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Title: The Road Past Kennesaw: The Atlanta Campaign of 1864

Author: Richard M. McMurry

Author of introduction, etc.: Bell Irvin Wiley

Release date: May 28, 2020 [eBook #62266]

Language: English

Credits: Produced by Stephen Hutcheson and the Online Distributed
Proofreading Team at


The Road Past Kennesaw: The Atlanta Campaign of 1864



Foreword by Bell I. Wiley

Office of Publications

National Park Service


Washington, D. C. 1972

For sale by the Superintendent of Documents, U.S. Government Printing Office
Washington, D.C. 20402—Price $1.70
Stock No. 024-005-00288-O/Catalog No. I 29.2:K39

The author: Richard M. McMurry, a long-time student of the Army of Tennessee and the Atlanta Campaign, is associate professor of history at Valdosta State College, Valdosta, Ga.


Publication of this volume was made possible by a grant from the Kennesaw Mountain Historical Association.

This publication is one of a series of booklets describing the significance of historical and archeological areas in the National Park System administered by the National Park Service, U.S. Department of the Interior. It is printed by the Government Printing Office and can be purchased from the Superintendent of Documents, Washington, DC 20402. Price $1.70.

Stock Number 024-005-00288-O Catalog Number I 29.2:K 39



The turning point of the Civil War is a perennial matter of dispute among historians. Some specify the Henry-Donelson-Shiloh operation of early 1862 as the pivotal campaign; others insist that Antietam was the key event; still others are equally sure that Gettysburg and Vicksburg marked the watershed of military activities. Regardless of when the tide turned, there can be little doubt that the Federal drive on Atlanta, launched in May 1864, was the beginning of the end for the Southern Confederacy. And Sherman’s combination assault-flanking operation of June 27 at Kennesaw Mountain may very well be considered the decisive maneuver in the thrust toward Atlanta. For when Joseph E. Johnston found it necessary to pull his forces back across the Chattahoochee, the fate of the city was sealed.

The Atlanta Campaign had an importance reaching beyond the immediate military and political consequences. It was conducted in a manner that helped establish a new mode of warfare. From beginning to end, it was a railroad campaign, in that a major transportation center was the prize for which the contestants vied, and both sides used rail lines to marshal, shift, and sustain their forces. Yanks and Rebs made some use of repeating rifles, and Confederate references to shooting down “moving bushes” indicate resort to camouflage by Sherman’s soldiers. The Union commander maintained a command post under “signal tree” at Kennesaw Mountain and directed the movement of his forces through a net of telegraph lines running out to subordinate headquarters. Men of both armies who early in the war had looked askance at the employment of pick and shovel, now, as a matter of course, promptly scooped out protective ditches at each change of position.

The campaign was also tremendously important as a human endeavor, and one of the most impressive features of Richard McMurry’s account is the insight—much of it gleaned from unpublished letters and diaries—into the motivations, experiences, and reactions of the participants. The officers and men who endured the heat and the mud of what must have been one of the wettest seasons in the history of Georgia and who lived in the shadow of death day after day for 4 months of as arduous campaigning ii as occurred during the whole conflict, stand out as flesh and blood human beings. This time of severe testing led to the undoing of some of the generals, including Joseph E. Johnston and John Bell Hood. Others, notably William Tecumseh Sherman, capitalized on the opportunities afforded by the campaign to prove their worth and carve for themselves lasting niches in the military hall of fame. Still others had their careers cut short by hostile bullets, among them Leonidas Polk, a leader whose Civil War experience makes inescapable the conclusion that he should never have swapped his clerical robes for a general’s stars. In marked contrast stood James B. McPherson, great both as a man and a combat commander, whose premature passing elicited moving statements of grief from leaders on both sides.

Human aspects of the campaign found most vivid and revealing expression in the letters of the lesser officers and the men whom they led. Robert M. Gill, a Mississippi lieutenant promoted from the ranks, poured out in full and frequent letters to his wife his homesickness, his hopes, his fears, and his spiritual concern; in so doing, he revealed his virtues and his frailties and his ups and downs of morale until a Yankee fusillade snuffed out his life at Jonesborough. On June 22, 1864, he wrote from near Marietta: “I saw a canteen on which a heavy run was made during and after the charge. I still like whiskey but do not want any when going into a charge for I am or at least was drunk enough yesterday without drinking a drop.” Lieutenant Gill tried very hard to live up to his wife’s admonitions against “the sins of the camp,” but he had great difficulty with profanity, especially in the excitement of battle. After the action at Resaca, he wrote apologetically: “The men did not move out to suit me, and I forgot everything and began to curse a cowardly scamp who got behind.” Six weeks later he reported another lapse, and following the Battle of Atlanta he wrote: “I done some heavy swearing, I am told.... I try to do right but it seems impossible for me to keep from cursing when I get under fire. I hope I will do better hereafter. I do not wish to die with an oath on my lips.” Gill’s morale remained relatively good until after the fall of Atlanta. Shortly after that event, he wrote: “I think this cause a desperate one ... there is no hope of defeating Lincoln.... I wish I could be sanguine of success.”


John W. Hagan, a stalwart sergeant of Johnston’s army, in poorly spelled words and awkwardly constructed paragraphs addressed to his wife, demonstrated the character and strength of the lowly men who were the backbone of both armies. From near Marietta on June 17, 1864, Hagan wrote: “the yankees charged us ... & we finelly drove them back we all had as much to do as we could do. James & Ezekiel acted very brave the boys Say Ezekiel went to shooting like he was spliting rails; in fact all the Regt acted there parts.” The combat performance of Hagan and his men contrasted markedly with that of one of the officers who was the acting company commander, a Lieutenant Tomlinson. On June 21, Hagan wrote his wife: “I have been in command of our company 3 days. Lieut. Tomlinson stays along but pretends to be so sick he can not go in a fight but so long as I Keepe the right side up Co. ‘K’ will be all right.” Hagan’s morale remained high, despite the fact that he had not received any pay for more than a year. On July 4, he wrote that “some of our troops grow despondent but it is only thoes who are all ways despondent,” and added: “all good soldiers will fight harder the harder he is prest but a coward is allways ready to want an excuse to run or say they or we are whiped. I never Knew there was so many cowards untill Since we left Dalton. I do not Speak of our Regt but some troops have behaved very badly.”

Sergeant Hagan and other Rebs who fought in the Atlanta Campaign had a wholesome respect for the men in blue who opposed them; and rightfully so, for the Union rank and file, mostly lads and young adults from the farms of the Midwest, were admirable folk, deeply devoted to the cause of Union. One of them, Pvt. John F. Brobst of the 25th Wisconsin Regiment, wrote his sweetheart before the campaign was launched: “Home is sweet and friends are dear, but what would they all be to let the country go to ruin and be a slave. I am contented with my lot ... for I know that I am doing my duty, and I know that it is my duty to do as I am now a-doing. If I live to get back, I shall be proud of the freedom I shall have, and know that I helped to gain that freedom. If I should not get back, it will do them good who do get back.”

Despite the publication during the past century of many studies on the subject, the Atlanta Campaign—overshadowed both iv during the war and later by the engagements in Virginia—has not received anything like its due share of attention. Now for the first time, thanks to Richard McMurry’s thoroughness as a researcher and skill as a narrator, students of the Civil War have a clear, succinct, balanced, authoritative, and interesting account of the tremendously important Georgia operations of May to September 1864. This excellent work should be as comprehensible and appealing to those who read history and tour battle areas for fun as it is to those who have achieved expertness in Civil War history.

Bell I. Wiley



Foreword by Bell I. Wiley i
Spring 1864 1
Resaca 7
To the Etowah 14
New Hope Church 18
Kennesaw Mountain 23
Across the Chattahoochee 29
Johnston Removed From Command 32
In the Ranks 34
Peachtree Creek 42
The Battle of Atlanta 46
Ezra Church 48
The Month of August 51
Jonesborough 54
Epilogue 57
Sherman in Atlanta: A Photographic Portfolio 59
For Further Reading 70
Civil War Sites in Georgia 71


One of the most important military campaigns of the American Civil War was fought in northwestern Georgia during the spring and summer of 1864 between Northern forces under Maj. Gen. William T. Sherman and Confederates commanded first by Gen. Joseph E. Johnston and then by Gen. John B. Hood. This campaign resulted in the capture of Atlanta by the Unionists, prepared the way for Sherman’s “March to the Sea,” and, in the opinion of many historians, made inevitable the reelection of Abraham Lincoln and the consequent determination of the North to see the war through to final victory rather than accept a compromise with secession and slavery.

Spring 1864 marked the beginning of the war’s fourth year. In the eastern theater, 3 years of fighting had led to a virtual stalemate, with the opposing armies hovering between Washington and Richmond—about where they had been when the war began in 1861. However, the situation was quite different in the vast area between the Appalachian Mountains and the Mississippi River, a region known in the 1860’s as “the West.” There in 1862 Federal armies had driven the Southerners out of Kentucky and much of Tennessee. In the following year the Northerners secured control of the Mississippi River and captured the important city of Chattanooga. By early 1864, Union armies were poised for what they hoped would be a quick campaign to dismember the Confederacy and end the war. This feeling was well illustrated by an Illinois soldier who wrote his sister on April 22, “I think we can lick the Rebs like a book when we start to do it & hope we will Clean Rebeldom out this summer so we will be able to quit the business.”

To realize these hopes, Lt. Gen. Ulysses S. Grant, commander of the Northern armies, planned a simultaneous move on all fronts, with the greatest efforts devoted to Virginia, where he would personally direct operations, and to the region between the Tennessee and Chattahoochee Rivers, where the Federals would be led by Sherman and Maj. Gen. Nathaniel P. Banks. Grant hoped that Banks would move from New Orleans, seize Mobile, and advance northward toward Montgomery, while Sherman’s force struck southward from Chattanooga. Had these plans succeeded, the Confederacy would have been reduced to a small area along the coast of Georgia, the Carolinas, and Virginia. Confederate victories in Louisiana, however, made Banks’ projected campaign infeasible, and Sherman’s drive southward into Georgia, with Atlanta as the initial goal, became the major Union effort in the West.


