Shermans Atlanta Campaign

In May 1864, Johnston faced his first major test as commander of the Confederacy's Army of Tennessee. At that

A view of Peachtree Street in Atlanta, Georgia, in 1864, the year before Union general William Sherman marched into that region. (Photograph by George N. Barnard. Reproduced by permission of the National Portrait Gallery.)

time, a major Union army under the command of General William T. Sherman (1820-1891; see entry) marched into Georgia in order to destroy Johnston's sixty thousand-man army. The North believed that if the Confederate Army of Tennessee could be wiped out, Union control of the West would be complete, and weakening Southern support for the war might collapse altogether.

As Sherman's force of one hundred thousand troops began its pursuit of Johnston, Davis and Johnston once again quarreled about Confederate strategy. Davis and other officials wanted Johnston to strike against Sherman and recapture the state of Tennessee in an offensive campaign. Johnston, however, felt that his best course of action was to engage in a series of strategic retreats against his more powerful opponent. The general thought that if Sherman used up some of his troops in failed attacks, he might eventually be able to launch a counterattack. In addition, Johnston believed that if Sherman failed to gain a major victory during the summer of 1864, Northern voters might replace U.S. president Abraham Lincoln (18091865; see entry) in the fall elections with a member of the antiwar Democratic Party who would grant independence to the Confederacy in exchange for peace.

Throughout the months of May and June, Sherman moved his army southward in an attempt to smash the Confederate Army of Tennessee. The two armies engaged in countless bloody skirmishes during this period, but Johnston quickly and skillfully avoided all efforts to trap him. Instead, he steadily retreated deeper into Georgia, even as President Davis and other Confederate officials urged him to turn and attack the Yankee (Union) invaders.

By mid-July, Sherman had seized large sections of Georgia. Johnston's Army of Tennessee had been pushed backward to the outskirts of Atlanta, one of the Confederacy's last remaining major cities. Johnston's defensive maneuvers had enabled him to keep most of his army intact, but Davis and many other Confederate officials were very unhappy with his performance. They openly worried that Johnston might give up Atlanta without a fight, and became very frustrated when the general stubbornly refused to tell them about his plans.

On July 17, Davis finally removed Johnston from command and replaced him with John Bell Hood (1831-1879; see entry), an officer with the Army of Tennessee who had a reputation as a fierce and aggressive fighter. The switch delighted Sherman, who had grown weary of pursuing Johnston. "I confess I was pleased at the change [in the Confederate command]," he wrote in a letter to his wife.

Hood promptly ordered a series of attacks on the Union Army, but Sherman and his troops smashed all of these attacks. Within a few months, Sherman had captured Atlanta and launched a devastating campaign deep into the heart of the South. Hood, meanwhile, took his army into Tennessee, where it was torn to shreds by Union forces.

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