William T. Sherman's army had steadily advanced towards Atlanta in the spring and summer of 1864, fighting a series of battles against the Confederate Army of Joseph E. Johnston. Sherman continually flanked the Confederate positions and slipped ever closer to his goal. Howard's IV Corps pursued the retreating Confederates along the Western & Atlantic Railroad, with General Thomas J. Wood's division in the lead. They encountered very little resistance until the head of column reached Vining's Station. From that point, a road led to the east toward Atlanta, crossing the Chattahoochee River at Pace's Ferry, where the Confederates had constructed a pontoon bridge over the deep and swift flowing river. Wood's skirmishers encountered a brigade of dismounted cavalry, which had its front covered by rail barricades along a ridge at right angles to the road, a quarter mile from the railroad station. Wood quickly drove the Confederates from these barricades and pushed on to the river. Despite Confederate efforts to destroy the bridge to prevent it from falling into enemy hands, Wood's men arrived in time to save the greater part of the bridge. Confederate attempts to burn the structure had failed, and mooring ropes had been cut on the Confederate side so that the pontoon bridge drifted in the river.
Not seeing a suitable opportunity to attack the strong Confederate positions across the Chattahoochee, Howard ordered his corps into camp on high ground facing the river and awaited the arrival of Federal pontoons. When they arrived on July 8, he crossed the river and outflanked the Pace's Ferry defenders, forcing them to withdraw.
U.S. War Department, The War of the Rebellion: A Compilation of the Official Records of the Union and Confederate Armies, 70 volumes in 4 series. Washington, D.C.: United States Government Printing Office, 1880-1901. Series 1, Volume 38, Part 1.