Atlanta Campaign

Atlanta Campaign

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On 7th May Ulysses S. Grant gave William Sherman the task of destroying the Confederate Army in Tennessee. Joseph E. Johnston and his army retreated and after some brief skirmishes the two sides fought at Resaca (14th May), Adairsvile (17th May), New Hope Church (25th May), Kennesaw Mountain (27th June) and Marietta (2nd July).

Sherman decided to deprive the South of its resources. He cut a swathe of destruction 60 miles wide and 40 miles wide. Sherman commented: "If the people of Georgia raise a howl against my barbarity and cruelty, I will answer that war is war, and not popularity-seeking." His forces moved fast covering 450 miles in 50 days.

President Jefferson Davis was unhappy about Johnson's withdrawal policy and on 17th July replaced him with the more aggressive John Hood. He immediately went on the attack and hit George H. Thomas and his men at Peachtree Creek. Hood was badly beaten and lost 2,500 men. Two days later he took on William Sherman at Atlanta and lost another 8,000 men.

The Union Army gradually cut off supplies to Atlanta from the South and John Hood eventually decided to abandon the city on 1st September, 1864. The following day William Sherman entered Atlanta and set fire to it.

The army will forage liberally on the country during the march. To this end, each brigade commander will organize a good and sufficient foraging party, under the command of one or more discreet officers, who will gather, near the route traveled, corn or forage of any kind, meat of any kind, vegetables, corn-meal, or whatever is needed by the command, aiming at all times to keep in the wagons at least ten days' provisions for his command, aiming at all times to keep in the wagons at least ten days' provisions for his command, and three days' forage. Soldiers must not enter the dwellings they may be permitted to gather turnips, potatoes, and other vegetables, and to drive in stock in sight of their camp.

To corps commanders alone is entrusted the power to destroy mills, houses, cotton-gins, etc.; and for them the general principle is laid down: In districts and neighborhoods where the army is unmolested, no destruction of such property should be permitted; but should guerrillas or bush-whackers molest our march, or should the inhabitants burn bridges, obstruct roads, or otherwise manifest local hostility, then army commanders should order and enforce a devastation more or less relentless, according to the measure of such hostility. As for horses, mules, wagons, etc., belonging to the inhabitants, the cavalry and artillery may appropriate freely and without limit; discriminating, however, between the rich, who are usually hostile, and the poor and industrious, usually neutral or friendly.

The skill and success of the men in collecting forage was one of the features of this march. Each brigade commander had authority to detail a company of foragers, usually about fifty men, with one or two commissioned officers selected for their boldness and enterprise. This party would be dispatched before daylight with a knowledge of the intended day's march and camp; would proceed on foot five or six miles from the route traveled by their brigade, and then visit every plantation and farm within range. They would usually procure a wagon or family carriage, load it with bacon, corn-meal, turkeys, chickens, ducks, and every thing that could be used as food or forage, and would then regain the main road, usually in advance of their train. No doubt, many acts of pillage, robbery, and violence, were committed by these parties of foragers, for I have since heard of jewelry taken from women, and the plunder of articles that never reached the commissary; but these acts were exceptional and incidental. I never heard of any cases of murder or rape; and no army could have carried along sufficient food and forage for a march of three hundred miles; so that foraging in some shape was necessary.

We have had a special conference with President Davis and the Secretary of War, and are able to assure you that they have done and are still doing all that can be done to meet the emergency that presses upon you. Let every man fly to arms! Remove your negroes, horses, cattle, and provisions from Sherman's army, and burn what you cannot carry. Burn all bridges, and block up the roads in his route. Assail the invader in front, flank, and rear, by night and by day. Let him have no rest.

Turning Point.

The Civil War is the decisive turning point in American history. A nation divided against itself before—half enslaved, half free—was reunited. Experience the Civil War through the eyes of soldiers and civilians. Learn about their harrowing stories through photographs, dioramas, videos, and over 1,500 original Union and Confederate artifacts.

Importantly, the Atlanta Campaign of 1864 was the turning point in the Civil War. Atlanta was a critical city in the South – transportation hub, industrial center, and warehouse for food, ammunition, supplies, uniforms, and other military material crucial to Confederate Armies. The battles for Atlanta and the surrender of the city to General William T. Sherman assured the re-election of President Abraham Lincoln and ultimately secured freedom for 4 million enslaved people.

One of the nation’s largest Civil War exhibitions, Turning Point: The American Civil War tells the national story of the war from beginning to end. Through original artifacts, including cannons, uniforms, swords, and other materials, visitors can better understand Civil War life. Between the horrors of battle—including medical procedures for the wounded and maimed—the life of the soldier was often tedious, waiting on fighting and facing the very real threat of death.

Atlanta Campaign

This is the sixth portion of E.B. Quiner’s history of the 15th Wisconsin, which fought in the Federal (Union) Army during the American Civil War (1861-1865). This portion covers the time period May, 1864, to September, 1864. Information within brackets [ ] has been added to the original text by the webmaster to correct errors or to help modern readers understand what Mr. Quiner rightfully assumed mid-19th century readers would automatically know. Alternative spellings of 15th soldiers’ names have also been added within brackets by the webmaster, using spelling from the 15th’s official muster rolls. Finally, hot links have been added that will take you to on-line transcriptions of official documents and soldiers’ letters, and to profiles of soldiers, which contain additional information about the 15th or its soldiers. Enjoy!

Source: Quiner, E.B., The Military History of Wisconsin: Civil and Military Patriotism of the State, in the War for the Union. Chicago, Illinois: Clarke & Company, Publishers, 1866. Chapter XXIII, pages 627-631.
[Assault up Rocky Face Ridge, Georgia]

“On the 3d day of May, 1864, the regiment, under command of Major Geo. Wilson, moved with the brigade from McDonald Station, Tenn., to Tunnel Hill, near Dalton, [Georgia,] entering upon the celebrated Atlanta Campaign, arriving and taking position at the foot of Rocky Face Ridge on the 7th of May. On the 8th, four companies of the Fifteenth advanced as skirmishers under a heavy fire of the enemy strongly posted on the crest of the ridge. After a severe skirmish, the left carried the crest, and the regiment ascended to the summit of the Ridge, and held it until relieved by orders from General Newton. The enemy occupied a portion of the ridge in front of the right of the regiment, which they held, it being impossible, from the nature of the position, to carry it by assault. The regiment remained on the northern slope of the ridge, constantly skirmishing with the enemy, until the afternoon of the 11th, when it moved with the brigade to the left, to check a reported movement of the enemy. Hans Christenson, of Company C [should be Company F], and Hans Senvig [Hans P. Lenvig] of Company E, were reported as killed in the attack on Rocky Face Ridge [Lenvig was killed on May 11th in the 15th’s official rosters published in 1886 by the State of Wisconsin, Christenson is listed as killed May 27th, New Hope Church, Georgia.]
[Battle of Resaca, Georgia]

On the night of [May] the 12th, the enemy evacuated the position, and passed through Dalton southward to Resaca. Pursuit was immediately made, and the brigade joined the army in front of Resaca on the afternoon of the 13th. At 4 P.M. the regiment advanced to a position which was exposed to a heavy enfilading fire from the artillery, but was partly covered by the enemy’s first line of works which had been taken by the Twenty-third Corps. Here they were hotly engaged for about two hours, when, their ammunition being exhausted, they were relieved for the night. Next morning, they moved to the frontline, and being partly covered by barricades, they succeeded in silencing a two gun battery in their front, and so commanded the enemy’s works that they could not show themselves with safety above them. A desperate charge of the enemy in the afternoon was successfully repulsed, and they were very badly punished. Next morning, the rebels disappeared, and their works were entered by the skirmishers of the Fifteenth.

The [15th’s] casualties at Resaca were:

KILLED OR DIED OF WOUNDS. — Company B — Private Andrew Appheim [Andrew Asperheim, killed May 14th]. Company G — Private George Johnson [killed May 14th]. Company H — Corporal William Johnson [died of his wounds June 27th, Nashville, Tennessee]. Company I — Corporal Peter Haarstad [Peter O. Harstad, who died of his wounds June 8th, at Resaca] and Private Loren Johnson [Soren Johnson, killed May 15th] — 5 [Total].

WOUNDED. — Company A — Private Knud Oleson [Knud Olson]. Company C — Corporal W. E. Wheeler [Edwin W. Wheeler] and Private Peter Stangeland. Company D — Private Martin Halvorson [Martin Halvorsen]. Company E — Private Simon Jorgenson [Simon Jorgensen]. Company F — Privates Ever Anderson [Einar Andersen] and Michael Larson [Michael Larsen]. Company G — Privates Henry Thompson and Rier Thorson [Reier Thorsen]. Company I — Private Andrew Torgerson [Andrew Torkildson]. Company K — Privates John Johnson and Ole Evenson — 12 [Total].

Joining in the pursuit, the regiment proceeded with the brigade through Adairsville and Kingston, to the neighborhood of Cassville. Here General Sherman determined to turn the enemy’s position at Allatoona Pass, it being considered impossible to carry it. Twenty days rations were loaded into wagons and the army was put in motion for Dallas [Georgia].
[Battle of Dallas/Pickett’s Mill, Georgia]

On [May] the 25th, the Fourth Corps crossed Pumpkin Vine Creek, in the vicinity of Dallas, and on [May] the 26th, took a position and entrenched themselves on a ridge within 250 yards of the enemy’s [breast]works, the skirmishers driving in the enemy. On [May] the 27th, the division was sent about four miles to the left for the purpose of developing the enemy, and arrived at a point which was supposed to be the right flank of the rebel lines. About 4 P.M., Hazen’s brigade made an attack and was repulsed. The first line of [General] Willet’s brigade went forward closely followed by the Fifteenth Wisconsin crossing a ravine, was enfiladled by the enemy’s battery. Charging with a yell over the Second brigade, the regiment was so near the enemy’s breastworks that some of them were killed within ten feet of them. It being impossible to dislodge them, the Fifteenth lay down within fifteen yards of the works, and kept up an effectual musketry fire. The position was held until 9 P.M., when the regiment under orders fell back [at dusk]. In attempting to carry off the wounded, the enemy charged and took several of the men prisoners, including most of the wounded. The regiment moved about 300 yards to the right, on a ridge 200 yards from the enemy’s works and fortified themselves. This position was occupied, constantly skirmishing with the enemy, until he evacuated the position on the night of June 5th.

The casualties in this battle, as reported, were:

KILLED OR DIED OF WOUNDS [all of the following are listed in the 15th’s muster rolls as killed May 27th, New Hope Church, Georgia]. — Company B — Private Osten Knudson. Company E — Sergeant Ole Lovig [Ole Lenvig], Corporals Edward Holby [Edwin Hadley] and Gulbrand Locke [Gilbrand Lokke], Privates Iver Anderson [Iver Andersen], Ole Erikson [Ole Ericksen 1st] and Ole Erikson 2d [Ole Ericksen 2nd]. Company G — Private Erick Larson [ Erick Larsen]. Company K — Privates John Johnson and Lars Lutson [Lars Leufson] — 10 [total].

