I am tossing out a question, for everyone, about the actions of General Howard at the battle of Pickett’s Mill. General Oliver O. Howard’s orders as given to him by General William Tecumseh Sherman were to find the end of the Confederate line, attack it, and drive the enemy from his dug-in position. After bumbling his way into a position to make the ordered attack, Howard apparently decided a reconnaissance-in-force would be the best option he had because it involved sending only a few of his units forward to feel the Confederate defenses. If they were successful, then Howard could order more brigades into action to support a breakthrough. If not, then he could call off his attack with minimal casualties (overall at least) and report the enemy too strong to assault. This would appear to be the course of action Howard decided to take. Unfortunately, having decided to conduct a mere reconnaissance-in-force by sending in only one brigade under General Hazen with dubious and late support from Colonel Scribner’s brigade, Howard then proceeded to reinforce Hazen when it was obvious the initial attack had failed. In continuing the assault Colonel Gibson’s brigade suffered even more casualties than Hazen. Shortly after he sent Gibson forward (or acquiesced to the division commander, Brigadier General Thomas Wood sending Gibson forward) Howard received an order from Sherman to cancel the attack. This likely influenced the decision to have Colonel Knefler’s brigade advance to cover the other two brigades until nightfall. A prudent decision, but it only added to the casualty rolls and sent many of his men on their way to Andersonville prison when Granbury boldly launched a night attack to clear the ravine to his front. Instead of a feeling the enemy’s defenses, Howard ended up sending a division to attack by individual brigades and piecemeal. Had he stuck to his reconnaissance, only Hazen’s men would have suffered severe casualties. So my question is: Having decided not to attack with all of his force, why did Howard then send in most of it anyway in a piecemeal fashion after the assault had begun
General Hazen, in his A Narrative of Military Service suggests that a major fault was that the attack had been planned as a column attack (each unit coming in very shortly after the one in front so as to take advantage of those gains). However, Hazen's unit was sent in "to see what would happen" thus, the planned column attack was abandoned. He states that the men were extremely out of sorts over the fact that reinforcements didn't come in as expected. A second fault that Hazen suggests was that they halted in the woods for over two hours, while organizing a column attack. Apparently the woods were quite thick (so they moved by compass) and muddy. Howard in his Autobiography says that the march to get into position to attach the Confederate right was delayed several times to ascertain where Johnston's line was located. He also speaks of the difficulty of marching through thick and muddy woods. He notes that what they thought was the end of Johnston's right was simply a sharp angle in his line and not the true right. Thus, while they supposed they were attacking on his right flank, this was not the case. Howard, in his brief autobiographical account does not describe a piecemeal attack. Hazen ruefully notes that the generals didn't have much to say about Pickett's Mill in their reports or, for example, in Sherman's Memoirs.
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