“I begin to regard the death and mangling of a couple thousand men as a small affair, a kind of morning dash,” wrote the morose Union General William T. Sherman to his wife. This was in the aftermath of the Battle of Kennesaw Mountain fought on this day in 1864 on the outskirts of Atlanta.
As in any war, the toll on men’s souls is a heavy one. Sherman may have bristled at the other-worldly carnage required to subdue the Confederacy, but he became numb to it, he set it aside and soldiered on.
The battle was a tactical victory for the Confederates under General Joseph E. Johnston (Sherman lost 3000 men to Johnston’s 1000) but it failed to stop Sherman’s “march to the sea.”
General Johnston’s Fabian strategy was named for the Roman Dictator Fabius Maximus who defeated the formidable Hannibal in the Second Punic War (218-202 B.C.). The strategy worked by avoiding direct engagement with a superior force and extending the battle lines by organized retreat.
Johnston’s plan was to thin out Sherman’s numerically superior army by drawing it toward Atlanta. This had the effect of extending his manpower and disrupting his supply lines. His hope was, after a series of calculated retreats, he would be able to face a force more comparable in size to his own.
Johnston’s plan was working but as Sherman’s army drew ever-closer to the city of Atlanta, the President of the Confederacy , Jeff Davis grew nervous and relieved him of command, replacing him with the far more aggressive General John Bell Hood.
General Hood was one of the best brigade commanders on either side of the war but his boldness proved disastrous for the Confederates as within a few short months Atlanta fell to Sherman bringing about the end of the Civil War.
Kennesaw Mountain is peaceful now. On any given day, hundreds of hikers and sightseers traverse its storied and hallowed grounds, blissfully unaware of the utter destruction previously wrought beneath their feet by both sides of a nation warring against itself.
The men who fought there surely remembered. One such Union soldier who got caught up in the fiercest part of the battle and reportedly left a leg there, memorialized the battle in the strangest of ways; he named his son after it. The boy, who grew up to be the first Commissioner of Baseball, was honored with the name Kenesaw Mountain Landis.
One can only speculate but the physician and veteran of America’s bloodiest war likely named his son after the most seminal event in his life to make sure we would never forget that as Sherman himself would later say, “War is hell.”
May we always remember.