Prelude to the Battle
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 the Battle of Lookout Mountain (November 24) and the Battle of Missionary Ridge (November 25) forced Johnston to withdraw thirty miles south near Dalton, Georgia.
Grant Promoted to Lieutenant General
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, leaving his trusted subordinate, Major General William T. Sherman, in command of federal operations in the western theater.
Grant’s Umbrella Strategy
Grant’s primary military strategy was a coordinated effort to attack and defeat the two main Confederate armies in the field, Robert E. Lee and the Army of Northern Virginia in the east, and Joseph E. Johnston and the 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.
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.
Clash at New Hope Church
By May 20, Johnston had established new defensive lines at Allatoona Pass about thirty miles north of Atlanta. Wishing to avoid a costly frontal attack, Sherman marched his forces around the Confederate left flank to Dallas, Georgia, at Johnston’s rear. Guessing Sherman’s intentions, Johnston shifted his army into the federal path at New Hope Church.
Unaware of Johnston’s movement, Sherman ordered three divisions commanded by Major General Joseph Hooker to attack what he believed to be a token Rebel force on May 25. Instead of the small Confederate force he expected, Hooker found himself engaged with the Army of Tennessee. In the ensuing battle, Hooker suffered 1,665 casualties, including over 700 killed, compared to 350 Confederate casualties.
Aftermath of the Battle
On May 26, both armies entrenched, and Sherman continued to search for a way around the Confederate army.