also deserve promotion. I have had occasion in previous reports to mention these officers; they are honest, vigilant, and every way qualified. Captain Stinson, pro-vost-marshal, Captain Race, acting assistant inspector-general, Lieutenant Waterman, aide-de-camp, and Surgeon Watson, of my old brigade staff, are all good officers and have faithfully discharged their respective duties. I have found Captain Orr, commissary of subsistence, and Lieutenant Scroggs, ordnance officer, both officers of merit and thoroughly acquainted with their respective duties. Major Petri, topographical engineer, a valuable and scientific officer in his staff department, has also been very attentive and vigilant in the performance of his duties.

I forward herewith brigade and regimental reports, to which I call attention; also inclosed casualty report, marked A, and report of prisoners taken, marked B.

All of which is respectfully submitted.
JAMES D. MORGAN,
Brigadier-General, U. S. Volunteers.

Capt. A. C. MCCLURG,
Asst. Adjt. Gen. and Chief of Staff, 14th Army Corps.

Sherman occupied Atlanta on September 2nd. Not only was this the conclusion of a successful military campaign, it was also a politically important victory for the Lincoln Administration. The President was up for reelection, and the victory helped convince voters to continue the war to its conclusion.

General Morgan would go on to lead his division in the March to the Sea and Carolinas Campaign. Morgan’s command played an important role in the Battle of Bentonville, North Carolina in March 1865.

Sources:

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

Generals in Blue by Ezra J. Warner

Official Records of the Union and Confederate Armies in the War of the Rebellion Series I Volume XXXVIII, Part 1

Sherman’s Battle For Atlanta
by Jacob D. Cox

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