Maj. Gen. William T. Sherman


Leaders on both sides had long recognized the importance of Atlanta, located a few miles south of the Chattahoochee and about 120 miles from Chattanooga. In 1864, only Richmond was more important to the South. Atlanta’s four railroads were not only the best means of communication between the eastern and western parts of the Confederacy but they were also the major lines of supply for the Southern armies in Virginia and north Georgia. The city’s hospitals cared for the sick and wounded and her factories produced many kinds of military goods. In the words of a Northern editor, Atlanta was “the great military depot of Rebeldom.” In addition, the city’s capture would give the Union armies a base from which they could strike further into Georgia to reach such vital manufacturing and administrative centers as Milledgeville, Macon, Augusta, and Columbus. All of these things were clear to the men who led the opposing armies.

William Tecumseh Sherman was a thin, nervous, active man, with a wild shock of reddish or light-brown hair. A 44-year-old native of Ohio, he had been graduated from the U.S. Military Academy in 1840 and, after several years’ service in the Army, had resigned his commission to go into banking and later into education. The outbreak of war had found him serving as superintendent of a military college in Louisiana. He resigned this position and returned to the North, where he entered Federal service. Rising rapidly in the Army, he was chosen as supreme commander in the West in early 1864. His soldiers liked him and affectionately called him “Uncle Billy.” An officer who was with him in 1864 described the Federal commander as “tall and lank, not very erect, with hair like a thatch, which he rubs up with his hands, a rusty beard trimmed close, a wrinkled face, prominent red nose, small bright eyes, coarse red hands ... he smokes constantly.” Sherman was also a dogged fighter unawed by obstacles that would have broken lesser men, and Grant knew he could be counted on to carry out his part of the grand strategical plan for 1864.


Sherman’s assignment was to break up the Confederate army in north Georgia and “to get into the interior of the enemy’s country as far as you can, inflicting all the damage you can against their war resources.” To accomplish this mission, he had almost 100,000 men organized into three armies—the Army of the Cumberland, commanded by Maj. Gen. George H. Thomas; the Army of the Tennessee, commanded by Maj. Gen. James B. McPherson; and the Army of the Ohio, commanded by Maj. Gen. John M. Schofield. By early May, Sherman had assembled these troops around Chattanooga and was prepared to march with them into Georgia.

Opposed to Sherman’s host was the Confederate Army of Tennessee, commanded by Gen. Joseph E. Johnston. Johnston was a Virginian and, like Sherman, a graduate of West Point (Class of 1829). He had served in the U.S. Army until Virginia seceded in the spring of 1861, when he resigned and entered Confederate service. In December 1863 he was named commander of the major Confederate force in the West and given the mission of defending the area against further Northern advance. Johnston had an almost uncanny ability to win the loyal support of his subordinates. An Arkansas officer who met the Southern commander in early 1864 noted in his diary: “General Johnston is about 50 years of age—is quite gray—and has a spare form, an intelligent face, and an expressive blue eye. He was very polite, raising his cap to me after the introduction.”

Unfortunately for the Confederacy, Johnston was also secretive, stubborn when dealing with his superiors, petulant, and too prone to see difficulties rather than opportunities. He constantly worried about defeat and retreat, and was hesitant to act. In sum, he was a man whose personality prevented him from effectively utilizing his many abilities.

At the beginning of May, the 55,000 men of Johnston’s army were concentrated around Dalton, Ga., 35 miles southeast of Chattanooga. The Southern force consisted of two infantry corps commanded by Lt. Gens. William J. Hardee and John Bell Hood, and a cavalry corps led by Maj. Gen. Joseph Wheeler. What Johnston would do with these troops was still very much in doubt. The Confederate government wanted him to march into Tennessee and reestablish Southern authority over that crucial 5 State. Johnston, however, believed that conditions for such an offensive were not favorable and that he should await Sherman’s advance, defeat it, and then undertake to regain Tennessee. At the opening of the campaign in early May, this issue had not been settled. The lack of understanding and cooperation between the government in Richmond and the general in Georgia, illustrated by this incident, was to hamper Confederate efforts throughout the campaign.

Gen. Joseph E. Johnston





Three major rivers—the Oostanaula, the Etowah, and the Chattahoochee—flow from northeast to southwest across northern Georgia, dividing the area into four distinct geographical regions. Between Chattanooga and the Oostanaula, several parallel mountain ridges slice across the State in such a manner as to hamper military movements. The most important of these was Rocky Face Ridge which ran from near the Oostanaula to a point several miles north of Dalton. This ridge rose high above the surrounding valleys and was the barrier between Johnston’s army at Dalton and Sherman’s forces at Chattanooga. There were three important gaps in this ridge: Mill Creek Gap west of Dalton, Dug Gap a few miles to the south, and Snake Creek Gap west of the little village of Resaca near the Oostanaula.

Dalton is on the eastern side of Rocky Face Ridge. The Western and Atlantic Railroad, which connected Chattanooga and Atlanta and served as the line of supply for both armies, crossed the Oostanaula near Resaca, ran north for 15 miles to Dalton, then turned westward to pass through Rocky Face Ridge at Mill Creek Gap, and continued on to Chattanooga. During the winter, the Confederates had fortified the area around Dalton to such an extent that they believed it to be secure against any attack. Johnston hoped that the Federals would assault his lines on Rocky Face Ridge, for he was confident that he could hurl the Northerners back with heavy loss.

Sherman, however, had no intention of smashing his army against what one of his soldiers called the “Georgian Gibraltar.” Northern scouts had found Snake Creek Gap unguarded and the Federal commander decided to send McPherson’s Army of the Tennessee through this gap to seize the railroad near Resaca. Meanwhile, Thomas and Schofield would engage the Confederates at Dalton to prevent their sending men to oppose McPherson. Sherman hoped that when Johnston discovered his line of supply in Federal hands, he would fall back in disorder and his army could be routed by the Northerners. By May 6, the Federals were ready to begin the campaign. Sherman moved Thomas and Schofield toward Dalton while McPherson prepared to strike for Snake Creek Gap.


Maj. Gen. James B. McPherson

Johnston had not been idle. He had deployed his men in strong positions to block the expected advance. He had also requested reinforcements, and these were on the way. Some coastal garrisons had been withdrawn from their posts and were being sent to join Johnston. More important, though, was the large body of troops from Mississippi that was moving across Alabama toward Dalton. These men, numbering about 15,000, constituted the Army of Mississippi and were commanded by Lt. Gen. Leonidas Polk. A West Point graduate (1827), Polk had resigned from the Army to enter the Episcopal ministry. In 1861 he was Bishop of Louisiana and entered the Confederate service where he was known as the Bishop-General. When Polk joined Johnston the Confederate strength would be raised to about 70,000.

Before Polk arrived, however, Sherman sent Thomas and Schofield against Johnston’s position. On May 7 and 8, there was heavy fighting all along the lines from the area north of Dalton south along Rocky Face Ridge to Dug Gap. The Federals made no real headway, but the demonstration served its purpose, for McPherson reached Snake Creek Gap on the evening of the 8th and found it open.

James Birdseye McPherson, who stood at Snake Creek Gap on 9 the morning of May 9 with an opportunity to strike Johnston a crippling blow, was one of the Civil War’s most attractive leaders. Like Sherman, he was an Ohioan and a West Pointer (1853). In 1864 he was only 35 years old. His entire adult life had been spent in the Army, and in the Civil War his abilities had carried him from captain to major general in slightly more than a year’s time. Both Sherman and Grant looked upon him as an outstanding leader—a belief shared by the Confederate editor who called McPherson “the most dangerous man in the whole Yankee army.” He was handsome, with flowing hair and whiskers, and he had a special reason for wanting the war to end: when it was over he would be able to marry the beautiful girl who was waiting for him in Baltimore. He was courteous to men of all ranks, and his adoring soldiers remembered long afterwards his habit of riding in the fields to leave the roads open for them.



For four long and bloody months, officers and men alike endured the heat and mud of what must have been one of the wettest seasons in the history of Georgia.


On May 9, while skirmishing continued about Dalton, McPherson led his army eastward, hoping to reach the railroad near Resaca and break Johnston’s communications with Atlanta. Unknown to the Federals, there were some 4,000 Confederates in Resaca. These included the advance elements of Polk’s army, as well as infantry and cavalry units assigned to guard the Oostanaula bridges and to protect the area.

The Northern advance met these Southerners near the town. McPherson, surprised at finding so large a force in his front, moved with great caution. Late in the afternoon, he became worried that Johnston might rush troops southward and cut him off from Sherman. This fear, and the fact that some of his men were without food, led him to break off the engagement and fall back to a position at Snake Creek Gap which he fortified that night.

In the following days, both armies shifted to the Resaca area. Sherman began by sending a division of Thomas’ army to aid McPherson. Soon orders followed for almost all of the Federals to march southward, with only a small detachment left to watch Johnston. All day on the 11th the roads west of Rocky Face were crowded with troops, wagons, and guns. Although the march was slowed by a heavy rain, nightfall of the 12th found the Northern army concentrated at Snake Creek Gap. Johnston discovered the Federal move and during the night of May 12-13 ordered his men to Resaca where Polk’s troops had been halted.

Skirmishing on the 13th developed the positions of the armies. Johnston had posted his men on the high ground north and west of Resaca. Polk’s Corps (as the Army of Mississippi was called) held the Confederate left, Hardee’s men occupied the center, and Hood was on the right, with his right flank curved back to the Conasauga River. The Federal advance, McPherson’s army, had moved directly toward Resaca. When the advance was slowed, Thomas moved to the north and formed his army on McPherson’s left. Schofield moved into position on Thomas’ left.

The Battle of Resaca, fought May 13-15, was the first major engagement of the campaign. The 13th was spent in skirmishing 13 and establishing the positions of the two armies. The 14th saw much heavy fighting. Sherman delivered a major attack against the right center of Johnston’s line and was hurled back with a heavy loss. One Northerner described the Confederate fire as “terrific and deadly.” Later, Hood made a determined assault on the Federal left and was prevented from winning a great victory when Union reinforcements were hurried to the scene from other sectors of the line. Late in the day, troops from McPherson’s army made slight gains against the Confederate left. Fighting ceased at dark, although firing continued throughout the night. There was no time for the men to rest, however; both Johnston and Sherman kept their soldiers busy digging fortifications, caring for the wounded, moving to new positions, and preparing for the next day’s battle.

