Atlanta Campaign

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Atlanta Campaign
Part of the American Civil War
ShermanAtlanta.jpg
Union Maj. Gen. William T. Sherman and his staff in the trenches outside of Atlanta
Date May 7 – September 2, 1864
Location Northwestern Georgia and around Atlanta
33°44′56″N 84°23′17″W / 33.749°N 84.388°W / 33.749; -84.388Coordinates: 33°44′56″N 84°23′17″W / 33.749°N 84.388°W / 33.749; -84.388
Result Union victory
Belligerents
 United States  Confederate States
Commanders and leaders
William T. Sherman Joseph E. Johnston; replaced in July by John B. Hood
Strength
Military Division of the Mississippi (Army of the Cumberland, Army of the Ohio, Army of the Tennessee); 98,500–112,000 Army of Tennessee; 50,000–65,000
Casualties and losses
31,687;
(4,423 killed,
22,822 wounded,
4,442 missing/captured)
34,979;
(3,044 killed,
18,952 wounded,
12,983 missing/captured)

The Atlanta Campaign was a series of battles fought in the Western Theater of the American Civil War throughout northwest Georgia and the area around Atlanta during the summer of 1864. Union Maj. Gen. William T. Sherman invaded Georgia from the vicinity of Chattanooga, Tennessee, beginning in May 1864, opposed by the Confederate general Joseph E. Johnston.

Johnston's Army of Tennessee withdrew toward Atlanta in the face of successive flanking maneuvers by Sherman's group of armies. In July, the Confederate president replaced Johnston with the more aggressive John Bell Hood, who began challenging the Union Army in a series of damaging frontal assaults. Hood's army was eventually besieged in Atlanta and the city fell on September 2, setting the stage for Sherman's March to the Sea and hastening the end of the war.

Background[edit]

The Atlanta Campaign followed the Union victory in the Battles for Chattanooga in November 1863; Chattanooga was known as the "Gateway to the South", and its capture opened that gateway. After Ulysses S. Grant was promoted to general-in-chief of all Union armies, he left his favorite lieutenant, Sherman, in charge of the Western armies. Grant's strategy was to apply pressure against the Confederacy in several coordinated offensives. While he, George G. Meade, Benjamin Butler, Franz Sigel, George Crook, and William W. Averell advanced in Virginia against Robert E. Lee, and Nathaniel Banks attempted to capture Mobile, Alabama, Sherman was assigned the mission of defeating Johnston's army, capturing Atlanta, and striking through Georgia and the Confederate heartland.

Opposing forces[edit]

Principal Union commanders
Principal Confederate commanders

Union[edit]

Further information: Union order of battle

At the start of the campaign, Sherman's Military Division of the Mississippi consisted of three armies:[1]

On paper at the beginning of the campaign, Sherman outnumbered Johnston 98,500 to 50,000,[1] but his ranks were initially depleted by many furloughed soldiers, and Johnston received 15,000 reinforcements from Alabama. However, by June, a steady stream of reinforcements brought Sherman's strength to 112,000.[2]

Confederate[edit]

Further information: Confederate order of battle

Opposing Sherman, the Army of Tennessee was commanded first by Gen. Joseph E. Johnston, who was relieved of his command in mid-campaign and replaced by Lt. Gen. John Bell Hood. The four corps in the 50,000-man army were commanded by:[1]

Johnston was a conservative general with a reputation for withdrawing his army before serious contact would result; this was certainly his pattern against George B. McClellan in the Peninsula Campaign of 1862. But in Georgia, he faced the much more aggressive Sherman. Johnston's army repeatedly took up strongly entrenched defensive positions in the campaign. Sherman prudently avoided suicidal frontal assaults against most of these positions, instead maneuvering in flanking marches around the defenses as he advanced from Chattanooga towards Atlanta. Whenever Sherman flanked the defensive lines (almost exclusively around Johnston's left flank), Johnston would retreat to another prepared position. Both armies took advantage of the railroads as supply lines, with Johnston shortening his supply lines as he drew closer to Atlanta, and Sherman lengthening his own.

