Is 65k enough to live in Atlanta

While General Grant had prepared for a siege off Petersburg in Virginia in June 1864 after several unsuccessful assault attacks, General Sherman in Georgia struggled with his adversary Joseph Johnston at the end of June. His destination was the city of Atlanta, which was not only an important railway junction, but also important war operations such as ammunition factories and supply depots. Joseph Johnston was a general who always preferred defensive warfare.

Similar to General McClellan at the time, Johnston always had a reason when it came to not attacking. In his opinion, everything had to be right beforehand in order to go on the offensive, and of course it never did in a war. Therefore, Johnston could not look back on a successful past. In Georgia he had 65,000 soldiers at his disposal who had taken up positions on a railway line on Rocky Face Ridge 40 kilometers south of Chattanooga. Sherman had almost 100,000 soldiers from three different armies. Sherman was in command of the Cumberland Army, commanded by General George Thomas, the Tennessee Army, commanded by General James B. McPherson, and the Ohio Army under General George M. Schofield.

Johnston had received orders from President Jefferson Davis to first strike Sherman before he did. But for this he would have had to march against the enemy, which was against his conviction. So he'd rather wait until Sherman was close enough to be able to fight him from his defensive position. Johnston waited in vain, however. Sherman would have had to cross a valley to get close to the enemy, and he wasn't that stupid.

Instead, he focused on a railway line that was near the town of Resaca. General McPherson was the one who with his troops should draw a wide arc around the left flank of the enemy in order to threaten the tracks behind his back. Meanwhile, Thomas and Schofield were to make some mock attacks to distract Johnston from the actual maneuver. McPherson discovered on May 9 that the Confederates had built a line of defense at Resaca. What the general didn't know was that there were only two brigades stationed on the line, so it would have been easy to take the city. McPherson was however overly cautious and therefore preferred to withdraw again without having reached the railway line.

When Johnston realized the danger he was in, he withdrew with his entire army to Resaca. Now the line of defense was more manned and the search for a weak spot was in vain. So McPherson marched further south, again bypassing Johnston's flank in a wide arc, in order to make another attempt to threaten the railway line which was vital to the enemy. However, the Confederate troops stationed there initially avoided a fight and preferred to withdraw. Only 15 miles further south did they strike back to stop the pursuing Yankees, but to no avail. So they retreated even further, as far as Cassville.

Within 12 days, Sherman's troops had managed to make it halfway to Atlanta without being involved in any significant fighting, as the Confederate troops had always withdrawn. Johnston's withdrawal tactics met with incomprehension from the public. In particular, his subordinate John Bell Hood was sharply criticized behind his back in Richmond. Hood was a daredevil who was badly wounded twice in past battles. His left arm was crippled at Gettysburg and he lost his right leg at Chickamauga. Still, he stayed active after a long hiatus. Hood secretly hoped to take over Johnston's position.

Finally, on May 19th, Johnston managed to give the order to attack the enemy. As they moved up, this was spread over a 16-kilometer-wide front, with the individual troops marching south on various roads. In this way they isolated themselves from each other and Johnston saw this as his great opportunity. So he ordered Hood to attack two corps that were about seven miles from the others. This was the opportunity to deal a severe blow to the enemy. But of all things the reckless Hood didn't use it. After hearing reports that the enemy had encircled the entire flank, he decided to retreat. In fact, the message was wrong. Only a small cavalry detachment had attempted to attack the enemy.

What remained was another ten miles retreat to a previously prepared line. From here the Confederates could see the railway line that ran over the Allatoona Pass and the Etowah River. However, as a result of this further retreat, the morale of the Southern Army plummeted. Disputes arose within the army, with everyone blaming everyone else. In Richmond, opinions were divided about Johnstons. While some criticized him, others described Hood as an intriguer. In Atlanta, Johnston's "tactics" were glossed over by the press, claiming that the general would trap Sherman deeper and deeper and then destroy him. But Sherman wasn't doing what Johnston had thought he was. Instead of falling into the trap, he allowed himself and his soldiers a break. He also had provisions brought in for 20 days via the previously repaired railroad tracks so that he would no longer be dependent on the railroad for the next time. Because he planned to bypass the left flank of the enemy again in order to threaten another intersection further south, which was near the city of Dallas.

When he got there, however, he found that the Confederates had arrived before him because they had heard of his plans. Heavy fighting broke out at New Hope Church on May 25th, 26th and 27th, but the two sides did not bring any strategic advantages. After that there were only minor ambush attacks for weeks, with the troops on both sides slowly moving eastwards. It was not until the railway line, which was near the town of Marietta, that the slow shift of troops stopped, with the Confederate forces digging into Kenesaw Mountain and thus assuming an advantageous position. This fact, and the fact that the rations for the 20 days slowly ran out and the Union troops were dependent on new supplies via the railroad, caused Sherman great concern. He knew that Johnston had asked Cavalry Commander Bedford Forrest - who was in Mississippi at the time - to go to Tennessee to cut Sherman's rail connection there. The Union General's first countermeasure ended in disaster. Forrest could be tracked down by Union troops from Memphis.