The heaviest fighting on the 15th occurred at the northern end of the lines. There, both sides made attacks that achieved some local success but were inconclusive. Meanwhile, a Federal detachment had been sent down the Oostanaula to attempt a crossing. At Lay’s Ferry, a few miles below Resaca, it got over the river and secured a position from which to strike eastward against Johnston’s rail line. The Southern commander believed that this left him no choice but to retreat. Accordingly, during the night of May 15-16, the Confederates withdrew and crossed to the southern bank of the Oostanaula, burning the bridges behind them.

As is the case with many Civil War battles, no accurate casualty figures are available for the engagement at Resaca. Federal losses were probably about 3,500; Confederate casualties were approximately 2,600.



South of the Oostanaula, steep ridges and heavy woods give way to gently rolling hills with only a light cover of vegetation. The area was almost without defensible terrain and thus afforded a great advantage to Sherman, whose larger forces would have more opportunities for maneuver than they had found in the mountainous region to the north.

Once across the Oostanaula, Johnston sought to make a stand and draw the Federals into a costly assault. He expected to find favorable terrain near Calhoun, but in this he was disappointed and during the night of May 16-17 he led the Confederates on southward toward Adairsville. The Federals followed—Sherman dividing his forces into three columns and advancing on a broad front. There were skirmishes all along the route during the 16th and 17th, but the main bodies were not engaged.

At Adairsville Johnston again hoped to find a position in which he could give battle, but there too the terrain was unsuitable for defense and the Confederate commander was forced to continue his retreat. As he fell back, however, Johnston devised a stratagem that he hoped would lead to the destruction of a part of Sherman’s forces. There were two roads leading south from Adairsville—one south to Kingston, the other southeast to Cassville. It seemed likely that Sherman would divide his armies so as to use both roads. This would give Johnston the opportunity to attack one column before the other could come to its aid.

When the Southerners abandoned Adairsville during the night of May 17-18, Johnston sent Hardee’s Corps to Kingston while he fell back toward Cassville with the rest of his army. He hoped that Sherman would believe most of the Southerners to be in Kingston and concentrate the bulk of his forces there. Hardee would then hold off the Northerners at Kingston while Johnston, with Polk and Hood, destroyed the smaller Federal column at Cassville.

Sherman reacted as Johnston hoped, ordering McPherson and the bulk of Thomas’ army toward Kingston while sending only Schofield and one corps of Thomas’ army along the road to Cassville. On the morning of May 19, Johnston ordered Hood to march along a country road a mile or so east of the Adairsville-Cassville Road and form his corps for battle facing west. While 15 Polk attacked the head of the Federal column, Hood was to assail its left flank. As Hood was moving into position, he found Northern soldiers to the east. This was a source of great danger, for had Hood formed facing west, these Federals would have been in position to attack the exposed flank and rear of his corps. After a brief skirmish with the Northerners, Hood fell back to rejoin Polk. Johnston, believing that the opportunity for a successful battle had passed, ordered Hood and Polk to move to a new line east and south of Cassville, where they were joined by Hardee who had been pushed out of Kingston. Johnston formed his army on a ridge and hoped that Sherman would attack him there on May 20. As usual, the Southern commander was confident of repulsing the enemy.



That night the Confederate leaders held a council of war. Exactly what happened at the council is a matter of dispute. According to Johnston, Polk and Hood reported that their lines could not be held and urged that the army retreat. Believing that the fears of the corps commanders would be communicated to their men and thus weaken the army’s confidence, Johnston yielded to these demands, even though he thought the position to be defensible. According to Hood, whose recollection of the council differs markedly from Johnston’s, he and Polk told Johnston that the line could not be held against an attack but that it was a good position from which to move against the enemy. Johnston, however, was unwilling to risk an offensive battle and decided to fall back across the Etowah. No definite resolution of this dispute is possible, but most of the available evidence supports Hood’s version of the conference. Certainly Johnston was not obligated to allow the advice of subordinates to overrule his own judgment. The responsibility for abandoning the Cassville position rests on the Southern commander.

During the night, the Confederates withdrew across the Etowah. As they fell back, their feelings were mixed. They had lost a very strong position at Dalton, and had fallen back from Resaca, Calhoun, and Adairsville. Now they were retreating again under cover of darkness. That morning as they prepared for battle, their spirits had been high. Now their disappointment was bitter. Although morale would revive in the next few days, many Southern soldiers would never again place as much confidence in Johnston’s abilities as they once had.

By contrast, morale in the Federal ranks soared. In a short time of campaigning, the Northerners had “driven” their enemy from one position after another. Sherman was satisfied with the progress his armies had made and, after learning that the Confederates were south of the Etowah, he decided to give his men a short rest. On May 20, one of the Northern generals summarized the situation in a letter to his wife:

Thus far our campaign has succeeded though it must be confessed the rebels have retreated in very good order and their army is still unbroken. Our hard work is still before us. We are still 53 miles from Atlanta and have to pass over a rugged Country. We will have some bloody work before we enter that place.


After a council with Hood and Polk, Johnston abandoned the Cassville position.



The region south of the Etowah was one of the wildest parts of north Georgia. The area was sparsely settled, hilly, heavily wooded, and, in 1864, little known and poorly mapped. Sherman expected to push through this region with little delay. On May 23 he wrote, “The Etowah is the Rubicon of Georgia. We are now all in motion like a vast hive of bees, and expect to swarm along the Chattahoochee in a few days.” His optimism was ill-founded, for the rough terrain and heavy rains favored Johnston’s smaller force and helped delay the Federal advance for 5 weeks.

Johnston posted his army around Allatoona Pass, a gap in the high hills south of the Etowah through which the railroad ran on its way southward to Marietta. He had again occupied a strong position hoping that Sherman would attack it. The Federal commander, however, aware of the natural strength of the terrain, was determined to avoid a direct assault and crossed the river to the west where the country was more open. Dallas, a small town about 14 miles south of the river and about the same distance west of the railroad, was the first objective.

The Northerners began their advance on the 23d. McPherson swung far to the west through Van Wert and then moved eastward toward Dallas. Thomas was in the center moving via Stilesboro and Burnt Hickory. Schofield was on the left, closest to the Etowah. The day was hot and the men suffered greatly from thirst. Nevertheless, the Federals made progress toward their objective and, on the 24th, were closing in on Dallas.

Confederate cavalry soon discovered Sherman’s movement and Johnston took steps to meet it. By evening of the 24th, the Southerners held a line east of Dallas which ran from southwest to northeast. The key to the position was a crossroads at a Methodist church named New Hope. Hood’s Corps held this part of the line. Polk and Hardee were to his left.

On May 25, some troops of Thomas’ army ran up against Hood’s line at New Hope Church. In a late afternoon battle fought under dark skies and rolling bursts of thunder, Thomas’ men made a series of gallant assaults against the Southern line. The Federals met a withering hail of bullets and shells that quickly halted each advance. In this short engagement, Thomas lost about 1,500 men. The Confederates suffered little during the battle and were elated at their success.




Sunrise on the 26th found both commanders working to position their men in the woods east of Dallas. Except for skirmishing, there was little fighting during the day.

On the following day, Sherman attempted to defeat the right of the Southern line by a surprise attack. In a battle known as Pickett’s Mill, the Northerners were hurled back with about 1,500 casualties. For the Federals, this engagement was one of the most desperate of the campaign. One company of the 41st Ohio Regiment lost 20 of its 22 men. The 49th Ohio carried slightly over 400 men into the battle and lost 203 of them. The commander of another regiment wrote that he lost a third of his men in the first few yards of the advance. “The rebel fire ... swept the ground like a hailstorm,” wrote another Unionist, adding, “this is surely not war it is butchery.” A third Northerner noted in his diary that evening, “our men were slaughtered terribly 2 brigades of infantry were almost cut to pieces.” The Southerners lost about 500 men.

Over the next few days fighting continued almost incessantly. Both sides made assaults with strongly reinforced skirmish lines, seeking to hold the enemy in position. This type of combat was very tiring on the men. One soldier wrote after a night battle, “O God, what a night. They may tell of hell and its awful fires, but the boys who went thru the fight at Dallas ... are pretty well prepared for any event this side of eternity.”

The days spent in the jungles near New Hope Church were among the most arduous of the war for the soldiers of both armies. In addition to the normal dangers of combat, the men had to undergo unusual physical hardships. Rain, heat, constant alarms, continuous sharpshooting, the stench of the dead, the screams of the wounded, and a serious shortage of food all added to the normal discomforts of life in the field. One Federal soldier described the time spent near Dallas as “Probably the most wretched week” of the campaign. Another wrote of it as “a wearisome waste of life and strength.” A third Northerner, referring to an unsuccessful foray against the Confederate lines, wrote, “We have struck a hornet nest at the business end.” So severe had the fighting been that Sherman’s men would ever afterward refer to 22 the struggle around New Hope Church as the “Battle of the Hell Hole.”

When it became clear that no decisive battle would be fought at Dallas, Sherman gradually sidled eastward to regain the railroad. On June 3, advance elements of the Federal forces reached the little town of Acworth, and within a few days, almost all the Northern troops were in that general area. Sherman had outmaneuvered Johnston and bypassed the strong Confederate position at Allatoona, but he had not seriously weakened his opponent. Once again the Federal commander ordered a short halt to rest his troops and allow time to repair the railroad and for reinforcements to arrive.



By June 10, Sherman was ready to resume the advance. The Southerners had taken up a line north of Marietta that ran from Brush Mountain on the east to Pine Mountain in the center to Lost Mountain on the west. McPherson moved against the right flank of this line, Thomas against the center, and Schofield against the left. Rain fell almost every day and hampered the Northern advance. For several days there was heavy skirmishing in which the Federals captured Pine Mountain and made gains at other points. Bishop-General Polk was killed on Pine Mountain by a Union artillery shell on June 14, when he foolishly exposed himself to enemy fire. Maj. Gen. William W. Loring commanded Polk’s Corps for several weeks until a permanent replacement, Lt. Gen. Alexander P. Stewart, took command.

By the 16th, Schofield’s advance had been so successful that the Southerners were forced to give up Lost Mountain. For several days, Johnston tried to hold a new line that ran west from Brush Mountain and then turned southward. This line was enfiladed by the Federal artillery, however, and during the night of June 18-19 the Confederates abandoned it and took up a new position extending along the crest of Kennesaw Mountain and off to the south. Hardee’s Corps held the left of this line, Loring’s was in the center, and Hood’s was on the right.

