Pvt. Matt Dunn still had confidence in Gen. Johnston but that was not the case with President Jefferson Davis. Johnston's constant retreating was perfectly logical in Johnston's mind but was not understood in Richmond. Gen A.P. Stewart had replaced Gen. Polk as corps commander and Gens. Loring and Featherson went to their previous commands after being in temporary command of their corps and division respectively.
Gen. Sherman again resorted to a flanking maneuver and crossed the Chattahoochie River to the east of the Confederate lines on 10 July 1864. The army went into line on the southern side of Peach Tree Creek and spent two quiet days resting there. On 12 July 1864 the 33rd returned to the south bank of the Chattahoochie and relieved Scotts Brigade on picket duty. There was light skirmishing and cannon fire for the 3 days they were and then they returned to Peach Tree Creek on the 15th. They spent the next 4 days skirmishing and and fortifying the Peach Tree Creek line. On the 20th they would face a day that would bring tears and sorrow to many a home in Mississippi. On the 18th Gen. John B. Hood had been ordered to take command of the army and relieve Gen. Joe Johnston. It was a decision which did not set well with most of the men in the ranks.
President Davis had ordered the change in command because of his inability to get along with Gen. Johnston and his disagreement with Gen. Johnston's handling of the Atlanta campaign. Gen. Johnston was cautious and defensive. Gen. Hood was reluctant to take command at such a critical stage of the campaign and he urged Gen. Johnston to remain in command until the fate of Atlanta was decided. Gen. Johnston refused and departed that same day for Macon, Georgia. With Johnston gone, the aggressive Hood looked for a place to strike a blow against the Federals. On the 19th he found the spot. Hood's old West Point roommate Gen. John Schofield and his Army of the Ohio were on the road north of the railroad with a large swampy area between himself and Gen. George Thomas Army of the Cumberland.
Gen. Thomas was moving directly toward Peach Tree Creek. There was a 2 mile gap between the two armies. Gen. J. B. McPherson s Army of the Tennessee was even further away to the left of Gen. Schofield. Gen. Hood saw this gap in the Federal line and wanted to exploit it by attacking Gen. Thomas with Stewart's and Hardee's corps. If the orders had been implemented quickly and all had obeyed the orders there would have been a good chance for success. But chaos reigned, movements were delayed, some Confederate troops actually got lost, Confederate generals shifted troops and created gaps in the line, and all the while more Union troops were massing in front of the Confederates. Hood's plan of attack called for the attack to be made in echelon by three divisions of Hardee's Corps and two divisions of Stewart's Corps. The division on Hardee's right would advance first and after it had gone 150-200 yards forward then the next division would advance, each unit following as soon as the division on its right had advanced 150-200 yards. Hood had scheduled the attack to begin at 1 p.m., but Hardee was slow and for still unexplained reasons he had shifted troops to his right for a considerable distance, thus putting a gap between his left and Stewart's right.
Headquarters Featherston's Division, In Line near Atlanta, Ga., July 23 ,1864
the First Mississippi Battalion Sharpshooters, commanded by Maj. J. M. Stigler, with one or two additional companies, was deployed in front of the brigade as skirmishers; the Thirty-third Mississippi Regiment, commanded by Col. J. L. Drake, was on the right; next, on its left, was the Third Mississippi Regiment, commanded by Col. T. A. Mellon; next the Twenty-second Mississippi Regiment, commanded by Maj. M.A. Oatis, next the Thirty-first Mississippi regiment, commanded by Lieut. Col. J. W. Drane, and next the Fortieth Mississippi Regiment, commanded by Lieut. Col. George P. Wallace, which formed the extreme left of the brigade.
Having reached our line of skirmishers, and being in sight of the enemy , my brigade was at once formed in line of battle for the attack. It was formed in an old field some 400 yards wide and half a mile long. On the edge of the field, about 300 yards in my front, was a tortuous creed; just beyond the creek was a narrow strip of woodland running from the west to the center of my brigade. Some 150 or 200 yards east of the terminus of this strip of woods the woodland commenced again, and continued as far as I could see to the east, north, and south. Beyond this strip of woods in my front was a large field, about the center of which there seemed to be a continuous elevated ridge. This ridge was occupied by the enemy. The strip of woodland in my front, extending from the west to the center of my brigade, also formed a ridge nearly as high as that occupied by the enemy.
