The day is July 17, 1864,
Confederate President Jefferson Davis replaces General Joseph Johnston with John Bell Hood as commander of the Army of Tennessee. Davis, impatient with Johnston’s defensive strategy in the Atlanta campaign, felt that Hood stood a better chance of saving Atlanta from the forces of Union General William T. Sherman.
“Lieut. Gen. J.B. Hood has been commissioned to the temporary rank of general under the late law of Congress. I am directed by the Secretary of War to inform you that as you have failed to arrest the advance of the enemy to the vicinity of Atlanta, far in the interior of Georgia, and express no confidence that you can defeat or repel him, you are hereby relieved from the command of the Army and Department of Tennessee, which you will immediately turn over to General Hood.”
For nearly three months, Johnston and Sherman had maneuvered around the rugged corridor from Chattanooga to Atlanta. Although there was constant skirmishing, there were few major battles; Sherman kept trying to outflank Johnston, but his advances were blocked. Though this kept losses to a minimum, there was also a limit to how long Johnston could maintain this strategy as each move brought the armies closer to Atlanta.
“You are charged with a great trust. You will, I know, test to the utmost your capacities to discharge it. Be wary, no less than bold. It may yet be practicable to cut the communication of the enemy or find or make an opportunity of equal encounter whether he moves east or west. God be with you.”
By July 17, 1864, Johnston was backed into the outskirts of Atlanta. Johnston felt his strategy was the only way to preserve the Army of Tennessee, but Davis felt that he had given up too much territory.
In a telegram informing Johnston of his decision, Davis wrote, “You failed to arrest the advance of the enemy to the vicinity of Atlanta, far in the interior of Georgia, and express no confidence that you can defeat or repel him, you are hereby relieved from command of the Army and Department of Tennessee, which you will immediately turn over to General Hood.”
Johnston’s issued General Order No. 4, relinquishing command of the Confederate troops, sending them this message.
“In obedience to orders of the War Department, I turn over to General Hood the command of the Army and Department of Tennessee. I cannot leave this noble army without expressing my admiration of the high military qualities it has displayed. A long and arduous campaign has made conspicuous every soldierly virtue, endurance of toil, obedience to orders, brilliant courage. The enemy has never attacked but to be repulsed and severely punished. You, soldiers, have never argued but from your courage, and never counted your foes. No longer your leader, I will still watch your career, and will rejoice in your victories. To one and all I offer assurances of my friendship, and bid an affectionare farewell.”
Davis selected Hood for his reputation as a fighting general, in contrast to Johnston’s cautious nature. Hood did what Davis wanted and quickly attacked Sherman at Peachtree Creek on July 20 but with disastrous results. Hood attacked two more times, losing both and destroying his army’s offensive capabilities.
An Atlanta man recorded in his diary the news of Johnston’s replacement by Hood, and correctly predicted there would soon be a fight.
“… The enemy draws nearer and nearer to our city. All of a sudden General Johnston has been relieved of the command of the army and Gen. Hood or ‘Old Pegleg,’ the soldiers style him, placed in command. So there is thought to be a prospect for a fight before Atlanta is given up, as Hood is said to be a fighting man if he has only one leg… .”
Source: Franklin M. Garrett, Atlanta and Environs: A Chronicle of Its People and Events (Athens: University of Georgia Press, 1954), p. 606.