When Sherman encountered this strong position, he extended his lines to the south to try to outflank Johnston. He moved most of McPherson’s army to the area directly in front of Kennesaw Mountain and placed Thomas’ army in line on McPherson’s right with orders to extend to the right. In the days that followed, McPherson and Thomas were engaged in what amounted to a siege of the Southern position. Little progress could be made on the ground but the artillery on both sides was used in attempts to batter and weaken the enemy. Day after day, the big Union guns pounded the Southern line, their fire being answered by Confederate cannon high on Kennesaw Mountain.

Meanwhile, Sherman drew Schofield’s army in from the Lost Mountain area and ordered it to move south on the Sandtown Road, which ran west of the Federal position toward the Chattahoochee. After a long and muddy march, Schofield’s men reached 24 Nose’s Creek at dark on June 19. On the following day, they crossed the swollen stream and drove the Southerners away. The bridge was rebuilt; on the 21st their advance was resumed. That same day, the right of Thomas’ army established contact with Schofield near Powder Springs Road.

Johnston had seen the Federal right being extended and was aware of the dangers it presented to his line of communications. To meet this threat the Confederate commander shifted Hood’s Corps from the right of his line to the left during the night of June 21-22. By early afternoon of the 22d, Hood’s men were in position on Hardee’s left.

Early on the 22d, the right of the Northern line resumed its advance. The XX Corps of Thomas’ army moved east on Powder Springs Road, supported by some of Schofield’s troops. By midafternoon, they reached the vicinity of Valentine Kolb’s farm. The rest of Schofield’s army continued down Sandtown Road to the Cheney farm, where it occupied a position overlooking Olley’s Creek.

In the early part of the afternoon, the Federals captured several Southerners from whom they learned that Hood had moved to the Confederate left. From this they concluded that an attack upon the Federal line was imminent. Quickly the Northern commanders closed up their units and began to construct protecting works, using fence rails or whatever material was at hand. Skirmishers were thrown out, and they soon encountered an advancing line of Southerners. Just what brought about this attack is not clear. Perhaps the activities of the Northern skirmishers led the Confederates to think that the Federals were attacking. Hood may have believed that when the skirmishers fell back he had defeated an assault on his new position and decided to pursue the beaten enemy. At any rate, the Southern advance precipitated a battle at the Kolb farmhouse in which several Confederate attacks were hurled back by the Federals. Hood lost about 1,000 men. Northern casualties were about 300. After the battle, Hood fell back to his original position, extending the Southern line southward to Olley’s Creek. For several days, there was relative calm along the lines which now ran from the railroad north of Marietta to Olley’s Creek southwest of the town. Meanwhile, the rains ceased and the June sun began to dry the land.


Several days after the battle at Kolb’s farm, Sherman decided on a change in tactics—he would make a direct assault on Johnston’s lines. It was a bold decision that offered the possibility of a great victory. The Southern line was thinly held and a successful attack could lead to the isolation and destruction of a large part of Johnston’s army. The Federal commander decided to strike the Confederates at three points: McPherson would assault the southern end of Kennesaw Mountain, Thomas would move against a salient known as the “Dead Angle” (on what is now called Cheatham’s Hill) several miles to the south, and Schofield would push south on Sandtown Road and attempt to cross Olley’s Creek. June 27 was set as the date for the assault, but Schofield was to begin demonstrations on the 26th to draw Southerners away from other portions of the line.


Early on the 27th, the Federals began to probe at various points along the Confederate trenches to distract the defenders. At 8 a.m. the Northern artillery opened a brief but heavy fire to prepare the way for the assaults. A few minutes later, the Federal infantry moved forward. McPherson’s troops, advancing on both sides of Burnt Hickory Road, swept over the Southern outposts and moved rapidly across the broken ground toward the main Confederate trenches. Although their lines were disordered, 26 the blue-clad soldiers scrambled over rocks and fallen trees until they were finally halted by the heavy fire from their entrenched enemies. A few reached the Confederate line and were killed or captured while fighting in their opponents’ works. Southerners on Little Kennesaw added to the Northerners’ discomfort by rolling huge rocks down the mountainside at them. When the Union troops realized that their attack could not reach the Confederate lines, they broke off the engagement. Some were able to find protection in the advanced Confederate rifle-pits they had overrun and some managed to reach the positions from which they had begun the assault. A few were forced to seek shelter among the trees and large rocks on the slopes of the mountain where they remained until darkness offered a chance to return to their own lines.

To the south, Thomas fared no better. Two columns were directed against the Southern position—one at Cheatham’s Hill, the other a short distance to the north. The Southerners expected no attack. Many of them were off duty and others were relaxing in the lines. The Federal artillery, however, alerted them to the danger and when Thomas’ infantry started forward, the Confederates were ready.

As soon as the dense blue columns appeared in the cleared area between the lines, the Confederates opened what one Northerner called a “terrible” fire upon them. Men dropped rapidly but the columns continued up the long slope toward the Southern position. “The air,” one Federal remembered, “seemed filled with bullets, giving one the sensation experienced when moving swiftly against a heavy rain or sleet storm.” As the Union soldiers neared the crest of the ridge, they met the full fury of the defenders’ fire. To one Federal it seemed as if the Confederate trenches were “veritable volcanoes ... vomiting forth fire and smoke and raining leaden hail in the face of the Union boys.”

Most of the attackers never reached the Confederate line. Those who did were too few to overpower the defenders and were quickly killed or captured. For a few brief seconds, two Northern battle flags waved on the breastworks, but the bearers were soon shot down and within a short time the attack had failed.

As Thomas’ left assaulting column struck that portion of the Southern line held by the consolidated 1st and 15th Arkansas 27 Regiments, the gunfire ignited the underbrush and many wounded Federals faced the terrifying prospect of being burned to death. In one of the notable acts of the war, Lt. Col. William H. Martin, commanding the Arkansans, jumped from his trenches waving a white handkerchief and shouting to the Northerners to come and get the wounded men. For a few minutes, fighting was suspended along that short stretch of the line and some of Martin’s soldiers went to assist in moving their helpless enemies away from the flames. When the wounded had been removed to safety, the two sides resumed hostilities, but here too it was clear that the attack would not be able to break Johnston’s lines.

At the Dead Angle, some of the attacking Northerners remained under the crest of the ridge within a few yards of the Confederate trenches. There they dug rifle pits of their own and started to burrow under the hill, hoping to fill the tunnel with gunpowder and blow up the salient. However, before this project had progressed very far, the Southerners abandoned the position and thus rendered the subterranean attack unnecessary.

While the attacks of McPherson and Thomas were being repulsed, Schofield was gaining a clear success at the extreme right of the Union line. On the 26th, one of his brigades crossed Olley’s Creek north of Sandtown Road and, on the following day, cleared their opponents from the area, securing a position several miles to the south which placed the right of their line closer to the Chattahoochee than was the left of Johnston’s army. From this position the Northerners could strike at the Confederate line of supply and perhaps cut Johnston off from all sources of help by breaking the railroad.

Exact casualty figures for the battles of June 27 are not available. However, the best estimates place Northern losses at about 3,000 men. The Southerners lost at least 750 killed, wounded, or captured.

Sherman has been criticized for ordering the frontal attack on Johnston’s lines, but it now seems that his decision was not unwise. Had the assault succeeded, he would have won a great victory. As it was, he did not continue the attacks when it was clear that they would fail, and he had managed to secure a position from which he could easily pry Johnston out of the Kennesaw line.


Lt. Col. William H. Martin jumped from the trenches waving a white handkerchief and shouting to the Northerners to come and get the wounded men.



The success won by Schofield at Olley’s Creek indicated the direction for the next Federal movement. Sherman quickly decided to shift troops to his right, knowing that such a move would force Johnston to choose between giving up the Kennesaw line or being cut off from Atlanta. Accordingly, he began to reinforce Schofield by moving McPherson from the left to the right. By the afternoon of July 2, Federal troops were pushing southward on Sandtown Road against only light opposition from small Confederate detachments.

Johnston was aware of what was happening—in fact, he had expected such a movement since the failure of the assault on the 27th. Believing that it would be unwise to stretch his lines further and realizing that the troops opposing the Federal advance could do no more than delay it, Johnston decided to abandon his Kennesaw Mountain position and fall back to a previously prepared line near Smyrna, 4 miles to the south. Accordingly, during the night of July 2-3, the Confederates filed out of their trenches around Marietta and marched southward.

When Sherman discovered that the Southerners were gone, he pushed forward in pursuit, hoping to strike while the enemy was retreating. In the late afternoon of the 3d, the Northerners reached the new Confederate line. The 4th was spent in skirmishing, but before a serious battle could develop, the Federal right secured a strategic position from which it threatened to slice in between Johnston’s army and Atlanta. Again, the threat to his left forced Johnston to retreat. During the night of July 4-5, the Southerners fell back to a heavily fortified position on the north bank of the Chattahoochee.

On the 5th, the Federals pushed forward until they reached the new Southern line. Skirmishing that day convinced Sherman that the position was too strong to be carried by a headlong assault. He dispatched a cavalry force to seize Roswell, an important little manufacturing town about 16 miles upriver from Johnston’s fortifications, and allowed his men a few days’ rest while he planned the next move.




After carefully studying the situation, the Federal commander decided to attempt a crossing near the mouth of Soap Creek, above Johnston’s right flank. On July 8, he moved Schofield’s Army of the Ohio into position for the crossing. In a brilliant movement, Schofield, utilizing pontoon boats and the ruins of a submerged fish dam, got over the river and drove away the small group of Southerners defending the area. Other troops were rushed across, bridges were built, trenches were dug, and by nightfall the Northerners held a secure bridgehead on the southern bank. On the following day, the Federal cavalry got over the river at Roswell. Sherman had successfully crossed the last major barrier between Chattanooga and Atlanta and had carried the fighting into the open country south of the Chattahoochee where the terrain would favor him.

During the night of July 9-10, Johnston retreated across the river and took up a position on the southern bank of Peachtree Creek only a few miles from Atlanta. The Confederate commander seems to have been optimistic at this time. Once again he believed that he had reached a position from which he could not be driven and he expected to fight the decisive battle of the campaign along Peachtree Creek.

Sherman, meanwhile, had decided upon his next step. He would swing north and east of Atlanta to cut Johnston off from Augusta and possible reinforcements from Virginia. McPherson was to strike eastward from Roswell to the Georgia Railroad at some point near Stone Mountain. As this force advanced, the rest of the Federals would move closer to the river. The line would thus become a great swinging movement, with McPherson on the far left, Schofield in the center as the pivot, and Thomas on the right along Peachtree Creek. This movement began on the 17th. The next day, McPherson reached the Georgia Railroad near Stone Mountain.



