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The Battle of Atlanta
by Randy Golden
exclusively for About North Georgia
Atlanta
July 22, 1864
Estimated casualties: 12,140 (3,641 Union, 8,499 Confederate)

Map of the battle of Atlanta
Map of the battle of Atlanta
Before the battle of Peach Tree Creek, north of the city of Atlanta, General William Tecumseh Sherman ordered his men to advance towards Atlanta. Formed in a semi-circle around the north and east of the Georgia city, they began pressure young John Bell Hood, new commander of the Army of Tennessee (more). Moving towards Atlanta from the east, General Francis Blair spotted a high ridge known as "Bald Hill" and ordered Mortimer Leggett to take the hill. A charge on July 20, 1864 failed to move Patrick Cleburne's crack troops. The following day, however, Manning Force's brigade successfully gained control of the ridge and immediately dug in, moving artillery to the top of hill. Although artillery shot had reached Atlanta earlier, from this position the Union forces could fire into the town center. Sherman and much of his staff believed that the battle for Atlanta was over.

Forward federal lines began observing large-scale troop and civilian movements within the city. This was only further proof that Hood was withdrawing from his position, no matter how well Lemuel P. Grant had built the defenses. What the Union troops were witnessing was not a withdrawal. General William "Old Reliable" Hardee began a wide swing around the Union flank to attack the rapidly entrenching Army of the Tennessee from the south. Hardee, a swarthy Cajun, was well-respected by both the Union and Confederate commanders.

Unfortunately, the scene of the battle has been completely destroyed. Using present-day landmarks, the battle stretched from just south of the Carter Center to the intersection of Moreland Avenue and I-20. From here it formed an arc to Glenwood Avenue finally ending up in the vicinity of Memorial Drive and Clay Street, almost to the site of Jesse Clay's house. Bald Hill is part of a ridge along which Moreland Avenue runs. The "hill" portion of the ridge runs north of I-20 and a few feet east of the present-day road. As soon as the hill was taken Union soldiers renamed it Leggett's Hill, after their commander. This name is still used today. For complete information on visiting the battlefield, please see Roadside Georgia's Along the road in Georgia:Revisiting the Battle of Atlanta.

Time was a factor that was in favor of the Union commanders. Hardee, behind schedule in his forced march, turned north too early, running headlong into Granville Dodge's XVI Corps on the left flank of the Army of the Tennessee. Confederate General W. H. T. Walker, who had moved forward to observe the field of battle was picked off by a sniper before the start of fighting. Early Confederate advances pushed Union soldiers back along the line of Hardee's attack.

During the fighting the Union troops pulled back across a wide front. A gap in the lines misled Union General James McPherson, commander of the Army of the Tennessee, into a group of Confederate soldiers. Upon realizing his mistake the general doffed his hat, reversed direction and rode off at a gallop. A Confederate enlisted man quickly fired and McPherson fell from his horse, mortally wounded.

The left flank (southern end) of the Union forces recoiled from the withering attack of General Hardee's Corps. For a few minutes it appeared that the Confederates might win the battle. However, the tenacity of Grenville Dodge's XVI Corps saved the day as they finally formed and held a line.

From the Rebel entrenchments looking east towards Leggett's Hill
Unaware that Union forces had successfully stabilized their line, Hood launched a secondary attack to the north at about 4:00pm, in the vicinity of the Decatur Road (now Dekalb Avenue). The advancing Rebels overpowered artillery in the area, coming into possession of 2 Parrott rifled cannon. These heavy weapons cannot move without horses, so the horses are killed by the Union soldiers before the retreat. The Rebels who took the hill immediately turn the cannon on the retreating bluecoats.

Well-placed artillery fire, directed by General Sherman himself helps turn back the Rebel onslaught. General John "Blackjack" Logan is not prepared to let the guns fall into enemy hands and leads a charge to retake the hill near the Troup-Hurt House. To the south Hood's men briefly battle at the top of Leggett's Hill, at an extremely heavy cost.

With the line stabilized and losses mounting to an unacceptable level, Hood called off the attack.
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