The ground on my right seemed to be elevated, but was so thickly covered with timber that I could not form a correct idea of it, judging it at a distance. Between the strip of timber in my front and the timber on the right of my brigade was an open space of abut 150 yards, which furnished a fine view of the enemy's position, and enabled him to see my brigade, formed in line of battle 600 or 700 yards in his front. Having formed my line of battle, I discovered the left of General Cheatham s division on my right - not in advance of, but on a line with, me. I waited several minutes for it to advance 200 or 300 yards to the front, in accordance with the order of battle. He moved first farther to the right, throwing the left of his division in the woods on my right, and then moved to the front. Having waited long enough, as I supposed, for him to get 200 or 300 yards in advance of me, and engage the enemy as soon, if not sooner that I could (and my understanding from the plan of battle was that he was to engage the enemy first and rather on his flank), I immediately ordered my brigade to move upon the enemy. This order was promptly obeyed by the whole command. The order I received was to attack the enemy whenever his lines were reached, and if he was found behind works to fix bayonets, charge and take them if possible; that the fight was to be a general one along our lines, and the victory to be made as decisive as possible. These instructions were given to my regimental commanders and strictly obeyed by them. The whole command dashed forward with eagerness and rapidity, crossing the creek without difficulty, passing through the strip of woods on the left of the brigade, the open space on the right, and entering the field occupied by the enemy. No halt was made, but the movement was forward and rapid.
After entering the field a volley was fired, and the enemy s lines were charged from the right to the left of the brigade. This advance and this charge were made under a very heavy and destructive fire from the enemy s batteries and small-arms. The line of battle ran from east to west not far on the south side of Peach Tree Creek. The enemy seemed to be formed in at least two lines of battle and not to have been in position long, as the works occupied by the front line were incomplete; still they afforded great protection in a fight. I have learned from prisoners captured that Hooker s corps and one division of Howard s held this part of the line. My brigade drove them from the works and held them for several minutes, but was exposed to so destructive and galling a fire not only from the front, but also from the right flank, that it was compelled to retire to the strip of timber 250 or 300 yards in their rear, where it was protected by the crest of the hill and the timber. Here it was again formed in line, the right forming in the open space between the strip of timber and the woods on the right of the brigade, where it was protected to some extent by the rising ground in its front. In this position the fight was continued until after dark, the parties being in easy range.
The attack by the division my right was not made as soon as I expected, nor as soon as I thought was contemplated by the order of battle. Had the attack by that division been made before, or even at the same time, my brigade engaged the enemy, I think we could have held his works, driven him farther back, captured his batteries, and probably a large number of prisoners. The division on my right did not engage the enemy (or, at least, the left brigade did not) until my command had retired to the strip of timber, or second line, which it held until ordered to withdraw. What caused this delay on the part of the division on my right in making the attack I am unable to state, as I had no conversation with the division or brigade commanders either before or since the battle.
I was ordered by the major-general commanding to withdraw my brigade to the trenches at 9o clock on that night, leaving my skirmishers on the field until 11 o clock, which order was obeyed. I succeeded in removing my dead and wounded, except those who fell in, near, and beyond the enemy s works. Brigadier-General Scott s brigade, on my left, advanced with me and attacked the enemy at the same time. The two brigade were in one line and had no support or reserve. Brig. Gen. John Adams brigade was relieved from picket duty at a late hour in the evening, and came to our support after a rapid march of four miles, arriving just before night. The conduct of my brigade from the beginning to the end of the engagement was highly commendable and praiseworthy. Both officers and men manifested great eagerness for the fight, and behaved with coolness and courage. Both the advance and the charge were made over very rough ground with great alacrity upon what appeared to be an intrenched position of the enemy in heavy force, under a well-directed fire from his batteries as well as small-arms.