The Confederate government had been displeased by Johnston’s conduct of the campaign. President Jefferson Davis and other civilian officials had hoped that the Confederates would be able to regain Tennessee or at least to draw Sherman into a situation in which a severe defeat would be inflicted upon him. Instead, after 10 weeks of campaigning, Johnston was backed up against Atlanta and there was no assurance that he would even try to hold that important center. These circumstances led Davis to remove Johnston from command of the army and to replace him with John B. Hood, who was promoted to the temporary rank of full general.

Davis’ replacement of Johnston with Hood is one of the most controversial acts of the war. Relations between the President and Johnston had not been friendly since a dispute over the general’s rank in 1861. Disagreements over strategy and tactics as well as the personalities of the two men exacerbated matters in 1862 and 1863. During Johnston’s tenure as commander of the Army of Tennessee, the situation became worse as communications between the two broke down almost completely. Davis promoted officers in the army without consulting Johnston, who maneuvered in the field without informing the government of his plans and operations in any meaningful detail.

Davis saw that Johnston had yielded much valuable territory to the enemy. Important officials in the government began to urge that the general be removed from command. On July 9, Davis sent his military adviser, Gen. Braxton Bragg, to report on the situation in Georgia. Bragg visited Johnston, learned nothing of the general’s plans, and reported that it appeared the city would be abandoned. Other evidence brought to the President’s attention—such as Johnston’s suggestion that prisoners held in south Georgia be sent to safer points—seemed to confirm Bragg’s assessment that Atlanta would not be defended. On July 16, Davis telegraphed Johnston: “I wish to hear from you as to present situation and your plan of operations so specifically as will enable me to anticipate events.” The general’s reply of the same date read in part:

As the enemy has double our numbers, we must be on the defensive. My plan of operations must, therefore, depend upon that of the enemy.


It is mainly to watch for an opportunity to fight to advantage. We are trying to put Atlanta in condition to be held for a day or two by the Georgia militia, that army movements may be freer and wider.

This vague reply did not satisfy Davis and on July 17 he issued the order that removed Johnston from command. In great haste, Johnston wrote out an order relinquishing his position and thanking the soldiers for their courage and devotion. By the afternoon of the 18th he had left Atlanta and the Army of Tennessee in the none-too-steady hands of John Bell Hood.

Much debate has swirled around Davis’ decision. Johnston and his partisans have argued that the general’s removal made inevitable the loss of Atlanta, the reelection of Lincoln, and the defeat of the Confederacy. They contend that had Johnston remained in command, the city would have been held, or that if it were surrendered, the army at least would not have been weakened and would have continued as an effective unit.

Hood and Davis maintained that Johnston’s long retreat had demoralized the army, that Johnston would not have held Atlanta, and that the Confederacy’s only chance for success lay in replacing Johnston with a bold commander who could strike Sherman a blow that would send the Northerners reeling back to Chattanooga.

Most historians have tended to accept Johnston’s position. There can be no definite answer, of course, but it does seem that Johnston would have evacuated the city rather than lose a large portion of his army fighting for it. This would have saved the army but, coming after the long retreat from Dalton, might have so demoralized it that desertion and disgust would have ended its career as an effective fighting force. If the retention of Atlanta was essential to the life of the Confederacy, President Davis seems justified in his decision to remove Johnston. It was the Confederacy’s misfortune that no bold, intelligent, and lucky general was available to take his place. But one thing was certain—with Hood leading the Southerners, the pattern of the campaign would change.



Historians have long been in the habit of dealing with the past as if it were nothing more than the story of a small number of great men who moved about shaping the world as they saw fit. In reality, leaders are not long successful without followers—the great mass of the common people who do the work, bear the burdens, and suffer the consequences of their leaders’ policies. The Civil War offers a unique opportunity to study the common people of America because during that conflict large numbers of people were directly involved in the great events of the times. For most of them, the war was the single most important event of their lives. Consequently they wrote about it in great detail in their letters and diaries and saved these documents after the conflict ended. It is therefore possible to see the Civil War armies as groups of humans, not masses of automata. The men who followed Sherman, Johnston, and Hood in 1864 left behind information that adds much to an understanding of the campaign.

Records kept by the Federal Government show that the typical Northern soldier was 5 feet 8¼ inches tall and weighed 143½ pounds. Doubtless the Southerners were of a similar stature. The same records also indicate that before the war 48 percent of the men had been farmers. Among the Confederates the percentage of farmers was more than half. Relatively few immigrants served in either western army—perhaps one-fifth to one-sixth of the men were of foreign birth. More than half the units in Sherman’s armies were from Illinois, Indiana, and Ohio. Iowa, Kentucky, Missouri, and Wisconsin also furnished large contingents. Such Eastern States as New York, Connecticut, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania were represented, but their contributions were small. More than two-thirds of the units in the Southern army were from Tennessee, Alabama, Mississippi, and Georgia. Other States with significant numbers of troops in the Confederate ranks were Texas, Arkansas, and Louisiana. Alabama, Kentucky, Missouri, and Tennessee were represented by units on both sides. Most of the men in the armies that struggled for Atlanta had volunteered for military service in 1861 or 1862. By 1864 they had become veterans, inured to the hardships of military life. Nevertheless, they found the Atlanta Campaign a severe trial.


Unlike many Civil War military operations in which fighting occurred at infrequent intervals, the struggle for Atlanta was virtually a continuous battle. Sometimes, as at Resaca, almost all of the opposing forces were engaged; at other times, action was limited to the desultory firing of skirmishers. But only on rare occasions were the soldiers able to escape the sounds and dangers of combat.

The weather—whether a freak cold wave in mid-June, the unusually heavy rains of late May and June, or the normal heat of July and August—affected every man and often hampered troop movements as well. Frequently units on the march lost men who could not stand the pace. The soldiers would drop by the roadside until they had recovered their strength, then move on to overtake their comrades. For example, the heat on July 12 was so bad that only 50 of the men in an Illinois regiment could keep up on a 3-mile march. When the armies were in fortified positions, as they were at Kennesaw Mountain, the men often stretched blankets or brush across the trenches to protect themselves from the sun. On rainy days, fence rails or rocks in the trenches served to keep soldiers out of the water.

Clothing was also a problem. As a rule, Sherman’s men were better supplied than their opponents, but the wool uniforms they wore were unsuited to the hot Georgia summer. The Confederates had almost no new clothing after the campaign began and their uniforms deteriorated rapidly. A Texan summed up their plight in early June when he wrote: “In this army one hole in the seat of the breeches indicates a captain, two holes a lieutenant, and the seat of the pants all out indicates that the individual is a private.”

Rarely did the men of either army have a chance to wash and almost all of them were affected by body lice and other vermin. A sense of humor helped them to survive these trials—soldiers who were pinned down in a water-filled trench by enemy fire consoled themselves with the thought that they were at least drowning the lice. The Federals complained that the retreating Southerners infested the country with lice that attacked the advancing Northerners. Other pests included chiggers, ticks, snakes, scorpions, flies, and ants.


By 1864 most of the men in the armies that struggled for Atlanta had become veterans, inured to the hardships of military life.


Soldiers in both armies had no scruples about supplementing their rations with whatever could be taken from surrounding farms and homes.


Soldiers in both armies suffered from a shortage of food and had no scruples about supplementing their rations with whatever could be taken from the surrounding farms and homes. Corn, pork, chickens, geese, hams, potatoes, apples, and onions disappeared as the armies moved through a neighborhood. Wild berries and fish were also eaten. Nevertheless, there were many times when food was in short supply. One Federal wrote, “most of the time we are on the move and cannot get such as is fit for a man to eat.”

The Atlanta Campaign, like many of the later Civil War campaigns, saw the development of trench warfare on a large scale. Protecting works were built from loose rocks, fence rails, tombstones, or even the bodies of dead comrades. By the third or fourth week of the campaign, both sides had mastered the art of field fortification—a trench, with the dirt piled on the side toward the enemy and surmounted by a headlog under which were small openings for firing. Such works left “little but the eyes ... exposed” to enemy fire. In front of the trenches the underbrush would be cleared away and young trees cut so they fell toward the foe. The trees were left partly attached to the stump so that they could not be dragged aside. Telegraph wire was sometimes strung between them to create further obstacles.

From behind their fortifications soldiers could pour out such a volume of fire that there was no chance for a successful massed attack—unless complete surprise could be achieved or overwhelming numbers brought against a weak part of the enemy’s line. Much of the fighting was therefore done by small patrols and snipers, especially in heavily wooded country such as the area around New Hope Church and Kennesaw Mountain.

The soldier who died in battle could expect no elaborate funeral. Usually the armies were too busy to do more than bury the dead as quickly as possible and they would probably be put in a mass grave near the place where they had fallen. Later the bodies might be exhumed and moved to a cemetery where they would be listed as “unidentified” and reinterred in a numbered but nameless grave.

The soldier who was wounded or who was disabled by disease suffered greatly. As a rule, the Northerner who was sent to an army hospital fared better than his opponent because the Federals were better equipped and provisioned than the Confederates. 40 Field hospitals treated men whose wounds were either very slight or too serious to permit further movement. Others were sent by wagon and rail to hospitals in the rear—Rome, Chattanooga, and Knoxville for the Federals; Atlanta and the small towns along the railroads south of that city for the Southerners.

Transportation in crowded hospital wagons over rutted roads or in slow hospital trains was an indescribable horror. The hospitals themselves were better but, by modern standards, uncomfortable and dirty. For painful operations, Northern soldiers often enjoyed the blessing of chloroform. Many Southerners, however, especially those in the hospitals in smaller towns, frequently endured major surgery without the benefit of any opiate except, perhaps, whiskey. In such cases the hospitals echoed with the screams of men undergoing amputations or such treatments as that calling for the use of nitric acid to burn gangrene out of their wounds.


No precise figures as to the number of men who were killed, wounded, or sick during the campaign are available. However, it is known that for the war as a whole, disease killed about twice as many men as did the weapons of the enemy. Sickness brought on by exposure and unsanitary camps undoubtedly accounted for 41 many lives among the soldiers in Georgia. Diseases that were especially common were smallpox, scurvy, dysentery, diarrhea (also known as “dierear” and the “Tennessee quick step”), and various types of fevers.

