July 20, 1864
On July 17, 1864, Confederate G. Joseph E. Johnston received from President Jefferson Davis a telegram replacing him as commander of the Army of Tennessee with Gen. John Bell Hood. The Rebel army had again been forced to retreat by Union Gen. William T. Sherman’s skillful maneuvering. This time, the retreat was across Peachtree Creek and into the fortifications defending Atlanta, Ga., just three miles away. Davis did not believe that Johnston was aggressive enough to save the Southern city. Regarding the change to Hood, the Whig, a Richmond newspaper said, “The army and the people all have confidence in his ability and his inclination to fight, and will look to him to drive back Sherman and save Atlanta.”
Sherman also welcomed the change in commanders, saying he “inferred that the change of commanders meant fight. This was just what we wanted . . . to fight in open ground, on anything like equal terms, instead of being forced to run up against prepared entrenchments.”
Hood was expected to fight and he would, aggressively and soon. He quickly got his forces into position to attack one wing of Sherman’s army as it crossed Peachtree Creek north of Atlanta. That wing, the Union Army of the Cumberland, was commanded by Gen. George Thomas, whose nickname, “the Rock of Chickamauga,” was earned by skillful defensive fighting.
Shortly after 3:00 P.M. on July 20, Hood sent 19,000 of his gray clad soldiers into the valley of Peachtree Creek. The battle raged until 6:30, and was marked by courageous Rebel charges into the mouths of belching cannon and rifles — charges that Johnston would never have asked the men to make. They were slaughtered. Hood lost 4,796 men; Thomas, with about the same number engaged, lost only 1,779. Hood was not deterred — and this was just the beginning.
Fascinating Fact: Hood adopted the plan Johnston had prepared for attacking Thomas. Had Johnston not been relieved, the attack might have been more successful; the change in command delayed the battle long enough for Thomas to move most of his men across the creek.