The Battle of Jonesborough
After the cavalry raids were unable to sever the Confederate railroad supply lines permanently, General Sherman decided that he would need a maximum effort against the Confederate forces protecting the Macon & Western and the Atlanta & West Point Railroads.
The operation culminated in the Battle of Jonesborough that took place from August 31 until September 1, 1864. It was named for the Macon & Western depot there.
General Sherman dispatched 6 of his 7 corps on this operation, believing that his numerically-superior force could cut the rail lines and therefore, the supply lines into the besieged city. The XX Corps remained near the Western and Atlantic Railroad Trestle over the Chattahoochee. The Union trenches were manned by dismounted cavalry.
Once the supplies stopped flowing into the city, Confederate General John Bell Hood would then be forced to evacuate the city. The Union troops could then march into Atlanta unopposed and the campaign would come to a successful conclusion.
Hood responded to the Union troop movement by ordering Lt. Gen. William J. Hardee and two Confederate corps to halt what he thought was a small number of Union troops. Hood did not anticipate the movement of almost 60,000 Union troops in the area that Hardee had been assigned to attack.
By August 31, Maj. Gen. Oliver O. Howard had two corps entrenched on the east side of the Flint River. John A. Logan‘s XV Corps was dug in on high ground facing the Macon & Western Railroad. The XVI Corps, now led by Thomas E. G. Ransom formed a right angle connected to Logan’s right. Frank Blair and the XVII Corps were in reserve west of the Flint River.
Hardee commanded the overall force with one corps under the command of Lt. Gen. Stephen D. Lee while Maj. Gen. Patrick Cleburne commanded the second corps. Cleburne was ordered to move south and west, attacking Ransom’s Corps. Lt. Gen. Stephen D. Lee was ordered to make a secondary attack against Logan’s line.
Cleburne’s lead division was hit in the flank by Brig. Gen. H. Judson Kilpatrick’s dismounted cavalry who were concealed behind rail fences. Using the high volume of firepower supplied by their Spencer repeating rifles, the Union troopers forced the Confederates to divert from their original attack and focus on the Union dismounted cavalry. They forced them across the Flint River but were eventually stopped by Giles A. Smith‘s division from the XVII Corps west of the river.
Hearing the firing from the battle between Cleburne’s men and the Union cavalry, Lee surmised that it was the main attack. He ordered his corps forward without the necessary support from Cleburne’s Corps. Lee’s assault was led by J. Patton Anderson who was seriously wounded in the attack. Lee’s attack was repulsed with serious casualties.
When Hardee wished to renew the assault, Lee informed him that his men were unable to do so having suffered 1,300 casualties while Cleburne’s Corps had suffered 400. By comparison, the Union casualties were 179. Hood withdrew Lee’s Corps back into the city in order to maintain a proper defense.
The next day Sherman brought up the XIV Corps, now led by Jefferson C. Davis, for an assault on the Confederate lines north of Jonesborough. However, most of the morning was spent bringing up additional reinforcements with Sherman concerned about bringing David S. Stanley‘s IV Corps into the line. Stanley’s troops were busy tearing up the Macon & Western Railroad near Rough and Ready.
Hardee had resumed direct command of his corps with Cleburne reverting to division command. He positioned his three divisions with the divisions of John C. Brown and Clerburne parallel to the Macon & Western Railroad. George Maney’s division ran perpendicular to Cleburne’s right forming a salient centered around the railroad.
When Stanley’s Corps had not arrived by 4:00 PM, Sherman ordered Davis to attack the salient that was held by Cleburne and Maney’s men. Davis’ initial attack with one brigade was repulsed. Logan’s Corps had moved up to support Davis on the right.
Davis then positioned all three of his divisions for a second attack. Brig. Gen. Absalom Baird, the commander of the center division, personally led a bayonet charge that later earned him the Medal of Honor. The Confederates fought tenaciously but after a bruising battle the Union troops achieved a breakthrough and poured through their lines, capturing Brig. Gen. Daniel Govan and 600 of his men. Govan was later exchanged for General George Stoneman.
The Confederates retreated in good order to Lovejoy’s Station but their defeat at the Battle of Jonesborough sealed Atlanta’s fate. That night Hood ordered the evacuation of Atlanta. The Union forces had succeeded in cutting the Confederate supply lines but had failed to annihilate Hardee’s command. Sherman finally occupied Atlanta the following day, September 2, and ended the campaign.
The fall of Atlanta ended the campaign with a Union victory. It was a great morale boost for the population of the North and aided in Lincoln’s reelection two months later. He sent a telegram to Washington on September 3rd that read, “Atlanta is ours, and fairly won”.
Hood led his defeated army to the west while Sherman rested his men until mid-November when he took 60,000 Union troops on their famous March to the Sea. George Thomas and his Army of the Cumberland was to meet Hoods Army of Tennessee again during the Franklin–Nashville Campaign
The Atlanta Campaign cost both sides significant casualties. Union total losses were 31,687 (4,423 killed, 22,822 wounded, 4,442 missing/captured) and while the Confederates sustained 34,979 casualties (3,044 killed, 18,952 wounded, 12,983 missing/captured). However, absolute numbers don’t tell the full story. Hood left the area with 30,000 men while Sherman still had an army group that numbered about 81,000.