Jonesborough (Jonesboro), Georgia
August 31 - September 1, 1864
Estimated casualties: 3,149 (1,149 Union, 2,200 Confederate)
For a month General William Tecumseh Sherman(gallery) had tried to capture Atlanta using cavalry and artillery to no avail. John Bell Hood's Army of Tennessee clung to its lifeline, the Macon and Western Railroad, using it to resupply the Confederate troops in the Gateway City. Two things weighed heavily on Sherman's mind. Lincoln needed a victory prior to the 1864 Presidential election and Sherman needed Atlanta. It would be impossible to achieve his goal of "saltwater" without this Georgia rail hub.
From his position east of the city, Sherman ordered a "grand movement" of troops to the west, then south. Six divisions totaling 60,000+ men were making a semi-circle around the city to small town of Jonesborough, Georgia. By cutting the railroad that Hood depended upon for supplies Sherman hoped to force the well-entrenched Confederates to retreat. With minimal food, clothes and munitions the march began on August 25 and took four days. Only Henry Slocum's XX Corps remained in the vicinity of Atlanta.
Just west of downtown Jonesboro the Flint River afforded the Macon and Western Railroad some semblance of protection. Oliver Howard advanced to the Flint to get water for his thirsty men, crossed the river after a brief struggle with Confederate cavalry and gained the high ground east of the river. Having gained more ground than thought possible, Howard wisely ordered his men to entrench and regroup. The commander of the Confederate cavalry informed Hood that a significant amount of the Union Army was within a couple of miles of the Macon and Western Railroad.
By nightfall on August 30 Confederate troops began to take positions west of Jonesboro, preparing to attack, however, a large force was delayed by advancing Union soldiers north of the city. It would not be until 1:30 pm on the afternoon of August 31 that Hardee and Lee were in place and ready to attack. As Patrick Cleburne advanced and engaged the enemy from the north, S. D. Lee ordered his corps to advance from the west. Disheartened from bloody attempts to take Union entrenchments at Utoy Creek, East Atlanta and Peach Tree Creek, these veterans stopped when they came under heavy fire. Even S. D. Lee wrote "The attack was not made by the troops with that spirit and inflexible determination that would ensure success...The attack was a feeble one and a failure."
Pat Cleburne's attack was more successful than Lee's. In command of Hardee's Corps, the Arkansas Irishman advanced, broke through the outer Union lines and crossed the Flint River, capturing two pieces of artillery. Lee's unsuccessful assault spelled the end to Cleburne's advance, as he had to withdraw to support his brethren in gray.
After the attack of Lee's and Hardee's Corps on the Union entrenchments west of Jonesboro during the afternoon of the 31st, General Hood made a series of errors. Hood sent orders for Hardee to "...return Lee's Corps to this place (Atanta)." Hood knew that the Union trenches were only lightly defended by Slocum's XX Corp's. Additionally, both the commander of the remaining Confederate cavalry and General Hardee himself had informed Hood that significant amounts of Union forces were threatening his rear. With General Joseph Wheeler and his cavalry off disrupting the rear echelons, Hood refused to believe the only reliable reports of troop strength and location that he had and arrogantly reinforced himself.
Hardee faced a logistical nightmare. Sixty thousand Union soldiers were concentrating south of Atlanta, with some of the best forces marching on his position. Ordinance and subsistence trains, hastily sent south for protection from the Atlanta attack envisioned by Hood, only "encumbered" Hardee with additional problems, since they could not travel unescorted because of Union cavalry. The attack was commanded by General Sherman personally. Jonesboro offered no natural defense perimeter and Hardee did not have the time to construct additional defenses. Finally, with the rail lines cut the Confederate Army was preparing to move to Lovejoy [Station] on the Macon and Western Railroad south of Jonesboro, so "Old Reliable" was,
in essence, fighting a rear guard action on September 1st.
Formed in a horseshoe around the tiny hamlet, Hardee's troops now were now fighting for time...the time needed to march two corps of men from Atlanta to Lovejoy Station. Slowly the Union forces advanced towards Hardee's line, and none seemed in a hurry for the encounter. At 4:00pm the first attack came against the entrenched Rebels, barely more than one deep. The onslaught continued, increasing in ferocity as the sunset drew near.
Then, much more quickly than it had started it was over. The Rebel line was overrun, pierced multiple times. Confederate artillery that moments earlier had been firing canister and other forms of death on advancing Bluecoats were given up to the invaders who had not been deterred by the guns of destruction.
Sherman hoped to strike a devastating blow against Hardee by cutting off his line of retreat, but the swarthy Cajun easily outfoxed the red-haired Ohioan and withdrew to a strong position some seven miles south of the city. The battle of Jonesboro was over.
The Civil War in Georgia Beginning with the Great Locomotive Chase and the battle of Chickamauga, to the Atlanta Campaign and the March to the Sea