The Battle of Peach Tree Creek: Hood's First Effort to Save Atlanta

The Battle of Peach Tree Creek: Hood's First Effort to Save Atlanta

The Battle of Peach Tree Creek: Hood's First Effort to Save Atlanta

The Battle of Peach Tree Creek: Hood's First Effort to Save Atlanta


On July 20, 1864, the Civil War struggle for Atlanta reached a pivotal moment. As William T. Sherman's Union forces came ever nearer the city, the defending Confederate Army of Tennessee replaced its commanding general, removing Joseph E. Johnston and elevating John Bell Hood. This decision stunned and demoralized Confederate troops just when Hood was compelled to take the offensive against the approaching Federals. Attacking northward from Atlanta's defenses, Hood's men struck George H. Thomas's Army of the Cumberland just after it crossed Peach Tree Creek on July 20. Initially taken by surprise, the Federals fought back with spirit and nullified all the advantages the Confederates first enjoyed. As a result, the Federals achieved a remarkable defensive victory.

Offering new and definitive interpretations of the battle's place within the Atlanta campaign, Earl J. Hess describes how several Confederate regiments and brigades made a pretense of advancing but then stopped partway to the objective and took cover for the rest of the afternoon on July 20. Hess shows that morale played an unusually important role in determining the outcome at Peach Tree Creek--a soured mood among the Confederates and overwhelming confidence among the Federals spelled disaster for one side and victory for the other.


The midday sun was at its height on the afternoon of July 20, 1864, as the men of George H. Thomas’s Army of the Cumberland settled into positions south of Peach Tree Creek. the crossing had consumed many hours and was conducted in stages the day before and that morning. Now it was time for some of Thomas’s units to construct rude fieldworks, send out skirmishers, and consolidate their hold on the high ground just south of the stream. For other units, commanded by men who assumed there would be no fighting that day, there was an opportunity to lounge in the bottomland of the creek, fix a meal, and relax under the shade of trees.

But then, without warning, battle flags appeared from the woods south of Thomas’s new position, followed by division upon division of butternut-clad men. the Army of Tennessee was on the move, and its new commander, John Bell Hood, was making his first strike to save Atlanta. After falling back sixty miles from Dalton since early May, the Confederates attempted their first major attack on William T. Sherman’s army group as the enemy closed in on the outskirts of Atlanta. Hood hoped to take advantage of the fact that his enemy had just made a difficult crossing of Peach Tree Creek. His Confederates certainly took the Unionists by surprise. All along the developing battle front the Federals scrambled to get ready; two potentially dangerous gaps in the line of the Twentieth Corps were waiting to be exploited by the onrushing enemy, and some other bits of high ground still had not been secured by Union commanders along the line.

In short, there was reason for the Confederates to hope that Hood’s plan might work to their benefit. Only two days in command of the Army of Tennessee, Hood had precious little time to acclimate himself to a position he had not wanted and for which he possessed few attributes to fill. But he did his best to plan, position, and inspire his men despite widespread . . .

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