In late July 1864, Major General William T. Sherman’s Union army closed in on General John B. Hood’s Confederate army defending Atlanta. On July 20 Hood lashed out against the Union right wing north of the city. Repulsed but undaunted, Hood turned to strike the Federal left wing, Major General James B. McPherson’s Army of the Tennessee, east of Atlanta. He deployed Major General Benjamin F. Cheatham’s corps northeast of the city and sent Lieutenant General William J. Hardee’s corps around McPherson’s left flank with orders to crush the Army of the Tennessee on the morning of July 22. Both corps were then to assail the rest of Sherman’s host.
Among the blue-clad soldiers moving against Atlanta was Major Thomas T. Taylor of Georgetown, Ohio. Twenty-seven years old and dashingly handsome, Taylor was a lawyer and sometime newspaper editor who had been with the 47th Ohio since the fall of 1861. During the opening phase of the Atlanta Campaign, Taylor had remained with his regiment, part of Major General John A. Logan’s XV Corps, Army of the Tennessee. In mid-May he had been placed in command of Brigadier General Morgan Smith’s divisional skirmishers, 15 companies in all. By July 22 he was highly adept in skirmish tactics, as will be seen in the following passage from the letter he wrote four days later to his wife, Netta, describing what he saw, experienced, and did during the Battle of Atlanta, ‘the most eventful day of this campaign.’ Taylor’s letters have been lightly edited for clarity.
An the morning as usual at daylight I went down to the skirmish line to learn the condition of things. Soon Gen’l Morgan L. Smith sent an order to move forward my line and feel the enemy. I pushed forward and soon began driving his [the enemy’s skirmish] line. At his skirmish pits I redressed it [Taylor’s own line] and advanced on his main works and soon drove his skirmishers in, but without giving them time to form I hurried forward with a shout and a volley which set the rebels skedaddling and a regiment of reserves in full and rapid retreat. In the main [out-lying] works I again dressed the line and pursued them, capturing a few prisoners and two lines of skirmish pits and drove them square into their [main] works and occupied with my line a portion of the corporation of Atlanta, not more than 600 yards from their forts. Here they served us with ‘minnies’ [mini bullets], case and solid shot and shells. I soon discovered where their skirmish pits were and made my line crawl forward in some places within 20 yards of them and build rail barricades. I found one set [of his own skirmishers] timid and awkward and I had to crawl up to a point where I wished a post, show them the bearings and range and help them build it … .
Their skirmishers were kept so close [to the ground] that I had only two wounded by musket balls. One solid shot knocked down a rail pile and buried the men under it. A Captain thought destruction had come and wished to retire but I make it a point never to give up my ground if my flanks are protected [and] so they rebuilt it. I sent back for shovels to dig good pits but our Division General was not at liberty to send them to us. Our men in authority appeared to think the enemy were evacuating Atlanta because they were moving columns to the left. About 9 or 10 a.m. Logan’s Senior Aide came out and I showed him how earnestly they [the Confederates] were working in town upon their fortifications and asked if it looked like an evacuation. He said no. I then asked him for tools, but they came not. Our Commanders appeared infatuated with the thought of evacuation of Atlanta.
After a time two regiments of infantry and a section of artillery were sent out as a second reserve. I laid down and got a good nap and awoke about 121/2 m. Just after I got up Lieut. [Adolph] Ahlers [of the 47th Ohio] and two men were wounded near me and I was struck with dirt, bark or something and Ahlers reported me wounded. My negro went to the rear with the horses, but came back. About 1 p.m. I moved to a high point in the line and sat down. Firing soon commenced and became very heavy on the extreme left and in the rear … .
Oh! how anxiously I listened and waited, how anxious for the cheers! The enemy cheered before [his] charges, our men cheered after repulsing [them]. For two hours they appeared to drive our line back until it was at almost right angles with my [the XV Corps’] line. Can you imagine how my heart throbbed, every pulsation grew more rapid. There I sat under a big oak tree…only 600 yards from the main line of [enemy] works, from which solid shot was being thrown and case & shells, too, with fearful rapidity at and over us. I was anxious not from fear, but dread that we might lose our advantage, the ground we had gained and again be compelled to retake it by charges. At three o’clock the tide of war seemed rolling back. I could not mistake those cheers and that firing–the enemy at last were checked and being driven oh, how rapidly. At 4 p.m. we had regained our old lines and the fighting on the left had subsided like a fierce rain & wind storm, [and] only gusts and sobs sounded in the ear.
