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The Battle of Atlanta

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The Battle of Atlanta was a decisive victory for the Union forces. It also had crucial political implications. Around that time, George McClellan was running against President Abraham Lincoln.  McClellan’s Democrats were calling for a truce in the Civil War. But the victory of Atlanta boosted Northern morale and turned the tide of war. If there was no Battle of Atlanta, or if it was delayed, both the sides could have gone for a truce, and that would have been very bad for the future of America. Hence, the Battle of Atlanta was very important in the historical context.

The North was already running victorious before the battle. But it was that Battle of Atlanta that led the Union Army to capture the city of Atlanta over a month after their victory at the battle of Atlanta, which was fought beyond the outskirts of the city. The capture of Atlanta by the Union forces established the Union army as undoubtedly a superior force.

Immediately before the Battle of Atlanta there was the Peachtree Creek battle in which too the Union forces won. During the Battle of Atlanta,  the main unit of the Union army was under the command of General James McPherson. Sadly, however, McPherson dies on the battlefield, shot by the infantry of the Confederate Army. Besides this major loss, the Union force loses between 3500 to 4000 men on that one day of July 22.  But in comparison with confederate armies which lose about 8500 men, the Union losses are much lesser (Golden).

Besides McPherson’s Army of Tennessee that was in the lead, there were three Union corps to give support to it. These Union corps were under the commands of General John Logan, General Grenville Dodge and General Frank Blair Jr. Overseeing and in charge of the all the Union armies was General William Sherman.

On the opposing Confederate side was the Confederate Army of Tennessee under the command of General John Hood. But the main corps leading the Southern army was headed by General William Hardee.

For sometime before the Battle of Atlanta, the Union army led by General Sherman was continuously dominating the Confederate army led by General Joseph Johnston. Johnston’s army was forced to take either a defensive position or retreat. Both sides avoided direct frontal attacks. At the Battle of Resaca that preceded Battle of Kennesaw Mountain, Johnston’s army was withdrawing. But this was because Johnston’s army was clearly outnumbered by Sherman army, and was definitely on the weaker side, so there was not point in Johnston’s troops engaging with Sherman’s troops. However, in the history of warfare, right from the time of Alexander, a much smaller army has defeated a much larger army and the Confederate side wants to engage their army with the Union army at whatever cost. To this purpose, they change the leadership of the army facing Sherman’s Union forces, and replace Johnston with General John Hood. At the Battle of Kennesaw Mountain, Hood for the first time engages with Sherman, and loses expectedly. In fact, Hood suffers heavy losses just before the Battle of Atlanta. Yet the Battle of Atlanta had to be fought because it was very important the Confederate forces to retain the city of Atlanta in their hold. Atlanta was a major industrial center in the South.

Sherman has also been long intent on conquering Atlanta. The Atlanta campaign in fact started in the previous year itself when Sherman wins the Battle at Chattanooga, Tennessee. The victory at Chattanooga in the November of 1863 opened the gateway to the South, and was followed by the victory at Marietta, Georgia. Atlanta was 100 miles away from Chattanooga. Between Sherman and Atlanta there were a serious of mountain passes and the Confederate armies of Joseph Johnston. Sherman has brought Johnston’s armies very close to Atlanta and now even Johnston is replaced by Hood. Whether the Confederates were in a position to face the Sherman’s army or not, they had no other option but to engage the Union army in one last desperate effort to save Atlanta.

The Battle of Atlanta was going to be the Confederate side’s last chance repel or at least stall Sherman’s army for sometime to come, before they can do something more effective about the situation. The Atlanta campaign under General Sherman had been going on for the better part of a year now, and the Confederate side still had some hope that it could be stopped. However, the Battle of Atlanta would not only bring a successful end to the Union army’s Atlanta campaign, but it would bring the Civil War near to end. However, the Battle of Atlanta had to be followed by several other battles throughout August of 1864, such as the Battle of Utoy Creek on Aug 2, before Atlanta finally fell into the Union army at the beginning of September 1864.

