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’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, 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 and the Army of Northern Virginia in the east, and Joseph E. Johnston and the 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.
Sherman Repositions His Forces
To prevent supplies from entering Atlanta, Sherman needed to sever the Atlanta and West Railroad, which entered the city from the southwest. His first attempt to do so failed at the Battle of Ezra Church on July 28, 1864. In early August, Sherman began transferring Schofield’s Army of the Ohio from his left flank to his right flank, southwest of Atlanta. On August 4, the Army of the Ohio, supported by one corps from the Army of the Cumberland, crossed Utoy Creek to move toward the railroad.
August 5–7, 1864 — Clash Near Utoy Creek
On August 5, the Federals advanced with some success before Schofield stopped to regroup his army. The delay enabled the Rebels to reinforce their defenses. At 10:00 a.m., on August 6, Schofield ordered an all-out attack against the highly outnumbered Confederates, which failed. Following another assault, which the Rebels also repulsed, Schofield called it a day. On August 7, the Union troops entrenched in front of the Confederate defenses, where they remained until late August.
Aftermath of the Battle
The Battle of Utoy Creek was not a major engagement in terms of casualties. Estimates of Union losses vary from about 300 to about 2,000 men killed, wounded, captured, and missing. Estimates of Confederate losses range from about 20 to about 250 men killed, wounded, captured, and missing.
Still, the battle was important because the Confederates prevented the Federals from severing a critical supply line into Atlanta and because the Rebel victory convinced Union commander William T. Sherman to abandon frontal attacks on Atlanta’s Confederate defenders.