August 4

This Day in History

Civil War

Aug 4, 1864:

Union generals squabble outside of Atlanta

A Union operation against Confederate defenses around Atlanta, Georgia, stalls when infighting erupts between Yankee generals.

The problem arose when Union General William T. Sherman began stretching his force—consisting of the Army of the Ohio, the Army of the Tennessee, and the Army of the Cumberland—west of Ezra Church, the site of a major battle on July 28, to Utoy Creek, west of Atlanta. The Confederate army inside of Atlanta, commanded by General John Bell Hood, had attacked Sherman's army three times in late July and could no longer mount an offensive operation. Sherman now moved General John Schofield, who commanded the Army of the Ohio, from the east side of Atlanta to the west in an attempt to cut the rail lines that supplied the city from the south and west. Schofield's force arrived at Utoy Creek on August 3.

The Army of the Cumberland's Fourteenth Corps, commanded by General John Palmer, had also been sent by Sherman to assist Schofield. But on August 4, the operation came to a standstill because Palmer refused to accept orders from anyone but General George Thomas, commander of the Army of the Cumberland. Although Schofield was the director of the operation, Palmer felt that Schofield was his junior. The two men had been promoted to major general on the same day in 1862, but Schofield's appointment had expired four months later. Schofield had been reappointed with his original date of promotion, November 29, 1862, but Palmer insisted that the reappointment placed Schofield behind him in seniority.

Agreeing only to relay Schofield's order to his division commanders, Palmer refused even to accept Sherman's orders. On August 5, Sherman declared that Schofield was senior to Palmer, upon which Palmer resigned and returned to his Illinois home. The delay provided the Confederates ample time to extend their defenses and protect their western rail links.

An example of how generals' egos could be both large and fragile, the incident would be laughable if it were not for the event's consequences. When the Yankees attacked on August 6, they suffered 300 casualties, which might have been prevented if the squabble had not occurred.

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