Battles: Sherman vs. Johnston[edit]

Map of the Atlanta Campaign
  Confederate
  Union

Rocky Face Ridge (May 7–13, 1864)[edit]

Further information: Battle of Rocky Face Ridge

Johnston had entrenched his army on the long, high mountain of Rocky Face Ridge and eastward across Crow Valley. As Sherman approached, he decided to demonstrate against the position with two columns while he sent a third one through Snake Creek Gap, to the right, to hit the Western & Atlantic Railroad at Resaca, Georgia. The two columns engaged the enemy at Buzzard Roost (Mill Creek Gap) and at Dug Gap. In the meantime, the third column, under McPherson, passed through Snake Creek Gap and on May 9 advanced to the outskirts of Resaca, where it found Confederates entrenched. Fearing defeat, McPherson pulled his column back to Snake Creek Gap. On May 10, Sherman decided to take most of his men and join McPherson to take Resaca. The next morning, as he discovered Sherman's army withdrawing from their positions in front of Rocky Face Ridge, Johnston retired south towards Resaca.[3]

Resaca (May 13–15)[edit]

Further information: Battle of Resaca

Union troops tested the Confederate lines around Resaca to pinpoint their whereabouts. Full scale fighting occurred on May 14, and the Union troops were generally repulsed except on Johnston's right flank, where Sherman did not fully exploit his advantage. On May 15, the battle continued with no advantage to either side until Sherman sent a force across the Oostanula River at Lay's Ferry, towards Johnston's railroad supply line. Unable to halt this Union movement, Johnston was forced to retire.[4]

Adairsville (May 17)[edit]

Further information: Battle of Adairsville

Johnston's army retreated southward while Sherman pursued. Failing to find a good defensive position south of Calhoun, Johnston continued to Adairsville while the Confederate cavalry fought a skillful rearguard action. On May 17, Howard's IV Corps ran into entrenched infantry of Hardee's corps, while advancing about two miles (3 km) north of Adairsville. Three Union divisions prepared for battle, but Thomas halted them because of the approach of darkness. Sherman then concentrated his men in the Adairsville area to attack Johnston the next day. Johnston had originally expected to find a valley at Adairsville of suitable width to deploy his men and anchor his line with the flanks on hills, but the valley was too wide, so Johnston disengaged and withdrew.[5]

New Hope Church (May 25–26)[edit]

Further information: Battle of New Hope Church

After Johnston retreated to Allatoona Pass from May 19 to May 20, Sherman decided that attacking Johnston there would be too costly, so he determined to move around Johnston's left flank and steal a march toward Dallas. Johnston anticipated Sherman's move and met the Union forces at New Hope Church. Sherman mistakenly surmised that Johnston had a token force and ordered Hooker's XX Corps to attack. This corps was severely mauled. On May 26, both sides entrenched.[6]

Dallas (May 26 – June 1)[edit]

Further information: Battle of Dallas

Sherman's army tested the Confederate line. On May 28, Hardee's corps probed the Union defensive line, held by Logan's XV Corps, to exploit any weakness or possible withdrawal. Fighting ensued at two different points, but the Confederates were repulsed, suffering high casualties. Sherman continued looking for a way around Johnston's line, and on June 1, his cavalry occupied Allatoona Pass, which had a railroad and would allow his men and supplies to reach him by train. Sherman abandoned his lines at Dallas on June 5 and moved toward the railhead at Allatoona Pass, forcing Johnston to follow soon afterward.[7]

Pickett's Mill (May 27)[edit]

Further information: Battle of Pickett's Mill

After the Union defeat at New Hope Church, Sherman ordered Howard to attack Johnston's seemingly exposed right flank. The Confederates were ready for the attack, which did not unfold as planned because supporting troops never appeared. The Confederates repulsed the attack, causing high casualties.[8]

