Civil War Battles
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The Battle of Atlanta was fought just southeast of Atlanta. Despite the implication of finality in its name, the battle occurred mid-way through the Atlanta Campaign and the city would not fall for another 6 weeks.
Before the battle of Peach Tree Creek, Gen. William T. Sherman ordered his men to advance towards Atlanta. Formed in a semi-circle around the north and east of the city, they began to pressure Gen. John B. Hood, new commander of the Army of Tennessee. Moving towards Atlanta from the east, Gen. Francis Blair spotted a high ridge known as "Bald Hill" and ordered Mortimer Leggett to take the hill. A charge on July 20th failed to move Patrick Cleburne's crack troops. The following day, however, Manning Force's brigade successfully gained control of the ridge and immediately dug in, moving artillery to the top of hill. Although artillery shot had reached Atlanta earlier, from this position the Union forces could fire into the town center. Sherman and much of his staff believed that the battle for Atlanta was over.
Despite his decisive defeat at Peach Tree Creek, Hood planned a second sortie against the armies investing Atlanta under Sherman. Hood was determined to recover ground lost in the battle on July 20 and restore morale in his Army of Tennessee. He felt that under his predecessor, Gen, Joseph E. Johnston, the army had lost the will and ability to fight anywhere except behind breastworks. This pernicious influence Hood hoped to eradicate through an open-ground assault on July 22, east of the city.
His plan of attack was bold but enterprising and promising. The corps of Lt. Gen. A.P. Stewart would occupy the Union armies north and northeast of Atlanta. Hood would send the rest of his main army, the corps of Lt. Gen. William J. Hardee and Maj. Gen. Benjamin F. Cheatham, to strike the most vunerable Union force, Maj. Gen. James B. McPherson's Army of the Tennessee, then moving westward from Decatur toward Atlanta. Cheatham would strike McPherson frontally, while Hardee would make a 15-mile night march to the south and east, coming up beyond McPherson's left flank and rear. This plan not only exploited McPherson's relative isolation but also his lack of a cavalry screen, which might allow Hardee's approach to go unnoticed until too late to prevent it.
Forward Union lines began observing large-scale troop and civilian movements within the city. This was only further proof that Hood was withdrawing from his position, no matter how well Lemuel P. Grant had built the defenses. What the Union troops were witnessing was not a withdrawal. Hood withdrew his main army at night from Atlanta' s outer line to the inner line, enticing Sherman to follow. In the meantime, he sent Hardee with his corps on the 15-mile march to hit the unprotected Union left and rear, east of the city. Hardee began a wide swing around the Union flank to attack the rapidly entrenching Army of the Tennessee from the south. Hardee was well-respected by both the Union and Confederate commanders.
Time was a factor that was in favor of the Union commanders. Wheeler's cavalry was to operate farther out on Sherman's supply line, and Gen. Frank Cheatham's corps were to attack the Union front. Hood, however, miscalculated the time necessary to make the march, and Hardee was unable to attack until afternoon. Although Hood had outmaneuvered Sherman for the time being, McPherson was concerned about his left flank and sent his reserves—Grenville Dodge's XVI Army Corps—to that location. Hardee, behind schedule in his forced march, turned north too early, running headlong into Granville Dodge's XVI Corps on the left flank of the Army of the Tennessee. Confederate Gen. W. H. T. Walker, who had moved forward to observe the field of battle was picked off by a sniper before the start of fighting. Early Confederate advances pushed Union soldiers back along the line of Hardee's attack.
During the fighting the Union troops pulled back across a wide front. A gap in the lines misled McPherson , commander of the Army of the Tennessee, into a group of Confederate soldiers. Upon realizing his mistake the general doffed his hat, reversed direction and rode off at a gallop. A Confederate enlisted man quickly fired and McPherson fell from his horse, mortally wounded. The Confederate attack stalled on the Union rear but began to roll up the left flank. Determined attacks continued, but the Union forces held.
The left flank of the Union forces recoiled from the withering attack of Hardee's Corps. For a few minutes, it appeared that the Confederates might win the battle. However, the tenacity of Grenville Dodge's XVI Corps saved the day as they finally formed and held a line. Unaware that Union forces had successfully stabilized their line, Hood launched a secondary attack to the north at about 4:00P.M., in the vicinity of the Decatur Road. The advancing Confederates overpowered artillery in the area, coming into possession of 2 Parrott rifled cannon. These heavy weapons cannot move without horses, so the horses are killed by the Union soldiers before the retreat. The Confederates who took the hill immediately turn the cannon on the retreating Federals.
About 4:00 P.M., Cheatham's corps broke through the Union front at the Hurt House, but Sherman massed 20 artillery pieces on a knoll near his headquarters to shell these Confederates and halt their drive. Maj. Gen. John A. Logan' s XV Army Corps then led a counterattack that restored the Union line. Well-placed artillery fire, directed by Sherman himself helps turn back the Confederates onslaught. Gen. John "Blackjack" Logan was not prepared to let the guns fall into Confederate hands and leads a charge to retake the hill near the Troup-Hurt House. Logan' s XV Army Corps then led a counterattack that restored the Union line. The Union troops held, and Hood suffered high casualties. To the south, Hood's men briefly battled at the top of Leggett's Hill, at an extremely heavy cost. With the line stabilized and losses mounting to an unacceptable level, Hood called off the attack. His second sortie failed.
Although the Battle of Atlanta was a severe defeat for Hood's army, they still held the city. Sherman settled into a siege of Atlanta, shelling the civilian population and sending raids west of the city to cut off the supply lines from Macon.
On August 31, at Jonesborough, Sherman's army captured the railroad track from Macon. Hood pulled his troops out of Atlanta the next day, destroying supply depots as he left to prevent them from falling into Union hands.
On September 2, Sherman entered the city, and sent a telegram to Washington reading, "Atlanta is ours, and fairly won." He would later burn the city to the ground on November 11.
The fall of Atlanta was especially noteworthy for its political ramifications. 1864 was an election year, and former Maj. Gen. George B. McClellan was running against President Abraham Lincoln on a peace platform. The war had never been very popular in the North, and a part of McClellan's campaign was the promise of a truce with the Confederates. Had this truce been achieved, it is highly unlikely that the war could ever have been restarted. However, the capture of Atlanta and Hood's burning of many military facilities as he evacuated were extensively covered by Northern newspapers, and achieved a significant boost of Northern morale. Lincoln proceeded to be reelected by a margin of 56-44%.