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 designs 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.
Sherman on the Move
Following the breakout at Chattanooga, Grant sent Major General William T. Sherman with 25,000 soldiers to relieve Union forces at Knoxville, which was under siege by Confederate General James Longstreet. After helping drive Longstreet away from Knoxville, Sherman returned to Ohio, where he spent Christmas with his family. In February, he traveled to Vicksburg, where he started a campaign against General Leonidas Polk’s troops at Meridian, Mississippi. Confederate President Jefferson Davis countered Sherman’s threat against Meridian by ordering General Joseph Johnston, who had replaced Bragg, to send troops to reinforce Polk.
Thomas Clashes with Johnston at Dalton
When Grant learned that Davis had reduced the size of Johnston’s force in Georgia, he ordered Major General George Thomas, commanding the Army of the Cumberland, to probe Johnston’s depleted defenses at Rocky Face Ridge, near Dalton, on February 22, 1864. The Federals enjoyed some success in early skirmishing, but Thomas found Johnston’s position to be strong.
When Polk withdrew from Meridian, Johnston’s soldiers returned to Dalton. Facing a larger foe, Thomas withdrew from the area on February 27.
Casualties at the First Battle of Dalton were light on both sides. The Union lost fewer than 300 soldiers (killed, wounded, captured, or missing), while the Confederacy lost roughly 140 men. Although Thomas could not remove Johnston from his defenses, his reconnaissance proved valuable at the Battle of Rocky Face Ridge in August during the Atlanta Campaign.