The Civil War – Fighting in Georgia/The Start of the Atlanta Campaign

Submitted by C.J. Johnson

The Battle of Resaca, about 75 miles northwest of Atlanta, was the first major battle of the Atlanta campaign. Resaca was particularly important because of the railroad.
The New Georgia Encyclopedia provides the prelude and description of the battle. “Following its November 1863 defeat at Chattanooga, Tennessee, the Confederate Army of Tennessee retreated thirty miles to the southeast and encamped in Dalton, Georgia, for the winter. General Joseph E. Johnston assumed command of the demoralized Confederate troops and began preparations for a defensive struggle in the spring. Johnston entrenched his men in Dalton and along Rocky Face Ridge, a steep and rugged ridgeline on the outskirts of the town.
In early May 1864 Union Major General William T. Sherman opened the Atlanta campaign by moving south from Chattanooga with 110,000 troops…Confederate forces were outnumbered approximately two to one, but the last-minute arrival of reinforcements led by Major General Leonidas Polk increased Johnston’s army to almost 70,000 men.
The first skirmish of the campaign occurred on May 7, when Union forces swept Confederate cavalry from Tunnel Hill, a small promontory in front of Rocky Face Ridge…over the next two days he launched a number of small-scale attacks against the heavily fortified Confederate position. In the bloodiest of these encounters, Union soldiers fought their way up Rocky Face Ridge while Confederate defenders rolled large rocks down upon the attackers. The Confederate position proved impregnable…
Sherman had no intention of launching a full frontal assault against the well-entrenched Confederates. With General Johnston’s attention focused on the Union forces to his front, Sherman sent McPherson’s 25,000-man Army of the Tennessee on a covert march south…to the village of Resaca, some dozen miles south of Dalton. If McPherson could capture Resaca, then the Confederate supply line would be severed, and Johnston’s army would be trapped…
McPherson proceeded with extreme caution and failed to seize Resaca. As Sherman sent more troops south to Snake Creek Gap, Johnston realized that he was being outflanked.
On the night of May 12-13, he evacuated Rocky Face Ridge…and marched his men south, where by the following morning they had taken up defensive positions along a four-mile front to the west and north of Resaca… Throughout the day on May 13, Union and Confederate troops fought a number of skirmishes, but the day ended before the Union armies were fully deployed for battle.
On Saturday, May 14, the fighting at Resaca escalated into a full-scale battle. Beginning at dawn, Union forces engaged the Confederates along the entire four-mile front… In the evening Union forces pushed forward and seized the high ground west of Resaca, which placed the bridges leading south from the town within artillery range and threatened Johnston’s line of retreat.
The following day Sherman renewed his assault on the Confederate center… As the fighting raged on May 15, Johnston learned that a division of Union troops had crossed the Oostanaula River southwest of Resaca… Johnston’s position had thus become untenable, and during the night his troops abandoned their defenses and retreated farther south.
The Battle of Resaca demonstrated that the Atlanta Campaign would be hard fought and bloody. Johnston’s army had suffered some 2,800 casualties, and Union losses were at least as high. But Sherman, with his superior forces, could continue pressing and outflanking the Confederate army, driving it farther south and ever closer to Atlanta.
The fighting at Resaca demonstrated that the outnumbered Confederate army could only slow, but not stop the advance of Union forces into Georgia.”