Local News

June 7, 2014

Civil War anniversary: The Battle of Potato Hill May 9-12, 1864, and Potato Hill Civil War Battlefield Park

Dalton’s, Georgia’s and our nation’s newest Civil War Park, Potato Hill Civil War Battlefield Park, is at 2261 Reed Road, three miles north of the Dalton Bypass. The park recently was dedicated and opened by Save the Dalton Battlefields and Whitfield County with the assistance of the Georgia Battlefields Association and the Community Foundation of Northwest Georgia.

 Potato Hill, which is also known as Picket Top, served as the northeast corner of the Confederate defenses at Dalton.

Potato Hill Civil War Battlefield Park is owned and operated by Whitfield County and is open to the public free of charge during daylight hours.

In the 1830s, as the Cherokee Indians were removed from northwest Georgia and their land was divided and distributed to white settlers, the early pioneer families settling in Crow Valley named the hill Potato Hill because it looked like someone had stuck a potato in the ground there.

Potato Hill, or Picket Top, is the detached northern terminus of a three-mile-long red sandstone ridge with an average elevation of 200 feet above its base. The ridge was named Hamilton Mountain for John Hamilton, one of Dalton’s earliest and most prominent citizens who owned its south end.

Potato Hill’s profile, when approached from the direction of Varnell, appears conical, or potato shaped, but is actually elliptical, with the crest extending southward more than 1,000 feet from its northern point.

The southern terminus of Hamilton Mountain, divided from the main ridge by Mill Creek, is just north of Dalton’s original city boundary line, and is named Mount Rachel for John Hamilton’s wife. The path of the East Tennessee and Dalton Railroad and the parallel wagon road from Cleveland, Tenn., ran along the length of the ridge a short distance from its eastern base. A military road, used during the war for the rapid movement of troops, was constructed in the deep valley that that runs down the center of the ridge, forming a military curtain wall from near Mount Rachel to Potato Hill.

Potato Hill was the Confederate Army of Tennessee’s forward-most and extreme right position in the Crow Valley network of fortifications. It was the point at which the extreme right of Maj. Gen. Carter L. Stevenson’s Division’s entrenched line, which ran generally northeastward from the crest of Rocky Face Ridge, met the extreme left of Maj. Gen. Thomas C. Hindman’s Division’s line of entrenchments, that faced the railroad and ran south along the eastern military crest of the ridge. A mile down the ridge, Ault’s Mill Gap, near Lt. Gen.William J. Hardee’s Corps headquarters, was also heavily fortified, and the extreme left of Maj. Gen. Patrick R. Cleburne’s Division’s line of entrenchments was anchored on the northern face of Mount Rachel.

The Confederate earthworks on Potato Hill consist of a thousand-foot long, elliptical-shaped trench that follows the contour line, 10 feet below the crest, with a connecting trench or curtain wall that descended down the brow of the ridge’s southern slope to Poplar Springs Road. On the northern point of the ridge’s crest, above the infantry trench, is an earthwork for a four-gun artillery battery.

The ridge’s forward position provided the infantry and artillery with a 270-degree field of fire. Concerning the hill’s defenses, Lt. Gen. John Bell Hood ordered this message to be sent to his subordinate, Gen. Hindman, “The lieutenant-general commanding directs me to say, that he examined the position of Potato Knob thoroughly to-day, and thinks 250 or 300 men amply sufficient to hold it. When you are ordered into line of battle you will please place that number there under a dashing and efficient officer.”

The officer that Hindman chose was Brig. Gen. William Tucker, whose Mississippi Brigade was composed of five Mississippi regiments, the 7th Mississippi, the 9th Mississippi, the 10th Mississippi, the 41st Mississippi, the 44th Mississippi and the 9th Mississippi Battalion Sharpshooters, totaling approximately 1,200 men.

These regiments alternated between manning the trenches and throwing forward skirmishers  to keep up a constant exchange of fire with the advancing Union troops. Tucker’s brigade had earned the name the “High Pressure Brigade” two years earlier during the Battle of Shiloh for remaining in their battle line against the Federals while under a withering fire.

Atop the hill, the Mississippians prepared defensive works in anticipation of the fighting in the spring of 1864.  They dug a set of earthworks around the entire military crest of the mountain and awaited the approach of the Federal army. From their position, they could defend from any direction.

The Union troops, who represented the left flank of Sherman’s army that advanced on Potato Hill, were composed of four Indiana regiments from Col. John C. McQuiston’s brigade in Brig. Gen. Alvin P. Hovey’s Division, and a Kentucky, Indiana and Tennessee regiment in Brig. Gen. Mahlon D. Manson’s brigade of Brig. Gen. Jacob D. Cox’s division.

The artillery assigned to Potato Hill was Rowan’s Georgia battery, created by merging the Third Maryland battery with Stephens Georgia Light Artillery battery (named for Confederate Vice President Alexander Stephens). The captain, John B. Rowan, and the two section commanders, Lts. William L. Ritter and Thomas D. Giles, were all highly experienced veterans from the Third Maryland Battery. All four of their 12-pounder Napoleon cannons had been captured from the Federals at the Battle of Chickamauga and they had barely escaped across a burning bridge over Chickamauga Creek as the Confederates retreated from the Battle of Missionary Ridge. Their artillery could fire with accuracy up to approximately 1,500 yards, which meant that any Federal force within a mile’s range approaching from the direction of Varnell could be stopped by these guns. The well-directed fire from Rowan’s battery was often cited by Union commanders in their official reports of the engagement.

All of the opposing Union artillery batteries were equipped with 3-inch ordinance rifles with a range of almost three miles. The largest number of incoming rounds was from the 15th Indiana Battery, commanded by Lt. Frederick W. Fouts, a German immigrant and recipient of the Congressional Medal of Honor. His battery accompanied Cox’s Division’s advance, and was positioned behind earthworks on a ridge 800 yards northwest of Potato Hill.

The Confederates on Potato Hill were also within range of the 1st Illinois Battery, on the crest of Rocky Face Mountain, and Eli Lilly’s old battery, the 18th Indiana, accompanying Brig. Gen. Edward McCook’s Cavalry, also lobbed a few rounds from near the Widow Burke’s place. In the end, the Confederate defenses at Potato Hill proved to be as impregnable as those at Mill Creek Gap.

This article is part of a series of stories about Dalton and life in Dalton during the Civil War. The stories run on Sunday and are provided by the Dalton 150th Civil War Commission. To find out more about the committee, go to dalton150th.com. If you have material that you would like to contribute for a future article contact Robert Jenkins at (706) 259-4626 or robert.jenkins@robertdjenkins.com.


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