By the middle of the Civil War, Atlanta had become one of the most important cities for the Confederacy. It was a vital hub in supplying weapons, ammunition, food, clothing, gold and all other supplies needed by the Confederate troops throughout the South. Roads and railroad lines ran into and out of Atlanta, dispersing supplies and troops to help fight their cause against the Union North.
In early 1864, Union General William Tecumseh Sherman took on the task of somehow cutting off the Atlanta supply lines.
On May 7, 1864, Sherman begins his Atlanta Campaign and March to the Sea. Commanding over 100,000 Union troops divided into three armies, Sherman marched across Georgia towards Atlanta faster than any army had marched before. Along the way, Sherman’s forces scavenged for most of their supplies and often left small towns and villages in utter destruction.
On July 21, 1864, Sherman’s armies, still separated, were approaching the outskirts of Atlanta. Sherman had sent part of his cavalry east of Atlanta to wreck the Georgia Railroad. Confederate General Hood believed that the departure of the cavalry left the troops under the command of Union General McPherson vulnerable on their left flank. Instead, Hood pulled back behind the defensive lines established by the Confederate troops.
On July 22, 1864, Confederate forces led by Hood and Hardee circled around to attack McPherson’s left flank. In the meantime, Confederate leader Wheeler attacked McPherson’s supply wagons. However, the Confederates arrived late, coupled with the terrain and the forced 15-mile march, the attacks failed and Confederate General Walker was shot and killed. Union General Sweeny and his cavalry were in the right position to counter Hardee’s attack. By the end of the day, the Confederates were forced back to their defenses in and around Atlanta.
On August 31, 1864, Sherman arrives at his destination between East Point and Jonesboro after several skirmishes with Confederate forces along the way. The Union forces clashed with the Confederate forces which had entrenched themselves into position to defend the railroad.
The fighting was fierce but by late afternoon, Confederate forces began retreating from their positions due to the overwhelming numbers and power of Sherman’s Union Army.
The real battles for Atlanta were fought on July 21, 22 and August 31, 1864. When Jonesboro fell into Sherman’s hands, Confederate leaders knew they could not defend Atlanta.
On September 1, 1864, Confederate troops marched south and east out of Atlanta, leaving it to the hands of Union General Sherman. The major Southern supply hub was no more. Sherman and his troops subsequently looted the city for supplies and then burned a large portion of the city to the ground.
In 1864, Johnsonville was an important supply hub for the Union Army, especially for the massive army of General William T. Sherman and his March to Atlanta and on to the sea. Boats would bring large amounts of supplies (food, ammunition, leather, dry goods, nails, etc.) to the docks at Johnsonville. They were then unloaded and stored in massive depots that stretched nearly a mile along the river, until they could be transported by railroad to Nashville and on south to help supply Sherman’s army.
Union Colonel C.R. Thompson was tasked with operating the docks and protecting the all important depots at Johnsonville. He had about 2,000 troops, part of which was made up the US Colored Troops composed largely of former slaves.
Confederate General Nathan Bedford Forrest was tasked with destroying and/or capturing the Union depots at Johnsonville. He commanded a force of about 3,500 Confederate troops. Forrest had been on a 23-day raid in the area and managed to capture several Union outposts north of Johnsonville.
Thompson and the Union troops knew that they were the eventual target of a Confederate attack and thought they were prepared. Men were assigned to gun-pits around the perimeter of the depot and artillery was placed on the high ground overlooking the depots. Thompson expected the Confederate attack to come from the land.
On November 3, 1864, Forrest and his Confederate force arrived on the west bank of the Tennessee River opposite of Johnsonville, During the night, the Confederates placed their large cannons on the higher grounds overlooking Johnsonville and dug protective defenses around them. The Union forces in Johnsonville were unaware of the Confederate activity on the opposite bank of the river.
On November 4, 1864, the Confederate cannons began shelling the Union depot across the river. The Confederates had the advantage of higher ground and their exploding shells were well aimed, hitting their targets and setting the depots ablaze. Thompson and the Union artillery tried to return fire but their shells fell short. Thompson ordered several gunboats docked at the port to move into the river and shell the confederate cannons. However, the Confederate artillery were quickly able to fire upon the gunboats, damaging their rudders and controls.
It wasn’t long before the mile-long depots were on fire and a large part of the Union force was busy trying to put out the fires instead of trying to repel the Confederate attack.
On November 5, 1864, most of the depots at Johnsonville had been reduced to smoldering ashes. Forrest had accomplished his goal and destroyed millions of dollars of Union supplies in a matter of a few hours. At day break, some of the Union forces tried to return fire across the river, but unbeknownst to them, Forrest and his Confederate force had already moved away.
After the destruction of the Union supply depot at Johnsonville, Confederate General John Bell Hood set his sights on destroying Sherman’s supply line at Nashville, Tennessee. He began marching his Army of Tennessee, numbering around 30,000 Confederate troops, north towards Nashville. He didn’t try to hide his intention of attacking Nashville in hopes that it would draw Sherman’s attention and divert him away from his southern campaign and bring him north.
However, Sherman did not take the bait and instead, he continued his march to Savannah and Charleston. He dispatched Union General John Schofield and his Army of the Ohio, numbering around 30,000, to Nashville. Union General George Henry Thomas was already at Nashville with a force of 25,000. If Schofield could reach Nashville before Hood and the Confederates, that would give the Union a force of 55,000 to hold off 30,000 Confederates. Hood was determined to prevent Schofield from reaching Nashville.
On November 28, 1864, Hood’s Confederates managed to divide Schofield’s Union forces near the town of Columbia. He hoped to spring a trap and annihilate a large portion of Schofield’s army, however miscommunication and confusion among the Confederate commanders allowed Schofield’s force to escape to Franklin, a town about 15 miles due south of Nashville. Hood was livid with anger when he learned that the large portion of Schofield’s Union forces has passed right by the Confederate encampment during the night.
On this day, November 30, 1864, Hood ordered his Confederate forces to launch a frontal attack against the Union lines at Franklin. The Union army had established several lines of defense and at one point in the Battle of Franklin, the Confederates managed to breakthrough part of the Union defensive line. Union forces pushed back and prevented the breach from reaching any further.
Over the course of 4 hours of wave after wave of Confederate assault, the Union army held their lines and the Battle of Franklin was over. Schofield’s Union Army of the Ohio suffered 189 killed, 1,033 wounded and 1,1104 missing for a total casualty count of 2,326. Hood’s Confederate Army of Tennessee suffered 1,750 killed, 3,800 wounded and 702 missing for a casualty count of 6,262. Perhaps the greatest casualty of the Battle of Franklin was the Confederate loss of 14 generals, more than any other battle in the Civil War.
Although his army and officers were decimated, Hood continued to pursue Schofield on to Nashville where they clashed on December 16, 1864. In the Battle of Nashville, Hood’s Army of Tennessee was nearly obliterated by the Union forces of General Thomas. The remnants of Hood’s Confederate Army of Tennessee was forced to retreat to Tupelo, Mississippi. Many historians attribute the Union victory at Nashville to the victory at Franklin.
Sources for the above includes: Second Battle of Franklin; Battle of Franklin, Tennessee; Battle Of Franklin: Civil War Sites – Carnton, Carter House, Lotz House; Franklin; Animated Battle of Franklin – Civil War Trust; Today, September 1, 1864: Union Captures Atlanta; Today, November 4, 1864: Confederates Destroy Millions of Dollars of Union Supplies [VIDEO]