American Civil War: Battle of Jonesboro (Jonesborough)

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Lieutenant General William J. Hardee. Photograph Courtesy of the Library of Congress

Battle of Jonesboro - Conflict & Dates:

The Battle of Jonesboro was fought August 31-September 1, 1864, during the American Civil War (1861-1865).

Armies & Commanders

Union

Confederates

Battle of Jonesboro - Background:

Advancing south from Chattanooga in May 1864, Major General William T. Sherman sought to capture the vital Confederate rail hub at Atlanta, GA. Opposed by Confederate forces, he reached the city in July after a protracted campaign in northern Georgia. Defending Atlanta, General John Bell Hood fought three battles with Sherman late in the month at Peachtree CreekAtlanta, and Ezra Church, before retiring into the city's fortifications. Unwilling to launch frontal assaults against prepared defenses, Sherman's forces assumed positions west, north, and east of the city and worked to cut it off from resupply.

This perceived inaction, along with Lieutenant General Ulysses S. Grant being stalled at Petersburg, began to damage Union morale and led some to fear that President Abraham Lincoln could be defeated in the November election. Assessing the situation, Sherman decided to make efforts to sever the sole remaining railroad into Atlanta, the Macon & Western. Departing the city, the Macon & Western Railroad ran south to Eastpoint where the Atlanta & West Point Railroad split off while the main line continued to and through Jonesboro (Jonesborough).

Battle of Jonesboro - The Union Plan:

To accomplish this goal, Sherman directed the majority of his forces to pull out of their positions and move around Atlanta to the west before falling upon the Macon & Western south of the city. Only Major General Henry Slocum's XX Corps was to remain north of Atlanta with orders to guard the railroad bridge over the Chattahoochee River and protect the Union lines of communication. The massive Union movement began on August 25 and saw Major General Oliver O. Howard's Army of the Tennessee march with orders to strike the railroad at Jonesboro (Map).

Battle of Jonesboro - Hood Responds:

As Howard's men moved out, Major General George H. Thomas' Army of the Cumberland and Major General John Schofield's Army of the Ohio were tasked with cutting the railroad farther north. On August 26, Hood was surprised to find the majority of the Union entrenchments around Atlanta empty. Two days later, Union troops reached the Atlanta & West Point and began pulling up the tracks. Initially believing this to be a diversion, Hood disregarded the Union efforts until reports began to reach him of a sizable Union force south of the city.

As Hood sought to clarify the situation, Howard's men reached the Flint River near Jonesboro. Brushing aside a force of Confederate cavalry, they crossed the river and assumed a strong position on heights overlooking the Macon & Western Railroad. Surprised by the speed of his advance, Howard halted his command to consolidate and allow his men to rest. Receiving reports of the Howard's position, Hood immediately ordered Lieutenant General William Hardee to take his corps and that of Lieutenant General Stephen D. Lee south to Jonesboro to dislodge the Union troops and protect the railroad.

Battle of Jonesboro - The Fighting Begins:

Arriving through the night of August 31, Union interference along the railroad prevented Hardee from being ready to attack until around 3:30 PM. Opposing the Confederate commander were Major General John Logan's XV Corps which faced east and Major General Thomas Ransom's XVI Corps which angled back from the Union right. Due to the delays in the Confederate advance, both Union corps had time to fortify their positions. For the assault, Hardee directed Lee to attack Logan's line while Major General Patrick Cleburne led his corps against Ransom.

Pressing forward, Cleburne's force advanced on Ransom but the attack began to stall when his lead division came under fire from Union cavalry led by Brigadier General Judson Kilpatrick. Regaining some momentum, Cleburne had some success and captured two Union guns before being forced to halt. To the north, Lee's Corps moved forward against Logan's earthworks. While some units attacked and took heavy losses before being repulsed, others, knowing the near-futility of assaulting fortifications directly, failed to fully join in the effort.

Battle of Jonesboro - The Confederate Defeat:

Forced to pull back, Hardee's command suffered around 2,200 casualties while Union losses numbered only 172. As Hardee was being repulsed at Jonesboro, the Union XXIII, IV, and XIV Corps reached the railroad north of Jonesboro and south of Rough and Ready. As they severed the railroad and telegraph wires, Hood realized his only remaining option was to evacuate Atlanta. Planning to depart after dark on September 1, Hood ordered Lee's Corps to return to the city to protect against a Union attack from the south. Left at Jonesboro, Hardee was to hold out and cover the retreat of the army.

Assuming a defensive position near the town, Hardee's line faced west while his right flank bent back toward to the east. On September 1, Sherman directed Major General David Stanley to take IV Corps south along the railroad, unite with Major General Jefferson C. Davis' XIV Corps, and together aid Logan in crushing Hardee. Initially both were to destroy the railroad as they progressed but upon learning that Lee had departed, Sherman directed them to advance as quickly as possible. Arriving on the battlefield, Davis' corps assumed as position on Logan's left. Directing operations, Sherman ordered Davis to attack around 4:00 PM even through Stanley's men were still arriving.

Though an initial attack was turned back, subsequent assaults by Davis' men opened a breach in the Confederate lines. As Sherman did not order Howard's Army of the Tennessee to attack, Hardee was able to shift troops to seal this gap and prevent IV Corps from turning his flank. Desperately holding out until nightfall, Hardee withdrew south towards Lovejoy's Station.

Battle of Jonesboro - Aftermath:

The Battle of Jonesboro cost Confederate forces around 3,000 casualties while Union losses numbered around 1,149. As Hood had evacuated the city during the night, Slocum's XX Corps was able to enter Atlanta on September 2. Pursuing Hardee south to Lovejoy's, Sherman learned of the city's fall the next day. Unwilling to attack the strong position that Hardee had prepared, Union troops returned to Atlanta. Telegraphing Washington, Sherman stated, "Atlanta is ours, and fairly won."

The fall of Atlanta provided a massive boost to Northern morale and played a key role in ensuring the reelection of Abraham Lincoln. Beaten, Hood embarked on a campaign into Tennessee that fall which saw his army effectively destroyed at the Battles of Franklin and Nashville. Having secured Atlanta, Sherman embarked upon his March to the Sea which saw him capture Savannah on December 21.

Selected Sources