Sherman was closing in on Atlanta. General Joseph Johnston had delayed the advance of Sherman but he had not been able to stop him. On July 8 Sherman crossed the Chattahoochie River, the last major physical obstacle between him and Atlanta. Johnston withdrew across Peachtree Creek north of Atlanta, planning to attack Sherman’s army as it crossed the creek. As he made his preparations, Johnston was suddenly removed from his command by Davis. Davis and Johnston were old enemies, but Davis removing Johnston was more an act of desperation than anything else. If Atlanta fell, the Confederate heartland was open for an invasion by Sherman, and Johnston’s strategy of maneuver and retreat convinced Davis that Johnston would not fight for Atlanta. Rolling the dice, Davis promoted one of Johnston’s corps commanders to the temporary rank of full general and John Bell Hood found himself in command of the Army of Tennessee.
Thirty-three years old and a West Point graduate, Hood had earned a reputation as an aggressive and successful division commander in the Army of Northern Virginia. At Gettysburg he was severely wounded and lost the use of his left arm. At Chickamauga he led the assault that cracked the Union army, and was again wounded losing his right leg. Equipped now with a wooden leg, Hood had lost none of his aggression and self-confidence. Under him retreat was to be a thing of the past, as he swiftly readied his army to take aggressive action to save Atlanta.
On July 19, Hood learned that Sherman was dividing his army, following his usual course of having the Army of the Cumberland under Thomas cross Peachtree Creek for a direct advance on Atlanta, while the Army of the Tennessee under McPherson and the Army of the Ohio under Schofield maneuvered to the East, to outflank the Confederates and to cut rail lines and the Confederate supply lines. For a commander as fond of attack as Hood this was a golden opportunity to launch an assault on Thomas.
Thomas crossed Peachtree Creek early in the morning on July 20, and his men immediately began to fortify their positions after the crossing. Hood planned to attack Thomas with two of his corps, Hardee on the right and Stewart on the left. Cheatham’s corps on the far right of the Confederate army would keep an eye out for the Army of the Tennessee and the Army of the Ohio.
Hood planned to attack by 1:00PM. However the attack was delayed till 4:00 PM due to Cheatham moving east and Hardee likewise moving east to maintain contact with Cheatham and Stewart doing likewise with Hardee. These movements ate up time till 3:00 PM when the preparations for the attack began. Hardee’s attack was stopped cold. Stewart’s attack met with better success but was ultimately stopped by strong Union counter attacks supported by heavy artillery bombardment. The casualties were 1900 Union and 2500 Confederate. Not an auspicious beginning for Hood as an army commander.