I append hereto a list of casualties, showing a total loss of 616 killed, wounded, and missing, out of an effective total of 1,430 carried into the fight. Two hundred f the 1,430 were on picket duty on another part of the line, and did not reach the battle-field until a late hour in the evening. A loss of 616, therefore, really occurred in an effective total of 1,230, the number first carried into the fight. I regret to state that many of my most excellent field and company officers are embraced in the list of killed and wounded. Col. J.L. Drake, the only field officer with the Thirty-third Mississippi Regiment, a gallant and excellent officer, fell beyond the enemy's first line of works, leading his regiment in the charge and displaying the highest qualities of the true soldier. Col. T.A. Mellon, Third Mississippi , and Maj. M.A. Oatis, Twenty-second Mississippi Regiments, were both severely wounded after gallantly leading their respective commands to the enemy's first line of works.
The will be unfit for duty for some months. Lieut. Col. J.W. Drane, commanding thirty-first Mississippi Regiment (Col. M.D.L. Stephens being absent sick), was severely wounded while leading the charge, and will be disabled for some time. Maj. F.M. Gillespie, Thirty-first Mississippi Regiment, fell leading his regiment in the charge near the enemy s works. In his fall his regiment is deprived of a gallant officer and his country has lost a true patriot. Lieut. Col. George P. Wallace, commanding Fortieth Mississippi Regiment (Col. W. B. Colbert being absent sick), was also severely wounded, losing an arm, and Maj. W. McD. Gibbens, of the same regiment, a most efficient and excellent officer, was killed in the full discharge of his duty. These officers have all set an example of which their commands may well be proud. I regret to state that so many valuable and excellent company officers have fallen that their names cannot be mentioned in this connection without rendering this report too voluminous . Their names and deeds of noble daring will not be overlooked, however, by the truthful historian, nor will they be forgotten by their comrades in arms and a grateful country.
Owing to the absence of every regimental commander (either killed or wounded), with one solitary exception, it is impossible to do justice to the command in this report, and to mention the many instances of individual daring which should receive special notice. Some few, however, have been brought to my knowledge without the official reports of the regimental commanders. Adjt. W. J. Van de Graaff, of the Thirty-first Mississippi Regiment, a gallant and accomplished officer, a young man of promise and great moral worth, seized the colors of his regiment and bore them to the front after two or three color bearers had been shot down, and following their example shared their fate. He fell with the colors in his hand. Adjt. C.V.H. Davis, Twenty-second Mississippi Regiment, a gallant and excellent officer, and a young man of ability and promise, seized the colors of his regiment after three color-bearers had been shot down, advanced with them beyond the enemy s works, and fell dead while calling upon his regiment to dash forward on the enemy s columns. Owing to the fact that my command is now in line of battle, and an official report is called for without delay, I am unable to make it as full and complete as I would under more favorable circumstances be pleased to do.
I cannot, however, close this report without expressing my obligations to the members of my staff - Capt. C.P. Neilson and Capt. W.G. Poindexter, Lieuts. A. N. Parker and W.G. Sykes- for the promptness and rapidity with which they bore my dispatches to different parts of the field and executed all orders. I am, Major, very respectfully, your obedient servant., W. S. FEATHERSTON, Brigadier-General, Commanding. Maj. HENRY ROBINSON, Assistant Adjutant-General, Loring's Division.
The charge was made before Wright's Brigade on the 33rd Mississippi s right flank ever moved to attack. This failure to move by Wright s Brigade meant that the 33rd Mississippi was unsupported on its right flank and the Federals took full advantage of this. Pvt. Van Kees recorded, "Our division charged the Yankees Breastworks and was driven back with a heavy loss. Our regiment loss about 140 or 170, the loss of our Co Capt. Maxwell, E. May, J.S. Byrne, L. Dun, C.R. Spurlin. Wounded E. Hickman, A. Williams, A.M. Flippin, E. H. Smith. Missing J. S. Gwin. At nite we marched back to the left where we moved from that day. Co K did not take part in the battle. They were elsewhere on other duty."