Operations around Marietta (June 9 – July 3)[edit]

Further information: Battle of Marietta

When Sherman first found Johnston entrenched in the Marietta area on June 9, he began extending his lines beyond the Confederate lines, causing some Confederate withdrawal to new positions. On June 14, Lt. Gen. Leonidas Polk was killed by an artillery shell while scouting enemy positions with Hardee and Johnston and was temporarily replaced by Maj. Gen. William W. Loring. On June 18–19, Johnston, fearing envelopment, moved his army to a new, previously selected position astride Kennesaw Mountain, an entrenched arc-shaped line to the west of Marietta, to protect his supply line, the Western & Atlantic Railroad. Sherman made some unsuccessful attacks on this position but eventually extended the line on his right and forced Johnston to withdraw from the Marietta area on July 2–3.[9]

Kolb's Farm (June 22)[edit]

Further information: Battle of Kolb's Farm

Having encountered entrenched Confederates astride Kennesaw Mountain stretching southward, Sherman fixed them in front and extended his right wing to envelop their flank and menace the railroad. Johnston countered by moving Hood's corps from the left flank to the right on June 22. Arriving in his new position at Mt. Zion Church, Hood decided on his own to attack. Warned of Hood's intentions, Union generals John Schofield and Joseph Hooker entrenched. Union artillery and swampy terrain thwarted Hood's attack and forced him to withdraw with heavy casualties. Although the victor, Sherman's attempts at envelopment had momentarily failed.[10]

Kennesaw Mountain (June 27)[edit]

Further information: Battle of Kennesaw Mountain

This battle was a notable exception to Sherman's policy in the campaign of avoiding frontal assaults and moving around the enemy's left flank. Sherman was sure that Johnston had stretched his line on Kennesaw Mountain too thin and decided on a frontal attack with some diversions on the flanks. On the morning of June 27, Sherman sent his troops forward after an artillery bombardment. At first, they made some headway overrunning Confederate pickets south of the Burnt Hickory Road, but attacking an enemy that was dug in was futile. The fighting ended by noon, and Sherman suffered heavy casualties, about 3,000, compared the Confederate 1,000.[11]

Battle of Pace's Ferry (July 5)[edit]

Further information: Battle of Pace's Ferry

Johnston put the Chattahoochee River between his army and Sherman's. General Howard's IV corps advanced on Pace's Ferry on the river. The Confederate pontoon bridge there was defended by dismounted cavalry. They were driven away by BG Thomas J. Wood's division of IV Corps. The bridge, although damaged, was captured. Howard decided not to force a crossing against increased Confederate opposition. When federal pontoons arrived on July 8, Howard crossed the river and outflanked the Pace's Ferry defenders. This forced them to withdraw; and this permitted Sherman to cross the river, advancing closer to Atlanta. Johnston retired south of Peachtree Creek, about three miles (5 km) north of Atlanta.

Battles: Sherman vs. Hood[edit]

Peachtree Creek (July 20)[edit]

Further information: Battle of Peachtree Creek

After crossing the Chattahoochee, Sherman split his army into three columns for the assault on Atlanta with Thomas' Army of the Cumberland, on the left, moving from the north. Schofield and McPherson had drawn away to the east, leaving Thomas on his own. Johnston decided to attack Thomas as he crossed the creek, but Confederate President Jefferson Davis relieved him of command and appointed Hood to take his place. Hood adopted Johnston's plan and attacked Thomas after his army crossed Peachtree Creek. The determined assault threatened to overrun the Union troops at various locations, but eventually the Union held, and the Confederates fell back. The advance of McPherson from the east side of Atlanta distracted Hood from his offensive and drew off Confederate troops that might have joined the attack on Thomas.[12]

Atlanta (July 22)[edit]

Further information: Battle of Atlanta
The Siege of Atlanta by Thure de Thulstrup (c. 1888)
Palisades and chevaux-de-frise in front of the Potter House, Atlanta, Georgia, 1864

