Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Battle of Sunshine Church (149th Anniversary) - Round Oak, Georgia

Sunshine Church Battlefield in Georgia
149 years ago today on July 31, 1864, the Union army suffered one of its greatest disasters of the Atlanta Campaign at a little country chapel called Sunshine Church.

The Battle of Sunshine Church was one Georgia's most dramatic Confederate victories and also holds note as the event that led to the surrender of the highest ranking Union officer to raise the white flag during the entire War Between the States (or Civil War).

Maj. Gen. George Stoneman
On the previous day, Gen. George Stoneman had tried to take Macon as part of a grandiose plan to lead a cavalry raid all the way to the prisoner of war stockade at Andersonville, Georgia. The general believed he would become a hero by liberating the thousands of Union prisoners held at Camp Oglethorpe (Macon) and Camp Sumter (Andersonville), but instead he found Gen. Howell Cobb waiting for him at Macon with a force of very motivated Georgia Reserves and Militia.

At the Battle of Dunlap Hill, just across the Ocmulgee River from downtown Macon, Cobb and his Confederates convinced Stoneman that it would be worse than foolish to try to continue on to Andersonville. After an unsuccessful attack on the Confederate fortifications around the Dunlap farm, Stoneman decided the best course of action would be for him to withdraw from Macon as quickly as possible and get back to the safety of Sherman's main army.  To learn more about that action, please see yesterday's post:

It was too late for Stoneman, who had earned his coming fate with the terror he had inflicted on helpless women and children on his way to Macon. Confederate cavalry was already moving into position behind him to cut off his route of retreat.

Brig. Gen. Alfred Iverson
About ten miles north of the town of Gray, the Union general and his men found that Confederate Gen. Alfred Iverson has cut them off and was waiting in an area of rough terrain near Sunshine Church.

Iverson had grown up in the area and knew its every ridge and trail. Outriding Stoneman, he had taken his men all the way around the retreating Union column. By the time the Federals reached Sunshine Church, the Confederates were dug in and waiting on a commanding ridge. They had picked the ground and were ready to make the fight.

In one of the greatest cavalry blunders of the War Between the States, Gen. Stoneman now found himself trapped between Iverson's entrenched men and the forces that Cobb was sending north from Macon to attack him from behind. Left with no choice but to try to fight his way through, the Union commander attacked and was driven back.

Iverson's Ridge at Sunshine Church
For hours and late into the night of July 31, 1864, the two forces battled. Iverson had chosen his ground well, however, and by the time the guns finally quieted everyone knew it. Over the pleas of his officers, Stoneman made a desperate decision. He would stay behind and sacrifice himself with part of his command to try to keep the Confederates occupied while Col. Horace Capron and Lt. Col. Silas Adams tried to cut their way out with their brigades.

Stoneman's Raid Marker
Adams and most of his men eventually did reach the safety of Sherman's lines, but Capron's brigade was cornered a few days later at the Battle of King's Tanyard and cut to pieces. Stoneman himself, completely surrounded by Confederate officers and soldiers who were irate over the intentional targeting of civilians by the Union raiders, was left with no choice but to become the highest ranking Union officer to surrender during the entire four years of the war.

Today's Sunshine Church
The Battle of Sunshine Church ended in embarrassing defeat for Federals and the Union general - who barely escaped being hanged from the nearest tree limb by the outraged Confederates - would spend months as a prisoner of war. It would be a long time before Stoneman's cavalry would "tear up the tracks again."

To learn more about the Battle of Sunshine Church, please visit

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