Did Jonesboro Change the Civil War? | Georgia Stories

Did Jonesboro Change the Civil War? | Georgia Stories


On the last day of August 1864, there
was a battle between Union and Confederate forces in the small town of
Jonesboro, 20 miles south of Atlanta. It wasn’t the largest battle in the
Civil War nor the bloodiest, but it was one of the most important. Here’s why. *Drums and Flute* In the spring of 1864, General William Tecumseh Sherman ordered his army to
march south into Georgia and the Confederates fought them every step of
the way. They battled in Dalton and Resaca, in Allatoona and Kennesaw
Mountain, and all the while Sherman had one objective and the rebels knew it:
Atlanta. A small town by today’s standards about 20,000 people but there
were factories here and three major rail lines. That’s why Sherman wanted it. From Atlanta came the guns and ammunition and uniforms and medicine and food that kept alive the struggling Confederate Army. By August the city was under siege and nearly surrounded.
There was only one supply line still open to the south the Macon and Western
Railroad in Jonesboro. *Gunfire, Cannon Fire, and Yelling* The federal troops had 70,000 men, the
rebels only about 20,000. On the first day of the battle of Jonesboro. On the
second day the Confederates had only half that many. They were outnumbered six
to one. *Gunfire and Yelling* And you know the battle lasted all day,
the Confederates fighting back, attack after attack after attack. Men began to
pile on top of men. The wounded on the bottom are being laid on by a dead man
another wounded man stacking them as they say like cordwood, like a stack of
firewood beside your house in the winter time. So they laid on top of each other
till it was just, it was almost impossible to move. History records again
and again where the soldiers couldn’t even walk for the bodies in different
battles and this was one of them. *Gunfire* We got them on the run! Whooo! *More gunfire* On the second day, the Confederates fought
behind the protection of a trench and they made the advancing Federals pay for
every foot of ground. In the Civil War fighting was brutal and life was hard,
both in battle and before in camp. The men wouldn’t see their families for
months or even years. Their food was often rotten and covered with flies. The
hardtack biscuit issued to the men was tough enough to stop a bullet and the
bullets were huge. They were made of soft lead that would shatter a bone into a
dozen pieces. Often if you were wounded, that meant amputation. And they amputated
a lot. When letter bearers would go out into battlefields looking for wounded
men, if you were shot anywhere in the torso you were called mortally wounded,
which meant you were going to die and so they’d look for soldiers who were shot
in either the arm or the leg and they would bring those back to the surgeon
because the surgeon had a pretty good chance of saving them. A soldier had a 1
in 10 chance of surviving without an amputation. They had a 7 in 10 chance surviving with one which is why amputations were so
common. But the worst enemy wasn’t bullets it was bacteria, germs. The men
lived outdoors, there were bathrooms, no clean drinking water.
Oftentimes men didn’t stop to wash their hands, their dishes, their clothes, or
themselves. During the Civil War, far more men died of disease and illness and
sickness than were ever killed by a bullet or a cannon or bayonet. In fact in
the Civil War about two hundred thousand men were killed in battle
but almost 400,000 Union and rebel soldiers died of disease. Well back to
the Battle of Jonesboro. By the end of the second day the outnumbered
Confederates were overrun by federal troops and the battle ended at nightfall.
The Confederates were forced to move back. In fact the whole Confederate Army
had to be evacuated from the city of Atlanta because they were now surrounded
and their supplies were cut off. The next day General Sherman moved into the city.
Atlanta, its factories, its warehouses, and
railroads, lost to the Union Army. It was September 1864, an election year, and many
believe that if Atlanta had not fallen, Abraham Lincoln would not have been
elected to his second term as president and today instead of a United States,
there would be two countries north and the south. After the Battle of Jonesboro some of the surviving Confederates under the
command of General Patrick Cleburne went north to Nashville to fight their last
fight. Claiborne was Irish and after a battle, it was his custom to have his
bagpipers play Amazing Grace as a kind of funeral prayer for the men who died.
In that last battle south of Nashville after the fall of Atlanta, again the
Confederates were outnumbered. They knew that they were going to lose, that many
would die, but they followed orders they fought anyway. But this morning, as
they’re ordered to drive the Yankees from the field, as they marched out on
the field through the mist the Yankee said we saw the flag the blue and white
flag of Clayburns men and he said we knew we were in for a fight and he said
but there was something else that we just couldn’t quite distinguish,
something there. As they moved closer they began to hear it first
subconsciously and then in their ear. A wine, a whining noise. As they move closer they recognized it.
It was the bagpipes of Claybournes men and this is what made their hair stand
on end. When they recognized the tune, it was Clayton’s band. They were marching
out on the field with bayonets ready to drive the Federals overwhelming numbers
from the field as they were ordered but the bagpipes were playing Amazing Grace
and the Federals said our hair stood on the backs of our necks because we knew
then that they were marching out to their own funeral dirge and these men
were ready to die. And they did. Almost 7,000 Confederates were killed or
wounded. A month later the army disbanded and many of the men just went back home
and five months later General Lee surrendered in a courthouse in the small
town of Appomattox. The bloodiest war in our history was over. *Patriotic Drums* *End Screen Music*

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