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 this day, 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.
The Battles of Atlanta resulted in at least 8,500 Confederate casualties and around 3,600 Union casualties. The greatest casualty was the city of Atlanta and its importance to the South and their war effort. The fall of Atlanta also resulted in the demoralization of thousands of Southerners and Confederate troops who felt the war was then lost.
Sources for the above includes: Today, August 31, 1864: Battle of Jonesboro, GA Leading to Fall of Atlanta; Battle of Atlanta: Surrender; Atlanta; Battle Of Atlanta; Atlanta Falls to Union Forces; Atlanta Campaign; Civil War in Georgia: The fall of Atlanta; The Atlanta Campaign of 1864: The Camera at War