American Civil War: Battle of Peachtree Creek

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Lieutenant General John B. Hood. Photograph Courtesy of the National Archives & Records Administration

Battle of Peachtree Creek - Conflict & Date:

The Battle of Peachtree Creek was fought July 20, 1864, during the American Civil War (1861-1865).

Armies & Commanders

Union

Confederate

Battle of Peachtree Creek - Background:

Late July 1864 found Major General William T. Sherman's forces approaching Atlanta in pursuit of General Joseph E. Johnston's Army of Tennessee.

Assessing the situation, Sherman planned to push Major General George H. Thomas' Army of the Cumberland across the Chattahoochee River with the goal of pinning Johnston in place. This would allow Major General James B. McPherson's Army of the Tennessee and Major General John Schofield's Army of the Ohio to shift east to Decatur where they could sever the Georgia Railroad. Once done, this combined force would advance on Atlanta. Having retreated through much of northern Georgia, Johnston had earned the ire of Confederate President Jefferson Davis. Concerned about his general's willingness to fight, he dispatched his military advisor, General Braxton Bragg, to Georgia to assess the situation.

Arriving on July 13, Bragg began sending a series of discouraging reports north to Richmond. Three days later, Davis requested that Johnston send him details regarding his plans for defending Atlanta.

Unhappy with the general's noncommittal reply, Davis resolved to relieve him and replace him with the offensively-minded Lieutenant General John Bell Hood. As orders for Johnston's relief were sent south, Sherman's men began crossing the Chattahoochee. Anticipating that Union troops would attempt to cross Peachtree Creek north of the city, Johnston made plans for a counterattack.

Learning of the command change on the night of July 17, Hood and Johnston telegraphed Davis and requested that it be delayed until after the coming battle. This was refused and Hood assumed command.

Battle of Peachtree Creek - Hood's Plan:

On July 19, Hood learned from his cavalry that McPherson and Schofield were advancing on Decatur while Thomas' men marched south and were starting to cross Peachtree Creek. Recognizing that a wide gap existed between the two wings of Sherman's army, he resolved to attack Thomas with the goal of driving the Army of the Cumberland back against Peachtree Creek and the Chattahoochee. Once it was destroyed, Hood would shift east to defeat McPherson and Schofield. Meeting with his generals that night, he directed the corps of Lieutenant Generals Alexander P. Stewart and William J. Hardee to deploy opposite Thomas while Major General Benjamin Cheatham's corps and Major General Joseph Wheeler's cavalry covered the approaches from Decatur.

Battle of Peachtree Creek - A Change of Plans:

Though a sound plan, Hood's intelligence proved faulty as McPherson and Schofield were in Decatur as opposed to advancing against it. As a result, late in the morning of July 20 Wheeler came under pressure from McPherson's men as the Union troops moved down the Atlanta-Decatur Road.

Receiving a request for aid, Cheatham shifted his corps to the right to block McPherson and support Wheeler. This movement also required Stewart and Hardee to move to the right which delayed their attack by several hours. Ironically, this sidestep right worked to the Confederate advantage as it moved most of Hardee's men beyond Thomas' left flank and positioned Stewart to attack Major General Joseph Hooker's mostly unentrenched XX Corps (Map).

Battle of Peachtree Creek - Opportunity Missed:

Advancing around 4:00 PM, Hardee's men quickly ran into trouble. While Major General William Bate's division on the Confederate right became lost in the Peachtree Creek bottomlands, Major General W.H.T. Walker's men assaulted Union troops led by Brigadier General John Newton. In a series of piecemeal attacks, Walker's men were repeatedly repulsed by Newton's division.

On Hardee's left, Cheatham's Division, led by Brigadier General George Maney, made little headway against Newton's right. Further west, Stewart's corps slammed into Hooker's men who were caught without entrenchments and not fully deployed. Though pressing the attack, the divisions of Major Generals William Loring and Edward Walthall lacked the strength to break through XX Corps (Map).

Though Hooker's corps began strengthening their position, Stewart was unwilling to surrender the initiative. Contacting Hardee, he requested that new efforts be made on the Confederate right. Responding, Hardee directed Major General Patrick Cleburne to advance against the Union line. While Cleburne's men were pressing forward to prepare their attack, Hardee received word from Hood that Wheeler's situation to the east had become desperate. As a result, Cleburne's assault was cancelled and his division marched to Wheeler's aid. With this action, the fighting along Peachtree Creek came to an end.

Battle of Peachtree Creek - Aftermath:

In the fighting at Peachtree Creek, Hood suffered 2,500 killed and wounded while Thomas incurred around 1,900. Operating with McPherson and Schofield, Sherman did not learn of the battle until midnight. In the wake of the fighting, Hood and Stewart expressed disappointment with Hardee's performance feeling that had his corps fought as hard Loring and Walthall the day would have been won. Though more aggressive than his predecessor, Hood had nothing to show for his losses. Quickly recovering, he began planning to strike at Sherman's other flank. Shifting troops east, Hood attacked Sherman two days later at the Battle of Atlanta. Though another Confederate defeat, it resulted in the death of McPherson.

Selected Sources