WOUNDED. — Company A — Sergeant Ole K. Hanson and Private John Lungren. Company B — Sergeant Brown Siverson [Brown Syvertson, shown in 15th muster rolls as died of his wounds June 22, 1864, Chattanooga, Tennessee], Corporal Erick Larson [Erick Larsen, shown in 15th muster rolls as died of his wounds July 6, 1864, Chattanooga, Tennessee], Privates Peter Peterson, Jens Gilbertson [John Gilbertson], Ole Knudson [shown in the 15th’s muster rolls as killed May 27, 1864], Levert Leverson [Syvert Syvertson], and Knud Erickson. Company D — Corporals John Hogan [John Heyer] and Christian Helverson [Christian Helverson], Privates [Martin Halvorsen], Halvor Olson [Halvor Olsen], Jacob L. Jacobson [Jacob L. Jacobsen] and Simon Peterson. Company E — Privates Mads Rossum and Petrie Johnson [Peter Johnson 1st]. Company F — Private Reinert Baur [Reinert Bower]. Company G — Lieutenant C. B. Nelson [Charles B. Nelson], Corporals Iver O. Myher [Iver O. Myhre], Hans Larson [Hans Larsen] and Hans Hanson [Hans Hansen], Privates John Bonum and Lewis Anderson [Lars Anderson]. Company H — Privates Andrew D. Gerder [Andrew P. Gjerde], Ole A. Hamarss [Ole S. Hougness, shown in 15th muster rolls as died of his wounds January 18, 1865, Andersonville Prison, Georgia], Ole L. Fosse, Ole Halvorson [Ole Halvorsen] and Torbger Larson [Torger Larson]. Company I — Privates Nels Stonson [Nils Stenerson], Amos Johnson, John J. Ramack [John J. Rambeck], Knud Oleson [Knud Olson, shown in 15th muster rolls as killed May 27, 1864, New Hope Church, Georgia], Ole E. Trony [Ole E. Troan] and Peter Myhre. Company K — Privates Gulbran Olson [Gulbrand Olson], Albert E. Rice, Charles Olson, Ole Christenson, and Christ. Johnson [Christopher Johnson] — 39 [total].

[To see a list of soldiers captured at Pickett’s Mill, click HERE.]
[Fighting near Kenesaw Mountain, Georgia]

The regiment took up position near New Hope Church, from which they moved on the 6th of June, to a position in front of Pine Mountain, within 300 yards of the enemy’s works, where they remained until [June] the 14th, when they moved 200 yards to the left and front, and formed on a ridge, within the enemy’s works 200 yards in their front. On [June] the 15th, the rebels had disappeared from their front. From this time till the 3d of July, the regiment with the brigade, was constantly occupied in advancing, skirmishing, and driving the enemy from one line of [breast]works to another, on Pine Mountain, Lost Mountain and Kenesaw, losing up to the 3d of July, four men killed, as follows:

KILLED — Company B — Private Lewis Nelson [listed in 15th muster rolls as killed June 28, 1864, Bald Knob, Georgia]. Company D [should be Company I] — Private Daniel Peterson [listed in 15th muster rolls as “accidentally killed” June 23, 1864]. Company E — First Lieutenant T. P. Sloan [1st Sergeant Thor P. Sloan, listed in 15th muster rolls as wounded Kenesaw Mountain and died of his wounds June 28, 1864, Big Shanty, Georgia]. Company F — Private [Corporal] Andrew Thompson [listed in 15th muster rolls as killed June 27, 1864, Bald Knob, Georgia] — 4 [total].
[Siege and Capture of Atlanta, Georgia]

The enemy evacuated Kenesaw Mountain on the 3d of July, and the regiment accompanied the movements of the Fourth Corps towards the Chattahoochie River, occupying a position on the extreme left of the army. On [June] the 12th, the corps crossed the river on a pontoon bridge, and next day the division proceeded down the river to Pace’s Ferry, and drove the enemy from that place to enable the Fourteenth Corps to cross. July 18th the command advanced through Buckhorn, towards Atlanta, and on the 19th, found the enemy strongly entrenched on the south bank of Peach Tree Creek. The regiment did not become engaged at this point. On [July] the 21st, the division marched in a southerly direction and passed through the first line of the enemy’s works, and found him in position about a mile from the first line. Taking position within 200 yards of the works, they entrenched themselves. On [July] the 22d, they found that the enemy had abandoned his position, and they moved forward into his second line of works. Here they expected to enter the city without further opposition, but the enemy were found posted behind heavy forts and breastworks. The Fifteenth was put in position within musket range of the city, fortified, and was concerned in skirmishing with the enemy and on fatigue duty, until the 25th of August, when they accompanied the movement of the Fourth Corps to the right to cut off the enemy’s communication to the west and south of Atlanta. Arriving at Jonesboro on [August] the 31st, they participated in the engagement of the lst of September, and joined in pursuit of the enemy to Lovejoy’s Station, having one man wounded [Private Ole T. Westby]. They returned to Atlanta and went into camp four and a half miles south of the city, on the 9th of September.”

[To read excerpts from letters, diaries, and interviews by 15th soldiers about their experiences during the Atlanta Campaign, click HERE]

The Campaign for Atlanta

The night was hot, the roads dusty, and Hardee's soldiers already were half-exhausted from two days of fighting and marching, having spent July 21 holding the Federals east of Atlanta in check. Soon it became apparent that they could not hope to reach Decatur by morning. Hood thereupon, at Hardee's request, modified his plan: Wheeler would proceed to Decatur, where McPherson's wagon train reportedly was parked, but Hardee would attack as soon as he got beyond McPherson's flank.


Sherman, when informed early on the morning of July 22 that the enemy seemed to have withdrawn from in front of McPherson and Schofield, at once concluded that Hood was evacuating Atlanta and so instructed Schofield to occupy the city while the rest of the army gave pursuit. Then, on discovering that strong Confederate forces still occupied a line closer to Atlanta, Sherman decided that Hood intended to hold the place after all and that therefore the time had come to execute the strategy for taking it that he had outlined to Grant back in April: cut its railroad connections to the Confederacy. One of these, the line between Atlanta and Montgomery, already had been severed by a recent raid out of Tennessee into Alabama by Major General Lovell Rousseau's cavalry. Hence Sherman ordered McPherson to send Dodge's XVI Corps back to the Decatur area to wreak further destruction on the Georgia Railroad to Augusta, after which the Army of the Tennessee would swing north, then west of Atlanta to strike the Macon & Western Railroad, the breaking of which would completely isolate the city.

McPherson did not like this order and he went to Sherman to tell him why: large Confederate forces had been seen moving south and he feared an attack on his vulnerable left flank. Sherman, although he thought McPherson's concern was unwarranted, agreed to postpone the implementation of the order until 1 P.M. If by then the Rebels had not attacked, they never would.

The morning passed and no attack came. At noon Sherman sent a message to McPherson instructing him to direct Dodge to send Brigadier General John Fuller's division of the XVI Corps to Decatur to tear up tracks but to leave that corps other division, Sweeny's, where it was, namely to the rear of McPherson's flank to which point it had marched during the morning after having been posted the previous evening on the right flank of the Army of the Tennessee to plug a gap between it and the XXIII Corps. McPherson did as Sherman directed. But before his dispatch could reach Dodge, an increasingly loud sound of firing came from the southeast.


It was Hardee, at long last launching his attack on the Union left and rear. Through no fault of his, its timing could not have been more unfavorable. Had it occurred either an hour sooner or an hour later, his two right divisions, Bate's and Walker's, would have met no opposition or only Sweeny's division. Instead, they encountered both Fuller and Sweeny. And to make matters worse, Bate's troops had to struggle across a swamp and Walker was killed by a Federal sniper before he could even deploy his division. As a result, the Confederate attack in this sector lacked cohesion and punch and soon was repulsed.

Likewise, Wheeler, although he took Decatur, failed to capture McPherson's wagon train, which escaped along with most of the Federals defending the place.

Cleburne's troops, on going into action, enjoyed better luck, for they happened to enter a wide gap between the right of XVI Corps and the left of the XVII Corps, which was at the south end of McPherson's line facing Atlanta. Furthermore, as they advanced McPherson himself, accompanied only by an orderly, came riding among them on his way to check the XVII Corps' situation after witnessing he XVI Corps beat back Bate's and Walker's attack. The Confederates yelled at him to surrender instead he tried to escape and was shot dead from his horse. As he demonstrated on May 9 at Resaca, and two days earlier on the road to Atlanta, he was too lacking in aggressiveness to be a first-rate combat commander, but his caution served the Union cause well on July 22.

Pushing on, Cleburne's men struck the flank and rear of the XVII Corps while Cheatham's Division, still under Maney, assailed its front. These attacks, however, were uncoordinated, enabling the Federals to repel them by scrambling from one side of their entrenchments to the other. Not until after nearly two hours of bloody fighting did one of Cleburne's brigades join with one of Maney's to hit the Union line simultaneously in front and rear, causing the XVII Corps to fall back to a bald hill which, because of its height, dominated the battlefield and so was the key to it.

On the evening of July 21 Hardee's Corps, accompanied by Wheeler's cavalry, began marching southward with the object of swinging around the Union left flank to Decatur, where it would strike McPherson's forces, after which it was to join Cheatham's and Stewart's Corps in sweeping the rest of the Union army toward the Chattahoochee. When it became evident that Hardee could not reach Decatur by morning, Hood authorized him to attack on getting into the immediate rear of McPherson. Hardee could not accomplish this until afternoon on July 22. His two right divisions, Walker's and Bate's, encountered Dodge's XVI Corps, which repulsed them. Only Cleburne's and a portion of Maney's division succeeded in penetrating a gap between the XVI and XVII Corps, in the process killing McPherson, and then bending back the XVII Corps until it occupied a line facing southward that was anchored on an elevation called the Bald Hill. Hood sought to transform this partial victory into a complete one by having Brown's and Clayton's Divisions attack the XV Corps. Two of Brown's brigades broke through along the Georgia Railroad. But a counterattack by the XV Corps drove back Brown's troops and ended the Confederate threat in this sector. Even though Hardee continued to assail the Bald Hill until nightfall, he failed to seize it and the battle ended in another bloody defeat for Hood.

Hoping to help Hardee take the hill, Hood ordered Cheatham to attack the XV Corps, which was astride the Georgia Railroad and to the right of the XVII Corps. Thanks to an inadequately defended railroad cut, two brigades from Brigadier General John C. Brown's Division (formerly Hindman's) penetrated the XV Corps' line and captured a four-gun battery. Their success, however, was short-lived. A Union counterattack, personally led by "Black Jack" Logan, who had assumed command of the Army of the Tennessee on McPherson's death, drove the Confederates back and restored the XV Corps' front. To the south, Hardee continued to assault the bald hill with both infantry and artillery until after it was dark, but to no avail as its defenders held on grimly. (The hill became known as Leggett's Hill after the commander of the XVII Corps division that defended it, Brigadier General Mortimer Leggett, who after the war purchased it.)


