August 6, 1864 – Federal cavalrymen straggled back to their lines after a failed raid, and Major General William T. Sherman tried moving around the Confederates at Atlanta to cut their railroad line.
When most of Major General George Stoneman’s Federal cavalry was captured during operations outside Atlanta in late July, two brigades under Colonels Horace Capron and Silas Adams escaped. The two commands were initially separated, but they rejoined near Rutledge Station on the 1st and began moving to seize the river town of Athens. Meanwhile, a Confederate cavalry detachment under Colonel William C.P. Breckinridge pursued them.
Adams’s Federals demonstrated at Athens while Capron tried crossing the Oconee River farther above the town. When a guide misled him, Capron instead headed northeast to rejoin Sherman’s main Federal force. Capron gave his men and horses two hours of rest on the night of the 2nd, after riding 56 miles in one day.
Breckinridge’s Confederates attacked Capron’s camp just before dawn, scattering the Federals and the fugitive slaves they had collected during their expedition. Capron reported that the Confederates were “driving and scattering everything before them. Every effort was made by the officers to rally the men and check the enemy’s charge, but… a stampede now took place.”
Some Federals escaped using a bridge over Mulberry Creek, but the bridge collapsed and many men and horses drowned. The Confederates captured about 250 troopers, but Capron was among those who escaped. Sherman learned of these cavalry debacles from a Richmond newspaper. When survivors confirmed the story, Sherman offered this understatement to his superiors: “On the whole, the cavalry raid is not deemed a success.”
Sherman turned back to his infantry and artillery to capture Atlanta. Federal gunners began bombarding the city while Major General John Schofield’s Army of the Ohio, reinforced by Major General John M. Palmer’s XIV Corps, began moving from northeast of Atlanta toward Utoy Creek to the southwest, around Major General Oliver O. Howard’s Army of the Tennessee. This was another one of Sherman’s efforts to cut the railroad connecting Atlanta to East Point.
The Federals crossed Utoy Creek on the 4th but could not dislodge Lieutenant General Stephen D. Lee’s Confederates from their fortifications. The next day, Schofield intended to try again but was delayed due to a command dispute with Palmer. Palmer believed that he outranked Schofield, and he resigned when Sherman backed Schofield. Palmer was later replaced as head of XIV Corps by Major General Jefferson C. Davis.
The delay allowed Major General William B. Bate’s Confederate division to strengthen the defenses and extend them southward to prevent a flanking maneuver. The Federals attacked on the 6th, but the delay proved fatal as they were unable to break the enemy line and reach the railroad. Schofield lost 306 men killed or wounded before disengaging in heavy rain. The Confederates lost less than 10.
Schofield extended his right flank along the Sandtown Road on the 7th, but the Confederates fell back to new defenses on a ridge near the railroad to meet them. Sherman notified Chief of Staff Henry W. Halleck, “I do not deem it prudent to extend any more to the right, but will push forward daily by parallels, and make the inside of Atlanta too hot to be endured.”
Schofield’s Federals remained entrenched southwest of Atlanta while the guns bombarded the troops and civilians in the city.
Bailey, Ronald H., The Battles for Atlanta: Sherman Moves East (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 138-39; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 442, 444; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 479-83; 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 10266-76; Linedecker, Clifford L. (ed.), The Civil War A to Z (Ballantine Books, 2002), p. 257; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 552-53; Longacre, Edward G., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 405-06