Thus, in spite of suffering heavy losses just two days before the Battle of Atlanta, Hood was still hopeful and ambitious that he could at least make it this time. At the point of the Battle of Atlanta, Mcpherson was in direct control of the main unit of Sherman’s armies. In order to effectively engage Mcpherson’s army that were much superior to his own army, Hood comes up with a strategy of withdrawing into the interior and engaging Mcpherson’s army much closer to Atlanta. McPherson’s Tennessee army arrives at Decatur, which lies close to Atlanta on the eastside.

The Confederate army under General Hardee is moved to the left side of the Union army, the Confederate cavalry under General Joseph Wheeler approach Sherman’s supply lines, the Confederate corps under the command of General Benjamin Cheatham decide to attack the Union front. This was a very strategic maneuver which could have worked if carried out properly. But Hardee’s troops moving to attacking the left flank of the Union army are delayed and this gives time for McPherson to send additional reserves in the form of XVI corps to support the left flank. Sherman described this attack when Hardee corps attack Macpherson’s left flank thus:

The enemy appeared suddenly out of the dense woods in heavy masses on our extreme left… and for some hours our left flank was completely enveloped. (Hattaway 609)

The Battle of Atlanta begins here. Hood had this to say about the starting point of the Battle of Atlanta:

While the grand results desired were not accomplished, the movements of McPherson upon my communications were entirely defeated, and no further effort was made in that direction at any time. This engagement greatly inspired the troops and revived their confidence. Here, I regret to say, the brave and gallant Maj. Gen. W. H. T. Walker was killed. The enemy withdrew his left to the Georgia Railroad and strongly entrenched himself, and here properly began the siege of Atlanta. (Busenitz)

But the Confederate attack is soon successfully pushed back, but the Union left flank also begin to retreat. It is around this time that McPherson who is examining the battle field gets killed. Macpherson was considered to be one of the finest commanders in the Union army, second only to Grant and Sherman (historycentral.com).

The Confederate army continued attacks the Union forces, but the Union forces were slowly gaining upper hand.  Towards late afternoon of that day, Cheatham’s corps broke through the Union front, but once again it was of no use, as massed artillery near Sherman’s headquarters successfully stalled the Confederate assault. This was followed by the Union army’s counterattack, as Logan’s Corps charged ahead to restore the Union line. Logan was temporarily placed in the position occupied Mcpherson as the chief commanding officer of the Tenneessee Army under Sherman.

The fighting continued until night when finally the Confederate attack is successfully repulsed and Sherman’s army envelop two side of Atlanta. After eight continuous hours of killing and massacre, it was finally over. It was a fierce battle in which both sides suffered heavily. However the already reduced Confederate army had to endure a seriously devastating blow. Though the Union army still had a long way to go before finally being able to reach its goal of Atlanta city, the Battle of Atlanta has been one of the bloodiest, the most destructive and intensely fought battle in all the series of battles that was fought across the difficult mountain terrain from Chattanooga to Atlanta as part of the Atlantic campaign. Hence, though it was not fought in the city itself or directly resulted in the city’s capture, it is called the Battle of Atlantic because of its most heavy number of casualties.


Anderson, Dale.  The Union Victory: (July 1863-1865). 2004. Milwaukee WI : World Almanac Library

Busenitz, Joel. A Tale of Three Generals : The Atlanta Campaign. Military History Online. 2002. 22 Nov 2006 http://www.militaryhistoryonline.com/civilwar/atlanta/atlanta.aspx

Golden, Randy. The Battle of Atlanta. About North Georgia. 22 Nov 2006


Hattaway, Herman.  How the North Won: A Military History of the Civil War. 1999. Champaign, IL : University of Illinois Press.

Historycentral.com. The Battle  of Atlanta. Historycentral.com. 22 Nov 2006


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