Night ended what would be called the Battle of Atlanta, the largest engagement of the Atlanta campaign, one that cost the Confederates about 5,500 casualties and the Federals nearly 4,000, a large proportion of whom were prisoners from the XVII Corps. Again Hood failed in an attempt to smash a wing of Sherman's army, a failure he attributed to Hardee for allegedly not carrying out orders to strike the Union rear but which in truth was caused by the semifortuitous presence of the XVI Corps in position to protect that rear and the steady fortitude of the soldiers of the XVII Corps. On the other hand, Sherman deserved little credit for the Federal victory, a victory which probably would have been a defeat had not McPherson persuaded Sherman to modify his orders regarding the XVI Corps. Moreover, during Cheatham's attack on the XV Corps, Sherman rejected proposals from Schofield and Howard that their corps strike Cheatham's exposed left flank, a move that almost surely would have led to the rout of two-thirds of Hood's army.

A Hinge of Modern World History?: The Atlanta Campaign, 1864

The Ponder House: the Ephraim Ponder House after the Battle of Atlanta in 1864. Before Union troops destroyed it, the house was used by Confederate sharpshooters.

When Sherman began the Atlanta Campaign in the spring of 1864, his goal was to drive deep into the South and, in accordance with Union general Ulysses Grant’s instructions, engage Confederate general Joseph Johnston’s army. Grant’s orders were “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.”

Atlanta was not the immediate objective, though as the campaign proceeded, it evolved into one. According to New Georgia Encyclopedia author Stephen Davis, the city was “a substantial manufacturing and mercantile base” with “four major railroads connecting the city with all points of the South.”

In the meantime, Lincoln’s presidency hung by a thread. The North was war weary, originally expecting that a few battles in 1861 would decide the outcome. No one imagined the human carnage. The South was a staunch and inventive opponent, fighting on its own ground, and led by superior generalship for the most part, making the North’s war effort expensive, deadly, and grindingly slow. A peace movement broke out in the Northern states and spread rapidly through the Union.

Atlanta in ruins: Atlanta streetscape, showing the damage done by Sherman’s troops during the Battle of Atlanta.

When the Democratic Party convened in Chicago in August 1864, it adopted a plan to sue for peace immediately after the presidential inauguration—if they won, that is. The Democrats nominated one of President Lincoln’s former generals (whom Lincoln had fired), George B. McClellan of New Jersey, as its candidate for the presidency.

McClellan was always popular among his troops during his command, and with a war-hero air that reminded his admirers of Napoleon, seemed like a shoe-in. When the delegates left the convention for home in late August, they had every reason to believe they were destined to win the presidency.

In fact, that summer, Lincoln, already convinced that his “failing presidency” would be his downfall in November, secured a pledge from his cabinet heads to stay on until the bitter end of his presidency, doing everything they could to win the war.

Through July and August 1864, the Atlanta Campaign ground on with skirmishes, assaults, and bombardments. On September 2, Union soldiers entered the city and concluded the campaign as the victor. As Sherman laid plans for his March to the Sea, the Northern press slowly absorbed the full significance of what had occurred. With the fall of Atlanta, many in the North now were saying, the war, at last, had turned. With that uplift of spirit, Lincoln’s reelection was assured, though this was undoubtedly aided by Lincoln’s giving Union field troops an opportunity to vote.

Was Atlanta the key to the collapse of the Confederacy’s house of cards? Northern public opinion believed so. Lincoln defeated McClellan at the polls in November and his re-election ensured the war would continue to the end. A complete reversal in Lincoln’s fortune had taken place.

Adolph Hitler, in 1928. If the Civil War had turned out differently, would a divided USA have produced a military power strong enough to stop him?

What if there had been no Atlanta Campaign in ’64? Or if storms or other chance interventions had delayed Sherman’s arrival in the Atlanta environs a few more weeks? Lincoln might have gone down a failed president, and the South might have held out until the March inauguration, after which peace talks could begin.

Two nations—the CSA and the USA—was certainly a possible outcome. Slavery could have continued in the South into the early twentieth century. The industrialization of the North that took off with extraordinary results after the war would have been stalled, for lack of resources, with a Southern stalemate. A newly divided USA would not have become the world’s greatest industrial power in the twentieth century, meaning the outcome of both twentieth-century world wars could have been different. Would Nazi Germany and Imperial Japan have ruled the twentieth century?

The lore of the Battle of Atlanta revolves around Sherman’s destructive March to the Sea campaign, leaving in its wake chaos and, of course, a city that was now “gone with the wind.” In retrospect, we can see, the stakes may have been higher. It is not inconceivable that the Atlanta Campaign and its outcome became one of the hinges of modern world history.

Atlanta Campaign - History

The Atlanta Campaign of 1864 was one of
the most important military movements of the
War Between the States (or Civil War).

By taking Atlanta, Union General William
Tecumseh Sherman shattered Southern
lines of communication and transportation.
The fall of the city opened the door for the
devastating March to the Sea.

The campaign took place during the spring
and summer of 1864. With the combined
strengths of the Army of the Cumberland, the
Army of the Tennessee and the Army of the
Ohio, Sherman had a total force of some
110,000 men and 250 cannon. On April 10,
1864, he outlined to Union commander in
chief General Ulysses S. Grant a plan to take
Atlanta. Grand concurred and Sherman
marched on May 5.

Opposing the Union juggernaut was the
Confederacy's smaller but battle-hardened
Army of Tennessee under General Joseph E.
Johnston. His total force numbered 54,500
men and 154 cannon.

Even though his own army outnumbered
Johnston's by more than 2 to 1, Sherman
held the Confederate commander in high
regard and he knew the deadly capabilities of
the Southern army. Instead of attacking head
on, he launched a campaign of maneuver.

The Atlanta Campaign began with the
Confederate army dug in at Rocky Face
Ridge north of Dalton. Using his Armies of
the Cumberland and the Ohio to hold
Johnston in place, Sherman sent his Army of
the Tennessee in a flanking movement to the
south under Maj. Gen. James McPherson.

The tactic worked. McPherson marched
through Snake Creek Gap and threatened to
break the Western & Atlantic Railroad and cut
Johnston's supply line. The Confederate
general, however, pulled off a maneuver of
his own and pulled his army back to Resaca
during the night of May 12-13, 1864.

The Union forces came up and engaged the
Confederates at the Battle of Resaca while
McPherson once again carried out a flanking
maneuver. The Army of the Tennessee
crossed the Oostanaula River to threaten
Johnston's rear and the Confederates had
no choice but to fall back down the railroad.

Sherman almost made a critical mistake at
this point of the campaign. As he followed
Johnston south to Cassville, he allowed his
three armies to become too separated. The
Confederate general turned to attack on May
19, but changed his mind when a large force
of Union cavalry threatened his movement.

Johnston now retreated across the Etowah
River to Allatoona, but Sherman also crossed
that stream on May 23. Recognizing that
Allatoona was a strong position, Sherman
opted not to attack but instead bypassed the
Confederate army and moved on Dallas,

Johnston now maneuvered west to block the
Union advance. Heavy fighting took place at
the Battle of New Hope Church on May 25
and the Battle of Pickett's Mill on May 27. The
two armies lost more than 4,600 men.

By early June, Johnson had fallen back to the
commanding ridges of Kennesaw Mountain.
Heavy rains bogged down Sherman's larger
force and more than 150,000 men faced
each other in muddy trenches almost within
earshot of Atlanta.

The delays led Sherman to make one of his
few major mistakes of the campaign. On
June 27, 1864, he sent his men forward in a
direct attack on Johnston's army at the Battle
of Kennesaw Mountain.

The Confederates were ready for them. They
hurled back the attacking Federals at points
all along their strongly fortified lines. The
main assault cost Sherman 2,000 men while
only 400 Confederates were lost. Cannon
and musket fire following the main assault
raised casualties for the day to 3,000 for the
Union and 1,000 for the Confederacy.

The disaster at Kennesaw Mountain caused
Sherman to return to his campaign of
maneuver. On July 2-3 he was able to flank
Johnston out of his Kennesaw Mountain line
to a new position south of Marietta. Two days
later the Confederates retreated to the north
bank of the Chattahoochee River, which was
the last natural barrier between Sherman
and Atlanta.

As panic grew across the Confederacy,
Sherman once again bypassed Johnston's
line and crossed the Chattahoochee at
Roswell on July 8, 1864. The Confederates
withdrew the next day into the fortifications of

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ISBN 978-0-7006-1569-8
Hardback Edition Unjacketed
Paperback - $19.95
ISBN 978-0-7006-1570-4

Rocky Face Ridge to Kennesaw Mountain

Edited by Jay Luvaas and Harold W. Nelson

Following William T. Sherman's capture of Chattanooga, the Union Army initiated a series of battles and operations that took it from the Tennessee border to the outskirts of Atlanta—with bloody confrontations at places such as Resaca and New Hope Church. Grant had ordered Sherman to penetrate the enemy's interior and inflict "all the damage you can against their War resources," and from the first major engagement at Rocky Face Ridge to the bitter standoff at Kennesaw Mountain, Sherman proceeded to do just that.

This latest in the Army War College Guides to Civil War Battles offers a concise and easy-to-use introduction to Sherman's route, focusing on this first and most critical phase of the Atlanta campaign. The Guide to the Atlanta Campaign leads visitors to all of the pertinent sites—Dug Gap, Adairsville, Pickett's Mill, and more—to help them relive the experiences of battle-hardened troops on the ground. Authors Luvaas and Nelson show respect for both sides of the fighting, but especially convey Sherman's special genius in mastering the logistical challenges that confronted him, moving reinforcements and supplies, and directing diverse offensive actions over immense—and immensely hostile—territory.

&ldquoLike previous volumes in the series, this one provides clear directions that will enable readers to easily find locations in north Georgia associated with the campaign. At each stop, they will then find well-selected and well-edited excerpts from primary source documents that give a good sense of what happened in 1864. They will also appreciate the provision of sufficient maps to help them make their way around north Georgia and examine what happened.&rdquo

&mdashBlue & Gray Magazine

&ldquoWell-researched and enlightening, this book facilitates a more personal understanding of the campaign than traditional narratives by taking readers to the ground on which it took place. It also features an impressive compilation of the most valuable primary sources relevant to the campaign. [It] makes a solid addition to the considerable literature available on the subject, and is sure to stand as the definitive guide to the fighting north of Atlanta for years to come.&rdquo

&mdashGeorgia Historical Quarterly

&ldquoThis is a worthwhile addition to the traveler’s library. No other guidebook will provide you with this sort of detail in touring the sites from Rocky Face Ridge to Kennesaw Mountain.&rdquo

&mdashCivil War News

&ldquoExperienced students of the Atlanta Campaign or those looking to travel to the actual campaign sites will benefit from this book. It is a nice change of pace from reading a straightforward campaign study and will serve battlefield stompers well in the rugged terrain of north Georgia.&rdquo

&mdashTOCWOC-A Civil War Blog

&ldquoThese guides bridge the gap between sound military history and battlefield touring literature. They can be enjoyed without ever leaving the easy chair or they can become indispensable companions on tramps over the scenes of the greatest engagements of the Civil War.&rdquo

&mdashWilliam C. Davis, author of Jefferson Davis: The Man and His Hour

&ldquoThe most thorough, detailed, and accurate books of their kind. Indeed, they are unique. I have used them to lead guided tours of several battlefields, with great success.&rdquo

&mdashJames M. McPherson, author of Battle Cry of Freedom

Like previous guides in the series, this volume helps Civil War enthusiasts vividly envision the actual historical setting. It combines official histories and on-the-scene reports, orders, and letters from commanding officers, and it features specially drawn maps that depict the opposing armies and the terrain in which they fought. It also includes easy-to-follow drive-and-stop maps that guide visitors along and just off Interstate 75, with the stops arranged to present the most important phases of the campaign as it developed. And this book supersedes most previous guides by moving beyond battles to more broadly consider the overall campaign.

