American Civil War : War in the West, 1863-1865

Tullahoma to Atlanta

William T. Sherman during the Civil War
National Archives & Records Administration

The Tullahoma Campaign

As Grant was conducting operations against Vicksburg, the American Civil War in the West continued in Tennessee. In June, after pausing in Murfreesboro for nearly six months, Maj. Gen. William Rosecrans began moving against Gen. Braxton Bragg's Army of Tennessee at Tullahoma, TN. Conducting a brilliant campaign of maneuver, Rosecrans was able to turn Bragg out of several defensive positions, forcing him to abandon Chattanooga and driving him from the state.

Battle of Chickamauga

Reinforced by Lt. Gen. James Longstreet's corps from the Army of Northern Virginia and a division from Mississippi, Bragg laid a trap for Rosecrans in the hills of northwestern Georgia. Advancing south, the Union general encountered Bragg's army at Chickamauga on September 18, 1863. Fighting began in earnest the following day when Union Maj. Gen. George H. Thomas attacked Confederate troops on his front. For most of the day, fighting surged up and down the lines with each side attacking and counterattacking.

On the morning of the 20th, Bragg attempted to flank Thomas' position at Kelly Field, with little success. In response to the failed attacks, he ordered a general assault on the Union lines. Around 11:00 AM, confusion led to a gap opening in the Union line as units were shifted to support Thomas. As Maj. Gen. Alexander McCook was attempting to plug the gap, Longstreet's corps attacked, exploiting the hole and routing the right wing of Rosecrans' army. Retreating with his men, Rosecrans departed the field leaving Thomas in command. Too heavily engaged to withdrawal, Thomas consolidated his corps around Snodgrass Hill and Horseshoe Ridge. From these positions his troops beat off numerous Confederate assaults before falling back under the cover of darkness. This heroic defense earned Thomas the moniker "The Rock of Chickamauga." In the fighting, Rosecrans suffered 16,170 casualties, while Bragg's army incurred 18,454.

Siege of Chattanooga

Stunned by the defeat at Chickamauga, Rosecrans retreated all the way back to Chattanooga. Bragg followed and occupied the high ground around the city effectively putting the Army of the Cumberland under siege. To the west, Maj. Gen. Ulysses S. Grant was resting with his army near Vicksburg. On October 17, he was given command of the Military Division of the Mississippi and control of all Union armies in the West. Moving quickly, Grant replaced Rosecrans with Thomas and worked to reopen supply lines to Chattanooga. This done, he shifted 40,000 men under Maj. Gens. William T. Sherman and Joseph Hooker east to reinforce the city. As Grant was pouring troops into the area, Bragg numbers were reduced when Longstreet's corps was ordered away for a campaign around Knoxville, TN.

Battle of Chattanooga

On November 24, 1863, Grant began operations to drive Bragg's army away from Chattanooga. Attacking at dawn, Hooker's men drove Confederate forces from Lookout Mountain south of the city. Fighting in this area ended around 3:00 PM when ammunition ran low and a heavy fog enveloped the mountain, earning the fight the nickname "Battle Above the Clouds." At the other end of the line, Sherman advanced taking Billy Goat Hill at the north end of the Confederate position.

The following day, Grant planned for Hooker and Sherman to flank Bragg's line, allowing Thomas to advance up the face of Missionary Ridge in the center. As the day progressed, the flank attacks became bogged down. Feeling that Bragg was weakening his center to reinforce his flanks, Grant ordered Thomas' men to move forward to assault the three lines of Confederate trenches on the ridge. After securing the first line, they were pinned down by fire from the remaining two. Rising up, Thomas' men, without orders, pressed on up the slope, chanting "Chickamauga! Chickamauga!" and broke the center of Bragg's lines. With no choice, Bragg ordered the army to retreat back to Dalton, GA. As a result of his defeat, President Jefferson Davis relieved Bragg and replaced him with Gen. Joseph E. Johnston.

Changes in Command

In March 1964, President Abraham Lincoln promoted Grant to lieutenant general and placed him in supreme command of all Union armies. Departing Chattanooga, Grant turned over command to Maj. Gen. William T. Sherman. A long-time and trusted subordinate of Grant's, Sherman immediately made plans for driving on Atlanta. His command consisted of three armies which were to operate in concert: the Army of the Tennessee, under Maj. Gen. James B. McPherson, the Army of the Cumberland, under Maj. Gen. George H. Thomas, and the Army of the Ohio, under Maj. Gen. John M. Schofield.

The Campaign for Atlanta

Moving southeast with 98,000 men, Sherman first encountered Johnston's 65,000-man army near Rocky Face Gap in northwest Georgia. Maneuvering around Johnston's position, Sherman next met the Confederates at Resaca on May 13, 1864. After failing to break Johnston's defenses outside the town, Sherman again marched around his flank and forced the Confederates to fall back. Through the remainder of May, the Sherman steadily maneuvered Johnston back towards Atlanta with battles occurring at Adairsville, New Hope Church, Dallas, and Marietta. On June 27, with the roads too muddy to steal a march on the Confederates, Sherman attempted to attack their positions near Kennesaw Mountain. Repeated assaults failed to take the Confederate entrenchments and Sherman's men fell back. By July 1, the roads had improved allowing Sherman to again move around Johnston's flank, dislodging him from his entrenchments.