Religion provided a great source of comfort for many soldiers. Chaplains accompanied both armies but were too few to serve all the troops. Some chaplains preferred to spend the campaign in the rear where they would be safe, while others, of far more influence with the men, braved hardships and dangers with the units they served. At least three of the latter group were killed in battle during the campaign—either while helping the wounded or fighting in the ranks. When chaplains were not available the men sometimes organized and conducted their own religious services. On the other hand, many soldiers ignored religion altogether and continued such “sinful” practices as cursing, drinking, and gambling. Nevertheless, what one soldier called “the missionary influence of the enemy’s cannon” and the constant presence of death and suffering led many to seek comfort in religion.

Throughout the campaign, when the armies were in a relatively stable situation, the men sometimes agreed not to shoot at one another. Instead, they would meet between the lines to talk, swim, drink, bathe, enjoy the sun, pick blackberries, exchange newspapers, swap Northern coffee for Southern tobacco, play cards, wrestle, eat, sing, rob the dead, and argue politics. Officers on both sides tried to prohibit this fraternization, but the men in the ranks had the good sense to ignore their orders. These informal truces would usually be respected by all, and when they were over, fighting would not resume until every man had gotten back to his own trenches. Much of the tragedy of the war was reflected in a letter written by a Wisconsin soldier on June 24:

We made a bargain with them that we would not fire on them if they would not fire on us, and they were as good as their word. It seems too bad that we have to fight men that we like. Now these Southern soldiers seem just like our own boys, only they are on the other side. They talk about their people at home, their mothers and fathers and their sweethearts, just as we do among ourselves.

However, regardless of the soldiers’ feelings about each other during those times of truce, the war was being run by the generals and the generals said it must go on.



John Bell Hood, the new commander of the Confederate forces, found himself in a difficult position on the morning of July 18, 1864. Hood was young—only 33—and relatively inexperienced in handling large bodies of troops. After graduation from West Point (in the same class with the Federal generals McPherson and Schofield) he had served with the U.S. Army until the spring of 1861, when he resigned and cast his lot with the Confederacy. In the early years of the war Hood had risen rapidly in rank—a rise more than justified by his outstanding leadership at the brigade and division level.

Until the summer of 1863, Hood had been physically one of the most magnificent men in the Confederate Army. A woman who knew him in 1861 described him as “six feet two inches in height, with a broad, full chest, light hair and beard, blue eyes, with a peculiarly soft expression, commanding in appearance, dignified in deportment, gentlemanly and courteous to all.” By the time he took command of the Army of Tennessee, Hood’s appearance had undergone some changes. His left arm dangled uselessly at his side, smashed by a Federal bullet at Gettysburg in July 1863. His right leg was gone, cut away at the hip following a wound received at the Battle of Chickamauga in September 1863. Hood suffered great pain from these wounds, and no doubt he should have been retired from field command; but he was not the kind of man who could stay away from the army during a war.

After recovering from his second wound, he was sent to the Army of Tennessee as a corps commander and had served in that capacity until Davis selected him to succeed Johnston. He may have been taking a derivative of laudanum to ease his pain and some students of the war believe that this affected his judgment. Many soldiers in the army distrusted Hood’s ability. Some officers resented his promotion over the heads of generals who had served with the army since the beginning of the war. Hood himself believed that the army had been demoralized by Johnston’s long retreat and hence was unlikely to fight well.

Nor could the tactical situation have brought Hood any encouragement. Thomas’ Army of the Cumberland was advancing southward directly toward Atlanta, while the armies of McPherson and Schofield were east of the city, advancing westward. Two of the four railroads that connected Atlanta with the rest of the Confederacy were in Federal hands. Unless Hood could keep the remaining lines open, the city was doomed.



Battle of Peachtree Creek JULY 20
Battle of Ezra Church, JULY 28
Battle of Atlanta JULY 22

On July 19, the Army of the Cumberland crossed Peachtree Creek, but as it advanced, it drifted toward the west. Thus by the afternoon a gap had developed in the Northern line between Thomas on the right and Schofield in the center. Hood decided to concentrate the corps of Hardee and Stewart against Thomas. The Confederate commander hoped to overwhelm the isolated Army of the Cumberland before help could arrive from McPherson 44 and Schofield. Hood relied upon his former corps, temporarily commanded by Maj. Gen. Benjamin F. Cheatham, and the cavalry to defend the area east of Atlanta. The attack on Thomas was set for 1 p.m., July 20.

Early in the morning of the 20th, while the Southerners were preparing to assail the right of the Federal line, the Northerners east of Atlanta moved west along the Georgia Railroad toward the city. Their progress was so rapid that Hood felt it necessary to shift his army to the right in an effort to strengthen the forces defending the eastern approaches to Atlanta. This movement led to such confusion in the Confederate ranks that the attack against Thomas was delayed for about 3 hours. When the Southerners were finally ready to strike, Thomas’ men had had time to establish and partly fortify a position on the south side of Peachtree Creek.

What Hood had planned as a quick blow against an unprepared Northern army thus developed into a headlong assault against a partially fortified line. For several hours the Southerners threw themselves against the Federals. Most of the attacks were halted before they seriously threatened the Union position, but for a short while it appeared that some of Hardee’s men would sweep around the left of Thomas’ line and win a great victory. Hastily, Thomas assembled artillery batteries and directed their fire against the Southerners. Eventually the Confederates were driven back.

While fighting raged along Peachtree Creek, McPherson continued to push toward Atlanta from the east. By 6 p.m., Hood was forced to call upon Hardee for troops to reinforce the Southern lines east of the city. This order drew from Hardee the reserve division that he was preparing to throw into the assault against Thomas and forced him to abandon the attack. The first of Hood’s efforts to cripple the Federal army had failed, although at the time some Southerners saw it as a blow that slowed Federal progress.

Northern casualties in the Battle of Peachtree Creek were reported at 1,600. Estimates of Southern losses (mostly from Federal sources) range from 2,500 to 10,000. It seems now that 4,700 is a reliable estimate of Confederate casualties.


Gen. John B. Hood

The battle later became a source of controversy between Hood and Hardee. Hood, smarting under the criticism of Joseph E. Johnston and others, blamed the failure to crush Thomas on Hardee. The corps commander, Hood charged, had failed to attack at the proper time and had not driven home the assault. Hardee, who had outranked Hood when they were both lieutenant generals and who may have been disgruntled at serving under his former junior, replied that the delay was caused by Hood’s decision to shift the line to the right and that the assault had not been as vigorously executed as it normally would have been because Hood’s late-afternoon order to send reinforcements to the right had deprived the attackers of the unit that was to deliver the final blow. Postwar commentators mostly favor Hardee and a careful examination of the evidence supports this view.



After the Battle of Peachtree Creek, attention shifted to the eastern side of the city. Hood determined to strike McPherson who, on July 20 and 21, had moved past Decatur and entrenched a line running north and south a few miles east of Atlanta. The Confederate commander realized that he might march troops around the left of McPherson’s position and attack him from the flank and rear. He chose Hardee’s Corps to be the flanking column and planned to have Cheatham’s men attack the front of McPherson’s army from the west while Hardee struck from the south and east. With luck, this sensible plan could result in the defeat of a large part of Sherman’s forces.

Late on the 21st, Hardee’s men withdrew from their advanced position north of Atlanta and by midnight they were marching out of the city. They were to move southward, then turn and swing eastward and northward. Meanwhile, the other Southerners fell back to shorter lines where, it was hoped, they would be able to hold off the Federals while Hardee outflanked them.

On the morning of July 22, Sherman found the Southerners gone from his immediate front and concluded that Atlanta had been abandoned. However, as his armies pushed forward, they discovered that the defenders had only fallen back to a new position. The Northern advance contracted the Federal lines and the XVI Corps of McPherson’s army was crowded out of place. McPherson ordered it to move to his extreme left. Thus at the time Hardee was moving to that area, McPherson, by chance, was sending in reinforcements.

Hardee’s march was long and hard. Poor roads, inept guides, and the July heat combined to delay the Southerners. It was not until noon that Hardee had his men in position, and at 1 p.m. he sent them forward. The Confederates made their way through heavy underbrush and emerged facing the Federal XVI Corps which had halted in a perfect position to meet the charge which broke upon them.

Poor coordination also weakened the force of the Confederate offensive. Cheatham’s men, who assailed the XVII Corps, did not join the assault until about 3:30, by which time Hardee’s attack had lost much of its force. Nevertheless, the fighting was severe. One Federal brigadier wrote of the attackers:


They burst forth from the woods in truly magnificent style in front of my right.... Hardly had the enemy made his appearance in my front when [the artillery] ... opened on them a deadly fire, which rather staggered their line, yet on came the advancing rebels, and hotter grew the fire of ... [our artillery]. At the same time the ... infantry ... opened on them with cool and deadly aim. Still on came the charging columns, more desperate than ever, those in front urged up by those in rear.

The first charge was driven back, but the Southerners returned to the attack again and again throughout the long afternoon. Several times they swarmed over the Federal positions, capturing men and cannon, but each time they were driven back. In one of the early charges, McPherson was killed by advancing Confederate skirmishers as he rode forward to rally his men. Finally, about 7 p.m., the Southerners abandoned the attack and fell back. Their losses have been estimated at about 8,000. Union casualties were reported at 3,722.

For the second time Hood had lashed out at his opponent and had been thrown back. Later he tried to shift the blame to Hardee whom he accused of failing to be in the proper place at the proper time. In post-war years, a bitter verbal battle raged over the question. Most present-day authorities feel that Hardee did all that could reasonably have been asked of him. His troops were worn from the battle on Peachtree Creek, the bad roads slowed his march, and the fateful positioning of the XVI Corps was a matter over which he had no control.

In the summer of 1864, however, many Confederates saw the battle as a splendid victory. One artilleryman wrote on July 23:

We gained a great victory yesterday of which I suppose you know [from newspapers] as much as I do. We left before much was accomplished but hear that our corps captured 3,500 prisoners and 22 pieces of artillery & the enemies killed & wounded amounted to twice our own.



For several days after the Battle of Atlanta, there was a lull in military activities around the city. Both sides were reorganizing. Sherman selected Maj. Gen. Oliver O. Howard to command the army that McPherson had led. On the Confederate side, Lt. Gen. Stephen D. Lee replaced Cheatham as commander of the corps that had originally been Hood’s.

