Dates: 7 May to 2 September, 1864
Union: Major General William Sherman, commanding a force consisting of the Army of the Cumberland (Major General George Thomas), the Army of the Tennessee (Major General James McPherson), and the Army of the Ohio (Major General John Schofield).
Confederate: General Joseph Johnston, commanding a force consisting of the Army of Tennessee (his) and the Army of Mississippi (Lieutenant General Leonidas Polk).
Prelude: Sherman finally had a mandate to take the fight into the Confederate interior. With Lieutenant General Ulysses Grant in full command of all Union armies, the momentum was finally beginning to shift in the Federal’s favor. There were still factors that conceivably could still ensure Confederate victory. First, there was the Army of Northern Virginia, commanded by General Robert E. Lee, at this time holding off the Union Army of the Potomac in Virginia. The big difference from past battles was that the Federals were not retreating. Still, the amount of Union causalities that was being suffered would stoke the feeling of war weariness that was sweeping the North. Second, there was a Presidential election campaign in progress. President Abraham Lincoln was fighting for a second term on a unity ticket with Democrat Andrew Johnson, former military governor of Tennessee. Facing them was the presumptive Democrat nominee, former Major General George McClellan, a War Democrat who, if elected, would be forced by the Peace Democrat faction to open negotiations with the Confederacy with the aim of full recognition on the breakaway nation. For Lincoln to be reelected, there has to be Union military successes.
Grant’s plan was simple, he would be with the Army of the Potomac and fight Lee, Sherman would take his forces and drive deep into Georgia from his base at Chattanooga, TN. Sherman had the perfect target, Atlanta. At the time, the city was not the capital of Georgia (that was at Milledgeville, to the southeast) but it was an important rail center for shipping supplies to the Confederate armies. Its capture would cripple the Confederate logistical system almost beyond repair. It would also split the CSA’s territory in two.
For this, Sherman would have an army of 100,000. Facing him would be at least 50,000. He planned to bypass any defensive lines the Confederates would put down, not making any frontal attacks unless necessary.
3 May, 1864: Sherman’s forces depart Chattanooga and begin their movement to the southeast. McPherson’s army crosses into Georgia at Rossville and holds the Union right. Thomas’s troops take the Federal center and cross the line at Graysville. Schofield’s soldiers cross at Red Clay and assume the left.
7 May, 1864: Thomas and Schofield find a Confederate defensive line on Rocky Face Ridge, west of Dalton, GA. They make a few probing attacks. Than begin a maneuver around the Confederate left and continue to go south.
8 May, 1864: McPherson’s army crosses Snake Creek Gap and heads for Resaca.
9 May, 1864: Thomas and Schofield make another probe of Johnston’s defenses, this time at a place called Buzzard’s Roost, near Dalton. At the same time, McPherson tries to break the Confederate line at Resaca, but is turned back by a determined defense force.
10 May, 1864: Sherman decides to bypass Johnston and move his entire force on Resaca. Johnston receives word that Polk is on his way to reinforce him.
12 May, 1864: Johnston orders his army to Resaca in order to establish a new line.
13 May, 1864: Johnston reaches Resaca where Polk joins him, raising his strength to about 70,000, still outnumbered but stronger. Sherman orders probing attacks in order to seek any weak points.
14 May, 1864: Battle of Resaca: late morning; Schofield sends two of his corps against Lieutenant General John Hood’s corps, entrenched along the Wagon Road north of Resaca. Schofield hopes to turn the Confederate right flank and cut the Western and Atlantic Railroad line nearby. The Federals fail to break that line.
Late afternoon: Johnston tries to turn the Federal right but is repulsed.
Evening: Schofield sends XV Corps to seize a hill west of Resaca and manage to hold it against Confederate counterattacks. At the same time, there is another Federal attempt on the Confederate right. In one of the ironies of the war, the attack is led by XX Corps, commanded by Major General Joseph Hooker, a former commander of the Army of the Potomac, while IV Corps, commanded by Major General Oliver Howard, a former corps commander under Hooker, was in support. The attack was repulsed.
15 May, 1864: Battle of Resaca: Hood tries to break the Federal left, this time Hooker and Howard stop him. That evening, a division of the Federal XVI Corps crosses the Oostanaula River north of Resaca. This forces Johnston to order his army to retreat south to Calhoun so another line could be made.
It was during this time that there some discontent in the Confederate senior ranks, especially Hood, who believed that Johnston was wrong to order a retreat.
Sherman puts his army in full pursuit of Johnston, forcing him to retreat further south, angering his senior commanders.
