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In the spring of 1864, Ulysses S. Grant ordered General William Tecumseh Sherman to pursue the Confederate Army of Tennessee wherever it went. The campaign began east of Ringgold at Tunnel Hill on May 4, 1864 but quickly moved to the "Doors of Death," a high mountain ridge just west of Dalton, Georgia. With the Army of the Cumberland in front of the ridge, Sherman ordered James McPherson [US] to head south to Resaca.
McPherson came out of Snake Gap and ran into sharp resistance at the rail bridge over the Oostanaula River. The Union general ran into the men of "Old Blizzards" (W. W. Loring) who were moving north to Joe Johnston's Dalton line. Deep in enemy territory, McPherson withdrew and waited for Sherman's massive army to join him, perhaps sacrificing the best chance to catch Joe Johnston off-guard during the Atlanta Campaign.
On May 10 Sherman ordered a general movement south to support McPherson, evacuating the position in front of Rocky Face Ridge. On the morning of May 12, the Confederates realized Sherman was no longer in front of them. Johnston withdrew to Resaca and entrenched 3 corps for an attack. At first, the battle of Resaca raged in front of the Western and Atlantic Railroad depot at the center of town, with Sherman hoping to break the Confederate line and seize the track. When the line held, Sherman swung the attack to the north, with General Joe Hooker's XX Corps attacking John Bell Hood's Corps. The battle was rendered moot when Thomas Sweeney's [US] men crossed the Oostanaula south of the Rebel position forcing Johnston to evacuate across a pontoon bridge east of the railroad bridge.
Moving south into Georgia's "Great Valley," sometimes called the Oothcaloga Valley, Johnston kept his back to the railroad while George Thomas and James McPherson pressured him from the north and Sherman continued to attempt to outflank him. Joe Wheeler's cavalry raids did a remarkable job of slowing the advance of both the Army of the Cumberland and the Army of the Tennessee.
As the Yankees began to concentrate at Adairsville for a battle, Rome, Georgia became the target of Sherman's campaign on May 18. When Leonidas Polk advanced from Mississippi to join Johnston, he had left a brigade to defend the Georgia industrial center. Home to the Noble Brother's foundry and other manufacturing infrastructure, Sherman ordered a division to attack. Rome's seven hills each had been fortified and for nearly two days Polk's brigade and local townspeople held off the advance of the Union Army, but in the end the town fell into enemy hands.
Meanwhile, the battle at Adairsville failed to materialize because Johnston was unhappy with his position. Skirmishing did continue and a pitched battle developed at Woodlands, the estate home of Godfrey Barnsley, one of the wealthiest men in Georgia and one of the men used to create Rhett Butler in Gone With The Wind.
Johnston correctly assumed that Sherman would split his forces to facilitate travel south to the Etowah and decided to set a trap at Cassville for the eastern force, which was comprised of John Schofield Army of the Ohio and Fighting Joe Hooker's XX Corps. Divided by difficult terrain, the western force would not be able to quickly join the embattled Yankees. Johnston had Polk's Corps lined up to stop the Yankees at Two-Run Creek. When Polk engaged the enemy, the plan called for John Bell Hood to attack the right flank, trapping a little less than half the Union Army in a pocket. They would then have to hold out and await reinforcements while Johnston engaged them.
Before the battle, however, Hood got word of some Yankees to his rear. At this point stories begin to vary, but Hood withdrew his corps to attack a small group of cavalry and blew Johnston's plan of attack. When the Union Army finally showed up, Johnston pulled back to Cartersville and Sherman ended up in Kingston, Georgia. In roughly 3 weeks, Sherman's army had traveled nearly half the 90 miles between Chattanooga and Atlanta.
South of Kingston, Sherman had a distinct advantage on Johnston--he knew the land. During the 1840's he had been stationed in Marietta, Georgia and had travelled extensively, visiting the Tumlin Indian Mounds (today's Etowah Indian Mounds) and Allatoona Pass. Riding through the pass on horseback Sherman realized its defensive nature and decided to move south from Kingston rather than attempt a frontal assault on an entrenched Confederate position here.
He intended to move south, take Dallas, then head east back to the Western and Atlantic Railroad, perhaps trapping Johnston in his position in the Allatoona Mountains. Coming out of the rolling hills of west Georgia near New Hope Church Hooker's XX Corps formed three lines of attack; they had been running into heavy Rebel resistance and had captured an informant that told them Johnston was spreading his line west. John Bell Hood, began lining up for battle at 10 a.m. with A. P. Stewart's division at the center of his line. In a pouring rain a little after 2:00pm, Hooker began his attack, losing close to 1,600 men before nightfall.
