Massing an army of about 100,000, Union General William Tecumseh Sherman left Chattanooga, Tennessee. His orders were to “move against Johnston’s army, to break it up, and to get into the interior of the enemy’s country. On May 6, 1864, as Grant and Lee struggled in Virginia, Sherman went for Confederate General Joe Johnston.
General Johnston’s tactics were to fight and fall back before the superior Union force could flank him. Figuring that he could stretch Sherman’s supply lines and simply wear our the Union war machine, Johnston’s strategy was to hold out until the North’s November elections and possible defeat of Abraham Lincoln. Confederate President Jefferson Davis saw it differently, though. Never an admirer of Johnston’s tactics of constant retreat, Davis replaced Johnston with a more aggressive, but far less competent General John Bell Hood. Hood would fight and confront the Union army that had encircled Atlanta, but his brave Rebels were like waves crashing on the rocks of the superior Yankee force.
After three bloody and hard-fought battles, General Hood was forced to evacuate Atlanta. Hood went North to attack (and be defeated at) Franklin, Tennessee, hoping to lure the larger, but slower Yankee army away. Sherman occupied Atlanta for a month and burnt the city after ordering the citizens to leave.
Instead of pursuing Hood, Sherman decided to march his Army east to the Atlantic. By the time he emerged in the coastal city of Savannah, Sherman’s army would strip Georgia bare of food, livestock and its ability to resist the Union.