The guide culminates with the battle of Kennesaw Mountain (urban growth beyond that battlefield precludes a tour), and also provides full coverage of the operational and strategic decisions that led to Sherman's ultimate victory at Atlanta. It will become an essential traveling companion for visitors to these Civil War sites—and an insightful guide for armchair travelers.

Atlanta Campaign: Dalton to the Chattahoochie

The Atlanta Campaign is generally divided into two parts—Sherman vs Johnston and Sherman vs Hood. Grant wrote to Sherman on April 4, 1861 instructing him to break up Joseph E. Johnston’s army and to destroy Confederate war resources in the process. The first part of Sherman’s campaign, from Dalton through Kennesaw to the Chattahoochee, saw his 110,000-man army facing Johnston’s Confederate force of half that size. Starting at Rocky Face Ridge on May 7, Sherman maneuvered against Johnston, repeatedly clashing and outflanking positions taken by the Confederate force and Johnston fell back from one position to another towards Atlanta. From Rocky Face Ridge, north of Dalton, Johnston took up a new position at Resaca south of Dalton on the night of May 12-13. On May 14 and 15 at the Battle of Resaca the Confederates held their line suffering 3,000 casualties to the Federals’ 4,000. Outflanked on the left Johnston retreated to a position below Cassville starting on the night of May 15-16. While he was retreating, Johnston was continually reinforced such that his army numbered some 62,000 by June 30. Fighting which took place on May 19 was inconclusive but Johnston decided to retreat across the Etowah River, burning its bridges behind him on May 20. In the first three weeks of the campaign Johnston had retreated 35 miles and given up two of the three river barriers between Sherman and Atlanta. Johnston next took up as position 6 miles long between Dallas and New Hope Church. After resting for a few days Sherman advanced and assaulted the Confederates at New Hope Church on May 25 suffering a defeat at their hands. Sherman suffered a second defeat on May 27 at Pickett’s Mill. A Confederate assault at Dallas on May 28 was repulsed. On June 3 Johnston began sidling eastwards towards the Western & Atlantic Railroad. After resting briefly Sherman followed. From June 15 to June 22 the two armies clashed with the Confederates being repulsed with heavy losses in the Battle of Kolb’s Farm on June 22. The Confederates took up a new position at Kennesaw Mountain and on June 27 Sherman launched a frontal assault. The Federals were repulsed with heavy losses. Sherman then maneuvered again to outflank Johnston who withdrew to a last position on the north bank of the Chattahoochee River on the night of July 4-5. Johnston’s continual retreats alarmed both the people of Atlanta and President Jefferson Davis. Outflanked again by Sherman, Johnston retreated across the river on the night of July 9-10. Sherman again rested his army. Meanwhile Davis consulted with hit military advisor Braxton Bragg and his most trusted General Robert E. Lee as to whether to relieve Johnston. On July 17, Davis relieved Johnston and placed John Bell Hood, promoted temporarily to General, in charge of the Army of Tennessee. John B. Hood had his work cut out for him, as did William T. Sherman.

“Battle of Kennesaw Mountain,” oil painting by Thure de Thulstrup, 1887. Sherman is shown observing the distant fighting at Big and Little Kennesaw, June 27, 1864.

Picture Courtesy of: The Kennesaw Mountain National Battlefield Park Georgia, National Park Service, U.S. Department of the Interior

&ldquoThe approach of warm weather told us that our work for the summer would soon commence, but I do not think anyone had a thought that the task would prove so long and bloody.&rdquo [1]

The &ldquoAtlanta&rdquo Campaign might be a misnomer, if only because in his instructions to Major General William Tecumseh Sherman, Grant never mentioned the city at all. &ldquoYou I propose to move against Johnston&rsquos army, to break it up and to get into the enemy&rsquos country as far as you can,&rdquo Grant wrote on April 4, 1864 &ldquoinflicting all the damage you can against their War resources.&rdquo [2]

Grant&rsquos confidential letter to Sherman further underscores what both Union generals had by now agreed upon, as the war entered its fourth year: damaging the Rebels&rsquo war resources was just as important as breaking up their major armies. Hard war had begun to be practiced by Union forces in the summer of 1862. Now Sherman, as much as Major General Phillip Henry Sheridan, had emerged as one of its principal practitioners.

Sherman relished his assignment&mdashup to a point. This he acknowledged in his reply to Grant, April 10. &ldquoI am to knock Joe Johnston,&rdquo he wrote, &ldquoand do as much damage to the resources of the enemy as possible.&rdquo Sherman had shown a few months before that he knew how to do the latter. With an army of 26,000 he had marched across the width of Mississippi, from Vicksburg to Meridian and back again, destroying rail facilities, factories and shops, and randomly damaging civilian property as well. &ldquoDespite orders issued by the corps commander, Major General James Birdseye McPherson, prohibiting the burning of private homes and property,&rdquo Clay Mountcastle has written, &ldquothe Yankees did just that. The officers made no concerted effort to prevent it.&rdquo [3]

The part of his assignment that Sherman didn&rsquot particularly care for was Grant&rsquos instructions to &ldquobreak up&rdquo the Rebel army in north Georgia, commanded by General Joseph Eggleston Johnston. Time and again&mdashat Shiloh, Chickasaw Bluffs and Missionary Ridge&mdashSherman had shown that he was at best a mediocre battle commander. Hence his preference to merely &ldquoknock&rdquo Joe Johnston. [4]

But at least Sherman and Grant, close friends, agreed on their general goals.

After Johnston took command of the Army of Tennessee from General Braxton Bragg in late December 1863, the Confederate leadership&mdashPresident Jefferson Davis, General Bragg (now the president&rsquos advisor) and War Secretary James Alexander Seddon&mdashbegan to hound him to take the offensive into Tennessee before the Federals could launch their own spring campaign. Johnston repeatedly refused: the enemy outnumbered him the Tennessee country was rough and barren he lacked sufficient wagons and animals to carry supplies. Johnston eventually won by simply waiting until Sherman launched his campaign, which he did on May 5.

Sherman clearly had the numerical advantage. His forces assembled as an army group: 110,000 men, 254 cannon split into the Army of the Cumberland (Major General George Henry Thomas&mdash61,600 infantry) Army of the Tennessee (Major General James B. McPherson&mdash22,300 infantry) and Army of the Ohio (Major General John McAllister Schofield&mdash9,200 infantry). Thomas&rsquo army was by far the largest (IV, XIV and XX Corps). McPherson had the XV and XVI Corps. Schofield&rsquos &ldquoarmy&rdquo was really only the XXIII Corps. Cavalry, mostly in Thomas&rsquo army, numbered 12,400. 4,500 artillerymen served 254 guns.

General Johnston had half that strength on April 10. The infantry and most of the artillery were divided into two corps, commanded by Lieutenant Generals William Joseph Hardee (21,947 officers and men present) and John Bell Hood (22,953). Headquarters staff and cavalry (8,959) made for a total of 54,500 men, plus 144 field pieces.

Johnston had tipped the government off to his defensive strategy in the epistolary back-and-forth with Davis et al. &ldquoI can see no other mode of taking the offensive here,&rdquo he had written on January 2, &ldquothan to beat the enemy when he advances, and then move forward.&rdquo When Sherman began to advance, Johnston would fix his army in a strong defensive position and hope to be attacked. [5]

For his part, Sherman had no intention of wasting his strength in the kind of bloody attacking battles Grant would soon launch against Lee&rsquos army in Virginia. Rather, he would approach the Rebel line, spar at it with bombardments and reconnaissance-in-force by Thomas and usually Schofield, while using McPherson&rsquos army as the column of maneuver&mdashsending it around Johnston&rsquos flank (usually the Confederate left) to threaten the railroad that both sides used as their supply line, the Western & Atlantic, which ran 138 miles from Chattanooga to Atlanta.

Sherman&rsquos tactics worked beautifully.

During the winter, Johnston had arrayed his army north of Dalton, and west of it along a long, imposing Rocky Face Ridge. Sherman spent a few days demonstrating against the Rebel position while McPherson&rsquos army flanked it by marching through Snake Creek Gap, a dozen miles south of Dalton on May 9. When it emerged from the gap, McPherson&rsquos advance was less than six miles from the W. & A. But he hesitated to push forward. A disappointed Sherman reinforced his column and McPherson again threatened the Rebel left flank. Johnston had to retreat in the night of May 12-13.

To this day historians discuss how and why Johnston could have left Snake Creek Gap unguarded. The renowned Ed Bearss once gave a talk to the Chicago Civil War Roundtable asking this question. Johnston&rsquos myopia, he reasoned, was all the more baffling as the general&rsquos background had been in topographical engineering, and the Confederates had had at least four months to reconnoiter the area of Dalton before the spring campaign began.

Johnston took up a new position at Resaca, sixteen miles (by railroad) south of Dalton. Here again Sherman kept Johnston busy with brisk assaults on May 14-15 (with Confederates delivering a few of their own). The Federals took a couple of key positions, but for the most part the Confederates held their lines and thus technically won a defensive tactical victory. Casualties for the two days of fighting led to about 4,000 Federals hors de combat, and probably close to 3,000 for the Confederates. The key event, however, was when a Union division of McPherson&rsquos managed to cross the Oostanaula River well to the west of Rebels&rsquo left flank. This lodgment forced Johnston to order his army once more to retreat during the night of May 15-16.

The Confederates were giving up ground, but gaining strength. Earlier in the year the Richmond authorities had promised Johnston reinforcements if he would assume offensive operations. Now, recognizing the importance of holding Sherman back from Atlanta, they began to send more troops to the Army of Tennessee. After Sherman shifted forces from Mississippi to his army group, Lieutenant General Leonidas Polk&rsquos Army of Mississippi should logically follow&mdashand it did. By the third week in May Polk&rsquos three divisions had joined Johnston, essentially becoming his third infantry corps. Garrison troops from Charleston, Savannah and Mobile were also sent, such that the Army of Tennessee&rsquos returns on June 30 showed 62,747 officers and men present for duty. Joseph E. Johnston&rsquos Army of Tennessee was now the largest in the Confederacy, stronger than Robert E. Lee&rsquos Army of Northern Virginia.

