In the Western Theater during 1864, the principal operation was the Atlanta Campaign followed by Sherman's "March to the Sea" Savannah Campaign. By the first week in May, Union forces from the lower Tennessee to the Virginia coast were in motion. They were participiants in a coordinated offensive devised by Gen.-in-Chief Ulysses S. Grant. One of the most strategically significant of these operations involved a movement south from Chattanooga by the armies of the Military Division of the Mississippi, under Maj. Gen. William T. Sherman. These 98,000 men and 254 cannon (divided among Maj. Gen. George H. Thomas' Army of the Cumberland, Maj. Gen. James B. McPherson's Army of the Tennessee, and Army of the Ohio under Maj. Gen. John M. Schofield, and 4 cavalry divisions) constituted, Sherman felt, "one of the best armies in the world." Thier main objective was Gen. Joseph E. Johnston's Army of Tennessee, composed of 2 corps under Lt. Gen. John B. Hood and William J. Hardee(a third, under Lt. Gen. Leonidas Polk, was enroute from Mississippi), plus attached artillery and a cavalry corps under Maj. Gen. Joseph Wheeler- an aggregate force of 53,000. Grant had ordered Sherman to move against Johnston's army, to break it up, and to get into the interior of Confederate country as far as he could, inflicting all the damage he could against the South's war resources.
Sherman looked beyond the Confederates present position near Dalton, Georgia, some 25 miles below Chattanooga. His intended route would carry him another 80 miles into the Confederacy, to the industrial, supply, and communication center of Atlanta. An advocate of total war (aggression directed against both military and civilian populations alike) Sherman realized that from Atlanta he could destroy crucial segments of the Confederate military, economic, and social structure. Then, too, the psychological impact of Atlanta's capture would devastate Southern morale. This would perhaps ensure President Lincoln's reelection and quash efforts in some quarters toward a negotiated peace.
Although preliminary skirmishing began near Chattanooga on May 1, the campaign and Sherman's march, did not get under way till the 7th. By May 9, Sherman had reached Johnston's advance positions and moved to circumvent them. Using the armies of Thomas and Schofield to hold the Confederates in place at Buzzard Roost and Rocky Face Gap, he sent McPherson to the west and south to cut the railroad in Johnston's rear and block his line of retreat. After passing through Snake Creek Gap, however, McPherson pulled back in the face of unexpected resistance, disappointing his commander and allowing the Confederates to slip the trap by a quick fallback on th 12th.
Sherman quickly pursued, and the result was a battle at Resaca on May 14-15. Part of Thomas' command repulsed an advance by Hood. Sherman wished to follow up the success but, finding the Confederate position too strong to attack head-on, sent cavalry and infantry to flank it below the Oostenaula River. Johnston, however, withdrew toward Calhoun and Adairsville on the 17th. There, Sherman pressed his front with Thomas' army while menacing both Confederate flanks with McPherson and Schofield, prompting another Confederate retreat, to the Cassville-Kingston area.
This time, when the Federals pursued, Johnston lashed out at Sherman's seperated columns near Cassville. Only tactical errors and the uncharacteristic timidity of Hood, who shied from making the main attack on the 19th, saved the Federals from heavy losses. On the advice of his lieutenants, Johnston again fell back, this time crossing the Etowah River to Allatoona Pass and then, threatened by another flanking movement, proceeded to Dallas, Georgia, via New Hope Church. At this last site, the Army of Tennessee repulsed several assaults by Thomas on the 25th, and precipitated vicious fighting at Mount Zion Church and Pickett's Mills on the 27th. On the 28th, near Dallas, McPherson threw back a reconnaissance in force by Hardee.
Johnston abandoned New Hope Church on June 4, when the Federals shifted northeastward around his now vulnerable position. The Army of Tennessee then filled entrenchments atop Lost, Pine, and Brush Mountains, in front of Marietta. During the next 2 weeks, fierce fighting swept each peak, Gen. Polk being killed on Pine Mountain on June 14. Still another movement against Johnston's right finally compelled him to drop down to Kennesaw Mountain, whose steep, rocky slopes furnished him with his most formidable position to date. On the 27th, it proved its worth when Sherman, tired of flanking movements, tried a frontal assault against the high ground. His men were met by a wall of rifle and cannon fire that inflicted 2,000 casualties, against 1/4 as many Confederate losses.
Sherman resumed his sidestepping, forcing the Confederates to move below Marietta on July 2. Further flank drives sent the Confederates to the upper banks of the Chattahootchie River, within 7 miles of Atlanta on the 4th. When Schofield's troops made a crossing on the Confederates right on the 8th, Johnston withdrew south of the river, removing the last great natural barrier between Sherman and Atlanta. This was too much for Confederate President Jefferson Davis, who had long been skeptical of Johnston's defensive stragety, and on the 17th, Davis replaced him with the more aggresive Hood.
Only 3 days after assuming command, the former corps commander tried to repay Davis' confidence. North of Atlanta, he attacked Thomas' army along Peach Tree Creek, and was sent reeling into the city's defenses, having suffered 4,800 casualties. Undeterred, Hood regrouped and launched a 2nd sortie east of the city on the 22nd, this time striking the left and front of McPherson's isolated army in the Battle Of Atlanta. Despite a promising attack that killed McPherson and rocked his column, the offensive fell short due to tactical and logicstical mistakes by Hood and Hardee.
Sherman concentrated on the vital railroad lines south of the city, attempting to reach them through cavalry raids under Maj. Gen. George Stoneman and Brig. Gens. Edward M. McCook and H. Judson Kilpatrick. None of these, however, inflicted great damage, confirming Sherman's generally low opinion of his cavalry. By the middle of July, he had sent his infantry toward the same objective, cicling around the west side of Atlanta. Hood tried to stop the move by a 3rd sortie near Ezra Church on the 28th, but failed once again, retaliating by sending his cavalry on a month-long campaign against Sherman's lines of communications. Wheeler's Raid, August 10- September 10, failed to halt the Union's inexorable advance.
Having failed to reach the railroads early in August (being halted at Utoy Creek on the 6th), Sherman made a lodgment on the Montgomery & Atlanta Railroad on the 28th. Concerned for his lifeline of supply, Hood struck the Union flank at Jonesborough on August 31- September 1. There, he lost a battle he could not afford to lose, dooming Atlanta.
Late on September 1, the rear guard of the Army of Tennessee filed out of Atlanta, and the next day, the Union advance marched in. Word of Atlanta's fall soonb swept the divided nation. Millions in the North rejoiced, hailing Sherman as the war's greatest hero. The South, as Sherman predicted, began to dispair.