However, on June 10th they were crushed, even though they were numerically twice as strong as the opponent's. So the danger was still there. Then Sherman ordered another force to be sent from Memphis. This time it was even stronger and on June 14th there was another attack at Tupelo, Mississippi, which was finally more successful, especially since Forrest was wounded in the process. The supply of supplies was thus secured, at least for the time being. What remained was the Confederate force on Kennesaw Mountain. Sherman's troops have only been busy building trenches for the past few weeks. Their fighting morale therefore left a lot to be desired and over time it would not get better if nothing decisive happened. Sherman refrained from another flank maneuver this time, especially since he believed that Johnston expected it. So he gave the order to attack the flanks only in appearance, while a charge should be made on the center of the enemy line. Sherman knew it would cost him many soldiers. Nevertheless, he dared the attack, because he was sure that there would be no other alternative besides this maneuver.

Sherman's courage and zest for action may be commendable, but it should show that a real flank attack might have been better. When the Yankee attacked the enemy line on the southern reaches of Kennesaw Mountain on June 27, they were met by a hail of bullets. With a temperature of 38 degrees Celsius, it was impossible to overrun the enemy positions. 3000 Union soldiers mdied in this battle. In the afternoon Sherman saw that further attack attempts were futile, whereupon he broke off the operation. Now it seemed as if the Union Army was done for, at least that's what an Atlanta newspaper wrote. But newspapers in New York also expressed concern about the fate of the army. Still, Sherman was not discouraged. Just six days later - on July 3, 1864 - he gave McPherson the order to attack the opponent's left flank after all. Indeed, that day and the following, the Yankees managed to push the Confederates back 12 miles, closer and closer to the Chattahoochee River, which was eight miles from Atlanta. Crossing the river would bring the Union Army a lot closer to Atlanta. So far, Sherman always had the left flank of the opponent in his sights and Johnston was now preparing for it. So in the days that followed, Sherman made the decision to attack the enemy left flank again only in appearance, in order to be able to bypass the right flank unmolested. A cavalry division and an infantry corps under the command of General Schofield marched past Johnston's right wing to the Chattahoochee River. The river could be swum through in some places without problems, so that enemy field posts on the opposite side were overwhelmed by a surprise attack. In other places the crossing was not so easy. Here the soldiers waited through the river with the water up to their necks. Once discovered by the enemy, they were immediately shot at.

Her only chance to survive now was to go into hiding. Thanks to their Spencer rifles and waterproof cartridges, however, the Union soldiers were able to reload and fire back underwater. For the Confederate soldiers this kind of resistance was so unusual that they almost surrendered in awe. With that, on July 9th, part of Sherman's army was across the river. Again the Confederates backed away. This time to a position they had set up behind Peachtree Creek. And again, Sherman had come a little closer to Atlanta.

Richmond was starting to get nervous. The risk of losing Atlanta was now so great that riskier countermeasures had to be taken. That was the big hour for General Hood. Fortunately for him, President Davis had sent General Braxton Bragg to Georgia as an advisor. With Hood advocating an immediate attack, Bragg recommended that the President replace Johnston with him. While Davis was of the opinion that Johnston should be replaced, he did not want to simply drop him. So on July 16, he asked Johnston for an operation plan, knowing that Johnston didn't have one. So he had the opportunity to replace him with Hood. General Lee's enthusiasm for the decision was limited, so he advised Davis against it. Lee knew Hood as a headless daredevil. Still, the president had made his decision in favor of Hood, who three days later made his first attempt to destroy the Yankees.

As it turned out, however, it was Hood who lost out. The first battle occurred on July 20 at Peachtree Creek. Sherman had ordered McPherson and Schofield, who had already crossed the river, to bypass the Confederate right flank extensively in order to cut the last rail link between the upper south and Atlanta. Meanwhile, Thomas was preparing to cross the river. His Cumberland army was cut off from the rest of the troops. Hood saw the moment to attack this isolated enemy. The attack now had to be quick and surprising. When Hood launched the attack on July 20, it was already too late. Most of the Cumberland Army had already crossed Peachtree Creek so that the attack could be repulsed successfully. The numerical strength of this bloody battle was the same on both sides. Still, the Yankees managed to push the Confederates back.

Meanwhile, McPherson's southern flank had separated from the rest of the troops. So Hood dared to attack again on July 22, after retreating to the defensive positions near the city the day before. The Yankees were now even closer to Atlanta when Confederate forces attacked the southern flank. The attack this time was more surprising than the battle of Peachtree Creek. Nevertheless, the Yankees managed to strike back with extreme severity here too. Hood's losses that afternoon were half those of Johnston in ten weeks. But Sherman also suffered a severe blow, as General McPherson was killed in the battle. He was succeeded by General Oliver O. Howard. Now Howard was trying to complete what McPherson had started: The destruction of the last railroad connection, this time south of Atlanta. Therefore he did not take the route that McPherson had taken, but led his troops around the left flank of the enemy.

However, he did not reach his destination as he was stopped by a Confederate corps on the way there. Hood saw another chance to defeat at least part of the opposing force and dispatched a second corps. This corps was stopped by Union troops at the intersection of Ezra Church. On July 28th there was a battle in which the Confederates were left behind again. Instead of continuing the attack, they now had to entrench themselves. 15,000 Confederate soldiers lost their lives or were wounded in the last three battles. The Yankees lost "only" 6000 men. Atlanta hadn't been taken yet, but Sherman had come a long way closer. Now he was preparing for a siege. There were also a few minor attacks and counter-attacks here and there, but they did little on either side. Atlanta was now under attack by Union artillery, whereupon many civilians left the city. Since Sherman had not yet taken the city, many southern state newspapers spoke of a Confederate victory. Even Hood's attacks were hailed as a success. Northern newspapers, on the other hand, of course reported a victory for the Union and that the capture was only a matter of time, and they should be proved right.