The Battle of Jonesborough
By late August, 1864, the armies of Maj. Gen. William T. Sherman, after nearly four months of maneuver and battle, had succeeded in nearly surrounding the strategic city of Atlanta, and had achieved multiple victories against Lt. Gen. John B. Hood’s Army of Tennessee located inside the city’s defenses. The last few weeks of siege warfare had depleted Hood’s army, and day after day artillery shelling had unnerved but not yet broken the spirit of the city’s remaining civilian population.
Hood’s last supply lines were the Macon & Western and the Atlanta & West Point Railroads. Both shared a track from the center of the city to East Point seven miles to the southwest. From there, the Macon & Western headed southeast toward the Atlantic coast to Macon, while the Atlanta & West Point tracked southwest, eventually reaching Montgomery and Selma, Alabama. From these areas, Hood’s army drew their only replenishment and supplies.
Sherman had successfully cut Hood’s supply lines in the past by sending out cavalry detachments on raids, but the Confederates were usually able to quickly repair the damage. In addition, Sherman’s cavalry commander, Maj. Gen. George Stoneman, had managed to get himself captured on one such raid near Macon on July 31, giving him the dubious distinction of becoming the highest-ranking Union prisoner of war. Another Union cavalry raid, this one led by Brig. Gen. Hugh J. Kilpatrick, moved against the Macon & Western at Jonesboro, 12 miles south of East Point, on August 19, but only destroyed a mile of track which the Confederates quickly repaired.
Seeking a more permanent level of destruction, Sherman decided to move six of his seven infantry corps against Hood’s railroads south of Atlanta. Leaving the XX Corps north of the city to guard his own supply routes against Maj. Gen. Joe Wheeler’s rebel cavalry, Sherman sent the rest of his infantry around to the south and then east. The armies began pulling out of their positions on August 25. Maj. Gen. George Thomas’ Army of the Cumberland would target the Atlanta & West Point, while Maj. Gen. Oliver Howard’s Army of the Tennessee moved further southeast toward the Macon & Western. The Army of Ohio screened both advances from its position near East Point. Pushing past some small units of Confederate cavalry, Howard arrived at the Flint River outside of Jonesboro on August 30 and encamped on a bluff overlooking the Macon & Western, just a half-mile to the east.
That evening, to counter Sherman’s move, Hood sent Lt. Gen. William J. Hardee with his corps and the corps of Lt. Gen. Stephen D. Lee to Jonesboro to halt the Union advance. At around 3:00 p.m. on August 31, Hardee attacked with orders to push the Yankees back to the Flint River. Hardee’s corps, now led by Maj. Gen. Patrick Cleburne, attacked Howard’s right while Lee’s corps attacked the left further north. Outnumbering the Confederates nearly three to one, Howard’s XV, XVI and XVII Corps, aided by Kilpatrick’s cavalry, successfully beat back Hardee’s attacks. Now fearing that Sherman would move on Atlanta, Hood withdrew Lee’s corps back into the city that night. Hardee’s orders were to remain at Jonesboro to cover the army’s retreat.
The next day, it was Howard’s turn to attack. Now joined by the XIV Corps from the Army of the Cumberland, Howard pushed Hardee’s defenders back toward Jonesboro and the railroad. A determined XIV Corps attack led by Brig. Gen. Absalom Baird broke the Confederate line, earning him the Medal of Honor. Desperately holding out until nightfall, Hardee withdrew south towards Lovejoy's Station. Later that night, with no other options, Hood ordered the evacuation of Atlanta. The city was surrendered to Sherman on September 2.
Jonesboro was the last battle of Sherman’s Atlanta Campaign. In just under four months, Sherman’s men had outfought and outmaneuvered the Army of Tennessee and captured the city. On September 4, Sherman issued General Order #64, announcing that “The army having accomplished its undertaking in the complete reduction and occupation of Atlanta, will occupy the place and the country near it until a new campaign is planned in concert with the other grand armies of the United States.” Although the Army of Tennessee would live to fight another day, Sherman was ready to move on.