General John Hood’s first battle in command of the Confederate army defending Atlanta against General Sherman (American Civil War). Hood had been appointed to command the army late on 17 July, replaced General Joseph Johnston, whose strategy of trading time for space had not been popular in the Confederacy.
Sherman later stated that he welcomed Hood’s appointment, expecting him to come out of his lines and give Sherman’s larger army the chance to defeat the Confederates on an open field. However, Hood’s first attack was actually based on a plan of Johnston’s.
As Sherman approached the city, he sent General McPherson on a flanking move to the left, to cut Atlanta’s rail link to the upper South (the Carolinas and Virginia). His second army, under General Schofield, followed a little further right. This left General Thomas’s Army of the Cumberland isolated two miles west of Schofield. Hood hoped to catch Thomas while he was crossing Peachtree Creek, which runs from west to east just north of Atlanta.
On 20 July two Confederate corps (Hardee’s and Alexander P. Stewart’s) launched the attack. However, by the time the attack started (3 in the afternoon) Thomas was already securely across the creek. If there was one thing Thomas was good at, it was defence (he had earned fame as the ‘Rock of Chickamauga’ where he had prevented a total Union rout).
The Confederate attack succeeded in throwing back parts of the Union line, but in each case the situation was soon restored. The two sides were roughly equal in number. The fighting continued for four hours across the afternoon. It only ended when Hood was forced to shift men to the eastern defences of Atlanta, to oppose McPherson’s army, which was now approaching the city.
Confederate losses in the attack were heavy – 2,500 dead and wounded, compared to only 1,600 in Thomas’s army. Nor had the attack succeeded in its objectives. Sherman had been able to maintain his movement around the city. Thomas had not been thrown back. Hood’s first offensive move had failed. Not to be put off that easily, two days later Hood would launch a second attack (Battle of Atlanta).