Hood determined to attack McPherson's Army of the Tennessee. He withdrew his main army at night from Atlanta's outer line to the inner line, enticing Sherman to follow. In the meantime, he sent William J. Hardee with his corps on a fifteen-mile (24 km) march to hit the unprotected Union left and rear, east of the city. Wheeler's cavalry was to operate farther out on Sherman's supply line, and Cheatham's corps was to attack the Union front. Hood, however, miscalculated the time necessary to make the march, and Hardee was unable to attack until afternoon. Although Hood had outmaneuvered Sherman for the time being, McPherson was concerned about his left flank and sent his reserves—Dodge's XVI Corps—to that location. Two of Hood's divisions ran into this reserve force and were repulsed. The Confederate attack stalled on the Union rear but began to roll up the left flank. Around the same time, a Confederate soldier shot and killed McPherson when he rode out to observe the fighting. Determined attacks continued, but the Union forces held. About 4 p.m., Cheatham's corps broke through the Union front, but massed artillery near Sherman's headquarters halted the Confederate assault. Logan's XV Corps then led a counterattack that restored the Union line. The Union troops held, and Hood suffered high casualties.[13]

Ezra Church (July 28)[edit]

Further information: Battle of Ezra Church

Sherman's forces had previously approached Atlanta from the east and north and had not been able to break through, so Sherman decided to attack from the west. He ordered Howard's Army of the Tennessee to move from the left wing to the right and cut Hood's last railroad supply line between East Point and Atlanta. Hood foresaw such a maneuver and sent the two corps of Lt. Gen. Stephen D. Lee and Lt. Gen. Alexander P. Stewart to intercept and destroy the Union force at Ezra Church. Howard had anticipated such a thrust, entrenched one of his corps in the Confederates' path, and repulsed the determined attack, inflicting numerous casualties. Howard, however, failed to cut the railroad. Concurrent attempts by two columns of Union cavalry to cut the railroads south of Atlanta ended in failure, with one division under Maj. Gen. Edward M. McCook completely smashed at the Battle of Brown's Mill and the other force also repulsed and its commander, Maj. Gen. George Stoneman, taken prisoner.[14]

Utoy Creek (August 5–7)[edit]

Further information: Battle of Utoy Creek

After failing to envelop Hood's left flank at Ezra Church, Sherman still wanted to extend his right flank to hit the railroad between East Point and Atlanta. He transferred Schofield's Army of the Ohio from his left to his right flank and sent him to the north bank of Utoy Creek. Although Schofield's troops were at Utoy Creek on August 2, they, along with the XIV Corps, Army of the Cumberland, did not cross until August 4. Schofield's force began its movement to exploit this situation on the morning of August 5, which was initially successful. Schofield then had to regroup his forces, which took the rest of the day. The delay allowed the Confederates to strengthen their defenses with abatis, which slowed the Union attack when it restarted on the morning of August 6. The Federals were repulsed with heavy losses and failed in an attempt to break the railroad. On August 7, the Union troops moved toward the Confederate main line and entrenched. They remained there until late August.[15]

Dalton (August 14–15)[edit]

Further information: Second Battle of Dalton

Wheeler and his cavalry raided into North Georgia to destroy railroad tracks and supplies. They approached Dalton in the late afternoon of August 14 and demanded the surrender of the garrison. The Union commander refused to surrender and fighting ensued. Greatly outnumbered, the Union garrison retired to fortifications on a hill outside the town where they successfully held out, although the attack continued until after midnight. Around 5 a.m. on August 15, Wheeler retired and became engaged with relieving infantry and cavalry under Maj. Gen. James B. Steedman's command. Eventually, Wheeler withdrew.[16]

Lovejoy's Station (August 20)[edit]