Capt. Moses Jackson was left in command of the 33rd Mississippi at the end of 20 July 1864 due to the death in the battle of the regiment s commander Col. Jabez L. Drake of Leake County. A review of the Federal accounts of the Battle of Peach Tree Creek show that the Confederates did almost succeed. As the attack began there was a gap of about one-fourth of a mile between Newton's Division and Ward's Division. Ward's Division was also somewhat behind Newton s Division as well. Pvt. Henry Crist, Co I, 33rd Indiana Infantry, was out gathering blackberries in advance of Coburn's Brigade. While he was doing this he noticed movement of men to the south. He quickly abandoned the blackberries and rushed to Col. Coburn with his report that the Rebels were advancing on them. Col. Coburn reported this to Gen Ward and requested permission to advance the Federal troops to meet the Confederate attack. The Yankees were at this time in the valley of Peach Tree Creek with the creek behind (north of ) them. Gen. Ward at first declined to order the movement because his commander, Gen. Joe Hooker, had ordered him to remain in the valley. Col. Coburn insisted that if they remained where they were then they would be driven into the creek. Gen. Ward then allowed Col. Coburn to make a personal verification of the Confederate advance and take Col. Benjamin Harrison s Brigade forward as well if the report of Confederate troops advancing was confirmed. Col. Coburn road to the crest of the ridge and saw for himself the men of Featherston's Brigade charging against him. He then formed a line of battle with the 22nd Wisconsin Infantry as skirmishes, the 33rd Indiana Infantry on his left, the 85th Indiana Infantry on his right, and the 19th Michigan Infantry as the second line. The 22nd Wisconsin had formed the temporary breast works of fence rails when they were on the skirmish line. This regiment had been pulled back to the main body of Coburn's Brigade for the Yankee charge against Featherston. The Confederates had occupied this line (as described by Gen. Featherston) but were unsupported on the Confederate right. Likewise, the 33rd Indiana was unsupported on its left. As the Yankee bullets crashed into Featherston's Brigade three companies of the 33rd Indiana bent into a curve to protect that regiment s left flank. According to the 33rd Indiana's historian, "All this time the enemy fought gallantly and with apparent confidence."
With both sides slugging it out and only a few feet apart Col. Coburn rode back to Col. Fred Winkler of the 26th Wisconsin Infantry of Gen. Wood's Brigade and asked him to advance his regiment to protect the left flank of the 33rd Indiana. Col. Winkler gave a somewhat different version of events in his description of the battle. His report stated,Our brigade was at this time formed in two lines, the 26th Wisconsin Regiment in front line on the right, the twentieth Connecticut on the left, two regiments, seventy-third and fifty-fifth Ohio, in second line. We moved forward simultaneously with the brigade on our right. The enemy appeared in strong line of battle at a fence running along the brow of a hill in our front. As the two lines were within easy musket range of each other, the battle commenced at once with great fierceness. The twentieth Connecticut had not advanced with us. The two lines were in many places less than a rod apart. For a time the conflict was desperate. I took every man who could be spared on the right to re-enforce the left. At last the enemy broke and fled. We pursued him on his very heels to the top of the hill, captured the regimental flag of the Thirty-third Mississippi, and leaving Col Drake, of that regiment, and 34 others dead, and at least double that number severely wounded, behind us, and cutting off the retreat of forty others, who surrendered afterward to the second line. We secured beside the flag 5 officer's swords of the Thirty-third Mississippi. This regiment, we assumed from the wounded, numbered nearly 400 offensive men."
There is also some dispute about the capture of the 33rd Mississippi battle flag. The 33rd Indiana historian recorded, some of the men of the 33rd Indiana and the 19th Michigan captured a rebel flag, but gave it to some officer unknown to them to take care of, but who the officer was was never known, except that he was serving upon the division staff. The flag today is in protected storage at the Mississippi Department of Archives and History. It is too delicate to be put on display. The flag has written on it, Captured by the 26th Regt. Wisconsin Vols. At Peach Tree Creek, Geo July 20, 1864 20th Corps Army of Cumberland."