17 May, 1864; Johnston stops briefly at Adairsville but Sherman begins to maneuver around him. Johnston continues the move south.
The object of Sherman’s exercise was that if he could get between Johnston and Atlanta, the city would fall quicker. Johnston, even in retreat, was not going to make that easy. The Confederates finally stop at Cassville and dig in. Sherman soon arrives.
19 May, 1864: Battle of Cassville: Polk and Hood deploy to the northwest of Cassville in order to attack the approaching XX Corps. When Federal cavalry under Major Generals George Stoneman and Alexander McCook arrive on the scene, Polk and Hood pull back to the east of the town and form a line with Lieutenant General William Hardee’s corps to the south. Federal artillery causes Johnston to abandon that line and head for the Etowah River.
20 May, 1864; Johnston crosses the Etowah River and begins setting up a line at Allatoona. This line finally has the promise of stopping Sherman.
Sherman has no plans to assault the Allatoona line. Instead, he swings west around Johnston’s position, march to Dallas, and then east to Marietta. Johnston, upon hearing of this move, abandons the Allatoona line and heads for Dallas himself.
27 May, 1864: Battle of New Hope Church: Howard is sent against Hood’s line at Pickett’s Mill but is repulsed with the help of cavalry. The thickly wooded country has an advantage for neither side.
28 May, 1864: Battle of Dallas: Hardee throws his corps against McPherson with no success. Both lines still hold their positions at sundown.
31 May, 1864; Sherman knows that even though he outnumbers the Confederates by almost a 2:1 margin, their defense is making it tough for him. He orders his forces to shift east to Acworth. His army arrives there on 6 June.
10 June, 1864: Sherman takes time to rest and refit his troops before resuming the advance on Atlanta. Despite skirmishes at Raccoon Creek and Big Shanty (modern day Kennesaw), he makes progress.
14 June, 1864; Johnston confers with Hardee and Polk on Pine Mountain to discuss the situation. Johnston decides to pull back further. During the conference, a Federal spotter sees them and reports it to a nearby artillery battery. One of the shells strikes Polk in the chest, killing him instantly. Lieutenant General Alexander Stewart will take over the corps.
Johnston’s forces pull back to Kennesaw Mountain.
27 June, 1864: Battle of Kennesaw Mountain: This is where Sherman goes off his method. He decides to make a frontal assault instead of a flanking movement. He sends the Armies of the Tennessee and the Cumberland at the Confederate center while the Army of the Ohio is sent to hit Johnston’s left. For three hours Sherman makes seven assaults, losing 1999 and failing to dislodge Johnston.
That evening, Johnston decides that while he can hold his present position, plans to pull back are still to be made. The next line of defense would be on the Chattahoochee River.
2 July, 1864: While Sherman plans another flanking movement, Johnston pulls his troops off Kennesaw Mountain and heads for the Chattahoochee River.
5 July, 1864: Johnston’s army is established on the north bank of the Chattahoochee. He is awaiting a message from CS President Jefferson Davis concerning reinforcements.
Sherman’s forces arrive and begin to make probing attacks along the Chattahoochee. At one point the Confederate line is overlapped, placing Federals closer to Atlanta than Confederates.
7 July, 1864: Johnston receives a message from President Davis stating that no reinforcements were coming. Johnston is also critized for retreating. He did not know this at the time, but Hood was sending reports to Davis critical of Johnston’s handling of the campaign.
9 July, 1864: Johnston decides to fall back to Atlanta itself, citing the fact that no reinforcements were coming and there was a need to shorten the defensive lines. That day, Sherman’s troops are crossing the river at multiple points.
Over the next several days, Johnston would prepare defenses around Atlanta as Sherman’s forces continue to cross the Chattahoochee. Sherman decides to take a page out of Grant’s playbook and put Atlanta to a siege. To do that, he would have to cut all rail lines into the city.
17 July, 1864; CS President Davis got fed up with Johnston’s constant retreating and was not too sure that Johnston would even hold Atlanta. He issues an order relieving Johnston of command and naming Hood to succeed him.
Hood is 33 at the time. He has already lost the use of his left arm at Gettysburg and lost his right leg at Chickamauga. He has to be tied to the saddle in order to ride a horse. He is known for his courage in battle and seems to be the best bet to save Atlanta.
Sherman’s plan was simple, Thomas would come in from the north, and Schofield and McPherson from the east. This would lead to the city getting encircled, however Hood would not wait.
