After 3 years of war, the Union cavalry remained inferior to the Confederate in every respect but weapons. Thus, in the Atlanta Campaign operations between Dalton and the Chattahootchie River, the Union cavalry lost every major engagement, and Maj. Gen. William T. Sherman relegated them to the role of substitute infantry. However, after reaching the outskirts of Atlanta, Sherman decided to give his cavalry a significant opportunity. On the 27th, Maj. Gen. George Stoneman, with 6,500 troopers, swung east and Brig. Gen. Edward M. McCook, with 3,500 sabers, rode west of Atlanta. To compel the Confederates to evacuate Atlanta, they were to join forces at Lovejoy Station and destroy the last remaining railroad supplying Gen. John B. Hood's army. Sherman also authorized Stoneman, at the latter's behest, to march farther south and release the more than 30,000 Union prisoners at Macon and Andersonville, but only after the railroad had been cut.
Stoneman ignored this proviso, heading for Macon instead of Lovejoy Station and leaving Brig. Gen. Kenner Garrard's division to cover the move. As a consequence, Maj. Gen. Joseph Wheeler's Confederate cavalry, 10,000 strong, was able to isolate the 3 Union columns and deal with them in succession. On the 28th, they routed Garrard's division, on the 29th they captured Stoneman and 700 of his men near Macon, and on the 30th they scattered McCook's command. All together, the Union raiders lost more than 2,000 men and failed utterly in their mission. Hood's hard-riding cavaliers achieved one of the greatest cavalry victories of the war and boosted the sagging morale of his army.
The outcome of the July raids confirmed Confederate superiority in cavalry. It also confirmed Sherman in his low opinion of his mounted arm. Cavalry, he concluded, " could not, nor would not, make a significant lodgement on the railroad below Atlanta..." Infantry would have to force the Confederates from that city, and he now planned accordingly.