The Atlanta Campaign of 1864

May 7–September 2, 1864

The Atlanta Campaign was an 1864 Union offensive fought in northern Georgia. The campaign began on May 7, 1864 when three Federal armies under the command of Major General William T. Sherman invaded Georgia from the vicinity of Chattanooga, Tennessee. The campaign ended when Confederate General John Bell Hood ordered the Army of Tennessee to evacuate Atlanta on September 1, 1864, enabling Sherman to occupy the city on the next day.

William T Sherman at Atlanta, Photograph

General William T. Sherman on horseback at Federal Fort No. 7 in Atlanta. Image Source: Library of Congress.

Atlanta Campaign History

In September 1863, Confederate General Braxton Bragg’s Army of Tennessee was attempting to recapture Chattanooga, Tennessee from Federal forces by besieging the city. Union leaders responded by sending Major General Ulysses S. Grant and reinforcements to Chattanooga with orders to break the siege. After establishing a new supply line into the city, Grant ordered a breakout offensive in late November that successfully drove Bragg’s army back into northern Georgia. With the “Gateway to the South” secured, Union prepared to launch an offensive aimed at capturing Atlanta.

Grant’s Umbrella Strategy

Following the breakout at Chattanooga, Congress and President Lincoln promoted Grant to the special rank of Lieutenant General and placed him in command of all Union armies. Grant moved his headquarters to Washington, leaving his trusted subordinate, Major General William T. Sherman, in command of federal operations in the Western Theater. Grant’s primary military strategy was a coordinated effort to attack and defeat the two main Confederate armies in the field, Robert E. Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia in the east, and Joseph E. Johnston’s Army of Tennessee in the west. On May 5, 1864, Grant launched his Overland Campaign against Lee in Virginia. Two days later, Sherman led three armies, the Army of the Tennessee, commanded by Major General James B. McPherson; the Army of the Ohio, commanded by Major General John M. Schofield; and the Army of the Cumberland, commanded by Major General George H. Thomas, out of Tennessee in pursuit of Johnston’s army.

Bragg’s Demise and Johnston’s Retreat

After the Federals broke the Siege of Chattanooga, Bragg retreated into northern Georgia and established a defensive line at Dalton, about thirteen miles south of Sherman. On February 24, 1864, Confederate President Jefferson Davis sacked Bragg, replacing him with General Joseph Johnston. As Sherman approached the entrenched Southern army, he chose to avoid a costly frontal attack. Instead, he sent the Army of the Tennessee through an unprotected gap in the mountains at Snake Creek to disable the Western and Atlantic Railroad behind Johnston’s lines. In danger of being outflanked and having his supply line severed, Johnston pulled back twelve miles to Resaca, Georgia on the night of May 12-13.

Sherman’s Flanking Strategy

On May 14, the Union armies engaged the Confederates at Resaca, but with little success. On May 15, part of McPherson’s army again outflanked Johnston, crossing the Oostanaula River, forcing the Confederates to retreat south to Adairsville. Johnston planned to engage Sherman’s forces at Adairsville on May 19, but when threatened by Union cavalry, the Confederate leader called off the attack and retreated across the Etowah River on May 23.

Johnston assumed a strong defensive position at Allatoona Pass on the railroad line. Once again, Sherman avoided a frontal assault, sending all three of his armies west and then south, bypassing the Confederates. This time, Johnston expected Sherman’s flanking maneuver and engaged the Union armies at the Battles of New Hope Church on May 25, and Pickett’s Mill on May 27. After suffering heavy losses with little gain, each side entrenched and began probing the other’s defenses.

Federal Frontal Assault

On June 3, Union cavalry secured Allatoona Pass, enabling Sherman to abandon his defensive position and move his forces eastward, back to the railroad. Johnston responded by moving his army south to a strong defensive position around Kennesaw Mountain. Confederate reinforcements and heavy rains, which hampered any further flanking movements, prevented Sherman from making much headway against the Confederates entrenched on Kennesaw Mountain. Hoping to force the Confederates from their position, Sherman ordered a frontal assault on June 27, which the Confederates easily repulsed, resulting in heavy Union losses.

Hood Replaces Johnston

In early July, the heavy rains ended, enabling Sherman to resume his flanking tactics and forcing Johnston to retreat six miles further south to Marietta. The Federals continued to press forward, and Johnston withdrew to the north bank of the Chattahoochee River just two days later. Tired of Johnston’s retreating, Confederate President Jefferson Davis relieved Johnston of his command on July 17, replacing him with General John B. Hood.

Davis chose Hood, in part, because he had proven to be an aggressive leader at the Battles of Gettysburg and Chickamauga. Hood did not take long in meeting Davis’s expectations, attacking the Army of the Cumberland after it crossed Peachtree Creek on July 20. Hood’s forces put forth a determined effort, but the Federals held their ground, forcing the Confederates to retire.

