The Battles for Atlanta
On July 17, 1864, tired of Johnston's constant retreats, President Jefferson Davis gave command of the Army of Tennessee to the aggressive Lt. Gen. John Bell Hood. The new commander's first move was to attack Thomas' army near Peachtree Creek, northeast of Atlanta. Several determined assaults struck the Union lines, but were ultimately all repulsed. Hood next withdrew his forces to the inner defenses of the city hoping Sherman would follow and open himself up to attack. On July 22, Hood assaulted McPherson's Army of the Tennessee on the Union left. After the attack achieved initial success, rolling up the Union line, it was stopped by massed artillery and counterattacks. McPherson was killed in the fighting and replaced with Maj. Gen. Oliver O. Howard.
Unable to penetrate the Atlanta defenses from the north and east, Sherman moved to the west of the city but was blocked by the Confederates at Ezra Church on July 28. Sherman next decided to force Hood from Atlanta by cutting the railroads and supply lines into the city. Pulling almost of his forces from around the city, Sherman marched on Jonesborough to the south. On August 31, Confederate troops attacked the Union position but were easily driven away. The next day Union troops counterattacked and broke through the Confederate lines. As his men fell back, Hood realized that the cause was lost and began evacuating Atlanta on the night of September 1. His army retreated west towards Alabama. In the campaign, Sherman's armies suffered 31,687 casualties, while the Confederates under Johnston and Hood had 34,979.Rear Admiral David G. Farragut, fourteen wooden warships and four monitors ran past Forts Morgan and Gaines at the mouth of Mobile Bay and attacked the ironclad CSS Tennessee and three gunboats. In doing so, they passed near a torpedo (mine) field, which claimed the monitor USS Tecumseh. Seeing the monitor sink, the ships in front of Farragut's flagship paused, causing him to famously exclaim "Damn the torpedoes! Full speed ahead!" Pressing on into the bay, his fleet captured CSS Tennessee and closed the port to Confederate shipping. The victory, coupled with the fall of Atlanta, greatly aided Lincoln in his reelection campaign that November.
Franklin & Nashville Campaign
While Sherman rested his army at Atlanta, Hood planned a new campaign designed to cut the Union supply lines back to Chattanooga. He moved west into Alabama hoping to draw Sherman into following, before turning north towards Tennessee. To counter Hood's movements, Sherman dispatched Thomas and Schofield back north to protect Nashville. Marching separately, Thomas arrived first. Hood seeing that the Union forces were divided, moved to defeat them before they could concentrate.
On November 29, Hood nearly trapped Schofield's force near Spring Hill, TN, but the Union general was able to extricate his men from the trap and reach Franklin. Upon arriving they occupied fortifications on the outskirts of town. Hood arrived the following day and launched a massive frontal assault on the Union lines. Sometimes referred to as the "Pickett's Charge of the West," the attack was repulsed with heavy casualties and six Confederate generals dead.
The victory at Franklin allowed Schofield to reach Nashville and rejoin Thomas. Hood, despite the wounded condition of his army, pursued and arrived outside the city on December 2. Safe in the city's defenses, Thomas slowly prepared for the upcoming battle. Under tremendous pressure from Washington to finish off Hood, Thomas finally attacked on December 15. Following two days of assaults, Hood's army crumbled and dissolved, effectively destroyed as a fighting force.
With Hood occupied in Tennessee, Sherman planned his campaign to take Savannah. Believing the Confederacy would only surrender if its capacity for making war was destroyed, Sherman ordered his troops to conduct a total scorched earth campaign, destroying everything in their path. Departing Atlanta on November 15, the army advanced in two columns under Maj. Gens. Henry Slocum and Oliver O. Howard. After cutting a swath across Georgia, Sherman arrived outside of Savannah on December 10. Making contact with the US Navy, he demanded the city's surrender. Rather than capitulate, Lt. Gen. William J. Hardee evacuated the city and fled north with the garrison. After occupying the city, Sherman telegraphed Lincoln, "I beg to present you as a Christmas gift the City of Savannah..."
The Carolinas Campaign and the Final Surrender
With Savannah captured, Grant issued orders for Sherman to bring his army north to aid in the siege of Petersburg. Rather than travel by sea, Sherman proposed marching overland, laying waste to the Carolinas along the way. Grant approved and Sherman's 60,000-man army moved out in January 1865, with the goal of capturing Columbia, SC. As Union troops entered South Carolina, the first state to secede, no mercy was given. Facing Sherman was a reconstituted army under his old adversary, Joseph E. Johnston, who seldom had more than 15,000 men. On February 10, Federal troops entered Columbia and burned everything of military value.
Pushing north, Sherman's forces encountered Johnston's small army at Bentonville, NC on March 19. The Confederates launched five attacks against the Union line to no avail. On the 21st, Johnston broke off contact and retreated towards Raleigh. Pursuing the Confederates, Sherman finally compelled Johnston to agree to an armstice at Bennett Place near Durham Station, NC on April 17. After negotiating surrender terms, Johnston capitulated on the 26th. Coupled with Gen. Robert E. Lee's surrender on the 9th, the surrender effectively ended the Civil War.Previous: Turning Points | Contents | Next: War in the East, 1863-1865