American Battlefield Trust’s map of the Battle of Rocky Face Ridge
On May 4th, 1864, William T. Sherman led one hundred thousand men into northwest Georgia with a single purpose: to destroy Joe Johnston’s Army of Tennessee. After a winter of Confederate fortification, Rocky Face Ridge was so covered with trenches, earthworks, and boulder traps that one Union soldier was moved to call it “the Georgian Gibraltar.” A head-on assault risked disaster. Instead, Sherman ordered twenty five thousand soldiers to make a wide march around the southern tip of the ridge and strike the railhead at Resaca, cutting the Confederate supply line. In the meantime, the rest of his men would launch attacks on the northern and western faces of the ridge in order to draw Johnston’s attention away from his vulnerable southern flank.
The fighting on Rocky Face Ridge began in earnest on May 7, with Union columns pressing towards Mill Creek Gap from the north and Dug Gap from the west. On May 9 General James McPherson led the Union flankers through Snake Creek Gap in the south and began to form for an attack on Resaca. The Confederates here were vastly outnumbered—about four thousand men versus twenty five thousand—and the rest of the army was pinned down on the ridge. Still, their stubborn resistance cowed General McPherson, and he refused to order the kind of full-scale attack that might have taken the town and broken Johnston’s supply line.
Sherman was furious, but he had no choice but to adapt to the new situation. On May 10 he began to pull his men out of their lines opposing the Rocky Face and, day by day, sent them west and south to join McPherson. Johnston matched Sherman’s maneuver, withdrawing into another fortified ring around Resaca. Fighting on the fringes continued for four more days as the main bodies of the armies shifted southward. The week-long battle of Rocky Face Ridge was the first battle of the Atlanta Campaign.