Battle of Atlanta

On July 22, Hood took on the Army of the Tennessee as it pushed closer to Atlanta from the east. During the Battle of Atlanta, his forces inflicted heavy losses on the Federals, including the death of McPherson. By the end of the day, the Federals prevailed and Hood suffered 5,500 casualties.

Hood Frustrates Sherman

Having been unsuccessful in approaching Atlanta from the north and east, Sherman tried assaults from the south and west. At the Battle of Ezra Church on July 28, Confederate defenders prevented Union forces from cutting the rail line between East Point and Atlanta. To the south, on July 30, Confederate forces repelled a daring Union cavalry raid, aimed at severing supply lines into the city.

Hood Evacuates Atlanta

With all approaches apparently blocked, Sherman chose to shell Hood’s army out of Atlanta. On July 20, he ordered his artillery to bombard Hood’s lines and the city, which still harbored about 3,000 civilians. The shelling lasted for five weeks, killing about 20 civilians, but Hood continued to hold on as long as he was receiving supplies.

Toward the end of August, Sherman determined to stop the flow of supplies into Atlanta. In the past, he had used cavalry raids to destroy railroads leading into the city. When the cavalry left, however, Hood repaired the railroad and restored his supply lines. On August 25, Sherman began pulling infantry units out of the line to move against the main supply line coming into Atlanta. Not having enough troops to guard the entire railroad line, Hood ordered an unsuccessful attack near Jonesborough on August 31. With his main supply line now severed, Hood evacuated Atlanta on the night of September 1, burning all military stores and installations. Sherman’s forces occupied the city on September 2, thus ending the Atlanta Campaign.

Outcome of the Atlanta Campaign

The outcome of the Atlanta Campaign was Federal troops occupied Atlanta for the rest of the Civil War and throughout Reconstruction. Besides losing the city, the Confederates suffered roughly 32,000 casualties during the Atlanta Campaign. The Union lost about 37,000 soldiers to win their prize. Although Hood’s army escaped, the capture of the Georgia capital helped ensure President Lincoln’s reelection in November. Sherman occupied Atlanta for the next two-and-one-half months before starting out on his march to the sea. Prior to evacuating the city, Sherman ordered “the destruction in Atlanta of all depots, car-houses, shops, factories, foundries.” After stripping the city of all materials that the South could use, the destruction began on November 12. Before the bulk of Sherman’s army evacuated the city on November 15, Union soldiers engaged in unsanctioned arson, torching private residences and much of the downtown. Following Sherman’s departure, Federal troops remained in the city.

Atlanta Campaign Significance

The impact of the Atlanta Campaign was a major success for the Union, however, Confederate forces were able to escape, which extended the war.

  • The capture of Atlanta was an important factor in President Abraham Lincoln’s re-election.
  • The capture of Atlanta opened the door for Sherman’s “March to the Sea.”
  • Union forces occupied Atlanta for the rest of the war and throughout Reconstruction.

Atlanta Campaign Facts

Date and Location

  • Dates — May 7–September 2, 1864
  • Location — Northern Georgia

Principal Union Commanders

The overall commander of the combined Union forces, known as the Military Division of the Mississippi, during the Atlanta Campaign was Major General William T. Sherman. The commanders of the individual Union armies were:

Principal Confederate Commanders

At the beginning of the Atlanta Campaign, General Joseph E. Johnston commanded the Confederate Army of Tennessee.

On July 17, 1864, Confederate President Jefferson Davis relieved General Joseph E. Johnston of command of the Army of Tennessee and replaced him with Lieutenant General John Bell Hood.

Union Forces Engaged

The Union armies that fought in the Atlanta Campaign were all part of the Military Division of the Mississippi. The individual armies were:

  1. The Army of the Tennessee, commanded by Major General James B. McPherson.
  2. The Army of the Ohio, commanded by Major General John M. Schofield.
  3. The Army of the Cumberland, commanded by Major General George H. Thomas.

Confederate Forces Engaged

The Confederate army that fought in the Atlanta Campaign was the Army of Tennessee.

Number of Union Soldiers Engaged

  • The number of Union soldiers engaged in the Atlanta Campaign varied from about 98,500 to 112,000.

Number of Confederate Soldiers Engaged

  • The number of Confederate soldiers engaged in the Atlanta Campaign was roughly 50,000–65,000

Estimated Union Casualties

Union casualties during the Atlanta Campaign were about 31,600.

  • Killed: 4,423
  • Wounded: 22,822
  • Captured or Missing: 4,442

Estimated Confederate Casualties

Confederate casualties during the Atlanta Campaign were about 35,000.

  • Killed: 3,044
  • Wounded: 18,952
  • Captured or Missing: 12,983

Result of the Atlanta Campaign

  • The result of the Atlanta Campaign was a Union victory.

Atlanta Campaign Timeline

These are the main battles and events of the Atlanta Campaign in chronological order.

End of the Atlanta Campaign

The Atlanta Campaign ended when Confederate General John Bell Hood ordered the Army of Tennessee to evacuate Atlanta on September 1, 1864, enabling Sherman to occupy the city on the next day.