With Hood's Corps still on the Confederate right, Joe Johnston detached Patrick Cleburne [CS] (Best generals of the Civil War) from Hardee's Corps and ordered him to protect the extreme right of the Confederate line. On the morning of May 27, 1864, Daniel C. Govan [CS] discovered Union soldiers moving in force to the east and warned Cleburne, who was establishing a line anchored to the east on Little Pumpkinvine Creek (now Pickett's Mill Creek). A little after 5:00 pm Howard struck Cleburne hard, but the Irishman had one of the best trained divisions in either army. The Confederate line held and Howard's men were forced back.
Sherman, his force spread thin over an 11-mile front concentrated his men to the east. The Yankee commander was also running into serious supply problems, so the decided to grab the Western and Atlantic Railroad at Acworth. Johnston began a series of attacks on the federal right in an attempt to slow the eastward movement. Although these attacks, made against McPherson's Corps, were made by reinforced skirmish lines they are generally grouped together as the Battle of Dallas.
Once back at the W&ARR on June 3, 1864, Sherman gave his men a break - the hardest fighting was ahead of them and not behind. On June 10, he began a series of movements generally known as the Marietta Operations, taking Lost Mountain, Brush (Brushy) Mountain and Pine Mountain. On Pine Mountain the Confederates lost The Bishop, Leonidas Polk to an artillery shot that, at least according to some sources, was called for by Sherman. Johnston put "Old Blizzards" Loring in temporary command of Polk's Corps until A. P. Stewart arrived (July 7).
Sherman originally estimated the movement would take 2 days. It would take almost a month to cross the Chattahoochee River. Rebels cleared Pine Mountain after the death of Polk and Union forces moved in, pressing Confederates along an eight-mile front.Lost Mountain also fell, on June 16 and Brush Mountain on June 19. Joe Johnston now had retreated to his Kennesaw Line, last of the mountains before Atlanta.
Rising some 800 feet above the plateau, Kennesaw Mountain represented Johnston's best chance to deal Sherman a major blow. The Rebel flank to the south held Little Kennesaw and Pigeon Hill, with earthworks running further south to a low ridge today known as Cheatham Hill. Perched atop Big Kennesaw Rebel gunners watched Sherman's massive army cross the level area west of the mountain to form a line below. With W. W. Loring's Corps (formally Polk's Corps) on Kennesaw and Little Kennesaw, Hardee on his immediate left, Johnston moved Hood from a extending east of Big Kennesaw to the south to hold Johnston's far left flank.
Sherman determined to find that flank, sending General John Schofield south with the Army of the Ohio along with Fighting Joe Hooker's XX Corps while McPherson held the north line and Thomas held the middle and southern line. After crossing rain-swollen Noyes Creek they began to run into heavy Confederate resistance on June 22, 1864.
Schofield and Hood had been roommates at West Point and now they would be facing each other in battle. About 5:00 pm Hood ordered two divisions forward towards a Yankee line comprised of Hooker to the north and Schofield to the south, west of Peter Kolb's farmhouse. Union artillery fire battered Hood's troops from high ground as some Confederate brigades advanced to within 40 yards of the Yankee line when the Rebels pulled back to a ravine. Two more times they tried to advance and both times they were forced back into the ravine. At 10:00pm the fighting ceased, Schofield the clear winner but Hood effectively halted Sherman's flanking maneuver.
During the fighting, Hooker wired Sherman that "three rebel corps" were attacking him. Following the battle, Sherman ordered Hooker and Schofield to meet him at a wayside church. Sherman proceeded to yell at Hooker for his erroneous claim. Even Schofield felt Sherman had blown the incident out of proportion, but the seeds were sown for Hooker's departure later that summer. Similarly, Johnston was extremely unhappy with Hood for advancing without orders. Hood lied about his attack, saying he had advanced to a position and when attacked, he responded. Furthermore, experts question Hood's strategy in making the attack. Schofield was moving towards his line. He could have enjoyed the benefits of a strong defensive position the following day.
With William Tecumseh Sherman's favorite ploy of outflanking Johnston blocked, Sherman decided to employ brute force along most of the eight-mile front west of Marietta, Georgia. Sherman's attack called for McPherson's Army of the Tennessee, on the left flank to threaten Big Kennesaw, George Thomas to move on the center, from the south side of Little Kennesaw to Cheatham Hill, and for Schofield to threaten along a wide front to the south near Kolb's Farm.