Further information: Battle of Lovejoy's Station

While Wheeler was absent raiding Union supply lines from North Georgia to East Tennessee, Sherman sent cavalry Brig. Gen. Judson Kilpatrick to raid Confederate supply lines. Leaving on August 18, Kilpatrick hit the Atlanta & West Point Railroad that evening, tearing up a small area of tracks. Next, he headed for Lovejoy's Station on the Macon & Western Railroad. In transit, on August 19, Kilpatrick's men hit the Jonesborough supply depot on the Macon & Western Railroad, burning great amounts of supplies. On August 20, they reached Lovejoy's Station and began their destruction. Confederate infantry (Patrick Cleburne's Division) appeared and the raiders were forced to fight into the night, finally fleeing to prevent encirclement. Although Kilpatrick had destroyed supplies and track at Lovejoy's Station, the railroad line was back in operation in two days.[17]

Jonesborough (August 31 – September 1)[edit]

Further information: Battle of Jonesborough

Sherman had successfully cut Hood's supply lines in the past by sending out detachments, but the Confederates quickly repaired the damage. In late August, Sherman determined that if he could cut Hood's railroad supply lines, the Confederates would have to evacuate Atlanta. He therefore decided to move six of his seven infantry corps against the supply lines. The army began pulling out of its positions on August 25 to hit the Macon & Western Railroad between Rough and Ready and Jonesborough. To counter the move, Hood sent Hardee with two corps to halt and possibly rout the Union troops, not realizing Sherman's army was there in force. On August 31, Hardee attacked two Union corps west of Jonesborough but was easily repulsed. Fearing an attack on Atlanta, Hood withdrew one corps from Hardee's force that night. The next day, a Union corps broke through Hardee's line, and his troops retreated to Lovejoy's Station. On the night of September 1, Hood evacuated Atlanta, burning military supplies and installations, causing a great conflagration in the city (the dramatic fire scenes depicted in the 1939 film Gone with the Wind). Union troops occupied Atlanta on September 2. Sherman cut Hood's supply line but failed to destroy Hardee's command.[18]

Aftermath[edit]

Roundhouse in Atlanta, following extensive damage from the Atlanta Campaign. Digitally restored albumen print, 1866.

Sherman was victorious, and Hood established a reputation as the most recklessly aggressive general in the Confederate Army. Casualties for the campaign were roughly equal in absolute numbers: 31,687 Union (4,423 killed, 22,822 wounded, 4,442 missing/captured) and 34,979 Confederate (3,044 killed, 18,952 wounded, 12,983 missing/captured). But this represented a much higher Confederate proportional loss. Hood's army left the area with approximately 30,000 men, whereas Sherman retained 81,000.[19][20] Sherman's victory was qualified because it did not fulfill the original mission of the campaign—destroy the Army of Tennessee—and Sherman has been criticized for allowing his opponent to escape. However, the capture of Atlanta made an enormous contribution to Northern morale and was an important factor in the re-election of President Abraham Lincoln.

The Atlanta Campaign was followed by Federal initiatives in two directions: almost immediately, to the northwest, the pursuit of Hood in the Franklin–Nashville Campaign; and after the presidential election of 1864, to the east in Sherman's March to the Sea.

See also[edit]

Notes[edit]

References[edit]

Further reading[edit]

  • Bailey, Anne J. The Chessboard of War: Sherman and Hood in the Atlanta Campaign of 1864. Lincoln, NE: University of Nebraska Press, 2000. ISBN 978-0-8032-1273-2.
  • Evans, David. Sherman's Horsemen: Union Cavalry Operations in the Atlanta Campaign. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1996. ISBN 0-253-32963-9.
  • Hess, Earl J. Kennesaw Mountain: Sherman, Johnston and the Atlanta Campaign. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2013. ISBN 978-1-4696-0211-0.
  • Luvaas, Jay, and Harold W. Nelson, eds. Guide to the Atlanta Campaign: Rocky Face Ridge to Kennesaw Mountain. Lawrence: University Press of Kansas, 2008. ISBN 978-0-7006-1570-4.

External links[edit]