By July 26, Sherman had decided upon his next maneuver. His goal was the railroads south and west of Atlanta—the last links between that city and the rest of the Confederacy—and to reach them he would swing Howard’s Army of the Tennessee around from his extreme left to his extreme right. The movement began that afternoon and by nightfall on the 27th, Howard’s men were west of Atlanta. Early the following day the advance was resumed. The only effective opposition came from a small body of Confederate cavalry.

Hood was aware of Sherman’s new maneuver and determined to block it by sending the corps of Lee and Stewart west along the road to the little settlement of Lickskillet. By noon the opposing forces were in the area of a meetinghouse known as Ezra Church, about 2½ miles west of Atlanta. The Confederates had been ordered to attack and prevent the Northerners from crossing the road, and Lee and Stewart sent their men forward in a series of assaults against the XV Corps. The Federals had not had time to entrench, but they had piled up barricades of logs and church benches, and these afforded some protection.

“Our skirmishers, overpowered by numbers, were compelled to fall back to the main line,” wrote a Union officer,

followed at an interval of but a few paces by dense columns of the enemy, which, covered as they were by the undergrowth, advanced within forty or fifty paces of our lines, when a terrific and destructive fire was opened upon them, and was continued steadily until their advance was checked, at the distance of some twenty to thirty paces. Their lines were cut down, disordered, and driven back some distance, when they rallied and again came boldly forward to the charge, but under the murderous fire of our rifles were no more able to disorder or discompose our lines than before. They gained a little ground several times, only to lose it inch by inch, after the most terrible fighting on both sides.... After a very short interval, which did not 49 amount to a cessation of the battle, new and largely augmented columns of the enemy came pouring in upon us, with the same results, however, as before, although their colors were planted within twenty paces.

For 4 or 5 hours the assaults continued, but the Confederates attacked piecemeal—separate units rushing forward—rather than striking a unified blow, and all their desperate courage was not enough to overcome this handicap. The Southern army is estimated to have suffered about 5,000 casualties in this battle. Federal losses were reported at 600.



Although he had inflicted heavy losses on the Southerners, Sherman seems to have become convinced that he would not be able to capture Atlanta by his customary tactics. Hood had constructed a line of trenches that ran from Atlanta southward to East Point, protecting the railroads. The Confederate fortifications were too strong to be attacked and too long to be encircled. Sherman brought up a battery of siege guns and shelled the city. The Southern artillery in Atlanta replied and for several weeks helpless citizens lived in their cellars and scurried about amid bursting shells as the artillery duels started fires and smashed buildings, killing soldiers and civilians indiscriminately.

The Federal commander also decided to try cavalry raids in the hope that his horsemen could reach the railroads below Atlanta and, by cutting them, force Hood to evacuate the city. Late in July, two expeditions were launched. One under Brig. Gen. George Stoneman was to swing to the east to McDonough, Lovejoy Station, and Macon, tearing up the railroad and destroying supplies as it went. These cavalrymen were then to strike southwest to Americus where they hoped to free the 30,000 Northerners held in the prisoner of war camp at Andersonville. The other expedition, under Brig. Gen. Edward M. McCook, was to operate to the west and join Stoneman in attacking the Confederate lines of communication south of Atlanta.

From the start both raids were badly managed. Much of the blame must rest upon Stoneman who chose to go directly to Macon rather than follow orders. The scattered Federals were faced by a well-handled Confederate force led by Wheeler. Except for Stoneman’s column, the Northern horsemen were driven back to Sherman’s lines after destroying some Confederate supplies. Stoneman reached the vicinity of Macon where on July 31 he was attacked by the Southerners and captured along with 500 of his men.

Somehow during these busy weeks, Sherman found time to write a letter to Miss Emily Hoffman of Baltimore, the fiancée of the dead McPherson. “I owe you heartfelt sympathy,” he wrote, adding, “I yield to none of Earth but yourself the right to excell me in lamentations for our Dead Hero. Better the bride of McPherson dead than the wife of the richest Merchant of Baltimore.” 52 Sherman described the fallen leader of the Army of the Tennessee who had been a close friend as well as a trusted subordinate as “the impersonation of Knighthood” and added that “while Life lasts I will delight in the Memory of that bright particular star.”

On August 10, Hood, perhaps thinking that the defeat of Stoneman and McCook had weakened Sherman’s cavalry, struck out at his opponent’s line of supply. He sent cavalry commander Wheeler with 4,000 men to destroy the railroad north of Marietta and to disrupt Sherman’s communications with the North. Although Wheeler was able to make some temporary breaks in the line, he was unable to reduce substantially the flow of supplies to Sherman’s armies. The Federal commander had built strong fortifications at the most strategic points on the railroad and his efficient repair crews quickly rebuilt those parts of the track that Wheeler could reach and damage. Eventually, the Confederate cavalry drifted into Tennessee and did not rejoin Hood until the campaign was over. Many students of the war regard Wheeler’s mission as a mistake because the absence of the cavalry deprived Hood of the best means of keeping posted on Sherman’s activities and thus proved fatal to the army at Atlanta.

Wheeler’s departure led Sherman to send out a third cavalry expedition, commanded by Brig. Gen. Judson Kilpatrick. The Northerners reached the railroads below Atlanta and on August 18-20 succeeded in tearing up sections of the track. On the 20th they were driven away. Kilpatrick reported to Sherman that the railroad had been so thoroughly wrecked that it would take at least 10 days to repair it. However, on the following day, the Federals saw trains bringing supplies into the city from the south. Clearly the Northern cavalry was not strong enough to destroy Hood’s lines of supply. New plans would have to be tried if the Unionists were to capture Atlanta.

Meanwhile, a curious kind of optimism was developing in the Southern ranks. Many Confederates did not see the hard battles of late July as defeats. Rather they viewed them as successful efforts to halt the progress of flanking columns that had threatened the city’s lines of supply. One officer wrote on August 4 about the battles of Atlanta and Ezra Church: “General Hood watches his flanks closely and has twice whipped the flanking 53 columns.” When Sherman made no new efforts to flank the city and when the Northern cavalry raids were beaten off one after another, many men came to believe that Atlanta had been saved. In mid-August a Texan informed his homefolk that “affairs are brightening here. People and army seem more confident of success.” At about the same time, a Mississippian wrote that “The enemy seems checked in his flanking operations on our left, as he has made no progress in that direction for the last four or five days.” On August 28, an Alabamian wrote his wife that “It required hard fighting to check the enemy here after having pursued us so far.”

At the very end of August there came exciting news for the Southerners. Sherman had fallen back! The Northerners were gone from in front of Atlanta! Many thought Wheeler’s cavalry had cut off Sherman’s supplies and that this had forced the Federal commander to lift the siege. Joyous Confederates swarmed out of the city to romp over the abandoned Northern trenches. “The scales have turned in favor of the South,” wrote Capt. Thomas J. Key of Arkansas, “and the Abolitionists are moving to the rear.”




Some Southerners suspected in 1864 what we now know—Sherman had not retreated. Rather, he had concluded that only his infantry could effectively break Hood’s lines of supply and had resolved to move almost all of his force to the southwest of the city. The movement began on August 25. One corps was sent back to the Chattahoochee bridgehead to guard the railroad that connected Sherman with the North. The remaining Federal troops pulled out of their trenches and marched away to the west and south. By noon on the 28th, Howard’s Army of the Tennessee had reached Fairburn, a small station on the Atlanta and West Point Railroad, 13 miles southwest of East Point. Later that afternoon, Thomas’ troops occupied Red Oak, on the railroad 5 miles to the northeast. The Northerners spent the rest of the 28th and the 29th destroying the tracks. The rails were torn up, heated, and twisted so that they were useless. Only one railroad, the Macon and Western, running southeast from East Point to Macon, now remained in Confederate hands. Sherman soon moved to cut it.

By August 29, Hood had learned of the activities of the Federals at Fairburn. It was clear that the railroad to Macon would be Sherman’s next objective and the Southern commander acted to defend that line. However, he badly misjudged the situation and thought that only two corps of Sherman’s army were to the southwest. Late on August 30, Hood ordered Hardee to take two corps of the Southern army, move against the raiding column, and drive it away. Both armies were soon closing in on Jonesborough, 14 miles below East Point on the Macon railroad. By that evening, advance elements of the Union forces had crossed the Flint River and entrenched a position 1 mile west of Jonesborough. During the night, Hardee’s Southerners moved into the town by rail; by morning they were deploying in front of the Federal line.

Hardee had his own corps (temporarily led by Maj. Gen. Patrick R. Cleburne) and Lee’s. It took until mid-afternoon to complete preparations for an attack. The Confederates advanced about 3 p.m., their assault falling mostly on an entrenched salient on the east bank of the Flint held by the Army of the Tennessee. The attack was fierce but uncoordinated and failed to drive back the Northerners. When the fighting ceased that night, the relative 55 positions of the armies were unchanged.

Meanwhile, Schofield’s Army of the Ohio had managed to break the Macon railroad near Rough-and-Ready, a small station between Jonesborough and East Point. This movement led Hood to conclude that Sherman’s main force was attacking Atlanta from the south. The Confederate commander, therefore, ordered Lee’s Corps to leave Hardee at Jonesborough and move toward Atlanta to help defend the city. Lee began this movement at 2 a.m. the next morning.

At dawn on September 1, Sherman with almost all of his troops was south of Atlanta. The Federals were concentrating at Jonesborough where they had encountered the bulk of the Southern army on the preceding day and where it seemed a decisive battle would be fought. The Confederates were widely separated. Hood, with one corps, was in Atlanta; Hardee, with his corps, was at Jonesborough; and Lee, with the remaining corps, was near East Point.

At Jonesborough, Hardee had taken up a defensive position north and west of the town. During the afternoon he was attacked by the overwhelming force of Northerners concentrated there. Although suffering many casualties, especially in prisoners, Hardee’s Corps fought well and held its position until night offered a chance to fall back to Lovejoy’s Station, 7 miles to the south.

By this time Hood had realized what was happening and knew that Atlanta could not be held any longer. During the night of September 1-2, he evacuated the city. Supplies that could not be carried away were burned. Hood’s forces moved far to the east of the city to pass around Jonesborough and join Hardee at Lovejoy’s Station. On September 2, Mayor James M. Calhoun surrendered Atlanta to a party of Federal soldiers.

