On this day in 1864, Union General William T. Sherman launches a major attack on Confederate General Joseph Johnston’s army at the Battle of Kennesaw Mountain in Georgia.
Beginning in early May, Sherman began a slow advance down the 100-mile corridor from Chattanooga, Tennessee, to Atlanta, refraining from making any large-scale assaults. The campaign was marked by many smaller battles and constant skirmishes but no decisive encounters. Johnston was losing ground, but he was also buying time for the Confederates. With Sherman frustrated in Georgia, and Ulysses S. Grant unable to knock out Robert E. Lee’s army in Virginia, the Union war effort was stalled, casualty rates were high, and the re-election of President Abraham Lincoln appeared unlikely.
In the days leading up to the assault at Kennesaw Mountain, Sherman tried to flank Johnston. Since one of Johnston’s generals, John Bell Hood, attacked at Kolb’s Farm, Georgia, and lost 1,500 precious Confederate soldiers, Sherman believed that Johnston’s line was stretched thin and that an assault would break the Rebels. So he changed his tactics and planned a move against the center of the Confederate lines around Kennesaw Mountain. He feigned attacks on both of Johnston’s flanks, then hurled 8,000 men at the Confederate center. It was a disaster. Entrenched Southerners bombarded the Yankees, who were attacking uphill. Three thousand Union troops fell, compared with just 500 Confederates.
The battle was only a marginal Confederate victory. Sherman remained in place for four more days, but one of the decoy attacks on the Confederate flanks did, in fact, place the Union troops in a position to cut into Johnston’s rear. On July 2, Johnston had to vacate his Kennesaw Mountain lines and retreat toward Atlanta. Sherman followed, and the slow campaign lurched on into the Georgia summer.