My attention was called from this by a Captain saying: ‘Look, Major, look!’ What a grand sight–I was almost entranced by it. The enemy’s [Major General Thomas C.] Hindman’s Division of 25 regiments [commanded by Maj. Gen. John C. Brown] were moving out of the works and deploying in line of battle. How well they moved, how perfectly and how grandly did the first line advance with the beautiful ‘battle flags’ waving in the breeze [and] not an unsteady step nor a waver was perceptible in it. Anon they moved by the right flank, then halted and fronted and a second line was formed. I saw them complete it and an Officer rode a short distance from us to advance their skirmish line & [I] ordered several of the men to shoot him but they failed. I then saw the 4th Div [skirmish] line [to the left] break and run, called my line to attention and remained until I saw their line of battle approach within 250 yards of us.
By the retreat of the 4th Div. [skirmishers], my left was exposed and I marched back to my first reserve. Here I shall tell you that as soon as I saw the 2nd [Confederate battle] line form and the advance toward us begin, I sent back word. At the reserve we halted and again opened [fire] on the enemy, drove in his skirmishers and, when the line flanked us on the left and was within about fifty yards [I] rallied on the 2nd reserve. Here we made a fine little fight and broke their [skirmish] lines but being outflanked we were compelled to fall back. In making this distance part of the time I moved leisurely and part lively–picked up a canteen of coffee and moved for the [Union] works when some miserable [Southern] traitor with murder stamped on his countenance deliberately shot at me. But I was a little too far away & his bullet almost spent struck me a glancing blow in the muscles of my left thigh as I was lifting my leg to run. I knew if I was hurt it would bleed in my boot so I went on as rapidly as I could as other bullets were dropping too close to make it at all pleasant.
The rebels reformed and advanced upon our main line in three columns. Two columns moved up on our right…and were both after a heavy fire severely repulsed and took refuge behind some outbuildings and a large house where they reformed. About twenty yards from our works on the left of the rail and wagon roads is a ravine which at the railroad was so thick [with] undergrowth as to completely screen as well as protect an advancing column. The railway through our lines is built in a cut about 15 feet deep. On the left of the railway was a section of artillery occupying three rods [about 50 feet]. [The] width of cut at top [is] 3 rods [and] between cut & wagon road on right of railroad is a space four rods wide [65 feet], protected by a log earthwork terminating a few feet from the railway. The wagon road is almost two rods [33 feet] wide and on the right of this road was a section of artillery [two cannons] occupying about three rods more and all of this space of 15 rods had only one company in position [and only] one platoon [of] 16 men…was between the [artillery] section in the space between the wagon and rail roads. The cut was open and clear, nowhere was it occupied by troops nor blockaded, the wagon road was likewise open and unoccupied by works or troops. When Col. [Wells S.] Jones, 53rd Ohio, came for the reserve, he suggested to Genl’s Smith & [Brigadier General John] Lightburn the propriety of burning said outbuildings & placing his regiment in rear of this artillery to support it and shut the gaps, yet they disdained the proffer and they were not filled.
Concealed by the dense smoke of the artillery the first we saw of the third [enemy] column it was rushing in the gap in the wagon road around the low works between the rail & wagon roads and over the parapet at the guns. Every one was surprised but none thought of moving, the platoon between the guns fired and fought with bayonets & butts of their muskets, the other platoon lying down in the rear of it could not fire without killing their comrades and artillerists in their front. Some of the men [in the platoon] were bleeding at the ears and nose from the concussion, yet fought until all were killed, wounded and captured except four.
