Atlanta Campaign History

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After the Chattanooga Campaign, Bragg retreated 25 miles south to Dalton, Ga., and entrenched. Grant had not pursued, since he was concerned with going to Burnside's relief at Knoxville. As a result of public clamor, Bragg asked to be relieved and was succeeded in Dec. by Joseph E. Johnston. The Confederate authorities planned a new offensive into Tennessee and, during the winter of 1863-64, reinforced Johnston to a strength of about 62,000, including 2,000 cavalry under Joseph Wheeler. His corps commanders were Hardee, Hood, and (soon after the campaign started) Polk.
       Sherman had 106,000 men in seven infantry corps and a cavalry corps. Thomas's Army of the Cumberland consisted of the following corps: O. O. Howard's IV, J. M. Palmer's XIV, Hooker's XX, and W. L. Elliott's Cavalry Corps. McPherson's Army of the Tenn. consisted of John A. Logan's XV, G. M. Dodge's XVI, F. P. Blair's XVII. Schofield's Army of the Ohio consisted of his XXIII Corps and Stoneman's cavalry. J. E. Smith's (3d) division of XV Corps, XVII Corps, and three cavalry brigades were designated to guard the lines of communications.
       Sherman's orders from Grant were "to move against Johnston's army, to break it up, and to get into the interior of the enemy's country as far as you can, inflicting all the damage you can against their war resources. . . ." Since Atlanta was a vital supply, manufacturing, and communications center, Sherman advanced toward that point while Johnston was pressed back toward it.
       Sherman's advance started 7 May, about the same time as Grant, with Meade's Army of the Potomac, started the offensive in the east. Since Johnston's position at Dalton was too strong to attack, Sherman sent McPherson, preceded by Kilpatrick's cavalry division, to turn it from the west while Thomas advanced frontally along the railroad. Schofield threatened the Confederate right. This resulted in the actions around Rocky Face Ridge, 5-9 May '64. Johnston withdrew without becoming decisively engaged.
       Johnston, now reinforced by Polk's corps, took up a strong defensive position. The actions around Resaca, 13-16 May, were followed by another withdrawal when Sherman threatened another envelopment from the west. Not finding favorable defensive positions either at Calhoun or Adairsville, as he had hoped, Johnston continued his retrograde. Sherman now advanced on a broad front, since the country had become more open. Garrard's cavalry, supported by Jeff C. Davis's division, captured Rome, Ga., an important manufacturing and supply point. Johnston planned to take advantage of his own relatively concentrated position around Cassville and Sherman's separated corps to strike a counterblow. While Hardee and Wheeler's cavalry checked the advance of McPherson and Thomas from the west and north, Hood on the right (east) was to attack Schofield as the latter moved with his smaller corps to attack Polk in the Confederate center. Hood, however, was faked out of position by the advance of McCook's cavalry on his own right; instead of preparing to attack west, he faced east to meet what he thought to be a threat to his own right. The delay caused by this error spoiled the timing of Johnston's plan, and the Confederates withdrew to a strong defensive position south of Cassville.
       On 19 May, Thomas closed in from the west, and Schofield from the north. There was skirmishing until dark. Although Johnston had intended to defend here, Hood and Polk convinced him that their part of the line was too vulnerable to enfilade fire. Johnston, therefore, retired during the night of 19-20 May to Allatoona Pass.
       Sherman found this position too strong to assault. After giving his army three days' rest, he undertook another turning movement. McPherson's Army of the Tenn. moved on a wide envelopment through Van Wert and approached Dallas from due west. Schofield on the left and Thomas in the center approached from the north. This brought on the action at Dallas (New Hope Church), 25-27 May. Sherman then moved east again and forced Johnston to abandon his position to take up another one to protect the railroad. This led to the battle of Kenesaw Mountain, 27 June. Here Sherman deviated from his former strategy of turning, rather than assaulting, Confederate defenses; the result was a bloody repulse. Polk was killed 14 June at Pine Mountain.
       Johnston's next stand was on the Chattahoochee River, 4-9 July. Sherman again turned his position and Johnston withdrew to Peach Tree Creek. The evening of the 17th, Johnston was relieved by Hood, who was known for his aggressiveness. Johnston's Fabian tactics had exasperated the Confederates, as they had the Romans. Sherman wrote later that by this act "the Confederate Government rendered us most valuable service."