McPherson's job is probably least understood. Variously described as a diversion or a demonstration, McPherson used a reinforced skirmish line to probe Rebel strength on Big Kennesaw. This had two goals, first to keep Joe Johnston from moving men from Loring's Corps south to reinforce William Hardee, but secondly to look for a weakness that McPherson could exploit. The Army of the Tennessee did effectively pin Loring to Big Kennesaw.
George Thomas chose two places for a frontal assault on the Confederate's entrenched position, Pigeon Mountain (called Bald Mountain in his dispatches) and Cheatham Hill ("south of the Dallas Road" in dispatches). In the confused attack on Pigeon Hill, Rebel forces held off two separate secondary assaults while Benjamin Franklin Cheatham's Tennesseans' turned back Thomas's main assault south of the Dallas Road (hence the name Cheatham Hill). It would be the worst loss for the Union army during the Atlanta Campaign. General George Thomas rode over to Sherman's headquarters to give him the grim news - another way would have to be found around Kennesaw Mountain.
John Schofield's diversion to the south netted an unexpected result. He took a key intersection that gave Sherman the leverage he needed to outflank Joe Johnston. While Sherman was working on his flanking maneuver, Johnston was meeting with Confederate politicians. First came fire-eater Louis T. Wigfall, Senator from Texas, asking about Johnston's future plans and bringing word of rumors in Richmond that the Confederate commander was on his way out. Then came Ben Hill on his way from Milledgeville to Richmond with a request from Georgia governor Joseph E. Brown to back Johnston's proposal of cavalry attack against Sherman's supply line by Nathan Bedford Forrest. It seemed that Sherman's only weak point was his rapidly extended rail system that supplied his army (it was not that weak;Sherman had significant garrisons along the railroad and crews standing ready to repair any Rebel damage).
After the defeat at Kennesaw Mountain on June 27, 1864, Sherman did not give up, he merely switched tactics. Schofield was slowly pushing Hood back and on July 2 Johnston felt it was time to evacuate Marietta because of increased Union activity in the area (The Army of the Tennessee had begun to march south). On the morning of July 3rd, 1864 there had been a change on the mountaintop. The Stars and Bars were gone and the Stars and Stripes flew in a stiff breeze.
Sherman joined General Thomas and the Army of the Cumberland in pursuit of Johnston, running into Joe Wheeler's cavalry performing rear guard duty. When Johnston halted to protect his supplies crossing the Chattahoochee River, Sherman knew it was a good chance to destroy the Army of Tennessee - it had a major river at its back. James McPherson drew the flanking duty, ordered to probe the left flank of Johnston's six-mile Smyrna Line stretching from Nickajack Creek to Rottenwood Creek. The result was the battle of Ruff's Mill against a division of Hood's Corps on July 4. A second federal corps, under Frank Blair, also succeeded in turning Johnston's line, so it appeared he would withdraw across the river. The Confederates had quickly constructed "the river line" in front of the Chattahoochee. Sherman decided to send Schofield towards Roswell to turn Johnston's right this time. On July 8 they reached Sope Creek (Soap Creek on Union maps), following the creek to the Chattahoochee.
That night, Ohioan Jacob Cox drew the duty of crossing the river, and a young private named Thomas Branigan was the first man across. As more men arrived they spread out along the hills near the river and built entrenchments, awaiting a Rebel attack. It never came.
Johnston was busy withdrawing from his river line. When Louis Wigfall visited in June, Johnston told him Peachtree Creek offered many more defensive possibilities than the Chattahoochee River, a statement he reiterated in his memoirs. He intended to defend Atlanta from there, however, he wired Jefferson Davis that it would be wise to evacuate the Union prisoners held at Andersonville. This convinced Davis that Johnston had no intention of defending Atlanta, since he was concerned about a prisoner-of-war camp 100 miles in his rear.
Braxton Bragg arrived in Atlanta on July 13, 1864 to make a military evaluation of the situation, but the Davis-Johnston feud had pretty much ended the possibility of Johnston continuing in command. The question was "Who would be the next in command of the Army of Tennessee?" William Hardee did not want it (he had refused command when offered following the Battle of Chattanooga), and if Patrick Cleburne were promoted from his role as division commander, they would probably lose John Bell Hood.
Davis ended up selecting Hood, perhaps as the least of several evils, wiring Johnston on July 17, 1864 of his decision. Johnston, who received the telegram at 10:00pm decided to wait until morning to tell General Hood. Effective strength of the opposing armies at that time was 106,000 Yankees vs. 49,000 Rebels. Hood reviewed Johnston's plans for an attack as the Union forces crossed Peachtree Creek and S. D. Lee was placed in command of Hood's old corps.