I started across the road to move the other platoon to make it effective when I happened to look at the upper end of the cut and saw a column of rebels deploying from it. This 2nd [Union] platoon was shut in by a line of fire on every side and to avoid capture retired. Simultaneously the whole line began to fall back. Gen’l Smith moved over to the right & Lightburn went off on a run. I heard no order given and after vainly trying to rally the men dashed into the woods, where on a small ridge I halted a few men and again tried to form [a line]. Then, hearing someone shouting halt, I went to the road supposing it was one of our officers trying to form the line. I came within five feet of a rebel officer on a white horse with a flag in his hand and a revolver in the other. I took this in at a glance, he said ‘Halt! we’ll treat you like men.’ I said, ‘Hell, stranger, this is no place for me to halt!’ and went for the bushes. I told a man at my elbow to shoot him. When I got out of his reach I went slow and got some men of the 47th to go down and run off two caissons which the artillery had abandoned. I then went down to the works. Lt. Col. Wallace & Capt. [Hananiah D.] Pugh [of the 47th Ohio] while striving vainly to form a line were captured, [Capt. Charles] Haltentof wounded and Adjt. [John W.] Duecherman wounded. Only four officers [of the 47th Ohio] were left.
I was relieved as Div. Picket Officer to take command of the regiment and reformed it very quickly and then was ordered forward and marched up the road some distance by the flank … . I [then] was ordered into line [and] to fix bayonets and to retake the works [with] one small company and [some men] from other regiments [who] joined me … . I advanced on the ‘double quick’ and got within a few feet of the works, when such was the hail storm of fire and bullets which swept over us that both flag staffs were shot off, the regiment’s standard was torn from the staff by the fragment of a shell, one color bearer killed, and a color corporal wounded, [and] others as a matter of course fell. Finding I was completely flanked [I] withdrew to avoid capture.
On account of an entanglement and the dense undergrowth in my rear, the command became separated. Meeting a line upon a ridge in the rear advancing I halted and with them made a second assault. A portion of the regiment under Capt. [Joseph L.] Pinkerton went to the right of the railroad. I kept on the left, we reached the point I reached in the first assault but were again compelled to fall back. This time we went to an open field when reforming as best we could, [then] again advanced. Upon reaching the crest of the first ridge the men halted and laid down to avoid the sheet of bullets which swept over … . I pushed through the line, dashed ahead, shouting, cheering and exhorting [but] only one man followed. I went fifty yards in this manner and finally halted and gave three lusty cheers, [then] without waiting I pushed on and in a moment had the pleasure to see that the line was hurrying [forward]. I soon struck another line [of Federal troops] on the left which had halted. I sent Capt. Pinkerton & Lieut. [William] Brachman with a portion of the regiment again on the right, while I with the rest of it and the remainder of [the men from other regiments] pushed up immediately on the left, pouring a continuous and deadly fire upon the enemy, driving them from their works and recapturing a section of artillery upon the left of the railway which the [Rebels] had turned upon us … .
Lightburn said we had disgraced ourselves. I told him ‘that was enough of that! I would show him whether we had.’ I had no idea that I had such determination, such stubbornness or strength. I was almost frantic, yet perfectly sane–directed the entire line. All the officers obeyed me and ran to me for advice and directions. I saw men perform prodigies, display the most unparalleled valor. One man, Joseph Bedol [Bedall] of Co. ‘D’, was surrounded and knocked by rebels, he came to, jumped up & wounded them and knocked a fourth down with his fist and escaped.
Dear, I would not write this to any other one as it seems egotistical, but is nevertheless true. The men of the Division give me credit for much more.
Following the Battle of Atlanta Sherman moved the Army of the Tennessee west of the city for the purpose of cutting the railroad to Macon, Hood’s sole remaining supply line. Hood countered by sending Lieutenant General Stephen D. Lee’s corps to block this thrust while another corps under Lieutenant General A.P. Stewart swung around the Union right flank. Before Stewart could do this, Lee attacked on the morning of July 28, bringing on the Battle of Ezra Church. Two days later Taylor described to his wife what ensued:
Well dear, on the 28th of July we had another big fight … . After moving forward and occupying a part of the ridge, the enemy were discovered moving around the right. To check this I was ordered over on the right and deployed. This extension of the line only made them move further to the right but we dashed over an open field and [took up a] position on a road. Presently I saw a column of the enemy move from a wood a short distance in front, [then] pass up a ravine near my left and between the 53rd Ohio and the 47th. To prevent them from cutting me off, I moved out of the road & half way across the field behind the crest [of the ridge]. This movement thwarted their designs and after a heavy fire the column retired to the woods [beyond the ridge].
