On this day, Union troops secure a crucial pass during the Atlanta campaign. In the spring and summer of 1864, Union General William T. Sherman and Confederate General Joseph Johnston conducted a slow and methodical campaign to seize control of Atlanta. Pushing southeast from Chattanooga, Tennessee, toward Atlanta, Sherman continually tried to flank Johnston, but Johnston countered each move. On May 3, 1864, two of Sherman’s corps moved against Confederate defenses at Dalton, Georgia, while another Yankee force under James McPherson swung wide to the south and west of Dalton in an attempt to approach Johnston from the rear. It was along this path that McPherson captured Snake Creek Gap, a crucial opening in a long elevation called Rocky Face Ridge.
Seizure of the strategic pass was a brilliant Union move, as Rocky Face Ridge served as a key geographic feature for Johnston and his army. It was a barrier against Sherman’s army that could neutralize the superior numbers of Federal troops. When the Yankees captured the gap, Johnston had to pull his men much further south where the terrain did not offer such advantages. However, securing Snake Creek Gap also resulted in the Union missing another opportunity. McPherson had a chance to cut directly into the Confederate rear but encountered what he judged to be strong Rebel defenses at Resaca. Union troops reached the Western and Atlantic Railroad, Johnston’s supply line, but they did not have adequate numbers to hold the railroad, and did not have enough time to cut the line. McPherson halted his advance on Resaca and fell back to the mouth of Snake Creek Gap, causing Sherman to complain for years later that McPherson was timid and had lost the chance to route the Confederates. The campaign would eventually be successful, but the failure to secure or destroy the Confederate supply line prolonged the campaign, possibly by months.