When Gen. George H. Thomas Directed the Artillery at Peach Tree Creek
by Gordon Thorsby
(Library of Congress)
Walker’s veteran Confederate Infantry Brigades under Stevens, Gist and Mercer hit the Federal line and as hard as both sides fought, Union Gen. John Newton’s lines began to unravel. Brig. Gen Hugh Mercer’s brigade found a gap and the enveloped the Federal left.
Union Gen. Luther Bradley (Col. Emerson Opdycke also commanded) had a partial brigade of 500 men (3rd KY, 64th,65th,125th OH) attempted to hold back the assault but Mercer’s 2,000 Georgians (1st, 5th, 57th, and 63rd Georgia) would certainly overwhelm them. That is when Federal artillery began rolling up. At the bridge on the creek was Maj. Gen. George H. Thomas who observed Mercer’s brigade flanking Bradley's line and advancing toward the creek and bridge.
In one report from Captain Henry Stone (right), he recalled Thomas taking control and lining up artillery, “…and with blows
of his hand, urged on the horses as they dashed by him in position.” Gen. O. O. Howard explained, “he personally directed the placing of some of the guns.”
1st Lt. Ralsa Rice of the 125th Ohio “witnessed a discussion between Thomas at the bridge when a courier for Newton was seeking reinforcements” for which Thomas had none. “Go back and tell Newton that I will reinforce him personally.” Thomas crossed over to the "south side of the creek and directed artillery into position as it was arriving."
The guns consisted of four three-inch ordnance rifles of Battery M, 1st Illinois commanded by Capt. George Spencer and two twelve-pound Napoleons of Ohio Battery A. Then came two batteries from Ward’s Division; six ten-pound Parrott rifles of 1st Michigan Battery I, and six 12-lb. Napoleons of the 1st Ohio Light Artillery. Ward’s Division guns were under the overall command of Capt. Marco Gary.
Raper described what happened next as he tried to catch his breath from taking ammunition back to his 57th Indiana regiment. “A mounted orderly dashed across the road in front of me. He reined in his horse suddenly at a pile of rails on which an officer was sitting, his elbows resting on his knees which were drawn well toward his body and field binoculars in his hands toward the corner of the woods to the left and rear of the position held by Blakes’ brigade. As the orderly reined up, the officer took his glasses from his eyes, turned his face and I saw it was Gen. Thomas." The orderly saluted and said to 'Gen. Thomas, "Major McGraw [57th Indiana] presents his compliments and says to inform you that the enemy is moving on him en mass, and it will be impossible to hold his position. Orderly, return to Major McGraw, give him my compliments and tell him to hold his position. I will attend to those fellows [Rebels] as soon as they can get out from behind the woods and turned his glasses back to the corner of the woods.”
"The orderly left and it was at this point that Confederate lines emerged from the woods." Raper continued that the Confederate lines, " …were advancing at quick time, each step bringing their left flank in line with the point where Gen Thomas still quietly sat, his eyes riveted to his glasses…The advancing rebel column was now almost to the creek, its left flank nearly opposite to Gen. Thomas … Raper was mystified by what Thomas was to do." At this point, “he [Thomas] took the glasses from his eyes, turned his head over his shoulder," looking to the batteries prepared and ready, and said to Capt. Gary, “Now you can give it to them, Captain,“ and a dozen guns fired of shell and canister tearing down the lines of gray and brown.
“Load after load as fast as the artillerymen could handle their pieces followed a continuous shower of murderous iron. A heroic effort was made to maintain lines…but they went to pieces in the movement.”
Gen. Newton observed Thomas to be “calm and resolute” and as the attack was being repulsed Thomas then “ordered to his bodyguard unit to hold the bridge across Peach Tree Creek and cut down any armed soldier who attempted to cross.”
All this transpired in less time than it takes me to tell it; but I had regained my wind and must be off.”-Cpl. Raper
George Barnard Photography1864
Map from Gerald P. Stadler and Arthur V. Grant, Jr., Campaign Atlas of the American Civil War (West Point, NY: United States Military Academy, 1978), 49.
The Battle of Peach Tree Creek, by Jenkins Sr, Robert D. Mercer University Press, 2013, Account of Cpl. Raper ppg 132-135.
George H. Thomas, As True as Steel, by Wills, Brian Steel, University Press of Kansas, 2012, p. 269.
Battles and Leaders of the Civil War, Vol. 4, edited by Robert Underwood Johnson, Castle Books, 1956, ppg. 274-275.
The Autobiography of Oliver Otis Howard, Major General United States Army, 2 vols, New York: Baker and Taylor, 1908, I, p. 619.
Official Records of the War of the Rebellion, ser.1, vol.38, part 1, serial 72, Ppg 355-56.