Again I advanced but shortened my line by moving obliquely to the left and connecting with the 53rd. We first took position about 10 a.m. and from that time had very lively work. After advancing to the fence [along the Lick Skillet Road] I placed men on posts of observation who discovered the enemy still moving to the right and likewise massing in our front. Of this I sent word to the Division Commander who said ‘Now I know it is so when Major Taylor sends word.’ After a short time the enemy made his appearance, this time moving from the woods, in line of battle and then moving by the flank in three or four columns. We held our position, firing heavily and doing much execution but finding them too heavy to check we retired to the crest of the hill or ridge before mentioned where we made a stubborn stand from which we were driven by another forward movement of the enemy. This time they were moving by right of Co[mpanies] to the front, in columns of regiments, followed by a line of battle with bayonets fixed. This meant work and again we were compelled to retire. In the meantime we had been reinforced by one regiment [the 54th Ohio] but it was impossible to withstand this avalanche of bayonets and again we retired.
I halted behind a fence in the skirt of the woods and gave one shot [volley]. [Then] Col. [name illegible] hollored to look out or I would be cut off as they [the Confederates] were rushing up a hollow passing in our rear. At the same time I received notice from the right and beheld a [Confederate] column…both on the left and right, the enemy converging [and] leaving us a gap only about two or three hundred yards in width to escape through. All three regiments hurried through this and escaped the enemy [by] only about 50 yards … .
Our [new] line was formed upon [a ridge] at least half a mile from the line [just abandoned] and as it afterwards turned out this move of ours saved the day. Immediately upon gaining this ridge we reformed…as best we could behind the yard and garden fences and fought the enemy as they charged our position. We maintained our ground until they moved right up to us and pressed us over the hill by superiority of numbers but we were not yet defeated … . Every officer and man in the Division knows me and will fight under my orders, therefore, I began rallying men and officers and started after a gallant Captain of the 53rd Ohio up the hill, leading a varied lot of men and shouting and cheering to the best of my ability and having every one do likewise … .
We took possession of the hill and I got a color bearer of the 54th & one of [the] 53rd Ohio and rushed to the garden fence through a perfect storm of bullets and exhorted but only three or four ventured to follow, as the rebels, deeply chagrined to think so small a force had made them yield such a position gave us volley after volley which made us move from the garden fence to a less exposed position … .
We then had a little independent fight of our own–four regiments under Col. Jones, 53rd Ohio. [The fourth regiment was the 37th Ohio]. He arranged our lines so as to give us complete cross fire over every part of the ground in our front. This we had to do as our four regiments were compelled to hold over a mile of space and we had many gaps and this was the only way by which we could defend them, [because] across these gaps we had only small skirmish lines. This occurred about noon [according to Confederate reports it was much later than that]. After this time the enemy made four successive assaults; my men fought from open ground, almost as clear as our yard except [for] a few brush [heaps] which I [had] piled up in front of the lines to offer some slight obstacle to their approach … .
At half past three we were relieved by the 81st Ohio and at 5 p.m. again went on duty. We lost ten wounded and three captured. The Commander of the III Division [Harrow’s] thanked me and said he believed my fire had saved him twice.
I never saw more stubborn assaults & more bloody repulses. Three times they were compelled to go back and leave colors standing on the field. We soon learned that the same Division [Brown’s] was in our front that charged us a few days ago and we did our best to repay them for the heavy loss which was inflicted upon us by them on that occasion. How well we accomplished this you can judge when I tell you they left 300 dead in our front, [and] altogether we buried 900 of them in front of the 15th A.C. after they had been most of the night engaged in removing their killed and wounded…
The 53rd & 47th Ohio brought on the whole affair. [If] I can, the General [Smith] said, be recommended for Colonel, he will do so and he says the Generals above him will take pleasure in recommending me … .A rebel officer, a prisoner taken on the 28th inst. said ‘Hood has about enough [men] left to make two more killings.’ Co. ‘F’ [Taylor’s former company] had William Weber [from Georgetown] slightly wounded by an explosion of his load by ramming. I can’t give you any more particulars. Wait until I get home.
Taylor next fought in the Battle of Jonesboro (August 31-September 1), which resulted in Hood evacuating Atlanta. Starting on November 15 Taylor participated in Sherman’s March to the Sea until December 13, when during the storming of Fort McAllister outside of Savannah a bullet sliced off his right index finger. This ended his combat career but not his wartime letters to his wife, which by the time he was mustered out in July 1865 totaled nearly 300.