The battle for Atlanta took place on July 22, 1864. As the Confederacy’s supply center, Atlanta was the strategic target for the Union. Politically, Sherman’s victory in Atlanta brought reinforcement for Lincoln, whereas Hood and Sherman took their best and used their strategic thinking to win. The fall of Atlanta meant the subsequent downfall of the Confederacy. In military terms, it was a significant ground for the future displacement of the Confederate troops. Eventually, after the Gettysburg campaign, the South had few chances to survive.
Atlanta was a significant point on the battle maps, as it was the railway hub and the supply center for the Confederacy. The most important national railroads crossed the city, including the Western & Atlantic Railroad, while others linked Atlanta to the neighboring states. The Southern states were agricultural and had few industrial enterprises. The Atlanta Rolling Mill, which grew significantly during the war, produced the armor for the Confederate States Army and, thus, was crucial for its military success. Atlanta had several other industrial workshops, as well as warehouses for the armor, forage, and ammunition.
Major General William T. Sherman led the Atlanta Campaign for the Union, and Confederate General Joseph E. Johnston started the campaign. In July 1864, after a series of repeated retreats, the President of the Confederate States replaced Johnston with more aggressive and risky John Bell Hood. The first battle of Sherman against Hood was at the Peachtree Creek, where the latter showed his aggressive way of operational command.
Livermore estimates that the forces of Hood, the army of Tennessee, had around 40,000 soldiers, and the Union forces had about 30,000. Bailey states that Sherman’s troops exceeded Hood’s army in quantity. Sherman knew that the Chattanooga Battle had weakened the Confederate forces, and he started his offensive movement to Atlanta. After a series of Johnson’s retreats, Hood had to change the strategy. Although Hood was supposed to defend his army, he chose to attack. The army of the Confederacy was weaker than the mobile and aggressive Sherman’s troops.
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Hood requested Hardee’s forces to troop round the Union’s left flank. Sherman used the railway as a supply line, and the Confederate forces, including Wheeler’s cavalry, came closer. The corps of Cheatham planned to attack the Union’s front. Major General McPherson expected an attack on the left flank and, for that reason, strengthened it. However, Hardee made the Union forces retreat at the left flank. Wheeler attacked the forces of Sprague and took the Fayetteville Road. When Hardee’s attack failed, Wheeler had to retreat to Atlanta. Hood attacked the Union forces from east and west. The battle took place at the Bald Hill on the east side of Atlanta. The sanguinary battle developed around the hill, making the Confederates retreat to the south. Cheatham broke the Union line and came to the Georgian railroad, where Sherman’s artillery shelled the troops. Although the Confederates lost the battle of Atlanta, the city fell only in September 1864, after a six-week siege. According to Ecelbarger, the Union reported 3,641 casualties, while the Confederates lost almost 8,500 soldiers. Since the Confederate troops were smaller, it was a considerable loss for them.
Although Hood chose an offensive strategy, his troops were weak and could not fight with the enemy on equal terms. As a result, the Army had to retreat. Sherman’s commanders proved themselves capable of foreseeing the actions of the enemy and quickly reacted, by deploying more forces. When the Confederates stepped back, they did not inflict any damage on the civilian infrastructure and railway. When the Union forces entered the Southern territories, they had an opportunity to use the railroad. By contrast, Sherman used a scorched earth policy in Atlanta and other Southern territories. He burned the entire civilian infrastructure, except hospitals.
The fall of Atlanta had a significant impact both on the result of the war and the election process. Sherman’s success strengthened the positions of Lincoln before the elections of 1864. The other candidate, democrat George Brinton McClellan, insisted on conducting negotiations with the Confederacy. After Sherman’s victory in Atlanta, everyone understood that the fall of Confederacy was inevitable. Eventually, Lincoln won the elections.
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The strategic importance of Atlanta was difficult to overstate, as it was the center of transport and logistics. The best strategies of the two experienced commanders met in the Atlanta battle. However, the three years of bloody battles wiped out the strength and fighting spirit of the Confederates, and they were incapable of fighting the superior forces of the Union. Sherman’s success in the Atlanta campaign became a substantive political support for President Lincoln. However, since the superiority of the Union forces is doubtful, the issue requires further research.