Sherman warned his commanders that Hood was unpredictable as the Union forces were spreading east lead by James McPherson. On the 19th Thomas began crossing Peachtree Creek and McPherson cut the Georgia Railroad at Stone Mountain. About a mile south of Peachtree Creek Hood formed a 9-mile line with A. P. Stewart on the left, having replaced W. W. Loring in command of Leonidas Polk's old corps, Hardee in the center and Hood's old corps on the right (under B. F. Cheatham until S. D. Lee arrived).
Hood's battleplan for July 20, 1864, called for Hardee (Bate's Division) to begin the attack, which would move to the left with each division hitting the line a little further west. Unfortunately, General John "Blackjack" Logan had pushed east from Decatur rapidly and Confederate forces had to realign for the attack. By the time the realignment was completed Thomas was across Peachtree Creek and had reached a ridge south of the river. Although his men had not entrenched, Thomas and the Army of the Cumberland had a defensive position that was fairly strong and he repulsed "Hood's First Sortie."
The next day Mortimer Leggett [US] attacked Joe Wheeler's cavalry on Bald Hill (just east of Moreland Avenue north of I-20), immediately renaming the high point Leggett's Hill. With downtown Atlanta a mile from the hill, Sherman had gained an excellent position with little more than a skirmish. Sherman continued to press Hood across a wide front into July 22. He and McPherson had just finished a meeting (near the present-day Carter Center) shortly after noon when the sound of fighting rolled over the land. William Hardee had attacked McPherson's flank with virtually all his men.
Hood's battleplan called for B. F. Cheatham to also attack along a wide front north and west of Leggett's Hill while Hardee rolled up his flank. After marching all night it turned out that Hardee had turned north too early and run headlong into McPherson's line. Riding towards the battle, McPherson ran into some Union reserves, which he ordered forward to fortify his line, then headed to Frank Blair's headquarters. Unknown to him, Patrick Cleburne's men had made substantial gains and were between McPherson and Blair. Coming into an open area and realizing he had ridden into an advanced Confederate unit, McPherson tipped his hat and turned to ride away. A Confederate corporal fired, killing the highest-ranking Union officer to die in battle.
The Yankee line began to give way following the death of McPherson. Sherman brought up Schofield's Army of the Ohio, but it was a charge by General John "Blackjack" Logan at 4:30pm that turned the tide against the Rebels. It is this charge that is vividly recreated in the Cyclorama. By 6:00pm fighting had stopped with little changed in the position of the two armies. The men returned to sniping and the occasional artillery barrage.
Sherman decided not to promote Blackjack Logan to permanent command of the Army of the Tennessee and passed over Joseph Hooker, his troublesome senior corps commander, choosing Oliver Otis Howard based on the recommendation of George Thomas. This act goes a long way in confirming Sherman's trust in Thomas. From his record, Howard had not done well considering he had graduated from West Point in 1854. He was routed at Bull Run, Chancellorsville and Gettysburg and lost an arm at Seven Pines. Mad at Sherman's choice of Howard, Hooker resigned. To replace him Sherman asked for Henry Slocum to be transferred from Vicksburg.
Hood also was making changes in his general command. William Hardee was out, mostly a scapegoat for Hood's lack of command ability, and replacing him was S. D. Lee, at 30 the youngest corps commander on either side.
Sherman was convinced that the Confederates were so bloodied that they probably wouldn't strike again. He marched the Army of the Tennessee from his right flank (near Decatur) to his left flank (near East Point) to concentrate on capturing Hood's remaining supply lines south of the city, the Macon and Western and the Atlanta and West Point. Union Cavalry raiders struck repeatedly throughout Confederate-controlled Georgia, frequently disrupting Hood's line of supply over the next month but never severing it beyond repair.
As O. O. Howard's [US] men were settling in along Lickskillet Road (north of Exit 50, GA 139/MLK Drive/Anderson Ave. on I-20, but only a historic marker remains) Hood ordered S. D. Lee and A. P. Stewart to seize Lickskillet Road, Howard's route south. When Lee got to Ezra Church he discovered Howard's line had already occupied Lickskillit Road down to the church, impacting Stewart's advance. Lee decided to use his discretion and attack, but the Union line wasn't a new one, as Lee surmised, but a fully entrenched line that easily repulsed Lee's haphazard attacks. When a beaten Lee called off the attacks at 2:00 pm, A. P. Stewart's men began attempts to break the same line. They, too, failed.
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