Bates Deadly Reconnaissance
—Atlanta Campaign Heritage Trail —
On Saturday, May 28, 1864, the Confederate Kentucky "Orphan Brigade"—so named for they could not return home because of Federal control of their state—made a brutal attack against entrenched Federal lines. The attack was made from along these hills moving from east to west (left to right).
After the battles of New Hope Church and Pickett's Mill on May 25 and 27, 1864, commanding Confederate General Joseph E. Johnston shifted his attention to the Federal right flank around the small town of Dallas. Johnston was informed, erroneously, that Federal troops were retreating northeast and would be vulnerable to a surprise attack. Johnston also did not want commanding Union Major General William T. Sherman to direct a movement back to his railroad base near Big Shanty (present-day Kennesaw), which Sherman was preparing to do. Johnston hoped that by attacking Sherman's lines it would prevent such movement. The Confederate corps of Lieutenant General William J. Hardee was positioned east of Dallas and ready to attack; specifically, the division of Major General William B. Bate. Bate led three brigades — Brigadier General Joseph H. Lewis' Kentuckians, Brigadier General Thomas B. Smith's Tennesseans and Colonel Robert Bullock's Floridians—a total of about 3,000 infantrymen. Opposing Hardee was part of Union Major
General James B. McPherson's "Army of the Tennessee." Major General John "Black Jack" Logan's 15th Corps was positioned along a series of hills from east of Dallas to a fishhook shaped position on a hill south of town.
The Confederate plan was for Brigadier General Frank C. Armstrong's cavalry brigade to initiate the attack against the southern end of the Federal line. If Armstrong discovered considerable resistance their attack and any subsequent attacks would cease. However, if resistance was light four cannon shots would signal an assault by General Bate's infantry.
At 3:45 pm General Armstrong's attack began. His dismounted Alabama and Mississippi troopers surprised the Federals and captured three cannon. A Federal counterattack of the 6th Iowa Infantry Regiment, personally led by General Logan, recaptured the cannon. Armstrong called off his attack and informed General Bate of his action. Bate sent a courier to notify his three infantry brigades to not attack. Only General Smith however, received word. The Florida and Kentucky brigades believed they had missed the signal shots and began their attack. They encountered well-entrenched Federal soldiers from Brigadier Generals Morgan L. Smith's and Peter J. Osterhaus' divisions. The Confederates were mowed down, despite a portion of the Orphan Brigade reaching to within twenty yards of the Federal breastworks.
One Ohio soldier later observed, "...they came with heads bowed down and their hats pulled over their eyes as if to hide from view their inevitable death."
By 6:00 pm the fighting ended. Over 1,500 Confederates were casualties (killed, wounded or captured), including 51% of the Orphan Brigade. General Logan reported 379 total Federal casualties. The attack caused General McPherson to request only a brief delay in the eastward movement of his troops toward Kennesaw Mountain.