May 25, 1864 – Major General William T. Sherman’s Federals and General Joseph E. Johnston’s Confederates clashed northeast of Dallas, Georgia, as Sherman tried maneuvering around Johnston’s flank.
By the morning of the 25th, two corps of Johnston’s Army of Tennessee–Lieutenant General Leonidas Polk’s and Lieutenant General William Hardee’s–held a line centered on New Hope Church, located at a crossroads about four miles northeast of Dallas. Polk’s troops were on the road leading east to Marietta, and Hardee’s men lined up at Polk’s left. Johnston’s third corps under Lieutenant General John Bell Hood came up on Polk’s right.
Sherman, commanding the three Federal armies marching toward Dallas, expected Johnston to fall back to Marietta, on the Western & Atlantic Railroad. He did not expect Johnston to block him at New Hope Church. Sherman was told that Confederates were east of Dallas, but he thought they were just part of a small force there to stall his advance.
The Federals approached Dallas from the north after marching through dense forest for two days. Brigadier General John W. Geary’s division of XX Corps led the advance, five miles ahead of the rest of the armies. Geary’s men began exchanging fire with Hood’s troops around 10 a.m., and Geary soon learned that the entire Confederate army was in the area. He informed his corps commander, Major General Joseph Hooker, who hurried his other two divisions under Major Generals Alpheus Williams and Daniel Butterfield in Geary’s support.
Geary established defenses while awaiting reinforcements. Hood would not attack because he believed the rest of Sherman’s force would be arriving soon. The two sides faced each other until late afternoon, when Sherman finally directed Major General George H. Thomas, commanding the Army of the Cumberland over Hooker, “Let Williams go in anywhere as soon as he gets up. I don’t see what they are waiting for in front now. There haven’t been 20 rebels there today.”
Hooker arranged his three divisions in line of battle and sent them forward after 4 p.m. The Federals advanced through heavy brush, which the Confederates behind their fortifications used to their advantage as they fired into the attackers. Visibility through the woods around New Hope Church was so poor and fighting was so intense that Federals called the area the “Hell Hole.”
Hooker’s men began running out of ammunition, and a heavy thunderstorm began around 7 p.m. that rendered much of the gunpowder useless. Hooker ordered a withdrawal around sundown, having sustained 1,665 casualties. Hood lost about half that total, with Major General Alexander P. Stewart’s division having done most of the fighting.
As the rest of the Federals came up during the night, Sherman still did not believe that Johnston’s whole army was at New Hope Church. He admonished Hooker for waiting so long to attack, believing that Geary alone could have broken through the Confederate line that morning. But Hood had been there all day, and considering he had repulsed Hooker’s entire corps, he might have destroyed Geary’s lone division.
Sherman wrote Major General James B. McPherson, commanding the Army of the Tennessee, “I don’t believe there is anything more than Hood’s corps (at New Hope), but still Johnston may have his whole army, and we should act on that hypothesis.” The Federals therefore came up and formed a line parallel to Johnston’s and began building defenses of their own. This campaign, which had been dominated thus far by maneuvering, would now focus more upon fortifications.
As dawn rose on the 26th, the Federals and Confederates were entrenched on a muddy six-mile front. Sherman ordered a series of probes to gauge Johnston’s strength:
- McPherson’s army cautiously moved east from Dallas toward New Hope Church.
- Major General John Schofield’s Army of the Ohio scouted Hardee’s defenses on the Confederate left
- Thomas’s army opposed Hood on the right (northeast).
After sporadic skirmishing all along the line, Sherman decided to try turning the Confederate right.
Bailey, Ronald H., The Battles for Atlanta: Sherman Moves East (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 16, 50-53; Castel, Albert, Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 525; CivilWarDailyGazette.com; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 413-14; Foote, Shelby, The Civil War: A Narrative: Volume 3: Red River to Appomattox (Vintage Civil War Library, Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, Kindle Edition, 2011), Loc 7274-7284, 7293-322; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 444-45; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 508-09; McPherson, James M., Battle Cry of Freedom: The Civil War Era (Oxford History of the United States Book 6, Oxford University Press, Kindle Edition, 1988), p. 747