On the following day, Sherman sent a telegram to the authorities in Washington announcing that “Atlanta is ours, and fairly won.” He added that he would not pursue the Confederates, who were then fortified at Lovejoy’s Station, but would return to Atlanta so that his men could enjoy a brief respite from fighting. “Since May 5,” he wrote, “we have been in one constant battle or skirmish, and need rest.”

A few days later another Federal wrote from his camp near 56 Atlanta: “Here we will rest until further orders.... The campaign that commenced May 2 is now over, and we will rest here to recruit and prepare for a new campaign.”

Some writers have been critical of Sherman’s decision not to press after Hood’s army. They maintain that the enemy force and not the city of Atlanta was the true objective of the Unionists. It may have been that Sherman’s action was determined by the question of supplies or it may have been that his men were too exhausted for immediate operations south of the city. At any rate, the capture of Atlanta delighted and heartened Northerners. News of Sherman’s victory was greeted with ringing bells and cannon fire all over the North.



Sherman soon turned Atlanta into an armed camp. Houses were torn down and the lumber used for fortifications or soldiers’ huts. Civilians could not be fed by the army and were ordered out of the city with the choice of going north or south. In mid-September a truce was declared and the citizens who chose to remain in the Confederacy were transported by the Northerners to Rough-and-Ready, where they were handed over to Hood’s men who conveyed them farther south.

After completion of this unpleasant task, Hood determined to reverse Sherman’s strategy and to move with his whole army around Atlanta to draw Sherman after him into Alabama or Tennessee. In late September the Confederates crossed the Chattahoochee and marched northward over many of the summer’s battlefields. Sherman left a strong garrison in Atlanta and followed Hood northward for several weeks. Unable to bring his opponent to bay, Sherman detached a strong force to deal with the Confederates and returned to Atlanta. Hood’s army was virtually destroyed in several battles fought in Tennessee in November and December. Sherman, meanwhile, reorganized his armies and on November 15 burned Atlanta and marched out of the city on his way to the sea.

The final importance of the Atlanta Campaign may lie more in its psychological impact than in any military results. Essentially, in early September, the Confederate military forces were in the same position relative to the Northern armies that they had held early in the spring. Psychologically, however, there had been a great shift. The news that Atlanta had fallen meant that the average Northerner had at last a tangible military victory that made it possible for him to see the end of the war in the future. There would be more months of marching, fighting, and dying, but Sherman’s capture of Atlanta convinced many that the Confederacy was doomed.


SHERMAN IN ATLANTA: A Photographic Portfolio

On September 3, 1864, President Abraham Lincoln telegraphed the commanding officer of the Federal Military Division of the Mississippi: “The national thanks are rendered ... to Major-General W. T. Sherman and the officers and soldiers of his command before Atlanta, for the distinguished ability and perserverence displayed in the campaign in Georgia which, under Divine favor, has resulted in the capture of Atlanta. The marches, battles, sieges and other military operations that have signalized the campaign, must render it famous in the annals of war, and have entitled those who have participated therein to the applause and thanks of the nation.”

The Union soldiers had, in Sherman’s words, “completed the grand task which has been assigned us by our Government.” Atlanta, chief rail hub of the Confederacy and one of the South’s principal distributing, industrial, commercial, and cultural centers, was in Federal hands at last. It was a choice prize.

The city was founded in 1837 as Terminus, so-named because a rail line ended there. It was incorporated as Marthasville in 1845; two years later it was renamed Atlanta. Only a few dozen people lived there in the 1840’s, but by 1861, when the Civil War began, some 10,000 people called it home. By 1864, when Sherman’s armies started south from Chattanooga, Atlanta’s population was double that number. The city boasted factories, foundries, stores, arsenals, government offices, and hospitals, which, as the war progressed and drew closer, were hard pressed to handle the mounting number of casualties needing treatment. So strategic was Atlanta that Confederate President Jefferson Davis proclaimed that “Its fall would open the way for the Federal armies to the Gulf on one hand, and to Charleston on the other, and close up those granaries from which Gen. Robert E. Lee’s armies are supplied. It would give them control of our network of railroads and thus paralyze our efforts.” Now, with Federal soldiers in Atlanta, Davis’ fears would be realized.

Sherman’s troops occupied Atlanta for more than 2 months. The photographs and captions that follow highlight aspects of that occupation.


National Archives
Maj. Gen. William T. Sherman, conqueror of Atlanta.


Library of Congress
Confederate palisades and cheveaux-de-frise around the Potter house northwest of Atlanta. Near here, Mayor James M. Calhoun surrendered the city to Sherman’s forces.

Library of Congress
Union soldiers lounge inside one of the abandoned Confederate field forts defending Atlanta.


Library of Congress
Atlanta, October 1864: “solid and business-like, wide streets and many fine houses.”

Atlanta Historical Society
Federal officers commandeered many of Atlanta’s houses for staff headquarters. Col. Henry A. Barnum and his staff moved into General Hood’s former headquarters, described as the “finest wooden building in the city.”


Library of Congress
After Sherman turned Atlanta into an armed camp, wagon trains, like this one on Whitehall Street, rumbled through the city day and night.


Atlanta Historical Society
The 2d Massachusetts Infantry, the “best officered regiment in the Army,” set up camp in City Hall Square. When this photograph was taken, near the end of the occupation, the soldiers’ tents had been replaced by more substantial wooden huts built from demolished houses.


Library of Congress
Atlanta residents, evicted from the city by General Sherman, await the departure of the baggage-laden train that will take them south beyond Union lines.


Library of Congress
Federal soldiers pry up the city’s railroad tracks before leaving on their march to the sea.

Library of Congress
The railroad depot after it was blown up by Federal demolition squads.


National Archives
This desolate scene marks the site where retreating Confederate soldiers blew up their ordnance train early on the morning of September 1, 1864. Sherman’s soldiers left similar scenes of destruction in their wake as they marched across Georgia in the closing months of the war.



The only published book-length study of the Atlanta Campaign is Jacob D. Cox’s Atlanta (New York, 1882; new edition, 1963). More detailed accounts may be found in two doctoral dissertations: Richard M. McMurry, “The Atlanta Campaign, December 23, 1863, to July 18, 1864,” and Errol MacGregor Clauss, “The Atlanta Campaign, 18 July-2 September 1864.” Both were written at Emory University, the former in 1967 and the latter in 1965, and both are available on microfilm from University Microfilms, Ann Arbor, Mich. In addition, the Georgia Historical Quarterly and Civil War Times Illustrated have published numerous articles dealing with specialized aspects of the campaign.

Good books by participants include Paul M. Angle, ed., Three Years in the Army of the Cumberland: The Letters and Diary of Major James A. Connolly (Bloomington, 1959); John B. Hood, Advance and Retreat: Personal Experiences in the United States and Confederate Armies (New Orleans, 1880; new edition, Bloomington, 1959); Joseph E. Johnston, Narrative of Military Operations During the Late War Between the States (New York, 1874; new edition, Bloomington, 1959); Albert D. Kirwan, ed., Johnny Green of the Orphan Brigade: The Journal of a Confederate Soldier (Lexington, Ky., 1956); Milo M. Quaife, ed., From the Cannon’s Mouth: The Civil War Letters of General Alpheus S. Williams (Detroit, 1959); John M. Schofield, Forty-Six Years in the Army (New York, 1897); William T. Sherman, Memoirs of General William T. Sherman, by Himself (2 vols., New York, 1875; new, 1-vol. edition, Bloomington, 1957); U.S. War Department, comp., War of the Rebellion: Official Records of the Union and Confederate Armies (128 vols., Washington, D.C., 1880-1901), Series 1, vol. 38; Sam R. Watkins, “Co. Aytch,” Maury Grays, First Tennessee Regiment; or, A Side Show of the Big Show (Chattanooga, 1900; new edition, Jackson, Tenn., 1952); and Charles W. Wills, Army Life of an Illinois Soldier ... (Washington, D.C., 1906).



Listed below are several of the major Civil War sites in Georgia. A good source on other areas is the booklet Georgia Civil War Historical Markers, published by the Georgia Historical Commission.

ANDERSONVILLE: This is now a national historic site. It was the site of the notorious Civil War prison where, in the summer of 1864, more than 30,000 captured Federals were held. On U.S. 49 at Andersonville, near Americus.

ATLANTA: Goal of the 1864 campaign. Most of the area in which the fighting occurred has been built over, but Grant Park contains the trenches of Fort Walker, the Cyclorama of the Battle of Atlanta, and a museum.

CHICKAMAUGA: On U.S. 278 near Rossville. A national military park where the great battle of September 19-20, 1863, was fought.

COLUMBUS: Site of the raised Confederate gunboat Muscogee and a naval museum on Fourth Street, west of U.S. 27.

CRAWFORDSVILLE: On U.S. 278 west of Augusta. Liberty Hall, the home of Confederate Vice President Alexander H. Stephens, has been restored and is open to the public.

FORT PULASKI: A national monument on U.S. 80 east of Savannah. Site of an engagement in 1862 when Northern forces attacked and captured the fort.

IRWINVILLE: Off Ga. 107 in the south-central portion of the State. Museum at the site where President Jefferson Davis was captured by Federal forces in 1865.

KENNESAW MOUNTAIN: A national battlefield park on U.S. 41 north of Marietta. This park preserves much of the area where fighting occurred in 1864. Museum, slide show, and hiking trails.

MILLEDGEVILLE: On U.S. 441 in east-central Georgia. Capital of Georgia during the war. Occupied by the Federals during the “March to the Sea.” Many old buildings remain.

SAVANNAH: Terminus of the “March to the Sea.” Fort McAllister, east of the city on U.S. 17, was a Confederate defense post. Factors Walk Museum at 222 Factors Walk houses many wartime relics.


Kennesaw Mountain National Battlefield Park is administered by the National Park Service, U.S. Department of the Interior. A superintendent, whose address is Box 1167, Marietta, GA 30060, is in immediate charge.

As the Nation’s principal conservation agency, the Department of the Interior has basic responsibilities for water, fish, wildlife, mineral, land, park, and recreational resources. Indian and Territorial affairs are other major concerns of America’s “Department of Natural Resources.” The Department works to assure the wisest choice in managing all our resources so each will make its full contribution to a better United States—now and in the future.

Department of the Interior • March 1, 1849

United States Department of the Interior

Thomas S. Kleppe, Secretary

National Park Service

George B. Hartzog, Jr., Director


Transcriber’s Notes