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Battle of Atlanta

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The Battle of Atlanta was a battle of the Atlanta campaign fought during the American Civil War on July 22, 1864 just northeast of Atlanta, Georgia. Despite the implication of finality in its name, the battle occurred mid-way through the campaign and the city would not fall for another six weeks.

During this time, Major General William Tecumseh Sherman had command of the Union armies in the West. The main Union force in this battle was the Army of the Tennessee, under Major General James B. McPherson. He was one of Sherman's and Grant's favorite commanders, as he was very quick and aggressive (qualities found in few Union generals). The XV Corps was commanded by Maj. Gen. John A. Logan, the XVI Corps was commanded by Maj. Gen. Grenville M. Dodge, and the XVII Corps was commanded by Maj. Gen. Frank P. Blair Jr..

Opposing these troops was the Confederate Army of Tennessee, commanded by Gen. John Bell Hood. Lt. Gen. William J. Hardee's Corps led the attack.

Contents

Prelude

In the months leading up to the battle Confederate General Joseph E. Johnston had repeatedly retreated from Sherman's superior force. All along the railroad line from Chattanooga, Tennessee, to Marietta, Georgia, a pattern was played and replayed: Johnston would take up a defensive position, Sherman would march to outflank the Confederate defenses, and Johnston would retreat again. The two armies finally clashed at the Battle of Kennesaw Mountain, but the Confederate leadership was unhappy with Johnston's reluctance to fight the Union army, even though he had little chance of winning. Thus, on July 17, 1864, as he was preparing for the Battle of Peachtree Creek, Johnston was relieved of his command and Hood was given control. Hood lashed out at Sherman's army at Peachtree Creek, but the attack failed with heavy casualties.

Gen. Hood, with his vastly outnumbered army, was faced with two problems. First, he needed to defend the city of Atlanta, which was a very important railhub and industrial center for the Confederacy. Second, his army was small in comparison to the enormous armies that Gen. Sherman commanded. He decided to withdraw inwards, enticing the Union troops to come forward. McPherson's army closed in from Decatur, Georgia, to the east side of Atlanta.

The Battle

Meanwhile, Hood took Gen. Hardee's troops on a march around the Union left flank, had Maj. Gen. Joseph Wheeler's cavalry march near Sherman's supply line, and had Maj. Gen. Benjamin Cheatham's corps attack the Union front. This was a Jackson-esque movement, which may have actually worked. However, it took longer than expected for Hardee to get in position, and during that time, Gen. McPherson had correctly deduced a possible threat to his left flank, and sent XVI Corps, his reserve, to help strengthen it. Gen. Hardee's force met this other force, and the battle began. Although the initial Confederate attack was repulsed, the Union left flank began to retreat. About this time, Gen. McPherson, who had ridden to the front to observe the battle, was shot and killed by Confederate infantry.

The main lines of battle now formed an "L" shape, with Hardee's attack forming the lower part of the "L" and Chatham's attack on the Union front as the vertical member of the "L." Hardee's attack stalled as the Union XVI corps regrouped and held the line. Meanwhile, Gen. Cheatham's troops had broken through the Union lines, but Gen. Sherman massed 20 artillery pieces near his headquarters, and had them shell the Confederate forces, while Gen. Logan's XV Corps regrouped and repulsed the Confederate troops. The Union suffered 3,641 casualties, the Confederates 8,499. This was a devastating loss for the already reduced Confederate Army.

Aftermath

Although the Battle of Atlanta was a severe defeat for Hood's Confederate 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, Georgia. Finally, on August 31 at Jonesborough, Georgia, 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 General George McClellan was running against President 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%.

The battlefield is now urban residential and commercial land, with only a few markers memorializing the history of the battle. To commemorate the 140th anniversary of the battle in 2004, two new markers were erected in the Inman Park neighborhood. The "L"-shaped line of battle roughly corresponds to what is now Moreland Avenue between Little Five Points and I-20 as the north-south line and Interstate 20 as the east-west line where Hardee made his attack. The Atlanta Cyclorama contains a painting and museum of the battle.

References

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