Johnston&rsquos troops marched through Calhoun and Adairsville, with army engineers unable to find ground suitable for another defensive line. Near Cassville, more than twenty miles south of Resaca, Johnston finally found a place to fight&mdashand not just defensively. From Adairsville two roads lead toward Atlanta. Johnston figured that the enemy would use both the likely separation of Sherman&rsquos forces gave him the idea of an attacking battle. Hardee&rsquos corps would take the longer route, via Kingston, leaving a &ldquoplain, well-marked trail&rdquo along the way to lure the Yankees into following with their main force. Johnston placed his other two corps. Polk&rsquos and Hood&rsquos near Cassville. When the second Federal column approached on the direct road from Adairsville, Polk would hold it at bay while Hood marched around to the enemy&rsquos left and launch a flank assault. Johnston was so confident of his prospects for victory that on the morning of May 19 he issued a stirring battle-order to his troops. &ldquoSoldiers of the Army of Tennessee,&rdquo it read, &ldquoby your courage and skill you have repulsed every assault of the enemy&hellip. You will now turn and march to meet his advancing columns. Fully confiding in the conduct of the officers, the courage of the soldiers, I lead you to battle.&rdquo [6]

As it turned out, he did not. True, only two of Sherman&rsquos six corps (Hooker&rsquos and Schofield&rsquos) approached Cassville on the direct road. On the morning of May 19 as he led his troops out toward their attack positions, Union cavalry appeared on Hood&rsquos right flank. Not knowing their strength, Hood cancelled the movement and sent word back to headquarters. A disappointed Johnston refused to believe Hood, and to the end of his life claimed that Hood had been spooked by phantom troops who never existed. (Historians today, finding proof in the Official Records of Colonel Edward Moody McCook&rsquos cavalry division nearing Cassville, side with Hood.)

Nevertheless, Johnston had no choice but to accede to Hood&rsquos field decision. He ordered Polk and Hood to a line on high ground south of Cassville as Hardee marched in to join them. When the Federals came up and started to shell it, some of Polk&rsquos and Hood&rsquos troops came under enfilading fire. That night the two generals warned Johnston that if the enemy attacked the next day, they would not be able to hold the line. A reluctant Johnston ordered another nocturnal retreat. The next day, May 20, the army crossed the Etowah and engineers burned its two bridges. Within the first three weeks of the campaign, Johnston had given up thirty-five miles of territory and two of the three major river barriers impeding Sherman&rsquos advance to Atlanta.

Up to now, officers and men of the Army of Tennessee had not grumbled much about their commanding general giving up territory to the Yankees. &ldquoAll in pretty good spirits up to falling back from Cassville,&rdquo wrote Lieutenant Thomas B. Mackall, nephew of Johnston&rsquos chief of staff, Brigadier General William Whann Mackall. &ldquoBut night retreat after issue general order impaired confidence.&rdquo [7]

Jefferson Davis was not pleased. After Johnston wired Richmond about his retreat from Resaca, the president replied that he read the news &ldquowith disappointment.&rdquo He reminded his general of the reinforcements which had been sent him, adding his hope that they would lead to &ldquoimportant results.&rdquo [8]

Johnston retreated across the Etowah River on May 20, his engineers burning the rail and wagon bridges behind them. He took up position along formidable Allatoona Mountain, where a 175-foot gap allowed the W. & A. to run through. Sherman knew the place, however, from pre-war travels and determined to avoid testing the position.

Sherman gave his men a few days&rsquo rest and resupply, then on the May 23 began sending them across the Etowah west of Allatoona. For the only time in the campaign, he was leading his army group marching away from the railroad, toward the town of Dallas.

Johnston figured out his adversary&rsquos objective and drew his army up in a six-mile line extending eastward from Dallas. Hood&rsquos corps held the Confederate right, around New Hope Church. On May 25, with his armies drawing close to the Rebel line, Sherman ordered Major General Joseph Hooker&rsquos XX Corps to attack the enemy in its front. The Federal attack that afternoon fell on Major General Alexander Peter Stewart&rsquos division. The Confederates had had time to fortify for battle pickets brought in a prisoner who announced that Hooker&rsquos infantry was heading their way. Thus prepared, Stewart had little difficulty repelling the enemy assault. &ldquoIt is fun for our troops to stand in their trenches and mow down their lines as they advance,&rdquo Lieutenant Andrew J. Neal later wrote. Confederate artillery was also effective. Union Brigadier General Alpheus Starkey Williams, one of Hooker&rsquos division commanders, lamented that the Rebels &ldquopoured canister and shrapnel from all directions except the rear.&rdquo Hooker&rsquos repulse at New Hope Church brought 1,665 killed, wounded and missing. Stewart lost 300 to 400 men in this small but morale-building Confederate victory. [9]

Another Confederate victory came two days later, when Sherman ordered another attack. In this one, Brigadier General Thomas John Wood&rsquos division was to find and strike the enemy right flank. However, the Confederates were extending their line to the east just as Wood was trying to outflank it. Sherman was impatient for the attack to begin, so Wood ordered a brigade, Brigadier General William Babcock Hazen&rsquos, to move forward. The Federals advanced around 5:00 p.m. through thick woods, The Confederates ahead of them, of Major General Patrick Ronayne Cleburne&rsquos division, had not had time to dig in. But the Southerners had no trouble repulsing Hazen&rsquos attack. Wood belatedly called in another brigade, but it too was repulsed. Lieutenant Ambrose Gwinnett Bierce of Hazen&rsquos staff later called the futile assault of May 27 &ldquothe Crime at Pickett&rsquos Mill.&rdquo Northern casualties in the battle numbered 1,565: 230 killed, 1,016 wounded and 319 missing. Cleburne reported 85 dead and 363 wounded, to that should be added some 150 cavalrymen who fought out on the Confederate right flank for a total of some 600 casualties. [10]

Yet the next day, the tables turned. Johnston suspected that Sherman was sidling back to the railroad, so he ordered Major General William Brimage Bate, whose division held the Confederate left near Dallas, to launch a reconnaissance-in-force that would ascertain the enemy&rsquos strength. The Federals&mdashMajor General John Alexander Logan&rsquos XV Corps&mdashwere dug in and ready. The Confederates suffered a short, sharp repulse that cost 600 to 700 casualties Logan lost 379 men.

Sherman, like many another Civil War general, liked to boast of his successes and stay mum on his failures. Accordingly, in his campaign report he mentioned the &ldquoterrible and bloody repulse&rdquo of the Rebels at Dallas. But as for New Hope Church and Pickett&rsquos Mill, where his own forces had been repulsed, he merely stated, &ldquoIn making our developments before the enemy about New Hope many severe, sharp encounters occurred between parts of the army, details of which will be given at length in the reports of subordinate commanders.&rdquo [11]

Johnston&rsquos officers and men were heartened by their stand at the Dallas-New Hope line. &ldquoOur army was never in better spirits,&rdquo wrote a Mississippian on May 29. The brass in Richmond, however, was not impressed. On June 4 Bragg slipped a note to President Davis: &ldquothe condition of affairs in Georgia is daily becoming more serious.&rdquo [12]

Sherman had suffered a couple of repulses, but he won the larger point. When he got his army group marching eastward back toward the railroad, he had maneuvered the Rebels off Allatoona. On June 3 Johnston&rsquos army began sidling toward the railroad as well. The Confederates took up a new position running east from Lost Mountain, not quite ten miles from Dallas. Their new line encompassed Gilgal Church at its center, and anchored on the right at Brush Mountain. Out in front was a three hundred-foot tall eminence called Pine Mountain. Johnston placed an infantry division, Major General William B. Bate&rsquos, there.

Sherman rested his troops for a week, then on June 10 started marching them toward the Rebels. As the Federals approached, General Hardee worried that they might surround and cut off Bate&rsquos salient. He asked Johnston to accompany him there on the morning of June 14. General Polk accompanied them. The group of officers began drawing artillery shells from below, and were cautioned to disperse. Polk tarried awhile, surveying the ground, when a shell passed through his chest, killing him instantly. A grieving Johnston wired Richmond of the army&rsquos loss, and Sherman soon learned of Polk&rsquos death. &ldquoWe killed Bishop Polk yesterday,&rdquo he telegraphed Secretary Stanton on the 15th. Johnston appointed Major General William Wing Loring, senior division commander, to temporary command of Polk&rsquos corps Lieutenant. General A. Peter Stewart would eventually take it over. [13]

The Confederates withdrew from Bate&rsquos salient on the night of June 14-15. The next day Sherman ordered his troops to press the Rebel position. An advance against the Confederate center led to a small battle at Gilgal Church, where Maj. Gen. Patrick Cleburne&rsquos men had little difficulty in beating the enemy back. &ldquoWe repulsed him as usual,&rdquo wrote Major Calhoun Benham, &ldquowe were in works.&rdquo [14]

Federal shelling of his lines and threatening moves toward his flanks led Johnston to order a withdrawal from his Lost Mountain-Brush Mountain line. On June 18, he wrote his wife Lydia, confessing he had not found a way to counter Sherman&rsquos &ldquoEngineering system.&rdquo That night, amidst a drenching rain, the Confederate army slogged into a new position which the engineers had anchored at Kennesaw Mountain. Hood&rsquos corps held the right, [15]

Sherman drew up to the Rebels&rsquo position, and sent Schofield&rsquos army probing around the Confederate left. This movement, as well as the enemy&rsquos by-now established practice of flanking by his right, led Johnston to anticipate another turning movement. So, in the night of June 21-22 he shifted Hood&rsquos corps from the right to the left. Shortly after taking position as the army&rsquos new left flank, skirmishers brought in word that Yankees were ahead in the area of the farm owned by Valentine Kolb. Hood ordered two of his divisions to attack. The Confederates found the enemy dug in, with artillery, and ready for them. The predictable bloody repulse cost a thousand Confederate soldiers to about 230 Federals. Hood has been criticized for ordered the attack, but his defenders argued that the sharp offensive move halted the enemy&rsquos flanking maneuver&mdashwhich it did (Schofield concluded he could not move farther to the right without overstretching his line). For the record, Johnston never criticized Hood for the battle of Kolb&rsquos Farm, June 22, even though the corps commander did not alert army headquarters before launching it.

&ldquoI perceived that the enemy and our own officers had settled into a conviction that I would not assault fortified lines,&rdquo Sherman wrote in his campaign report, so he resolved to do that very thing. Looking ahead, we can count the five times when Sherman ordered infantry assaults in the Atlanta Campaign: Resaca, New Hope Church, Pickett&rsquos Mill, here at Kennesaw Mountain, and later at Utoy Creek. It was this attack-decision, though, upon which he wrote most extensively in his campaign report, seeking to justify it. [16]

An army to be efficient must not settle down to a single mode of offense,

but must be prepared to execute any plan which promises success. I wanted,

therefore, for the moral effect to make a successful assault against the enemy

behind his breast-works, and resolved to attempt it at that point where success

would give the largest fruits of victory. [17]

On the morning of June 27, after a preliminary bombardment, about 8:00 a.m. Federal infantry assailed the Confederate line at two points. The first was the high ground west of Kennesaw Mountain known as Little Kennesaw and Pigeon Hill, held by Major General Samuel Gibbs French&rsquos division. General McPherson would coordinate this part of the attack. The second target was in General Thomas&rsquo sector: a salient in Hardee&rsquos line manned by Major General Benjamin Franklin Cheatham&rsquos division, which has since been known as Cheatham&rsquos Hill.