20 July, 1864: Battle of Peach Tree Creek: Hood throws Stewart’s and Hardee’s corps at Thomas’ line, occupying ground between Collier Road and Peach Tree Road. With a good defensive line and excellent artillery support, the Confederates were sent back with heavy losses, losses that they could not afford.
On the same day, McPherson’s army, approaching from the east, has Atlanta within artillery range while Schofield is delayed by Hood’s old corps, now commanded by Lieutenant General Benjamin Franklin Cheatham.
21 July, 1864: Federal troops capture Bald Hill, east of Atlanta.
22 July, 1864: Battle of Atlanta: Hood sends Hardee to the southeast then cuts north to hit McPherson at Bald Hill. They finally launch their attack at noon. McPherson rides forward to see what is going on. He is suddenly surrounded by Confederates, who call on him to surrender. McPherson salutes his foes and attempts to ride for his lines. He is shot dead. During the day, the Confederates manage to break the Federal, but intense counterattacks force them back. At the end of the day, the Federals hold their line.
After McPherson’s death, Howard is given command of the Army of the Tennessee and ordered to shift his forces to the west of Atlanta. now you have Thomas in the north, Schofield to the east, and Howard to the west.
One effect of Howard’s promotion was the resignation of Hooker, who wanted the command for himself.
28 July, 1864: Battle of Ezra Church: Hood sends Cheatham’s corps, now commanded by Major General Stephen D. Lee, and Hardee’s corps to hit Howard, now directly west of Atlanta. Against Hood’s orders they launch a frontal assault that all but shatters both corps.
Despite this, Hood still held Atlanta and Sherman resorted to siege tactics, as he planned, while sending cavalry out on raids against rail lines. It is possible that Sherman also heard about the Confederate prison camp at Andersonville and thought he could liberate it.
6 August, 1864: Battle of Utoy Creek: Sherman decides to try to maneuver Hood out of Atlanta by flanking him. Utoy Creek, northwest of Atlanta, seemed the best place. The move is countered by defending Confederates.
After that attempt failed, Sherman ordered Atlanta shelled, but that only resulted in civilian causalities. Next, he sends Major General Judson Kilpatrick to raid the Macon and Western Railroad, Hood’s only remaining supply line, but that fails. Sherman decides that a large scale flanking movement just might do the trick.
25 August, 1864: Sherman leaves XX Corps to guard the Chattahoochee crossing and begins moving his army to the southwest of Atlanta.
28 August, 1864: Thomas’ army reaches Red Oak while Howard reaches Fairburn. Both armies destroy the Atlanta and West Point Railroad, already cut off but this would slow recovery.
30 August, 1864: Hood finds out about Sherman’s movement and sends Stephen Lee and Hardee to Jonesboro, on the Macon and Western Railroad. Howard reached Jonesboro and digs in, leaving Thomas and Schofield within striking distance of Atlanta.
31 August, 1864: Battle of Jonesboro: 3:00 p.m.: Lee and Hardee launch a frontal attack on Howard’s position west of Jonesboro. With Union cavalry blocking an attempt to cross the river to the south, the federal lines hold.
To the north, at Rough and Ready, Schofield’s troops arrive to capture the town, cutting telegraph communication just after Hood wired Lee orders to return to Atlanta.
1 September, 1864: Battle of Jonesboro: Sherman throes his whole weight at Hardee but fails to dislodge him. Still, that night, Hardee pulls back to Lovejoy’s Station.
This final battle severs all rail links to Atlanta. Hood decides to save what’s left of his army and evacuate the city. After burning all the supplies that could not be taken, he sets off to Lovejoy’s Station to meet up with Hardee.
2 September, 1864: Troops of the 2nd Massachusetts enters Atlanta and receives the surrender of the city. Sherman telegraphs, “Atlanta is ours and fairly won.”
This campaign took a major rail and manufacturing center out of the war. The Confederacy lost a rolling mill that made iron plate for the CS Navy, laboratories that were involved in the war effort, as well as numerous workshops and lastly, three railroads. This was a serious blow to the Confederacy.
Sherman would rest and refit his men before he would embark on his famous “March to the Sea.” Hood would try to force Sherman out by attacking his supply lines but ended up destroying his army at Nashville.
Sherman and Johnston would meet again as their armies would clash in North Carolina. On 26 April, 1865, Johnston would surrender his army to Sherman.
When Sherman died in 1891, Johnston was one of the pallbearers. Johnston showed respect for his former enemy by keeping his hat off, even though it was raining. Johnston caught a cold and died of pneumonia several days later.
Dates: 7 May to 2 September, 1864