The First Day
—Atlanta Campaign Heritage Trail —
On Friday, August 19, 1864, 4,400 Federal cavalrymen under General H. Brigadier Judson Kilpatrick galloped into Jonesborough (Jonesboro). An Illinois trooper described the town as "a row of stores, dwellings and shops on each side of the railroad, with a road or street on either side between the railroad and the buildings."
After brushing aside light Confederate opposition the Federal cavalrymen pulled-up rails of the vital Macon & Western Railroad, the only railroad still available to supply the main Confederate army defending Atlanta. They also burned the Jonesborough Depot located our blocks north of the current depot constructed in 1867 to replace it. Heavy rain prevented the Federals from heating and twisting the rails to render them useless. As a result, Confederates quickly. repaired the damage, and trains resumed deliveries to Atlanta within two days.
On Tuesday, August 23rd, Union Major General William T. Sherman determined that only a large body of infantry could successfully break the railroad at Jonesborough. He decided to march most of his three armies around the western flank of Atlanta to
Jonesborough. By Tuesday, August 30th, Union Major General Oliver O. Howard's "Army of the Tennessee" began crossing the Flint River and entrenching along a ridge one mile west of Jonesborough. These troops were the
15th Corps of Major General John A. Logan, most of Brigadier General Thomas E. G. Ransom's 16th Corps and one division of Major General Francis P. Blair's 17th Corps.
By August 30th, commanding Confederate General John B. Hood finally realized the Macon & Western Railroad was Sherman's objective. Hood planned an attack at Jonesborough against what he believed were only two Federal corps. The next morning two Confederate corps aligned along Fayetteville Road facing west, 1/3 mile from the railroad. Lieutenant General William J. Hardee commanded the attack with his own corps led by Major General Patrick R. Cleburne. The other corps was led by Lieutenant General Stephen D. Lee. Neither Confederate corps was ready until mid-afternoon giving the Federals additional time to fortify.
General Cleburne's troops planned a wheeling maneuver to assault the Federal 16th
Corps. General Lee's corps was on Cleburne's right opposing the Federal 15th Corps. The Confederate attack went wrong from the outset. Cleburne's left lost its alignment due to Federal cavalry preventing the planned maneuver. Lee attacked Logan prematurely and was quickly repulsed. Private Gervis D. Grainger of the Confederate 6th Kentucky Infantry spoke of the charge on Cleburne's front, "We started at the full run. Their batteries opened up on us by the dozen with grape and canister shot and shell.
The face of the earth was literally torn to pieces, and how any of us escaped is yet a mystery."
The Confederates suffered over 1,700 casualties while Federal losses totaled only 179. Other Federal armies under Major Generals John M. Schofield and George H. Thomas successfully severed the railroad at several locations between Jonesborough and Atlanta setting the stage for the next day's final battle for Atlanta.
Top right: 'Federal forces at Jonesborough destroying the Macon Railroad"
Bottom right: Sherman's flanking movement around Atlanta to the Macon & Western Railroad
Top left: Union Brigadier General H. Judson Kilpatrick
Middle left: Union Major General Oliver O. Howard
Union Brigadier General Thomas E.G. Ransom
Middle right: Confederate Lieutenant General William J. Hardee
Confederate Lieutenant General Stephen D. Lee