General Joseph E. Johnston is officially relieved of command of the Confederate Army of Tennessee. President Davis promote Lt. General John. B. Hood to be the new commander of the Army of Tennessee. Davis advised Johnston the he was relieved of command due to his inability to stop the Federals from reaching Atlanta and that he did not have confidence that he could prevent the Federals from capturing Atlanta and destroying the Army of Tennessee. Johnston was very well liked among his troops and many were in disbelief.
This change in command has come at a crucial time as the Federals have just crossed the Chattahoochee River. The Army of the Cumberland crosses at Pace’s Ferry and Power’s Ferry and are advancing toward Peachtree Creek. General McPherson’s Army of the Tennessee, has crossed the river at Roswell and has been moving south through Dunwoody toward the Augusta Railroad line near Decatur. They reach it on the 18th and destroy about four miles of it in between Stone Mountain and Decatur, in an attempt to disrupt the supplies, and possibly reinforcements, coming from the east. McPherson then turns west and moves towards Decatur.
Wheelers Cavalry had been skirmishing with the Federals approaching Peachtree Creek for several days, but today they burn the bridges over Peachtree Creek at Moore’s Mill, Howell’s Mill, and on Ridgewood Road. They then move south east to intercept McPherson’s Army of the Tennessee near Decatur.
The pieces are nearly in place for the first of two major battles to happen on the outskirts of Atlanta. Soon the two armies will clash in the Battle of Peachtree Creek and then two days later at the Battle of Atlanta.
July 9th, 1864: After the first Federal crossing of the Chattahoochee at Sope Creek on the afternoon of the 8th, Garrard’s Cavalry crosses at Roswell. At dawn on the 9th, a Federal Battery provides covering fire as several companies of dismounted cavalry begin wading across the Chattahoochee at what is called the “Shallow Ford”. It was the ford used by the Hightower Trail which was a prehistoric trading route. They engage a small Confederate force across the river. The Confederates are out numbered and out gunned and they quickly retreat and some surrender. The Federals are armed with Spencer repeating rifles and are able to move and shoot quickly without stopping while they cross the river. The battery that is providing cover fire is the Chicago Board of Trade Battery. When Sherman learns of Garrard’s crossing of the river, he immediately dispatches Newton’s Division from its camp near Rottenwood Creek, to Roswell “double time”, to reenforce Garrard. He also sends Dodge’s Corps to reenforce Garrard and establish a strong bridgehead for subsequent crossings. After receiving information about both crossings and size of the forces at each crossing, General Johnston orders the fall back from the River Line. The Confederate army begins to retreat from the River Line at dusk and in the early morning hours of the 10th, they are across the river and begin to burn the Railroad bridge and the wagon bridge next to it. They also take up their pontoon bridges and at Pace’s Ferry they cut the pontoon bridge loose hoping it will swing across the river or down stream where they can recover it. It becomes stuck and is recovered by the Federals, but not put into use. General Johnston establishes his Headquarters 3 miles from Atlanta, at the abandoned Dexter Niles house. He orders that the river crossings at Pace’s Ferry and Turner’s Ferry, be heavily guarded.
July 4th, 1864: Yesterday, General Sherman entered Marietta and established his headquarters in the Kennesaw House and ordered his forces to continue the pursuit of the Confederates and attempt to engage them no matter what the cost of men and material. They must press their advantage while the Confederates are retreating. The Federal troops continued their chase and soon, as they approached Smyrna, they began to encounter resistance from Confederate Skirmishers. They were pushed back to their main lines and the Federals began to entrench. Elements of Howard’s and Palmer’s Corps of the Army of the Cumberland advanced on the portion of the Confederate Smyrna Line near Smyrna Camp Ground, roughly the center of the Confederate line. They were engaging seasoned troops of Cleburne’s Division and suffered heavy losses. The second portion of the attack was made by Dodge’s Corps of the Army of the Ohio, they attacked the Confederate Left near Ruff’s Mill. There was a salient in the Confederate line near this point that was their target. This is where Hood’s and Hardee’s Corps met. Elements of Dodge’s Corps pushed the skirmishers of Stevenson’s Division out of their rifle pits and back to their main works, but suffered heavy losses during the assault. These attacks gained no ground for the Federals and only confirmed that the Confederate army was still in the line enforce. They main Federal advantage gained this day, was Blair’s Corps being able to work its way around and behind the Confederate left flank. At that point they were closer to Atlanta than the main body of the Confederate Army. Blair’s movement seriously threatened Johnston and in the late night hours of July 4th and early morning hours of July 5th, Johnston fell back from the Smyrna Line to the last line of defense west of the Chattahoochee River, The River Line.