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Civil War Wednesday: Gilgal Church

  • Confederate Earthworks

    Confederate earthworks at the Gilgal Church site in Kennesaw, Georgia.

    Photo by Michael Shaffer.

Major General Patrick Cleburne
Major General Patrick Cleburne

Witnessing the death of Lieutenant General Leonidas Polk atop Pine Mountain on June 14, 1864, General Joseph E. Johnston ordered the removal of all troops from the exposed salient the following day. Establishing the Gilgal Church Line, a position the Confederates would hold for 48 hours, Major General Patrick Cleburne’s Division occupied the center of the line near the church. The troops worked quickly to tear away logs and other materials from the house of worship to use in fortifying their earthworks.

Attacking on June 15, the lead elements of the Federal XX Corps included Major General Daniel Butterfield’s Third Division: soldiers from Illinois, Indiana, Ohio, Michigan, and Wisconsin. The assailants struggled to dislodge Cleburne’s stubborn defense. A colonel from Indiana joining the advance noted his men faced “…a tremendous fire of artillery and musketry, coming from what proved to be the enemy’s great line of earthworks….”[1] Colonel Benjamin Harrison, a future U.S. president who led the 70th Indiana Infantry, numbered among the Northern soldiers engaged in the fighting.

Major General Daniel Butterfield
Major General Daniel Butterfield

Realizing their inability to take Cleburne’s position, the Federals fell back. The following day, as fighting occurred near the church, Major General John Schofield moved to the right of Butterfield and managed to turn the Southern flank. He brought up his artillery and placed enfilading fire along the Confederate line. This made the position too hot to maintain and forced Johnston to retract his lines. Major General William Hardee’s Corps fell back to the Mud Creek Line for two days and then occupied the defenses along the Kennesaw Mountain Line. Of the fighting at Gilgal Church, one Federal soldier remembered, “I have visited the battle grounds of ‘Stone River’ and ‘Chicamauga’ [sic] neither of which exhibits near the ‘Scars of Battle’ as does the battle ground of ‘Golgotha.’[2] (Several period accounts contain references to Gilgal as Golgotha.)

Located on Kennesaw Due West Road in Kennesaw, the Gilgal Church site contains remains of original Confederate earthworks, with a rebuilt section of a defensive position. Entering and exiting the small parking section remains difficult, so use caution when visiting this Atlanta Campaign spot in Cobb County.

[1] U.S. Government, The War of the Rebellion Official Records of the Union and Confederate Armies, vol. 38, pt.2 (Harrisburg, PA: National Historical Society, 1985), 384.

[2] Charles Harding Cox, “Gone for a Soldier: The Civil War Letters of Charles Harding Cox,” Indiana Magazine of History 68, no. 3 (September 1972): 204, accessed November 30, 2015, http://scholarworks.iu.edu/journals/index.php/imh/article/viewFile/9663/13038.

Michael Shaffer

Michael K. Shaffer is the Assistant Director and Lecturer for Kennesaw State University’s Civil War Center. He is a Civil War historian, author, and newspaper columnist, and a member of the Society of Civil War Historians. He serves on the boards of the Civil War Round Table of Cobb County and the River Line Historic Area, and assists the Friends of Camp McDonald as a Civil War consultant.