Battle of Resaca
Prelude to Resaca
Following its November 1863 defeat at Chattanooga, Tennessee, the Confederate Army of Tennessee retreated thirty miles to the southeast and encamped in Dalton, Georgia, for the winter. General Joseph E. Johnston assumed command of the demoralized Confederate troops and began preparations for a defensive struggle in the spring. Johnston entrenched his men in Dalton and along Rocky Face Ridge, a steep and rugged ridgeline on the outskirts of the town.
The first skirmish of the campaign occurred on May 7, when Union forces swept Confederate cavalry from Tunnel Hill, a small promontory in front of Rocky Face Ridge. Sherman then lined up his armies facing the ridgeline, and over the next two days he launched a number of small-scale attacks against the heavily fortified Confederate position. In the bloodiest of these encounters, Union soldiers fought their way up Rocky Face Ridge while Confederate defenders rolled large rocks down upon the attackers. The Confederate position proved impregnable.
Sherman's elation proved premature, however, for McPherson proceeded with extreme caution and failed to seize Resaca. As Sherman sent more troops south to Snake Creek Gap, Johnston realized that he was being outflanked. On the night of May 12-13, he evacuated Rocky Face Ridge and the town of Dalton and marched his men south, where by the following morning they had taken up defensive positions along a four-mile front to the west and north of Resaca. The Confederates had shifted positions just in time to meet the arrival of Sherman's forces. Throughout the day on May 13, Union and Confederate troops fought a number of skirmishes, but the day ended before the Union armies were fully deployed for battle.
The Battle of Resaca
As the fighting raged on May 15, Johnston learned that a division of Union troops had crossed the Oostanaula River southwest of Resaca. Sherman had once again taken advantage of his numeric superiority to outflank the entrenched Confederates. Johnston's position had thus become untenable, and during the night his troops abandoned their defenses and retreated farther south. The Battle of Resaca demonstrated that the Atlanta Campaign would be hard fought and bloody. Johnston's army had suffered some 2,800 casualties, and Union losses were at least as high. But Sherman, with his superior forces, could continue pressing and outflanking the Confederate army, driving it farther south and ever closer to Atlanta.
State Historic Site
Beginning in 1994 the Friends of Resaca Battlefield—a nonprofit organization dedicated to battlefield preservation—began lobbying the state of Georgia to purchase and protect the remaining portions of the battlefield. In 2000 the Georgia Civil War Commission helped facilitate the state's purchase of a tract of farmland containing more than 500 acres, which included remnants of original entrenchments, in Gordon and Whitfield counties. In 2008 the Georgia Department of Natural Resources broke ground on the Resaca Battlefield State Historic Site, which is scheduled to include a museum, a welcome center, a theater showing an interpretive film, and marked trails.
Barry L. Brown and Gordon R. Elwell, Crossroads of Conflict: A Guide to Civil War Sites in Georgia (Athens: University of Georgia Press, 2010).
Albert E. Castel, Decision in the West: The Atlanta Campaign of 1864 (Lawrence: University Press of Kansas, 1992).
James Lee McDonough and James Pickett Jones, War So Terrible: Sherman and Atlanta (New York: Norton, 1987).
William Scaife, The Campaign for Atlanta (Saline, Mich.: McNaughton and Gunn, 1993).
Philip L. Secrist, The Battle of Resaca: Atlanta Campaign, 1864 (Macon, Ga.: Mercer University Press, 1998).
Kevin W. Young, University of Georgia
A project of the Georgia Humanities Council, in partnership with the University of Georgia Press, the University System of Georgia/GALILEO, and the Office of the Governor.