An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge HTML version

The Crime at Pickett
There is a class of events which by their very nature, and despite any intrinsic interest
that they may possess, are foredoomed to oblivion. They are merged in the general story
of those greater events of which they were a part, as the thunder of a billow breaking on a
distant beach is unnoted in the continuous roar. To how many having knowledge of the
battles of our Civil War does the name Pickett's Mill suggest acts of heroism and
devotion performed in scenes of awful carnage to accomplish the impossible? Buried in
the official reports of the victors there are indeed imperfect accounts of the engagement:
the vanquished have not thought it expedient to relate it. It is ignored by General
Sherman in his memoirs, yet Sherman ordered it. General Howard wrote an account of
the campaign of which it was an incident, and dismissed it in a single sentence; yet
General Howard planned it, and it was fought as an isolated and independent action under
his eye. Whether it was so trifling an affair as to justify this inattention let the reader
The fight occurred on the 27th of May, 1864, while the armies of Generals Sherman and
Johnston confronted each other near Dallas, Georgia, during the memorable "Atlanta
campaign." For three weeks we had been pushing the Confederates southward, partly by
maneuvering, partly by fighting, out of Dalton, out of Resaca, through Adairsville,
Kingston and Cassville. Each army offered battle everywhere, but would accept it only
on its own terms. At Dallas Johnston made another stand and Sherman, facing the hostile
line, began his customary maneuvering for an advantage. General Wood's division of
Howard's corps occupied a position opposite the Confederate right. Johnston finding
himself on the 26th overlapped by Schofield, still farther to Wood's left, retired his right
(Polk) across a creek, whither we followed him into the woods with a deal of desultory
bickering, and at nightfall had established the new lines at nearly a right angle with the
old--Schofield reaching well around and threatening the Confederate rear.
The civilian reader must not suppose when he reads accounts of military operations in
which relative position of the forces are defined, as in the foregoing passages, that these
were matters of general knowledge to those engaged. Such statements are commonly
made, even by those high in command, in the light of later disclosures, such as the
enemy's official reports. It is seldom, indeed, that a subordinate officer knows anything
about the disposition of the enemy's forces--except that it is unamiable--or precisely
whom he is fighting. As to the rank and file, they can know nothing more of the matter
than the arms they carry. They hardly know what troops are upon their own right or left
the length of a regiment away. If it is a cloudy day they are ignorant even of the points of
the compass. It may be said, generally, that a soldier's knowledge of what is going on
about him is coterminous with his official relation to it and his personal connection with
it; what is going on in front of him he does not know at all until he learns it afterward.
At nine o'clock on the morning of the 27th Wood's division was withdrawn and replaced
by Stanley's. Supported by Johnston's division, it moved at ten o'clock to the left, in the
rear of Schofield, a distance of four miles through a forest, and at two o'clock in the