       Sherman closed in on Atlanta from the north and east. McPherson executed the wide envelopment through Decatur. Thomas crossed Peach Tree Creek from the north. Schofield was between these wings. In the battle of Peach Tree Creek ("Hood's First Sortie"), 20 July, Hood suffered heavy casualties and failed to defeat Thomas's army while it was astride the creek. When Hood withdrew into the defenses of Atlanta, Sherman erroneously concluded that he was abandoning the city. As McPherson issued orders to move "in pursuit to the south and east of Atlanta," Hood sent Wheeler and Hardee on a 15-mile night march against McPherson's exposed south flank. This action, in which McPherson was killed, is known as the battle of Atlanta ("Hood's Second Sortie"), 22 July. The Confederates, however, were finally checked with a loss of about 8,500 as compared with a Union loss of 3,700.
       McPherson's death precipitated a reorganization of command. Howard became C.G., Army of the Tennessee. Hooker, who ranked Howard and felt himself entitled to McPherson's post, resigned command of XX Corps and was succeeded by Slocum. Palmer, later, resigned command of XIV Corps because he did not want to serve under Schofield, whom he claimed was junior. Jeff C. Davis became C.G., XIV Corps.
       By 25 July, Sherman had invested Atlanta on the north and east. Hood's line of communications via the railroad to the south was still open, and Sherman now directed operations to cut it. This resulted in two failures: Stoneman's and McCook's Raids, 26-31 July, and the battle of Ezra Church, 28 July.
       July ended with Hood's holding Atlanta with 37,000 infantry reinforced by 5,000 Georgia State Militia under G. W. Smith. Sherman had 85,000 infantry. The only cavalry he had fit for field service was Garrard's division and a brigade that had joined Schofield after Stoneman's departure. Stoneman's division had been all but wiped out. "McCook's division had been dispersed and its fractions were seeking safety at various points on the Chattahoochee below the railroad" . Kilpatrick's cavalry division, which had been guarding communications to the rear, was ordered to relieve McCook's division in protecting Sherman's right flank.
       In another effort to extend his lines west and cut Hood's rail lines to the south, the XXIII Corps was moved from Sherman's left to the right and reinforced two days later by the XIV Corps. Positions thus evacuated were filled by Garrard's dismounted troopers in the former XXIII Corps sector, and by thinning the lines of the XX and IV Corps. This movement led to frustration on Utoy Creek.
       Before Sherman could carry out his next plan, to move his entire force west of the Atlanta-Marietta R.R. and turn Hood's position by an advance south, he was diverted by Wheeler's Raid, 10 Aug. - 1O Sept. '64. On 16 August, Sherman learned that the bulk of Hood's cavalry was near Dalton. He decided to take advantage of this situation to raid Hood's line of communications and force him to retreat. Kilpatrick's Raid to Jonesboro, 18-22 Aug., was a failure.
       Sherman then prepared to employ his infantry. The night of 25 Aug., he started regrouping his forces to turn Hood's west flank. On 27 Aug., his forces were on line along the Sandtown Road with Howard, Thomas, and Schofield from right to left. The next day Howard and Thomas reached the Montgomery and Atlanta R.R. at Fairburn and Redoak Station, respectively. By midnight of 31 Aug., Schofield had cut the railroad at Rough and Ready; Thomas had cut it about halfway between that place and Jonesboro. Howard had closed up to the latter place from the west.
       The night of 30 Aug., Hood, knowing of Howard's location but not that of the other two commanders, had sent the corps of Hardee and S. D. Lee to defend Jonesboro. The next day they made an unsuccessful attack. S. D. Lee was then ordered back toward Atlanta. Sherman then failed to destroy Hardee's isolated force. These actions are known as the battle of Jonesboro, Ga., 31 Aug.-l Sept. '64.
       Hood evacuated Atlanta at 5 P.m., 1 Sept., and the XX Corps took possession the next morning. Sherman pursued Hood to Lovejoy but found him concentrated with his entire command in a position that was too strong to be assaulted. Union forces returned to Atlanta 4-8 Sept. Thomas's command occupied the town, Howard's was located at East Point, and Schofield's was at Decatur. Unable to advance farther, but determined to hold his gains, Sherman evacuated the Southern civilians from the city and converted it into an armed camp that could be held with the smallest possible force. In Sept., Hood moved north to attack Sherman's 140mile line of communications to Chattanooga, with the hope that this would force him to abandon Atlanta. This operation is known as the Franklin and Nashville Campaign. After frustrating Hood's threat to his line of communications and then leaving Thomas to take care of Hood's subsequent invasion of Tenn., Sherman, in Nov., cut loose from his base in Atlanta and undertook his March To The Sea.

Source: The Civil War Dictionary, by Mark M. Boatner III

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