In the early part of this century there was a movement to try to heal some of the wounds of the war by returning flags from states whose soldiers had captured them back to the states where the flags had originated. Since the battle flag of the 33rd Mississippi was one flag which was identified with a known state it was sent from Wisconsin to Mississippi. The event was evidently made known to the public. Mr. W. H. Conner then wrote to Dunbar Rowland, The Mississippi State Historian, the following letter:
Mr. Dunbar Rowland LL D., State Historian, Jackson , Miss. Dear Sir, I am in receipt of your letter of the 17th with reference to the battle flag of the 33rd Miss. CSA. I thank you very much for the information it contains. I am at a loss to know why the 26th Wis claimed the capture of the flag of the 33rd Miss. The 26th Wis belonged to Col. Wood's Brigade, 3rd Div 20th Corps and was not near the 33rd Miss. The 33rd Miss was in the front line of battle and in the immediate front of the 33rd Ind. At one time during the battle the guns of the 33rd Miss and the guns of the 33rd Ind. almost touched. It was at this time that the Colonel of the 33rd Miss was killed only a few paces in front of Co. K of the 33rd Ind. He was almost in front of his men when killed. I can see him yet as he waved his sword cheering his gallant men on in the fighting.
At this time it was most desperate, almost hand to hand. It was only a question of time as to which sided would gain the day. At this juncture of the fighting the Color Bearer of the 33rd Miss waved his flag back and forth in front of Co . K 33rd Ind. Which was a wonderful daring act. The 33rd Ind. dashed forward as the Confederates were thrown in confusion. I made a dash for the colors of the 33rd Miss and caught the flag just as the brave Color Bearer was killed. I did not kill him for which I am very thankful.
From the large numbers of the dead and wounded I believe that every one of the Color Bearers were killed. After the confederates had retreated from the hill and were fighting as they retreated, Capt. Beecher of Gen Ward's staff rode up to me and said, "Soldier let me take the flag and I will take care of it for you." I gave him the flag which was a foolish thing for me to do. At the time I did not care anything about the flag. Since the World's War I have regretted very much that I allowed this officer to take the flag. I never could learn what he did with it and cannot understand how it came in possession of the 26th Wis. unless it was that Capt. Beecher was a member of that regiment. If necessary I can make affidavit to this statement. There are none of my company living who witnessed the capture of the flag by me. Only four of us living who were mustered in Sept. 12, 1861, and I am one of the four and the youngest, of the four, 84 years old. The next day after the battle we buried the Confederate dead. We dug a circular grave and laid 45 of Col. Drake's men side by side with their feet towards the center and buried Col. Drake in the center. We placed a marker with the following inscription "Colonel Drake and 45 of his men." Comrade Hall of my company cut the inscription on a board. These brave men were buried the same as our men in the best possible manner under the circumstances.
I will also state that when the Confederates advanced to the attack, the 3rd Div of the 20th Corps had just crossed Peach Tree Creek and had stacked their guns and were engaged in making our coffee. Col. Harrison, (afterwards President) was in command of the First Brigade 3rd Div 20th Corps. Col. Coburn was in command of the 2nd Brigade and Col. Wood of the 3rd Brigade. Col. Coburn was first to discover the advance of the Confederates and requested Harrison to advance their lines to a ridge in our front along with his advance. Col. Harrison did so but Col. Wood refused to do so claiming that his orders from Gen. Ward was to remain where he was. Finally during the heaviest of the fighting Col. Coburn of the 2nd Brigade requested Col. Winkler to the 26th Wis to advance his regiment as the Confederates were flanking the 33rd Ind. Col. Winkler did so. My regiment the 33rd Ind. went into the fight with 382 men. The regiment lost 117 killed and wounded, other regiments of the division about the same number. For some time after the fighting was over I carried water to the wounded Confederates soldiers.
The loss on both sides was very great. I was in many fights but never saw more dead and wounded than I saw at Peach Tree Creek. Featherston s Brigade were wonderful fighters. I do not think there is a man living who took part in the battle of Peach Tree Creek who has a better recollection of that battle than I have and I feel that it was a great Honor to be the captor of the flag of the gallant 33rd Mississippi and I claim that honor in spite of any claim that the 26th Wis can make. If the men of my company were living they would co-oberate me in my statement or claim. If any of Gen Featherstone's men are living I would be pleased to hear if this statement is satisfactory to you and would be pleased to hear from you. Sincerely and cordially, W.H. Conner.