The Battle of Buzzard's Roost took place in Whitfield County, Georgia on May 9, 1864. The battle was part of a larger engagement known as the Battle of Rocky Face Ridge, which was the first encounter between Union forces commanded by Major General William T. Sherman and Confederate forces commanded by General Joseph E. Johnston during the Atlanta Campaign.
Elements of Major General George Thomas’s Army of the Cumberland attacked Rebel defenders entrenched at a gap in the mountains north of Resaca, Georgia, known as Buzzard’s Roost Gap. Thomas’s demonstration held the Confederates in check as Major General James McPherson was moving the Union Army of the Tennessee south to outflank the Confederates at Snake Creek Gap.
In late November 1863, Union forces commanded by Major General Ulysses S. Grant successfully lifted Confederate General Joseph E. Johnston’s siege of Chattanooga. Union victories at Lookout Mountain (November 24) and Missionary Ridge (November 25) forced Johnston to withdraw 30 miles south near Dalton, Georgia.
After the Federal breakout from Chattanooga, Grant was promoted to the special rank of Lieutenant General and placed 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. Upon arriving in Washington, Grant devised a “total war” policy aimed at the Confederate military, transportation systems, and anything else abetting the Rebel cause. 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 in northern Georgia.
On May 7, 1864, Sherman’s forces approached the Army of Tennessee, which was entrenched near Dalton, in rugged, mountainous terrain on and around Rocky Face Ridge. On May 7 and 8, General George Thomas’ Army of the Cumberland tested the Rebel defenses with limited gains. Foreseeing little prospect for success through frontal assaults, Sherman sent General James McPherson’s Army of the Tennessee southwest, in search of a way around the Confederate defenders. On May 9, elements of Major General George Thomas’s Army of the Cumberland attacked Johnston’s main line of defense at a gap in the mountains, known locally as Buzzard’s Roost Gap. Meanwhile, McPherson moved his army to an unprotected gap in the mountains farther south at Snake Creek. Leaving Thomas to demonstrate before the main Confederate line, Sherman moved the remainder of his forces south through the Snake Creek Gap, threatening to disable the Western and Atlantic Railroad behind Johnston’s lines. In danger of being outflanked and having his supply line severed, Johnston was forced to pull back 12 miles to Resaca, Georgia on the night of May 12-13.
Although the Rebel defenders were able to rebuff Thomas’s army at the Battle of Buzzard’s Roost, the engagement accomplished Sherman’s objective of holding the Confederates in check as he successfully outflanked Johnston’s army.