Federal Breakout from Chattanooga
In late November 1863, Union forces commanded by Major General Ulysses S. Grant successfully lifted Confederate General Joseph E. Johnston’s siege of Chattanooga, Tennessee. Union victories at Lookout Mountain (November 24) and Missionary Ridge (November 25) forced Johnston to withdraw thirty miles south to near Dalton, Georgia.
Grant’s Umbrella Strategy
After the Federal breakout from Chattanooga, President Abraham 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, DC, 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.
Sherman Moves into Georgia
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.
Fighting Along the Western and Atlantic Railroad
Throughout the summer of 1864, the Confederate and Union armies engaged in a series of battles between Dalton and Atlanta in northern Georgia. Most of the fighting occurred at places on or near the Western and Atlantic Railroad, which connected Chattanooga and Atlanta. Both sides depended on the railway for supplies throughout the campaign. In a pattern that he often repeated, Sherman used flanking movements that threatened the railway to Johnston’s rear, forcing the Confederate commander to retreat south to protect his supply lines.
Hood Replaces Johnston
By mid-July, Sherman had driven Johnston’s army to the outskirts of Atlanta. Many Southerners, including President Jefferson Davis, had grown weary of Johnston’s strategy of retreat. On July 17, 1864, Davis relieved Johnston of his command, replacing him with General John Bell Hood. Known as an aggressive fighter, Hood was a veteran officer with a reputation for personal bravery who had suffered severe wounds at the Battle of Gettysburg (July 1-3, 1863) and the Battle of Chickamauga (September 19-20, 1863). General Hood wasted little time responding to Southerners’ calls for action.
Atlanta Under Siege
Hood launched costly attacks against Sherman’s armies on July 20 (Battle of Peachtree Creek) and July 22 (Battle of Atlanta) that produced high Confederate casualties (over 13,000 men killed, wounded, captured, and missing. Despite his high losses, Hood prevented Sherman from penetrating Atlanta from the north and from the east. Foiled in his efforts to capture the city by force, Sherman besieged Atlanta in late July.
Race to Destroy Supply Lines
Desperate to break the siege, Hood sent Major General Joseph Wheeler’s cavalry to northern Georgia to destroy railroad tracks and disrupt Sherman’s supply lines. With Wheeler’s cavalry absent, Sherman set about trying to destroy Hood’s supply lines.
Federals Destroy Supplies at Jonesborough
On August 18, 1864, Brigadier General Judson Kilpatrick’s cavalry raided the Atlanta and West Point Railroad, destroying small sections of track. The next day, Kilpatrick’s troopers burned a large cache of Confederate supplies at the Jonesborough supply depot on the Macon and Western Railroad.
Clash at Lovejoy’s Station
On August 20, Kilpatrick’s men continued on to Lovejoy’s Station where they continued their destruction until Confederate infantry from Major General Patrick Cleburne’s division arrived. The two sides clashed into the night when Kilpatrick retreated to avoid being surrounded.
Casualties were about even at the Battle of Lovejoy’s Station. The Confederacy suffered about 237 casualties (killed, wounded, captured/missing) and the Union lost roughly 240 soldiers (killed, wounded, captured/missing). Although Kilpatrick’s men destroyed some track and supplies, the Rebels repaired the damage to the line and had the railroad operational within two days.