The Battle of Brown's Mill
By : Maleigh Arnold
The Battle of Brown's Mill began on July 27, 1864, when Federal Brigadier General Edward M. McCook departed his lines to carry out a raid in tandem with Major General George Stoneman. Their mission was to wreck the remaining Confederate railroads supplying Atlanta while keeping the enemy off balance and creating havoc behind Confederate lines. If the raid was successful, Stoneman then planned to continue on to Andersonville to liberate the 30,000 Union prisoners held there.
McCook and his 2,400 troops crossed the Chattahoochee River at Smith's Ferry and cut the Atlanta and West Point Railroad at Palmetto, capturing and burning 1,000 wagons from a Confederate supply train at Fayetteville. They next traveled to the preset rendezvous point at Lovejoy on July 29, but Stoneman failed to appear, forcing McCook to retrace his steps toward the Chattahoochee River. By that time, McCook had Confederate cavalry pursuing him. Again at Lovejoy, McCook fought a sharp skirmish with the mounted forces of brigadier generals W.H. Jackson and Lawrence Ross that forced a retreat westward with Major General Joseph Wheeler and several hundred cavalry on his heels.
With the Confederates sniping at his rear guard, McCook's advance guard approached Newnan from the east, on what is now Broad Street, early on July 30, 1864, with his troops and horses in a state of exhaustion. They encountered a trainload of Confederate soldiers blocking the road on the outskirts of town. The troops, elements of Brigadier General P.D. Roddey's dismounted Alabama cavalry who had been traveling by train, were forced to stop in Newnan because the tracks were damaged to the north in Palmetto. The Alabamians were as surprised to see the Federal cavalry as the Federals were to see them. Fighting soon erupted, causing McCook to begin a desperate search for a way out of the situation in a route that would bypass Newnan to the south and avoid the clash.
While that was occurring, Wheeler's force rode into Newnan and swiftly divided with the intention of striking the Federal marauders simultaneously in their front and rear. Wheeler’s men came into contact with McCook’s about three miles southwest of Newnan at the intersection of today’s Millard Farmer and Corinth roads. The Federal cavalry was driven off the roadbed and into the woods south of Millard Farmer Road. As the fighting seesawed through the heavy woods thick with underbrush, McCook’s men were forced to dismount and fight on foot. McCook, believing they were surrounded, proclaimed, "Every man for himself." As the Federals suffered heavy casualties, the Confederates received approximately 1,400 reinforcements who repeatedly charged McCook's line, driving it back. By late afternoon, after having lost two of its brigade commanders, McCook's force split up and cut their way out, only to be captured piecemeal over the next few days while attempting to reach safety behind Union lines.
The Battle of Brown's Mill was a major blow to Sherman's plans to use cavalry as a means of gaining major objectives in the Atlanta Campaign. McCook lost about 100 killed and wounded and another 1,300 captured and sent to Confederate prisons, while the supplies continued to reach the Confederates in Atlanta by train. Wheeler suffered about half the casualties of McCook.
The Battle of Brown’s Mill killed or wounded about 100 of McCook’s men. Wheeler’s casualties probably numbered fewer than 50. “The dead lay around us on every side, singly and in groups and piles; men and horses, -in some cases, apparently inextricably mingled,” wrote Fannie Beers, a nurse who reached the battlefield shortly after the fighting ended. A veteran Confederate cavalryman called it “the greatest slaughter I ever saw in front of a cavalry line.”In Newnan, Confederate hospitals treated the wounded on both sides, and buried those who died in the cemetery just north of town. Three years later, the United States Army removed the remains of approximately 34 Union soldiers from Newnan and the Brown’s Mill battlefield and reburied them in the National Cemetery at Marietta, Georgia, where they still rest today. Most of these graves bear the same haunting epitaph: “Unknown.” During the days following the battle, Wheeler’s cavalrymen herded nearly 1,300 captured Yankees into Newnan and confined them in a two-story cotton warehouse on Perry Street, midway between the courthouse and the railroad depot. As soon as section gangs repaired the damage done to the railroad at Palmetto and Lovejoy’s Station, trains carried the captives to prisoner of war camps at Macon and Andersonville, where many subsequently died from the effects of malnutrition, disease, and exposure.
Kilpatrick tore up 1 ½ miles of track at Jonesboro but within three days Rebel supply trains were rolling into Atlanta again. Convinced “that cavalry could not or would not work hard enough to disable a railroad properly,” Sherman lifted his siege on the night of August 25 and marched his entire army around the west side of Atlanta, determined to destroy the city’s railroads once and for all. Two days of bloody fighting at Jonesboro forced the Confederates to abandon Atlanta on the night of September 1. The next morning, the city surrendered. News of Sherman’s victory helped assure President Lincoln’s reelection at a crucial moment in America’s history. That victory would have come sooner if Joe Wheeler had not won the Battle.
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"Battle of Brown's Mill." Battle of Brown's Mill. N.p., n.d. Web. 28 Sept. 2014. <http://www.battleofbrownsmill.org/>.
"Brown's Mill QR." Coweta County :. N.p., n.d. Web. 28 Sept. 2014. <http://www.coweta.ga.us/index.aspx?page=1507>.