Hoods Takes the Offensive
at Peachtree Creek
Before being relieved, General Joseph E. Johnston had planned to attack the Union Army of the Cumberland as it crossed Peachtree Creek. But on July 17, 1864, he was releved by President Jefferson Davis. The next day, Lt. Gen. John Bell Hood was appointed commander of the Army of Tennessee and temporarily promoted to full general rank.
It should be noted that Hood and several other generals, sent a telegram to Davis seeking a remand of the order, advising Davis that it would be “dangerous to change the commander of this army at this particular time.”
On July 19th, Hood received intelligence that Maj. Gen. William T. Sherman had divided his forces. Maj. Gen. George H. Thomas’ Army of the Cumberland was ordered to head directly towards Atlanta. The Army of the Ohio and the Army of the Tennessee moved to the east. Their eventual objectives were the rail lines to the east that Sherman hoped to cut and choke off any supplies or reinforcements from the Eastern Theater.
Hood continued with Johnston’s plan against the Army of the Cumberland. They would need to cross Peachtree Creek in several locations, during which they would be vulnerable until they built defensive works on the south side of the waterway. More importantly, the Confederates would achieve near local manpower parity with the Union army. The union force only outnumbered the Confederates by about 1,400.
Hood’s plan called for his forces to drive Thomas’ army further to the west, forcing a larger gap between the two wings of the Union army. He hoped that Sherman would move the rest of his army to west and divert his forces away from Atlanta.
On the morning of July 20th, the Army of the Cumberland crossed Peachtree Creek and began to take up defensive positions. The XIV Corps, commanded by Major General John M. Palmer, was on the right. The XX Corps, commanded by Major General Joseph Hooker took position in the center. The left was held by a single division of the IV Corps, as the rest of that corps had been sent to reinforce Schofield and McPherson on the east side of Atlanta. In all, the Army of the Cumberland mustered 21,655 men.
The few hours during the crossing and prior to the completion of defensive breastworks were the Confederate’s time of opportunity. Hood had committed two of his three corps to the attack. Lt. Gen. William Hardee‘s Corps was on the right while Maj. Gen. Alexander P. Stewart‘s was on the left. Hood’s third corps under Maj. Gen. Benjamin Cheatham would keep an eye on the Union forces to the east of Atlanta.
Timing was everything during any battle, most especially at one like Peachtree Creek. Hood planned to commence the attack at about 1:00 PM but miscommunication between Hood and Hardee prevented this. Hood had ordered Hardee to maintain contact with Cheatham to the east. However, Cheatham’s corps began to slide eastward forcing Hardee’s Corps to follow him. Stewart’s Corps followed Hardee in order to maintain contact with him. All of the movements ceased at about 3:00 PM.
By 4:00 PM, the Confederates were ready to commence their attack. Unfortunately for them, the Union troops had entrenched sufficiently and were prepared for their assault. Hardee’s forces on the right ran into fierce opposition and were forced to retreat. Hardee’s Corps suffered heavy losses due to a combination of faulty execution and a lack of proper reconnaissance.
Stewart’s attack on the left was more successful with two Union brigades forced into a retreat. Most of the 33rd New Jersey Infantry Regiment (along with its battle flag) were captured by the Rebels, as well as a 4-gun Union artillery battery. However, the Union forces staged a fierce counterattack and stopped the Confederate attacks with the support of artillery.
Hardee had decided to order Maj. Gen. Patrick Cleburne‘s Division into the battle when he received an order from Hardee to dispatch the unit to assist Cheatham who was under pressure from the Union forces on his end of the line. This ended any further Confederate attacks. The Confederates had failed to break through anywhere on the Union lines.
The Battle of Peachtree Creek was a Union victory with the repulse of the Confederate attacks. Estimated casualties were 6,506 in total: 1,710 on the Union side and 4,796 on the Confederate. Despite his serious losses, Hood continued to plan offensive actions in an attempt to divert Sherman’s armies from Atlanta.