His second option was to do nothing. He had prolonged the Union line considerably, and reinforcements would easily be able to fill the gap between himself and the Twenty-Third Corps the next day. While prudent, it was not what Sherman had ordered. Sherman had already taken Major General George Thomas to task for not attacking immediately at New Hope Church two days before. While this proved to be unfounded and unfair to Thomas, at the time Howard would only have taken it as a reprimand against an officer that Sherman deemed to slow or unwilling to bring on a battle. Since Sherman had sent him to find and attack the Confederate flank, to dig in without attacking would appear to Howard as a damaging or unwise career choice.
The third option was to attempt some course of action between the two. A reconnaissance-in-force would involve 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. 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? There has never been a satisfactory answer.
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