TIME MACHINE: Battle of Jonesborough



August 31-September 1 marked the 150th anniversary of the Civil War conflict called the Battle of Jonesborough. This conflict, fought over two days, proved to be the last battle of the Atlanta Campaign, which occurred during the summer of 1864. The battle also led to the fall of Atlanta, Georgia and contributed to President Abraham Lincoln‘s re-election in November 1864.

The Atlanta Campaign began following the Union victory at Chattanooga, Tennessee in November 1864. After Ulysses S. Grant was promoted to Lieutenant-General and made commander-in-chief of the entire Union Army in March 1864, he handed over command of the Union troops in the Western Theater to Major-General William Tecumseh Sherman. Sherman led the invasion of Georgia with three armies – Army of the Cumberland under Major-General George Henry Thomas, Major-General James B. McPherson‘s Army of the Tennessee, and Major-General John M. Schofield‘s Army of the Ohio. He fought a lengthy campaign of maneuver through mountainous terrain against the Army of the Tennessee, which was first led by Confederate General Joseph E. Johnston, who was replaced by the more aggressiveGeneral John Bell Hood in July 1864.

Following the Union victory at Battle of Ezra Church on July 28, 1864; Sherman’s forces settled into a siege of Atlanta. The Union and the Confederacy clashed during three more battles before Sherman decided to make a drastic measure to remove Hood’s defense of Atlanta. He decided to cut the Confederates’ railroad supply lines and force the Southern troops to evacuate Atlanta. Sherman moved six of his seven infantry corps against the Confederate supply lines. The Union Army pulled out of its positions on August 25, 1864 and struck the Macon & Western Railroad between Rough and Ready and Jonesborough. To counter the move, Hood sent Lieutenant-General William J. Hardee with two corps to halt and possibly rout the Union troops. Unfortunately, neither Hood or Hardee realized that Sherman’s forces was already there in force.

Then on August 31, Hardee attacked two Union corps west of Jonesborough. He was easily repulsed. Fearing an attack on Atlanta, Hood withdrew one corps from Hardee’s forces that night. The following day, a Union corps broke through Hardee’s line and his troops retreated in good order to Lovejoy’s Station. On the night of September 1, Hood evacuated Atlanta, and ordered the burning of Confederate military supplies and installations. This order caused a great conflagration within the city. Union troops finally entered Atlanta on September 2, 1864 and began occupation of the city. Although Sherman managed to cut Hood’s supply line, he failed to destroy Hardee’s command.

As I had stated earlier, the Battle of Jonesborough proved to be the final battle of the Atlanta Campaign. It caused the besieged city of Atlanta to fall into Union hands. The capture of Atlanta greatly aided the re-election of Abraham Lincoln in early November 1864, and hastened the end of the war. Hood led his defeated army away from Atlanta and to the west. His actions allowed the Union troops to commence upon Sherman’s March to the Sea in mid-November. They also resulted in Hood’s reputation as an aggressive and careless commander and the virtual destruction of his Army of Tennessee during the Franklin-Nashville Campaign.

If you are interested in reading more about the Battle of Jonesborough and the Atlanta Campaign, I recommend the following books:

*“Decision in the West: The Atlanta Campaign of 1864” (1992) by Albert Castel

*“Atlanta 1864: Last Chance for the Confederacy” (2000) by Richard M. McMurry