Against French, three brigades of Logan&rsquos XV Corps advanced on Little Kennesaw and Pigeon Hill, while McPherson&rsquos two other corps skirmished with the Confederates at Big Kennesaw as diversion. After overrunning the Rebel skirmish line and taking 150 prisoners, the Federals came up against sustained musketry and artillery fire&mdashFrench had two batteries atop Little Kennesaw. Few Federals even got close to the main Confederate line, from which Southerners rolled boulders down on the Federals. They were repulsed in less than an hour, but some couldn&rsquot safely retreat.

&ldquoWe were in a bad fix,&rdquo wrote Theodore Upson of the 100 th Indiana. &ldquoWe could not go ahead and could not get back.&rdquo &ldquoThe Johnnys&hellipyelled and threw stones at us&rdquo until darkness allowed them to slink back to their lines. [18]

XV Corps casualties in its failed assault totaled 603 killed, wounded and missing. The demonstrating XVI and XVII lost another 257 men. Confederates atop the two Kennesaws and Pidgeon Hill lost about 200, mostly the skirmishers captured in the initial Union advance.

Three Federal brigades from the IV Corps and two from the XIV attacked the area around Cheatham&rsquos salient. As McPherson&rsquos had, Thomas&rsquo troops overran the Confederate skirmishers and captured some of them. Cheatham&rsquos division took the brunt of the assault Cleburne&rsquos to its right was only partly engaged. Cheatham&rsquos troops manned their trenches resolutely in the face of this onslaught men to the rear loaded rifles and passed them up to the firing-line.

A few Federals managed to charge up to the Confederates&rsquo parapet before being struck down. One of them was Brigadier General Charles Garrison Harker. &ldquoI shall not come out of this charge today alive,&rdquo he had earlier predicted. He was right. Harker, at the front of his troops, managed to reach the Confederate parapet when he was shot through the chest. [19]

The two-hour Federals&rsquo assault was a failure. Their casualties numbered 1,478 (654 in the IV Corps, 824 in the XIV). Later that day a brush fire broke out in front of Cleburne&rsquos works, endangering the wounded Federals who still lay on the ground. &ldquoBoys, this is butchery!&rdquo cried out Colonel William H. Martin of the 1 st Arkansas. Martin raised a white cloth, secured a truce, then ordered his men over the parapet to help the enemy retrieve their comrades. [20]

This story has become part of the legendry surrounding the battle of Kennesaw Mountain, but at the time not all Southerners expressed such concern for the fallen foe as did Colonel Martin. A press dispatch about the battle appeared in Southern newspapers under the headline, &ldquoConfederate Victory Near Marietta! The Yankees Roasting!&rdquo [21]

Historians have come to accept casualty figures for June 27 as nearly 3,000 Federals and 600 Confederates, which conforms to the usual ratio of attacker-to-defender in Civil War frontal assaults against entrenched veteran infantry.

Sherman never expressed regret for his decision to order the attacking battle. Two weeks afterward he wrote General Halleck, &ldquoThe assault I made was no mistake.&rdquo He felt he had to convince his men and the enemy&rsquos they were wrong if they thought &ldquothat the assault of lines formed no part of my game.&rdquo [22]

Yet true to form, when the roads dried Sherman found ways to flank the Rebels from their Kennesaw line. Johnston withdrew his army in the night of July 2-3 to a position which the engineers had laid out seven miles to the south, in the area of Smyrna Camp Ground. On July 4 Thomas&rsquo and McPherson&rsquos troops launched two demonstrations on the enemy line while Schofield took his army around the Confederate left. Flanked again, the Confederates withdrew that night to one last position on the north bank of the Chattahoochee, the last river barrier between the Yankees and Atlanta.

Residents of the city were understandably alarmed. &ldquoSpeculation was rife yesterday,&rdquo commented the Atlanta Intelligencer, &ldquoto establish the reason for our retreat. To-day it is more eagerly agitated&mdashwhat will we do next? Our street Generals have it that we will be flanked to the Gulf.&rdquo [23]

Joe Johnston was breaking a basic tactical maxim: don&rsquot take a defensive stand with a broad, deep river at your back. &ldquoNo general, such as he, would invite battle with the Chattahoochee behind him,&rdquo Sherman had written Thomas. Yet as Richard M. McMurry notes, Johnston had done that very same thing earlier in the campaign, when he posted his army at Resaca with the Oostanaula behind him. [24]

In this case, Johnston knew that crossing the last river barrier before Atlanta would send shock waves to all observers&mdashincluding his superiors in Richmond. Thus, when the army&rsquos chief of artillery, Brigadier General Francis Asbury Shoup, offered to construct one final defensive line on the north bank, Johnston agreed. Shoup used a thousand slaves to build his line, which featured three dozen earth-and-log forts connected by rifle pits and artillery redans. It was this position into which the Confederates filed on the night of July 4-5. Creating more anxiety in Atlanta, on July 5 Johnston ordered all munitions machinery to be sent by train to other cities. Most army hospitals were also ordered to be loaded up and sent to Macon.

President Davis was most fretful. He wired Johnston on July 7, &ldquoThe announcement that your army has fallen back to the Chattahoochee renders me more apprehensive for the future.&rdquo The general did nothing to allay Davis&rsquo fears in his reply of the next day. Saying nothing about any plan to drive Sherman back, Johnston asked if the government could not send a strong cavalry force out of Alabama or Mississippi to break Sherman&rsquos railroad supply lines in Tennessee. [25]

Sherman never assaulted Johnston&rsquos river line. As he had repeatedly done, he intended to flank the enemy out of position. But this time there was a twist. Almost every time he had earlier outflanked Johnston&rsquos army, he had done so by extending his right, threatening the Rebels&rsquo left. This time he planned to do just the reverse. He sent McPherson downstream, shelling Rebels guarding the various ferries and threatening to cross well to the south of Johnston&rsquos line. This was a feint, but it fooled Johnston, who sent much of his cavalry downstream.

There, Thomas was demonstrating noisily on July 8 when Schofield moved on the Federal left to find a crossing point of the river. At Isham&rsquos Ferry, about seven miles northwest of the railroad bridge, the Federals found only a few Confederates on the other side. A regiment paddled across, drove them off, and secured the other shore. A pontoon bridge was soon laid down and Brigadier General Jacob Dolson Cox&rsquos division began to cross.

Johnston did not attempt to rush a column to Isham&rsquos to beat the enemy back across. On July 9, he simply issued orders for the army to quietly retreat across the Chattahoochee that night.

On the morning of July 10 Sherman sent to Washington the good news that the Confederates had burned the river bridges and withdrawn to the south side. Johnston&rsquos telegram to General Bragg that day was decidedly not good news, which began to sink down among the officers and men. &ldquoWe feel much dejected and low spirited at our prospects,&rdquo wrote Captain W. L. Trask in his diary on July 10. That same day Private Robert Patrick of the 4 th Louisiana recorded, &ldquoI don&rsquot believe Johnston can hold Atlanta.&rdquo [26]

For a week after his troops&rsquo crossing, Sherman let men rest and resupply before he began his next move against Atlanta. For his part Johnston was content to hold his forces in a defensive line south of Peachtree Creek, a stream flowing westward into the Chattahoochee, awaiting developments.

The army&rsquos retreat justifiably alarmed President Davis. A series of events in the second week of July brought the president&mdashassuming he had not already been thinking of it&mdashto the point of deciding whether to relieve General Johnston from command.

First off, the president needed more information, so on July 9 he instructed his military advisor, General Braxton Bragg, to travel to Atlanta, meet with Johnston, and report back.

On July 10, Georgia Senator Benjamin Harvey Hill, fresh from an interview with Johnston the week before, met with Davis and Secretary Seddon in Richmond. Hill related his conversation with the general, emphasizing a key point. &ldquoAnd I understand you to say, General Johnston,&rdquo as Hill remembered it, &ldquothat Sherman cannot be defeated except by the proposed attack in his rear, and that this work must be done by Forrest or Morgan or by some such force?&rdquo When Johnston said yes&mdashknowing that Hill would be traveling to the capital to report on this meeting&mdashhe was essential signaling the administration that he had no means of defeating Sherman. [27]

Even with this information, Seddon told Hill that the president was still reluctant to fire Johnston. The general, however, weakened his standing further when on July 11 he telegraphed Richmond, recommending that the thousands of Union prisoners being held at Andersonville (110 miles south of Atlanta) should be transferred to safer places.

This prompted Davis to seek the advice of his most trusted general, Robert E. Lee. &ldquoGeneral Johnston has failed, and there are strong indications that he will abandon Atlanta. He urges that prisoners should be removed immediately from Andersonville,&rdquo the president telegraphed on July 12. &ldquoIt seems necessary to relieve him at one. Who should succeed him? What think you of Hood for the position?&rdquo [28]

Davis suggested Hood for two reasons. Lieutenant General Hardee, senior corps commander, had already turned down the army command after Bragg was relieved. And Hood promised to deliver the attacking battles which the crisis now seemed to demand.

Lee telegraphed a reply which the president would not have liked, advising against changing army commanders in the midst of a campaign. Then, as for Hood, he commented, &ldquoHood is a bold fighter, I am doubtful as to other qualities necessary.&rdquo Later that night, in a letter Lee elaborated on his thoughts. Switching army commanders was &ldquoa grievous thing.&rdquo Hood was &ldquovery industrious on the battlefield careless off.&rdquo Then he added, &ldquoGenl Hardee has more experience in managing an army.&rdquo [29]

Davis replied to Lee the next day, essentially affirming that Johnston would have to be relieved. &ldquoThe case seems hopeless in present hands,&rdquo he wrote. Others in Richmond were coming to the same conclusion. Colonel Josiah Gorgas, chief of ordnance, entered into his journal on July 13, &ldquoEverybody has at last come to the conclusion that Johnston has retreated far enough.&rdquo [30]

Yet Davis put off taking action until he heard from his military advisor. On July 13 Bragg arrived in Atlanta and, just from the panicked civilians seen boarding trains in the depot, he concluded, as he wired the president, &ldquoIndications seem to favor an entire evacuation of this place.&rdquo He then rode to army headquarters, learning there that Johnston was allowing Federal infantry corps to cross the Chattahoochee at their leisure. [31]

While Bragg held further meetings with the commanding general and his officers on July 14, Davis met with his Cabinet. Seddon and Secretary of State Judah Phillip Benjamin argued forcefully that Johnston must be relieved. When the president called for a vote, it was unanimous. Davis ended the meeting by saying, &ldquoGentlemen it is very easy to remove the Genl. But when he is removed his place must be filled and where will you find a man to fill it?&rdquo [32]

Bragg spent part of July 14 meeting with Hood. Before he left the next day, Bragg wrote a long report of what he had learned, essentially arguing that Johnston would have to be replaced. He also solicited from Hood a memorandum in which Hood advocated attacking the enemy to drive him back. Bragg entrusted both documents to a staff officer travelling back to Richmond. Bragg himself went on to Alabama on a tour of inspection.

