A Warfare of Giants: The Battle for Atlanta, July 22, 1864

Stewart L. Bennett


Although the Atlanta Campaign was fought from early May until September 2, this battle on July 22, 1864 would be the last best hope of the Confederacy to block Sherman's thrust and win a major victory in the western theater. The Battle for Atlanta also set the tone for how the rest of the campaign would be fought. If Confederate forces could destroy a portion of Sherman's army and cause him to regroup North across the Chattahoochee River, it could buy time for the Confederacy. A Confederate victory might also help swing votes for the Peace Democrats in the North causing significant problems for the re-election of President Lincoln. For the South, a Democratic win over Lincoln could change the face of negotiations with the Confederacy and possibly swell Confederate military enlistments. Lee's beleaguered army, held up around Richmond, Virginia, might also feel this momentum shift, strengthening the hope of Lee's troops and renewing their faith in the southern cause. This dissertation offers a narrative of the military operations of both armies and examines the ramifications of the Battle for Atlanta by carefully reconstructing the Union and Confederate actions of the 20 and the 21 of July culminating in the great Battle for Atlanta. This work also analyzes troop movements and actions that made up much of the battle, while also examining controversies and events which led to specific, and at times, unexpected outcomes for both armies and the battle. The dissertation will also separate this battle from the others around Atlanta while treating it as part of the campaign. The dissertation concludes by arguing that the battle on July 22 was the deciding factor for who would win Atlanta and the campaign. The Confederate loss revealed that the taking of Atlanta by Sherman's armies was now only a question of time. Confederate strategy for the day's battle had some merit; however, poor planning, poor preparation, and questionable execution, coupled with the tenacity and experience of the Union Army of the Tennessee, proved too costly for Confederate recovery.