unsuccessful attempts to dislodge Johnston from the Kennesaw Line convinced
him to explore alternatives to direct assaults on the rebel entrenchments. A
break in the weather and improved conditions on the roads in the area
provided the opportunity the Federal commander had been waiting for and, on
July 2, Schofield and McPherson had repositioned themselves to interpose
between Johnston and Atlanta on the Confederate flank. Realizing that his
position was now untenable, Johnston withdrew that same day, eventually
forming a new line of defense on the north side of the Chattahoochee River.
However, less than a week had elapsed before Sherman once again flanked his
opponent out of his positions, crossing the river five miles north of
Johnstonís position at the mouth of Sope Creek. Johnston was forced to
retire to works behind Peachtree Creek where he prepared to counterattack
Sherman as he came up on Atlanta. At long last Johnston thought he saw an
opportunity to fight the decisive battle of the campaign. However, on the
evening of July 17th Johnston received a telegram from Richmond relieving
him of command. President Jefferson Davis was frustrated with Johnstonís
repeated withdrawals and his apparent unwillingness to fight the invaders.
Influenced by a stream of criticisms of Johnstonís performance by his
advisor, Braxton Bragg, and John Bell Hood, Davis finally decided to turn
command of the Army of the Tennessee over to Hood. When he heard of the
change, Sherman was elated. Schofield, who had attended West Point with Hood
told Sherman, "Heíll hit you like hell, now, before you know it."
Aggressive, even foolhardy action from the commander of a force that was
numerically inferior was just what the Union command wanted. As Schofield
had predicted, the Federals didnít have long to wait. On July 20th Hood
launched an uncoordinated set of attacks, roughly following Johnstonís
original plans, near Peachtree Creek. However, all of the Confederate
assaults were repulsed with severe losses. Hood immediately planned a second
thrust, this time to the east against McPherson who was approaching Atlanta
from Decatur. As Hardee arrayed his battle lines in preparation to attack
McPherson, Confederate Gen. William Walker was killed by Federal pickets.
The Confederates fiercely attacked, and within hours had broken through the
Federal line and were threatening their opponentsí rear. Gen. McPherson
attempted to coordinate a defense but rode into a gap in his lines and was
surrounded by rebels. Instead of surrendering, he waved and rode off, only
to be shot dead from his horse. Sherman and his commanders rallied their
broken troops, and, in a maelstrom of the most intense fighting of the
campaign, were successful in recapturing their trenches and in beating off
the Confederates who retired to their entrenchments around Atlanta. In three
days Hood had lost almost 13,000 men, crippling his army, and Shermanís army
now closely invested Atlanta and began to shell the city at close range.