July 1864 was a curious month in the American Civil War. While it should have been clear that the South was in dire straits militarily, a rumour went round Washington that the capital was about to be attacked. In reality this was never an option open to Lee at this time. However, the panic in the city served Lee well. Sherman continued his relentless march to Atlanta.
July 1st: President Lincoln appointed Senator William Pitt Fessenden as Secretary of the Treasury. Though Fessenden was reluctant to take up the position, he soon proved to be a very good choice.
July 2nd: Lee ordered that Confederate troops had to destroy the Baltimore to Ohio railway. If this was successful, it would greatly hinder the movement of Union troops should they be required to defend the capital.
July 3rd: Washington DC was awash with rumours that the South was about to launch an attack on it; the numbers talked about were grossly inflated but this would have fitted in with Lee’s desire to destroy the Ohio-Baltimore railway.
Having outflanked his opponents, Sherman’s force was actually nearer to Atlanta than Southern troops. This forced the South’s commander in the area, Johnston, to make a hasty withdrawal so that Atlanta was better protected. Johnston set up his line of defence along the Chattahoochee River.
July 5th: Panic ensued in Washington DC as many believed that the city was just about to be attacked.
Lincoln suspended habeas corpus in Kentucky, as he believed that the South was receiving too much help from the state’s citizens. Martial law was introduced throughout the state.
July 6th: Thousands of Union troops were rushed to Washington. This is what Lee had hoped for as it relieved the pressure on his army.
July 7th: General Johnston, tasked with facing the seemingly unstoppable for of Sherman’s, received a letter from Jefferson Davis that criticised his decision to withdraw to the Chattahoochee. He also informed Johnston that he would receive no more reinforcements.
July 8th: Part of Sherman’s army outflanked the defences at Chattahoochee and Johnston decided to withdraw to Atlanta.
July 9th: A hastily assembled Union force of 6,000 fought the South by the banks of the River Monocacy. The South’s 10,000 men, most were experienced and battle-hardened, overwhelmed the Union troops. But the advance of the South was crucially delayed for a day – enough time to better organise the defences of Washington.
July 10th: Sherman took the decision not to make a full-frontal assault on Atlanta.
July 11th: Confederate troops commanded by General Early arrived on the outskirts of the capital. However, the impact of the summer heat had reduced the number he commanded from 10,000 to 8,000. Early was also lightly armed with small artillery guns. The delay at the River Monocacy was vital for the defenders as it allowed a force of 20,000 to gather in the city and to build more defences. Scouts informed Early as to what he faced and he decided to abandon his original plan to assault the capital. In fact, Early did the opposite – he ordered his men to withdrew from their positions.
July 12th: Lincoln observed the withdrawal of Early’s troops from Fort Stevens.
July 14th: Pursued by Union troops, Early’s men withdrew to the Shenandoah Valley. Lincoln expressed his belief that the pursuit had not been vigorous enough.
July 16th: Sherman started his advance on Atlanta.
July 17th: Jefferson Davis relieved Johnston of his command and appointed John B Hood in his place. Hood was the youngest commander of an army in the war aged 33 years. He lost his left arm at the Battle of Gettysburg and his right leg at the Battle of Chickamauga. Davis hoped that his fighting spirit and undoubted bravery would rub off on the men tasked with the defence of Atlanta.
July 18th: Lincoln rejected tentative peace talks with the South as they based their proposals on the basis that there would be an independent South.
July 19th: Sherman spread out his army in an attempt to surround Atlanta. Three separate Union armies faced the defenders in Atlanta – the Armies of the Tennessee led by McPherson, Cumberland led by Thomas and Ohio led by Schofield. Hood determined that his best approach was to attack one and inflict overwhelming damage on it before moving on to the next. Hood resolved to attack the Army of the Cumberland.
July 20th: Hood attacked the Army of the Cumberland with 20,000 men at Peacetree Creek. Thomas had a similar number of men. However, the South’s army in Atlanta had spent months on the defensive and not the offensive. The attack was a major failure: the South lost four brigadier-generals in the attack and 4,000 men – 25% of those who fought for the South in the attack. The Union lost 300 dead and 1300 wounded – less than 10% of the total number of Union troops who fought at Peacetree Creek. For Hood and Atlanta, the failure at Peacetree Creek was a huge one.
July 21st: Union troops took a Confederate redoubt at Bald Hill, outside of Atlanta.
July 22nd: Undeterred by Peacetree Creek, Hood still believed that being offensively minded was his best approach. He ordered an attack on the Army of the Tennessee commanded by McPherson who was killed in this battle. Both sides claimed victory in the battle. The North lost a total of 3772 men (1333 wounded) while it is thought that the Confederates lost 6,500 men killed and wounded with another 2,000 missing. However, Hood claimed the battle as a victory as his men captured 13 artillery guns. But the defenders of Atlanta could not afford to lose 8,500 men in one battle.
July 23rd: Union forces suffered a major defeat at Kernstown losing 1,200 men (600 killed) and fled in disarray towards Bunker Hill, West Virginia.
July 27th: Sherman sent large cavalry units south of Atlanta to cut off the railways there.
July 28th: Hood attacked the Army of the Tennessee again. This was also a failure as the South lost 4,600 men while the Union lost just 500.
July 31st: Lincoln met with General Grant to discuss the war. Grant was acutely aware that Lincoln’s political survival depended on how well the Union forces in the field were doing.