Atlanta: The Federal Wheel Starts Turning

July 27, 1864 – Major General William T. Sherman prepared to move his three armies around the west and south of Atlanta to try wresting that city from General John Bell Hood’s Confederate Army of Tennessee.

The Confederate attacks of the 20th and 22nd failed to destroy parts of Sherman’s Federal command, but they succeeded in keeping Sherman from reaching Atlanta from the north or east. Following the costly fight on the 22nd, both sides remained stationary in front of each other while their respective commanders pondered their next move.

Federal engineers completed construction on a bridge over the Chattahoochee River on the 25th. The 90-foot-high bridge spanned 760 feet and was built in just five days. This enabled the delivery of supplies to a base behind Major General George H. Thomas’s Army of the Cumberland on Peachtree Creek, north of Atlanta.

Maj Gen W.T. Sherman | Image Credit:

As Sherman developed a plan to get to Atlanta, he wrote his wife Ellen, “We have Atlanta close aboard, as the sailors say, but it is a hard nut to handle. These fellows fight like Devils and Indians combined, and it calls for all my cunning and strength.” President Abraham Lincoln wrote Sherman offering his “profoundest thanks to you and your whole Army for the present campaign so far.”

Sherman’s chief engineer, Captain Orlando Poe, concluded that the Confederate defenses on Atlanta’s perimeter were “too strong to assault and too extensive to invest.” Thus, Sherman decided to create a “circle of desolation” around the city. This would involve bombarding Atlanta and cutting off its four railroads, thereby starving it into submission.

The Federals already controlled the Western & Atlantic Railroad, which supplied them from Chattanooga. They had done extensive damage to the Georgia Railroad running east to Augusta, and the Atlanta & West Point running southwest into Alabama. Only the Macon & Western, running southeast to the Atlantic Coast, remained to supply the soldiers and civilians in Atlanta.

Laying partial siege to Atlanta, Sherman planned to shift his armies from north and east of the city to west and south in a counterclockwise movement. His objective was the intersection of the Atlanta & West Point and Macon & Western railroads at East Point, southwest of Atlanta.

The Federal armies were arranged in a rough semicircle, with Thomas’s army north of Atlanta, Major General John Schofield’s Army of the Ohio to Thomas’s left (northeast), and Major General John A. Logan’s Army of the Tennessee to Schofield’s left (east). Sherman intended to shift Logan’s army to Thomas’s right, so that the semicircle ran from north to west.

Before Sherman began, he had to choose a permanent commander for the Army of the Tennessee. Logan had temporarily taken command after Major General James B. McPherson was killed on the 22nd. Many officers and men wanted to keep Logan, but Thomas protested that Logan was not a professional soldier. The ranking corps commander was Major General Joseph Hooker, but Sherman detested him. He therefore chose Major General Oliver O. Howard as the new commander.

Hooker protested being passed over by the officer he blamed for his disastrous defeat at Chancellorsville in May 1863. He submitted his resignation, calling the decision “an insult to my rank and services.” Thomas, Hooker’s corps commander, “approved and heartily recommended” that Sherman accept Hooker’s resignation, and Sherman quickly complied. Sherman’s decision caused resentment among supporters of both Hooker and Logan.

Major General Alpheus Williams temporarily replaced Hooker in command of Thomas’s XX Corps. Ironically, Hooker’s permanent replacement was Major General Henry W. Slocum, who had despised Hooker ever since Chancellorsville. Williams held command until Slocum arrived from Vicksburg. Howard was replaced in command of Thomas’s IV Corps by Major General David S. Stanley.

Once Howard’s army shifted to the right, Schofield’s and Thomas’s would follow suit, moving along the Chattahoochee River toward East Point. Sherman also dispatched two Federal cavalry forces to harass the Confederate flanks and attack the Macon & Western Railroad from both the east and west.

Meanwhile, Hood remained poised to attack when the opportunity presented itself. Apprised of the Federal moves, he dispatched Major General Joseph Wheeler’s cavalry to stop the Federal troopers. He then assigned two of his corps under Lieutenant Generals Alexander P. Stewart and Stephen D. Lee (newly arrived from Mississippi to take over from Major General Benjamin F. Cheatham) to stop the Federals from threatening the railroads southwest of Atlanta.



Bailey, Ronald H., The Battles for Atlanta: Sherman Moves East (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 132-33; Castel, Albert, Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 250-51; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 439-40; 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 10108-118, 10129-70; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 474-76; Kallmann, John D., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 369-70; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 545-47; Pritchard, Russ A., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 746-47

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