September 5, 1864 – Major General William T. Sherman’s three Federal armies regrouped after capturing Atlanta, allowing General John Bell Hood’s Confederate Army of Tennessee to escape.
Elements of Sherman’s armies continued probing the enemy positions at Lovejoy’s Station, southeast of Atlanta on the Macon & Western Railroad. After some feeble skirmishing, Sherman recalled his troops to Atlanta, leaving Hood’s army demoralized but not destroyed. Sherman arrayed his armies:
- Major General George H. Thomas’s Army of the Cumberland held Atlanta itself.
- Major General Oliver O. Howard’s Army of the Tennessee held the railroad junction at East Point, southwest of Atlanta.
- Major General John Schofield’s Army of the Ohio held Decatur, east of Atlanta.
Sherman distributed Special Field Order No. 64 to his troops: “The army having accomplished its undertaking in the complete reduction and occupation of Atlanta will occupy the place and the country near it until a new campaign is planned in concert with the other grand armies of the United States.” Sherman’s official mission was to destroy Hood’s army, but he instead opted to give his men “a period of repose” after they had moved nearly 130 miles through the rugged Georgia mountains.
For the Confederates, Hood delivered his official report on the past days’ activity to his superiors at Richmond:
“On the evening of the 30th the enemy made a lodgment across Flint River, near Jonesborough. We attacked them on the evening of the 31st with two corps, failing to dislodge them. This made it necessary to abandon Atlanta, which was done on the night of September 1. Our loss on the evening of the 31st was so small that it is evident that our effort was not a vigorous one. On the evening of September 1 General (William) Hardee’s corps, in position at Jonesborough, was assaulted by a superior force of the enemy, and being outflanked was forced to withdraw during the night to this point, with the loss of 8 pieces of artillery.”
Hood blamed the loss of Atlanta on Hardee because his two corps did not launch an all-out attack on the 31st, when he outnumbered the Federal force opposing him. Hardee countered by reporting:
“The fate of Atlanta was sealed from the moment when General Hood allowed an enemy superior in numbers to pass unmolested around his flank and plant himself firmly upon his only line of railroad. If, after the enemy reached Jonesborough, General Hood had attacked him with his whole army instead of with a part of it, he could not reasonably have expected to drive from that position an army before which his own had been for four months retiring in the open field.”
Turning back to Sherman, Hood warned that “the enemy will not content himself with Atlanta, but will continue offensive movements.” For this reason, he wanted to take the fight to Sherman as soon as possible. But without reinforcements, he decided “to draw Sherman back into the mountains, then beat him in battle, and at least regain our lost territory.”
On the 6th, Hood reported that Sherman’s troops had fallen back into Atlanta. Regarding his own forces, Hood wrote, “I am making, and shall still make, every possible effort to gather the absentees of this army. Shoes and clothing are much needed.” He still looked to take the offensive, requesting reinforcements from Lieutenant General Richard Taylor in Louisiana and asking that the Federal prisoners at Andersonville be relocated before Sherman liberated them. He also continued voicing resentment at the fall of Atlanta:
“According to all human calculations we should have saved Atlanta had the officers and men of the army done what was expected of them. It has been God’s will for it to be otherwise. I am of good heart and feel that we shall yet succeed. The army is much in need of a little rest.”
For the future, Hood wrote, “After removing the prisoners from Andersonville, I think we should, as soon as practicable, place our army upon the communications of the enemy, drawing our supplies from the West Point and Montgomery Railroad. Looking to this, I shall at once proceed to strongly fortify Macon.”
Hood looked to resupply his army at Macon, 80 miles southeast of Atlanta, and then swing west to move around Sherman into Alabama or even Chattanooga. He refused to acknowledge that his men were demoralized, or that the loss of Atlanta meant a shortage of food and munitions for his army.
Bailey, Ronald H., The Battles for Atlanta: Sherman Moves East (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 154-55; CivilWarDailyGazette.com; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 453; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 565-66; Nevin, David, Sherman’s March: Atlanta to the Sea (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 14