Hello readers and welcome to the latest edition of Pale Horse Revelations. The focus of this entry will be the battle of Resaca, Georgia. Although I do not mention the battle by name, this is the historical backdrop for the opening chapters of my novel "Behold a Pale Horse: The Legend of the Pale Rider Part I."
I knew from the outset that I wanted to set my story within the waning days of the American Civil War. To give the story a solid historical footing it was important to me to use an actual battle as the backdrop. At the same time, I wanted to avoid major battles that would be well known to the general public. My challenge, then, was to find a historical battle that would be obscure to the general public yet have historical significance. The Battle of Resaca fit the bill perfectly.
Before delving into the details of the historical battle, I want to review the relevant passage from the novel so that it is fresh in your mind:
"As Garrison neared the command tent, he was acutely aware of the mud that caked his uniform and the smell of gunpowder that clung to him like a shadow. He was fresh from the field, although the battle clearly still raged on. He was a member of General Kilpatrick’s cavalry division, part of the Army of the Cumberland under the command of General Thomas. The unit had been ordered up from their position at Snake Gap Creek that morning to reconnoiter the area around Resaca. They were surprised by Confederate infantry forces and General Kilpatrick had been wounded and removed from the field of battle. Led by Garrison’s own brigade commander, Colonel Eli Murray, they rallied and dispersed the Confederates before moving aside to allow the infantry forces of General McPherson to move forward and continue the assault. The cavalry was subsequently ordered to picket the north bank of the river. With Colonel Murray assuming command of the division, leadership of the 3rd Brigade had fallen to Lt. Colonel Samuel Benjamin."
As we dig into the historical details you will discover that every individual mentioned in this passage, with the exception of Garrison and Lt. Col. Benjamin, are in fact historical figures and key participants in the historical battle. In addition, while decidedly brief, this passage is an accurate synopsis of the opening hours of what would be a three-day long battle. Now, with the relevant passage from the novel fresh in our minds, lets dive into history.
The Battle of Resaca began on May 13th, 1864 and concluded on May 15th, 1864. The end result of three days of bloodshed is generally considered to be inconclusive with neither side being able to claim victory. The historical significance of this battle lays in the fact that it is widely considered the first major battle in Union General William Sherman's campaign to capture Atlanta. Contesting Sherman was the Confederate Army of Tennessee, led by General Joseph E. Johnson. During the course of three days the fighting spread over the counties of Gordon and Whitfield.
The movements and events described in the novel occurred on the first day of the battle, May 13th, 1864. However, these were preceded by strategic move and countermove that ultimately set the stage for the battle. At the outset of the campaign Johnson occupied strong defensive positions at Buzzard's Roost Gap and Rocky Face Ridge. Johnson hoped to lure Union forces into assaulting his position thereby allowing him to inflict heavy casualties. His plans were thwarted, however, when the Union Army of Tennessee led by General James B. McPherson seized the unguarded Snake Creek Gap on May 8th. Johnson was forced to withdraw from his heavily fortified positions and fall back to Resaca in order to counter the threat posed by McPherson's forces.
Thus was the stage set for the ensuing battle. The bulk of Sherman's forces pursued Johnson toward Resaca via Snake Creek Gap. On the morning of the 13th Sherman's main force began the march on Resaca and was within 2 miles of their goal by 10:00am. It was at this point that Kilpatrick's cavalry division was sent forward to recontour the area around Resaca. During the reconnaissance mission they encountered Confederate infantry forces and Kilpatrick was wounded.
Colonel Eli Murray, who commanded the Division's 3rd Brigade, took command of the Division, rallied the troops, and forced the Confederate forces to retreat. The cavalry was then ordered to picket the north bank of the Oostanaula River. And this brings us to the point where the story veers from history. Hopefully, you can see how these events provided the perfect backdrop for the story I wanted to tell. The wounding of Kilpatrick and temporary promotion of Murray provided the perfect opportunity to insert the fictional character of Lt. Col. Sammual Benjamin as the acting Brigade Commander and chief antagonist of this phase of the story.
And while Garrison wouldn't be a party to it, the Battle of Resaca would rage on for two more days. On the 14th Sherman's forces would assault Johnson's positions to the north and northwest but were ultimately repulsed. Johnson countered by attacking the Union left flank but was also repulsed. On the 15th Sherman again attacked Johnson's northern position and was once again repulsed. Johnson's subsequent counterattack would also be repulsed. The tide of battle was turned in the Union's favor when their forces were able to capture a bridgehead on the south bank of the Oostanaula River, thereby threatening to cutoff Johnson's only line of retreat. With no other choice Johnson abandoned Resaca that night and retreated south to Adairsville.
The battle was costly for both sides given that the result was ultimately inconclusive and indecisive. According to both the American Battlefield Trust and National Park Service Union casualties numbered 2,747 while Confederate casualties totaled 2,800. Ultimately, Sherman achieved his strategic goals. Johnson was forced to retreat toward Atlanta. But even more importantly he was cut off from sending troops to reinforce Lee in the east.
Thank you for joining me once again as we delve into the history behind my debut novel, "Behold a Pale Horse: The Legend of the Pale Rider Part I." I hope you found it worth your time. I am equally hopeful that you will check back next week for the next installment of Pale Horse Revelations.
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