Bragg&rsquos and Hood&rsquos missives would not have arrived in the capital before July 17 or 18, but the president could not wait. Bragg&rsquos telegrams from Atlanta had reported Sherman shifting his forces across the Chattahoochee, threatening the city further. Davis forced Johnston&rsquos hand with a telegram sent on July 16: &ldquoI wish to hear from you as to present situation, and your plan of operations specifically as will enable me to anticipate events.&rdquo Later that day Johnston wired back a most nebulous response. Because he was outnumbered, he wrote, &ldquomy plan of operations must, therefore, depend upon that of the enemy. It is mainly to watch for an opportunity to fight to advantage.&rdquo [33]

Most puzzling of all was this: &ldquoWe are trying to put Atlanta in condition to be held for a day or two by the Georgia militia, that army movements may be freer and wider.&rdquo [34]

Johnston&rsquos telegram may be considered his death-wish, an invitation to be relieved of command. His defenders to this day argue that the general in the coming days planned to attack Sherman&rsquos forces as they crossed Peachtree Creek, five miles north of the city. If Johnston had indeed intended to do so, he most certainly should have informed the government. Having failed to do that, he could not have been surprised when, on July 17, a telegram arrived from Richmond relieving him of command.

Lieutenant General Hood, promoted temporarily to general, would take charge of the Army of Tennessee. In a message to Hood on the night of July 17, Secretary Seddon acknowledged the odds confronting him: &ldquoposition, numbers and morale are now with the enemy.&rdquo At the same time Seddon conveyed the government&rsquos hopes for the new commander: &ldquoIt may yet be practicable to cut the communication of the enemy or find or make an opportunity of equal encounter whether he moves east or west.&rdquo [35]

John B. Hood had his work cut out for him, as did William T. Sherman.

  • [1] William T. Anderson, ed., “The Civil War Diary of Captain James Litton Cooper, September 30, 1861 to January 1865,” in Tennessee Historical Quarterly 15, no. 2 (June 1956): 162.
  • [2] Grant to Sherman, Apr. 4, 1864 in United States War Department, The War of the Rebellion: A Compilation of the Official Records of the Union and Confederate Armies, 128 vols. (Washington D.C.: Government Printing Office, 1880-1901), Series I, volume 32, part 3, p. 246 (hereafter cited as O.R., I, 32, pt. 3, 246).
  • [3] Sherman to Grant, April 10, 1864 in O.R., I, 32, pt. 3, 313 Clay Mountcastle, Punitive War: Confederate Guerrillas and Union Reprisals (Lawrence: University Press of Kansas, 2009), 88.
  • [4] Grant to Sherman, April 4, 1864 and Sherman to Grant, April 10, 1864 in O.R., I, 38, pt. 3, 724-5.
  • [5] Johnston to Davis, January 2, 1864 in O.R., I, 32, pt. 2, 511.
  • [6] Stephen Davis, Atlanta Will Fall: Sherman, Joe Johnston, and the Yankee Heavy Battalions (Lanham, MD: Rowman and Littlefield, 2001), 53 General Orders, May 19, 1864 in O.R., I, 38, pt. 4, 728.
  • [7] Richard M. McMurry, “The Mackall Journal and Its Antecedents,” typescript, courtesy of author, entry of May 20. Lieutenant Thomas B. Mackall kept a journal during the campaign which remains largely unpublished. As an officer on Johnston’s staff, Mackall recorded many details not found elsewhere in the literature. The journal reposes at the Earl Greg Swem Library, College of William and Mary.
  • [8] Davis to Johnston, May 18, 1864 in O.R., I, 38, pt. 4, 725
  • [9] Albert Castel, Decision in the West: The Atlanta Campaign of 1864 (Lawrence: University Press of Kansas, 1992), 225 Milo M. Quaife, ed., From the Cannon’s Mouth: The Civil War Letters of General Alpheus S. Williams (Detroit, MI: Wayne State University Press, 1959), 312.
  • [10] Brian M. Thomsen, ed., Shadows of Blue & Gray: The Civil War Writings of Ambrose Bierce (New York: Tom Doherty Associates, 2002), 225 Cleburne report, May 30, 1864 in O.R. I, 38, pt. 3, 724-5 Brad Butkovich, The Battle of Pickett’s Mill: Along the Dead-Line (Charleston SC: History Press, 2013), 155-6.
  • [11] Sherman’s report, September 15, 1864 in O.R. I, 38, pt. 1, 66.
  • [12] Richard Walpole to “Dear Anna,” May 29, 1864, Bomar Family Papers, MSS 86, box 1, Manuscript, Archives and Rare Book Library, Emory University Bragg to Davis, June 4 in O.R., I, 38, pt. 4, 762.
  • [13] Sherman to Stanton, June 15, 1864 in O.R., I, 38, pt. 4, 480.
  • [14] Sydney C. Kerksis, “Action at Gilgal Church June 15-16, 1864,” in Kerksis, comp., The Atlanta Papers (Dayton, OH: Press of the Morningside Bookshop, 1980), 861.
  • [15] Johnston to Lydia, June 18, 1864 quoted in William J. Cooper, Jr., Jefferson Davis, American (New York: Knopf, 2000), 483.
  • [16] Sherman report, Sept. 15, 1864 in O.R., I, 38, pt. 1, 68.
  • [17] Ibid.
  • [18] Oscar Osburn Winther, ed., With Sherman to the Sea: The Civil War Letters Diaries and Reminiscences of Theodore F. Upson (Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1943), 116.
  • [19] Russell W. Blount, Jr., Clash at Kennesaw: June & July 1864 (Gretna, LA: Pelican Publishing, 2012), 95.
  • [20] W. T. Barnes, “An Incident of Kennesaw Mountain,” in Confederate Veteran, 30, no. 2 (February 1922), 49.
  • [21] W. T. Barnes, “An Incident of Kennesaw Mountain,” Confederate Veteran, 30, no. 1 (January 1922): 49 “Confederate Victory Near Marietta!” Columbia South Carolinian, June 29, 1864.
  • [22] Sherman to Halleck, July 9, 1864 in O.R., I, 38, pt. 5, 91.
  • [23] “The Position,” Atlanta Intelligencer, July 5, 1864.
  • [24] Richard M. McMurry, Atlanta 1864: Last Chance for the Confederacy (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 2000), 114.
  • [25] Davis to Johnston, July 7, 1864 in O.R., I, 38, pt. 5, 867.
  • [26] W. L. Trask war journal, May-September 1864, typescript at Kennesaw Mountain National Battlefield Park Larry M. Strayer and Richard A. Baumgartner, eds., Echoes of Battle: The Atlanta Campaign (Huntington, WV: Blue Acorn Press, 1991), 201.
  • [27] Hill to Seddon, July 14, 1864 in O.R., I, 52, pt. 2, 706.
  • [28] Davis to Lee, July 7, 1864 in O.R., I, 38, pt. 5, 867.
  • [29] Davis to Lee, July 12, 1864 in O.R., I, 52, pt. 2, 692 Lee to Davis, July 12 (telegram, 8:45 p.m. and letter 9:30 p.m.), in Douglas Southall Freeman and Grady McWhiney, eds., Lee’s Dispatches: Unpublished Letters of General Robert E. Lee, C. S. A. to Jefferson Davis and the War Department of The Confederate States of America 1862-1865, Putnam’s 1957 ed., (New York: G.P. Putnam’s Sons, 1915), 282-84.
  • [30] Davis to Lee, July 13, 1864 in O.R., I, 52, pt. 2, 692 Sarah Woolfolk Wiggins, ed., The Journals of Josiah Gorgas, 1857-1878 (Tuscaloosa: University of Alabama Press, 1995), 121.
  • [31] Bragg to Davis, July 13, 1864 in O.R., I, 38, pt. 5, 878.
  • [32] Seddon to Walthall, Feb. 10, 1879, in Dunbar Rowland, ed., Jefferson Davis Constitutionalist His Letters, Papers and Speeches, 10 vols. (Jackson, MS: Printed for the Mississippi Department of Archives and History, 1923), 7:320.
  • [33] Johnston to Davis, July 16, 1864 O.R. I, 38, pt. 5, 882-3.
  • [34] Davis to Johnston and Johnston to Davis, July 16, 1864 in O.R., I, 38, pt. 5, 882-83.
  • [35] Seddon to Hood, July 17, 1864in O.R., I, 38, pt. 5, 885.

If you can read only one book:

Davis, Stephen. A Long and Bloody Task: The Atlanta Campaign from Dalton through Kennesaw to the Chattahoochee, May 5 –July 18, 1864 (El Dorado Hills, CA: Savas Beattie, 2016).

Road to Atlanta

Some historians believe that without the successful drive of Major General William T. Sherman’s army group through northwest Georgia in the spring and summer of 1864, the South could well have won the war. Despite the still contentious debate surrounding Sherman’s conduct of the Atlanta campaign, there is little doubt that his relentless march sounded the death knell for the Confederacy.

Lieutenant General Ulysses S. Grant was having great difficulty in his campaign to break General Robert E. Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia or drive it back to the Confederate capital during the summer of 1864. And even when Grant, accompanying Maj. Gen. George G. Meade’s powerful and well-equipped Army of the Potomac, succeeded in pushing Lee back on Richmond, the defenses there held and Grant was forced into siege operations at Petersburg while “Marse Robert” unleashed one more daring offensive of his own.

In addition, other Federal campaigns that Grant hoped would aid his efforts were failing miserably. Supporting offensives under Maj. Gens. Benjamin Butler, Nathaniel Banks and Franz Sigel resulted in embarrassing defeats. The U.S. Navy struggled on the Red River and at Charleston and was delayed at Mobile. Without Sherman’s relentless push through the South, war weariness might have shaken the Northern people by the time national elections were held six months later, and the armistice platform of the Democratic Party might have prevailed.

Sherman’s campaign is as fascinating as the man who led it, those he led and those he opposed. Once branded as crazy, the red-haired Ohioan had been seasoned under Grant’s tutelage and understood the orders of his younger superior and friend. Sherman’s drive to bring the concept of total war to the heart of the South was exactly what the North needed to launch the final phase of the war and ultimately achieve victory.

Today touring along the route of this campaign reveals a landscape of incredible beauty and evidence of bitter fighting while tracing the lives, and sometimes deaths, of some of the Civil War’s most interesting characters. The first part of the 16-week campaign, which can be termed the Road to Atlanta, will be covered in this column and in January’s installment. The second part, known as the Battles for Atlanta, will be the subject of a future column. The roughly 100-mile route from Ringgold, Ga., to the Chattahoochee River encompasses a large number of interesting sites, and their haunting silence stands in direct contrast to the crack of gunfire, clanking of equipment and shouts of men that permeated the air a little more than 142 years ago.

