Peach Tree Creek July 20, 1864 Estimated casualties: 6,506 (1,710 Union, 4,796 Confederate)
Each choice had tactical advantages but Sherman was a strategic thinker. By cutting the rail line to the east he would increase the amount of time it would take for re-enforcements to arrive from Richmond, lengthen Johnston's lines of communication and reduce the Confederate Army's access to grain and meat from Georgia's agricultural belt between Atlanta and Savannah. Yet unscathed, East Georgia offered Johnston much more food than Alabama, whose crops and cattle had been repeatedly scavenged.
Sherman's plan was simple. George Thomas and his Army of the Cumberland would cross the Chattahoochee then hold the Confederate Army of Tennessee in place while McPherson (bio) and Schofield moved east to sever the rail connection to Savannah. Johnston, though had a surprise for the red-haired Ohioan. Rather than defend the Chattahoochee he would wait until Sherman crossed Peachtree Creek, then attack while the army was split in two.
Unfortunately, Jefferson Davis (bio) replaced the cautious Johnston with John Bell Hood (bio) on July 17, 1864, (more) for while Johnston would only commit to reacting, Hood foolishly committed to acting upon the advances of the Union Army. Along quiet Peach Tree Creek north of Atlanta General Hood's intentions became all too well-known to George Thomas.
After being repulsed by Rebels during a attempt to cross Peach Tree near Howell's Mill late in the day on July 19th, Union General Jefferson Davis crossed further east and gained high ground south of the rain-swollen river. From this advantage, Davis took the crossing at Howell's Mill. A third crossing was built just east of these.
Concentrating to a line about a mile wide The Army of the Cumberland crossed Peach Tree. Immediately east of Thomas was the flank of McPherson's Army of the Tennessee and Schofield's Army of the Ohio forming a secondary line some eight miles in length. Originally set to attack at 1:00pm, the presence of these troops forced Hood to delay the initial assault until after 3:00 that afternoon while he strengthened his right flank.
The five hours of battle did not go well for the Rebels. Hood had lost the tactical advantage of having the Union Army split by the river; most of the Union Army had crossed by the time the battle started that afternoon. Now, instead of attacking an enemy split by a physical barrier, elements of the Confederate Army were advancing on three divisions of the Union Army entrenched on high ground.
Rather than attack as a single unit the Rebels rolled down the Union line. Only Major General John Newton's division appeared to give way, but quick action by units on his left and right saved the day, catching the advancing Rebels in a withering enfilade. In the middle of the Union line a gap between "Fighting Joe" Hooker's XX Corps and Howard's VI Corps developed because of the inaccurate maps of the Union Commanders. Hood's troops completely missed the gap, failing to exploit this crucial error.
HEADQUARTERS ARMY OF THE CUMBERLAND, July 20, 1864 - 6:15 p. m. Maj. Gen. W. T. SHERMAN, Commanding Military Division of the Mississippi: GENERAL: The enemy attacked me in full force at about 4 p. m., and has persisted until now, attacking very fiercely, but he was repulsed handsomely by the troops all along my line. Our loss has been heavy, but the loss inflicted upon the enemy has been very severe. We have taken many prisoners, and General Ward reports having taken 2 stand of colors. I cannot make at present more than this general report, but will send you details as soon as I can get them from my corps commanders. Very respectfully, yours, &c., GEO. H. THOMAS, Major-General, U. S. Volunteers, Commanding.
Additional notes: During the battle General Sherman's headquarters were at the Augustus Hurt (Howard) House (present-day Carter Center) while General Hood stayed at the Windsor Smith House (present-day Oakland Cemetery).
Much has been written about Hood executing the plans put forth by General Johnston. In fact, the attack implemented by Hood was significantly different than the plan laid out by Johnston.
On July 20, during the battle, men under the command of Captain Francis Degress climbed to the top of a hill along The Decatur Road (now Dekalb Avenue) and fired the first artillery shells to land within the city limits of Atlanta.
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