Battle of Jonesborough: Final Assault on Atlanta
As the summer of 1864 was drawing to a close, the Confederacy was holding onto a glimmer of hope that it could still “win” the Civil War. The South’s General Robert E. Lee was tying up the Union army under General Ulysses S. Grant in Virginia, and Union General William T. Sherman’s attempt to capture Atlanta was bogged down in a four-month-long siege that seemed to be going nowhere. Without a major Union victory before the fall’s presidential election, it appeared that President Lincoln would lose to his challenger and former general, George Brinton McClellan. If McClellan became president, he would sign a peace treaty with the South and the Confederate States of America would secure their independence, thus “winning” the war in that sense.
Realizing it was time for bold action, Sherman decided to stop trying to bombard Atlanta’s entrenched defenders—General John Bell Hood and the Army of Tennessee—into submission. Instead, Sherman determined to send troops south of Atlanta and cut off the Confederate supply line, a railroad running through Jonesborough. Without supplies, Hood would be forced to either launch a desperate attack against the far-larger Union force confronting him, or retreat. Either way, Sherman was certain Atlanta would be captured.
On Aug. 31, 1864, the two-day Battle of Jonesborough began. To counter Sherman’s movement, Hood had sent two infantry corps to Jonesborough—not realizing that Sherman had sent six of his seven corps. Badly outnumbered, the Confederates lost the battle, suffering around 2,500 casualties, and the rail line at Jonesborough fell into Union hands Sept. 1. That night Hood abandoned Atlanta. In doing so he saved his army to fight another day, but the Union capture of Atlanta lifted Northern morale, and the important victory was the boost Lincoln needed to win his re-election bid and continue the war.
On the day the Battle of Jonesborough began, readers in the Confederate capital of Richmond, Virginia, picked up the local paper to learn news of the Atlanta defense. Ironically, the news article they read assured them that Sherman was in bad shape and Atlanta would hold—even as the final Atlanta battle was beginning. This article was printed by the Daily Richmond Examiner (Richmond, Virginia) on Aug. 31, 1864:
The Situation at Atlanta
Through the courtesy of Mr. George W. Bishop, of the Southern Express office, we have Atlanta dates of the 27th. We get from them the following summary:
From the Front
The Memphis Appeal thus sums up the latest from the front:
The last twenty-four hours have been very quiet. Nothing of the least importance has occurred along the lines, so far as we have been able to learn. Rumors of another raiding party of Federals being abroad in the vicinity of the Macon road are in circulation; and it seems that the officials have something definite, as energetic steps have been taken to intercept the force and prevent their succeeding.
We can obtain no information from General Wheeler’s movements. If there is any at headquarters it is not made public, and the silence that is observed is being looked upon as unfavorable, by both the army and the public. There is no doubt, however, of the success of General Wheeler, in interrupting Sherman’s communications, but to what extent cannot as yet be correctly stated.
Shelling the City
A heavy fire was kept up on the city yesterday until evening, when it slackened, and during the night only occasional shells were thrown. A few casualties occurred during the day, but none of a fatal character have been reported to us. One locomotive was damaged slightly—her steampipe having been cut by a passing shell. About three o’clock p.m. it was discovered that the old oil factory was on fire, and, before the flames could be stayed, it was entirely consumed, as were also the dwelling occupied by Messrs. Smith and Shellcross, one large brick building adjoining, and a small frame. We have heard no estimate of the loss sustained.
The Prospect at Atlanta
The Montgomery Advertiser thus speculates upon the situation and prospect at Atlanta:
Sherman has evidently reached the end of his row. He is now where he is unable to advance further, while to retreat will be utter destruction. His flanking operations, that proved so successful from Dalton to the Chattahoochee river, are no longer available. Hood has defeated his every attempt to get around Atlanta, or take possession of that city. A campaign of nearly four months has not secured to Sherman the object for which he set out.
Two weeks ago General Wheeler, with several thousand picked cavalrymen, was sent to Sherman’s rear. It promises great results; indeed, already advices come of the damage they have inflicted against the enemy’s communication. The road is destroyed from Acworth on to Dalton, the bridges burned and trains captured. Sherman’s supplies are cut off temporarily at least. Our dispatch, too, from Atlanta, received Monday night, says the enemy is undoubtedly on “half rations.” Reports had reached us previously that Sherman had accumulated a month’s supply at Marietta. If his army is reduced to half rations, however, Wheeler has rendered his situation hopeless by interrupting his communication long enough to compel a movement in front or rear, either of which will be disastrous. Hood’s army is able to take care of him if he attempts our breastworks or to move around Atlanta. Wheeler will keep his lines of supply broken. Everything, then, we know of the situation in Atlanta is favorable to our cause. Sherman is now reduced to the alternatives of attacking our army in its strong works of defense, or commencing a retreat which we can make nearly as disastrous as Napoleon’s retreat from Moscow. He cannot stay in his present position. Ere this month closes, too, he must choose one or the other, or both alternatives.
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