Prelude to the Battle
Siege of 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, 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.
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, the 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 Divides His Forces
When Sherman began his final push toward Atlanta, he divided his forces, sending Thomas’s Army of the Cumberland directly toward the city and ordering Schofield’s Army of the Ohio and McPherson’s Army of the Tennessee around Atlanta to the east. Hood viewed this as an opportunity to strike a blow for the Confederacy.
Clash at Peachtree Creek
To approach Atlanta, Thomas’s army had to cross Peachtree Creek in several places. Johnston had known that while still in command and had devised a plan to attack Thomas’ soldiers at the time of the crossing. When the crossing took place on July 20, Hood implemented Johnston’s plan. Unfortunately for the Southerners, Thomas’ army had already crossed the creek when the attack began at about 4:00 p.m., instead of the planned time of 1 p.m. The assault initially showed some promise, but the Federals held their ground, eventually punishing the Rebels with high casualties.
Aftermath of the Battle
The Battle of Peachtree Creek cost the Confederacy nearly 5,000 men killed, wounded, and captured or missing, compared to about 1,700 for the Union.