Despite the importance of the Civil War history in the area, the sites do not receive as much visitation as other battlefields. Yet there is much to see and do along the I-75 corridor. Because there are so many interesting places to visit, the history of Sherman’s campaign as covered in this column will be brief. However, the last Web site in the contact information lists a number of excellent treatments of the campaign, including that of Atlanta historian William R. Scaife, who has been a great help in identifying relevant sites. Although not covered here, points of interest pertaining to John Bell Hood’s late 1864 offensive and the Andrews Raid of 1862 will be mentioned in terms of geographical proximity. An in-depth tour of the area, starting at Chattanooga and ending in Atlanta, should last three to six days. In addition to discovering some fascinating Civil War sites, visitors will have access to nature trails and bike paths, camping opportunities, water recreation at state parks and the Chattahoochee National Recreation Area and the wonderful hospitality offered by the people who live in this region.

When Grant was placed in command of all Federal armies in March 1864, Sherman assumed leadership of the Military Division of the Mississippi. Unhappy with Maj. Gen. William S. Rosecrans’ handling of the Battle of Chickamauga, Grant had received permission the previous October to replace him with Maj. Gen. George Thomas, who took over the Army of the Cumberland. The force formerly headed by Grant and Sherman, the Army of the Tennessee, was now commanded by Maj. Gen. James B. McPherson, who had impressed Grant at Vicksburg. A relatively unfamiliar commander from the trans-Mississippi, Maj. Gen. John Schofield, led a new Army of the Ohio. From these forces Sherman assembled a massive army group of more than 110,000 men and 254 guns. The Confederates, then in winter camp at Dalton, Ga., were commanded by General Joseph E. Johnston, who had replaced General Braxton Bragg after the Rebels were driven from Chattanooga. Johnston had roughly half as many men and 144 guns when Sherman began his campaign on May 4, 1864.

This was not only a campaign of strategy and tactics it was one of personalities—starting with the commanders. Sherman, second in importance only to Grant in the U.S. Army, displayed a seasoned temperament and mental toughness and had Washington’s full support. Thomas, the “Rock of Chickamauga” and one of the most successful Union generals of the war, was known as a plodder. His army, the largest of the three, was to attack Johnston’s defenses directly. Sherman trusted the eager and energetic McPherson to take the Army of the Tennessee on bold flanking maneuvers. Schofield was to do the same, but his initial role was less defined. Notably, his Army of the Ohio executed two of the most significant Federal flanking maneuvers in this part of the campaign, at Kolb’s Farm and Sope Creek.

The Confederate commanders had distinct personalities as well. Johnston was a master of preparation and defense. While he was always at odds with Richmond, he was respected and liked by his men. Never one to give battle unnecessarily, he hoped to slow the Federal advance and lure the enemy into a fight in which he had an advantage. Johnston’s corps commanders included Lt. Gen. William J. Hardee, a reliable veteran of the army since its inception, and the impulsive and daring Lt. Gen. Hood, an aggressive fighter who had proved himself in the East and at Chickamauga. Joining the campaign later was the inimitable bishop-general Leonidas Polk, who was typically slow to act. Both sides had a number of competent commanders leading divisions and brigades and ranks filled with veteran soldiers.

The battles on the Road to Atlanta can be divided into six phases: Rocky Face Ridge, Resaca, Cassville, Dallas, Kennesaw Mountain and the River Line. On May 4, Sherman gave orders to his army commanders to advance south on a broad front. The first action was at Tunnel Hill on May 7, against some stubborn resistance offered by members of Maj. Gen. Joseph Wheeler’s cavalry corps. After the Rebel cavalry was scattered, Sherman’s men were exposed to the awe-inspiring sight of Rocky Face Ridge, a 10-mile-long northsouth range that protected Johnston’s camps at Dalton. Only three gaps penetrated the ridge, and Sherman pinned his hopes on a wide flanking maneuver by McPherson through the winding Snake Creek Gap to get at Johnston’s rear along the rail line at Resaca. On May 8, offensives were launched by the other two Federal armies against Rocky Face and Mill Creek gaps, where wagon and rail routes pierced the ridge, and to the east near Varnell’s Station. None of these feints succeeded. Rebel pioneers dammed Mill Creek and flooded the pass. The heaviest Federal casualties were sustained assaulting the steep, rocky Dug Gap.

The feints did succeed in masking the early part of McPherson’s march, however. It was not until shortly before he arrived in Sugar Valley just west of Resaca that the Rebels discovered the move. On May 9, McPherson probed the Resaca earthworks that Johnston had built in advance—a trademark of this campaign. Cadets of the Georgia Military Institute at Marietta acted as skirmishers during McPherson’s first attack but only briefly, and they weren’t nearly as effective as their VMI counterparts would be at New Market, Va., less than a week later. Seeing the manned fortifications and lacking cavalry, McPherson backed off from the attack and lost the element of surprise. Disappointed at surrendering the initiative, Sherman on May 11 ordered most of his remaining force to follow McPherson’s route. Johnston evacuated his remaining troops from Rocky Face Ridge on the night of May 12 and, with excellent interior lines, filled the Resaca trenches by daybreak on May 13.

Proceed south from the Chattanooga area on I-75 to exit 345. Those with more time can exit to U.S. 41 north of Ringgold and visit the 1930s-era Works Progress Administration way stations describing the opening of Sherman’s campaign and other actions in the area, then drive four miles east on Ga. 2 to Varnell. Prater’s Mill and the Varnell House both stood at the time the armies clashed in the nearby Crow Valley. From exit 345 take Ga. 201 west into Tunnel Hill to U.S. 41 and go south a short distance to Oak Street. Turn left and proceed to Clisby Austin Drive. The Clisby Austin House served as Sherman’s headquarters from May 7-12, and Hood recovered from his Chickamauga wounds here for a time. Nearby is the north entrance to the 1,477-foot railroad tunnel. The smaller of the two entrances is the wartime structure. It is now open for touring. The locomotive General raced through here, closely pursued by Texas during the Andrews Raid. Johnston wanted to plug the tunnel to deny the enemy its use if captured, but the Confederate government wouldn’t allow it until it was too late. Exhibits at a new museum, recently acquired property and historic markers near the Clisby Austin House interpret the historic events here.

Follow U.S. 41 south toward Dalton. Just before reaching I-75, the road crosses Mill Creek. Georgia Historical Commission markers here and to the south describe the action. Buzzard’s Roost, a key Rebel artillery position on the crest of the ridge, is visible from here. A trail east of the creek leads to a flume where Brig. Gen. James D. Morgan’s brigade made a significant attack on the defenses. Some of the Confederate earthworks are open for inspection. Continue south to the city of Dalton. In front of the 1852 Western & Atlantic railroad depot is the only statue in the South of Johnston. Other wartime buildings can be found here as well. The city was the site of Confederate camps during Sherman’s campaign and had been attacked the previous February by Thomas. (The Rebels held, but the Federals gained a good reconnaissance.) Later in 1864, the Union garrison there was attacked and surrendered to Hood. For more local information on the earthworks and the city, see the contact list at the end of the article.

Continue south from Dalton and pick up U.S. 41 again. Turn right on Walnut Avenue/Dug Gap Battle Road. Dug Gap Battlefield Park, at the top of the ridge, is open on weekends and maintained by the Whitfield-Murray Historical Society. The panoramic view is outstanding, and the rock palisades offer a good sense of the defense used against Maj. Gen. John Geary’s force that was advancing from the west. There are also remnants of Confederate breastworks.

Return to U.S. 41 and proceed south toward Resaca. There, the Federals would experience some of the frustration their brethren in the East were facing. The difference was that unlike Lee’s hastily constructed “Mule Shoe” line at Spotsylvania Court House, the fortifications at Resaca were built in advance at a strategic location. Sherman’s men moved into position on May 13, and the bulk of the two armies faced each other in an L-shaped line. Two days of assaults on the works and heavy fighting beginning on the 14th were fruitless for both sides. However, on the 15th a division of the Federal XVI Corps established a pontoon crossing of the Oostanaula River at Lay’s Ferry, six miles south of Resaca, and Sherman turned Johnston’s position. Both armies left the area on May 16.

On U.S. 41 just north of Resaca is the village of Tilton. Major General Oliver O. Howard’s corps advanced south through this area. After the battle the Federals built a blockhouse here that was later assaulted by Hood in October. General stopped here for wood on its journey north in 1862. Just south of Tilton, turn left on Chitwood Road, where the heaviest fighting occurred on the Rebel right flank and Hood almost achieved a breakthrough from his position on the wooded ridge to the north. A mile south of the Whitfield County line is another WPA way station, this one describing the battle of Resaca. The main Confederate line ran just west of I-75, and most of the earthworks have been obliterated by its construction. Turn left at the way station, the paved road leads to the Resaca Confederate Cemetery, the first established in Georgia. A little farther south, as you enter the community of Resaca, turn right on Ga. 136. A vantage point just west of the Camp Creek crossing is a good place to view the two ridges on either side of the creek. The Federal line is to the west, and the Confederate line to the east. The last part of the Federal march through Snake Creek Gap was along present-day Ga. 136, which leads west into the Chattahoochee National Forest. Continue south of Resaca about five miles to Calhoun. Lay’s Ferry was over the Oostanaula River just west of Calhoun. It is north of Ga. 156 but currently inaccessible. However, the area can be seen with some local guidance. Continue south on U.S. 41 to Calhoun.

The next phase of the campaign was a series of maneuvers and responses without a major battle. As Johnston evacuated his army from Resaca on all roads leading south to Calhoun, he could not locate a satisfactory position at Calhoun and Adairsville in this region of rolling hills and fields. In an effort to slow down Sherman’s pursuing columns, he unleashed a series of rear-guard actions on Sherman’s separated forces. The first and most vicious of these was at Rome Crossroads on May 16, when the lead elements of McPherson’s corps were attacked by Hardee. Before other Federals could join the action the following day, Hardee disappeared to the south. One Federal division was diverted to Rome, an important manufacturing center on the Coosa River. The Confederates initially sent a division that had just arrived from Mississippi to defend the city, but then reversed strategy and gave up Rome without a fight. The newly arrived forces marched east to join Polk, their corps commander.

Johnson finally found the defensive position he was looking for at Cassville and even saw an opportunity for offensive action against Schofield’s army, marching in a separate column to the east supported by Maj. Gen. Joseph Hooker’s XX Corps. But an order to Hood to attack this column was mishandled when the Kentucky general was surprised by Brig. Gen. Edward McCook’s cavalry on two different roads. Hood pulled his corps back, ruining Johnston’s first defensive position. However, the Rebel commander formed a new line east of Cassville, facing his former position west of the town, and presented a strong front.

Alarmed at the miss that almost destroyed one of his armies, Sherman regrouped, bringing most of his remaining men to Cassville from the railroad junction at Kingston. The Federal soldiers quickly filled the former Rebel works west of the town. A major action seemed likely, but a meeting among the Confederate commanders revealed some role reversals. Hood was worried about well-placed Union artillery enfilading his line. He was supported by Polk, though Hardee was ready to stand and fight. The lack of cohesion forced Johnston to give up the position on the night of May 19 and march his army across the Etowah River, the last great water barrier before the Chattahoochee River on Atlanta’s outskirts.

See next issue’s column as the Road to Atlanta continues.

Originally published in the December 2006 issue of Civil War Times. To subscribe, click here.

Recommended Resources

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Watch the video: When Georgia Howled: Sherman on the March (June 2022).


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