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.
Sherman Besieges Atlanta
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, and captured/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. For the next month, Sherman tried to cut off supplies into the besieged city by using his cavalry to sever the railroads leading into Atlanta. Hood drove off Sherman’s cavalry, repairing any damage that the horsemen had done and maintaining his supply lines into the city.
In late August, Sherman changed strategies. Rather than focus on Atlanta proper, he moved the bulk of his troops against the railroads leading into the city, destroying them beyond immediate repair. On August 25, Sherman ordered six of the seven divisions around Atlanta to move south of the city to attack the Macon and Western Railroad near Jonesborough, Georgia.
Federals Repulse Rebel Attack at Jonesborough
Not realizing the size of the Union forces accumulating near Jonesborough, Hood countered by sending out two corps, under the command of Lieutenant General William J. Hardee, to disrupt the Federals. On August 31, Hardee launched an attack on two Yankee corps, which the Federals easily repulsed.
Now sensing the size of the Union forces south of Atlanta, Hood ordered one of Hardee’s two corps back to the city in case the Federals attacked Atlanta. The next day, Sherman’s army overwhelmed Hardee’s corps, driving them away from Atlanta toward Lovejoy’s Station.
The Battle of Jonesborough was costly for both sides. The Union suffered 1,149 casualties (killed, wounded, and missing/captured) and the Confederacy lost about 2,000 soldiers (killed, wounded, and missing/captured).
With his supply lines severed and 60,000 Federal troops massed on the southern edge of Atlanta, Hood’s only recourse was to abandon the city. On September 2, 1864, federal troops commanded by Major General Henry W. Slocum marched into the undefended city. Two days later, Sherman declared the end of the Atlanta Campaign by issuing Special Field Order No. 64, which announcing that ‘The army having accomplished its undertaking in the complete reduction and occupation of Atlanta will occupy the place and the country near it until a new campaign is planned in concert with the other grand armies of the United States.”