The Battles for Atlanta

On July 17, 1864, tired of Johnston's constant retreats, President Jefferson Davis gave command of the Army of Tennessee to the aggressive Lt. Gen. John Bell Hood. The new commander's first move was to attack Thomas' army near Peachtree Creek, northeast of Atlanta. Several determined assaults struck the Union lines, but were ultimately all repulsed. Hood next withdrew his forces to the inner defenses of the city hoping Sherman would follow and open himself up to attack. On July 22, Hood assaulted McPherson's Army of the Tennessee on the Union left. After the attack achieved initial success, rolling up the Union line, it was stopped by massed artillery and counterattacks. McPherson was killed in the fighting and replaced with Maj. Gen. Oliver O. Howard.

Unable to penetrate the Atlanta defenses from the north and east, Sherman moved to the west of the city but was blocked by the Confederates at Ezra Church on July 28. Sherman next decided to force Hood from Atlanta by cutting the railroads and supply lines into the city. Pulling almost of his forces from around the city, Sherman marched on Jonesborough to the south. On August 31, Confederate troops attacked the Union position but were easily driven away. The next day Union troops counterattacked and broke through the Confederate lines. As his men fell back, Hood realized that the cause was lost and began evacuating Atlanta on the night of September 1. His army retreated west towards Alabama. In the campaign, Sherman's armies suffered 31,687 casualties, while the Confederates under Johnston and Hood had 34,979.

Battle of Mobile Bay

As Sherman was closing in on Atlanta, the US Navy was conducting operations against Mobile, AL. Led by Rear Admiral David G. Farragut, fourteen wooden warships and four monitors ran past Forts Morgan and Gaines at the mouth of Mobile Bay and attacked the ironclad CSS Tennessee and three gunboats. In doing so, they passed near a torpedo (mine) field, which claimed the monitor USS Tecumseh. Seeing the monitor sink, the ships in front of Farragut's flagship paused, causing him to famously exclaim "Damn the torpedoes! Full speed ahead!" Pressing on into the bay, his fleet captured CSS Tennessee and closed the port to Confederate shipping. The victory, coupled with the fall of Atlanta, greatly aided Lincoln in his reelection campaign that November.

Franklin & Nashville Campaign

While Sherman rested his army at Atlanta, Hood planned a new campaign designed to cut the Union supply lines back to Chattanooga. He moved west into Alabama hoping to draw Sherman into following, before turning north towards Tennessee. To counter Hood's movements, Sherman dispatched Thomas and Schofield back north to protect Nashville. Marching separately, Thomas arrived first. Hood seeing that the Union forces were divided, moved to defeat them before they could concentrate.

Battle of Franklin

On November 29, Hood nearly trapped Schofield's force near Spring Hill, TN, but the Union general was able to extricate his men from the trap and reach Franklin. Upon arriving they occupied fortifications on the outskirts of town. Hood arrived the following day and launched a massive frontal assault on the Union lines. Sometimes referred to as the "Pickett's Charge of the West," the attack was repulsed with heavy casualties and six Confederate generals dead.

Battle of Nashville

The victory at Franklin allowed Schofield to reach Nashville and rejoin Thomas. Hood, despite the wounded condition of his army, pursued and arrived outside the city on December 2. Safe in the city's defenses, Thomas slowly prepared for the upcoming battle. Under tremendous pressure from Washington to finish off Hood, Thomas finally attacked on December 15. Following two days of assaults, Hood's army crumbled and dissolved, effectively destroyed as a fighting force.

Sherman's March to the Sea

With Hood occupied in Tennessee, Sherman planned his campaign to take Savannah. Believing the Confederacy would only surrender if its capacity for making war was destroyed, Sherman ordered his troops to conduct a total scorched earth campaign, destroying everything in their path. Departing Atlanta on November 15, the army advanced in two columns under Maj. Gens. Henry Slocum and Oliver O. Howard. After cutting a swath across Georgia, Sherman arrived outside of Savannah on December 10. Making contact with the US Navy, he demanded the city's surrender. Rather than capitulate, Lt. Gen. William J. Hardee evacuated the city and fled north with the garrison. After occupying the city, Sherman telegraphed Lincoln, "I beg to present you as a Christmas gift the City of Savannah..."

The Carolinas Campaign and the Final Surrender

With Savannah captured, Grant issued orders for Sherman to bring his army north to aid in the siege of Petersburg. Rather than travel by sea, Sherman proposed marching overland, laying waste to the Carolinas along the way. Grant approved and Sherman's 60,000-man army moved out in January 1865, with the goal of capturing Columbia, SC. As Union troops entered South Carolina, the first state to secede, no mercy was given. Facing Sherman was a reconstituted army under his old adversary, Joseph E. Johnston, who seldom had more than 15,000 men. On February 10, Federal troops entered Columbia and burned everything of military value.

Pushing north, Sherman's forces encountered Johnston's small army at Bentonville, NC on March 19. The Confederates launched five attacks against the Union line to no avail. On the 21st, Johnston broke off contact and retreated towards Raleigh. Pursuing the Confederates, Sherman finally compelled Johnston to agree to an armistice at Bennett Place near Durham Station, NC on April 17. After negotiating surrender terms, Johnston capitulated on the 26th. Coupled with Gen. Robert E. Lee's surrender on the 9th, the surrender effectively ended the Civil War.

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Your Citation
Hickman, Kennedy. "American Civil War : War in the West, 1863-1865." ThoughtCo, Feb. 16, 2021, Hickman, Kennedy. (2021, February 16). American Civil War : War in the West, 1863-1865. Retrieved from Hickman, Kennedy. "American Civil War : War in the West, 1863-1865." ThoughtCo. (accessed June 9, 2023).