Grant ordered Sherman to take charge of the armies in the west and capture the vital manufacturing city of Atlanta. The Atlanta arsenal employed 5,500 men and women producing percussion caps, gun carriages and all sorts of ammunition. The Confederate Quartermaster Department employed 3,000 seamstresses who produced in a three-month period 37,000 wool jackets, 13,400 pairs of pants, 10,000 cotton shirts, 13,700 sets of drawers, and 1,500 flannel shirts. One steam tannery produced 3,500 pairs of shoes in its first month. Eighteen warehouses were packed with 45,000 pounds of dried beef, 4.75 million pounds of bacon, 1,700 barrels of flour and much more. The Chattahoochee River provided power for the cotton mills in Atlanta and across the river in Roswell, where blankets, flags, and other clothing were manufactured. Four key railroad lines converged in Atlanta to transport both civilians and military forces—soldiers, casualties, prisoners and supplies to all parts of the Confederacy east of the Mississippi. Atlanta was also home to military hospitals, large and small. The city was the most highly entrenched and defended place in North America, except for the enemy capitols.
The Atlanta rolling mill, before the seige of Atlanta
The Atlanta rolling mill, after the seige of Atlanta
Sherman joined three armies to accomplish his mission—The Army of the Ohio, The Army of the Tennessee, and the Army of the Cumberland—more than 110,000 men against General Joseph Johnston’s estimated 70,000 Confederates. The campaign roughly followed the rail line from Chattanooga to Atlanta. The armies fought a series of mostly small battles in May through September, 1864, beginning at Resaca and ending after Kennesaw Mountain, just outside Atlanta. The Union forces moved relentlessly southward as Johnston avoided being brought to decisive battle through strategic retreats, until he crossed the Chattahoochee and entered the forts and entrenchments defending the city itself. Political pressure and personal animus brought the replacement of Johnston with a younger and more aggressive commander, John Bell Hood, who was not fully recovered from the loss of an arm and a leg in previous battles.