THE WESTERN THEATER: THE ATLANTA CAMPAIGN
At the same time Grant was beginning his drive against Lee, Sherman began moving forward against the Confederate Army of Tennessee, now under the command of General Joseph E. Johnston. Following the tenure of Braxton Bragg, Johnston exhibited real concern for his men and he soon became extremely popular among the troops. He gave the entire army furloughs, one-third at a time and announced amnesty for deserters. The troops were resupplied with rations, clothing, and new shoes. Discipline was maintained, and even more importantly, even-handedly administered. The army was restored to fighting trim.
The Army of Tennessee at the time was comprised of two infantry corps under the command of Lieutenant Generals William Hardee and John Bell Hood (a third corps under the command of Lieutenant General Leonidas Polk would soon join the army). The cavalry was commanded by Major General Joe Wheeler. Although Johnston's army was outnumbered almost two-to-one, he held excellent defensive terrain and was confident of disrupting Sherman's plans to take Atlanta.
Sherman's forces consisted of three Federal armies: the large Army of the Cumberland, under Major General George Thomas; the Army of the Tennessee, under Major General McPherson; and the much smaller, corps-sized Army of the Ohio under Major General Schofield. Later in the campaign, Blair's XVII Corps would join Sherman after Johnston had been forced to retreat beyond the Etowah River.
Throughout May and into mid-July, Johnston conducted a series of skillfully managed retreats while delaying Sherman's advance. He was also looking for Sherman to make a mistake that would allow him to move against a portion of his command and crush it before it could be reinforced. Following the actions around Resaca in mid-May, Johnston thought he might have the opportunity he was looking for at Cassville on May 18. There, he had succeeded in deceiving Sherman as to his true line of retreat and prepared to fall upon the Army of the Ohio which was separated and subject to defeat in detail. However, Hood, becoming concerned on having Federal cavalry appear on his flank, called off the attack.
The next major encounter was at Kennesaw Mountain where Sherman, becoming impatient at his lack of progress in his flanking maneuvers, ordered a series of frontal assaults against Johnston's entrenched troops. Losing about 2,000 casualties to Johnston's 500, Sherman later justified the assault by asserting that it had shown Johnston that he would attack entrenchments and that Johnston must therefore keep them well-manned.
By mid-July, Sherman was across the Chattahoochee River and only six miles north of Atlanta. The Confederate President, Jefferson Davis, was unhappy with Johnston's strategy and on the eve of a major battle, replaced him with a more aggressive commander, John Bell Hood. When Sherman learned of the change, he was pleased with his new prospects.
Hood's first battle as commander of the Army of Tennessee was Peachtree Creek on July 20. In an attempt to hit the Federals while they were in the process of crossing Peachtree Creek, mistakes and misunderstandings on the part of Hood's subordinates prevented the Confederates from capitalizing on the situation. Here Hood lost about 4,800 men to the Federals loss of 1,800. On July 22, he saw another opportunity, this time to strike McPherson's left flank by sending Hardee's corps on a night march. Delays and bad management resulted in another 8,000 casualties for the Confederates to 3,700 Federals at the Battle of Atlanta (or Hood's Second Sortie). On July 28, at the battle of Ezra Church Hood attacked again, this time losing about 5,000 men to only 600 Federal casualties. Hood was indeed showing aggressive behavior, but Sherman was winning all the battles. July ended with Hood finally deciding that attacking Sherman was not to his advantage, and withdrew behind Atlanta's fortifications.
Sherman however, did not intend to attack Hood behind his fortifications, but instead set about cutting his supply lines with the Federal cavalry. The cavalry failed miserably at their task, so Sherman decided to move from his base and destroy the railroads with his infantry. When Hood was unable to prevent the inevitable at the battle of Jonesboro, he ordered the evacuation of Atlanta on September 1. Ordering the destruction of military stores that could not be saved, the city of Atlanta was wracked with a series of powerful explosions as the soldiers blew up locomotives, factories, and eighty-one railroad cars loaded with ammunition. The remnants of the Army of Tennessee slipped away during the night, to regroup beyond contact with Sherman's Federals. The victorious Union army entered the city the following day.
In Washington, D.C., President Lincoln awaited word of Sherman. His political future and the future of the war had appeared uncertain. With Grant stalled by Lee before Richmond and Sherman's problematic drive on Atlanta, the strength of the Democratic peace party, led by Lincoln's former general, George B. McClellan, had grown. Lincoln needed victories to ensure re-election and continuation of the war effort. They had not been forthcoming to this point in time. Finally a telegram from Sherman, given to Lincoln on the afternoon of September 2, 1864, changed all that. It began with the simple statement that, "Atlanta is ours, and fairly won."
This Page last updated 10/06/01
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CHAPTER XIX, The Western Theater: Hoods Tennessee Campaign